Marketing on Twitter: What Works and What doesn't

Free twitter badgeOh Sweet Twitter! Image via Wikipedia
How Twitter works for you depends on the number of followers, and, more importantly, on the kind of followers you have. 

Marketing will make sense if you've pitched it at the RIGHT audience. If not, it's a waste of time, this much is obvious.

Problem number One: Know your audience.

Too much emphasis has been placed on the NUMBER of followers you've got. To have a lot is good, but who they are is what counts if you want your marketing to be successful.
If you're a businessman, you know your market, you know what your interests are, no problem there. The first article I've attached below gives you all you need to know.

For artists and especially writers, it's different. And it is very surprising how few writers really know what audience they are writing for. Most writers see themselves as fitting into a genre - romance, sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, whatever - and feel that if they've got a majority of people interested in that genre following them, they're ok. Trouble is: most of those followers are likely to be other writers belonging to that same genre. That's fine, they're readers too, but, remember, other writers are NOT an author's major market. 

The potential fan base for any writer is obviously much large than the writing/publishing community.

So how do you reach out of the writing/publishing community? Very difficult. My advice would be to seek out readers in readers' clubs, like Goodreads, Shelfari etc. and join groups reading in your genre. Make comments, make yourself known on the forums, and...get them on Twitter!

Now there may be other ways to do this. If you have any idea, please tell me!

Problem number two: How to market on Twitter

So now you're pretty sure you've got the right audience out there and you're ready to market your book on Twitter. There’s the direct pitch: "buy my book, it's available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc"! You can do it yourself or get your friends to do it – better the latter, at least it’s not you standing up there alone, hollering ‘buy my book’, which, let’s face it, makes you look pretty silly…

Not only that, but there's a real danger on Twitter: too many tweets on the same subject and soon enough you're considered a spammer! People will turn you off and unfollow you.
So you need to be considerably more savvy about this: use the indirect pitch!

How does an Indirect Pitch Work?

Allow me to explain. It all came out in the course of a recent discussion I was having with a friend of mine, who’s both a professional writer and a passionate reader. I was telling her how I have NEVER bought a book on the basis of a tweet, and she explained to me how Twitter works for her.
Her attention is caught by a clever tweet – either a line from the book or from a review of the book – and then since she has a Kindle, she goes straight to the Kindle Store and downloads the book – usually a 99 cents one. 

So here’s the winning equation:
Twitter on phone + Kindle = instant access to books = impulse buying of books that are cheap (99 cents - maximum $2.99).

Looks neat and easy, doesn't it? 

You're probably wondering how many people have both Twitter and Kindle. Quite a few, actually, so it is a very plausible strategy. But this strategy, the way my friend reported it, has another aspect that I'm sure you noticed: she bought a low-priced book. How determining is the 99 cents price? Pretty important for impulse buying. Actually, impulse buying probably also works well for $2.99 (the better price level for the author since that's where royalties kick in at the higher 70% level). 

We’ll never know whether it’s Twitter or the 99 cents price that works the magic!
Still, something useful can be concluded from all this:
  • The kind of tweet you send has to be attention-grabbing: for example, a “line from the book” will work if it hits you in 140 characters; this means you have to really work hard to perfect the pitch for your book: a short line is a lot harder than a long paragraph!
  • A line from someone’s review can be equally effective: this means you have to extract from your reviews just such a line and you better use the name of an authoritative reviewer, someone who has his/her own following!
What about Twitter contests? I have my doubts. A Twitter contest will work if you have a broad audience going well beyond other like-minded, like-genre writers. Otherwise, it will fall flat on its face. It will work if the Twitter re-tweeting feature works its magic, as people re-tweet news of your contest to their own followers.

But all this assumes that your followers actually read your tweets. Now, if you have a few and they are close friends, they surely will. If you have a lot, well...a lot of them probably won't. There's a sort of game  on Twitter where the point is to get the largest possible number of followers, playing on Twitter etiquette which requires you to follow back. But this is of course not an iron rule, and a lot of people have caught on and don't follow back. And all these people who are into this game of building up their numbers hardly take the time to read...

So, to what extent is Twitter marketing effective if most (a lot? some?) people don't read their tweet stream? And when you're beyond a certain number - say 200, or 500, or worse 1000 - how can you possibly read the Twitter stream coming out of so many people? Of course, you can't. So you go to Tweetdeck (or whatever) and set up a column of the people you actually want to read...probably no more than 50 or 60! 

Surely that defeats Twitter as a useful book promotion tool...

But maybe I'm overly pessimistic. What's your take?  
It's your turn to tell me what you think of Twitter as a marketing tool!

PS. An early and slightly different version of this post was published on authopublisher.com where I contribute articles once a week.

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Niche Blogging: the Key to Success?

The storefront of Niche in 2008Image via Wikipedia
Niche blogging has become the name of the blogging game.

It used to concern only a handful of bloggers who tried to provide "useful content" so that their readers were enticed to buy specific products (see Wikipedia on this). This was a very commercial approach, with blogs full of advertising (or linked to a commercial site). There are even robot systems that automatically write niche posts for you! But of course, these are perfect scams (see article below).

The trouble is: the concept has expanded to all bloggers, including non-commercial ones. Not only is it conventional wisdom to fit into a "niche" but also good marketing: know your audience, belong to a community. Pitch your posts at your community. Twitter about it. Find your Twitter or Google+ circle and stick to it. Be a niche expert because that's what people like: experts!

Grow your blog with niche blogging, dammit! Listen to the marketing gurus, niche and learn!

So if you're into writing, write about publishing. If you're an artist, write about art. If you're politically involved, write about politics, if you love music, etc etc You get the idea.

And what if you're interested in all sorts of things, from writing to politics and art (like me)? 

Ah, then you're in BIG, BIG TROUBLE! Don't mix issues, don't mix genres, don't mix audiences: remember, when you write for one, you lose the other. Right?

I can accept that this makes marketing sense. But I do think it's a great pity. As a writer, you are tendentially interested in just about anything that happens around you, aren't you?

Isn't a pathological interest in others, in the world, in the human condition a fundamental trait of all writers and would-be writers? 

Historically, this was certainly the case for writers in Europe and Latin America. They have always been fascinated with and sometimes gotten themselves deep into politics and art. For example, Tolstoy, Zola, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, just to name a few. It's just in the US that I've noticed many of my fellow writers shy away from discussing politics, I don't quite know why. 

You see author blog after author blog strictly devoted to publishing and writing.

Why? Is it the result of believing in the rules of good marketing? Probably. 

They are  perfectly right if the objective is to have maximum traffic on their blog. 

I've noticed that whenever I stray too much, and swing from politics to art to publishing, I lose readers. I have astonishing peaks of readership whenever I cover publishing issues - makes me think there must be thousands upon thousands of writers out there keen to know what's going on in publishing. And small wonder, given the way the digital revolution has rocked the boat of all publishers, threatening to sink the weaker ones... 

But do you really think that straying out of your "niche" will make you lose readers? As a writer, are other writers your main readers? What's wrong with talking about all sorts of things, that have nothing to do with writing? Aren't readers broadly interested in the world around them? Is politics a bad mix with publishing and writing issues? Of course, there are some American writers who aren't afraid of going political, like Barry Eisler.  But it is a fact that writers' blogs tend to be focused on publishing: what makes a book sell, why, how to deal with agents and publishers, how to write a smashing query letter, how to edit your book into a masterpiece etc etc 

And if you're not a writer and you don't care about this sort of thing? Tough luck, look for another blog!

Of course, I realize that I'm not pleasing half (or more) of my readers. I should stick to one thing. Makes business sense.


There, I said it.

I can't do it, sorry. I want to be me, I enjoy writing about all sorts of unrelated things, and I hope you can forgive me. I even dare hope you might enjoy the variety. Why not? What do you have for breakfast every morning, tea or coffee? Whatever it is, isn't it nice to break the routine? If you're a habitual tea-drinker, doesn't coffee taste wonderful and new? Okay, not all the time, but sometimes...And that's the point, isn't it?

I'd like to be your morning cup of coffee...or is it tea?

Do you mind not knowing what's coming up?

Tell me how you feel about niche blogging? Do you go to a blog because you expect a specific content or do you tell yourself, wonder what Claude Nougat (or whoever else you like) wrote today?

Okay, tell me I have to stop dreaming...

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The Euro-Crisis: Has the European Central Bank Woken Up at Last?!

A euro light sculpture at the European Central...Euro Sculpture at the ECB in FrankfurtImage via Wikipedia
With Standard & Poor's downgrading of the US debt, we got one step closer to global financial meltdown.

And of course, the weakest link in the system, i.e. the Euro-zone, got hit first.

With interests soaring last week on the Italian and Spanish bonds, the signals the markets were sending to our political leaders (if you can call them that) were crystal clear: After Greece, Portugal and Ireland, Spain and Italy are next!

Trouble is: no one can allow Italy (or even Spain for that matter) to go down the drain. That would make a $1.4 trillion hole, by some accounts. Whatever the size of the hole, it's obviously too big and makes the Lehman Brothers debacle look like a kiddy game, by comparison.

Let's be clear: it would mean the end of the world as we know it - and the Chinese, inter alia, are very, very worried. And so they should be. And so should we be all.

Sunday, the European Central Bank finally came out with a communiqué that left no doubt as to its intentions: it would buy Italian and Spanish bonds - in other words, it came out at last with a real, responsible position as central banker and defender of the Euro.

We'll see how the markets react this week. The proof is in the speculative pudding. But even speculators betting against the Euro are ultimately fools: they might (momentarily) make a lot of money, but they'll bring down the system and then where will they be?? Naked, of course.

The only problem in all this is that we shall be naked too!

Let's keep our fingers crossed!

Please let me know how you feel about this issue. This is something that has me very, very worried (like the Chinese!). But I'm hopeful that reason will somehow prevail in the end...
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What's in a Pen Name?

Montelimar's Nougat. Photograph taken in Redon...Montelimar's Nougat Image via Wikipedia
What's in a name?  People hide behind pseudonyms and pen names, or what the French so nicely call "nom de plume", and I've always wondered why.

Do you have a pen name? And if you do, why? Is it to hide from family and friends and gain more freedom? Is it to make a statement or maybe indicate the kind of writing you do, like a different pen name for a different genre (lots of writers do that, it's a question of "branding")? Or does it better express the kind of person you are than the name you were born with?

Charles Dodgson is a famous example of picking a pen name to hide behind:  he wrote Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass under the name Lewis Carroll to preserve his reputation as a serious mathematician. Famous authors also use pen names to get away from their fame or intrigue their readers. Carmela Ciuraru's Nom de Plume, recently published by Harper's, is full of fascinating information about this.

And how did you come about your pen name? 

Many friends have asked me why I picked Nougat as a pen name. My mother (age 97) was rather annoyed at this: "why did you pick such a silly name when you were born with a perfectly good one?"

Well, I don't think Nougat is a silly name. Actually, nougat is rather a yummy thing, isn't it? You know what nougat is, don't you? It's a wonderful traditional sweet made of almonds and honey, usually white and sticky, but it can be covered with chocolate, dark or light, and filled with crunchy nuts. In Italy (where I live), it comes in all kinds and shapes: small, big, long, short, soft and gooey, hard and crunchy.

A fellow writer, Martin King, recently approached me via Twitter with a neat idea. He had decided to run a #blogfest as he called it, a "100 Blogs Festival" this August, and to give it focus he'd picked on childhood memories, and asked me to contribute one of my own.  If you want to read about childhood memories (some rather weird and intriguing), here's the link: http://martinkingauthor.com/blog/7094550076

That got me thinking, and I remembered that my pen name actually came about through a childhood memory of sorts.

One day, when I was fourteen, my father idly wondered how one makes such extraordinarily different types of nougat, particularly the crunchy vs. the gooey sort .

I had a ready answer: it all depends on how it's cooked. He looked interested so I went on, explaining that for the crunchy variety you have to beat the egg whites hard and dry the whole thing in a slow oven, while the gooey sort only uses the yolk and you have to carefully cook it in a double-boiler. 

"How do you know that?" he asked. 

I told him I didn't, I just guessed that's the way it had to be. I never lied to my father - that's the generation I belong to, the one that was still submissive through adolescence - and that was, of course, my downfall. 

He laughed and immediately made a verb of it: "Claude, you are nougatizing!"

I was annoyed at first, but then gave in. It's true: I do nougatize about everything. I did then, I do now. I make up theories, I feel good about them. I think that's the fun side of life! And I've never stopped nougatizing since!

Whether this pen name will help me in my writing career, I don't know. One writer, Jamie Hall, really delved into the question and if you're thinking of crafting a pen name for yourself, this is a must read (see here). He even came up with the notion that you should avoid a name in the second part of the alphabet (from N to Z) because your books would be shelved out of sight!

Yikes! Nougat starts with N!

Well, so far, my book is only digital and that's the advantage of virtual shelves: not only are they up there forever, but you're not sitting in any specific alphabet-determined location! Phew, I feel reassured!

So if you have a pen name, why did you chose it? Are you happy with it?

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Why the Debt Deal Will Hurt America and Obama

"The Third-Term Panic", by Thomas Na...Image via Wikipedia
And why the rest of the world has to absorb the mess!

At the last minute, before the August 2nd deadline, Congress voted to increase the debt ceiling, just enough to avoid government shutdown, and worse for America's reputation, downgrading of its debt by the now infamous rating agencies, Moody's, Fitch and S&Ps.

Yet the debt deal between President Obama and the Republican-led Congress was anything but satisfactory: according to a new CNN poll (released on 2 August), it has left most Americans (77%!) disgusted with their political class. And going beyond public opinion and looking at the reality of the situation, it has left unsolved all the essential problems besetting the American economy, while seriously threatening Obama's chances at re-election in 2012.

The plan just approved in Washington is anything but straightforward. Instead of the $4 trillion savings the rating agencies wanted to see implemented, there's just an  initial savings of $917 billion and perhaps another $1.5 billion by the end of the year, based on recommendations of a bipartisan joint House and Senate committee - a committee of 12 sages (!). If not, then automatic across-the-board spending cuts would kick in.

First, the economy. How will the debt deal hurt it? Remember the economy is already in slowdown mode. The Great Recession may be over (although that's debatable) but unemployment remains the number one problem with nearly 15 million people unemployed. Trouble is: the debt deal is mum on this point. Not a word. It's all about cutting the deficits, finding more savings and raising taxes. And, as we all know, cutting government expenditures means drawing down on activities in the service industries and sending civil servants home. Net result: more unemployment, more pain.

This is a repeat of History, when President Roosevelt tried to curb the deficit in 1937 and the economy plunged back in recession. It took World War II spending to finally take America out of the Big Depression.

The American political system appears to be acutely dysfunctional at present. The historic polarization of American society, traditionally divided between Republicans and Democrats, has taken a turn for the worse recently, with the Republicans lurching to Tea Party extremes. Just take a look at the two books I attached below: they couldn't be further apart in their ideological positions. And the latest news is that the Senate failed to authorize refinancing of the Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.): this means that for another month at least, airport inspectors won't be paid and are asked to work out of the goodness of their heart to ensure airport safety!

Is that a serious way to run a democracy? At the expense of citizens' safety?

Second, Obama. On the face of it,you might think he managed to pull off some pretty clever maneuvering in the face of a ruthless Tea Party-led Congress. They started out talking about $4 trillion cut, they're down to $2.1. Is that a good, or even credible result? No. It's just playing around with numbers: these guys have simply agreed to keep raising the debt ceiling in the same proportion as the deficit is cut. But the main advances the Democrats stood for and Obama tried to enact have all - yes, everyone one of them - been rejected. Politically, this is a great victory for the Republicans and a great defeat for the Democrats. Worse, the President is the one who surrendered. He pushed himself forward in the negotiations, but he didn't come home with anything worthwhile for the middle class he says he wants to defend.

He now says he's going to campaign on raising taxes on the wealthy - that might win back some of the Democrats, but not all.

Because he has let his electorate down and many Democrats are not only disappointed, they are actually furious with him. This does not bode well for his re-election...

Of course, the elections are still far off - over a year's time - and the economic situation could improve, you never know. As is well known, any incumbent president needs good economic numbers to win re-election. That was the case with Bill Clinton who also faced a Republican Congress and had to give in on many political issues at the time. But the economy was picking up and he was re-elected. Can Obama hope for the same? Not likely. It would require a real change - for example a strong government support for clean energies, an effort to help and retrain the unemployed for new jobs, a real change in the fiscal injustices that allow American corporations to avoid paying taxes in the measure of...$1 trillion per year (yes, that's not a typo!). In the present political context, there is clearly not the slightest chance that this will come to pass. What with Republicans bent on cutting back the role of government to its absolute minimum and a President who is afraid to stand up to their demands, the outlook is dire. Perhaps Obama is not actually afraid, but unquestionably he lacks negotiating experience: he hasn't been long enough around Washington and still believes in what people tell him. It's refreshing, to be sure, but unquestionably naive.

Finally, just to make matters worse, it is very likely that one, if not all three, of the rating agencies will downgrade the US debt byt a notch or two. If not right away, in a few months' time when it becomes evident to all that Washington is playing a political game with the debt that has nothing to do with responsible economic governance.

Tentative conclusion: A downgrading of the US debt in the near future. And that is sure to send the world in a tailspin.

Because, up to now, the international trade system was based on the American dollar. The US treasury bonds were the ultimate safe investment.

The ultimate irony is - would you ever believe it? - that in spite of all the American debt deal mess, the American dollar and US Treasure bills will continue to play their fundamental role in the global financial play between nations.

And do you know why? Because of the situation in Europe. With the festering two-year old Euro crisis that is now threatening to extend from Greece, Ireland and Portugal to Spain and Italy, there is still no currency that can rival the dollar. Certainly not Japan still struggling to recover from the Tsunami. And not Switzerland - the safe haven par excellence - but too small to play a global role (an as I am writing, the Swiss Central Bank is now working to curb the Swiss Franc's rise). The Chinese renmimbi? Don't count on it. The Chinese have internal political problems of their own, plus a steady rise in production costs not to mention dangerous imbalances caused by a mad real estate bubble.

In short, we are in the hands of incredibly incapable politicians all around, on both sides of the Atlantic, and it's not likely to get better any time soon!

What's your take on this?Do you think we'll escape a double dip recession and continue with a Strong Dollar underpinning the World Economy? Or are we headed downhill?

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Twitter vs.Facebook, with Google+ the winner?

Google Appliance as shown at RSA Expo 2008 in ...Image via Wikipedia

Will Google+ be the winner a year from now? Chances are good. But of course, it's too soon to tell.

It's a very fluid, fast-changing situation. Millions have already joined Google+ before it even went public (you could get in only with an invitation). Reportedly some 20 millions, and that's just in one month! Plus some very authoritative tech-savvy people (see the NYT article below) are already comparing Google+ with the rest of 'em and declaring Google+ the winner!

Because of the way it handles privacy rights: you put people in "circles" that determine who sees what. So, you're safe at last from that kitty picture-loving friend who hounded you down on your Facebook Page and filled your wall with nonsense. A definite advantage.

And Google+ is ahead of both Facebook and Twitter on other neat techie things like group chatting (called Huddles) and a button to share anything with everyone in your circles (called Sparks - I haven't used it yet but it sounds like it's easier to use than Stumble).

But let's stick to the here and now:  Facebook has some 750 million users and Twitter over 200 millions. Compared to them, Google+ is still in its infancy.

So which is better,Twitter or Facebook?

facebookImage by sitmonkeysupreme via Flickr

Many people on Internet swear by Facebook, and there's even some (slight) evidence that Facebook sends you more "faithful" readers, i.e. return visitors than most other sites, Google included. That is: people who are more likely to comment, and we all love that, don't we? I know I do!

So is Facebook the royal road to getting return visitors who comment?

Not quite. Let's face it, if your aim is to get as many comments to your blog as you can, then there's nothing like writing your articles for a regular "traditional" newspaper.

Just to put things in perspective: The other day, I commented on one of Krugman's excellent articles (he publishes regularly on the NYT). I thought I was one of the first to comment, but no, I wasn't. The NYT doesn't give you the whole list, and small wonder: I discovered I was number 284, and the whole list of people who commented extended well beyond 400 and kept growing...

Oh well, a rather humbling experience for us poor bloggers...

If Facebook doesn't bring us masses of readers who comment, is Twitter any better?
Follow me on Twitter logoImage via Wikipedia

Actually Twitter is able to show impressive stats. Passive Guy in a recent post in which he analyzed his own Twitter stats, showed how his following of over 4000 people translated into over 70,000 people reading one of his tweets, simply because it was re-tweeted.

There is this almost instantaneous multiplying effect you simply don't have on Facebook. And I'm not sure that will ever exist on Google+, but with it's Spark feature, it might just yet, who knows...

What is your take? Which do you prefer, Twitter or Facebook? Which one do you find brings more traffic toyour blog?
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Three SimpleTricks to Increase Traffic to Your Blog

A ballroom dancing couple. Illustration by Dav...Image via Wikipedia
Are you suffering from a case of "flat traffic"?

There's tons of advice around Internet on how to increase traffic to your site, and for us writers, one of the best and most recent posts on the subject is Scott Berkun's: click here to read. I've also listed some interesting related articles below for your use.

But, wow, so much work!

Isn't there a simpler way to do it? I mean, like fundamental things that you shouldn't miss out on and that really, really work?

I've tried to understand the problem and after looking around Internet for some time, here's what I found. But before identifying possible tricks, let's get our figures straight so we know what we're talking about.

We are NOT talking about the number of "hits"on your site per day. A "hit" is just a person that happens on your blog and decides that's the wrong place to be and leaves immediately, without reading anything beyond the first few words (if that). So you might get 1,000 or 10,000 hits a day, but your number of posts actually read is much, much lower: it can be four or five times as little - it can even be 3 or 4 percent of the total!

This however does tell you something fundamental: a "hit" is a knock on the door.

To get a lot of people knocking on your door, what do you have to do?

TRICK No. 1:  KEYWORDS! Okay, I'll admit it, this is a no brainer. We all know keywords are the name of the game in Google searches and if you look up the traffic sources on your blog stats, you'll most probably find that Twitter or Facebook may well bring you tons of readers, but Google out does them all!

So how does Google find you? Are there tricks beyond picking out the "best", most "sought after", most "used" keywords (and using links to well-traficked sites)?

Or to put it another way, how does Google rank your site and how can you get your ranking improved? Again, there's a ton of advice on this and there are even different page ranking systems (see the useful  authopublisher article below). But for a dumb writer like myself, one of the best sites with the clearest explanations is Ana Hofman's Traffic Generation Café. She is very focused on this subject and super savvy about it. She recently delved into the question of what makes for improved page ranking with Google:

Here’s where the answer to the question of “Why is my site not ranking as highly?” might lie.
It only makes sense that a document that mentions both “ballroom” and “dancing” next to each other will be deemed more relevant than the one that talks about square dancing and simply mentions the word “ballroom” somewhere else on the page.
Similarly, if the entire “ballroom dancing” phrase is mentioned in the title of the page, it will appear to be more relevant to the topic.
In the same way, if the phrase is mentioned several times throughout the page, the page is more likely to be about ballroom dancing than if the phrase appears only once.
Check out this great quote I found at Google’s Librarian Central:
As a rule, Google tries to find pages that are both reputable and relevant.
If two pages appear to have roughly the same amount of information matching a given query, we’ll usually try to pick the page that more trusted websites have chosen to link to.
Still, we’ll often elevate a page with fewer links or lower PageRank if other signals suggest that the page is more relevant.
For example, a web page dedicated entirely to the civil war is often more useful than an article that mentions the civil war in passing, even if the article is part of a reputable site such as Time.com.
What do I take away from all this? Relevance is key. As Ana Hofmann puts it: 

Yes, it might come down to how well you optimize the page itself that will determine whether and how highly it’ll show up in Google search results.
Things like title, tags, description, on-page keywords.
Okay, in my simplified vocabulary, that means I have to make sure that: keywords are in my title, that they turn up in my text and that all corresponding tags are listed!
And of course, that brings us to: 

TRICK no. 2: CONTENT! We all know that our blog has to be useful to the reader. That's why J.A.Konrath's blog is so successful: he is giving priceless, free advice to would-be writers trying to figure out how to self-publish. A huge market, and no wonder he's got 500,000 followers! 

He found a niche and exploited it. 

So you have to find your niche and exploit it.

TRICK no. 3: ENJOY YOUR NICHE! Yes, I bet you didn't expect me to say that! But I mean it. Your content is going to be fun to read, enticing, interesting etc ONLY if you enjoy writing it! Yes, pick something you're familiar with (so you have something interesting to say) but also something you feel passionate about! Otherwise your blog is going to be...well, maybe well-written and all that, but oh, so boring!

So have fun and watch the bored masses rush to you to have a good laugh with you!

Do you have any other good advice ? I'd love to hear it!

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How to Start Your Novel with a Splash

Splash in a DropImage by Chaval Brasil via Flickr
The hardest part of writing a novel is... the beginning! I don't know about you, but for me, it is something I do and redo and I'm rarely satisfied with it. You know your book has to start with a splash - that's what literary agents and publishers expect, that's what readers want - you just know you've got to do it, but God, it is hard!

Recently Passive Guy had a wonderful post about it where he quoted the openings of current romance bestsellers. Here's his pick:

Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.
Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups
In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen, and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.
Norman McLean, A River Runs Through It
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
William Gibson, Neuromancer
The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard.
Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts
Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting V under the more flexible V of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller V. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The V motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down–from high flat temples–in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.
He said to Effie Perine: “Yes, sweetheart?”
Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

A nice selection, right? Which one do you like best?

The reactions to Passive Guy's post were also very interesting. One noted that the first paragraph is no guarantee that the rest of the book is good - she always downloads a sample on her Kindle (that's definitely easier than reading the first 20 pages in a bookstore - no doubt another reason why e-books are such a success).

Several others noted how the last paragraph is more important than the first in the decision to buy (and here is where a physical bookstore has an advantage over online libraries: Amazon doesn't allow you to download the end of a book as a sample).

One (called Zelah) was very vocal about his reading the ending first:
"Yes, the ending. This is because knowing what happens in the end won’t spoil the story for me – but the story WILL be spoilt for me if I read it and get to the end of the book only to find an un-hinted at tragedy, or that it has one of those hugely annoying non-endings where they leave it up to the reader to decide what happens next.
I don’t trust an unknown author to deliver what I want from a book, so I check that they will before I buy.
I will say though that free Kindle books have got me reading new authors and (since I can’t check the end) I’ve been downloading and reading them based on blurb and reviews. I’ve found that it’s the story that keeps me reading. I can generally put up with bad style, even if I don’t like it – but I can’t put up with a poor or boring story."
Fascinating, isn't it? So if you want to reach out to your readers, focus on composing great "blurbs" and getting as many reviews as you can...

As to openings?  Should you forget about them? Hardly. A great writer is always able to produce an arresting opening. As I commented in Passive Guy's post, no one can beat the classics. Take for example Dickens "A Christmas Carol"

“Marley was dead to begin with.There is no doubt whatever about that.The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it.And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.
Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”
It's tersely written: short, clipped sentences. No long-winded stuff. And Scrooge, the main character is introduced right in the first paragraph. 

That's how to do it! It hits you in the stomach. 
Who can beat that?
Don't you want to become a classic author after you're dead? If you do, work on a splashy beginning!