If you’ve ever wondered if you could make a living by writing and collaborating with other authors, Craig Martelle has some advice for you.
Dan Wood, Mark Lefebvre, and Craig Martelle all join the chat to talk about collaborative writing and Craig’s work with 20 Books to 50K.
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book, author, people, writing, craig, sales, series, readers, amazon, bit, money, brand, audiobooks, ebooks, question, apple, mark, sell, promotions, marketing
Mark Lefebvre, Dan Wood, Kevin Tumlinson, Craig Martelle
Dan Wood 00:21
Well, hello everyone. I’m Dan Wood from Draft2Digital. Unfortunately it looks like there’s been a little miscommunication or something and we’re missing Craig. So I have invited not Craig Martelle, aka Mark Leslie Lefebvre, here to talk with me and I thought we’d just kind of chat a little bit about everything that’s going on. We’ve certainly been quite busy. Again, it’s been it’s been kind of an interesting couple of weeks, the last few … At the very beginning of everything that happened with the COVID-19 virus, sales went down a little bit. And then really in the last two weeks, they’ve really, really picked up quite a bit. So it’s been keeping us really busy. We’ve been working on several promotions. A lot of our library partners are trying to help libraries as they’re getting unprecedented demand for content. So Mark, how you doing?
Mark Lefebvre 01:20
I’m doing well. I have to say, I really really like Craig Martelle and I listen to him a lot, so I may be able to channel a little bit of him. I tried really hard to find a T-rex costume. I don’t have one in the house.
Dan Wood 01:34
To do your impersonation of Craig.
Mark Lefebvre 01:36
Yeah. And I don’t even have the really cool skirt thing that he wears.
Dan Wood 01:39
Mark Lefebvre 01:40
The kilt, yeah.
Dan Wood 01:41
Well, we’ll just wing it and then we’ll get him rescheduled one of these days.
Mark Lefebvre 01:48
Now, you were talking about the library markets, right? Yes,
Dan Wood 01:51
Mark Lefebvre 01:52
Yeah, I’m really, I’ve been impressed with that. And I think it’s gonna get better. When you realize, like in where I am in Waterloo, Ontario, you can’t—the libraries are closed. So obviously, the libraries are doubling down to serve the community, to help provide content. So if you do not already have the Libby app, you should check it out on your Android or iPhone. Check out the Libby app. If you have a library card, you may not be able to go obviously go in and get one but you can still usually digitally apply for one. Add your library card and then you can see how easy it is to get audiobooks and ebooks from your local library. And of course, if you’re not submitting to the library markets through Draft2Digital, I strongly suggest that you do that as well.
Dan Wood 02:39
Oh, definitely. We are big, big fans of libraries around here. So you definitely want to be submitting to, right now we go to Overdrive, Hoopla, Baker & Taylor, and Bibliotheca. They all reach different library markets. So we highly recommend those. We’ve got others that we’re talking to in the future. And so we’ll just keep adding library systems, we’ll keep adding international retailers, we’ll keep adding anybody that we can work with that can help us sell more books.
Mark Lefebvre 03:09
Yeah, for sure, for sure.
Dan Wood 03:11
So it looks like we’ve already got one question. So let’s go ahead and, and like I said, our guest did not make it for this one. So we’re going to just open things up for questions. If you have any questions, we’ll get to them. So Vijay asks, “does writing series help in selling books? How many books should one write in series to see breakout?”
Mark Lefebvre 03:35
It’s a great question. Well, um, let me try and channel my inner Craig Martelle. Yeah, so let me tell you this Vijay, from my perspective as an author who has only ever written one book in a series, as well as working really closely with my friend, Sean Costello, who has only written standalone novels. We had a BookBub last week for one of Sean’s books, so that’s obviously, you know, a free book. Because it didn’t tie into a series, the sales of the other titles don’t happen as quickly. So for example, if you’re buying, or you’re downloading book 1 in a series, a lot of times, if it looks like a series you’re going to enjoy and a character and universe you’re going to enjoy, oftentimes on the day that you get that free first in series download from a BookBub, then people will go on and buy often the whole series or a number of them at a time. And I think there’s no definitive number. There’s no definitive number, but I do know historically from traditional publishing and even from since 2011, when it really started, indie publishing really started to take off, it wasn’t often until Book 3. And so in traditional publishing the publishers would often stick with an author until Book 3 came out and it was after Book 3 or Book 4 that that started to take off. And I remember it was authors like Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy and Tina Folsom who were huge in romance—are still huge in romance, but they were some of the first breakaway authors with romance series. And they said it was Book 3 or Book 4. Because again, Bella and Tina and Barbara do come from traditional publishing, so they had lived in that world before. And they said it wasn’t all that different. So usually, and then a lot of authors would use … Now, one of the things I’m going to channel Craig, because I have read several of his books, is you do not have to subscribe to rapid release, right? So you don’t have to have Book 1 out and then the 30 day cliff and Book 2 and Book 3, because that can be exhausting. What Craig says is critical and as important is if you set an expectation with your reader, meet it. If the expectation is every 30 days, don’t fail them. If the expectation is every six months, don’t fail that, or if it’s once every year, just be consistent. And I think that was one of the amazing takeaways I remember from the last time I was chatting with him about that strategy is, you do not have to write fast. But I do believe that having a series is important. And speaking of series, let’s make sure that you’re putting in the right metadata, right, so that you have the series metadata, Book 1, Book 2. Many of the platforms will allow you to do a “point,” 1.1, 1.2, stuff like that. So that’s something, I hope that helped answer a little bit of that.
Dan Wood 06:23
Yeah, I think that was a great answer. It also really helps with your marketing. There are a lot of different opportunities out there that make a lot more sense if you can market a series. And so you’re not trying to make your return on investment off of just one book. Like the margins on ebooks are fairly low. And so it makes a lot more sense when you can market that first book and you try to, you might even lose money on that first book. We know a lot of authors give away the first books even for free, but where they’re going to make the money is off of the subsequent books. And so, you want to make sure with your series that you understand what your readthrough is, because that’s gonna help you determine what’s a good spend for your marketing. I have follow up questions that I just thought of on my own, Mark. Do you feel like there is a, like a hard limit to how many books you should have? Or do you think that a series can keep going indefinitely? Like, what are your thoughts on that?
Mark Lefebvre 07:27
Come on, let’s look at the television show Supernatural, how many seasons is it?
Dan Wood 07:31
Is it 12 now? 13? I lost count.
Mark Lefebvre 07:34
14? I think, honestly, if your readers are satisfied, and you are satisfied, and everyone is happy, why stop? Right? It’s, you kind of feel the moment, and I think there was a comment from from Nikki. I think that’s probably a good follow-up as well. But yeah, it just depends. Is it natural, or are you getting to the point where—The Simpsons make fun of this a lot of times—where a TV series gets to the point where they should have stopped, and they even mock themselves. What is it, 30 years that they’ve been on the air? But I think if the audience, if your readers are enjoying it, and you’re still enjoying it and profiting from it, I think you’ll know. You’ll know when it’s right. There’s something in our guts that tells us whether or not we should continue something or not, and so that may be that may be a guiding factor.
Dan Wood 08:24
I always respected the way, I think it was Bella Andre that I first heard this from, but just the way in which she would introduce new characters. Be they, like with her a lot of it revolves around family, and the different family members getting their romantic connection and finding … Keeping the series connected, but going on a new series and so she would then move on and like some of their family in another city, like their cousins, and so you get to meet the characters and still hear about the characters from the previous books you loved, but you’d also kind of get something a little bit new.
Mark Lefebvre 09:02
And sometimes, if somebody has written into you and said, “I really enjoyed these characters, when can we hear about their relationship? Or when can we see them?” Or “I really love this in a murder mystery series where I really like the supporting detective that we only see on and off, could you spin off your own show?” Show—I’m speaking in television terms. See, I’m going back and I’m re-watching Cheers and remembering that Frasier was a spin-off of that. And so was Wings. I’m showing my age, aren’t I?
Dan Wood 09:30
Not really. I grew up watching Wings and all those. Yeah. Okay. So, Nikkimond commented, “Well, I wouldn’t go ahead and set out to write a 20 book series without having a pit-stop midway to see if people are enjoying the series and if you’re enjoying the creation process,” which I completely agree with, kind of—I do think you should at least stick with a series through that third book. I think that’s a really good benchmark. And if things start moving after the third book, and you still love writing that series, go ahead and keep writing the series. If it’s not working out the way you planned, maybe look at other ideas at that point.
Mark Lefebvre 10:10
Nikki’s point is check in with your readers, right? You know, what’s the feedback that you’re getting? Is it actually working for everyone?
Dan Wood 10:17
I will say that readers really want an end. So like if you’re in the middle of a series, and you’ve set up a lot of things that you haven’t answered, you’re probably gonna make people angry if you just like, “Okay, I’m done with that series.” Like, give them some resolution. The same way with watching TV shows. I can’t tell you how infuriating it’s been over the years to watch so many of my favorite shows get cancelled, like Firefly, Jericho, I don’t know if you remember Jericho, like the world post-apocalyptic. It was a really cool show. And we got no real ending. They went on and like finished it a little bit in comic books, but it wasn’t the same. All right, let’s go on. Richard Asher: “Any tips for writing and marketing in the self-help genre? Also seems the style there is extremely formulaic. Is it wise to try and break out of that?”
Mark Lefebvre 11:03
So self-help genre, are you’re talking about, let’s say personal fitness? Or you know …
Dan Wood 11:14
Self-improvement, I think. Mindset. I think those will probably all fit into that.
Mark Lefebvre 11:17
Well I think the key thing to remember is when you’re writing self-help … so let’s talk about Craig Martelle because this is Craig Martelle’s spot and we’ve got we’ve got to channel him as much as possible. All right, Craig Martelle is a brand in and of himself, right? Like, as part of with Michael Underlay in the 20BooksTo50k as a brand of an author who is there to help other authors. Who’s been successful, who has butt-in-chair, written the words, worked really, really hard. And so all of his nonfiction books, which are self-help books for other writers, his brand is that. So I think, one of the key things when you think about writing and marketing in the self help genre is, what is the brand that you have, what is the expertise that you have? If you are—I think of someone like Roland Denzel, who is an author who does, he’s a trainer, a physical trainer, coach, lifestyle, proper eating. Right, he has that background. So that’s part of what his brand is. So, making sure that you, Richard, as the author brand, that’s really, really critical. Like, where are you coming from? How is that brand really, really important. You think of people like Joanna Penn as well, right? She’s got that huge, she is an author, but she has a huge brand as somebody who helps authors under the Creative Penn brand. So I think that’s critical. And there’s some authenticity involved. In terms of the style of the writing of the book, I would try to be as authentic as you can to your own voice and the way that you would actually share this advice and help. But there are, I mean, the marketing is significant. I think it’s different than marketing a series of fiction novels.
Dan Wood 12:46
Yeah, I agree a hundred percent with that. I think it’s important to kind of know what the readers expect. And so that might be the formulaic part you’re thinking about.
Mark Lefebvre 12:56
Oh, and Richard said—I saw a comment he said “saving money”. That’s the that’s the topic, sorry.
Dan Wood 13:00
Yeah, so, but yeah, you definitely want to inject your own voice and so be as much like other things as you need to be to get the point across. And like, sometimes there are reasons why things come off as formulaic. Yeah, there are, definitely within fiction, there are tropes that readers just expect within a given category. But, you know, if something just doesn’t really fit your messaging, feel free to play around with that and to kind of try to give it your own spin, because that’s really what’s going to make your book stand out in what can be a crowded market.
Mark Lefebvre 13:35
Yeah. So Richard, because you said your book’s on saving money, and maybe it’s financial support and financial advice. Here’s some things that you could potentially be doing. Using platforms like Medium or your blog, or podcast or Twitter or whatever access you have access to. And providing, I’m a huge fan of content marketing, because again, you’re the brand, you’re the financial expert. And let’s say you can share some tips. So for example, we’re all in a weird time right now, we’re all, you know, wondering what to do financially, wondering what to do with groceries and things like that, is thinking about what are some strategies that can be helpful, that you, that were maybe taken from your book or taken from your understanding, that you can share with people that help them, and then they recognize you as the expert. And then they go on to say, “Oh, he’s written a boo. That’s, uh, you know, that’s something I may want to check out because he’s already providing me such value.” I’m huge about the 80% giving and 20% asking, that kind of thing.
Dan Wood 14:36
Yeah, it’s an interesting time. And really, fiction and nonfiction work a little bit differently. I’m not a fan—like, I don’t encourage authors to blog if they’re writing fiction. But for nonfiction, blogging, and like having a resource like video, blogging, stuff like that is a great way to build your community, to build your audience. Podcasting can be a great thing to do. And so, some different ideas that you can go with. So we had M.A., I’m not even gonna try to say that last name. “Are you using software other than native Facebook functionality to manage this webinar (for authors who might want to do similar online events, maybe for cross-promotions with other authors)?”
Mark Lefebvre 15:20
Should we share our secrets?
Dan Wood 15:21
Yes. Because like we’ve gone through what, four or five different solutions. Like we’ve been—it took us a while, we were looking and looking. Right now, we kind of settled on StreamYard, and we’ve been very happy with it. Primarily because it does—it’s a fairly simple interface, like it makes it really easy to show these things, like the question. It makes it easy to share the screen with multiple people. But the big seller for us was that it would stream live to both Facebook and YouTube.
Mark Lefebvre 15:50
A lot of authors are going off YouTube, right, or Facebook because, you know, they’re like, I’ve had enough.
Dan Wood 15:56
We’ve been wanting to do that for a while and we really thought that the majority of our watchers would be on Facebook. And so we kept settling for things that were only going to Facebook Live. And then we would upload things to YouTube later. It turns out there are a lot of people that do watch live on YouTube. And so that’s been great. We do get a lot more views on YouTube over time, and so it’s great to have that content where we’re not having to take a separate step and upload it to YouTube and wait. So it’s been really cool. StreamYard makes it really easy, like you see within the interface, people commenting from Facebook, people coming from YouTube, so we don’t have to follow all of that. So it’s just been really nice and makes it easy to make the little banners, to make the little graphic things. So it’s been a cool little tool and we recommend it at this point. All right. Let’s see, Elyssa has got a question for us. Elyssa is our awesome graphic designer, she’s in charge of our user experience, because she basically does everything. We just don’t tell everybody she does everything, and we just kind of sit back and gain credit for that. So, “what’s the best way to get feedback from readers?”
Mark Lefebvre 17:18
Ask. I know it sounds like a silly answer. But you actually have to ask. If you don’t ask, you’re definitely not going to get feedback. How do you ask? Back of the book, right? Finish the book. I’ve often even put my email address in. Even with my traditionally published books, I say, “Hey, I’d love to hear from you, what you thought of the book, this is my email address.” And obviously sign up for your author newsletter. And in your newsletter, you can ask for feedback. You can ask for that sort of thing. If you’ve got Facebook groups, for your readers. You can use social media and that. I found Instagram really, really great for trying to get participation from people so. Other ideas?
Dan Wood 18:00
Yeah, you know, if you’re doing the 80/20 thing that Mark was talking about, and you’re sharing things with your readers that they might be interested in on your social media, every once a while, just remind them how important reviews are to authors, because they are really a make or break for a lot of books. Other things I’ve seen people do. You mentioned just, how many people that we talk to while we do the free consultations after our Ask Us Anything at the, you know, we do that once a month. And we do, we end up doing quite a few consultations, just one on one and 9 times out of 10 I’m telling people just make sure at the end of your book that you’re asking people to sign up for your newsletter and you’re asking them for a review, because people just forget to do that. So that is really the number one thing, is ask people. It’s not a bad thing.
Mark Lefebvre 18:56
Yeah, and I also remind —because people like to read but they’re not sure that—like, well, I’m not Siskel and Ebert. I don’t know how to do these extensive reviews and stuff. It does not need to be fancy. It doesn’t need to be like an essay that you never learned how to write in high school. It is simple, just one or two honest lines about what you thought of the book, and sometimes assuring. Actually, I would even recommend with your author newsletter, since we’re talking techniques and things, with your author newsletter, when they sign up, you’re often giving them something for free. You can set auto response for a week to two weeks later to say, hey, hope you didn’t have any problems downloading the book or whatever. If you did, let me know. And if you did read it, I would love to, appreciate a review. And there’s lots of these little cute video visual memes that say the best way to help an author is to leave a review and you can even share something like that, just to remind them. And even you know, and remind them, honest. Honest reviews. I think that’s even valuable because I see a lot of, a lot of books that are, you know, 100% five star reviews and the first thing I think of—I’m an optimistic guy who believes in the goodness of people. But when I see nothing but five star reviews, I think that’s fake. It’s not real. There’s no way. You look at major authors, like Craig Martelle. And even Craig doesn’t have nothing, like all five star reviews. Because the bigger an author is, the more they sell. The Stephen Kings, the James Pattersons, the Craig Martelles of the world, they will have one star and two star reviews either from people who, you know, we’re just reviewing the fact that it didn’t download to their Kindle properly, which happens unfortunately, or it was just the wrong person. Right. They thought for some reason, they thought, you know, they thought it was this kind of book. Or it was so popular they thought they try it, but it’s not their cup of tea. And that’s, the authentic nature of the reviews are important.
Dan Wood 20:50
Yeah, no one really wants to read a book that’s made for everyone. You can’t please everyone with a single book and so, yeah. Let’s go on to, Richard has a question about: “I remember something about Apple promo codes being available via D2D, but I don’t remember the details. Can you refresh us please? Was that for pre-orders? Is there something similar for any other stores?” With the Apple promo codes, you just email our customer support at firstname.lastname@example.org, and they can send you some of those. They do—I believe, if I remember correctly, they are like, have like a limited time span. And so it’s something you’ll want to, you don’t want to order as many codes as you can get. Just order a certain amount of codes and then try to give all those out. You encourage people with those codes to leave reviews, that’s kind of the main reason those codes are there. They’re—the only major retailer that has that is Audible. If you’re thinking about audiobooks, they have codes. But Apple is the main one that does the codes for the books. It can be on any book, It doesn’t have to be on a pre-order. If your pre-order has the asset already, like if you’ve uploaded it and you’ve already finished the book, then I believe you can give away a code for the pre order, and so. But if you’re really curious about that part, contact our customer support, because they know all the ins and outs of that. They’ll be able to explain everything in much better detail now than I could. But yeah, those are, again, another way to try to get more reviews, because reviews are going to help you sell more books.
Mark Lefebvre 22:26
And Richard, thank you for calling them Apple, rather than iBooks. They do greatly appreciate that, Apple Books. So nice one.
Dan Wood 22:40
We’ve been trying to train ourselves to remember to say Apple Books now instead of iBooks. Doris M. Fabiano asked, “I’d like to know about your distributor of physical books in USA and Brazil.” So our distribution, we don’t currently have author copies in Brazil. Although for selling books that go through print on demand, any of the stores that have print on demand, that offer it, if someone buys it, it would go through—essentially it’s going through the Ingram network. So as long as Ingram has someone in Brazil, it would print out through there and then ship out of there. Yeah, and in the U.S., IPG is our partner for print. They handle all the author copies side of things with, when people purchase a book like off Amazon or Barnes & Noble, the places where they have print on demand listed, it might go through several different vendors, this kind of shadowy world of people that print things out depending on where you’re located because they’re trying to save on costs. And so everything is kind of distributed to whoever’s closest and can ship it for cheapest. Here’s a nice one. Casper Parks says “I’ve been with D2D since I opened. Great customer service. Thank you.”
Mark Lefebvre 24:06
So we should pause and say thank you to all the awesome Draft2Digital customer service reps that are right now talking to authors and answering your emails.
Dan Wood 24:14
They really are amazing. You can talk to them via email, you can talk to them via phone, like they just really have gone above and beyond. So we’ve really, we love our customer service, they do so much for the company. Jamie Evans Books: “Do you still need an email list or newsletter? Or is social media the way to go? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.” We love this question.
Mark Lefebvre 24:40
I think what I love about an email list or newsletter is that you’re in control. You’re not relying on any other platform. There are authors. T.S. Paul is a perfect example of an author who does not have his own website, does not have his own newsletter. He’s doing exceptionally well. And it’s all been through Facebook. It’s been through Facebook ads. It’s been through his Facebook pages. The thing that frightens me about that is if Facebook goes away or changes things, he may not have a way to reach the people that he wants to. So I prefer the idea of an email list or a newsletter. Social media is, can be a complement to that. You can also engage with people in social media. But oftentimes—so for example, on my Instagram feed right now, there’s a there’s a thing that I’m doing with author readings on Wednesday night. And what I have is, the link is in my bio—well it’s, the bio goes to my web page, it goes to a specific page on my web page, which is whatever I plan on promoting, or I’m featuring like a new book or this particular event, and so I’m using Instagram or Twitter or Facebook as complements to either my author page or to something that’s going on. Yeah, I do like the idea of it being something you can control, right? So not to my Amazon author central page, not you know, but to a—something a little bit more universal. Maybe it’s the Books2Read, the free author page you get with every time, it’s automatically created for you. You publish a book with Draft2Digital, you have an author page, and you can control it. And that landing page in my mind is critical because it doesn’t just send you to a single retailer, it sends you to whatever retailer the customer wants to buy from.
Dan Wood 26:21
Right. We are a big proponent, like we do think it’s a best practice to have the email list, because it’s one of the few things where you control the platform. You can move your email lists around from different vendors like MailChimp and Mailer Light. Whereas with Facebook, they control your relationship. So a few years ago, when they cut the amount of organic visibility of people who had liked your page, it went from, they would see most of your posts to they see, like less than 10% unless you pay them. And any of those platforms can do that in any time. And so you really, the email list is the only one you control. And so you can make sure readers know that you’re, we have a new release. You’ve got things like, Amazon will let you subscribe to authors, but they don’t always email people out when you have a new release. Because they’re kind of governed by, they try to only send out so many emails and they’re probably gonna send the email out about a new TV versus your book because they make a lot more money off the new TV. So just something, we know that they don’t alert people all the time when an author they’re subscribed to has a new release. There are other places, like BookBub has like a notification system about new releases as well. But then again, they also control it and so if they change something in the future, they might start charging for that. Email, you control it. Under a certain amount. most of the email services have a free tier. Once you get to a certain number of subscribers you’re going to have to start spending money on it. But at that number of subscribers, you’re going to kind of understand their value to you and the money is going to make perfect sense. Yeah. Nikkimond: “What’s your take on author brand? I’ve heard I should use a different name for different genres, but also heard from others it should all be in the same author but with clear covers. Mr. Lefebvre, how do you feel about this?
Dan Wood 28:28
You have two brands, right?
Mark Lefebvre 28:30
Yeah, I have two brands. So I have Mark Leslie. And the reason I did that is because Lefebvre is practically impossible for people to spell or pronounce.
Dan Wood 28:39
I screw that up every time.
Mark Lefebvre 28:40
I know, people who have known me for years still can’t get it right. So what I’ve done is, I just dropped my last name because my middle name was Leslie and I wrote under that. And I did that for a long time and I wrote horror and paranormal stuff and true ghost stories and all that stuff. When I wanted to start releasing nonfiction books about writing and publishing, because since ’92, I’ve been known in the industry as Mark Lefebvre, I wanted to have those two different brands. So Mark Leslie, who’s the spooky guy with the skulls and stuff, and then Mark Leslie Lefebvre, which is the name I use for the nonfiction. So that’s because there’s certain consistency and I do get a teeny tiny bit of crossover. I think about authors like Kristen Kathryn Rusch, who, you know, 40 years of traditional publishing. And Kris used to have to write under multiple names, because in traditional publishing, you were only allowed, or the publishers only wanted one book a year, but Kris worked with multiple publishers. So she went with different names like Kris Grayson, or Kristine Grayson and other names to write slightly different genres, because that was the way that the traditional publishing industry worked. Well, she’s since gone back to bringing them all back and then it’s usually Kristine Kathryn Rusch writing as Kris Grayson. Now one of the reasons why a different author name may work is they may recognize your name as a Cozy Mystery author here, but then you want to write mystery, or you know romance, let’s say erotic romance, and you know the crossover between the audience isn’t going to be huge. You may go with a different name because you don’t want people to do is pick up and get the wrong impression, right?
Dan Wood 30:18
Like with sci fi or fantasy. Those readers tend to read both sci fi and fantasy so it’s probably better to have just one pen name or one name you’re under. With things that are very different like Cozy Mystery and erotic romance. Or like if you are … you kind of have to separate them.
Mark Lefebvre 30:42
I was just being I was just being cheeky saying there’s no erotic cozy romances are there?
Dan Wood 30:47
Not yet, but we can work on that. I’m actually thinking about my bad boy, bad boy witch cozy mystery series, so.
Mark Lefebvre 31:00
Very good. But that was a good question. Great question. Nikki.
Dan Wood 31:07
“Can you comment on the value to authors of investing time in optimizing for SEO on our author website?” So this makes me think, hey, it actually looks like Craig is here.
Mark Lefebvre 31:18
Craig is here? Okay, I’m gonna slip away and let the really smart guy jump in then.
Craig Martelle 31:25
Sorry about that, I lost track of time. And I’m like, Oh my god, it’s a half hour after I was supposed to be here.
Dan Wood 31:30
I’m good. We’ve been talking, actually, we can just kind of go if people have some questions for Craig. I’ve got some questions for Craig. And so yeah, we’ve just been kind of, we had a lot of questions come up. So it’s been cool. You want to stick around, Mark?
Mark Lefebvre 31:45
Why don’t you kick me out so you can see more of Craig.
Craig Martelle 31:52
I see a question on the screen. I mean, it looks good—SEO. It just depends, how much how much of your sales go through your website? Or how much traffic are you trying to drive to your website? So if your back matter—my back matter, I try to drive everybody to my website. So any random searches, are they searching and going to my website? Or are they searching and finding me on Amazon. So I personally don’t invest a lot to optimize SEO. But that’s because I drive my own personal traffic to my website, and I get 250 to 300 hits a day on my website, but I sell books through Amazon so I try to drive the most traffic to Amazon.
Dan Wood 32:34
I feel like the SEO thing works a little bit better for nonfiction than fiction. And with fiction I feel like people generally are searching on their bookstore and so, in a lot of cases it’s gonna be Amazon. So I agree, SEO, not a thing to waste a lot of your time on as an author.
Craig Martelle 32:52
But as a nonfiction, that’s a great point to somebody. Mike Bray actually recommended, he’s like, “Hey, a website is up for sale. They’ve been around for 22 years, which is an SEO home run.” He said, “You might want to consider that for your nonfiction.” So I took a look. It was a little bit spendy, because I don’t try to make money off my nonfiction, but I could see where that would be a home run, absolutely.
Dan Wood 33:16
I know Reedsy does a lot of that. They look for those domains that authors tend to go to and they try to pick them up, like if they’re no longer being used for anything because it is just very powerful with the SEO. So I’m glad you made it. First, I really wanted to talk to you a little bit. First of all, you’re a best-selling author at Amazon. You’ve been really doing awesome for the last few years. You are one of the founding members of 20BooksTo50k and you really have put on one of the best conferences for indie authors in the world now, for—will this year be the fourth one? Is it third or fourth?
Craig Martelle 34:00
Right now I think Vegas is definitely on for November. I will make a final decision shooting in July because we funnel all payments through PayPal, and PayPal has a 180 day return policy where you just find that payment, you click refund. So we have to make a final decision in July otherwise the refund process is far more painful and time-consuming. Like triple the amount of time for a single refund, as opposed to just clicking a couple buttons and there you go, Bob’s your uncle. So we will make that decision in July and we should be good. Looking at the numbers, the predictability curves and things, I think we’re going to be okay. Now, the conferences and conventions and those things are going to have to be different. Because the in person, the quality of the face to face meetups, it’s going to have to be a little bit different, like more space. So of course, we were jammed in [inaudible] for those last ones, but the ones in 2021 and 2022, we’re gonna have an awful lot of space. And that’s going to be a big benefit. But we’ll have hand sanitizer. We’ll have a lot of time in between sessions so people can go wash your hands, and a “no shake hands” policy, but I think people will be well experienced in in not doing that come November.
Dan Wood 35:26
And for those of you who aren’t familiar, the 20BooksTo50k Vegas conference happens in November every year. It’s become one of the best ones because Craig’s gotten, nearly everyone from the industry is there. This year I think there are, is it 1200 people signed up already?
Craig Martelle 35:49
Dan Wood 35:51
Wow. It just keeps growing, almost —ike every year it seems like it doubles or not quite doubles. Great conference. The venue has been really good for the past couple of years. But I think we’re all looking forward to moving on next year to the strip. It’s a good chance to hear from a lot of bestselling authors in the world and in various different genres. People that are like killing it on Amazon and being exclusively Amazon, people that are wide and are selling everywhere. So it’s a conference I highly recommend. You’ve also done a lot of like, smaller conferences, just kind of all over the world now, right?
Craig Martelle 36:36
Yeah. Yeah, we’ve done Adelaide in Australia. We did Bali as a very, at—Bali was an exclusive event, very high dollar event. We did London as well as Edinburgh. And for the next few years, we’re going to focus almost exclusively on Vegas, make Vegas the show, and it’s 1600 people this year and will be 2500 to 3000 next year. So next year, our hope is that we don’t sell out, we really don’t want to. Because selling out in one day—I mean, it’s cool to say, hey, our conference sells out in one day, but then we have an awful lot of disappointed people. Right now we record we record those sessions and make them available. Just go to YouTube and look up 20BooksTo50k, our channel. All the sessions are there. Dan, Dan Wood has been in a couple sessions on panels. And you can see him, or Mark Lefebvre. Kevin Tumlinson did a session in 2019 specifically on bootstrapping, how to write, publish, market your book on a shoestring budget. So look at that, look up that that session, and there’s a lot of good things. So the big benefit this year is Apple’s coming, so they’re bringing two to three people. So we’ll have Apple, we’ll have Kobo, we’ll have … If you go audio will have Find a Way Voices, Tantor, Podium. Tantor is bringing six, Podium’s bringing four representatives. So a lot of people that will support your business and your, and help you make better business decisions. Like who do you want to go with? And what does that look like? So if you can look in the face and talk to them, man, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Dan Wood 38:14
Definitely. So you are also a hybrid author, right? Like you’ve got both traditional and you’re mostly indie. Would you talk a little bit about being a hybrid author, because I think a lot of new authors also don’t realize it’s not a choice of either/or, but there are times when it makes sense to be both traditionally published and indie published.
Craig Martelle 38:35
Yeah, I got a I got a traditional contract four years ago. So the contracts back then were a little different than they are now. I didn’t have the ethics clause that, “Oh my god, if you post something on Facebook that we find objectionable, yeah, we’re going to terminate you and hate you forever and ever.” So I don’t have that. Now I don’t, I try to maintain my brand. I try not to have any, spread any hate. But those four books, they continue to earn. I get a quarterly paycheck. My first, when I first published, it was like eight months later before I actually saw the first money from that. I did not get an advance, but I got a really good royalty rate, which is what I preferred. So that, think that worked in my favor over time. And it also got me into Barnes and Noble, it got me into places that you wouldn’t otherwise get. So it gave me visibility. And as you know, all visibility is good visibility and going those different routes, so that alone was worth it. Yes, I make a lot more money with my self-published titles, but the hybrid, the traditional stuff is way way cool.
Dan Wood 39:42
And I know for some people, it’s one of their goals is to be in bookstores. And by far the best way to get into bookstores is through traditional publishing right now. We hope that changes over time. But like Craig said, you’re gonna make so much more money selling online. Just every author in general, other than, you know, maybe for Stephen King, that’s not the case. But in most cases.
Craig Martelle 40:10
Or James Patterson and you know, those people who—or look at JD Robb, Nora Roberts, and when you go into Barnes and Noble, and you see that front table where they have all the most, the new releases, and it’s all names that you know, it’s Dean Koontz, Stephen King, it’s James Patterson, it’s JD Robb. Their publishers pay like $100,000 to get that book on that table. So they’re paying Barnes and Noble before they make any sales. But of course, that helps sales, in airports it’s the same thing. Here are the books you’re going to sell, because you go into airports and you see the same books across all the airports nationwide. And it’s because of that, and that’s traditional publishing owns that market, but they have this huge behemoth of a logistics chain to support that. That’s why you can’t just go to your airport and say “Hey, why don’t you Why don’t you carry my book?” Oh no, this is there’s a lot of moving parts between the publisher and getting into an airport. You saw Mark Dawson, it took him an incredible amount of time to sign a different contract with a with a paperback publisher to get him into airports.
Dan Wood 41:16
It’s always been amazing to me, once I started going to things like the London Book Fair. how complex the supply chain is for the book industry. All the middlemen, like there’s so many middlemen in the whole process. You know, a lot of the traditional publishers are using other people to handle how they’re … all of their printing. They’re using other people to handle their ebook delivery to the different vendors. It just blew my mind. So let’s go on. We had a question about marketing, from Stipe. “I have a question regarding book marketing and awareness. Can you recommend us which ways we can take to successfully market our books?” That’s a big question. You got any thoughts about where you start with marketing?
Craig Martelle 42:01
Oh, I do. And it’s—breaking down the terms, your marketing campaign is how you determine you want to sell your book or series. I write in series because it’s far more lucrative, because once you bring a reader on board if you can get them to go to read book 2, 3, 4, now you have this continuing value stream from a single reader. So let’s talk series. So what does your marketing campaign for a series look like? I buy paid promotions, like with E-Reader News Today, Book Barbarian because I’m in sci fi. Robin Reads, a number of other sites that maintain newsletters. I’ve also been successful with a few BookBub international featured deals and this is, they’re sending an email to 1 million, 2 million people in my genre. So you get that, you align these other, you stack your promotions so you have sales over a certain amount of time. But you have to have promotions which, in a series, I always promote the first book, or the omnibus edition, which is a complete set. But I only put the omnibuses up if I’m in Kindle Unlimited, because there’s a certain price variation that somebody looks at and says, is it worth buying? Or is it worth just borrowing? But if they see it because a lot of people are buying, it jumps up in the ranks and the visibility improves of that book. So, marketing, I market the first book, I market it hard, I run Amazon ads, if it’s a good—if it’s a long series, I’ll run Facebook ads on that first book, and I’m willing to take a loss but I love seeing it when I spend $60 a day on a combination of Amazon and Facebook ads and make more than that on the first book. So then everything beyond that is gravy. So this was the marketing thing. Understand your first book, work the blurb. The cover gets them to look at the blurb, the blurb sells the book. So keep rewickering your blurbs to make sure they are not a synopsis, but a sales thing. It’s like clickbait, you have to you have to one-click this title. That’s the big thing that you need to do to sell books. And whether it’s through Barnes and Noble or Apple, that blurb has to be a homerun.
Dan Wood 44:20
I always tell people, most people are only ever going to see your cover. So spend money on a cover, like work with a cover designer that knows the genre. You do want your book to look like the other bestsellers within that genre. enough to where people know, hey, this is a sci fi space opera. Maybe stand out a little bit, but not much. And then that blurb, really really heavy sales. It’s not a description. So many people just write like, here’s a synopsis of my story, and I say no, please.
Craig Martelle 44:53
The good thing about Draft2Digital is you do the blurb once, and then you guys make sure all the retailers get it.
Dan Wood 45:01
Yeah. Where otherwise you’re having to enter it on every one of their different websites. They all handle the bold versus italic thing differently. I wanted to see if you’d elaborate a little bit. You talked a little bit about stacking the ads over time. Why would you do that rather than having all the ads on one day?
Craig Martelle 45:23
A big spike day is an anomaly in their computer systems. And they—they the distributors, whether it’s Amazon or Apple or Kobo or Barnes and Noble—they don’t like anomalies. They like consistently high sales. So even though you can spike for 1000 sales in a day, you’re better off getting 250 sales over four days, because that won’t, now it won’t look like an anomaly. And their systems or algorithms will start looking at them. And when people are searching and asking questions, your book might pop in as one of the recommendations because you’re a consistent seller, as opposed to, we had one big spike. So even though that one big spike might have come from a different places, a number of different places, depending on promotions, newsletter swaps, and successful ads, you’re still—to the computer, this anomaly. We had a bunch of sales on one day, oh, can’t repeat it. I’m not going to recommend that book, which is what the computer system thinks. You have to convince the computer system to recommend your book. And there’s some data that suggests, increasing sales—because that suggests word of mouth. And now the computer is estimating, hey, there’s good word of mouth on this book. So if you sell 100 the first day, you want to sell 125 the second day, 150, then you’re up to 250. Now the computer is like, Hey, I love this book, because people are talking about it. That’s how it views an increase in sales. So if you get a BookBub deal, which of course you only have three weeks or four weeks total time, and your chances of getting a BookBub featured deal in the US are better going through D2D because you’re wide, then you how do you stack those ads? Well, you do newsletter swaps. And what you want to do is, you want that BookBub feature to be like the fifth or sixth day as you’re ramping up sales. So you drop the price, you hit your own list, hey, this book is now on sale, you get some swaps. You run a bunch of ads, you dump money into ads, you get your BookBub feature, and then you run a couple after that. So it’s a slow ramp up and a slow ramp down, is how the computer sees it, and they will help you sell your book because they get a cut of your book sales.
Dan Wood 47:39
We had a question earlier about the email lists, and if it’s still important to have an email list, and that’s a good—we didn’t mention that. But having your own newsletter will let you do newsletter swaps with other authors within your genre. And so the more you have, the more likely they’re going to be interested in working with you because you’re going to recommend their book and they’re going to recommend or—yeah, everyone’s gonna recommend each other’s books. And so that’s just gonna be another reason why you should have any email list if you’re an author, I want to talk a little bit about collaborative authoring. Because you’re one of the big proponents of it, you’ve done a lot of work. Would you talk a little bit about why you’ve chosen to collaborate with other authors to put out books and then some of the process behind it?
Craig Martelle 48:25
The—one of the reasons … there’s a number of reasons to collaborate. One is to fill gaps in your own production schedule. And gaps. That’s, you’re still writing, but you can produce more if you’re collaborating, unless you have a contentious relationship. That’s why it’s very important to select a good collaborator. Another is because it’s—
Dan Wood 48:45
It’s kind of like the way you think about your marriage. You’re going to be stuck with that person for a very long time. And so …
Craig Martelle 48:50
Yeah, seven years. Because if you get an audio contract, anywhere from 5 to 10 years, you’re going to be strapped in. So you do want a good relationship and maintain a good relationship. But you want to learn, you want to increase productivity, you want to increase your exposure. If you collaborate with somebody who is able to get you into areas that you can’t get yourself. So when you collaborate, choosing the collaborator’s important. You can’t say, “Well, I think it’ll work.” If you’re saying “I think it’ll work,” then it’s like saying, “I think I can marry that person.” It’s not going to work. You have to, “Hey, I really like this. This is a great way to write this. What do you think about this?” If you’re, if you’re each writing the same thing in order to make it one thing that’s better? I’ve done ones where I’ve written a chapter and my collaborator wrote a chapter and we just went back and forth through the whole book with two POVs. We’ve done ones where I’ve written almost all the words, ones where other people have written almost all the words, and ones where we’ve separated it like 50/50. We each wrote different things. Metal Legion, I wrote some of the combat interaction, the small unit interactions because of my experience in the military. My co-writer, his experience was based on a lot of TV and video games and stuff like that. And the banter, when he first proposed it, it was TV based, it wasn’t reality based, and reality’s a lot better. So I did those parts. He did the main setup and those scenes, so that worked really well. I believe it worked really well. So, created a lot of content. I published most of it myself, others we published through LMBPN, and then that money is managed there. Also, the big thing with the extra content is we signed advances through audiobooks, whether Dreamscape, Tantor, Podium, and extra revenue. Hey, the book’s already there and now they’re paying us, as opposed to, I paid a lot of money to have audiobooks done and all of a sudden I’m getting paid to have audiobooks done. And that’s, I liked that part. Yes, it reduces your revenue. But hey, still, it’s a good thing to do. It’s—the learning process of how other people manage their writing. The wording that’s chosen, the way a scene is set up and delivered. All of that. If you’re collaborating, it’s your, it’s your studying. So it’s not just, “Hey, let me write these words. Okay, good. Let’s go forward.” No, no. You’re working on it, and trying to make it better and two people, two people are better than one, two people are smarter than one. And that—as long as you have the right collaborator, and you’re both working towards the right goal of, here’s the story, and you don’t get quagmired in little things that aren’t going to make any difference to the revenue. Because keep in mind, it’s a business decision to collaborate.
Dan Wood 51:57
Yeah, and it’s gonna help both of you authors, or however many authors you have working on the project. So just a really good thing to think about and look into collaborative authoring. Um, another thing that I kind of wanted to ask you, I believe it was earlier this morning, I saw you had a post, just some of your thoughts about—I know a lot of people right now are just really worried about COVID-19 and everything that’s going on in the world. Yeah, it’s a great time to be an author and to have our—with D2D, we’ve been able to work from home since basically the very beginning of this. I just want to get your thoughts and just how you are encouraging authors to look at these times and all that good stuff.
Craig Martelle 52:46
Well, this is an opportunity for authors to step up. My lifestyle has almost not changed at all. Except like you I’m not going to conferences and shows so I have no travel, which has given me more time to write. I’m able, I should finish a book today or tomorrow. The latest in the Executioner is 70,000 words. I mean, it’s a real, it’s a healthy addition to the series. And that’s book 9, and we’ll be able to early it up. It’s on pre-order for May 18. And we’ll be able to publish it April 27, I think is what we’re going to do now. What I’m encouraging authors to do is, this is your time to shine. Now, people’s situations are going to be different. Some people, hey, author was great. But now the kids aren’t at school all day and I’ve had some, great, well, how do you set that up to your advantage so you can keep writing? So many people are descending into the depths of depression, because of everything that’s out of their control, and come out whenever the end of this thing is, two months, nine months from now, you’re going to come out of this, you’re not going to have any new books because you weren’t in a good mental space to do that. And this is where you have to work with your own mind, put on your business hat and say, “Hey, hey, producer, artist, I need another book.” And then you put on your artist hat and say “Okay, I’m gonna write this book because this is this is talking to me right now,” whatever your genre is, and write the book. Get that done, however you need to wicker your process. But I’ve started a daily show, the CNM daily show. We do an hour podcast every morning live, and it gets uploaded to our YouTube channel, all to help authors just think about the business side and hopefully give them something to distract them from their day to day troubles. Especially I mean if your spouse is out of work now, or you had a day job and now your writing is your only income, and you realize it’s a lot of pressure, especially if you never intended to be a full time writer because you liked your job. It was comfortable. And you don’t want to sit at a computer and write for eight hours a day, or do those things like market. It’s okay, but if your world changes, this is an opportunity. Just, there’s going to be a lag, it’s going to be a couple months until you would start seeing any revenue from what you have. And that’s also the challenge. But that’s a challenge I think indies are up for. Because we’ve been doing this for a lot of years. We’re here, we work from home. We look at marketing, 20BooksTo50k has a lot of information for advertising, for marketing, for promotions, for those things you need to do to get your book in front of potential readers.
Dan Wood 55:27
I highly recommend, if you haven’t ever checked out the Facebook group, it’s 20BooksTo50k. You’re over 30,000 members now, is that right?
Craig Martelle 55:37
Actually, we just creeped over 29,000. We’ll be 30,000 in another—we’re getting a lot of new member requests. So we’ll be over 30,000 probably in a month and a half maybe.
Dan Wood 55:40
There’s a lot of great information there that they’ve documented, just like common questions that keep getting asked in the group. So you can read on those. They’ve got their Facebook and they’ve got their YouTube channel where you can see both Craig’s show, but there’s also just videos from all the different conferences. So it’s a great resource, we highly recommend people check it out. A really nice community. There’s a lot of question and answer that goes on in there. And I know that Craig and Michael Landry contribute quite a bit there. So I would highly recommend checking out the 20BooksTo50K group, just really good for anyone, like any author, anyone involved in publishing, to be familiar with. Had another question, it’s left me. Let me grab one from the audience. And then I think we’re gonna try to close out here in about five minutes or so.
Craig Martelle 56:40
Yeah, sorry for joining late, man, I suck.
Dan Wood 56:43
No worries. So on this one, “Hypothetically if I went wide and marketed a book equally well on every store, what would my percentage sales breakdown look like?” So that’s going to look very, very different depending on genre. For e-books, and this is specifically about e-books, Amazon is probably about 80% in the US. It’s probably 65 to 70. worldwide. Apple is going to be the number two largest digital bookstore. The thing that’s kind of crazy is, for romance authors, Apple can be as much as Amazon, but not for everybody. Mysteries and thrillers, Apple is pretty competitive in. Barnes and Noble is also very competitive in mysteries and thrillers. It’s gonna vary quite a bit and so Amazon’s probably going to be your number one store. Apple’s probably going to be your number two store, Barnes noble three, and Kobo four. And I expect Kobo to overtake Barnes and Noble anytime now as far as being bigger sales and for a lot of authors that’s the case. And then for audiobooks, and for print, that all changes considerably. With audiobooks, Audible is the dominant player, but they’re not dominant in the way they are with e-books. Libraries are buying a ton of audiobooks. And so that distribution is all over the place. It’d be hard for me to even give you a basic idea of where it’d be, but Audible’s probably going to be your number one seller but not by the percentages it is e-books. All right. Well, did you have any closing thoughts you want to share, Craig?
Craig Martelle 58:38
I don’t know. I just want people to know that this is, there’s never been a better time to be an indie, whether there’s a pandemic ongoing or not. It’s still, this is a great time. The market is huge. And if you are an e-book producer, I write science fiction which does better in Amazon. So I’m almost exclusive to Amazon. I do have a few books wide or available for general download. I usually use them as reader magnets through BookFunnel, Damon Courtney. And now, the writing your books and publishing them sets you up for the future. It’s your legacy. So keep writing, keep publishing and what you do today doesn’t mean you have to do it tomorrow. Being exclusive to Amazon is a three month commitment, that’s all. And you can request at some point and say “Hey, can I be let out early?” If you want to go through a Draft2Digital, go wide and try to compete for a BookBub featured deal. And that will turbocharge your sales and your exposure, especially if you have a series. That’s the great thing about about BookBub if you’re a thriller writer, you want you want like a three book set, and then for them to buy your other 4, 6, 8 books in the series. Put that three book set for 99 cents and you, with great covers, and you’ll be competitive, and it’ll change your dynamic of how, of sales. So I’m a big fan, I mean, they are the gold standard. There are a lot of other things to do, you can spend an awful lot of money on ads trying to figure things out. And there are some people who can help you with some books. But still, the one stop shopping is a promotion, whether it’s through ENT or Robin Reads or places like that. Freebooksy, if you’ve got a free book, they do really well for downloads. But you got to follow it up. It’s part of an overall marketing plan to then sell the rest of your series, so if you have just one book, it’s going to be difficult to make good money. And so you keep writing. This is a great time to keep writing. Never been a better time to be an indie author. Thanks, Dan. I really appreciate the time.
I fully agree. For any of you who aren’t weren’t familiar with BookFunnel or BookBub, Daymon Courtney was on last Monday and so you can check out our talk with him on our YouTube page, or our Facebook page has the video. And then last Friday, Carlin Robertson from BookBub was on. And so those are both businesses that you should know if you’re an indie author, you should be familiar with them because they both offer great services. Well, thank you Craig. Anyone out there you can check out Craig at craigmartelle.com. 20BooksTo50k is the group, highly recommend you join that group and kind of see what they have to offer. They have a lot of questions already answered, so you can search within the group, and it’s just very helpful, and then kind of learn day to day what’s changing. I know like the other day when Audible upped, right now Audible is paying out authors more for audiobooks. And I heard that first on the 20BooksTo50K group, so. Well thank you very much, Craig, for being on. You’ve really done an awesome job sharing with the indie community through both the Facebook group and the conferences. We just really enjoy getting a chance to sit down and kind of pick your brain a little bit so have a good day. It’s nice to see all y’all and we’ll talk to you tomorrow.
Craig Martelle 62:14