Tuesday, April 17, 2018

15 Question to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Book


I am sending out a questionnaire to every new client of our publishing seminars, asking about their book(s), their anticipated readership, social media presence, plans for book distribution etc., but also about their plans concerning the book. 
From their answers, I can see how much (or few) they thought about their readership and the purpose of their writing.  Many, if not most writers sit down and start their book(s), writing and writing and not thinking who will read their book, nor how they will publish and most important: how will they market their work.  
Questions for You
Here are some questions you should answer honestly.  It will give you an idea how viable your book idea is.  Every business has to start with a plan. If you want to sell your book after writing it, answers to these questions could partially substitute a "business plan".  .
And if you want to self-publish, to find a publisher or a literary agent - answering these questions before your first meeting is extremely important.  Why should someone consider to publish your book when you, the writer, didn't even think about the future of your title and who will be the readers?  These are the most important topics you need to explore and answer for yourself:
  1. Is there a need for your book? Does it fill a void?
  2. Why do you find your book idea interesting?
  3. Why would someone buy your book?  What's their benefit?
  4. Will your book always be interesting in the future?
  5. How big is your market and what is the demographic of your readers?
  6. Who will buy and read your book? How many people?
  7. Could your book idea be turned into series?
  8. Would your book have a regional or international audience?
  9. Who is your competition and how well did their books sell?
  10. Where and exactly how will you market your book?  
  11. What is your next book and are you already working on it? 
  12. How many (real) friends/followers do you have on Social Media? 
  13. Could your book be sold in bulk to a company/organization to promote another product or service? 
  14. Do you have an opt-in email list on your website/blog or already an email newsletter?
  15. In what magazines or newspapers articles, TV shows, radio shows, websites, and newsletters can you market your book?
Still Excited About Your Book Idea? 
After you answered all these questions, do you still have the burning desire to write your book?  Or did some of the questions make you uneasy?  If you ever want to pitch a book idea to a publisher or an agent, you will be asked the same or similar questions. So be prepared!  
Use the answer to question 3 to prepare your "Elevator Pitch". The editor Mike Zimmerman said in an article at Success.com: "Artists starve not because they aren't talented - but because they often have no idea how to make money".


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Why People LOVE Trader Joe's

Saratoga, California Store

Last November when I found my beloved German Christmas Cake, a square praline-chocolate bar and roasted coconut snaps at Trader Joe’s and a minute later these “to-die-for” chips with turkey-and-stuffing taste and smell, I swore to finally write about these fabulous Trader Joe's places where customers find cheerful staff and extraordinary food.

“Trader Joe's is more than a grocery store. 

It is a tiki/trader-themed grocery experience.” 
says Christine Byrne from Buzzfeed.  

Bacon Chips

Travelers to the USA: a visit at Trader Joe’s is a must!  You will find these great stores in almost every city over 150,000 - at least in the Western States.  In the East, they are less frequent to find.  At the end of 2017, Trader Joe's had 474 stores nationwide in 43 states and in Washington, D.C.  In 2018 customers will be greeted at these new locations: New York (Upper West Side) - Washington (Union Market), D.C. and Fresno, California. The only question is: WHEN will Trader Joe’s open shops in Canada.  Foodies in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, and Vancouver are waiting anxiously…

Bath Tissue in fancy packages

However, there's some silver-lining on the horizon: Amazon carries Trader Joe's products on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.  But it's not the same as shopping in their stores.

Customers can experience a unique grocery store with the friendliest, an almost upbeat staff of all the chain stores, free coffee, delicious private label and organic foods, and specialty products - not to mention a great selection of wines.  Every store has a spot, where they present every day one of their delicious food items and let customers sample.

Amazing Cheese Selection
Not only me, but all of my friends stock up before we leave the States for Canada.  Even my dog is crazy about their canned pet food. It’s so much fun to read Trader Joe’s monthly flyer, called “Fearless Flyer”, containing lots of recipes and kitchen tips, in addition to little stories about the company and their products.  Great recipes can be found on their website too.  Enjoyable product and wine insider stories, decorated with cute graphics are dotting their website.
Their unique design, not only in these flyers but also in the packaging of their own store brands resembles images of 19th-century scenes.  A very smart brand identity!  It saves the company a lot of money for designers, and they get the images for free as they are not copyrighted anymore.

“It’s not complicated. We just focus on what matters
 — great food + great prices = Value.”

How it All Started
Way back in 1958, when the first store opened, the chain was called Pronto Markets. Its founder Joe Coulombe is said to have developed the idea of the Trader Joe's South Seas motif while on vacation in the Caribbean. The Tiki culture fad of the 1950s and 1960s was fresh in the cultural memory.  Trader Vic's was at its height with 25 locations worldwide.  Coulombe had noticed that Americans were traveling more and returning home with a taste for food and wine they had trouble satisfying in supermarkets of the time.

Trader Joe's Boise, Idaho

Trader Joe's
Trader Joe's is an American chain of grocery stores based in Monrovia, California, owned in the meantime by a German private equity family trust (Aldi).  The first store, which was branded as "Trader Joe's" opened in 1967.  This store, on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena, California, remains still in operation.  Joe Coulombe made the stores larger, decked the walls with cedar planks and donned the crews in cool Hawaiian shirts.  Most importantly, he started packaging innovative, hard-to-find, great-tasting foods under the “Trader Joe’s” name.  That cut costs and saved customers money.  It still does.  And that’s important, because “Value” is a concept they take very seriously.  And by ‘Value’, they mean great everyday prices on all great products — no sales, no gimmicks, no clubs to join, no special cards to swipe...

Panettone & Christstollen from Europe

House Brands
Trader Joe’s buys directly from https://www.eater.com/2017/8/9/16099028/trader-joes-productssuppliers whenever possible, bargaining hard to get the best price, and then pass the savings on to their customers.  If an item doesn’t pull its weight in their stores, it goes away to give way for something else.  They buy in volume and contract early to get the best prices.  The quirky, service-driven chain has even inspired a nebulously legal Canadian spinoff for Trader-Joe’s-deprived neighbors to the north. See also and article by the CBC about the "pirate".

Morning Joe

Benefits For Employees
According to this 2010 CNN Money article, Trader Joe's full-time crew members (the people that stock the shelves, ring up and bag groceries, and help customers in the aisles) can earn starting salaries between $40,000-$60,000 a year with benefits.  Also, "Trader Joe's annually contributes 15.4% of employees' gross income to tax-deferred retirement accounts.  By industry standards, that is A LOT in America.

Typical Flyer Ads

Trader Joe's has said its private-label products contain no artificial flavors, no artificial preservatives, no colors derived from anything other than naturally available products, no genetically modified ingredients, no partially hydrogenated oils (adding trans fat), and no MSG. In addition, its private label dairy products use milk from cows not given the artificial growth hormone.

Grocery shopping these days is not always a pleasant experience, but at Trader Joe’s it is a joy!  Not only does the staff seem to like working there, even the customers look like they love to go to Trader Joe’s.  If you’ve never shopped at a Trader Joe's, it’s probably difficult to understand why people are so doggedly loyal to and enthusiastic about the food retailer.


Monday, April 2, 2018

Secrets of a Perfect Lawn

Not happy with the green patch in your garden?  Has your lawn dry patches or moss in the grass?  Here are some basics about healthy and attractive lawns:

The Foundation of a Great Lawn
Before sawing grass seeds or rolling out lawn carpets add one foot (ca. 30 cm) of loam soil on the ground - which is made up of a balance of sand, silt, and clay.  This is called loam soil.  Loam soil holds moisture but also drains well when you water the lawn.  It is able to retain nutrients and allow air flow, making it an ideal soil for plants.  You can also mix your own lawn soil with black soil, sand and peat moss (60:20:20).  You can even mix a bit chicken, cow or sheep manure into this mix.

Increase Organic Matter and Microbes
Applying fertilizer will not help if your soil does not contain an adequate population of microbes; you need billions of these microscopic organisms per handful of soil. Your soil must contain 2- to 5-percent organic material to have a thriving microbe population.

If you want to improve an already existing, ugly lawn, just spread this soil mixture on top of the old lawn - AFTER you dug out any weeds.  Or mow the lawn very low, and then cover the whole lawn with thick layers of cardboard and place a foot of soil over it, before you apply the seed.  Don’t worry, the soil will sink down over the next weeks to approx. 5 inches or less in height.  You can also over-seed as often as once or twice a year, in mid-spring or early fall for cool-season grasses.  Water well before and after over-seeding and for at least four weeks after the application - every single day!  Unless it is heavily raining.

Important:  Do NOT buy the so-called “topsoil” unless you like weeds in your yard… Topsoil is made out of ground excavation soil from new developments and contains roots, stones, weeds etc. - finely ground up.

Choose the Right Lawn Seeds
Is your lawn all day in the full sun or most of the time in shade?  For cool-season grass, fine and tall fescues offer the most shade tolerance.  They require four hours of sun minimum to survive.

  • Tall fescue is a cool-season grass that does well in the hot, full sun.  Primarily used in northern provinces and states, tall fescue does not require a lot of maintenance and is generally resistant to drought and high heat.  The reason it can withstand dry conditions is that it has deep roots that draw water from the ground.  It also grows from seed quickly and usually germinates in 10 to 14 days.  Bermuda grass thrives in full sun and more southern dry areas - and even coastal areas.
  • Cool-season turfgrasses are those species with optimum growth at temperatures between 60 and 75°F (15.5 to 24°C).  Cool season grass species include for example Fine Fescue, Tall fescue, Kentucky Blue Grass etc.
  • Warm-season turfgrass is those species with optimum growth at temperatures between 80 and 95°F (27 to 35°C).  Warm season grass species include Bahia Grass, Bermuda Grass, Carpet Grass, St. Augustine and Zoysia Grass.

Benefits of Aeration 
Aeration allows grassroots to deeply penetrate the soil and for water, fertilizer, and organic matter to reach the roots. It’s controlling thatch buildup and reducing water runoff.
There are lots of aerator tools available from Lawn Aerator Shoes to Rolling Lawn Aerators to engine driven aerators that can even be used as a tiller.  My favorite is a Rotary Cultivator which reduces back strain and can also be used in planting beds.

Watering Your Lawn
Under a tree, two things occur to create drier soil.  First, rainfall doesn’t always penetrate the tree canopy to reach soil beneath.  Second, tree roots absorb available moisture. As a result, turf beneath a tree needs more frequent irrigation.  Water these areas deeply to encourage deep grass roots for a healthy lawn around trees.

Constrain Your Lawn
A lawn is spreading over time - preferable towards planting beds (as the soil is often better there). To avoid this you would either have to edge your lawn twice or three times a year at least or build a tight stone rim around the lawn and edge only once in a while.

Another Question:
Are lawns really necessary?  They require so much work and are really expensive if you consider the cost of soil, seed, water, fertilizer, mower, stones, for yard workers and lawn mower service.  Many garden owners who are too lazy to dig out weeds - before they are seeding - are buying poisons, such as glyphosate-containing, to de-weed their lawns. Those poisons are very dangerous for pets and children and are contaminating the soil, ground-water, and oceans or lakes.  Lawns are nothing natural, rather use to impress people how large your property is - not how beautiful a natural garden could be.

And then there is the aesthetic aspect of lawns versus blooming shrubs, water features, fruit-bearing trees with their lovely, enchanting spring colors and attractive perennial blooms that are offering fascinating showpieces almost year round.  You decide!  Turn at least a part of your lawn into a see of flowering shrubs to invite butterflies and birds. 


Friday, March 30, 2018

Jean Batten: An Amazing Early Aviatrix

If you ever departed from Auckland, New Zealand (or if you live there) you might have seen a grey Percival Gull monoplane hanging overhead a couple of duty-free stores in the international airport terminal. In fact, the terminal is named after Jean Batten.  The upper walls of this terminal are decorated with an image of New Zealand’s most famous women pilot.  
How it All Began:
Though she was a gifted pianist, at age eighteen she decided to become a pilot after the Australian pilot Charles Kingsford Smith took her for a flight in his Southern Cross airplane. In 1929 she moved with her mother to England, to join the London Aeroplane Club.  Jean Batten gained her private and commercial licenses in 1932 and started her long-distance flights around the world.

Later, she received an endorsement contract with Castrol Oil and several awards for her achievements.  Local Maori honored her with a feather cloak and she was named “Hine-o-te-Rangi” – "Daughter of the Skies”.  Jean Batten also wrote two books: Solo Flight and My Life.  The latter is still available in digital format through the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection in Wellington.

She flew solo from Britain to New Zealand in the 1930s.  Born in Roturoa, NZ, in 1909, the famous aviatrix, died an infamously obscure death in Palma de Majorca, Spain - the antipode of NZ. In 1982 she was bitten by a dog on the island of Majorca. She refused treatment and the wound became infected.  She died alone in a hotel in Majorca, from complications due to the dog bite. The world only learned about her death five years later, as she was buried in a paupers grave. In the Palma suburb of La Bonanova, not far from where Batten died, there's now a newly rechristened street called Carrer de Jean Batten, or Jean Batten St.
Jean Batten: The Garbo of the Skies
She was the sweetheart of the nation in the mid-1930s when she made her pioneering solo flights, but thereafter she pretty much turned her back on New Zealand.  She is remembered in some ways, quite forgotten in others.  Around the country, there are several statues, streets, a park and a school named after her, and even a couple of mountain peaks.  And a dramatic statue of Jean Batten still stands outside the terminal in Auckland.  However, not every Kiwi is aware of her significance to New Zealand’s aviation and to the airport.
Women Fly Just as Good as Men
For young New Zealand women, she was a role model and showed that women could fly just as good as men, and even outperform them at times.  Her amazing achievements include, among others, these flights:

1933 Great Britain – India in a Gipsy Moth open biplane
1934 Great Britain – Australia in less than 15 days in a Gipsy Moth open biplane
1935 Australia - England in 17 days and 15 hours
1935 Great Britain – Brasilia in 61 hours in a Percival Vega Gull
1936 Great Britain – New Zealand in 11 days in a Percival Vega Gull

Record-Breaking Trans-World Flights
These flights all took place in tiny airplanes with no navigational equipment, no air traffic control, barely any maps, and difficulties to even get fuel and technical support anywhere along the route!  With this meager equipment, today's pilots would have been lost… Jean Batten even survived several crash-landings, but never gave up. 

After two failed attempts to fly from England to Australia, Jean made her comeback with a record-breaking return journey in 1934.

Her Cat Flew With Her From England to New Zealand
Her success elevated in 1935 when she became the first woman to ever fly solo across the South Atlantic, and then it soared in 1936 when Jean and her lucky black cat, Buddy, made the first-ever direct flight from England to New Zealand. She described the moment the wheels hit the turf as “the very greatest moment of my life,” proving to the world that the sky’s only the limit if you let it.

WWII Ended Batten's Flying Adventures
Her Gull was commissioned to active service and Batten was not permitted to fly it.  During the war, she was involved in campaigns, giving lectures in England to raise money for guns and airplanes, but her flying days - unfortunately - were over.

Ian Mackersey: Jean Batten: The Garbo of the Skies. Warner Books, London 1992
ISBN 0-7088-5332-3 available through Goodreads.com

Jean Batten was one of the great aviation megastars of the 1930s. Her spectacular flights ranked with those of Britain's Amy Johnson and America's Amelia Earhart. Yet, despite her brilliance as a pilot, she remained the least well-known of them all, as the dentist's daughter from New Zealand built an impregnable wall around her private life.





Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Easy Task: Barcode Generating

Free Barcode Generating: Your book cover designer usually takes care of the bar code and includes it on the back side of your print version.  You just need to tell her/him your retail price of the title. 

WikiHow explains: 

“A barcode contains two sets of numbers—a global prefix that identifies your business, and a product serial number—that allows you to bring up a product's information by scanning the code.

  • Register your business with GS1. GS1 is a not-for-profit company that maintains the global standards for barcodes.
  • Determine the type of barcode you need. Most businesses will use either UPC (North America, U.K., New Zealand, and Australia) or EAN (parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America) barcodes.
  • Open the TEC-IT site. Go to this or a similar site in your browser. The TEC-IT site has a free barcode generator here.  There are several free programs on the internet:

Here are free barcode generators:

  • Select EAN / UPC. On the left side of the page, you'll see a list of barcode types. Scroll down until you see the EAN / UPC heading, then click it to expand it. Your mouse cursor must be over the list of barcode categories when you scroll.

Find the rest of the instructions - for Windows and Mac users - here:

Even more important: check your bar codes if they are working properly (on your phone for example) before delivering to the printer or book distributor.  See also YouTube videos, for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJW5D5SDAgw


Thursday, March 22, 2018

How Amazon’s Algorithms Really Work

The German journalist and author Matthias Matting -- faithfully followed in Europe his "Self-Publisher Bibel" site -- has conducted an experiment to see if he could detect what may affect sales rankings on Amazon.

Matting has kindly written up a shortened edition of his report in English -- Test: How Amazon’s algorithms really work – myth and reality -- and comes up with some signal notions.

He starts with four books nominally named "The Self-Publishers Bible: Knowledge for Authors" and "...News for Authors" and "...Tips for Authors" and "Marketing for Authors." Here is one of them on Amazon.de. These are new titles, which he generated from the previous omnibus work, the "Bible" of each title. Two are priced at 0.99 euros, two at 2.99 euros.

He went in with three expectations. Matting thought he would see, as he writes, that:

  • Price influences sales rank
  • Enrolling in KDP Select influences sales rank
  • The dynamics of sales influence sales rank

He came out with five "facts," and I'll leave you to peruse most of the supporting commentary for each at his site. In quoting him:

Fact 1: Price does not influence sales rank.

Fact 2: Enrollment in KDP Select does not influence sales rank.

Fact 3: An organic growth of sales number results in a higher ranking.

Fact 4: Sales of (much) more than 24 hours are important for the sales rank.

Fact 5: Borrows on Kindle Unlimited influence the sales rank immediately.
Some of Matting's most interesting notes tie  to "Fact 4." He writes, emphasis his:

One day without sales decreases the sales rank of a title in the same way as halving its sales numbers. That means the Amazon algorithms devalue a sale by half every 24 hours (approximately, the exact amount is impossible to calculate). Add to this that the sales numbers are increasing exponentially with high ranks and it gets clear how hard it is for a new title to climb into the charts.
And as for "Fact 5," what Howey calls "the KU effect" in which Matting sees an immediate impact on sales ranking with Kindle Unlimited, emphasis mine this time:

I couldn’t believe this [at] first. Borrows on Kindle Unlimited are only paid when the user reads at least 10 percent. But for the sales rank, all borrows count immediately...You can reach higher visibility on Amazon without having to wait until a borrower actually reads your book. Even if a borrower never reads your book but only returns it later, you still have a higher sales rank (but you won’t get paid, of course).
His advice, in fact, is that Kindle Unlimited may not be so bad for authors, at least in terms of sales rankings, per his test and observations, emphasis mine:

Twenty sales each day for a week [can] get you higher [in sales rankings] than 150 sales one day and none the [next].

Kindle Unlimited is not as bad a deal as one might think – at least, you get an immediate boost if someone borrows your title.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Before You Turn Your Manuscript Over...

Pre-Editing Made Easy:

Daphne Gray-Grant, a writing, and editing coach and author explained in an article: “When I started writing back in high school, I developed the nervous practice of producing a sentence and then going back to edit it, immediately.  Perhaps you do the same thing?  It took me 20 years to understand why editing-while-writing is so destructive – and another three years to stop it.”

“Remember, you should always write as quickly as you can.  Just be sure to edit – later when your manuscript is finished – as slowly as you can bear.  And to edit your work make use of the great tools that are available these days.”

Edit Minion
This free software identifies adverbs, passive voice, duplicate or frequently used words, and sentence length.

Language Tool
A tool that is capable of proofreading more than 20 languages. Style issues will be marked in blue.

Paper Rater
Robust grammar checking tool which allows you to find those pesky mistakes and correct them.

After the Deadline
This program helps writers to avoid spelling errors, gives grammar or style suggestions. You will spend less time editing.

This tool helps writers of novels and short stories to highlight all the issues in their drafts, including misspelled words, and repetitiveness.

My advice is to not use only ONE software, but at least TWO – better THREE – and use them in separate sessions to fine comb your manuscript BEFORE sending it to a professional editor.

… And Why You Still Need an Editor:
Pre-editing will save you money and embarrassment.  However, none of these grammar tools can replace human intelligence.  You will still need a professional editor who then fine-tunes your manuscript for an outstanding, successful book.  Just to give you one example, how your editor will improve your book even more:

Developmental and Line Edit
He or she will give you the “big picture” feedback about structure, style, pacing, and voice. A developmental edit for a work of nonfiction may include feedback about the book’s organizational structure, as well as both stylistic and informational strengths and weaknesses. For fiction manuscripts, developmental editing also includes notes on plot, the point-of-view, and characterization.
Often, a developmental edit is given in the form of a detailed report or letter rather than as notes made directly on the manuscript. Then, there is also the line edit, where your editor will point out specific things such as certain lines of dialogue that don’t sound convincing, or pacing problems in a given section.
Here are even more digital tools for your pre-editing:

Happy Writing and Editing!