About a book: momentum by Shama Hyder

Six years ago, when I reviewed her previous book The Zen of Social Media Marketing, I wrote about how smart Shama Hyder is. So, when her team asked if I'd review her new book, momentum, I said absolutely.

SH-Book-momentum_03momentum landed at my doorstep at a tumultuous time in my life, and I'm embarrassed to say I sat on it for a few months until I could find the focus.

I'm glad I found that focus, though. The book is absolutely worth a read if you're starting a business, in business, or need to rethink your social marketing strategy.

It's most important if you're not integrating your online and real-world marketing strategies.

Hyder details five principles: Agility, customer focus, integration, curation and cross-pollination. She also includes a bunch of tools and takeaways, and I'm not going to spoil those, or you won't need to read the book, which means you won't need to buy the book, which means she would have sent me a book to read for free and then I gave away the good stuff. Instead, I'll clue you in to my notes.

I will say, first, that the book is astoundingly simple to follow. Hyder includes real-world examples, and runs a narrative of a fictionalized sports drink company throughout the book, so you'll be able to see what the strategies she outlines look like in action, rather than having to figure out how the strategies apply to you.

I have two different note-taking strategies for books. One is to use a single notebook, which has the drawback that if I'm taking notes on multiple things concurrently, they get mixed. The other is to use Post-It Notes upside-down (so that the sticky bit is at the bottom), so that when the note is full I stick it to the last page I took a note on and the notes are right-side up. That has the drawback of a bunch of little pieces of paper, but more continuity.

I used the latter method for momentum. Here are some of the highlights from my notes. Bold items are my favorites.

• Targeting very specific individuals is now very easy.
• Marketing used to be an outward push; now it's an inward pull.
• It's easier than ever to analyze effectiveness and change strategy mid-campaign
• There's a ton of data now; use it to be agile. Track and adapt.
• "Agility in marketing leads directly to marketing momentum" (p. 20) — when the lights went out in the Super Bowl in 2013, Oreo took to Twitter for an unplanned campaign
Nothing is sacred
• Identify your goals, make them clear and understand who is in charge of them
Be specific about your targets
• Create overall strategies, then drill down to individual campaigns, and be willing to change those individual campaigns
• Be patient, track, change and automate
• All your online activities should be integrated
• People use social media to show themselves off, not to connect; that makes it easy to figure out how your target customers present themselves and you can then make that happen with your product
• Sometimes going viral is luck, but by making a campaign personal, you can get there predictably
• Use existing data to answer specific questions about your customers
• Create a customer persona with a detailed background — it will help you understand the customer better
• Survey, analyze, listen and test
Conversations are better than monologues
• Connect with influencers among your customer groups
• Your customers should have a consistent brand experience whether they find you on Instagram, Twitter, a radio ad or a billboard
Stop separating your digital and traditional marketing groups
• Find ways to integrate your digital and traditional marketing, such as posting radio and TV ads on YouTube and asking someone to like a Facebook page on your company's business cards
"Information is not a substitute for knowledge." (p. 99)
• Outside content is important — don't only push your own content.
• Partner with your partners — if a store that sells your product is having a sale on other items, promote that sale and maybe people will pick up your product, too.
Close the loop: Introduce your partners to each other
• Return on investment (ROI) is no longer about money coming in, it's about relationships being built

I hope you go pick up a copy of momentum, wherever you are in your business. Take the advice personally, and take it seriously. It's meant for everybody.

Disclosure: Book provided for the purpose of review.

About a book: The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh

I love me some Irvine Welsh. You probably know him as the author of Trainspotting. A foul-mouthed, sex-drugs-and-fucking Brit who sometimes allows his characters to get away with murder.

Which he does in The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins.

The book is something a bit different for Welsh. Set in Miami and focused on hard-ass personal trainer Lucy Brennan and her Pygmalion, Lena Sorenson.

The novel opens with Brennan angrily leaving the home of her annoying boyfriend in the wee hours. She stops a shooting, and Sorenson gets cell phone video of the event.

Things balloon from there.

We see the building of celebrity, and the tearing down of it. We see emotional abusive relationships. Kidnappings. Art. Exercise. Murder.

Meanwhile, the nation is absorbed in the story of a pair of 16-year-old conjoined twins from Arkansas. One wants to have sex with her boyfriend; the other hates him.

Do they get the surgery to separate them, even though the odds of survival for one of them is slim?

Find out. Really, read this. Lots of fun, and a great summer read.

About a book: The Transhumanist Wager by Zoltan Istvan

Zoltan Istvan is running for president this year, as a member of the Transhumanist Party.

He has some reasonable ideas amidst the stuff that you know will keep him out of serious running. On the one hand, he wants good education for everyone, a flat tax and a has a Libertarian stance on recreational drugs. On the other hand, the party platform has stuff like phasing out jobs for humans, creating rights for cyborgs and stressing secular values.

If his novel, The Transhumanist Wager, however, is more of the platform manifesto it seems to be, he'd be a bit on the dangerous side for the world.

The novel itself paints a picture of a futuristic, science-based capitalist near-Utopia that really is not all that far off. People will live forever in good health thanks to medical procedures that renew our systems and a change in telomerase rates (that's something SENS is actually working on in real life — I've written about them here before) and the introduction of mechanical implants.

The nation that develops this technology, Transhumania, exists because some of the world's great scientists, under the direction of American movement leader Jethro Knights, are forced out of their own countries for their views on transhumanism, the idea that humans can evolve into something greater.

The anti-transhuman movement is driven in large part by religious groups in the U.S., and in particular by Reverend Belinas, a megachurch leader with deep political connections. He advises the president and many members of Congress, as well as some of the country's wealthiest individuals.

The world's top powers get together and decide to put an ultimatum on Transhumania, but Knights goes before their leaders and demands their surrender. The powers eventually kidnap Knights, but he escapes thanks to some of Transhumania's inventions and a chip implanted in his neck. When the top nations attack Transhumania, it turns out the defense systems are so complex there are barely any injuries on Transhumania's side; meanwhile, redirected rockets are responsible for the allies hitting each other's ships, killing thousands.

At this point, Transhumania puts its military might to work, letting all the countries know which symbolically powerful landmarks will be wiped out so that people can be cleared away. Knights' forces then destroy religious and political landmarks, from the Vatican, Mecca and the Western Wall to Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the White House.

Once the centers of superstition and power are wiped out, the reasoning goes, science can take over.

After this attack, Knights launches into a speech that feels as long and overwrought as John Galt's 98-page monster in Atlas Shrugged (it's not nearly that long, but sometimes it feels like it). Join us and live forever, Knights says, or we're just going to leave you behind. You're to be well-educated and productive, or we might as well just kill you and have you stop using our resources. There are too many people; decide which side you'd like to be on.

The book ends with some medical science at work; medical science that we're headed toward in real life. Morgan Spurlock saw some of it in Season 2, Episode 2 of "Inside Man" (see him talking about it a little bit here).

There's certainly some validity to transhumanism. We're not ready for it in our current generation, I don't think; it requires allowing everyone to rise on their own merit, turning ego only to improving oneself without allowing for competition. The kind of empathy transhumanism allows is evolutionary, not individual — we're not out to save all lives, just the lives that will help advance humans.

But read the book. Get educated. For as alarming as the anti-religion, anti-nation bits are, there's a new perspective that a growing population is finding worthwhile.

What we’re reading

I decided to get back to some fiction early in the year. My reading had been slowing down, and I'd been a little overwhelmed by life in general. Fiction always provides a nice respite, which in turn lets me relax in other aspects of my life, and now I'm all relaxed and ready as spring hits here in coastal Georgia.

Some recent reads:

Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk. Madison Spencer, who beat Satan at his own game in Damned, returns to the world of the living for her annual Halloween candy collection (candy bars are currency in Hell), but through some trickery on Satan's part, gets stuck for the year (if you're not back in Hell by midnight, see ya next year).

She had previously communicated to her Hollywood do-gooder parents that the way to Heaven was through general rudeness: cussing and flatulating cheerfully. She was kidding, of course, and now she faces an Earth full of joyfully disgusting humans, all doomed to Hell for their behavior, thanks to her. And she's back to fix it.

Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club and a pile of other books I love, and while this isn't among my favorites of his, it's definitely good for a few hours of escapism.

Not a Star by Nick Hornby. What happens when you're a middle class English mum and you come home to a DVD slipped through your mail slot, and the guy on the cover looks a lot like your son? What happens when you discover it is your son? What happens when the film on the DVD is pornographic?

Hornby is another one of my favorites (High Fidelity, A Long Way Down, others), and this novella from the Open Door series is great for a rainy day with a cup of coffee.

Bad Monkeys by Mike Ruff. I'm not sure how I've never heard of Ruff before (I mean, there's a quote on the book's cover from Christopher Moore), but this book is a twisted, paranoid look at the world. I don't even want to give much away, but if you think you're being watched, you probably are — but not by the government or your ex.

I've said too much.

4 lessons from Sherlock Holmes

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I used to love mystery novels as a child. I tore through Hardy Boys books, through Agatha Christie novels, and basically whatever I could get my hands on.

I spent much of this year reading The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Complete, as in Arthur Conan Doyle's novels and serials about the detective over a course of 60 years — he wrote about Holmes, mostly from the point of view of the narrator, Watson, a young doctor back from military service in Afghanistan, from 1867 to 1927.

Here are a few lessons, good and bad.

1. Be observant. Holmes gets most of his information from just paying attention to little details — the scuff on a sleeve, the mud on a boot, the ash from a cigar, the shape of a toe on a footprint. We'd all do well to be that observant, though maybe without bragging about it.

2. Do what you love. Holmes rarely takes money, other than expenses, for handling a private case, and typically lets police take credit for crimes solved. He does the work for the love of a challenge.

3. Be better to your friends. Holmes abuses the hell out of Watson. He once let the doctor think he was dead for several years. Other times, he tricked him into playing a part in solving the crime, putting the work above his friend. I can only guess Watson sticks by Holmes because Doyle needs him, and this is fiction, after all.

4. Be better to your readers. One thing I remember loving about mysteries as a child is the whodunit aspect — I got to play along and see if I could solve it. But Holmes often has some crucial piece of information the reader only finds out at the reveal. We never really get to play along; we just get to wait and see how it ends.

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Book meme: Would you rather…

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Some light reading for a recent Thursday afternoon

Well, I don't usually respond to memes, but I like me some books, so thanks, Mitch, for the tag and getting me back to thinking about books. I think the last time I responded to a meme, it was also about books. And like that time, I'm not going to tag anyone, but if you're looking for blogging ideas, by all means...

Here we go, then.

Would you rather only read trilogies or only read standalones?

I think trilogies are lazy, either on the part of the author, or the part of the reader. I enjoy series, and I enjoy recurring characters — I'm nearly through the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes books, and I enjoy Agatha Christie's Poirot books and Anne Rice's vampire series, but a trilogy would come out to roughly 1,000 pages, usually, and I think that's a fine length for a single book.

Putting out three books of 300-ish pages instead of a single 1,000-page book says to me you're either too scared to put that much work into a single product, or you think readers can't handle that much product, or you're an intermediary making extra money off someone's else's creative output. Or you're a reader who can't stand to think about picking up a big book (in the photo above, that brown hardcover in the center comes in at 1,125 pages, and the other books are there primarily for reference).

Would you rather only read male or female authors?

No, but I tend to read more male authors, for a couple of reasons. One is that we tend, as a species, to gravitate toward people who are more like us. As a male, I would naturally gravitate toward other males, particularly in my nonfiction reading. Also, since a lot of nonfiction I'm reading is on Freemasonry and you have to be male to be a Freemason, it stands to reason most books I'm reading on the subject are authored by men.

Would you rather shop at Barnes and Noble or Amazon?

I would rather browse at Barnes & Noble and buy at Amazon; I really like the "other people bought" feature of online shopping, and Amazon does it well. I'd rather browse and shop at an independent bookshop, preferably used, but hey, when the meme hands you a dichotomy...

Would you rather books were made into TV shows or movies?

I don't care. It takes the average person more like 8 or 10 hours to read a book than the 2 or 3 hours a movie can take up, or the 23 hours or so a moderately successful TV show can cover over 2-3 seasons. So, whatever. This is about books, and I like books.

Would you rather read only five pages per day or five books per week?

I'd rather read five pages a day, think about them, discuss them and incorporate the information into my life. If I read five books a week consistently, I'd be even more of a hermit than I already am.

More: 3 places to get free books »

Would you rather be a professional author or reviewer?

They're the same thing. I've been a reviewer. You have to write stuff, and you get paid to do so. That makes you a professional author. That said, given the opportunity, I'd rather be the reviewed than the reviewer. I've come to recognize that as a reviewer, you hold the power to make someone feel really bad about themselves for putting hundreds of hours of creativity and hard work into something. It's a power that's easily abused.

Would you rather be a librarian or a bookseller?

A bookseller, maybe. I'd rather not be either, truth be told, but some people have to go to a library. People self-select to walk into a shop, and as an independent bookseller, interesting people tend to go out of their way to walk into your shop.

Would you rather read only your favorite genre, or every other genre but your favorite?

I can't handle the false dichotomy here. If you ever limited what I could read, I'd probably stop reading altogether. Part of the glory of it is the freedom to read whatever I want.

Would you rather only read ebooks or physical books?

I read both, and also listen to audiobooks. When I first read an ebook, I was surprised to have enjoyed the ebook format, but noted that I also really like the way the weight shifts from heavy in the right hand to heavy in the left hand as you move through a physical book. At this point, though, I tend to have at least one of each format going, and often more.

I go to bed late — after 3 a.m. many nights — and the light from my iPad is much less shocking to my already-sleeping wife than if I walked in and turned on my bedside lamp. I also have the benefit of being able to read a really thick book on the iPad without having to worry about dropping a 1,000-page hardcover on my face as I doze.

I'm also a big fan of audiobooks. Now that my runs are crossing the hour threshold three times a week, it's easy to work through an audiobook every couple of weeks during a time I definitely wouldn't be able to read.

Get smarter: 3 places to get free books!

I've been reading all the Sherlock Holmes books this year. A couple of pages a night, just about every night before bed. The books are easy to read, entertaining, a good transition from the day. It will take me the bulk of the year to finish. I'm sure there will be a post when I'm done.

That's not all I'm reading, of course. But rather than spending hundreds of dollars a year on books that sometimes sit on the shelf for years, I've become a fan of discovering interesting free stuff. Here are some great places to find free books.

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is named after Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of moveable type. They're approaching 50,000 ebooks available in several formats, and they have some audiobooks as well — some of which are auto-generated from the texts.

LibriVox

LibriVox, as the name suggests, is free audiobooks, read by volunteers. All the books are public domain. Some of the readings are dramatic, some are funny, and some are collective. I listened to James Joyce's Ulysses, and each chapter was read by a different volunteer. LibriVox has a mobile app, too, and offers its titles for download. I was in the car for five hours on Saturday, and listened to a bunch of Gulliver's Travels, which I'd never read.

Open Culture

Open Culture is something else entirely. The have fewer titles, and often they'll link out to other sources. But you can spend hours perusing ebooks, textbooks, language lessons, audiobooks and a variety of classes and films.

BONUS!

Did you know there's a single source to search public libraries? If you're looking for a specific title but don't have access to a good library catalog, WorldCat will find a copy near you. And if you're looking for the takeaways from great books, Maria Popova does an amazing job with Brain Pickings.

Now you just have to figure out what's next on your list!

How do you see a blank page?

Marc Maron spoke to Amber Tamblyn this week on his podcast (listen here). The actress has a new book of poetry, Dark Sparkler, out.

In the book, Tamblyn uses troubled and deceased child actresses as inspiration for poems (she herself began acting professionally as a preteen).

One notable moment in the podcast is when Maron opens the book to a poem dedicated to Lindsay Lohan, and finds nothing but a titled on an otherwise blank page. He finds it very pessimistic, but Tamblyn doesn't agree. She says she's not willing to impose anything on Lohan (though to be fair, putting her name on the page sure does impose something, it's just a bit more open to interpretation, I think).

While Maron looks at that blank page as pessimistic — empty, devoid — I feel very optimistic about it. There's still a chance to write a whole story there — and not only that, but a new story, leaving a past behind.

On the other hand, some of you will have read The Wit and Wisdom of Spiro T. Agnew or SEX after 60, which are famously blank for humorous reasons.

So, what is it? How do you see a blank page?

How to publish an ebook on Amazon

Something I did recently was this. I compiled some of my blog posts, edited them a bit, and put them together in an ebook to sell on Amazon. It's called Resolutions for the Rest of the Year, and is meant to give you the tools to set and accomplish goals now that most people have given up their New Year's resolution.

Almost as important to me as putting the book together (it's short; go ahead and give it a shot, why not?) was the process. Let me tell you how I did it, so that you can do it, too.

First, I redeemed a coupon I had for Scrivener, an amazing $40 piece of software (that's without the coupon). It makes it really easy to organize a book, and will help you compile it for pretty much any format — Kindle, iBooks, hard cover, soft cover, PDF — and provides you with a bunch of tools for proofing and organizing research and putting together keywords to embed in electronic versions.

Next, because it's such a complete piece of software, I took advantage of a special on a Udemy course on Scrivener (at this writing there's not a special, but almost 20 hours, it's still a deal at $169 for Mac or Windows).

Then I put the actual product together. If you're going to try this, be honest with your self and understand that the software's easy enough to learn, putting the product together is the hardest work.

I did some searching for royalty-free art to turn into a cover (feel free to pay for some, too), put the cover together, spelled a word wrong, went back and did the cover again, and thanked my eyes for catching that.

Next, I signed up for Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon's Kindle publishing platform. It's a fairly simple process (it took about 15 minutes) to upload the book and cover, add some keywords, price it, confirm that I own the copyright on the book and click the submit button (which is the scariest part, but that was the goal of the whole project — pressing that submit button).

I sent that on a lunch break, about 2 a.m., and by the time I woke up about 10 a.m., I had a book on Amazon.

Your turn. Go!

The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss: Books that will change your life, and how to use them

Tim Ferriss is, by now, well-known for the 4-hour franchise. His first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, was famously rejected by dozens of publishers before becoming an overwhelming hit, having been translated into thirty-something languages (as of this writing) and sending a lot of people into entrepreneurship.

That book was basically a collection of productivity hacks for people with a product to sell, giving them the opportunity to cut down drastically on the amount of work they had to do while keeping their revenue streams up.

The message for me from The 4-Hour Workweek that sticks, though, is not the main message of the book, which is essentially how to get rich while other people handle the tough work for you. It’s that it’s an instruction manual for stuff that Ferriss tried himself, using his own business to experiment on.

And so we pick up Ferriss’ second book, The 4-Hour Body, a 600-page book about changing your body. Ferriss writes about losing fat and gaining muscle, both quickly and over the long term, including doing so while more or less ignoring every dieting “rule” you’ve ever heard. He writes about having better sex. He writes about supplementation (read: drugs). He draws from the experiments he’s performed on himself (and a few other willing subjects).

That brings us to the punchline, about how this book really does change your life.

The takeaway: It’s OK to experiment on yourself.

Sure, it’s nice to have a physician available, especially if you don’t understand the chemistry at play in your body and in certain drugs. And if you are trying new stuff for the first time, having an urgent care or emergency medical facility nearby is a good thing (and maybe you want to have a ride available, just in case). But to be honest, while the body can be a fragile thing, it’s also really resilient, and it lets you know when you’re taking it too far through pain or other reactions (like swelling, for example).

But in general, you should really learn to be comfortable trying new things, and also observing how they affect you. This applies to food, activities, sleep and pretty much any part of life you want to apply it to.

To observe correctly, however, you must measure and document. Ferriss has done pretty much all the work for you. If you want to lose 2% body fat in two weeks, he’ll give you the shortcuts. If you want to put on 18 pounds tomorrow, he’ll let you know. But he also lets you know how to measure and document your progress, so you can see for yourself, and that’s the part of The 4-Hour Body that’s most interesting to me.

Why it’s important: It makes you the expert.

You don’t need a personal trainer, or a dietitian or a scientist. You record what you eat, you record how you feel, how it changes your weight, etc., and you do it again under the same conditions at another time to see if there were any extraneous factors (that is, to see if it’s replicable).

You would be the best expert on you, if you were to pay attention. And, the punchline here, is that you can extrapolate all you learn to other parts of life. The observation, data collection and other skills certainly translate outside of eating and running.

How to use it: Ferriss himself leaves instructions for how to use the book. Pick a couple of chapters that are relevant to you, and read those first. Utilize the tips. Do your experimenting. Then read the rest of the book if it’s interesting to you.