Saturday Open Thread

Time to discuss whatever you want — and if you want something to discuss, I’ll ask whether you’re planning any spring cleaning this weekend (or next weekend).

I’m going to put away the winter sweaters and the heavy coat and get out my favorite Breton-esque striped shirts (of which I currently own eight, because I don’t like having to decide what to wear in the morning) and then cross my fingers that the weather won’t get cold again. There are still piles of snow on the side of the road, but we’re supposed to break 60 degrees by the end of next week, so… maybe spring will arrive on time. ❤️

A Very Very Brief Excerpt of NEXT BOOK

310 of the current 13,093 words. ALL OF THESE WORDS ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.

I haven’t named Ellen’s Slack friends yet. But I have begun to suss out their personalities.

ellen.everton: so hypothetically

ellen.everton: if you had the chance to go to Narnia or fairyland or whatever

ellen.everton: would you?

NAME NAME 1: HUNDO PEE

NAME NAME 1: BRING ON THE QUEST

NAME NAME 1: I WILL DRAW MY SWORD AND FIGHT

ellen.everton: what if you don’t know how to do a sword

NAME NAME 1: there’ll be a training montage

NAME NAME 2: idk do you really want to be Frodo though, or Bilbo

NAME NAME 2: it wasn’t all second breakfasts

NAME NAME 3: more like second breakfasts and PTSD

NAME NAME 3: if you examine the literature, you’ve got, like, “everyone dies and they dance around in Aslan heaven” (Narnia) “everyone learns that fantasy kingdoms are a lot harder to govern than they thought” (The Magicians, also a lot of people die) “everyone gets kicked back into their own worlds and they spend their lives struggling to adjust” (6/7 of Narnia, Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children, potentially stuff like Neverwhere and LOTR)

NAME NAME 3: (if you count the Shire as a separate world)

NAME NAME 2: but that’s how the hero’s journey goes according to Joey C: you always end up home again

NAME NAME 2: what’s that TS Eliot quote about returning and seeing the place you once knew as if for the first time

ellen.everton: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” thanks Google

NAME NAME 2: there you go

ellen.everton: so the question then becomes: is it worth it to do the exploring

NAME NAME 1: did you not read the quote you just copy-pasted

NAME NAME 1: WE SHALL NOT CEASE

NAME NAME 1: it can’t be not worth it because you can’t not do it

Also, for those of you following me on Twitter and wondering how this book can have both a mysterious old house with a bunch of secret doors and, like, Slack, let me remind you that this is 2019, we can have all of this AND MORE. ❤️

Indie Author Advice From Seth Godin’s ‘This Is Marketing’

If you’re already familiar with Seth Godin’s blog, or have already read any of his bestselling books — Linchpin, Purple Cow, etc. — you already know a lot of what he’s going to tell you in his newest book, This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See.

  • Make a product that solves a real person’s problem.
  • Get really specific about what kind of person you’re targeting and what problem you’re trying to solve.
  • Don’t be a brown cow (boring, typical), be a purple cow (unique, remarkable, phenomenal).

So I wanted to focus on just one section of this book that happens to be particularly relevant to creative career types (aka “the kind of person this blog is targeting”).

In Chapter Nineteen: The Funnel, Seth writes about “life on the long tail:”

On the left are the hits. There aren’t as many of them, but they each sell a lot. In fact, number one sells ten times as many copies as number ten, and a hundred times as many as number one hundred. A hit is magical.

On the right are the rest. The long tail: good products of specialized interest. Each, by itself, doesn’t sell many copies, but taken together, the long tail sells as much as the short head.

Half of Amazon’s sales are books that are not in the top five thousand. Half!

Half of the music consumed on streaming sites isn’t available in stores. Not half the titles, half the volume.

Amazon can do great with this strategy since they sell all the available books. Each author, though, is in pain: selling one to two books a day is no way to make a living.

Seth’s advice is to become the “short head” of a specialized market, e.g. the best person selling “video courses on using a GH5 camera to make movies.”

Or, in the self-publishing world, the best person writing “steamy older woman younger man romance.”

If you’ve spent any time on Amazon recently, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of indie genre fiction authors have started using specific genre keywords in their titles. We’ve got Gloria King’s Love Thy Neighbor: Steamy Older Woman Younger Man Romance, for example, or A.R. Winters’ Cooks, Crooks and Cruises: A Humorous Cruise Ship Cozy Mystery (Cruise Ship Cozy Mysteries Book 2). They want readers to know exactly what they’re getting, so the readers who want exactly what they’re offering will be incentivized to purchase.

This is one way to get around the “can’t make a living selling two books a day” effect. (At roughly $2.50 in royalties per book, that’d be $1,825 a year before taxes.)

The other way to get around the “can’t make a living selling two books a day” thing is to find ways of earning money besides selling books.

Like keeping your day job. (As many authors do.)

Or freelancing. (Ditto.)

Or freelancing and teaching and editing and speaking and a bunch of other gigs that all support and sustain each other. (Tritto.)

If you do that, and if you are ready to build a career that, as Seth notes, is about solving someone else’s problems*, then you can do the creative work you want to do without having to try to be the best person at “older woman younger man humorous romance where the younger man has a really cute dog.”

Because you’ll be making the art that only you can make, telling the stories that only you can tell, etc.

And, in a world where other people are competing to be the best at a certain set of keywords, this kind of unique creative work can really stand out.

Of course, you still have to figure out how to market it.

Which means you’ll probably still want to read Seth’s book. ❤️

*One of my most popular freelance articles, which still gets retweeted and shared at least once a month even though it was published in 2015, is Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself With A/B Testing at Unbounce. This is a perfect example of using a freelance career to solve someone else’s problems (both Unbounce’s problem of needing a guide to A/B testing, and the readers’ problem of… also needing a guide to A/B testing). When I teach my “how to freelance” classes — and I’ll be teaching another one this summer, so check back later for dates — I get a lot of students who want to build careers as travel writers or celebrity profile writers or writers of stuff that sounds interesting to them. You can absolutely get paid to write about travel (I’ve done it) but you’ll get paid a lot more money if you’re also able to write about A/B testing.

Where I Got Published Today: Lifehacker

I love this piece SO MUCH. (So did my editor.)

How to Schedule Your Day When You Freelance or Work From Home

I’ve been a full-time freelancer since 2012, and most of my work gets done at home—that is, from my home office. I tried working from coffee shops and co-working spaces, but I tend to get the most work done when I’m in a quiet, comfortable, familiar space where I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll be able to find a seat near an electrical outlet (and won’t have to ask someone to watch my laptop every time I need to use the toilet).

I also know that I get my best work done in the morning and early afternoon; the closer it gets to 3 p.m., the more I’ll want a task that allows me to respond to information rather than generate it. Reading a book for review, for example, instead of writing a book review.

So I’ve developed a schedule that lets me do my best work at the times I work best.

If you’re also working from home and would like to develop a similar schedule, here’s what I’ve learned over the past seven years.

Why Financial Independence Is Like Self-Publishing

As of this morning’s freelance paycheck, I have $100,203.85 in assets and $825.44 on two credit cards that will both get paid off tomorrow, giving me a total net worth of $99,378.41.

I mean, I’m more excited about the “$100K in assets” figure, since I’ve been working towards that goal for a while (even though I know I probably won’t hit a for-real six-figure net worth until I get my next freelance paycheck).

After this, I guess the next big goal is a total investment portfolio value of $750,000, which — at the recommended 4% annual withdrawal rate and the level of frugality I’ve managed to maintain since college — should render me financially independent. 

In other words, I’ll be able to live exclusively off my investments if I choose.

The various online calculators suggest this will happen in the next 10-12 years. I am smart enough to understand that other things may happen in the next 10-12 years to shift that goal, but optimistic and/or dedicated enough to decide it’s a goal worth working towards regardless.

Being able to live half off my investments and half off my freelance writing and teaching and self-publishing income, for example, would also be good.

There are a lot of potential success scenarios here.

There are also a lot of potential success scenarios for a self-published book — like, it’s literally the first lesson I teach in my online Finances of Self-Publishing course (which you can take next month, sign up here).

You could write a runaway bestseller; you could write and publish a book a year and sell it to your 1,000 True Fans; you could write a book to preserve a piece of family history and use tools like Reedsy and IngramSpark to create a beautiful hardback copy that’ll last for generations.

Self-publishing can also get you many of the aspects of “the author’s life” that a lot of us dream about: a book launch party with cake and sparkling beverages, the opportunity to do readings and signings at bookstores and libraries, the professional expertise required to teach classes or speak on panels at conventions. A quiet home office with plants in it. The ability to say “I will block off X amount of time, every day, just for writing my next book.”

(Current NEXT BOOK draft: 12,253 words.)

Of course, you can get the plants and commit to a writing schedule before you finish that first draft — and if you want to learn more about how to do that, you should sign up for my online course How to Develop a Writing Practice, which runs end-of-April through end-of-May. (It’s a self-paced group course, so you’ll take it as a group but won’t have to be at your desk at any specific time for mandatory webinars or anything like that. You’ll be free to do the readings, chat in the group discussion forum, etc. whenever you have time available.)

Just like I’m already thinking about myself as having committed to financial independence — and behaving and budgeting like a financially independent person might behave* — 10–12 years before I’ll actually get there.

But I thought, during my early-morning yoga practice where I usually get my best thoughts, that the whole financial independence thing was strikingly similar to the self-publishing thing. A nearly identical mindset.

Self-publishers take on both the author role and the publisher role. They develop various “success scenarios” for their books — maybe they want to crowdfund their “advance,” the way I did for The Biographies of Ordinary People; maybe they want to sell more than 500 Kindle copies in the first three months**; maybe they want to to go on book tour or get their book reviewed by Kirkus or submit their novel for various awards.

There’s a lot that a self-published author can’t control, such as who wins those awards or how much money Amazon pours into its Kindle Unlimited Fund or whether the market for their particular genre changes, but there’s a lot they can control through research and careful budgeting.

The biggest factor under their control is whether they spend more on their self-published book than they plan to earn (THIS IS THE NUMBER ONE MOST IMPORTANT THING I WILL TEACH IN MY CLASS, BTW).

That’s also one of the biggest factors that will determine whether they’ll self-publish another book and slowly build up a career as a self-published author.

Likewise, the person going after financial independence takes on both the worker role and the employer role, even if they already have another employer. This person is setting aside money for to pay their future salary the same way an employer sets aside money for payroll, and deciding how much they might want to earn in the future the same way an employer decides how much to pay employees.

There’s a lot that this person won’t be able to control, such as whether they get laid off (or lose their biggest freelance client) and have to cut back on their savings goals (or spend money they’ve already saved) until they find another source of income. They won’t be able to control market changes or recessions.

The biggest factor under their control is — you guessed it — whether they spend more than they earn.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, because several years ago I got myself into $14K of credit card debt during a period of underemployment. There are 100% for-sure times when you cannot spend less than you earn because you are simply not earning enough. I have been there. Lots of people are currently there.

If that’s where you are, and you’d like to not be there, I’d recommend reading Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez’s Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence. This book should be available at your local library (get the 2018 edition if possible; if not, the older editions should be just as good though slightly less relevant to today’s economy) and it absolutely changed my life when I read it while working as a part-time telemarketer.

If you like cats and glitter, I also recommend Lillian Karabaic’s Get Your Money Together: An Illustrated Purrsonal Finance Workbook to Help You Budget Your Money, Save for Retirement, and Smash Debt. This book might not be available at your local library, but it’s exceptionally useful if — well, to quote Lillian Karabaic:

I only started teaching personal finance only because I was frustrated with the lack of queer-friendly, feminist, and, most of all, fun personal finance education out there — especially stuff that deals with actual real-life money issues and doesn’t assume you have one full-time job with benefits, 2.5 kids, and a white picket fence.

I’d also suggest reading Grant Sabatier’s Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to All the Money You Will Ever Need, because Grant devotes the first half of the book to “how to earn more money” and the second half to “how to become financially independent,” so if you’re interested in that, go check it out. Literally.

And if you’re interested in the finances of self-publishing, well… you could always take my class. ❤️

*Contrary to popular belief, “financial independence” doesn’t mean “having more money than you could ever spend.” It’s more like you’re paying yourself an annual salary based on your investment returns. Which means you’ll still need to stick to a budget, and in some ways you’ll need to be more careful about your budgeting and spending than a person who isn’t “financially independent.” After all, you want that pool of investment money to last for the rest of your life.

**The average self-published book sells fewer than 500 Kindle copies, so hitting this benchmark is an early sign of success.

Meeting Andrew Yang in Cedar Rapids and Learning How He Plans to Become President

I just got back from the Andrew Yang meetup in Cedar Rapids — it was held at Groundswell Café, which is one of those community spaces that lets you “pay it forward” and buy another person’s meal for them (and if you’re in a situation where you need food, you can come in and enjoy one of the paid-forward meals), so already it was like we were on message.

Them that hath shall give, for a change.*

The Food Dividend.

Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend, which is rapidly gaining traction on various parts of the internet, is a universal basic income plan of $1,000/month for every American over the age of 18. (No, it shouldn’t lead to mass inflation, just like Seattle’s $15 minimum wage didn’t lead to mass inflation. The thing that drove gentrification and housing cost inflation in Seattle was “a growing number of people that had a lot of money,” not “a lot of people that suddenly had a little more money.”)

This is not Yang’s only policy plan, and we spent the morning discussing everything from Medicare for All to mitigating the effects of climate change to stopping the endless wars — but the truth, as it seems to be at the moment, is that we need to solve our country’s economic problems before we can deal with larger-scale issues.

As Andrew Yang explained (paraphrased):

Trump became president because his campaign correctly identified many of the biggest issues facing the United States: increased automation, job loss, economic insecurity. However, his presidency has done nothing to provide solutions to these problems.

Yang’s solution, and his plan of action, are as follows:

  1. Focus on the Freedom Dividend. This is a unifying issue — Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents have all shown enthusiastic support for the “$1K a month” plan, and we have memes of people trading their MAGA hats for Yang hats (and reports of Trump supporters re-registering as Democrats so they can vote for Yang).
  2. Place in the top three in the Iowa primaries.
  3. Win New Hampshire, which has a large Libertarian crowd that should provide additional support.
  4. At that point, Yang told us, his face is on the cover of every newspaper. Globally. “Who is this guy and how did he beat all those established politicians?” The Freedom Dividend goes mainstream, and a lot of people get really excited about an extra $12K every year.
  5. Win the election.
  6. Institute the Freedom Dividend ASAP. Both halves of Congress should be on board because it’ll pour a lot of money into red states, and if they don’t give people their $12K, they’re going to have a lot of angry constituents.
  7. Once Americans see that their country can accomplish big goals that benefit everyone, and QUICKLY, they’ll be ready to tackle even larger problems like climate change.

(By the way, I love that Andrew Yang has both a tactical plan for winning the election and is willing to share those tactics with all of us.)

“You have the history of the country in your hands,” Yang told us — referring, of course, to the Iowa Caucus.

But it can also refer to all of us. ❤️

If you want to learn more — AND I HOPE YOU DO — go to Yang2020.com.

*I am of course referring to the Bible, Matthew 13:12, “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” Coincidentally, Groundswell is part of a larger mission called Matthew 25, which “exists to strengthen core neighborhoods on the west side of Cedar Rapids and to provide opportunities for people to act on their values through service.” In the Bible, Matthew 25 includes the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and the parable of the talents, but ends with the famous verses “whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.”

Registration Is Open for Two New Online Classes: The Finances of Self-Publishing and How to Develop a Writing Practice

Very excited to announce that I’m teaching two online classes with Hugo House this spring!

Take The Finances of Self-Publishing if you’re planning to self-publish a book and want to know 1) how much it’ll cost to produce the book and 2) how much you might earn back in sales. It’s a short course — just two hours’ worth of material spread over two weeks.

Take How to Develop a Writing Practice if you want to learn how to make time to write a book, a blog, or anything else you’ve been itching to put into words. This four-week course will get you writing right away, and help you build writing habits that will last a lifetime.

Both courses are group courses, which means that although you can work at your own pace within the course (there aren’t any class sessions that meet at specific times or anything like that), you’ll be part of a group of students who are all taking the same course at the same time. It’s an excellent way to get to know other writers.

Registration for both courses opens today, and you can get Early Bird pricing if you register before March 19.

Full course details below. If you have questions about either of these courses, leave ’em in the comments!

THE FINANCES OF SELF-PUBLISHING

April 18–April 25, 2019

Self-publishing is easier than ever—but it isn’t cheap. When you become your own publisher, you take on all the costs associated with publication: hiring editors and designers, getting industry reviews, planning book launches and book tours. This course will cover the finances of self-publishing, explain the types of expenses you can expect as a first-time publisher, and discuss ways to keep your costs low while still creating a professional-quality book.

HOW TO DEVELOP A WRITING PRACTICE

April 30—May 21, 2019

Successful writers understand that writing is not just an art—it’s also a practice. If you’re having trouble finding time to write or feel like you lack the motivation to complete your writing projects, this class is for you. Students will learn how to track their creative energy throughout the day, analyze their schedules to set aside time for writing, use measurable goals to maximize productivity while writing, and discuss how to remain committed to their writing practice long-term.

Where I Got Published Today: Bankrate, Haven Life

Bankrate: The right credit card could be the right financial move in 2019:

If you’re paying for everyday expenses like groceries and restaurants without earning rewards, you’re leaving money on the table. Whether you choose a flat-rate cash back card that offers the same points on every purchase or a bonus category rewards card that gives you higher rewards for certain categories of purchases — and we’ve got a list of the pros and cons of both — you’re going to want one of the best rewards credit cards in your wallet. You’ll also want to use it for the majority of your purchases.

Otherwise, you’re going to do all that day-to-day spending without getting anything in return.

Haven Life: How to prepare your finances for a recession:

Remember, a recession doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll lose your job. Not all employers lay off employees during recessions, and many employers work hard to keep their best team members. However, they often look for other ways to cut costs. This might mean losing the coffee and donuts in the breakroom, or it might mean losing your 401(k) contribution match — so it’s in your best interests to claim as many employer benefits as you can while you’ve still got them.