3 January 2012

Danny Iny's interview on MBA, getting subscribers and modern publishing


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You have started a blog. You are not a celebrity. Now how to get subscribers?

This question befronts every new serious blogger. Danny Iny's latest book Engagement from Scratch! contains the answer.

He went to thirty A-class bloggers and asked them the question; "If you were to start all over again from scratch, how will you build a community?" His book contains all the replies he received.

Following is the interview that I did with Mr. Danny Iny. Either listen to the complete audio or simply read the excerpted transcript.

Danny Iny






Click the orange button above to listen to the podcast.

Hi there. Today I'm going to talk to Mr. Danny Iny who is a frequent guest lecturer at Concordia University, co founder of Firepole Marketing and the Freddy Krueger of blogging. His guest posts can be found on all over the Internet. He has written for sites like ProBlogger, Copyblogger, FreelanceSwitch, Freelance Folder, Daily Blog Tips, Smashing Magazine and a lot more.

He has recently self published his book Engagement From Scratch! which teaches you how to build a community from scratch and has advices from more than thirty high profile bloggers. The soft copy of the book is available for free download on the website www.engagementfromscratch.com.

Hello Mr. Iny. Welcome to Write Region.

Thank you very much for having me. It's a pleasure and a privilege to be here. 

Thank you. My first question is that you left school at the age of fifteen but you later also did an MBA course. So why did you leave a formal education and if you had left then why did you join back again?

Those are two great questions and I usually don't get them back to back so it's more interesting that way.

I left because I was bored in school. I felt that I was not learning anything of substance, of particular importance. And I still stand by that. I think a lot of mentoring particularly in the high school curriculum is very arbitrary. They teach you stuff that is potentially interesting but if you didn't learn that you learn other stuff you'll be fine too. Most of it is not critical knowledge. And I wanted to do something else, I wanted to do something that would be more valuable, more useful with my time. And so I quit school to start my first business.

And just so to be clear, I'm not telling all your listeners to go drop out of school because I believe strongly in the importance of education, I just don't feel quite strongly about the importance of formal education. I mean I continued to educate myself after I left school. So it depends on whether you have the personality type to go do that. And if you do that, it's completely fine.

Now I went back to school because when I was invited to guest lecture at Concordia, some of the professors there (in whose classes I used to guest lecture) said; "You know you are really good at this. If you get an MBA we want you to come and teach at the business school." And that was my original motivation because I love to teach and it's something that I wanted to do. And so I explored and found that there are certain programs that - given my background, my qualifications - I could get into the MBA without having to go back to high school and without getting an undergraduate degree and so forth. And so it seemed like a good opportunity and I made a lot of connections and learnt a lot.

So you enjoyed your MBA? You are not dissatisfied that you did an MBA? Right?

I have mixed feelings about it. The standard response that people usually give is that; "Was it valuable? Did you learn from the experience?" And the answer is yes. Of course I did. But it's never about did you learn from the experience. It's about did I learn from the experience more than I could have learned by investing my time and money elsewhere. And I don't know whether the answer to that is yes. 

We don't have very good visibility on the road not taken. So we don't know what lies down that road. I think anybody who's thinking to do an MBA should think very carefully why they want to do it? What are they hoping to get out of it? Whether it's the best way to get their goals.

You are an MBA and a blogger. So do you think that an MBA degree can help bloggers?

Yes and no. An MBA degree - no I don't think so. Like here's a thing. When you get an MBA you have to recognize what is the value you are actually buying with your time and money. Part of it is knowledge, and understanding, and so forth. It's the stuff you learn in the classroom if you are doing the work.

Another part of it is the network of people you connect with through your program.

And a third part of it is the reputation or the credibility value of saying that "I have an MBA". It's an easy way for people to expect a certain level of knowledge from you.

The last two things are usually not particularly relevant to a blogger.

Nobody is going to care in the blog world, I don't think, that you have an MBA. Nor is the network that you make and connect with in your MBA program can be particularly helpful in the blog world. It's just a different world.

Now I think the business knowledge is valuable. You know there are two kinds of bloggers. There are bloggers who are just blogging as a hobby. And there are bloggers who are hoping to make money with their blogs. Then they [bloggers who are hoping to make money] should not think of themselves as bloggers. They should think of themselves as business people whose business involves a blog and some way shape or form and understand how the blog fits into the business logic and in order to do that you need to understand business. So do I think an MBA is important to bloggers - no not at all. But do I think business knowledge and understanding and expertise is important to bloggers - yes definitely.

How do you manage to get dozens of guest posts?

By asking people for them.

It's one of those things that is not as hard or complicated as people think it is. The process is very straightforward. You make a list of the blogs on which you'd like to guest post on. There are big blogs on which you'd like to guest post on and either they are going to give you a lot of traffic or they are going to give you a lot of credibility for having written for them or you are trying to build relationships with the bloggers. But you make that list.

Then start by looking at their most popular posts. What are the subject areas of those posts. And you would find patterns emerging. And think about most popular subjects on those blogs and think about what is the intersection between that subject and what you are all about. Find that angle and email the blogger and say; "Hey I'd like to write a guest post for you."(People may see the template for such an email on my blog post How I Became The Freddy Krueger of Blogging. Anyone can take it and use it.)

You send an email to people offering them a good post with a good angle which their audience is going to respond to. Then generally speaking, they will say yes.

So it's just a matter of approaching as many as you want.

Tell us something about your book Engagement from Scratch! and why should people buy it?

My picture is never for people to buy it. My picture is for people to say, you know, it's a great book, it's a valuable book. The reason why I went about assembling (I'd say writing but in practice ninety percent of the content is written by other people who all are a lot smarter than I am. So I assembled.) this book  because I found that there is a gap in the market in the area of building a community. Lots of people talk about how to harness a community, leverage a community, grow a community but that all kind of assumes that you have a community and a following. And nobody really talks about like; "I've got nothing. I'm starting from zero. What do I do?"

And so I went to the thirty biggest audience builders that I could find and I said; "I want you to write a chapter for my book basically answering the question 'if you had to start from scratch what would you do?'"

And the answers are very varied, very diverse because there is no one right answer. There are lots of different ways that work. And that is what the book is about and I think it is very valuable.

Now again I don't tell people go buy the book, I tell people to take a look and if you find it valuable and if you are enjoying it to read it on your laptop then fine. But if you want to read it on your Kindle or whatever then go buy it. But I just want people to expose themselves to the content and learn something and be able to do something with it.

In the process of writing of this book was there any interesting incident that you would like to share with our readers?

Well the interesting kind of learning on my part in the process of writing it is as follows. My modus operandi is that I get interested in something, I study it, I learn it, I learn to do it really well, and then I end up teaching other people how to do it because everyone has things that one is good at. I'm a good teacher. I'm good at explaining things and making it simple. And so when I set out to write this book I thought that my blog is growing, I'm doing well. I thought I'll figure out this audience building thing. And I wanted to get all these perspectives but I really expected that all these people I would approach would basically tell their part of what I thought the big story was. And what came back was a lot of stuff that I didn't expect at all. And I actually was very surprised, very pleasantly surprised by how much I learnt from the contributions of all my co-authors.

That was quite an interesting and valuable experience for me and hopefully for the readers too.

Did you approach Darren Rowse for your book? His name is not in the co-authors' list. 

Yes I did. But Darren Rowse is a very busy guy who recently had another child. And I completely understand that with all this going on it's very hard to take on this stuff (write for my book).

Why did you choose to self publish?

Honestly in this day and age the question is more why do so many people still choose to publish traditionally because I think it's very little business or marketing sense to publish traditionally.

The publishing industry evolved more or less to its current form in 1930s. That's how out of date it is. Now there are a lot of people who stand between you and your customer and they all take a piece of the pie so as to speak in terms of the money that ends up in your pocket as the author. And the margins on the books are not good anyway but as a self published author you can expect more.

Let's say the book costs 20$ in the store. You can probably get 6-7$ as a self published author. If you are going through traditional publishing you'll get 1.5 or 2$. So they are going to take three quarters of the margin.

Now historically speaking, if I go back 20, 30, 40 years the reason why that made sense is they brought two things to the table.

First of all they brought a lot of production infrastructure. You just didn't have access to that lot of money.

And the second thing is that they would do marketing, they would sell the book for you.

But today the cost of infrastructure is minimal. So they are not adding a lot of value there. I have expertise in publishing and content creation and so forth and so I know how to do it. It was particularly low for me.

But even if you outsource some of the work, you get people to do it, you can get it done in a couple of thousand dollars. It's not a big deal.

But more important from the marketing standpoint is they used to sell the book. And today for new authors they expect the authors to do most of the work to sell the book. So if you can sell a quarter of the books you would sell with a publisher, you'd be making the same amount of money. And they are not going to sell many books for you. So I opted to just publish it myself and take that thicker margin and give half of it for the network for teaching of entrepreneurship which is a cause that I believe in.

The other very good reason to not to go to a traditional publisher is that I wanted the book out soon. I thought about doing this book project in May or June. I did it myself, I got it all done. It is December now [this interview was done in December] and the book is live. If I would have gone with a traditional publisher I would have been going back and forth with query emails and letters saying "This is my idea. Would you like to publish it?" They are very slow. I just don't see the argument for it anymore.

So your message to people who want to publish their books would be that they should self-publish?

Well I think it depends on the book. There are still niches of the publishing world, specific areas where access to audience might be better. Just because on the whole book publisher don't seem to be bringing huge amount of value to the table right now doesn't mean nobody is. I mean there might be. But I think the better question is historically authors have seen themselves as the guy who creates the text, the content. And then someone else is going to publish, package and sell it. The packaging and publishing is trivial but in terms of selling it - do you have a clear idea how you're going to get people to see it and read it? And if you don't the question is not should I self publish or should I go with traditional publisher the question is put that aside for a second. Either way when you have the book how are you going to get people see it, read it, buy it? And also be realistic about the business model. Books are low ticket, low margin items. So you have to sell huge numbers to make some significant amount of money.  That's why I give my book away for free. I'm not going to get rich selling copies of my book. For every one person who'd buy it 15-20 will download it. I'd much rather lots of people buy it, lots of people download it, lots of people know about my work. And I have the opportunity to interact with them in the future.

So I rephrase the question. Rather than you go traditional publishing or self publishing, the answer is probably self publishing but the real question is what's the business model and strategy behind the book?

My last question is that how many books have been sold until now and how many have been downloaded? And are you satisfied with these figures?

It's only been three weeks since the book launched. I'm not keeping a close eye on the number of sales because as I said that's not really what I'm going after here.

Remember that I'm not Guy Kawasaki. I don't have a giant platform. I don't have four hundred thousand followers on Twitter.

The numbers that I have been watching are downloads of the book and reviews on Amazon. And I'm very happy with those numbers. Over three thousand people have downloaded the book and more are downloading it every day which is wonderful.

On Amazon, the last time I looked there were eighteen reviews. They are all five stars. So people are liking the book. People are finding value in it. And that's what really matters.

Thank you so much for being here on Write Region. It was really very informative.

It was absolutely my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
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