Vivian Sharpe’s latest video focuses on the thing that’s missing from the book.

Posted February 27, 2012 by johnbeske
Categories: Self-Publishing

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One of the components of the burgeoning promotional campaign for the new novel, The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero, is an ongoing YouTube campaign. We have a total of four videos planned alongside the release of the book. The first came out shortly before the novel went on sale, and this one was uploaded about three weeks after the novel’s release.

While the first video was a sort of a short “movie trailer”, this one is a little more teasing and oblique, like a commercial. This new video, titled “Who is Vivian Sharpe?” playfully hints at the kind of superhero Vivian is not, by using a quick montage of the kind violent but cartoony imagery associated with traditional superheroes. There is no physical violence in Vivian Sharpe (though there is plenty of suspense and action), and Vivian’s super powers of highly enhanced intuition and empathy are better suited for avoiding or defusing violence. The video employs a similar animated style as the first and carries much of the same soundtrack, which is becoming the Vivian Sharpe theme. We’ll continue to use the same music through our next two videos, one of which will feature live actors, and the other an interview with the author.

Our other promotional efforts have entered the “contact lots of people” phase, which is not as much fun as producing YouTube videos, but is the sort of work that needs to be the backbone of any book promotion campaign. We’ll describe this more in a future post.

A Guide to Self-Publishing, part one.

Posted February 10, 2012 by johnbeske
Categories: Self-Publishing

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Vivian Sharpe book coverI have been involved in the process of self-publishing and promoting Marla Rose’s novel, The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero, for several months now, and the eBook has finally been published on Smashwords and Amazon, with a free preview on Scribd. Early sales are promising, and we are just beginning to kick off our promotional strategy.

Self-publishing eBooks is a relatively new business model, and I suspect that there is a lot more interest than understanding on the topic. Therefore, over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be sharing our experiences and plans on this blog, so in case you have a similar project you’d like to bring into being, you may find some advice here.

This blog will give an introduction to the publishing process itself, but will be mostly focused on the promotion around the book. We both believe that promotion will be critical to the novel’s success. The idea that you can write a book, put it up on the internet and just leave it there and expect thousands of people to purchase it is probably a bit optimistic. It could happen, of course, just like you could win the lottery or stumble on a treasure chest. Lots of things go viral on the internet for reasons I couldn’t begin to understand. But if you self-publish an eBook and  you want some realistic expectations of success, it is a safe bet that you’re going to have to immerse yourself in promotion.

Fortunately, the same system that makes it comparatively easy to publish your own book also makes it easy to promote it. There are a host of wonderful resources out there, and many of them are free. This post and future posts will share some of the knowledge we’re learning, so that others can gain insight and hopefully some inspiration from it.

Last October, a publishing friend talked Marla into self-publishing Vivian Sharpe as an eBook. At this point, the book was largely complete, save for a final editing. While this was taking place, we began to map out a plan for getting people to see it. We knew little about the world of eBooks, but we knew a few things about marketing, and had a good idea of where to begin.

We determined that the novel would be ready to publish by late January or early February (It went live February 1st, so we hit our target). After some research, we determined that we would publish first on Smashwords, a leading site for aspiring authors, and Amazon (more about that process later).

Our initial promotional mind mapThe first thing we did was build an initial mind map  plan. The original drawing (at right, you can click on it to enlarge it) was kind of stream-of-consciousness and has since been greatly revised and improved. The map shows a bunch of separate courses of action that we’re now pursuing simultaneously yet methodically, so that each task is completed when we’re ready to take advantage of it, and so that we don’t take on more than we can effectively handle.

Fortunately, Marla had written a really strong novel with great characters, a unique and moving story, lots of tension, a fair amount of humor, and several original hooks that help it to stand out in the crowded literary marketplace. In other words, she wrote, in my perhaps biased opinion, a great novel. As you probably know from Marketing 101, a great product is a lot easier to sell than a mediocre one, so if you’re ready to publish your masterwork, I strongly recommend you invest a lot of energy in creating and producing the best possible manuscript. It will certainly help you in the long run.

We also knew there were a few things we wanted to have ready to go by the time the book was released. First, we had to design the book jacket. The somewhat unconventional final design (shown above) is based on a scene from the book where Vivian receives an amateurishly constructed package that greatly complicates the plot. Next, we created a website (the original layout is in an earlier post below), we produced and released an animated YouTube video (the design of which persuaded us to redesign the website to match it), set up Vivian Sharpe Facebook and Twitter pages, and built an initial list of people to contact to promote the book. Our contact list is set in a series of concentric circles radiating with from the center, starting with friends and fans of Marla, and extending out through vegan leaders, influential bloggers, etc. As we contact everyone in one circle, we build the lists and talking points for the next one, plus we gain allies to help us reach more people. We have just begun reaching out in the past couple of days, but we’re already getting some favorable response including a story about the book in a popular newsletter.

Once Marla’s editor had completed her final edits, and those were polished until the manuscript was just right, we got ready to publish. Amazon is the world’s most popular place to buy books, and publishing through their Kindle Direct Publishing is surprisingly easy. We recommend also publishing to Smashwords, because they potentially reach a lot of customers outside of Amazon’s realm, and they will convert the manuscript to virtually every known eBook format, so the book can be read on nearly every reader, computer or smartphone.

We went to Smashwords first, because they have a much more thorough way of walking us through the process of getting the manuscript into the best form for an eBook, thanks to a great resource called the Smashwords Style Guide. Reading this helped us put the manuscript in tip-top form, and answered most of the many questions that came up along the process. The whole process of uploading the book took me about 2 1/2 hours, but I spent most of that time carefully reading the Style Guide, and I also decided it was best to rebuild the manuscript according to their instructions. Once we got through all of that, the process at Amazon, through Kindle Direct Publishing, seemed pretty easy. One little note, Smashwords wants you to use the words “Smashwords Edition” on your title page. Be sure to remember to change that text before publishing it on Amazon.

We also decided to upload a free preview of the book – the first four (short) chapters to This has proved to be a good deal for us, because several dozen people had downloaded the preview within the first 24 hours of the launch. Amazon and Smashwords both also offer free previews, but Scribd introduces the book to another audience of active readers.

Now, we’re focusing the second phase of our promotion. I’ll have more about that in a future post.

A video trailer for Marla’s new book

Posted January 25, 2012 by johnbeske
Categories: Uncategorized

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As I mentioned in a previous post, my wife, Marla Rose, has written a new novel that we plan to release as an eBook next week. This morning, we launched the book’s first video promotion on YouTube, with plans for several others to follow.

The video uses a combination of animation, voiceovers and music to recreate the mood of Marla’s buoyant yet gripping prose. At first, we didn’t want to show any hints of the characters, since we want readers to form the images in their own minds, but we finally decided that it would best serve our purposes to show some teasing, half-hidden or extreme close-up images of the teenaged protagonist.

We’re also redesigning the website to reflect the new look of the video. We’ll have that up shortly, at least several days before the release of the book.

We’ll keep everyone posted.

New Year, new projects

Posted January 6, 2012 by johnbeske
Categories: Uncategorized

Marla Rose


Vivian Sharpe

This morning I launched two new websites – both of them for my wife, Marla Rose, who is an amazing writer.

The first one is for her new website, It’s just in it infancy now, but it already has links to her blog, social media pages and some of the places she writes for.

It also links to the second website we launched this morning, This is the website for her soon-to-be-released novel, The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero – a coming-of-age fantasy thriller for the Young Adult market. It’s coming out as an eBook in late January, and as a hardcover over the summer. I’m helping her out with advertising and promotion including a couple of upcoming YouTube videos.

It’s exciting to start something new with the new year. It’s going to be a lot of fun watching the novel unveil itself to the world.

I’ll keep you posted.

Burning 2011

Posted January 3, 2012 by johnbeske
Categories: Uncategorized

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Okay, I’m back. This blog took an unscheduled break for about 5 1/2 months while I focused on other projects. Now it’s a new year, and a new blog that I have solemnly sworn to keep up-to-date. I’m switching to a simpler concept that doesn’t take so much work, so it’s easier for me to update content. I’ve also got a bunch of stories ready to load, so it will be a while before I run out of ideas for new posts.

To start the new year, I’d like to show an example of my newfound affection for IMovie and YouTube with a simple story about a cleansing ritual that demonstrates that even when things don’t work out as planned, they still work out just fine, so long as you can keep a positive attitude.

So here’s the video:

I’m really excited to see what 2012 will bring, and as the year progresses, I’ll share the highlights here.

Finding your green

Posted June 22, 2011 by johnbeske
Categories: Green Marketing

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Finding your green

How green are you? My family and I are often referred to as “Crazy Green” by some of our friends, as in veganicCSA-drop-off-site-keep-extra-dishes-and-cloth-napkins-for-parties-rollerblade-to-work crazy. Most of our friends are at least largely green, and some people we know make us look like drive-around-in-a-Hummer-throwing-beer-cans-out-the-window by comparison.

If you market green products or services, it’s important to have a good idea of how green your core market is. Both green products and green consumers are commonly referred to by their place along a green scale, with the Light Greens (think people who replace light bulbs with CFLs and participate in their community’s curbside recycling program) inhabiting one side and the Deep Greens (see Crazy Green above) on the other. Some people are Light Green in one area of their lives and Deep Green in another. Different green products appeal to different people on this spectrum and the marketers like to place the products themselves along this continuum.

Consumer Green Scale

You don’t necessarily have to have the greenest product to make the biggest positive impact. When Nike introduced a tiny percentage of organic fiber into all their clothing, they suddenly became the US’s largest corporate user of organic cotton. If Pepsi goes through with their plan for the plant plastic eco-bottle, they’ll in effect keep billions of non biodegradable petroleum plastic bottles in the future.

One product I’m helping to launch is an organic carbonated fruit juice called Apple Rush. It comes in a glass bottle and cardboard 4-packs inside of cardboard shipper cases, so it’s definitely not a Deep Green product. But if someone drinks it instead of a typical high-fructose corn syrup-based soft drink in a petroleum plastic bottle, there is a net positive impact for the planet.

Often a product will aim for the dead-center of the Dark Green market with the belief that the Light Greens will be attracted to the purity of it. When Toyota first introduced its new hybrid Prius to the US market in the early 2000s, their marketing was aimed at the dead center of the Dark Green audience, which they determined to be the vegans. Vegans were then a miniscule part of the population (the group has grown a lot in the ensuing years, but is still believed to be less than 1% of the population), hardly a large enough group to be a viable final audience for the car. But Toyota’s marketing research showed that the key vegan values of avoiding harm to animals and treading lightly upon the planet were completely in line with the values of the affluent environmentally sensitive consumers that would be attracted to the Prius. Therefore, for the first several years of production, leather seats were not available on the Prius, something nearly unheard of for a luxury car. Sadly (to me, anyway), demands from nonvegan Prius consumers eventually caused them to offer leather upholstery. Still, this is an excellent example of how aiming for a tiny group in the center of your audience can residually attract a much larger crowd.

If you have a green product or service, try placing it along the Light Green-Deep Green chart. Then place your desired audience on the same chart. You might find some connections you never thought of before.

Your most important ally

Posted June 14, 2011 by johnbeske
Categories: Green Marketing

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Whether you are striving to get your business off the ground, launching a new green product, organizing a group to address a pressing problem or simply sitting on in idea you want to share with the world, you need to understand the one person who may be more critical to your success than anyone else: your first follower.

A leader with no one to lead is just a lonely and usually ignored voice in the crowd. Your first follower gives your efforts more weight by showing the world that the message is larger than the leader. He or she also becomes your key cheerleader, enthusiastically spreading your message to a key and growing group of people.

An entrepreneur named Derek Sivers brilliantly illustrated the importance of first followers in a charming and enlightening video called First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy. If you haven’t seen this, it’s worth look. If you have, it’s worth seeing again.

I have long been attracted to visionary thinkers, and I’ve been an enthusiastic first follower on quite a few different projects. It’s a fun role to be in. The first follower usually doesn’t get all the glory of the leader, but then he or she doesn’t get quite the scrutiny either, and being the first one in also allows her/him to help shape the message and the movement.

Now is a good time to give some recognition to your first follower, and think this selfless soul for aiding in your success. If you don’t have a first follower, now is a good time to seek one out. You may be just one good fan away from success!

How to brand sustainability

Posted June 10, 2011 by johnbeske
Categories: Uncategorized

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Now Longer Lasting

Our society is moving in two opposing directions at the same time. On one hand, we are actively destroying our environment in so many ways – factory farming, mountaintop mining, overfishing, deforestation, resource depletion, to name a few – that it often seems like our intention is to hasten our own extinction.

At the same time, there are large and growing numbers of people, organizations, businesses, institutions, and even a few governments that are all working hard to move everyone toward a different, more sustainable path. Since you’re reading this post, you may consider yourself a member of this group.

Trying to move society onto this more sustainable path is a Herculean task. We have to convince ourselves and others to rethink how we live, the kind of foods we eat, places we live, ways we get around, the whole way we relate to the environment around us. The good news is that all the tools needed to persuade people to rethink their values exist right now and are well known to quite a few people. The bad news is that most of the people who have mastered these tools use them to urge people to buy more stuff, including some stuff that harms them and their environment. Collectively, these tools are commonly known as branding.

Using branding to change people’s habits and perceptions is a two-step process. Step 1 is showing them what the problem with things as they are, and Step 2 is to show them how your brand will solve that problem. Are you a young man who feels invisible to beautiful women? If you just switch to the right beer, you’ll be able to attract them. Are you uncomfortable with your body type/fashion sense/social standing? There are legions of advertised products available to help you. Once you start looking at TV commercials critically, you’ll notice most of them contain this problem/solution in some way.

Branding seems like the perfect set of tools for convincing people to move toward a more sustainable world. After all, we’re facing serious problems that could greatly affect life as we know it, and the solutions are pretty apparent – simply switch to a greener version of whatever products you’re using now, or perhaps consider using a completely different product (like a bicycle or a bus instead of a car), or no product at all (walk or don’t make the trip).

The obvious problem is that convincing people to overconsume is more lucrative that convincing people to be sensitive of the impacts their purchases make on the environment or society. The good news is that the internet and social networking have started to level the playing field a bit. Now, for little or no money beyond the cost of a camera and a computer (which most people already have), almost any clever and resourceful person can make a YouTube video that could potentially go viral and reach the hearts of as many people as a million dollar TV commercial.

Most of us are aware on some level that the we’re being sold an unsustainable path, but we either don’t know what to do about it, or we don’t feel compelled or empowered to take the right steps. And the forces of overconsumption keep enticing us to stick to our bad habits.

Moving society onto the path toward a new green world takes a lot more than good marketing and communications skills. It also will require research, knowledge, improved technologies and systems, political will and strong leadership. But all of these other things will happen a lot faster when people begin asking for them. And in order to compel them to ask, we need to build the brand – the brand of sustainability.

A good idea doesn’t care who has it.

Posted June 3, 2011 by johnbeske
Categories: Uncategorized

The Igl Family

The Igl Family: Tom, Nancy and Brian

The world of business communications is changing so fast that it’s hard for anyone to keep up. It’s safe to say that the future belongs to the quick-witted, and that perhaps the greatest commodity of the 21st Century is ideas. There are people who get paid to come up with ideas (and I’m lucky enough to be among them), and big brainstorms certainly come easier to some than others. But I believe everyone has some good ideas inside of them.

In future posts, I’ll share some idea generating tips that have worked well for me, but today’s story illustrates how important it is to keep your mind open to good ideas, no matter where they come from.

Tom Igl is a lifelong potato farmer in northern Wisconsin. He enjoyed reasonable success and raised seven kids, one of whom, Brian, has pretty much taken over the farm which started transitioning to organic in 1997. Brian has helped the farm ride the waves of local and organic farming to good success and is always on the lookout for innovations to help them along.

I met Tom and Brian when they wanted to update the packaging of their potatoes from a generic bag to something that might stand out on the shelves of Whole Foods Market. As is my custom, I started quizzing them about their business in order to get any information that might help the packaging become a true reflection of their mission and character.

After about a half hour, Tom rather timidly pulled out a piece of paper with some scribbles of potatoes with faces and hats. “I was once playing around with some characters that I call Spuddies. Maybe they might be useful.”

Brian rolled his eyes and quickly changed the subject, but I couldn’t quite get the Spuddies characters out of my mind. I told them I thought we should explore the idea, and the more I thought about it, the better it looked. Igl potatoes are very good, but if you place them in a bin with potatoes from ten different midwestern farms (which they often do), it would be impossible to tell which were theirs.

By adding whimsical drawings and applying the name Spuddies to the product itself instead of the characters, we were able to create a family friendly brand that stood out from their competitors. With the new packaging, Whole Foods Market and a local organic distributer quickly bought out their entire crop.

More and more companies and organizations are recognizing that the best ideas often come from people outside of the creative teams, and often from their families or their customers, and they’re finding new ways to harness this creative power. The key is understanding that an idea usually has to go through two stages: first it has to be conceived, and then it needs to be applied so that it fits the needs and goals of the product.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the researcher at 3M who spent months developing a new adhesive only to become discouraged that it didn’t hold things together very well at all. Several years later, a co-worker found that a small strip of this seemingly useless adhesive would hold a bookmark in place, and came up with the idea of placing the adhesive along one edge each piece of a stack of tiny sheets of paper. Within a few years, Post-It Notes was one of the best selling office supplies in the country.

The power of an epiphany (or three)

Posted May 31, 2011 by johnbeske
Categories: Uncategorized

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Albert Brooks defending his life

I really enjoy being a graphic designer and marketer to the green and ecological. I get to spend my day doing what I love, which is coming up with ideas and designing things, and I feel like I’m helping contribute to the new green economy. The thing that gets me the most energized, though, is the people I work with. My clients and other associates are all either green entrepreneurs or leaders of vital nonprofits. Nearly all of them have made the commitment to use their considerable energy and talents into improving the lot of their specific corners of the world, and they are all completely driven by the work they do. Their passion and enthusiasm inspire me to no end.

Some of my clients and associates would probably be making more money if they had stuck with more traditional careers, but somewhere along the way each had some sort of experience that caused them to reassess their career and life goals, and ultimately choose the path dictated by their hearts. I’m guessing that at some points in their lives many if not most of these green leaders each had some sort of epiphany that changed the whole perspective of their role in the world.

As a vegan, I’m pretty familiar with the concept of epiphany. Many vegans can quickly recall the specific moment when the skies opened up, the light shone in, and they faced the sudden realization that they could no longer support the system that turns animals into food. I can readily recall my own vegan epiphany, though I promise I will not do so here.

My move into a green career was driven as much by opportunity as epiphany, but I can recall three simple but profound experiences that took place over the course of a few months that caused me to radically shift my worldview and rethink the direction I had chosen for my life. I’ll get to them in a moment, but first a little context:

From a very young age I had a fascination with the visual arts, and I always told people I’d want to be an artist when I grew up. I wasn’t exactly sure what this entailed, though, and it wasn’t until college that I realized I would have to figure out a way to make this passion earn a living for me. Fortunately, by that time I was becoming attracted to the work of some of the great designers and art directors of the time – people like Milton Glaser, Bill Bernbach and Herb Lubalin.

My passion became advertising art direction, and my dream was to create memorable ad campaigns that would become a part of the American experience. Over the next decade or so, I slowly worked my way up from one design shop or ad agency to the next until I finally got to a place from where I could see the pinnacle. I was working as an art director for Leo Burnett on famous accounts like McDonald’s, Miller Lite, Nintendo, and Sony. None of my work was famous yet, but I felt it was just a matter of time.

The problem was that the closer I got to the top, the less I liked the view. The money was good and the work was exciting and fun, but I often felt that my job was to entice people to buy things they really shouldn’t be wasting their money on, or worse, products that were actually contributing to environmental and health problems. Still, I was in the Leo Burnett bubble, and my whole professional and social life revolved around it.

After a couple of years there, I had my first epiphany. My writer and I were instructed to come up with a new TV campaign for McDonald’s McRib sandwich. I wasn’t a vegan yet, but I was a vegetarian, and I already felt conflicted about the work I was doing for McDonald’s. I had mostly been pushing their salads and pizza, so I’d found ways to justify it. This time, though, we were being asked to play up the sensuousness of the meat in the McRib (albeit in a G-rated, McDonald’sian sort of way), and the project kind of revolted me. I had expressed my concern to my creative director, and his retort rings through my ears yet today, “John, you’re going to either come up with some looser morals or a new line of work.” I had to admit that he was probably right.

Shortly thereafter, I was moved to the team trying to win the Miller Lite account, and when we won, I stayed on with them. I actually enjoy beer  (though I must admit Miller Lite was never among my favorites), and Miller Lite was the subject of some of the most famous TV ad campaigns ever. The work was fun, but moral conundrums were arising, and this time my teammates were sharing my concern.

Miller Lite always aimed for young drinkers, and our team tried to accomodate, but no matter what was presented, they always wanted to make it more juvenile. Then one day, I was attending a meeting between the creative team and some regional distributors from Detroit, when one of the distributors said, “Look, what you people don’t understand is that your target audience is four 17-year-olds in a beat up Chevy Nova, particularly the one who looks old enough to take their pooled money into 7-11 for a sixpack. We need that to be our sixpack!” The corporate officials quickly protested that this was not their intention, but the damage had been done.

A few months later, I spent three weeks traveling in Europe where no one had ever heard of Leo Burnett. On the flight home, there was a screening of “Defending Your Life,” the funny but thought-provoking film where Albert Brooks dies and has to convince a courtroom that he had led the kind of life that earned him the right to advance to the next level. The message was clear: The best life is one fearlessly led in harmony with your values. As I watched it, I recalled my two earlier epiphanies  (which until then I hadn’t thought or as epiphanies at all) and suddenly I realized I was living a lie and that in order to really feel good about myself, I would have to find a new line of work. By the time the plane touched down, I was already charting a new career course. It took a while for everything to fall into place, but eventually I found a way to use my talents in a way that satisfy me both artistically and spiritually, and I never looked back. Except to tell stories about it, of course.

Have you been guided to your current career path by an epiphany? If so, I’ll bet it’s a pretty good story and I’d love to hear it.