Before you ask me to join your business

Business Talk

I get offers to join some LitRPG business or group and become a writer for them all of the time.  None of these have yet gone anywhere.  Let me break down some business talk for you so before you send me a request about joining your group, you can read through the following questions and answer them for me.

I will use the fictitious example of bookbrawl.com, totally not a real website that you should check out, to illustrate my point.

If you’re planning on asking a writer to co-write with you or otherwise get involved with you as a business venture, make sure you follow all these questions through.

How do you plan on making money?

This is the first question.  Because there’s only two ways you stay in this.  One is that you’re like me.  You’re some irrational person who does something that has no financial gain and is in fact, operating at a loss known as “sunk costs”. Essentially, I’m a terrible gambler.

The time/effort required to do this is tremendous. Hence why Ramon Mejia has been around for so long, he’s monetized his output. He’s spent years building up his base of fans, becoming an important part of the community, and uses that base to promote his books. This gives him a sustainable business model.

I do this for fun, but I am moving towards profit because it won’t be worth it otherwise.  So let’s say the very first thing that I need to see is that you at least have a plan on making money.

So using bookbrawl as an example, the way they make money is through Patreon support, potential premium features for authors, affiliate advertising, getting bought out, etc.  Even if they’re not making money now, they have the potential to make money.

How much buy-in is there currently?

Is there an active community waiting to be tapped?  How many active users?  How many people are supporting via PayPal, Stripe, or Patreon?  If the answer is “none” to all of that, then you’re in a bad spot.

If you’re talking to another author, same thing.  How many books have you sold?  What rank?  How much yearly income do you pull off your books?  How many series are you currently earning off of?  We’ll explore this again in the second derivative section.

Skin in game

So I’ve been doing this for over a year.  How long have you been doing this?  If this fails horribly and goes belly-up, what is the cost to you, in terms of time lost and personal investment?

If you’re talking to an author, tell them the same things.  How many books you’ve written, articles you’ve written, how long you’ve been a writer, etc.  A guy who decided to become an author yesterday has very little skin in the game compared to someone who has worked as a professional author the past five years.

Are you a brand?

The issue with me switching over from my own platform to another from a business perspective is simple: I am a brand; you’re trying to build a brand. I don’t mean that to sound snarky, but people in the community know who I am and what to expect from me. The same is true for Ramon.

If you ask most people for a description of my writing, it will sound something like:

Harsh but fair critical reviews of books with writing advice and discussions about controversial subjects.

If you ask people for a description of Ramon’s podcasts, it will probably sound something like:

Reviews of the latest LitRPG books by someone who has a strong preference for crunchy LitRPG-style books, along with news and updates about upcoming books and audiobooks in the genre.

It goes a bit deeper than that though.  My brand is built around being writer-centric.  The majority of my audience are writers, people who want to be writers, and “smarts”, people who really like to go in detail about how books are written.  Another name for that is market-niche.

Ramon’s reviews tend to be more reader-centric.  They’re for people who want a quick review about a book, what type of book it is, and what Ramon’s overall opinion is on it.

Now this is really critical.  If I were to try to compete against Ramon for a reader-centric platform, I’d lose.  Ramon is a full-time author, who uses his podcast and blog to promote his work and monetize his output.  I’m a full-time developer who spends his free time reading and writing.

Ramon is a workhorse who is fiscally tied to his ability to review books quickly and satisfactorily for his audience.  It would be a perpetual game of catch-up on my end every day since both personally and professionally, he’s heavily invested in his work.

Now, suppose Ramon tells me, “Hey, I really dig some of your articles and I think it’d be great to do a bi-weekly get together where we pick one book and go in-depth on it.  Like Siskel and Ebert for LitRPG.”

See, that’s a value proposition.  It’s mostly in my favor since Ramon has a larger audience than I do, but I can add something to that equation and neither of us is the poorer for it.  There’s obviously mitigating factors on it, but the key point there is that I can see a collaboration with Ramon as a potential win/win.  There’s not really a lose/lose proposition here, outside from sunk costs.

Now, let’s talk about you.  What is the potential win/win here?  The potential win is that maybe I’ll gain exposure over your website above what I’ve accomplished on my own.  Without changing my market focus or brand, I doubt that’s really possible.  What’s far more likely is that I’ll stop building up my own brand and you won’t build yours.  You don’t have anything to offer me, you’re depending on a one-sided relationship here.

Another way of summarizing this is, “Who are you, exactly?”  Using bookbrawl, the people running it are all well-known and trusted in the community.  That gives me a level of trust.  We’ll look at other factors in another moment.

If you’re planning on asking a writer to co-write with you, ask yourself, “What is my brand and what am I bringing to the table?”  Because if the answer to that is, “I don’t know” and “nothing”, you can expect the reply from them to be no.

Let’s talk about growth and audience

So, let’s talk about growth.  How many visitors do you have per month?  Unique visitors?  How long do they stay on the website?  Average clicks?  Bounce rate?

Just one example, bookbrawl.com just went up very recently. Here’s a comparison:

http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/bookbrawl.com

These metrics are all really good.

Bounce Rate:  19.60%

That means that four out of five people do not immediately leave the page after visiting.  A high bounce rate of let’s say sixty percent means most people are leaving as soon as they land.

Daily Page views per Visitor: 6.60

This is another good indicator of commercial viability for ads.  If people are viewing multiple pages, it means that there’s a lot of potential places for advertisement on the web page, and that people are engaging with the site.

Daily Time on Site: 13:01 

This is another indicator that people are spending a lot of time on the website, also good for ads and gauging viewer investment.

Let’s go back to the example of asking an author to co-write something.  If your sales aren’t good, you can expect the author to say no.

Second Derivative

The second derivative problem is a bit more complex.  Basically the first derivative is, “How many people use your website?”  The second derivative is, “How long did it take you to get those users and how many of them are dropping?”

For example, back in the early 2000s, MySpace bragged about how many users they had.  But they didn’t talk about the second derivative, which was how many new users they were gaining.  It was zero.  Meanwhile, Facebook had a much smaller audience, but their second derivative was showing explosive growth.

Based on that, which would you back, MySpace or Facebook?  We obviously know that Facebook was the correct answer, but the answer to the question “Why Facebook?” is more important.

On a related note, a reporter was interviewing Benjamin Netanyahu.  Netanyahu was shown down in the rankings.  When the interviewer asked Netanyahu if he was bothered by it, Netanyahu made a motion with his finger pointing upward.  “No, because I’m the one who’s gaining.”  He was elected Prime Minister.

If we’re talking about authors again, let’s look at the sophomore sales problem.  As I detailed in my direct to market writing post, you might be able to write a single high-selling book.  But can you write multiple high-selling books in a series?  Think Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Market Differentiation or me-too problems:

So, let’s talk marketing strategy.  I’ve already hit on this subject when I discussed Ramon’s work vs. mine, but let’s dig into more details.

We can look at Google+ as a prime example of a failure to differentiate.  Google decided they needed to become a social website as well, so they set up a “metoo” social program called Google+.   Google+ has no market differentiation.  It’s not a photo sharing site like Instagram.  It’s not a quick update video app like SnapChat.  It’s not a professional marketing tool like LinkedIn.  It’s not a social blogging website like Facebook.  It’s not a quick response network like Twitter.

It’s basically an internal way for users to login to their various google apps, but as a platform, it doesn’t offer much.

Most of the websites I’m getting asked about are essentially trying to build rating systems for LitRPG/GameLit books.  All well and good, but how is that different than Amazon reviews?  Or Goodreads?  Why should I go there vs. Ramon’s website?

If we look at bookbrawl, we again see market differentiation.  It’s a platform to allow people to publish web serials and have them “brawl” against other books to find the best one.  It enables higher visibility for new works, which can often get buried on platforms like Wattpad and Royal Road.

This is immediate market differentiation.  It’s about new book serials, discovering new work, and getting feedback on them in a head-to-head competition.

Now it’s okay to build a “me-too” website if you think you have a better market strategy than the other website.  After all, Facebook was essentially a “me too” MySpace.  But Facebook capitalized on two key trends.

First, they shifted the focus from the user to the user’s friends.  Second, they streamlined all the bloat on MySpace.  That shift from the user to the user’s friends is a source of market differentiation.

So wrapping it up, your pitch to me or an author should include the following things:

  • How you plan on earning money.
  • How much money you are currently making.
  • How much personal/financial investment you and other people have made into your project.
  • If you are an established or recognized brand.
  • Your growth and audience.
  • How well your growth velocity is doing.
  • How you plan on differentiating yourself from competitors.

If you haven’t thought about these things, you aren’t going to make a very good pitch.  If you can’t answer them, please don’t expect me or anyone else to be able to.

 

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