Steamroller Printing with Magnetic North

This past weekend was the 2017 Portland Letterpress Printers Fair! Artists from all over Portland gathered at the Redd building in southeast Portland to share their craft, support the arts, and have a good time!

One of the main draws to the event is the steamroller printing. Studios entered to create these massive linocut stencils, which are then printed on 4×4 pieces of paper using a real steamroller! These prints are then raffled off with proceed benefitting the Portland Printmakers Alliance. (I bought 12 tickets.)

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Massive linocut by the artists at Magnetic North! (Photo courtesy of Walker Cahall)

All week I’d been stopping by Magnetic North, sometimes with planned meetings to see Walker, sometimes completely unannounced. Great people. So when I saw Walker’s picture of the final massive linocut, I knew this was going to be something special. This was sparking my creativity, how should I say, “bigly?”

This is Portland. We make art, rain or shine. For a little while at the beginning of Magnetic North’s printing session, the rain came down, so the canopies went up. It might have even hailed. But it was short lived, and in a matter of no time, we were back up and printing.

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A little rain wasn’t going to stop the steamrolling!

The first color the team decided to use for their print was green. (Great choice in my opinion.) Everybody chipped in with a roller, making sure the ink is nice and even.

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Green was the first color used.

Chances are, the paint may have been a little thick on the first one, but look at how pretty it was!

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Make sure you don’t miss a spot!

Once the linocut was properly inked, you move it over and place it on the plywood guide. The blue tape is for the linocut, the yellow tape is for the paper. You put a cloth over the top so the paper doesn’t get dirty or damaged.

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Laid down on the plywood guide to ensure the steamroller delivers an even press!

Look at all the detail, too! I love the succulents theme. It works great with the green, too!

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Looks centered to me!

Once everything was lined up, it was time to bring in the steamroller. Sadly, I was not allowed to drive the steamroller, or even get remotely close to the driver’s seat. It was an absolute blast to watch, and I have to admit, it’s a pretty sweet way to make large prints.

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The steamroller!

Once the paper is peeled up, you’ve got a beautiful finished product! Thanks boys!

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Successful round of printing!

The prints get put off to the side to dry, to be raffled off later!

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Setting the print to dry!

After we did a couple rounds of printing with the green, it was time to switch to black.

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After a few rounds of green ink, the team switched to black.

If there’s any extra paint on the guide or on the tape around the linocut, it could get on the paper and smudge. We had to take a quick break to scrub off some excess ink with acetone.

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Touch ups!

All clear!

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In order to keep the paper from slipping, we applied tape to the paper. Smart move!

How about a time-lapse?

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Look at that pressure!

The best part about the whole steamrolling process is peeling up the print at the end. You never know what could go wrong (or right) under the press, so the final reveal is always a blast to watch.

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Peeling up the print is so cool!

Here’s that beautiful finished product!

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Beautiful final print!

As of the publishing of this post, I did not win the raffle and have yet to acquire my own print from the awesome linocut! Nevertheless, I was incredibly inspired by the creativity I saw from all the vendors at the fair and from all the prints being made and sold.

So much fun! Can’t wait to go back next year!

CHE

P.S. I want a steamroller! #bucketlist

Kickstarter Postmortem: Redefine Success

Over the course of February, I ran my fifth, creative crowdfunding campaign, this time for Happy Hour!, a sequencing card game based on the concept of bartending and making mixed drinks. The drinking game was created in partnership with Walker Cahall, a graphic artist out of Portland, Oregon, but more importantly, a longtime friend. Our goal for the campaign, only lasting 28 days, was to raise $6000 dollars. The campaign ended up raising a total of $6117, or 102% of our goal. While this looks to be a successful campaign, there was much to learn.

This is a public postmortem in hopes that others may learn from our mistakes.

Where We Excelled:

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Artwork. Walker Cahall (Waltronic) is an absolute professional, and the best thing we did for our campaign was to showcase Walker’s artwork in it’s many forms. We had a handful of Recipe cards and a few more Ingredient cards ready by the launch, but one of the best parts of our campaign came when Walker volunteered to make these tiny animations to support the campaign.

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These animations were immensely popular with our followers and on social media. When we shared these images and animations with the proper tagged (i.e. #whiskey), we started to gather the attention of distilleries and alcohol brands. Although these “likes” and “follows” would prove to be of little benefit to the Kickstarter campaign, but we do believe the future of the Happy Hour! card game lies in creating partnerships with a handful of these brands. (More on this later!)

Facebook Marketing. We decided that based on the crisp, graphic design of the game, and Walker’s amazing animations, we would run some “experiments” in targeted Facebook and Instagram advertising. We boosted posts and created campaigns. We spent approximately $75 on Facebook advertising with an average CPC of around $0.57/click.

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Not without surprise, we did run into some issues when it came to marketing the game on Facebook. First, there are regulations on the amount of text that can be in a featured image or video. A lot of the animations indicated what percentage of our goal we had achieved (25%, 50%, and cheers!) and some other cute animations, but ultimately, we were only able to run a few of them as campaigns, and a few were hobbled from the beginning.

Advertising Alcohol to Minors? Another interesting issue we ran into was the concept of the card game in relation to it’s content of alcohol. Alcohol is the theme of the game and consuming alcohol is not a requirement to play (although optional and *highly recommended*). Our goal is not to promote binge drinking, but rather, educate players on a dozen mixed drink recipes they may not have known before. One of our prime demographics for this game would be college kids, but many of those college kids are under the age of 21. There are laws that prohibit advertising alcohol to minors, but that’s now what we’re doing, we’re promoting a card game!

Is it okay for college freshmen (soon to be drinking age) to play a game that teaches them the proper portions for cocktails? 

Play Testing. We play tested this game in excess of 25 times with friends, family, strangers, and while live streaming from various drinking establishments. We had a review sheet that we asked everyone to fill out after playing, asking them to elaborate on their favorite parts of the game and the areas that need improvement.

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Thanks to these play tests, I can tell you that Happy Hour! is (without a doubt) 25x more fun now than it was when we first created the game. The more we play tested, the better the game became. While this is outwardly a good thing, it may have also been a major hinderance to our success. (More on this later, as well.)

Where We Underperformed:

We knew we were being aggressive in launching the campaign when we did. We knew that our game would be educational and beautiful, but we wanted to put the concept out into the world to see how many would be interested in getting a card game about bartending. We were hoping the Kickstarter would be both a proof-of-concept and a digital storefront all wrapped into one… because that’s the ideal outcome for a game like this.

Kickstarter Page at Launch. We looked at a handful of Kickstarter Pages of successful games similar to ours, specifically card games. (In retrospective, this part of the research may have been too thin.) There is a massive market for games on Kickstarter (over 500 live projects and millions of dollars raised). We did our best to structure the Kickstarter in a similar manner to how their pages were organized, hoping to emulate their success.

There were a few areas in particular where we fell short,

Gameplay. A majority of the successful games on Kickstarter not only have elaborate gameplay instructions and supporting images, but they also have a video of someone demonstrating the different methods of gameplay. We originally started with an infographic, but we took it down once we had changed the gameplay beyond similarity.

With Happy Hour!, we were still working out the best method of gameplay. We knew the “bartending theme” was sound and the concept of assembling ingredients was a fantastic base for a competitive card game, we just wanted to make sure that the gameplay was the perfect balance of entertainment and educational (how many recipe cards are on the counter? how many ingredients are in the bar? should we take more than one? can you play a drink a shot on the same turn? how many alcohols are required to use the “make it a double” card?), so rather than locking in on one method of gameplay, we intentionally left it vague. Ultimately, the lack of specificity in how the game is played most likely played a major role in our lackluster performance.

Rewards. An effective use of your reward tiers can help alleviate a lot of the stresses and the simple math of getting your campaign funded. I’ve experimented with these in differing degrees in my previous campaigns and Happy Hour! was no exception.

We started with just three tiers: Early Bird ($25), Happy Hour! ($30), and the Poster Pack ($65). Each one of these categories included shipping, but on face value, they seem really high, especially for a game that consists of just cards. If I could go back, I would include shipping additional, and drop all the prices by $5. $20 feels like a deal, and $25 feels like the right price for Kickstarting a game.

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We were just hoping to sell the game and maybe make a little money on top with the posters, but ultimately, we didn’t sell out of either the Early Bird or the Posters level, so we added another tier above and below. For $5, you can get some drink coasters with Happy Hour! artwork on it (may be CNC’d or printed on thick card stock), and for $125, you could become an Official Sponsor of Happy Hour! These two categories generated nearly 20% of our total revenue.

Also, in an interesting turn of events, we had three backers pull back their funding, a first in any of my campaigns. One was a backer that publicly supported the campaign, posted a highly critical note for improvement, and when I messaged him thanking him for the support but asked him to send that kind of message to me privately, he withdrew his pledge (than backed us for $1 to post that he was “withdrew his pledge” on our wall, then cancelled the $1 pledge, then claimed he still supported us). The other two, completely unknown to either myself or Walker, withdrew their pledges after the game was successfully funded. Walker thinks they are just trolls.

Email Marketing. As I’d written about in January, I used a freelancer from India for lead generation in more than a dozen categories of businesses we felt would be interested in our game, now or later. I downloaded the Google Streak extension and proceeded to draft and execute scheduled mail merge emails to each of the different categories. While it was exciting to have over 1300 seemingly relevant contacts, I ran into a number of issues, including…

Dead Email Addresses. Of the 1200 email contacts I was given, nearly 200 of them were dead or discontinued. I would also say that another 200 were sent to a mailbox that was not once checked. I mentioned this to Shah, so he sent me an additional 150 email addresses, which also contained some dead emails.

Miscommunication. Going through the email contacts, it became apparent to me that the language I used in my request was not as specific as it could have been for my freelancer in India to translate and execute on. In retrospect, I should have asked a little bit of his methodology in collecting the information: if he has a “bot” that scours web addresses for email addresses based on a series of keywords, I would know that I need to give 12 very specific keywords, but if he had a program that he wrote himself, perhaps he could choose better than me?

This inadvertently manifested itself in soliciting my drinking game to the president of a dry fraternity, reaching out to breweries and wineries (which aren’t in the game), and contacting a bunch of tabletop game conventions on the East Coast which I’d never heard of and have no desire to attend. It did generate some leads, but overall, it was probably not a super effective use of my time and $60.

Personal Contacts. We wrote emails to our friends, families, and mailing lists about the game and showed them some of the artwork. Ultimately, I don’t think we had enough in place on January 31st when everybody saw the page to excite them enough to donate. A good percentage of the early backers were Walker’s personal contacts, while my base was much slower to come around to donate. Perhaps I’ve overstayed my welcome.

Redefine Success:

Shifting Perspective. While the game did have a ton of traction, Walker and I had a very serious conversations about the campaign and playing out the scenario of failure. We had a lot of people, over 100, who believed in us enough to put their money on the line to help us make Happy Hour! come to life, how would they feel if we let the campaign fail?

As I mentioned earlier, our ultimate goal was to have Kickstarter serve not only as the proof-of-concept (“This is a good idea!”) and a marketplace (“I’ll buy that!”). Accordingly, the $6000 we were seeking to raise was in part so that we could afford to purchase the game in bulk and create a huge inventory of the game to sell ourselves. Those that missed the campaign could purchase it directly from us, and they’d receive it like everyone else. We’d also try to put these games into stores and retailers.

Unfortunately, the game proved to be a good concept, but as it was currently advertised on Kickstarter page, there was not a heavy demand for it. Thus, we sought additional financial support to ensure we met the goal. Even more unfortunately, this meant we had to completely rebudget based on our new financial obligations. While it does slightly hinder our ability to deliver the game we wanted in quantity, it was a necessary step required to succeed and we’re thankful for every penny we received from all of our backers.

A Quick Note About Chemicals. If you are considering a crowdsourcing campaign, be prepared for your body to go through a serious chemical rollercoasters throughout the course of the campaign. All Kickstarter creators should have the Kickstarter application on their phone throughout the course of the campaign. It’s your finger on the pulse.

The downside (if you allow it to be) is enabling “Push Notifications” when your campaign receives a new pledge. So not only do you have the endorphin kick of the push notification, but your phone is interrupting you to tell you that you just made money. This will start to creep into other corners of your life, including 3 AM wake ups and while you’re in the bathroom (obviously).  If your campaign is struggling, the kick is even more powerful. You’ll tap your phone in desperate hope of receiving a pledge you didn’t know about. How about now? Anything? Please beware.

(You can turn off the push notifications but I recommend it at the beginning of the campaign to get a gauge on how the campaign will likely run.)

Now What?

The Real Beta Test Begins. We play tested the game over 25 times, but it was often while Walker or I was present to answer any questions, concede to new suggestions, and make small rule changes (once a “douche card” was suggested to increase volatility between players), and more! Now, we’re creating Happy Hour! to be put out in the world to our family of backers for their turn to beta test the game.

With our backers’ feedback, we’ll be able to refine Happy Hour! one more time before we attempt to launch it into the commercial realm. Rather than flat out failing, we made the investment into our game, and our community, to expand the beta testing process beyond the borders of Portland, Oregon into your living room, bar, or around your campfire.

One Last “THANK YOU”:

Thank You! We couldn’t have done it with the support of our friends, family, and the Mystery Tin community. From everyone at Mystery Tin Games and Waltronic, thank you for backing our game and we can’t wait for you to help us make it something really special

Cheers!

 

Hiring My First Freelancer

In preparation for my upcoming crowdsourcing campaign in February, I decided to get started early on the market research and lead generation I’ll need to run a PR and marketing campaign.

Happy Hour! is a competitive drinking card game, challenging players to collect ingredients to deliver drinks like a real bartender! Not only is Happy Hour! fun to play, but players are also subliminally learning facts about their favorite alcohols and drink recipes.

In order for Happy Hour! to have a wildly successful campaign, we would need to market the game (and it’s future possibilities) to the alcohol, nightlife, and cocktail cultures. I knew the areas that I wanted to focus on, but I honestly didn’t have the first idea on where to start. For Dinner’s Ready!I sought out celebrity chefs to endorse the game. This project was going to be a much bigger project that quite frankly, I wasn’t interested in doing.

I decided to outsource the project to a virtual assistant. I figured somebody else out there has had a similar need to acquire contact information, so chances are there is a freelancer that runs a “bot” that scours the internet to return a spreadsheet containing rows and rows of contact information. However the information is collected, I’m sure it was going to be happen faster than I could do it.

Here’s my original job posting on Upwork:

I’m looking for someone to help me build a database of alcohol-related contacts for marketing an upcoming crowdsourcing campaign.

I’m looking for you to fill out a spreadsheet containing the following data:
First Name, Last Name, E-mail Address, Company, Phone Number, Note

Ideally you would locate approximately 100 contacts for each of the following categories (roughly 750-1000 contacts):
– Bartending Schools (online and offline)
– Bar and Restaurant Chains (North America)
– Tabletop Game Stores (North America)
– Alcohol Brands (International)
– Distilleries (International)
– Fraternities (North America)
– Adult Gaming Communities (online and offline)
– Relevant Newspaper Contacts (online and offline)
– Drinking and Liquor Blogs
– Tabletop Game Blogs
– Famous Bartenders (if there is such a thing?)

If doing this kind of research sounds interesting and fun to you, please Submit an Application! Also please include the recipe of your favorite mixed drink. If you omit this, I will not consider your application.

The response I received to the ad was not what I had imagined, but it was definitely what I needed. I received a message from Shah, from Bangladesh, India. He cut right through to the core of my job, and he didn’t waste time with my challenges. Maybe he didn’t read the whole post? Maybe he doesn’t know the word cocktail? Maybe Shah doesn’t drink?

Nevertheless, this is the response I received:

Hi, I can do the task.You can trust me in your project.I see all of your requirements and ready to star now. Please reply me and give me the opportunity. Thanks. Shah.

Looking over his freelancing resume, I had to trust him. His portfolio was extensive in just one area: scouring the internet for e-mail addresses. Despite the secrecy around Shah’s favorite cocktail, everything seemed good enough for me so I reached back out and we started working out the kinks, mostly negotiating the price per 100 rows of contact information. Ultimately we decided on 1200 rows of contacts.

Hi, Sir Here is first 100 rows. Kindly See my attach and check this. I start first Country – USA. keyword Bar and Restaurant Chains. Please replay me. Thanks,shah

His grasp on the English language is starting to wear thin, but that’s not what I hired him. I hired him to track down info, and here he was delivering the first 100 rows, less than 24 hours after we started the project. As I went through the information, I noticed he had collected contact information for dozens of restaurant chains in Montana. While that information may one day be important, in pitching a cocktail-related drinking game, restaurants are probably at the bottom of the list. Shah and I recalibrate on goals, and locations, then I sent him back to check in at 250 rows.

Sure enough, 12 hours later, Shah sent me the first 250 rows. Everything looked great so I sent him off to collect the remaining 950 contacts as I tucked into bed, Shah just returning from his lunch break in Bangladesh.

As I thought about it more, there’s no way that Shah can be doing all of this research by hand. He’s got to have a bot or something scouring and collecting data. If that’s true, then he should be able to turn this thing around in a few days. Since it’s my first time hiring a freelancer, I decided to reach out to Shah to see how long it would take to get the full 1200 addresses.

Yes Sir Thanks for replay. I will complete it within 2/3 days. Or ASAP. Thanks- Shah

My man, Shah!

On Friday, I got this e-mail:

Hi, Sir, Here is Completed Task.. Kindly see and check my attach. Here is 9 tabs, Total 850 Rows. Previous 350 rows. Total 1200 Rows Completed. Rate $5 + $1 Upwork Fee. per 100 Rows. So, Total, 12* ($5*$1)= $72 USD. You Already paid $30.00 . Thanks-Shah

I checked into the spreadsheet and I was happy to see that he had collected a majority of the data I was looking for, but there was one caveat: the bars listed in the spreadsheet were all from Charlotte, North Carolina, rather than Portland, Oregon. So I reached back out to Shah, asking if there was any chance he was able to collect the 100 bar contacts in Portland.

After a little negotiation…

Ok I will Add new Row for that.

I woke up this morning and pulled up my e-mail, and sure enough, there was Shah!

Here is new Sheet. Kindly see and check this. 

He provided one last spreadsheet with 99 bar contacts for Portland, Oregon (and one from New South Wales, Australia, which makes me sure he’s using a bot.) But that was absolutely great, and I couldn’t have been happier with the results of my first attempt at outsourcing.

All in all, this entire data collection project cost me a little over $70, including fees, and saved me hours upon hours of my own time. Collecting this amount of information would have most likely taken me a full 40-hour week, but working with Shah, the project breaks down to roughly $0.05 per contact. Not a bad deal!

Did you like this post? Check out some of our other popular Mystery Tin posts!
The Wisdom of Shark Tank 
is a mega-post of the insight I gained by watching every episode of the investment show Shark Tank
Starting A Monthly Newsletter is a look at the inner workings of my new Mystery Tin Monthly e-mail newsletter. (You can sign up here!)
Personal Fire Ecology is a quick look at the rationale behind my yearly purge by fire.
How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign is a fantastic overview of the nuts and bolts in running a crowdsourcing campaign.

The A-Z of My 2016

I thought a creative way to retrospect on this past year was to create an A-Z “mega post” of my year, briefly touching on my experiences from Austin, Texas to Yoga, some of my favorite songs, and a handful of my ambitions and personality quirks.

As a disclaimer, I’ve included affiliate links to some of my favorite products. No biggie!

tumblr_o2se7xsh0q1rt7qgbo1_500A: Austin, Texas. I visited Austin in February for a business trip to attend the Mother Earth News Fair. We spent a few days in Austin, kicking around to multiple coffee shops (including the Tom’s flagship coffee shop) and unique bars (like the “secret” bar behind the bookshelf in a hostel) in search of the perfect Manhattan. I didn’t get to spend enough time there, but Austin, “I love you so much.”

B: Bees. Over this past year, I have been a vocal advocate for pollinators and honey bees. Their role in the ecosystem as a keystone species is unparalleled and there’s no doubt their existence is in danger. If you are interested in getting involved with beekeeping (it’s really not that hard!) I recommend checking out the good work over at Bee Thinking.

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-7-56-58-pmC: Card Games. I did a lot of “research” into card games this year, with a few of my favorites being Morels, One Hit Kill, and of course, Cards Against Humanity. Next year, Mystery Tin Games will be coming out with three games: Happy Hour!, a card version of the game “Hex,” and Robin Miller Presents Dinner’s Ready! Keep an eye out for Happy Hour! in February 2017! And if you haven’t already picked up Dinner’s Ready!, the healthy eating  card, you can get pick one up here! (Thank You!)

D: Mr. and Mrs. Graham Douds. This year one of my best friends in the world, Graham Douds, got married to his beautiful fiancé, Kate. As a member of the bridal party, we traveled to Cabo San Lucas for a bachelors weekend and later, in September, they were married at a beautiful ceremony in the Napa Valley. I couldn’t be happier to be part of their special day and seeing the way they love each other is nothing short of inspiring. Cheers!

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Mr. and Mrs. Graham Douds

E: EDM. Yeah, yeah, go ahead. I’ll admit it, I listened to more than a little EDM this year, and I can’t say that I’m ashamed. I truly believe that there is nothing more human than dancing. There’s no “right way” to dance, just move your body however you want. Whether it was dancing at the splash stage at What The Festival, in the front row at the Crystal Ballroom, or in my car  on traffic, I can’t help but dance and smile. I’m not saying it’s the greatest music ever created, all I’m saying is that you should try it sometime.

F: Freelance. This year was my first official foray into freelancing on the website UpWork. Forbes believes that 50% of Americans will be freelancing in 2020, many outside of their day jobs. If you’ve ever been paid to do a job for somebody, i.e. your day job, that skill can now be made available to anyone on the planet. And you’d be amazed what people are looking to outsource. This year I mostly focused on writing jobs, including blogs and screenplay adaptations. In 2017, freelancing will take on a much bigger role in my life, including hiring some of my own freelance help.

G: Groceries (Fred Meyer). OMG. Have you ever been to a Fred Meyer? Holy shit. I mean, these places are amazing. It’s like a Safeway, Best Buy, and Target had a love child and while arguing over paternity they decided to name it the innocuous “Fred Meyer.” That’s Oh yeah, did I mention they offer gasoline, too? Whatever you’re looking for, chances are they’ve got it. It’s a one stop shop. Thanks for the hookup, Fred G. Meyer!

H- Hawthorne. For a majority of 2015 I lived and worked in the Hawthorne neighborhood in Southeast Portland. Despite the fact we were paying INSANE RENT for our apartment that was the size of an open matchbox, Hawthorne is an interesting neighborhood. Over the course of one block you can find a tattoo parlor, vintage clothing shop, get your haircut in an airstream trailer, fill your growler with kombucha, pick up some vinyl records, and get your bicycle tuned while getting an artisan coffee and a donut. While there’s no doubt the Hawthorne is the result of gentrification (as I was reminded often by complete strangers when they saw my California license plates), it’s still a fun neighborhood to check out when you’re in Portland.

15327450_10211139875630103_1152892381576227980_nI – Intimacy. For the first time in the last 7 years, I’m not dating anyone. It’s not easy to be broken up with and asked to move out. It’s even harder to continue living together while the divide becomes more and more apparent. Love isn’t for the weak or the scared. Love is for the daring, the risky, and those who desire to give more of themselves than they’d ever expect to receive from another human being. Loving with your entire heart is dangerous, but ultimately an important growing experience, just like the pain of the inevitable heartbreak when you lose it. I’m not bitter or angry, I just miss my best friend. But I recently saw this meme, and despite the spelling errors (maybe intentional), it made me feel a little bit better.

tumblr_o97jzb8ntm1rt7qgbo1_500J: Justice. I can’t say I got the justice I felt that I deserved, but I had more interactions with the police and the judicial system this year than I have (in total) since I left the legal field. I received a couple tickets, almost got my car towed, appeared in traffic court to defend myself (and lost), and recently attended a hearing to appeal my unemployment case. Needless to say, it’s better to stay under the radar than on it. Putting that behind me in 2017.

K: Kiiara – Gold. One of my favorite songs from 2016, Gold is a super-glitchy, sexy jam that sets the mood whenever you turn it on. The song just drips with seduction. If you stand in front of the mirror and turn this song, I promise you’re gonna feel yourself. It tastes like money when I speak.

tumblr_ohmj0i86rw1rt7qgbo1_500L: Louis the Child. Another one of my surprise favorites this year, I saw Louis the Child perform twice, once at What The Festival and in early December in Portland. These two kids, literally 19 years old, are dancing their way into their fans hearts. Admittedly, most of the people in the crowd were freshly-legal, scantily-clad girls straight rolling (awkward), but these kids are somebody to keep an eye on. My favorite song is probably their most popular track, It’s Strange.

M: Magnetic North. Since moving to Portland, I’ve reconnected with my high school buddy Walker Cahall (Waltronic), a graphic artist and printer. This year he became the manager of his creative space, Magnetic North. It’s an awesome space with desks, screen printing machines (for paper and fabric), CNC machines, and paints galore. They hold events every month, inviting the community inside to see how the magic happens and pick up some amazing art! If you get the chance to stop in, do it, and tell Walker I sent you.

N: National Felons League. This has been the sixth year of our Fantasy Football League, The National Felons League. I was the commissioner for the first five years (not earning a penny for the first four years), but this past season I handed off the responsibilities. Perhaps it was the best decision I’ve made, because this season I got to the championships, but came up short. 2nd place! Cash money, please!

tumblr_o3ywr3TaZN1rt7qgbo1_500O: The Obamas. Write the President. Seriously, do it. Whichever President you prefer, the outgoing or incoming, go ahead and write him a letter. It only costs $0.47 of postage to tell the President of United States of America whatever you want. That’s it! Earlier this year, I sent a copy of my healthy cooking card game Dinner’s Ready! to First Lady Michelle Obama, and I received a letter back! Also, as part of my previous job, I sent a letter (and awesome t-shirts) to President Obama to thank him for his Presidential actions to protect pollinators, and he sent us back a great note back! I’ll have these forever! Thanks, Obama!

P: Pacific Northwest. As a Southern California boy living in the Pacific Northwest, it takes a little getting used to the seasonality. The winters aren’t the same crisp clear skies, but rather a constant state of overcast with short spells of daily rain showers. Since I moved here in fall of 2015, we’ve had a couple of snowstorms, too! Snow days! The truth is, as somebody who frequently stays inside to create things, I don’t mind being an indoor cat for a few months during the coldest part of the year. Aside from the weather, the PNW has some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. Miles of beautiful hikes with waterfalls, pools, and breathtaking views! Come visit!

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Q: Quixotic. Lately I’ve come to embrace the fact that I may hold some quixotic views about my role in the world I live in. I am eternally optimistic that we can achieve the idealized world we all aspire for while desperately holding onto shreds of what we actually have. Perhaps my over-idealism stems from an unrealistic confidence that if I continue to work hard, and treat people well, the world will reciprocate in the form of success and happiness. I’m not exactly “tilting at windmills,” but I do find myself occasionally lashing out with aggression towards figures from my past as if attempting to “right the wrong,” an act that is foolishly impractical in the pursuit of progress. Next year, I’m letting it go.

tumblr_nwzlm6lyrk1rt7qgbo1_500R: Rabbit. No, I’m not talking about these creepy shrunken heads I found at Paxton Gate, I’m talking about my sweet ass white, 2009 VW Rabbit with 2.5 Liters. This car has been my saving grace, from road tripping the 16 hours from Ojai to Portland, carrying Dinner’s Ready! boxes to the Belmont Street fair, or napping in the back evading a domestic-squabble, my Rabbit and I are thick as thieves. For Christmas, I got her some new windshield wipers and a new rearview mirror. In exchange, we made it the 16 hours back to Portland safely. Thanks, babe!

S: Bernie Sanders. I attended my first political rally this year for Bernie Sanders. I have always been into politics, but this was my first rally. My boss had given me the morning off so I could go to the rally, and it was a magical experience. While the major news networks were busy showing an empty stage waiting for Donald Trump, they were missing out on the tens of thousands that came out to see Bernie Sanders at rally after rally. The only reason why the mainstream media even mentioned this particular rally was because of the famous “Birdie Sanders” moment. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

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T: Ookay – ThiefAnother one of my favorite jams this year, I’ve probably played this song over 100 times, jamming out hard with air-saxophone. With a mixture of dance beats, digitized vocals, and a little jazz influence, this song makes you smile for all the right reasons. If you want to have even more reasons to smile at this song, you really should watch the videoI guess I’m just a selfish ghost.

U: Unemployment. I won’t get into the details of my unemployment again, I’ve done that already, but I will take a moment to address a perhaps unspoken downside of unemployment. When you’re forced to pay attention to every penny you spend in fear you won’t make rent or your credit card payments, you will psychologically (and physically) withdraw from the world around you, in fear that you will be roped into a situation where you have to spend money. You have a social life that is slowly diminished to cheap beer in your buddy’s living room, or even worse, drinking tea alone at home, starving. I’ve made the choice to emotionally leave the unemployment struggle behind me in 2016, so I’ll be back to my jovial and outwardly social former-self.

V: Voodoo Doughnuts. If there is one thing Portland does well, it’s donuts. And you can find a different kind of donut in every neighborhood. Small ones. Sugary ones. All kinds of crazy donuts. The craziest doughnuts are downtown at Voodoo Doughnuts. You’ve heard of it, you’ve seen it, it’s worth the hype, even if purely on a creative, culinary level. Delicious!

tumblr_o96gazYUv01rt7qgbo1_500.jpgW: What The Festival. This was by far one of my favorite music festivals that I’ve been to, and it was also my first experience volunteering at a festival. Despite the torrential downpours on Friday, eventually the sun came out, which made me love and appreciate the experience all that much more. If I had my ‘druthers, I’d love to go again this year. Want to tag along? Pre-sale tickets go on sale next week!

X: Xbox One. My parents gave me an Xbox One last year for Christmas, and it’s definitely one of the best things I had this year. Honestly, I don’t play very many games, but there’s a few I like; Rainbow Six Siege and Fallout 4 were at the top of my list this year, but even more importantly, I’m hooked up with HBOGO and Netflix through the Xbox One wifi. BAM! Never before have I had such a massive amount of content at my fingertips, and I can only imagine it’s going to get bigger (and better) next year. I think it’s probably in my best interest to implement some television watching parameters for myself next year, or else I am going to be an (even more) unproductive slob, but it’s super cool!

Y: Yoga. I was never big into yoga. I was successful at acrobatics when I trained at Circus Center, but I was never a fan of all the mysticism that is commonly associated with yoga. This year, however, my significant other took classes to become a Corepower Yoga instructor, and I was a frequent student for her homework training. I even did some partner Acro Yoga (thanks, Master Lu Yi!). Surprisingly… I kinda like yoga. Near the end of the teacher training sessions, I finally got the hang of the different poses and my body felt really good, almost longing for more physical activity. It was obvious I had not been physically active over the last year, that’s gonna change in 2017.

IMG_4825.jpgZ: ZZZZ (a.k.a. Sleep). Sleep is fucking important! I know it might seem like an easy (and likely) entry for “z” but in all honesty, I really try my best to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. This means, most nights, I’m asleep by 10:30 and up at 6 AM… sometimes 6:30 AM. I occasionally pulled late nights writing or socializing, but for the most part, I was in early because this year I learned a good lesson about myself and my work. I’m a morning person. I get my best work done in the stillness of the morning, before the rest of the world is awake. In 2017, I’m stepping that up the early morning work even more.

What about you? What are the A-Zs of your life in the year 2016? What lessons are you carrying forward into 2017? Let me know!

Thank You from MysteryTin.com! We’ll see you in 2017!

——-

Did you like this post? Check out some of our other popular posts!
How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign is a fantastic overview of the nuts and bolts in running a crowdsourcing campaign.
Starting a Podcast (Network) for Under $200 on WordPress is the play-by-play I used in setting up the show MAD Potential (with Ben Mehl) on the Mystery Tin Podcast Network.
Find Your Funk, Save the World Once you found your purpose, there’s nothing you can’t do.

Book Review: A Confederacy of Dunces

The book, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, may have saved my life.

tumblr_ogp49tympF1rt7qgbo1_500.jpgTimes are tough for me right now. Truthfully, I’ve been in-between-jobs, aka “unemployed,” for nearly 10 weeks now. I’m in the throws of the uneventful unemployment appeals process, but Oregon has openly told me they have “no idea” when they’ll be able to hear my case. “If you don’t hear from us in six weeks, give us a call.” That breeds confidence in the system, doesn’t it?

Not having a job since September 13, I would be lying if I said this lack of forward momentum and structure has not taken an emotional toll on me. A sad byproduct of being truly poor is being forced to withdraw from the public sphere. No more “happy hours.” No more weekend activities. Sometimes even fast food is out of the question (except Jack in the Box tacos, I’ll always find the change for Jack in the Box tacos). Some days I’m invigorated to make progress on one of my 1000 projects, so I fly out of bed before sunrise, eager to write and create. And other days, often the rainy ones, I simply cannot find the motivation to pull myself out of bed in my tiny, converted attic space. Instead, I write in my notebooks/screenplays, watch movies, and eat ramen. A distilled existence for sure.

Recently, to add insult to injury, while visiting my ex-girlfriend at my previous apartment, my car got (almost) towed. Luckily for me, I chased the tow truck through the apartment complex and managed to open the door and jump into the driver’s seat of my car before they could drive off with it (Charlie Sheen’s character in Navy Seals would have been proud of my effort). Despite my Bolt-like sprinting in wool socks, the tow truck guys weren’t impressed or nearly as forgiving, so they “had no choice” but to charge me the drop fee of $197. This cleaned out my bank account… completely. We’re talking $0.23.

In these times, the lowest moments, we can turn to our friends and family for support and guidance. My family has been a constant support system for me for the last 31 years, I couldn’t stand to shoulder them with my latest economic mishap, so instead I called my best friend and melted into a puddle in my car in the parking lot of my local Fred Meyer. I cried about my lack of money and the lack of opportunities. I opined about my omni-potential and what I could accomplish if only given the chance. And lastly, this was truthfully the hardest part for me to verbalize to my best friend and even harder to write about here, I told him that I felt like a failure in comparison to the watermarks of my friends, seeing success in their own respective lives. I was truly at the bottom.

“I want you to read this book,” he said over the phone.

Two days later, I received an overnight package from my best friend. Inside was a card from him and his girlfriend, with a handful of gift cards tucked in. “We want to help!” he wrote in his chicken scratch cursive. I couldn’t help but break down in gratitude. Tucked in with the card was the novel A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

If he had the audacity to send me this book via overnight mail with claims it would change my life, the least I could do is sit down and give it a little read it. The old college try. Since I wasn’t exactly doing anything else that day, I made myself some hot chocolate and cozied up on the couch with my new book. Sounds perfect, right? Considered by some to be a masterwork of “American comedy literature” and picaresque literature, I was excited to dig in. I needed a good laugh.

51zP2kOP+CL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgSet in New Orleans in the late 1960s, the protagonist of the story is Ignatius J. Reilly, an overeducated 30-year-old living at home with his mother. Described as a”slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one.” Ignatius spends a majority of his time in his bedroom, writing verbose diatribes in his Big Chief notepads and scathing letters to his pen pal, Myrna. His family comes under financial stress (due in part to Ignatius), so Ignatius’ mother sends him out into the world to get a job. His adventures in joining the workforce are entertaining and the ripples reach the farthest corners of the novel. The cast of characters are familiar, funny, and whimsical renditions of New Orleans during that era. At times, it was impossible to deny the obvious echoes between the novel’s enigmatic main character and my own current predicament. I won’t give anything else away, but this is truly a book worth reading for anybody concerned they may be circling around an existential crisis.

Toole spent six years trying to get Dunces published, but ultimately, his efforts were fruitless. Despite being a beloved English professor, served in the military in Puerto Rico, and his continued pursuit of higher education, Toole became unhinged and depressed at age 30. He lost his teaching position and some would say, his grasp on reality. At age 31, he withdrew $1500 and embarked on a road trip, touring the country. Nobody’s exactly sure where he went, but he ultimately ended up in Biloxi, Mississippi, where he ran a garden hose from his exhaust pipe into his driver’s side window. When officers found his body, they said he showed “no signs of distress.”

Toole’s mother, Thelma Toole, believed her son’s writing was remarkable, and felt it was her duty to share it with the world. She continued his mission of getting the novel published, going so far as to reach out to Walker Percy, author and teacher at Loyola University. With Percy’s help, the book was eventually published in 1980, and in 1981, A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Before you go calling my parents, I am nowhere near going for “one last road trip” hurrah before meeting my own garden hose fate, but I was feeling extremely downtrodden about my potential and my place in the gears of the world. Reading A Confederacy of Dunces brought some humor back into my life and inspired me to write, in a new, honest, way. Perhaps more than ever, I’m eager to re-find and craft my own, unique writing voice again.

“I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”  – Ignatius J. Reilly

CHE

#GivingTuesday: Lahaina Arts Association

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There’s nothing more important than cultivating creativity, especially in the form of art. I was more than thrilled to see my dear friend Erin Brothers had moved (back) to Hawaii and become Executive Director of the Maui-based Lahaina Arts Associationrecently voted “2016 Best Community Nonprofit” by the Maui Times. How cool! They offer FREE arts education to children in Lahaina and all over the island.

I’m honored to be helping the LAA with their annual campaign this year, so I wanted to share this blog post with my community a little bit and share with you about the Lahaina Arts Association in hopes you’ll consider donating on this #GivingTuesday.

LAA Annual Campaign Kicks Off on “Giving Tuesday”

Voted “2016 Best Community Nonprofit,” the Lahaina Arts Association’s Annual Campaign kicks off on Tuesday, November 26, a “holiday” known as “Giving Tuesday.” Giving Tuesday focuses on online giving to non-profit organizations amidst the post-Thanksgiving commercial rush of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” Online contributions will allow the LAA to continue to host weekly after-school art classes around Maui county, as well as supports in-school arts programs for Hana School and Kaunakakai School on Molokai.

“This program is fantastic!” One parent declares, “Our kids do not have art offered as part of their ‘regular’ school so this is the only way to expose them to the arts.” Art scholarships, no cost art education, art materials and supplies, and student exhibitions are handful of the benefits the Lahaina Arts association offers to the keiki of Maui.

The Lahaina Arts Association relies on grants and arts funding to provide FREE programs. Unfortunately, this funding may become unavailable in the future, so individual donations are needed more than ever. All donations to LAA, online or in-person, are tax-deductible.

“The Annual Campaign is the most important fundraiser of the year,” says Erin Brothers, Executive Director of the Lahaina Arts Association. “It allows the LAA to budget out spending for local art programs in the new year, as well as gauge the organization’s ability to further expand into new opportunities for local Maui artists.” It is through the generosity of our community that LAA can provide these crucial programs to children who otherwise may not have access to the arts.

Donate to the LAA’s Annual Campaign Today!

#NaNoWriMo2016: The Journal

November 30, 2016: Let’s Call it What It Is

Of the three screenplays that I wrote during the month of November, one is a “secret,” one is ongoing, and the other is finished and reposing until January. Since that’s the only one I can really talk about here, I figured it’s best to tell you what I wrote and see if there’s any interest from my friends out there in reading it.

Takeoff is the story of Justin Case, an Iraq War veteran who, after returning from a tumultuous tour in Afghanistan, got into the business of high end repossessions, specifically airplanes. Taking his assignments from Lloyd, an old man in diner by the airport, Justin and his team are sent on a mission to “retrieve” an airplane from the Middle East that is suspected of being in terrorist hands. The mission is a set-up, so Justin and his team do everything they can to find the dangerous man behind the assignment, and what they find, strikes at the very core of Justin’s existence.

I’d like to think of it as Mission Impossible meets Airplane Repo.

Let me know if you want to read it!

November 28, 2016: Winner!

NaNoWriMo_2016_WebBanner_Winner.pngIn light of recent world events (Fidel Castro), and my shortage of words for the NaNoWriMo competition, I have decided to revive one of my old projects. There’s a short window where this particular idea will hold cultural significance and value. In order to hit that window, I need to finish this particular idea, this particular screenplay, as soon as possible. I imagine it’s going to take me until the end of the year, but I’m starting it right now and including it in the NaNoWriMo word count. Whatever! I’m writing, isn’t that the most important part?

I’ll admit, this started project started with an outline and a handful of scenes written, so this isn’t completely from stone. The important part about this project is that this combines two of my favorite forms of storytelling: historical fiction and conspiracy theories. Historical fiction is as accurate to history as it can (while still remaining entertaining), and conspiracy theories are the intellectual pole vaults between the those moments. Merging these two together, depicting how conspiracy theories come into being, are some of the most interesting stories to me. This is one of those stories.

There’s significant research to be done. Books. Biographies. Documentaries. I could spend an entire year doing research into this character, but that’s all part of the journey. With screenplays in particular, the story will continue to evolve until it is projected in a theatre. If you can get the story down on the paper, you can continue to cultivate that character in updated versions, but the entertainment, the structure of the story, has bones ready for meat.

I spent the weekend at home, researching and writing. As I tend to do when it comes to these types of projects, I went through the outline, bullet by bullet, scene by scene, elaborating and making notes for later scenes. I really hit my “flow state” and let the pages just roll out of my fingertips. I’ll deal with the intricacies of dialogue later, right now, I’m looking for the knives in the back.

With a handful of #writingsprints over the weekend, I managed to break the 50,000 mark and become an official “Winner” of NaNoWriMo2016. I know there are actual prizes for people who wrote actual novels, so I don’t think I’ll really “compete” in whatever competitions exist, but maybe that’s something I’ll do next year?

I may be crossed 50,000 words, but I’m far from finished.

Word Count: 52,597/50,00

November 24, 2016: Thanksgiving Day!

I will openly admit that this blog post is being written at a later date. I was too busy writing to pull myself away to blog, so now I’m going back and filling in the gap with the comings-and-goings of my NaNoWriMo.

Yet another benefit of living in Portland as a creative human being is totality of the circumstances are incredibly conducive to getting work done. The overcast days are a constant reminder that “there’s nothing out there that’s worth enduring that rain.” (I know it’s not true, but when I have to write, I don’t mind the fact it’s raining outside.) The pounding of rain on the roof is even more relevant these days as I live in a converted attic space. (I think I’ve mentioned this before)

I acknowledged in the few earlier writings that I did do, is that I was not writing a novel, but rather, a pair of screenplays. By Thanksgiving day, the alleged date of this particular entry, I had finished the initial draft of both screenplays. I had proudly and confidently descended the stairs into my empty house, drove to a friend’s house, and consumed a delicious Dungeness Crab Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, “Crabsgiving.”

The first screenplay, the adaptation, was based on an e-book. It was partly motivational, partly autobiographical, part research paper. I chose to pursue the route of a psychological thriller, the “confined” thriller, as an opportunity for the main character to impart her wisdom and motivational prose. It didn’t come out as “long” as I wanted. It was only around 83 pages, or just under 15000 words. I’m waiting on a series of notes, but ideally I’ll be adding a good 15 to 20 pages to the film.

The second screenplay, the action film, was intended to be a mindless piece of fast-paced action with a new spin on the team dynamic. Something requiring very little thought to enjoy. I quickly wrote 90 pages, imaging the remaining scenes in the film to wrap up in the next 10 pages or so. I sat down on Monday morning and couldn’t stop writing until 10 PM that night, and I still wasn’t finished! I woke up the next day, and did the same all-day writing session, finally wrapping up on Tuesday night. 133 pages. 25,732 words.

Word Count: 40,593/50,000

November 4, 2016:

Today was a spit-shine printing day.

When I get to these points in the script, I will print out the entire script and read through it from the beginning, making the edits by hand. Because I don’t want to waste paper, I print them out two-to-a-page on a landscape page.

This is an incredibly important part of my process. It allows me to look at the story with fresher eyes, taking ink to white paper, rather than the sharp brightness of my laptop monitor. Writing my notes in the margins is a freeing experience, something I still haven’t found a good equivalent of in Final Draft. (Yeah, I know there are notes, etc) Because I’m superstitious, I normally make my edits in green ink. I don’t really know why this is, but I use a fine point pen with green ink and I edit every page by hand.

Once I’ve gotten through the entire screenplay, I will then scan the document and upload it to my computer. I know that this process could one day be streamlined with the use of Evernote, but for now, I scan and upload. Then I’ll start at the beginning, go back through the screenplay page-by-page, and make the changes from my edits. For the most part, I refer to the original hand-edited papers, but, in the event I am “on the go,” I can pull up the scanned document and apply my notes.

Without truly adding any “new material” to the screenplay, but rather, “elaborating on ideas I’d already started in the first draft,” I was able to put an additional an additional 2313 words on the script, pushing me over the 10,000 word mark.

I’m planning on taking it easy tomorrow, “doing research,” and then doing a late night push on the script, hoping to break page 60. Here’s to a job well done!

Word Count: 11,532/50,000

November 3, 2016:

Write, write, write.

Today I got to explore the characters a little more, let them settle into their scenes, and see how they would respond. It’s an interesting process to get to know characters you didn’t create and hardly know yet, especially when they’re evil. What does a particularly evil person, such as my character, do in this situation?

I also started to take the screenplay off the tracks a little bit. The source material is running thin, so I’m starting to get creative. I’m bringing back characters, giving them larger parts, and twisting their persona. The good people, might not be so good after all. And the bad people, just how bad are they?

I put another 2,273 words on paper today, which I will always consider a good day, whether it’s a screenplay, book, or blog post. But the even better feeling is that a majority of that content was fresh, grown from bullet-points watered with highlights. I love that part of the adaptation and research phase. One line, one snippet of information, a throwaway piece of dialogue, can turn into a massive part of the story. When I find those seeds, I pull them out and water them. After all, the entire screenplay is intended to be seeds for film, right?

The problem I see myself experiencing in the foreseeable future is that my source material, as a structure for creative narrative, is almost running out. More than half of the source material is “inspirational” and “motivational” in nature, which unfortunately provides me with nothing other than morsels of preachy dialogue. (“You can empower yourself to achieve your dreams,” etc.) My concern is that there won’t be enough story to reach the feature length zone, roughly 100+ pages.

Nevertheless, I’m just over 50 pages in.

Word Count: 9047/50,000

November 2, 2016:

Today was more preparation work than writing. I started the day with a solid structure of the events taking place throughout the course of the screenplay. When all was said and done on the first day, I had written roughly 29 pages. Looking at my document currently, I’m only on page 37.

What I did this morning was immensely valuable, however, as I went back through the original source material and highlighted opportunities for flashbacks and character discussions. I worked through all 120 pages and broke down the section into categories. Chances are these are going to be used as points of dialogue to extrapolate on.

Then I went back through my writing from yesterday, interjecting notes between scenes to remind myself to insert a new scene, what the scene is about, and where I can find the references in the source material. This isn’t as cut and dry as it could be, as more than a handful of the chapters in the source book are informational, rather than narrative, so they’re not that easy to work into a fictional screenplay.

Therefore, as a general tool during my writing process, I keep a separate list of plot strands, ideas, comments, anything that I can loop back to later. In this particular case, we’re talking the ex-husband, ebony magazine, quotes by Confucius, rhinoceroses, Houdini’s straight jacket, and that she said at the church in the beginning.

I was preoccupied today, but I did want to make sure that at the bare minimum, I wrote the average of 1667 words so that I could keep the momentum going into tomorrow, when I’m planning on another big day of writing. Maybe I’ll even do a couple of writing sprints! If you’re following along with me on Twitter (@themysterytin) keep an eye out in the early afternoon for an hour Writing Sprint! Let’s use the hashtag #WritingSprint!

Word Count: 6774/50,000

November 1, 2016:

Today was the first day of NaNoWriMo and I got to work with unparalleled fervor and delight. I’d read and highlighted all my notes, converted my outline into scenes in Final Draft, and I was ready to buckle down and get everything down onto paper. Today’s goal was to get as many of my highlights into the text of the screenplay.

This is part of the reason why I generally enjoy doing adaptations. I love being able to dig in deep, discovering the core ideas and concepts at play, then transferring those ideas and concepts across mediums, and breathing new life into them along the way. Every highlight is an opportunity for exploration.

The main dramatic sequence I worked on today was an armed robbery in our main character’s home. My main character was captured, tied up, and taken into the basement while her house was burglarized. During the traumatic event, she is watched over by a burglar and they begin to develop a friendship, or so she thinks.

I typically start with the skeleton, and as I go back through draft with each rewrite, I like to tie in little details along that way that support my original themes and concepts. This means the conversations between characters are typically rather shallow and the scene descriptions are scant. I do special revisions of the script just focusing on these two areas, but it’s all gotta start somewhere.

Because the entirety of my story takes place over one afternoon, there will be a number of flashbacks helping to build plot and character development. Tomorrow’s writing will be primarily focused around identifying those flashbacks and finding the right places for them in the story.

Word Count: 5086/50,000

I’m excited to be officially participating in NaNoWriMo this year. For those of you unfamiliar with the acronym, November is “National Novel Writing Month” encouraging writers of all ages and abilities to buckle down and write. As I am almost exclusively writing in a freelance capacity, but I decided to accept the additional challenge and to share my experiences here with my community.

You can see my official NanoWriMo Page here.

This isn’t necessarily the standard NaNoWriMo project, as I’m writing an adaptation of an e-book outline into a screenplay. There are no diehard rules about participating in the program (other than declaring I’m starting with an outline), so I still think I’m in the clear to participate and share. It doesn’t have an official title yet and I don’t think I want to share my screenplay publicly yet, as this project may one day be released under a pen name or most likely updated. Luckily, NaNoWriMo offers a “scrambling” service that allows you to scramble your text before you upload it for counting. That’ll be fun to play with, but if the going gets tough or too cumbersome, I may not update the official NaNoWriMo page as much and I’ll just focus on updating everybody here on the blog.

The word count goal is 50,000 words. Most screenplays, however, typically land in the 20-25,000 word range, and a majority of those are character names and locations that get repeated a ton, so chances are I’m not going to accomplish the word count goal, but I am confident that on November 30, 2016, I will be finished with an engaging, completed screenplay.

Current Word Count: 0/50,000

How to Run a Successful Crowdsourcing Campaign

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If you want to be successful in crowdfunding, you’re going to need to put in the work before, during, and after the campaign. This post contains knowledge I learned firsthand from running my own campaigns, contributing to the successful campaigns of others, and information I’ve learned from my entrepreneurship classes on crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding not only gives you the opportunity to market a product, but it gives you an opportunity to create “fans” that may support your future work as well. Smaller, more artistic ideas, are great for crowdfunding platforms because it gives them access to funds that may be out of reach in other, traditional financing venues. Launching a successful crowdfunding campaign provides social proof and feedback that your idea has the potential for longevity. Remember, (for the most part) crowdsourcing success happens by small margins and failure by large margins.

It was just over a year ago that we launched the Dinner’s Ready! crowdsourcing campaign on Kickstarter. Our dream was to creative a fun, competitive card game that promoted healthy eating by encouraging players to draw healthy recipes and collected the necessary ingredients to make them. We set our goal of $4,000 and set the clock at 23 days, ending at  the midnight before my 30th birthday. Ultimately, we raised $4,699, or 116% of our initial goal. This wasn’t an Exploding Kittens experience, but it was incredibly eye opening to the trials and tribulations of crowdfunding in the 21st century.

To let the cat out of the bag a little bit, Mystery Tin Games is in the development stages of more card games to be launched early next year on Kickstarter, so we’re going to use the example of a “card game” throughout this discussion, but these techniques can be applied to any crowdfunding campaign.

The Idea

Crowdfunding has given creators the opportunity to create anything they can imagine and see if people are interested in it. If you want to make a card game, you need to identify early on if there’s a certain subsection of people that would want to play it. With Dinner’s Ready!, a healthy eating card game, which we ultimately narrowed down to “millennial table-top game players that are also parents of kids ages 6-10.” Maybe you’re making a card game that would appeal to LARPers. Maybe you’re making a card game for pregnant mothers. Locate the crowd your solution benefits and go after them.

What problem is your product solving? Who is the “crowd” you’re really trying to win over? What is the best method of reaching them? What other games or product does this group support? Why?

Once you’ve got your idea and the target crowd in mind, it’s time to get down to development. Kickstarter allows people to launch a campaign for a product that hasn’t come to life yet, or serve as the marketplace for a product that is almost finished. Depending on the idea you’re attempting to bring to life, it is important to consider the initial expenses required for development.

In creating a card game, for example, there are a number of development expenses. If you’re a graphic artist, the opportunity cost of your time is something to keep in mind. If you’re not a graphic artist, you’ll need to figure out who to hire and how much to pay them. (My recommendation is to operate on a set price for the art design based on achieving 100% of crowdfunding goal. If it’s a blowout hit, you can always renegotiate later.) And after the card game has been designed, test decks need to be printed and shipped from the manufacturers.

What other costs does your project involve? Is there anyway to minimize (or table) those costs before starting the campaign?

The Campaign

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I hope you’re ready to do the work. Studies have shown the most successful crowdsourcing campaigns required (on average) 30 hours per week for the 4-6 weeks prior to the campaign, 30 hours a week during the campaign, and 30 hours a week through fulfillment. If that seems like a lot of time, it is, but it’ll make all the difference in the world.

Pay attention. Make sure you double- and triple-check everything on your campaign page. Research shows that a single spelling error on your campaign page can result in 13% less funding.

Timeframe. The length of your campaign is important. Research shows that donations are the highest during the first week and the last week. If your campaign is too short, people are going to miss out on the opportunity and it may hurt your chances of reaching your goal. If it’s too long, people will delay in backing you, which could result in people “forgetting” to back your project. I’ve had campaigns as short as 21 days and as long as 40 days.

How long should your campaign be? Are there any specific benefits to running a longer campaign? A shorter one?

The Goal. Don’t be greedy. Since Kickstarter is an “all-or-nothing” platform, you don’t want to exaggerate the cost of your project. In fact, you should work through the bare minimum costs associated with your project far in advance and set the lowest number as your goal. Take advantage of bulk-manufacturing and crunch the numbers.

What is the bare minimum cost you’ll need to produce your product? Don’t forget to include shipping costs! 

The Video. While there’s no denying the correlation between beautifully shot, high-definition videos and successful campaigns, you don’t need to have a professionally filmed video. Of course it helps, but the overarching reason for the video is for backers to get to know the people behind the campaign. Before backers are going to give you their money, they want to know you’re a “real person” and they want to see your emotion and commitment to the project. If you’re not pumped up, why should they be?

What kind of video is right for your campaign? Do you need to be in it or can you get the message across in a different, fun way? 

Overview. Give your backers an overview of what they’re getting. If you’re selling a card game, you want to share the general gameplay (even if you haven’t completely fleshed it out yet). Mixing the written word with infographics is a visually compelling way of pulling potential backers in and send them reading to the bottom!

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“Who We Are” Section. 2/3 of successful crowdsourcing campaigns are done with teams. It’s important to include a section about the team behind the campaign, again, to build credibility among the potential backers. This gives proper recognition to the people that contributed, but also gives the team ample reason to share the campaign with their own networks. “Check out this game I worked on!” A short paragraph and a picture of each team member goes a long way.

What information can you provide that will instill the backers with confidence in your team? 

Why Pledge? Section. Getting in at the bottom floor is one obvious benefit to backing your project, but that shouldn’t be everything. Tell your backers why backing this project right now is the first stepping stone to a much larger plan. “This is something new to be a part of” isn’t as good as, “This will be the first game in a family of card games, and we won’t be manufacturing this game with the same packaging and box design in the future. Back us today because this is it!”

What are the real benefits to contributing to your campaign early? Can you provide any intangible or “one-of-a-kind” benefits to your backers? Be creative!

Stretch Goals. Stretch goals are a great tool to incentivize backers. If you’re going to include “stretch goals,” I suggest you have both financial stretch goals (i.e. “If we reach $10,000, we’ll release a stretch expansion pack”) and crowd stretch goals (i.e. “If we reach 1,000 donors, we’ll release a stretch expansion pack”). Depending on your campaign goal, an overly successful campaign should result in “unlocking” at least one of these stretch goals.

What kind of stretch goals do we want to accomplish? Donors? Financial? Social media following? What kind of behaviors can you influence by utilizing stretch goals?

Risks and Challenges Section. Be honest and open about the process. Crowdsourcing gives backers the opportunity to contribute to something at the very beginning. Being honest and open about the risks and challenges your project faces not only opens up communication with your crowd but it also presents an opportunity for the crowd to contribute. If you foresee yourself encountering some issues along the way, publicize them, because one of your backers may be able to help!

What are the real risks and challenges you face? What is the worst case scenario? What happens if you are insanely successful, what possibly problems could you face then? What happens if you fail to reach your minimum goal? Is it the end of the road?

Campaign Updates

Crowdfunding is about including the crowd in the process. Accordingly, you need to be updating your crowd almost constantly throughout the course of the campaign. This means utilizing social media (you should have a Facebook Page, Facebook Group, and Twitter #hashtag for the campaign), as well as leveraging the built in updates to the campaign platform. The easiest way to do this is by reaching out to your crowd when you reach major milestones:

Time Updates

  • First 24 hours.last-day-v1
  • First Week.
  • Half Way Done.
  • One Week Left.
  • 48 Hours Left.
  • 24 Hours Left.
  • 1 Hour Left

Funding Updates

  • Quarter of the Way!
  • Halfway there!
  • 10% left!
  • Fully funded!
  • Stretch goal achieved!
  • Shipped out!

What information do my backers want to know throughout the campaign? What information is important to get across to potential backers? How many updates are too many updates? 

Content. Leveraging these updates is the best way to get input from your community. Throughout the campaign you should be sharing the evolution of the artwork, seek input from your community, and inspire them to seek out and share your campaign with their own communities. The more you give to your community, the more they’ll give you back. It’s also worth mentioning that these updates can automatically post to Facebook and Twitter, and “boosting” these posts is an easy way to generate interest.

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People also love sharing the rewards of their crowdfunding participation! Encourage your backers to share their rewards with their social networks then share, retweet, and repost!

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How can I maximize my crowd through updates? What content can we share to incite more enthusiasm for the project? 

Rewards

You can offer as many reward tiers as you want, but I’ve found that simpler is better. If you’re offering a card game, you don’t need to have t-shirts and apparel as donor levels. By keeping the donor levels simple, you won’t get bogged down in the fulfillment logistics after the campaign.

Calculate the Shipping! With Dinner’s Ready!, we wanted people to purchase more than one deck, so we offered to calculate the shipping costs later and bill each backer separately for their shipping. When we invoiced out the shipping, we only got 1/10 of our backers to reimburse us for the shipping (we event spent $27 shipping a game to the UK, which was more than they gave to the campaign in the first place!). Not surprisingly, this significantly ate into our margins. Calculate the shipping and make that in addition to the cost of the game.

How much is it going to cost us to get the product shipped from the manufacturer? How much is going to cost to send each product to the backers? What happens if packages are returned?

Low Goal (No Game). <$10 If you’re launching a project in this day and age, you should have a stand alone website for the product outside of the crowdfunding platform. Utilizing this webpage gives you the opportunity to reward your lowest tier of backers. A small donation deserves recognition, and having a “thank you” page on your website is a great opportunity to collect the low-hanging fruit.

How can I make a small donation a worthwhile investment? How can I inspire a small donor to give more money? 

Core Product (Basic Game). ~$15-$25 Your core product can be priced at anything you want, assuming you’ve calculated your minimum per unit cost and you’ve set the price accordingly. Something important to remember is that crowdsourcing backers expect they will be paying slightly more than consumers will in the future, because they were contributing to not just the game but the entire lifespan of the game moving forward.

At what price does my product feel like a steal? At what price does my product feel like a rip off?

Upgrade (Expansion Pack). ~$35 (including Basic Game) If you’re going to do an expansion pack, offer a backer-tier that includes the basic game. Chances are you’re going to manufacture the expansion set separately, which will allow you to have additional expansion sets available for purchase after the campaign for those that didn’t order it during the initial campaign.

Does my campaign facilitate an “expansion” of some kind? What kind of expansion would be best for my campaign? Should I get the input of my crowd to determine what the expansion is? How many people will buy the expansion versus the original?

Bundle (Pair of Games). ~$45. Don’t underestimate the power of “giving.” As much as people like getting in on the ground floor of a cool project, they love sharing their cool projects with other people. Bundles give the opportunity for backers to get one for them, and one for someone else.

Is this the kind of campaign where bulk buying is likely? Is there a need to create a larger bundle than 2? 

Marketing

According to research, the number one and two reasons why crowdsourcing campaigns fail is that (1) the target audience was not well understand, and (2) the marketing efforts were not adequate. The intention of the marketing is different for each stage of the project, and in order to have a truly successful campaign, you’ll need to capitalize on each stage individually.

Pre-campaign. The sole focus of your pre-campaign marketing efforts should be to get people “lined up” to buy your product at the moment you press the “Launch” button. This means you need to do press releases, reach out to public entities and accounts, all with the intention of getting that first burst of attention at the launch.

Have I made myself a member of this community already? How can I draw attention to my game without appearing to be a spammer? Is there a better way to reach this particular community?

Campaign. Your marketing during the campaign needs to be heavily weighted toward the beginning and the end of the campaign. If you get fully funded within 24 hours, Kickstarter will feature you and give you an extra marketing bump by featuring it on their website. Getting the Kickstarter “seal of approval” is an instant game changer when it comes to any campaign on their platform. If you get it, you’re almost guaranteed to succeed.

In the event you are not fully funded early on, your marketing should be focused on getting in front of your target audience, friends, and family. Finding where your “crowd” hangs out, what blogs they read, what other projects they’ve backed, etc., is the best to way to draw in more eyes to your project.

If it’s going to be a fist fight to the end of the campaign, the last of your campaign efforts needs to be focused on the last 72 hours of the campaign. You need to reinvigorate all those backers who said they’d be back, and really capitalize on the FOMO on your project. Looping back to the all the marketing venues you utilized along the way is a great way to get those last ditch efforts to convert in those final harrowing hours.

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Was my messaging clear? How many people actually saw our advertisement? What was the CPC? Where were the marketing efforts least successful? Was it worth the investment and time?

Post-campaign. Congratulations! Your campaign was fully funded, but that’s just the beginning of your journey. Now that you’ve got the money you were looking for, you need to start setting the stage for the next steps, which is continuing to stoke the public’s appetite for the game and letting them know where they can get it next. If you have a website, or an e-commerce site, for the game, this is where you’ll want to send the traffic next.

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Dinner’s Ready! is available from the Mystery Tin Games web store!

Have I laid proper groundwork to convert the “interested” parties into customers?

Fulfillment

Abraham Lincoln said, “If you give me four hours to cut down a cherry tree, I’ll spend the first three hours sharpening my axe.” Whether you’ve got 50 orders or 5000 orders, having systems in place is essential.

Reports. Kickstarter does a great job of helping you collect information from your backers, including their mailing addresses. Make sure you have all the survey questions figured out ahead of time, as they only let you message everybody once.

Do I have all the information I need to deliver? Have I clarified any questions with my backers?

Organization. Export the information into an excel sheet based on the donor levels, and work through each level preparing for fulfillment. We recommend starting with the highest donor levels and working your way toward the bottom.

Where will I be staging the inventory? Who will be responsible for organizing, packing, and labeling the orders? What steps am I taking to be ensure fulfillment is done efficiently?

img_1873Shipping. Depending on the number of backers you need to fulfill, you’re going to have quite a shipping operation on your hands. I would recommend picking up a scale and weighing out each variation or SKU you’re sending out. By having these numbers in advance, you won’t have to weigh each box individually, just change the destination and print the labels.

Stamps.com has an introductory offer where they’ll send you a digital scale and allow you to print your own shipping labels at home. If you’re in this thousands of backers, you can import the excel sheet containing all the addresses and print them all off. You’re also able to schedule a “package pick up” so you won’t have to haul hundreds of packages to the post office.

Who will be responsible for the boxing and shipping? How long will it take to ship everything out? Who should be the first to receive their packages? Is there an easier way to ship out the rewards?

Other Random Crowdfunding Tips

Here’s a few more tips for you to consider when running a crowdsourcing campaign,

Good luck out there!
CHE

Two Weeks Notice?

All good things must come to an end, but some end far too quickly and abruptly. My recent experience proves (in some cases) there’s absolutely no point to the two week notice anymore.
[Important note: I’m not an attorney, I just dated one while I attended law school.]

Every state in the United States of America supports “at-will” employment, with varying degrees and exceptions. Oregon is one of those states that embraces at will employment, meaning either side can terminate employment at any time for any reason. There are obvious exceptions to the rule (race, sexual orientation, disability, etc.) but the overarching tone of the law is, “don’t fuck up, we can fire you whenever.”

After a downward slide into depression and a seemingly animosity-filled work environment, I decided I was ready to leave my job. I loved the people and I loved our mission, but times were really hard for the seasonal company and I had become their “task rabbit” when the bottom dollar became the only thing that mattered. My job (proposing, building, and coordinating a brand ambassador program) was deemed “not worth the time” because there wasn’t an immediate ROI, so for weeks I had been called on daily to do random, seemingly meaningless, and distracting “tasks” to keep me from my work. I was asked to step into various positions I had already been promoted out of and blatantly belittled along the way. I spoke up about my feelings and this caused upper management to label me an “insubordinate.” From that meeting on, upper management never fully communicated with me, at many times to the detriment of my job.

Despite the seeming lack of support, I had an extremely successful month of August, reaching nearly 9x the financial goal set by upper management for my department. But rather than take the opportunity to say something supportive about my success (or even acknowledge it), the upper management looked into my methods, and (quite naturally) found something to complain about. And rather than bringing their concern directly to me (to stop mention the stacking of coupons) they chose to air it out to the management of the company, which trickled down to my co-workers in other departments. Nobody ever gave me suggestions and guidance for the crafting of my marketing in relation to the sale we were having, and when I brought it up to my supervisor, her response was “nobody else would do that.” No professional cultivation, but rather I was derided for my proactivity.

The time had come to give my notice. I printed out my resignation letter, tucked it away in my desk drawer, and got to work, continuing business as usual while slowly starting the transition phase in each of my projects (outside the brand ambassador program). Sure enough, I was asked to table all my work for the afternoon to find possible income sources for wood dust. Truly impactful work here. As I researched composting toilets, I knew this was not the best use of my time, energy, or emotional stamina. I knew this place was no longer an atmosphere cultivating my professional development. I loved the people, but the machine itself was the problem, so I had to pull the plug.

I handed my written notice to my supervisor at the end of the day on Monday. Her eyes started to water as she asked me, “How do you feel about this?” “Great,” I said as I copied the content of the letter to the HR department.

“What are you going to do?” She asked.

“I’m going to be happy.” I said with a smile. She really started to tear up then.

“That’s the most genuine smile you’ve given me in months,” she said. She was right.

It was true. I was in a downward spiral and this was the best thing I could possibly do to start the process of getting back to the happy man I used to be. I went home happier than I’ve been in months. I couldn’t wait to go in and put a bow on all the hard work I’d done over the past ten months. I wanted the passing of my work to my co-workers to be an enjoyable, inspiring, and manageable task, because I loved the mission… and I still love the mission.

I went into work on Tuesday ready to get to work on the gameplan we’d set out the night before. The problem was, I couldn’t log into anything. My e-mail was shut off. My access to our e-commerce platform and other apps were all cancelled. Then my supervisor asked me to attend a meeting next door with another coworker. She said she’d buy me a cup of coffee.

Sure enough, I was handed a letter that notified me Tuesday was to be my last day at the company. I was fired. To add insult to injury, there were no representatives from HR or upper management present, just my supervisor and another co-worker. I was being “let go” but upper management couldn’t look me in the eye while doing it. They hid.

I wasn’t allowed to transition out. I wasn’t allowed to contact anyone and thank them for working with me. I was to go back, clean out my desk, say my goodbyes and my final paycheck was going to be ready the following day.

Now, don’t get me wrong. “At will” employment makes this seemingly-spiteful decision completely legal. My legal recourse in this situation, had I any intention of doing so, would be less than fruitful (and most likely a failing effort). I had no choice but to accept their decision, but what came next was truly impactful.

Those only concerned with the bottom line were never my primary target of impact. In retrospect, my greatest achievement at the company may have been my unrelenting support of my coworkers and teammates. As I returned to work after that meeting, I was met with an outpouring of tears and hugs. Perhaps never truly appreciated while I was there, my coworkers made it clear to me that my presence would be missed dearly. I took the time to tell each of my friends (no longer co-workers) how I supported them, and I was cheering for their successes to make the company what it could be… something truly special that changed the world.

I said my goodbyes, “borrowed” some office supplies, and left work for the last time. As I walked out into the sunshine, I didn’t feel nervous or scared. It was more liberation than anything. I could now pursue my passions, work hard, and once again start my process of following my unrelenting curiosity.

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Look at the size of that drink!

 

You can’t say a proper goodbye without drinks, so this past week I asked my former coworkers, my friends, to join me for “happiest hour” drinks. Even a few of my friends from my earliest days at the company stopped by (they’ve been long gone). I was truly flattered at the turnout. I felt all the feelings.

The idea of the two-week notice came about as a courtesy from employees to employers, allowing the company to prepare for the transition of work. Perhaps more importantly, it is a sign that you care about your co-workers. You don’t want to toss on a bunch of work onto them without assistance or guidance. When a company takes that opportunity away, it doesn’t just hurt you, it hurts the team. It hurts morale.

The product of your labor is one of the easiest ways to quantify your impact on a company, but sometimes the biggest mark you can truly make doesn’t stand out in spreadsheets or the return on investment… it is the lasting impressions you leave on those around you.

CHE

Great post about termination after giving notice (in California) on CalChamberAlert.com

Starting a Podcast (Network) for Under $200 on WordPress

If you want to start your podcast (or your own podcast network), here’s the play-by-play of how I started the Mystery Tin Podcast Network and how we achieved success with our flagship podcast MAD Potential (with Ben Mehl)

Start with a Solid Idea

There are close to 250,000 podcasts on the internet, most you can find through the iTunes Podcast Marketplace. This number shouldn’t scare you away from starting your own podcast. In fact, it should inspire you to go ahead and take your own shot. Everybody else seems to be doing it, so go ahead and jump off the cliff!

I approached my friend Ben Mehl to see if he was interested in doing a podcast to supplement his private coaching practice. As a physical trainer and self-help coach, I felt he had a powerful message that would come through in a self-help style podcast, mixing in interviews with prominent figures in fitness industry and influential people in his own life. We would also use the podcast to recruit new clients, expand his social media impact, and drive people to his blog.

Get Ready for Personal Hurdles

The biggest hurdle for Ben to get over was the idea of recording his own voice and listening to it. It’s not an easy thing. In fact, it’s really awkward for the first few recordings if you’re not already involved in the radio/podcasting realm.

To help Ben get over the hurdles, I had him record a few paragraphs of his introductory episode over, and over, and over again. When he thought he had a good take, we exported the audio on my phone and went out to my car. Since a majority of listeners play podcasts in their cars (during their commutes to and from work), I wanted him to hear what his listeners were going to hear when they’re behind the wheel. It was uncomfortable, but that simple episode gave Ben the confidence to go ahead and try making the podcast.

Structure is Key

If you’re not an “on the fly” conversationalist, structure will save the day. I had Ben sit down and write out the content for many of his solo episodes. Working together on these drafts, we were able to get down everything he wanted to get across and eliminated any of the superfluous or repetitive talking points.

Jumping ahead slightly, after we launched the podcast, we decided to change up the structure of the show. We had originally intended for the MAD Potential episodes to run approximately 45-60 minutes, but as we progressed, we saw the need to change formats:

  • 45-60 minutes was a long time for Ben to generate his own content. Despite having the structure written out in advance, there was still a good amount of time that needed to be filled in order to reach our quota of 45 minutes. This added extra stress to Ben to deliver, something that podcasting is not supposed to be! Accordingly, we ended up lowering the target time to around 30 minutes, enough for roughly one leg of the daily commute.
  • Outside of the larger episodes, we also started “in-between episodes,” which consisted of strong bursts of inspiration intended for quick consumption. Clocking in under 5 minutes, we wanted his listeners to have something to listen to during breaks from work, or whenever they didn’t have time for a full hour-long interview.

Tools

Starting from absolute scratch, we needed to not only get equipment but also set ourselves up in WordPress to feed seamlessly into the iTunes marketplace.

CAD U37 USB Studio Condenser Microphone (<$50)

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This was a simple microphone for us to get started with. The CAD U37 plugs directly into the USB port, so there was no need for additional equipment like mixers, converters, etc. You simply plug it in and you’re ready to start recording!

Perhaps most importantly, if you’re looking to start your podcast on the cheap side, this microphone is under $50 on Amazon. It sounds just fine, which is all you can really ask for when you’re starting out.

We had such success with Ben’s podcast that I went ahead and purchased a handful of these for the other podcasts I would launch on the MTPN.

GarageBand (FREE!)

That’s right. We launched the podcast using Garageband, a free download from Apple. We weren’t doing any highly technical editing, just simply an intro song, Ben’s recorded audio, and the outro song. Simple and free, it was a great place to start. (If you’d rather spend money on “the best” podcasting audio program, my recommendation is picking up a copy of Pro Tools)

WordPress Premium ($99/year)

This caught me slightly off guard. I had gone ahead and paid for the custom domain to host all the content on, but there are restrictions on the kind of media you are able to post with a basic account. I didn’t realize that you couldn’t upload .mp3 or .wav files without the premium account.

But once I did sign up, there were a handful of additional benefits, including the invaluable  “Live Chat and Customer Support,” 13GB of storage, and the ability to monetize the site with banners and side advertisements.

Podcast Art ($50)

MAD PotentialYou need to have good art for your podcast. People will be scrolling through the artwork on the podcast marketplace and if you have a great cover, people will give an extra second to click it.

I asked an artist friend of mine, Brian Rose, to design something cool, creative, and inspiring. This is what he came up with.

In retrospect, it probably would have benefited Ben and the podcast if the cover art featured his face (or likeness), but we decided to stick with this cover art until we found another one that fit better. (Unfortunately, this never happened.)

Distribution Tips

You need your podcast RSS feed to make it into the iTunes Podcast marketplace. They do a good job of giving you the necessary play-by-play to list your podcast, but before you’re ready to submit there are a few essential steps along the way.

Whether you are doing one podcast, or an entire podcast network, the best way for WordPress to create your RSS feed is by creating a “Category” within your blog that is solely committed to the podcast. This could be “Podcast” or it could be more specific like “MAD Potential.” This crafts the RSS feed to only contain posts held within that particular category, whatever the media content may be.

Since WordPress nor iTunes provide listenership analytics, we went with Google’s own Feedburner site. Here you’ll enter the RSS feed from your WordPress site, and it’ll spit out a new RSS feed address that can be tracked using Feedburner. You’ll receive your download numbers, individual episode downloads, as well as allow you to make changes to the metadata attached to your podcast. The new RSS feed information they provide is what you’ll submit to iTunes when you’re ready to launch.

An important note: iTunes won’t host your podcast until you have at least one episode available in the RSS feed. For this reason, we chose to do short “teaser” episodes for each of our shows. We posted this (without telling anybody) to get approved. Once the show was approved and displayed on the iTunes marketplace, we then promoted the show’s weekly release (MAD Potential was released on Mondays as a way to jumpstart your week) and encouraged our listeners to subscribe directly through iTunes, rather than checking the MTPN website for updates.

For the Mystery Tin Podcast Network, we have the following categories/RSS feeds feeding into iTunes:

Marketing

The cheapest method of marketing the MAD Potential podcast was through our pre-existing blogs and social media accounts. We promoted the launch on our individual websites, Facebook Pages and Profiles, Twitter, and any other websites that would support our goal of reaching people with our “self-help” teachings.

We started by e-mailing our closest friends and family and asking them to listen to the first episode of the podcast, and if they liked it, to rate the podcast and leave a review on the iTunes page for the show. Ratings and reviews are the best way to get noticed inside the iTunes marketplace.

Another extremely helpful element of doing an interview-style podcast is the extra bump you get from the guest’s social media presence. Bringing in prominent figures in the fitness industry really brought bumps to our listenership and download numbers. They shared the episode with their friends, and clients, who then shared it with their friends.

For the biggest names we interviewed, or the most popular episodes, we would occasionally spend $10 on Facebook advertising to promote the episode. This isn’t required for you to get the traction you need, but we did see some positive responses to our sponsored posts and a direct correlation with downloads on those particular episodes.

What about Sponsors?

You don’t need sponsors. Sponsors aren’t involved in creating good content, nor are they really involved in the distribution and marketing of your podcast. But most importantly, if you want to gain the attention of sponsors, you need to build momentum first. Some sponsors are willing to pay upwards of $250 an episode, but they need to see their investment is worth it. If you’re getting less than a few thousand downloads per episode, chances are, they’re not interested.

To reference Field of Dreams, “If you build it, [they] will come.” You gotta build it successfully first!

Results

We promoted MAD Potential really hard during the first season, promoting nearly daily to our networks, but all the hard work payed off. We landed on the “New and Noteworthy” section of the iTunes Podcast marketplace.

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We were beginning to make waves, so we really leaned on our guests to help push us into the ratings. Fitness professionals like Ben Ceccarelli, Greg O’Gallagher, and Anthony Madonia were integral to spreading the show to a much larger audience.

img_2364We kept our foot on the gas, encouraging listeners to leave ratings and reviews and share with their friends. I’ll admit that at times it felt like we were begging for attention, but in the end, it was ultimately the best series of events and decisions made for the show, because we managed to make our little two-man show climb to the #4 spot on all of the iTunes “Self-Help” podcasts.

It’s really that simple. We didn’t use any high-tech editing software, social media algorithms, or a ton of advertising. We simply stuck to our guns, made a podcast we were proud of, and eagerly shared it with those around us.

The MAD Potential podcast, after amassing over 6,000 downloads, ended last year, but not because we didn’t think we were successful. Ben’s passion projects (other than the podcast) required more of his time, so we decided to put it “on hold” until a later date. I did apply this practice (and a few other “secrets”) to the other podcasts on the network, and they too succeeded on varying degrees

For More Information:

Podcasts are a media platform that is here to stay, and if there’s anything I can do to help you with your podcast (or podcast network), here are a few more options for you:

The Modern Artrerpeneur Podcast

Other Relevant Blog Posts on The Mystery Tin:

If you’d like one-on-one consultation for your podcast or podcast network, you can always e-mail me directly at mysterytin@gmail.com. I’d love to hear what you’re up to.

CHE