Ricardo Fayet, Co-Founder of Reedsy, recently interviewed me for a write-up he was doing on whether or not it is worth authors partnering with marketers. You can take a look at the article over on the Reedsy blog, but I wanted to share the full set of questions and answers here.
A Marketer Can Help Authors Find Their Audience
Q: What have you done to help Jonathan sell his books?
I’ve been working with Australian-based author, Jonathan Gould, for a few months now. He has self-published 6 books with a seventh (entitled A Worst Fate Than Death) planned for release this summer. We’ve been working hard on creating a strategy around his unique writing style and personality.
Yes, I’m Jonathan’s marketer. But you know what, I hate to be called one. Only a small portion of what I do can be considered marketing. Really I’m an idea guy, a strategist, who not only sees the path forward, but also goes along for the ride. In this sense I’m also a writer and a publicist and a bit of a mentor, friend, and colleague bundled up into one.
I just started working with Jonathan mid-January. At first we took it slow. He interviewed me, I interviewed him. We realized we liked each other so we decided to form a partnership.
I watched from the sidelines for a bit, saw what he was already doing, and did my best to keep him focused and on track with what he already knew. These are things that Jonathan has told me he felt were rehashed over and over again on self-publishing blogs and writers’ advice columns. Blog, post to Twitter, post to Facebook, promote the book you’re trying to sell as much as possible.
These, of course, are crucial but also superficial.
Since January, Jonathan and I have exchanged many lengthy emails. We’ve been developing a plan. This is the first step in any form of good marketing. You’ve got to have a strategy.
Without a road map, you’ll never know how to get where you’re going.
I think a lot of authors struggle with this. They do those things they’re supposed to do without knowing the reasons why. ‘I blog once a week’ is not a strategy, it’s a tactic (remember the Sun Tzu quote about strategies and tactics?). What’s even worse is not being able to measure the outcomes let alone produce outcomes to measure. This is why so many self-published authors these days are frustrated. They’ve got no plan so they see no results.
This is my job. I’m supposed to help Jonathan understand why he’s using the tactics he’s using plus find new tactics and help him test them.
This is what I mean when I say I don’t like being called a marketer. I’m not creating markets for Jonathan or his products. Those already exist. What I’m doing is helping him find his audience and speak to them in a way they understand. I’m trying to help him form a community around his work that will sell his books but also give him and his audience a sense of purpose and togetherness through each other.
A Marketer Can Help Authors Define Their Strategies
Q: Did you devise a ‘marketing plan’ or strategy together through brainstorming sessions?
I’ve talked to this a bit already. Really we throw ideas back and forth through email a lot. Jonathan’s really good at talking with other self-published authors (like Mike Munz) about trading guest blogging opportunities. He’s also great at finding cool websites like Book Daily, Story Teller Alley, and Awesome Indies Books.
These are things I just don’t have the bandwidth for, but he does a fantastic job with. He’s also really good at talking with the community he has on Facebook and Twitter. It’s so important to the both of us that his fans aren’t interacting with a marketer or a robot. It’s an author’s job to speak to his fans because they are the lifeblood of his success.
On the other hand I have a lot of experience crafting digital strategies for various industries (SaaS products, membership platforms, B2B services, etc.). So I work with Jonathan on how he can improve his, plus I reach out to influencers (like you) that may be willing to help indie authors’ out.
The biggest flaw I saw in Jonathan’s digital presence immediately was his blog. He blogs regularly but he’s using a default Blogger template that doesn’t show off his vibrant personality. On top of that he’s not inviting readers to join his VIP club if you will. He’s got no way to collect email subscriptions. So that’s what our main focus is now. Building a community for his social following and his fans that he can speak to directly through email.
Jonathan writes in a very unique genre. It’s called dag-lit. It’s a bit like sci-fi, a bit like fantasy, a bit like YA (but also for adults). You really can’t pin it down. Really, it’s literature for all those who lie at the edges of societal norms and can see the magic in the mundane. You can learn more about dag-lit on Jonathan’s blog.
Jonathan always talks about how frustrated he is with the industry putting labels on genres and packaging them like grocery-store products. I agree with him. So what we’re working on is creating a movement around dag-lit with Jonathan as the King of Dag.
Working With Marketers vs. Big Publishing Houses Allows Authors to Be In Control
Q: Do you usually work with authors on a royalty-share basis or a standard fee?
My only experience working with authors is through Booktrope. Booktrope ONLY allows marketers to work with their authors through a royalty-share model.
This has it’s ups and downs. On one hand if Jonathan’s books go viral or get big or are raking in regular sales, I reap the benefits continously. On the other hand a lot of what I’m doing is pro-bono. If a book doesn’t sell well one month, I make nothing. If an author I’m working with isn’t pulling their weight I have to cut my loses and walk away with nothing gained except the experience.
The biggest benefit here is that everyone involved has a direct stake in the product. That means we’ll be working our hardest to make the best thing possible for the end-user (i.e. the readers).
Until a book starts generating more sales, the author reaps the largest benefits here. He gets a free publicist to find opportunities and motivate him to constantly innovate and stay on task. Most authors also don’t have a whole lot of money to spend when they’re first starting out so this is really great.
However, there are huge benefits for authors paying marketers standard fees too. Like any product, a book requires investment.
Authors are already well-aware of the time investment it takes to write a book and stay active on social. What I think many authors haven’t realized is that a little monetary investment up front reaps larger rewards in the long run.
Say Jonathan sells 3,000 copies of a book at $3.99. Right now I take 24% of that, Jonathan takes %30 of it, and the rest is divided between Booktrope (who essentially is a publisher here and retains the rights to an authors’ book for 5 years), editors, and cover designers. That means he only sees $3,591 of the $11,970 the book’s earned.
If Jonathan had paid for my services, a book cover, and professional editing, plus retained the rights to his book fully, he would receive every dime of that $11,970 plus whatever was made after those 3,000 sales.
What would be really great is if there were a service out there that allowed authors to pick and choose which services they paid out-right for and which were worth partnering for without giving up the rights to his book. I have a hunching suspicion that Reedsy might be going in this direction… and if not I really hope you guys start to throw that idea around.
Authors Can Choose How They Work With Their Marketer
Q: Most freelance publicists work on a standard fee basis, and offer no assurance in the contract that they’ll be able to get reviews or publications for the author. Though this is understandable from their side, do you think that’s a viable model for author-publicist collaboration in the future?
The short-answer: yes.
Any author-publicist contract that’s based around sales is foolish. It’s like those SEO companies that promise a #1 position on Google for a given keyword. That’s extremely hard to deliver especially on a budget.
What contracts should be based around is actionables and deliverables. Something like this:
For this price($)/profit-share(%) the publicist will…
…create a strategy for the author and do x, y, and z to help the author measure the results.
…reach out to x amount of bloggers and influencers each week.
Publicists can’t promise things like reviews or sales. There are just too many factors involved. My advice is that authors should RUN as fast as they can from publicists who promise these things and focus on working with those who will genuinely try through measured trial-and-error to get reviews and sales.
Look at it this way. Every author is a CEO, their author-brand is their company, and every book they write is their product. Any product comes with risk and authors must be willing to take those risks if they want to gain traction.
A publicist who proves they’re doing what you’ve hired them to do yet yields no results is not at fault. When this happens the author must either fire the publicist or evaluate their own work and figure out what the problem is. As with any business, it’s constant iteration and persistence that will ultimately yield success. Publicists are simply there to provide an extra brain and an extra set of hands.
Working With a Marketer Gives Authors An Added Layer of Support
Q: What is your biggest value add, compared to, say, an extensive webinar on author marketing like Nick Stephenson’s?
Conversation. Thought. Motivation.
An extensive webinar gives you those tactics I was talking about. It provides suggestions based on what’s worked for others or what might work for you. It doesn’t help you test and iterate on strategies that are built for you.
There’s a constant back and forth between Jonathan and I. I am not some guru giving generalized advice. I am a friend and business partner who can respond to Jonathan’s actual problems. Together we keep each other focused and excited.
Working With a Marketer Gives Authors CEO Status Over Their Books
Q: When looking for marketing help, how can an author be sure they’re going to hire someone who’s genuinely going to help them sell books?
The way I see ANY product no matter who’s producing that product (a large corporation, a cool new company with three employees, or an author) is that EVERY product is a startup in itself. So Jonathan and I discuss how we’ll use growth tactics to gain traction, we’ll bootstrap solutions that are both cost-effective and time-effective, and we’ll find the correct audience within the overall Dag Community that’s right for each book Jonathan writes.
As I said, a relationship based on selling books is doomed to fail from the start.
Instead authors should focus on finding someone who believes in them and is passionate about their community, their products, and their brand, who communicates plans of actions, and who follows through with their promises. There is never a guarantee in marketing. What works for one person may not work at all for others. Authors should find someone who sets realistic expectations yet does everything in their power to help them succeed and stay motivated.