Sunday, April 27, 2014

Setting up an Email List with Aweber

Last week I took a look at various services that handle email list management. I chose to go with https://www.aweber.com/. This week I am going to go over all of the steps needed to set up the email list through this service. It takes a lot of trial and error experimentation to get everything right, so get out your chemistry sets! Here we go!

Step 1 - An Email for Responses

You need to have an email address for handling responses to your email broadcasts. This email address will be in the "To:" field for these email broadcasts that you send. I use GoDaddy.com for my domain name, and as part of my domain name purchase they include an email forwarding service using the domain name. I know. I was disappointed one of the GoDaddy girls didn't come with it, sadface. I set up the email address newsletter@brian-basham.com. This email address forwards any replies to one of my personal email addresses. An auto-reply feature has been set to direct people to my social media accounts if they want an immediate response.

Step 2 - Basic Information

This is where you get to name your list, and fill out the basic information. Most of this is self explanitory. The email address you fill in here is the one that you set up in Step 1. The name of the list doesn't matter as much as the description, so don't worry too much if the name you want is already taken. It took me a while to find one that wasn't taken. Liam Neeson did not find anyone nor did he kill them. Chuck Norris did not make any promises, only ultimatums.

Step 3 - Welcome Message

Now it's time to set up a personal welcome message for those who sign up for your newsletter. The aWeber website provides several templates to help you start composing your email. It's decision time, what is it you want to say to your new subscribers? Treat it like your diary! OK maybe not. I put a welcome message that outlines some of the benefits of receiving the newsletter. I included links to a couple of my most popular blog posts as well. You've gotten your foot in the door, and now you should try to convince people why they should read your newsletter or other email correspondence. I am going to go over my advertising strategies next week.

Step 4 - Confirmation of Signing Up

Once people sign up for your email list, they will be sent a confirmation email to ensure that they are not a bot. Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto, but you are not my target audience. You can customize this email, and set up a page to direct people to once they confirm that they indeed did sign up for your newsletter. There is a generic template available for this, but you probably want to edit the message that is sent. Most people will ignore the message, but I like to add some humor for those who do. Love you guys!

Step 5 - Sign up Form!

The aWeber website provides many pre-designed forms that you can customize. Make sure to include the header and footer tabs, or your form won't look like the templates. By default the form builder software only puts the form, but you can add in all the extras. You can add text to the header/footer as well. Publishing your form is quick and easy. You can copy/paste it right into the spot where you want. You can see my form on the right sidebar here. What do you think? Isn't it sexy?

Now you have a sign up form for your email list. What next? It's time to promote it! Pimp your list baby! I'll go more into this next week.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Quiet Ones

Rated PG-13 / 1 hr 38 min / Horror

What is it about?

Professor Joseph Coupland is recruiting students to run an experiment. He has found a disturbed girl who many feel is possessed or haunted. She has volunteered to participate because the Professor seems to be the only one who shows confidence that he can cure her. The experiment gets off to a bad start when the university pulls funding. No matter, Joseph and his merry band of followers move the experiment to what seems to be an abandoned plantation house. That is when things start to take a turn for the creepy. The girl's manifestations are real, but are they something that can be cured? or is it a supernatural force?

You will like it if..

You like creepy supernatural horror movies. A lot of the reviews I have read knock this movie for not bringing anything original to the horror genre. I say... SO WHAT? If it is done well those same devices still work to creep people out. There aren't a lot of original ideas left for people to build a movie off of. While this movie borrows from several other movies, it's execution is excellent. The acting is surprisingly good, and the director does a good job of putting you in the middle of everything. The tension that is built throughout the film amplifies the true scares that are sprinkled sparingly across it's 98 minutes. The basis for the title feels a bit forced, and it is the only gripe I have with the script. One student mentions it almost in passing to one of the main characters. It felt like it was meant to be a theme in the movie with a setup and several mentions, but ends up being an afterthought that was thrown in because they didn't want to come up with a new title. The movie ends up being well above average, but falls short of being one of the truly great horror flicks. It is billed as being based off a true story, so if you want to read up on the true story - http://rhinoshorror.com/2014/02/04/the-quiet-ones-and-its-true-story/

or watch the Youtube video about the experiment - http://www.youtube.com/#/watch?v=TP9lmP1hxNk





Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Look at Email List Management Services

This is something that I have been putting off for quite a while, but no more. I have decided to set up an email list. I am going to go over step by step what I am doing here in the hopes that this may help others who haven't taken this important step yet. I have heard over and over again that the email list is more important than any social media, and that "the money is in the list".

As with most of my great adventures on the internet it all starts with....

Step 1 - Google!

Duh! As if I would use Bing! Ewwww Bing! I heard Bing has skidmarks in their undies. The Underpants Gnomes told me so! I first Googled "author email list". I found a few sites that gave me a bunch of tips for maintaining a list, writing newsletters, promoting the list, etc.. This may be useful, BUT I'm not at that step yet! Let's try a new search. This time let's try "email list management". Now we're in business! This search gives a list of companies that manage email lists.

Step 2 - Research!

Let's take a look at our options now. Obviously the first option would be to do it all yourself, but who really has time for that? When comparing these services, I will use a price point of around $40 per month. There are cheaper price points for each.

  • http://www.mailchimp.com/ - Do you trust monkeys to send your newsletters? Apparently they are more reliable than pigeons! This site has some powerful tracking tools and email customization. Free to try if under 2,000 subscribers up to 12,000 emails per month. Pay as you go that scales down as the amount of subscribers goes up. For 2,000 emails it is $0.02 per email or $40.
  • http://www.phplist.com/ - A free do it yourself option that you can download and install on your own email server. I'll have to do additional research on that! I may be able to host this on my PC. I have hosted and maintained my own website on my PC before. This may be the option that I choose if it is easy enough to do. I do love PHP, and have built many websites using it. However for now there is a hosted option available. This also has tracking tools and email customization. There are a few payment options. For 15,000 messages it is $30, or for 10,000 subscribers up to 1,000,000 messages per month it is $45. This seems a more economical choice, but the email templates do not seem as robust. It will take a bit more work to use this service.
  • http://www.list.org/ - Another popular free do it yourself option, but looking through it a bit reveals that this option requires a lot of work. I'm looking for something a bit easier to handle and manage. If I had experience programming in Python, I may choose to use this option. I don't like snakes though.
  • http://www.lsoft.com/ - This is one well designed website! It starts with a questionnaire that helps you find the option that best fits your needs. Nice! Unless you are afraid the robots are taking over your life, then you should be afraid! The list of services is impressive. This looks to be tailored more toward medium to large businesses. The prices reflect that. There is a $750 one time setup fee. There is a yearly upkeep fee that amounts to $104.17 per month ($1250 per year). Finally there is a quarterly $2.50 per thousand emails sent fee. For $40 per month you can send 16,000 emails per month, BUT that's not including the other costs. This one looks the most professional, but sticker shock feels like I just put a fork in an electrical socket. No thank you sir!
  • http://www.sympa.org/ - Yet another do it yourself option. It's free and open source which are two of my favorite things to say. Say it with me... free and open source. Doesn't it make you feel warm and fuzzy inside? If it doesn't then you probably use and pay for Microsoft Word and an iPhone while those who like free stuff use Open Office and have Android phones. There's nothing wrong with having an iPhone or using Microsoft Word. I just don't condone paying or paying too much for them when there are other options that are cheaper or free. This option may take a lot of work to set up, but you can't beat free.
  • http://www.aweber.com/ - This option came recommended on one of the websites from the first search topic I tried. It looks to have many of the same features from the previous options. This service bills by the amount of subscribers you have with no limit to how many emails you can send. For 5,001-10,000 subscribers it costs $50 per month.

Step 3 - Decision Time!

Hmmm... Since I don't have an email server at this time to run the free options off of, I'm going to eliminate them for right now. That leaves me with mailchimp and aweber. The first month of aweber is $1 while mailchimp offers their services for free for a low amount of subscribers. With both offering a somewhat free trial period, I can try them out without much risk. I can always revisit the free options if I magically find some free time and don't like either of these. Most of the features are identical or close enough, so the other deciding factor is price. Using the price calculator for mailchimp I have found that every 200 new subscribers increases their cost by about $5. The same 5,001 subscribers for aweber will cost you $5 more. No biggie. However, for 10,000 subscribers it costs $25 more. For some inexplicable reason 5,801-10,000 subscribers costs the same before increasing $5 every 200 subscribers again. Mailchimp will end up being much more expensive the more successful you become. That makes aweber the winner... for now.

Step 4 - Sign up and set it up!

Pretty self explanitory here! Next week I'm going to write a follow up that follows my journey to set up an email list through aweber. All the trials, tribulations, and triumphs will be shared! Stay tuned. Same bat-time same bat-website!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Transcendence

Rated PG-13 / 1 hr 59 min / Drama - SciFi

What is it about?

Dr. Will Caster is one of the leading scientists in artificial intelligence. He and his wife Evelynn have a presentation in front of a packed house to talk about it and hopefully get more funding. After the presentation a terrorist group makes multiple attacks on the three top labs working on artificial intelligence. One of the terrorists shoots Dr. Caster, and then shoots himself. The bullet was coated with some sort of poison. Dr. Caster survives the initial attack, but the poison gives him about a month to live. He gives up on his work and waits to die. Evelynn takes a look at the research, and finds that they may be able to upload his mind into the computer.

You will like it if... 

You like SciFi movies that attempt to address deeper issues. The acting is decent throughout anchored by Depp and Rebecca Hall. The special effects are good. The script does it's best to tackle the question, but I kept waiting for the conflict to escalate. It never does. What starts off as a speculative film that asks a question usually found in science fiction novels, deteriorates into a drama about the relationship of a husband and wife. The movie is interesting up to the end, but ends up disappointing. If you must see it I suggest waiting for it to come out on Redbox.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

3 Graphic Design Tips for Authors



Welcome back to my blog! I hope Godzilla did not try to bar your entry! This week I wish to discuss Graphic Design for authors. I used to build websites and make graphics for various projects. I have a few simple tips that anyone can follow that can improve your website, meme, infographic, etc. Some of these are common sense, but as we all know common sense is not always so common. 

1.) Solid Color Background 

A solid color background is not always neccessary, but it looks more professional. If you want more of a picture in the background, you can still do it. You have to know how to make a box with a solid colored background for your text to do that. Sometimes it's better to save yourself the headache. Infographics can have small designs in the background, but the solid colors work better. The designs are OK if you use two neutral colors to make the pattern.

2.) Use Mostly Neutral Colors

The major colors that you use throughout your website should be neutral. A bright yellow background is going to hurt your visitor's eyes. You can still use yellow, but you need to mute it. Muting bright colors takes a bit of experimenting. I have found that the best way to do that is to either add white or dark grey to the color. Take the background for this website. I started with a light blue, and added dark grey until I got the desired neutral blue. If you add white to your bright yellow, you can mute it to the point where you have a yellowish off-white color that is neutral. White and black are always neutral, but white looks more professional as a background with black text. Links and other graphics to advertise can use brighter colors to draw attention, but use them in moderation. If this is something that your visitors are going to see all of the time then you should use a neutral color that won't hurt their eyes.

3.) Light Text on a Dark Background, Dark Text on a Light Background

Text needs to be readable. Why invite people to your website if no one can read your content? Bright pink text on a white background is not readable. Royal blue text on a black background can make someone's eyes hurt. It's usually best to stick to white or black text for websites. On memes, ads, or other types of graphics you may need to make your own background. Putting text over pictures can be tricky because you don't always have a solid background. Let's use the graphic at the top to prove my point.

The text in the above graphic is readable, but it's difficult. The easiest way to fix this is to box off the text in a nice dark background. You could also make the box transparent so it doesn't completely obscure the picture.

The text is easy to read, but the graphic is mostly covered. What I normally do instead is to add an outer glow to the text. For dark text a light glow, and light text a dark glow. If you reduce the distance to 1 or 2 pixels and increase the intensity to the maximum. This will put a small outline around the text that is almost imperceptible, but it makes it much easier to read.

It's much easier to read than the first example, but not as easy as the second. The picture is not obscured as much as the second. I feel this last example is the best option, but it may take a bit more experimentation to find the combination that you enjoy the most.

I wanted to share one more thing. If you are going to use a picture for a meme or to plaster a poem on top of, then you should make sure you have the right to use it. There are some websites that have public domain pictures that you can use for any purpose. Not every picture you find on Google is free to use.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Draft Day

Rated PG-13 / 1 hr 49 min / Drama - Sports

What is it about?

Kevin Costner plays the General Manager for the Cleveland Browns who have the 7th pick in the NFL draft. Early in the morning he is contacted by the General Manager of the Seattle Seahawks who have the first pick. They work out a deal to trade the first overall pick to Cleveland for Cleveland's first round picks for this year and the next two years. All of this for a can't miss Quarterback prospect from Wisconsin Bo Callahan, but is he really as good as everyone seems to think?  Is he worth mortgaging the team's future to get the first pick?

You will like it if...

You like watching the NFL draft and are interested in some of the behind the scenes dealings. The movie is interesting in the aspect of seeing the wheeling and dealing behind the scenes of an NFL team. You get to see a bit of this kind of action in Moneyball with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. Jennifer Garner is sprinkled in for flavor and to add an unneeded love interest. The acting for the most part is good. Costner is believable and entertaining, but he isn't as good as Brad Pitt was in Moneyball. I don't think that is a fair comparison because the script in Moneyball was so much better. There are several parts of this script that do not make any sense at all. It's hard to make a movie like this and get all the details right. People who don't pay attention to the real NFL draft might not catch them, but the main audience for this movie will be fans of the NFL. The movie is entertaining, but not as good as the previews make it look.




Monday, April 7, 2014

The Ghost Part 30

The Ghost is a serial story that I update every week on Wattpad. It follows the exploits of a master thief who is also known as 'The Ghost'. You can read the blurb, or catch it from the beginning using the link below.

http://www.wattpad.com/story/8505298-the-ghost

This Week's Update

The Ghost Part 30 - The finale to season 1! This story will be on hiatus while I work on my next serial story titled "Grim". It will be a story about grim reapers. Grim will debut on April 28.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Putting all Your Eggs in One Basket

Hello everyone! Welcome back to my blog! Feel free to get some refreshments at the complementary taco stand. I recently saw a tweet from @Goblinwriter (you should be following her if you aren't already) linking to a blog post about author Tracy Hickman. You can read that blog post here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2014/04/a-wake-up-call-for-tracy-hickman.html It's OK I'll just wait here for you if you want to go read it.

Oh Great! You're back! The author of that blog post makes some strong valid points, but part of the problem is that Tracy mostly got their following by writing Dragonlance novels. The following is for the Dragonlance brand, and not for the actual author. In addition to the advice given in the blog post I would suggest that Tracy Hickman diversify their writing and writing platform.

Here's what I suggest to avoid this problem:

1.) Market yourself as the brand along with the series name. Sometimes if you have a tie-in like Dragonlance, it's easy for readers to get lost in that. They may not realize that they may enjoy some of your other works. Which leads right into #2

2.) Write other stuff! If you have a series that is popular then by all means continue with it as long as you can. At some point all good things come to an end, so be prepared! You need something to fall back on in case something happens. Each novel is a building block in your arsenal. You can continue to experiment until you have another work that gains traction. Then you can build another series that can provide another revenue stream.

3.) Get the word out! Tracy Hickman claims to have a six million reader following, BUT Dragonlance has that following. Tracy should have struck while the iron was hot and built up an email list that they could use to promote their other works when the time came. Does Tracy have six million email addresses on their list? I suppose it's possible, but considering they are complaining about not making as much money I would not think it likely. This also includes getting on all the relevant social media outlets if they are not already present.

Conclusion

It's hard to feel sorry for an author who claims to have a six million reader following, but when that following is tied to a franchise that they do not have ownership of that is a different story. In the blink of an eye six million readers can be reduced to next to nothing. Self publishing would certainly help with a paltry royalty given by the publisher, but if you lose the majority of your readership then you may find yourself in exactly the same boat you were in before. Everyone needs a backup plan because nothing lasts forever. It just makes sense to not put all your eggs in one basket.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Rated PG-13 / 2 hr 16 min / Action - Adventure - Sci Fi

What is it about?

Captain America is back after his missions to take down Hydra during WWII and with the Avengers. He's now with SHIELD running missions and leading men into battle... sort of. These missions are of a more covert nature like what Navy Seals do. Their latest mission produces a thumb drive that has encrypted documents that Nick Fury can't even access. The documents were sealed by Nick Fury. That's when he begins to suspect that something is fishy within SHIELD. He voices his concerns to his superior. Then he is attacked and almost killed. He makes his way to Captain America's apartment. He hands Captain the thumb drive and tells him not to trust anyone. The Winter Soldier then shoots Nick Fury and disappears after Captain America gives a short chase.

You will like it if...

You like superhero action movies. From the previews I already knew a few things that people who aren't a fan of the comics wouldn't know. I can only imagine how those reveals would make them react. The storyline is excellent if a bit short. There's no time for story in this movie, the next action scene is only moments away. They stepped on the gas and never let up. If you like action movies this is the one to see. The cast is excellent especially Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, and Sebastian Stan. The special effects are just as good as any of the prior Marvel movies. I only have a few minor gripes. Sometimes the fight scenes seem a bit blurry, and they make use of the zoomed in jump cut. Both of those things make it difficult to see what is happening, but thankfully there are only a few quick spots where that is a problem. This is one of the best movies made for Marvel comicbook characters to date. If you have any interest in seeing this movie I would recommend that you do so.