I love learning from smart marketers who are using data to analyze what actually works in selling books.
In today's show, Ricci Wolman shares some brilliant tips based on extensive sales data through Freebooksy, Bargainbooksy and more.
In the intro I mention the first Createspace print on demand book to hit the bestseller lists, perhaps indicating a move of digital print into the space traditionally owned by booksellers, as discussed by Hugh Howey. The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep became an overall bestseller on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and has now been picked up for a 7 figure deal.
I also talked about a brilliant interview with Robert Rodriguez on the Tim Ferriss podcast about creativity. A must listen.
This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
Ricci Wolman is the founder and CEO of Written Word Media, whose mission is to empower authors and publishers and help readers find their next great read. Ricci holds an MBA from Harvard and specializes in how to effectively and efficiently build an audience online.
- What works in selling fiction, including the importance of having a good volume of reviews and working with the Amazon algorithms.
- Genre and targeting your specific audience, especially if your book doesn't fall into a large or popular genre.
- Thinking outside the box with marketing techniques and the value and importance of running an author business and paying for marketing.
- The non-fiction sub-genres that sell well.
- Book cover trends and the essential things authors must do to build their email lists.
- Branding for authors and the ‘halo effect' of marketing when you have more than one book under your brand umbrella.
- The influence that independent authors have had on the publishing world, particularly around marketing strategy.
- Engaging with fiction readers and those on your email list, including ideas about frequency of contact and examples of types of things fiction authors can share with their audience.
- Social media for authors; where audiences are growing and where they're receding, the different types of relationships on different platforms.
- The future players in the book market, and big data and its impact on marketing and the prediction that because of big data marketing is going to become more efficient and less expensive.
Transcription of interview with Ricci Wolman
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today, I'm here with Ricci Wolman. Hi, Ricci.
Ricci: Hi, Joanna. Thanks for having me.
Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction, Ricci is the founder and CEO of Written Word Media whose mission is to empower authors and publishers and help readers find their next great read. Ricci holds an MBA from Harvard and specializes in how to effectively and efficiently build an audience online, which is what everybody listening wants. So, Ricci, I'm so thrilled to have you on the show.
Why don't you just start by telling us a bit more about your background in books and publishing?
Ricci: Absolutely. My expertise and background is really in customer acquisition and building audience. So as you mentioned, I do have an MBA, and after getting my MBA, I worked for The Body Shop, which is a U.K.-based company that I admired for a very long time. I ran their U.S. and Canadian websites. Specifically, my job was to find customers, build email lists, and figure out how to engage with customers around different products.
So I have quite a few years' experience working in corporate America. And after doing that for a while, I decided to go out on my own and start a consulting company that was focused on helping startups and smaller brands find an audience and build an audience.
And while I was doing that, my mom decided she was going to publish a book. So, I started helping her through that process, getting the book formatted, getting it up on Amazon, and finally it was published. And we were very excited and said, “Hooray! The book's up!,” and sat there waiting for things to happen.
And crickets. Nothing happened.
No reviews, no purchases, so we quickly realized that just as with anything else, you have to market a book as you would a product, or yourself, or anything else, really, in today's world.
Around the same time, Amazon launched KDP Select, which I thought was a great idea because it came with the exclusivity, which was somewhat of a downside, but the upside was it gave authors five free promo days within a three-month period. And so I thought, hey, this is fantastic!
We could make the book free, get tons of downloads, get reviews, and this is going to spur a lot of activity around the book. So I went ahead and did that, set the book to free and sat back and waited for the action.
And once again, crickets. And I thought, this is crazy. This book is free, why aren't more people downloading it?
I went to Amazon, and looked on that given day, how many books were free, and there were over 5,000 books that were free.
So, just as we have the challenge of moving a book that's priced because there are hundreds of thousands of books, the same challenge was being posed even when the book was free. I decided, okay, how can we solve this problem?
Why don't I throw up a blog that focused specifically on free books and choose what I thought looked like the best 10 free books on Amazon on any given day?
And that's really how Freebooksy was born. I started doing that, it was really a side project. Every morning, it was a lot of fun, I'd get up, choose the 10 books, put them up on the site, and then use a lot of the techniques I had learned over the past 10 years to start building traffic, an email list, and an audience for Freebooksy, and it worked.
It was really exciting. Readers loved the service because they were as overwhelmed by the choice as anybody else. So they wanted to try new books and new authors, but if they came to Amazon and they were faced with 5,000 books, they did not know where to start, and Freebooksy really helped with that. It curated the selection for them. It helped to pare down the choice.
That was about four years ago. Freebooksy has grown dramatically since then. We have over 160,000 readers who use our service right now, and the company has grown to Written Word Media, which has multiple websites to help readers find books, and helps authors and publishers find a way to get the word out about their books. But that's a long-winded way of explaining how I got into book marketing and the book publishing industry to today.
Joanna: Wow. That is a brilliant story.
And now, we need to know what's happened to your mum. Is your mum a multi-millionaire now?!
Ricci: Well, she's not quite because my mum publishes in a very niche genre. She does religion and spirituality fiction. So within those genres, she's doing okay, but it's not really a mass appeal, mass audience genre, per se. But it's been a success for me in terms of being able to use her books to guinea pig all of the things we're trying out.
Joanna: Oh, that is brilliant. And the other thing we should say, if anyone's wondering, just explain where you're from and why you have a different accent.
Ricci: Absolutely. I was born and raised in South Africa, did all my schooling there until I was about 18 years old, and then I moved to the States and did college here, so I'm a bit of a hybrid. I've spent about half my life in South Africa and almost half my life in the U.S.
Joanna: I love the South African accent. It makes me feel really at home because in Australia, I worked with so many South Africans. But anyway, moving on. Freebooksy is amazing. You've also got BargainBooksy, you've got NewInBooks, you've got a whole load of sites now, which is brilliant.
What we're going to do is just dive down a bit and, of course, you've got this amazing marketing background. But we're going to do fiction first, then nonfiction.
What have you seen, maybe apart from free books or some of the things around free books, what actually works in selling fiction?
Ricci: First and foremost, and you talk a lot about this on your website, which is a great resource for authors, is to put in work before you actually publish the book.
Books that do well tend to be those that have good editors, that have people who have proofread them, that the covers look good and all professional.
That's the baseline from which the book can take off. So it is really important, I think, for fiction and nonfiction alike, but specifically fiction, to make sure that the quality is there across all of those different things before the book is even published.
Once the book is out, reviews; getting reviews on the book is pretty critical.
What we've found that I personally found very interesting is that the number of reviews is actually more important than the overall review score. So what that means is, if you have 10 5-star reviews, that is actually less good from a reader perspective than having 50 reviews with an overall review score of maybe 3 or 3.5-stars.
And we work with a lot of authors, we know that it's very upsetting when maybe you don't get a four or a five-star review, but what I would say is, “Take a step back and don't get too upset about that. Rather, try and get more reviews for your book.” And the reason we think that that holds is because readers are a little bit skeptical of reviews sometimes, so when they see lots of really high-rated reviews, but a small number, they assume it's the author's mom and sister and daughter who've reviewed the book.
Once you get to 50, 100 reviews, then some of that skepticism goes away, and they know that some people are going to like the book and some are not.
I mean, there are Pulitzer Prize winners out there that have overall review scores of maybe 3-3.5. It's not for everyone. But just having many reviews really helps to boost the credibility of a book and help the conversion rate of people now who are browsing the book to actually purchase the book. So I would say go after those reviews and try and get as many as possible as you can.
The other thing that works really well is just you need to teach Amazon that your book is alive and well, and what your book is about.
Amazon is all algorithm-based, as we all know, so what that means is they're just watching readers and consumers on their website and what are they checking and what are they browsing, and they're using that to generate your recommendations – people who browsed this also browsed this, or you might also like, and you see books and titles in there.
The only way that they can actually surface your book is if they know something about your book.
So you do need to get people going to your book and browsing and clicking and purchasing. One of the ways that most authors are doing this today is through price promotions. By making your book free, you're discounting it to drive some traffic there. But the same thing can be done by using the email lists of people you have or any customer base that you have, and sending them to Amazon to spur some of that activity.
Joanna: That's really interesting, and particularly I knew that about reviews. And of course, it's difficult to get reviews. Obviously you know, having a free book means you generally get more reviews, so I'm almost thinking I should do a sort of cycle round my free books so that each of them get more reviews on it. But what I was going to ask you there is genre.
A site like AuthorEarnings.com is really saying that the big genres are romance, mystery, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy.
Is this what you see in terms of your clicks through Freebooksy and Bargainbooksy? And do you have any advice for literary fiction or anyone who's in the other niches?
Ricci: Sure. Yes, we do see a lot of the same stats that AuthorEarnings is showing. What we call our “mass audience, head genres” are romance, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi. There is hope, though, if you're in a niche genre. It's just more about the expectations of the sales that you're going to see because the audience just tends to be slightly smaller.
Our lists are broken down by the genres that our readers are interested in, so we do have readers who like literary fiction, or who like children's books, or some of the niche genres. And when we send an email to them, they are more apt to download or purchase the book because they have opted in to those specific genres. So that's the one thing I would say.
The other thing I would say is the advantage to being in a niche genre is there's slightly less competition because most people are publishing in the mass market genres because there's more money to be made.
But if you're in a niche genre, you can try some more targeted advertising or reaching out in a more targeted fashion to your audience.
For example, one of the things I really like, and this is both for nonfiction and for niche genres, is to use Facebook Ads to target an audience who would be very interested in what your subject matter is.
For example, if you have a nonfiction book around maybe spirituality or how to feel better about yourself, you could go on Facebook and you could say, “I want to serve these ads to people who like Eckhart Tolle” or some of those types of influences in that arena because you know those people are more apt towards those books anyway.
Whereas, when you're in the mass market genres, it's a little bit more difficult. You can say, “Serve ads to people who like James Patterson,” but because it's so broad and the audience is so big, it's actually not as targeted as you would be in some of those niche genres.
Joanna: And of course, Eckhart Tolle is a nonfiction author.
What you're saying is as a fiction author in a religious or spiritual niche, you could still target a nonfiction writer, because people would be liking that type of stuff.
Ricci: Exactly. You've just got to think a little bit out of the box and think about who is your reader and what things, what people, personas, other books would they like and then try targeting on those aspects, instead of just trying to target on people who like nonfiction books. Because, again, that's so broad and everybody's targeting on that, so try thinking about some other things.
Joanna: It's funny you say that, because I just did just a normal post of Facebook and I posted some pictures. I went to a cemetery, Highgate Cemetery, last weekend. And I got the most engagement ever on my fiction author profile with these pictures of graves.
And it made me realize, because I love graves, I'm a taphophile, as they're known. I love cemeteries, and I was like, “Oh, my goodness. My audience like graveyards and cemeteries.” So I could actually look at that type of thing, which is a little bit weird. Some people listening will be like, “She's a weirdo,” but that was the point. That's my fiction audience.
Ricci: That's the point. All the people who think, “Oh, she's awesome,” that's your audience. Those are the people who are going to read your books. It's perfect.
Joanna: It is. So, this is the thing…
Think outside of the box around themes and other stuff, not just, like you say, like James Patterson, like Lee Child, that type of thing.
Joanna: And I wanted to also ask you, because of your MBA background, you're from quite traditional education and all that, and you have a broad range of business knowledge. What I find so interesting about authors is this is a business like any other, right? And do you know of any business where people would shy away from paying for marketing?
Authors make such a fuss about paying for Facebook Ads or for Freebooksy, which is free for some things, cheap for other things, Bargainbooksy.
Why do you think this is an issue and, as I said, do you know any other business where people shy away from paying for advertising?
Ricci: Well, I cannot think of any, except for maybe the government, and we're all legally obligated to pay our taxes and file those forms and do all of those things because the outcome of not doing those things is jail or fines. Aside from government, when it comes to actually commerce and the business world, it's a given that you pay for marketing or there are companies who really believe that they can get this organic growth or have these brand ambassadors or have a viral hit.
And I can tell you, I've worked in many different companies, it's very difficult to do and the companies that do achieve it, usually it's by luck, not by planning or because you can actually put enough resources behind it to guarantee something like that.
I think it's very important, it's a very, very important point that you're bringing up that authors treat their books as a small business. And as in any small business, you need to be setting aside some percentage of your monthly expenditures towards marketing, absolutely.
Joanna: So then, thinking about nonfiction, are there any things that stand out?
First of all, what type of nonfiction books are selling well? What kind of sub-genres?
Ricci: Weight-loss books do very well within nonfiction, and interestingly, cookbooks do very well, too. So we have both sides, arrows of the spectrum. We do find weight-loss, cookbooks do well, and then, also general self-help titles – how to be a better public speaker, how to be a better person, how to find inner peace – those types of titles do pretty well with our nonfiction audience.
What I will say about nonfiction, when it comes to Amazon, is that the algorithm is even more important there.
And there are actually things you can do within nonfiction to boost your visibility by optimizing the keywords in your title and the keywords in your description, and then also learning where you get readers to click on other books that are similar and then purchase your book you come up in the recommendations.
Joanna: Yeah, that's interesting.
What about nonfiction book covers? Have you noticed? Because at the moment, there seems to be the white cover with the big text, and then there's the color cover with image type thing. And I'm really attracted to the white covers, but they also look a bit funny on the Amazon background.
I'm wondering, do you actually see any book cover trends and such?
Ricci: We've seen both those types of covers. What we're seeing across the board is that the more professional the cover, the better the book does, the more likely it is that people are to click on it.
Those white background books that you're talking about, if they look professional, and looks like that was intentionally done that way, or if it has a little black border around it so that it doesn't sink into the Amazon background, those do just as well as the color backgrounds.
But we actually have one of our team members whose very interested in psychology, whose currently doing an analysis on the psychology of color as it pertains to book covers, so we're hoping we'll have that piece out in the next month or so, and we'll have some more insights around colors of book covers within the different genres that we can share with you.
Joanna: Oh, that would be awesome.
Ricci: Yeah, it'll be fun. She's loving doing the research.
Joanna: One of the things that I certainly do and I know many indie authors do when we do like a Freebooksy or a Bargainbooksy promotion or BookBub or whatever, is we make sure that the book we're promoting has a call to action at the front and the back for our email list.
Given your wide marketing knowledge, how important is it that the author do that?
And have you noticed any other best practices around email lists for authors?
Ricci: I think it's critical that authors do that.
I think it's the number one thing that I would tell authors as they're starting to build their brand and with their very first book that they put out is please make sure at the end of the book, you say, “Please visit my website.
Sign up for my email list. Like me on Facebook” because that person has purchased the book, you've spent the marketing dollars to reach them, so you might as well get at much information, as much support from them as possible.
And in general, readers are very generous. They appreciate authors, they appreciate the work they're putting out there, and so if they enjoy your book, there's a good chance that they will sign up for your email address.
The other thing is I'm a huge fan of email lists because at that point, you actually own the reader.
You no longer have to pay again to reach them on Facebook, you no longer have to pay again to reach them when your next book in a series or your next title comes out.
I would think about that email list as one of the most important assets you have as an author, and you want to continue to grow that asset and cultivate that asset because that's what's really going to help as you continue on this path as an author.
As long as you're giving some value to the readers through your email list, they're going to be more than happy to stay on and stay subscribed to your email list itself. Many people find value just in hearing what you're up to. What are you writing about? What are the challenges of being an author? Because many readers wish they could be authors, wish they would have that kind of talent, and this is a way to live vicariously through the talent that authors like you have.
Joanna: Which is really sweet. And I think people get so obsessed with thinking that there are so many authors around. But it's because we network with authors.
When actually, there aren't that many authors around, in terms of the general public, right?
Ricci: Absolutely. You probably have a somewhat warped view of how many authors are out there. When I go to cocktail parties and tell people what I do, they get really excited and they'll say, “Oh, you get to work with authors. Do you meet authors? What are they like? What do they do?” People get really excited about it, so you shouldn't discount that.
Joanna: It is an odd thing. You're like, it's not that big a deal, and then for some people, it really is. That's really cool. I also want to come back to something you said about brands. You said, thinking about yourself as like a small brand.
Many people don't like the word “brand,” especially authors. It's all about creativity, not brands.
What do you mean by a small brand for authors and how does that relate to the type of books you write and how you promote?
Ricci: Authors tend to be more behind the scenes type of people, which is why they write. They're not musicians or actors or want to be out there, so I understand why there's some discomfort around this idea of thinking about yourself as a brand.
And that's okay. If that's uncomfortable, don't think of yourself as the brand, think about your books as the brand, and each title is a different product within the brand umbrella that you have.
The great thing about having a brand is that you get to spread the marketing spend and your investment across multiple different products.
That's why I think it's important to think of yourself as a small business and a small brand because it helps you to figure out what your investment is doing over the long term.
What we find, and I'm sure you know this as well, Joanna, is that the authors who are making a living doing this, the authors that are very successful at this, are the authors who have multiple titles. It's very hard to do really well just on one title. It's when you start having 5, 6, 10, 15 titles that you actually, as an author, start to be very successful.
The reason is because every time you're investing in an ad or marketing one of your titles, it's having a halo effect on all the other titles, all the other products within your brand.
I think that's why thinking about yourself as a brand is a smart way to go about marketing versus thinking about each title as, oh, I've released a new book, and I've released another book, and now I've released another book.
If you can get past the stigma of “brand” and think about it as something positive, and I think it is positive, being an MBA, being somebody who's worked in the business world for a long time, brand is actually a very positive term. I think that would be a very helpful way for authors to think about it.
Joanna: And at the end of the day, we've seen lots of things that show that readers don't buy based on publisher, do they? They might be loyal to an author's name as a brand, but who knows who publishes a book anyway?
Do you do any pushes via the publisher name or is it always by author?
Ricci: It's always by author, by title, by genre.
We do work with all the major publishers, or I would say about three of the big five. We work with them. We help them market their books. However, we don't say, “Hey, this is a Penguin book, this is a Random House book, this is a HarperCollins book.”
What we say is, “Hey, this is the new book by David Attenborough or James Patterson” or whoever it might be, and readers are very loyal to that person, to that author, and to his brand, and these different series that they have out there.
Joanna: What we've noticed, I've noticed it more with BookBub, but what you're saying is exactly the same.
Have you noticed the big publishers copying indies? They're moving into these price promotions and the email lists that used to be owned by indies, and now big publishing is moving in. Do you see that?
Ricci: Sure. I think indie publishing has done a lot of really positive things for the publishing industry as a whole. Just the fact that it's democratized the number of books that can be out there, I think is a fantastic thing.
And core to our beliefs is that books are a force for good in this world, so the more books that we can publish, the better off we are.
I also think that indie authors have helped pull traditional publishers into the 21st century somewhat, and made them think about who they publish, and how they publish, and how they market in somewhat of a more modern fashion versus maybe, how they were doing it 50 years ago.
Joanna: And in terms of your background also in advertising and maybe in marketing in newspapers, magazines, any kind of offline media versus online media:
Do you see any value in having a review in a physical newspaper or a physical magazine in terms of sales?
Ricci: It's very hard to measure. I have a very distinct bias towards online marketing because it's measurable, and that's why I love it. We can run an ad and we can see within 48 hours how it did. Did it give us email signups? Did it actually spur sales for us? That's not to say that some offline media doesn't have an impact and cannot be effective, it's just very hard to know how effective it is.
So say you spend $100 online, you can say, “This $100 gave me X, Y, and Z.” You can spend $100 and get 3 placements and maybe you get X, Y, and Z, but you don't know which one of the 3 placements actually returned the results. So now, when you have to go back and do it again, you know that you're investing at least $66 in something that maybe is not returning for you, but you don't know which one it is, so you have to spend the full $100 again. You can't get smarter and more efficient with your marketing spend.
Offline marketing that comes “free,” there's always going to be a time component to it, but if you can get a journalist in your local newspaper to cover you or do a story about you, I think it's definitely worthwhile because it does raise awareness of you as an author.
We do know that the more people hear a name or see it, a book cover, or see a title, the more likely they are to purchase it.
There are a lot of studies that say when it comes to consumer goods, somebody has to see something seven times before they'll make a purchase, their first initial purchase, if they're not already a consumer of the brand. I think the same is true of authors, the author brand itself, or a specific title you're putting out there.
So what I would say to authors is take the marketing dollars you have and put them towards online so you know what they're actually returning for you, and then some of the time resource that you have at hand, maybe you used to work with journalists or some offline media where you can get some coverage and some exposure, but not an actual dollar costs, more as time cost.
Joanna: I wanted to come back on the email list thing and the customer engagement because you're an expert in that. Because I think there's building the list, which you can pay to build a list, you can buy Facebook Ads, you can have free books, whatever. So building a list can be one challenge, but it can be done.
The next challenge is, what the hell do you do with those people? And I think nonfiction authors, it's easier because you can send out useful information like, “Oh, another recipe for your weight loss,” but for fiction, it's actually really difficult.
What are some of your recommendations around customer engagement with readers?
Ricci: First of all, I don't think you need to engage that often. I think engaging once a month or once every two months is enough.
You just want to stay on the reader's radar. You don't want to inundate them with an email every week. And I think that's good because it takes some of the pressure off figuring out what content am I going to send to my readers this week?
So first thing, scale back. Just try and reach out to readers, let's say, a monthly basis.
Second, as we talked about before, you have something that readers want.
You have a gift of writing. You are living this life where you are an author and you are creating these characters that they now feel a connection to, and so you basically have the inside scoop, as it were. It's almost like if you're an actor in Hollywood, and just being part of that world gives you some cache, and so you should embrace that.
I think sending out an email that tells people what did you do this month, what new title were you working on? How are you thinking about plot and character?
What does your writing schedule look like? Just a little bit of a glimpse into your world, readers find that very, very interesting.
Another way to engage with readers is if you do want feedback or if you're working on a certain part of the book or you've got some piece of content that you'd like feedback on, let them read it, and then say, “What do you guys think?.” It could be a poll or it could be “write me back,” but it gives readers a feeling of being part of the process.
What I love about that is that when the book is then published, they're going to take that book and feel even more connected to it because they'll read and they'll recognize that paragraph and they'll be like, “I gave feedback on that paragraph. I told her what I thought about that.”
I think that's a very powerful thing in today's world of publishing is that without giving up your creative autonomy as an author, you can still make readers feel involved. And what I'm not saying here is don't crowdsource your content, don't have readers tell you what to write, but make them part of the process a little bit, make them part of your feedback loop.
The other thing that I'm loving right now is Instagram.
And it's a very easy way to engage with readers that's got a pretty low time commitment from an author perspective. So your example is perfect. You were out and about, you saw a cemetery, you take a snap, you load it up to Instagram, and that way, readers can see where you are, see what you're doing, and it's visual.
So you don't have to spend time thinking about what am I going to now write to my readers, how am I going to explain this? It's a picture's worth a thousand words, and so all you need to do is put that picture up and it's a way for readers to still feel connected to you.
And then in your monthly email, use that, or it could just be your top Instagram pics from that month and what you were doing. So it's a way to leverage some of the work that you're doing all the way through the month in a monthly newsletter without having to spend a whole lot more time trying to figure out what to say.
Joanna: Super advice. And I must say, one of the things I always do in my monthly newsletters is some pictures of what I've been doing because I do think that people love that. On that, I use Twitter for my stuff, and I don't use Instagram, although I keep considering it. It just feels like another thing, But I know you're really across all the platforms.
What do you see happening? Twitter, for me, is mainly connection with peers and influencers, but now I'm thinking, you're right.
Is it that the readers are on Instagram? Where should people be choosing to spend their time in social media?
Ricci: I think you're right, Twitter, from my perspective, is more of a B2B, a business-to-business platform, so it's great for connecting to other authors, connecting with publishers, connecting with promo sites, like us, connecting with people within the publishing industry.
There are some cool things you can do on Twitter to reach readers. There's the #fridayreads hashtag that you can piggyback on, there's some hashtags like that, but to be honest, I think the effectiveness is lower than on some of the other social platforms.
I think Instagram is going to be huge over the next year.
I think we're really seeing that the user base is growing dramatically, the engagement is very high, and as there's some of this decline on Facebook organic, I think Instagram is picking up that slack.
And people who are tired of “I'm talking to everybody on Facebook,” are more inclined to go to Instagram because it's bite size. Instagram is like a snack, whereas Facebook sometimes feels like a meal. And so you can go to Instagram and you can just scroll through three or four pictures. And because it's visual, it's light, it's inspirational.
And with our own sites, we're seeing a lot of traction there.
NewInBooks, which is one of our new sites, we launched an Instagram account a month ago. We have over 4,000 followers, and they're highly engaged with us. They're liking our pictures, they're talking to us in the comments. So I think for authors it's the perfect platform because, as I said, it's low time commitment, it is a consumer audience, a reader audience, and there are different hashtags around books and reading that you can piggyback on to start getting an audience. I would encourage you to take a look at that.
I know there's a lot that's going on and, again, you don't have to post everyday on Instagram, you can post two or three times a week, just when inspiration strikes you, when you see something really cool. When you're sitting at your desk, just take a little snap of what does your desk look like when you're writing? Maybe it's just your computer screen. That is inspirational. You put a filter on there and it looks really pretty and people will respond to that. I think Instagram is huge or will be this year.
I think Facebook Ads still are the most effective platform for authors and people looking to reach consumers.
And Facebook's doing a really, I know you're pretty interested in big data and some of the trends around that, and I think Facebook's doing a fantastic job of using all of their data to continue to make their ads more and more effective.
We spend a lot on marketing every month to continue to grow our lists, and 95% of our ads spend is on Facebook because we're finding that's where it's the most effective. So, if you're going to be looking to spend, I would say Facebook is the place to be. If you tried it a year ago and it didn't work for you, try it again because, as I've said, their algorithms have changed a lot and they're using the data very effectively.
Joanna: Oh, my goodness, now I have to do Instagram. I am interested.
Do you know a scheduling tool for Instagram? Because I do a lot of scheduling of my social media in batches. Otherwise, I just get overwhelmed.
Ricci: Hootsuite just rolled out a scheduling component. It doesn't post automatically, but what you can do is schedule it out and it'll shoot you an email and say it needs to go up, and then you press a button and it actually loads up into Instagram.
Instagram is still in its infancy.
They've just opened up their API, which is why Hootsuite now has it, they've just started to open up their API for different brands to start running ads. Instagram is today probably what Facebook was four or five years ago so it's going to take a little bit of time for them to catch up. However, as I said, I think in the next 6 to 12 months, you're going to see a lot of that functionality improve.
Joanna: Do Facebook own Instagram as well?
Ricci: They sure do. They don't like to advertise that, but they sure do. It was a very smart purchase on their part. So all those 18 to 35 who no longer want to use Facebook because their parents and grandparents are on it are now using Instagram, and that's why I think we are going to see the sea-change in terms of the engagement activity on Instagram.
Joanna: I know some people listening are like, “Yeah, but I do YA. Where are the 18-year olds and the 16-year olds?” Are they on like Snapchat or other things? Where are they?
Ricci: Instagram is a good place to go.
In YA, I would go Instagram before Facebook. They're on Snapchat, but Snapchat's hard to use as a marketing tool because it's really more one-on-one communication and the communication disappears, to some degree. There is some interesting things happening with Snapchat, where they're trying to make the content live longer.
And especially with the elections coming up in the U.S. next year, we're starting to see that some of the candidates and some of the parties are trying to figure out how to crack the Snapchat nut. So we're watching that carefully to then see where there would be opportunities for authors. Right now, it's fairly time-consuming and it's difficult, so I would go Instagram, one, Facebook, two, for YA. And actually, I'd probably say it's about that, maybe reversed, maybe Facebook, one, Instagram, two, if you're doing a mass market genre like romance or mystery.
Joanna: And of course, you realize if the Americans elect Donald Trump, we won't be speaking to you anymore!
Ricci: Well, I'll probably be moving to the U.K., so we'll get to do this in person next time 🙂
Joanna: Anyway, enough on politics. I have two more questions.
One, what's happening globally?
I am somebody who's always going on about the fact that the U.S. market is mature, as we know, with e-books, but look at the rest of the world. I sell a couple of e-books a month in South Africa, I'm selling in Sub-Saharan Africa, I'm selling in Asia, South America.
What do you see is the global reach of digital, and how many years off are we from the rest of the world being as mature as the U.S. market?
Ricci: I don't have a specific answer in terms of years for you. We're very focused on the U.S. market.
I do think that there's growth coming globally. The interesting dynamic that's going on globally is that in the U.S., it's always been e-books, specifically, are device-based. And as we know, the Kindle has the vast majority of the share. Nook tried to take some of the share for a time there, but that's starting to decline. Whereas in the rest of the world and emerging markets, specifically, everybody reads on their phones. They're not buying devices, per se.
So the big question for me is, are they going to download the Kindle app?
Is Amazon going to win and just have people reading on the Kindle app on phones? Or is some other company or other app going to emerge? Kobo is actually doing a fairly good job, I think, of that, and people are starting to read and download the app in emerging markets.
But I think the reason the market isn't super mature is because it's very fragmented right now and there's not one place you can go to publish your books and reach those readers, not even Amazon has that kind of reach. So it's going to be interesting to see what happens there.
I do think when we see that shift it'll happen quickly. We're seeing the adoption of mobile devices grow exponentially, so once there are a couple of reading apps out there that start to take off, I do think that we'll start seeing authors being able to reach other countries and other readers more effectively.
Joanna: And actually, interesting as you say that, I'm thinking, with Facebook, the Internet.org thing…?
Joanna: They're trying to do worldwide internet, they also want to do a cheap phone with Facebook as the browser. Will Facebook get into book marketing? I see this week, they've restarted the notes function, which is like mini blogging. And of course, Google Android would be the other cheap phone.
Are we going to see Facebook publishing or Google as the emergents? Ideas?
Ricci: I think that's very possible. Mark Zuckerberg, this year, for his new year's resolution, he picked books. So every year, he picks a resolution, something he's going to do for the year. One year it was, he was going to learn Mandarin. One year, he was going to wear a tie every day. He just picks these personal challenges.
This year, he picked reading. And he said he was going to read a new book every two weeks. So he's going to read 26 books in total, and he's been doing it. He puts us all to shame. These are all pretty dense, nonfiction…
Joanna: They're hardcore books.
Ricci: We do have a website, AYearOfBooks.net, where we're following all of the books that he's reading because there are a lot of people who are interested in the topics, they're really interested in what he's picking, but if I had to guess, I would say it's probably not a coincidence that he picked books this week, and I'm sure that they're thinking about how do they get more involved in reading and books, especially globally.
Facebook, Google, definitely going to be players, and the names escape me, but there's a company, Flipkart, in India. I think they have a good chance of taking some of the market as well because that's where a lot of people purchase their physical books in India so my guess is they'll come up with something mobile pretty soon.
Joanna: And people can get into Flipkart through Smashwords at the moment, but I'm hoping they'll have a direct purchase place because I would go direct on Flipkart, I think.
The other thing I was going to ask you is about the emergence of big data, machine learning, AI, in the algorithms particularly, but some more of this marketing information. I know your husband is into big data, as is my husband, so we're like geeks.
Do you see that really changing the way things work? Will it just get more granular, do you think?
Ricci: I think the story is always going to be important when it comes to the writing aspect of it. Where I think AI and machine learning and big data is really going to have an impact is in the effectiveness of marketing.
Because we can be much more granular in targeting, because Facebook and Google and all these companies now have data that they can mine on who are the most receptive consumers on the web, what we're going to continue to see is that marketing gets more effective, hopefully a little bit cheaper, as some of these tools start to mature.
Joanna: Fantastic. We're both very positive about the future, aren't we?
Ricci: We are. I'm not one of those people who are scared of robots, I think.
Joanna: Nor me, I think it's going to be awesome!
Ricci: I think a lot of really positive, exciting, technological innovations are ahead of us, and I think they're going to help human kind, not hurt it.
Joanna: And in particular for me, the big data point, the ultimate data, is the book.
When we don't have to type in seven keywords and we don't have to pick two categories, but they can actually index the whole book and intelligently categorize that, that's going to be so much better, isn't it?
Ricci: Absolutely. It's going to be an amazing day, and it's going to help readers find the exact books that they want, it's going to help authors market their books more effectively. It's going to be wonderful.
Joanna: I think so. That's what I'm waiting for is that day. So we'll both be there, won't we?
Ricci: Maybe your husband can work on that?
Joanna: I get him on to it!
Brilliant, well, look, it's been amazing to talk to you. Tell people where they can find all the useful things you have for authors online.
Ricci: The best place to start is WrittenWordMedia.com.
There, you'll see all of the five different sites that we have. And then if you are an author and you're trying to figure out which is the right site for you, the way to think about it is if you're running a free promotion and your book is free, then go to Freebooksy.com. If your book is priced under $5, whether you're running a price promo or if it's just regularly priced under $5, then Bargainbooksy.com is the place to go.
And then if you have a new title coming out, it really has to either be out in the last 30 days or coming out, so you can schedule it, NewInBooks.com is a site that enables you to get your brand new book in front of an avid audience of readers. And the book does not need to be discounted and can be in any format – paperback, hardcover, or Kindle.
Joanna: Oh, wow. That is a good one to add to the list. That's fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Ricci. That was amazing.
Ricci: Thank you, Joanna. It's been a lot of fun.