From the mailbag:
“Why experiment with anything? Hasn’t everyone done that already? I’m already so pushed for time, I can’t justify blowing more of it on doubling up the work someone else has done. What’s the point?”
The emailer was responding in private to my post last week, “The Vital Cog In Your Writing Business“, and was happy for me to reproduce the major point in their email for this post.
Admittedly, the post last week seemed a bit out of my usual range of topics, yet diet has a major impact on your ability to write and publish. I urged everyone to experiment with their diet and find out how much an effect it has on their productivity.
That might seem to most people to be redundant time wasting. There’s so much information out there about healthy eating. Pick a sensible diet and follow it. Done.
Only, of course, it isn’t that simple.
The same complexity applies to the entire indie fiction writing industry. I’m sure you’ve noticed yourself that no matter what niche topic you’re exploring, there is an avalanche of posts, books, groups, courses, and gurus willing to take your money in exchange for their expertise. It’s not just crappy novels overwhelming us. In ten minutes, you can find twelve different sources of help, and at least two of them will have polar opposite opinions about what an indie should do.
Then there is the content problem. Most bloggers are constantly looking for new content to post. Ditto podcasters, youtubers, and every social networker. The need for content is a monster that can make content providers lazy by sheer necessity. They can’t come up with profound, unique ideas every single day/week/post, so they will often do some very quick research–four or five other resources on their topic, pull the major points and summarize…and that’s their post as an expert.
Thing is, everything they add to their post could be:
- Flat out wrong.
- Out of date and now wrong.
- Right only for a narrow segment of authors, which isn’t explained (or even realized by the writer).
There are very few strategies and even less tactics which are 100% suitable and certain to work for every single indie author.
So how do you know which ones are for you?
The Experimental Mindset
The experimental methodology is science-based (where it is called the Scientific Method), but applies to everything:
- You form a hypothesis.
- You shape an experiment to test it.
- You build a baseline of data to compare results against.
- You run the trial.
- You collect results.
- You compare the data and analyse.
As an indie author, it works exactly the same way.
- You learn of a strategy or tactic you’re not currently using, that sounds promising and decide to try it.
- This could be a very large subject (email lists, advertising),
- Or very niche (Creating a segment in your list for readers who want to hear about BookFunnel promos).
- You decide how long the trial should run, and if you need to limit it (or limit the impact).
- The bigger the subject, and the larger the potential impact, the longer the trial should run. If you’ve never bothered with a newsletter, then the work involved in just setting it up requires a decent trial – six months, at least.
- Limiting a trial can also give you a control group. So, advertising to only one subset of your reader demographics (which means the other subsets are a good baseline/control group), or only advertising one series (while all your other series are control groups).
- You figure out what indicators you need–what will tell you if the strategy/tactic is effective?
- This can vary, as there are any number of data sets you can collect that will provide feedback on effectives. For e.g.: sales, subscribers, click and engagement, traffic to a certain page, numbers of tagged readers, read through rates, impressions…it really is an endless list.
- You run the trial.
- Resist the need to abandon or immediately and permanently adopt a new strategy or tactic before the trial is done and you have statics to check. What feels like a dismal failure/brilliant success often isn’t when you get right down to the numbers. And time is often a factor. For example, when going wide for the first time, it can take up to a year for sales on other platforms to normalize.
- You collect the results.
- Keep careful records of your indicators.
- You compare the results.
- You may already have a pretty good idea of how effective the strategy or tactic is. Analyzing the data confirms it, or proves your impression is incorrect. The latter is often true if the data takes some manipulations — for example, calculating read through (which can be a complex exercise).
- If the new strategy/tactic is effective, step it up as a new, permanent part of your business and introduce it across all your affairs, if you limited the trial.
- Also make sure you review the effectiveness regularly. Tactics in particular (those hacks and ideas that make strategies more effective) often lose their power after some time, either across the industry or for you in particular. Saturation is a thing.
This same experimental mindset also applies to your craft, as well. For craft techniques and methods, though, the experimental mindset is folded into deliberate practice:
- You decide what aspect of your craft needs attention or improving (plotting, characters, structure, descriptions, copywriting).
- You find some resources that will help you improve (books, podcasts, videos, courses, blog posts).
- You consume the resources and apply them to your writing with deliberate practice.
- This could be separate writing from your current book
- or you can use the current book to practice in a live environment.
- You analyse the results.
- This is subjective, of course, but often, the results are very apparent.
- Keep or toss the technique (and it’s usually “keep!”).
Experimenting Saves Your Sanity.
Experimenting is the only way to be sure a hack, technique, idea, strategy, tactic, method will work for you.
Using data and analysing the results will reduce or eliminate making decisions based on gut feelings. You don’t have to toss a dart to figure out what to do.
You’ll actually save time. An experiment will swiftly tell you what works and what doesn’t.
It will save you tearing your hair out. You won’t spend the next couple of years feeling guilty every time (say) an expert mentions advertising on Pinterest, because you know Pinterest advertising doesn’t work for you (right at this point in time, at least).
Running trials and using data to measure them is what businesses and professionals do in every other industry, even the creative ones. We should be doing it, too.