Strategies for frequent posting to business & tech blogs

Readers of the Ipso Facto blog may not be aware that my writing appears in many other blog locations. In addition to two active personal blogs (one of which has been running since 2004), my old Harvard Extension blog (2005-2008), various employer and school-related blogs from 2005-2012 (Computerworld, The Industry Standard, MIT, and my first startup), and a 2007 guest-blogging gig on a site dedicated to virtual worlds, I have been very active on my current company’s blog. But there is a lot more blogging activity on the individual product sites for books like Twitter In 30 Minutes and the recently released book about the iPhone 6 and 6S. It’s hard, but I have developed a strategy for frequent posting on the blogs. It helps give the books a higher online profile, and in the case of several of the books, the posts prompt feedback from readers which I can use for follow-up editions of the books.

Here is a sample of recent posts:

How is it possible for me to write so many blog posts? There are several answers. First, I am an extremely prolific writer. In 10 years I have written well over 1,000 blog posts across all blogs. More than 450 posts appear on my old Harvard blog alone, and a few others are above 200 posts. I am just one of those people who likes to write, and when I get the urge I have to sit down in front of my keyboard and get it out there, as I did yesterday morning on Ipso Facto with my blog post about the Fessenden School and St. George’s.

Second, for the book blogs, I have started to excerpt sections from the manuscripts. It’s a great way to showcase the quality of the books while getting some additional online attention. I am also using draft chapters from my forthcoming Lean Media book to get feedback which I can use to improve the manuscript.

Simpsons blog post example from Lean Media In 30 Minutes

I have also begun to leverage other types of content — chiefly videos — upon which to base blog posts. This is especially true of the books about browser-based software, which are easy to screencast. I have created scores of short YouTube videos on topics such as how to do something in Twitter or Excel or LinkedIn. It’s not hard to take the embed code from one of the videos, put it on the blog, write up a summary or additional instructions, and then post it.

An action plan for telecommuters and their managers

Mary Meeker’s latest report on Internet trends was recently released. While many observers are pondering the some of the big stats relating to the size of the digital economy and the big companies that stand to benefit, I was interested in a data point that pretty much slipped beneath the radar. Buried on page 126 of Meeker’s slideshow was this finding, relating to freelancers:

Freelancers = Significant & Growing Portion of Workers @ 53MM People, 34% of USA Workforce

She broke down the numbers further, relying on data from oDesk/Upwork:

Mary Meeker Internet trends freelancers vs telecommuters and virtual office action plans

If these numbers are correct, it represents a huge change in the way Americans are working. Certainly, the data shows that freelancers are ready for virtual work, if tens of millions are already doing it.

But are companies ready? The slide did not break out the telecommuting workforce. Millions work from home on a full-time or part-time basis for employers located elsewhere (ranging from across town to the other side of the globe). But it’s a drop in the bucket, compared to the numbers of people who could be telecommuters if their companies allowed it.

As author Melanie Pinola pointed out in her book The Successful Virtual Office In 30 Minutes: Best practices, tools, and setup tips for your home office, coworking space, or mobile office, most jobs that take place in front of a computer screen are candidates for being done remotely. But not all companies are on board. She cited the example of Yahoo, which killed its teleworking program in 2012 because its new CEO thought collaboration and innovation were suffering.

As Melanie noted, “Good collaboration and innovation don’t require you to be within touching distance of your coworker.” If companies have the right team in place, and the right tools, telecommuters can not only be productive, they can successfully collaborate and innovate, too. Melanie’s book covers many of the tools and best practices that can help a virtual team — as well as individual contributors, their managers, and their freelance partners — operate at peak efficiency. She has also written Virtual Office Action Plans, which describes strategies and approaches for telecommuters, freelancers, and business managers.

Releasing the second edition of my Dropbox guide

A few months ago, the second edition of Dropbox In 30 Minutes was published. It’s one of our most popular guides in the In 30 Minutes series. In fact, some people mistakenly confuse it with Dropbox For Dummies. This post will get into the thinking behind the second edition of the guide, from content to production to marketing.

Dropbox on a mobile device

Dropbox In 30 Minutes was the first guide published in the In 30 Minutes series. Released in the summer of 2012, it quickly began to sell in channels such as Amazon and Apple’s iTunes store. The paperback edition, released in the fall of 2012, also was a hit. The first edition was downloaded or purchased as a paperback thousands of times over an 18 month period. It currently is listed as one of the top Software Utility guides on Amazon.com.

Not long after making the title available, I recognized a problem: Certain information tended to quickly become outdated. While the core concept of Dropbox — software that helps you sync files between computers and mobile devices — has remained the same, specific aspects of the software have shifted. For instance, the Dropbox logo has had several noticeable tweaks in the past few years. Of a more practical concern for readers, the interface for mobile devices — iPhones, iPads, Android phones, etc. — has been completely overhauled. The desktop program for Windows PCs and Macs has also changed, albeit in a more restrained manner (for instance, right-clicking on a file brings up different options for sharing or manipulating the file in question).

For a while, I made incremental tweaks to the text of the guide and simply updated the content files for the ebook and paperback editions. But then I became aware of two additional issues that needed to be addressed:

  • The “publish date” for the guide, which was listed on the product pages on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and Bowker’s ISBN database began to look old. For fiction books, “2012” is considered “new”, but in the world of how-to manuals for popular software programs, a two-year-old title starts to look a little long in the tooth.
  • Older versions of the paperback guide were being resold on Amazon. I don’t blame readers for doing this, but the problem is a reader in early 2014 purchasing a used edition from July 2012 would be getting a fair amount of outdated information. This resulted in understandable frustration.

The second edition of the Dropbox book hits the market

Because of this, I decided to issue a Dropbox In 30 Minutes, Second Edition. I hired a review editor to go through the original guide and flag bits which needed to be rewritten and have new screenshots. I also redid the annotated screenshots of the Dropbox mobile application, and added new sections relating to Camera Uploads, security, Dropbox for Business, and more. I’ll continue to do small tweaks as conditions warrant, but I already have my eye on Dropbox In 30 Minutes, 3rd Edition!

If you are interested in downloading or purchasing a copy of the guide, please see the options on this page.

Monitoring sales of Dropbox In 30 Minutes

Dropbox user guideDropbox In 30 Minutes has now been available for about nine months. For nearly as long, I have been monitoring interest in the Dropbox user guide, by closely watching sales. At first the book was only available as an ebook for the Amazon Kindle, but by the start of 2013 it was available for multiple e-reader, screen, and paper formats, including:

  • PDF (first via e-junkie, now gumroad)
  • Barnes&Noble/Nook
  • Apple/iTunes
  • Kobo
  • Paperback (via print-on-demand distributor CreateSpace)
  • Direct purchases of .mobi and .epub (which bypasses Amazon.com, iTunes, and other corporate ebook stores)

It was fascinating watching the evolution of the readership, especially after the paperback edition of Dropbox In 30 Minutes was released last November. While the Kindle edition has been a strong seller from the start, sales have plateaued. Meanwhile, the paperback rapidly gained  fans and by February 2013 had overtaken the Kindle and all other versions. Note, however, that Amazon is also responsible for all paperback sales — it owns the POD service CreateSpace, so the paperback listing is automatically fed into an Amazon product page (which is now linked with the Kindle product page).

Monitoring a sales slowdown in ebooks

Getting back to the Kindle version hitting a sales plateau: I’ve been thinking a lot about what could be happening. Certainly, there is more competition for readers, both on Amazon itself and online. But there are other possibilities, including falling interest in Dropbox among my target audience. What could cause a once red-hot technology to slow down in popularity? Factors could include competition from giants in the space (for instance, Microsoft Skydrive OneDrive or Google Drive), negative publicity (such as security concerns), or a maxing out of the potential audience. For now, I am discounting the idea that Dropbox is dropping in popularity, and am more focused on the competition — and how to make Dropbox In 30 Minutes and the free online resources such as videos and blog posts even better.

Promoting eBook manuals with videos

Every Friday afternoon for the past month, I have been setting aside 90 minutes to create a few new videos to promote my ebook manuals for Dropbox, Google Drive, and Excel. Here are some recent titles:

Google Analytics Video Tutorial: Three Things You Must Monitor
How To Convert CSV Files In Excel
How to convert Excel files to Google Drive
How to export a PDF using Google Drive’s free spreadsheet program, Google Sheets

When I wrote the books, I saw this type of video — short clips on very specific topics — as supplementary material that added extra value for readers.

However, after a few weeks of posting the videos to YouTube, I noticed an interesting trend: The blurbs in the videos were driving traffic to the book websites. I assume that the visitors are not people who have already bought the book. Rather, they are people who have searched for these topics in Google or YouTube, and via the links in the blurb and the promos in the video, they end up on my sites. I have recorded at least one sale from a visitor tracked from YouTube who ended up purchasing a PDF. I suspect other video visitors who have come to my site and then gone to Amazon or iTunes have also ended up making a purchase, although it is not possible for me to confirm this.

Right now, the videos don’t take long to produce — typically one hour per video, including recording, editing, and posting online. The time investment seems worth it for now, although I worry about my availability in the months to come as consulting and other ebook responsibilities ramp up.

A new online video tutorial for Google Drive and Docs

(Update) These early YouTube experiments led to the creation of a full Google Docs video course that covers Docs and Drive. It’s about 30 minutes long, and is slicker than the above videos, including on-screen narration and callouts for special features. Check it out!

Google video

Ebook #2 hits the virtual shelves

Google Drive manualEarlier this week, my second ebook was published in the Kindle Store and as a paid PDF download (see inset cover). The book explains how to use Google Drive, a very powerful online software suite that includes word processing, spreadsheets, a presentation tool, and online storage. It’s kind of like Google Docs for Dummies … but not quite!

If you visit the product page, you’ll see that the price point is higher than my first book, a Dropbox guide. There are a few reasons for this:

  • The new title is about 1/3 longer, and more comprehensive.
  • It reaches to a more business-focused audience, as the Google Drive suite contains two programs that are seldom used by home users: Spreadsheets (which has similar functionality to Microsoft Excel) and Presentations (which is a bare-bones PowerPoint clone with some neat online functionality thrown in). (Update: Google has since renamed these programs Sheets and Slides, respectively.)
  • I want to test the response rate to higher-priced ebooks.
  • I want to see how high-value affiliate offers work. I’m currently allocating 56% of the $17.99 cover price to affiliates enrolled in my hosting company’s affiliate program. This translates to $10 per affiliate, compared to under $3 per affiliate for the Dropbox manual affiliate program. (Update: I killed the affiliate program. Too much room for abuse as the incentives aren’t aligned with what I want to promote … quality!)

Experimental mode for ebooks

As you can see, I am in experimental mode when it comes to design, pricing, length, and other aspects. The prices and affiliate program percentages will likely change as I figure out what works, and what doesn’t.

In the meantime, stay tuned for book #3! I have also started to consider other topics, ranging from Excel to LinkedIn and even other technical topics. I won’t be the only author, though … the best way to achieve scale is to find other talented authors who know these technologies and have existing audiences through blogs or other writing arrangements.

Dropbox in the rear view mirror, ebook #2 on deck

Dropbox old coverMy first ebook, Dropbox In 30 Minutes, answers the question “What is Dropbox” and gives readers lots of practical tips on how to get the most out of Dropbox. In the first month of its release, sales have been slow but steady.

I have also written a draft of my next book, on Google Docs/Google Drive. Last week, my copy editor gave it a first read-through (in Google’s Documents program, naturally!). This week, I am going to refine the draft, prepare images, and start to put together the Word version, which is used to generate the Kindle and Nook versions.

Having been through the writing and production processes for this book I know what to expect with the new book … and it should go more quickly, as I will know what mistakes to avoid. But I have to admit — dealing with ebook production is unpleasant, compared to blogging and other forms of electronic publishing that use content management systems.

My goal is to have the Word manuscript ready by the end of the week, and do all of the conversion and distribution next weekend. We’ll see how it goes …

Dropbox FAQ: Deleting Dropbox files

I’ve started publishing some excerpts from my new Dropbox guide. Many people have begun to suppose the book is like Dropbox for Dummies (it’s not the same!)

Anyway, back to the book. During the course of researching the book, I made an interesting discovery: Deleting Dropbox — I mean really wiping out the account and all of the files everywhere — is a major pain.

Facebook and other services get flak for making account deletion difficult. The usual methods:

  • Hiding the option deep in the settings panel
  • Not completely deleting the account (“in case you change your mind”)
  • Requiring multiple steps (“are you sure?”)

But Facebook has nothing on Dropbox. Not only is there is no single “delete Dropbox” button to press, the ways that most people might think are sufficient (closing the account on the Dropbox website, deleting the Dropbox app on the computer) leave files and folders perfectly intact. I learned this myself when I deleted the app on one of my computers. I didn’t expect it to have any effect on the master Dropbox account, but I at least thought the files on the PC would be trashed along with the app. I was wrong.

Deleting Dropbox files: Multiple steps required

Dropbox android
Deleting Dropbox files can be done on a mobile device

As for the question, “How do I delete Dropbox“, be prepared to spend some time chasing down and wiping all of the files on various PCs and devices before going to the Dropbox website to take an additional step. It may be inconvenient, but if you want to make sure everything is gone, a little pain is required.

Note also that Dropbox sometimes changes the way stored files are handled or backed up. In addition, the service has paid tiers which offer more control over storage management. These topics go beyond the scope of this post, but you can find out more about paid features on the Dropbox website.

 

Writing an ebook for Dropbox newbies

A few days ago, I published my first ebook, “Dropbox In 30 Minutes“. The product website answers the question “What is Dropbox“, and includes an overview of the contents of the book, plus links to a few locations where it can be bought. What I briefly wanted to mention in this post were some of the requirements to publish a 10,000-word e-book on a technical topic (Dropbox, an online storage service). Technical production was a DIY effort, which I suspect is rare in this business — most authors are good at writing, but need help with production.

About Dropbox
Dropbox is an online storage service for computer files

I knew almost nothing about ebook publishing before I started, and had never authored a print book. However, I quickly discovered that I had very strong skills in other areas that are required for publishing an ebook. They include:

  • Writing: Besides writing magazine features, newspaper articles, a business case, and a graduate school thesis, I’ve been a blogger for more than 10 years and have published more than 1,000 posts in various locations. I have a strong voice, and cranking out 10,000 words is no longer a big deal.
  • Editing: I have worn many editorial hats over the years, from copy editor all the way up to managing editor for The Industry Standard. This helped with catching errors, organizing the text, and coordinating the various elements required for the ebook (for instance, screenshots, text, and front matter). Note that I did ask two other experienced editors and a technical expert to review early drafts before I published, however.
  • Design/Layout: I’ve worked on print layout as a “paginator” for a technology magazine, and have been working with Web layout through blogs and other online work for more than 15 years. I was able to apply this knowledge to the design of the cover as well as the arrangement of text, headings, and images in the body of the document.
  • HTML: I didn’t know this until I looked at the publishing guide for the Kindle, but HTML is actually an important part of some ebook publishing standards. I first learned to code HTML in 1995, so it was not a problem for me to fix some HTML code that Microsoft Word had generated for my Kindle edition.

An ebook for Dropbox users becomes a template for other books?

I could keep on going with this list. Experience with business setup, marketing, even photography all have played a role in getting my first ebook for Dropbox newbies off the ground. It gives me a lot of leeway to experiment, but also made me realize that for future books I may want to outsource certain elements (especially cover design and copy editing).