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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Thinking outside the book cover

I’ve had not one but two completely new and possibly brilliant ideas and I have two brilliant people to thank for them. If they work, they will help me sell more books, but more importantly, they will be the two new shots of adrenaline I need to keep going. In this preoccupation with trying to sell books and land a publishing contract, I’d forgotten that there are other creative ways to express myself while getting my name “out there.” At least one of them is comedy-specific, but I hope they make you think outside of the confines of the book covers.

The credit for the first idea goes to Josh. He’s about to get up on stage for the first time in twenty years and try stand-up comedy again. He’d done it in his youth and had some success, but ultimately had to stop because the experience was so stressful and literally gut-wrenching. He’s been talking about an open mike night at the bar around the corner for nearly two years, and now that he has a looming deadline, he wants me to do it with him. I’ve said “no” before because while I love comedy, I feel that my calling is to write it, not perform it and because I don’t have any standup material to perform. But for some reason today, maybe because it’s so stinking hot and my brains are melting, it suddenly seemed like a great idea. First of all, I have tons of material – two books worth of it. All I have to do is take the one-liners I’ve been tweeting and put them together with some intro and transitions. Secondly, if I started doing that with any new material, still in draft, I can get instant feedback on what is funny and what may fall flat. I have just over a week to put together a five-minute routine, and I’m so doing it. There will be video evidence posted shortly thereafter and I hope it prompts me to do more open mikes in the future.

The second set of credits goes to my friends, a lovely creative couple who have genuinely “made it” by transitioning from acting and theater directing in their spare time to now running a successful children’s theater company. They are also involved in a monthly event in Melbourne called Crash Test Drama, which brings together scriptwriters, directors, and actors. Imagine this – as an actor, showing up one Saturday morning, receiving your one-sentence audition piece, practicing it for about fifteen minutes, and then getting up on the stage in groups of four or five, for an opportunity to say that sentence in some novel way. A group of writers and directors would then cast you (if you are lucky) in one of 10-minute plays chosen for the day. You’d have about an hour to rehearse and then would have to perform the play in front of the others (you’re allowed to read from the script). Talk about pressure!

I’d participated in Crash Test Drama before, but only as an actor. It didn’t occur to me to submit an excerpt from Shizzle, Inc, until a few weeks ago, when we were having a couples dinner out. We were talking about the next event, and for some reason, maybe because of the relentless heat or too many margaritas, it suddenly seemed like a really good idea to submit an excerpt. I’ve just submitted two – the scene in which Isa and Dad argue about science, housing market, and computers before he helps her with Yomama merger, and the one in which Mr. Hue spouts his dubious business advice while Isa tries to come up with a blame strategy for her failures. I should know by the end of March if I get to be on the other side of the audition game on 22 April.

What do you think? Are there any other ways to blow off humor steam? I’ve been doing it in meetings, too, but the problem is that I can’t follow a laugh with “Oh, you liked that? Then buy my book!” And that’s exactly what I plan on doing at the end of my standup routine. I won’t try to sell it to actors, they are notoriously broke, but in my previous dealings with Crash Test Drama, I was once approached by a TV program director. She wanted to know how she could find me if she ever needed Ukrainian actors instead of Australians trying to fake a Russian accent, and nothing ever came of it, but you never know. This time she may want to option Isa and the gang for a pilot. It could happen.

Hope this prompts a brilliant idea of your own.

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You didn’t write the book I wanted

Well, it’s been eight whole days since my International BookBub ad went live and I just hit 6,000 free units downloaded! Wippee! That’s more than twice of what was predicted by BookBub themselves (2,500)!

The sell-through has not been great, with just 7 full-price copies of Indiot have been purchased and the equivalent of additional 4 copies read through KU. Still, I could not wait to apply for the US distribution, and then could not believe my eyes when I was promptly rejected. But…but…why won’t you let Americans have a free copy of Shizzle, Inc? Everyone else in the world loves it!

Well, that’s not entirely true. Yes, I did get at least one new fan, who’d not only inhaled Shizzle, Inc in just a day or two, he or she immediately posted a glorious review:

And then, just a couple of days later, he/she posted a review of Indiot:

Aw, shucks…I was practically glowing, but then this one dropped:

I’m not sure who was the prince that supposedly saved Isa, and I’m also not sure what that person expected from a book with a tagline of What could possibly happen when a gloriously dippy millennial becomes the right hand of an equally clueless playboy billionaire? Of course, with any free giveaway, your book is bound to end up in the hands of people who didn’t read the description and I know I should be all cool about it by now, but my hand just ached to respond to the comment…

I slapped that hand away and undertook immediate damage control. Once again, it helps to keep this blog, because I’ve already been through the pain of a 1-star review and have written A Simple Guide to Overcoming 1-Star Review Grief. It reminded me that my hope was one day to have tens of thousands of 1-star reviews, just like the bestsellers in the above Simple Guide. So this particular one just brought me one review closer to the goal.

Suddenly, it didn’t matter so much. In fact, I wanted to share some of the other 1-star reviews of Shizzle, Inc that I hope you might find amusing. Keep in mind, these were written about a book from a “defining series of a generation!” if you believe one of the 5-star reviews:

  • “The behavior of Mr. Hue was unrealistic and quite frankly, shockingly rude. A complete douche. If this were reality, his company would have gone down in flames before it ever got off the ground.”
  • “There are just too many screwballs in this book. Everyone is a screwball or a screw-up.”
  • “Good gods, this was stupid.”
  • “The main character is an idiot, her employer is an idiot, and I think the story might be set in an alternate universe. Otherwise. . .wow. just wow.”
  • ” I’m not sure if Shizzle, Inc. can be classified as satire because it bears so little relation to the real world of corporate greed and weirdness.”
  • “Other reviewers either are being nice and writing fake reviews or they were of low intelligence to begin with and easily amused by letters and words.”
  • “Had this been a paper book, I would have burned it to save another reader the 1.5 seconds they might spend reading the title and thinking it might be worth opening the cover.”

Yeah, so other than a slight eye twitch, I’m no longer affected by those and I hope you feel a bit better about any 1-star reviews you might have gotten of late. I have just over 30 bad reviews now, across the different platforms, so still not close to the tens of thousands.

That’s okay, though – I can apply for the US BookBub in 29 days.

 

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Drumroll…BookBub results! Spoiler…they are awesome!

I’m not one to wish that every day was Christmas or my birthday, but I wouldn’t mind reliving the 6 March 2017 a few times. Well, 7 March, actually, because even though my BookBub promo was international, in Australia the email didn’t go out until 1am on 7 March. I spent the entire prior day checking the stats and telling myself to just calm the hell down, while worrying that something went wrong. I didn’t need to worry – when I woke up the next morning, I could see that long-awaited spike. Over 2,000 copies were already downloaded in those first six or so hours, and the green line keeps moving since. It has completely dwarfed my prior stats, which were in 5-10 per day range (without advertising). Isn’t it beautiful?

That’s a total of an amazing 5,094 downloads over the first three days. The breakdown per country is as follows:

  • UK: 2,698
  • Canada: 1,172
  • Australia: 754
  • India: 329
  • The US: 139

Three things surprised me: first of all, that more than twice as many books were downloaded compared to the BookBub’s own estimate of 2,500. Secondly, even though the US was excluded from the promo, somehow 139 copies were downloaded via the amazon.com site. Thirdly, that despite including Kobo and Nook in the promo, I had no spike whatsoever in my Smashword sales. Maybe the data is delayed, and I will check again in a week, or maybe I should just concentrate on Amazon.

I’d spent the last three days marveling at the stats and trying to decide what to do next: should I make Shizzle, Inc full price and hope a few people actually buy it? Should I pull it from wide distribution and enroll in KU? Should I finish the third book in the series instead of going down the path of the new one? After much deliberation of myself, I kept everything as is and applied for the US promo in hopes that the excellent result will convince BookBub to give me a fair go. I’d also submitted Indiot as a $0.99 deal. I should know in about a week’s time if either deal is accepted.

Meanwhile, I’d updated my Super Duper List of Book Marketing with the results. When I first announced that after 18 months of trying I was offered a BookBub promo deal, a few people on Twitter mentioned how expensive BookBub is. Well, just compare the cost and the result to anything on that list – no other company comes close. If you are so lucky as to get a deal with them, just take it. Take out your credit card and just ask “How much?”

You won’t regret it.

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