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The path to successful self-publishing can come in many forms. Joseph Alexander went from teaching guitar in person to writing 40+ books on learning how to play the guitar, scaling his business and reaching a global market, primarily through print books. In today's show, he shares his secrets.
In the intro, I mention Amazon KDP's launch of X-Ray for Authors and Google's AI-powered translation in the Pixel phone.
Lots of writing news! Now available for pre-order – The Healthy Writer: Reduce your Pain, Improve your Health, and Build a Writing Career for the Long Term now PLUS/ Map of Shadows, a Mapwalker dark fantasy thriller also out on pre-order, and my story The Dark Queen out in the Feel The Fear anthology.
Today’s show is sponsored by my non-fiction audiobooks, How to Market a Book Third Edition, Business for Authors, How to Make a Living with your Writing and The Successful Author Mindset, available now on Audible. If you need some more inspirational audio that will give you actionable tips to make more money with your books AND stay sane while doing it, check them out here!
Joseph Alexander is a musician and the author of over 40 books on playing the guitar.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Feeling self-doubt and writing prescriptive books anyway
- Why Joseph chose to write books vs. doing video courses
- On print books and pricing
- Book marketing tips, including email list building fundamentals
- On co-writing, being a small publishing house, and a tight release schedule
- The tipping point to becoming a 7 figure author
You can find Joseph Alexander at Fundamental-Changes.com and on Twitter @guitar_joseph
Transcript of Interview with Joseph Alexander
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com and today I'm here with Joseph Alexander. Hi, Joseph.
Joseph: Hello, how are you doing?
Joanna: I'm great. It's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.
Joseph is a musician and the author of over 40 books on playing guitar. He's one of the few seven-figure non-fiction indie authors.
I'm very excited to be talking to you today.
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing and self-publishing.
Joseph: How I got into writing? Well, I was teaching a lot of guitar. I've done that for a long time, and I just started writing down the common things that came up with my students. Particularly regarding jazz. I wanted to write down a pretty no-nonsense path for my students who were wanting to learn jazz.
Then somebody told me about CreateSpace first, and I found KDP through that. And that was it, really. I put the book up. It became a book with absolutely no expectations. This was actually five years ago. Just had the anniversary of the first book.
It just started to sell, like one or two copies a day kind of thing. And I thought, well that's sort of a good idea, I wonder if I'm teaching other stuff, I'll put that up. And kind of just kept going, really. Sort of got a bit obsessed with the whole thing.
I was teaching. At the time I was still teaching guitar. After about, I think, two years, I was selling enough books to move to Thailand. Kept writing out there. Sort of sitting by the pool with a guitar, just writing and self-publishing from there. And just been traveling around writing.
And that's it really. It was kind of an accident. It was never meant to be this kind of crazy thing that it's turned into.
Joanna: Which is very cool. So, I'm interested, just in terms of your music. Obviously, you said you were teaching music, but do you have some kind of rock-and-roll or jazz history?
Were you were in a band and then started teaching? What's your history before that?
Joseph: Yeah, I did a little bit. I went to London College of Music, which was at the time The Guitar Institute. It was kind of the UK version of Berkeley or Musicians Institute in the States. So, it was a good school.
Honestly, I probably wasn't quite good enough to be there. I really struggled. And I didn't have the greatest time in London. I got very confused by a lot of the musical things.
Not the theory as much, but I didn't realize there was a difference between, say, Miles Davis and Allan Holdsworth, for example. I was trying to play all this stuff at the same time. And I didn't have it organized in my head. So I didn't do very well there until I quit that course and had a year off.
And then I went to Leeds College of Music, where I actually studied jazz. I had an amazing experience in Leeds. And the clarification of all that was, I now had this great teacher who just said, “Well, you're trying to go from here to here in one step. Let's just do a little bit at a time.”
That helped me a lot, as a musician, to develop. And that realization was what I kept with me as a teacher. With my one-on-one students, when I was teaching them, but also in the books. Just trying to do a step-by-step thing.
So, yeah. London College of Music, Leeds College of Music, lots of teaching, and a bit of gigging. But I'm probably not the rock star I would like to be, I guess.
Joanna: No, clearly, you're a writer.
Joseph: Yeah, apparently. So I'm told.
Joanna: I'm really interested in that, because you have over 40 books. And we're going to come back to co-writing. But you said there that you obviously had some self-doubt. You've admitted you weren't the expert, and I guess you're still not. I mean, who is the best musician in the world? So I guess the question is, how do you go from not feeling like the expert?
Joseph: Yeah, it's so subjective.
Joanna: How can you go from feeling that self-doubt to doing quite prescriptive how-to books on music?
Joseph: It does sometimes feel like I'm a complete chancer and I've got no business doing it. Certainly, I got really good feedback as a teacher. And one of the things I do believe that I'm good at is breaking down information. So you get these very complicated subjects in music, and what with YouTube and the internet being what it is, people like to make things more complicated.
Certainly, university professors like to make things complicated and expensive. So they can sell it as a product, I guess.
But I think, because I struggled at university, I was always a decent player, but because I didn't pick things up as quickly as everyone else, I think I have this sort of mental process where I have to break things down differently. And organize it in my brain differently so I could play it. And I think, if anything, that's what makes me a good teacher. If I am. Hopefully, I am. And people seem to respond to it.
And I think that's one of the strengths of my books, is that I do break things down very, very manually, step-by-step. And teach it as I learned it myself, or how I would teach it to a private student in front of me.
Joanna: That's fantastic. What I do, I have books for writers, and yet I'm not James Patterson. So how do I have the right to do that? You've talked about the step-by-step approaches.
What other tips do you have for people who are writing non-fiction, in order to do that successfully?
Joseph: My process when I'm writing is I imagine the student right in front of me. I've done thousands of private lessons. So I kind of imagine, okay, this student's come to me and they want to learn, for example, blues rhythm guitar.
Let's just say, for example, they can play a few chords and don't have to worry about their technique too much, but they don't know anything about that genre. So, I'll start from absolute zero essentially, assuming that they can play guitar, and go, right, well, what's the first thing? And when they can do that? And when they can do that? And when they can do that? And you just sort of build up.
And of course, with anything you can tangent very easily. If you look at this, and there's, like, 30 things on that same level which you could be doing. But I think one of the skills is to sort of prioritize information.
Because if it's a private one-on-one lesson with a student, yeah, we can digress. And I can quickly show them something which might spark off an idea. But when you're writing, you have to take a linear path and be very strict with yourself about what's going to get included and where.
I think as you're writing it, and you go, oh I could digress into here, if it's not appropriate for that book, then I'll write it down or put it on a list of stuff to do, and that can even become another book in the future.
I think that's one of the reasons why I've got quite a lot of books. Because I go into massive amounts of detail about quite a small, specific area of music each time. I think that really helps.
I remember getting books when I was in teenage years, and it would touch on everything very, very lightly. It was more of frustration, because it was a little bit of this and a little bit of this and a little bit.
One of the things with music, or writing, or whatever it happens to be, immersion as an artist, or immersion as somebody that's producing content, I think that's really the only way to go with it. Because if you're not immersed, you just have this sort of superficial knowledge. And you've just got to get your hands dirty and wade right in there.
Joanna: You mentioned there a few thoughts around the other books, and why you have so many, because you go into detail. But how do you decide which books to write next? I see what you mean. If you wrote one book on how to play the guitar, as you say, it would be at such a high level it wouldn't be useful. I imagine you have this massive list.
How do you decide which one to do next?
Joseph: There is the list, I suppose. When I first started out it was just I was writing books about what I was teaching at the time. My first probably 15 to 20 beginners' guitar lessons are, give or take, the same. So there's a book right there. I was getting good results, it seemed to be kind of field-proven, so I wrote it down in the book.
At the beginning, it was just like, oh yeah and I can do this, and I can do this. I wasn't sort of taking it seriously. It was just something that I was doing.
As a music teacher, I was teaching privately at my house, and students were coming to me when school kicked out at 3:30. So I had all the time during the day to be writing. So it was just like, oh, yeah, that's a good idea. And I just started writing.
As I had to get a little bit more business-minded, there's this not nasty, but there's this little part of you where you sort of go, all right, what's going to be really useful but also what's going to be commercial?
And I think the truth of the matter is, probably this is true, I would have thought about any genre of any teaching, writing. There's going to be more beginner and intermediate level students than really advanced students. Of course. It stands to reason. So you kind of aim to be writing around about that standard, I guess.
One of my favorite books that I did was a really advanced jazz chord voicings book for really advanced players. And of course, it sells a couple of copies. It's a good book. But my blues rhythm guitar book, which is beginner to intermediate, just sells hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of copies consistently.
You do have to be sort of mindful of, okay, if I'm going to spend a month writing and promoting this book, getting it out there, is that going to be the best use of that month?
I've said this in interviews before, because I get asked this quite a lot. People talk about the money thing, and the money has to be a side effect. Because if you start going into this, this is a really, really key point. People are, “Oh, yeah, right. Books make money.” It's not that.
Because, A, you might not enjoy it, and you won't be passionate about what you're writing and your audience will feel that, I believe. I would have thought.
You want to be writing, in my niche, because you want to help people. And the thing that I've tried to kind of really cling on to was that bad experience at university. Actually there are going to be people in my situation, where there's all these hundreds of potential routes to go down. And they're confused, and they don't know what's next.
I actually want to write something that's going to take that conflict away from musicians and help them get better as guitarists.
That's my mission. It's a publishing company that I run now, and I publish for other people, so the whole thing is just going to help people.
And then the second question is, okay, well, is it commercial? We've got books that probably aren't doing as well as they could, but I think, for the right person, they're really going to help them. And that's genuinely the priority with everything that we release.
Joanna: I totally get you. No one can do 40-odd books on a very narrow niche without actually caring about that topic. It's not like you've gone, “I need to make money with books”.
You come in with the guitar first. I hear you about the beginners to advanced, because I wrote a very developed book called “Business for Authors” and it sold very few copies. So I did “How to Make a Living with Your Writing” which is a much smaller version, and it doesn't mention accountants and tax. And that one sells tons. So aiming at that smaller market, even though the material is actually quite similar. It's quite interesting.
I want to ask you about teaching. I interviewed another guy years ago, and I can't remember his name now, on teaching guitar on YouTube. And of course, there's Teachable, there's ways to do video courses.
Why did you decide on books over doing video teaching and video courses?
Joseph: I don't know. I think there's a huge amount of peripheral work that goes into videos. As I'm sure you know, because you do a lot of these. Probably the amount of time you spend editing and getting these things together, that's something that never really appealed to me.
There's jamplay.com. They've got amazing video lessons. It's a subscription-based thing, and I'm sort of looking at, well, could I do that better? Probably not.
Not without completely neglecting my book writing and book publishing thing. It's so well covered, it's so well done that I don't think I could compete or do much that would add to it, really.
For me, books turned out really well. I'm very lucky that I'm doing music tutoring. I think that's something that people like to learn from books.
Obviously, you can have private teachers. But that idea of getting your guitar, getting your first chords book, and things. Yeah, I'm lucky that it's almost like the established method of doing it, really.
Joanna: That's great. I love that answer, because so many people are jumping on the course bandwagon. So I'm glad you've gone, “Well, other people are doing it well.”
But let's then talk about the print books. Because you have a very print-based business. Which for many indies, is kind of upside-down. I guess you've talked a little bit about it.
Why are print books such a big part of your business? And can you talk a bit about the pricing as well?
Joseph: Yeah, that came up on the Facebook thing the other day. I really wish that we didn't have to do Kindle books. We do, and we put the work in, and we make them as great as possible. But I really think that, I don't know if I'm just old-fashioned but you learn better from a piece of paper.
Certainly music, because the dots are in front of you on the page. And you can have it on your music stand. And it's not a shiny screen. Excuse the pun but it's got a bit of weight to it. It's sort of a tangible thing. You go, right. I'm going to do music. This book's coming out and I'm going to sit and I'm going to look at it.
Whereas Kindle, you gotta grab the Kindle to open the book. And you're sort of looking at things. It seems a little bit distant, in a way, to me. it doesn't seem quite that tangible, like I say. I think, from doing this a while, my feeling is that most people feel the same way. You think music book. You don't think music Kindle.
So that, obviously, really works to our advantage. I wish everybody bought the paperback books, because, money aside, I just think that it's a better way to learn music. I think it's a better way to learn.
There's been loads of studies done that you retain less information if you read it off a reflective screen, a shiny screen.
Pricing-wise, this is getting into the business side of things, we've got a few books that are lead generation, which we have on Kindle, priced very low. They're good books but we priced them low so that we can bring people onto the mailing list and do marketing that way.
It's my feeling, if I feel a book is a bit lighter, not light in content, not a cop-out of a book, but just a little bit less intricate. So we try and price them about 14 pounds. If it's a weighty sort of tone, then it's about 16 pounds, 17 pounds. Yeah, and in the U.S., I think the max we charge now is $18.99, and the cheaper ones are about $14.99.
Joanna: And some people would be like, “That sounds expensive for a print book.”
Joseph: It does.
Joanna: In the music niche, is that a normal price? Or are you pricing higher?
Joseph: It's about right. There's a particular book you can get called “The Real Book”. It's a book of jazz charts. And that's about 50 quid that book, 30 or 40 quid.
I think there's something where, when you're passing on expertise, I mean, you're not going to get an hour private lesson with me for $20, no way. I was charging about 30 pounds, 35 pounds five, six years ago when I was teaching privately, one-on-one. I reckon most of our books would take you six months to a year to get through, probably.
I think, when you look at it as that kind of value for money thing, all the information's there, you've got audio downloads with it, you've got years of expertise and experience that's going into those books. And I think to get one for less than the price of a half-hour lesson with a decent teacher, I think that's all right.
Joanna: Yeah. And I think that's really important for people listening because non-fiction, you can price higher than fiction. There's less discounting, I think. If people want to buy a book on jazz guitar, they're going to buy it. There aren't millions of those books.
Are you using IngramSpark? Because you're going into bookstores, aren't you? You're actually getting stocked.
Joseph: Yeah, it's a little bit different. Actually, I'm in the middle of a bit of negotiation with Ingram at the moment, so I'm not going to talk about that too much. But yeah, we are.
Basically, CreateSpace or Kindle Paperback and that goes straight to Amazon. However it's a little bit different, I guess with music, because you want to be dealing with a music supplier. A music book distributor, I should say. The biggest one in the UK is a company called Music Sales Ltd.
I think this is maybe a change of paradigm, and this is quite a useful thing for writers to realize. When I approached Music Sales with my catalogue, I approached them with 18 books. And I approached them with probably two or three years' worth of sales on Amazon. I was like, “Here's the Kindle sales. Here's the paperback sales. We are making this much. Here's the figures. Do you want a part of this?”
So it wasn't that kind of traditional publisher, distributor relationship, where they were going, “Yeah well, can we make money out of you?” I'm coming to them and saying, “This is really successful, you can have a piece of it if you want to.”
I didn't appreciate that at the time. I thought, oh god, I'm approaching a big distributor. And they were really into it. I think their first order was just under 20,000 pounds worth of books. So it was a big deal. It was a really big deal.
Unfortunately, they sell solely in music bookshops. They do, and everyone buys online now. I don't know what's going on with Music Sales at the moment, but they're not taking a huge amount of books off us. So hopefully, that's not my books being rubbish, it's just sort of a state of the industry thing. That general shift to online buying of everything, I think.
For me, it's not approaching Gardners, like, “Will you distribute this?” or Waterstones, or whoever it happens to be. It was like, there's one place in the UK.
We spoke to Hal Leonard, who weren't really interested, which is fine. I didn't really understand that decision, because again we were showing them sales and they were like, “Well, we've got our own thing going on.” It's like, right. Fine.
It's been said to me a few times that the fact that I've come along, it's disrupting that industry now. I try not to do this too much, but I stuck something up on Facebook the other day. I think it had, like, the top 14 or 15 music books on Amazon at that time. It was like one to 14 blocked out, they were all books I had either written or I'd published. And the next few books weren't Hal Leonard or Musicians Institutes or Berklee Brass. It was other, I think independent publishers and that kind of thing.
The industry's changing and it's all to play for, really. People can come and do this. I was speaking to a guy the other day; he's doing this with gardening books.
If you are a non-fiction author, or even if you've got a specialty now, you, yourself, Joanna, and you're a writer, and good at selling books. “I can write a non-fiction book on how to do this with authority and I can make it great.”
Anyone can do that if you've got specialisms and expertise in something. And you're good at explaining things. Then why not?
Why not start putting stuff out there? Because you can get straight to your audience. There's no gatekeeper publishers anymore. You can get straight there.
Joanna: Yeah, fantastic. So then, the big question people have now, and in my mind is, how did you get the top 14 books in that category? Can you give us some of your marketing tips? As in, for example, you mentioned email lists. Obviously, if people come into your funnel, you've got a hell of a lot of books.
What are some of your marketing tips?
Joseph: It's all email marketing. All of it. We email a lot and the people that don't want to get them, they leave and that's fine, because it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle, really.
We market the books well on email, so they go up on Amazon. Amazon promotes them in their ecosystem, more people buy it, more people come onto the mailing list. And there's just a cycle now.
I think we get between 30 and 60 sign-ups a day. The mailing list is just about to hit 37,000. We're going up probably over a thousand people a month.
No secrets, and I'm really happy to talk about this sort of stuff.
If you buy a book, Kindle or paperback, in there after the introduction section, there's a how to get the audio. And this my lucking out. I have the advantage here. Because I get to give away the audio recordings of each example in the book.
So I've got 100 audio files. If you want to get the audio, you go to my website. You stick your email address in, you choose your book, and then you get access to your audio.
That means that we know which book they bought.
Joanna: Magic. Oh, that's magic.
Joanna: Fantastic. That's amazing. Because that's what everyone has a problem with. And unless you have a separate sign-up for every single book, most people have a real issue with that. Those audio files, are you playing those? How do you have the rights to use… I presume they're tunes. Songs.
Joseph: No, again, that's quite a little, nuanced part of the industry. Of my niche, I should say. We don't do tunes that are written. Like, I wouldn't do a book of the new Ed Sheeran album. Because I wouldn't have the right, and it would be very expensive to get that.
I tend to write methods. So I don't need to be using specific tunes. I can use things that are similar, and keep it similar, so there's no copyright infringement. But that's just careful writing of music examples.
Every book that I've written has probably got over 100 notated examples. Our books are image-heavy. It's a bit of a nightmare for Kindle, with the download size of the books. But yeah, there's, like, 100 plus, 150 examples. So, you want to hear those. They're sort of two-bar examples, that one line of music.
Joanna: You could share one. People on the video, we can see a page with some music on. I was wondering about that. So your print costs must be higher. Or, no, maybe they aren't.
Joseph: No, print costs the same. It's just I keep the books around 106 pages.
Joanna: I guess, yeah, it's not more.
Joseph: Yeah, the Kindle thing's a nightmare. Because our book sizes tend to be about five megabytes, four to five megabytes, so we're paying about an extra 80p or something. Yeah, I mean, that's the thing. And with Kindle being what it is, we can't really charge more than $5.99 really for a Kindle book. It's painful.
Joanna: Your business is print, really.
Joseph: Well, yeah but because the Kindle books rank so highly, and it's not a particularly competitive category either, so the Kindle books rank highly, they get found because of that on Amazon, and people go, “Oh, all right, he's got a paperback on Amazon for $20, I'll grab that one.” It swings and roundabouts.
So, they tell us what book they bought. So now we know what genre they're interested in. Whether blues, jazz, rock, blah, blah. And we also know what book they've got.
And then, this is one of the most expensive things I ever have to do for the business, it's on a par with translating all the books into Spanish, German, and Portuguese. But we got this amazing team in. They're based in New Zealand, and they wrote this automated emailing system, and it's huge.
If you buy a released book, first of all, you get a whole welcome series of emails. So there's a little video of me going, “Hello, thanks for buying my book.” And there's a couple of emails that follow up every couple of days, just saying, “Oh, we've got like 250 lessons on the guitar on our website, for free. Just go check this stuff out, these are our favorites.”
And then that finishes and then each week we send them two lessons. Pretty much two lessons, and a promotion for the book that those lessons promote. So again, free lesson, good content.
Each week, if you start on week one, you go through and you get, say Blues One promotion. Then week two, you're going to get Blues Two promotion. And then week three, you're going to get Blues Three, or whatever.
But of course, because people are staring that sequence at different times, and people are working all the way through, and I think that's like, about 30-odd, 40-odd week series of promotions now, and automations.
And we've got one of those for blues, one of those for jazz, one of those for rock. We've got one for beginners, and one for theory and technique type stuff. All the books are being promoted to a small amount of people all the time. And that's it.
So, a lot of people go, “Right, I've released a new book, I've got a thousand people on my mailing list, bam. Send it out and you're done. What could you possibly do? Oh, the next week, okay, people who didn't open it, maybe send it again. But that's sort of it. It's done. You release your book.
But we introduce people to new books all the time. So, yeah, it is a trickle of sales. But it's enough to keep things ranking very highly, ranking constantly, getting reviews. We support that with AMS. AMS being worth it.
I don't think we spend more than 700 or 800 pounds a month promoting that about 55, 50-odd books in the catalogue now.
So, yeah, it's email. And because people keep coming in at the top, it's like one of those marble run things. We're always getting fresh people in.
I think really important, before everyone just starts sending thousands of emails, the content that we provide is good. It's good website lessons, and it's useful. And it's not just like, “Hey, download my free PDF,” so you can get the email address.
The first thing is, if you're going to get people's email address, what you're providing them with on that landing page has to be really useful and it has to be integral to the book, I think.
Then, once you do that, if you're going to be emailing people a lot you have to be providing value. If you're just going, “Buy my book. Buy my book. Buy my book,” you're unsubscribed and you're spam instantly. It doesn't work, and you'll upset people.
Joanna: Yeah, well I know how much work that is. I've thought about doing this so many times and then just backed away. I mean, especially because you're adding quite a lot of books per year.
Every time you add a new book, are you adding to this email sequence?
Joseph: Yeah. Sort of packing it on at the end, that's probably not the most effective way to do it. But yeah, we're releasing a book about every two weeks at the moment.
Joanna: Wow. Okay, let's come to that.
How are you releasing a book every two weeks?
Joseph: About three years ago, a guy called Sam said, “Oh, I've written this book. And I can see you've been quite successful with what you're doing. Will you help me publish it?” I was like, “Yes.”
And the deal we agreed, that I would put it out to my mailing list, and I would do the covers, and I would do everything that made it into a book. He would provide the writing, the notation, the musical examples, and the audio. For that, we would split the royalties 50/50. And suddenly, overnight I was a little mini publishing company. Bought my imprint. And that was that.
That book does all right, and since then, I was trying to work it out the other day, but I'm working through about 10 or 15 authors at the moment.
Joseph: I am writing. I'm outsourcing a bit of my writing to a very good friend, my old guitar teacher, at the moment. He's not doing the writing, that's not fair to say, but he's getting the music together for it, so I can write. But most of my time now, I'm publishing.
We've got a great system. One of the things I get asked about a lot is the freelancers. We've got loads of freelancers working for us, which can be a pain, but it can also be absolutely amazing. Stuff just gets done, that you don't have to worry about.
I've got a copy editor, I've got someone that does images, promotion side of things. I went on Upwork and I found six translators to translate all my books. And they're all good guitarists. Finding a translator who's a great guitarist was really, really tough. But we found them, and we suddenly went from, I think it was, about 40 books to 120 books in a period of six months.
Joseph: So, while I don't sell loads, it's sort of opened.
Amazon's moving into Brazil, so we're hitting the Portuguese there. I've been contacted by a music shop in Sao Paolo. We're going to be trying to put a deal together there, so I can supply those guys.
We're selling books in Spain, and Germany. And it's a trickle, but I think I invested something like 10,000 pounds. That's really cheap. Like 40 books, essentially, in three languages, really cheap. And that paid for itself within about six to 12 months. It's worth doing.
I've got a bit off track here. I think we were talking about publishing schedules and things like that. So, yeah, go on.
Joanna: I was going to say, because many people who get to this point, and I'm definitely behind you, but I definitely struggle with managing everything.
What are you using to manage everyone? Do you use Asana? Or are you at the top just emailing everybody? Or do you have a CEO?
Joseph: It's been a problem. Generally, 99% of stuff runs smoothly, but when you get that problem, it can be quite big. That's not to say that it's a bad thing.
I highly recommend that if there's anything, it almost doesn't matter, if you've got any spare cash and it doesn't have to be expensive, if there's something you find yourself doing repeatedly that you don't enjoy and that's taking you away from writing, then give it to someone else to do. For your own sanity.
In terms of managing it, I have a manager. My girlfriend, we've been together for seven years. She works for the company. She's codirector of my company. And she is really, really good with people. Which is not one of my skills. So quite a lot of the time, I'm just like, “Sweetheart, can you just take care of that for me?” She's like “Yeah,” and it happens, because I'm not good at that.
Joanna: That's great. I mean, she sounds like a CEO-type person, or a COO, like or director of operations. Just gets it done, which is really good.
There's so many things we want to do. We're actually almost running out of time.
Joanna: I know. It's crazy. What I definitely wanted to ask you, because many people listening will just be on, say a couple of hundred dollars a month income or maybe a couple of thousand. I wanted to ask you about two tipping points.
When did the business go to six figures? So, how many books, and how did that happen? And then, how did it go from six figures up to seven figures? Like what were the things that made those jumps? Because I think those are big jumps that mark a business.
Joseph: Yeah. I'd have to pull out my spreadsheet.
Joanna: Just roughly.
Joseph: When I went to Thailand it was just sort of like, glass of champagne on the plane sort of thing. I think I was making about 8,000 pounds a month, which is what, like $10,000, $11,000 a month, I guess. So that would be six figures, and I think that was with 12 books maybe.
Joanna: Twelve. Okay, yeah.
Joseph: Yeah, so that was sort of round about the $100,000 mark, I guess. We're turning over mid-six figures at the moment, obviously, we've been doing this for quite a few years, so seven figures is there.
We hit seven figures a year ago, actually. Just after a year ago, so that would have been probably about maybe 30 books. Don't quote me on that, it's ballpark. I guess I'd have to really look into that one.
I think the key point that I would draw people's attention to is the brand recognition thing. Hopefully, without being arrogant, I hope the quality is there. Goes without saying that you have to have that.
The brand recognition consists, here's that book again. And all my books sort of vaguely look like that. If you go and search Joseph Alexander guitar on Amazon, you'll find my stuff, and it's just like, oh, that publishing company has written all of these books.
Having that templated, I can just drop in a guitar, or drop in an image, whatever I need to. If you see one book and it's got like 300 positive reviews, and there's another book next to it with less, there's that association. It's brand recognition as well. And it wasn't all an accident. I was really bad at making covers.
Actually, I thought it would come up. When I first started publishing, I was making my own covers, and it was like that. The book was that, it was pretty awful. And then that's the same book a few years later when we redid it. And it's still not like where I'd want it to be.
Joanna: I think they're great. I mean, people on the audio only, they do have a guitar on, so they're very kind of clear. But I did have a look on Amazon. They all look kind of the same, with different colors and different topics.
Joseph: Yeah. Appropriate guitars.
Joanna: Yeah. I think that's really important.
Joseph: Yeah. The one thing, this is a huge advantage of doing non-fiction stuff, is the fact that you can be very SEO-friendly with your titles. My books are not “The Ethereal Goddess of Folk Guitar.”
It's like, “Folk Guitar,” “Play Folk Guitar” sort of thing. Or “Guitar Technique,” or “Guitar Theory,” or “Blues Guitar,” “Rhythm and Blues Guitar,” “Soloing.”
You can be that, and you've got your subheading as well, so definitely get the SEO stuff into the book titles as well.
Joanna: And your website. I mean, how much do you sell from the website?
How much do you think you sell through your website versus Amazon?
Joseph: Well, Amazon, hands down. I know probably combined, Kindle and paperback, we sell about 6,000 books a month. On Amazon, we sell probably about $1,000 worth, maybe $1,500 worth a month of PDF books from the website.
But to be honest, in the last three or four books, I've not bothered doing PDF books because we're finding that Kindle Select, Kindle Unlimited, is working better for us in terms of ranking on Amazon. We make a lot more money per book selling a PDF book from our own site, but it's better to make a dollar a thousand times.
Joanna: What are any other things that you think indies are doing wrong?
What are some of your thoughts on what's happening or why you're successful, and what are others doing wrong?
Joseph: One thing that I see, and this is very non-fiction based. People say don't reply to your reviews. And I will happily reply to a negative review. Especially if it's somebody's having like a technical problem with getting the audio, or they've said something that's kind of inaccurate about the book, I'll pick them up on it.
I think it's okay to respond to reviews in this field.
The other thing is the not emailing people. Like we don't spam. Don't get me wrong, we don't spam. We don't send like thousands and thousands of emails of the same thing. But this kind of, oh yeah, maybe just stay in touch once a month, or once every couple of weeks with your audience.
People don't read emails. That's, unfortunately, the truth of it.
Say it's the freebie. If you've got email addresses that way, generally what I see, because I work on Reedsy as well, we do consultations with people there, is that people who get email address in that way often say the response rate isn't good. The open rate isn't good. Because they're inundated. They've signed up for so many free book sites that you don't stand out.
And the big thing is, “Oh, I sent them an email and like 20 people unsubscribed from my list.” “Well they didn't want to see that. They weren't going to buy anything from you anyway.”
It's not about having a big email list, although it kind of helps. It's a case of having an involved, like a community, of your emailers.
Yeah, if you send a couple of emails and people are still on there, that's great. They're listening to you. They're very likely to buy. If you send them one email and they just disappear, then they weren't going to do anything for you anyway.
So there's that kind of thing. Don't be afraid to email people. Don't spam them. But send them useful stuff. Develop a relationship with the people that are reading your book.
That's it. But yeah, absolutely, and just biggest tip.
Why I've been successful? It was an accident. Hands down, I never meant to do this. This was just something I fell into.
But get something that's integral to your book, that people want to have. Put an email wall in front of it. Promote it in your book. Get that email. Be really organized about it. Know what book people have come for. You can use things like Genius Link or stuff like that to track people through. And be super organized with your list.
When I launch a death metal book, I'm not going to launch out to my jazz guys, right? It's sort of a no-brainer. If you can be that organized with your mailing list, then you're more likely to show people content that they want to see.
Joanna: Yeah, well, I have a whole list of to-dos after this chat. That's been fantastic. Tell people where they can find you and your books and everything online.
Joseph: The best way is Joseph Alexander guitar on Amazon. That'll always show up. My website is fundamental-changes.com.
And if you want to, you'll probably unsubscribe really quickly, but if you do doubt, just go on to download the audio page and sign up. And just see what we do.
If you're not interested in guitar, you probably will unsubscribe really quickly. But I'd say stay on for a few weeks just to see how we send out content. And it is all automated. So that would probably be quite a good lesson for people in terms of how to maximize that mailing list.
Joanna: That's brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Joseph. That was great.
Joseph: Okay, thank you very much for having me on. I'm flattered to be here.
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[…] the email address of the reader. Plus, we can then use automated email sequences as described by Joseph Alexander in this interview on print publishing business models, in order to recommend more books, give discounts […]
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