Category Archives: Publishing

Dogfooding your art

For a while, when I was a wee overachiever, I was often called a perfectionist. It wasn’t true, though. I was (and am) just good at spotting things that could still be improved.

A perfectionist can’t bear to put something out into the world until it’s perfect, and thankfully I’ve never really had that problem. (I’ve been posting my drafts online since 2001.)

When I started working at Microsoft nearly five years ago (!!), I learned of a business term that crops up in software development a lot: dogfooding. It’s short for “eating your own dog food,” or, “using your own damn product.” It’s great. I think it’s really vivid and kind of nasty, and that’s why it’s the right word — because at the point at which you’re dogfooding something, it’s probably not ready for your real audience. It’s a messy, uncomfortable process that’s absolutely necessary.

Dogfooding usually refers to software, or on occasion other products like cars or soft drinks, but I like to use it in regards to my art. You might stop me here and say, “August, how the heck am I supposed to use my own art?”

Great question! Start by reading it out loud, or sending it to a different device from the one you create on. Break out of the way you’ve been creating to experience it in another way. Turn it upside down if you have to. Read it backwards, sentence by sentence.

And then get your art out to your inner circle. Your squad. Your superfans who exist because they’re obligated by other social contracts: those people who, by blood relation or professional association or creative conglomeration, will happily consume what you make and then tell you what they think.

Bombard them with your art. Get a channel you’re comfortable with — whether that means making something private that’s invite only, or choosing a fresh username unassociated with your other online identities, or even just dumping your drafts on your regular social media platforms. Whatever you prefer, find a channel, set it up, and make it simple for you to post to it. Regularly.

That’s the secret. You have to constantly be updating, and pushing the latest to your dogfooders. The faster you get stuff out there, the faster you get feedback. And that’s what this is about: go forth and gauge your (limited and likely captive) audience’s reaction to what you create.

You don’t always need honest opinions from your dogfooders, or detailed breakdowns of their opinions. In fact, no answer at all can be very telling. Does your little sister “like” and comment on every one of your posts? Did she only “like” it this time? Take that as a tiny little point in the “no” column, make a few changes if you think she’s right, and test again, quickly.

Sometimes you might be uncertain of a detail or an approach you’re taking. That’s when you reach out and specifically ask for others’ perceptions of what you’re up to. You’ll be surprised to find out how often your audience is unable to see the flaws you’re stuck on, or how readily someone will offer exactly the perspective you needed to make it right.

If you want to improve, and if you want to truly speed up your ability to create, then you have to start getting feedback early and often. It turns out that the crappiest part of writing a novel is revising it; it’s tedious, frustrating, and confusing. And you’re only going to make any revision steps of your process easier on yourself by learning how to make good content the first time.

You get there by dogfooding.

Why Daugment is free for libraries

Thanks to Smashwords’ super cool distribution plans to Axis360, OverDrive, and now bibliotecha (as well as their Library Direct program), my novel Daugment is available for free to libraries. I could charge for it, but…first of all, that seems horribly mean, and second of all, I have three good reasons for making it free.

The altruistic reason: Libraries and librarians are awesome.

Several of my good friends are librarians, and of course, avid readers themselves. They help people every day find information on how to improve their lives and their knowledge bases. Pretty dang cool. Plus, I spent I can’t tell you how many hours in libraries as a kid, gleaning information on forbidden topics from books I didn’t dare take home. I feel like I’m paying it forward.

The sneaky reason: I commission weird covers. People will take chances on weird books…when they’re free.

Almost every bizarre book I’ve ended up adoring, I read first from the library. Once I was old enough to earn a little money from babysitting, I began to invest in my own book collection and I’ve never stopped – but I rarely buy something I don’t already know I love.

People make snap judgments about covers all the time. Here’s a question anyone in a bookstore or browsing an online catalog will ask themselves: “Is this cover worth $5? $2? $0.99?” Usually, the answer is an easy, “No.” But if the question is instead, “Is this cover worth 10 minutes of my idle curiosity?” the answer is more often, “Why the heck not!”

If my book’s at a library, it’s already free for the customer. Making it free for the libraries gets it into a lot more libraries.

The marketing reason: To find my future readers.

Every single piece of advice on ebook marketing I’ve read advises giving away a book, or a story at the very least, to get readers’ email addresses and attention. While I plan to run promotions as well, Making Daugment free for libraries allows me to give away books passively and reach readers I would never have otherwise found.

Even if I run really savvy social media campaigns, I can’t easily target niche readers. These are people whose tastes might not usually overlap with the keywords I use to promote my book, but who visit small-town libraries. Smaller libraries may have more modest budgets, meaning the librarians may turn to the free section of the ebook catalog in order to give their patrons more for the money they have.

If you’re a librarian, and can’t seem to find Daugment through the ebook channels you use, please contact me so I can get you as many copies as you’d like!