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Sometimes one little tip can help you tweak your book pages or your author business to become more successful. I've learned some cool things from Nick Stephenson recently and in today's show, we go through a whole load of things you might find useful. [But remember, the most important thing is still … write more great books!]
In the intro I mention my lessons learned on my 40th birthday, how excited I am about Oculus Rift and the rise of VR, Apple CarPlay and Google Auto for audiobooks and the power of Inbox Pause.
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.
Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you for your support!
Nick Stephenson is a bestselling thriller author with the Leopold Blake series. He's also the author of Supercharge Your Kindle Sales and creator of the fantastic Your First 10,000 Readers free video series and course.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube here or read the notes and links below.
- How Nick got into writing novels via a law degree, how he moved into marketing and online business and then decided to help authors apply marketing skills to the book business. We talk about longevity and writing until the day we die!
- Tips on sorting out your Kindle categories and keywords. We're aiming for advanced tips here! How to get into browse categories, using keyword phrases instead of keywords, look at books that are similar to yours to discover new sub-categories, the importance of the right categories for getting good reviews, using an Author Q&A in your book description to add value for the customer as well as add additional keyword juice. I also mention a Kboards thread on keyword stuffing that we mention but don't personally recommend.
Email list building and management. How email marketing has been around internet marketing for many years, but it's still a relatively new concept for authors who just aren't used to direct contact with readers. The importance of owning the relationship so you aren't reliant on another company for sales long term. Build your own BookBub! On transforming marketing from spammy to building real relationships.
- On traffic and conversion. We discuss the changes that Nick helped me make to my fiction email list. This included changing the offer to something of higher value, using a more obvious visual for signup rather than just text. Capturing reader interest as opposed to directing everything to the book sales pages. On personality types and cultural differences in feeling happy with sales. Hope marketing vs being in control. Here's the rollercoaster of being a writer post I mention.
- Facebook pay-per-click advertising. Paying for traffic can be a good idea if you want to spike readership. Facebook advertising has become incredibly well targeted over the last few years. You have to test your adverts so you don't waste money – be careful! We also discuss Amazon's new pay-per-click advertising that is available for KDP Select authors. As of today, people haven't had great results but we postulate that it will be improved over time, as Facebook's has been.
You can get Nick's (fantastic) free video training at YourFirst10KReaders.com.
Transcript of the interview
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. Today, I'm here with Nick Stephenson. Hello, Nick.
Nick: Happy birthday!
Joanna: Thank you so much. We won't go into that.
Joanna: So just a little introduction to Nick. Nick is a bestselling thriller author with the Leopold Blake series. He's also the author of Supercharge your Kindle Sales, which is a super book, and creator of the fantastic Your First 10,000 Readers free video series and course. We're going to talk lots of interesting stuff today.
But first off, Nick, just give us a bit more about your background and how you got into writing and marketing?
Nick: Sure. I think I've done pretty much everything you can think of, sell them. Let's get forward a few years. I went to university and I started off doing English Literature as a degree. I realized quite quickly that it doesn't really translate into any sort of employment opportunities and switched my course over to a law degree and followed that through for quite a while like the equivalent of $100,000 later. Four, five years of education behind me. Go and get myself a lawyer job and realized I just couldn't do it. It wasn't something that I wanted to do.
So I'm sat there in the office. I'm thinking, “I've got fingers crossed 40 odd years of full-time career ahead of me. Do I really want to be doing this day in and day out for the next 40 years?” I realized quite quickly that I didn't want to do that. So I started looking at other avenues and marketing was actually, something that interested me. So I sort of transitioned into a marketing role, and then I think realized that I could actually take a lot of these concepts and apply it to my own business and set up a few failed businesses that didn't work very well that made a little bit of money, so it was encouraging.
Finally, Kindle came along in 2010. I first became aware of it 2011. I thought this is a perfect mix of business for me, because when I get to write and I get to be creative, which is something I'd always really enjoyed doing when I got the chance. But it was a way you get to do a creative writing module as part of your degree in high school or something like that. It was never something that really jumped out as a career possibility until Kindle came along and opened up those avenues for people. I thought, worst case scenario, I have a great time writing something that I've always wanted to write. If it makes some money, great. If not, who cares because I get to do something fun.
Applying the marketing skills I'd learned over time to the book business that I'd set up really, really helped. So two years later, I'm making a six-figure income from publishing. I finally realized that there's a lot of authors out there who struggle with the marketing side of things. They've got the writing down path. They've got the publishing sorted out, but they've not quite got the marketing figured out in their heads. So this is where You First 10,000 Readers came along. I realized I could put all of what I've learned over the last 10 years down into a system and a process in a step-by-step blueprint for people, and they can get the same results. So that's where that came along. And I suppose that condenses the last 10 years or so.
Joanna: I just have to add that given I am a bit older than you for sure. But I think both of us, we are now in a generation where there is no retirement. The longevity stuff means it's not 40 years of work. It's about another hundred years of work I reckon now. So if you don't love what you do, the thought of longevity will be really scary. Anyway, just thought I'd point that out.
Nick: It's true. Very true.
Joanna: What I love about what we do, that we don't want to retire. PD James died at 96 recently was still writing a manuscript.
Nick: I want to be like that. I want to be on my deathbed with my family around me, and someone bring me like a laptop. I've got something. “I need to write an email. I need to write the next chapter. I need to do something.”
Joanna: It won't be email then. It will be something else.
Nick: I want to be some kind of psychic tweets or something, I don't know. I want to do something because I think I've got some kind of weird ADD. I always want to be moving and growing and doing something cool. It's kind of knackering, which is why I've aged so horribly. I'm only 19.
Joanna: You do look pretty young, to be frank, considering how many children you have.
Nick: It's flattering light. That's the trick to everything.
Joanna: Anyway, let's get on with the show. So Super Charge Your Kindle Sales, which is how I heard of you. Of course you're a British too, and it's a nice super title that was very attractive. We're going to come back to the British versus American thing in a bit. But it focus on the keyword optimization for Amazon. Now today, we are assuming that people have done some kind of optimization on their books. I hope my listeners are not just typing in romance or thriller into their keyword phrase.
But perhaps you could just give a very brief overview of what is the keyword thing, and then give us a bit more of an advanced keyword thing and your tips for using that in your book
Nick: I'll try to sum it up as quickly as possible. Basically, Amazon, iTunes, Nook, Kobo, all of these online bookstores, they're not like bookstores in the traditional sense. So authors for hundreds of years have approached publishing in the same way. You write the manuscript. You submit it to a publisher or an agent, and they deal with the sales, and they go direct to bookshops and the bookshops stock it in certain areas depending on who's paid for what and various other factors. But now, we're selling online, and online is completely different.
So Amazon, the Kindle store, is not a bookstore. It's a search engine.
We have to approach selling books in exactly the same way as we would if we were trying to rank our web pages at the top of Google. So that means that we have to become comfortable with search engine optimization, SEO. It is a very dry term which basically just means that you have to be really specific about your audience and what they're looking for. So as you alluded to, if you're thinking about keywords and titles and product descriptions, you want to be focusing very specifically on your genre and your audience. If you've written a historical romance, don't list your book under romance because there's something like 120,000 other books listed under romance per hour. You need to really, really narrow that down as much as possible.
Amazon makes that very easy for you. You can use different categories, different keywords. You can play with your titles, your product descriptions. There's no end to the amount of optimization that you can do. But really, summing it up is be as narrow and specific as you possibly can because you can't compete with 120,000 other authors unless you're already a big name. It's just not going to happen. But you can compete with 1,000 other books and you'll get a lot more sales and a lot more visibility because you're not in such a crowded pool. That's essentially all we're talking about. It's just narrowing down that audience and making sure people know that your book is for them when they come across it.
Then let's just talk about keyword phrase as opposed to keyword, because that's confusing.
Nick: So when you set up a book on Amazon and the other stores, we'll focus on Amazon, you get to type seven keyword phrases into your dashboard, and it's keyword phrase. So a keyword phrase might be two, three, four words, and that would count as one keyword phrase, and you get seven of those. So instead of using like romance, thriller, mystery, you might think about writing like, Historical Romance Series as one keyword phrase.
Joanna: Or 18th Century Historical Romance Series.
Nick: Exactly. There are ways that you can really narrow this down and find out what these keywords are. I've got a bunch of material and videos that can show you exactly how to do this. We'll talk about that a bit later on if you like. But it's not as hard as it sounds. It's a very simple tweak that you can make. It takes five minutes to do. It takes a bit longer to research, but it's something that you can start seeing results with straight away if you do it properly. So it's a great, great thing to do.
Joanna: That's one thing for people to think about. Of course, if you start typing into the Amazon search bar, things will drop down. That's the kind of manual way to do it. I too really like doing that. It's really fun. But the other thing is browse categories, and I just recently redid mine. Again, you always remind me, and then I go back and do mine. I discovered Conspiracy Thriller is a keyword category. Of course, it's stuff full of big names like Dan Brown sits in Conspiracy Thriller. But conspiracy thriller is a category you can't choose as a category. You have to put it in your keyword as is Women's Adventure, for example, and Men's Adventure, actually. So just explain browse categories.
Nick: There's two tips. The categories on Amazon that you can choose during publication, these are the standard BISAC categories really. But there are several others that Amazon includes to make browsing easier for readers. Men's Adventure is a category on Amazon, but it's not one that you can pick during the publication process, I think. I might be wrong.
Joanna: No, you're right.
Nick: But what you can do is there's two ways that you can get added to that subcategory. You can either use the right keyword, Men’s Adventure and get added to it using the algorithms and they will automatically do it for you, or you can just email KDP directly and say, “Would you mind adding me to this category, please?” I've used both, so you can do it either way. So you can use seven keywords that don't mention a specific category at all, and then you can email KDP and say, “Would you mind adding me to such and such category?” You're getting the best of both worlds because you've got these keywords that they're helping you show up in these searches that people are doing, but you're also showing up in the categories as well. If you can get onto the front page of the categories, the top 20, then that's a good boost of visibility that you get on top of keywords as well, so it's a great tip.
Joanna: And good to do before paying for any kind of promotion, because it will … and with the keywords. I'm now thinking about 13 different categories with keywords. It's stunning when you spend some good time. The other tip I have on that is spend some time really looking at the books that are like yours, because so many times you don't even know what categories there are out there. If you have a look at other people's books, that might help people.
Nick: Like I actually got accidentally added to a literary fiction category one time. I have no idea how this happened. It was like the day before I had a BookBub advertisement. Hundreds of thousands of pages hit from these free promotions that I was doing, and I was somehow listed in a literary fiction category. My books are not literary fiction at all. They're fun, adventure, romps that don't take themselves too seriously. They are a bit light-hearted and a little bit ridiculous, because that's what I like to write, and what I like to read. But if you're looking for a literary fiction or a gritty realistic sort of police procedural, you're not going to like my books.
So I have no idea how my books ended up in literary. It was in literary, and then it was in mysteries, so it was like that sort of cuckoo's calling kind of thing. It got slammed with so many bad reviews because it was in the wrong category, but on the face of it, it looks like it should be in the right category because it was mysteries. But it was the wrong kind of mystery. That's one other benefit of being in the right category is you're giving readers what they are expecting. They're going to have better experience and you're going to sell more books.
Joanna: One other thing I picked up from your course which is fantastic…
Nick: Thank you.
Joanna: Doing a Q&A with author on the book description. Just talk a bit about that, because that's a super-tip.
Nick: I'm by no means the first author to do this. I think having this sort of having an interview with the author, Q&A with the author, in the product description is a great way to tell readers what the book's about a little bit of the story about why you wrote it. What's unique about this book, without coming across too salesy [SP]. Having this sort of conversation with yourself that's aimed at readers. One of the other reasons you that can use is that you can use it to get more keywords into your product description. On Amazon you've got like very small amounts of space where you can fit the back blurb in, but then you've got all the space underneath where you can add more text.
On Amazon.com, a reader has to click the show me more button to see it, but all those words in there are being indexed by the search engine technology. It's a great opportunity to put some more keywords in there to get more relevance. If you've written 18th century historical romance, you can mention those words in that product description below the fold, so it's not interfering with your perfectly crafted sort of two-paragraph blurb, which from personal experience I know can often take longer than the bloody book to actually get right. I do like an interview with myself underneath, and I can put these keywords in there without it sounding like I'm stuffing them in and trying to just get as many keywords in as possible. You're putting them in a more kind of natural way, and that's a great way of introducing more search engine optimization to book pages as well.
Joanna: It is a super tip, and one I have yet to implement, but I'm going to, very soon. It's like, “Must do that.” I just have a question on that. I know Amazon doesn't like people using other author's names, but can you. . .in that interview with author one common question is, “What are your favorite books?” Do you think that's too dangerous to put into that field?
Nick: Amazon very specifically says you can't use another author's name in your keywords or in your title or in any way to make people think that you're associated with that author in some way, but as far as I understand the rules, don't quote me on it. I'm not an Amazon lawyer. But as far as I understand the rules, in the product description, you can say something like, “If you are a fan of James Patterson, you will love this book because …” Something like that.
Joanne: Or I could tweak you don't have a question, which is … one of the books you love to read, to me is the author, and I can list out some of the books that might resonate.
Nick: Exactly. The overall point behind all of this is you've got to give the reader genuine information about the book. That's the whole point, is give them enough information to make a buying decision without being misleading. If your book is like James Patterson's or whoever, then by all means put it in, but don't just copy and paste James Patterson like 50 times at the bottom just to try and rank for that search tab, because that's the sort of thing that will get you into trouble. Just use your common sense. If it feels right, chances are it is. But if you're not sure, you can always check with the KDP people.
Joanna: I read something on KBoards. I don't know if you saw this in the last … they talked about it on the Sell More Books show, about stuffing lots of words, and it's back to the keyword field about stuffing loads of words like literally eight or nine words into one field, because it actually doesn't seem to be any limit. If you don't put a comma between things, it counts as one. I read that and I felt, “I don't know.” What do you think about that?
Nick: I haven't tried it, because I don't think that's what Amazon wants you to do. It might work for a little while, and then stop working. If you're basing your entire business on a loophole that you found, that could close any time, and then what are you going to do? I would much rather focus on sticking to the rules as they stand and making the best opportunity of that. If you happen to find a loophole, by all means exploit it if it's something that's genuine and it's not misleading anybody, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend doing that unless someone at KDP has said, “Yeah, that's fine.”
Joanna: I agree. I think in general, all these SEO stuff is … look at where Google was two years ago. Then every change they make makes it more and more natural to rank as in the good sites that have good information and don't try and do any games actually are the ones that win on Google.
Nick: It's good for customers. If you look at the … was it Penguin? I think they called it the Penguin Update.
Joanna: Penguin, panda, hummingbird.
Nick: Penguin, panda or whatever it was, some kind of weird animal. If you look at the internet marketing forums, they get so annoyed about this and, “They've ruined my life,” but actually you weren't offering any value to start with. That's what this is all about.
Search Engine Optimization is like the basics that you can do. It's not something that's going to change your career overnight.
It can do. It certainly can do, but it's not normal for this to happen. What you should think about SEO is it's something about how to find the right audience, research it, set it up and move on. Do not let it bother you. Don't spend months tweaking keywords. Write more books. Build your audience. That's the important thing. SEO is just one step on the way towards doing it. Don't let it hold you up because it's not really that fun. We want to do marketing that's fun because it makes us feel good and if we're going to be doing this a lot, we want to be enjoying our work. Don't get too hung up on it. It's important, but don't let it hold you back from getting where you need to be.
Joanna: This is the first time I've done mine in ages, like six, eight months or something. So I think going in every six months, having a look, finding out what's changed, giving it another go is probably all right, but I don't monitor.
Nick: It's just something to be aware of. If you've got that mindset that you're selling something on a search engine, if you approach your business like that, you get that mindset. It will all flow naturally. You don't have to worry about whether you should use a comma here or a hyphen here, whether that's going to make any difference. You just pick the right audience for you, keep an eye on it, but don't get too hung up on it. It's much more important to write more books, and much more important to build your audience. That's the main thing. Build that audience up, and then you've got the direct line of communication to people.
Joanna: The build your audience thing and I was just saying to you before we started recording. I can't believe we're still talking about email lists and how funny it is. I started The Creative Penn in 2008 which was not early. It was early for self-publishing. I started on day one, and what's so funny is people are now talking about email list as if this is something brand new. You've been in marketing a long time. This is not new …
but why is it that email lists are still such a big deal for authors? Is it just that people are not listening or they're not doing it right? What is your feeling on the email list thing?
Nick: I believe it's because it's a very new concept for a lot of authors, so like we talked about earlier … my voice is going to get progressively deeper and deeper now because I've got a bit of a cold. But as we were talking about earlier, up until sort of five years ago, you couldn't really self-publish with any degree of success. Some people made it a go that the most people stayed away from it, and then Kindle came along and it opened up all these opportunities. The opportunities are generally for authors who have been doing it the traditional way for so long, have no marketing background.
A lot of people are not comfortable with the technology as well, and the idea of building an email list and directly communicating with customers and readers is very alien because it's never really existed in the publishing world before. It's been around for years in other sectors of the internet space, and it's a very proven method of generating good visibility and good sales, and building relationships with your customers, but for authors, it's all still very new. We're still getting used to the idea that our book can be bought by a stranger.
This is overly new to a lot of people, and then to have to think about all these other layers of things you have to think about is very overwhelming. But the basic breakdown is if you're relying on third parties, other people, to do your marketing and selling for you, you don't control that. Chances are, if you're making a big success with other people doing the selling for you, like Amazon is selling your books and Facebook is doing well for you, chances are it's probably because you did something right, and it's working right now. But that could change any second. Amazon can have, and will change the rules.
And they brought in Kindle Unlimited last year. I can't even remember when it was now, but we have some very, very big name authors reporting 75% drops in sales because of how much reliance they had on the income from Amazon. That's very dangerous. People who built a business on Facebook. In the last few months, Facebook have really clamped down on how much visibility they will give you without you paying. So people who were seeing like 40%, 50% engagement on their posts are now getting like 3, 4, 5% engagement. That's like 95% of that business just gone because they don't control the communication. They don't control that line of communication whereas if you can build an email list, you own that lead. You own that prospect.
That relationship with the reader is yours to control.
Nobody can take it away from you, and if you do it right, you can do a much better job than all these third party companies could do for you anyway. If you rely on Amazon to push your book for you and they are doing it, that's fantastic. But if they're not doing it for you or they stop, what are going to do? If you got that email list built up, all you need to do is send an email. If you need reviews, if you need sales, if you need basic readers, whatever it is, just send an email and you can make it happen. That's the power of having that audience built up and ready and waiting for you. It's very powerful.
Joanna: And really nice as well. Like for my fiction side, and we'll come back to how you've helped me optimize, but my fiction side … I think there is probably some more resistance. Nonfiction authors I think have been doing email lists for a while. It's more new in the fiction space, but there is this concern, and occasionally you get these emails where people just haven't got your book and you feel like a big failure because they're asking you stuff which you're just like, “Have you read page 49?”
Nick: The typo.
Joanna: Yeah. “Did you not realize that they were the killer.” But then you get really nice emails where people have clearly really engaged with your worlds, and they pick up little extras. Like I have a bit of a hat tip to Torchwood and Dr. Who in some of my books, which only some people pick up, because not everyone is a Torchwood or Dr. Who fan.
Nick: Everyone should be.
Joanna: Everyone should be, certainly, but I have that in there, and it thrills me when I get an email where people pick up that aspect and if you like it it's an inside joke. I think once you start having an email list and people realize that they can email you, it becomes actually more of a conversation. It's lovely.
Nick: Absolutely. I think the vast majority of people on your email list, if you're doing it properly, are going to be your fans. They are the ones who are going to like what you're putting out into the world and will appreciate the fact that you've got products for them to buy, because in most cases people have this reticence of selling because they have an experience of someone trying to sell them something they don't want. If you're walking down the street and someone comes up and tries to get you to sign up for something or pay for something or door to door salesmen coming around or cold calling, they are trying to sell you something you don't want. And that's a negative experience, but the way we're doing it or the way that I'm teaching people to build that community is to only get in contact with the people that we know want what we've got to sell. So, you don't have to really sell anything in the traditional sense. You just got to make sure that you're heading the hitting the right buttons and you're making something available for someone, and they will actually thank you for it. The amount of emails I get from people saying basically, “Thank you for letting me give you money, Nick, because I love your products,” and that's a fantastic feeling.
That's the way you should build an audience is focus on the people that you know want what you've got to offer. If you're spamming people and collecting all these dodgy email lists and going out and just trying to grab as many people as possible, you're going to have problems. But if you do it the right way, focus on your core audience, then it can only mean good things for everybody. The readers will love you because you're giving them valuable content. You'll really love it because you're getting all this fantastic feedback. You're selling more books. You're getting more readership and Amazon is going to love it because you're sending them more paying customers. Everybody wins if you do it the right way, and this is what I teach authors to do. It's fantastic.
Joanna: I agree. As we said, I've had email list for like six, seven years and my fiction list I only really started about two years ago. I've always struggled with that side of it. You and I had a conversation and you helped me with the few little changes that made a real big difference. Maybe you could just mention a couple of those. There's a blog post on it, I'll link to it in the show notes. There's a whole list of them.
But what were some of the main things that you suggested for me that other authors can tweak that might make a difference?
Nick: When it comes down to the two things you need to have a successful business online, any business. Specifically for authors or if you're selling coaching or gym membership, it doesn't matter, two things you need. You need traffic so people actually visiting your pages and conversions, so turning that random traffic into paying customers and subscribers. Those are the two things you need. When I look at an author's kind of portfolio, these are the two things that I have in my mind is how are they getting traffic? Where are they getting it from? How can they get more traffic? More traffic will mean more sales, because there's more people, obvious.
And then I look at, how are they converting random traffic into subscribers, into customers? In 99% of cases, authors just aren't doing that second step. They're getting, in some cases, getting loads of traffic through using free books, using BookBub, using Facebook ads or organic Facebook, wherever they're getting their traffic from. And some people are doing a great job, but in most cases, they're not doing anything to convert that traffic into repeat customers. They send everyone to an Amazon page and let Amazon deal with it, which is fine. That does sell books, but that means that you can't then later contact that person about your new releases, because you don't own that customer. Amazon does.
What we have to do is figure out a way to take that random traffic, these browsing readers and turn them into fans.
Get them onto a mailing list. Get them onto a Facebook page. Get them onto our Twitter feed. As many places as possible so that we have more ways of communicating with them. One sale is great, but what if you could capture that customer's contact details with their permission? And then you could then tell them about all your future releases. That one sale becomes 5, 10, 20, 100 sales down the line. We're talking about the careers here, the next 10, 20, 40 years. That means a lot. That means a lot more than one sale.
So, this is the other thing that I think about when looking at author's work is how are they converting that traffic into subscribers and repeat readers? In most cases, they're not doing it. This is a big learning curve for a lot of authors, is putting these premier systems and processes into place to get that done, and that's exactly what I teach people to do.
Joanna: We specifically changed … on my day of J. F. Penn site, I have a call where the two things that you mentioned, the traffic. At the back of my Perma Free book I had a call to action which was, “Come and get a free short story.” It did have a call to action. I did have a sign up, and my sign up was a text box with a text link. So I had the two things you're talking about, and many people don't even have that. Everybody listening, you need those two things, but then what we did was change the call to action to be front and back and also make it visual with the book cover. I'll never forget this, and I tell people a lot, because I used to give away free short stories. And you said, “Nobody wants a free short story,” which was great.
The point was you have to give away something of value. So you have to give away like another book, and this is where a lot of people freak out. Basically, I've got a Perma Free book and in the front and the back is a call to action for another free book, which is Day of the Vikings on my website. They come and they sign up and it's another visual, and they click on the visual, download the free book. That's two free books, and I have nine novels, so fair enough. There are people who are worried about this, but those two changes, I can't remember the numbers now, quite dramatically shifted the opt ins by quite a lot. My email list started speeding up, which was thanks to you pointing out those tweaks. People listening, again, have a look at that blog post and what Nick does. I think just the visual thing and offering something more of value, would those be two big changes that you tell other people about too?
Nick: Absolutely. I think if you've only got one book, you're not going to be able to offer another book for free because you haven't written it. And short stories they do work, but they don't work as well as something of a higher perceived value. The higher the perceived value of the sign up incentive, what I call the reader magnet, what gets them to hand over that email address in the first place. The higher the perceived value of that, the more people are going to take you up on it. So if you are offering someone a short story, you will get some people interested, but you'll get more people interested if you are offering them a full novel or something that they can't get anywhere else.
It doesn't have to be a full book. You could offer them a short story, but you could say that this short story is only available to my subscribers. And that's scarcity, because they can't physically go and buy it. I think you were selling that short story for like 99 cents, essentially you're saying, “Save 99 cents.” It's not the biggest, most compelling offer in the world, but the same story is only available to someone who signs up to your VIP list suddenly becomes a lot more compelling. I've seen people do it with fiction as well.
Mark Dawson is someone else I've talked. He offered a redacted MI6 case file for his main character. These are spy thrillers. He created this three or four page PDF in the style of like a spy document with all the blacked out text talking about the background of the spy character. He offered that to his mailing list, and that was something you couldn't get anywhere else. It was really personal, really interesting. It gave some insight into the character and was relevant to the books. That worked really well, too. People doing nonfiction they don't have to offer another hundred page nonfiction book. They could do a cheat sheet. That's like a one page document.
People love cheat sheets. They'll go download that straight away, or short video series, or an audio version. There's no limit to what you can offer in return for an email address. But the key is, you can't just ask people to join your new releases list because people don't care enough about you yet to want to do that. Some people will, and that's fantastic, but the vast majority of people will not sign up to your mailing list unless you're giving them something of value in return. That gives you the opportunity to prove your brand and build that relationship up over time, and then sell when the time is right later on. So just getting people onto your list is the biggest step you can make.
If you've only got a short story, use it. It will work. If you've got tons of novels, give away a novel. If you're doing nonfiction, think about how to do a case study or a cheat sheet or a video. People will love that as well. If you've only got one book, do some deleted scenes, do an extra bonus chapter, do equivalent of a redacted MI5 case file. It can be anything. As long as it's interesting and relevant to the book you've written, it will work. And it will get people onto your list, and that's the most important thing as you're starting off. That's what we did with you. We didn't increase the amount of traffic you were getting.
We just made it more effective in how we convert that traffic into subscribers. That was the only thing that was missing. It was a couple of tweaks, making it much more obvious that there was something on offer. I think before it was one or two sentences at the back of the book, very easily missed, and we turned that into a big, bold image with kind of, “Click here for a free book when you join my readers group.” Can't miss it. So people were clicking on it. It took them to a landing page. It was very specifically designed to capture that email address without offering any other distraction. No links to click away and go look at your biography or look at the other stuff you got going on.
Literally, either sign up for my mailing list and get your free book or click away and leave. That was the only choice we gave them. And doing those two things, I think we tripled your mailing list in like a few weeks, just from those simple things. And the same with your website as well. We took away the little sign up box that was in the corner. I think it said, “Join here to get posts by email.”
Joanna: Yeah, join here to get free short story, whatever. Really small and we'll come back to the hate sales attitude, but we changed that to a big visual again.
Nick: And that was it. It was just making it really, really obvious, because people skim read when they go on the internet. They will zero in on something that's big and bold and bright, and they will miss stuff in the sidebar. So sidebar stuff doesn't really work that well. If you're tracking your clicks, you won't get many in the sidebar, but you will get a lot of attention on what's at the top of the page. We just moved the sign up box from the sidebar to the top of the page and turned it into a big image and then linked that to the same landing page. It wasn't even that difficult. It was literally we put an image in WordPress and linked it to another page. Really easy, and that makes all the difference. Just making it as easy and as obvious as possible and reinforcing what the value is you are offering, what you're bringing to the table. And people will respond.
Joanna: I think part of my reticence there, as I mentioned there was that this … I do think there is a very different attitude between British people and Americans in terms of being comfortable with sales in many ways and also between authors and let's say internet marketers, for example. There's quite a big gap in confidence and feeling at ease. Many authors certainly think, “Well, my books should be good enough to sell themselves.” That's been the kind of attitude, quality. I'm sure if you were studying English Literature, that's what they would have said, “A good book should just sell itself,” but that's just not the reality of where we are.
Do you have any feeling about the difference between British and American attitude and what we can learn particularly?
Nick: I think there is this kind of stereotype about the British being very reserved and we don't like going out and shouting from the rooftops about ourselves. That might be true, but it's something we can learn to do, because if we are proud of our product, of our books, and we should be. We spent months bleeding into a keyboard, trying to get this book out and then we spend so much time editing and tweaking and getting it perfect. It's a piece of ourselves that we put out into the world. We should be proud of that. There should be no problem with you getting up and saying, “I'm proud of this book. It's something that you will enjoy and you should go read it.”
There's nothing wrong with that at all. I think comparing authors with the internet marketing crowd as a whole is quite difficult because they've got 25 years' head start. They've been doing this for a long time, they know what works, and we can learn a lot from them. But we have to stay away from that kind of that stereotypical used car salesman's, spammy kind of group of people that we don't like and stick to building honest relationships because that's what marketing is all about. Whether you're doing it on the internet or the book fair or a bookstore signing or something, it doesn't matter. Your goal is to have a connection with your readers. Find out what makes them tick, what they enjoy and what they don't enjoy and build that relationship. That's all we're doing. We're just doing it online instead of in person.
The only way we can do that is if we have their email address. We can't do it through Amazon because they won't tell us who buys our books. We can't do it maybe through Facebook, because they won't show your posts to anybody anymore. You have to kind of hope that someone will respond to you. It's the idea of what's called Hope Marketing, which is from someone far cleverer than I am. According to this term, that we shouldn't rely on hope marketing. We should control that process. And that's what we're doing by building up our platform and our mailing list. You shouldn't be scared of it. If you're proud of your product, you should be proud to get up and tell people about it. And if you've got a problem, it's something you have to work on. There's no other way around it.
Joanna: I wrote a post recently on the kind of roller-coaster of the psychology side of being an author, because half the time we are proud of our books and we think they're brilliant, and the other half we think they're crap [inaudible 00:39:19]. You get that self-confidence, self-doubt, so I totally understand why people feel that way. I think we all go through that every day, but what I like about once you've done it, you can just leave it there and then just communicate with people. Let's just talk about Facebook because, and I say quite often, I'm not a fan of Facebook really. I'm not very good at it. I don't really like it. I love Twitter, which is my social network. That's where I hang out most, but you and Mark Dawson in particular have been doing some stuff on Facebook.
Do you have some tips on Facebook and advertising and anything we should be doing there?
Nick: Yeah. I have a Facebook page. It doesn't cost you anything to have a Facebook page. I focus on building my email list, but then I invite my email list to join me on Facebook as well, so it's a great opportunity to have more lines of communication. But it can be very difficult to build an audience on Facebook if you're not getting traffic in the first place. It can be very difficult. If you've got to choose between Facebook or email, you should always go with email because you control that communication. But Facebook is good for what it is and some people do amazingly well with it. Particularly interesting to me is the paid advertising because, like I said, you need traffic and you need conversions to have any sort of business online. And if you need traffic, a great way to get it is by using paid advertising.
Organic traffic is wonderful but, again, you don't control it. It can and often does plateau.
You have this strong growth of traffic to your books or your website, and then you find it kind of levels out. It can be difficult to get that going again, but if you're using paid advertising to bring more customers your way, more readers your way, that can really, really spike things up again. Facebook advertising has always been something I've been keeping an eye on. In the recent months, they've really, really nailed it, made it absolutely wonderful. And because they have such a huge audience of people, your perfect reader is in there somewhere in the thousands, in the tens of thousands, maybe even the hundreds of thousands.
Facebook has a great way of allowing you to build that audience and then communicate with them directly, so they have tracking pixels, conversion pixels, ways of measuring who your perfect customer or reader is, and then you can build up group of people based on that information, and you can advertise to them through the feeds in Facebook. It sounds very complicated. There is a bit of a learning curve to it, but the upshot is, if you need more traffic, you just have to pay. Go to the traffic shop and buy more traffic. If you're doing it properly, a new customer, a new reader that's costing you $1 can make you back $5, $10, $15. It can really be that big. So literally with that return on your investment, you'll be thinking, “How much money do I have saved up? Can I sell my house and just put all my money in this?” because it's getting you like. . .
Joanna: We're not recommending that.
Nick: Yes, this isn't official investment advice. But specific results that I've had with my nonfiction side of things especially is I was getting new customers through a sort of $1.25, that's how much it was costing me to acquire this customer, but I was earning $13 later on down the line from each customer. That kind of level of return is insane, and the fact that you can scale this as far as you want to go with Facebook because they have over a billion people using it, the opportunity is incredible. If you can get that right, it can be a really big source of traffic to your business.
If you're converting that traffic into subscribers and loyal readers, then your business can explode very quickly as long as you're doing it in the right way, otherwise you can throw a lot of money at it and you get no results of course, which does happen. But if you're doing it in the right way and you're following the process, it can be amazing. It can be absolutely fantastic.
Joanna: That's good. I did try Facebook marketing when it first came out, and it was pretty dire then, so it's interesting you say in the last few months they've nailed it. I'm definitely out for trying it again. What's interesting of course is Amazon marketing services have introduced a similar thing where you can, well I say similar, not really very similar, but in a way you can target a group of people or certain books or keyword things and a lot of us have tried it. It's not really working, but perhaps it will be like Facebook whereas it will take a couple of years for them to really nail it. Do you think that's got a future?
Nick: Absolutely. Amazon, at the moment, if anyone's not familiar with the pay per click advertising that Amazon's got, what you can do at the moment is you can … there's a minimum spend of $100. You put $100 into the pot and you select your target customer using basically the book categories. So you say, mysteries and thrillers, advertise my mystery or thriller to anyone who's browsing mysteries and thrillers. Sounds great, but that's all you can do. There's no other ways of …
Joanna: You can do it by book. I've chosen like six books or something, but haven't spent any money. Can't spend any money.
Nick: So, it's already getting better. When it first started out, literally all you could do is choose a category that you want it to associate your advert with. It's an interesting start, but I don't think anyone has reported any successes with it yet. I certainly didn't have any results from it. I put $100 into it. I got some clicks, no sales, and I thinking I ended up getting most of my money back at the end of it, because they couldn't give me enough clicks to spend the money.
It was a bit disappointing. Facebook ads when they first started got a lot of flak as well, but they've refined it to the point where you can literally target an individual using Facebook ads. It's very powerful, and I think Amazon will get to that point, hopefully within the next few years. When they do, I think it's going to be absolutely incredible, but right now, I think it's Facebook ads for the win. I've had some great, great results with them, and so have a lot of other authors as well.
Joanna: We have to be very careful here. If you're brand new, and you've only got one book and just starting, these really are advanced kinds of tactics. Also, you don't get the sales free with one book, so if you pay $1.25 per customer and your book is 99 cents or whatever, and you're not putting them on an email list, don't do it, people, but if you've got a few books, like I've got seven books in one series now. And you've got similar, haven't you in your Leopold Blake series?
If you've got that many books in a series and you can get demonstrated evidence that people are going and buying more than one book, then it could be worth it. But certainly if you have higher price product like nonfiction or courses like you have, then it's clearly a no-brainer. Now I'm definitely interested in having a look at that. Do you have a video on that or something? Do you actually teach that in the moment?
Nick: What we have in the moment is I do offer premium courses that helps authors build their platform and basically do everything we've talked about today, and do it well without any trial and error. This is what works, is you can follow the process, and we do talk about Facebook ads, how to set them up, specifically what mistakes to avoid in the premium training. But because this is premium training, we want to make sure that the education is right for the people signing up for it.
Very deliberately, I've put together 90 minutes of free video content that goes through a lot of what we've talked about today. How to optimize your books, how to understand the different e-retailer environments, how to get started building your email list using the topics we've talked about in the last few minutes. That's available and people can sign up. They can get that preview content, and then later on when the course enrollment opens up again, you'll be on the waiting list and you can find out more. If there's something you want to invest in, you can ask me questions. I'll take you through the whole process.
If you go over to yourfirst10kreaders.com, you can get a case study that shows how this helped another author. It jump-started sales from like $20 a month to $3,000 within like six weeks, and then three videos which take you through step by step how to get started with this process. It will take you a long way, and that's my biggest tip, I think. If you want to find out exactly how to do all this stuff, you can go get the free training and get started pretty much straight away.
Joanna: It is excellent training, and I will link to it. If anyone would like to use my link to Nick's training, it's at the creativepenn.com/10k. You have really great video series and really great course actually, and that's where I found out about the Q&A with the author thing, which sometimes you just have to learn things sequentially, and I think that's really important to stress. I've mentioned that you've helped me optimize my email list and I've been doing this for six years now.
I think every time you go through your material, you learn something new and also things keep changing, don't they? Like you've said about the Amazon ads, people are so negative right now about it, but you'd think that it will improve over time. Very interesting. Also we mentioned that if you look at the algorithms at Google two years ago, we're talking about email marketing which is old hat for internet marketers. Do you see anything coming?
What is exciting you around the marketing space that could be coming? Because we're definitely using stuff that's a few years old in this space. What is coming next, do you think, what's exciting?
Nick: I think for me is you can talk about how Amazon changes its algorithms. You could talk about that for hours and hours and hours, but that's not the exciting thing for me. Amazon will change aspects of their business, and you kind of have to be aware of what's going on so you can roll with the punches if you need to, but the far more important thing for you to do is don't obsess about whether Amazon is recommending you or you're getting into author [SP] boards. Don't worry too much about that. Focus on building your audience.
What I'm really excited about is developing relationships directly with my readers and my customers, and learning more about what they want, and what makes them excited and what brings them value. That's what I'm excited about. And technology coming that allows me to do that more effectively without needing to spend all day writing out emails, making that whole process more efficient is what's exciting to me, because I can reach more people, more people will read my books, more people will take the course and then more people will develop their author careers as well. Seeing that happen is what's really exciting to me.
So, if Amazon decides to completely change the way it does business, if you've built that audience up, it doesn't matter because you just take them somewhere else. That's what's exciting to me, is seeing other authors do this as well, because it's very powerful. It's very exciting stuff.
Joanna: Yes, we do live in exciting times.
Nick: For better or worse.
Joanna: Just once more, tell us where people can find you online.
Nick: Come find me at the creativepenn.com/10k. Use Joanna's link so we can actually figure out who's coming from where. Tracking stuff is good. That's the best link to find me because you sign up for the free training, you'll learn lots of great actionable stuff, and then some other content that I've got as well, some surprise bonuses. I'll send them to you. I'll make sure that you're kept up to date with everything that's going on. So that's absolutely the best place to find me.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Nick. That was great.
Nick: My pleasure.
This is one of the best marketing posts – ever! Nick’s tips on using SEO key phrases shows authors how to taylor their marketing strategy to the DNA of their book – and no one else’s. I’m recommending this posting to all my author friends. Nick and Joanna – great job!
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Elizabeth – glad you found it useful
Eric Reinholdt says
Many thanks to you Joanna & Nick for such a brilliant, helpful podcast this week. I found the information on Kindle categories and the ninja KDP tricks especially helpful. Thanks for freely sharing and over-delivering each and every week. Cheers…
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Eric 🙂 I love hearing from people who find the podcast and info useful!
I’m fairly experienced in marketing, but I found some nuggets in here.
Question: The transcript reads: “You and I had a conversation and you helped me with the few little changes that made a real big difference. Maybe you could just mention a couple of those. There’s a blog post on it, I’ll link to it in the show notes. There’s a whole list of them.”
What is the list you’re referring to? I could not find it.
Joanna Penn says
Here’s the post Philip – the link was in the show notes above the transcript:
Richard Keller says
First, happy 40th. You and BBC 2’s Sara Cox are now my favorite four-decade, British broadcasters. 🙂
I heard Nick on Simon’s show a few months ago, and I found it inspiring. Your interview made me put some actions in process to get this going. Plus, I’d love to interview him for my podcast in the future.
I hope you had fun in the States.
Joanna Penn says
I’m thrilled to be in the same bracket as Sara Cox 🙂 She is far trendier than me though!
Adam Alexander Haviaras says
Thanks Joanna and Nick! This was a brilliant show, chock-full of fantastic information and helpful tips.
I had signed-up for Nick’s mailing list a short while ago and have been waiting for some time to go through the videos. I want to start implementing some of these changes right away, especially the keyword tweaks.
Cheers to both of you. Keep up the great work!
Just found this site and I’m happy to tweet about it. Great, simple ideas for #writers and marketing.