Episode Summary

What can data do for you? Author Brian Meeks has the answer to that question and more. Find out how Brian uses data to drive his author marketing.

Episode Notes

Author and Numbers Guru, Brian Meeks, sits in with the D2D team to talk about his career, and how he uses data to propel the success of his books.

Find more about Brian and his work at http://extremelyaverage.com

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book, authors, people, ads, amazon, description, sales, click, writing, months, spend, read, cents, calculate, number, paying, indie author, brian, listening, lifetime value


Brian Meeks, Dan Wood, Kevin Tumlinson

Dan Wood  00:19

Hello, everyone. I’m Dan Wood with Draft2Digital and today I am delighted to have Brian D. Meeks with me. Hello, Brian.

Brian Meeks 00:27

Hello. Glad to be here.

Dan Wood  00:28

So Brian is a bestselling author. He is a numbers guru. And so he really likes to talk about ads, which, you know, a lot of authors don’t necessarily like talking about ads because they just don’t know exactly how they want to approach it. He also likes to talk about descriptions because a great ad does you very little good if your description and your cover don’t sell the book in the end. And so we’re going to talk about that today. As always, the first 30 minutes or so I will be asking Brain some questions. But if you have your own questions, go ahead and start putting them into the comments, and we will get to those during the last 15 minutes or so of the session. Thank you all for being here.

So, Brian, let’s start with the blurb or the description, because I think that’s such a huge part of—you know, for the most part, people are only going to see your cover, and like maybe the first part of the description. So, I know people are always coming to you and you’ve got a business that helps people write the description and blurb. What are some tips that you have for authors?

Brian Meeks  01:37

Well, people need to understand that the way most authors approach their description is to write a synopsis of the book, full of spoilers. And then when they get to the end, they don’t even ask for the sale. And that typical description—which, you will find that among nearly every author whether they’re making $500 a month or $200,000. Their descriptions are a synopsis of the book. And that’s not how you sell. The advice I would give is to—and I tell this to everyone—hint at what might be in the book, don’t tell them what will be in the book.

And so that part you mentioned, when they click on your ad, and they land on the description, there’s five lines there. I believe one should use three of them with two blank lines. And they should be relatively short. That’s where you put your hooks. You have probably not even a full second to grab somebody’s attention before they will lose interest and click on another ad, because there’s ads all around and you have to get them reading that bit. And the only goal of that initial portion above the fold—I say above the fold, I mean the read more button. The read more link.

Dan Wood  03:00

Yeah. I think a lot of authors just don’t get that, like, you need to look at the Amazon sell pages and the other retailers. Amazon’s only showing like that first small bit, and then —

Brian Meeks  03:10

Five lines. It’s five lines. And so that the—the point is, you’re trying to write something that is intriguing enough that they will click read more, you’re not trying to sell the book there. That’s not where you’re going to get the sale, you’re going to get it down below. And then when you do click the read more, your description needs to be lightweight. Meaning if you have paragraphs that are monstrously long, four or five lines and in a block of text, people won’t read it.

Dan Wood  03:46

Just grab their attention, then don’t scare them away.

Brian Meeks  03:48

And then give them some shorter paragraphs and give them a little bit of legs to keep them moving because you have to always be hooking to get them down to that bottom. And that’s how you improve your conversion rate from most descriptions for a book priced at say $4.99. And this—this is the case whether it’s Amazon, Kobo, iTunes … I have one series that’s wide and my conversion rates are the same on either platform. Now, you alluded to the fact that Amazon only gives you five lines. The others are a little bit different. But the idea is you get them hooked in those first three, and then you keep reinforcing it, adding intrigue until you get to the bottom where you ask them to buy the book. And that’s—and I usually use, get it now. What I hate is when people’s call to action is something along the lines of: “scroll up and one click now to get started on this epic fantasy series”. Because what that is really saying is, as the author writing this description, I think you’re too much of an idiot to know the process for completing this purchase now that I have convinced you you want this book. So don’t do that. Just get it now. It’s short. All that’s doing is that is a signpost, telling them, it’s time. They’re they want to know what happens in the book, get going and they know how to buy the book.

Dan Wood  05:24

And I know for the other retailers, a lot of them would reject that other, the second language you gave, because the one click terminology is more of an Amazon thing. But doing something that’s a little bit more generic, but also trust the reader to know what they’re doing on the platform, is just great advice.

Brian Meeks  05:43

Yeah. And the point is, they’re not on the fence by the time they get to that last line. They have either decided not to get it—which, if you have a really successful description, it’s failing 90% of the time. Nine out of ten people are not going to download the book. But they’ve already decided that.

Dan Wood  06:04

That’s good to know, because I think a lot of authors think there’s going to be a much higher conversion rate.

Brian Meeks  06:09

Yeah, but most of—and that’s, again, I’m talking about properly copywritten descriptions are 1 in 8 to 1 in 10. Almost everyone listening, theirs convert at 1 in 30 to 1 in 35. So you’re talking about, 29 people won’t be interested for every 1 that is interested. And that’s what the norm is. That’s the norm for people making a million dollars a year. There aren’t that many descriptions out there that convert well, because authors don’t look at that stuff. They don’t do the analytics.

Dan Wood  06:46

Yep. When you’re describing your whole process there, it kind of reminded me of the difference—not so much now, but like the early days of Apple marketing of their devices versus PC devices or versus Android phones, where the Apple marketing would be all about the experience. And like those little moments they would get.

Brian Meeks  07:08

That’s how they hook people.

Dan Wood  07:09

But you know, with PCs they were like, here you have the Pentium II processor. Like it was just a bunch of terminology and what was in the machine, rather than what it would make you feel.

Brian Meeks  07:26

That’s a great example.

Dan Wood  07:27

And so I feel like you kind of want to look at that and just make sure—when people are looking for a book, they’re looking for a specific feeling and experience, and so letting them know exactly what they’re going to get. Your cover is going to help do that by looking like the genre, and then your description and blurb. I think everyone should spend so much more time on their covers and on their descriptions.

Brian Meeks  07:47

I agree completely. The—when people ask me that are … I have a couple posts up in my group where I advertise my description writing service and they’ll ask, “Do you do nonfiction books?” “Does this work for …” and then they list a genre. And I tell them, I can sell lawnmowers, because copywriting …

In fact, I had a friend when I lived on the strip and he lived in the same building. He was a world-class photographer, and most of the work he does is for the various gambling corporations that run all the casinos on the strip, and then they have lots of gigs. Well, one of the companies has a gig that, three times a year, they put out an open call, and there’s only maybe 20 photographers in the world that respond to this. And I mean, his camera equipment, his medium format, digital equipment, the body is $180,000. So this is a level of photography that most people don’t even know exists. But if you’re taking an image that is going to be splayed across a billboard that’s, you know, 120 feet long, you need a certain quality of equipment and there just aren’t that many people that do that. So he’s tried out or submitted for this job, I think he said seven times, and he had not gotten it. And it’s competitive.

And I said, “Well, what was required?” He said, “Really, it’s just a CV letter.” And so we sat down, and I asked him, who’s the person reading this? What is the pain point that they have dealing with you, the photographers ? And he told me, he said, “Well, most of us are divas.” And so I spent about 20 minutes. I wrote the copy for his CV. He got the job for the first time. It was a two week photography job that paid $100,000—and that was 20 minutes of copywriting.

And so what your listeners should realize is the stuff I’m talking about is not go fix your description. Yes, absolutely, you want to do that. But you know what, when you’re writing an email to your readership, use the same copy. Because if you’re using copywriting and you’re using hooks, and you’re making it intriguing, so they get to the end of the email, and they think to themselves, well, that was kind of pleasant. I chuckled twice. I’ll open the next email. So it’s important in ways that people haven’t thought about. All the interactions I do on Facebook, every single post of mine is proper copywriting. It can be commenting on my aunt’s picture of her dog. I still use a hook, I still use the blank lines, because that practice is what made me good at it.

Dan Wood  10:44

It’s really interesting to me, when we do the private consultations with authors, 9 times out of 10 I’m letting them know: Hey, you need to be asking people, like both in the description and at the end of your book to leave a review, to sign up for your newsletter. Like people just don’t ask, and that’s really—most of the work is just ask. Because people, if they’re your fans, they want to help you. And so you’ve just got to make sure you let them know how.

Brian Meeks  11:17

That’s a great point. And I think new authors, for anyone that’s listening that’s relatively new to this business … Most everyone that I’ve ever talked to about this, we all agree, it’s uncomfortable when you’re starting out. You aren’t necessarily sure yet, if you’re really good enough to tell a story. And so asking can be hard. But once you start to do it, and you realize that you’re gonna get some bad reviews, you’re gonna get some good reviews, but there are people out there that will love your books. And they don’t mind you asking. So when you get past that and you’ve done it a couple dozen times, then It becomes easier. And I ask, I still ask. I have a book with over 500 reviews on it, and if somebody tells me “I read Underwood, Scotch and Wry and really enjoyed it,” I still say, “Hey, would you mind writing me a review?” Now it’s not going to move the needle. But I know I’m probably going to get a five star and in the future, I’m going to get some more one stars. So why not ask? And I’ve never had anyone offended.

Dan Wood  12:26

Yeah. And really what you’re looking for is those people that love you. Like all the people that are going to be offended by that, you actually want them to leave, because you don’t want to waste your advertising dollars on them. You don’t want to send them an email if they’re gonna be pissy about it. You just want the people that love you. So let’s talk about ,because I think it’s probably a question on a lot of people’s minds is, how do you how do you personally calculate your conversion rate? Because Amazon doesn’t really tell you any information. The retailers don’t tell you how many people looked at your page and decided to buy. So, how are you inferring what your conversion rate is of your description?

Brian Meeks  13:04

Great question. We’ll focus on Amazon because their situation is a little unique. If you are using Draft2Digital and you’ve gone wide, then it’s number of paid clicks. So for wide, you might be using Facebook advertising, or BookBub. or what have you. But you take a platform. And let’s say Facebook, and you spent a certain amount of money, and you received 580 clicks in a time period. And I want to stress to people, you always have to give it some time. You don’t calculate after 10 clicks or 30 clicks, because that’s not statistically significant. So you have 500 or 1000 clicks. Then, if you’re wide, you simply go and look at your number of sales. That’s it. Now, People should understand that I am giving this advice to the masses. Most authors don’t get organic sales. We think we do. But there isn’t that much out there. If you’re an author who is doing 10, 15, 20, 100,000 a month, you are probably getting some organic, so that will skew your results. But the organic is going to be consistent. So the math still works. The point being is, for the masses, you divide it and you say, oh okay, it takes me 30 clicks to get 1 sale.

Now for Amazon, what’s a little different there is that if you’re exclusive to Amazon, you’ve got Kindle Unlimited. And those can be most of your new readers. So if you’re a romance author, and you’re running AMS ads to try to sell your books, if you only divide by the sales, you’re leaving out 75% of your new readers, because right now the distribution is for every 1 sale you get, you’re getting maybe 3 Kindle Unlimited downloads. And the way to do the math on that is you definitely need a longer time period. So imagine 30 days you’ve been running ads, you know what the clicks were during those 30 ads, those 30 days. You write that down: I had 1,284 clicks. You know how many sales you had: I had 34 sales. Then you take the number of page reads over that time, divide it by the KNPC number—which for newer authors, they may not know that even exists. It is not the same as your print page number. You have to look it up on the bookshelf and I’m going to tell you really quickly how to do that.

Dan Wood  15:55

It’s calculated in very weird way but it is very important to know.

Brian Meeks  15:57

It is hugely important. You go to the bookshelf, there’s a button that says “Promote and Advertise.” You click on it, you scroll down just a little way. It’s right below sort of the screen, there’s a box. And the last line says Kindle Edition normalized page count version 3.0. And it will give you a number. For instance, Henry Wood Detective Agency I believe is 307. And so you would take that 138,412 page reads, you would divide it by 307, and you would get a number. And I’m just making those numbers up. But the point is, whatever number you get—if it’s 59.37, you round it up to 60. And the reason you round up is because we’re calculating the least possible number of downloads, meaning during that time we’re making the assumption, we know that at least 59 people, or 59 complete books worth, have been read, and a little bit more, so 59 people couldn’t have downloaded that and given you that number, it has to be at least 60 people. It could be 120 people, there could be your—everybody could be reading it slowly. They could be only halfway through the book. But for the sake of doing conservative analysis, having the least possible number of people, which would be 60 If you’re rounding up, you add that to the 34. And then you’ve got, you know, 94 divided into the 1200. And you have your conversion rate. And so I hope that makes sense. I hope I went slowly enough that people—I guess you do post this on YouTube, so they can go back and replay that part and take notes.

Dan Wood  17:44

Exactly. It’s one of those things, it’s not—if you didn’t get that the first time going through, I understand completely. Are there—I imagine for you, you probably use Excel, you’re kind of a numbers junkie. But for authors that aren’t necessarily into that, are there tools out there that help make some of these

calculations for you?

Brian Meeks  18:05

I would use one of these: a piece of paper. Because all it is is, it’s just sales plus KU downloads. And that’s in clicks. God, I have horrible handwriting! So it’s just clicks on the top, and then sales plus KU downloads. So this is a formula that is so easy. Clicks, you put that into the calculator. Well, before that, you take sales, and you add them to KU downloads and you get a number. And then you just do 1,284 clicks divided by whatever that number was. And that’s it. I mean, you can do it in Excel. Absolutely. But It sounds much more complex when I’m explaining it and trying to do it so that people understand that this is a number that is as good as we can get.

What would be great is if Amazon would just tell us and include organic. And instead of trying to estimate the number of downloads, tell us the real downloads, because that would be better. But as a data analyst, you can do a lot of analytics and making assumptions and decision making with this number. It’s good enough because the point I want to make to listeners: when you’re doing pay per click advertising, it’s pass fail. You can have—you can calculate your return on investment. But it doesn’t matter if your return on investment is 180%, or it’s 53%, or it’s 7%. In all of those cases, that’s a pass. And so you keep doing it. Now, do you try to figure out ways to improve that ROI? Yes, but if you’re making 180% and it gets more competitive, and it drops down to 140%, do you stop doing it? No. Because anybody out there who would spend—you know, if you could spend $1,000 a day and get back $2,400 you would do it every single time. Same way, if you spend $1,000 and you get back $1,500, it’s still better than what you’re getting in the bank at nominal percent. So yeah, I tell that to people and they’re, a little light bulb goes off that yeah, that really is what you’re looking for. And so you don’t need an exact precise number. If it’s slightly off, your pass fail calculation is still gonna be right.

Dan Wood  20:56

Yeah, I mean a lot of this is just estimating with the best data we have right now. And go with that, and it’ll help you. You know, I know a lot of authors don’t like thinking about this stuff, they don’t really like to market. If you become an indie author, it’s so important. The sooner you start thinking about this, the better. It’s gonna help you. And when you are in your creative author role, this is gonna help you connect to a lot more readers. And so it’s a great thing.

Brian Meeks  21:23

Well, could I tell one more quick story? Because you mentioned something about estimating and authors don’t like to do it. They do not like to do it. I in fact, wrote a post in the 20 books to 50k group, a year and a half ago or so, and it was about pricing. I have a degree in economics. I try not to go too deep into the weeds, but I basically explained, the economics is clear. It’s price inelastic, which means if you raise your price from $2.99 to $4.99, or even $.99 to $4.99, there isn’t that much of a drop off in sales, and the revenue increase is massive. And I did the math for them. I gave examples.

Over the next two months, 24 people exactly reached out to me through Facebook, and they said, in some form or another, “Brian, I raised my prices, like you said. I just wanted to say, I appreciate the article, but it didn’t work.” And then I said, “Oh, do you mind if I look at your data?” And they were, “I would love you to look at my data.” So we got on a Zoom call, or Facebook video call, and they gave me their data. And then I did the calculation. I did this 24 times. And out of 24 people who said, and I quote, “It didn’t work,” 100% of them were wrong. They didn’t know how to do the analysis. And so, well, authors don’t know how or don’t like to do math … In every one of those cases once I showed them the math that they were more profitable, that it was superior at $4.99 to what they had before, they all then left it. But every one of them would have made a decision, if they had not reached out to me—and I’m sure there were hundreds that, because I mean, several thousand people probably read the book. I’m sure there were hundreds that did change it. Also didn’t know how to do the math, went back. And for the last 18 months, they have hurt themselves. So if you’re—

Dan Wood  23:37

I think authors just see the “Oh no, I’m having less people buy my book or read my book” without thinking about, “But how much money am I making?” And if you if you have fewer readers, but you’re making more money, it works.

Brian Meeks  23:46

Yeah, absolutely. Now, are there exceptions to the rule? If you’re Craig Martell and you have a 24 book series, then the lifetime value of a new customer is so high that you don’t care about the revenue on book 1. And so in that instance, he might want to have it at 99 cents. So there are always exceptions to the rules. You have to understand what is your read-through. If you’re a romance author who has 95% read-through from book 1 to book 2 and 99% the rest of the way, it might be worth having—you know, each additional customer may be more important than the total revenue on that first book. Now, somebody with 3 books in a series, or 4 or 5, nearly all of those people are gonna need to have it at $4.99 if they want to take this business seriously.

Dan Wood  24:40

Yeah, that’s the other number. Conversion rate is really important for you to calculate read-through if you’re writing in series. And if you aren’t writing in series, I would highly encourage you to, because it’s just so much easier to succeed as an indie author because your marketing dollars go much further.

Dan Wood  25:02

Can you define the read-through rate for people so they just kind of know, for people who might not?

Brian Meeks  25:09

That one’s gonna—I can define it, but to give them an easy way to calculate, I’d probably cause some tears. And I don’t want to do that. The problem—I’m going to give them sort of a global solution. The idea is, you get 100 new customers into your series. How many of those—and let’s say the series is 6 books long—how many of those go to book 2 and then go to book 3 and so forth? Out of the 100 that started, how many end up reading book 6 and paying you all along the way? Well, there’s lots of different ways people do it out there. Most of them aren’t great. But the thing that I would say is the easiest way, and this is a good number. This is solid.

Well, there’s one other component of this that makes it hard. There’s a—because I talked earlier about the distribution between Kindle Unlimited and sales. Kindle Unlimited, we get paid on page reads. So you need to kind of figure out the lifetime value if they take the Kindle Unlimited path. So think of that as one silo and the lifetime value of the sales path, because it’s different revenue amounts. So you might have your book at $4.99, and get $3.45 for each of the books through the sales channel. But depending on if it’s a long book, epic fantasy, or a short book, you make more or less if they go down the route of Kindle Unlimited. So that’s why it’s a complex number.

But here’s what I want people to do. And this is going to be the easiest solution. So if you’ve got this series, if you just had a release in the last, say, 2 months, take that book out for the time being. We’re only going to calculate, say, books 1 through 5 In that case. Go back 6 months, and calculate. And so we’re assuming that all 5 of these books have been out for 6 months. And calculate the total revenue from all of them combined. So you take all the sales and KU page reads from each book, throw it into a pile, get a giant number: $4,382.15. And then go back and look at the quantity of sales and KU downloads for book 1, doing it the same way we just told you before. And you’ll get a number, and say it’s 500. And then you divide 500 into the 4000. And you have roughly a lifetime value of about $8 per person. That that is going to give you the best number.

Now, in the example I just gave, we left off book 6. So we know that the actual number is better than that. Which means in 5 months, when book 6 has been there for 6 months, do the 6 month test again, and you’ll get a better number. You should always be checking it, because when you’re paying per click, you need to know. If I’m converting at 1 in 30, I’m paying 50 cents a click. That’s $15 for a new customer. Even with 6 books in that series in that made up example I just gave, you’re only getting back $8. So do not spend $15 to make $8.

Dan Wood  28:43

Yeah, makes perfect sense. We’re getting close to when we’re gonna start taking questions and we have a very active chat. So there’s a lot of questions right now.

Brian Meeks  28:51

You’re telling me that there’s still people listening after I’ve been doing 20 minutes of math? That is staggering to me.

Dan Wood  29:00

So let me share right now where you can find Brian at, and he says the best place to look for him are his Facebook groups. So Mastering Amazon Descriptions, and what’s the name of the one with the ugly—

Brian Meeks  29:13

The ugly thing is and I don’t know that it would have the “and” in it the end. I think my copy and paste was messy. Oh—that’s just you typing “and.” Okay.

Dan Wood  29:25

I’ll post these links into the chat in just a second.

Brian Meeks  29:28

Anyway, the top one is Mastering Amazon Ads, my group that I have for my book Mastering Amazon Ads, and then the other one is for Mastering Amazon Descriptions. And so that’s where you can find me, and I do pay attention to the groups. There’s around 11,000 authors in there now. What’s nice, though, is that I’ve been running them long enough and there are active authors in there that really understand this stuff. And so a lot of times, people ask questions and before I see it, somebody else has jumped in with the correct answer. Now, if it’s a new person that gives the incorrect answer, then I gently point out that their advice was insane and almost a war crime.

Dan Wood  30:16

So let’s go ahead and get into some of the comments. Craig says: “I’m reading your book, Brian, and redoing all my descriptions.”

Brian Meeks  30:23

I know Craig. Craig’s awesome. Well thank you, Craig.

Dan Wood  30:23

What is the name of that book?

Brian Meeks  30:25

That’s Mastering Amazon Descriptions: An Author’s Guide.

Dan Wood  30:28

And your nonfiction is under Brian D. Meeks, Is that right?

Brian Meeks  30:30


Dan Wood  30:30

So Brian D. Meeks, if you look that up on a platform you’re gonna find his nonfiction books that are going to help you with all these things.

Brian Meeks  30:40

Yeah, and I believe both Mastering Amazon Ads and Mastering Amazon Descriptions are wide, ironically. And I’ve been promising Kobo I would do a version, Mastering Kobo Descriptions which would be basically the same, but add a few stuff and—and I’m lazy. I was gonna make an excuse, but I just haven’t done it.

Dan Wood  31:06

You have to add “eh” onto every one of the description for the Canadians. So Tracy says, “Looking to launch end of next week. I need to redo my hook and descriptions. I’m brand new, first book. Thank you for explaining the analytics and sell ratio.” You’re starting out on the right foot, starting to think about those things at the very beginning.

Brian Meeks  31:28

But first I just want to say congratulations. That first book is such a rush. Believe it or not, the 25th book is also rush. But here’s the one thing that I want you to know. The first book will be the worst book you ever write. It may be a really good book, but you will continue to improve. And when book 5 comes out, if you should one lazy Saturday afternoon, go back and reread book 1, don’t think you need to redo it. It’s fine.

Dan Wood  31:59

Yeah, you could spend all the time in the world just re-editing and redoing stuff. Just keep moving.

Brian Meeks  32:04

Just keep moving, because we all improve. I am better today at writing. And book 3 was better than 2 and 7 was better than 5. I just keep improving. And you know what? People liked my book 1 well enough. So, Charlie Harvey!

Dan Wood  32:22

Yes. “Hello. What ad platform do you prefer? Amazon, BookBub, Facebook?” And those are going to be the big three right?

Brian Meeks  32:29

Those are the big three and I want to preface this with saying my preference right now is for a very specific reason. So I wrote the book on mastering Amazon ads. I very much love Amazon ads. I’ve made a quarter million dollars selling books because of Amazon ads. My passion is research. So if you look at most of my books, the rankings are terrible. But that’s because I’m interested in learning new things. My—what gets me fired up—I make enough money, I do fine. And so I get—I have the luxury of doing the stuff that I like. And so I have all these books, I would rather use them doing research on trying to uncover things that nobody has ever discovered before. Because not to brag, but there was nobody that talked about conversion rate on descriptions before I wrote Mastering Amazon Ads. And I’ve done research on back matter. Nobody does their back matter right. I don’t give away that information, it’s in my course. But uncovering these things that haven’t been discovered before is my passion. So right now, all the research I’m doing, I’m doing with Facebook ads. Which is not to —you shouldn’t take that and say, Hey, I should go do Facebook ads to run right now. But with the bids on Amazon ads, it is worth, if you are motivated enough to truly learn Facebook ads … And Mal Cooper has a wonderful book on Facebook ads, I would recommend it. It is—I mean, there are several out there, but—

Dan Wood  34:17

It is one I keep hearing about over and over. And yeah, we have an episode, if you’re wondering more about that, where we interviewed Mal Cooper earlier this year, so …

Brian Meeks  34:26

Oh, then go watch that, because if you’re willing to do the work—and it doesn’t matter if you’re going down the Amazon ads path with my book or Mal’s book, expect it’s going to take you 6 months, and you’re gonna have to use Excel, you’re gonna have to track things, you’re gonna have to look for patterns. Facebook is harder because they have more variables, you can do more complex targeting. And so to really get it dialed in takes a lot of work, but if you know how to do them, then you can get lower cost per click. So I’m using that because it’s less expensive for me to do my research.

Dan Wood  35:09

And that’s probably going to change over time, right?

Brian Meeks  35:11

Oh, it will.

Dan Wood  35:14

What I’m hearing right now is that Amazon ads are kind of expensive right now, because a lot of people are ordering from Amazon. Whereas Facebook, there’s less people advertising products right now on Facebook. And so that’s gone a little bit down on Facebook.

Brian Meeks  35:29

And you’re half right, the Facebook part was correct. The reason that the ads are expensive on Amazon, though, isn’t because of the volume of orders. It’s because authors don’t like math. And I mean, this is the deal. When I’m teaching somebody how to do Amazon ads, I have them start off at a bid that will likely not get any impressions. It’s too low. So as an example, say I tell you to start off at 25 cents, run an ad, watch it for a week. Or two or three ads. And then we’re going to talk and they’re gonna say, “Oh, no impressions, so it never turned on.” They didn’t get anything from it. And then I tell them, that’s fine. We’re going to go to 28 cents next, because what we’re trying to do—and it takes a long time—is, we’re trying to find out the cost per click that you need to pay right now to get a reasonable amount of clicks so you can start selling your books. But this is what they do: 25, 28, 75. And because everybody does that, they’re not patient, they skip to 75. Now what nobody does is—a lot of them don’t realize they’re losing money at 75 cents. And they never ask the question, “Well, could I get the same amount of clicks at 72? At 68? At 57? At 52?”

I’ve had conversations in the last two weeks with authors, one of whom—and these are different genres—one of whom is paying 14 cents a click now, which is really hard in this day and age. But in her genre, the way she’s approached it, she’s getting 14 cent clicks. Another one who is getting 32 cent clicks. I spent an hour on a call with a gentleman day before yesterday, who has a long series. It’s cozy, and he is paying 53 cents a click. He can afford it, because his read-through is great. So it makes sense. So the question we’re asking for his ads, can he get value in increasing the bid? And value means more impressions, such that you’re getting extra clicks, you’re paying a little bit more, but the overall dollars at the end of the day is greater. So you’re cutting into your ROI, but you’re increasing the total volume. And so for the next two weeks, he’s going to be doing some testing there.

But the people listening, you shouldn’t just say “Oh, I write Cozy Mystery. So I’m going to try 53 cents.” We didn’t discuss his methodology, the way we’re approaching it. You need to do your own research. And nobody does. I had a client for 13 months, who we kept his stuff under 50 cents. And then after 13 months—and I charge obscene amounts of money to do this, and I don’t do it anymore. But for 13 months, I had one guy, I wasn’t running the ads, I was just coaching him, charging him many thousands of dollars to do that. He has a long series and he was making money. And after 13 months, I said, Listen, you now know enough to do this by yourself. You don’t need to be paying me this. So I sort of fired him, he sort of fired me, it was mutual. We just had a conversation six or eight weeks ago, and he was asking me a question about his data. And as soon as I stopped watching him, he just started running amuck and paying like $1.30 a click Which, because he has a ridiculously long series, he can actually afford. But the problem is, he’s not getting any benefit. I doubt he’s getting any benefit over 70 or 80 cents. He’s just eating into his profits.

Dan Wood  39:16

You’re treading water at that point.

Brian Meeks  39:19

Yeah. And so, “Where should I market my first ebook? Is there a list?” Well, that’s a question that’s hard to answer.

Dan Wood  39:27

It really is.

Brian Meeks  39:29

If her first ebook is poetry? I don’t know.

Dan Wood  39:30

There are a lot of variables. I think from my perspective, I generally tell people not to spend a lot of time—if you’ve only got one book—trying to market it, but focusing more on getting more books out.

Brian Meeks  39:43

Yes, I agree with that.

Dan Wood  39:44

The margins of an ebook are such that you kind of—it’s one of the reasons we encourage you to write in series, is that way your marketing dollar goes out much further if they buy other things from you.

Brian Meeks  39:55

Yeah. The thing that I would say is, you know, friends and family. If she’s written a book that’s Cozy Mysteries, hang out in groups where people talk about Cozy Mysteries. Now, you’re not going to start pushing your book on these poor folks right out of the gate. But if you spend three months making friends in there, and along that time you’re working on your second book, and somebody asked for a suggestion, and for three months, you’ve been a good citizen of the group, you can say something like, “Well, I’ve actually written a Cozy Mystery, would you like me to send you a link?” You don’t just put a link and you don’t hammer them right away. But that would be a way, and that’s how I did it. And so I was very low pressure. I sold them through Twitter, when people would ask, and I did that for a couple years till I really—till I had four books out. And then Amazon ads came out and I started down that route. You can still sell books. But with one book out, it’s gonna be hard to do it profitably.

Dan Wood  40:57

I agree. Tina also asks: “Should I hire a marketer?”

Brian Meeks  40:58

No. I mean, unless … Tina, unless you’re already making a million dollars a year, and you just can’t be bothered. Well, even that, I mean, people that are making $200,000-$300,000 a year, they can go out and hire somebody to do the marketing. Because the problem is, with authors who aren’t making that sort of money, is there plenty of people out there that are willing to take $50 a month from you, and all they’re doing is running two ads, three ads. They’re not doing the amount of research that it takes to make those ads work. And that goes back to my point about six months of effort. They’re not putting in two, three hours a day to learn the craft. They’re just spending nine minutes putting in three ads, and they’re charging $50 and you’ll lose money. Conversely, if you’re listening and you’re one of those people making $200,000-$300,000 a year, there are people out there that do what I did for a little while, that are skilled enough and will put in the time to run it profitably. By all means hire them, but—

Dan Wood  42:03

And those people are in high demand. And so they cost—they come at a premium cost.

Brian Meeks  42:08

Yeah, you’re gonna spend three, five, ten thousand dollars a month just to hire the person.

Dan Wood  42:12

Yeah. Charles has another question. “Do ads ever create a spike in sales? It seems that while you get sales while an ad is running, it’s possible that sales can continue after the ad.”

Brian Meeks  42:24

It sort of depends. My best—I can give an example where it did. This was maybe four years ago. My book Underwood, Scotch and Wry had been out for over two years. So this wasn’t a new book. It was going fine, I’d been running ads on it. I had a perfect storm of ads, where a bunch of ads turned on, I had huge volumes of impressions. And everything worked right at the same time. Because I would always have ads that were in different stages of—ads tend to work for a while and then they fade off and so you want to be putting new ones in. And I had a perfect storm. Over a 10 day span, that book was ranked overall in the store between 520 and 980. For 10 solid days, it had never been in the top thousand in its first two years. And I had 10 days in there most of that time, ranked in the five to six hundreds. And it was all because of Amazon ads and just things working out. So yes, it can create a spike.

But for most people, if you’re not spending—I mean also, at that time, I was spending $300 a day. I mean, that was $300 a day across all my books, but I was big. That’s a pretty big ad spend. If somebody out there is spending $5 or $10 a day and you’re getting a few sales, it’s unlikely. If you see a spike, that is probably some other external thing. It may be that a book blogger who has a good following found your book and read it. And maybe they found it through your ad. But then they told their, people and so for a week, they’re reading that blog post about your book, and you never know about it. But it isn’t just a case of, oh, I’ve been running ads consistently. And then all of a sudden, you hit the lottery. Now, I know a woman who had her first book in her series, did $3,000 over the two years between that and her releasing the second book, The second book did $20,000 in the first two months. In neither case was she running any ads. What happened though is, sometimes Amazon just fancies a book. And so you can—and you’ll never know why it happened.

Dan Wood  44:41

We’ve had the same thing happen with Apple. Like, their Australian marketers picking up a book and featuring it. And not telling us so the author doesn’t know. And suddenly the book is just selling like gangbusters. And it’s really hard to know because, you know, odds are the author is not in Australia. And so they’re looking at the sale page. And you know, they’re doing okay on Apple U.S., but really where the sales are, and you don’t know until you look into the data, is in Australia.

Brian Meeks  45:10

Yeah. But that’s the beauty of being an indie author. With every book you have out there, it’s sort of a lottery ticket. It could at any time happen.

Dan Wood  45:18

And you frequently get that feedback, you know, next day with the most of the major retailers. You get next day sales data, at the very least. And in some cases, you get it within a few hours. We’re running up against time. So I wanted to end on this comment, because it is goes to the heart of a lot of what we’re talking about. “Your best marketing is the next book.” The more product you have out there, the further all of your marketing is going to go. So I’d like to encourage everyone, don’t spend a lot of time worrying about your marketing plan until you get to about three books. At that point, I think it’s worth really hunkering down, where your time is equally valued spending time on the marketing versus the writing angle of it. Do things like have bundles. Like, make more product by offering your product, your book in different ways. Make sure you’re out there in print, make sure you’re putting together if you’ve got three books, put them together into an Omnibus or whatever you want to call that.

Brian Meeks  46:26

Can I get a quick plug in before we—?

Dan Wood  46:29

Yes, I actually want to open it up now just for your final thoughts. Let’s see what you’ve got.

Brian Meeks  46:33

Well, I just wanted to—if anybody’s been listening, and they’re interested in me writing a description, those two groups I have pinned to the top of the groups, because they’re my groups. So they’re, it’s an ad for my service. Both of those, the service right now is at $120, which will, it will be $120 till the end of the month, and then it’s actually going up to $150. So if anybody out there would like a wonderful description created by me, my list right now is about only six deep. And I do about three to five a day. So if you want to get on the list—and I should say that if you do get on the list, and I don’t get to it by the end of the month, you’re still getting the $120, so. That was my plug.

Dan Wood  47:20

Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Brian, for being on here. I know, like, just a lot of love in the chat. There’s a lot of great advice also in the chat. So if you’re listening to this after the fact or watching it on YouTube or Facebook later on, you should check out the chats because there’s a lot of good information there too. Thank you everyone for listening and for tuning in. And we will talk to you later.

Brian Meeks  47:42

And if you see this on YouTube, slap Like.

Dan Wood  47:45

Oh, yeah,

Brian Meeks  47:46

I love it when I do these. I love going in and seeing the comments and I’ll respond to them. And I love the thumbs up and the likes and stuff on YouTube. Just do it, because it makes me happy.

Dan Wood  47:58

Yeah. Thanks, everyone.

Brian Meeks  47:59

Thanks, bye.

Kevin Tumlinson  48:05

That’s it for this week’s self-publishing insiders with Draft2Digital. Be sure to subscribe to us wherever you listen to podcasts and share the show with your will-be author friends, and start, build, and grow your own self-publishing career right now at draft2digital.com.