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Multiple sales channels are a way to prevent being dependent on one source of revenue, and authors need to be aware of all ways to make income from their books. I recently wrote about my options to sell direct to customers, and today, I discuss this further with Jim Kukral, a veteran of the online business world.
In the intro I discuss my recent trip to Toronto where I spoke at the Kobo HQ, as well as the launch of Delirium and an update on the business book for authors.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Jim Kukral is the author of Go Direct: The Content Creator’s Guide to Eliminating The Middleman and Avoiding the Gatekeepers.
He runs Author Marketing Club, where you can get useful free services to help get your book noticed, as well as premium tools like the Review Grabber and HTML formatter (which I use personally.) Jim also co-hosts the Sell More Books Show with Bryan Cohen.
You can watch the interview on YouTube here, listen above or on the podcast feed on iTunes or Stitcher, or read the transcription below. We discuss:
- Whether you can learn to be entrepreneurial
- What selling direct is
- Amazon ranking vs. building relationships with readers
- The power of building a platform of true fans
- The services available for selling direct
- Crowdfunding and Pay What You Want strategies
- Artistic patronage
- Creating community and connection with readers
You can find Jim and his books at JimKukral.com and on twitter @jimkukral, and check out the book at GoDirectBook.com
Transcription of interview with Jim Kukral
Joanna: Hi, everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today I’m here with Jim Kukral. Hi, Jim!
Jim: Hey, how’re you doing, Joanna?
Joanna: Hey! Great to have you back on the show. So, in case people don’t know Jim, Jim is a best-selling author and Internet entrepreneur, and he’s well-known in the indie community for the AuthorMarketingClub.com, and also for the fantastic Sell More Books show podcast, which I’ve recommended a number of times now, and everyone should be listening to. Jim’s latest book is “Go Direct: The Content Creator’s Guide to Eliminating The Middleman and Avoiding the Gatekeepers.”
Jim: That’s a long subtitle, right?
Joanna: It is, but it’s pretty cool. Let’s not go into your background, because we’ve had you on the show several times, let’s get straight into it.
Why do you care so much about eliminating the middleman and avoiding the gatekeepers?
Jim: You know, when I was younger, my father said, “Don't join the Army, you’re not good at taking an order,” and, he’s right: I’ve always been very much a subversive person. I don't like when people tell me what I can and can’t do, which is why I run my own business.
I don't like gatekeepers; I don't like people who tell me what content is good enough; I don’t like middlemen who cut so much out of the transaction or increase fees so high that a consumer can’t afford something.
So, it’s personal to me in a way. I just believe that everyone in the world should have the same opportunity as everyone else. And that’s what the Internet does, and that’s why I love working on the Internet. So, it’s not a vendetta against them: I personally believe that going direct to a consumer, whether you’re selling art or music or comedy or books or whatever it is, is the better business decision, and there’s so much opportunity for you if you can do it.
Joanna: I’m with you: I hate asking permission, it really annoys me.
In fact, I’m having my first experience with this German publisher right now, I didn’t get to choose the cover, they did give me a choice, but they could have ignored me. And it’s driving me nuts, and I’m like, “Well, what if I want to change the price? Oh, I can’t.”
Jim: Oh, man. I don’t do that. I did that once, and I couldn’t do it again.
Joanna: That’s interesting, because a lot of people listening will want a traditional deal, because they haven’t had one yet. Now, you had one, and you choose not to do it anymore, so that’s important, I think.
Jim: Well, it’s interesting: I love the control of changing titles, prices, covers, blubs, everything. You know as well as I do, Joanna, that some books aren’t going to sell, some books sell a lot, and having that book out there that has 10,000 copies printed and you messed up the title, like I did with my first traditionally published book … I completely messed up the title. I named it the exact opposite of what it should have been. And I can’t remove it, because the publisher owns it, they’ve printed books printed up; if it was self-published, and I’ve done this before, I pull the whole thing down, change it, and guess what, then it sells, because I can fix it. So that’s what I don't like about that model. One of the things.
Joanna: Me, too: I changed my “How to Enjoy Your Job” to the title, “Career Change,” and it took off! That’s crazy. So, straight away I’ve already got a question that people probably have in their head, which is that’s your personality, that’s my personality: what if someone’s listening going, “But I don’t have that kind of personality.”
Can people learn to be entrepreneurial?
Jim: You can, this is something I talked about in the summer book show episode that went out recently: it’s all about your pain level. So, when you go to the doctor and something’s wrong and they say, “What’s your pain level, is it a one or is it a ten?” When I had my kidney stones, I looked at the nurse and I said, “It’s a ten!”: I think you have to weigh that pain level. If you don't like what you’re doing right now, and you’re not having success right now: what’s your pain level with that? Is it a five? Is it a two? If it’s only a two, then maybe you’re OK with the life that you’re living and the situation that you’re having not being successful. If it’s a ten, then …
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you really have this high pain level of what you’re doing and it’s not working, that’s usually enough to push somebody to be an entrepreneur. However, it’s not for everybody, it really isn’t, because there’s so much risk involved, and there’s so much work involved, and some people are just very happy with the 9 to 5 and that. So, being an author-preneur is the same thing: there’s a lot of work involved, finding the editors and the cover designers and all that stuff. So, it’s not for everybody, however, I think the advantages in the author situation outweigh the disadvantages: keeping all of your rights for ever; the pricing, being able to make more money; changes, how quick you can move. I think that definitely outweighs it.
Joanna: That speed thing, it’s so important. There’s so many things coming. I don’t know about you, but I’m really excited about Oculus Rift, this 3D virtual reality thing. I’m like, “How do we get our books in Oculus Rift?”
Jim: Are people aware, that’s like a big thing and they go like this, and they walk around?
Joanna: Yeah, but it’s only the beginning, it’s going to change everything, and I want my ARKANE world in Oculus Rift. How do I do that? These are the things that come, we just don’t know how things are going to change, so that speed is important, and being able to move. But anyway, let’s get into your book.
Let’s define what ‘selling direct’ is. What do you mean by ‘sell direct’?
Jim: Well, obviously, you have two parts of the equation: you have gatekeepers and middlemen. Middlemen are people that have been around forever, a good example is, you still need middlemen like a grocery store: if you want to get milk for your cereal, you’ve got to go to the grocery store and buy it, or get a cow in your back yard. So, middlemen are still part of our society, and a lot of them are needed. Another example is PayPal or a merchant account or credit card companies. The only way to truly go direct would be to walk up to someone and hand it to them, and have them hand you cash. So, we still have a lot of middlemen that provide value. So you can’t eliminate all the middlemen.
But then you have gatekeepers, and the gatekeepers are the people who inject themselves in between you and the customer, and decide whether your art or your content, your stories, are good enough to be shown to the customer. And these are the people we can absolutely get rid of now, because we can go direct to them through the power of the Internet, through social media, through blogs, email marketing, all of those things. So, that’s really what the whole book’s about, giving you ideas about how any content creator can go direct to those people and make more money, and have more control, and I believe it’s the future.
Joanna: But we’re not talking about exclusivity, so, for example, exclusively selling just on your own website. We’re going, yes, sell through Amazon, sell through Kobo, and your website, for example.
Jim: Sell in as many places as you, as you want to sell.
I mean, for example, for this book, I’m doing the launch through direct, but I will eventually put it on Amazon. I already have a CreateSpace print proof of the book ready to go, that I’ll sell eventually. As an author, you need to explore every possibility. You know this. You know, every possibility where you can reach the most people who want your art, your stories, and it’s about if you go direct with that, you have a better chance of having more control, building a better relationship with the reader.
Here’s the thing about Amazon: Love Amazon, great business. Brings thousands of people into your fold, lets your book get distributed, discovered. They don’t share any of their customer information with you, do they? They don't give you one piece of information.
Once that person buys that book, it’s up to you to get someone to click on that book or read that book and come back to your website and get on your email list or follow you on social media. So, if you’re doing that directly: if you’re getting someone in and you’re getting them on your email list, maybe you’re giving away a free chapter of your book, or you give them an audio book for free or whatever, you get them on your email list, and now you have this opportunity to create this true fan, and that’s what it’s all about.
One of the issues people have about this is if we sell direct, say, from our website, aren’t we cannibalizing the sales from Amazon?
We might lose ranking, even if we make more money.
Jim: That’s a tough question, and I think people get a little bit caught up on the whole ranking thing. For years, I worked in the search engine marketing business, and everyone got — is still — all caught up on how well their site ranks.
I would suggest that you are in a better position with your career focusing on building a small group of true fans, as opposed to worrying about ranking and vanity and how everything looks on Amazon.
I discuss in the book about building a true fan base, who those true fans are, and how you can leverage those people to build an entire career, off of referrals, off of donations, off of having them support you. So put it on Amazon as well, just so you can get the ranking, and just so you can get it up there and get the opportunity for discoverability, but I think that selling direct — and I’m proving that — you actually make more money.
Joanna: You’re right, it’s like, OK, if an author wants to make $5,000 a month, for example, why does it matter where it comes from, and, and is the ranking just as much an ego thing as having your book in a physical bookstore?
Jim: I mean, the whole traditionally published versus self-publishing, I hate to keep coming back to it, but, there is a whole romanticism around traditional publishing, that is fading, but that still exists. I had it, when I had my first book done with a publisher, I had this romantic thing where I’d walk into a Barnes & Noble and my books would be laid out in front, and I thought, “Wow, this is really cool.” But I quickly realized that that’s not what this is all about. That was nice to see, but it didn’t mean I sold a lot of books.
So, I think you’re right, it’s the traditional versus self-publishing thing, and the romantic thing about having your books out there, but at the end of the day, this is about business. If you’re writing a book just because you want to write a book and it makes you feel better about yourself, that’s fine, but at the end of the day, I think most of us are in this to make sales of our books, and build fans.
If you write non-fiction, I write these books because I want to help people. I really do. I mean, I really want to help people find success. I’m a teacher at heart. And fiction authors, I believe, write their books because they want people to hear their wonderful stories that they have, and it feels good when you get up on stage, or you give somebody a book or a story and they applaud or they cry and they laugh and that makes you feel good, don’t you think?
Joanna: I guess, and also, we can’t help it half the time. I mean, I don't know about you, but I’ve got a list on my wall of nine books that I want to write. The ideas do not stop, it’s just the time to actually do it.
But I want to bring up one other thing: I hate to mention the Hachette-Amazon discussion, but that’s the reason I emailed you and said, “I want to talk about this” and you said, “Oh, I’m actually writing a book about it,” because when I heard about the Amazon-Hachette thing, what’s happening with contractuals, my thought was, “This is about power.”
Now, if Hachette had the email list, they wouldn't need Amazon: they could just say, “Well, screw you, we’ll take all our books, sell them direct”, but they can’t, because Amazon have the power. And I thought, “Oh dear: I don’t want to end up in that situation in ten years’ time.” I don't want to wake up one day and go, “I can’t make any money if they turn me off.” So, for me, this is about power.
We have to be able to make a living, even if Amazon crumbles, Kobo crumbles, iBooks crumbles: this is the only way, right?
Jim: This is the way to do it. And you need to understand exactly what you just said.
Building a business model off of someone else's platform eventually is going to be a recipe for disaster, and that’s exactly what happened to the Hachette people. Going through that publisher and having to play by that publisher’s argument with Amazon is costing them a lot of money.
For example, I talk in the book about a woman who started a great Facebook group called “What to read after 50 Shades of Grey” and she got up to say 80,000 likes on the page, and it was great, and she would post books every single day, and the problem was, Facebook changed the algorithm, so instead of everyone seeing her posts, one percent of 80,000 people would see the posts. And, your business goes from here to here with one change on someone else’s platform. So what she’s doing now? She’s aggressively driving people into an email list through the Facebook page, and sending them emails directly: no middleman, no gatekeeper in the middle–so now the business is slowly growing.
And the value of having that: Louis CK is another example we talk about in the book. Louis CK has tons of Facebook fans, Twitter followers and an email list. And he wanted to do a comedy special, he didn’t want to do it through the normal channels with an agent and publicist and all that stuff, he said, “I’m going to try something,” and he went direct to his fans and he put a PayPal link up, and he said, “I’m going to do a comedy special, and it’s five bucks, and you can have access to it.” And he did something like $70,000 in 48 hours. Then he did it again, and he did over $4.5 million through direct, without all these middlemen and gatekeepers in the middle, and ticket brokers and all of these people.
So it’s definitely a model that anyone can do, and it makes a lot of sense. Wouldn’t you like to have that relationship with your fans, the people that like what you do?
Joanna: I mean, let’s put this in perspective, though: how long has Louis CK been a comedian?
Jim: For 25 years.
Joanna: So this is another thing that’s really important. People listening are going, “Well, I have, you know, I have nobody, I have no email list”: this just takes time.
This takes years to build: we’re not talking about doing this tomorrow. Well, we are starting tomorrow, but it takes time.
Jim: You’re talking about the building a platform piece of it. Building a platform, getting those true fans. And the first step to that is creating something remarkable, whether it’s comedy, art, music, books, whatever: you have to create really amazing stuff, otherwise no one’s going to become a true fan of yours. But it’s easier than ever nowadays, because you have the power of social media and the Internet, to be able to get your content out to people.
This is something else we talk about in the book: Amanda Palmer who did the Kickstarter campaign for the music, the point that she talks about in her TED talk is, what if we asked, what if we gave people the opportunity to let them support us? What if we changed the model, instead of “Hey, here’s something we can sell you”, “Here’s our content: here’s our music, here’s our books. Did you like it? Oh, you did? OK, well let’s virtually kind of pass the hat around.” So I guess, how can you let people pay for your books? How can you let people pay for your music? And I think this is the new model that we’re going through now and experimenting with, and it makes a lot of sense. And then you build those true fans as you give away your content. And they’re like, “Wow, that was helpful.”
You know, I’ve given away 60,000 copies of my books in the last three to four years: given away. And those people email me and call me and offer me to speak and do consulting jobs, and things like that, and join my membership sites and all that stuff: all from me giving my content away.
Joanna: What is ironic, of course, is that Amanda Palmer then signed a book deal with Hachette! So crazily, her book, which is about the power of the ask or something like that, has been unavailable for pre-order because of this whole thing: and that’s crazy. Why didn’t she just ask her fans?
Jim: I think what happens is, again, you get popular, and somebody comes in the door, and they got that big wallet, and they go, you know you would do it if somebody came in the door. Like Hilary Clinton, she just had a book that was released through Simon & Schuster, I believe, and she got $14 million, not advance: a bonus. So she didn’t have to earn out on it. Which means just $14 million free and clear, I believe, if I read the article correctly. And they’ve only sold 160,000 books.
Joanna: I’ve heard they’re making a massive loss on that.
Jim: I will take that deal right now!
Joanna: You’re right. And of course we’re not saying “Don’t take these deals,” we’re just saying, “At the same time as taking these deals, make sure you’ve got an email list sign-up, even if someone pays you that money.”
Jim: Here’s another example: J.K. Rowling. J.K. Rowling never gave up the e-book rights to her Harry Potter books. They were never sold before. And she had so much power at the end of her contract, she said, “You know what? I’m not going to sell them through you, the publisher, anymore.” She created a website called Pottermore.com and she said, “If you want my e-books,” — which all of her millions of true fans did — “You have to come to my website and register.” And that’s how she’s going to turn 300 million into 600 million, because of having the power of those people, and she can now go direct: she doesn’t have to go through Amazon or a publisher or anything.
Joanna: No, it’s impressive. And, of course, we’re talking big names here, but I am not a multi-millionnaire, I’m not even a millionaire, and I am doing this on a very small scale, as are you, obviously, you’re doing well, Jim! We’re doing this on a small scale. So, let’s get into practicalities.
If people want to sell a book from their website, what services are available that you would recommend?
Jim: In the book I talk about a bunch of different things you can do to publish content, whether it’s your book or music or art, or whatever it is. In terms of book sales, I’m doing my pre-order, which is now after you tape, live now, through a website called Gumroad, which is a middleman: they process a transaction and deliver the digital file to the person. And I’m doing it through them, and they take 5% of whatever somebody pays.
Another one that you and I both love is called Selz, so that’s another great one, and there are plenty of other ways to go out there and put your book out there. On the artist side, you’ve got Bandcamp, where you can put your music up, and if people like it, they’re about to give you support for it. So there’s a lot of options out there.
I would ask people who are rejecting this concept of giving your music away, or your books, or whatever, “If you’re not having success now, you’re not making any sales now, why not? Why not try it?
Why not put your book out there in a format using one of these tools and see what happens?”
Joanna: The other thing I thought interesting, there was an article in Forbes recently, how your next door neighbor is changing commerce, and it was about the rise of the indie movement. And this kind of preference, there is eventually in this indie way a preference for buying indie.
So some people don’t want to buy from Amazon or from iBooks or whatever, they want to buy from the artist.
How long do you think it’s going to take before that attitude becomes mainstream in books?
Jim: I think it’s happening already. I don’t care if you’re an author or a chef, if somebody’s a fan of your work, whether you create chicken recipes or whatever kind of cuisine you create, if someone’s a fan, they want access to you. They want authenticity from you. They want you to say, “Here are the types of pots and pans I use,” or, “Here’s what I use to write my books.” They want everything, and that’s where we are at in the world right now. They don't want that middleman or gatekeeper in the middle.
Amanda Palmer talks about this: celebrity isn’t what it used to be. Celebrity used to be where you had these famous people and then you’d have this big, giant wall between you and the famous people, and you were on the other side of the wall, you fans, and there were these people in the middle that kind of controlled the whole thing. It doesn’t exist like that anymore.
Even if you’re only famous to 1,000 people or 100 people, those people want you, and they want everything from you in terms of your thoughts, your fears, what you’re doing, what you ate for breakfast, and unfortunately, for a lot of people, they don’t like it, because they like the old way: “Oh, I just want to be famous.” But that’s not the new way of doing things. That’s not what people expect now.
People expect to have access to you, they expect to be part of your life, and hear what you’re doing. So I would argue to authors, let them in. Let people in. Use the tools that we have today: social media tools, and videos, and everything you can, to let those people into your lives, and watch as they become true fans, and then watch as your career grows, your sales grow. Because what does a true fan do? They tell everyone. They say, “Oh, my gosh, this is the best book I ever read,” when you have a true fan.
Joanna: It’s also important to remember that we’re not aiming for everyone. A lot of people won’t like you, a lot of people don’t like me, they’re not listening!
Jim: Right, they’re not your fans. They wouldn’t have gotten this far.
Joanna: Exactly, and that’s great, and that’s what people need to remember. You know, too many people are like, “Oh, I think everyone should read my book.”
Joanna: No, exactly, and not everyone will be a true fan, so that’s really important. I also wanted to ask you, because one thing you’re doing, and people are asking me about, people are like, “Where’s the audio book of my book, ‘How to Market a Book’?” They’re like, “I want to hear you talk about it,” and I’m like, “Oh, well, you know, I’m not sure.”
You’re recording this yourself, aren’t you, and selling the audio book as well, directly, not through Audible?
Jim: Yes, this is a really cool thing you can do direct, and one of the things that I’m doing, when you order my book direct through me, you’ll get the pdf version, and you’ll also get the MP3 file, which I’ve just recorded on my own, through Audacity: I’ve got the stand-up desk here, I turn the thing on, and I just opened the book, you know, and read the book.
People get so caught up in this, it has to be the most amazing, perfect production of things. People, your fans, don’t want that.
Your fans want you to be halfway into a sentence and you mess up a word, and you just laugh, and you say, “Sorry, that was the wrong word,” and you keep going. They don't want this post-production beautiful world that’s kind of an advertisement that used to exist. YouTube’s the best example of this. YouTube changed everything. You know, before YouTube, you’d have a video production, people wanted to see these beautiful, highly produced videos, and now what they want is someone to stick a camera in their face and just talk. It’s expectations. I believe that the audio’s real simple to do: you just read it yourself, and sell it direct.
Joanna: Also I really like the idea, because one of the things you have to do, I have my fiction professionally done with ACX and Audible, but for my non-fiction, I want to read a chapter and then I want to talk a bit about what I just read, and say, “Well, and here’s a bit of an extra,” make it more of an extra content than just the basic read.
Jim: I’ve done this once before for one of my other books. What’s cool is I can do a little private intro with some music I had at the time, and then read the book, and it’s in my own voice. Now, I write like I talk: my non-fiction is, I write like I talk, so it’s very easy for me to read my books. And you’re exactly right: adding that little personal thing to that, and, and selling direct by adding files on: you could say, “Hey, I’m going to give you this bonus and this and this,” and the whole time, you’re building your email list.
Joanna: Exactly, and that’s why Selz and Gumroad and things are important, so when people are making a decision on which one to use, make sure it’s got the email integration. And, as you said, you’ve got a whole list in your book. Just mention some of the other models, because, for example, I still have a real issue with crowdfunding. I think that you really do have to have a platform before you go anywhere near it.
Talk a bit about crowdfunding
Jim: Well, crowdfunding is, like Amanda Palmer did with the music, crowdfunding can be tough. I did a crowdfunding campaign for my “Business Around a Lifestyle” books, and I raised over $35,000 before I even wrote the books. Crowdfunding can be difficult if you don’t have a platform, and if you don't have a really good story to tell. Especially for books: I think that’s going to be a tough concept to move forward with in the future for authors.
However, the one model I do want to talk about is Pay What You Want. That’s one of the things I do at Godirectbook.com, which is you can come get the book completely free, or you can put in what you think it’s worth to you. And I suggest the price of a dollar ninety-nine or two ninety-nine, whatever it is at the moment, and people can get it free, put a zero in and download it and get the MP3 file, or they can put in what they want to pay.
Now, the psychology behind this is good. Early numbers I’ve been running, the average person who does contribute contributes the suggested amount. Right now over 50% of the people are contributing money, and the rest aren’t. That’s fine for me. But what happens is, they get on my email list: a week after they download the book for free, they get an email that says, “Hey, did you like it? You got it for free, well, guess what? If it was valuable to you, all you have to do is click this button right now, and you can donate as much as you would like to what you thought the value of the book was.” So the Pay What You Want model is strategic. Again: how can you let people support you.
We haven’t even talked about patronage yet, how do you let people support you in a way that they want to.
Joanna: Let’s talk about Patreon.
Jim: Patreon, you know, the whole concept of patrons goes back thousands and thousands of years: Michelangelo had a patron. This is how artists, musicians, Shakespeare had a patron, the Queen of England, we would not have these Shakespeare works that we have today if it wasn’t for the Queen of England. We would not have the Sistine Chapel if there wasn’t for the patron. Here’s the thing: the Pope was, Michelangelo, his patron was this very wealthy person who had two sons, and he grew up with the two sons, who later became Popes.
Joanna: The Borgias, I think.
Jim: Yes, and how do you think that he got the contract to do that ceiling? Because he grew up with them — so patrons are a very important part of the artist, storytelling community, and we’ve gotten away from it; we’ve gotten into this transaction-based hard sticker-priced world, with commerce. In the past, you had to have a patron if you wanted to be an artist.
So now you have sites like Patreon.com, which Jack Conte started from the band Pomplamousse, and basically you can go out and say, “Hey, I’m going to create comic books every month,” or “I’m going to create a new e-book every month,” or, “I’m going to create a new music track every month,” and people can say, “I’d love to be your patron of that. I will give you a dollar every time you release something new.”
Now, when you think about it, though, if you have a thousand people giving you five dollars every time you release a new video or a new e-book, you’re making a lot of money. So I guess the whole entire concept of patronage is letting people support you: true fans. These people want to support you, so let them be your patrons, and use it in a crowdsourcing type of way. It doesn’t have to be one wealthy patron who gave you a stipend to do your art for the next 30 years: you can have a thousand people, fifty people, each giving you a little bit of money, that can help support you. And I believe that every artist and content creator should be trying this, because it’s an amazingly powerful movement.
Joanna: It’s funny, I’ve been thinking about that for the podcast, because I’m coming to the end of a sponsorship, and the podcast takes a lot of work, as you know, it’s hours of time and, I’ve been wondering about doing that, just saying, “If you’ve enjoyed the show, if you feel like you get value out of it, leave a…”- but do we call that a donation, then? You know, that is a kind of donation.
Jim: Let’s talk about the semantics of the wording. A donation is typically what you would give in expectation for nothing back.
Joanna: You’re right. Yes.
Jim: You give a donation to a charity, you’re donating your time, your money. In crowdfunding terms, in terms of going direct and pay what you want, you’re suggesting that people support you.
You need to use words like ‘support.’ Don’t ask for handouts.
Say, “It’s my content, I’m giving it to you. If you would like to support me in the work that I do, then you can go here”. And it’s a little psychological switch in a person’s head when they hear, “You can support me,” as opposed to, “You can donate to me.”
Joanna: Yes, you’re right: support the podcast continuing.
Jim: Now, see, it’s so funny that you’re saying that, because I do a podcast as well, and this is one of the concepts, we’re not making money off the podcast, we do it because we love it. But it would be great to have a sponsor, and it would be great to be able to deliver that podcast week after week after week in the same format as you. I think if you did that, if you used a site like Patreon or you just did it some other way, and you have so many fans who love those little podcasts: would 2,000 people give you one dollar every time you podcast.
Joanna: And that’s the thing, because I’ve now got transcripts and the time there, there is an amount I would want to make just to cover costs, let alone anything else, and I have been thinking about this. But let’s talk about the psychology: I’m very British, and even though I want to talk about money, it is a very difficult thing for many people to even be thinking about these things. We talked about just the ask, and that’s what Amanda Palmer’s book is, is about: how can we change this reticence, how can we feel better about this?
Jim: How can we as authors, or the readers?
Joanna: The authors. How can we feel better—OK, me specifically:
How can I feel better about saying, “How about you support my podcast”?
Jim: This is a tough thing, because we’ve been told and taught that it’s like begging.
Joanna: I don’t want to do that, yes.
Jim: But you have to change your mindset, there’s these things we’ve been talking about, like what Amanda Palmer says in her video, how can I let people support me? I fall off the stage and people catch me: isn’t that what this is really all about?
This is about someone consuming what I have and letting those people be part — I mean, you have to change your mindset. The customer has to change their mindset from thinking about a hard sticker price and the content creator, the author or musician, needs to change their mindset from, “I am trying to sell something to somebody,” instead, “I’m trying to give my content to you in a way that you will enjoy it.” And that’s originally what musicians and content creators and script writers and everything did back in the day, before everything was money, money, money. Shakespeare wasn’t writing it, Mozart did it for money, that’s pretty well documented, but a lot of the people just did it because they loved to do it, and then they earned the support. Let’s get back to that, and I think it’s just a mindset change.
I’ll ask you this: and I’m not saying this to you, Joanna, I’m saying this to the people who aren’t having success right now with their books: if you’re not having success right now, maybe the change you need is to adopt this mindset, and go out to people directly and say, “You know what? Here’s my content. Here are my stories. What did you think? And if you enjoyed it, you can contribute to me. Not give me money: you can support me.”
Joanna: It’s interesting because I just wrote down, when I thought “Why am I having problems?”
The problem I have is being independent, and that’s so crazy, because that’s what we’re talking about. I’ve never liked asking for money, even my Mum, I would never even ask my Mum for money, I had a job at 13, and earned the money that I needed for stuff, and I’ve always felt that way. But what you’re saying actually is, to be independent, we need to develop that kind of trust, and like you say, Amanda jumping off the stage: that crowdsurfing thing absolutely terrifies me. Maybe it’s an introvert thing. But you’re right, it’s will anyone catch me, and this is like an emotional risk, isn’t it, it’s like…
“What if I put myself out there and nobody does catch me, and I hit the floor?”
Jim: What if you spent the next three years busting your butt going the traditional self-publishing way, do all the things everyone told you, and it got you nowhere? I think it’s going to depend on who your true fans are, and if you’ve really connected with them or not. This will not work for people who create content that’s not amazing. You and I both agree with that. If you’re not writing amazing things, then it’s not going to work for you, because no one’s a fan of junk.
Jim: People are fans of things that really entertain them or solve their problems.
So, if you’re not creating something amazing, this will never work for anyone. Which is why it’s a level playing field: only the people who really are producing something that people want are going to be the ones who are going to be able to do this.
Joanna: Yes, and also a personal relationship in some way, so, for example, our friends on the Self-Publishing Podcast, I jumped in on their Kickstarter and helped fund that, even though I haven’t even looked at what they’ve been doing because I’ve been so busy, but I wanted to be involved, and sometimes it’s about joining a movement or something, I guess.
Jim: Well, it is all part of it. I mean, human nature is all about wanting to be part of communities, be part of the whole celebrity relationship that we were talking about before: what has everybody always wanted? They wanted to be part of those people’s lives. That’s why social media and celebrities is so amazing, because they can see what Brad Pitt had for breakfast, and he posts a picture of a bagel, and that means a lot to people. If you’re an author, why aren’t you doing those types of things? Why aren’t you saying, “I'm writing Chapter Two of the next book of, of this series, and here I am in Amsterdam, here’s where I’m sitting on a bench writing it.” You know, that’s just interesting, letting people be part of your life. And unfortunately, that’s what I believe it’s going to take in the future, to go direct and to build fans. But the people that do it are going to see the rewards, big time.
Joanna: I think we do have to take some risks, and do stuff for free first, I totally agree with you.
Let’s talk about the Sell More Books show, because that’s a great example, it’s a great show: just explain to people what the format is of that show.
Jim: We do a quick news show where we cover the top five news items in the world of publishing, self-publishing, every week. And we keep the show less than 40 minutes every week. You know, sometimes like podcasts go longer, they’re tough to keep your attention span, and we just wanted to do something in a format that was more kind of NPRish where we got in and just said, “Hey, here’s the news, here are the tools that we’ve found this week, here are the strategies we found: enjoy this quick ding-dang-boom and get out.” And so far, we’re on Episode 15 at the time of this taping, and we’re really enjoying doing it. Bryan’s a great partner.
Joanna: I think what I like is I get an idea pretty much every show, and I think I’m on top of marketing! So it’s great, and one of the questions people who are listening probably have is how do I build that fan base, and I’m suggesting they listen to the show, because there are ideas there every week, right?
Jim: Every week, and you know what, again, this is expanding my fan base and Bryan’s fan base, because all we’re doing is creating content that people really enjoy. It’s in a podcast form. There’s no reason. I love talking about my buddy, J. Thorn, who’s a top-five Amazon horror writer, and I love talking about him because he’s doing all the things that everyone should be doing in their genre.
You know, J is one of the top horror writers on Amazon, behind Koontz and King. You know what else he’s doing? He created the Horror Writers’ Podcast. And so now he’s leveraging his authority as a horror writer inside the horror writer community. So why couldn’t you do that? If you write about architecture or furniture or artwork or whatever, why can’t you go out and just create a podcast and build your authority and become better-known in your circles.
It’s going to open doors for you to other people who are influencers in your industry, it’s going to get you new readers, it’s going to get you new listeners. So, the power of what we have today with the Internet and how cheap it is to do it, there really is no excuse other than you saying, “I just don’t have the time,” or “I don't want to figure it out.” You don’t get fans by just sitting back and doing nothing.
Joanna: No, exactly. And the people who are super-famous, I’ve just come back from Thriller Fest, and these guys, most of these people who are now in their 60s, they’ve been writing for 30, 40 years, and have got to where they are because they’ve been consistent for years and years, and it’s so impressive to me and so inspiring to see where time and effort can actually get you.
I think people listening who feel like they don’t have anything right now have an email list of one or even their Mum: it just takes time and effort and consistency.
Jim: Yes, time and effort, you’ll never hear me say there’s a get rich quick overnight, because there’s not. One out of ten million people will win the lottery, or of a hundred million people; and the rest of the people are born into money or whatever it is. The rest of us got to get to work. And again, go back to that pain level: how bad do you want it?
How bad do you want to be successful with the books that you’ve got out there?
Well, guess what? Start writing more books; start writing better books; start spending more time learning about marketing of your books. Everything that you and I, the people that we interact with, Joanna, who are the people who we see are successful, have done and continue to do so. They’re not sitting back and just expecting it all just to happen: they’re all out there trying new things all the time. Like the pay what you want model and going direct.
Joanna: Exactly. This has been brilliant, Jim. Tell people where they can find you and the book and all your other stuff.
Jim: You can grab a copy of the digital book and the MP3 book: just go to godirectbook.com, and you can also find it on Amazon probably at this point, you can order the print copy or the digital version there if you want, but if you go to godirectbook, you’re going to get the MP3 with it as well, and you can get it for free, by the way, or you can pay what you want. So it’s totally up to you. And of course, JimKukral.com where you can find out all of my other books.
Joanna: Fantastic, and at the SellMoreBooksShow.com.
Jim: Yes, SellMoreBooksShow.com – I’ve got too many links. AuthorMarketingClub.com, SellMoreBooksShow.com, again, I’m in the business of creating content and, and trying to give it away and help people. I love teaching people. So AuthorMarketingClub has a free membership, we have a paid one as well if you want it; SellMoreBooksShow’s a free one: maybe we’ll do a Support Us model like you’re going to try down the road. GoDirectBook’s free. This is all about helping people, and when you start thinking about creating content from that aspect, I think you’ll have a much better relationship with your fans that you’re trying to build. And same thing on the fiction side: entertaining people and letting people be part of your life, and I think going direct will help you do that.
Joanna: And I’m meant to be finishing now, but I just had a thought: Like you say, you have so many of these sites: you are a serial entrepreneur Internet guy, I know you’ve been going for, for a long time. And I talked about what if I jump off the stage and nobody’s there and I fall flat:
How many of your websites have failed, Jim? How many are a success and how many, well, what is your failure rate for going splat?
Jim: Failure rate is 95%.
I create projects that fail — I did a crowdfunding thing called Jim For Life a couple of years ago, it was a huge failure. I had a really great one, a site I did called Awesome a million years ago where you got this online certificate and it made you awesome, that I spent a lot of money on, that was a huge failure. I started a couple blog networks, ad networks. I have failed 95% more times than I have succeeded.
But, the pain level for me of having to work for someone else and not have my own success is a ten. So therefore I can deal with being a failure: I just slough it off my shoulder, I get back up and I write something new and hopefully, you know. People think that I’ve sold millions of books: I haven’t. The, genre that I write in is tiny: marketing self-help. I’ve sold a lot of books, but nowhere near to make a living career off of. I still don’t have a book that got to the top of a New York Times bestseller list, or this or that, or whatever. Because my genre’s too small. And who knows, maybe this one will. Maybe this one’s going to be the one: maybe the next one I write.
But keep trying. That’s the message.
Joanna: Yeah, and I’ve failed loads, as well. The Creative Penn was my third blog, and I’ve had a couple of others, and I’ve had four businesses that failed miserably, lost me a lot of money: I lost a lot of money, too, in various ways. I ran a scuba-diving business, for God’s sake. I mean, that’s ridiculous! So I think it’s important for people to know that we’re still on the road; we’re still trying stuff, we’re still jumping off the stage.
Jim: Still keep trying, put yourself out there.
Create remarkable content that helps people or solves their problems or entertains them, and good things will happen for you eventually.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks for your time, Jim, that was brilliant.
Jim: Thank you very much, Joanna, it’s always great speaking with you, and hopefully someday we’ll get to catch up in person.
J. Thorn says
Fantastic interview. Going direct and the patronage model are two things every independent author should be researching.
Bryan Cohen says
Great interview, Jim and Joanna! I’d really be interested to see how the Patreon model would work with your podcast or any show.
Lisa Redfern says
Another super useful article Joanna! As was Author Entrepreneur. How to Sell Books and Products Direct to Customers…resulting in a book marketing ‘to do’ list about a mile long. Your book, How to Market a Book (ordered through Amazon…just because it’s as easy as one-click) is on its way.
Writing and self publishing is such a huge undertaking NOW it feels like locating and communicating with new readers is another gigantic task…. daunting when just starting out.
What would you say is most important task right after publishing your first book(s)? Starting the next book, setting up an e-mail collection system or asking blog reviewers to read the book?
Joanna Penn says
Hi Lisa, I would say that starting the next book is critical, as only then will you know if this is what you want to spend your time on. Many people don’t write more than one book – but if you have the bug, then you can start to work out what you are offering readers, which will help you with all the marketing stuff. Setting up an email capture will only take 30 mins so do that too!
Jim F. Kukral says
“What would you say is most important task right after publishing your first book(s)? Starting the next book, setting up an e-mail collection system or asking blog reviewers to read the book?”
Yes. 🙂 And a million other things. But those are super important.
Paulina Martinez says
Great interview, so much info, loved all your questions, specially the ones about earlier failures and other insecurities one might have as an aspiring author. Thank you!
Paulina from Sweden
Jim F. Kukral says
Glad you enjoyed the interview Paulina. I enjoyed doing it!
Michael Ram says
I never thought that the line, ” Failure rate is 95%.” could be so inspiring! Or at the very least motivating. Jim’s candid honesty is what sets him out from the crowd. I love innovators, especially creative ones, so thanks for getting him on the audio interview Joanna. A great job yet again.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Michael – I have in mind to do a post on failure at some point. I have so many too!
Jim F. Kukral says
I’m a HUGE failure. 🙂 It’s how you succeed. Nobody nails it on the first try.
Interesting podcast! I’ve been considering direct sales since I discover here in Mexico not all the readers use Amazon or credit cards, also a lot of them don’t trust on buying on internet via big companies, like they feel more secure buying direct of the author or artists. So I’m thinking in ways of make it easy for them to buy my books (once I’m finish writing of course!).
I would love to know all the possible ways or services to get support for readers, kind of paypal Donate button.
I’m currently writing serialized fiction through different plattaforms as Wattpad and I think I’m doing well, even when I’m practically started like 3 months ago, so I feel like I’m building my plattaform little by little, so I’m delivering free content constantly.
Ask for support and let people help me or pay for my services has been a huge issue to me my whole life, but after watching that Amanda Palmer video you put on Twitter I slowly changed my mind. Glad to see you too!!
Joanna Penn says
Thanks for bringing a global perspective Margot – it’s true that different countries have different levels of trust around US companies, so having other options is important.
Jim F. Kukral says
Amanda’s video is amazing, I agree. I cover more about her and this strategy in the book which releases soon! Thanks for listening.
Mark E. Cooper says
I have been searching for Go Direct all over the place after listening to this episode on iTunes, and I’ve been having a nightmare. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Google was very helpful giving me ALL of Jim’s websites, but Go direct? No.
I didn’t find it until after coming to thecreativepenn.com
So, can I just say that this is by no means a criticism of Jim but I think having a book site http://godirectbook.com/ for a single book and NOT putting it in other OBVIOUS places like the author’s own website is…
A BAD MOVE!!!
Muhahahah! Seriously guys, I’m sure by the 15th August on the official release date it will be all over the web and selling well, but seriously, I’m against one book websites. I’m very much on the same page as the SPP guys with their Stirling and Stone website idea. I only run one website myself with multiple domains pointing to it. impulsebooks.co.uk for all my books, and part of that is markecooper.com pointing to the blog part of that site.
AND THAT’s IT!
Readers will find all my stuff in one easy place. I think all of us would benefit from this way of doing things. I don’t currently sell direct because I COULDN’T FIND JIM’S BOOK! That’s why I want it, guys. Once I’ve read it, I can then start selling direct. I’m already in all the channels. Selling direct from my own site is the next logical step. I NEED that FLAMING book!
Be well, and have fun. I intend to!
Mark E. Cooper
Joanna Penn says
I agree that having a site per book is more hassle than it’s worth – and Jim has a lot of sites 🙂 But I personally maintain two sites and two brands – http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2014/01/26/a-tale-of-two-author-brands/ and find it’s necessary as I have different audiences.
Mark E. Cooper says
Brands yes I understand. I don’t write non-fiction at all, but ALL of Jim’s are non-fiction I think. If I did write non-fiction, then I would probably cross promote, but have a separate website for my fiction.
Jim F. Kukral says
A case of the shoemakers kids. 🙂 I never got around to adding the link on my main site. 🙂 I need to redo my main site anyway. Thanks for the kick. The book is at godirectbook.com
Joanna, while I so can relate to your issues around self-promotion, particularly when it comes to asking people to buy your products, it’s really ironic because you have marketed (and sold) other people for years now on your podcast. Most of the books that I have purchased in my collection I’ve heard about on your (or the RSPP ) podcast. Credibility is a big factor when buying books to learn about the craft, marketing and the business aspects of indie publishing. Credibility is what you bring to the table. And that has value. As writer trying to learn the ins and outs of the authorprenuer business model, I am very appreciative of what you have done to help us in the writing world, particularly Indies. You have generously shared your knowledge, and even your mistakes which has helped many of us to avoid the same pitfalls. I am quite grateful for the quality of your podcast and your willingness to share information, and have long wondered how you do it with all of your other responsibilities and still produce books at the same time. I think it’s incumbent upon the writing community to support the people who support us. Thank you for all of the education you have provided us for free over the years. And if you add that support button to your website, I will be one of the first in line.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Gabrielle, Thanks so much for your support and kind words. I have always had no problem at all marketing other people’s books on the podcast – but for years I didn’t even mention what I was doing, until one wonderful listener said I should give an update on my own books! Now I do that, but I may well also add something for people to support the show as well.
Joanna Penn says
Just to update – I have now joined Patreon and you’d be welcome to support the podcast here: http://www.patreon.com/thecreativepenn
Thank you 🙂
Correction–sold other people’s (writers, etc.) work for years.
I just wanted to say this one of the best podcasts I’ve heard in a quite a while. Loads of practical and honest advice for independent artists. It was good to hear the advice about selling via Amazon and direct at the same time, so many people focus on Amazon exclusively because of the charts. I’d recommend listening to his podcast to anyone interested in self publishing and who wants to be independent. Plus Joanna you made me smile when talking about not wanting to ask for support and wondering if it’s an English trait. I could relate to this, I’m the same 🙂 Thanks Joanna and Jim, awesome podcast. Geoff, from Selz.com
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Geoff, and thanks for giving us Selz which has some great features 🙂
I definitely find asking for support difficult – maybe everyone does!
Jim F. Kukral says
Thanks Geoff, glad you enjoyed the podcast. I enjoyed doing it and writing the book and talking about Selz in the book 🙂
Hi Karl, I’m looking forward to receiving and reading my copy of your book.
Antara Man says
What an awesome podcast, kudos Joanna!
There were so many issues tackled and very important ones. As now I read your free ebook Author Blueprint 2.0, I feel quite soon, maybe in less than 5 years, author 3.0 will come and that’s probably the authority of author entrepreneur. For now Amazon plays fairly the game for us, Indies but it’s true that the less gatekeepers, the better. Though, taken in mind, if there are no gatekeepers the market (Amazon) will be overloaded, so the competition gets higher. As Hugh Howe said, after 10 years he wouldn’t achieve what he already did. By the way, Joanna, have you ever thought of doing Q&A on twitter, on your blog, anywhere? If you decide so, please inform me, I will support you 100 %.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Antara – I agree on the Author 3.0 – I feel that’s definitely where many of us are heading!
In terms of a Q&A, I find that kind of thing pretty difficult – BUT/ I have now sorted out my Patreon page
and have included that as something I’ll do if I hit a target goal 🙂
Stephen L. Moss says
Joanna: Great podcast! I went right out and bought a copy of Go Direct (Full Price, I might add!).
My question for Jim: I see you are using a “pay what you want” strategy for this book. I’m very interested in trying this. I notice also that the book isn’t yet available on Amazon. What I’m wondering about is, does going with a “pay what you want” on my site violate the KDP terms of service, assuming my suggested price is equal to my amazon list price? I read the KDP TOS and couldn’t answer this to my satisfaction.
Thanks both of you for all you do.
Jim F. Kukral says
I just put the book up as a pre-order on Amazon “just because”. I’m still selling it direct. You can sell your book anywhere else when on Amazon as well. It’s KDP Select where you give 90 days exclusive and can only sell there. However, regular KDP does give Amazon the right to price match. So if they find your book for sale or free at a lower price, they have the right to match that price without asking you. You may have heard of this called going “permafree”.
Stephen L. Moss says
Jim, Thanks for your response. I’m not in Select. As far as Amazon price matching, that’s what I’m wondering about. If I have a product on my site with a suggested price that’s equal to my Amazon price, but I’m doing pay what you want and I’ll accept zero payment, I’m wondering if Amazon will interpret this as a perma-free type of situation.
Worst case, I suppose, is that I’d go permafree on Amazon, but could still try to attract fans to my site and ask for their support in other ways.
Jim F. Kukral says
Not exactly sure how Amazon does it. I’m assuming a person at Amazon checks the page and if they see a price, they decide to price match. Or it could be done with a robot. No way to tell. Also, no way to tell how they will interpret pay what you want.
Thank you Joanna and Jim, I enjoyed this podcast immensely. Both of you are an amazing source of information for the entrepreneur indi author. I have dreamed of being a writer for years, and am now writing my first novel, which is so exciting but also daunting for a newbie. I love the business model you suggest, as I have never been comfortable with traditional methods in various businesses I have created or been involved in. I am definitely a fan of you both! You make me feel like I have a “tribe” of my own as I continue writing and mapping out how I am going to market and publish my book. Its a new adventure!
Thank you again, you are both such an inspiration and your experiences are invaluable!!
Jim F. Kukral says
The first step is getting the book finished. So congrats on starting. Now on to the finish line!