Are Your Platform Building Efforts Working?

The Internet is full of helpful advice on building your author platform. Create a website. Jump on Social Media. Get out there and do a virtual book tour or cover reveal. Great ideas, but how do you know if they’re working? Or are you just wasting your money?

Baseline is a project management term defined as “a starting point for comparison.” One of the first steps a project manager takes when starting a new effort is determining the “current state” of the “thing” they have been assigned to improve. It could be anything from a software system to a marketing campaign.

The next step (after meeting with her team and her clients) is to determine what the “future state” of this “thing” looks like. For example: The project manager is handed an A-frame cabin kit (baseline). It’s pretty boring and too small (current state). Her client wants a wrap around patio and two bedrooms added (future state). Oh yeah. And the client wants it completed in six months (time frame).

Let’s take it from an author’s point of view. You’ve just signed a contract to publish your first book (hooray!), but your publisher told you to beef up your website. Oh boy. You’re not a web developer. What now?

Baseline. Baseline. Baseline.

You’ll definitely put effort into the new design whether you pay someone or DIY. Hopefully, you’ve chosen a web hosting service that offers analytic tools. They’ll tell you how many (unique and returning) visitors have visited your site and how long they’ve stayed. These two data elements are a great place to start.

Example: Current State

Sally Author’s current website gets 10 visitors per week and they stay an average of 12 seconds.

Example: Future State

Sally Author wants her website to get 10,000 visitors per week and they should stay five minutes.

Reality Check: I’m all for dreaming big, but this is Sally’s first book and her last name isn’t Kardashian. It’s more effective to take baby steps with a set (and realistic) time frame.

Better: Sally Author wants her website to get 100 visitors per week and they should stay 30 seconds. She wants to reach this goal within the next three months.

Sally has set her goals with a realistic time frame. Now she can do the research on how to achieve those goals. After the three months are up, Sally can check her results against the baseline to determine what worked and what didn’t.

Last piece of advice: If you can’t baseline something and/or can’t gather data on the effort’s effectiveness, then you are most likely wasting valuable time and money.

Habits are Habitual

My cat crushed his yearly vet check up last week. The vet lifted him off the scales, kitty grabbed it and threw it off the counter like a boss. Grrrr! The vet was all smiles and told me kitty has now reached his perfect weight. After struggling since 2008 to get rid of that pesky extra pound, we finally made it! My geriatric dog, Buddy, has also reached is ideal weight. What changed over this year? I feed them the same amount. We’ve kept to our walking routine though Buddy has slowed down and his distance has shortened (he’s well over 90 in human years). So what changed?

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ME! My eating habits and the way I think about food has changed. What I didn’t realize until this vet visit was just how much my habits – good and bad – impact my pets.

This new revelation got me thinking about my role as a leader. Attitude is also habit. We’ve all seen how infectious a negative person’s attitude can be to a team. It spreads faster than the flu. Whispered gossip and petty bickering between team members will derail a project faster than any risk. If allowed to run wild, the team’s chance of successfully reaching project goals severely decreases.

The leader’s attitude can make or break a project.

Runners

I’ll be honest. Leader is one of the toughest roles I have to play in life. Nothing irritates me more than a negative team member who uses passive-aggressive behavior to spread drama and negativity. I’ve seen this taken to the extreme. One person was so entrenched in her spiteful behavior, she was willing to actively work on destroying a program rather than allow others to be successful. This person was finally removed. The simple change turned the team around and they were successful.

One powerful secret weapon I use as a leader is my habitual positive attitude. Being positive allows your mind to remain open to new ideas and opinions. Most folks would rather follow a leader who exudes positive thoughts and encouragement. They shy away from the old grump who insists on continuing down the same comfortable, but unproductive path.

Remember: Being positive isn’t always easy. Everybody has their bad days. If you work at staying positive and being an encourager to your team, it will eventually become a useful habit. Promoting a positive environment results in increased productivity and more job satisfaction for you and your team.

Choke the Yabut Frog

We’ve all known a friend or co-worker who had half a dozen excuses as to why suggested solutions to their problems wouldn’t work. They laid their problem at your feet. You’d listen patiently and then give suggestions. They’d say “Yeah But…” to each and everyone. I call these folks “Yabut Frogs.” Some people just like to roll in their own garbage. They don’t want their problems to be solved. Not sure if their motivation for this behavior is sympathy or attention (shrugs). Don’t care. I’m too busy choking my own internal Yabut Frog.

Froggie

As I write this post, I’m sitting in another hotel room in the third city I’ve visited within a month’s time. Dusk is falling and frankly, it’s too damn cold to go walking around. Here I sit pondering one of the questions I get asked most frequently at writers conferences.

“How do you kick out so much work?”

It’s a fair question. Based on my earlier statement, you can see I travel for my day job as a project manager. Sometimes I’m on the road far more than others. It depends on the project(s) I manage. Right now I’m juggling three national projects and working on the first book in an epic fantasy series. How do I do it? Well, it comes down to three things (in reverse order):

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#3 Be Where You’re At (aka Time Management): One of the best investments I’ve made was taking a course in Time Management. It taught me how to focus on what I was doing in the here and now. In other words, I am present in the moment. I define a goal for the day job or my writing and I focus only on that task during the time I’ve allotted.

Example: I allotted two weeks to complete the edits on the first eight chapters of my epic fantasy. I allotted a few hours each night for the task and committed to have the edits completed before leaving on the trip I’m on now. Goal accomplished.

#2 Lifestyle: I never know when I’ll get the call to hop on an airplane. I also never know what to expect when I get there. It could be a regular work day. I go in at a decent hour and am off by 4:30 local time. Then there are the harry trips. I arrive at the office by 7:00 am and don’t get back to the hotel until 9 or 10 pm. The goals I set for my writing time during these trips are planned in advance.

Don’t let your Yabut Frog start croaking excuses as to why you can’t write! Choke it!

SetGoals

Set reasonable goals: What do I mean by reasonable? Start with something compact like the opening scene of a prologue or finishing edits for the first part of a chapter. If you finish your first goal, then treat yourself. Then move onto the bonus round. Have another goal of something you’d like to accomplish if you have time. Starting an outline for the second book in your series or finishing that rough draft of a short story you’ve been fiddling with.

Personal note: I make sure I finish my first goal, even if I complete it at the gate in the airport on my return trip. However, as much as I love to write, I do take time for fun. A friend of mine is taking me to a local haunt. Will I skip a night of work to visit a pub housed in a building built during the time of the American Revolution? Oh yeah, you bet I will.

#1 Desire: You have to want it bad enough. Yeah. I know it’s a cliché, but that doesn’t make it wrong. If you want your dream bad enough, you’ll find the time and the discipline to make it happen. And you will choke your internal Yabut Frog.

I’m going to wrap up with another cliché: “It’s the journey.”

Writing goals are important. Adhering to the time frames to accomplish those goals are equally important. However, it doesn’t matter how many pages you write if you don’t remember to enjoy the journey. Readers are smart. They can tell how much love you’ve put into your work. If you don’t love it, they won’t love it either.  

Not Another Retrospective. Ugh.

HappyNewYear

One of the most important tasks a project manager performs at the end of a project is close-out. The project manager and her team wrap things up neatly before moving on to the next thing. One of the most important tasks within this close-out phase of the project is to conduct a “lessons learned” session with the team and the folks who paid her to complete the project. The group typically sits around a table to talk about what they did right and what they could do better next time. It may not sound like a critical activity, but these lessons learned sessions have covered my back side more than once. I’ve also taken what I’ve learned from one project close out and used it to avoid problems on future endeavors.

And so, here we go on my lessons learned from 2014 as a Writer:

  1. Stay true to my dream. It became clear to me this past year, in order to reach my writing career goals I would have to take risks by Indie Publishing. Thus I became a Hybrid Author. I released two works of Indie fiction in 2014.
    1. Are they represented by a major literary agency? No.
    2. Were they picked up by one of the big houses? No.
    3. Am I pleased with them and proud of my accomplishments. Yes!
    4. Did creating in my art form make me happy? You bet!
  2. Life is like the weather. I can’t control it. The best I can do is prepare for the storms and hold on tight. Oh yeah. And have chocolate on hand
  3. Don’t be too quick to follow the crowd. If I must try new social media trends, make sure I’m actually getting something out of it. Don’t let it become just another time sucker. I’m talking about you, Facebook!
  4. I remembered why I write. It isn’t for the fame. It isn’t for the hope of a fat royalty check. It isn’t for the ego strokes either. I write…scratch that. I tell stories, because that’s what storytellers do. I and others like me have been sharing our imaginations since the beginning. We tell our stories, because the world has, does and always will need to hear them.

These are the lessons I’ve learned from 2014. I’m going to carry them to the next year with me to draw strength from and use for my next new thing. Anything else I can’t use stays in the past. Don’t drag negatives with you. Start fresh from a positive foundation. Each project/ year/ relationship is different. Embrace the difference and enjoy the ride.

What’s in it for me?

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You’ve been working long and hard on your project (Novel/Software Application/Workshop Pitch/Fill In the Blank). It’s colossal! It’s amazing! You’re ready to show it off to the world or at least your potential customers. The presentation goes well and you believe folks are on board. Then it happens. There’s always one “Neddy Negativity” in the crowd who tries to squash it.

What is Neddy’s motivation for dumping cold water on your idea? Is he hell-bent on squashing you to lift up his own kingdom? Sometimes. In my many years of experience, I’ve found that usually isn’t the case. Most folks are afraid of change. They don’t understand how your new idea is going to impact their world. Is it a good thing? Or is it just a waste of time that they really don’t have energy to bother with?

It doesn’t really matter what the Neddy Negativities of the world think (though sometimes Neddy has some really good points and should at least be heard). Don’t let them squash good ideas. Be ready to tell these difficult folks about the benefits you’re offering. In other words: What’s in it for them?

  • DO: Research your potential customer. What are their needs? Who are their customers?
  • DO: Be as specific as you can. How will your writing workshop benefit their conference attendees (and pull in more interested students)? How will your software application make their life easier and reduce costs and/or streamline processes?
  • DON’T: Give an exaggerated used car salesman pitch. Do not exaggerate what your product can do. “Truth Will Out!” If you and your product can’t live up to the promises you make, your credibility will be in question and so will your professional reputation.
  • DON’T: Be vague. There are professional bullshit blockers (like myself) out there whose job it is to protect the fiscal, technical infrastructure and employee well-being of their organizations. If you can’t tell us exactly what, when, why, how and how much…well, we’ll go to the next person who can. Think your presentations through from this point of view.

Final Thoughts – Before people are willing to invest time and resources into something, they want to understand what’s in it for them. It’s human nature. We’re pulled and prodded into so many directions, the last thing we want is yet another responsibility. How is what you’re trying to sell me of any benefit? How is it going to make my life easier? How is it going to benefit my customers? If you can answer those questions, then your chance for success dramatically increases.

Hit Those Target Goals!

Target

I’m a very driven person. After years of wasting time putting off my dreams, a health scare taught me something important. I am mortal! The epiphany hit me hard. I only have a limited amount of moments on this planet, so if I wanted to achieve my goals and dreams it was up to me to make it happen. Tick Tock!

My attitude about life completely changed. Now it is in my nature to set a goal with a date and then work until I drop in order to meet that objective. Hard life lessons and project management methodologies have taught me how to set realistic and healthy goals. I’m going to state that again, because it’s important. Set Realistic and Healthy Goals. Don’t kill yourself trying to fulfill an obligation you didn’t take time to think through.

What if you’re the opposite personality type? You want to achieve your goal, but that program you want to watch is on tonight. Maybe you have a bad case of S.S.T.A (Sofa Stuck to Ass)? Here are some pointers from my many years of experience planning and managing large projects:

Use Short Term Goals to Achieve Your Long Term Goal

A short term goal can be an activity or product you can complete in a small bite-sized chunk within a short period of time. For Example: I’m working on my next dark fantasy novel. I don’t care who you are or how many novels you’ve written. Each one is a daunting task.  I keep the Long Term Goal (the entire novel) in mind. However, I focus on those bite-sized chunks.  If I chop down the book into Acts, these become achievable goals rather than one big Herculean task.

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Buffer! Buffer! Buffer!

Setting a deadline date is key for achieving goals. However, not giving yourself enough time can guarantee failure. Think about all the activities you’ll have to complete to reach your short term goal. Let’s walk through my example:

  • Outline Act I
  • Write the First Draft
  • Edit and Update Act I
  • Final Polish

I estimate it will take me three months to complete all these tasks. There are three Acts in my book. Does that mean I can complete the entire book in nine months? Yep, I could if my life was perfect and I didn’t work a day job. Sometimes life gets in the way of our goals. I get sick and miss a few days or the book takes a new direction. I have to stop and do further research. If you’re working against someone else’s deadline that could be a major problem. Give yourself “Buffer Time” in case of emergencies. I try to allot myself a week or two of extra time to sort out any problems. If I don’t use them, then I look good for coming in early.

Final Thoughts: Set Realistic and Healthy goals. Chasing your dreams should be fun, not a chore.