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How can you reach every reader on every platform in a global, distributed reading environment? How can you take a long-term, relaxed attitude to your author career? Mark Leslie Lefebvre talks about self-publishing wide in this interview.
In the intro, KDP introduces Kindle Vella, a new serial reading platform, perhaps a response to China Literature's entrance into the US market? [The New Publishing Standard]; Microsoft buys Nuance, which makes Dragon Dictation [TechCrunch]; and Exploring Darkness and Accepting our Animal Nature on my Books and Travel Podcast.
Plus, my new theme is Authority Pro by StudioPress; Six Figure Authors on using bonus material to sell more books; BookBub tips on book marketing in 2021; and check out the Adventure Writers Summit (23-25 April);
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre writes horror stories, travel books, and non-fiction for writers. He's a podcaster at Stark Reflections on Writing and Publishing, a professional speaker, and a publishing consultant at Draft2Digital. His latest non-fiction book is Wide for the Win, Strategies to Sell Globally via Multiple Platforms and Forge Your Own Path to Success.
You can listen above or your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Why is going wide with your books important now?
- Where to start if you want to go wide
- Understanding the way different stores work
- The value in your backlist when you’re selling wide
- The strategy behind first-in-series permafree
- The ‘relaxed' author — playing the long game when your books are wide
You can find Mark Leslie Lefebvre at MarkLeslie.ca and on Twitter @MarkLeslie
Transcript of Interview with Mark Leslie Lefebvre
Joanna: Mark Leslie Lefebvre writes horror stories, travel books, and non-fiction for writers. He's a podcaster at Stark Reflections on writing and publishing, a professional speaker, and a publishing consultant draft2digital.com. His latest non-fiction book is Wide for the Win, Strategies to Sell Globally via Multiple Platforms and Forge Your Own Path to Success. Welcome back, Mark.
Mark: Hey, Jo, thank you so much. And thanks for reading that keyword-laced subtitle that I made there.
Joanna: It's a good long one there. That's excellent.
Mark: I learned that from you.
Joanna: That could be our first tip, when writing non-fiction, Wide for the Win actually makes no sense to anyone who's not in our area but the subtitle makes it clear. So, good tip straight up.
Let's get into it because you've been on the show so many times. People have heard you on lots of other podcasts, including your own. But let's talk about the book. Why this book now? You and I have been talking about this for probably a decade.
Why Wide for the Win now and why is it such an exciting time to be wide?
Mark: This goes back to why I wrote Killing It On Kobo all those years ago is, when you go out and look in the market, there are thousands of books about writing and hundreds and hundreds of books about self-publishing. And all of them are Kindle.
This Kindle, that Kindle, the other thing. And yes, Amazon is the world's biggest bookstore and, yes, it's a great platform but there's nothing on the other platforms.
Wide for the Win, the whole idea is focus on other platforms as well as Amazon, but just being inclusive. I think that's the most difficult thing for authors is recognizing, yes, Amazon is the world's biggest bookstore and, yes, that's probably where you started because it made the most sense, right, because you can't learn them all at once.
How do you deal with wide? And it's not just, ‘Here are tactics you can use if you're publishing direct on Kobo or Nook,' or whatever, or, ‘here are some things you can try.' There is that but they're going to change over time. And they're always going to change.
I think I actually owe this a lot to you as I was talking to you, as I was getting frustrated trying to write the book that was going to be a lot more tactical and leveraging really great examples from phenomenal people, like from the Wide for the Win Facebook group who are sharing every day some amazing tactics and strategies and personal anecdotes and stories.
I'd already pushed the publication date back twice as we were scheduling to do this interview around the time of the launch. And it was kind of like, ‘So, Jo, I pushed it back another month.' And we chatted and you'd suggested, ‘Mindset is the biggest hurdle, it's not the tactics, it's not those strategies. They're going to come and go.'
Earth abides. Tactics come and go but mindset abides is what I would say in honor of George R. Stewart's classic novel and, obviously, that phrase is from the Bible.
It's important because that mindset hurdle is probably one of the most significant things that are stopping authors from being successful wide.
And let me explain that just a little bit.
A lot of authors just put their books up wide and then expect the same way they would expect, ‘Oh, I have a publisher. They're going to do stuff for me.' And the indie author space is like, ‘Oh, I've published it to Google and I've published it to Apple. Well, now they're going to take care of selling it for me. I'm just going to go back and recommend everyone go to Amazon and buy my book.'
It's kind of like teaching people to publish wide is not just putting your books up on other platforms, it's actually engaging with the communities, engaging with the platforms, and engaging with your book on those platforms so you understand it the way you understand Amazon.
Which, again, it's not easy. There's no simple, ‘Oh, just do these three things and you'll be successful.' I think it's important because, thanks to you, almost 50% of the book is mindset over specific strategies and tactics.
As I was writing the book, I listened to one of the episodes of your podcast and went, ‘Oh, I should talk about this thing that I haven't talked about,' and ‘Oh, yes, think of the future, Mark. Don't just think of the past.'
You and I were at I think that conference with Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch learning about IP. And that whole focus of that Vegas workshop…I mean, that was a significant game-changing moment for me, something I always had in the back of my mind.
I always knew, ‘Multiple formats, multiple platforms,' but, even taking it way outside of book in terms of IP and understanding, ‘This is your intellectual property.'
You've been an advocate for all the formats and all the things you can do. I'm not going to get into specific details of how to work with Hollywood or how to sell game rights or how to do whatever, but I want to open their minds to the possibilities so they don't sign contracts with platforms or publishers or whatever that are going to limit their ability to grow. I think that mindset is just so critical.
Joanna: Let's be very clear, you said it up front but why publishing wide doesn't exclude Amazon? What I don't like is this a burgeoning dichotomy. It's not KU or Amazon versus wide, the whole ethos of wide is everything, published everything.
In fact, I was actually just thinking earlier today if I would accept lower royalties on Amazon to have my books in KU, as long as they were non-exclusive. And if they did that, I'd take half the rate or whatever.
I want to be in KU but I do not want to be exclusive, and, in fact, I am in KU. My mom's books are in KU, as Penny Appleton, and my German books, I have four books in German, they are all in KU. I feel they're in KU because I don't have the ability to market multiple brands, actively like I do with Joanna Penn and J.F. Penn. So, that's the first thing.
We're not saying you can't do everything, you just can't do everything with one book.
You can't be simultaneously in KU and wide but you can do it across your catalog. And, so, that's, I think, a really important point. And then also, as you said, wide is not just about e-books on KU or not, it's also about formats, so, we're going to talk about print and audio. It's also about country.
You're in Canada, I'm in the UK. It's also about not just the USA. And it's also about language, as I've mentioned German. It's about all these different things.
And, as you said, it's also about long-term, it's not just money. In fact, you and I, as we record this, I launched a book, 2 weeks ago, about How to Make a Living, the Third Edition. And someone emailed me, they said, ‘How did your launch go? I saw you hit the Amazon bestseller list on amazon.com briefly but it wasn't there very long.'
And I was like, ‘Yeah, but I sold a couple of thousand dollars direct in one day and that money went in my bank account.'
[Check out my tutorial on how to sell direct here.]
Mark: Immediately almost, right? Like through Payhip to Stripe, right? Like a day or 2 later, it's in your bank account.
Joanna: Within a couple of hours. And this is another thing. It's like, yeah, sure, that didn't populate anyone's algorithm, didn't populate Apple's algorithm or Google…
Mark: It populated your pocketbook.
Joanna: Yeah, it populated my bank account and my own algorithm, my email list and that type of thing. So, that's some initial scene setting.
I know we shouldn't be talking massively about tactics but I do think that there are some fundamentals that are important when you're thinking about this.
Where would you start in terms of positioning our books for wide success?
Mark: It depends on where you're coming from. Are you first publishing? Have you been publishing only exclusively at Amazon? Because there's going to be some different ways that you change that.
I did an article for the Alliance of Independent Authors, which was basically an excerpt from the book on how to deal with that. Because I think the thing that's really important is that I'm going to assume people are exclusive to Amazon and they're looking for where to start.
The very first place to start is to think of your readers and remind them, let them know, give them a heads up. If you've curated this list of people who expect to read for what they think is free on Kindle Unlimited, unlimited reading for one price, let them know you're leaving the program, if you plan on leaving, and give them heads up.
Because these are people who love you and you want to care for them. You don't want to abandon your Amazon KU readers. Let them know because then they can grab your books…and put them in their library. And then you can earn money for up to 2 years after you've been wide. Which is great.
You've helped them. But then let them know where they'll soon be able to get it. ‘If you want any of my other books,' or whatever, ‘they're going to be available free through the libraries. It's going to be a little bit less convenient but now everyone can get my books for free.'
Then the other thing I recommend people do is…okay, so Amazon's world's biggest bookstore, we know that most people know about it. You've got the four other retailers, the big five. Amazon, Apple Books, Google Play, Kobo, Rakuten Kobo, and then Nook, which is only in the US.
All the other ones are international and in many many countries. You're not going to be successful on all of the platforms at once, and it's really overwhelming to understand them. So, take the time to pick one. Maybe it's the one that you've actually explored and looked at and you have the free app or you have a reader and actually interact as a customer and understand a little bit more about them.
And then you'll notice, for example, that there's certain benefits to going direct with some of the platforms. There's certain options where you can't really not go direct with some of the platforms, Google Play, because you still have to have a direct account, regardless of whether or not you use a third party.
One of the benefits of the time saving versus the 10% you would give up to go through a distributor. And just try to understand the different perks, the different pros and cons. And that's going to take a while.
Joanna: I actually think it's more important to spend some time on the actual storefront as a customer.
I feel like we over-emphasize the back end too much, as in the upload of files and things.
For example, in Kobo, I always go to kobo.ca, or whatever, the Canadian store, go kobo.com and change it to the little Canadian flag. Because Kobo is biggest in Canada. Yes, I've sold books now in 162 countries through Kobo but most of those sales are in Canada.
So, if you go to the Canadian store, and then the other one, which is kind of even more different, I think, is the Apple Books store because that is so heavily curated.
And I mean I discovered when I was like, ‘Why am I not selling non-fiction books in e-book on Apple? I sell audio books there, why am I not selling e-books, nonfiction e-books?' And basically it's because their storefront does not have a suitable category for the books I write.
When I finally talked to an Apple person about it, they said, ‘There aren't enough customers within that category for you to sell.' And maybe this is true for your non-fiction books on Apple too is the…
Mark: Yes, it is.
Joanna: Yeah. And it's because they literally don't have a decent browse category for authorship.
Mark: You have the top 12 fiction books and the top 12 non-fiction books. And there's very few non-fiction categories, there's non-fiction, business, memoirs. That's it.
Joanna: But this is the thing. And I think this is a massive learning for me and for everyone, you cannot expect the same thing to happen on each store.
For example, with Kobo, my biggest earnings are fiction-box sets.
That's where I make my money on Kobo, fiction-box sets. And then, obviously, on IngramSpark, my big money is in non-fiction print books.
So, that would be my first tip is, before you even go, ‘What are the intricacies of uploads?' look at the storefront of the stores you don't usually buy from and figure out what is your best angle for these different things and what would be the best way to play it.
For example, people who say, ‘I'm not selling my urban fantasy with my girl with a fighting stance on Apple.' Well, go have a look at the Apple Store, there aren't any books that look like that. And I've told so many people coming out of KU, ‘The covers that might work on KU do not work on the Apple Store.'
What do you think about that from Kobo? Obviously, you've come out of Kobo.
Do you think there is a certain look to a KU cover that perhaps sometimes you have to change in certain genres to work on different stores?
Mark: That's a really good question. The only time I remember, from my time at Kobo, that was more related to romance in the UK versus America, for example.
We don't need half naked guys and their pecs and their abs and stuff like that, we want a different style. I was paying attention to the Kobo merchandisers in the UK working with WHSmith and what they would feature. And we'd go, ‘But this is a great book and it's selling like crazy, they go, ‘We're not going to feature that.'
And this is the one thing we…and I know we've talked about this in the past, it's the one thing that Penguin Random House does well is they do have a cover unique to GEO markets that are going to cue in with the sensibilities. And you're talking about that from a step back because you only have one cover. Shame-shame but there's only one cover, right, for the different GEOs. Although, there are technical ways around it with multiple ISBNs and stuff.
Joanna: I haven't even thought of doing this because I'm not in KU, but you could use a different cover for Apple than you do for your KU urban fantasy.
Mark: Like you do with box sets. Apple refuses to accept three-dimensional digital box-set covers. And Kobo highly prefers them, but they'll still accept them. Because Kobo is like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, but we sell books and it's going to sell a lot. So, who cares? Let's put it in, but we would prefer to have it look nice.'
Whereas Apple, as we know, is very much look and feel. And if it doesn't match exactly that sort methodology, it's like, ‘We're not going to use it.' So, yeah, that's true.
If you can do that with digital box sets with a different cover, why can't you do it for Kindle Unlimited versus a wide book?
Joanna: I literally never thought of that before. But the other thing I think, the other question, you probably get this, we're talking the day after your Wide for the Win launch and I actually don't care about launches and I don't think this is just my age in the community, I think it's because I'm wide.
In fact, in the traditional publishing industry, in 2020, 67% of the income for publishers was backlist. And, for me, putting that book out was not about the launch. I needed to upgrade that book because it's been selling well for 5 years and I needed to upgrade my backlist in order that my backlist continues to sell.
Now, yes, it was a new frontlist edition but I consider it backlist. And I consider all my work to be long-term sales.
I also think this is a wide attitude because in KU people obsess around the algorithms and the 90-day cliff and all that, and I don't think that's what we do.
In fact, it's much easier to sell books wide when they're older.
Mark: In some cases, because they have history, they have rankings, they have temperatures. As I think Tara Cremin from Kobo Writing Life was on your show a few weeks ago talking, I was like, ‘Yay, she used the term ‘temperature.” Because I used to hear the big-data team at Kobo use that all the time, that's how they refer to ranking.
It's really interesting that you talk about that. If I were to tell indie authors, ‘Wow, you're thinking like a traditional publisher when you're focusing on the launch,' because the 67% of traditional publishing revenue comes from backlist but 95% of all their marketing goes on frontlists, which is basically that silly 30-60-90-day window.
And I was like, ‘Gee, indie authors, you're acting like a big New York publisher.' That'll insult them and then they'll change.
But you're so right about that. I'll give you an example. I released the book A Canadian Werewolf in New York, in 2016, with a cover that was not good for the audience. I was thinking, ‘No, it's not urban fantasy because it's not urban fantasy enough,' I needed a more literary cover.
I redid all the covers for the series with branding with an artist who did all of my covers for the series that are more online. And, so, I've probably sold more of that in the last 6 months than I have in the previous 6 years. Well, not 6 years, it was only 5 years.
For a few reasons. I finally followed my own advice and wrote books in a series…imagine, well, I've been telling thousands of authors, ‘Well, you got to get you books…'
Joanna: It's another good tip for wide.
Mark: Yes. And it still works out wide but it's been an interesting process. And I go, ‘This book is 6-years-old almost, 5-6-years-old, and I'm selling more of it than other books that I released more recently.'
And the reality is…and this goes back to a used-book store that I loved growing up, Bay Used Books in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. And they used to have a little stamp they would put inside their books and they would say, ‘A book you've never read is a new book.'
That is so true, when it comes to your books and e-books. Because what's going to happen is, Jo, you've built this long-term thinking backlist and then somebody discovers one of your novels, One Day in New York or something like that, and they go, ‘I can buy the box set and there's audio. Oh, large print. I can buy gifts for my mom because she's going to love these.'
All of a sudden, when the right fan comes along, the magic happens.
There is no magic bullet other than that long hard work, planting all those lightning rods, putting in the work, putting in the backlist. And then, when the right customer comes along, you really feel that.
And there's weird things where some authors, this happens to them going, ‘I've been ticking along and, all of a sudden, for no reason at all, I sold every single one of my books on Nook. What happened?'
Well, you know what happened, the right customer found whatever it was you did to get them there, whether it was a BookBub ad or it was a feature deal or Written Word Media. Whatever you did, something happened, they saw it. And lo and behold, they were the right person and it happened.
Joanna: I feel that being wide is a bit more relaxed in that we have quite a lot of people in the Wide for the Win Facebook group who are like, ‘I write one book a year,' or, ‘I write maybe two books a year.' I've written a few more this year, pandemic year, what else are you going to do?
Mark: You couldn't go on 100 kilometer walks.
Joanna: Well, I did go on a 186-kilometer walk, but apart from that…but I think, because it's about the backlist, you can be more relaxed.
In fact, there was a BookBub blog, which is a great blog, Jane Steen. And, by the time this goes out, it will have been out a few weeks, but it was like, ‘Can you keep selling a permafree with a BookBub feature deal and/or ads?'
And I'm like, ‘Well, of course you can because that's what I've been doing for the last 7 years or whatever.' And, in fact, I did one on Desecration, which is free at the moment, and it got 36,000 downloads, doing a BookBub feature deal.
Mark: Was that a feature deal, not an international?
Joanna: It was an international feature deal. And, in fact, I did precisely what Jane had said. The cover was different the last time I ran it. But it was so interesting because people are like, ‘How do you get things moving on these other stores?' That is one way.
If you can't get a feature deal, you can do the pay-per-click ads. So, this is like my ‘be a relaxed author' marketing tip, which is free first in series with BookBub pay-per-click ads running permanently on the e-book. And that's it. What do you reckon?
Mark: I love that. I mean David Gaughran's book on BookBub ads is…
Joanna: Excellent book.
Mark: But again, so, think about what you would pay for a feature deal, $800?
Joanna: Yes, something like that.
Mark: Right. So, imagine you take the…because, again, you're doing that because…and maybe, if you're lucky, you get one a month, you're not going to, but…so, you take the $800…
Joanna: One a year or something. Yeah.
Mark: Divide it by 30, spend some money. Probably you've got to spend about $50 maybe trying some different things, finding your target audiences, and then doing a permanent. So, whatever it is, whatever you can afford.
Divide it by the number of days in a month, and then run that. And you're constantly feeding. I'm assuming your call to action, at the end of the book, is going to lead them to the next book.
Joanna: Yeah, it's a trilogy.
Mark: All of these things are in place, and that your series metadata is solid. Those work.
The other thing that I think can work, and this is very tactic-oriented but I think it's going to be useful, is if you're publishing direct to Nook through B&N. If you can, if you're lucky enough to live in a territory that does allow that.
Google Play for sure. They've been improving and iterating on Google Play so much in the last year, I'm so excited to see that. But I did the thing where I made 20 of my books on Google Play, I just made a 75% off coupon. And they even make an automatic landing page just for your books automatically. You can do it yourself, self-serve.
I'm new to Google Play, I'm going to be doing this with Sean Costello because we've never bothered to put his books up there, I've published his books for him. We're going to take all his books, load them in there, send his newsletter, say, ‘Hey, my books are now on Google Play. If you want to…' and I'm not sure, we're probably going to do a few free coupon codes, pick one for free and pick another one for 75% off, just to try it.
Because again, we know Google's very algorithmic-based. If we can get a lot of customers doing some stuff…
Recently, I've gotten some really great action on Google Play with an international BookBub. And, obviously, thank you to the community of Wide for the Win readers, who several people have bought that on Google Play as well. So, it's now feeding those algorithms and all the things that you game Amazon for.
Joanna: There's actually an interview going out, just before this one, with Ryan Dingler who's a product manager at Google, all about Google Play. You're going to love it too because it talks about AI voice, the stuff that's coming for audio.
Mark: I can't wait to listen to it.
Joanna: Oh, you're going to be so excited.
Mark: It's going to be weird because I'm in the future.
Joanna: Yeah, you're in the future. You would've already listened to it.
Mark: Oh, Jo, you know that last week's episode on Google Play? That was such an amazing interview.
Joanna: What's so interesting is he does talk about this algorithmic idea. And I found with Google Play, if you can just get things moving…like the difficult thing is getting things moving. And, again, free Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy, these are all good.
What I think's very very important, coming back to this country idea, is Android has something like nearly 80% of the smart mobile market in the world is Android. It's just that in the U.S., and maybe in Canada, in the UK, iOS, or Apple is dominant.
People have this entirely skewed view of what the mobile experience is. Whereas, in most other countries in the world, that's not how it is. So, this is the other thing, I really want people to get this.
Your reading, the way that you read, is not the way that everyone else reads.
Let's come on to wide audio, for example. Findaway Voices is our wide way in, and Draft2Digital have a partnership with them. And they get you into 43 different distributors, and there's libraries, and there's all these things.
What's so fascinating with audio is I can't even fathom how many different ways people are listening to audio. And, in fact, when Spotify comes on board, hopefully this year, I really hope it happens this year, they're rivaling Kobo, they're in 160 countries I think now with Spotify.
Mark: They're no slouch. Spotify is well known.
Joanna: Exactly. And they're also algorithms. So, this is the other thing that algorithm-powered, but this is the big tip I think to everyone. And, in fact, this is true of Amazon, you have to get things moving.
Let's talk about podcasting, one of the ultimate international mediums. You're a podcaster, you're on a lot of different podcasts.
How do you think podcasting has impacted your wide reach?
Mark: Again, so many of these things I learned from you, Joanna, is the intimacy of audio is so critical. The fact that you're connecting.
Through my podcast and through being on so many amazing podcasts…and again, as a book guy, as an industry guy, but also as an author, it's just this amazing connection that people feel that they have with me. And I want them to have that, I want to feel connected to people. Because I'm a huggy touchy kind of guy.
Joanna: Not anymore!
Mark: Well, I'm really suffering with the pandemic. Liz is like, ‘Enough with the hugs already,' but, normally, I would've been at a conference and I would've hugged a thousand people, she's like, ‘leave me alone.'
This is so critical. What I learned about audio, when I think about wide audio, is actually Audible's probably my worst platform for audio income. I'm making money direct and I'm making the most money through a cost-per-checkout library.
When I was first with Findaway, because it's like all these platforms, you're like, ‘Yeah, whatever.' It was kind of like Smashwords has the main ones and then all these other places, and maybe you'll make a buck or two here once in a while. It was that kind of thing. I'm like, ‘Okay, I'll do the same thing.'
I remember looking and going, ‘Who the heck is this? I've never heard of them. How come I made that much money off them, I've never heard of them.' And then I would reach out to Kelly or Will, I was like, ‘Who are these people? What are they doing? Why am I selling so well?'
I love that about the wide experience, because I feel guilty that I don't know this platform that people are buying my stuff on. Because then I wonder, there's the part of me that says, ‘As an author, I like to be part of the community, I want to offer things to my readers. I want to connect with them, I want to make sure that they feel good.'
It's kind of like I'm the waiter, ‘Is everything okay? Do you need a refill?' That's the kind of thing that I want to be. It's very Canadian too. ‘Can I apologize for something?' That's the sort of thing.
The joy of wide, the surprise of wide is learning, ‘Oh, I'm selling here. I didn't even know I was there,' but what a great place to be in. We do talk about focusing on and learning but you're not going to learn all the platforms. But being on all the platforms and being open to it is, I think, really really a great place to start.
Joanna: And also I find with podcasting, there are so many places that this podcast will be going out on. And, so, you don't know where someone is listening. I encourage people to tweet me @thecreativepenn with pictures of where they're listening.
We had someone even in Antarctica who sent a picture. But who knows where they are in the world, where you are in the world listening right now, and where your favorite platform is that I might not even know. And that's the thing like on Draft2Digital, on many of the other distributors, PublishDrive or whatever, you can't even count the number of places that might pick up these books.
And this is the other thing, I think, especially with Findaway, they're always adding new distributors. And you're like, ‘Well, I don't even know what that is but it doesn't matter.'
Mark: If they invested the time in it, I bet you it's probably going to be worth it for something.
Joanna: Exactly. You and I should write a book called The Relaxed Author.
Mark: We should. Smoking jackets, music in the background.
Joanna: Because I feel like this is the thing, I don't care where you buy my books from. And I don't care what format you buy in because I'm going to have them available everywhere in all formats. They're not available in all languages, but hey, we'll get there.
Mark: Yeah. We'll get there.
Joanna: Exactly. And in all the countries, although you'll laugh; I got Kobo to send me a list of the countries I was missing, out of the 190, and…
Mark: Oh, they did that for you. That's great.
Joanna: I'm like, ‘Okay, I'm not sure I know how to reach those people.' But this is the thing, I think the relaxed attitude is, look, I'm a writer, we obsess about marketing, blah-blah-blah, but literally at the moment all I'm doing is making sure my books are available everywhere.
And then I'm doing the podcast, obviously, and then I'm running these international ads and doing email and offering permafree but really not spending that much time on it. I feel like that's one of the gifts of wide is this.
In fact, Neil Gaiman talks about blowing on the little puffball thing where all the seeds go out. [Neil Gaiman, Dandelion seeds]
Mark: Oh, that's exactly. Yeah.
Joanna: And then you don't know where they're going to land but some little seed might sprout somewhere that you didn't even know about. And then you're like, ‘Oh, cool, an extra 50 bucks this month,' or, you know, ‘this happened.' I think that's how I feel about it really.
Mark: You said a couple things that really stuck home and I thought of an example. Audio as an intimate thing, but also those seeds. When you said, ‘We don't know when someone's listening to this either,' because I was at a local brewery where I purchased a table where I was selling print copies of my book. Because where else am I going to be on a Saturday anyways? My little tent.
Somebody walks by and sees the original version of A Canadian Werewolf in New York on the front of my table and goes, ‘Oh my god, you're Mark Leslie. I remember listening to you on Paula B's The Writing Show Podcast back in 2004 when you were talking about writing that book.'
It's more than 10 years later somebody connected. She was like, ‘I remembered because you were from Hamilton. And I'm from Hamilton, and that was so cool that I was listening to someone from Hamilton.' Guess who bought a whole bunch of my books?
And it was kind of like, okay, it was 10 years ago, it was like a minor thing, but I did 2 things that had nothing to do with selling e-books on Amazon. I was at a brewery with some print books, and I was on a writing podcast in 2006 or 2005 or 2004, or whatever, and all of these things came together.
The seed got blown by enough pieces with enough wind that, all of a sudden, that sale happened. And when you're wide and when you're thinking long-term and when you're thinking beyond the book and in multiple formats, that can happen with the right person at the right time.
I bet you she's never read any book in her life because most readers haven't. So being available in large print, which is, I know, a strategy you use. There's plenty of people who go, ‘Yeah, but every book on my Kindle or Kobo is a large print book.' ‘Yeah-yeah, but I don't read on that.'
Joanna: It's interesting, even talking about print again, coming back to IngramSpark, I gave up doing print back in like 2014 or something, and then I got back into it in 2017 when Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith. Kris was like, ‘What do you mean you're not doing print?' I was like, ‘Oh, I feel stupid. I don't like to feel stupid in front of Kris!'
Mark: I'm going to go hide in the corner now.
Joanna: ‘I'll just go and sort my life out.' But what's so interesting is I had underestimated wide print. And what is it, 43,000 distribution points that Ingram has?
I was speaking in Sweden and someone came up to me and they said, ‘Your book's available on our print on demand store and our online bookstore.' And I'm like, ‘Oh, I didn't even know they were there.' Because they were in the Ingram catalog, they were distributed to those places. Or I was speaking in Australia and got books ordered and printed.
This is the attitude is, if you are putting your catalogue, your intellectual property on all these places, you can just let them be and do the seed-scattering impact and see what happens, as you say, as long as you're in it for the long term.
We're almost running out of time, you and I could always talk about this forever. But, look, I know it's so hard, people who are listening, if you're just starting out. Mark, you've been doing this now for 25 years or so…
Mark: Well, I first self-published in 2004.
Joanna: But you were a bookseller…
Mark: Since 92.
Joanna: You've been in the book world for this long. I feel like this is the biggest issue is the short-term thinking. How can people change that? Other than us going, ‘You must think long-term,' how do we help people move on?
I feel like it is the most dangerous thing, this obsession with, ‘Why haven't I earned 10 grand a month in my first month of being an author?'
Mark: I think it goes back to a lesson from traditional publishing and my history with that world and book selling is most authors would stick with an author, in the old days of traditional publishing, for three to five books before things really took off. And that is not all that different.
I remember it was a Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy, Tina Folsom, they were like the three queens of just superstar success in the very early days. The forerunners. And the same thing was true with them. It wasn't until the third or fourth book in the series that things really started to take hold.
I know that's not easy, it's not easy to go, ‘Yeah, but Wool, Hugh Howey's blockbuster success was his tenth novel.' Jo, how long your podcast celebrated, were you going on 11 years now?
Joanna: Yeah, this is year 12.
Mark: Is this year 12? But in the first 1 or 2 years of every…and I know it wasn't weekly at the beginning, but you kept at it, you kept at it, you kept at it. You only hear about the success stories of the people who didn't give up.
It's falling down eight times and getting up nine. So, persistence and belief in yourself. And, again, the other thing, and I know you talk about this a lot and I'm inspired by you from it, is that comparisonitis is compare yourself to where you were. ‘Oh, I didn't have a book last year, now I have a book.' Sweet, awesome.
Most people will never write a book in their lives. Celebrate it, take the time to celebrate it but also take the time to keep going, to keep working at it and to recognize you've put something out that only you can write, you're the only person who could ever have shared that exact same book the way you did. And there is probably someone out there, and, hopefully, lots of someones, where that's going to resonate with them.
It's really hard to talk, well, we're in a pandemic and I talk about the long term. It's like we're just such short-sighted, I was like, ‘When do I get to hug people again? Well, how about let's get the vaccinations and then, Mark, you can touch as many people as you want.'
We are inherently very very focused on the here and now. And that's a really really hard thing to do. So, pick up meditation, take some meditation, relax. A little less coffee, a little more water.
Joanna: And be a relaxed wide-for-the-win author.
Mark: Be a relaxed author, yeah.
Joanna: The book is called Wide for the Win.
Where can authors find the book and also more help for going wide?
Mark: I like to send people to books2read.com/wideforthewin. You can also go to markleslie.ca and find links to everything from me right there. And, obviously, draft2digital.com if you're looking for a great way to have free way of getting e-books made and distributed.
Joanna: And the Wide for the Win Facebook group, we should mention…
Mark: We forgot the Wide for the Win Facebook group. Yes.
Joanna: Which is fantastic and is full of people sharing a lot of detail and encouragement as well, I think, along the way, which is really important.
Mark: That's critical because you have to recognize you're not in it alone and there's a lot of other people who are going through the exact same thing. The Wide for the Win Facebook group is such a beautiful community of supportive people. I cheer on people's wins.
And, in my mind, I actually prefer cheering people on, like, ‘I got my first sale in this country,' or on this platform. Sweet. I remember what that was like and I feel for you because there's certain countries I haven't sold in yet too.
That community is so critical, especially when you're feeling alone and frustrated. You're like, ‘This is never going to work.' Guess what? There's thousands of others out there like you. You can kind of hang out together and relax together.
Joanna: All right. Well, thanks so much for your time, Mark, that was great.
Mark: Thanks, Jo, always great to chat with you.
Thank you for this podcast. I needed it very badly.
I listened to this episode earlier today. Mark has always presented solid information over the years about how indie authors should consider going wide. His knowledge and vast experience is much needed in the indie author space. Good podcast.
Joanna Penn says
Glad you enjoyed it!
Stephen Kamugasa says
Thank you very much for a great interview – very enjoyable indeed! I liked the idea of playing things long. I also liked your imagery of a seed that is dispersed by wind. Your imagery conjured up a picture of a dandelion. I like dandelions. The imagery spoke to me powerfully. Thank you, Joanna!
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Stephen, and yes, dandelion was the word I was looking for!
Hi Joanna, do you have any thoughts on the ‘recent’ changes to Amazon Expanded Distribution requirements for us UK authors? It looks like overnight I can no longer sell to anywhere other than UK and US on Amazon if I’ve gone wide. Or have I misunderstood?
Linda Richmond says
Great podcast, Joanna! Useful, fun, and so smart. Can’t thank you enough.