This is Sean Platt. I spent a MIND-BLOWING hour with him talking about micro-publishing (you know, selling 99c books on Kindle), how to get started and rock it out, some of his most epic fails, and his hard-earned lessons. And lots of other topics. We’re both talkers.
Fair warning: if you don’t like serials like LOST and writers like Stephen King, you probably won’t like reading Yesterday’s Gone. But if you like stuff that starts out awesome, and then is awesome on every page until the WTF? cliffhanger ending, then you’ll totally dig Yesterday’s Gone. (I dare anyone who reads Yesterday’s Gone to not secretly like Boricio, especially by season’s end.)
Thanks Sean, for sharing so much smartness on how to rock it out to piles of cash AND joy.
If you have any follow-up questions, please pop them in the comments. And if you too would like to hear Sean and I talk about balancing strategy and white-hot passion, then let us know!
The artist is sitting in the alchemist’s tent, on a chair that was made from the baseboard of a spice caravan. The artist is drinking a strawberry thickshake, but she is not happy.
The artist says, “There are piles and piles of people around who are telling me that “Oh, you should talk about Why you do your work so people can connect with it!” and that is completely useless advice to me. I mean, I get what they’re saying, but I can’t do it!”
The alchemist says Why is that?
“Because I do my work because I want to. I have to! I can’t not do it. And that won’t connect with anybody, anywhere. “Selfish Artist Makes Art For Herself”? Stop the presses. They have a reason to buy my art, but it has nothing at all to do with why I make it. So I can’t possibly talk about my Why.”
Ah, I see. Let us change the topic then. What is your art?
Well, recently I’ve been working on a series of violets forged out of bronze.
Interesting. Why that particular piece?
“I’ve been playing around with the ideas of beauty and fragility for awhile. I mean, I think it’s seriously fucking stupid how we’ve gotten this idea in our heads that beautiful equals fragile. And fragile, of course, means that other people have power over you. (‘Cos, you know, they can break you.) So there’s this weird dynamic that beautiful things and people have power because of their beauty, but at the same time they have less power because we think they’re not strong.”
And so these pieces…
“Are about how strength and beauty are not mutually exclusive.”
Ah. The alchemist sits silently for a time, plaiting one long strand of greyblack hair with rice bells.
Then the alchemist paints an ostrich egg with gold paint and vermilion and puts it in a cauldron.
Then the alchemist sits down again.
The artist swears calmly and admiringly, at some length.
“You just told me my Why, didn’t you.”
I don’t believe so. I think you told me.
The moral of the story
For a long time, I got this wrong with my clients. (Anyone who struggled through it with me, I apologise. It was a hard question, and I hadn’t quite gotten it yet.)
I get it now.
Artists, crafters, serial entrepreneurs… we create because we must.
Because it brings us joy. Because it makes us better people. Because you just. Gotta. Dance. Because it makes your world brighter. Because otherwise we’d go mad.
This is entirely, beautifully selfish, and thus not very interesting to talk about. It isn’t a useful way to connect with the people who want what we have to offer. (They’re glad you groove on your work. But this is all about me, man!)
However. There is a reason why, out of the ten thousand thousand possible projects, there is a reason why we made this one.
Your Why is not about Why you create.
Your Why is about what you choose to create.
You create jewellery with hammered silver skulls. Why? Because we now live in a world where we are almost entirely divorced from death, and it’s made us morbid.
You write poems about Nazis in love. Why? Because human nature is beautiful and wretched, often at the same time.
You create websites with huge textured images. Why? Because technology doesn’t need to be cold and impersonal.
The rabbit hole may be longer than that.
You run a website that reviews different types of vitamins and makes money from affiliate links. Why?
Because I couldn’t stand my job any more and I wanted to see the kids grow up.
Why did you start this particular business?
Because I went to a seminar on passive-income businesses.
Why did you go to that seminar?
Because I really liked the brochure. It said, “Making Money Doesn’t Have to Suck”.
Why did that appeal to you?
Because a lot of the time, we make things harder than they need to be. The vitamin thing is the same – we don’t review super-specialised complicated vitamins, we make it easy for people to choose one that they can just take once a day and go.
Why is that the best approach?
Because life doesn’t have to be hard.
This wasn’t an accident.
Give ten people a blank page and a pen, and they’ll draw ten very different things. An elephant. A dripping tap. An axe murderer.
You make choices on where to concentrate your formidable creative talents.
[Hello there, this is Editor Catherine. I wrote this article because the online space – and even my own business, horror! – had been grim and unfun and dull. I’ve edited out anything that doesn’t make sense, or that time has run out on, but I’ve decided to leave the rest here. Because they made people happy, including me.
So this isn’t by any means the usual kind of article. Enjoy.]
That’s just it, my lovelies. I’ve had all I can stands, I can’t stands nomore.
I have had it up to hyah with boring marketing. With soulless, well-I-gotta-pay-them-billz, going-through-the-motions [1. Buffy references: 1.] grinding-for-gold, no-one-ever-wanted-to-grow-up-and-do-this marketing.
So I am staging a one-business protest against feeble, joyless marketing. Until the end of the month I am going to update this article with as much creative, juicy, fun, funny, soulful, sweet, rude, kick-ass, human and wonderfabulous marketing as I can. Mine, other people’s – one big bonanza/carnivale of creativity/minuet of marketing.
This protest is about:
Your most beautiful business.
Kicking out the JAMS.
Right, first act in the carnivale: time to dance. Here’s MC5 in 1969 performing Kick Out the Jams. (It starts with a naughty word, be warned.)
Now we have that energy rocking it…
Thanks to Chris for introducing me to Flo from Progressive Insurance.
Why aren’t we all having this much fun with our marketing?
Jinx in a time machine!
Okay, so the problem with being in a community is that it is self-enforcing. The norms become The Only Way to Do It.
Like, you know, the Correct Way to Launch. Or the Cult of the List.
Balls to that.
There is no such thing as The Only Way, or The Right Way. Sure, there’s some bits that are pretty damn important, but I think there are only three real rules. (Even then, I’m willing to be convinced.)
Thou shalt make something amazing.
Thou shalt offer it to the people who appreciate it.
Thou shalt create splendid value for thee and thy buyer.
Everything else is up for grabs, and that includes how you obey those rules.
What are your thoughts? Am I full of crap? I look forward to your comments!
To all the artists and crafters
I wish to show you something.
These are my default shoes.
They’re Doc Martens I ordered over the internet from the US. With shipping and the exchange rate, I think they cost me about $180.
I’ve had them for a couple of years.
I would kill a kodiak for these shoes.
Last Saturday at the roller derby I had yet another stranger begin a conversation with, “I love your shoes!” This wasn’t a surprise: over the years I have had this happen dozens and dozens of times.
At the optometrists.
At the airport.
When I was feeling crappy.
When I was feeling great.
Every time I felt just a little better afterward.
Now, it’s gotten to the point where even just putting the shoes on, or looking at them at the door, makes me feel happier. I will replace the soles and stitching and whatever as often as required, and still be gutted when these shoes finally give in.
My point: stop apologising for making whatever it is you make.
My shoes matter to me. They make my life better, and that is IT.
Your art, your craft? They matter too.
Would you like the person in your profile pictures?
Why does every real estate agent in Brisbane look like a serial killer robot in their photo? All dead eyes, tight smile, the-Good-Lord-tole-me-to-do-it.
There’s one in particular who I won’t name because I don’t want to be rude, but she is on every billboard and bus-stop in my area, and she freaks the hell out of me.
Why did they choose that photo? Surely they took at least one where she was genuinely (Duchenne-ly) smiling?
I’m just saying, if I wanted to sell my house I wouldn’t trust the woman.
As opposed to this guy, who can have anything he wants.
And now, some boogie.
Jungle Boogie, in fact.
I doubt the entire carnival will live musically in the late 60s/early 70s, but for now you must get down, get down.
Liking this protest carnivale?
Here’s what to do, then.
Go do something heartfelt and enjoyable in your own marketing. Right now.
Send me anything that you think belongs in the carnivale. (Your creations, other people’s amazingness)
Share this with lots of people – we all need some fun in our bizzes.
The five-year-old filter
Imagine your five year old self, with scabs on their knees and a violent love for neon-coloured plastic. (Or whatever.)
Imagine explaining your marketing to them.
Would it make the slightest bit of sense?
Is that a bad thing?
Quick question #2:
Would you fight a ninja for your business?
Who completely adores your work?
No convincing, no manipulation, no patient explanations…
Who flat-out, unashamedly ADORES your work?
Go offer it to those people.
The Diffusion of Innovation…
… still applies in online businesses.
The application is this:
Create something for everyone: sell 3.
Create something for one person: sell 1593.
The numbers are made up, but it’s still true.
Don’t get angry at your customers when they don’t buy.
As Sinclair put it: “Rejection of your offer does not equal rejection of you.”
Make a different offer. See what happens.
From my still-favourite client ever…
“It’s like I sell insulin. If you’re healthy, you don’t need insulin, you’re never gonna need insulin, and there’s no point chasing you down the street saying, “Yoo-hoo, I got some awesome insulin for ya!”
I’m paraphrasing madly, but she won’t mind.
Let’s keep things eclectic, with Korean pop band 2NE1. I unironically adore I Am The Best:
If you weren’t dancing in your seat, seek medical attention immediately.
Leela has a gorgeous way with words. (Look at her latest offering. HER SALES PAGE IS A POEM. Seriously. That’s what I’m talking about!)
That plant is from Tricia Karp, one of my very very wonderful clients.
Do you have clients who give you gifts?
Do you want them?
Musical interlude time!
Let’s kick off proceedings literally. Fatboy Slim’s Because We Can, from Moulin Rouge. Watch the gorgeous over-the-topness of it all.
I watch Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain Trilogy with a mingling of feelings.
Firstly, the “Yeah, he’s an Aussie, so somehow his awesomeness makes me more awesome” pride.
Secondly, there’s a giant rush of energy. The pacing, the overwhelming visual detail, the soundtracks – they are glorious and just too much.
Thirdly, there is bitter, bitter jealousy. ‘Cos I will never be able to create a lavish spectacle like that one.
… or can I?
Here is a manifesto!
It’s not mine, but it is. Because every manifesto we deeply agree with becomes part of us, no?
And it scares us, that we might end up in the same place. So we play it small, play it safe, tame it down and colour between the lines.
There are similarities between the 19-year-old with the headphones in who is completely aggrieved to hear that she’s tone deaf, and you doing your most darling, rule-breaking, world-changing work.
You will likely both be laughed at.
Because both of you are stepping outside the norms – her by being proud in the absence of talent, you by seeing the current lay of the land and saying, “Nah.”
Headphones Lass will only ever receive mockery and contempt. (And pity.)
But you? You’re following the path Gandhi described: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
This will go much easier on you if you’re okay with being laughed at. Not happy about it – unlikely – but resilient enough to endure through that phase.
‘Cos if you’re pushing a boundary, if you’re doing something outside the Way Things Are, you are going to get laughed at.
In related news…
I’m a pretty good singer. Not astonishing, but I can carry a tune and five-star Rock Band.
I am rather proud of this. I show off a little. I certainly avoid anything that would show me as not being a pretty good singer.
Which is why being in Fearless Karaoke was awesome – because it’s a song that is way above my range, and I couldn’t possibly be awesome at it. (Not that you can really tell – the recording is so quiet you can’t really hear me.)
So Natalie was going to do it again and she chose another song and I diligently went into the backyard to sing another song I couldn’t possibly be great at.
I get the verses in the wrong order – I’d never heard the song four days previously! I mess up the transition between chorus and verse. I had to sing it with no backing track. I crack quite a few notes.
But I also had fun.
So here’s me being a less-then-pretty-good singer.
Go do something today that messes with your acceptable standards.
‘Cos later, when it counts, you will be armoured.
Anyone who says they have all of their business under control has a dead business.
Stone Cold Rebel
Care of the wonderful Kirsty, this bit of internet memery flicked past me. I laughed, I moved on.
But my mind keeps coming back to this.
This little girl is a stone cold rebel.
I am seeking to be as brave as she is.
[Later: HOLY SHIT SHE MADE A CHARITY/GIRL POWER WEBSITE. SHE’S EIGHT YEARS OLD. SHE ROCKS ON TOAST.]
I’m feeling rather introspective today, which is probably not conducive to a kick-ass carnivale.
(Well, maybe the Philosopher’s Carnivale. Cartesian duality in the hizzouse!)
But I’ve had an amazing conversation with Sinclair, where I wrassled with some problems I will undoubtedly tell you about later when I can say something useful about it, and then I had a deeeelightful half-hour session with Michelle which… well, let her tell you how it went:
Catherine is so amazing to work with that it’s hard to describe without descending into giddy, high-pitched gibberish. You’re probably going to read this testimonial and wonder what the hell Catherine bribed me with. No bribe – she’s just that good. She knows exactly the right questions to ask to laser-focus on what your problem is, what’s causing it, and how to fix it – like, yesterday. She’s action-oriented, so you’ll never be left wondering what to do next; she’s kind and loving and generous but she’s not going to coddle you. If you want your business & marketing blocks removed with maximum ease, if you want to take things to the next level, if you want to do it all while laughing with joy, then GO TO HER. NOW.
I love my work. I love that I get to do THAT every day.
It doesn’t make everything else automatically great. I struggle with other things: with growing my vision and authority, and my limiting beliefs of how much I’m allowed to have (that one sucks). I struggle with kicking some lingering habits of Day Job passivity – the money will not mysteriously turn up in my bank account every fortnight anymore. I even struggle with consistently delivering my most magnificent marketing.
What I do not struggle with, no matter how bad a day I’m having, is with the work. The work is always, always glorious.
Me, a headset, an amazing client. Repeatable magic.
I am not the one to come to for advice on choosing your Adwords strategy. I have no idea.
I am not the one to come to for how to grow your business to 100,000 readers – I haven’t done that yet!
But I AM the one to come to when you’re ready to stop settling for pretty-good work and you’re ready to step into your absolute BESTEST work. Because I will deliver on that every single time, no doubtski aboutski.
That’s enough deep thinkin!
Time for some music.
I’m shaking up this carnivale, and bringing some heavy metal. Let’s start with Blacken The Cursed Sun by Lamb of God.
Listen to it even if you don’t like metal. Especially if you don’t. Enjoy the power and the incredible precision in the opening drums.
I’m off to go do some more amazingtacular work.
Are you, my sweet?
Can I keep bringing the fun? Let us see.
Firstly, some music.
I’m feeling all Aussie today, so I’m starting with some of The Whitlams playing Up Against the Wall. (With the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, ‘cos I couldn’t find another one. The original is a bit rawer, which I like, but this is still good too.)
I love the line, “She was one in a million… so there are five more just in New South Wales.”
I went out for drinks last night.
And that was awesome, but irrelevant… except that I have an anecdote.
The drinks were organised by my friend Kevin, who moves in a lot of different circles, so no-one knew everyone.
And so there was a chat happening between me, a guy I know, and a new guy. (We’d met once five years ago at a Neil Gaiman book signing, but that doesn’t count.)
We had that thing going on where clearly the other people are awesome, but the conversation just isn’t clicking yet. And then New Guy made a really obscure Douglas Adams reference, and suddenly it was ON.
I stayed out until midnight. (Gasp, people who know me.)
I used to think this was a peculiarity of geek culture – geeks can bond in nanoseconds by mentioning the DC reboot, or Deus Ex, or whether the death of Robert Jordan actually improved the quality of the last Wheel of Time books. (It has.)
But it isn’t. That bonding is a function of two things.
“Do you like books?” won’t do it. “Do you like The Silmarillion?” is a very different conversation.
You don’t make deep connections talking about the Big Network Show. It’s too big, and watching it doesn’t really say anything about you. But Obscure Sci-Fi Series From the 70s, or Web Series With Felicia Day (any of them)? You have to make some effort for those, as opposed to the Big Network Show, where all you need to do is be in front of a TV at a typical time of day.
Most people only bother with the niche stuff if they care. And so your interest says something meaningful about you.
Make obscure references. Watch the eyes light up from the people who Get It. It’s MUCH more effective that generic, everyone-gets-it references.
Quick, time for a photo!
We apparently skipped spring entirely. First summer dress in months.
You know, that’ll do it for now. It’s the weekend, and I slept late.
Go do something awesome, lovely. Shoo.
If you’re looking for some good times, then you should most definitely check out Laura White-Richie’s picture book/manifesto. It’s lovely.
I’ve been drinking in the sun lately.
On the weekend I went to the bay.
I spent yesterday morning sitting in the backyard, thinking about this carnivale. And then I came inside, sat down at my computer, and wrote.
I didn’t write any more for the carnivale, because I’d run out of great material and didn’t want to keep falling back on So This Is What I Did Today. (I do that when I’m producing masses of content in a short time: it’s why I only write one article a week nowadays.)
Instead, I wrote an invitation.
This is an invitation to everyone who emailed, commented, messaged and contacted me about the Carnivale, saying some variant of the following:
Heck yeah! I’m so glad you’re doing this. I needed this badly.
I’m glad it gave you pleasure, darlingheart.
But I don’t want to leave it there.
Because you deserve to have colour, energy, and joy in your life and business EVERY DAMN DAY, not just when one oddball marketer decides it’s time to bring some fun back.
London was soot and smog and ceaseless machinery, and Charlie was one of the many many boys fed daily to the machines.
Charlie, like a swarm of other ragamuffins, sold the ha’penny broadsheets over on Whitechapel for enough blunt for a chop, gin, and a bit for his mum.
Not the biggest or the boldest, his only advantage was a fair dash of cunning and a quick tongue. Competition was deadly intense: once Charlie managed to claim a prime corner and had a half-brick thrown at him.
So Charlie made do with a less ideal situation, and used his wits to shout out attention-grabbing slogans. “Ya don’t wanna look ignorant, do ya?” was not a huge success, but most did get him more sales than he would otherwise make.
Then one day he awoke with a nonsensical rhyme in his head. When he reached his patch he tried it. “‘Oos dead, ‘oos wed, ‘oo fell off a sled?” he chanted loudly while waving his paper. Doggerel though it was, the rhyme got more attention than usual, and more ha’pennies.
One posh gent in a frock coat and fob watch walking past said, “Who fell off a sled?” Charlie cheekily replied, “I dunno, guv, I carn’t read now can I?” The gent laughed and paid Charlie a whole penny. With that unexpected windfall and the rest, Charlie sold more than he’d usually get in two days.
The next day Charlie tried another new slogan, but it wasn’t doing anywhere near so well as the rhyme had. Shrugging, Charlie again chanted “‘Oos dead, ‘oos wed, ‘oo fell off a sled?” and sold papers. The gent exchanged another round of banter and another penny, and Charlie decided he was on a winner.
Month after month, Charlie used the same rhyme, with only occasional variations. (Once, topically, the rhyme became “‘Oos dead, ‘oos wed, ‘oo went off ‘is ‘head?”) He became a fixture, with more regular customers than a broadsheet seller can generally hope for.
And on his birthday, the gent gave Charlie a whole farthing. Charlie bought his mum new scissors, his sister a ribbon, and got knock-down-drag-out drunk on the rest.
The rhyme continued, a bit subdued, the next day… and every other day until Charlie went off for greater adventures.
The moral of the story
Repetition is criminally underused.
There seems to be a shared belief in the online world that repetition will make you dull and predictable and forgettable. But while repetition often accompanies dull forgettable content, it’s not responsible for it. Repetition, used well, can produce beautiful results.
Repetition builds trust.
When there are themes, words and motifs that reoccur on a regular basis in your content, they become familiar. YOU become familiar. And familiar lives next door to trustworthy.
Repetition creates community.
Ever had a moment where you and a near-stranger have sung a theme song together and them laughed as friends after? If that theme song had changed every week, that could never happen.
Pretty obvious, I grant, but so many of us seem determined to have nothing the same this week as last week.
Repetition creates rhythm.
This one often feels especially important online, where the barriers to entry are so low. We need to see that you’re you’re here to stay before we are likely to trust and invest with you. Rhythm is a dance with time, and demonstrates it beautifully.
Repetition is memorable.
Our brains love encountering information they’ve seen before: it reduces the cognitive load in processing. Repeated elements are more likely to be remembered than one-time ones. This also means that repeated information has more impact.
Repetition saves your brain.
If you have to create a new intro and signoff for every single email and newsletter and article and interview and podcast, or whatever, then you are monstrously inefficient. Worse, if you’re trying to make every single one of them interesting and memorable…
How to use repetition well.
Firstly, choose what you’re going to repeat. Here’s a big-ass list of options to get you started:
Words and phrases
Repeat as desired.
technical terms (especially your own)
made-up and portmanteau words
Frameworks, formats and templates
The specific words change, but the shape is the same.
product names (it works for Apple)
article titles (“X ways to Y”)
the articles themselves
Second, experiment until you find what suits you and your audience.
(For example, I play around with words constantly. “Squoodles” was added to my regular vocabulary after four different people emailed me just to say how much they loved that word.)
Then there are two ways to implement the repetition.
Set it in stone and do not alter it unless absolutely necessary.
This works best for elements that exist in specific times and places, like intros and outros. (Edward R. Murrow wasn’t the only reporter to use the same sign-off line at the end of every show, but he’s a beautiful example of doing it well.)
Use it as a motif.
You can use the melody, or a variation on the melody. For example, if you address your readers as “mewling minions”, then a) that is awesome, and b) you don’t have to use the exact phrase all the time if you don’t want to. (You could also call them “subaquatic slimebags”, if you like.)
Then the most important part: stick to it.
The more consistent you are with this, the more clear the impression will be.
You’ll notice it happening, as your readers quote you to each other, or describe something to you in your own words, or reference you to someone else as an example of a particular feel, or regard you as the go-to on a topic you revisit often.
Yes, that is exactly as awesome as it sounds.
A little less conversation, a little more action
If you want to start using repetition in your communications, then today:
Decide what you’re going to start repeating.
Create a repository, if needed (a notepad, a spreadsheet, a template).
Use it today.
Use it next time.
Any other repetitions to add to the list, or thoughts on when they do (and don’t) work? Tell us in the comments.
If you don’t know what to repeat because you couldn’t describe your audience at gunpoint, then have a look at Goddamn Radiant. We’ll get you describing your wonderfabulous readers with spot-on repeatable prose in no time.