If you want to have a long-term career as an author, you need readers to care about you and want to buy your books over the years to come. So how do you turn strangers into superfans? I discuss this and more book marketing tips with David Gaughran in today's show.
In the introduction, I discuss the embezzlement at ‘famed' New York literary agency, Donadio and Olson, as reported by the New York Post this week. I encourage authors to educate and empower themselves and take control of their author business. Read Kris Rusch's informed article, and Chuck Palahniuk's blog post about how he is broke because of it.
I also mention the potential impact of Patricia Cornwell signing with APub [Business Wire] and predict that this will be the first big print run when APub books appear in high street bookstores. Plus, customers in Australia will be blocked from shopping on Amazon.com after July 1, 2018 because of 10% GST. This will impact Kindle users [The Digital Reader]. Make sure you have licensed your books for Australia if you want readers to be able to find them.
Want to write non-fiction and turn your knowledge into words? Want a step-by-step guide through the mindset, business aspects, writing and editing, publishing and product creation, as well as marketing a non-fiction book?
Check out How to Write Non-Fiction: Turn your Knowledge into Words, out now in ebook, print, large print, workbook, and coming soon in audio format. I also have a multi-media course, How to Write a Non-Fiction Book, which expands on the material. You can get US$50 off by using coupon code: LAUNCH, valid until 30 June 2018.
David Gaughran is the bestselling author of historical fiction, short stories, and popular guides for writers. His latest book is Strangers To Superfans: A Marketing Guide To The Readers' Journey.
- The ups and downs of David’s author career over the past few years
- The effects of a disappointing book launch
- Staying current with book marketing strategies
- What the Buyer’s Journey is and how it applies to authors marketing their books
- How Kindle Unlimited has changed the book landscape, even for those not enrolled in the program
- Why KU isn’t a magic bullet
- How much Also Boughts matter for book sales
- The five stages of the reader journey and why we sometimes accidentally focus on the wrong stage
You can find David Gaughran at DavidGaughran.com and on Twitter @DavidGaughran
Transcript of Interview with David Gaughran
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com. And today, I'm back with David Gaughran. Hi, David.
David: Hi, Joanna. Hi, everyone. Good to be back.
Joanna: It's been ages but just a little introduction.
David is the bestselling author of historical fiction, short stories, and popular guides for writers. His latest book is “Strangers To Superfans: A Marketing Guide To The Readers' Journey,” which I know everyone is super interested in.
You last came on the show in 2014, which I couldn't believe when I looked it up, I mean it's just crazy.
How has your author life changed since then?
David: Quite a lot actually, it was a bit of a roller coaster.
2014, was a brilliant year for me in terms of sales and stuff, and that's rolled over nicely into 2015.
But then I'd some stuff going on in real life and I had less time for writing and all that kind of stuff and promoting, and I was like, “Okay, if there's one thing I can focus on at the moment, although I've got less time and less emotional headspace to write books, I want to work on the craft.”
Because while I liked my first couple of novels, they weren't up to the level where I want them to be. So I was like, “Okay, if I can focus on one thing over the next year or two it's going to be craft.”
And I pretty much did that. I'm a slow writer anyway, but all the stuff was slowing me down, but I was like, “Okay, if I'm going to publish something, I want it to be better than anything I've published before.”
So I really went down the rabbit hole of craft. I remember I did a couple of drafts just on the rhythm of the sentences in “Liberty Boy,” because it was the first book I wrote set in set in Ireland. And it was really important for me to get especially the dialogue, the pattern of how people speak because conversation is kind of like a combat sport in Ireland, you know.
I had to get that right, and there would've been a few Irish people watching to see if I did that. So that was all super important to me, but there was also like elements of the craft that I've been wanting to work on for a while, so I stepped off the treadmill.
And when I eventually then released that book, I think because it took a while to write, because it was the first time I wrote a book which was going to be a series opener. It's a different kind of intellectual challenge, you've got to set up all sorts of stuff for future books, and all that stuff I never had to think about before.
But anyway, when I eventually released it, it was a total flop. So basically, what happened was there was a bit of a technical problem with the launch, it didn't get in the Also Boughts, which we will probably talk about the importance of Also Boughts later.
But this happens every so often and it was just a piece of bad luck, that this particular book didn't get Also Boughts on launch. And when you know how essential Also Boughts are to the entire Amazon recommendation engine which I did.
What I should've done was yank the book straight away and republish it, but I kept thinking the Also Boughts are gonna kick in, in the next update and they didn't.
And the other thing I should have done; if I wasn't going to pull the book and republish it, was I should have just made it free for a few days and thrown a few quick ads out of it, a bit of marketing money, and up that might a sort of it out.
But I didn't, I kept thinking it was going to fix itself, and I'd put so much into this book kind of emotionally and personally, and because there was no Also Boughts, like the launch itself, the launch week went fine, but then it just had that dead cat things, didn't sell anything after the launch week.
And I was devastated by that, and it took a few months for me to get the kind of mojo back to start promoting it again. Once I did then the Also Boughts kicked in and sales picked up and all that.
But there was another issue going on with that launch which took a bit longer for me to accept internally, which was things have changed dramatically since 2014.
I started self-publishing in 2011, and I started pretty well and each year was kind of doubling or tripling up until 2015 when the wheels came off of me a little bit.
I had figured out a pretty good system of marketing, visibility marketing where I was focused on the algorithms, and metadata, and getting visible in the Amazon store and convincing the algorithms to sell the book for me, and I had figured out that formula pretty well.
I got a little bit lazy when all this other stuff started where people were working email autoresponders, and Facebook ads, and BookBub ads and AMS. I was just lazy I didn't get into it, and I was left behind by all the stuff.
When I started getting back into the saddle properly last year and was able to carve out more time for writing and promoting and all that stuff, I realized I had a lot of catching up to do. So I started reading everything I could about what people are doing today to market books, and everything had changed dramatically.
There were people clamoring for me to do an update of “Let's Get Visible” and “Let's Get Digital,” because that they hadn't been updated for three or four years, and obviously so much had changed.
Like Kindle Unlimited, even if you're wide, Kindle Unlimited has changed everything it's basically just redrawn the Kindle Store completely.
Marketing has gotten so much more complicated in the last three or four years, it's gotten more expensive, but the rewards are greater as well. So it's just like a higher stakes game all around.
What I started to do was not just look at what people were doing inside the world of books. But also in the wider marketing world, because I actually came from a little bit of a marketing background. It was kind of a tech marketing background which makes it especially unforgivable that I let the skill set get rusty, but I did.
I went to a couple of marketing conferences that weren't to do with publishing a book, which is kind of an interesting thing to do. And I heard like some of the best digital marketing agencies talk about what they're doing with Facebook ads.
And I started reading, I did a few online courses like I got Google Ad Words certified again just to kind of shake the cobwebs loose.
I did some conversion marketing course with HubSpot and just trying to do a skills refresh everywhere, because I hadn't worked professionally in the world of marketing for over 10 years, and obviously a lot has changed in the world of marketing in the last 10 years.
During that process, aside from trying to teach myself all the stuff that I've fallen behind on, I came across this marketing paradigm of what they call the buyer's journey, and instantly like a light bulb went off in my head. And I could see straight away that it would translate perfectly to the world of books.
Companies are always obsessed with their own sales, and their own products, and their own marketing. And what the buyer's journey does, is it forces them to view all that from the perspective of their customer instead of from their own perspective.
And they actually put a lot of work in things called buyer personas. It's kind of like us when we're thinking about our main character or our love interest in our book. And we might fill out a character sheet detailing their hair color, eye color, their speech patterns, or their personal tastes and likes and dislikes. To give us a kind of fleshed out view of that character, so that when we go to write we naturally know how they would react or speak in various situations.
Marketers actually do that now with their buyer personas. They do a character sketch of who the people are they're actually marketing towards, because if you're an insurance company, if the customer for your product is a senior, or if it's a soccer mom with two kids and a dog at home, you might speak to those people very differently.
It's the same with us in the book world where if we can do a POV shift into the shoes of our reader, and then examine our marketing and the whole journey they go from, from when they are initially unaware of you or your books, to the ultimate goal which is not just to sell them something but have them actually become the kind of fans who do the selling for you.
And you can actually map out that journey and see where the various roadblocks are along the way, and then optimize them, increase your conversion at each stage.
All this kind of came to me at once when I first heard this concept, and I knew straightaway, I was going to write a book about it. But it took a while, it took a year on and off just diving into the concepts and seeing how they could properly apply to the world of books and where we go.
Joanna: Wow, really interesting and so many things I want to follow up on that I know people will want to hear.
Before we get into the details of the buyer persona and the reader journey and all of that, I want to come back to what you said about the total flop, which is great to hear that. It's not great to hear for you, but it's great to hear for everyone else because everyone goes through these periods.
You mentioned there that KU has changed everything even if you're wide, I wondered if you would elaborate on that? Because there are lots of people listening who either haven't published yet or may have started in 2015.
You said the wheels fell off for people like us who started way back and were coasting on things.
Just go through a bit more like how has publishing, or self-publishing, or indie publishing, changed because of KU.
David: I remember when Kindle Unlimited was first launched and you might remember this yourself, Joanna, when there was a lot of argument about whether we should unenroll our books.
There was a lot of talk about whether it would cannibalize our sales. And some people were worried that if they enrolled their books in KU, like they're obviously making a living or trying to make a living off their book sales, they're worried because you got paid less for a borrower.
I think it was around a $1.40 for a borrower at the time. And you might be making $2, $3, $4 off a sale.
It was a real worry that if people borrow our books instead of buying them, we'll make a lot less money. And I think what we've found in the three or four years since is that borrows do cannibalize sales, but not your own sales.
It cannibalizes the sales of all the authors who aren't in Kindle Unlimited. So what I mean by that is let's say, I'm a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, and I want to get a book to read. I've already paid my $10 for the month, so all the books which are enrolled in the program are essentially free to me.
But if I want to read something that is a wide book that's not in KU, I have to pay $3, $4, $5 for that, so that's a big hurdle to overcome.
If you're a wide author, if you're trying to the market to a KU subscriber, you're essentially competing against 100,000 high-quality free books every day.
And not only that, Kindle Unlimited authors because they're getting the borrows, I believe… so not everyone agrees with this. I think the borrows are essentially cream on top of the sales, so for every bit of marketing they do, they get that added bonus in terms of reads.
So it's much easier for them to get ROI on any kind of Facebook advertising or BookBub Ads or anything like that.
And then finally, the third thing that really changed the landscape was that content deals, because if they're running a 99-cent deal, and they get 70% royalties instead of 35%, they can essentially spend twice as much in marketing.
There's a massive difference if you're marketing a book that's in KU or wide, you can be twice as aggressive on Facebook, you can be twice aggressive with BookBub Ads, or anything else.
Putting all that together, that is a serious challenge for wide authors, and I'm wide now actually with everything. So I'm now wrestling with this myself at the moment.
But the KU system if you know how to work it, if it suits you, and your books, and your genres, like the amount of money that the people at the top are making is pretty staggering.
Joanna: I think that's really important; you're wide, I am wide with my two main names.
But interestingly, I have a third name which since we last connected I've started writing under another name, sweet romance with my mom, I co-write with my mom, under Penny Appleton. And because I don't have any time to do any of the marketing, I have put those three books in a boxset in KU, and that's been a year now.
I don't have any time to do any other marketing, so it barely sells. So I think it's really important that KU is not a magic bullet, right?
Joanna: All the stuff you were talking about in “Strangers To Superfans” and “Let's Get Visible” all those things apply whether or not you were in KU.
It's not like, “Oh, you just put your book in and then you're magically making 100 grand a month.”
David: One of the terms I really hate in this industry is the idea of a sleeper hit. I don't believe in sleeper hits. I think that's just a lazy term for a success we haven't figured out yet.
When “Fifty Shades” first burst on the scene, they started using that phrase, but then they sound out that the author had built up a huge following in the world of fan fiction. There's always a reason for the success, maybe we're not always able to figure it out, but there's always a reason.
Books don't magically get discovered especially not today when there's 7 million books in the Kindle Store; it's just not going to happen.
You always have to do something to prime the pump, and it doesn't matter whether you're in KU or wide, you need a plan to get sales going. You need to actively build up in every market that you're targeting because they don't spill over really.
If there's an author who's very popular in the UK, and then he's trying to launch his career in the U.S. He's essentially starting from scratch. You have to build up a market in each audience.
And then when you're wide, then that becomes a challenge because you've got to build up your audience on Kobo, and Apple, and Amazon. But not just that, but in each individual store. You're starting from zero in each place, but there's advantages to that as well.
Joanna: I think that's really important and one of the reasons I'm wide and like being wide is because a lot of these markets are growing, and it's almost like starting again in these new markets where America was back in 2011.
Some of those markets are just starting out. I think the long-term view and those other stores take longer but they're really important.
I want to ask you to come back on the bio persona about basically the target reader because I just mentioned now I have different pen names.
I have three pen names nonfiction, Joanna Penn, and you and I are also of each other's Also Bought. And then I have JF Penn for thrillers and Penny Appleton. Partly I did that because of Also Boughts, and because of branding and because of the target reader.
But even within that, JF Penn for me is really hard to market because it's so cross-genre. I have action, adventure, and horror, and crime, and fantasy, all in one name. And you have historical fiction and books for authors.
What do you think about that target reader or that buyer persona when people write cross-genre under one name?
David: The first thing I'll say is that you did it totally right, and I did it absolutely wrong.
If I was starting again today I would have released the nonfiction under a slightly different name, like even just throwing an initial in there or shortening the name like you did, means you're essentially, for the most part, treated as a distinct author in the eyes of the algorithms.
You still have the danger of Also Bought pollution that you have to guard against, but the danger is lessened considerably.
If I was starting again I would do everything under separate names. I'm actually going to do some pen name experiments myself starting next month. I'm going to be diving into a new genre under a new name.
And actually, for the last year, I've been essentially divorcing myself. I've been splitting my self in two because again stupidly I had one big kind of Frankenstein list with my fiction and nonfiction people mixed together. I'm splitting my website, my web presence in two. I'm doing all these things slowly.
It's much better to do it at the start. Doing it afterwards is a real pain. It really is. And depending on how those pen name experiments go, I may actually re-brand the historicals under a slightly different name, throw in an initial or something like that because it is a constant problem.
It's a constant problem for any author who writes in two genres where one is selling more than the other, because invariably, the stronger-selling genre, those books will pop up in your Also Boughts.
And that's what happens with my fiction all the time, which really doesn't help. For anyone who doesn't know the Also Boughts are the way that Amazon's recommendation engine takes the temperature of your book and tries to figure out what kind of reader likes it.
So if you got scrambled Also Boughts or books in inappropriate genre in, they're the kind of people that Amazon is going to be selling your book to, once you get sales going in any kind of promotion.
And often if you have bad Also Boughts and you do some kind of promotion you will get that get that dead cat things afterwards.
But your question is slightly more specific. What about if you're writing kind of cross-genre stuff under that one name? And that's where it gets a bit tricky.
Luckily, the Also Boughts don't decide, “This is a science fiction book and this is a romance book.” They are nuanced enough to capture that.
So if your readers are the kind of people who like Dan Brown but also maybe with a bit more of a hard element or whatever, the system is nuanced enough to capture that. It won't just stick one label on your book and then it will be an ill fit.
As long as your Also Boughts are reflective of your true target audience you'll be fine. If you've got a pretty clear idea of your ideal reader already, and you know what other authors they like, and what other books they like, you can target those authors and books.
I'm sure you do already quite explicitly especially with AMS ads and BookBub Ads.
They're probably the two best tools for kind of cementing the correct Also Boughts at launch because that's when it's most crucial when you're launching a book.
I think of it as kind of a newborn baby when the skull hasn't formed yet. It's at its most vulnerable at that point. And you've really got to guard against the wrong type of kind of people buying your book. I actually wrote a blog post last year called “Please Don't Buy My Book.”
Joanna: I saw that.
David: People took it a bit literally.
I think everyone does this when they release their first one especially, they take all their work colleagues, and friends, and family, and aunties, and cousins, and the postman and everyone to buy a copy.
It's actually the worst thing you can do because let's say you're writing romantic suspense and these aren't all romantic suspense readers, Amazon's system is going to get an incorrect idea of the kind of people that like your book.
And then it's going to start recommending it to all the wrong people and they won't buy it, and then Amazon's system will deem your book a loser and it's hard to rebound from that.
Joanna: Just a clarification on that, you see people in your print Also Boughts that are different to your Kindle ones and your audio.
Do you think the Kindle Also Boughts overlap with the print Also Boughts and/or the audio? Because it looks like they're not, there isn't a crossover.
David: I think they're separate, and everything used to be totally separate like where the international stores would have separate Also Boughts, and all the different formats would have separate.
But what I've noticed over the last couple years, and I haven't dug into this enough, is that where Amazon doesn't have enough information, like let's say in Australia you don't have enough sales to generate enough a couple of Also Boughts there, it'll just kind of import the ones from America.
I'm not exactly sure what triggers that and what kind of thresholds you need. If I had to guess, I would say you probably need 50 sales in that market before the system can start getting an accurate read on localizing the Also Boughts there.
But, yeah, I have noticed that myself that you can often have very different Also Boughts in print.
Joanna: Different people. Yes, so you get the postman and you're aunty and everything to buy in print.
David: That's a brilliant idea.
Joanna: There you go, so you could have had, “Please buy my book in print”.
David: I know what tomorrow's blog post is going to be. Thank you very much.
Joanna: I didn't used to focus so much on print, and then I got involved with IngramSpark, and now I'm going hard on print products.
We're recording at the end of the month, and all the money comes in from all the different Amazon stores and CreateSpace and Lightning Source. My CreateSpace and Lightning Source print sales this month were bigger than my UK Kindle sales. It's the first time it's ever happened.
So there's a little encouragement for people. You can get everyone you know to buy the print book.
I did also want to add a clarification. I published my first two books under Joanna Penn, my first two thrillers under Joanna Penn, and then I went through a massive re-brand in 2012, and changed those and started JF Penn. So you can definitely do that and it works backwards.
Give us an overview of these steps in the reader journey as you define it in your new paradigm, and then we might get into some detail on some of them.
David: All right, so the five main steps in the reader journey, the first one is discovery.
All readers are completely unaware of you and your work. They've never seen one of your covers, they've never been to your book page, they don't know your name, you're a nobody to them.
The visibility stage is when you're just a blip on their radar, they're tangentially aware of you or your books, maybe they've seen your cover in the Also Boughts of a more popular book in that niche.
Maybe they seen your cover in a book club email or something like that, or otherwise come across you or your work online or elsewhere or heard a recommendation and maybe just didn't act on it yet.
The consideration stage is when they're actually weighing up a purchase. They're actually on your Amazon product page and they're mulling over whether to buy it.
The purchase stage then is when you have their money, they bought the book, and it'll either sit untroubled on their Kindle for several months or maybe they'll dive into it right away and start reading it. And maybe they'll finish it and maybe they won't.
A lot more people don't finish the book than writers know about. I think they're a bit shocked when they hear how many people actually don't complete the book, even good books.
It's like less than one in two. Even award-winning or hugely popular books usually have a completion rate of less than 50% which I think shocks people. Presumably, the really bad books have a slightly lower completion rate again.
The final stages then because your job doesn't stop just because you have their money or even if they've read your book, is the advocacy stage. And that's really what you're shooting for rather than reader dollars, is to create an army of fans who will do the selling for you.
I don't think we pay enough attention to any of the stages apart the discovery stage.
I think any time the sales of a book are flagging, we're too quick to reach for discovery solutions. We'll throw some money on a Facebook campaign, or we'll take out an ad somewhere, or we'll otherwise try and drum up publicity.
We don't spend enough time looking at the other stages. I actually argue in the book, that the other stages are a bigger challenge in many ways, especially because we're not paying enough attention to them.
Joanna: I pulled out a quote there, you said, “Over time, we can fall into a trap of mistreating our core readers.”
I agree with you and I'm as guilty as anyone else. I feel that a launch, we'd send an email to our list, and kind of expect them to buy. And then we focus, like you say, on the discovery angle and that visibility angle.
How can we avoid that trap and what can we do to not mistreat our core readers?
David: One very common way that authors can do it is we're usually launching books at full price, and then a few months down the line, we might you apply for a BookBub deal or something.
But some authors can be a little bit aggressive on that especially if the launch maybe doesn't go quite as well as planned, or sales tank in week two or week three, or when they hit that target date cliff.
Some people can panic and just decide to put it for free or make it 99 cents, or otherwise throw some traffic out and usually, that means running a discount on the book.
But that's very unfair to your most loyal readers, the core who are on your mailing list. They paid for 4.99 or whatever you're charging for the book, and then six weeks after launch you're running a sale at 99 cents, it's not very fair.
That's a really common and simple way that we can mistreat our core readers.
The more complex way which I think is harder to avoid is when we just keep asking them for things without giving them things. And this is probably the biggest screw up I made in my career which is a very long list.
I had a totally wrong approach to email, and I used to advocate for it as well. So it was especially hard for me to completely pivot to a different approach. But I could see with my last launch that open rates were getting pretty low and click rates as well.
The conversion rate on the emails… all the signs were bad, they were all getting worse.
And for so long I had been saying that I only want to email people when I have a new release. I thought I was doing them a favor. I thought I was not cluttering up their inbox. And maybe if they only heard me every so often it would make it more special or something, I don't know.
But the problem when you combine that with releasing slowly is they forget who you are, or what they were reading, or that they're interested in that series or whatever.
I think you can probably get away with a new release only approach if you're releasing regularly, but I wasn't, so they could go a very long time without hearing from me.
Which aside from the personal level and in terms of deliverability, in terms of dodging those spam filters and getting Gmail to put it in their inbox rather than promotions tab, all that is really bad.
People weren't getting my emails and the few who were didn't care anymore. Quite frankly they'd forgotten who I was and I don't blame them.
I decided to pivot to a totally different approach this year with email. I started sending out a regular newsletter. I don't do this so far for my nonfiction list, I'll be rolling it out my fiction list later this year.
But I started doing a weekly email where I just give them things instead of asking for things, because even if you only email them when you're launching a book, you think you're giving them something but it's not, it's an ask, you're asking for money.
So instead I started just giving instead, so every week I send out marketing tips to my mailing list. And it's not like some elaborate ruse where I hit them with a buy request at the end.
I just give them something. I give them a tip. I've been doing like a series on BookBub Ads. I've done six or seven parts on it now. And it's not leading up to a sale, there's no bait and switch here.
It's just, “Here's some info, some actionable practical advice that you can use to grow your business, increase your sales, retweet, or whatever.” I'm just trying to give them something every week.
And then what I hope is, and so far it's been working out pretty well, that when I do come out with an ask, when I need some reviews, or if I need a sale, if I'm launching a new book, the response is much better. Because if you're just asking for things all the time, eventually that's going to gripe.
Even if you're releasing books which people love, and you're developing a relationship where you're only doing the 3:00 a.m. booty call and you're never turning up with flowers. That is always going to lead to trouble eventually. You've got to throw in flowers there every so often I think.
Joanna: Great metaphor. We're not gonna go into technical details, but today I spent time on this GDPR email stuff, which by the time this goes out that will be law in the EU, and you're in the EU as well.
Some of their regulations to me feel like, “Oh, my goodness, that's really good that I have to revisit my list,” because so often the years go by.
I can't believe I haven't spoken to you since 2014. It's kind of like, “Oh, yeah, that list has just been happening, and I haven't even revisited it.”
Or done the cleaning process as much as I should have.
I want to ask you about the failure matrix. Because one of them is these measures of engagement like open rates, and click rates, and stuff like that.
You've mentioned some of your failures, which I'm really grateful for. And many authors listening feel like they live in the failure matrix, and you've got a great chapter on this.
How else can we figure out what's not working? Because you mentioned there the five steps in the process.
How do we know which is where our biggest failure is and how to tackle that?
David: This is one thing I really wanted to address in the book, especially for those of us who've been doing this for a while our backlist is growing all the time. And we do spend most of our energy on the front list or on pushing that series opener or whatever.
It's easy to let things slide for the kind of older, feistier books in our catalog. And that's not a bad approach, you should be focused on producing new things, that should be your main focus.
I think there's some gold in that backlist which can still be excavated, and I think we often forget that we might be tired of looking at the book cover or reading that blurb.
But to a reader who has never encountered that book before, it's brand new to them, and we sometimes forget that.
We could be making more money out of our backlist, but part of the problem is, especially if you have like 22 or 30 books and you see sales are not great on one particular series, you don't know where the problem is.
You don't know, “Is the problem with the book? Is it the cover? Is it the blurb? Is it the way I'm promoting it? Does the reader not like the ending of book two because the sale cruised down a little bit there?”
It feels like there's a never-ending list of things that you could potentially try and you don't know how to attack the problem.
What I was trying to do with that section of the book was give people a deeper understanding of failure based on all of my personal experience. But also to help them develop an instinct of where to dive in right away so they can fix things efficiently.
I remember doing a launch a few years ago, I was launching a historical, and I sold 400, 500 copies during launch week which was pretty good. And then it just literally went to zero the next week, and I was like, “Okay, there's something not right here?”
But it was a historical novel but I'd launched it at 99 cents, and I pushed it hard to my writer grid not realizing that was creating a huge problem for me. And of course, when the Also Boughts kicked in, they were all people like Joanna Penn. And I knew straight away I was in big trouble.
When Amazon's system then started recommending my book to readers, because I had a reasonably good launch, it was recommending to people who wanted self-publishing how-to's rather than historical fiction.
So straight away Amazon would see the conversion rates on those recommendation emails would have been terrible, and it would have deemed my book a loser and pushed it down the rankings never to return.
If you have a promotion where the promotion itself goes well, so that your blurb is fine and your cover is appropriate for the genre, but then afterwards, you've no halo. That's often indicative of a failure up at the visibility stage, which is what I had.
I go through each of the stages and show you what a discovery failure looks like versus a visibility versus an advocacy failure.
So that when you are looking at a particular title or series, you can get a sense straightaway of where the problem more than likely lies instead of having to look over everything, because that just takes forever especially when you've got a lot of titles.
If you're going to do a total renovation of your entire back catalog when you have 20 or 30 titles, that could take you a year and you wouldn't have any new work coming out. So that's not advisable.
It's much better to be able to locate where the failure point is and just be able to dive in and try and fix that straightaway.
Joanna: Reading your book, it gives me a whole load of to-dos, so people listening feel like they have a big to-do list.
I love this failure matrix, I think it's brilliant, and I know for example, the advocacy step, it's like you said about email, I don't know what it is. Is it a European thing, you just don't want to bother people?
David: Yeah, I think it is.
Joanna: And I don't want to ask, like I don't like asking for help, whereas some people who do it really well and have rabid fans.
I've been considering how much I understand traditional publishers a lot more when you go through this, because I have 27 books right now and they're wide and I publish direct on most places. And then I have all the different formats, so I have something like 250 different products at this point.
Now even to update a blurb is a huge deal, so I can see how a traditional publisher with like thousands, tens of thousands of books wouldn't be able to do this.
Do you think we're understanding traditional publishing?
How is the relationship between trad and indies, since when you and I first connected it was pretty bad?
David: I think a lot of the bad blood has evaporated to a certain extent partly because so many authors are doing a little bit of each now, or so many traditionally published authors have come over to Indie and stayed indie.
But also because we kind of won. If you look at the U.S. e-book market now, self-publishers, people like me and you just sitting in their kitchen, have taken over 40% of the market. That's insane. That's completely insane.
I think that's part of the reason why, because I think they're still three or four years behind us in terms of marketing, and that's for their very best authors. They still make huge, huge mistakes even with their biggest authors.
I remember a couple of years ago when Dan Brown was releasing “The Lost Symbol,” and his publisher Random House, they did something quite revolutionary for a big five publisher. They made “The Da Vinci Code” free for a few weeks, and they advertised it quite heavily.
And this is I think just the last month leading up to the actual publication date of “The Lost Symbol.” And I was amazed, I was like, “This is really radical approach especially for a book which would still be selling very well.”
So I grabbed a copy of the book and I straightaway page the end to look at the end matter, and there they included an exert from the “The Lost Symbol,” the first chapter or the prologue or something, and I was like, “Oh, geez, they might actually be doing this right.”
And then I reached the end of it and there was no link to buy the book, even though it was already on pre-order, there was no link to Dan Brown's website, there was no link to any mailing list.
The only link at the end is a link to Anchor Books which is the imprint publishing name, and I clicked on it go to the website and there's no mention of Dan Brown or the “The Lost Symbol,” kind of like, “You are so close to getting this right.”
I was trying to think, “How many downloads would ‘The Da Vinci Code' have gotten over the three weeks if it was free?” Probably quarter a million or something, I don't know.
How much money do they leave on the table by not just including a link to the preorder on Amazon or wherever else? That blows my mind.
And that's Dan Brown; he's going to be getting the best treatments. That's probably one of their biggest releases of the year. So I can't imagine what someone on 10 grand advance, what level of care they're getting if that's what Dan Brown is getting.
Joanna: I do have one more question for you since we talked four years ago. Imagine it's 2022. If we're talking in April 2022 which is kind of crazy four years from now, there's all sorts of things happening, including more and more scams which you are amazing at bringing up.
I will be at London Book Fair and China Literature talking of bringing something like 9 million more books over. I think it was 9 million authors and like a lot more books over in translation and all this different thing.
Where are we gonna be in four years' time and how can we future-proof? Really big question.
David: Well, if those 9 million authors all buy a copy of “Let's Get Digital” think I'll be on a very fancy yacht, Joanna, if not two.
I think when we last spoke, 2014, there would have been around a million and a half books in the Kindle Store, and people were already talking about choke points and visibility and stuff.
And now 7 million books in the Kindle store, that's a big growth, and I don't think the growth is slowing down.
So if people are waiting for things to settle down or whatever, that's not going to happen. Chaos is the new normal, and it's only going to get more chaotic.
And you're going to have to be more nimble, you're going to learn more things, which is probably not what everyone wants to hear. They want to hear it's gonna get simpler and easier. It's not.
But the rewards are going to keep growing, because the e-book market keeps growing, the tools we have at our fingertips are much more sophisticated.
If you think back to when we last spoke, I think BookBub was already in play but they only had the deals. And that was about it. I don't think Facebook ads had really taken off quite yet. But now we have Facebook ads, BookBub ads, AMS, there's people moving into audio, all sorts of subsidiary stuff.
People are always inventing new ways to reach readers, and that's going to continue. So as long as you don't get lazy like I did, and you try and keep your skill set relatively fresh, I think you'll be fine.
Joanna: I do think that the other perspective is don't try and do everything. Like you don't have to optimize everything and just be perfect.
What you can do is focus in on a small area of it and really do that well and gain the point, not 1% or whatever of the market, which is more than enough income for people like us in our kitchen. So I think that's another perspective.
As you say, like for people listening, you don't have to do everything and kind of compete on every level.
David: I've just taken things one at a time. I'm pretty good now at this point with Facebook ads, and I've kind of figured out a little system that's working for me, and same with BookBub ads.
AMS, I just can't crack it, I can't figure it out, the whole system seems kind of broken to me. But I hear these stories of people who are doing very well with AMS ads, so I must be doing something wrong.
But I don't sweat it because I have enough tools at my disposal to reach readers, and I will eventually figure out AMS ads, and then I'll move on to the next thing.
You don't have to do everything at once, you can take it piece by piece. I would actually recommend that if you're going to tackle one thing, if you're faced with all these things, and you don't know where to start. I would start with email because you work so hard to get people to your Amazon page.
And then at best, a quarter or half of them will buy your book, and at best half of them will actually finish the book. And then only a fraction of those people will sign up to your mailing list.
You really winnow down from the 1 million people that might have seen your ads in the BookBub email and you've only got a handful of them that actually made it all the way to your mailing list.
I think it's so crucial to look after them because you've worked so hard to get to that point and invested so much in terms of time and often money too.
And then once you have the email side of things figured out then you can start working backwards through everything. And I would recommend doing that rather than before you start.
I think I said in the book, you should solve all these things in reverse, instead of starting with the traffic and pouring more money and people into a broken system.
Fix the aftercare first, and then the product, and then the presentation, and then start looking at pumping up traffic. And you'll get a much better return from it once everything else is already in good shape.
Joanna: Fantastic. “Strangers To Superfans” is a fantastic book. I had it on preorder and really found it very useful. And as I said, my list has grown. But also you have a great free sign up and newsletter.
Tell people where they can find you and your books online.
David: You can go to davidgaughran.com. Can't even say my name let alone spell it. davidgaughran.com, and Gaughran is spelt G-A-U-G-H-R-A-N.
I think my pen name will be a lot simpler than that. And if you just Google me, I dominate the first few pages of results, you'll find me.
There's a free book called “Amazon Decode,” which is a short 50, 60-page book explaining how the Kindle store works, and all the algorithms, and how to work them to your advantage. And you get that as a bonus for signing up to my list, so check that out.
Joanna: It's great and that is only on your list, that's another tip, right?
David: Only on my list, yeah.
Joanna: It's a great tip. For my fiction, I need to do that, write something specific. I have it for the Creative Penn, but really great tip and great book. So thanks so much for your time, David. That was great.
David: Thank you very much. Bye, guys.