Indie Authors are always learning and growing, both as writers and publishers. James Blatch, co-founder of The Self Publishing Formula, connects authors with courses to help them with that journey.
James is the author of Cold War military aviation thrillers, with two books out and a third almost ready to launch. He is the co-host of The Self Publishing Show and a co-founder of The Self Publishing Formula, the home for online courses for indie authors. Learn more at selfpublishingformula.com and jamesblatch.com.
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James Blatch, Kevin Tumlinson
Kevin Tumlinson 00:03
Well hello to you world. Thank you for tuning in to another Self-Publishing Insiders live from Draft2Digital. And this is a cold blustery, cold day here James, in the United States. We’re getting a cold snap here.
James Blatch 00:18
And where are you, remind me?
Kevin Tumlinson 00:20
I am in Texas. And by the way, this is James Blatch from Self-Publishing Formula. You may recognize him from the podcast and from other things that he’s done. A wonderful friend. James, welcome to the show. Sorry, I didn’t mean to leap right into weather talk.
James Blatch 00:35
You know, I’m British. I’m pretty sure I could do the hour just talking about the weather. But last time I was in Texas, it was freezing. I was in Dallas and it was bitter, just below freezing with a wind type bitter cold.
Kevin Tumlinson 00:49
That was recently right?
James Blatch 00:51
That was November. And I thought, I didn’t come to Texas for this. I left the UK to avoid this.
Kevin Tumlinson 00:56
Right. Right. You think you’re gonna dodge it, but Texas is gonna throw you a curveball every time.
James Blatch 01:02
You know, weather wise, Vegas got cold too right?
Kevin Tumlinson 01:06
Vegas got chilly. And we’re talking about, by the way, 20 Books Vegas, the big conference. Probably one of the biggest I’ve ever seen for indie authors. It did get chilly there. And as usual, I was inadequately dressed and prepared. I think I had like a hoodie, it was just about the warmest piece of clothing I had. Well, I’m not used to, Texas has me thrown off. I’m accustomed to showing up with nothing. Mostly shorts.
James Blatch 01:38
If that, I’ve heard.
Kevin Tumlinson 01:41
If that. You’re right.
James Blatch 01:44
I went to the outlet mall and bought a coat. Because going out in the evening, it was below freezing some nights. It was cold. Anyway, listen to me. And we’ve just had a real cold snap here in the UK of snow and ice. But that’s just melted.
Kevin Tumlinson 01:58
That’s coming for us tonight. That starts tonight for us. That’s one of the reasons I’m wearing my trusty bah humbug Christmas hat. You told me you were going to be in your Christmas jumper.
James Blatch 02:07
I had a bit of a panic before, because I couldn’t find the link to log on. And I, in the midst of that, forgot to go to my room and get one of my four jumpers.
Kevin Tumlinson 02:16
Yeah, I was just sitting here at that time. Like, you know, he basically jumps in like, a minute before we’re supposed to go live. I’m like, you know, I’d think you Brits were a little more timely with that giant clock you guys have there in London. So anyway, welcome. Welcome. That’s been weather talk with Draft2Digital. You get intercontinental weather observations on this show. But James, you guys, Self-Publishing Formula. Man, you guys are really blowing things up. And we’re gonna talk a bit about this today, a lot about this today. But you guys are actually rolling out your, re-rolling out your Ads for Authors course, right?
James Blatch 03:00
Yeah, yeah. So that’s coming out in January. And to coincide with that, we’re going to do a Facebook ads expedition. I would say, Ads for Authors course has a lot of modules to it now with Amazon ads and TikTok, all sorts of bits and pieces. It’s a big old course. But for me, Amazon ads, or sorry, Facebook ads, for me personally, is still the driver of sales for me, my books and the books I promote. That’s not to say Amazon ads aren’t a part of it. They are. But Facebook ads is a majority of my spend. And so we’re sort of going, and it was our first course. So again, back to basics. In January, we’re going to do a special expedition to get people sort of handheld through the door of Facebook ads, get those first tentative steps into that world that needs mastering, I think, if you’re to be a successful indie author. So we’re doing that in January, and that will lead to the opening of the course, which is sort of mid, I think the 18th of January. And yeah, if people don’t know, it’s the course that teaches you how to actually sell your books. Anybody can do this stuff badly, right? Anyone can run ads that suck and don’t produce results. And you can spend money on covers and you can write blurbs that don’t work and don’t do the right thing for you. This course is about really optimizing every single step of the way, making everything aligned so that every time you put some money into doing something like ads, it’s got its best chance of giving you a result that you want. And unfortunately, it’s not easy. Nothing that’s good is easy, right? There’s more I think probably backs up more competitive now than it was even two years ago, let alone five or 10 years ago,
Kevin Tumlinson 04:39
Right. Yeah, the Facebook Ads for Authors thing was kind of the start of it all. And you’re saying you’re still seeing, like that’s still your primary best result?
James Blatch 04:53
It is for me. So up until, I would say up until the beginning of 2020 … And I speak to authors all the time about how they market what they market, and one of two answers would come. They’d either say Facebook ads drives my sales and my business, or they’d say Amazon ads drives my business. I’m going to add into that TikTok because that has happened this year. So that’s the third answer. You often hear from people so people like Jane Ryan and Leila DuBois. I think Caroline Peckham, Suzanne Valenti, famously, I mean, I don’t know Colleen Hoover. But Colleen Hoover, Lucy Scores had a huge hit. So I would start to say now, TikTok is as big a part, if not a bigger part than one of those two ad platforms. So there’s three. But up until recently, it was just those two. And TikTok is slightly different, because it’s not even paid ads. But more frequently, I hear it is Facebook ads rather than Amazon ads that are the main driver and the main spend. That’s absolutely not the case for everyone, and I meet people who only spend on Amazon ads, it’s their number one thing. But it’s more common, I think, for it to be Facebook ads. So yeah, it’s still the magic juice, I think for us. And luckily, it’s a platform that’s stayed pretty consistent, pretty reliable. It has its ebbs and flows here and there through the year, I think we’ve had a really cheap period recently, the last six weeks has been cheap. I think maybe the big guy, the recession. I said to Mark on our podcast, actually, the other week, that in the crusty old corporations that have a billion dollar advertising revenue, you can imagine someone saying, you know, what’s all this nonsense about Facebook? Stop that straightaway. So that when they have to cut down on the budget, the first thing that goes is their social media spend because they don’t understand it. They’ll carry on with the billboards and the magazine articles, and the TV spots and stuff. But so I think because of the recession, I think some money’s coming out from big business of social media platforms, which is good for us.
Kevin Tumlinson 06:47
Yeah. Good for us. The smaller little guy. Yeah, so when it comes to that spend, because you’re right. And I’ve talked to people about this, over the years, thousands of authors about it. But even like other entrepreneurs and content creators, that sort of thing, like the very first thing anybody does is cut their marketing budget, which is insane. If anything, when the money starts slowing down, your revenue starts slowing down, you should double your marketing budget. But that’s a whole other conversation. So when you’re looking at like a Facebook ad strategy, and I don’t want to give away the kettle here for the course. But I mean, what are some things that authors should keep in mind when they’re thinking about an ad strategy? Not just Facebook, I guess.
James Blatch 07:38
Yeah, not just Facebook. Facebook is sort of a concentrated version of what you need to be doing in all areas of your marketing career. And I always start at the beginning, which is, the cover of your book has to work for your book. And the purpose of the cover is not to look pretty or to stand out or be the best in the cover, anyone’s going to say the cover of your book, its job is to tell a potential reader that this is the sort of book they’d like to read. So if you’re writing John LeCarre style novels, your cover needs to look like a John LeCarre style book. If you’re writing sci fi, and so on. And I actually had this argument with somebody on email this week, who emailed me for some advice. And I gave him some bits and pieces. And when I said your cover needs to fit in with the genre, he said, no, no, absolutely not. My cover needs to stand out. And that’s a common thing that authors think, but it’s wrong actually. It’s counterintuitive, maybe, but your cover needs to fit in. So your cover needs to work. Your blurb needs to absolutely reinforce that as well. So if you’re writing budding romance, or whatever subgenre in romance, your cover says that, your blurb reinforces it, sometimes even saying those words, this is a budding romance book. And then you design a Facebook ad that looks and feels like the content that’s going to be at the end of that chain. You need to get all of that right before we talk about targeting and ad spend and creatives, you need to understand that if at any point in that click process, there’s a disconnect, even a small one, you will leach money, the money will not be worth it. So starting at the beginning, and that’s something we really take people through in the course in more detail that I could do in an hour here, obviously. But fully understanding the purpose of the cover, how the blurb works at the sort of granular level to get that right. And then Facebook ads, I mean, it’s a big subject, Katie, so I can’t do a lot of it, and not just because I don’t want to give away secrets. I would happily. Mark and I have always said we just share everything we possibly can. But in terms of learning, we know people are gonna ultimately, if they’re gonna invest in themselves, they’re going to need the course because there’s so much information you can pause it and do it in your own time. But I think dynamic creative ads have worked really well for me this year. So in the old days, you just have one image and one line of copy, one headline underneath that image, and one description underneath that. And then perhaps the only thing you could change then is the call to action, shop now or learn more or whatever. But that was just one ad. So you’d have to duplicate that campaign or duplicate that ad several times inside a campaign. And dynamic creative came along, that allowed you to choose 10 different images, up to five pieces of copy for each one of those slots. And if you know your maths, and you look like a man who knows his maths, Kevin, to me.
Kevin Tumlinson 10:33
I know a number or two.
James Blatch 10:34
if you times five by five by five, you know the variations that Facebook can then produce of that ad is ridiculous. It goes up very rapidly. It’s thousands anyway. Now I think that’s good, because we have lost a little bit of access through the privacy rules that have come in, I have to say mainly from the EU. Not a great thing but it’s happened. And it’s frustrating. All these codes we get sent to our phone all the time, all emanating out of a bureaucracy here in Europe, for which I apologize. But apart from that, we’re living with that now. So we’ve lost a little bit of access to information that we were using. But Facebook has a huge amount of information it just can’t give us any more because of that. But it has it, and it uses it. So if you do your dynamic creative campaigns, what you’re doing is, you’re seeding a bit of creative control to or targeting control to Facebook, so not just going to send it to where you’ve said, they’re going to create a type of creative that they think works for that person based on what they know, but they can’t tell you. And so I think that’s why dynamic creative ads have worked well for me this year. And I would advocate getting to know them. We have a special module on those as well.
Kevin Tumlinson 11:48
Yeah. It’s interesting to watch the shift in how Facebook Ads work. I mean, there’s some things that are kind of tried and true. But what do you think has been the most, and I don’t want to talk just Facebook ads, but it is sort of the primary, but what do you think are some of the things that have dramatically shifted in just the past two years?
James Blatch 12:10
I mean, they have become more expensive. And so you could be a little bit sloppier in the past probably with your targeting and your copy and still get some decent results because the market was small. It’s grown a lot since then. Whatever people say about Facebook being in trouble financially, it’s still an incredibly powerful vibrant social media platform, a billion users or so, and so that’s the main change, I think, is you need to be better than you were five years ago, and making sure all of that is right. And certainly that’s an odd thing. I find the more I do, I run Facebook ads for my books, but I also run Facebook ads for all the Fuse books. And I’ve given up trying to predict what’s going to work in terms of the actual images and copy. You know, I’ll sometimes use quite, I think, a fairly clunky sentence and add a couple more sentences to it. In the past, I wouldn’t have bothered with that. Because my instinct was this is wordy, short and pithy works better. But now I do. because I know after four or five days of running that and I look at that and think you know what, for whatever reason, that age group, they like clicking on More, and they like reading more information about the book. And that’s worked. So I think experimentation is more important than it used to be. And investing a little bit early on in your campaigns, knowing that they may not see a profit for you. But you’ll get important information back that enables you then to optimize that campaign or run a new campaign based on what you’ve learned from that. Which sounds more complicated than it is, but it’s really just a process of getting to where you need to be.
Kevin Tumlinson 13:48
Yeah, everything sounds more complicated than it really is. And then some things are more complicated than they sound, and so that just throws my whole game off. So what all are you guys covering now that you’re not just Facebook ads? I know you’re doing Amazon ads. And I think you did kind of break down some of what you’re doing. But is there like a complete breakdown of what you guys are covering in the course now?
James Blatch 14:13
Yeah, I can certainly do that for you. So we set them up into separate modules. So they’re basically mini entire courses in their own right. And by the way, when we were researching putting together this course, we looked at some of the other Facebook ads courses which are out there. Because Facebook ads, we use them as authors, but they use vary widely from people selling whatever little black rubber things on Amazon. So you can buy these courses from some quite big names in the digital space and they are usually in the region of two to three, maybe sometimes $5,000 to $6,000 and they’re shorter have less information and articles. I’ll tell you that. So we do our Facebook ads course by itself, within Ads for authors. It’s a very valuable platform, we want to charge as little as we can, because authors sell products that cost $4.99, not $49.99. It’s more difficult for us. So yeah, Facebook ads for authors, an entire course within it. And then let me just narrow this down, I have actually got it in front of me. But what I want to do is make sure I’m giving you the right courses. We’ve got a lot of courses here. But what’s bundled in with ads for authors. So just bear with me callers while I go to my bundled products.
Kevin Tumlinson 15:31
Who can blame me for taking your time? And it’s a lot of stuff you guys have. You guys have been busy, you’ve been doing a lot.
James Blatch 15:38
You know, it never stops. And we’ve got lots of ideas for next year. So yeah, we have a smaller course on ad design. So specifically understanding, and these courses aren’t just here’s how to design an ad there. They are first a theory of why ads work, and what you need to understand to help you and empower you to create good ads in the future. We have a small module called advanced Facebook ads for authors, the stuff we didn’t want to scare people with. We’ve taken out of the main course, things like pixels, you can do a lot with pixels and building audiences off that. So that’s a bit more next level. So that’s bundled in for it. And we have two Amazon ads courses. We have a legacy course, which is I think a simple overview from Mark. It works very well. It’s the one I did actually, that got me going with Amazon ads. But we have a Next Level Amazon Ads course written by Janet Margaux who worked on the front line in the author’s division of Amazon ads in Seattle. Since left that division and now writes our courses for us, so you couldn’t hear from a better source. That’s pretty detailed, that course. I mean, it gets into some pretty nerdy areas. But if Amazon ads are your thing, it’s invaluable. We have Amazon attribution for authors, which is the very latest module, which I wrote actually, about two months ago. Do you remember when the attribution links became available? And you can use them in your Facebook ads and other posts on social media, and then you can see results in your Amazon dashboard. So we’ve got that course that was added. And that’s one thing I should say, an important thing, actually, if I’m talking about the course in the kind of marketing ways. Whenever we add anything to it, everybody who has it previously gets that for free. So we never ever ask for any more money from people, they have it for life. And if we completely revamp the course, which we did with Amazon ads, that’s just part of your ownership. You have it for life. Facebook, I’ve also mentioned we have Facebook Messenger bots for authors. So if you want to use that message auto responder in Messenger, not something I’ve personally done, but there’s a module on that. There’s a copywriting module, how to write better simpler ads. And then our next biggest, probably most watched module was added last year, and it’s TikTok for authors. And that is a comprehensive guide to you setting up an effective platform on TikTok and using TikTok, which is an exciting platform. And it’s shifting books for people, but how to do that properly, in line with all the stuff we do, how to get it right, how to optimize it, not simply how to do it. A couple other things. We do live webinar training as well, you get that, it’s called the SPF University. Although for legal reasons, I always have to say it’s not a real university. That’s what we call it.
Kevin Tumlinson 18:27
Is that an EU thing?
James Blatch 18:31
Mark tells me. Mark was a lawyer, right? And so he errs on the side of caution. So he tells me I have to say that. But we had one this week, actually, we had one from John Logsdon’s team called links, it was about basically using links in your author career. That gets quite complicated as well. But we try and break this down into bite sized chunks to make it easier. Because we want people to be able to write and focus on that. And then the marketing side should be as simple as possible. But not any simpler.
Kevin Tumlinson 19:04
If an author had to choose between all the various courses, what’s the one that you would recommend they go to first?
James Blatch 19:14
Do you mean within Ads for Authors or all the courses that we do?
Kevin Tumlinson 19:18
Well, we can open it up to all the courses you do. But what’s the what’s the fundamental course that you think every author should be taking from you guys?
James Blatch 19:25
So we have a launch pad course which is the step before ads for authors. And that’s just opened and closed. But that will be open again in the spring. And that is building your platform. So if you’re early into it, so you’re one book in, two books in, and you’re just about to publish your first book, and you’re trying to wrap your head around the language of self-publishing and the digital ecosystem, that is the course for you. If you’re a series and a half in at this stage and you understand covers and the job they need to do, you understand the basics, the fundamentals of marketing, but you haven’t had success with it, you can’t get things going or you’re unhappy with success, then ads for authors is 100% the course for you. And I would say, I think people love our launch pad course. It used to be called 101. And we do get a lot of fan mail for it. But for me, the ads for authors course is what has made me somebody who can make a profit on two books, which is quite hard to do. That’s the juice that’s inside ads for authors.
Kevin Tumlinson 20:26
That’s actually a pretty good endorsement, because the advice you get everywhere else in the author community is write more books. Which I don’t object to. But it’s not exactly a fast track.
James Blatch 20:41
No, no, and write more books is what I would say as well. It’s where I am Kevin. You know, I’m in the write more books phase. And I’ve sort of come to a, I’ve just finished my novella, Book Three. And I’ve come to a fairly big decision about my next thing I’m going to do writing wise that is my focus and should be my focus. But I love the marketing side of it as well. And it’s very, very encouraging for me that I’m turning a small profit with a couple of books and an audiobook to launch this week should help that as well.
Kevin Tumlinson 21:11
Let’s talk a little bit about your work, because you’re you’re no longer new. You’re sort of relatively new compared to, say, Mark or somebody. But you’ve been in this for a little while, how’s your journey been?
James Blatch 21:29
I’m in a good place at the moment, I think, because I’ve just finished a book. And we’re just going off to the editors, that always feels quite nice at that point. And we sort of, it’s mountains and mountain climbers, novels are a big thing to write, even a novella half-length 34,000 words, it still hangs over you. And you’ve got to put the draft in and it feels, you know, this more than anyone else, there are moments when you just think this is all rubbish. And then moments when you reread it and think, that feels quite good. So now I’ve got to that bit, it’s gone off to the editor, and I’m now thinking about what to do next. And I think, so I’ve written, my first book is called The Final Flight, it was an agonizing process, getting it out, it sort of fell out of me as a story, incoherently, 10 years before I finally published it. And I went through a lot of book coaching and stuff to turn it into a readable novel. But that was very much a personal thing. It was about my father’s era. And it was about the kind of stiff upper lip that results from being in the military and that environment, and the cost that’s paid, usually by wives and children later. I mean, you might not even notice that theme’s in there. But that’s why I wrote it. The next book was more on that theme, but within the US setting. And the third book is yet more really of that kind of male fragility, or the hidden depths of male emotion all suppressed in the 50s and 60s. But the decision I’ve come to is I think I’ve got that out of my system now, I’ve done that. And I’m now going to be more commercial. So there was an MI5 agent called Suzy in book one and I’m going to do a series about her. And military aviation will be in there, but it won’t be a feature part of it, it will just be a background. So I’m aiming for kind of John LeCarre spy espionage Cold War series called the Suzy Fox or Susie Fox book. So I’m just at, I haven’t got it here, but I’ve been reading Save the Cat again, to really kind of go back to basics in structuring the novels and try to get a bit of an arc of series in my mind before I write book one. So I’m excited about that. I feel the first three books will always be special to me and my family, but I think they were also an apprenticeship, if that makes sense. Now I feel like I’ve got my first step in the door of being able to write sort of semi competent series.
Kevin Tumlinson 23:47
I like that you’re tying in a new series to your existing books. I mean, that’s smart. That whole shared universe thing, that’s what I do with all my books, all my books are in the same universe. Even the far out like sci fi stuff. I’ve got links to get back, you know. So what genre were your first three books?
James Blatch 24:13
I described them as Cold War thrillers, but they were very military aviation centered, so very aviation.
Kevin Tumlinson 24:20
You and I share a love for military aviation.
James Blatch 24:23
Nothing wrong with it. And it’s done all right for me, but it is a small genre. When you have a picture of an aircraft on the front of the book, you get these things like Top Gun which obviously reach over the heads of everybody and everybody loves it. But actually how many people who went to see Top Gun would buy a book about military aviation to read? That’s a smaller group of us who do that, so they are Cold War thrillers. Now Suzy Fox books will be Cold War thrillers, but they’ll be I would say espionage, which is a much bigger kind of, John LeCarre is a good example of the writer I’m aspiring to, I love his books. And then there’s quite a few from the old days. Frankly, Tom Clancy, all those early Jack Ryan books.
Kevin Tumlinson 25:11
I was gonna bring up Clancy I felt like you were in a slice of his genre.
James Blatch 25:18
Definitely. And they did all right, those books.
Kevin Tumlinson 25:23
They did okay. I’m still struggling with how John LeCarre might be considered, what was the market or what was the term you used? You were saying you were gonna write things that were more … it slipped my brain. I was gonna make a joke. And so the joke has now fallen apart. It’ll come to me after the call. I do have one sharp-eyed viewer in the audience who asks, “Is that a picture of the RAF Vulcan behind you?”
James Blatch 26:02
Hello, Tom. Yes, it is the Vulcan. Let me try to get my book. So this is, if you’re watching on YouTube, this is the original cover of my book. And you can see the white Vulcan at the top. Actually, we reworked the covers to make the aircraft more prominent. So this is the new cover for it. And again, there’s the Vulcan. And so yeah, the first book is set in and around a test flying unit. And the project they’re working on is being used by the Vulcan. So this picture predates all of that. So my father was a test pilot in the 60s, hence the interest in this area, the obsession with this area. And he flew the Vulcan in mid 60s, I think he logged only about 30 hours in it, because it was a test pilot, he jumped between lots of lots of different aircraft. And when he flew it was like, to the limit doing vibration runs and stuff on it. But he flew about I think 10 different Vulcan airframes. And I saw this at an airshow at Duxford, beautiful stock image. This guy did all his pictures, just Spitfires and all sorts of stuff. That Vulcan, the tail code there, which is XH403, is one of those few Vulcans and my father actually flew. So I sort of saw that and sort of felt, I should buy this. It was quite expensive. That’s original artwork, but I love it. And yes, eagle eyed Tom. Well done. It is a Vulcan. Have you heard of the Vulcan before, Kevin?
Kevin Tumlinson 27:32
Yes. You and I need to get drinks next time we’re together and talk about aircraft and vintage military aircraft in particular. I produced a documentary series for PBS called Honor Squadrons. And I’ve actually crashed down in an SPD-5 Dauntless in a field in Angleton, Texas. So we need to … well, yeah, it did. It had a hydraulic failure. We’ll have to talk, we’ll tell that story some other time. I don’t want to derail the conversation. But I do have, someone has asked a question related to the ads course. And if you feel up to it, we can give it an answer. Author Stipe Lozina, I’m going to say. “How do we optimize our campaigns for books released as pre orders?” This may get too in depth, they may have go get the course.
James Blatch 28:38
I can give some general tips. And I’ve just done a couple of pre orders actually, for our Fuse books. I think the main thing here is to think about targeting, because you are struggling probably to sell a pre order to a cold audience or even a look alike audience. So what I tend to do for pre orders is I upload the mailing list of the author, you in your case, if you’re self-publishing, in my case, Fuse Books will be the author who we’re writing about, whose book it is. I also collect email addresses for them into our own Fuse ConvertKit accounts. So I combined all that into a single list of email addresses, which is, let’s say somewhere between five and 10,000, depending on the size of the authors, and I upload that and create a list into Facebook and an audience, I should say, to use the correct word in Facebook. The next thing I do is, I use the people who’ve clicked on any kind of advert we’ve had for this author in the past or have shown some interest in this author in the past, and that will be a second audience, so two audiences there, and I’d only run preorder ads to them. I wouldn’t expect preorder ads to work on the normal targeting, likes Tom Clancy in my case. They’re too cold to go taking a chance on a pre order. But if they’ve read one of my books before, read one of your books, or interacted with an advert, so I think the key for pre ordering is that. But the main thing with preordering is emailing your list, isn’t it? Do that several times. And there are some techniques, we have a mini course, it’s actually not part of ads for authors, I think you can buy it for $30 or something, which Mark wrote on launching specifically. And I think in there he talks about, it’s a tactic I’m sure you know, Stipe, but it’s, set the price at something like $2.99 or $1.99. And then you can email your list several times saying it’s going up on release day. So everyone who pre orders gets it at a good price, and then it goes up on release day, which I would tend to in reality do a couple of days after release day, because you want as much visibility as possible in those first couple of days. But yeah, there are my initial overview thoughts on pre orders.
Kevin Tumlinson 30:47
Okay. I was looking ahead to see if we had any other questions. We don’t have a ton of questions. So if you’re out there listening, everyone, make sure you pop in. It’s Christmas. They might be drunk. Or maybe they’re just being polite. They don’t want to ask too many questions that can come across as pushy. This is a comment from Peter though, “Thank you for the very honest and educational chat. I’m in a similar place to you, James. P.S. I used to bunk not far and train at Scampton where the Vulcan lived.” I think we could easily shift this into aircraft talk.
James Blatch 31:28
We could, I’d happily do that, 24 hours later we’re still talking. What we need to do, next time we’re together somewhere, whether it’s Florida or Vegas or wherever, let’s try to plan a trip to an Air Museum and go off and do some, because there’s lots of them in the country I still haven’t visited. I’ve been to some of the big ones in the US, not the biggest one actually at Dayton. But I’ve been to Pima, which is one of my favorites. But we should walk around there together and get …
Kevin Tumlinson 31:58
And next time you’re in my neck of the woods, we can run down to Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston. You’d like that one. Okay, so getting back to the relevant stuff. I still want to talk to you a bit about your stuff, because you’ve learned a lot in this process. That was sort of how you became involved with Mark in the first place, wasn’t it?
James Blatch 32:26
Yeah. I mean, I was a video production person. Mark and I worked together. I was BBC and then went to what’s called the BBFC in the UK, which is the equivalent of your MPA. And believe it or not, there are people who watch films and make notes and count how many times people curse and then decide what certificate it’s going to be. And that’s what we did, Mark and I and John Dyer. And after we finished, Mark, John Dyer and I went off and did video production, mainly working in the medical sector randomly. Not by choice, but just the clients that came in and some finance stuff. So we were jetting around Europe making these films, trying to make it pay. But it’s an old fashioned industry where you’re lugging expensive equipment and expenses. And yeah, and it was difficult. So you know, we ended up drawing not that much each year. And then Mark had this idea for an online course because he was doing so well with his writing. And he called us and asked if we’d do the production side, because he didn’t know how to how to make an online course. That’s how it started. So really, I knew nothing about publishing. I knew nothing. To the point where I’d written a book, but didn’t even submit it because … I think I didn’t submit it because I didn’t want anyone to actually publish it, and then tell me I have to write another one. And what I hadn’t realized is that self-publishing is a much more attractive option for someone like me who wants to do things at their own pace. So yeah, it was slow at first, you know, learning the language of self-publishing, it was like a foreign language to me. Started off with this gradually, but I don’t know Kevin, I think I’m one of those people who, whenever they get into something, they want to master it. I always want to learn more and be competent. And if Mark can do stuff with MailChimp, I want to know how MailChimp work so I can do that. I’ve always been that person for him. And basically now Mark doesn’t log into any of our processes and systems and I run the operations along with John. And leave Mark free to do the kind of strategic stuff which is always important as well.
Kevin Tumlinson 34:27
What was the most challenging part for you coming in? Getting into the business?
James Blatch 34:34
I think all of it has been quite challenging, particularly at first. I think the biggest part for me was, unlike other jobs, like when I was at the BBC, it got busy, but I had specific things to do. So you know, you’d be in a morning meeting, you’d be given your job. And you’d go out on the road, interview people, and you had your challenges within that. But you knew what you were doing and there was a very ordered way of doing things you had to be back at the studios to edit no later than like five o’clock, give yourself an hour and a half. And then that would repeat itself. BBFC, sat there doing the stuff, writing reports on the films. When I got into this industry, I would go to bed at night with 15 different things, very, very different. Conversations I had to have with people, how to set up a webinar, how to do the automated stuff, how to get the mailing list, what is a mailing list? How does that work? How to set up an online course? You know, what is a pixel, I had a gazillion things I didn’t know really what the answer was to them. And I found it quite stressful. I think those first couple of years, I was quite stressed during this job. And it’s taken me, with six and a half or seven odd years into this now. It’s taken me that period of time be on a day where there’s still lots of things going on, but feeling relaxed enough about it that I know what’s going on, there’s not a whole set of unknowns anymore. And if something new comes along like TikTok, I actually quite enjoy the diversion of learning that as well. I think I still want to learn more and reinvent myself a bit, but that’s just my character.
Kevin Tumlinson 36:14
What do you think of TikTok? I’m still on the fence about TikTok. I know people are crushing it. But I don’t know.
James Blatch 36:23
Well, I think that’s the key thing. Some people are crushing it and they swear by it. And it sells books. And I’ve seen it demonstrated enough, not just on the big Colleen Hoovers and Lucy Scores. But people at a much smaller level, with hundreds and more small thousands of views, selling hundreds, tens and hundreds of books a week, a month. It’s working for them and generating enough for them to live off their writing. And so that makes it a powerful platform that just by itself, you shouldn’t need any more persuading than that. And that doesn’t necessarily mean, a bit like Facebook ads and Amazon ads, it’s absolutely going to be the fit for you. And there are other factors in TikTok in terms of being comfortable with the platform and all the rest of it that come into play that perhaps don’t come into play with those other areas. But I like it. I like its creativity. I like using it. When I focus myself and do it properly, it sells my books. I don’t do enough of that. It is kind of pretty low down on my priorities, unfortunately, on my to-do lists every day. But I have planned a few things. But yeah, I kind of like the platform actually.
Kevin Tumlinson 37:31
Do you see it having longevity? Do you think it’s gonna hold up?
James Blatch 37:35
That I don’t know. I think it will develop, and I think it is already starting to move towards a pay to play platform. So until recently, you could very easily, not very easily actually, but you could get hundreds of thousands, maybe a million views on your posts, and I’ve done that with my posts. And that’s unlike Instagram or Twitter, you get a thousand retweets on Twitter, you’ve won the lottery, right? And that’s a big, big variety, variety on Twitter. On TikTok a million is there. And that’s why people are selling books because the numbers are huge. And within that percentage is going to be people buying the books, right? But recently in the last week or 10 days, something like that, the numbers have really dropped off on people’s posts, there’s been a change the algorithm. We’re not sure whether it’s a mistake, and it’s going to be corrected, or whether this is a move towards, as Facebook did in the early days where you could get huge views on your posts and then suddenly, it became not even just your friends but an inner group of friends. And you had to pay Facebook, if you wanted to boost the post to get further. I suspect they are moving towards that. But that’s okay. Because they will come up with a platform that needs mastering. And those people who put the effort in and learn it and work out how it’s going to work will be the ones making money from it. And that’s where we want to position ourselves of course at SPF in our courses.
Kevin Tumlinson 39:00
James Blatch 39:02
You’re on TikTok, right?
Kevin Tumlinson 39:04
I am not. Draft2Digital, yes. Kevin Tumlinson, no. I haven’t made that leap yet. And maybe it’s too late. Maybe I’ve missed the boat. I feel like every time it comes up, I feel like I’m that old guy sitting on his front porch telling kids to get off his lawn. I don’t know what it is about that particular platform. Usually I’m all about, you know, I’ll embrace it if it’s working, I’ll jump into it. There’s something about TikTok that rubs me the wrong way though. And that’s a personal thing.
James Blatch 39:37
No, I understand that. And there are people who feel strongly about it. And you know, the elephant in the room probably is, it’s owned by China, an aggressive nation that has a despicable human rights record. We can be a little bit political here, can’t we? And they spy, and I know they spy, because I used to do video production for Volvo, and we used to physically chase people off the set at motor shows with the prototypes, out taking pictures and with rulers measuring. So China is, you know, it’s an extraordinary country, it could be the most amazing country on Earth, but it’s still got a foothold in this dictatorial military detention. That makes it a difficult pill for people to swallow. I understand that. I think there’s different ways of looking at it. And I look at it like, my iPhone is made in China, my Volvo, what I just said, is owned by China.
Kevin Tumlinson 40:34
The observation I made on Twitter the other day was that it’s like sugar, you know. You can say, I’m swearing it off, I’m not going to have anything to do with it. And it’s in everything.
James Blatch 40:46
Even if you think you’re buying an all American car, I guarantee there’s bits of it have been made in China.
Kevin Tumlinson 40:50
I ordered some shirts on Amazon that literally say made in the USA. And when they got here, they had labels that said made in China sewed underneath it. So.
James Blatch 41:03
There is that as well. And I also think that the more commercially successful things have been in China, the better it’s been for the country. So had they not had that big capitalist resurgence … It’s a bit of an odd mixture, isn’t it in China, of capitalism and communism? But had they not had the capitalist side of things from the 70s and 80s onwards, it would be in a much worse place. But there were certain freedoms come with the fact that government needs that revenue. And I think the bigger things are successfully in the wider world, the more awareness there’ll be from ordinary citizens, what’s happening in the rest of the world, and the better will be for them. That’s one way of looking at it. I understand there’ll be people screaming at this now saying, I don’t agree with that. And I respect that.
Kevin Tumlinson 41:48
I’m silently screaming. Yeah, no, I’m just kidding. We have a question here from Peter who asked, “What would you say is the toughest genre to break into?”
James Blatch 42:02
I mean, every now and again, we get an email from someone who says, I write poetry in the style of 19th century French philosophers. Can you help me sell my books? We usually write politely back saying, have you heard about the romance of the starving artist? You’re going to be that starving artist. I mean, I don’t think there’s a genre that won’t sell. But I think there are genres that will be very difficult unless you have very large quantities and extraordinarily good marketing.
Kevin Tumlinson 42:31
I think you’re on the right track. My feeling is this that every genre, every style of storytelling has its market, but that it’s the challenge of finding that market is what’s going to come down to. So you can sell that poetry book, you know, you can find people, enough people even to support you financially, but finding those people, it’s the balance of how much is it going to cost you in terms of time and money? You know, but that’s where you guys come in, because you’re teaching everybody how to do targeted advertising on platforms like Facebook and Amazon.
James Blatch 43:11
That’s what social media advertising has given us, that ability to find people that you simply couldn’t find before. You could stick up a billboard in the tube station in London, and 99% of people walk past it, they’re the wrong target audience for you. Well, social media has allowed us to narrow that down. So first of all, get rid of all the men from your targeting, if you’re targeting books predominantly read by women, and then the age groups, and so on, and so on. So you’re right, that possibility, I think, for all genres. One thing I think I would add to that, though, is what genre are you writing in? And that’s an important question, because again, I’ve talked to people who want to do memoir, because they’ve been through a life situation, or they have a relative or something like that. They want to tell their story. And they’re absorbed with that aspect of it. What they haven’t done is, they haven’t looked online to see what memoirs are selling well in that area and read them to understand how to write that story. You can’t simply, because you’re very passionate about a particular subject, and say, well, there’s a very niche genre. Well actually, it might not even be a genre, the way you’re writing it. You might not be fitting the tropes of that genre. And you might right understand that. So make sure it is actually a genre first of all, and you are fitting the tropes of the expectation of the reader who reads that, that’s your first step.
Kevin Tumlinson 44:34
Sounds like that controversial write to market. We don’t have time to open that particular can of worms.
James Blatch 44:44
Well that’s the decision I’ve made. You know, I’ve indulged myself really with three books, and people who like love my books, love my books, and they write me very heartfelt emails about it, which means a lot to me, particularly people who served in the military in the 60s and 70s. But the big audience out there is not that. It’s a slightly different book.
Kevin Tumlinson 45:03
Right. Now, honestly, you and I have talked about this when I’ve been on your show is, you know, I started my life as a sci fi writer. That was essentially my experience, people liked the books I was writing, but they weren’t attracting a big audience. And it’s because what I was writing really was thriller novels, set on spaceships or other planets. And so when I switched genres, I was actually clicking, even though writing thriller novels was not really what I was after, it wasn’t really what I dreamt of. It suddenly became the right fit for me and my audience. So yeah, all right. Well, we are at time. I want to remind everyone one more time. Actually, I don’t think we’ve put this up on screen yet. But you should definitely go visit selfpublishingformula.com, where you can find links to these courses. And there’s going to be a little countdown timer, right? Because it says it’s going live first quarter of 2023?
James Blatch 46:05
Yeah, so it’s January the 18th, the course will go live. But on the front page there, if you’re not on our mailing list already, just get on our mailing list, because that’s where you’re going to be first to know and you’ll get the link to join us for that. And also, I will give another link, which I didn’t tell you about in advance, so you won’t have it there. But this Facebook ads challenge we’re going to do. There’s a Facebook group set up for that. So if you can remember this, it’s selfpublishingformula.com/Facebookchallenge, forward slash Facebook challenge, so nice and easy. But if you put slash Facebook challenge after that link, that will take you to that Facebook group, join that group, and then you can be in that challenge, that expedition we’re going to do together to try and get as many people as possible properly trained up on Facebook ads. There you go. You’re so quick.
Kevin Tumlinson 46:51
I’m the world’s fastest typist, there may be multiple typos in that. Selfpublishingformula.com/facebookchallenge. For all of you in the comments, you might want to just jot that down. If any of my team is still in the comments, share that link. And beyond that, if you’re listening to the podcast later, it’s probably over by now. When’s the whole thing wrap up? When does the challenge wrap up?
James Blatch 47:18
Well, we’re gonna start it, I think something like the seventh or eighth of January and it will run for seven days. So it’s best to do it along with this then. But yeah, we will give out that link in the podcast. We have recorded the podcast up until January now, it’s all in the bank so we have some time off.
Kevin Tumlinson 47:35
Okay, very good. Well, if you’re listening in the future, sorry if you missed it, but if you’re listening right now, or you’re watching this on YouTube right now, make sure you hop on over to selfpublishingformula.com/facebookchallenge. James is, excuse me, I got a little choked up there James, just mentioning your name. It is always a pleasure to talk to you, sir. I’m always thrilled to see you guys at the conferences and everywhere else we bump into each other. So thank you for being a part of the show.
James Blatch 48:07
I loved it, Kevin, I always love chatting to you. And I’m looking forward to a museum visit which I’m gonna make sure happens.
Kevin Tumlinson 48:12
Oh, yeah, we’re gonna do that. That’s going to be a big thing. I can’t wait. All right. All right. That’s gonna be fun. Okay, everybody, thank you for tuning in to Self-Publishing Insiders with Draft2Digital, we appreciate you being here. Make sure that you do all the things that you’re required to do by international internet law, like click on like and subscribe and make sure that you go to D2Dlive.com. I’m trying to pull it up, but for some reason, it won’t come up. There it goes. Go and bookmark D2Dlive.com, where you’ll see countdowns to live streams like this one every single week, and we are looking forward to 2023. This is not our last broadcast or live stream of 2023. We’re gonna have one more next week. Make sure you tune into that because we’re going to be looking back at the year and all the things that we accomplished and maybe even some industry insights. So make sure you go to D2Dlive.com. James once more, thank you, sir, for being part of the show. And everyone else, we’ll chat with you all next time.