How can Bookfunnel help authors reach more readers, sell more books, and sell direct? Damon Courtney outlines features of Bookfunnel that you might not know about.
In the intro, Hello Books and Written Word Media have joined forces for promo stacking; Call to Action (CTA) tips [ALLi]; my free Author Blueprint; Bundle for writers [Storybundle].
Plus, Paul McCartney is using AI to create a new and final Beatles song [The Guardian]; Boosting creativity, AI, and book cover design [Damonza]; Storytel has invested in ElevenLabs and the possibility of voice switching [Publishing Perspectives]; The Ethical Writers Guide to Harnessing the Power of AI: Using AI with Integrity – HJ Philips; my live AI webinars.
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Damon Courtney is a fantasy author, entrepreneur, and founder of BookFunnel.com, which I consider one of my must-use tools as part of my author business.
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 is below.
- Damon's journey to creating BookFunnel
- The struggles of sharing Reader Magnets and ‘side-loading' before BookFunnel
- How to use BookFunnel for list building
- More BookFunnel features — Gift a Book, ARC delivery and Print Codes
- Author Swaps vs Group Promotions
- Tips for using BookFunnel for direct sales
- The benefits of going wide with audiobooks
You can find Damon at BookFunnel.com
Transcript of Interview with Damon Courtney
Joanna:: Damon Courtney is a fantasy author, entrepreneur, and founder of BookFunnel.com, which I consider one of my must-use tools as part of my author business. So welcome back to the show, Damon.
Damon: It's so good to be back. I can't believe it's been as long as it has. When was last time we did this thing?
Joanna: It's like almost a decade or something ridiculous.
Damon: It is a decade in indie publishing, right? It's probably two decades in indie publishing since we last talked like this. Of course, we see each other frequently. We just saw each other back in February in Colorado, but me being on the show and chatting like this in an official capacity.
Joanna: Yes. And I mean, like you said, you are at a lot of author conferences. I wanted to make sure people know a bit about your origin story as well, because unlike a lot of the service companies that work for and with authors, you're an author yourself. That's how I originally met you all those years ago.
Tell people a bit more about you and your background in writing and tech, and why you're also a book geek as well as a tech geek.
Damon: Well, we'll go all the way back to the tech thing first because that really came first, which was I actually started programming and writing computer code when I was seven years old.
My dad brought home this really old ancient computer, especially ancient by today's standards. It was called a TRS-80, but we call them a Trash-80 in the tech world. It plugged into your television, and it had no hard drive and had no disk drive, it had no nothing. You just wrote code into it. It came with this giant floppy book that you could learn to code with in a language called BASIC.
Everybody else kind of toyed with it, even my dad, and then just kind of left it sitting there on the living room floor. I was the only one that was like, what is this thing? So I've been doing tech for my really my entire life.
I became a reader, probably around the age of 12. I had a fantastic librarian when I was in sixth grade, who introduced me to The Hobbit, and The Black Cauldron, and all these amazing fantasy books, which were always my thing. While the other boys my age were playing Cowboys and Indians, I was playing Knights and Dragons. But I didn't have any books to read, I couldn't find them.
I remember going to the card catalog—that was a thing, for you younger kids—there was a card catalog in the library. I remember literally going to the card catalog and opening up ‘D' and looking for the word dragon and then going to ‘W' and looking up wizard, because that was all I knew how to do to find the things that I wanted to read.
So the tech thing really came first, and then the reading, and then becoming a lifelong reader.
I mean, just absolutely. I still read every single night. That's my wind down when I get into bed. I put the kids to bed, I get in bed, and I sit and I read every single night. Now eBooks, I don't read paper anymore, everything I do is on eBooks. But that started all of that.
The writing thing really came about because of indie publishing.
So I'm going to admit some of my geekery, I play Dungeons and Dragons, and I have my entire life. I have been what we call the Forever Dungeon Master. So I've been the dungeon master of my group, the same group, for about 30-plus years now.
I mean, being a dungeon master is just writing stories, right? You're writing stories that you play around a table with a bunch of other people, but that's really what it is. You're writing stories, you're making up stories, for other people to experience.
So there was always this sort of secret dream that maybe one day I could be a writer. I remember looking it up and trying to read about it and learning about the process by which a book was published. You basically query it and you send it out into the world and they reject you a billion times. Then maybe if you're lucky, and you spend 10 years toiling away at it, you might get someone to finally anoint you and approve that your book was good enough. I thought, well, I have absolutely no interest in doing that.
Part of my tech background is that the beauty of being a computer programmer is if you want to make something, it doesn't require any other person in the world.
It's you and a computer, and you can just sit down and start hacking out code, and you can make these amazing things. That's where BookFunnel started, and we'll get to that in a second. But that's been my whole life.
If I wanted to do something in code, I could just sit down and start making it.
So when indie publishing really blew up, which was around 2010, that's when I got my first Kindle, I lucked out. I was looking for a book to read, I found a fantasy book that was on Amazon for $2.99, and I'd never seen a book that cheap, right? None of us had. Books were $20-$25 if you wanted to buy a book, maybe $8 If you wanted a mass-market paperback. I was like, three bucks, sweet.
So I picked that up and I read it, and I say I lucked out because it turned out to be, now, one of my favorite authors who I'm a super fan of. It was just a fantastic book, and I got to the end of it and the author's note, and started reading the author's note and went, wait, what? You can just publish your own books with this? That's not a thing. Then you start Googling it and looking it up, and holy crap, it really is a thing. You can just like put books up on Amazon and publish them.
That started the wheels turning. Like, well, I mean, you've always wanted to write a book, why not you? You can write a book. Why don't you give it a shot? So that was like the long journey. You know, starting off in tech, being a programmer, being a lifelong lover of books and fantasy and reading, and then eventually leading to ultimately writing and publishing my own fantasy books.
Joanna: Wait, you have to tell us who that author was.
Damon: His name is David Dalglish. He actually went from indie, and he's now traditionally published almost exclusively. Although, I think he has put out a few indie books. So that's a little disappointing, not because I'm disappointed that he went traditional, but him going traditional means I only get one book a year from him, when he used to publish like four to six books a year. So that is where my disappointment lies.
That said, I actually just finished his most recent book. So I'm a David Dalglish super fan, right? I will read every book that he publishes now because he's one of my favorite authors. I discovered him through indie publishing in the indie world. I just finished his most recent book, and it's just as fantastic as it always is. He's a fantastic writer. And that's always my journey, anytime I finish a book or a series.
I actually just finished a 16-book fantasy series, and I read the entire thing. I'm one of those, if I start, I have to go all the way to the end. I mean, unless I'm not enjoying it, then I'll stop. I'm no longer a book martyr. I used to be a book martyr, and I'm like, well, I started this book, I don't like it, but I feel like I should finish it just to show respect to the author. Now, I'm like, man, I don't have time for that. So I just finished a 16 book fantasy series, and as soon as I finish as series, you know, it's always the same. Okay, what is the next either series I can find or the next author I can fall in love with so that I can read all of their books.
Joanna: My husband is also a fantasy reader and listener, he listens to a lot of audio, and he's the same. Like each audiobook has to be at least 40 hours, and there has to be a hell of a lot of books in a series for him to be interested. So you fantasy listeners and readers, you're difficult to please.
But let's just come back to your own books. So you published how many books? And then—
Why did you start BookFunnel?
Damon: So I published three books. And I started BookFunnel because I'd actually published the second book of my trilogy. So I tend to be, or used to be, I'm a little better now, but I tend to be a little flighty.
You know, I have these great ideas, and it's all part of my ADHD, but I started writing these books, and I made myself a promise that if I was going to publish. So I finished the first book, I had it professionally edited, and I really liked it, and I wanted to publish it. But I sort of made myself a promise that if you publish this book, you're going to have to finish the trilogy.
At that point, especially in indie publishing, I'd run into several cases where I started reading a series, I fell in love with it, and then the author just fell off the planet. They stopped after book two or book three, and we never heard from them again. I did not want to be one of those authors, knowing that I have an absolute tendency to be one of those authors.
So I said, okay, if you're going to publish this first book, you're committed to three, because it's a trilogy, and we like our trilogies in fantasy.
So I published the first book, and I was getting ready to publish the second book, and I'd had a few sales. Back then you could just put a book out for 99 cents, and you could get sales. So I'd had some sales, and people were reading the books, and I was like, okay, well, how do I find more readers? I was listening to Joanna Penn, and I was reading Hugh Howey's blog and Joe Konrath's blog, and like all of the people at the time.
The whole idea of list building and getting your own mailing list so that you could contact and talk to your readers directly was really coming into its own.
People were starting to talk more about it. Then thus beget the Reader Magnet, which back then we didn't call a thing. It was just a free story or a free book. And I was like, oh, I can do that. I could write a short story, and then I give that away, and people get on my list. That's how I can work on selling these books more.
At that time, I wasn't thinking, well, I'm going to go build more software. I was actually, at that point, I was thinking, I wonder if I could leave the software industry and become a writer full-time. Even though I love software, right? It was never a case of I absolutely hate my job and I would just love to be a writer so that I can get out of this terrible drudgery. I love writing code. But it was sort of like, wow, but I mean, being a writer, pretty cool, right? You know, to get to tell these stories.
Of course, I had notes, and reams and reams of notes of all of these things, and these ideas, and the world-building because we're fantasy authors. So we just spend gobs of time building worlds that sometimes we don't even write the books. So I had started this idea of like, oh, I'm going to build my list, and I'm going to write a reader magnet, and I'm going to put that out there. Okay, so how do I deliver the reader magnet?
I signed up for your list, and I signed up for Joe Konrath's and I signed up for Hugh Howey's, and I signed up for all of these, the biggest authors at the time, some of whom obviously are still huge. It was like, “Oh, thanks for joining my list. Here's your ePub. Here's your mobi. Good luck and God bless.” And I thought, you know, I'm a techy guy, I know how to get the book onto my Kindle, that's fine. But I don't know that average people are going to figure out how to do this.
Joanna: Just to interject there, many people listening won't remember this. It was like—
We spent however many years it was trying to figure out sideloading the devices.
That's what we used to call it back then. It's so funny now, that's what we used to talk about. And no one talks about this anymore because of BookFunnel. So it's kind of amazing that you managed to sell this. I mean, we used to have this download page, and it would say, “If you have a Kindle, click here, and here's the thing.”
We would always get these emails that were like, “I've got an old Samsung, whatever, and I can't get the file on.” And it was a nightmare. It was so much of a nightmare to people like me, it just became like, oh, why do I bother? I feel like it's such a huge thing, and like you said, most people cannot get files onto their devices. Even now, if people try and do it manually, it's a struggle. So yes, coming back to what you decided to fix this problem.
Damon: Yeah, that was it. So my wife will tell you that I think I can solve every problem with software, because that's my hammer, right? To every carpenter with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
But I tried this, and I was like, I think I could solve this. Let me try this. I have a Kindle, I have an iPhone, let me play around with this and just see if it's possible. And I started to see how it could be done. How you could, at the very least, with the most common devices like Kindles and iPhones and iPads and Android phones. Like, okay, if you could cover all of those, then you're going to get 90% of the way there. Sure there's Kobos, and there's Nooks, and there's Sony Readers, and there's Tolino Readers, and there's all kinds of other stuff, but if you could get most of it covered, I think you could make something that would work.
So I started building it, really initially, just for my own books, for my own reader magnet delivery.
Because I was at the time, remember, I was still thinking I was going to be a famous writer, and building my list and giving out my reader magnet was going to be the way that I did that. But the more that I started to build the tech, the more that I realized, oh, this is really good. Like this actually works, it gets the books to most of these major devices. I thought that other people could use this too.
I started to see the other authors, I would hear them on podcasts saying, like, “Oh, I love building my list. I love having my list and talking directly to my readers, but man, dealing with the support is such a pain in the butt.”
And I was like, oh, wait, I think I could solve that problem. That's where BookFunnel was born, was to solve my own problem.
I personally think all the best software in the world is built by people who wanted to solve their own problem first, and then thought, hey, maybe other people would like this too.
If you set out from, hey, this is a great idea that can make me lots of money, I don't think you have the passion for it, and you don't have the insight into why do people need to do this.
So we launched BookFunnel, and our initial—I'm sure you can find it on like the way back archive—our first homepage was all about solving this problem of tech support and delivery, and delivering the files to readers devices.
Because at the time, that was the problem that BookFunnel was built to solve. But two years on, we had to rewrite our whole website because new authors that were coming into the indie world didn't know this was a problem. That's because all of the biggest authors had already signed up for BookFunnel and were using it. So nobody talked about it anymore. Nobody talked about the sideloading problem. So people would get in and be like, “Oh, I don't know why I need BookFunnel. Can't I just attach an ePub to an email?” And people would go, no, no, no, don't do that.
Joanna: Have fun with that!
Damon: Exactly. You can do that, sure. You're going to have a grand old time supporting all of those readers.
Joanna: Okay, so let's fast forward to now because, obviously, things have developed over time. And why I particularly wanted to talk to you was, quite recently—I will come to Shopify and selling direct a bit—but I was like, oh, why can't I do this? And I emailed you or one of the team and said, “Can I do this?” And you were like, “Yeah, you could do this this way.” And I didn't even realize that I could do that.
So we want to know all the things that BookFunnel has turned into that can help authors today.
As you said, you have great insight into what authors need, not just because of your own experience, but because like we'd said, you're at every conference and you talk to a lot of people. You're very friendly and approachable, people should definitely chat to you. So let's start with the list building.
Where are we today with how authors can use BookFunnel for list building?
Damon: So again, originally why I built BookFunnel was I was trying to build my list. So the delivery was the problem that we were solving, but very, very quickly, once we solved that problem, which we put out our first version, we didn't know what we didn't know, and as an engineer, we think we solved all the problems and this couldn't possibly be confusing for anybody.
So we put out the first version of BookFunnel and very quickly found that I was wrong about a lot of things, but within a few months, we had worked all those issues out.
So once we felt like we had solved the sideloading problem pretty well, the very next thing is like, well, great, but how can BookFunnel help me build my list? Because I'm already out there doing all these other things, wouldn't it be great if BookFunnel could help with that. So that was why we built it.
The first thing was just getting people to understand that you've written this reader magnet, you've put it out there into the world, and you really need to start pushing it everywhere.
Put your reader magnet at the back of every book, every short story. Everything that you publish should have a call to action that says, “join my list.”
Every email you send, your signature should say, “Hey, join my list. Get a free book.” You know, putting all of that stuff out there, and obviously using BookFunnel as the delivery.
Then we started to build features around that. Initially all BookFunnel had was what we call a download page, which was, we didn't accept the readers email address, we didn't do anything but sort of give them the files and then walk them through their devices and instruct them on how to get the books there.
We very, very quickly realized that we needed to be in greater control of the collection, mostly because in the beginning, a lot of people didn't know how to even build a website or a web page, or what we call a squeeze page, which is sending them somewhere from the back of your book to get signed up.
A squeeze page is one where they can't leave the page. There's no other links that take them somewhere else because if they can, they might click on something else. And it's great, they start browsing around your website, but really what you want is like, I got your eyeball, I want you to sign up for my newsletter right now while I got you here.
So we built that. We built signup pages very, very shortly after we launched all of our initial products because authors wanted us to do the signups. Then it became a whole rash of, well, we have to integrate with MailChimp and then MailerLite, and now we integrate with like 15 different email services because people just kept asking. Well, what about ConvertKit? Have you guys heard of SendinBlue? Like, we get those emails all the time.
All the features that we build at BookFunnel come directly from our authors.
When our authors email us and say, “Hey, you know…” You talked about the experience that you had, we get that all the time. Anytime I go to conferences, people will come up and they'll say, “Oh, you know what I would love to do with BookFunnel? I would love to do this thing.” And the answer is, you can do that. Or, “You know what would be great? If BookFunnel had a feature that did this.” We have a feature that does that.
The problem that we have is that when we launch our features, we call them feature grenades. So it's not a good thing at all, and it's not at all how you should run a business.
But we create a new feature, we write a blog post, we send it out, we throw it at everybody, and then we run away and we never talk about it ever again. So if we built something three years ago, it's likely that we haven't talked about it since the initial blog post that announced that feature. So every one of our users can be forgiven for not knowing that we do something that we do, because we're not really good at going back in and talking about those things after the fact.
Joanna: Well, then this is a kind of rapid-fire section where you're going to try and give us a sort of rundown. I mean, perhaps mention some of the things that you're surprised people don't use more of, or things that I know I've asked for as well. Audiobooks are a big one, so we can certainly come back to that. But ARCs are something I know people worry about.
Tell us some of the things that people can use that they might not expect.
The first feature we built after the initial delivery was ARC delivery, Advanced Reader Copy delivery,
— which is very different than just sort of general delivery. You know, somebody writes a reader magnet, and you put it out there into the world, and you're giving it away to everybody who signs up for your mailing list. It's the loss leader, it's the thing that you're giving away.
Now, of course, I want you to sign up for my list, but if somebody turned around and shared that link and gave it to somebody else, it's not the worst thing in the world. You might gain a new reader out of it, somebody who read your reader magnet and then falls in love with your writing and goes and buys the rest of the series.
Not so with ARCs, especially if you're a very popular writer. If you're a big writer, your books are likely to get pirated almost instantly because there are so many fans that love your book. Sadly, you would think they are fans wouldn't be out there pirating your books. I will say from our evidence, it's usually almost never your ARC team. It's always once the book actually gets published out into the world. But there's so many people that are waiting for it, that it's out there.
So for ARC delivery, we knew that what authors wanted was something that was going to be a bit more secure.
So when you have a link, even just a sign up link, and say, “Hey, sign up and get my ARC.” If somebody shares that link with somebody else, well then somebody else could also sign up. And technically you get their email address, but now they've got your brand new book that you weren't really intending for them to get.
So when we built ARC delivery, we built a feature called certified mail, that you give us the email addresses, we email every single reader their own unique individual download link that is protected from them sharing that with other people. We have lots of different features that are built into that. One of the features that we just launched last year was what we call restricted delivery.
Over the years as BookFunnel has gotten bigger, we built our own app for Android and iOS, we built our own cloud reader where readers can read eBooks in their browsers, audiobooks, and all of that sort of stuff.
But what restricted delivery does is lets you restrict the delivery of that book to only reading within BookFunnel's platform. So they can install our reader on their iOS or their Android device, they can read in our browser reader on pretty much any device in the world.
The reason that's really, really good for ARC delivery is I don't want this book getting out to everyone in the world until I'm ready for the world to see it. This book is really intended for my small 60 person, advanced team. And you know, I trust my team, they're a great team, but I really don't trust them completely. And I'd rather that this book not get shared out into the world, or worse, get pirated before I've even had a chance to publish it. So the needs of an author who's putting out an advanced copy are very different than somebody who's putting out a reader magnet that's there for public consumption.
So the kinds of features that we built into certified mail for ARC delivery were all designed around this idea that you don't want this book escaping out into the world until you're ready, until you're ready for that book to be released.
Then as far as other features that we built, we have a super simple feature, but I love it, it's called ‘Gift a Book.'
It really is just selecting a book that's on your BookFunnel account, give me an email address, you can create templates for all the different kinds of emails that you send, and then you just, boom, send them a book. It's sort of like certified mail, but for one person. It creates a unique link to that book that is just for that person to download.
Then of course, it tracks everything that they do. So if you're looking back at your gifts, you can see, oh, hey, they got their link, they downloaded their book, they are reading it on their Kindle. Like you have all of the data available to you.
We have a lot of nonfiction authors that use that because if you're at a conference and you're talking to somebody and you say, “Oh, you know what, I think my book is perfect for you. Hey, what's your email address? Let me send it to you.” And you just pop up your BookFunnel account on your smartphone and bop, bop, bop, tap in their email address and boom, you send them a copy.
You can't do that with anything else in the world, right? You can try maneuvering your way through Amazon's system of buying a gift copy for somebody and kind of sending it to them, but it really sort of sends them a gift card which can be used to buy other things.
Joanna: You can't gift across countries. So this is an important point. I mean, you're in the US, a lot of your customers are in the US, but I'm in the UK. Sometimes US authors will say to me, “Oh, I'll just give you a copy on Amazon.com.” I'm like, no, you can't, because the gifts don't work.
This is another thing about BookFunnel, it's truly international.
And this is an international show, so we like to think of products that are global, as opposed to specifically for the USA. So I think that's really important too, is that you really are offering like a global service.
Damon: Yeah, we get the question sometimes. We have absolutely zero geographic restrictions.
Everything that you send through BookFunnel can be read by anyone in the world. If they can get an internet connection, they can get a book from us.
And so yeah, our Gift a Book feature, it really is just a simple feature. Give me the email address, you can put in their name, but like I said, it's kind of nice because you can track everybody that you've ever gifted a book to. You can see if they got it, you can follow up with them after the conference and say, “Hey, it was lovely meeting you. It looks like you haven't downloaded your copy. Here's that link again, if you wanted to grab a copy of the book. It was so great to meet you.” Like, it's just such a great little feature, but it's super, super simple.
We built that at the same time that we built the ARC delivery because I'd already built all the tech for sending out little short private links for everybody on your ARC team.
And I thought it would be really cool if people could just send one at a time because I had, even in my very short author career, had bumped into people where I thought, you know what, I bet they would like mine. They were like, “Oh, I love fantasy books,” and I'm telling them about the books that I've read, and I think that they would like my book. Well, I obviously don't carry copies with me in my back pocket. And I thought oh, hey, I'll just email you a copy. Even with BookFunnel, initially, that wasn't possible. I could maybe find and copy and paste a link and open up an email in my mail app and send it to you, but it wasn't as simple as, let me get your email address, click, boom, you've got a copy.
We have authors using the templating that you can build and gift a book. They have templates for like birthdays, so when their readers have a birthday, they just go in and say, Gift a Book, select the birthday template, here's a free book, and they just send them off and away they go. It's such a neat little thing.
Speaking of carrying books with you, we have a feature called Print Codes. We call it Print Codes because we specifically designed it so people would use it in print, but you can really use them anywhere.
We have authors that are using them a ton now for Kickstarter delivery and fulfillment. But what Print Codes are is you take your book, you go into BookFunnel, and say, “Hey, generate 100 unique codes for this book.”
Each one is a little nine digit code that's unique to that person. You generate those codes, you go off and you print them, and you put them onto the back of the business card or a bookmark or a postcard or something like that.
Now when you're standing around talking to somebody or you go to a conference and you've got a table set up, and somebody says, “Oh, I love your books.” I can say, “Oh, great. Let me give you a copy of my reader magnet, or let me give you a copy of the new book. Here you go.” And you hand them that little card, and that little code on the back of the card is unique to them.
They can go and use it, redeem their copy of their book, and then that's it. The code is dead, and it can't be used again. So we call that carrying your eBooks in your pockets, right? Because that was not something that authors could really do, certainly not easily. You know, you have these great eBooks, almost no author is carrying just random copies of their paperbacks in a bag slung over their shoulder. But how nice is it that you can just carry a few business cards in your pocket, and now you can hand people a copy of your eBook.
Joanna: What about the author swaps and the group promotions?
Because I know that some people are using that to work with other authors. So I guess tell us about the feature, but also who it's good for, because I have tried it before and different levels of authors get on differently, I would say. So let's also give some advice there.
Damon: Sure. So we built two major features. The group promos came first, and that was that you are wanting to work with other authors in your genre, find other authors in your genre, who they have a list and you have a list, and we both write space operas.
So your readers are already predisposed to like my books because I write space opera, and my readers are probably going to like your books. We're always fond of saying in the business, that it's not a zero sum game. You know, readers don't just read one book and go, well, that's my book for the year, I guess I'll have to wait till next year to read that Joanna Penn book. Like, they don't do that. If they're readers, when they finish one book, they're going to go on and say, what's the next book that I can find?
So they're going to read all of your books, and when they're done with all of your books, they're looking for someone else to read. And as we all help each other, I can offer you up some books that you might like because these other authors are also indies in my genres. So group promos is just that. We're all joining together and working together because we all write in the same genre.
When you talk about who is it really for, any author can use it. You do have differing levels, and as you go through the group promo board on BookFunnel, which is just a big giant board that's separated out by genres so you can kind of see what is available and what is recruiting in your genre as you're looking for other authors to join in, you will find some that are geared towards bigger authors. Authors that either have a bigger list, or have more books, a bigger back list sometimes there'll be looking for because they're looking for authors that are a bit more established to introduce their readers to.
Then other times, you'll find promos that are really built and catering towards newer authors. Sometimes they're sort of all over the place.
If you take 20 authors, and all 20 of those authors, even if they have a small list of only 100 readers, well, that's still 2000 readers that everybody's going to get introduced to if we all work together, and we all send it to our small, tiny little lists.
Usually what group promos end up with is you'll have a few tentpole authors that have much bigger lists, but are willing to share their lists with other readers. Because even if you've only got 100 readers, some of those readers on your list have never heard of me, and I'm just trying to get my reader magnet in front of as many readers as I can possibly get it in front of because those people read my magnet.
And then if you're doing your job right, your reader magnet leads into your series, and then people are going to go on and read the rest of my series, if they like it. If they don't like it, well, then they weren't going to be my fan anyway, and that's okay.
You want to get your books in front of as many readers as you can because you don't know how many of those readers are going to take you up on your offer and then become readers.
Then you don't know how many of those readers are going to go on to become super fans, people like me that when I become a superfan that's it, I'll buy every book you've got for the end till the end of time. So that that was group promos.
Author swaps came along later, and it's really just a one on one. So we like to consider them like a bit more personal.
If I'm going to swap with Joanna Penn, and I'm going to tell my readers, you'll love this book series by Joanna Penn, then I probably want to make sure that your books are good. There's a little bit of vetting because it feels like a more personal recommendation if you're recommending just one person. If you're saying, hey, I'm in this great promotion with these 30 other space opera authors, nobody's expecting you to have read all 30 of those space opera authors' books.
So we sort of layer it and say, if you're just coming into list building, if you're just joining BookFunnel, you probably want to look at group promos first because you can be a bit more anonymous and you can work yourself and with other authors in your genre. You can also build your list a lot faster.
Group promos are going to build up your list very quickly.
Author swaps are going to be a little more slowly, but you're going to be able to reach authors' audiences that may not want to participate in larger group promos. They want to do more targeted things.
So let's go on to direct sales because I was using BookFunnel for Payhip for eBooks. Then you moved into audiobooks, which are kind of a game changer for many of us because audiobooks I feel have become more difficult to make a lot of profit than it used to be.
When you sell audio and eBooks direct, you can make more profit. So I'm now using Shopify, and I built everything to integrate with BookFunnel for eBooks and audiobooks. The thing I mentioned earlier, for people listening, was that I wanted to sell a bundle. So three eBooks or multiple products within one Shopify product, but multiple BookFunnel products. And I could set all of that up, which was very exciting to me.
So talk a bit about direct sales, why you've gone into that, and any tips.
Damon: So we launched direct sales in September 2017, so two years after BookFunnel launched. Even though the very first week that BookFunnel had existed, we got our first email saying, can BookFunnel deliver sales?
Joanna: It was probably me!
Damon: Probably. I bet I could go back and look and find it. I mean, we had not even had our doors open a week, and people were saying, can you deliver sales? So there was always this thing, sort of like, oh, yeah, that would be really cool. But we still had a lot of other features to build.
We did launch direct sales two years later, in 2017. I really built it because so many authors kept asking for it, but I'll be honest, I didn't think it was going to be successful.
I truly believed that readers really just want to buy from Amazon or Kobo or Barnes and Noble, or wherever they're comfortable buying from, and that they weren't going to buy from your store. So I almost built it out of protest, so that people would just leave me alone and stop asking me for it. Like, fine, here's your direct sales, and you're not going to get any sales, you're never going to make it.
I'm happy to say I was proven very, very wrong.
Even in the early days, we launched it and within a few weeks, we'd already had several thousand sales from authors websites. And I thought, how was that possible? And it's possible because I was just completely wrong. What I was wrong about was that there are some readers and, you know, I'm trying to be diplomatic, there are some readers that are very loyal to their platform. They only want to read books on their K-shaped device or A-shaped store, and their loyalty lies with the retailer.
There are lots of readers though, like me, I don't care where your books are. My loyalty lies with the authors that I fall in love with. And for them, if you are selling direct and it's easy for me to get the book from you, I will absolutely buy from your store. I would much rather that my money be going directly to the person who is producing the thing that I love.
So again, I was really wrong about that. And I'm happy to be proven wrong because —
Now direct sales is one of the largest growth features that BookFunnel has, as more and more authors have gotten into it.
That came about because I think more authors were willing to try it after we launched audiobooks.
So we launched audiobooks a little over two years ago.
It's still in beta because I haven't written the building software, if we're just being completely honest. But when we launched audiobooks, and again, that came about because people kept coming up to me at conferences and people kept emailing and saying, “When is BookFunnel going to do audiobooks? Oh, I'd love to use BookFunnel for audiobooks, is that a thing you guys are working on?”
Audiobooks was almost like writing an entirely other BookFunnel.
A lot of the things that we'd already built for eBooks did not translate into the audiobook world. An eBook might be one megabyte. An audiobook might be a gigabyte with 180 different files and chapters. So it was a very, very different beast.
Audiobooks had been blowing up for years, but more and more people kept asking us about it. So when we finally launched it, we didn't know what people were going to do with it. We didn't know like, oh, are people going to start doing audio reader magnets? Or what do they really want all of this for? And what they wanted it for was for direct sales. And the reason is, as you noted, it's all in the money.
If you publish a book on Amazon, or any of the other stores, but let's just take any given store, right? Most of the stores take 30% to 35% of your sale and you get the rest. So you put your book up on Amazon, you're within their magical pricing range, and you get 70% of the list price and they get 30%. Most authors are okay with that. I think we all wish it would be lower, we'd all would love it if it were lower than that even. But given the pound of flesh that traditional publishing has taken from authors for 100 years, I think we're all okay with a 70/30 split being pretty decent.
It's not so when it comes to audiobooks. On Audible, if you're not exclusive, they take 75% of the sale. And it's even more, I don't want to get into the math calculations, but most people—
Joanna: You can't even set your own price. So it's really very, very small.
It's why going wide with audio, to me, is like a superpower.
It's almost the only way to make a really good profit on audio is if you are wide, which I am.
Damon: And we've seen more and more authors who were willing to go wide with their audio because of that. So back at the beginning of last year, in January, we started getting a lot more people asking us for that specifically. They would literally join BookFunnel and go, “Yeah, how do I set up audiobooks? How do I do direct sales?” Immediately, those two questions would come out of a lot of the newer authors who are signing up.
More and more really big authors, authors that had been Audible-exclusive for a very long time, were suddenly asking us about direct sales.
I couldn't really explain why. I mean, I was happy about it, but I couldn't really explain like, what was the impetus? What was the catalyst that sort of set that thing in motion?
From what we learned later from some of the authors after talking to them at conferences about why they had started to move in this direction, was back in January of 2022, or for Christmas in 2021, Audible did not change their pricing, they changed the way they advertised their pricing.
So previously, if you went to audible.com, they really push the signup for $14.99 a month, and get one credit, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That's been their big push for a long, long time. But as of Christmas in 2021, they started pushing the sign up for pay one year in advance and get all of your books for $11.99 a piece.
They've had that forever. You could pay for a year in advance, and they would give you a break on the credit from $14.99 down to $11.99. But they started pushing that yearly subscription harder than they were pushing the monthly, where they used to push the monthly subscription. Well guess which price Amazon pays your 25% on? It's not what they price the book at, it's what the reader ultimately spent to get the book. So if the reader is on a monthly subscription, I give you 25% of $14.99, but if the reader bought yearly credits, I'm giving you 25% of $11.99.
So now your cut is even lower, but I'm in great shape because I'm Amazon, I'm Audible. I now have you locked in for an entire year, which I would much rather have you sign up for one full year, and pay me hundreds of dollars in advance, then have you go along at 15 bucks a month, but maybe decide to cancel halfway through the year.
So we suddenly got an influx of authors whose revenue went down because they were selling just as many books, but now they're getting their cut of $11.99, not $14.99. But audible was still sitting pretty.
So yes, direct sales and audio really started to blow up more as authors realized—I don't want to be impolite—but how much they were getting screwed. Like Audible is taking so much of the money.
The thing about an eBook is you could probably put out an eBook today for 50 bucks or 100 bucks, even if you bought a premade cover, you could probably put it out for 50 or 100 bucks. So putting it out there in the world and then getting 70% of every sale back is a really good deal. That's not the case with audiobooks.
Even today, it's still pretty expensive to develop and produce audiobooks. So it's like the more expensive thing that you have to create is the thing that they're taking the lion's share of the profits on.
Joanna: Yes, and just to be clear to everyone listening, you can listen to my audiobooks on whatever device you fancy and whatever platform.
I would just rather you bought direct. But yeah, so BookFunnel doing direct sales has been fantastic. So we've mentioned Shopify, WooCommerce, Payhip.
Any other platforms for direct sales?
Damon: Gumroad we added last year, which we hadn't had from the beginning, but we added them last year. I really like their platform. ThriveCart was one that several authors were asking us for.
So Shopify will build your entire store, and I will say of all the platforms, Shopify is absolutely the most complete. Their system of plugins and extensions where other people can make all the cool things that you can just kind of buy and add into your site, and then of course host your website, can really give you an all-in-one complete solution. ThriveCart is not that, but ThriveCart is really good at driving direct readers directly to a landing page that has upsells and what they call bump products and things like that.
Joanna: It's super exciting to see all the things you're building. The direct sales, you mentioned the audio, all these exciting things. But of course, you are a technologist, you go to all the author conferences, and you anticipate the future or build as you go. What are you excited about in terms of what's coming?
Are there any new features that you might be developing?
Damon: Well, I mean, we were just talking about direct sales, and I would say the thing that most excites me both as a technologist and an author and a reader, is putting more power into authors' hands to control their own careers. We all started as indie authors because we wanted that power to publish our books the way that we wanted them.
I'm with you, I love the authors that are putting their books on all the platforms. We have some authors that are only, like they're exclusively selling direct from their website. You can only buy their books when you go to such-and-such.com and you buy my books.
I don't necessarily agree with that. I don't see any reason why you can't have your books on Kobo, and Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, and all the places in the world. Wherever readers can find you is the good place.
For me, it's so exciting to see authors taking back their careers and saying, I am in control of where my books go, I'm in control of selling them.
And of course, taking all the profits, that's the exciting part, but it's also taking all of the data. I know who my readers are, I know where my readers are coming from. They're on my list.
I can see a direct line from somebody who's on my list, who clicks on my link, who then buys my three book boxset. Like I can make all those connections. Like I can see that person bought the eighth book in my series. Nobody's buying the eighth book in your series who's not already a huge fan of your work. People drop out at the second or third book if they weren't interested in your books anymore. So having that data and knowing more about your readers means that authors are in control.
As far as like the techy things that I'm excited about were, you know, we built our own—so if you haven't seen the BookFunnel app, it's actually really incredible.
We built it, initially, because we needed audiobooks. Sideloading for audiobooks is not a thing, like you can't just drop a bunch of mp3 files into the Audible app and listen to an audiobook. So we knew that we were going to have to build our own app in order to facilitate audiobooks.
At the same time, we made our app the best eReader experience. We built our own eReader from the ground up. Like I built the whole thing because I'm really, really picky about my readers, and I want to read exactly the way that I want to read, and I don't want the book telling me how I should read my book. So we built our own eReader.
We built, of course, the audio player. Then we also made our app the best fastest way to send a book to another app, to do the sideloading piece, which is what BookFunnel was built for.
So we didn't build our own app and then abandon the concept of sideloading eBooks. That's what BookFunnel was founded on. We actually made it better.
If you download our app and put it on your iPhone, you can send books to Kindle in just a few taps, it's like an instant.
You don't have to email them and forward them and do all of this garbage. You can just send them directly from your BookFunnel library straight onto your Kindle device.
So the more that we build out our own tech, the more that BookFunnel is actually just like giving indie authors the ability to own their future.
The more that we build our own stuff, the more that we own our own future. That stuff really excites me, from all the way back and being a kid and typing, “10 PRINT, HELLO, 20 GOTO 10,” and building my own code and making my own things.
You know, I'll be honest, it worried me for a lot of years that if Amazon decided that you could no longer sideload books to a Kindle device, like if they just decided one day that that's not a thing they want to mess with anymore, BookFunnel probably wouldn't exist.
So many people wanted to read on their Kindle apps and whatever else, that it felt like that would just be a crushing blow to what we do. Now we have millions of readers that read their books in our app, that listen to audiobooks in our apps, and I feel like we are in far more control of our future. And by that token, giving authors more control of their future.
Joanna: Fantastic. And that is what it is all about for indie authors. So how can people get started with BookFunnel, if they're interested?
Where can people find you and the team online?
Damon: BookFunnel.com. We try not to be too clever about it. Getting Started, just sign up for a BookFunnel account. Our cheapest account is $20 a year. It doesn't have all the features, a lot of the things that we talked about, but you can deliver direct sales. For just 20 bucks a year, BookFunnel will deliver all of your eBook sales.
I would probably recommend trying the midlist account, which is $10 a month. Try it for a month, sign up for 10 bucks. If you don't like it, we'll refund your money 100%. We don't want anybody using our service that doesn't find it useful or who doesn't need us. But we think that we're pretty useful, we're a pretty useful service. That has been our pricing since we launched in 2015. We've never gone up on our prices because I think it's really important that every author be able to use our service.
If people want to meet you in person, what conferences are you at this year?
Damon: So I'm actually going to be—I know that this podcast is going out pretty quickly—I'm going to be at the Self-Publishing Show Live in London. We're actually taking the whole family. I'm flying my whole family to London and we're doing a tour of Great Britain. So I'll be in London, and then I'll be at NINC, Novelists Inc, in Florida in September. Then I will be at the big 20Books show in Vegas. I think that's it for conferences for the rest of the year.
Joanna: Fantastic. Always lovely to talk to you, Damon. Thanks so much for your time.
Damon: Thank you so much for having me on.