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When we start out as authors, it's all about that first book … but after book one, the sky's the limit in terms of what you can build in terms of a creative business. In today's show, I talk to Michael Anderle, well-known from the 20BooksTo50K group, about how he turned his book series into a co-writing empire and now has hundreds of books in multiple languages, and why he's going wide with his new series.
In the introduction, I mention Jane Friedman's round-up of traditional publishing book trends, and the HotSheet newsletter, plus Google's new voice recorder app that transcribes in real-time, even when offline [TechCrunch]
I also give a little report on my experiences at Frankfurt Book Fair, in particular, talking about the audio summit, the emergence of indie collectives, and the possibilities of BookChain. Thanks to everyone I met and talked to, and special thanks to Marion Hill, author of the Kammbia fantasy series who has a featured snippet in the show. I also thanked APub for the great Amazon Crossing session which was the most author-focused seminar I saw at the Fair, and they mentioned you can submit books for consideration for translation here. Other resources mentioned: Streetlib's new free international email newsletter for those interested in keeping up with international markets.
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
Michael Anderle is the award-nominated, internationally-bestselling author of more than 40 urban fantasy and science fiction novels. He’s also the co-author of many more with other authors under his company, LMBPN Publishing, which has now sold over 3 million books. Michael is also the co-founder of the popular 20BooksTo50K Facebook group and events with Craig Martelle.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.
- Where the idea of 20 Books to 50K came from
- Starting to think of writing as a business
- Looking at author earnings as daily income rather than lump-sum advances
- How Michael oversees the production of so many creative works each month and how he works with co-writers
- Using a just-in-time model for editing books as they are written
- Thoughts around licensing and shared Intellectual Property
- Opinions on KU vs wide
You can find Michael Anderle at LMBPN.com and on Twitter @lmbpn. You can find Michael's books on Amazon here, and OpusX here.
Transcript of Interview with Michael Anderle
Joanna Penn: Michael Anderle is the award-nominated, internationally-bestselling author of more than 40 urban fantasy and science fiction novels. He’s also the co-author of many more with other authors under his company, LMBPN Publishing, which has now sold over 3 million books. Michael is also the co-founder of the popular 20BooksTo50K Facebook group and events with Craig Martelle.
Michael Anderle: How are you doing? Pleasure to be here Joanna.
Joanna Penn: It's great to have you on the show, obviously after so long. We met several years ago and several times since so lovely to have you on the podcast.
Michael Anderle: Likewise. It is always fun to come onto the podcast that I listen to as a newbie. And The Creative Penn was always there from the beginning.
Joanna Penn: Thank you. I want to wind back time because you have an extraordinary business now.
I want to know what did you do before 2015 when you started self-publishing and why get into books in the first place?
Michael Anderle: I had an online and offline sales marketing consulting company where I would integrate offline sales and I could provide salespeople that needed to work with companies and then the online components that were necessary, so I might do websites. But then I might do a website that was relevant to explaining some things like frequently asked questions when you have a large enterprise company where their salespeople are two hundred dollars an hour. You don't want someone asking them these simple things, you want them asking questions that are going to close the job. So that was kind of what my company supported back at that time.
And then why come into indie publishing? I've been a lifelong reader. So, reading has always been my hobby and my getaway to trying to keep my head on straight when you have kids all screaming and you finally get them to bed. You just need to relax and readings always been there for me.
Joanna Penn: I love that and I know you are very reader-focused, which is fantastic. So let's talk about that.
And obviously then you talked about your business background and I think that is very pertinent to where you are now and we both come from consulting. I think that background does help the business of books. Let's come to the idea of 20 Books to 50K because the term is bandied around now as a group but it has a genesis in an actual business model.
Can you explain how that idea came to you and why it is so different from the traditional publishing model?
Michael Anderle: One thing to understand is that I had no understanding of the Indie publishing model when I started releasing my books because I didn't pay attention to anybody. I didn't even stop to consider that there would be an infrastructure for it.
I had released two books in November of 2015 and was in Cabo, San Lucas, Mexico. I was realizing that I was starting to make 12 to 15 dollars a day from these two books and so from my consulting background, of course, I pull up Microsoft Excel and then I start figuring out what's going on.
Down in Mexico, you can have an incredible life even in Cabo, which is more expensive, for $50,000 a year. Now you only have to make $36,000 in order to stay in the country and I looked at it and said okay if I can get 20 books all making this seven and a half dollars a day I could make $50,000 a year and retire my wife, who was the main breadwinner in the household.
And so that's kind of where the genesis was: 20 books to make 50k. I had written two books. I was in the middle of my third. I figured I could finish it by the end of next year. So 2016 is approximately 14 months and that was my goal. Try to get 20 books all making seven and a half dollars and making it income for us.
Joanna Penn: It’s so it's so funny because it's so simple and yet many people sort of go 20 books? How do I even write twenty books? There are many traditionally published authors who will never write 20 books. So I'm interested in whether it even ever came up for you that 20 books was a lot. And obviously you've gone way beyond that now.
For people listening who might consider that to be so far away from where they are. How do you take it piece by piece?
Michael Anderle: It's interesting. I've never really considered why I didn't consider it a big deal but partly it's because I was a programmer for a lot of years in my life. And as a programmer, you have to write a lot of code every day. So typing a lot is not a big deal.
I've written half a million lines of code probably in my life and so writing the books just wasn't there. Now, I had come off of like four or five months of not having many creative issues in my life. So my company pre-billed my clients so that at that time it was like if you want me for January I'm already billing you in the beginning of January. If you don't use me, I'm going to bill you for February.
So at that moment some of my clients were going through a huge internal, so for two or three months, they didn't need my services and so I just used that creative juice, that energy that I would have been using on their projects into my own and wrote really fast.
I figured I only had a couple of months that they weren't going to need me. So why not try to put it all in there?
As a whale reader, something that I kind of coined that based on whale gamblers, I knew that I wanted at least three books before I did any advertising, which I knew how to do because I had the sales and consulting company.
So from that perspective, I wrote really hard. I didn't have much time. I needed to get these books out. It didn't seem like a big deal to me at the time and some people need to realize I write pulp fiction. I write space operas. I don't write really convoluted complex stories that I have to go research a lot for. They just come out of my mind. I think sometimes people miss that facet of what's going on.
Joanna Penn: I love this. I mean the term pulp fiction I think is now being used with pride in the indie community. But I still hear from traditionally published authors and or many indie authors who choose to write different types of books and every way is valid.
We are in no way saying that any way is more valid than another.
When you inevitably come up against the issues of quality, what's your response?
Michael Anderle: I tend to be very Texan and for us in America, Texan means that I'm willing to stand up to anything and say what's going on here because at the end of the day, I don't care about awards. I don't care about best-selling lists. I care if my readers want to reread my stories and am I making money. If I'm doing those two things the quality of my books are far superior than perhaps something else in my opinion.
Once again, this is a subjective opinion. There may be a book that has garnered awards and never sold even 2,000 copies.
Joanna Penn: Which is true.
Maybe you could explain the whale readers as well and who they are.
Michael Anderle: I coined whale readers to try to explain to some of the early people I was talking to as this is a person who reads at least one book a week. Here in America, they have this statistic that says so many people don't read even one book a year or four books a year and I never understood who those people were but that's fine. I was always reading if I had a weekend to myself.
Which at the time, we had high school kids in the house and I could get four or five books going. I was happy. I would just sit there and go through four or five books in a weekend and I realized that was slow now because their romance readers who read two or three books a day all week long.
In our family, we enjoy going to Las Vegas. It's a gambling place and there's the term called a whale gambler, which is someone who can drop a whole bunch of money in a weekend. And so I just kind of said, okay, whale readers, it’s that same concept. It's a person who can sit down and just read a bunch of books.
Joanna Penn: I'm a whale reader for sure. I buy books all the time. I always find books to buy. I love them. I love that you come from that reader perspective. I think it's so important because I know how it is when you start to make money and become known for someone who's making money and has a business but you come out of the creative side, which I love.
You basically started this as a side hustle next to your sales and marketing job.
When did things change in your head to think, “Oh, this is a business.”?
Michael Anderle: I guess I always went at it as a business because that was just my mindset. I guess perhaps to clarify, it was a viable business at the end of the second month when I went from 380 dollars. Let's call it in my first month where I'd released three books and the second month, December, I released a fourth and instead of doing like 50 or 60 dollars a day all of a sudden I was at a hundred, hundred and fifty.
And then of course in January we went over five figures and all of a sudden it's like hey, this is a six-figure business. This is doing better in 90 days than my consulting business was doing after a couple of years. And of course, I love the idea of making money while I'm sleeping.
Joanna Penn: We all do but again, I think we do have a lot of traditionally published authors who listen to the show and people who still consider the traditional publishing model when people hear $7.50 a day, which is where you started or 12 to 15 dollars a day even $100 a day.
When people think that if they sign with a traditional publisher, they might get a lump sum. Maybe that's two grand. Maybe that's five grand. Maybe if they're lucky it's more than that, 10, 20 or whatever.
So the model of traditional publishing is more like a spike income. And indie is, as you say, making money while you sleep. You can log on and see that money's come in. But you’re used to a business and in your own old business where money was different.
How can people shift that mindset to looking at smaller amounts per day being even more effective than a big lump sums?
Michael Anderle: I like to use the term $27.50. If I can get someone to just look at that number and say okay, you can make twenty-seven dollars and fifty cents a day. What is that over a year? And the answer is $10,000.
A lot of people will bandy about that the typical average author now doesn't make five thousand dollars a year, but if you can make $27.50 a day, you've just doubled the average.
Now, let's take it one step further. Let's go to $275 dollars a day, which can be one book or it can be half a dozen books. But if you can do that, you've just now become a six-figure author. And of course, $2,750 is a seven-figure author.
And so if I can just get people to look at that one number – $27.50 – and go that's your goal. That's your first goal.
It can be $2.75 for all it matters, right? That’s a thousand a year.
Joanna Penn: I often say to people over similar thing and I say ten dollars. It doesn't matter. If you can make $10 from someone who doesn't know you by selling your book or selling something online it changes your mindset.
I think the empowerment of doing that you have to do it to realize it. If you don't hit the button. You have to self-publish something and make just a couple of dollars to understand the model. So that's a big encouragement for people listening, but let's fast forward to now.
It’s September 2019 as we talk and now LMBPN publishing you did retire your wife as you said or actually you broke your wife out – Judith. She’s incredible. I'm jealous. I want a Judith.
Tell us what does the company look like now? And how has your role changed?
Michael Anderle: Oh my goodness. I will try to shorten this question. I have now become the chief executive, so CEO, but also the chief creative officer where almost all creative concepts and stories and titles that we're going to do going through me. Anything that's not English, so if it's German, if it's Spanish that tends to go through Judith.
She has a background in law. She has the PhD, speaks four languages and has traveled the world many times. So it seemed like an appropriate way to do things.
But the long story, which we can do some other time, is I thought she would want to come into the company. I had no idea that when she retired that was like, “Maybe.”
There were situations when she first stepped out of the other company when she was considering someone else, like staying in the industry she had been in for 20 years. I didn't think about the fact that she would have an affinity for staying there where she had people she knew for decades, right? It seems obvious in hindsight.
So all of a sudden I'm doing a song and dance and tapping going no, no, no, no don't go do that. That's just the glitter. Come over here. You want to come to a small little group that you've never done before that didn't sound that good. So it took a while for me to get her to come over and consider working with LNBPN but I'm really glad that she did we should all have a Judith.
Joanna Penn: Oh, yeah, as I said, I'm super jealous. It's so funny because I did the same thing with my husband. He left his job in 2015 and I just thought oh, he'll just take on all the stuff that I don't want to do. Unsurprisingly, he wasn't really into a lot of that stuff. So over the years, his role has changed as well, but it is interesting working with your spouse for sure. But as you say that is another discussion,
To give us a sense of the size of LMBPN how many books have you got out and how many authors are you working with?
Michael Anderle: We have in excess of 600 titles that we've produced. We have over 200 audio productions that LMBPN have produced and we've licensed another hundred in the last hundred and twenty days.
So we're rapidly both putting that IP of the audio out with other companies such as Podium or Dreamscape is probably our major and then Tantor and then we are now taking IP and publishing other people. Whereas before for the first three years we had only ever produced our own IP. And so now we're actually bringing authors in republishing their backlists and going forward with their front lists. So that's pretty significant.
Stephen Campbell is the VP of operations and audio. He handles a lot of the infrastructure Lynn Stigler's on our editing side. We have probably three to four artists that we keep busy all of the time producing 15 to 25 titles per month.
Joanna Penn: Wow, it is incredible how you grow like that and it's funny because over the years I've tried to decide what to do and I made a big decision. It's funny because I feel like we have a lot in common, but I also think I'm much more of a control freak than you because I find co-writing incredibly difficult and you co-write with so many people.
How have you gone about all of that co-writing?
As you say, you're more of a creative producer like James Patterson. There's no way you could possibly oversee so many books personally in detail.
How have you done the co-writing or is that just your natural personality?
Michael Anderle: A great question. So in 2016, I started doing collaborations because the fans wanted stories in the Kutherian Gambit Universe that I wasn't going to write, not only because I didn't have the time, which was partially true, but they wanted stories in areas I had no interest in writing. I had no interest in writing something about post-apocalypse.
So I had reached out to Craig Martelle in brought him in. Justin Sloan reached out to me and so we spoke about what was going on. So we had like three or four authors for collaborations and I had done some collaborations with some of my fans to get them started. So we had this infrastructure.
But from the business background, it was obvious that if I wanted to grow the publishing side, which is what interests me more than the writing side, that I needed to have people that could then take what I taught them and then they could oversee the generation, if you will, of the collaborations. and that so in Kutherian Gambit, we call them age runners, The Age of Expansion, as an example, which is the Sci-Fi side of things Craig Martell took over and so he herded and received a piece of the action for those series that were within his milieu.
Does that make sense?
Joanna Penn: Yes, so it's like you have these showrunners like Craig and his universe and other people in his universe and he directs that and you sit above all of them and make sure it all works. Although your story bibles must be huge at this point.
Michael Anderle: You know what? The fans are the ones who help keep those early story things together. It's fascinating that the fans can read the stories and get more detail out of it than us as authors can possibly remember. They are the ones who actually helped keep us on track for the first two years.
We built a second universe Oriceren with Martha Carr. And so, we had Kurtherian Gambit going and then we had Oriceren going and because of the success of Kurtherian people wanted to join us on the Oriceren side, even though we had no sales history to show anything about it.
And so from there, it was the constant keeping what's going on. So getting our editing and making sure it's on track. I don't accept what everybody tells me cannot be done.
So, editing; in the beginning, people are saying hey, you need to sign up. You’ve got to wait six weeks, then it's going to take me two weeks to edit this. And I'm like no, this book is done on a Tuesday so it's going down on Friday. Let's figure out how to make this happen.
And so from that consulting that manufacturing concept it was like, okay, how can I do this? Well, if I write the book with 25 chapters, then I'm going to release those chapters to the just-in-time “jit” which with my background in IT it's a very understood concept that they would actually be editing as I'm writing.
So if I wrote chapters 6 through 10, I would give it to them. I'd go on through 11 to 15 by the time I finished chapter 25 the first 15 to 20 chapters were done. So we just had the last few chapters to finish and get it out.
That concept has moved forward into our company to where now we do million-plus words of editing a month.
Joanna Penn: Wow. It's interesting because you've mentioned intellectual property (IP) and I've sat with Judith at the London Book Fair, and we're going to meet at Frankfurt. We go to these Book Fairs in order to license intellectual property.
One of the things that concerned me very much with co-writing and for example, I've been pitched around using characters in games and stuff like that and I've been very concerned about the idea of co-mingling IP, which is where a universe can cross over and the IP owner or owners may be in dispute potentially.
So I'm really interested in how your ideas around IP work when you've got a universe, which you may have created and lots of other people who've written in there who have slices of IP given how fast you guys are growing.
What are your thoughts around licensing and co-mingling intellectual property?
Michael Anderle: So let's take it as you’re the universe owner. People and other authors are coming to you for an opportunity. That opportunity doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to take my piece of the IP and go. No, when they came into Kurtherian Gambit I was very upfront. This is my universe. Let's be very clear about that. I own it. I'm going to run it.
Now because I'm “a nice guy” if you're not in the universe and you're not writing in it -anymore because my thought was always people would come into the universe they would write and they would leave. The benefit for them, of course, is they would understand how we do things better, which was very obvious for a few of my collaborators. They were writing the stories not because they were engaged with the universe, but because they wanted the opportunity to learn. So no different than a blacksmith, a trade.
The rules at that time were hey, I'll ask you, but if you're not getting with me or anything, I have the ultimate ability to say we're using that character you created in this other story. I don't think I've ever done it in the last three years, but there's one time I needed to ask them and say hey we need to use this character, are you good with that? And they were off doing something else. So that's one where you own the universe.
Then you have co-owned universes. You have to be understanding and where's the bifurcation of responsibility. In Oriceren, I set up Martha as the one who is running that Universe. However, I'm the one with the higher level of skill, an understanding of what's going on.
Martha came at it with, yes, I'm running this but Mike's the one who understands how to make this part successfully. So that is a relationship issue, if we're looking at something brand-new, which we do now and people are asking me to be a part of it then we're like, okay, how are we going to do x y z? And we set the collaboration up in such a way that no matter what we sell, whether it be ebooks, paperback, audio rights, if it should go to TV or movies the percentage is the same.
So in one universe, for example, we sell audio rights. Sometimes the collaborators are aware of it when I'm saying we just sold this you're going to get a check for x. And they might not have been a part of it for a year or two. That's happened.
When it comes to your personal stuff, you own it. That's it. They don't have to work with you if they don't like that understanding that's okay. You part friends and maybe you do something else. If you go to the one where someone wants to come work with you because they understand your mystery-thriller capabilities they need to make it worth your while. You're Joanna Penn in this case or you are Fred Smith or whoever you are. They're coming to you for a reason. Understand what that is. And just be good with it.
Joanna Penn: I like how serious this topic is because it is serious what you're creating here.
As we speak Disney is launching their streaming service. And Apple TV has just launched. There's obviously Netflix. Obviously, everyone else doing this. Everyone's looking for a big universe. This is why this is important.
I want to encourage authors, whether they're working with you or another publisher, we have to be aware of the value of what we create and make sure our contracts portray that. I love that you're very serious about contracts and IP. I saw the documentation Judith was taking around the London Book Fair, and it was super impressive. I was like, okay, I can't even sit next to you with my tiny one-pager!
Michael Anderle: Well the thing about it is I don't suggest this as a business strategy, but I married a JD, a Juris Doctorate, so she basically is a lawyer.
When she first saw the contracts I had done for Kutherian Gambit let's just say that she was duly unimpressed. And so she's been working for the last 4 to 6 months with Stephen Campbell to move our contracts into the future, so to speak. One person said, “I work with a publisher who has a one-page contract.” And Judith's response is, “Every single piece that's in there is there because somebody needed it.”
So if you have a question, let's talk about it. And she's very straightforward. Recently we had to put in something we had never considered, which was a moral turpitude clause and so why did you do?
Joanna Penn: Why did you include that?
Michael Anderle: I can only go into some vague stuff, but somebody got in trouble with the law and we didn't have any way for us to be able to step out of that contract.
Joanna Penn: Okay. That’s interesting because the moral standard thing has come up with a lot of traditional publishers, which essentially you are now.
Are you saying now that you are a traditional publishing company?
Michael Anderle: We were talking with Publishers Weekly yesterday and I was asking Kevin over there what would he call us? What would he call a company such as ours because we were always indie. That's what I grew up on. And he goes well we might call you an independent publisher.
But since we still create our own IP, we still build our own universes. We've just now started because we built such an infrastructure.
It's kind of like Amazon when they had warehouses and they're like, hey, you know, we could just rent out some of this capability. So we looked at it we said, okay, why don't we use some of our infrastructure to help bring other IP. It doesn't always have to be something we do in-house.
Joanna Penn: At the moment with that backlist, what do you say, six hundred titles, 200 audio? This is bigger than a lot of independent publishers in the UK and possibly in the USA as well.
LMBPN is actually a big independent publishing house and the fact that some of those books, you know you personally wrote. It’s fascinating to me that you're growing so fast.
I do you want to come on to something I'm excited about. One of my issues that has been around the 20 Book to 50K group, as you know, has been very focused and quite vocal around KU ebooks, so Kindle unlimited for those who don't know or exclusivity to Amazon, which I have a lot of issues with. And also the focus on just the US market.
But earlier in 2019, and I did talk about this on the show, you went wide with audio and now you're launching a new series wide with ebooks as well. So I would love to know what has changed.
Why are you going wide with some books and what are your thoughts on KU?
Michael Anderle: I don't know that my thoughts ever have necessarily changed but here's my argument. In 2015, which you will remember that as being a big moment in time, my point was I was making at that time fifty thousand dollars a month on Kindle Unlimited.
Does somebody who is mostly going to say it's going to take six to nine months to go wide. I'm like, okay, so you want me to stop with three hundred to four hundred fifty thousand dollars to test going wide. That doesn't make good business sense.
They might say it could go down. But then I'll have three hundred or four hundred fifty thousand dollars in the bank. I think I can weather it. That was my business thought and to a large degree it still is but now we come to the but part right?
So in looking at wide the question or often, you hear when people talk about it that hey I tried KU it didn't work for me, but I went wide in it did work. I think both of us can say that. We've seen that happen.
Joanna Penn: It works for some books. Not for others.
Michael Anderle: Exactly. So imagine if you will that even though I have all the success I could want on KU, I'm now taking on additional authors who will not fit the KU model. I know that it's obvious from just watching the history that is going to happen.
The other part of it is in Frankfurt last year, I will say this, Judith dragged me to a meeting. I met a lady who is part of the audiobooks association, and she threw out a figure that I didn't believe. He comment was that at the time Audible was 42% of the audio market. I said that can't be. I just knew that Audible was 80% of the market. So I went and researched it and she was right.
Joanna Penn: Was that because your mindset was so US focused?
Michael Anderle: No, it's more from the fact that everybody called Audible the gorilla. And so, I guess I associated ‘gorilla’ with 80% of the market. I never really tried to go look at the numbers.
For instance, we're actually not as focused on the US market as perhaps perceived. We get 12 percent of our income from the UK market, which for us is still five figures a month. We get a weird and growing a large percentage of our income from the German translation market.
And to some degree the German Market, you know, so we've tried or we have German translations that are very successful. We've tried Spanish six translations not so successful. That was a good way to learn that sci-fi doesn't necessarily do well in the Spanish market.
Joanna Penn: Good tip, but that's at the moment. I'm sure so sure it will change at some point.
Michael Anderle: Well, it's fascinating. I had a this is completely off-topic. So I'll try to do it quickly just to put a bug in your ear. America is big in sci-fi. UK is big in sci-fi. Russia is big in sci-fi. China is just growing amazingly in sci-fi. But you don't see it much in other places.
It wasn't until we went over to China again this year to the Beijing Book Fair as we were doing this that I started to realize because we were meeting some other people at Worldcon. The countries that seem to be really heavy into Sci-Fi are also the countries that seem to be heavy into space. For the most part in Latin America, those countries are not space going countries that I'm aware of so they don't have the excitement, if you will, of the sci-fi or the scientific. So that’s just a thought.
Joanna Penn: I love that you guys travel and obviously I'm a big traveler too. I think you can learn so much just from being in another country. Frankfurt Book Fair versus London versus New York versus Beijing. Even just the Book Fairs are so different.
Let’s come back to KU. I don't want to leave that topic. You said some of those authors are not going to work in the KU model.
Michael Anderle: There’s a couple of things I want. I have what I consider a passion project and that passion project is open. I knew at the time I started it I was going to spend a lot of money, too much money, on the doing because I wanted some amazing graphics. Now the other part of it is, if I'm going to learn wide, do I want to learn it on some of my collaborators' time and money effort? Or am I going to learn it on the back of my effort?
So I'd rather learn it on the back of my effort because I'm very aware this is going to cost me more than a quarter of a million dollars in lost income to figure out how to do this. I'm not going to put that burden on somebody else.
Joanna Penn: Because you're not going to put it in KU.
Michael Anderle: Correct. You're talking 12 books, over million words. I know what I would make in KU so I know I'm not going to make it wide. KU by the way is around 60 to 70 percent of the typical income of our series.
Joanna Penn: Although I would challenge you on this. You don't know yet what you're going to make wide.
Michael Anderle: That is true. But I know what I'm not going to make
Joanna Penn: Yes, that's true, but you can't see it that much lost income because you haven't put them on KU. This is what's so difficult. You can never split test this. I know as an IT guy wouldn't it be great if we could just do it twice?
And the thing is I would love to put some books in KU because I want to reach that market, but I hate exclusivity and I think it means there's a whole world, — most of the world — who you're not reaching with your books.
I also think that you gain a much bigger audience than just KU because of course KU is not available in every country.
I don't read KU books. I am not in a KU reader. So there are lots of people who are not being reached. So that's why I'm excited about you doing this.
Michael Anderle: I can understand that — but I think the question can be also turned the other way and go okay, let's talk about India. India does have KU. India is a horrifically hard market to try to capture because of the cheapness of the paperbacks. And the fact their distribution models in India are so radically different than what we would typically be used to because you would have a person in India in a small town who might ‘buy’ a book from a person on a bicycle and then next week they'll sell that same book back, kind of like a half-price bookstore model. How are you going to compete in that situation? It's very difficult.
Joanna Penn: But to me that is a technical thing because you can't upload the same book twice on Amazon. That's against their terms of service.
I'm not arguing about a territory like India at all, talking about the bigger markets or the libraries for example, but let's come back to you again, not me.
So what are your plans? You've got these 12 books that you're going to drop.
Are you dropping them all at once and what are you going to do with marketing?
Michael Anderle: LMBPN understands that we don't understand wide. It's not been our thing. So we reached out to a lot of the industry people. Dreamscape Audio and Kobo and PublishDrive and Draft2Digital and said hey, can you help us with this?
Because we'd like to understand better how to do wide. We'd like to do it right and we'd like to do a white paper and share it at 20Books to 50k to understand how to do this. At least, here are our learnings to date and then we'll do it again.
I like to say that I have one story broken up in the 12 books. They're going to be released over 18 months. Every six weeks we are releasing a new book and it will be an e-book, paperback, and audio simultaneously. The rights have all been sold. Some of the partners have already produced concepts. We’re not all that familiar with doing a bunch of pre-orders a year ahead of time.
Apple is like, hey, we really think you should be doing this. They're giving us a lot of their insights on how to do these and these are all people that are advising us every three weeks. And this is something that Judith is doing.
Every three weeks we do a 30-minute and it's timed, it is 30 minutes, where we tell everyone what we're doing and if they have any advice, please give it to us and we'll modify what we're doing. And then we're testing what we're trying so that if we're trying something new they'll get insights into it. Maybe they can proliferate that information up to other people.
We’re starting with Clarke's World, which is a science fiction online website, and we're going to be advertising there. I don't know that I've heard of people using it, but you know what, we're going to try so we'll let everybody know how good it is for us. We've met Neil and so I think that's going to be good.
It's going to be good for us to understand how to get that message out to a much bigger audience. I have great hopes. I have great expectations. The partners are helping us and it very well can be that it is what's needed to take Michael Anderle to the next level.
Joanna Penn: And that's what I was talking about with opportunity.
There are just ways that other companies look at KU and that's literally how I think it happens in some of the industry and as soon as you do this in a more – I won't say more serious financially because obviously, KU is very serious financially – but it's almost like playing on the playing field that some of the other companies globally play on. It wouldn't surprise me if that then leads to a lot more foreign deals.
For example, I got a deal in South Korea just because they found my books on an Ingram Spark list because I'm wide with print, for example. So there are things that I think will happen. Obviously, I'm not going to make a bet with you at all. But I think that's to me the biggest mindset shift is KU is much quicker money, but wide can bring opportunities that might make you much more money over the long term.
For example, maybe this will lead to getting picked up by Disney.
Michael Anderle: That was actually to some degree an aspect of my thinking as well. Have you seen the video that Judith sent you by chance?
Joanna Penn: Yes, I had a quick look.
Michael Anderle: Okay. So you saw the quality of the graphics. If you see the covers and everything else we spent a large amount of money to make this look like a Hollywood style or quality production.
Hollywood itself doesn't turn my head. It's not like I've watched movies my whole life and I'd love to be in a movie. That's not true. I love books. But I'm not ignorant of watching when Margaret Atwood or George RR Martin when their stories are either at the movies or on HBO. They rise above me because you get all of that marketing from it. So that's not lost on me.
Joanna Penn: Lee Child says that about Jack Reacher, and people say oh, why did why did they cast Tom Cruise? He's too short and Lee Child always says, yeah, and they spent 300 million or whatever on promoting my brand and I sold a lot of books and a lot more people have heard of Jack Reacher because of the movie. So I think this is super interesting.
Neither of us are suggesting that people should be writing 12 books and launching them or spending all this money. This is not what we're talking about. Even though you have been doing this that many years, you've moved super, super fast.
I did want to ask you, do you think that KU has changed? When you went into that in 2015-2016 things were different and because of the over-abundance of ads now, things have really changed.
Do you still believe in the KU model exactly as it was for other authors, or do you think things are a bit different now?
Michael Anderle: I would have to ask the person specifically what their time frame is. I have one author who's coming on that we’re signing and her expectation is to put out a book once every six months. She has one in the can, one that she's mostly done, and one that's going to take nine months plus.
I said look, we're going to effectively make you a wide author. That's the plan from the get-go, but since you have one and two will put those in KU and then we're going to roll them out and by the time we get two three, it's out. It's wide. Because we understand what your timing is and what your intent is.
She has a 5 to 10 year plan. I don't know the rest of what's in her life. That's her intent. What’s the way that's going to make you the best opportunity here? Because unless you're going to release relatively quickly I don't think KU is going to be the right choice for you long-term.
And someone else who I know can write two hundred thousand words a month. So she can either do two hundred thousand word books or three 70 thousand word books. I'd be like, you know what KU is going to pay you well. So you understand the dichotomy between what's going on for them.
Now others, what is their mountain? If they want literary success, I'd probably go wide. I don't think KU’s going to benefit you much at all. If you want awards.
When we looked in Spain or we look in France we understand that the e-book market is different there for different reasons. France is very paper focused. That's what their intent is in the country. So they're almost holding out obstinately. Spain's a little bit different.
If I was going to do it again, once again, I'm going to write fast, KU’s probably still the right market to get income fast. But then what is your long-term plan?
I'm not a big worrier that KU is going to change anytime soon, but I know that it's a possibility. And I want to be a part of Apple. I want to be a part of Google Play to some degree. It's interesting to see what changes they're going to make and I see the other countries in 10 years will be somewhere they're not. Yeah,
Joanna Penn: Absolutely. I agree with you.
Michael Anderle: So what are we going to do? Let's be there because I don't know that the effort to be wide is ever going to be like, hey go wide and in three weeks they're going to know who you are without a lot of effort.
Joanna Penn: It's a long-term plan. I think that is very cool. And of course, as you said, you've got 600 plus titles more every month. And so even if KU folded, you just go wide with all of those. You’ve built a hell of a back-list.
Michael Anderle: Question for you though, since I have you on the line. When you talk to a lot of people that go from KU into wide and I see little snippets of conversations where people say, yeah, but when I went from KU to wide what I found is I still received more income from my Amazon sales that made up for some of that KU because the people were willing to do it anyway.
Joanna Penn: My own sales are still predominantly Amazon only. But this is a huge conversation and you're not interviewing me! But again, I think publishing wide reaches a very different reader. That's the other thing.
For example, I'm part of Audible as a subscriber, but I'm not a KU reader because to buy my books I will pay 12 pounds, 15 pounds for an ebook that I want.
Apple readers and to some extent Google Play readers and different countries their readers on the other platforms are less price sensitive. So often if you're wide, you will have a higher price than you would do in KU and I think pricing is a huge deal.
But even something like you mentioned with those Apple pre-orders, if you have 12 books on pre-orders then you get the double ranking on Apple and it's some extent you get this temperature rising on Kobo and stuff like that. But even on Apple just doing that you could get sell-through to pre-orders on all of those books, which is super exciting.
So I think what you're doing which is a kind of rapid release wide is really interesting and I will be fascinated to hear what you learn along the way. I'm very excited.
We are almost out of time. So tell people where can they find you and your books and LMBPN online?
Michael Anderle: You can now find LMBPN Opus projects wide, I’m happy to announce that. I suppose on all the different ones a lot of our books are obviously still on Amazon and you can find us at LMBPN.com is where our main website is and then, of course, you can find us pretty much all over Facebook – 20BooksTo50K.
Joanna Penn: Thank you for your time Michael, that was great.
Michael Anderle: Thank you very much, too, and it was a pleasure and honor to be here.
Wow! Thanks so much for the great info, thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt a lot. I just wish I could make it to the 20BooksTo50K conference in LA this weekend. Is Michael going to be at the SPF conference in London in March 2020?
Joanna Penn says
You’d have to check with Michael but I think he and Judith will be in London for LBF at least, and possibly for Mark’s event, too.
It was great to meet you Joanna at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I agree with your assessment of the book fair and my mind has been opened to International Publishing and the importance of looking at the industry from a wider perspective. As I stated during the mini interview (that surprised me….lol), it’s easy to be in our American indie publishing bubble and not embrace the wider world out there. Well, I’m going to embrace the wider world going forward and I will return to Frankfurt (for both professional and personal reasons) next year. Love Germany!
Also, I want to add that your interview with Michael Anderle was probably one of the most important podcasts you have done so far on the Creative Penn Podcast. You and Michael have different indie publishing philosophies and it’s great to hear you both speak on those differences. Not in a combative way or my way is the correct way type of manner.
Being indie artist for me…..means that there are many paths to publishing success. I agree that you need the fundamentals of a great story for the correct genre, edited professionally, great and appropriate cover, and marketing to the right audience. Beyond those basics…..you can be one-person author/entrepreneur like yourself or an indie publishing company like Michael. One path does not fit all and that message needs to be promoted more in the indie publishing world.
Thanks again for being a positive inspiration for all indie authors and I’m looking forward to seeing you down the road.
Christopher Wills says
Great interview Joanna. I like the rational way Michael approaches everything. It’s good to hear that at the top of the Indie world there are such helpful and friendly people (including you of course🙂). Long may it continue.
Hildie McQueen says
Joanna, I love your podcast and look forward to it every week. In this episode you kept stating that you like to “own” the books and that’s why you don’t purchase books from KU. There is the option to either borrow or purchase.
It was obvious that you did not agree with Michael, which was a bit bothersome. Keep up the good work!
Joanna Penn says
Indie is a broad church, and Michael and I disagree over lots of things 🙂 I think exclusivity is bad in general for English language, but every author has to find their own path.
I use KU for my Mum’s books as Penny Appleton, as she doesn’t do any marketing. I also will use it for German language, but not for English 🙂 You get to make your own choice.
Maggie Lynch says
Thank you for this interview, Joanna. Like you, I’ve always been against exclusivity. I hate it as a requirement and from living 65 years, I don’t trust it as a long-term plan.
There were several things Michael said that I had suspected but not heard anyone say before about KU. The two most important to me were: 1) writing fast, releasing many books in a year; and 2) Writing “pulp.” He didn’t use that term but I understand that to mean what he described: good stories, down the middle of the genre, but not necessarily with subplots or deep character exploration. And he is right, there is a huge market for that and that market are the super-readers who read a book a day or more than one book a day.
These two points actually made me feel good in my decision to be wide.
The fastest I’ve ever written was six books in a year and it nearly killed me. I’m much more happy with my life if I’m doing three or four, if they are shorter. As I get older I’m thinking more like two or three.
Also, I’ve never been able to write pulp–and believe me I’ve tried valiantly. I understand how to do it but when I write it myself I can’t help but rebel. And that goes to what I personally like to read. It’s hard for me to write something I don’t want to read. It is a special gift to do that kind of writing well and enjoy it. I wish I could do it, but it’s not me.
So, thanks for this. It is exactly what I needed to hear while planning my 2020 schedule. I too will be interested in how Michael’s experiment ends up at the end of 2020. I hope he shares it with others.