Tower Defense Review: Radiant Defense

I am a big fan of Tower Defense games.

Last year, I wrote a comprehensive review of the best tower defense games on iOS.

Lately, I have been playing Radiant Defense.


The storyline is that portals are opening outside the planets in your system. Creatures are appearing in waves of ever increasing difficulty. You play both military leader and chief scientist as you build towers and research new ones. There is well placed, snarky banter between “you” and the alien leader at wave breaks.

Radiant TD has a build your path approach to gameplay.  You are given a set of modules for at the start of each level and more for each wave completed.

There is a great selection of towers. More towers become available after you build the research tower. The only paid upgrades are to give you access to the most advanced towers in the game.

The alien enemies number in the dozens. The game also brings enemies at different rates of speed and combinations. That variety keeps the games constantly interesting.

There are points in the game when I wish I could have a little more control over the towers by either setting the direction or being able to target a specific enemy. Lacking those controls you learn how to build routes that minimize the targeting movement that towers make.

My main hint is make sure you use all types of towers. As the difficulty of the levels increases, you’ll need them.

Rating: 8/10

10,000 Copies

Authors, new to the world of publishing, often ask me what sort of expectations they should have for their book.

That is a hard question to answer.

A small pile of books each year will sell a million copies.

The titles that will sell 100,000 copies would fit on a small table.

Almost all books will sell hundreds or thousands of copies.

The math goes something like this:

Anyone can sell 100 copies just through the friends they know. Guaranteed.

If someone is well connected or if their friends share the book with their friends, they can sell 1000 copies.

The third layer is the hard one. The book moves out past the author’s direct influence. Readers need to feel moved to share the book with others. At the same time, the author needs to use the book push out into new areas and extend their network.

I think the magic number is 10,000 copies.  You need to get that many copies into the marketplace to really know if a book is going to be more successful.

If that seems like a big number, think about if your topic has a big enough audience and if your network is big enough to support getting that many copies into the world.

10,000 copies is a good goal to work toward on any book launch.

Best Books For Your Startup

I occasionally get email from Quora asking me to submit answer when people ask about business books they should read.

Today, the query was someone asking – “What are the best business startup books?

quora question

I have been watching this category for almost a decade and in the last couple of months I gone back to many of these titles to research Every Book Is a Startup.

To start, read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau. They are two very different kinds of books but they are both general in their approach to the topic of startups. Ries uses a tech approach; Guillebeau uses a lifestyle approach.

If you are working on your value hypothesis (aka is anyone interested in my idea):

If you are working on your growth hypothesis:

If you are working on your business hypothesis:

Other important books in my humble opinion include:


Virality in Books

I am starting to hear authors and publishers saying they are going to become experts in paid advertising on Google, Facebook and now Amazon. I certainly think it is something to experiment with around growing your customer base for a book but it should be is a singular activity.

Andrew Chen posted a piece on paid marketing and how it damages many startups:

The key insight here is that Paid Marketing is tricky to grow, at scale, as the primary channel. It’s highly dependent on both against external forces – competition and platform – as well as the leadership team’s psychology when things get unsustainable.

Obvious keywords are quickly bid up by competitors.  Moving into the long tail of terms doesn’t have enough volume to drive real growth.

Chen suggests that virality is the answer.  Build an offer that encourages others to share and engage with it. Dropbox added folder sharing and their affiliate program that let users give and get extra disk space.  Slack pushed team channel creation on their platform. The great thing about these offers is they are built completely with the context of the product.  They are also very hard to replicate.

I wonder what virality looks like in books.

  • You need a book that people are proud to share with others.
  • The book could have an assessment to help me see better how I fit with others (i.e. StrengthsFinder 2.0, How The World Sees You).
  • It needs to be easy to tell someone else about.
  • Available in many format and all the places you would expect to find them.
  • The book pull together a group of people like nothing before it.
  • The unique nature of the book matches conditions in the market and in culture (i.e. Fire and Fury, Fifty Shades of Grey, Purpose Driven Life, Dr. Atkin’s New Diet Revolution).
  • A book being the right way to deliver the idea.


Read Books With A Determination

…Often, these impressive-looking women would take out papers or a book from their sleek bags and read them in the bus with an air of purpose, and even if they were reading mere novels. Phoebe could see that they were absorbing the contents of the words the way high-achieving people do, all the time working, working, in a way that was steely yet elegant. It reminded her of a girl at school who always came first in class, the way that girl read books with a determination that no one else had. All the teachers said she would go on to great things, and sure enough, she got a job as a quantity surveyor in Kuantan. Gradually, Phoebe realized that the reason these women looked so beautiful was that they had good positions in life; she could not deny that the two things were inseparable. Which one came first, beauty or success, she did not know.

From Chapter 5 – Reinvent Yourself, Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw



My wife convinced me to start watching Sense8 in the run up to the movie finale today.

With 23 episodes, we needed to watch an episode almost every night and even then, we had binge watched the last four yesterday to get through them all.

Sense8 is a great series. With eight lead characters, it can be funny and moody, grim and naïve, cold and fragile, melodramatic and courageous – sometimes all at the same time.

I read that Lana has been writing another season. She believes current fans are going to create more fans.

Can’t wait to see how it ends, for now.

For Investors: Growth First, Idea Second

When you write a book proposal, the three things that publishers want to know about are the idea for the book, size of your platform and comparable books that compete with yours.

My primary argument in Every Book Is a Startup is that we should treat each of those as a hypothesis. We want to continually test if we are delivering value to readers, if we have a reliable path to gaining more customers and if the book will be challenged in the marketplace.

The order of those benchmarks matches how they are presented in a book proposal.

Here is an observation from Dani Grant, a new analyst at Union Square Ventures:

“One winning presentation format is to start with growth numbers. A lot of company presentations start with describing the product first, but nothing grabs investors’ attention like proof in data.”

That is interesting advice for authors too.

We like to think that a great book idea wins the day with publishers, but they are investors too. If you can show publishers the traction you already have, the rest of the conversation will go quicker towards getting a contract.

Discoverability Is Overrated

Research shows that online bookstores are great when you know what you are looking for.

Retail spaces are better when you don’t.

There will be fewer places to find books.

There already are fewer places.

Barnes and Noble has closed 150 stores.

Try to find a book review in a major media outlet beside O or The New York Times.

The world of book publishing always hopes that readers will discover the new writers they publish.

Language is important here.

Discovery is unexpected.

Discovery is random.

Discovery implies being found for the first time.

Do we really want bookstores serving as showrooms?

Those don’t feel like strong qualities for maintaining a sustainable business model for everyone involved.



Better Book Titles

never eat aloneI have been thinking a lot lately about what makes a good book title.

  1. The title needs to clearly describe what the book is about. – I know this sounds obvious. And it is!  Yet, too many books fail this most basic test. Clarity is the most important quality for a book title. Most books never get picked up because the reader doesn’t know what the book is about.  So, avoid jargon and made up words.  And yes, Freakonomics is a made up word but we immediately know what the authors mean.
  2. Great book titles signal the change – Good To Great. Getting Things Done. Daring Greatly. Lean In. There is no question what is going to be different after you are done reading the book. These are very direct routes to the change.
  3. Great book titles signal positive change – Books are paper devices filled with hope.
  4. Subtitles deliver the promise – If titles are about being clear, then subtitles are about making promises.  What is the reader going to get?
  5. Never repeat words in both the title and the subtitle – Use different words to create variety and add more meaning.
  6. The best titles use three word or less – We are all lazy and don’t like to remember long titles.  And if there is a long title, we shortened it anyway as we start to tell others about it.
  7. Use an odd number of syllables – Titles sound better ending on a downbeat. Try it. 90% of your favorite titles will have 3, 5 or 7 syllables.

Just Sit

I started a Zen Buddhist practice about eight years ago.

I’d reached a point where the tools I had to deal with life weren’t working anymore.

The core of zen practice is zazen, or seated mediation. The image in your head of a robed monk sitting legs crossed on a cushion is exactly right. That’s what we spend most of our time doing.

With members of my sangha, I might sit for an hour or a full day.  A few times a year we’ll sit for a week in sesshin. The longer retreats are harder to do with my work and family commitments, so each morning, I sit.

Dogen, the founder of Zen, wrote a set of instructions for sitting called Fukanzazengi. This is what he says about the physical practice of zazen:

At your sitting place, spread out a thick mat and put a round cushion on it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the full-lotus position, place your right foot on your left thigh, then your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus, simply place your left foot on your right thigh. Tie your robes loosely and arrange them neatly. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left hand on your right palm, thumb-tips touching lightly. Straighten your body and sit upright, leaning neither left nor right, neither forward nor backward. Align your ears with your shoulders and your nose with your navel. Rest the tip of your tongue against the front of the palate, with teeth and lips closed. Keep your eyes open, and breathe softly through your nose.

Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully, rock your body right and left, and settle into steady, immovable sitting.

I use an app called Insight Timer and it has several features that I like. Of course, it keeps track of time. There are a variety of recorded bells that you can choose. You can adjust the number of bells and when they are played. These customizations let me build the same progression of bells and timing that we use at our Zen Center for zazen. Insight Timer also keep track of your sessions and provides some graphs to help you see your practice better.

This morning, the app notified me that it had 1250 days with a session of zazen. It was a nice reminder that any practice, whether running or writing or sitting, is an accumulation of effort and something changes in you, for the better.


Does Speed Matter?

Part of my work on writing and publishing Every Book Is a Startup is working on better ways to write and publish books.

The common process for making books looks something like this:

  • Author writes
  • Editors fix
  • Designers format
  • Publishers Print

…except that the work moves back and forth between these steps for approvals and there is lots of checking to make sure new errors aren’t introduced as old ones are fixed.

There is a distance between each step. Each person lives in their silo. Each group uses with tools best suited for their type of work. The handoffs and specialization make the process slow and more prone to the errors that are trying to be avoided.

One answer I have been thinking about is speed.

Books have this certain mystique around them. Part of that charm is their slow and deliberate nature. Books take time to write and time to publish. They seems protected from sway of today’s news or popular opinion.  This leads to a vaguely held opinion that going faster compromising the best qualities of books.

All books are not produced slowly. Any publishing professional will tell you about the book that was “crashed” (think about the use of that word for a moment) to meet a cultural moment or immovable date. In the world of technology, publishers have to get books written and published in a matter of months to participate in the cycle short-lived popularity of a technical protocol or programming language. I am more interested in this latter case without the heroics where a faster cadence is maintained on a regular basis.

When you start thinking about speed as the primary metric, things shift. You can make improvements with better scheduling of resources and tasks. That tradeoff increases the time spent coordinating. You uncover a set of bottlenecks that impede faster flow. You might take months out of the publishing process, but the controlled process still takes months.

I want a bigger change. I want months to turn into days or hours. I want a decrease in publishing lead time that is an order of magnitude faster than how we practice today. So many things have to change to allow that.

The files for books need to be generated with technology, not handmade with designers. The technology should know the form of a book – page numbers, chapter headings, folios, footnotes – and account for them. Create them automatically or make them easy to create.

The manuscript needs to be stored safely in a single place. Everyone who needs to work on the book should be able to from that same, safe place. Whether a typo or an added chapter, anyone should be able to make changes and easily create a new version of the files. And if the change negatively affects the book, prior versions should be restored easily.

All of those process changes put the creator closer to the final book they are going to publish.  If there is an error, I probably created it and have the best context for how it should be fixed. Once fixed, I can created a new version themselves.

We don’t even think things like that are possible because Word doesn’t work like that. We send files through email or Dropbox with comments and tracked changes, as we change the file name in an attempt at revision control.

Using a workflow of Google Docs and Leanpub, I can do everything I described.  A new version of my book is created with a press of a button. The whole process takes about two minutes. Two minutes!

Speed is about being fast and reliable. Build systems that are easy to rebuild; where small changes can be made without affecting the whole.

Speed also creates opportunities that you probably never thought before.

What would you do if you could remake your manuscript on command in minutes?

Book Review: When by Dan Pink

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink


When is an interesting question.  I find it is either the first or the last one I ask, with who, what and why garnering most of my attention.  As the first, when acts the primary constraint.  As the last, it is just a detail to be sorted out with everything else.

Dan Pink make it the primary question in his new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. The book is a meta-study of sorts on how time and timing affects us. Like all of Pink’s books, it is high on utility and how-to.  This book, in particular, felt like it belonged in paperback with pages dog-eared and covered in orange highlighter.

The handbook quality to this title comes from Pink covering lots of smaller things versus one overarching idea. I know that might sound contradictory since the book about one topic but it is a question of scale.  When tackles topics ranging from daily fluctuations in energy levels to the best time to start a new habit to cyclical happiness over a lifetime. We don’t carry all of those in the same mental bucket.

Here are my highlights which I think will demonstrate what I am talking about:

  • Cultures with less distinctive future tenses in their languages (Mandarin, Finnish, Estonian) are 30% more likely to save for retirement, 24% less likely to smoke, practice safer sex, and exercise more. The theory is that people feel less separated from their “future” selves using present tense verbs.
  • Endings are important. Start reading the last lines of books for inspiration from completion.
  • Ernest Hemingway used to stop mid-sentence at the end of a day of writing to give him a strong place to start from the next day.
  • Most of us experience an energy trough in the afternoon.  This leads to more medical errors, more judicial convictions and a higher likelihood to lie, cheat and steal. Antidote – TAKE BREAKS! Movement with people outside is the best combination.
  • End your work day with this five-minute routine: write down what you accomplished because measuring progress is powerful, plan your top three goals for tomorrow because goal setting is proven helpful, and thank someone because gratitude practice is a highly reliable method to higher levels of happiness.

The book holds together and you should check it out. Now.

Releasing Version 2.0 of Every Book Is a Startup

In April, I moved back to working at my publishing studio full-time.

The first project I wanted to spend time on was a new edition of Every Book Is a Startup.

A Little History

The history on this project starts back in 2011. I wrote a post here on my blog. The essay was the first in a series of posts about how the new ideas of the world of Lean Startup could improve our odds of success in the world of book publishing.

Joe Wikert at O’Reilly Media approached me a few months later about writing about book for them. He was running their Tool of Change practice that was looking at how technology was changing book publishing.

At first, I really wasn’t interested in writing a book. I remembered quite clearly the year I spent writing The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, and if it was going to take that much work, I wasn’t sure it going to be worth it.

I wrote back to Joe and said that the project would need to be interesting. Joe wrote back, ” What did you have in mind?” and that response began a wonderful collaboration. We experimented with releasing the book in a serial fashion. We experimented with a low price that slowly increased as more material was added.

In total, we sold about 650 copies. We never released the book beyond the O’Reilly website. And that was fine. The project was an experiment.

Why Now?

I feel like a lot has happened in the last eight years. Self-publishing is a substantial practice in the broader world of book publishing. The power of the industry is concentrating itself in a smaller group of players with Amazon’s growth and the the merger of Penguin and Random House as just two examples. That always creates opportunities.

The practices introduced with Agile and Lean Startup principles are both maturing and continuing to expand into domains outstide technology. The opportunity is to better apply these concepts to the world of book publishing.

What’s New?

The short answer is everything.

I have completely rewritten and reorganized Every Book Is a Startup around three questions.

  1. How do we know if we found the right problem?
  2. How do we reliably find new customers with the same problem?
  3. How do we build a business that supports the book?

If you have writen a book proposal, those three questions should look familiar. Publishers want to know the idea, your platform, and the competition in your category. In traditional publishing, an agent and editor determine if you have the right mixture to make the book work.

In Every Book Is a Startup, we treat each one of those points as a question to examine. The core of the work is to test our assumptions and determine through experimentation that there is a market for the book before we invest time, effort, and money.

In that vein, that is exactly what I am doing with Version 2.0.

  • The book has been released as a minimum viable product at I am updating and adding new material every week. As a customer, you will get an email with each major new release.
  • You can choose your price for the book within a range. I am going to use that information to help decide the retail price to charge when the book is complete.
  • We are also running other experiments, which I will tell you about as time goes on. Don’t want to influence the results 🙂

I’ll be sharing more here as the project progresses.

If you are an author trying to navigate the world of book publishing today, I know this framwork will help.

I hope you will check out Every Book Is a Startup.

The Power of New

I got a newsletter from Signature a few days ago.  The email is round-up of books coming from Penguin Random House in May. I copied part of the page below to give you a sense of the content and design. You can click-through to see the whole page here.


The list covers a range of memoirs, thrillers and collected works. These genres are ones I don’t normally read, but if you are around books or tapped into culture though, you will certainly recognize new works from Roaxanne Gay and David Sedaris.

When I see marketing like this, it reminds me how hard book publishing is. On the full web page, there are fifteen books.  This newsletter is working hard to get attention for these writers. Notice what they are doing.

They are playing the New card. New is a kind of scarcity. These books will only be new for a few weeks. We care about them a little more during this time.  But then the next set of books becomes New.

In this example, the New lost some of its power with so many titles to choose from. All the titles paralyzed my ability to sort and select what might be interesting. I get the same feeling when I look at a menu in a restaurant and all of the dishes attract the same level of my attention.

Takeaways: When you are launching your book, use the window of New and that scarcity to attract the attention of your audience. Also, position your book away from competing titles in marketing activities and sales environments whenever possible.


Amazon’s Latest Experiments in Pricing

I love Amazon, because they are always experimenting.

Here are two experiments I ran across yesterday as I was browsing their website.

The first offer was an additional discount that is applied at checkout.  I hadn’t seen this on Amazon before. On this discounted listing, The Only Thing‘s price decreases 83 cents, representing another 3% off the price of the book. The offer appear to encourage customers to put things in their shopping cart. The amount is also odd, not seeming to be connected with the retail price or the discounted price.


The second offer was even more interesting. After I saw the offer above, I wanted to see if I could find a similar offer on another book. I assumed the offer would be made on other books that sold well, so I went to the bestseller lists and looked at business books.

The #1 title on the Amazon business bestseller list is a book called Bluefishing. Even more interesting is that the audio edition of Bluefishing holds the top slot right now. I wasn’t interested in the audiobook. I shutdown my Audible account a couple of months ago because I couldn’t listen fast enough to use all my credits, so I clicked over to the Kindle edition. I saw immediately two things I hadn’t seen before.

First, they were pushing this title on Kindle and specifically with a 25% credit toward other Kindle books in the “Great on Kindle” program. Second, I noticed that I had $1.00 in ebook credits. I had never seen that before.


I was interested in the Great on Kindle program, so I clicked on the Learn More link.


The copy was selling pretty standard benefits for ebooks – save where you left off, start reading now, adjust the font, text-to-speech integration, etc.

The primary benefit is the credits (which expire after 60 days), so I clicked through to see other ebooks where in the program.  There is page dedicated to the Great on Kindle offer.  The books were divided into six broad categories that you could page through. I would guess there are 100 to 150 books total across the whole program based on the duplication across categories.



This offer is pretty interesting, if you know a little history about book publishing.  In 2010, Amazon and the major book publishers engaged in some heated negotiations about the way ebooks would be sold. Publishers wanted to take control of ebook pricing, because they felt that Amazon had been abusing their power as the largest ebook retailer and forcing prices down. As retailer, Amazon wanted to continue to keep that power and felt that lower prices were better for customers. The flash point came when Amazon removed all of Macmillan’s books from their website for almost a week.  When the dust settled, publishers won the concession of being able to set prices for ebooks (and that turned into a huge anti-trust lawsuit between Apple with the major book publishers and the federal government, but we’ll save that for another day).

After publishers wrestled back control of pricing, the data showed pretty conclusively  that prices increases.  Amazon consistently offered pricing at $9.99 and lower for ebooks.  Looking through the Great on Kindle titles, you can see pricing at $11.99, $13.99 and even $14.99 for ebooks (and there are some titles priced lower than that too).

Without the power to do it directly, Amazon is lowering prices by offering in-store credits to use on future purchases.  The offer isn’t as direct as a lower selling price, but it lets them test if the indirect route to a lower price helps sell more ebooks.