Are you ready to take your author career to the next level? In this wide-ranging interview, Mark Dawson gives tips on how to level up your books, your email list, and your advertising.
In the intro, good news on book sales from New Zealand post-lockdown [The Guardian], why Joe Rogan's podcast deal with Spotify is such a big deal [BBC], and my ad stacking approach for Map of Shadows.
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
Mark Dawson is the award-winning internationally best-selling author of the John Milton Thriller Series, with over a million books sold, as well as many other books. He runs training courses for authors at Self Publishing Formula and he's also the co-host of The Self Publishing Show.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Publishing strategies for new authors
- Why advertising is getting easier
- Mark’s writing process
- Switching genres and tips for launching in a new genre
- Why book covers must tell the reader what to expect inside the book
- The intricacies of autoresponder email sequences
- Tools to track marketing plans and projects
- Advertising tips for authors who publish wide
- How to calculate read-through wth a free first-in-series
You can find Mark Dawson at MarkJDawson.com and on Twitter @pbackwriter
Transcript of Interview with Mark Dawson
Joanna: Mark Dawson is the award-winning, internationally best-selling author of the John Milton Thriller Series, with over a million books sold, as well as many other books. He runs training courses for authors at Self Publishing Formula and he's also the co-host of ‘The Self Publishing Show.' Welcome back, Mark.
Mark: Hello, Jo. Good to be back. Is this the fourth time?
Joanna: Oh, I don't even know, you're just a regular. So that was actually my first question. Let's assume it's been a year.
What is new with you? Any comment on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic?
Mark: We could do an hour talking about what's new basically. The virus has been challenging for me as it has for everybody really. But then at the same time, because I haven't been able to write quite as much because I've got two little kids, and at least for the last two months…and it's been a bit different this week.
For the last couple of months, I've been homeschooling with my wife. So that has meant that I've been getting up about 5:00 most days and writing, or working really for a couple of hours until 7:00 or 7:30. And then that's been because I've had to go into full-time dad mode after that. So it certainly slowed down my production.
But on the other hand, well, fortunately, I had a couple of books that were already written and ready to go. So I was able to launch those, but beyond that backlist sales have been really strong.
I've commented on The Self Publishing Show about why that is chiefly because ad costs are down because most of the big budgets aren't in the field right now. There's not much point in stores advertising when the stores are closed.
And married to that is the fact that readers really want to read. So there's a lot of demand and it's easy to reach them. So my sales are probably up under 30%, 40% up I think. It's been a really strong couple of months, which is great. If there is a silver lining in all this nonsense, that has been it. So quite pleased with that.
But then beyond that, tons and tons of stuff going on, we won't be able to touch on all of it. But we had the Live show. So we just kind of snuck the live show in the week before lockdown, that was interesting. You were kind enough to come and speak there.
I don't know if I told you this. We did a survey after the event and we asked people which session they enjoyed the most. You won by a country mile.
Joanna: I am thrilled.
Mark: You can't come again!
Joanna: That is lovely. I'm really pleased about that.
Mark: That was great. As an introduction to live event planning, I don't think it could have been more bumpy because we didn't know almost until the day whether we'd be able to do it. But we did. And as far as we know, no one was ill, none of the people who came have reported that they were ill. So obviously, that was great.
And we are going to do it again, although we don't know exactly when. It will be sometime next year, probably not with the book fair next year. I'm not convinced the book fair will happen anyway next year. So we'll do it sometime probably in the summer.
Amazon is involved again, they want to be involved, and we'll probably do it for a couple of days rather than a day. So more on that as we figure it out, but we enjoyed it. So we're going to do it another time.
Joanna: Oh, good. I'm glad. And I know it's really expanding the business, live events are so much harder. But also, it's so funny, at the beginning of the whole lockdown thing, I was like, ‘Oh, yes, I think everything could go online. It's fine.' And now I'm like, ‘Seriously, I'm over this, I really want to get back to live events.' So I think there will be a hunger for it when things open up.
But I want to get into loads of topics. As ever, we don't have enough time to pick your brains. But I want to start with the question…and we're going to get into more advanced stuff. So if you're listening, we're going to cover advanced stuff in a minute.
I just want to ask one of the most common questions I still get, which is what should a new author do if they're just starting out? And of course, you and I started like over a decade ago. So it's very hard to answer this.
What are your thoughts, as we record this in mid-2020, in terms of publishing strategy for those just starting out?
Mark: There are some basic things that you have to get right these days. When I started, it was possible, and I proved this because it's exactly what I did to have fairly chunky covers on your books and get those up there and then you would still sell because you were able to undercut the competition when it came to price and things like that. There was much less competition in the Kindle Store and on all the other stores as well when we started, that's definitely not the case now.
The main things I would suggest is that anyone who wants to do this in a way that's more than just a hobby or even if you just want to reach more readers, and of course that should be what we're all aiming for is to get our books in front of readers, you need to be able to hook them with a very professional product.
You do need a pro cover. Now, that doesn't mean you have to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on a cover, but it does need to look professional. Your blurb has to be tight, you can't have typos, you need a few reviews.
The book itself, it needs to be well formatted. Fortunately, it's a lot easier to do most of those things these days than it was when we started with things like Vellum make it easy to format. But you have to do that. I think that's a minimum requirement.
And then once you have your book, your product ready to sell, every time we speak, I move more towards the position that advertising now is not really a luxury. I think it is now a necessity, you have to be able to do at least some advertising.
It could be on Amazon, it could be on Facebook, it could be on BookBub or all the other avenues that are increasingly available. But you have to do something in order to give your book the chance to rise above all the other books that it's competing with.
I think it's something like eight million books on the U.S. Kindle Store now. So most of those books are just floating around. But you need to be able to do something to get your book visible to people who are looking for that kind of book.
And although you have to pay for that, because it's not free to advertise, it doesn't have to be terribly expensive, and the options available are multiplying and becoming easier all the time.
Joanna: I agree with that. And it's funny because actually, what you've just talked about, is a checklist for people who are not just starting out as well. So in fact, if you are someone who is feeling like you're not selling enough books, then what you've talked about there, maybe it's redoing covers, maybe it's redoing blurbs.
And then as you say, advertising is a necessity. I've certainly resented this over the years, but I am fully on board with this now, I see this to be true. And we're going to come back to advertising in a minute.
I want to now jump into what I wanted to talk about, which is my own brand as J.F.Penn. I know a lot of listeners have a backlist. I have about 17 novels and novellas across a number of different series.
I want to ask you about craft first because someone said to me actually the other day, ‘Mark Dawson, he's a good marketer, a great marketer.' And I said, ‘Yes, but do you know how many books Mark has and how good his books are?' So that's why I wanted to ask you about craft because I think sometimes people forget that you write first.
Tell us how many books you have out right now.
Mark: I don't know. It's certainly north of 30. Maybe more than 40 now.
It's an interesting comment. The thing is, I can teach you to sell anything once. I can teach you how to sell a book to a reader the first time. But from that point, once they've got it on their device and you've been paid for it, it is then down to you as a writer.
You have to be able to give them the experience that you've promised them in your ad or your blurb, or whatever it is, and if you can't write and your book isn't any good, it doesn't matter how good your advertising is, that reader will never buy another book by you again.
I'm not going to big myself up. I am a quite good writer, I think, and I see that from emails from readers. In fact, all the time actually, the people just seeing me for the first time in lockdown saying that they've read all 16 books in the Milton series over 3 or 4 weeks.
That's great praise because there's Lee Child, there's Baldacci, there are all the other authors that are competing with me for those readers. Rather than getting the new Lee Child book, they've gone straight on to the next Milton book and then the next one and then all the 12 after that.
You need to be a decent marketer and I think I'm okay at that. But you also need to be a good writer because otherwise the marketing just goes to waste.
Joanna: Exactly. So on that, I wondered if you could talk about your writing process at this point. Because basically, at the moment, I just write whatever my muse decides I'm going to write next. I'm pretty emotional about my writing.
But what you have done over the last four or five years, particularly, is focused down into a certain niche. And so I wonder, do you outline and plot and write to market and try and please those readers?
Do you follow the muse? Or how do you balance those?
Mark: There's two questions there, I think. So the first one is do I write to market? I don't really. I have tried that once, way back after I was traditionally published, my third book was very much written to market and it was the only time I hated writing, I really struggled to finish it, and it was terrible because of it.
The way I look at writing to market, I think I've probably said this before, is I think of a Venn diagram with, on the one hand, a circle what the readers want, on the other hand, another circle what you enjoy, and the intersection between those circles, that's your sweet spot.
That's where you should be, or certainly, as far as I'm concerned, that's where I concentrate because I know that I enjoy writing books like the Milton books, and I know that readers enjoy reading them. So that's my definition of writing to market. And that's what I do.
But then once I'm in that, and I've been in that sweet spot for ages now, when it comes to actually writing another book, usually my process these days is usually to start with a very, very loose outline. And that will begin with I have an idea, I could be out walking the dog, and something will pop into my head or it might be something like the ‘Atticus' books that we'll get onto that, I have been kind of fiddling away with for two or three years.
I will just kind of cogitate on that and think about it for a while and then I will start with maybe two or three paragraphs, setting out what the story might be in very, very broad terms. So I'm doing this right now for a new standalone book that's going to be set around the Chernobyl disaster in '86.
I have an idea for what I might do with regard to that going in a different direction from what we believe to have been the case. And then once I have that, and I'll work on it quite hard, I'll tweak it, I'll get it into a state where I'd be actually happy to send it to a publisher.
Once I have that, I'll then start to break the chapters down with one or two sentences, just explaining what I want to happen in those chapters. It's not prescriptive, and things will change. They always change often quite radically once I start writing, but it just wants to kind of plot out the beginning, the waypoints I want to hit along the story. And then usually I'll have an idea what the ending is.
And then once I have that, by the time I finished it, the one I've just done is about three or four pages long, I'll then open up Scrivener. I will look at the chapters, I'll kind of set out by way of parts and then chapters, I'll put those one sentence or two-sentence beats in.
I'll usually pick something it doesn't necessarily have to be at the start of the book, it could be some dialogue in the middle, and then I'll just start to write and then we see where we go. But that kind of structure fairly, fairly loose, but with some indications as to where I wanted to go, that's been the way I've written for probably the last five years or so.
Joanna: Are you using dictation at all?
Mark: Now and again, I do. If I'm doing a first draft, I will sometimes dictate and I have a standing desk where I am in the moment, and I will just open Dragon and start to go and I do find that's a pretty good way to get a lot of content down early on.
I aim for 2000 to 3000 words a day, but with dictation, I can do 2000 to 3000 words in an hour. So, 3 or 4 hours, you suddenly got 10,000 words. Now, they might not be great words. As someone once said that, ‘They're words, they may not be in the right order.'
I juggle that around for a little bit and then…but it's a really good way just to kind of dump the first draft down and then you can work on it on a keyboard after you've got that down.
Joanna: You mentioned the new series, new crime series, ‘Atticus Priest.' So this is a new series, new cover, new genre. It very is clearly a crime and it's a British detective, police procedural.
So why switch genres at this point? Because I've certainly found that people who like the types of thrillers that you write and to a point I write differently to you, obviously, but I struggle to get people over to a crime series. People love their genres.
Why switch genres and what are your tips for launching into a new sub-genre?
Mark: I think for me, there's lots of reasons why I wanted to do that. In terms of switching genres, it's a kind of a half-step to one side. There's quite a lot of overlap between the ‘Milton' books and the ‘Atticus' books.
The difference is, well, it's all about problem-solving. Milton is like a detective. But the way that he solves his problems is slightly more uncompromising than the way that Atticus does it. Atticus is more cerebral. He's more Sherlock Holmes, whereas Milton is, I suppose, more Jack Reacher.
There are problems to be solved and that kind of stuff in both of the books. I knew that there would be a fairly decent crossover in my audience, and that has proven to be the case. So ‘Atticus' has launched really successfully.
Why do I want to do it? There's a couple of reasons, I suppose. First of all, the first one is just as a creative person, I wanted to do something to keep me fresh. I've done 16 Milton books now and although I still love doing them, it's quite nice to cleanse my palette and do something a little bit different in terms of tone and structure and pace, which Atticus allows me to do.
I'd had the idea for Atticus for about four years ago and it had been something that had been bugging me for ages and I put it off, put it off, and in the end, I decided that I was going to do it.
The reason I did decide is kind of the other reason why this has been on my mind that I wanted to do is because I've seen the success of friends like Louise Ross, LJ Ross is just a phenomenon when it comes to the success of her ‘Ryan' books.
Also writers like Barry Hutchison writing as JD Kirk has done incredibly well with the first five of his Scottish police procedural books as well. So, especially in the U.K., it's a very, very hungry and lucrative market. It's a very hot genre right now.
It just felt like the right time for me to dip my toe in there and see how that went for me as well.
Joanna: Interesting, and you've only got one out right now, is that correct?
Mark: Correct. Yes.
Joanna: It will be interesting how it goes over time and whether you get a completely different group of people than your other books, than the ‘Milton' books. So, interesting. I love that the covers are so different. I urge people to go and have a look at your profile.
That's another thing, isn't it, is to really show people that this is a different series with the cover so they can make their own decision?
Mark: Yes, hits all the tropes. I am not a creative person in that sense but Stuart Bache has been my designer forever basically now and I said to Stu, “Do something different,” and he doesn't need instruction. He's so good. He just goes away, looks at what is selling, looks at the successful books that are selling in that genre and then create something that hits all those marks.
I've never been of the school that would suggest that you need to stand out with an original cover because it can work but I think those are fairly unusual to get successful covers that go outside of the tropes. I'm very happy for the cover to tell the reader without them having to think too much what exactly what it is they're going to get. And it just makes it easier to move that mouse across to the buy button.
Joanna: Let's get into marketing, because I want to talk to you about the email list. And I think what we've discovered in the pandemic is how important that email list is for everything from launching, but also making money if you sell direct so I've certainly found this to be true.
I've been using a novella for years now, Day of the Vikings, and that's my free email sign-up. You have been using a starter pack or a starter library for years as well.
But when I went back to check on what you're currently doing, and I couldn't find the language on the sign-up page that implied which books it was, so I signed up again, sorry about that, and then I found it was 1000 Yards and Tarantula, which are both Milton novellas. Do you change up?
Do you use the language starter library so that you can change up the books you give away? And are you going to start using parts of other series?
Mark: I had never thought of it like that. I'm not that Machiavellian, it just turned out that way.
It was originally I did four books to start with. It was two novels and two novellas. Subsequent to that, I've decided to slim that down so it's a couple of novellas. And also, I have different offers for different books so you would have come in off the website which offers that particular bonus for people to sign up and it's worked really well and I don't see any reason to change that, it's always been successful.
For The Cleaner, the first Milton book, I did some experimentation with it, an epilogue.
We had Lucy Score on our podcast a while ago, she used an exclusive epilogue, which is not necessary. You're not shortchanging the reader because it doesn't have anything incredibly important to the plot of the book that they've just finished. But it's a chance to meet those characters again in the future.
And she went from some…I may get this slightly wrong, but she went from somewhere like 5000 subscribers to 50,000 subscribers in 6 months using that as a giveaway.
Now, if you think about that, it's not a novella. It's much shorter than that, you could probably write an epilogue in an afternoon, 1000 words, 2000 words, whatever, and then you treat it professionally, get it edited, maybe even get a little cover to put on it as well, and then try that.
If you think about the reader as they get to the end of your book, if they've got to the end and you can be fairly confident that they have enjoyed the read, and they're feeling quite well disposed towards you as an author and also more importantly, perhaps, to your characters in your story that they've just enjoyed. So you want to offer them something that is really, really tempting.
Now, it could be another story with that character. Or it could be another story that you have written as that author, or it could be something that is connected to the characters and the story, which is what the epilogue is.
So I've done that for a bit. It hasn't been as successful as Lucy. Lucy's doing that better than me, but it certainly added maybe 1000 new subscribers in a month or two, just with that tactic. So it's definitely worth trying something like that.
Joanna: I wrote Day of the Vikings to tie together two of my series, but what I realize now is that the word Vikings can split the crowd. So I'm thinking of changing that.
The trouble is every bloomin' book has it in so I'm going to have to update a lot of stuff, which is a pain, so I was really interested in your starter pack language, which a lot have other authors and are using so you're not going to be offended if people use that?
Mark: No, no, of course not.
Joanna: Everyone does it. Exactly.
Once you've got some more ‘Atticus' books, would you include a ‘Milton' and an ‘Atticus' book in that sign-up to try and move people across series?
Mark: I'll tell you what I would do on that. For the ‘Milton' books, if it's the first in the series, though I don't really want to give them ‘Atticus' at that point. They've just read a ‘Milton' book, there are 16 other books, and I make a lot of money if they go through and read all 16.
So my aim at that point would be to give them something ‘Milton'-related, so I wouldn't want to muddy the waters too much.
Now, say they get to book 16, by that stage, I know they're almost certainly on my mailing list by that point and they don't need any persuasion that they're going to enjoy ‘Milton,' they've just got to the 16th but they probably haven't just read the 16th without reading anything else.
So at that stage, what might be worth trying is actually to cross-sell them the ‘Atticus' series. So I could say, add that…maybe once they're a few books in, that might be the point to say that, ‘Would you like to try ‘Atticus,' which is the same writer, the same style, but a different character that I think you'll enjoy?'
At that point, I think it would be sensible to cross-sell but not before.
Joanna: I didn't know you had different sign-ups per book, which makes sense. Does that mean your autoresponder series or your email sequences, however people like to call it, are they different?
Do you have lots and lots of different sequences of emails? Or do you just funnel people into the same email sequence?
Mark: It depends what the offer is. If I've got, say, three different offers, so the two novellas that you got from the front page, the epilogue for The Cleaner, and maybe something if I had an ‘Atticus' giveaway, then that one as well, then I would have three different sequences because obviously, at the very least, the delivery emails got to be different that's providing them with what they've just signed up to get.
But it doesn't necessarily matter if, say, you're giving away the novella for the first 10 books off your website, the source doesn't matter too much. You can just put them all into that one flow.
But things would change up if you then start to introduce different offers that need different sequences. But I think for me, I've got maybe three or four different ones that run at the same time.
Joanna: That's definitely something I need to do. I was thinking about that.
Because it's funny, isn't it, as you progress through your career, time just flies by and you suddenly realize that like, I've realized I've had the same offer for a number of years and when I first introduced it, yeah, my list went from 4000 to 15,000 or whatever, quite quickly.
And then I don't know whether it gets stagnant or it just doesn't have the same effect anymore. Probably around then you started offering starter packs, and then everyone started offering more books.
I think the epilogue idea is a great idea. And for nonfiction, just so people listening, I still use my free Author Blueprint. And you have free stuff on Self-Publishing Formula as well, don't you?
Mark: We do.
Joanna: I just urge people actually, look, none of us have any issues with people signing up to our lists, and you're welcome to unsubscribe later on. But just to see what other people are doing, that's fine, isn't it?
Mark: Yes, it's not just fine. It's really good advice. And I do that all the time. I subscribed to Lucy Score's email because I want to see what she was doing. And I'll do that all the time. If I see an interesting author who suddenly is doing something that I think is quite cool, then I will sign-up, I'll subscribe.
I'll look at what they do and I'll try and work out a tweak that maybe will improve it a little bit for me, or make it something that is more natural for me to do. So you can always learn. I'm learning all the time from everybody.
Joanna: That's another question I have because I'm also learning all the time like you and I end up with lots of notes everywhere and I've tried Evernote, just doesn't work for me. I've started a, kind of, massive Scrivener file with everything.
How do you track everything you're doing per book?
Mark: I have an eidetic memory. No, I don't!
I use Trello actually. So we have Trello and now and again, we'll use it for projects at SPF. I'll have a Trello board with, in theory, these should work. You have things to do that day or morning or even like kind of the five things you want to do that day then if you get through those five things, things to do in the afternoon, maybe things to do in the evening, maybe things to do next week.
I'll slide those things around and do it that way because I'll have ideas when I'm walking the dog. That's always been the place I get my best ideas. And I'll just take the phone out and open Trello up and just note down, ‘I want to…' Maybe I will listen to your podcast and you've said something that makes you think, ‘Yep, I need to do that.'
And I'll then note down on Trello and I'll get to it when I get back to the office. It also, of course, really depends. Evernote's never worked for me. Trello works quite well.
Joanna: Exactly. And people listening, you just have to find your own way. There's certainly no single tool that works for everyone.
Let's get into advertising. Because I publish wide, as you know, many authors do. And I've had a lot more positive things happening with BookBub ads recently.
But coming back to Amazon ads for fiction, because again, nonfiction, Amazon ads are great, they're fine because it's easy. But with fiction, I feel like with wide ebooks, we're competing against KU authors. And it's extremely hard because KU readers are so used to basically getting books for free, that you might have a price of $6.99 on a book, but they don't have to pay $6.99.
Whereas if I have a $6.99 price, they would have to pay $6.99. So it's really hard to compete if you're wide on amazon.com particularly.
What are your recommendations for Amazon ads versus other paid ads for authors who publish wide?
Mark: It is more difficult. It's not for the reasons I think you suspect. You've got to look at Amazon and think about it always as two different stores.
You've got people who are not in KU and people who are in KU. Or you can even go further you could say people who are in KU or in Prime Reading if your books in Prime Reading, or people who only buy a la carte, they only buy that $6.99 as you say.
Now, the good news is both of those stores are gigantic. So the paid store is huge, KU is bigger than all of the other stores combined. So there are two very, very big and distinct marketplaces on Amazon.
And the benefit if you are in KU is if you're running ads on Amazon, you're effectively getting twice as much bang for your buck. Because I can either sell a book to someone who only buys because they're not in a subscription program, or I can get those reads from people who see it and want to read it by way of their subscription.
For me, therefore, my budget can be a little higher than would be the case if I only had half of that market to go after. But that half of the market, the a la carte side is gigantic. And yet people are still buying thousands and thousands and thousands of books every day through that part of the Amazon ecosystem.
I think it's still necessary to advertise on Amazon, and increasingly so, but you just need to be a little bit more savvy when it comes to the amount that you're prepared to bid, making sure that your ads are super relevant so that you have a better chance of winning the auction. Making sure that if you get a copy that it's on-point, that your covers are good, that the ads are professional, the whole thing looks great.
And then when people click and they go to your detail page where your book is being sold, then there's no reason there for them to decide that actually they don't want to buy the book that they've just clicked on.
There'll be authors in all of our genres…I know in my genre, L.T. Ryan from the U.S., is spending an enormous amount of money because he's everywhere.
Joanna: I've seen those ads.
Mark: There are a few authors who do that and they're spending tens of thousands of dollars every month on those ads. Now I probably could compete with them if I wanted to, and I'm still spending a lot on those ads, but I would rather be slightly more sniper than…that's kind of a blunderbuss approach. He's everywhere and not necessarily being particularly granular in how he's targeting his ads.
I'm sure that's working for him because he's selling a lot of books, and therefore he's spending a lot. But I think you don't need to have that enormous budget, you can be much more granular and targeted, and just try to get those very relevant clicks rather than trying to get everyone to click and then not necessarily buy when they get to the detail page.
Joanna: We'll come to read-through in a minute, but with doing, say, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Apple has been working very well with things like BookBub ads are actually pretty good. And as you said, the ad spend has been down.
I was doing some more Facebook ads for fiction, which I haven't done for a while. And that seemed to go quite well too. I feel like a lot of KU authors are just spending all their ad money on Amazon.
If people are worried, is it a case of splitting our money across these different platforms?
Mark: They probably are and I'm not like that. But I'm probably on Facebook and Amazon around about 50/50 most of the time, and that will fluctuate depending on what I'm trying to do.
But yes, if you're a wide author, in some ways, you have advantages that I don't have. So you can get cheap clicks, looking for Kobo readers in Canada where Kobo is a really big player, bigger than Amazon. And because there's less attention on those readers, you might find your ad cost is cheaper.
For me, I'm doing a lot of Facebook ads to Germany right now because Germany is a market that is pretty hot. I've got six books out there right now and those ads are cheap. They're converting well, and I'm doing well in that market.
And that could be the case, you could be looking at Australia, you could go for Australian readers who buy on Apple, Australian readers who buy on Kobo or Amazon, wherever you want, really. So you have a much wider array of targets to go after. Whereas I can be geographically varied but not really in terms of storefront because I don't have books on the other players right now.
Joanna: I did want to ask about price again because free first in series is still great on Kobo and Apple, particularly because they're really easy to promote. And there are still opportunities for marketing and merchandising with that, but it's difficult on Amazon.
What I found is that read-through, which you talk about a lot in terms of spend is really hard to calculate with a free first in series on Amazon. Lindsay Broker, for example, still uses free first in series as well.
With free first in series how can we figure out read-through and value per customer? Is it just multiply it by a certain number?
Mark: That's very difficult because you're not comparing apples with apples. You've got lots of people who are downloading something sometimes because they see an offer, they download it, they may never read it, they may never read the book and then there will be no read-through because they don't get to the end of that book and they don't go into the next book.
There probably is a mathematical formula you could use to try and estimate what the read-through is but I'm not nearly clever enough to work that out.
Joanna: Nor me.
Mark: There are probably people that could help with that. But what I would do is probably think about starting your read-through from book two. You will know what the sales of book two are and then you can calculate using the method that everyone is using, calculate the read-through from book two to book three, and it almost kind of forgets book one because it's not a fair comparison.
Although you can start from book two, you could be fairly confident that there's a bit of value that you're not including through book one. So you're probably going to be underplaying what your read-through is, rather than and overstating it, which is the safer way to do it in any event.
Joanna: That's interesting. And then, I'm really thinking about pricing. Again, pricing is something that I just decided on like a decade ago and now I'm really questioning things. So at the moment, I go from a free book one to a $4.99 book two, and the rest of my full length are $4.99, and novellas are $2.99 U.S.
Have people changed these prices? Now, I've heard from some people that $3.99 is a better price, that 99 cents is entirely pointless.
What do you think about pricing?
Mark: I think 99 cents is a bit pointless because it's not free. There is this friction in the event that there is something to pay and you're only getting 35% of that. So for 33 cents or whatever it is you get, it's almost not worth it.
So I would say either go free or what I do is in all the markets, my first book will be available at the lowest I can get the 70% so $2.99 or $1.99, in the U.S., the U.K. The next book, book two in the ‘Milton' series is $3.99 and $2.99. And then every other book after that, I think, is $5.99 in the U.S., $4.99 in the U.K.
I've been like that for a good couple of years and it's performing pretty well. I suspect I could probably add a dollar or a pound on to all of those prices and maybe sell a little less, but probably make more because you're getting a bit more money.
It's easy to test that, but I'm quite happy at the moment to be at that level, $4.99, $5.99. People, they're struggling with lots of things right now, and I don't really feel like it's the right time to be pushing prices up. I'm quite happy to stick around that point.
Joanna: That's great. And everyone listening, I really hope that you can tell from our conversation that you don't stop where you are. You're always changing things and trying things out and what Mark's been talking about is exactly right.
I'm really thinking about this stuff after over a decade of doing this, I'm like, ‘Okay, I really need to revisit it.' So this has been super helpful.
Joanna: I'm really excited about this. We're all learning all the time but things are changing all the time. So I will be literally introducing you guys and then letting it run.
So that's been great, Mark.
Where can people find you and your books and the podcast and everything you do online?
Mark: If you want to find out about the fiction, my writing, you can get me at markjdawson.com. If you're interested in the SPF side of things, the podcast, the courses, you can find us at selfpublishingformula.com.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Mark. That was great.
Mark: Pleasure, as always.