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What the New Kindle Unlimited Payment System Means for the Future of Humanity

I came across this the other day and found it so fascinating I just had to write about it.

First, a quick recap for those who aren’t familiar with the Kindle Unlimited situation:

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription-based program that allows you instant access to an ocean of digital books. All you need to do is borrow books in order to read them. You don’t have to buy books that are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, just click “Borrow.” A virtual virtual library at your fingertips!

You, as a reader, only need to pay a measly $9.99 per month to subscribe to this plethora of digital pages, and you can cozy up by the fireplace with your digital romance novels for the rest of your life without ever having to purchase a single one…

DeathtoStock_Medium4To incentivize Kindle-published authors into enrolling in this program, Amazon has set up a multimillion-dollar fund to pay authors for every book that was digitally borrowed.

After July 1st, though, Amazon is making an interesting change…

Instead of being paid per borrow, authors will be paid based on the number of pages people actually read. According to Amazon, they will divide the KDP Select Global Fund by the total number of pages read, rather than by the total number of qualified borrows.

So if one of those borrow-crazy readers only reads one page of your book, you’ll be paid for that page alone. But if an avid fan reads your entire trilogy all the way through, you’ll get paid for all those pages.

Here’s the main reason why this could be a good thing:

Authors will be compensated on the quality of their work, rather than the quality of their book cover or the impulses of borrow-crazy Kindle owners.

Amazon claims this is the reason for the change. Well, not so much the book cover part…but the fact that authors wanted to “align the payout with the length of books.” Before this change, payouts took place when users read 10% of any Kindle title, and the payouts for 2,000-word short stories would be the same as for 200,000-word mega-novels.

On the surface, it may seem that this change will reward novelists and hurt short story writers. But as one Kindle author pointed out, there are plenty of very good, very prolific short story writers out there. Obviously, there are plenty of complex factors at play, such as the size of your genre, how many titles you’ve released, how big your following is, how good your writing is, and so on and so forth.

But I think that Amazon and Google are trying to accomplish the same thing with their algorithms: reward quality because quality is what the people want.

However, there’s one very fascinating takeaway from all this:

money-256319Kindle Unlimited is the prototype of a micropayment economy.

“What the heck’s that?” you might be asking.

Well, let’s look at the so-called information economy…

The web is full of free information. This article is free. Google is free. Facebook is free. You’re giving your personal information away to those companies for free.

In fact, it’s for reasons such as these that Jaron Lanier says the idea of “free information” is actually naive. And that in order to save the middle class, we’ll need to restructure that “free information” delusion and the economy and create a system wherein micropayments were exchanged for the information that is now being bottled up by the corporate juggernaut.

It’s been a while since I read Who Owns the Future?, so I may be wrong about some of the details.

Here are some examples of what micropayment systems might look like:

  • What if WordPress was a subscription-based service that users paid .05 per hour to use? What if I were given 2.5 cents for every minute someone spent on my site? Sure, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but if I have a total of 100 hours spent on my site per day by various visitors, that’s $2.50 a day and $75 a month. All because I’m blogging. Like I’m doing now. Which I’m not getting paid for. Unless you click this link and buy something.
  • What if fans were allowed to donate money to their favorite artists based on how much art was produced? Like Patreon.
  • What if Facebook actually paid people for content? Yeah right.
  • What if there was an online information and content marketplace that allowed people to package and sell information products to others in exchange for currency? Like Amazon.
  • What if you paid a flat monthly subscription fee for unlimited access to that information and the information producers were paid based on how much of that content you consumed? Like Kindle Unlimited.

I think that this micropayment system has such great potential, because it’s performance-based. The cream rises to the top of the crop. Those who produce better quality products will be rewarded for their effort.

Normally I’d go on some cynical tangent about the potentials for abuse by the evil corporate machine, but not today. Let’s bask in the warm glow of Kindle Unlimited’s all-just and all-encompassing warmth and love…while it lasts.

Of course, if there are any Kindle nerds out there who can see an obvious downside that I’m missing, shoot me an email.

I’m sure I’ll come up with something sooner or later.

And the Only Skill You Need in Life Is…

Nothing left to chance - Business StrategyPersuasion.

The ability to sell.

As the marketing mastermind Dan Kennedy has pointed out, many of the the coolest and most successful CEOs aren’t MBAs. They come from a sales background.

These are the guys that can generate fortunes from the skin of their teeth – or, more likely, the words that come out of their mouths.

All good salespeople and marketers know that the key to selling is persuasion. Books like the popular Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion cover this concept in detail. And most of the dozens of business books on my bookshelf expand on this concept ad infinitum.

And as Michael Gerber points out in his classic book, the E-Myth Revisited, most small business people aren’t business people.

A person good at making lemonade doesn’t necessarily understand the fundamentals of hiring, firing, managing, accounting, marketing, and sales.

Writing vs. Copywriting vs. Content

Take writing.

Since I work as a writer, I’m intimately familiar with this field, the people who work in it, and the people who hire from it.

There’s a wide spectrum of talent, skills, and knowledge that may or may not be possessed by someone who labels him or herself a “writer.”

When viewed from a commercial perspective, I tend to categorize writers into 3 types:

Wordsmiths

These creative types like to write fiction, poetry, plays, and so on.

The primary drive is artistic self-expression, creativity, literature, and so on. This type of writing doesn’t pay well, so sometimes they end up writing for businesses.

I think that’s quite often a bad thing for businesses and the commercial writing industry. Wordsmiths don’t necessarily know how to sell, persuade, or communicate value. They will often work for a pittance – driving down prices and expectations for the writing industry – and they can’t necessarily copywrite.

The result is that some businesses develop misconceptions over what copywriting is and the value that it adds to their bottom lines.

But hey writers, it’s our own fault…

So stop doing it…

Instead, learn how to persuade and triple your income today

Copywriters

Copywriters are salespeople.

They aren’t necessarily poetically inspired and they don’t necessarily have the ability to create beautiful flowery passages that make you all warm and fuzzy inside…but it doesn’t matter. That’s not the point of copywriting.

Copywriters possess the one skill that everyone needs in a capitalist society: persuasion.

Well, usually…

There are problems within the copywriting world. Different camps within the copywriting world have different perspectives on what copywriting is and should be. And people charge rates that range from bottom-of-the-barrel to off-the-charts. And every copywriter brings different skills to the table.

But they all call themselves “copywriters,” so this field is also all over the map…

Content Writers

Content isn’t king – it’s “words on a page.”

This type of “writing” is new. It grew out of the trenches of the internet marketing world…out of the need to satisfy the search engines. From that, we’ve seen the rise of content marketing and the proliferation of gross phrases like “content consumption,” which spread like mind-eating viruses.

Literally, content means stuff that fills up other stuff.

I don’t like this word. It’s sterile and meaningless.

Content doesn’t persuade. It doesn’t inform. It’s passive, like data – it’s just there and does nothing but take up space.

Content writers write generic SEO content that is usually designed to get the attention of the search engines. This type of “writing” usually just requires the ability to write a complete sentence with keywords. Or write about a topic in English, as opposed to ESL.

Cheap “content” pays nothing and means nothing to your customers.

Instead, focus on information that matters and stories that mean something. Not content that takes up space and communicates that you are the same as everyone else.

And add some freaking energy and sell something.

Telling vs. Selling

A while ago I coined the phrase, “Copy sells and content tells.” It’s a short but mostly accurate description of the difference between “words on a page” and sales copy.

And this difference between telling and selling highlights a huge problem in the business world: most advertising sucks. It tells when it should sell. It’s passive instead of active.

There are reasons for this:

People don’t know how to advertise and sell properly. I had to teach myself how to sell and persuade. And it took time and effort. But once I did, my entire view of the business world changed.

Most advertising, marketing, and sales are, as mentioned, passive.

Social media marketing, for instance, is passive. You gain followers and likes and wait for stuff to happen.

Direct mail is active. You test, evaluate, test, evaluate, hold yourself accountable, and keep doing it until it explodes.

lemonade-stand-656399_1280An ad that says, “Asheville lemonade” is passive but typical.

An ad that says, “Asheville’s first – and only – totally organic, sustainable, home-made, hand-crafted, farm-to-face, fresh-squeezed lemonade stand brings you mouth-watering, tear-jerking lemon flavors found ONLY in nature.

For a limited time only, for only 25 cents, you can buy a 16 oz. ice-cold glass of Asheville’s most sought-after lemonade. Order NOW while supplies last! Satisfaction 100% guaranteed or your money back!

We only have 10 lemons left! Call _____ to quench your thirst, support your local community — and brace your taste buds folks…because your mouth will never be the same.”

Anyway. Off the cuff, but you get the idea.

Unfortunately, ads of the first type predominate. And people try stuff once and say “this type of marketing doesn’t work” and they go back to making less money.

People are scared to go balls-to-the-wall. It’s safer to avoid bad words. It’s safer to stay politically correct and comfortable. It’s safer not to make a ripple and to use passive marketing techniques that generate questionable returns based on vanity metrics than it is to make ripples by trying to influence people.

After all, if you make a splash then you might make enemies.

But you might also make some money. John Carlton’s most famous ad talked about a one-legged golfer. And his other top-grossing ads used scary three-letter words like “sex.”

Successful applauding executives sitting at the tableThe fact is, selling and persuasion means you actually have to persuade people. Actively. Assertively. Even aggressively.

It’s kind of like picking up girls or getting dates. You have to actually do something to get results.

And it’s like improving your career. Many people think that they are entitled to a raise or promotion because they’ve done the same job well for however many years. If anything, you’ve simply proven that you don’t have the initiative and drive to get noticed, grow, and add more value to a business…

While mainstream education teaches you to study hard, do what others tell you, be politically correct, and get your A, that’s actually the opposite of what it takes to succeed in life.

You can’t just wait for a promotion…you have to take it.

 

There are two types of people in the world: entrepreneurs and employees.

Which are you?

Nathan’s Bookshelf: Winter 2015

Most of my recent blog posts have been focused on topics related to internet marketing, since that’s where my head’s been lately.

But today I’d like to take a step back and remind my loyal readers and stray visitors that I’m not simply an internet marketing automaton…

I do have other interests…

And reading is one of those interests.

So if you’re also a reader of books and you’re looking to curl up with a good book by the radiator this winter, have a gander at my bookshelf…

And if you see something you like – by all means, click on those affiliate links ;)

What’s on Nathan’s Bookshelf Right Now

The actual blurry photo of my bookshelf that I took with my Samsung Galaxy S5 copy that was made in Hong Kong and bought in Bangkok

The actual blurry photo I took with my Samsung Galaxy S5 copy that was made in Hong Kong and bought in Bangkok

This is a mere fraction of my collection, but here goes:

  • Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, by G.I. Gurdjieff – Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge fan of Gurdjieff. This is the first book in his trilogy. If you are considering reading this book, all I have to say is, “Good luck…”
  • In Search of the Miraculous, by P.D. Ouspensky – Anyone interested in learning more about Gurdjieff should start with this book.
  • The Storymatic, by The Storymatic – This isn’t actually a book, it’s a set of cards. But it’s right there in the picture so I figured I’d throw it in. It’s a set of cards that are designed to help stimulate the creative writer’s brain. I wrote about them in a previous blog post. It doesn’t look like the edition I bought is still on Amazon, but there are a couple others…
  • William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books, by William Blake – A must-have for any student of Blake. Reading the full-color reproductions of his prophetic works is a completely different experience than reading the text versions.
  • Austin Osman Spare books – Spare is another major player in the Western esoteric scene. His unreal work was heavily influenced by the likes of Dante, Goethe, Lao Tsu, and more.
  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing, by Bob Bly – This book looks like it’s only available used, but it’s a great resource for anyone interested in direct mail marketing. It’s written in the well-known Bly style: clear, concise, to-the-point.
  • Dictionary of the Khazars, by Milorad Pavic – Someone said of him, “He thinks like other people dream,” or something very close. Read a page of any Pavic book and you’ll see why. If you love crazy surrealistic poetry, get this book.
  • The Journal of Albion Moonlight, by Kenneth Patchen – Another surrealist poet, Patchen makes the beatnicks look like mice. This book is a difficult read, but it will take your mind apart.
  • The Works of Lord Byron, by Lord Byron – Yawn. Got it for a few bucks secondhand. May use it to start a fire if it gets cold enough.
  • The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing, by Thomas S. Kane – I brought this all the way back from Thailand. It’s interesting. I feel it could be useful if I had enough time to go through and create exercises from parts of it.
  • Rumi’s Stuff, by Rumi – I can’t read the title from this picture (I’m writing this post at the office), but I think it’s the popular “selected works” one. Rumi’s another great addition to any poetry lover’s bookshelf.
  • Viriconium, by M. John Harrison – Harrison is one of the best living writers. The first Viriconium book was fantastic, as are Harrison’s more recent works. My favorites are Light and The Course of the Heart.
  • Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron – Like to write? Then read this. She sheds scientific light on the story-writing process, but it’s more about story than it is about wired.
  • A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters, by Kenneth Henshall – This fascinating, in-depth look at the etymology of Japanese characters is a must-own for anyone deeply interested in the Japanese language.
  • Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, by Swami Satyananda Saraswati – My favorite book on yoga. It provides a complete series of asanas (yoga poses), benefits, counter-poses, et cetera et cetera.
  • William Blake Dictionary, by S. Foster Damon – A must-have for any serious student of Blake. It provides detailed explanations for all the major concepts and characters found in Blake’s work.
  • Japanese Verbs and Essentials of Grammar, by Rita Lampkin – This short grammar book contains everything you need to know to create grammatically correct sentences. I taught myself grammar with this book when I was 15.
  • Hinduism, by Somebody – I don’t know if the linked-to book is the same one that’s on my shelf or not…I’m reading the Mahabarata right now and bought a book on Hinduism to help me out with some of the concepts.
  • The Ultimate Marketing Plan, by Dan S. Kennedy – Kennedy is great. His books are like sales and marketing textbooks. Must-haves for small businesses or anyone in sales and marketing…like me. This one covers Dan’s “marketing triangle”: message-media-market.
  • The Ultimate Sales Letter, by Dan S. Kennedy – A must for anyone who ever does copywriting or who plans on writing a sales letter.
  • Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar – This is another classic book on yoga. Any serious or semi-serious yoga student should have this on the shelf.

 

As mentioned, this list of books doesn’t even cover a fraction of my total collection.

Maybe when I have access to the rest of my books I’ll put them up…

Well, that about does it for this edition of Nathan’s blog…

We’ll see you guys next time!

To Blog or Not to Blog

I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t had much time to update my blog. So I’ll tackle the question that has plagued mankind since the dawn of the information ages: should you have a blog or is a static site good enough?

Many who pose and answer this question with one-size-fits-all generic advice, such as “Everyone must blog” or “Blogging is dead,” aren’t offering much help. Let’s examine the arguments more closely:

Blogging is Dead…Or is It?

140517_071712-1

A keyboard. This is what you blog with.

Just like literature, the novel, and the PC, blogging is on its way out.

Blogging, The Guardian tells us, is being replaced by social media. Fast Company tells us we’re undergoing a “content revolution.” Guy Kawasaki hasn’t updated his blog in four months. In one interview I saw on YouTube, he claimed that he has relinquished his blog in favor of Google+.

As a dyed-in-the-wool writer, lit nerd, and novel reader — those things which are going extinct, remember — I never really liked blogging as a means of online socializing. In fact, I don’t really care for online “socializing” at all…the real thing is better.

To me, blogging somehow soiled the purity of writing. When I began my blog’s first iteration, I started by insulting blogging as “blathering into the void.”

The Guardian argues that blogging, the blogosphere, and, yea, even the world are better off without all this noise. Blogs have morphed into news media, which are burying the casual blogger beneath oceans of more useful and entertaining content.

By association, I couldn’t help but remember that the The Guardian also argues that the novel is dead (this time for reals).

Whatevs

Such doom-and-gloom proclamations, as Gawker pointed out in its response to the above article, have been going on for a very long time, because literary novels just aren’t popular:

This is pretty clear to most people who aren’t literary writers given that they don’t read literary novels. And it’s also pretty clear to a lot of literary writers, who are spending their days eking out an existence on meager advances, adjunct salaries, and temp jobs, that what they do is marginal. The difference between those people and Will Self, a lot of the time, is that they do not expect that what is important and meaningful for them personally must be important and meaningful for everyone.

Incidentally, Gawker, a blog, is the 156th most popular website in the USA.

So I’m not too likely to believe that either blogs or novels are dead.

As a matter of fact, if you do some searching you’ll find that the internet is littered with the dead:

  • B2B Marketing is Dead
  • Email is Dead
  • Cold Calling is Dead
  • TV is Dead
  • Advertising is Dead
  • Social Media Managers are Dead
  • Social Media is Dead
  • The Internet is Dead

But I digress.

To Blog or Not to Blog

photodune-5351272-asian-traditional-bell-l

The death knell of blogging

Amidst all the dead blogs out there, I can’t find the very blog that inspired this post (one of many titled “Blogging is Dead, Long Live Blogging”). Perhaps it’s no longer among the living…

Said blog railed against having your own blog: it’ll just lie buried beneath the sea of other, more popular blogs that crowd the data streams. If you’re a business person, a business, or just a person, what reason is there to have a blog when no one will read it?

Tapping into the search engine market is one of the main reasons businesses have blogs. Self-promotion is one reason writers blog. And writing for fun is yet another reason individuals blog. That’s why I started this blog.

But not everyone wants or needs to have a blog. Since I live and breathe WordPress, writing, and technology, blogging’s a fun hobby when I have the time to actually do it.

Businesses, on the other hand, should remember that blogging isn’t free. It’s a form of marketing that costs money, just like PPC ads or direct mail. Unless you’re willing to put some serious cash or time into blogging for SEM purposes, you won’t see results.

After all, you’re competing against all the other businesses who are blogging their butts off to stay in the search engine limelight. Take a gander at any search engines results page to see exactly how many “dead” blogs you’ll be competing against.

So no: blogging isn’t dead.

It’s just changing shape, like the rest of the publishing world.

The Future of Publishing is the Past is the Present

I used to hate the gatekeepers of the publishing industry, because they turn all writing into a product. A book, I reasoned, should be pure art and creative self-expression, not a product edited and designed for mass public consumption.

It turns out my views have changed.

But this article isn’t about me, it’s about the “revolution” of the publishing industry.

I’d like to point out another point I have made before: the digital revolution hasn’t changed human nature. In the past couple decades, many expressed views that technology was the solution to all of our problems and humans were “waking up” into a new age of enlightenment. We would all fly in driverless hovercars, no one would starve, and robots would do all the work.

Sure, we’ll soon be wearing computers on our wrists or in our glasses, but this doesn’t mean we’re suddenly going to become a harmonious society or that human nature will change.

Despite what social media pundits claimed, social networks didn’t mark the beginning of an enlightened Age of Conversation with Brands. Bob Hoffman hammers this point home, time and time again. And as Evgeny Morozov likes to reiterate, “technological solutionism” could be just more of the same human old crap in new clothes. Yes, it’s true, we’ll be able to talk to people all over the world, have dinner with people we’ve never met, and turn to AI butlers for our every need.

But do you really think this will change the structure of human society?

Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an élite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a wilful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the very majority whom the system oppresses.   -Richard K. Morgan

Okay, Morgan’s view may be a bit darker than what I’m going for here, but he’s right that the structure of society hasn’t changed for a long time. And it won’t change just because of a social network or e-reader.

The “Revolution” of Self-Publishing

Pollen

Pollen

Sorry, but it’s not a revolution. Marketing hasn’t gone away, and neither have the gatekeepers. They’ve just redistributed themselves.

With the advent of the Kindle, self-publishers rejoiced at their ability to spam out paranormal romances quadrilogies and scifi horror fantasy googleplexologies, and scoffed at the crumbling publishing companies. Now, Amazon holds the keys to the kingdom, and offers us everything we could want, right down to drone-to-door delivery.

“Publish your magnum opus today! And have it delivered to your door by a UAV in thirty minutes or less.”

But the hype will fail to live up to the reality.

Once new school publishing companies figure out the e-reader market, I’m betting they’ll take over the bestseller lists on Amazon. The reason old school publishers are failing is simply because they don’t understand affiliate marketing and online marketing tactics.

Already, the online noise is becoming deafening, and the only way for an author to be heard is to be louder. Consequently, everyone’s becoming louder. But unfortunately, creatives aren’t so great at loud marketing.

The good books and the bad are both filling up Amazon’s virtual bookshelves. We have no way to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, though, without diving into the depths of the blogosphere and Amazon’s oceans of customer reviews.

But who has time for that?

I, for one, have some marketing to do…I can’t sift through a million WordPress blogs to find the quiet genius who doesn’t know how to use marketing automation to reach ten thousand readers a week.

Somebody better get an agent…

I know, I know, the big publishers rip off writers — even more, now that these publishers charge twice as much for zero-overhead ebooks — but at least I know that the books I do read will be better than some unedited zombie epic written by a bored housewife waiting for WWE to come back on.

What Self-Publishers Should Really Focus On

If you want to fight the big publishers, then create your own publishing company that doesn’t rip off  writers.

Seriously, why hasn’t this been done yet? The overhead has dropped to nothing for ebooks, and the only cost to worry about is marketing, editing, and administrative costs. Amazon will handle the fulfillment and distribution.

I think there is plenty of market space for non-shady publishers to grow and promote decent writers without ripping them off.

If you are a believer in self-publishing, then work with other self-publishers to form publishing companies that don’t get into gay spats over book costs, like Hachette and Amazon.

Here’s a couple ideas:

  • Build a publishing company that splits profits 50-50 with authors. Any publishing company worth its salt will know how to sell a few thousand books: a $4.99 book will net a few dollars in sales, times a few thousand, and you’ve paid a couple people’s monthly salaries right there.
  • Build a co-op. Good writers who have followings can band together, merge their audiences, qualify additional writers, and actually start to compete with the old school publishers. In fact, I hope that the old school publishers may be on the way out. With new schoolers like Velocity House — who know how to churn out ten thousand sales in their first week — it is only a matter of time before we see some new kids on the block.

 

When I look into the future, all I see is more online noise and competition. It will only get more difficult for self-published writers. Now, though, there are still holes in the market. If anyone’s going to take advantage of those market imbalances, it should be people who are looking out for the interests of the writers…like other writers.

I Agree: Dear JJ Abrams, Don’t Mess Up Star Wars

Sincerely Truman‘s YouTube video “4 Rules to Make Star Wars Great Again” speaks the almighty truth. They keenly analyze the Star Wars story, tell us what made the real Star Wars real, and where the hallucinations known as episodes 1-3 strayed.

Make sure you watch the video before reading further.

 

 

Sincerely Truman appears to be a marketing company that specializes in helping companies “tell their story,” and their impressive portfolio demonstrates their talent and commitment to quality work, except perhaps the Microsoft ad, which, although well done, is longer and sleepier than this sentence. As I pointed out in a PS4 article, Microsofties strive to make the most boring ads, so I suspect they specifically told Sincerely Truman to make it that way.

And no, I will probably never tire of slamming Microsoft’s advertising.

Anyhow, on to the spoilers. The first rule of Star Wars isn’t “don’t talk about Star Wars,” it’s “the setting is the frontier.” Star Wars, they say, is a western. And it’s true.

But, in my opinion Star Wars is much more than just a western, it is also a poignant tale of the American spirit. The Wild West meets and defeats the archetypal Empire, (which, of course, isn’t happening in the real world, with DC politics and Wall Street money running rampant) and that testament to the spirit of the people vs. the corrupt empire is why Star Wars hits us in the heart.

Yes, yes, my breakdown dives a little deep into psychoanalysis, but regardless, you must agree that story is powerful, and storytellers have an obligation not to mess up their jobs. If you tell a story wrong, by, say, using terrible actors, terrible dialogue, and completely abandoning the principles of the original story, then you wind up with a castrated Saturday morning cartoon and a crushed fandom.

My fear is that the new Star Wars will play it safe, as did Star Trek, by retelling the same story instead of actually exploring the frontier with an original cast and an original story.

Moving Scifi Forward Instead of Turning it in Circles

The Star Trek premise slightly altered the archetypes of both the empire and the frontier. The good guys are no longer the rebels, but the people on the front line of the empire, which is now called the Federation…itself only one empire among many. Though the empire plays a different role in each IP — an evil force to be resisted in one and a positive (arguably colonial) force for good in the other — we still see the wild wild frontier, and that is what makes each series so appealing.

Though the multiple Star Trek series could have done much better by being less “cute,” to me the Treks still retained a feeling of newness, because the galaxy was always unexplored, unexpected, unknown, and vast. The Federation was just a small part of the galaxy.

And, again, as Sincerely Truman’s story analysts makes clear (that would be an interesting job: Story Analyst II, $45k/yr), Star Wars is an un-cute western that doesn’t take place inside the safe zone of white buildings and the boring senate.

Please Don’t Retell the Same Story Again

starwarsrules2As we all know, the Empire’s dead, right? The big bad Death Star, Vader, and the Emperor are destroyed, so there’s no way to make the rebels into rebels again, right?

Storytellers can do anything in a free country, but I don’t think they should regurgitate and retell the original Star Wars stories. Chances are, they’ll pull some ideas from the cornucopia of Star Wars franchise books that I know nothing about.

We could see a resurrected Empire with Sith Lords or something and a retelling of the original Star Warses with a twist, but this would only continue to turn scifi in circles instead of help evolve it.

Hollywood does this all the time because the deep pocketbooks that fund the movies are understandably interested in turning a profit from their investment, but creative bets get hedged and play it safe, because better safe than sorry, right? That’s why a Star Wars or Matrix only comes along once every few decades.

All Stories are Retellings

Okay, it’s true. Everywhere you look you’ll find parallels and inspirations, and an underlying story structure that’s very similar among all stories. The dark journey, the hero’s quest, the monomyth, and so forth. So where can Abrams & Co. go from here?

If they really want to become smarter and push the Hollywood envelope as storytellers, they should read the Foundation books. Asimov is a very well-educated and well-read multiple-award-winning writer and scientist, so it would be wise to learn a thing or two from him. He began the Foundation series with a dying galactic empire, and in the first book alone we can see the fall of one empire and the rise of another against a feudal backdrop involving multiple nation-states. See any parallels?

Ironically, Abrams could learn a thing or two from Star Trek’s setting. Here we also have a frontier, as well as multiple superpowers that coexist in that wild frontier. This could serve as one potential backdrop for Star Wars, but it’s not the best series to learn from, because the Trek franchise just rehashes the same old story over and over instead of evolving it or evoking the pure “western,” which is the mythos of the American spirit.

Since I probably won’t write about this topic again, I’ll just continue a little further, by pointing out the clear parallels between the Star Wars frontier, the Star Trek final frontier, the wild wild west, and the wilderness as it is portrayed in world mythologies. In stories such as Iron John, we see the boy descending into the wilderness, just like Luke descends beyond the frontier into the wilderness, to Degoba, and both return a man. Ditto the crew of the Voyager. The Epic of Gilgamesh likewise involves a story that begins in civilization, journeys through the wilderness, and returns once again to civilization, though on a slightly less happy note.

This structure, though, of descent to and return from the wilderness, delineates the same outline that should be followed in a proper Star Wars movie. Episodes 1-3, however, all take place in safe zones, where there are no uncertainties and no unknowns. Nothing is at stake, and we don’t care about the badly acted characters. I could go on and on analyzing what went wrong, but that’s not the point. The point is how to make Star Wars great again.

Dear JJ Abrams, Here’s How to Stay True

The best series setting to learn from is, by far, Farscape — specifically the first season or two. The creators designed it to be the opposite of the safe hierarchy of power that we see make “safe comfort zones” out of Star Trek and episodes 1-3.

In Farscape, the characters are all escaped prisoners on a sentient ship in a hostile universe. Everybody has their own agenda, and everyone they meet is a potential enemy. The main characters are not unlike rebels, since they align with none of the silly superpowers, which also have their own agendas.

How much more wild west can you get?

Ultimately, in order to actually create good scifi and good story, you have to take a risk and be original. Otherwise your creation will be about as thrilling as a lukewarm cup of burnt Starbucks.

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

 

Further Resources

swr3For more information on the video, see DearJJAbrams.com, where you can read about the 4 rules, sign the petition to make Star Wars great again, and go behind the scenes of Sincerely Truman’s movie.

 

 

PS – My opinions are mine, and I am only affiliated with me.

How to Write a Complete Story in Nine Sentences

Impossible, right?

mtf_yJCUs_120Wrong. Write every day, they say. And they’re right.

But the block hits everyone from time to time like a ton of bricks or a light tap on the brain, depending on the person. Writer’s block can be a menacing obstacle for many writers, so I designed an exercise to help creative writers overcome writer’s block.

Are You Blocked?

According to The Altucher Confidential, if you want to be a writer, then write regularly, and you will become a writer. Interestingly, a Lifehacker article of his says that “if you sit down and stare at a blank screen every day, then you are a writer,” then subsequently links to an article that recommends writing regularly, as opposed to staring at a blank screen. He also paradoxically claims he’s not a writer.

If you sit down and stare at a blank screen every day and do nothing I think you might want to see a doctor.

That’s a joke, of course. He must be referring to the infamous writer’s block, which bubbles from subconscious depths unknown to afflict many — if not all — writers at some point during their lives.

In 1991, says Altucher, he wrote his first novel hoping women would like him. In 1991, I wrote my first novel still young enough to think girls were gross. In the mid-nineties, during the summer break between sophomore and junior year of high school, I wrote nine or ten novels.

Ten hours a day

usually, non-stop, stream-of-consciousness, fantasy and scifi and paranormal fiction, and what came out was an actual story. I didn’t know structure, theory, or anything. They were shit, but they were complete stories.

Since then, I delved deeply into esoteric literature, Japanese, art, and even had a prejudice against most creative fiction and literature for a while. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t write compulsively. Writing’s second nature to me.

I always have at least two notebooks, a laptop, and a sketchbook because I’m an amateur artist too. I’m one of those coffee shop ornaments with his nose and pen buried in his notebook.

In short, I’m a writer, but I, like many who have come before me, also suffered from writer’s block, specifically when it comes to creative fiction.

How to Fix Writer’s Block?

Everyone’s different. Not everyone sits down after work every day and writes for hours like they are scratching an itch that won’t go away.

This exercise won’t work for everyone, but if you are a creative fiction writer, you might want to give it a shot, since it can be done in less time than it takes to drink a double half-caff latte with extra foam or take your dog out for its morning business.

Writers often have something they want to say. A message, a story, a song, an idea, any, some, or none of the above. But something blocks the idea from becoming a completed story. When I got the creative fiction itch last year, though, I found myself blocked.

So I bought a bunch of stuff to help me get through it. I got Magic and Fairy Tale Dice, where you roll dice with little pictures of characters that would appear in a fairy tale, such as a magician, a wolf, a skeletal tree, and a fairy. It’s supposed to be for kids, but I played around with it for a while and tools like that actually do help stimulate the story creation process.

I also got Rory’s Story Cubes, Wired for Story (highly recommended), some Magic: the Gathering Cards, and, the primary inspiration for my exercise, The Story Template.

How to Write a Story in Nine Sentences

IMG_2889_1

This thing fits in my pocket and has a science fiction trilogy, a few crime thrillers, and some kids’ stories in it

If you aren’t familiar with the three-act story structure, google it. Though I was aware of it, I’m not a big fan of academia and its smarty-pants jargony theories about stuff that’s often really simple.

The exercise I came up with is inspired by the three-act structure as outlined in The Story Template and a little bit by The Storymatic. Both are highly recommended.

The Story Template makes the three-act story structure very digestible, and includes other ideas that help structure the other elements of a good story. The latter part of her book is devoted to the publication process — not so useful unless you have a story ready to publish. But the first part of the book alone makes it worth the buy.

The Storymatic is a bunch of idea cards. You pick a character card that will say something like “Person who hates fish” and “First date” or whatever. I don’t have access to these resources now, since I’m halfway across the world, but it’s basically a character card and a situation card.

The Niner Puts These Two Tools Together

If you look up the three-act story structure, which I won’t go into here because if you can’t use Google you shouldn’t write, then you’ll see how many people clearly define a three-act story structure.

To do the exercise, you break each act into three parts.

Three acts.

Three sentences per act.

Nine sentences.

Each sentence performs a specific function.

The first sentence

introduces the character and the Ordinary World situation, kind of like a story starter, or the Storymatic cards. We see things as they are before everything starts to stray from the ordinary. For example:

“Tarzan hasn’t had sex with Jane in months, and really wants to spice up their sex life, and came up with a great idea he wants to talk to her about, but when he swings into their bungalow he sees her crying Amazon rivers of tears.”

This sentence I just pulled out of my mental diarrhea stream, by the way. I didn’t pre-plan any of these sentences. Just a tiny edit here and there, which is what you’ll be doing when you do this exercise anyway.

The second sentence is, what I believe The Story Template calls the “challenge” to the protagonist, what has been called the inciting incident elsewhere, a crisis, etc. This is the first obstacle or crossroads that the protagonist faces. We see the first glimpse of the conflict around which the story is based.

“‘Tarzan,’ Jane says, ‘I’m pregnant.'”

The third sentence is the end of the first act, when the hero makes his decision to exit the ordinary world (his normal life with Jane) and enter act two, the Second World. The second act, according to The Story Template, takes up something like 3/4ths of the story volume, by the way, so keep that in mind for the final version of your story.

“Tarzan is blinded by rage, knowing the child isn’t his, so he kicks the front door off its hinges into the river, grabs the nearest vine and swings off into the jungle.”

Personally, I don’t care about sentence length, word-prettiness, or any of that: it’s about getting as much information and the big picture as fast as possible.

The fourth sentence begins act two,

so I’ve started labeling them like this.

“2.1: Tarzan, enraged, swings wildly around, beating trees with sticks, until he comes up with an evil plan.”

The fifth sentence is the mid-point of the whole story (big-twist), which, according to The Story Templateif I remember correctly, is either a dark point or a false high.

“2.2: Tarzan stakes out his house and waits for hours until Jane leaves, and he follows her to a local village, where he sees her enter the hut of the chief’s son, with whom he has been trading furs for the past year.”

Stakes are rising, tension is rising, and Tarzan is facing an internal struggle, probably ready to beat somebody else’s chest in instead of his own.

The sixth sentence is when we hit another crisis point. Many TV series are just a long string of crises, one after the other, drawing out the second act indefinitely until the show gets cancelled.

In my opinion.

The final conflict and enemy is becoming clear, if it hasn’t already, and here we are leaving World Two into the Conflict Resolution of World Three.

“2.3: Tarzan, not known for his cool-headedness, swings into the village, crashing directly through the roof of the hut, spear in hand, ready to impale the chieftan’s son.”

There’s no turning back to the innocence of the First World (act one).

Again, we’re going for speed and structure, nothing else.

The seventh sentence begins the third act,

which is the conflict resolution, be it violent, peaceful, or somewhere in between. Call it obstacle, crisis, entry into the Third World, whatever you want, this is often the lead-in to the final confrontation.

“3.1: Tarzan finds Jane weeping in the other man’s arms, and his rage abates somewhat, so he decides not to slit the traitor’s throat, but does not lower his spear.”

Don’t think hard about this stuff. Rewrite later. Just go go go.

The eighth sentence should be the climax.

“3.2: Tarzan has blood in his eyes and murder on his mind, with his spear point inches from the other man’s throat, but instead of killing him, he uses his spear to scar a ‘T’ across the man’s chest and escapes back into the jungle.”

Sentence nine is the end.

“3.3: Tarzan swings away to the highest tree on the highest hill in the jungle, where he looks at his ape friends’ dwelling places, his bungalow, the betrayer’s village, and, far in the distance, beyond the jungle, Tarzan’s eyes remain locked on the metal spires of a distant city.”

This ending leaves openings that can go in a few different directions, where we could choose to write a sequel, continue the story, or compress this niner into a single act, chapter, and so forth.

The End is Just the Beginning

This is where you start another niner, begin editing this one, rewriting it with a different chain of events, write a sequel, expand, etc.

I don’t sit around theorizing about story structure, plot, character development, exposition, foreshadowing, and so on, but it really helps to know this stuff, regardless of how much you buy into it or which theories you subscribe to.

I’m not going to turn this Tarzan thing into a story.

Neither will I flesh out a skeleton I wrote an hour ago about a cat named Pumpkin who manages to take out a cat mafia gang with a trojan pumpkin full of catnip. Well, maybe I will, who knows. That one has more promise than this one.

This exercise is as rigid or as flexible as you need it to be, but the object is to generate a beginning, middle, and end, as quickly as possible, because, for some people (like me) over-thinking is the enemy.

It’s similar to the idea that spawned NaNoWriMo.

Just quit quibbling over details and write write write.

Google reveals many who decry the three-act structure, saying it was made just for theatre, because people need bathroom breaks, and the seven-act structure was developed for TV because there are seven commercial breaks and each act should end with a crisis or cliffhanger, etc.

These perspectives are also worth researching, but they are beyond the scope of this article.

While it took me a while to write this article, it should be clear that a nine-sentence story outline can take but a few minutes. Do three or nine in a row, then nine more, or one a morning for a week, refine the ones you like, or add more sentences where needed, change ones that need changing, and do whatever you want to to get the result you seek.

Part of the advantage of this approach is that nothing you write is sacred. Your brain realizes it’s just an exercise you can crumple up and toss away if you want. Or it has the potential to snowball into a series of novels.

But first make sure to familiarize yourself with some of the ideas out there about story structure, plot, character, setting, and so forth, because you have to understand what each sentence in the exercise does.

This article is going on 2,000 words. If you know your stuff and you’ve read this far, you can probably write out a niner in less time than it took you to read this article.

Go ahead.

The Beginning

1.1: Groceries still in hand, the first thing he noticed wasn’t the pool of blood soaking the bed, but the crumpled piece of paper that lay at his feet.

1.2:

Copywriting & PS4: The Pyramid Scheme

Playstation Ethos

according to PS4…because reality is apparently too boring…

Warning.

This is a long article.

I love long articles.

How else can you really go in-depth?

I love long attention spans, long sentences, long blog posts, long books, long headlines, long commercials, long-tail search, and long hair. My last blog post was merely a pre-amble to a long-planned long-term series of blog entries, but I decided to wrap that crap up now and here, for a few reasons I’ll get into later and somewhere else.

Copywriting, like everything else in the universe, is based on the shape and scheme of a pyramid. The top of the pyramid is the goal of your writing, and the rest of your writing supports that goal. The goal is the eye on the top, the next couple bricks are the headline, the next layer is the first sentence, the next layer is the first paragraph, and if they’re still reading by then you’re lucky, or really good. Each successive sentence and paragraph supports the previous ones.

From the Playstation Ethos commercial

From the Playstation Ethos commercial

Copywriting is writing with a goal. You don’t just write coherently with good grammar, as the SEO clients request, you write to capture attention and influence the reader. This kind of writing takes a lot of time and crafting, and a long attention span, and, incidentally, that’s not really how I write this, my personal blog. I write my personal blog mostly to have fun and experiment and practice writing, and transmit high quality ideas to other people who have long attention spans. But mostly to do my personal work and have fun.

After all, as Noah Bradley says, if you don’t do your personal work, you go crazy. And since my personal work tends to be long, it’s not the best place to advertise my copywriting, which, as mentioned, is designed to capture attention quickly.

Take Twitter, for example, which limits tweets to 140 characters. Copywriting at its finest! The Twitter playground reminds me of the Wall Street stock exchanges, with thousands of loose neck-tied professionals screaming and yelling at banks of monitors. You have exactly 140 characters to capture someone’s attention. If you can’t do it, tweet again. And again. And again. And again. And…oops!

You’ve annoyed them too much and now they unfollowed you. One exclamation point too many. Capturing attention is not an art form, as many internet marketers would fart. To say something is an “art form” means nothing. I prefer the term “craft” over “art.”

Playstation wants you to play

Playstation wants you to play

“Art” in my world means creativity, spontaneity, and the opposite of science, which is calculations based on proof. “Craft” is a balance of both art and science. Carpentry is a good example of a craft. You have a pre-defined amount of space and material to create an aesthetitically pleasing, yet functional object.

Writing can be art, science, crap, or craft, depending on its function. But goal-oriented copywriting is craft, which, because it has goals, implies design.

I hinted at this in my last blog post with the PS4 commercial analysis, For the Players Since 1995. That particular commercial was designed for a specific purpose, i.e., to support the slogan, “This is for the players,” which slogan was, in turn, designed to support the marketing strategy in the Great War of the PS4 vs. the Xbox One.

Let’s take a look at this ad to see why the Xbox One is about as dry as the Arizona desert.

 

Now watch this and see why, in comparison to the PS4, the bland Xbox One does not deserve a place in history or anyone’s living room, anywhere, ever.

 

As we can see, there is a slight difference in the ad campaigns, but some of you might be saying, “What does any of your rambling have anything to do with anything anywhere ever?”

Others may be saying, “Okay, so their ad campaign sucks, so what? Xbox One’s still a good device. It still has cool games and does pretty much the same thing that the PS4 does.”

Hi, I'm old and boring

Hi, I’m old and boring

If all things are pretty much equal, then I would not choose Xbox One, based on how much care and effort they didn’t put into their campaign. I think it’s quite amazing that Sony, some no-name whatever company from some little island off China, has managed to create a gaming device that is outselling Microsoft. After all, the USA dominates the world, and Microsoft has dominated the USA’s technology industry for a long time, yet Sony has created the most amazing place to imagine and play: the Playstation Nation.

Supporting the PS4, powering this David’s rise to meet the Goliath of the Xbox One, lies their energetic marketing campaign, which supports on one copywritten slogan, “This is for the Players.”

At the end of For the Players Since 1995, we see the slogan directly beneath the name of the device, PS4.

Me too.

Me too.

Everything in the ad has been specifically designed to support that slogan, and that slogan has been carefully crafted specifically to support that device, the PS4. In the same way that the slogan supports the name, the whole commercial works together to support the slogan. Therefore, the ad supports campaign supports the slogan supports the device name supports the device itself supports the salaries of the people at Sony etc.

Thus, we can see how the design-oriented disciplines in marketing and advertising, such as copywriting, are shaped like a pyramid, just like everything else in the universe.

PS4: For the Players Since 1995

My last post analyzed a couple commercials from the PS4 and Xbox One campaigns, and in this post I’ll pick up with the PS4 commercial, titled on YouTube, “For the Players Since 1995.” This ad is so detailed and well-crafted that it would take a thesis paper to analyze everything inside it. But we’ll just scratch the surface, to get a rough idea of the kind of work that goes into good copywriting and advertising.

This commercial, of course, represents the culmination of the work of a slew of people, including copywriters, marketers, designers, filmmakers, actors, and so on. These types of commercials are fun to analyze, and a useful way to better understand copywriting. The creation of these commercials involves the same essential process as copywriting: design. In fact, this is the goal of most writing, which is why different “types” of writing skills are so transferable. They all involve the same essential design process.

But on to the commercial.

“For the Players Since 1995” is a coming of age tale, a tragedy, a romance, a bromance, a story of heartbreak, and a story of adventure. We follow Daniel from his high school years to his post-college years, and throughout the ad, the Playstation acts as a centerpiece and an anchor in the storm of Daniel’s normal life. While he grows older, friends and girlfriends come and go, but the Playstation remains.

I can’t emphasize enough the extreme level of detail the creators put into this commercial. To get a glimpse of this, count the number of red and white objects you see in the first thirty seconds. And then count how many objects and symbols you see recycled throughout the commercial. For example, you’ll see a number of guitars, bicycles, Playstations, TVs, Domino’s Pizza boxes, signed shirts, and so on.

 

 

Most of the commercial’s Playstation “eras” are accompanied by band posters — such as Blur, Kasabian, and Tinie Tempah — that indicate the time period. Signed shirts denote Daniel’s graduation from high school, university, and then something else, perhaps a dojo. There are color scheme changes, lighting shifts, and musical shifts, which act to change the mood and transition the story into new life periods. The dialogue bits are windows into the players’ lives, and each little interaction suggests backstory.

Girl’s hand shoots up to Token’s hand. The poster on the wall timestamps this PS3 “era.”

For instance, at around 2:24, as the camera leaves the player party and pans back to the PS3 and TV, the girl’s hand jumps up to Token’s hand at the controller (the black guy). Why? To suggest some love interest, obviously. Maybe this level of detail sounds a bit extreme, and maybe I am reading a bit too much into an innocent action, but the director told her to do that for a reason. When you sit down and actually look at some of the commercials being fed to us on a daily basis, you will start to notice some extreme attention to detail. Lots and lots and lots of work goes into the creation of a commercial like this.

Everything in the commercial is designed with a specific purpose; the commercial has been engineered to support the “This is For the Players” mantra, the latest battle cry of the Playstation Nation. This five-word slogan did not come out randomly at the water cooler or on the toilet. Like all good copywriting, it was crafted over a period of time and takes into account the bigger marketing strategy, the business aims, and the audience. “This is For the Players” is designed to fulfill a specific strategic function, as mentioned in my last post, just as each detail of this ad is designed to create a specific impression on the viewer.

Two red, black, & blue jackets plus a Domino's box

Two red, black, & blue jackets plus a Domino’s box on the left

In the opening PS1 sequence, you may have noticed a large number of red and white objects, which all but disappeared in the later sequences — until, that is, the very final image of the ad, when you see a red and white race car skidding into the future. The PS2 color palette cools down a bit, and in the PS3 sequence, you notice more objects which are red, blue, and black. By the time the final sequence has arrived, Daniel’s apartment is cleaner, more modern, and the modern feel is reinforced by a futuristic blue and purple palette.

Attempts to overanalyze the purpose or the “why” behind the color schemes and significance of the objects might yield some interesting ideas, but it would often just be an exercise in speculation, since only the creators really know the answer to such questions. For example, I could attempt to draw parallels between the red-white-and-blue of the Domino’s boxes and the British flag that appears a million times, or the significance of the guitars and bicycles as objects that thematically suggest playfulness and competition. Such analysis and speculation is a useful way to study copywriting, but there’s no point getting caught up in circumstantial theory.

The abundance of detail put into this ad, and the PS4 ad campaign as a whole, indicate an assertive, knowledgeable approach to their campaign and their target audience. Every time you watch this commercial you will see something new, and that goes quadruple for the Players. I can’t even begin to count the number of game references in this ad.

This ad is one of the more interesting and carefully constructed commercials from which to study high quality copywriting and advertising. I suggest watching it at least one more time. You will certainly notice new things each time you watch it.

 

And after you watch it again, watch this:

 

 

Obviously not all commercials are created equal.