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I got to play with the Oculus Crescent Bay VR headset and my brain shifted

I got to play with the Oculus Crescent Bay VR headset and my brain shifted

I got a peek at virtual reality yesterday thanks to my old buddy Bernie Yee. He flew out from Oculus’ Seattle HQ to show me and my SVA students a peek at the future.

Wow.

There were a number of demos to enjoy, but my two favorites were the Alien and the Mirror Room.

With the headset firmly on my noggin, the alien emerged on a barren landscape. He was a cute guy — long neck, kind eyes. His motion was peaceful, even deferential. The only problem with writing about the experience is that, well, I’m writing about the experience! No words will convey that the alien was right there. In front of me. I could lean forward and see up his nose (which I did). I could get too close to him and make him back away. It was easy to relate to him and I felt an attachment that made me want to know more about him.

The Mirror Room demo was a different kind of experience. Imagine being in Dumbledore’s office and standing in front of a huge mirror. But when you look in this mirror you don’t see yourself, you see the face from the witch’s mirror in Disney’s Snow White. And your face changes as you move your head around. At one point my head turned into an adorned box, with beautiful details that made me lean in close to see more. It was like being nose-to-nose with a mirror and seeing someone else. Someone magic! I think this experience was my favorite because it not only changed the world around me, it changed ME!

So thanks Bernie and Oculus for the peek at the future. It has me thinking of the storytelling possibilities. I can’t wait for the launch of the headset in 2016!

Writing three books at once is not a good idea

Writing three books at once is not a good idea

Something has to give. I’m just not sure what yet.

I’m in New York City for the next two months, teaching a marketing course at School of Visual Arts. While I’m here, I’m writing the next Shirley Link. The final draft will be done by the end of the day! I’m excited by that in ways I’ve never felt before. This Shirley adventure has been the toughest one to craft yet. By far. Part of it is that I’ve had the idea for the mystery for a long time. That meant wrestling with age-old preconceptions about how the clues would be set up, how the players would respond to them and how they’d be revealed. But once I sat down to write the book, well, none of those ideas lasted a single draft. Still, with the help of my beta readers, I’ve worked through it and I think this may be my new favorite Shirley Link book! Stay tuned for launch dates and peeks at artwork soon ;-)

Then there’s The Camelot Kids: Book Two. I found myself at 40k words before I knew it, so I know the book is primed and ready to emerge. I’ve been getting up at 5:30am every morning to work on it and that’s worked well on a number of fronts. There’s something about writing Fantasy (that’s heavy in magic) at the start of the day when the world is quiet. Magic is more present when our lives are still. But to tap it means pushing aside all concerns. It means assuring The Stress that it can come out in a little bit and do its thing. It means gently nudging strong insecurities back into whatever caves they spring from. While the story is all over the place right now, I’m excited to release the ending to a story that’s been dancing around my head for ten years.

And then there’s Atticus. The book died last night. I mean it was dead. Flatlined. It had frustrated me one too many times. I went to sleep in despair. My good idea had no legs. It had nowhere to go. It gasped for oxygen and I tried to give it some but it wasn’t enough.  Then, this morning, its eyes popped open and it breathed in a lungful of air of its own making. So, on its own, it’s showed me a way forward. Now I’m more excited than ever about the story, though I also see that it’s bigger than I initially assumed.

Excited. Terrified. Tired. Pounding on three books will do that to a guy. So wish me luck. I’m headed into the final pass on Shirley Link & The Party Poopers and then I’ll be outlining the next Shirley! Yeah, you know that title I gave this post? The one that advises against writing three books at once? Well, I may be addicted to the feeling so, uh, do as I say, not as I do…

How to promote a tweet according to Twitter

How to promote a tweet according to Twitter

 

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Twitter. One day I think I understand it and the next day it’s filled with some faux outrage (faux-rage?) thingy that makes me want to turn the world off. But my love affair started up again once I realized that Shirley Link’s success as a perma-free book is primarily due to the cacophonous bird.

But now I want to take it a step further. I want to pay to get access to their huge audience. I want this for two reasons. First, I want to sell my $1 eBooks. Second, I want to grow my mailing list.

So I attended a great Q&A with some Twitter employees who were eager to educate me about spending my hard-earned money on their promo tools. They clarified a bunch of nifty-sounding services that you may have heard about but had zero idea how to leverage. That’s right. They gave tips on how to promote a tweet and they even explained Twitter Cards.

It turns out if you use Twitter Cards and promoted tweets together you could drive some incredible (valuable) traffic.

Here’s what they taught me.

How to promote a tweet according to Twitter:

First sign into ads.twitter.com. I’ve found this site to be the easiest way to tweet. I like the way it lets me schedule posting times AND it how it allows me to attach images with 100% guarantee that the image will show up in the actual tweet. That’s not the case on Hootsuite where I’ve found that the image often gets cut out of the tweet.

Plus, it’s the only site where you can create a Twitter Card.  Why would you want to do that? read on!

Twitter Cards:

I think Twitter messed up in calling these things Twitter Cards. It’s a bad name for a cool idea. When I picture a card in my mind’s eye I picture, well, a card. Like a business card. Or a playing card. A Twitter Card is more like a visible attachment that hangs from the bottom of your tweet. What else could they have called it? A Twitter Tail? A Tweet Board? Yes, those are awful ideas but you get the point.

This is an example of a tweet with a Twitter Card attached to it.

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The actual Twitter Card is the lower half of the tweet, including the image, the Shop Now button and the text “Armor up with The Camelot Kids! Only $1 for a limited time.” You can make that button read anything from “Shop Now” to “Download” to “Sign Up”. The larger image spot is a great way to stand out on a busy feed.

You see the text “Want a good fantasy read? One reviewer says TCK “will take you back to the day when you first read Harry Potter…”? That’s the tweet I wrote. After I wrote it I attached the Twitter Card by pasting its url in the tweet. it’s pretty simple to set up.

But once you get a few cool Twitter Cards set up, what do you do with them? Simply put, you target your audience, set your budget, assign some tweets to the campaign (with Cards attached) and press the Fine, Take My Money button.

The one hour talk covered best practices for promoted tweets/Twitter Cards. Here are the basics, with some icing:

Experiment with targeting usernames. It allows you to get into the feed of followers of specific people.

Experiment with targeting keywords. The important thing to understand here is that keyword targeting scans for tweets in real-time on the service. They do not target overarching interests, old tweets, or bios. I didn’t know this before. Socialbro will take your money to target that kind of metadata.

Experiment with images. You may have great copy but the image might need a refresh. Play around with the most eye-catching imagery you have.

Check your dashboard often to spot places to tweak. Twitter reporting (which also resides on ads.twitter.com) is robust and relatively clear.

Set up conversion tracking to measure your campaign’s effectiveness. Just follow the steps Twitter lays out.

All pretty standard stuff so far, right? Well, here’s some good stuff to add on top:

Separate your campaigns by objectives and targeting. Don’t make a campaign that’s meant to get sales AND sign-ups. Each goal needs its own campaign.

For username targeting go for 30 names per campaign.

For interest targeting select the most specific categories possible. Do not exceed 2 interests per campaign.

Avoid using hashtags, @’s or urls in your Twitter Cards and promoted tweets.

Do 3-6 tweets per campaign to give the Twitter elves something to work with.

Twitter loves fresh content so swap in new stuff often. “Often” being a relative term that should be dictated by data in the reports.

Use the Lead Gen campaign for email sign-up campaigns.

Expect a 1-4% engagement average.

Do NOT pause and stop campaigns. This damages the performance. Plan and budget ahead. You can start small and ramp up the budget and number of tweets as you build confidence.

Here’s a list of resources they provided to get started:

I hope you found this post on how to promote a tweet useful. Let us know how your campaigns go in the comments. Good luck!

WATCH: I discuss The Camelot Kids and Shirley Link with Lindsay Buroker, Joseph Lallo & Jeffrey M. Poole

WATCH: I discuss The Camelot Kids and Shirley Link with Lindsay Buroker, Joseph Lallo & Jeffrey M. Poole

Wow, that was fun! I got to sit down with three excellent authors and talk about writing and marketing Fantasy books. We covered my philosophy on marketing (i.e. keep it comfy and save the challenge for the writing!), how artwork can help a project come to life and how authors need to go local to sell books.

I’ve enjoyed Lindsay Buroker‘s work for a couple of years now, so it was a real honor to be speaking with her. I’m also finding the work of Jeffrey Poole and Joseph Lallo to be a blast, too!

If you write Fantasy or Science Fiction books then this podcast is a must. Tell ’em Ben sent you!

Watch the interview now. Notice how I’m doing a hand puppet show? It went really well! Okay, I’m kidding (maybe…)

 

 

 

 

Enter The Camelot Kids contest on Goodreads

Enter The Camelot Kids contest on Goodreads

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Camelot Kids by Ben Zackheim

The Camelot Kids

by Ben Zackheim

Giveaway ends April 24, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Here’s the newest giveaway for The Camelot Kids! Click on the button above and enter to win the softcover book that collect The Camelot Kids Parts 1-4.

 

“If you have been waiting for a book that will take you back to the day when you first read Harry Potter, then your wait is over.” – A Chick Who Reads review (5 Stars)

 

“I don’t think I have had such a fun time with a book since I read Percy Jackson.” – Belle’s Beautiful Books review

 

What would you do if an odd girl in a cloak told you, “You know you’re a descendant of King Arthur’s knight, Lancelot, right?” You’d probably do the same thing 14-year-old New Yorker Simon Sharp does. Back away nice and slow.

 

But Simon learns the truth when he’s kidnapped by a drunk troll, rescued by a 7-foot man named Merlin, and thrown into training with 149 other heirs of the Knights of the Round Table.

 

Can Simon survive a prophecy that predicts the world will be saved through its destruction? The Camelot Kids is about one boy’s struggle to make it to tomorrow in a world both real and fantastic.

 

“Zackheim does an excellent job of twisting the story away from your expectations – and in places even uses your expectations, both of the genre itself and the source material, against you.” – Nicholas Pozo, Goodreads reader

TCK-Cover

Part2-The-Spell

 

The top 9 podcasts for writers

The top 9 podcasts for writers

From Joanna Penn‘s excellent selection of business tips to The Self Publishing Podcast‘s eerily helpful smack talk, there’s something here for you to enjoy.

 

 

Self publishing podcast

The Self-Publishing Podcast is one my my favorites, with Sean Platt (@SeanPlatt), David Wright (@thedavidwwright) and Johnny B. Truant (@JohnnyBTruant) lobbing inside jokes peppered with fantastic ideas. The charm of the hosts is a big part of the draw but their success can’t be ignored. My money is on these three authors hitting it BIG and it’s fun to watch their careers grow. What’s the benefit for us? We can draw parallels with their hard work, disappointments, victories and struggles. It’s like an epic serialized story with three guys sitting on their asses.

Best enjoyed with: A red chili lunch with espresso chaser.

Favorite episode: Selling on Apple, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

 

The Creative Penn

 

Joanna Penn (@thecreativepenn) is a staple of the indy community. She’s been sharing her experiences as an author and entrepreneur for a few years, so her perspective has weight. She’s recently started to focus on the craft of writing as well. I like Joanna for her optimism and her focus on the future. Anyone who can make me feel good about this tough business has earned my attention!

Best enjoyed with: Tea (spiked with sherry)

Favorite episode: Optimizing Kindle Categories, Email List Building and Facebook Marketing with Nick Stephenson

 

rawp

The Reading and Writing Podcast is a great way to hear from your favorite authors about their latest books and the writing life. From Dean Koontz to Lee Childs to Walter Mosley, this podcast snags some of the best writers in the business. Straight-forward, insightful questions from the host Jeff Rutherford (@JeffRutherford ) make the podcast a must-listen for those moments when you just need inspiration and guidance. At 181 episodes (and counting) this is the legacy podcast that should be on everyone’s subscription list.

Best enjoyed with: Buttermilk Cornbread Waffles (sweet and savory goes well with the interview AND the southern accent!)

Favorite episode: Walter Mosley. So talented. So classy.

 

The Author Hangout

The Author Hangout (@bkmkting) is a new entry in my must-listen list. They’re off to a good start with helpful interviews of authors and marketing folk. Their series on blog tours is the best I’ve ever seen. The podcast is part of the Book Marketing Tools site which sells author services (see my review of their promo tool). However, they do a good job of keeping their business out of their advice.

Best enjoyed with: Pad of paper and pencil for the deluge of tips.

Favorite episode: Author Earnings: The Real Story  (only Hugh Howey could find a way to say, “Indy publishing is like a raisin muffin”!)

 

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The Self-Publishing Roundtable is a storied podcast with high turnover. People come, people go, but it always remains informative. They cover everything from marketing tactics to creative tips. The conversations are intelligent, focused and current. For example, one of the newest episodes cover Mastermind Groups. Yes, Masterminds are packed with buzzy-sugarness but they are a useful way to get inspired fast.

Best enjoyed with any slow food. Good for the digestion!

Favorite episode: Making Money In The YA Market

 

Sell More Books Now

Jim Kukral (@JimKukral) and Bryan Cohen (@bryancohenbooks) host this helpful, slick show. There’s the occasional plug of author services  (Jim Kukral started Author Marketing Club) but they’re smart about it. Their Three Tips segment launches the discussion and they tend to be dead-on with their advice. Jim and Bryan also cover current news (which can lead to amusing discussion-rants).

Best enjoyed with: Whatever you eat while you’re watching the evening news.

Favorite episode: Digital Resale, Virtual Assistants and Shorter Books (they also cover Amazon Giveaways, though they come to the wrong conclusion ;-))

 

Marketing-Science-Fiction-F

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast covers, um, Science Fiction and Fantasy marketing. Lindsay Buroker (@GoblinWriter) of The Emperor’s Edge fame joins Joseph Lallo  (@jrlalloThe Book of Deacon) and Jeffrey M. Poole (Tales of Lentari) to discuss tactics and strategies for one of the most popular genres. The podcast is relatively new but the years of experience shine through. From showing up at shows with 3D printed swag to maximizing free promotional days, this one covers the tried-and-true and the cutting-edge.

Best enjoyed with: Mead. Ferengi crab.

Favorite episode: Book Bundles, Marketing Successes and Failures, and Creating Author Swag

 

Rocking Self Publishing

If soothing British accents are your thing, then you need to tune in to Rocking Self-Publishing to find a mantra. If you like soothing British accents that are saying something useful then browse the Rocking Self-Publishing library. Packed with wisdom, inspiration and common sense it’s a welcome break from the grind. Simon Whistler (@RSPPodcast) is enthusiastic and hungry to extract useful information for himself and his listeners.

Best enjoyed with: Tea (spiked with tequila). Bacon.

Favorite episode: The Importance of Being an ‘Authorpreneur’ (author/entrepreneur) with Joanna Penn (two British accents bounce off of each other like wind chimes on the bayou)

 

The Writing Podcast

This new podcast also enjoys the presence of Lindsay Buroker (she’s everywhere!) The show is low-key and informative, with co-host Adam Poe (@xAdamPoe) touching on topics that we have questions about. Pay special attention to episode 7 where he goes over how to get your books on Google Play. He’s found some success there and recommends authors get their books up for sale ASAP. I also enjoy The Writing Podcast‘s wise choice to interview traditionally published authors. We all have something to contribute to this writing life.

Favorite episode: Getting your books on the Google Play store

 

So there you have it! My favorite podcasts for writers. Every one of these shows is consistent, informative, well-intentioned and worth checking out. If you end up becoming a fan, tell them I sent you! ;-)

What are your favorite podcasts for writers and authors? Answer in the comments below…