There are often stories about indie authors making big money in Kindle Unlimited, but there are plenty of authors making multi-six figure incomes by publishing wide. In this interview, I discuss publishing to multiple platforms as well as author mindset and book marketing tips with Adam Croft.
In the intro, I mention the exciting news that Findaway Voices will be distributing to Storytel in 2019 [Findaway blog], plus rumours of a possible bid by Ingram for Baker & Taylor [Publishers Weekly], and Don'ts for Publishers [Publishing Perspectives.]
I give a personal update from Auckland, New Zealand and challenge you to think a little differently this holiday season. You can find all my pictures on Instagram.com/jfpennauthor.
Today's show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at www.draft2digital.com/penn
Adam Croft is the international best-selling author of crime novels and psychological thrillers. He has now started a non-fiction series for authors, which includes The Indie Author Mindset.
- Common misconceptions about indie publishing
- On being professional about writing and making it a priority
- Adam’s thoughts on KU vs going wide
- Strategies to use if you choose to leave KU
- On the learning experience and experiment of going with a traditional publisher temporarily
- On the current advertising environment
- What’s working currently with BookBub ads
You can find Adam Croft at adamcroft.net and on Twitter @adamcroft
Transcript of Interview with Adam Croft
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today, I am back with Adam Croft. Hi, Adam.
Adam: Hello, lovely to be back again.
Joanna: Yes, back again. Third time over, what? Seven, six years, I think, now?
Adam: Yeah. I think that's probably right.
Joanna: So, just a little introduction in case people have missed the previous episodes.
Adam is the international best-selling author of crime novels and psychological thrillers. He has now started a non-fiction series for authors. And today, we're talking about ‘The Indie Author Mindset,' which is a topic close to both of our hearts.
Adam, I did want to ask straight up; you're quite well-known in the indie community now for ads, for Facebook Ads, BookBub Ads, other forms of paid advertising.
Why go straight into a book on mindset as opposed to some of the more technical aspects of publishing?
Adam: Two reasons really. One of them is that I've realized that advertising and online marketing changes so quickly that by the time I'd written the book about my tips and strategies, that 90% of them would be out of date.
And, for me, I don't really fancy updating the book every five minutes. So, I do give those tips. I've got a Facebook group called The Indie Author Mindset, and I do weekly live videos and post things in there. So that's where all of that stuff happens.
But the books I wanted to kind of be evergreen. And also, it's a fact that the success that I had with ads and with online marketing wasn't because I learned how to use ads and do online marketing.
The basis of that, and the foundations for that, were my shift in mindset. So, it made a lot more sense to start at the point where my career started really or where my success started, which was that shift in my way of thinking.
Joanna: Really good point. And in terms of updating non-fiction, this is genius. I wish I'd have thought of that originally. I only learnt that the hard way.
And of course, my book, How to Market a Book, is now in its third edition. And hilariously, it's, at this point, it's a year old, the third edition, and people are already like, ‘Where's the fourth edition?'
And I'm just desperate to retire that. Because, like you say, it's the mindset stuff, it lasts, whereas, the technical stuff changes almost every bloomin' week.
Adam: And it all comes full circle because that's the reason that mindset works is because it's evergreen, because it lasts, because it's long-term.
These principles aren't about kind of quick, short-term, gold rushes, it's about things that have been tried and tested since the early days of independent publishing, and before that, and which, come from other industries and from kind of business theory and psychology in general. So these are things that haven't changed, and hopefully, because I don't want to update the book, won't change.
Joanna: I agree with you. So, let's get into the book.
The first section is around expectations, which I really like, because I get emails every day. I'm sure, now, you have people in your group and things. People still have unrealistic expectations.
I had a comment on my blog the other day. This person said, ‘I am so angry because someone…' whoever it was, it wasn't me, ‘…told me that I could make a living with one book on Amazon.' And I'm like, ‘Yeah. I never said that.'
What are some of the other unrealistic expectations that authors have about going indie or about being a full-time writer in general?
Adam: People do see the outliers, and there are people who have had success with one book. But, you know, we can't all be Harper Lee and she wasn't indie either. So, we'll nip that one in the bud.
But I do get a lot of emails. I do get a lot of comments, and they vary massively, but at the core, does seem to be a mindset thing and the wrong way of thinking about things.
People even in emails to me refer to me as having been this overnight success that had everything with one book. And yeah, it was one book, but it was my ninth book. And that's the difference, it wasn't this overnight thing, it wasn't the first one that I put out there.
I've had ones since which haven't been as successful, and I've had some that've been more successful. That's how the business works; there are a lot of misconceptions.
To be honest with you, there's a lot of people who I speak to who don't even really understand what self-publishing is. They've paid money out to vanity presses or people like that.
They don't really understand what the process is or they think because the term self-publishing, which I don't like, because there's no self about it.
You are a team of people. You have to be.
You have to have editors. You have to have cover designers. You have to have other people you rely on. You have to have promotional sites that you'll use, and all these different things. There's no self there.
So, I think even within the industry and within people who have published a book or two, there's a lot of misconceptions. I honestly wouldn't know where to begin listing them.
Joanna: Well, you do in the book 🙂
Adam: I do. Yeah, buy the book. That's the right answer.
Joanna: I've had traditionally published authors. We both, you know, being in the UK, we know quite a few people in the genre. What's interesting is some traditionally-published authors are starting to go indie now.
I hear one thing from newbie writers and then another thing from the established writers, which is, ‘I thought it was easy to self-publish.'
Adam: That's one thing it's definitely not. It's extremely rewarding. It can be extremely rewarding.
If you do things the right way, it probably will be. But it will take time and it will take a lot of effort. Thankfully, I don't mind those things. It is a long-term thing.
Again, it all comes back to mindset, all comes back to thinking of the long term, which I know is something that you're a fan of too.
Joanna: I used to truly believe that everyone could be an entrepreneur. And I think we have to be entrepreneurial to be successful as running our own business, which is what we're really talking about.
And then I realized that not everybody wants to be an entrepreneur.
And I feel like that's part of what you're saying as well about the mindset. So, you used to be a playwright or, I guess, maybe you still are, right?
Adam: Yes, I am.
Joanna: I like to bring that up, because I think it's quite an unusual background.
Adam: I keep that bit quiet, but yes. Go on.
Joanna: I love it.
Adam: Just put it on the biggest indie book podcast in the world. That's fine.
Joanna: I love it because I think that's evidence of a change.
So, let's talk about your mindset rather than everyone else's.
How did you go from being a playwright, which, let's face it, doesn't have massive income-related possibilities, to being able to market a book like Her Last Tomorrow.
Adam: I've written plays before and after and still do. You're right. They're not commercially successful. They're not thrillers. They're nothing to do with the books that I write.
They're a completely different thing altogether. And I think my last royalty check…now, bear in mind, they're for six months at a time. I think my last one that I received earlier this year was £2.63.
Joanna: That's awesome.
Adam: I've got the Bentley on order. They are a hobby thing for me. They are something that I enjoy doing.
I'm know I'm not going to make money from them but it's something that I want to write. And for a lot of people, that is why they write.
For some people, they want to make money from it. They want it to be a career. And for that, you're right; you do have to have that entrepreneur mindset.
But, even if you go with a traditional publisher now, you do have to have some entrepreneurial skills about you. You're going to have to do some of the marketing, probably most of it. You're going to have to do quite a lot of the things that traditional publishers used to do and now don't.
I don't think there's any real getting away from it. It's going to be a hell of a lot more entrepreneurial if you're an indie, but if you want to be an author and if you want to sell books, then there really is no getting away from it.
And of course, for a lot of people, they just want to write books. They love writing. And they're not really bothered if people will read them or if they sell. And that's fine, too, it depends why you're doing it.
For me, this is a job, it's my wife's job, it's our family income, it's what I need to do. I need to sell some books.
Joanna: It often comes back to your reason why you're doing things. I remember when you said you were having a baby and your wife was leaving her job, and, so you have good reasons that drive you into this kind of entrepreneurial sense. But coming back to the book, you talk about professionalism.
How do you define professionalism when it comes to being an indie?
Adam: I've come very much from the Steven Pressfield school on this one. It's about sitting down and doing it as a job. I think if you want it to be your job, you have to treat it as a job.
It's similar to saying dress for the job you want, not the job you have. And you need to treat writing as if it is your job. You need to sit down at the allotted times, get the work done.
There are a lot of people who push it to the back and other things have to come first, and they do writing in their spare time, or if they've got time left over at the end of the day. And we all know that just doesn't happen.
So, I think, prioritizing it. If it's something you want to do and it's something you've got a calling to do, then that's what you have to do.
I sit down at my desk in the morning, I work until lunchtime, I have lunch, and I then carry on working. And it's what I do, it is my job. I have to do that.
Nobody else has the luxury of saying, ‘I don't feel inspired to do my work today. I'm not going to turn up.' It has to be done. And I think, for me, it's that.
It's that kick up the backside and realizing that this is my job. That, for me, is what professionalism is about. It's not about whether you earn money from it or whether it's something you're doing alongside another job. It's having that respect within yourself for what you do and for your writing.
Joanna: I think that's really important. And most people listening won't be doing this full-time, but one of the biggest things that people say is, ‘I don't have the time to write.'
As you're saying, part of professionalism is making the time to write.
Adam: If you have the time for other things, you can find the time for writing as well. You can either work out what's most important to you, put them in a hierarchy. And if writing's near the top, that needs to be the same with the amount of time that you're spending on it. People find time to do all sort of things that they don't need to do.
Adam: Yeah, and sometimes don't even want to do. But, yeah, for me, it's my priority, it has to be. …mindset shift which takes it from being hobby to professionalism.
And I think, yeah, when you say, ‘Oh, I can't find the time to write.' That is still in the old mindset of…you don't need to find the time, the time should be allotted because it's a priority of yours.
Joanna: I agree. So, when you and I met back in the Dark Ages a few years ago, it was like the split in the author community was very much sort of traditional publishing versus indie publishing.
Now, I feel as if the most discussed split is really KU versus wide.
I wonder what your current thoughts are on these sort of distinctions?
Adam: Well, in my view, has been for a long time, that it's far better to be wide. It's long-term and short-term thinking. There is a bit of a KU goldrush or has been for some people.
But I don't think it makes business sense in any industry to rely absolutely on one customer or to have all of your eggs in one basket, especially if that basket's got lots of holes in it and the handle sometimes falls off.
As we've been seeing recently, a lot of people who are in KU or have heavy stock in Amazon, in terms of their sales, have been having some big problems recently and seen some massive drops in sales. I haven't.
I know that a lot of other people, such as yourself, who have got much higher market shares in other vendors haven't been as widely affected because we don't rely that heavily on Amazon.
I hate to say, ‘Na-na-na-na, I told you so.' But this is one of the reasons why I've been banging the wide drum for so long, because it just makes sense. There are very few businesses that rely just on one customer. And if that customer has issues, then you're going to have big knock-on issues as well.
Joanna: I agree with you and I'm wide as well, it's just one of those things that a lot of people…I think it goes back to the expectations, because if people are in KU…I've had an email as well that said, ‘I'm worried that if I pull my books from KU, I won't be able to replace my income next month.' And I said, ‘Well…'
Adam: No, you won't.
Joanna: No, exactly. I said, ‘No, you won't.'
Adam: You're right.
Joanna: With the expectations around wide, what would you say around people considering pulling out of KU, how long are we talking about? What should they be focusing on?
Adam: A general consensus is six months to a year. Again, this is this thing where quite often, a lot of the industry experts say, ‘In the early days, if you're a new author, you should start off in KU, because then you can build an audience, and then you can look at going wide.'
And that makes no sense whatsoever, because once you've built an audience and they are an audience of KU readers, you're then pulling the plug on that audience that you spent a year or two building up, and you've then got to start again.
It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to do that, for exactly the same reasons as you laid out there, the fact that there are people who are worried about losing that income and they will do for months and for years on end.
So, why bother with that first step if you're going to have to build up an audience on these other platforms anyway, as well as Amazon, then do that from the start, and get all your ducks in a row right from the beginning. It just doesn't make any sense to build up an audience and then just slice half of it off overnight and start again building up people to replace it.
In fact, if you are getting ready to publish your first book, that is exactly the time you should be going wide. I mean, I would argue that it's always the time to go wide. But, yeah, for new authors, it's just a no-brainer.
Joanna: I'll come back on that because I think that often, when people have their first book, they are learning so much. And I feel that to actually, to publish a book and to market a book effectively on multiple channels, and for me, now, that includes places like IngramSpark and PublishDrive as well Kobo and Apple and all of that, to learn all of that at once can be daunting.
Which is why I tend to say to people who are freaking out, just focus on one platform, get to know how to do things like setup your email list, and then move slowly.
Also, I feel that a lot of people write one book, and one book doesn't necessarily do much at all. So, writing another book is possibly the place to go. But I think both of those things are worth thinking about to people listening.
Adam: By all means, focus on Amazon at first and get used to that before you start spreading your wings. But you don't need to do that in KU. You don't need to set up and cultivate an audience and then cut them off after a few months.
You can build up an audience, non-exclusively, be only on Amazon, but don't tick that KDP Select box. There's no need to do that.
And then, when you are comfortable, when you want to put your books on Kobo or Apple Books or Google Play or wherever, all you need to do then is upload it. You don't need to worry about getting to the end of your exclusivity period or emailing them and begging to come out of it.
You don't need to worry about losing readers. You will only be building on what you've already got. There will be no worry or risk of losing anything. You will only be building on what you've already established. So, it makes sense to me to do things that way.
Joanna: Great. Let's talk about Amazon, because you had this hugely successful book, Her Last Tomorrow, sold like so many copies, bought the jet, etc., etc. And then, you were picked up by Amazon Publishing, or APub.
Obviously, you can't necessarily tell us everything, but you're not with APub anymore. I wondered, when people think that the dream is to get picked up by Amazon or other traditional publishers, and APub is basically a traditional publisher.
What are your lessons learned or thoughts on traditional publishing versus indie for you personally?
Adam: It was an interesting experiment. And there were some positives from it as well. But, generally speaking, what it comes down to is that I wasn't selling as many books or making as much money as I would be doing it myself.
And one of the things that really kind of hammered that home for me and thankfully, for them as well, was in January, I had a book out, which I had self-published, called Tell Me I'm Wrong.
I did the same thing as I'd done with Her Last Tomorrow, I advertised that heavily through Facebook, and it became even more successful than Her Last Tomorrow, and outsold…I think Her Last Tomorrow, at that point, was two and a half years old. And I think within about three months, Tell Me I'm Wrong had already outsold it.
So, that for me said, ‘Okay. I can still do this on my own, far more successfully than APub did.' But it's not to say that it was all bad. Of course, it wasn't.
I had a Kindle First on Only the Truth, which was my only kind of solely APub book. Her Last Tomorrow they republished and relaunched on their platform.
That hit number one in the U.S., hit number one in the UK, all over the world. And briefly, I was ranked as the most widely read author in the world on Amazon and J. K. Rowling was number two.
Joanna: Yay. Screen print.
Adam: Immediate screen grabbing. In fact, the screen grab I have of that is one that somebody else sent to me because I hadn't even noticed.
Joanna: It's from like 2 a.m., right, when that happened?
Adam: Well, yeah. My son was a week and half away from being born as well. So we had a few things that we were focusing on. All of that stuff that happened in that couple of weeks is…even though that was one of my most successful periods, it just doesn't even kind of factor in my mind at that point. It's very, very strange.
There were lots of great things. It was very enlightening working with their editors as well. Some of the feedback that I got there, and there are things that I bear in mind now when I'm writing my books. It's just not for me.
The process was, as you say, pretty much like the traditional side of things, so it's a very slow process. There's months and months and months of preparing for a book launch, which we'll see publishers argue is necessary.
I argue I've done that 23 times and have never managed to make it last any longer than a month. So, I'm not quite sure how you're managing to stretch it out over a year.
It was just something that didn't work for me. My mindset is very much that I get books written. I get them out. I market them effectively. I do all of these different things. And we didn't overlap in as many ways as would have been a good for a long-term publishing relationship.
Certainly no bad blood anyway, not from my side. But, yeah, not for me, and not something that I would do again.
I've always said privately to people that in order to take a traditional publishing deal, the first offer on the table would have to be an advance, minimum six figures. Otherwise, there's no point. There's just no point.
Joanna: It's interesting.
It often feels like traditional publishers become interested in indies when they're very successful, by which time those people know what to do anyway.
Adam: It is. And, they did open me up to a huge new market. And Only the Truth sold hundreds of thousands of copies and, as I say, number one all over the world. But I get very, very few people emailing me who tell me that was the book they discovered me through.
So a lot of people obviously bought the book and have not carried on and not stuck with me or perhaps haven't read it, perhaps because it was the Kindle First offering that month and they got it discounted or free or whatever.
The vast majority of people still say they discovered me through either Her Last Tomorrow or Tell Me I'm Wrong.
That says to me that it's not just about sheer sales numbers, it's about those readers then sticking with you, then getting on to your mailing list, buying your future books. It's about the long-term thing.
That number one was great, but I haven't got it any more. I'm not still number one. So there's no point in me making a song and dance over that, it's about what happens now and where I'm going to be in 5 years' time or where I'm going to be in 10 years' time.
Joanna: I agree with you.
I did want to talk about ads because you mentioned ads. You've certainly talked about Facebook Advertising. You've talked about BookBub Advertising, particularly for going wide, which I really like and have been doing, based on your tips on BookBub Ads. Because, of course, BookBub do things like target Google Play and places where you can't go.
But I wondered like what are your current thoughts on ads. Many people do feel that BookBub is not as effective. Amazon Ads, interesting things going on, Facebook Ads, expensive.
What are your thoughts on what's going on right now?
Adam: Generally speaking, Amazon Ads are good if you're targeting Amazon readers, and BookBub Ads are good if you're not.
Generally speaking, Amazon targeting doesn't work as well with BookBub Ads. I don't actually do it at all. I target only the other vendors because I get much better click-through rates and almost consistently turn a profit doing that.
So I personally don't advertise to Amazon on BookBub. It does still work. I still do it daily. I'm still using AMS as well, or Amazon Advertising, I think they've now geniusly rebranded it as. And that still works very well for selling books on Amazon without being in KU.
All the methods are still working, it's just that the way that we learnt to use them has changed. So, what works is different, it's not that the platforms don't work, it's that doing the old things we used to do on those platforms doesn't work.
I was listening to something the other day when somebody mentioned that adverts and copy and styles of ads and things need to be changing, particularly on Facebook, once a month, because users just get used to seeing the same things over and over again. Love, action hero A? Meet my hero, and a picture of man walking away over bridge in silhouette.
I just tune out completely as soon as I see that because I've seen it hundreds of times. I don't know one book from the other. Fair enough, it's this kind of familiarity theory in things that designers talk about. So you know what you're getting, but what you're getting is nothing new and nothing that's going to stand out.
And then Facebook, particularly, you need to stand out. People don't go on Facebook to buy a book, they go on there to tell people where they've been today or to look at pictures of other people's dinners or cats and the other useful stuff that's on Facebook.
You need to stop them in their tracks and catch their eye somehow. Making your ads look like every other ad out there, no matter how successful that ad is, is not going to work. It's a case of standing out.
On BookBub, with AMS, you don't have that same pressure because on BookBub particularly, they are there to buy books. They have literally just opened an email that says, ‘Here are some books.' And they've scrolled to the bottom of that and looked at all the books on there before they've even seen your ads, so they are mega, mega hot leads.
AMS, similarly, not quite as much, because they could have accidentally ended up on a book page and Amazon has got lots of other things. And depending on how broad your keywords are, your ads could end up on unrelated pages.
But still, the same kind of truth applies. And a thing on BookBub as well is people don't realize that you don't need the same cost per click in terms of how low it needs to be as you do on Facebook.
On Facebook your target is, say, 20 cents in order to make a profit. On BookBub, you could still be turning a profit with 50, 60-cent clicks, because those people are far more likely to convert into buyers anyway.
You're going to be seeing more than your usual kind of 5%, 10% benchmark. These are super-hot leads that are going to your book, so you're more likely to convert more of them. So there's a lot more wiggle room there with BookBub.
Joanna: I agree with you. I did want to ask on BookBub, I have had a lot less success with advertising full-priced books. And it seems like they're trying to move into that. But that's just bombed for me because I think they've trained their audience into discounting.
Now, we're recording in November 2018. That may have changed in six months. They may have recruited a new full-price audience.
Are you seeing anything there? Does it have to be discounted for BookBub?
Adam: There's no getting away from the fact that discounting works better. But full-price does work, it can work.
As you say, it is November at the moment as we record this. Last month in October, BookBub did a study. They looked at the data of their users and they said that almost 75% of their users go on to buy full-priced books, once they've discovered authors on BookBub.
So, there is that caveat that they need to discover you first. But also, they mentioned that full-price to those readers is, sort of, $6, $7, $8. So we're talking full-price full price, not the kind of the, perhaps $3, $4 that a lot of indies are pricing at.
If you're advertising your full-price book, which is $2.99, $1.99, $3.99, you're still going to be doing pretty well, because that is going to seem like a discounted book. The full-priced books for them are $6, $7, $8.
Joanna: Fantastic. We are almost heading into another year as indie authors.
What's ahead for you in 2019? What's your focus going to be with your author-entrepreneur business?
Adam: My focus largely doesn't change because as I keep saying, it's about long term. I don't think, ‘Oh, this is the year for this or this is the year that that's going to change.'
I just carry on doing what I've always done and what I'll always do. I've got more books in the timeline, in the pipeline even. I should be able to get the right word, shouldn't I? Being a writer?
The new one is the Indie Author Checklist, which is, basically, it's a guide to everything from coming up with that first idea to turning that into a book, getting it written, all the things you need to consider at various stages, and then getting it launched and what happens beyond launch.
It's for new writers and for established writers. It's handy to check back because we all launch a book and forget to do some fairly vital things along the way, or there's things that we just don't realize need doing or we haven't considered.
So, that's the next one. I'm going to be doing a lot more of that. Unfortunately, me being me, it means I'm not going to take away from my fiction writing time to do that. I'll still have as much fiction going on and hopefully, somehow, managing to find about 40 hours in a day. I'm not quite sure how I'm gonna do that bit.
Joanna: And be a dad and a husband.
Adam: Yes. Remember, I've got a family knocking about downstairs somewhere.
Joanna: Where can people find you and everything you do online?
Adam: My website for my fiction books is adamcroft.net. I'm on Twitter @adamcroft. At Instagram, I think it's @adamcroftbooks. I've got my non-fiction website, indieauthormindset.com. And there's the Indie Author Mindset Facebook group as well.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Adam. That was great.
Adam: It's a pleasure. Thank you for having me.