Sean: Hey everyone and welcome to Eight Questions. So today I have Arianna Golden, and I’m going to leave my first question as her intro because I don’t even know where to begin.
(If you prefer audio, you can listen to this episode on the 8 Questions Podcast)
Arianna is one of those people, and apparently we draw you like a magnet, I’ve asked Eight Questions once with Laurie Starkey which same thing. Like she started 93 businesses last year and then had to trim down to just seven or something.
I think that Sterling & Stone attracts the crazy, the ambitious, and the driven, and Arianna is a little of all of those things.
So we’re going to start right in with the first question because you are clearly crazy.
Arianna: Okay. Yes. That’s never been in question.
Sean: So much going on, right. Like there’s a lot.
Arianna: Yes, there is a lot.
Sean: The first time we met, I guess it was in an email and I just saw a big list of not only all the stuff you were doing, but all the stuff you wanted to do like in the next year.
And I thought oh, my God, I love people like this because just so much ambition and that definitely ticks my boxes. But there’s no way she can do all of this. There’s no way she is doing all of this. This is crazy.
And then a year later she was plowing through her list and making new lists and I love that. It drives me, that kind of thing.
And we were just talking before I hit record and I said okay, I feel like good stuff’s coming so I’m going to start. But we were talking about my daughter and she’s got a crazy brain like us but she doesn’t seem to have that like “I’m going to do it all!”.
So when you have this particular alchemy where you’re like I have all these ideas and I’m going to do every single one of them. Because Johnny always tells me I don’t know the word “or”, it’s “and”. It’s always and.
Arianna: Yes, it’s always and. Or is boring.
Sean. You’re right, put the or in boring.
So how do you define yourself? What does your business card say? I know you don’t have a business card.
Arianna: I do have a business card and it’s like the worst business card ever because I’m like I need to list everything out so I don’t have to write it down every time. So my business card is the worst, most boring business card ever.
Sean: It’s just a list. It’s a card with a list.
Arianna: It’s a list of websites. How do I define myself. That’s a really difficult question. I could say a lot of different things. I could say I’m a writer. I could say I’m a businesswoman. I could say I’m an entrepreneur.
But really the thing that drives me and that ties it all together is translating ideas from imagination to reality.
Sean: Okay. I like that.
Arianna: So like everything fits into that category.
Sean: So transferring ideas to reality.
Sean: So is that what your new and improved business card is going to say?
Arianna: Well, I guess it sort of does say that, yes. I think it might say that. I don’t know. I haven’t looked at my business card in a while.
Sean: Yes, we had this whole thing where we were making our business cards about a year and a half ago and it was me, Johnny and Dave and we were, you know, trying to figure out what they should say, because we do too much stuff, right?
Sean: And now it’s a little more unified than it was. At least we have a web site now that works, where people can go and figure it out.
But I think this was we were doing our very first speaking event and we wanted to have cards just because.
But how do we define ourselves?
We’ve got the whole podcast thing and non-fiction and fiction. And now it’s even crazier because we have a podcast network and we have the Story Shop and all of this.
But essentially we boiled it down to storyteller. My business card just says storyteller and I’m so pleased with that.
Sean: Because ultimately it’s similar. I would define my business model as I make stuff and talk about it. And even in shorter hand it’s I’m a storyteller. So even Story Shop, that’s software. Like it’s not telling a story.
Arianna: Yes, but it fits with it.
Sean: It fits with it, yes. And so it was actually at another speaking even, maybe four years ago, I was talking to Tucker Max and he was talking to someone in the audience who asked about his Twitter handle, I think was the question. And he had one of those Twitters that says I’m this, this, this, this, it’s basically ninety words separated by commas, right.
And Tucker’s like don’t do that, that’s bullshit. Just pick one thing and own it. Be who you are with that thing and let everything else settle under that because then you at least own it and you at least know who you are, and it makes you a stronger person.
And I think thought of that when I was – okay, well, storyteller, that makes sense.
Arianna: Yes, I’ve kind of done that within each of the different sort of silos that I have. So there’s the writing, which all happens under a pen name, but it’s one pen name for all of the fiction. And that’s it.
Sean: But you’re writing in a lot of different genres too, right?
Arianna: Yes, so I have email automation and tagging, and I’m in the implement ask method to take incoming people and match them with the stories that they’re going to like first.
And I’ve been thinking about this a lot since you guys took me through Bootcamp where there are a lot of genre requirements, if you’re going to write to market, but there are also what Kristine Kathryn Rusch calls reader cookies.
And so I’ve been thinking about reader cookies and what they are because I think there are a lot of story elements that people will follow through cross-genre if they know that the genre might not be the right fit, but they know they’re going to get their reader cookie.
Sean: Right, right.
Arianna: But you have to pitch the book to them in a completely different way.
Sean: So they’ll eat their vegetables if you put it in a dish they like.
Arianna: Right. I don’t know, if you make mac and cheese with a little bit of broccoli mixed in, they probably will eat the broccoli without even realizing anything.
Sean: Yes, so you have to treat your readers like children. I totally absolutely get that.
Arianna: So anyways, that’s going to be an experiment. I don’t know how it’ll work yet. But it’s all set up to work that way.
Because I want to draw people in from a particular series and walk them through that series and find out by the actions they’re taking through that series based automation email sequence what are their reader cookies.
Sean: That’s actually brilliant. That makes perfect sense. So is a lot of your future anticipated success as a multi-genre author, which we know from personal experience that’s a lot harder to pull of.
Arianna: But I want to so that the covers and the descriptions that go on all the retailers will be based on genre expectations for the primary genre.
So that when I do ads and like email automation and social media posts about that book, each post will be targeting a specific sub-group of people who might be interested in the book.
Sean: But we’re all looking for that ideal reader, right? The golden reader, the true fan who will say I want everything you have.
Arianna: Right, but you can have multiple ideal readers.
Sean: But is a lot of what you’re trying to do, is it dependent on like smart autoresponders and automations so that if you get somebody in Book Series C and somebody in Book Series A, eventually you can C to read A and A to read C, so you have to kind of guide them down a very particular path, right?
Arianna: Right. But the way I pitch the different series to each other will be a lot – yes, there’s a lot of conditional elements in emails, like in the P.S. section. So they will probably be, I don’t know, five different P.S.s for one email, and depending on which tags you have, based on what links you clicked previously, you’ll see different ones.
Sean: So is this something that’s just like on a big, giant, beautiful mind looking white board at this board or is this happening?
Arianna: No, well, I guess it is in my imaginary house that has all the space.
Sean: All right. It isn’t just rattling around in your head right now, right?
Arianna: Well, it really is. So I’m visual. I think in pictures, and so if I can see it in my head, then I don’t need to write it down.
Sean: Oh, that’s cool.
Arianna: Which is actually it’s like really great when it comes to solving problems and building stuff, but it’s frustrating sometimes when it comes to actually writing down stories because I’ll get – I have the story in my head and then I lose the motivation to do the writing part.
But I’m too much of a perfectionist and a control freak to let anybody do the writing for me.
Sean: Does that make it difficult when you want to work with other people, because if you see it in your head but they need it actually articulated?
Arianna: It does sometimes. I’m very good at drawing like sketches on paper and writing checklists. I think it’s faster for me to write a checklist because I know all the steps in my head so I can just write it down. I don’t have to like plan what it is first.
Arianna: But yes, it does cause issues sometimes. Especially with people who need to think in a very linear way. I tend to spiral.
So one of the reasons why I can do all these different things, the writing, and the publishing, and the entrepreneurial like business stuff, and the fashion design stuff and it all works is because I have one idea.
So I’ll have one idea of a particular marketing strategy I want to implement, and I’ll take that big idea and put it into practice in each thing.
Sean: So basically you’re always breaking things down into smaller pieces, because even if you can see the whole thing, there’s no way that you or anybody else can get that done unless it’s a bite of elephant at a time.
Sean: Okay, so I have two questions and they are different but they’re related. So I’m going to ask them back to back.
So you know the 80/20 thing, right, so how do you decide whether something is an 80% thing versus a 20% thing?
Because when you’re like us and you do and instead of or, that’s the problem. Everything becomes 80%, right, and you rationalize. Well, that’s 80% be because.
But how do you truly make that determination?
And then very related, how do you decide what to take on and what to say no to?
So there are things I know for me personally that are very 20% but I still do them anyway because it’s important to me for whatever reason that I do them.
So how do you determine what is 80% versus 20% and how do you determine what you actually take on?
Arianna: I think mostly it’s just instinct. I know how I work.
Sean: Instinct for both, for what’s 80/20 and also instinct for what you take on?
Arianna: Well, a lot of it is okay, this needs to happen but I don’t want to do it. And if it’s like a really, really important thing that has to get done and I’m never going to do it because it’s not one of the things I enjoy doing but I’ll find somebody else who can do it for me.
Or I’ll find an automated system that does it for me so that I don’t have to.
Sean: Or create an automated system, right?
Sean: And I know you work with a lot of people because that’s part of automating, and we’ll talk about automating in just a minute. But because you want to control stuff too, right, so how easy is it to find people that you trust and say okay, I trust you to go do that thing, or do you find yourself really articulating step by step by step? How relaxed is that process?
Arianna: Well I think if you have the right people then you don’t have to worry about it. And I just did this a couple of months ago actually when I was hiring my first people for Abyssinian Books.
I went through and I gave them a description of what I was looking for and I was like if you read this description and you still think this is a good fit for you, here is the first set of application sheets. It’s a bunch of questions where you just write your answer in.
And a lot of those questions gave me an idea of where they were coming for and what they were looking for, and whether or not they were really passionate about the stories and reading them and talking bout them.
And if they filled out the form then there was an automation. They got an email with a list of instructions.
Like I had them video tape their screen, like do a screen capture of themselves taking a bunch of personality tests. Because the personality tests tell me okay, how do I need to explain myself so that you know what I’m talking about?
So I have intelligence types, there’s value languages, there’s love languages and then there’s your level big five or Myers Briggs personality type. And all of those things work together to influence how you motivate yourself and what types of feedback you need.
So if they were capable, like I didn’t give them any instructions of what software to use to do this. I gave them the links to the quizzes and the instructions and that was it.
And it was very clear between the answers to the questions in the first part and the speed and accuracy with which they completed the second part, I went from about 40 potential candidates to 4 people that I could interview.
Sean: Oh, wow, that’s great.
Arianna: Yes, and I had a spreadsheet okay. 1 was a no, 2 was a maybe and 3 was a yes for each of these different things. And I measured okay, what was their speed responding to part 2? What was their accuracy? What was my gut feeling about them before I entered the numbers? What was their score on the different company values? Like story and curiosity and connection and things like that?
And then I multiplied all of those numbers together, because when you multiply you get a bigger difference at the end. And so it was immediately clear, and my gut instinct was that these two people that I hired were the right people.
But the numbers of that scoring system, it emphasized that and made it clear in a visual way and a measured way.
Sean: So that answers the question, and you rely on your instinct almost always and then when you need to back it up with data you can.
Sean: But when you go as fast as you do with the number of things that you’re trying to do, you have to rely on your instinct a lot, right?
Arianna: Yes. Well it gets really frustrating sometimes because sometimes I’ll need to do something and like I’m working really hard to do it and I have this image in my head of what I’m trying to do and like it’s not working.
And then I get frustrated.
Sean: And then you build an automation.
Arianna: I need this to be better but it’s not good enough, and I can’t get it good enough. Argh! I’m kind of a perfectionist too.
Sean: You have to be to build those automations, right? So let’s actually talk about automations. Your new thing is automation for authors.
Arianna: That’s the old news.
Sean: Of course it is, because I haven’t talked to you in weeks. This ages faster than old fruit.
Okay, so talk a little bit about what automation is and why most authors – it’s something most authors need, and kind of what most authors get wrong in this area?
Arianna: Okay. So there are sort of two ways in which people tend to approach automation. Either it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, and people jump in without really knowing what they’re doing.
And they go oh, I could use it to connect my lights to my phone so that when I come home the light turns on. Which you know it could be useful, maybe.
Sean: But you could also just go like this.
Arianna: So it’s a cool thing, but it’s not necessarily something that’s going to leverage your ability to be more places better, or to accomplish your goals faster, right.
So my big issue, because I spiral around topic to topic, I tend to not appear to be consistent about anything to other people unless I have automated scheduled things dripping out.
Arianna: So I’ll like have a burst of writing emails and three months later I’ll have another burst of writing emails, but I need those emails to send out over three or four months so that I have time to get back around to where I’m in a place where that’s a fun thing to do again.
So for me automation is a way to use your strengths to compensate for your weaknesses. That’s one half of it.
And the other half is if you’re strategic about it, you can create brand consistency and you can reach farther than you can on your own, but effectively you’re using the time you’ve set aside for marketing more effectively.
Because you’ve decided okay, I’m going to post to Facebook and I’m going to post to YouTube and then the automation is going to share those posts everywhere else.
Sean: So is that where you need like a tool like – do you use Meet Edgar?
Arianna: Yes, so I use Meet Edgar for my blog posts and my podcast episodes and then Meet Edgar will like reshare those every however long it takes to get back around to it. So Edgar goes through a list of like content in our library and I use RSS feeds to fill that content, and then it just posts whenever.
And then for the fiction I have quotes by my favorite authors that get Tweeted out through Edgar, as a way of sort of engaging the right people. I end up having different content in different places.
But I made that list once, a year and a half ago and I haven’t changed it, because you know you spend like two days making 200 quote cards and then you stick it in Meet Edgar. By the time the same quote comes around again, everybody’s forgotten what it was.
Sean: Either forgot it or they didn’t see it the first time, right?
Sean: So what’s something that keeps authors from wanting to automate? Is it fear of not being original or just the technology part of it? What is it that keeps that barrier?
Arianna: I think a large part of it is the technology part. I think it’s scary. If you think of yourself as being someone who’s not good at numbers, like maybe you had a bad experience in a math class, you might associate automation with like engineering, and engineering with math. And then so you don’t do it.
But all you have to know is what you want to be the trigger and what you want to be the action. Because things like IFT and Meet Edgar, they use different sort of ways of doing things to automate things, which is why you need to know what you’re trying to do.
But you don’t need to know any of the code.
Sean: No, you just need to know your why and you need to know your basic strategy and then you need the right tools for the job, right?
Arianna: Right. And then you need to be able to write messages that are actually going to resonate with your audience. You don’t want your messages to sound robotic because that’s where you don’t want to start using robots, right.
Sean: So that’s my next question. How do you kind of tweak that then? You have to measure. You can’t improve if you’re not measuring. So how do you know this particular automation is working? Because part of the joy and benefit of automation is that it’s kind of on autopilot.
So how often do you check in? Are you looking at data to see okay, well, this got this many clicks and this many likes. How often are you taking inventory of your automation?
Arianna: Not as often as I should because it’s not something I want. My next person that I’m going to get for Abyssinian Books is a data person so they can make the numbers make sense to me.
I need the visuals. The number itself doesn’t tell me anything. You’ve got 400 clicks. Okay. So what?
So I get weekly stats from Hootsuite and from Buffer and from Edgar. They tell me I guess very high level stuff. And I get weekly stats from Synomee about how many like pop ups have shown, how many welcome mats and how many subscribers I’ve got.
And it’s really the number of subscribers that I’m using as is this working or not.
Sean: That makes sense. That’s a very healthy metric.
Arianna: Yes, because you know the more subscribers you’re getting, the more people you’re going to get to buy things later on.
But I should go through and take out some of the old blog posts that maybe were time specific in Edgar, and I haven’t done that yet because to me that’s a 20% task.
Sean: Well you can do that too, right, when you’re actually automating it for the first time. So if you write something that you kind of know ahead of time this isn’t going to be relevant three months from now. You can say can you set it within Meet Edgar to only run for three months and then it just expires?
Arianna: I don’t think so. I haven’t really looked into it though. You can go into your library and remove things, and you can go in and like randomize the order.
Sean: But once something’s in your library, it pulls it. That’s a manual task.
Arianna: Yes, you have to go through and like weed things out every now and then. And that’s something that I’m going to have a minion do for me.
Sean: So the big takeaway here is that even automation isn’t totally automated.
Sean: Like you have to – everything requires maintenance, even automation.
Arianna: Right. The things like Zapier and IFT where it’s just if something happens on one channel, it goes to another, that doesn’t really require as much maintenance as something like Meet Edgar where essentially you’re building a bucket full of like things.
Sean: Well, that’s inventory management, yes.
Sean: So what is your worst habit?
Arianna: My worst habit. Starting to read books when I should be doing something else.
Sean: Are you just a total infovore? Like do you read fiction and non-fiction equally, or do you read more?
Arianna: No, again I go in cycles. There will be times when I spend a week doing nothing but reading fiction. And I will get no sleep and I will go through probably 100 books.
Sean: Is that research for you? Does it affect the way you write?
Arianna: Effectively it is research but like in the moment it’s not, this is what I want to do.
Sean: But that’s not why you’re doing it.
Arianna: Yes, yes. And then there are other times when I do read a lot of non-fiction. Actually I started my book club because I was reading only non-fiction.
The first year I started trying to learn how to do publishing, I found myself reading only fiction and it was like nine months that I hadn’t read any new fiction.
I had reread a couple of old things and that was totally weird to me, totally weird. And so I was like, okay, this needs to change. How do I build a structure into my life so that I at least read one new piece of fiction a month.
And then that fell apart because my system worked at the beginning, but then it stopped working. So my love languages are acts of service and words of affirmation. Which means that in order for me to be motivated, I have to be doing something that’s going to help somebody.
But in order to really feel like whoever I’m helping feel like I’m helping them, I need like people to tell me.
Sean: I get that, I totally get that.
Arianna: Right. So the way my book club was is I would interview the author at the beginning of the month, before reading the book. And then I’d read the book and I’d have a discussion. And I think I need to do those interviews like all at once when I decide what books I’m going to read for the year, and then the discussion needs to be something that happens on the same day of the month every month.
And that’s not what was happening.
I was having to schedule each thing individually every month, and it was the scheduling part.
Sean: Yes. And it’s hard too when you have so many moving pieces to your business.
Arianna: Well, my schedule changed. I’m terrible at routine, terrible at it. Because every time I set a routine, something happens and my schedule has to change completely, for some reason.
Sean: So it’s one little piece is moved here but it changes the entire equation.
Arianna: Exactly. And it’s really frustrating and if I could – I don’t know, I’m working on it.
Sean: That doesn’t sound like a habit. I would say well maybe that’s your worst habit, but that’s not a habit, that’s just a reality. So the habit is reading when you should be not reading, or is it to put a final point on just kind of following your muse and doing what you want to do instead of what you maybe should be doing at any given time.
Arianna: Yes. I guess it is following my muse, because the reason I read is because I get this gut feeling that there’s something I’m going to get out of this book. So everything I know about real live I learned from reading fiction.
This is why my fiction author personae is a Batman/Fairy Godmother, because you get super powers from reading. And it’s not all in my head. They’ve done research. Like when you read stories, your brain pattern mirrors the brain pattern of the person who explains the story.
Sean: Oh, yes, for sure. That’s why it’s so good for fostering empathy.
Arianna: Yes, and you’re literally gaining experience by reading stories about like elves fighting dragons, right.
Sean: That’s how you get experience points, right. Okay. So we get your worst habit.
What is one thing that you do that helps you be successful on a daily basis and do so many ands instead of ors?
Arianna: So I don’t know if this counts as a habit, but this is what I do, and it took me till the middle of college to realize that I was doing this because I was working with someone who was the opposite.
So I think there are sort of two ways of dealing with a problem.
When you come across a problem that stops you in your tracks, either you’re the type of person who needs to dive really deep into everything related to the problem in order to find a solution and you’re like the rest of the world except that problem goes away forever until it’s fixed.
Or you’re like me and if I get that road block, I have to go do something completely different.
Sean: It’s closing one door to open another right?
Arianna: Right. But it’s faster for me to come to a solution to that problem if I go do something completely different for a few hours. Because if I sit and I try and solve that problem right then, it’ll take me a week and I won’t get anywhere.
Sean: Yes, I get that when I’m outlining, when I’m story shopping something a lot. Like I don’t know what’s going to happen to the characters. But if I just sit there and try to beat out the problem, like literally, right, it doesn’t go anywhere. So I’ll put that aside and when I come back to it I’m like, oh, of course that’s what needs to happen!
Arianna: Right. Or you’ll be doing something completely – I have so many ah, ha moments when I just watching my brother and like he was reading in the car, he was reading one of those big puzzle books with crosswords and word searches and stuff. It was like oh, that’s how I make the writings free fun. I’ll make them be some crosswords.
Sean: It’s life, right. Life is about seeing the intersections.
Arianna: Yes. So I don’t know that it’s a habit but like my thing that lets me do what I do is the fact that I know when to switch and I know when to come back.
Sean: Yes, that’s excellent. Okay. So here’s another two-part. I know you probably listen to these and you know the legacy question is coming. But I’m going to get specific with you because first of all, your schedule is going to change and your whole legacy is going to change.
So let’s just dial it in. I do know you’re a big thinker so I do want to cover ten years, but also like one year.
What do you want to see happen for yourself a year from today, and then what would you like to see ten years from today?
If there’s one big thing you’ve accomplished, and not everything because I know there’s so much there, but what’s the biggest thing you want to see a year from now and what’s the biggest thing you want to see ten years from now?
Arianna: So the biggest thing I want to see a year from now is really Abyssinian Books being what I imagined it to be maybe two years ago I guess. And it’s on the way right now, but it’s still sort of like fledgling stage.
Sean: And what is the Holy Grail for what you see? What would that be?
Arianna: Okay, so this goes back to automation, a little bit. A lot of authors are great at okay, this is what I want, this is my goal. But they either don’t have the time or they don’t really know how to take that goal and put it into action.
So a lot of what I want to do with Abyssinian Books is provide the resources that authors need to get everything done that they need to get done. Which is why there’s a minion multitude, which is exactly what it sounds like. They’re like trained people who know indie best practices and can just implement stuff for you.
Sean: There is a huge need for that.
Arianna: Yes, like actually it wasn’t on the list of things to do this month until I had five authors be like you have minions? I’m so jealous. I’m like oh, I guess, you know, I want to do this so we may as well do it now.
So the one year plan is to really have the authors and the readers and a good repository of indie bookstores, and have those lists being built up to a point where they’re helping each other, and where the connection is helping to grow each of those lists.
Sean: And then ten years, which is most people underestimate what they can do in ten years, but overestimate what they can do in a year.
Arianna: Right. In ten years I want Abyssinian Books to be like dominating all of the trade pub companies.
Sean: All right. All of the trade pubs, dominating, does seem lofty, ten years.
Arianna: Yes. So like a lot of the reason that traditionally published authors stick with the traditional publishing houses is that they don’t want to do all the marketing. They don’t want to do all the businessy stuff.
And I think that’s a dumb reason to stick with a company that’s basically ripping you off. So I’m solving that problem and I want to steal all their authors and make their author be indie authors without needing to go through all that education in terms of being business minded and entrepreneurial.
Sean: So you’re talking basically about a done for you. And there are a lot of companies out there but they don’t do it well, right, and they’re not really in the indie space.
Arianna: They’re pretending to be.
Sean: Yes, they’re pretending to be. So you’re saying you want to build the actual little teams that can take care of all of the stuff from list building to running Facebook ads to automating social media, all the stuff that an indie author needs that they don’t by and large – I mean it’s taken us five years now and we’re barely getting started with our team.
So if we’d had you five years ago, that would have been great. We would have just given you the keys to the kingdom and said run with it, right.
Arianna: Right. Yes. So it’s the whole minion multitude is like probably one of the core divisions. I actually went and made a whole org chart this last week because the one I made two months ago is obsolete, which isn’t lying to me because I’m like I want to do it once and never do it again.
Sean: All of your stuff is like Mission Impossible, like mission self destructing. The message is always self-destruct.
So where can authors get ahold of you? Where’s the best place?
Arianna: The best place for authors to go is abyssinianbooks.com and the way to remember how to spell Abyssinian is to remember that there is an abyss in Ian Somerholder from the Vampire Diaries or Lost.
Sean: Okay, there you go. There’s an abyss in Ian Somerholder from the Vampire Diaries Lost, got it. Dot com.
Arianna: Yes. Exactly.
Sean: Okay. Well that is awesome. Where would readers find you? Do you want to talk about your pen name at all?
Arianna: Actually the best place to go for readers is also Abyssinianbooks.com because you’ll get to find out about my writing, and you’ll get to find out about all the books that I love to read, and you’ll get to find out about all of the books that other people who work for the company like to read.
And there’s a couple of podcasts through Abyssinian Books that are also reader targeted.
Sean: Okay. Well, that makes sense. As most people listening to this are either authors or creatively minded anyway. So that would make sense. They probably need multitudes of minions.
Thank you very much for joining us and I’ll talk to everybody next time.