Author Archives: Ana Spoke

About Ana Spoke

I am an author, currently writing the third novel in Isa Maxwell's Escapades series. The first installment - Shizzle, Inc - is available on all platforms. Indiot, the second book in the series is currently exclusive to Amazon. Google+

In other news: it turns out I can paint

Somehow, I have managed through over 45 years not knowing this. Then as previously moaned, I hit a deep well of dark depression and decided to try my hand at  painting with acrylics. It’s now three weeks later and I have just finished my third ever portrait on canvas:

My family is in a state of what I can describe as a “proud shock.” I am shocked too, because in fact my whole life I was convinced that I’m absolute rubbish at painting. I can now remember a mandatory art class in high school that may have prompted this self-belief – my old-school Soviet teacher yelling at me, because I just couldn’t get the point that the shadows are supposed to be purple. Once I got that, he stopped yelling, but I guess the damage was done. I have made sculptures before, but my artistic efforts have so far been limited to drawing princesses and unicorns on request. Even choosing a colour for walls was a drawn-out, painfull process of buying and painting on samples of no less than 11 shades of grey. When I started painting three weeks ago, I was hoping to just get my mind off the stress and the recent series of unfortunate events. My first painting was crap:

However, one magical thing did happen – I loved painting it. And I wanted to paint more. And true to myself, I wanted the next one to be better. So I watched a bunch of YouTube tutorials, bought some more paint and the next one was indeed a bit better:

So I watched more tutorials, bought more supplies, and the result surprised me. If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen the painstakingly slow progress shots, if not – here they are. Cause progress is fun!

Speaking of progress, I now have my husband’s agreement to indefinitely delay converting one of the two living rooms in the new old house into an awesome master bedroom. Because it is already awesome as my studio:

That’s all for now. I didn’t get a chance to write a post about Amazon ads, but will do so when I get temporarily sick of painting, which could happen. Hope it would be only temporary, if it does.

I also hope that if you suddenly remember someone yelling at you as a kid, something about how you could never do X, that you would immediately make plans to try X at the earliest opportunity. You never know what may happen.

 

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Once again, BookBub delivers

If only I could have a BookBub every week…I could have a free lunch. It’s been seven hours and eight days since the International Feature promo ran in UK, Canada, Australia and India, and I’m still getting $10-15 of sales and reads per day. It has long since earned the $38 fee and even covered the $50 I wasted on running a simultaneous BookBub ad (don’t do those, but more on that later).

Here is the pretty graph:

BookBub results April 2018

While I’m very happy with the result, the number of free downloads is less than it was the first time around. Last year I got 5,094 downloads in the first three days, and this time it was 3,501 over the same time. Unfortunately, I did not include in the last year’s post the buy through, or basically what I sold as a result. Not to make the same mistake, here are the results over the last 8 days:

  1. Shizzle, Inc: 9 copies sold at $2.99 and just under 8,000 KENP. Approximate return of $58.
  2. Indiot: 2 copies sold at $2.99 and 2,900 KENP. Approximate return of $18.50.

I have also ran the BookBub ad for full-priced Indiot, spent $50 and sold 9 additional copies, at a loss of $32. So after all of that and $38 for the BookBub, I have made a total of $6.50! In the black, baby!

I could still make more, if KENP continues to move along. With the last BookBub I was wide, which did not pay, since I got hardly any sales through Smashwords. I also did not get to enjoy the sustained spike in KENP, as you can see above. I’m continuing to run an AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) ad and so some of KENP could be due to that, but the ad has been running for several months, and there were hardly any pages read before, an equivalent of maybe a copy per week. That’s one problem with AMS – you can’t tell when your ad and click results in a borrow.

I do have a theory – the book was $0.99 during the last few months and maybe, just maybe, not deemed “worthy” by KU owners. Now that it’s $2.99, maybe it looks like a better value to borrow on a KU plan? The only way to confirm that would be to check the stats a month from now, when there’s no chance that any sales or borrows are generated by the BookBub afterglow.

I have promised to write a post about AMS and will do so next – I’m on annual leave right now but not going anywhere, only painting walls and canvasses.  Writers need hobbies too.

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I got another BookBub!!!

Oh, it’s nice to be back out in the sunshine of possibilities and hope! And how could I not feel sunny after winning the equivalent of self-published lottery for the second time in 13 months! I was writing the “thanks to Arnold” post just a few days ago and mentioned that I have neglected my marketing efforts, one of which has been clockwork monthly submissions to BookBub. So I fired off another one, and when I got the email back I almost deleted it on autopilot before realizing that they have accepted Shizzle, Inc for another BookBub International Promo. The last time I had almost 6K copies downloaded over 3 days, vs BookBub’s own estimate of 2.5K. This time they are telling me that on 2 April it will be sent to 250,000 subscribes and they estimate about 5K downloads. All at the cost of $38! The only bummer that I am yet to get the coveted US mailout.

By the way, this means Shizzle, Inc will be free in all Amazon stores 1-5 April, so why not download a copy for yourself 🙂

I will let you know the results of this promo, this is just a reminder for myself and all to persist – set a monthly calendar reminder to submit to BookBub and just don’t give up. I have submitted Shizzle, Inc nine times before I got the first one and an additional eight times to get the second one.

Good luck!

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Something each and every enterpreneur needs

No, it’s not start-up capital. I mean, yes, of course, we all need a venture capitalist willing to prop our idea with an overstuffed wallet. It’s something else, something I have not considered until I started probing Alibaba.com for possible manufacturer partners of my yet-to-be-revealed toy of awesomeness. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, vaguely aware of some dream in which Velcro yet again stole my idea. I have started the trademarking process with Australian IP Headstart, but it doesn’t hurt to have another bodyguard.

A non-disclosure agreement. NDA for short.

Ever had to sign such a thing? Maybe for an employer, promising not to talk about their dirty secrets in exchange for a wage and medical benefits? In this case, I want a manufacturer to say that they won’t use my design to sell toys to whomever else offers a buck. I know what you gonna say, that an unscrupulous company would sign whatever agreement and then proceed to ignore it. There’s also an argument that I’m in no danger of being copied unless my “thang” goes viral. The way I figured my current state of anxiety could be expressed by the following formula:

f (losing IP) / f (making it big) = trademark * NDA / blue moon

In other words, I don’t know what I’m doing. That means I might as well get an NDA. Question is, how do you get one without paying much/anything for it? Especially when your husband reminds you on a daily basis not to lose the house and/or enquires as to how much money you plan to sink into the new venture.

I started by asking all 5 shortlisted companies on Alibaba if they would sign one. Two immediately replied yes and one sent me theirs. Half of it was in Mandarin, so it means I have to write one. And that means I need help.

As per usual, I started with my free consultant, Google. I searched for a “non-disclosure agreement” and the first search result was from legalcontracts.com. They offered to create free NDAs for my employment, contract work, sale or even an invention. Bingo! It looked good until they asked me to pay for it or get a free week trial, after which I would get trapped into a monthly subscription. Next!

I have added “free” to the search and Legal Vision promised to create free NDAs for Australian businesses. Of course, mine is between me in Australia and some phantom company in China, but at this point, I figured a free NDA is better than no NDA.

And wouldn’t you know it? A free NDA is exactly what arrived in my inbox after a filled in a form! Undoubtedly, it will be followed by overenthusiastic phonecalls from Legal Vision sales department, which I will politely decline by yelling into the phone in an extra thick accent: “No Ana here thankyoumuchhavagoodday!”

My next thought was that “Government should provide these for free!” Turns out it does. Of course, now I have to look at the half-mandarin, commercial freebie and the government handout together and figure out which clauses I want to keep. But that’s what I get for being a cheapskate.

I ain’t losing my house, y’all!

 

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Thank you, Arnold.

Hi everybody.

So, ahm, how’s everyone? I know…I don’t write, I don’t call. I post a motivational message full of plans and commitments and then proceed to fall off the face of the Earth. I’m sorry.

I do have excuses, plenty of them. Shortly after that last post my father died, which was a huge shock to my whole family. The Iron Man had a nagging cough that twenty doctors couldn’t diagnose or cure, but nobody expected him to just be gone in a blink of an eye. I wanted to post something when it happened but just couldn’t find the right words. Instead, I jumped into IVF, something that I have meant to do for over a year, but didn’t have the guts. When that didn’t work, I went on a shopping spree – well, not a spree per se, I only bought one house. While the bills piled up, I continued working in my awesome new job, which was slowly killing me with stress.

It shouldn’t come as a shock then, that as of last week, and probably for many months prior, I was not happy. Not the entire time, mind you – I was riding a rollercoaster of ups and downs, the bumpiest few months yet. I’ve done so much over those months, including tons of writing, except none of it was for fun. Plenty of reports, emails, and responses to customers, but not one sentence for the new book or the blog. I have even let the twitter feed die. I have not run a single promotion (except for “always on” Amazon Marketing Services, which I have to write about next). As a result, the book sales have been pitiful, yet my career was going stronger than ever. I could almost see the vortex forming, at the end of which I would be promoted to the next, even more stressful level. That would mean a full stop to my writing dreams, but what options did I have when I became an owner of a house and a mother to a frozen embryo?

The only thing that has been consistently awesome throughout those months was my relationship. Josh has helped me manage all of the above by putting a coffee  into my blind hand every single morning so that I could start yet another stressful day, packing a lunch for me so that I could stay at my desk, and making dinners so that I could crash on the couch.  I do wash dishes and massage him, I’m not completely spoiled, but it didn’t seem enough to show him how special his constant care made me feel. So when I saw that Arnold Schwarzenegger was flying to Melbourne to host bodybuilding events and speak at a business summit, I knew I had to get tickets. I love Arnie too, but mostly for his blockbusters. I didn’t expect to gain anything from the talk, other than a few happy snaps of Josh smiling ear to ear.

It turns out I have a lot more in common with Arnie than our respective, too-easy-to-make-fun-of accents. We have both left our respective countries for the greener pastures of the US. We share the same drive to see how much we could lift, both physically and figuratively. Yet listening to him made me realize that lately, I have lost the lust for life and that spark that would drive me to persist in the face of overwhelming odds. That was the first epiphany of the evening.

The second one came when Arnold mentioned that early on he had invested his bodybuilding winnings into real estate with the sole purpose of providing him with income when he started to pursue his acting career. The steady flow of cash enabled him to only choose the roles he wanted (yes, I know, that means he wanted Hercules in New York. Maybe that was before the rent started coming in). And that’s when I had my second epiphany.

I’ve been working so hard for the last few years, trying to squeeze writing in the few empty spaces in the sleep-eat-work-repeat cycle. I have taken five months off that rat race and it enabled me to complete the second book, but it also wiped out my long service leave (I’m once again sorry to Americans for even mentioning such a luxury). It will take about seven years of spinning the hamster wheel before I can do it again. Other authors have replaced the office work hamster wheel with writing hamster wheel, producing a book each month to make a living, but I just can’t do it. There has to be another way.

Like Arnie, I have invested in real estate. Unfortunately, it only tied me closer to the office desk. I have also dreamed about how I’m going to write a bestseller while on maternity leave, J.K. Rowling style, but that dream is quickly dissipating too. The only answer left is to build some kind of business that would be flexible enough to give me the money I need to continue eating regularly and the time I need to be creative. The only question remained, what is that business?

I thought of leveraging even more debt to buy a franchise, but that idea was quickly poo-pooed by the family committee. I thought of getting a similar but less stressful job, but it seems like more of the same and could be even worse if I got a nasty boss. Then I remembered how much I love to invent stuff. Did I tell you about the time I invented the new and improved Velcro? I used this in Shizzle, Inc, but that did happen to me. One day, about fifteen years ago, I bought two flexible pet hair brushes on sale. They got stuck together in the shopping bag, the rubber bristles perfectly sliding in between bristles on the other brush. When I pulled them apart, I had this flash of an idea to miniaturise them to make new Velcro that didn’t rely on fragile loops. I drew the picture in an idea book I keep to this day, but I was poor and insecure and I didn’t pursue it. About a year or two later, Velcro came out with Poster Strips and made millions. I made nothing, other than the joke for my book.

So what am I going to invent now, you ask? Color Post-Its? Or a new Miracle Mop? Not quite, although it’s a bit of a “better mouse trap” improvement on an existing product. In euphoria following Arnold’s talk, I have already invented a new adult toy. Not the kind you’re thinking! More of a gag gift – it’s funny (I think) and it could take off (I think). I wish I could tell you what it is, but I’m afraid Velcro might find out about it so I will wait until I apply for a trademark, which should be in a matter of weeks. This time around I have a bit of money and a lot more gumption, so let’s see what happens.

Meanwhile, I will be posting blogs on my experience, mainly so that I don’t forget how I did things, and so that I am accountable to myself. I have a lot to do:

  1. Trademark the concept. I have done some research already and will begin by trademarking in Australia via Early Start service, then adding China and USA. No lawyers. Wish me luck!
  2. Develop a prototype – I have drawn up the idea and have contacted several manufacturers via Alibaba, who are willing to develop a prototype for about $150USD.
  3. Market research, for which I need the above prototype. My limited research with drawings has had great feedback – everyone wants this toy! They are my friends, though, so I will need to figure out other ways to understand the market potential. One of them may be via this blog.
  4. Website. I have already bought two domains and I know some basics from running this blog, but this time around I need a website with a shopping cart so it will be a challenge.
  5. Marketing. I already know some basics, but I will need to take it to a whole new level. I have already enrolled in a couple of webinars and will read a pile of books, which I will review here.

So there I go, on a pursuit of passive income that will allow me to write whatever I please. Wish me luck.

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100 days of self-brainwashing: Day 1, Ted Talks

I’m in Cabo, y’all! Having a grand time – here’s the proof:

  

After the miserable Melbourne winter, the heat and the sun are doing wonders for my well-being, and I have even started writing again. It’s easy to do when you have all day to do what you want:

I wrote 1,600 words on the first day. I was elated. Then the next day I wrote 900, the day after it was 600, yesterday it was 260, and today I have written nada, if you don’t count this post. Why, do you ask?

I thought I was lazy at first. Too much sun, food, tequila, you name it. Everyone else around me moving at a snail’s pace. Wanting to savor every moment, as if the ocean would cease to exist the moment I stopped staring at it. All very good reasons, except in the back of my mind I knew it was more about the uphill battle of publishing this third book. It was more about knowing that I have not yet made back my investment into the first two, about how hard I will have to work to sell each copy, to get reviews, and above all to keep going against the grim odds. I could very easily just relax, keep working on my career, which is going gangbusters, and let this little dream die a quiet death, like the one in which I was going to be an actress (four years, forty roles, whole of career earnings: $2,000).

The only problem is, without a big, ridiculous dream, I feel like something is missing. I’ve been miserable for the past few months, partly due to that miserable weather I’ve mentioned earlier, and partly because I got myself locked into a routine of going to work, giving it my all, then coming home to collapse and recover just enough to put in another day. Sounds familiar? Where’s Ana from ten years ago, the one that went to Australia on a tourist visa, convinced against all odds that she was going to get a job and a work visa sponsor? The one that signed up for triathlons and kiteboarding and could run 10K every day? The one that was abused so badly by her manager, she decided to become a manager herself? The one that thought “I can write a book, start a blog, and publish against those very glum odds”?

That fit, excited, and energetic Ana had not only the big goals in mind, she truly believed that she could accomplish them. And after some pondering this morning, I’d realized that I started it all with self-brainwashing. I was living in the US at the time, and I was miserable. The weather was great in Florida, I can’t blame it, but my first marriage was hell, and I was caught in a corporate hamster wheel of produce-get promoted-produce some more. Then something miraculous happened. The terrible first husband insisted that we move out to the boonies, where he could safely smoke dope and shoot deer out the window. That’s not the miraculous part, by the way. The move resulted in two major changes: we couldn’t get cable TV and I had to commute almost an hour each way to my corporate hamster job. I was bored at home, and I was bored driving. So I started reading and listening to audiobooks in the car. For some miraculous reason, the local library had the entire Tony Robbins audio collection and after a few hours of Tony insisting that I could do whatever it was I wanted to do, I was hooked. At the time I thought all I wanted was more money, as if that could fix my terrible, terrible marriage, so I kept reading and listening, and reading some more. I got hooked on psychology, motivation, self-help, and anything that promised to grow my mind. After a few months of that self-brainwashing, I realised that I didn’t want more money. What I wanted was to leave – my terrible husband, my hamster job, and unfortunately the US. It was a huge gamble, but it has paid massive dividends since.

So that’s what I’m going to do again. Brainwash myself again. I have started today by listening to a few TED talks, because I could still stare at the blue ocean while various successful people told me that I could do it, whatever it was. This was my favourite one:

It’s also the one from which I stole the idea of challenging myself for 100 consecutive days. It’s too early to tell, but hey, this blog post is 775 words, which is a whole lot better than yesterday. I’ll come up with something else tomorrow and see what happens.

 

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Need a quick, FREE cover design? Try Canva templates

Hi everyone,

You may or may not remember my endless trials and tribulations over design of Shizzle, Inc and Indiot covers, which have started with concepts by professional designer, went through a number of versions and online feedback. In the end, I have designed them myself, using Photoshop and images from Shutterstock. It was a costly exercise, to say the least, so it doesn’t surprise me when authors opt for a pre-designed cover, which a number of designers sell for just $50-100. At least you can see exactly what you are getting.

But what if you don’t have even $50 to risk? Until now, your options were limited. Either try to enter a contest and win a free cover design, or opt for embarassing yourself with one of those home-made covers that become the laughing stock of the Internet. If you are lucky, beg a friend for a favor.

Turns out there’s another option! Apparently, Canva has a whole range of pre-made, FREE cover templates. I have not personally used them, but Canva is a simple, drag-and-drop, design software that’s completely online and free to use, so it’s not much of a risk to try. You can choose from literally thousands of book cover templates, add your own text and be on your way in less time than it would take to read Adobe’s terms and conditions (and believe me, you have to read them, unless you don’t care that they will keep charging your credit card with the monthly subscription fee, and charge 50% of remaining fees if you decide to cancel.)

Have fun and let us all know if you’ve given it a go.

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#ComedyBookWeek is looking for new management

Hi everyone,

As you already know, I have been through a roller coaster year, from a scary low of a “probably not cancer, but let’s cut you open and look” to a new job and a wedding to boot. As a result, I have not delivered on my promise to host another #ComedyBookWeek event. Eight months into the awesome new job, it doesn’t look like I will have any time to do it again in the next decade or so.

In light of the above realization, I have decided to pass the baton on to someone more energetic and capable of growing the event into something even more special. If you think you might be that person, please email me directly at ana (dot) spoke (at) yahoo (dot) com.

There is no catch – I don’t want any money or favors, just assurance that you are willing and able to take over the event. You will get the rights over the domain name, the contacts, any previously created content, etc (but you will have to arrange for your own hosting of the website). In your email, please let me know:

  1. Why you want to take over #ComedyBookWeek. Are you a comedy writer yourself? Have you had an experience creating or growing an online enterprise?
  2. Why you are suited to manage the event – are you technically savvy? Do you have the time?
  3. Anything else that would convince me to hand over my baby.

That’s it. Looking forward to your submissions!

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Mr. Hue finally comes to life

Well, sort of.  I have not sold the movie rights, at least not yet. But as promised, here’s the result of the last Crash Test Drafts event. Note that the actor had just one hour to rehearse the monologue, that’s why he has the text in his hand.

If anyone lives in Melbourne, I highly recommend connecting with Crash Test Drafts on Facebook, either as a writer, director or writer. I have learned a lot from the judges’ feedback, and surprisingly most of it from the feedback given to other writers. The one bit of advice that really stuck with me was that we as writers have to make the reader care about what’s happening to the characters, care about what they are going through, and why. Elicit a response. The most intricately plotted novel would fail with flat characters.

The next Crash Test Drama event is on 3 June, so there’s still time to submit your play or excerpt. And if you are not in Melbourne, why not start your own?

Next on my list of promises was a stand-up routine. I have not done that yet. Because I’m scared, that’s why. But I will.

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Storyteller UK competition and why Shizzle, Inc is no longer free

UPDATE: please note that the book has to be published between 20th February and 19th May 2017, so Shizzle, Inc is ineligible. However, I can still publish my collection of short stories (the prequel “This is Why”) by 19 May and enter it.

Shizzle, Inc is now back to $2.99USD, and it’s the Storyteller UK competition to blame. That, and partly the negative reviews that come from readers grabbing a freebie without even reading the blurb. Oh, and the fact that in June I’m going to pitch it to a dozen publishers and a $2.99 book may look better than a free one. Lastly, because I will try to get Bookbub for the US and hope discounting a book to free temporarily will get it more attention.

Wait, slow down, what’s that Storyteller UK competition you’re talking about? Glad you’ve asked! Let me take a breath…

Do you have a self-published book in Kindle Select and available in print format? Well then, if you just add “StorytellerUK2017″ as a keyword, your book will be featured in a list of entries to win a $20,000 pounds! That’s $24,936USD, at least at the moment. Interested? Then visit Kindle Storyteller page for more details. Hurry, it’s open only until 19 May 2017!

Good luck!

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