David Gaughran https://davidgaughran.com Marketing With A Story Tue, 21 Jul 2020 12:46:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://davidgaughran.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/David-Gaughran-Logo-2-150x150.png David Gaughran https://davidgaughran.com 32 32 Amazon and the Myth of the A9 Algorithm https://davidgaughran.com/2020/07/21/amazon-and-the-myth-of-the-a9-algorithm/ https://davidgaughran.com/2020/07/21/amazon-and-the-myth-of-the-a9-algorithm/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2020 12:20:31 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=9499 There is more nonsense written about Amazon than almost any other topic because mere mention of Amazon will get you more clicks than anything else — although the “A9 Algorithm” might be the most ridiculous topic of all.

Amazon also happens to be an incredibly divisive subject generally, one of those where little nuance seems to be permitted — and someone writing articles about Amazon tends to regularly get labeled a “shill” or a “hater,” depending, sometimes off the back of the same piece!

Talk of Amazon can also be quite lucrative. The currency of the internet is attention — as I think was once said by Jeff Bezos, although I’m scared to Google it in case I start getting hunted down on every corner of the internet with hyper-personalized ads offering to make me a Kindle Publishing Millionaire or help me build a Drop Shipping EMPIRE.

Internet marketers are not known for their rigorous application of the scientific method. One intrepid black-hatted pioneer will discover a tasty data-morsel, dress it up in distracting finery, and then parade it about as part of a $2000 course. And then a dozen more will riff off that for their own courses and Patreons and books and masterminds and exclusive online workshops and virtual conferences; it’s like the most expensive game of telephone ever.

Sadly, it’s also quite value-free if you like hard facts.

This kind of environment shows some of the drawbacks of the brave new world ushered in by the internet and Google. If search for the phrase “amazon algorithm,” for example, the very first result is an article titled “Everything You Need To Know About Amazon’s A9 Algorithm,” and my BS alarm immediately goes off — use of the singular “algorithm” is a dead giveaway that the person doesn’t have a clue what they are talking about. Use of “A9” in this manner is another. Read More...

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There is more nonsense written about Amazon than almost any other topic because mere mention of Amazon will get you more clicks than anything else, and the “A9 Algorithm” might be the most curious example of all.

Amazon also happens to be an incredibly divisive subject generally, one of those where little nuance seems to be permitted — and someone writing articles about Amazon tends to regularly get labeled a “shill” or a “hater,” depending, sometimes off the back of the same piece!

But that doesn’t dissuade anyone, really, because talking about Amazon can also be quite lucrative. The currency of the internet is attention — as I think was once said by Jeff Bezos, although I’m scared to Google it in case I start getting hunted down on every corner of the internet with hyper-personalized ads offering to make me a Kindle Publishing Millionaire or help me build a Drop Shipping EMPIRE.

The A9 Algorithm

Internet marketers are not known for their rigorous application of the scientific method. One intrepid black-hatted pioneer will discover a tasty data-morsel, dress it up in distracting finery, and then parade it about as part of a $2000 course. And then a dozen more will riff off that for their own courses and Patreons and books and masterminds and exclusive online workshops and virtual conferences; it’s like the most expensive game of telephone ever.

Sadly, it’s also quite value-free if you like hard facts.

This kind of environment shows some of the drawbacks of the brave new world ushered in by the internet and Google. If search for the phrase “amazon algorithm,” for example, the very first result is an article titled “Everything You Need To Know About Amazon’s A9 Algorithm,” and my BS alarm immediately goes off — use of the singular “algorithm” is a dead giveaway that the person doesn’t have a clue what they are talking about. Use of “A9” in this manner is another.

Indeed, the author of that article is a content marketer, presumably ranked first because the site he is writing for has solid SEO. Of course, it doesn’t reference a single bit of research to back up its claims.

Algorithms aren’t infallible, people.

Google “A9 algorithm” specifically, and you will fall even further down the rabbit hole — a giant, seething mess of articles dissecting this “A9 Algorithm” and speculating about how to apply it so you can increase sales of your drop shipping empire (or Kindle Publishing business — note these guys never talk about writing books, just publishing them, but I digress).

Authors and the A9 Algorithm

This talk of “the Amazon algorithm” and the “A9 algorithm” sometimes seeps over into our quaint world of publishing books we have actually written. Usually via a few disreputable course sellers in our space, who probably learned the lingo in a previous mastermind they attended and spotted an opportunity to sell this brand of snake oil to authors.

Which is why you get people claiming now, with a straight face, that there is one “Amazon algorithm” or that the “A9 algorithm” is what you need to wrap your head around to have success in the Kindle Store.

This self-referential nonsense reached its apogee when someone heard I was writing the second edition of Amazon Decoded. One of my mailing list subscribers emailed me asking about the “A10 algorithm” and what it meant for authors.

Because I have worked in this sector since the early 2000s, and because I’ve known what A9 actually is since it was first rolled out to the public in 2004 (I’ll return to that) — I immediately smelled a rat.

Nevertheless, I headed over to my trusty search engine again to see if I could garner any information about this mysterious “A10 algorithm” which I somehow missed in all my years studying and researching and writing about this topic.

Not only did I discover a whole group of people pontificating  on the “A9 algorithm” and the “A10 algorithm,” one enterprising soul was even selling the secrets of the “A11 algorithm” — no doubt after reinvesting the profits from his 6-Minute Abs video.

There was no mention of an “A8 algorithm” at all. Which is a pretty giant clue that the Drop Shipping Emperor is wearing no clothes.

I could describe this all as one big misunderstanding, except being utterly wrong about Amazon is as lucrative as it is damaging. The people who are spreading this BS are lining their pockets — often taking the money from hard-up authors who don’t have much to spare, then sending them off in the wrong direction. Authors who will then switch focus and change strategies based on something which is wholly illusory.

Here’s the truth.

The True History of A9.com

I was working at Google in 2004 when it was in the process of overtaking Yahoo as the #1 search engine on the planet — which was kind of important as ads beside search results were becoming the biggest money printing machine in history.

Search was the hottest commodity in tech, as a result, and everyone wanted a piece of the action — including Jeff Bezos, who was one of the earliest investors in Google, everyone seems to forget.

Those of us working at Google at the time were closely watching any potential competitors, and even though Amazon wasn’t the most obvious candidate for that title, it had been making acquisitions which pointed towards the possibility that it was moving into Google’s territory: BookPages, Telebook, IMDb.com, Alexa (back when that referred to an internet traffic statistics company), LiveBid.com, Accept.com, Leep Technology Inc., Egghead Software — Amazon even dropped a cool $250m, back when that was more than chump change to Jeff Bezos, on a company called Junglee which it didn’t even launch on the market for another 14 years.

Talk about taking the long-term view!

More seriously, what’s clear now is that Amazon was after something else when buying all these companies, and you can see — with the clarity of hindsight — how many of these acquisitions were stripped down and incorporated into Amazon’s giant AI-powered recommendation engine, that massive system driven by all sorts of algorithms, gobbling down huge amounts of data 24/7, and applying machine learning constantly to successfully pair customers with products.

A9 seemed different though, and definitely got Google’s attention.

Amazon’s new subsidiary seemed properly independent. It was launched publicly in September 2004, after several months in beta and quietly powering Amazon’s search facility, as well as working away on other things, like ads.

A9 was a proper, customer-facing search engine — which people also seem to forget — one aiming to be the next Google, rather than destined to work in the background running Amazon’s search box. And it really did seem like an genuine play for of the overall search business, rather than a data-harvesting effort.

Google was watching it keenly — it had far more respect for Amazon’s leadership team than those running its supposed nemesis at Yahoo. I remember the feeling internally that Yahoo was toast and it was just a matter of time before reality caught up with the inevitable, even if it seemed neck-and-neck to outsiders at the time. And A9 was genuinely innovative in the search space, unlike Yahoo.

A9 was doing StreetView before Google, for example, although A9 called it BlockView. It also had very sophisticated algorithms which remembered your search history and used that to personalize results along with things like your bookmarks and calendar — the first search engine to really do this. And the way A9 was set-up, it was designed to work best if you had its useful toolbar installed. Which basically meant it was tracking all your browsing history, of course.

Hey, maybe it was a data-harvesting operation after all!

Or maybe it was simply that Amazon — like any good engineer — never throws anything out without stripping it for parts first. And Amazon really did seem to try and make A9 work as a public-facing search engine, even launching its own version of Google AdWords, and using that system to deliver ads on Amazon.com also. All of which would be a precursor to Amazon Ads.

A9 Goes Dark

By 2008, Amazon conceded that Google’s trajectory was unassailable and folded up A9 — at least as a public-facing search engine, using it instead to power Amazon’s search, while also diverting some of those A9 resources to help with algorithms generally, parts of its recommendation engine, as well as things like ads (for example, A9 came up with Kindle with Special Offers, which would eventually turn into AMS lockscreen ads and AMG).

A key point: the recommendation engine was already in full swing before A9 was even conceived — something else that is missed by all these hucksters. Amazon had already made its great leap forward in terms of recommender systems, long before A9 came into being.

If these internet marketers spent any time looking beyond their circle-jerk of masterminds, which I believe is the appropriate collective noun, they might have noticed that the engineers and data scientists which built Amazon’s recommendation engine have written multiple papers on how it all works, making a surprising amount of detail public, including aspects of the various algorithms — note the plural — which feed into different parts of it, and explaining how, where, and when exactly Amazon built different aspects, and the specific ways it was innovative, and how it moved recommender systems forward (to the extent that Amazon’s approach is still broadly used by people like Netflix and YouTube today).

And if they looked a little harder, they might also have found various presentations that Amazon routinely makes — even today — at conferences to developers which explain all this stuff quite clearly, if you can wade through pages of engineer-speak, which is not for the faint-hearted, let me tell you.

Here’s the thing. You won’t find a mention of the “A9 Algorithm” anywhere in these papers or talks.

The A9 Algorithm Doesn’t Exist

Which is weird, right? Unless you posit this: there is no such thing as the “A9 Algorithm.” My madcap theory also neatly explains why there has been no “A10 Algorithm” replacing it too, you will note.

Think that’s a crazy idea? Here is an Amazon engineer being pretty explicit:

There is no single A9 algorithm.

Amazon engineer

Not convinced by one source? That’s cool. Here is A9 themselves in a quote from their archived website:

Our ranking algorithms automatically learn to combine multiple relevance features.

From A9.com

Note the plural!

And here’s the most hilarious part, the name A9 literally means algorithms. It’s a geeky in-joke, a numeronym: A + 9 more letters. Algorithms. Plural.

I sometimes wonder what Amazon thinks when looking at this firehose of BS. People spending thousands of dollars on courses teaching them about algorithmic unicorns. The sad thing is, the misunderstandings don’t start or end with thinking that the entirety of Amazon is powered by one single superpowered “A9 Algorithm.”

There is another problem with listening to this crowd of blustering black-hatters, these drop shipping dingbats: they have built misunderstanding on misunderstanding. They think search is exclusively powered by this all-conquering “A9 Algorithm” and think the only thing that matters on Amazon is supposedly tweaking your products and metadata and marketing to gain the favor of our A9 Overlord.

How Amazon Really Works

In reality, appearance in search is determined by a number of algorithms, and a number of different factors, including metadata and Popularity and relevance.

And search is only one tiny component of the overall recommendation engine, all of which is powered by many more different algorithms. And huge chunks of this recommendation engine are much more important to authors than search — for example Sales Rank. Which also has nothing to do with search and predates A9 by years anyway.

Also Boughts are another. Although as I explained last week, it’s not Also Boughts which are important, as much as the connections between products which they represent. Either way, that system of mapping connections between products has been informing recommendations to Amazon customers since before A9 ever existed.

And it uses an algorithm or two, as you might imagine.

So be very careful when you hear anyone talk about the “A9 Algorithm” or when anyone uses the word “algorithm” as a singular. Be skeptical if anyone starts talking about “ranking in search” as being critical to an author’s success — particularly an author of fiction — and it’s absolutely crucial not to confuse ranking in search with Sales Rank, which is a very different thing.

There are far more important aspects of the Kindle Store which authors should focus on, things that really do determine whether your book gets recommended to readers.

This “A9 Algorithm” BS is usually a sign that someone doesn’t have a clue about how Amazon works, or what authors need to focus on, for that matter, or what they can safely ignore, and how they can use all this information to sell more books.

Further Reading

This post last week on Also Boughts gives you more background on Amazon’s recommendation engine, and how it was conceived, as well as breaking down how it actually works in practice, and how Also Boughts feed into that — and it’s not what you think! As a bonus: you get to stop stressing about Also Boughts disappearing from your book pages.

FB Also Boughts blog image

And then all of that should whet your appetite for the release of the second edition of Amazon Decoded, which will release soon.

Join over ten thousand authors and sign up to my free marketing newsletter and you’ll not only get an email the moment it is available, but also an exclusive discount when it launches.

And you will also bag a free copy of my new book Following.

Finally, before I go, I recommend that you check out this podcast I did with author and publishing expert (and former literary agent) Nathan Bransford, where we talk about how to find your first readers, how all authors can harness the power of Facebook — even if they don’t want to advertise there — and the importance of building a community of readers.

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Also Boughts and Amazon Recommendations https://davidgaughran.com/2020/07/16/also-boughts-amazon-recommendations-engine-algorithm/ https://davidgaughran.com/2020/07/16/also-boughts-amazon-recommendations-engine-algorithm/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2020 18:12:21 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=9479 Also Boughts play an important role on Amazon, but it is one which is commonly misunderstood, because Also Boughts are much more important for what they represent. Which means you shouldn’t worry so much if they aren’t currently displaying on your book’s page — or even if they go away forever! — because Amazon’s giant recommendation engine will be completely unaffected.

That statement will spark some vehemently disagreement, I’m sure, but give me the opportunity to show you exactly what I mean.

Amazon makes millions of book recommendations to readers every single day — both on-site in various slots around the Kindle Store, and by email as well. These recommendations take many different forms. Some are very top-down, but most are either personalized for each individual reader, or contextual — based on what the reader is viewing at that moment, or the place they are in the Kindle Store, or an action they just performed.

Let me give you an example.

During the research process for the forthcoming second edition of Amazon Decoded, I conducted a number of simple experiments, which were quite revealing.

Have you ever noticed what happens when you buy a book in the Kindle Store? I mean, have you noticed what happens on-screen directly afterwards? Amazon never misses a trick, and as soon as you complete the purchase, a confirmation screen appears, recommending several more books of course.

Amazon is split-testing things all the time, of course, so you may see this play out slightly differently each time you purchase a book, but, commonly, you will see Amazon push the book in the #1 Also Bought slot pretty hard. Read More...

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Also Boughts play an important role in Amazon recommendations — that process of pairing books to readers, like some literary version of Tinder. But the exact role they play is commonly misunderstood, because Also Boughts are much more important for what they represent.

Which means you shouldn’t worry so much if they aren’t currently displaying on your book’s page — or even if they go away forever — because Amazon’s giant recommendation engine will be blissfully unaffected.

That statement may spark some vehement disagreement, so let me show you exactly what I mean.

Important housekeeping note: the blog subscription box has gone away because I’m merging my blog subscription list with my main mailing list. If you are an email subscriber to my blog, you will get a separate message about this over the weekend (and the chance to opt out, of course). If you are a WordPress follower of my blog please resubscribe using the box in my sidebar, or this page here, if you want to keep getting notifications about blog posts. Feel free to ask about this in the comments if you wish. RSS subscription is still available in the sidebar and will be unaffected.

Amazon’s Recommendation Engine

Amazon makes millions of book recommendations to readers every single day — both on-site in various slots around the Kindle Store, and by email as well. These recommendations take many different forms. Some are very top-down, but most are either personalized for each individual reader, or contextual — based on what the reader is viewing at that moment, or the place they are in the Kindle Store, or an action they just performed.

Let me give you an example.

During the research process for the forthcoming second edition of Amazon Decoded, I conducted a number of experiments, which were quite revealing.

Have you ever noticed what happens when you buy a book in the Kindle Store? Specifically, have you noticed what happens on-screen directly afterwards? Amazon never misses a trick, and as soon as you complete the purchase, a confirmation screen appears, recommending several more books of course.

Amazon is split-testing things all the time, of course, so you may see this play out slightly differently each time you purchase a book, but, commonly, you will see Amazon push the book in the #1 Also Bought slot pretty hard.

(Unless there is an audiobook edition which is Whispersynced, then Amazon will often favor that recommendation instead. It can experiment with other approaches, such as a carousel of books, but this will also be heavily influenced by the Also Boughts of what you just purchased.)

If that #1 Also Bought is also the next book in the series, then Amazon will helpfully flag that it is indeed the next in the series – which can really drive that spillover when you are promoting Book 1, especially if you have also discounted Book 2.

(Assuming your Book 2 is that #1 Also Bought, of course, and that your series metadata is in perfect shape.)

This is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen so much on the other retailers, because they simply don’t have recommendation engines quite as sophisticated as the one powering the millions of recommendations Amazon makes every day. They do have rudimentary recommendation engines, but Amazon is quite literally years ahead of the competition, and it doesn’t feel like that gap is closing either.

Product Connections

If you are on my mailing list, you would have seen me dive into the interesting history of this topic last week. That research process for Amazon Decoded 2 unearthed some fascinating information about recommender systems generally and the associated data-crunching and machine learning and AI and algorithms – that big system for pairing readers with books they will love.

I spoke about how Amazon’s recommendation engine was the first to really map out connections between products, rather than people, and how this was a great leap forward in the efficacy of recommender systems generally – to the extent that it is still studied by academics almost twenty years later, as well as companies like Netflix, building their own engines.

Well, it’s interesting to me! But here’s the pertinent bit for you: this process I described above of what I call “checkout recommendations” is completely unaffected by whether Also Boughts are at the top of your book’s product page in prime position, or if they are shunted down to the bottom of the page where most readers won’t see them, or if they are gone temporarily, or even if they are axed permanently.

The status of Also Boughts on your book’s page does not affect the underlying recommendation engine one bit. And this recommendation engine is what drives so many of our sales on Amazon — probably making up most of the sales we aren’t directly responsible for ourselves with our own marketing.

This is why any marketing push seems to go further on Amazon, versus other retailers, and why marketing campaigns tend to have a much longer “halo effect” on Amazon — even accounting for relative size. And this is why it’s often far easier for newer authors to bootstrap their way to success in the Kindle Store than anywhere else.

Also Bought Myths & Benefits

A common misconception is that it is the Also Boughts themselves – the strip of books on your product page – driving those sales and recommendations. However, it’s the underlying system, those connections mapped out between books, which is what triggers Amazon to recommend Debbie Macomber to a reader after she purchases Nora Roberts.

This process doesn’t stop just because Also Boughts go away, the whole recommendation engine making millions of suggestions to readers every single day doesn’t come to a shuddering halt because Amazon wants to tinker with that slot on our pages, so I suggest that authors stop fretting about the status of Also Boughts.

Of course, it would be better if Amazon would stop messing with Also Boughts altogether — I’m certainly not claiming otherwise.

The “experimentation” with this piece of real estate has been relentless, and increasing. I can think of a dozen different things Amazon has tried to shoehorn onto our book’s pages in the place of Also Boughts. Although I should also point out that these experiments have been going on for as long as I can remember – this is not a recent phenomenon, there is just more awareness among writers about Also Boughts these days.

And, yes, I will also grant that there is probably a moderate amount of on-page discovery. I’m sure some readers spot your book in someone else’s Also Boughts and purchase it instead, but also remember that cuts both ways.

Much more importantly, if we look at the typical CTR of an Amazon ad (there’s a wide range here but even a successful ad might be as low as 0.1%), this would seem to strongly indicate that the amount of on-page discovery that happens via Also Boughts has been massively overstated.

Personal vs. Contextual

As I said up top, Amazon recommends books to readers in many different ways. Some of those are very generalized, hand-picked recommendations like the Kindle Daily Deals. Others are larger selections of curated deals, which are then sorted algorithmically (like Kindle Monthly Deals, which tend to be sorted by Popularity).

Further types of recommendations are completely contextual – like those recommendations which pop up on screen after a purchase. More again are 100% personalized – the books you see recommended to you on the homepage of Amazon being an obvious example.

Let’s be clear. This entire system of recommendations is completely unaffected by Also Boughts disappearing.

Amazon makes even more types of recommendations to readers – predominantly in the form of millions of targeted emails. Some of these emails are hyper-personalized in the sense that they are strictly based on your own purchasing habits, or your own browsing habits.

(Indeed, Amazon cycles between the two depending on whether the system thinks your purchase intent is strong, or if you are more at the discovery state of your buyer journey, and it does that by looking at your browsing patterns in quite a sophisticated way.)

Some of those emails will be contextual rather than personalized too – for example Amazon will often recommend you that #1 Also Bought again, around two weeks after your purchase of that original book.

Note that while Amazon does track what you are reading right now on your Kindle, and the pace you are reading it at, it doesn’t yet seem to filter that information into the recommendation engine.

The system isn’t that smart… yet.

Instead, you get a cruder form of recommendation, which seems to be mostly based on the time elapsed since your purchase, and is unaffected by something like whether you have finished the original book or not. It just seems to be time-based, rather than personalized or contextual.

Again, the really important thing I’m going to keep stressing: this part of the recommendation engine is completely unaffected by whether Also Boughts are currently appearing on your book’s page. Indeed, the entire recommendation engine is utterly unaffected by Amazon’s tinkering with these Also Boughts.

The mistake people are making is thinking that the importance lies with the Also Boughts themselves, but these are just a visual representation of the system on your page. They are not the system itself.

Also Boughts are just a symbol, if you like.

Having Also Boughts on your book’s page is nice. They look good – much better than the hodge-podge of Amazon Ads, that’s for sure; they give a nice dollop of social proof too; they also propel a moderate amount of on-page discovery, as we said earlier; and they can help you claw back more of that crucial on-page real estate for you and your books, away from potential distractions like competitors and their Amazon Ads, or anything else that could tempt a reader away from your Buy button.

Also Boughts are desirable in other ways too. For example, glancing at them on your book’s page is a quick-and-dirty diagnostic tool for your marketing. If they are scrambled, this is often a sign that Amazon has a poor sense of who your reader is, usually because your targeting is wonky and you are sending too many of the wrong people to your book’s page. Which is something you want to avoid.

I get all this. I’m not saying that stuff isn’t important. What I am saying that Also Boughts disappearing is not the crisis it is regularly depicted as. The recommendation engine is completely, totally, and utterly unaffected. And that, I respectfully suggest, is the most important thing here. By far.

There’s plenty to worry about in the world right now. I hope this post takes at least one thing off your plate.

Further Reading

If you want to dive into this topic further, check out the notes below for further reading on Also Boughts specifically, as well as my forthcoming book Amazon Decoded which will break down Amazon’s entire recommendation engine in much more detail and show you how to build giant marketing campaigns to take advantage of all that knowledge.

But the message today is simple: you can stop worrying about Also Boughts. It’s fine, promise!

Amazon and the Also Bought apocalypse blog post

I’ve written about Also Boughts several times, although those posts are getting a little old now. This post — Amazon and the Also Bought Apocalypse — is the best entry point as it links to all the others.

I’ve also written about Amazon’s recommendation engine more times than I could possibly remember. Rather than suggest any particular post to you, I recommend that you sign up to my mailing list. Not only will you get a free copy of Following — as well as access to the Email Archive which has lots of posts on this kind of thing, particularly as it directly applies to marketing —you will also get an email the moment Amazon Decoded is published, and the ability to purchase it at an exclusive — and hefty! — discount.

Download Following for Free

Amazon Decoded will break down the secret workings of the Kindle Store in a way that has never been done before, examining each aspect of the recommendation engine, and showing you how to get Amazon to recommend your book more to readers.

Not only that, it will teach you how to construct marketing campaigns which will trigger recommendations to readers, how to make your book stickier in the charts, and how to launch books in a way that convinces Amazon takes over and does the selling for you.

Sign up today to access a growing list of benefits that I regularly dole out to subscribers like some kind of sozzled Santa.

Finally, before I go, this podcast I did recently might be of interest. It’s a great kind of roundtable discussion between myself (a self-publisher), Mindy Mindy McGinnis (a trad author) and Kate Karyus Quinn (a hybrid author). We discuss the writer’s life from different perspectives, how you can take control of your career, the importance of newsletters in both fan engagement but also future-proofing your author business, and how the current crisis will affect publishing… and some parts more than others. It was a great talk, listen to it right here.

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This Brand New Self-Publishing Guide is Free https://davidgaughran.com/2020/06/30/lets-get-digital-how-to-self-publish-guide-free/ https://davidgaughran.com/2020/06/30/lets-get-digital-how-to-self-publish-guide-free/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2020 11:54:50 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=9113 This fourth edition of Digital has been completely revamped to reflect the needs of self-publishers in 2020. The structure has been completely streamlined to reflect the ten steps involved in publishing your work like a pro.

Reflecting the specific challenges that writers face today, the advice on each step goes much deeper than before. Instead of just showing you how and where to find a cover designer, for example, Let’s Get Digital will show you how to brief your designer effectively, and learn what effective commercial packaging is for your niche, so that you end up with a cover which isn’t just pretty, but also very effective at appealing to your specific target audience.

And the same goes for writing, editing, formatting, pricing, metadata — all the areas where an author must make crucial decisions which affect the viability of their book.

Of course, the largest section of the book, by far, covers the entire topic of marketing from the ground up, showing authors not just how to find their first readers in the most cost effective way possible, but also how to construct a real author platform, one that will capture interest from readers and use those seeds to grow a community of fans around your work, who will send each new release higher in the charts. Read More...

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The new edition of Let’s Get Digital is here and it costs nothing – anyone can download this free self-publishing guide from the retailer of their choice, whether they purchased previous editions or not; it’s freely available to everyone.

Amazon | Apple | B&N | Kobo | Google | Other Retailers

Huzzah!

This fourth edition of Digital has been completely revamped to reflect the needs of self-publishers in 2020. The structure has been completely streamlined to reflect the ten steps involved in publishing your work like a pro.

Reflecting the specific challenges that writers face today, the advice on each step goes much deeper than before. Instead of just showing you how and where to find a cover designer, for example, Let’s Get Digital will show you how to brief your designer effectively, and learn what effective commercial packaging is for your niche, so that you end up with a cover which isn’t just pretty, but also very effective at appealing to your specific target audience.

And the same goes for writing, editing, formatting, pricing, metadata — all the areas where an author must make crucial decisions which affect the viability of their book.

Of course, the largest section of the book, by far, covers the entire topic of marketing from the ground up, showing authors not just how to find their first readers in the most cost effective way possible, but also how to construct a real author platform, one that will capture interest from readers and use those seeds to grow a community of fans around your work, who will send each new release higher in the charts.

And that’s not all!

Let’s Get Digital comes packaged with a remarkable collection of bonus resources, even if I do say so myself, which are housed on a private part of this here website (accessible via the book). That collection of resources is truly comprehensive, containing:

  • a vetted list of editors, proofers, designers, and formatters
  • my favorite books on the craft of writing, self-editing, and plotting
  • a step-by-step guide for those who wish to format their own ebooks
  • curated book promo site recommendations for discounts, freebies, and listbuilders
  • practical, hands-on advice for building a professional website, email list, and Facebook page
  • How Tos like a guide to adding up to 10 categories to your books
  • practical advice on reviews, paperbacks, ISBNs, and copyright
  • a place to get your questions answered on self-publishing
  • something pretty special to help you with marketing

This resource page is a massive value-add, and it’s all free, along with the book itself. And as the last point there hints, there’s also a pretty huge surprise inside the book—something to help authors get established with marketing in a very hands-on way—and I can’t wait to see the reaction.

But you’ll only find out what it is when you download the latest edition of Let’s Get Digital.

Amazon | Apple | B&N | Kobo | Google | Other Retailers

Let's Get Digital Fourth Edition Free

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Three New Books For Authors https://davidgaughran.com/2020/06/16/new-books-for-authors-marketing-self-publishing-amazon/ https://davidgaughran.com/2020/06/16/new-books-for-authors-marketing-self-publishing-amazon/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2020 17:22:29 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=9061 This blog has been a little quiet in 2020, but I’ve been beavering away at a veritable smorgasbord of stuff for authors which I can finally start talking about.

The headline news: three new books for authors, a huge surprise which isn’t book-shaped, and then lots more cool resources coming to this here website; let’s expose each of these projects to the merciless glare of publicity.

First out of the traps is Following: A Marketing Guide To Author Platform and it is FREE – exclusively available as a bonus when signing up to my mailing list – which you can do right here. (If you are an existing subscriber, check your inbox – you don’t miss out!) Read More...

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This blog has been a little quiet in 2020, but I’ve been beavering away at a veritable smorgasbord of stuff for authors which I can finally start talking about.

The headline news: three new books for authors, a huge surprise which isn’t book-shaped, and then lots more cool resources coming to this here website; let’s expose each of these projects to the merciless glare of publicity.

New Guide to Platform Building

First out of the traps is Following: A Marketing Guide To Author Platform and it is FREE – exclusively available as a bonus when signing up to my mailing list – which you can do right here.

(If you are an existing subscriber, check your inbox – you don’t miss out!)

Download Following for Free

Here is the blurb:

From the author of Let’s Get Digital comes a fresh, new approach to platform-building.

This free guide breaks down what an author platform is, exactly, and what it should contain—and what you can safely skip, so you can focus on writing more books. Authors are told to “build a platform,” or “get their name out there”—advice that’s as vague as it is useless.

Following will show you precisely how to build your author platform, walking you through every step involved so that you can build a real platform, a proper readership, and a sustainable career as a writer.

This guide will be of most use to newer authors, but I think there will be bits in there for experienced authors too – especially around using content marketing techniques to grow your mailing list and your Facebook Page. And it should be relatively well structured in terms of just diving in and reading the bits most relevant to your needs.

But there’s another reason everyone should grab it. The very cool thing about Following – aside from being free – is that it comes bundled with a load of cool extras: step-by-step guides, How Tos, recommend resources and service providers, and video guides which will walk you through every single step of actual constructing your own reader-capture platform, right down to the best WordPress themes, mailing list providers, hosting companies, domain name services, reader magnet delivery – it’s really comprehensive.

These bonus resources even cover how to grow your platform via free options, paid options, and then through spillover from growing your sales also… and then there’s a list of the very best promo sites for freebies, discounts, listbuilders, and all sorts. There’s even a place to ask questions too.

All these resources are all housed on a private part of this website, and you get access via your own personal copy of Following which you can get here.

Let’s Get Digital – Fourth Edition

The new and re-imagined fourth edition of Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should will launch very soon. In fact, you might see it pop up on Amazon and elsewhere before I get a chance to officially wet the baby’s head over here. If you see a price tag on it, don’t buy it.

Because it’s going free. Yes, that’s right – I’m launching the new fourth edition of Let’s Get Digital as a permafree book. And I plan to keep it free too.

Let me give you a brief idea of what has changed: the structure of the book is completely different to previous editions, and it now just has ten chapters, each representing the ten steps to successful self-publishing, all of which have been refreshed and updated, and in most cases, completely rewritten to reflect the challenges facing authors in 2020.

And there’s more! This new, free edition of Let’s Get Digital is also bundled with a ton of cool extras: my recommended list of trusted professionals – editors, designers, formatters, proofers – to work on your book; a giant guide to formatting your own ebooks if you want to go Full Geek and do the coding yourself; the very latest best practices on metadata so you can use keywords and categories like a pro; tips on how to get more reviews; practical advice on business aspects like tax, ISBNs, copyright, and more; some really hands-on advice on marketing to help you find your first readers.

This page is an awesome resource and a really cool value add for Digital, and it’s all rather cleverly designed too.

As always, my mailing list will hear about the launch first, and I’ll let them now as soon as Digital 4 is live and freely available, so sign up here to get notified. (You also get a copy of Following – two birds, and all that.)

Amazon Decoded – Second Edition

My fellow grizzled vets won’t be left out either. I’ve some very special things coming their way too. The new second edition of Amazon Decoded is done and written and next in the queue for the editor – so it won’t be much longer now.

Before anyone asks me what has changed from the old, free edition, let me make it simple: everything has changed. Not a single word survived that first edition, handy as it was. The whole book has been rewritten from the ground up, and reflects the very latest knowledge of how the Kindle Store works, and how you can design marketing plans to take advantage of that.

That old 50-page book has been greatly expanded — it’s clocking in at around 300 pages now, just to give you an idea of how much more substance there is.

Not only does it go deeper into the algorithms, and break down every aspect of the Kindle Store, and every place your book can get recommended to readers, it also goes into much greater detail on the exact types of marketing plans which will maximize your Amazon visibility, make you more discoverable to readers, increase your sales during a launch or promo, and then, rather crucially, stretch out that sales halo over a much longer period as Amazon takes over and does the selling for you.

I’m very excited to release this one. It will be going at $4.99, but my mailing list subscribers will get it for a very special price. Sign up here to make sure you hear about all these most-excellent Amazon-slaying strategies before everyone else.

Big Surprise Coming

This isn’t even the biggest news. I’m working on something very special indeed which is going to drop at the same time as Let’s Get Digital – i.e. imminently. It’s something that’s really going to help people on the marketing front in a very direct way.

More on all that very soon. Don’t forget to grab your free copy of Following Enjoy!

Following - Bonus Resources

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Facebook Engagement Bait and Shadow Bans https://davidgaughran.com/2020/05/18/facebook-engagement-bait-shadow-banning-content-marketing-social-media-rules/ https://davidgaughran.com/2020/05/18/facebook-engagement-bait-shadow-banning-content-marketing-social-media-rules/#comments Mon, 18 May 2020 10:46:50 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=8652 Websites try to keep your attention as long as possible, but the stakes are higher on Facebook where a drop in engagement can cost millions of dollars. Or FACEBOOK as it now insists on calling itself, like a shouty man outside a pub.

Content which keeps people on Facebook – like video or pictures – gets much more organic reach than content which sends people away, such as a link to your books on Amazon. Not only that, Facebook will also give preference to content which is genuinely engaging.

Please note the emphasis.

Facebook doesn’t have an army of humans sifting through the billions of pieces of content on Facebook and giving a gold star to the best of it – AI does the heavy lifting here. The way the system measures engagement is necessarily crude: what is getting Likes, comments, and shares?

In simple terms, people want engaging content and Facebook wants to show them content with high engagement, so if you can post content which triggers good engagement levels, then that content will get much more visibility.

And visibility can be worth a lot of money, of course. Read More...

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This post on Facebook was originally written for my newsletter back in January. I’m making a handful of those emails public to highlight the growing list of benefits when you sign up to my Friday newsletter. More details at the bottom.

Websites try to keep your attention as long as possible, but the stakes are higher on Facebook where a drop in engagement can cost millions of dollars. Or FACEBOOK as it now insists on calling itself, like a shouty man outside a pub.

Content which keeps people on Facebook – like video or pictures – gets much more organic reach than content which sends people away, such as a link to your books on Amazon. Not only that, Facebook will also give preference to content which is genuinely engaging.

Please note the emphasis.

Facebook doesn’t have an army of humans sifting through the billions of pieces of content on Facebook and giving a gold star to the best of it – AI does the heavy lifting here. The way the system measures engagement is necessarily crude: what is getting Likes, comments, and shares?

In simple terms, people want engaging content and Facebook wants to show them content with high engagement, so if you can post content which triggers good engagement levels, then that content will get much more visibility.

And visibility can be worth a lot of money, of course.

Some people will seek to game engagement because it is so valuable. And like virtually any cheap marketing gimmick, doing this is actually quite counterproductive.

I’m surprised that what is known as “engagement bait” — don’t worry, I’ll have some clear examples for you in a minute — is still recommended by so-called experts because Facebook’s system has been pro-actively seeking out such content and vigorously suppressing it for over two years.

But let’s rewind.

Facebook Engagement Bait Defined

What is engagement bait, exactly? What are the rules around this stuff? How can you avoid being penalized? And what can you do instead to garner this all-important engagement? Let’s take those in turn.

Facebook show some commendable clarity here and define it succinctly:

Engagement bait is a tactic to create Facebook posts that goad people into interacting, through likes, shares, comments, and other actions, in order to artificially boost engagement and get greater reach on News Feed.

Facebook even goes on to identify multiple types of engagement bait: vote baiting, react baiting, share baiting, tag baiting, and comment baiting. It’s all variations on a theme and you’ve seen lots of these posts before.

“Tag a friend who loves brisket,” is one I saw not long ago from a (normally) savvy BBQ festival.

“Share with five people to win a weekend in Scranton,” would be hilarious but is verboeten now.

This kind of inorganic engagement prodding is not tolerated by Facebook — so serious about it, in fact, that actual examples are provided, in another welcome moment of clarity.

Facebook Engagement Bait examples

Feel free to click those examples above if you want to see the official Facebook guidance on Engagement Bait, or zoom in on those examples a little better. But don’t go looking for holes in the fences.

In case anyone thinks this is a dumb algorithm that you can circumvent by kicking up a little dust, let me be clear: Facebook aren’t messing around here. The system can even detect engagement bait in the audio track of video content.

The message is clear: don’t do it.

That’s not to say Facebook can’t get this wrong, or sanction accounts incorrectly – that happens all the time. I’m just saying that Facebook’s tolerance for this kind of thing is pretty low and it seems to be making a concerted effort to root it out.

I’m sure you still see stuff like this in your feed, but I guarantee you that this content has been demoted – suppressed, essentially – and is visible to far, far less people than it would be without the engagement bait. Keep in mind that you don’t know how much money the advertiser is spending to push that content, or that they are probably torching their money too.

Facebook Engagement Rules

Facebook is being a little like that Supreme Court justice in the 1960s who famously defined p*rn by simply saying “he knows it when he sees it.” (If you want a far better definition of p*rn, by the way, look up what Chilean author Isabel Allende had to say…)

Instead, Facebook is suggesting some guiding principles. It wants authentic engagement, not posts which “goad” users into engagement, to use Facebook’s own terminology.

By the way, while we are on the topic, one thing that will really help your authentic engagement levels is having professional graphics and branding. I have a free Canva tutorial on how to make pro-level Facebook graphics over on my new YouTube channel. I’m publishing lots of guides like this over there, so make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss anything.

Warning: contains extreme quarantine beard.

Back to Facebook and its rules. The bar for what it considers to be authentic might be higher than you think.

Facebook will consider “LIKE this if you LOVE kick-ass heroines!” to be engagement bait and will demote that content. And this applies to both posts from Pages and individuals too, just in case anyone’s lizard-brain was working in that direction.

Somewhat understandably, Facebook doesn’t want to sketch out the exact line, because it knows that those seeking to game the system will tiptoe right up to it… and then look for loopholes.

Facebook is instead urging everyone to only post content which is authentically engaging, not content which tricks people to engage, or seeks to elicit engagement responses which are not directly related to the content itself, or anything which artificially boosts engagement in any way.

To be clear – as I know many of you will ask – I don’t think Facebook’s target is the kind of giveaway hosted off Facebook that can be popular with authors, where you are often asked to Like someone on Facebook and follow them on BookBub and share their tweet for competition entries.

The target here is the kind of pleading posts on Facebook itself begging for Likes and shares and so on.

And despite Facebook’s (understandable) equivocation, I think the line is pretty obvious. “LIKE this post if you think Tom Hardy is hot!” would be a problematic piece of engagement bait. But posting a picture of Tom Hardy and naturally attracting Likes because he is a total dreamboat would be perfectly fine.

Whether doing the latter is still a good idea for your business or not is another matter, and depends on exactly what type of audience you are seeking to build – more on that in a moment.

Personally, I think the above examples (both mine and Facebook’s) are clear enough to know what must be avoided, especially when contrasted with the best practice advice you should be following instead, which I go through below. These approaches are worlds apart – there’s no point trying to map the vast hinterlands inbetween.

Despite everything I have said, some of you might still think this is worth risking. I urge you to reconsider, because Facebook further goes on to say that, “Pages that repeatedly share engagement bait posts will see more significant drops in reach.”

In short, if you keep posting engagement bait, you will get shadowbanned.

How Can We Get Engaged?

Be engaging! I’m not being facetious. Okay, fine; I’m being a little bit facetious. But there’s no “trick” here. You need to put in the effort.

Spend some time thinking about your target audience, and post things that they find engaging.

There are landmines here too, though. As you have heard me say numerous times before, the very sustainability of your promotional efforts is increasingly dependent on developing a sense of your Ideal Reader, and then marketing to them exclusively. Targeting rules.

That’s just as true for building an organic audience on Facebook as it is for targeting your BookBub or Amazon Ads. In other words, you don’t want to post that video of 62 Labrador puppies frolicking in a swimming pool, as cute as it may be, and as many Likes as it might attract. You need to post something that will specifically appeal to your audience. Something that only they will enjoy, not something for a general crowd.

If you need more specific advice on that point, please read my guide to content marketing, and the universal principles behind all great content.

Content Marketing 101 blog header

I keep hammering home this point about targeting because it is absolutely critical and the biggest mistake people make with this stuff.

Constantly posting pictures of puppies will get you engagement – lots and lots of easy engagement – but ask yourself this: are you building an audience of readers or puppy lovers? Let’s term this dog-baiting and skip that too.

Sorry, Mr. Pickles! You’re still a good boy.

One last thing…

I hope you enjoyed this post! It was originally published as a private newsletter to my marketing mailing list several months ago. I send out content like this every Friday to thousands of authors.

For example, this email was part of a TWELVE PART SERIES on Facebook. If you want to learn how to use Facebook Ads for free, instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a course, sign up to my list.

You’ll get access to all the other emails you missed too, covering all sorts of other topics like reader psychology and email marketing and launch strategies and BookBub Ads and algorithms and how to start a new pen name from scratch.

You also get a FREE copy of Amazon Decoded – a book that you can’t get anywhere else! I strongly recommend that you join thousands and thousands of authors and sign up today because I have some really special treats coming very soon.

Content marketing footer image - email sign up content upgrade

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Apple Books For Authors Launches – With PC Access https://davidgaughran.com/2020/05/08/apple-books-for-authors-launches-pc/ https://davidgaughran.com/2020/05/08/apple-books-for-authors-launches-pc/#comments Fri, 08 May 2020 12:36:20 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=8629 Apple Books For Authors has launched and the all-new site now provides help to authors for every stage in their publishing journey. And here’s the biggest news of all: PC users can now publish direct with Apple Books. That’s right!

Before now, anyone using a PC device could not publish direct with Apple Books (unless they went to the trouble of using a Mac emulator) and had to use a distributor to reach all of Apple’s customers. Now that has changed, and the new Apple Books publishing portal is accessible by web browser, and on a PC too.

That’s going to be the headline news for many people, so I just wanted to get that out of the way up top. But before we dig into that a little more, let’s take a look at some of the other aspects of Apple Books For Authors – which only threw open its doors to the public this very morning.

Hot off the presses, people. Read More...

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Apple Books For Authors has launched and the all-new site now provides help with every stage in the publishing process. And here’s the biggest news of all: PC users can now publish direct with Apple Books. That’s right!

Before now, anyone using a PC device could not easily publish direct with Apple Books and many had to use a distributor to reach all of Apple’s customers. Now that has changed, and the new Apple Books publishing portal is accessible by web browser, and on a PC too.

That’s going to be the headline news for many people, so I just wanted to get that out of the way up top. But before we dig into that a little more, let’s take a look at some of the other aspects of Apple Books For Authors – which only threw open its doors to the public this very morning.

Hot off the presses, people.

You can check out the new Apple Books for Authors site here, and you’ll immediately see it has that very Apple look and branding, along with lots of advice from bestselling authors right there on the home page, and it’s all clearly designed to dovetail neatly with the new, revamped Apple Books.

If you switch your attention to the navigation bar up top, you’ll see all stages of the publishing process well represented: Write, Prepare, Publish, Market, Sales and Reporting, Audiobooks, and Resources.

Let’s take a closer look at this aspect, as I was pleasantly surprised with some of the resources here and see a lot of potential for the future.

Typically, a retailer has fairly bare bones information in this department, but Apple has taken the trouble to provide some actually useful information here—not just its own products and apps, as you would expect, but the full suite of tools a modern writer uses. Things like Microsoft Word and Scrivener appear alongside in-house apps like Pages and iBooks Author.

Naturally, the advice at this point in the process is more geared towards beginners, but if you skip ahead to the Market section, you’ll see more useful stuff for those with a little more experience—advice on how to use promo codes to build buzz, a run-down on Apple’s affiliate program for books and audiobooks (which I’m a member of and more authors really need to start using, and you can use this even if you aren’t direct with Apple, by the way), advice from bestselling authors Barbara Freethy on social media, and Jill Shalvis on book launches.

You can check out the other tabs yourself and see that there are customized resources for every stage—Audiobooks in particular are intriguing, and I know Apple wants to aggressively grow this aspect of its business. I’m particularly intrigued by mention of the ability to “suggest list price” for your audiobooks and I’ll be seeking more information on that little nugget myself.

Of course, Amazon’s Audible doesn’t let you set your price at all, and this is one of the reasons most of the innovation and chatter about audio right now surrounds the “wide” market: BookBub setting up its own audio retailer called Chirp, Kobo allowing authors to set their own prices—even to make audiobooks permafree—Findaway giving authors the tools to run discounts, BookBub Ads now allowing you to directly target audio readers. And most of those toys can only be played with by authors who are not exclusive to Amazon, and who thus have more control over their distribution and prices.

If you are not direct with Apple Books already, definitely take a look at the Sales and Reporting tab to see a video showing off the Reporting interface, which is just so much better than what we have been fobbed off with for years at KDP.

You might note that some of this stuff isn’t new—and that’s true, but a lot of the tools and resources Apple already had for authors were kind of scattered around the place and often hard to find too. Apple Books For Authors basically draws all this together under one roof, but there is some cool new stuff in there too and, overall, I got the sense that Apple plans to build that content out over time.

Apple is also keen to hear feedback on both the new Apple Books For Authors site, or the new publishing portal which PC users can now access, so please feel free to leave that in the comments and I’ll pass it along.

It’s that new publishing portal which I am most interested in personally as it means I finally get to test going direct with Apple!

I’m a PC user, and the idea of trying to publish a book with my iPhone or an emulator never appealed. Instead I used Smashwords to reach Apple, and then when Draft2Digital came along with what was, to me, a far superior service, I was happy to switch all my books across to Draft2Digital, and still use them today to reach Apple and Barnes & Noble, as well as a host of smaller stores and library services. I love Draft2Digital, and they always have authors’ backs, as they proved once again very recently.

But I’ve never actually published direct with Apple. And for the first time, I finally can. Intriguing!

(Minor correction: As pointed out by a couple of people Apple actually quietly rolled out a way to publish via PC back in September, but only through the Pages app. And it appears nobody really knew about this. But what is 100% new today on that front is the publishing portal – which allows anyone, on PC or Mac, to provide Apple with a finished EPUB, whether that’s to update a published book or publish a new one.)

I’m sure a lot of you are in the same boat and are suddenly more curious about things like the terms for going direct.

  • Apple Books pays 70% royalties for any price—even 99¢ books or $19.99 box sets, which is a marked improvement over the 35% which Amazon pays for any price outside Amazon’s preferred $2.99-$9.99 range, of course.
  • Apple Books pays out within 45 days of the end of the respective month, which is a little quicker than most other retailers.
  • There are no delivery fees with Apple Books, a particular bone of contention on KDP with children’s authors, graphic novelists, or anyone wanting to use pictures in their ebooks, especially with Amazon charging data transfer prices last seen when AOL was the new hotness.

You might be asking yourself whether you should switch to going direct, or continue using a distributor like Draft2Digital (or Smashwords) to reach Apple instead. Well, it depends. You will get paid a littler more, and a little quicker, if you go direct.  But using someone like Draft2Digital to reach multiple stores at once with the same ebook file does simplify your life quite a bit. You’ll have to weigh up those pros and cons yourself.

I’ll certainly be testing the new publishing portal with one of my books and sharing my thoughts on it—pros and cons—as I go through it personally, so look out for that. Maybe I’ll shoot a video or two showing what the interface looks like up close. Subscribe to my new YouTube channel—and make sure to hit that notification bell—as I will have lots of new video content coming shortly. (First up: a free Canva tutorial this weekend!)

I will say this though: Apple made it clear that when picking authors for promo opportunities, it is completely agnostic as to the publishing path that author has taken. Whether you arrived in the Apple Books store via the likes of Draft2Digital, or went direct, you have the same shot of getting selected.

And this, I stress, is my personal opinion: I’m sure this news will be chewed over, but my own take is that this isn’t a power play by Apple looking to cut out distributors or anything like that. I personally think the real aim here is twofold: first and foremost, to provide a clean, crisp, newbie-friendly one-stop shop for publishing with Apple Books—a nice and easy alternative to going exclusive with Amazon.

Second, I also see this as counteracting a lot of the unscrupulous providers like vanity presses, who try and sell the lie that self-publishing is difficult or expensive—at least, an easy-to-use site like this is a huge boon to those of us who try and steer new writers away from predatory operations.

Again, personal opinion here, but just reading between the lines, the overall impression I got was that this isn’t just a site revamp, but perhaps also a refresh in Apple’s approach to ebooks and authors generally. The spirit driving all of this seemed to be positive and inclusive and open, and it was very welcome indeed. I’m interested to see how all this develops.

That’s it! I’ll have more hands-on impressions with that new, PC-accessible publishing portal as I go through the process personally of going direct. And I will also be interested to see what feedback you have, what resources you might like added, and what you think of this news! Let me know in the comments below.

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13 Ways To Increase Your Email Open Rate https://davidgaughran.com/2020/03/30/13-ways-to-increase-your-email-open-rate/ https://davidgaughran.com/2020/03/30/13-ways-to-increase-your-email-open-rate/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2020 14:50:04 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=8590 Having a big email list is great, but utterly pointless if your open rate is in the toilet. Quantity might get the headlines but it’s quality which pays the bills.

You need engaged subscribers, ones that care about getting your emails, people who open your messages and act on the contents. If you are putting effort into growing your subscriber count but not proactively taking steps to assist open rates, then all you’re really doing is bailing out your boat with a leaky bucket.

People often say things like “it’s natural for open rates to fall over time” – and that’s true… if you do nothing about it. Also, there are plenty of practices you might inadvertently engage in which might accelerate the natural wastage you tend to get over time. But there’s also plenty you can do to address falling open rates and even reverse them. Read More...

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Want to increase the open rate on your emails? You’re in the right place. First, a couple of quick disclaimers:

  1. The MailerLite links in this post are affiliate links. It is the mailing list service I strongly recommend, for all the reasons outlined in this post (which also explains why I left Mailchimp, and no longer recommend that service). If you also want to move from Mailchimp to MailerLite because of recent price hikes and service changes, read this guide. But if you are with another service, all these tips still apply, with the possible exception of #6 which might be a MailerLite-exclusive feature.
  2. These are words I never thought I’d write, but because of the global pandemic, you might not be feeling like working right now, or might not be in a position to carve out any mental energy to worry about email open rates. That’s totally fine. I’ve spent a few weeks mostly watching television. Look after yourself and your family, and do what you need to do to get through this on a personal level. But for those who need the distraction…

Having a big email list is great, but utterly pointless if your open rate is in the toilet. Quantity might get the headlines but it’s quality which pays the bills.

You need engaged subscribers, ones that care about getting your emails, people who open your messages and act on the contents. If you are putting effort into growing your subscriber count but not proactively taking steps to assist open rates, then all you’re really doing is bailing out your boat with a leaky bucket.

I have several mailing lists, but here’s an example of one of them. These are the most recent sends.

You’ll see the open rate for all these emails is north of 50% – or will be on that most recent send once the weekend warriors get around to opening. This is typical for me and this particular list. Sometimes it’s a little higher, sometimes it’s a little lower, but performance is consistently 50%+ and it has been that way for quite a long time.

In other words, this is a large, engaged list of happy subscribers. And, needless to say, this is a well performing list. I should also note that this was typical content for this list, just an informational email, unconnected to anything like a new release which would see higher open rates and (much) higher click rates.

The point is, these kinds of numbers are totally achievable for you too, as is keeping this level over an extended period. Indeed, some authors routinely exceed these numbers. While these definitely are good numbers, I’m not posting industry-leading, earth-shattering figures here.

People often say things like “it’s natural for open rates to fall over time” – and that’s true… if you do nothing about it. Also, there are plenty of practices you might inadvertently engage in which might accelerate the natural wastage you tend to get over time. But there’s also plenty you can do to address falling open rates and even reverse them.

Yes, you can actually have increasing open rates on a large list of subscribers and maintain that trend on a growing list over time too. What witchery is this? Let’s take a look.

1. Change The Subject

One of the biggest factors affecting open rates is your subject line, certainly the key variable here that can be most quickly and easily addressed. Feel free to experiment with different approaches but avoid veering too much into clickbait as that will erode trust over time and is a much harder problem to then subsequently address. Things like emojis in subject lines can be very effective but be sparing with these also.

The danger with leaning too hard on crutches like emojis or clickbait, is that you might be masking some lazy copywriting. Make the subject line as snappy and hooky as you can before reaching for those solutions – and you will often find you don’t need to. Also make sure you aren’t promising something that you don’t deliver; readers may not open the next email if you engage in even the slightest bait-and-switch.

There’s some really comprehensive advice here from MailerLite on how to use subject lines to boost open rates (aff link).

2. Examine Your Hello

It’s all well and good to spend time lovingly crafting a welcome sequence that you think will appeal to readers, but if you aren’t periodically checking on its performance, you are just guessing on that appeal, or relying on the small sample of initial performance, which might not hold true over time for any number of reasons. Sometimes you will find that one of the emails isn’t hitting the mark and your precious new subscriber bucket has sprung a rather substantial leak. Plug it.

Let me also stress the “periodically checking” part too. I had a great welcome sequence for one of my lists, but the content morphed over time as I found my feet with that audience, and I didn’t realize there was such a disconnect between the type of material new subscribers were getting as a preview in the onboarder versus the actual “live” newsletter content. The onboarding has been working much better since that was tweaked.

3. Whitelisting FTW

It’s boring – for you and your readers – and only a fraction of them will ever go through the whitelisting steps, no matter how easy you make it or how often you suggest it. It’s still worth doing, though, because if someone whitelists your email address you will sail past those pesky spam filters and always dodge their Promotions tab and land right in their inbox.

I recommend doing it as part of onboarding, and then periodically suggesting it to existing subscribers too. Aside from anything else, if a good chunk of your list whitelists your email, then you need to worry less about links or images sending your emails into Promotions (or Spam!).

4. Check Yourself

I mentioned this tip before in my previous post on advanced email tips but it’s important enough – and underutilized enough – to bear repeating: sign up to your own list. Do it with a Gmail account, a dummy address which you don’t use regularly.

It’s important that this email address is one that your main, list-connected email has no messaging history with. Watch your welcome sequence fire, see how everything looks from the reader side, and – most crucially of all – check those emails are arriving where they should be.

I also recommend sending a test email before each send to ensure that the amount of links and images etc. isn’t sending your emails into Promotions/Spam.

5. Watch Your Frequency

The biggest mistake I made with email over the years was only emailing people when I had a new book – not the smartest approach for a slow writer. You need to keep in touch with your readers regularly, or else open rates will fall, along with other, crucial measures of engagement, such as click rates and the rather important part of buying your latest book.

If you need more convincing on this oh-so-important point, then make sure to read this post: Email Marketing: Your Secret Weapon.

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But you can go the other way with this too. Are you emailing too often? I’ve seen some spammy internet marketers email as frequently as daily which is just crazy. A sure sign someone is just burning through subscribers and squeezing them for as much as possible before tossing them away.

6. Experiment with Rich Text

We’re in a constant battle with companies like Gmail. Because of the daily firehose of spam, email services must use a variety of tools to stop users getting overwhelmed (and scammed). You might think you get a lot of spam, but most of it is zapped before it even makes it to your Spam folder, let alone your inbox.

The algorithms doing the zapping aren’t infallible, of course, and lots of genuine commercial messages will end up getting axed en route. However, there are lots of things we can do at our end to increase the deliverability of our emails.

Mailerlite has a new beta feature which I’ve been playing with: Rich Text Emails (aff link). Your regular newsletters are probably HTML-based, meaning there are bits of code gubbins hidden in the message to pretty it up, and which enable all those bells and whistles you may or may not use: images, surveys, embedded video, and so on.

Rich Text Emails strip all that back to the bare essentials: text and very simple images. This should help you hit more Inboxes for your more bare-bones email sends (I started using them for my culling emails, for example, to try and reach those subscribers who are not receiving/opening my messages, for whatever reason).

7. Start A Conversation

One of the key attractions of modern communications is interactivity – something we can forget when caught up in broadcasting our finely crafted messages. Don’t be afraid to engage your readers in the simplest way, i.e. by asking questions. This isn’t the only way to provoke a response, of course, but it is the simplest.

Any dialogue between you and a subscriber doesn’t just engage them on an emotional level, it also looks like organic, two-way communication to the email providers and increases your chances of landing in more Inboxes. Because it is.

But also the emotional thing. Don’t want to downplay that at all, especially right now, with everything that’s going on, and all of us experiencing less face-time with the world at large.

This cuts both ways. You get great psychological benefits from this dialogue, not just your readers.

8. Actually Survey Your Readers

While we’re asking questions, consider doing this in a more organized way too! Mailerlite makes this super easy with embedded surveys (aff link), and you can just drag and drop a content block into your email that is easily customizable. Want to know which of your readers prefers Kobo over Kindle? Who loves audiobooks? Which characters they would love to see hook up in a spin off? Ask them!

(Then tag them in your database so you can send them tailored content in the future – like new audiobook releases, for example.)

9. Make The Emails Better Maybe?

Hey, at least I didn’t open with this one. But, eh, honestly? Most emails are crap. Boring old corporations have an excuse; they’re boring old corporations!

We can do better – we’re natural storytellers. And we forget that sometimes when doing sales-y stuff. Which is kind of ironic because the big trend in copywriting and content marketing now is for… storytelling!

10. It’s OK To Take A Break

Sometimes the well goes dry. Other times, life gets in the way, or, you know, a global crisis.

What do you do when you have an email due and nothing schedule and no earthly idea what to say? If I was one of those Perfect Productivity People, I’d tell you to dig deep and stop wussing out or some such nonsense.

Here’s the truth: it’s okay to miss an email now and then. It’s fine to skip out on a commitment sometimes. If it means you coming back next week fresh and happy and relaxed and writing a killer email that is authentic and unforced and with all the words in the right order, well, I’ll take that any day.

(But maybe try and push through it that feeling first before caving and bingeing The Expanse. At least, that’s what I have to tell myself. I’m a lazy git. You do you!)

11. Cull the Herd

Removing habitual non-openers from your list has a number of benefits from reducing your costs to, rather crucially, improving your overall deliverability to those who actually do want to get your emails. However, as tracking is far from infallible, it’s better to take a couple of steps first before culling anyone.

12. Segment and Reengage

Separate out non-openers first. Attempt to re-engage them. Then, if that fails, you can consider culling them. But before you do that, send them one last email to let them know you will be cutting them soon.

Make it a plain email (or Rich Text Email – see #6 above) with no links or images to ensure maximum deliverability. You’re bound to scoop up a few stragglers that either weren’t getting your emails because of text/links or those who were getting your emails but your provider wasn’t tracking the opens for whatever reason.

Tag all those people in your database so they don’t get bothered with re-engagement/culling emails again. And if you feel like you need something special to bring those wavering subscribers back to the light, well, bribing works. Ask any parent with a toddler!

Reader magnets (or content upgrades) can be more than just welcome gifts, you can also use content like that to periodically re-engage those who are starting to slip, as well as those who have become unresponsive altogether. Then if a freebie can’t bring them to open your email or engage with its contents, then you really can cut them with a clear conscience.

13. Velvet Rope Your Front-End

All this segmenting and re-engaging and bribing and culling is quite the palaver, but maybe you can cut down on a lot of this busywork by being a little more discriminate in how you seek those sign-ups in the first place. Garbage in, garbage out after all.

Wait, did I just call readers garbage? Not quite. I’m warning against treating the great reader population as fungible, faceless consumption units. Not every reader is right for your list. You are not right for every reader. Try and practice a little more self-selection at the front-end of your operation, and you’ll have less to… expel at the back-end.

Want More?

This post from a couple of months ago has lots of advanced tips for improving the overall performance of your author newsletter, including all my recommended resources: 7 Expert Tricks To Improve Your Author Newsletter.

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Want Even More?

OKAY FINE.

I cover all sorts of marketing topics in my free weekly newsletter, from Facebook and BookBub Ads to launches and promotions, reader targeting, and content marketing. And I just completed a really detailed eight-part series on email marketing too.

When you sign up you get access to an archive of previous emails, so you won’t miss anything. You also get a book for signing up, and the entire list of ancillary benefits is growing all the time too. And that’s even before I add some really juicy stuff… 

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Going Viral: A User’s Guide https://davidgaughran.com/2020/02/01/going-viral-a-users-guide/ https://davidgaughran.com/2020/02/01/going-viral-a-users-guide/#comments Sat, 01 Feb 2020 14:37:30 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=8549 What truly makes something go viral? It’s hard to say.

Sure, afterwards, we can all point to something — with the crystal clear vision bestowed by hindsight — and list off elements which contributed to the explosion: it had a cute dog bouncing on a trampoline or just the right amount of indignation, it was funny and there was a well chosen emoji, it was topical or it tapped into some lingering but unspoken resentment about a hot button issue… that list could go on forever.

Trying to assemble a Franken-thing that ticks all those boxes will quickly show you that this retrospective diagnosis is missing something — the X-factor that makes one thing go viral and another thing, which was very like it (or even “superior” in many ways), do the exact opposite. Read More...

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This post on making something go viral was originally written for my newsletter last year. I’m re-running some of those older emails to highlight the growing list of benefits when you sign up to my Friday newsletter. More details at the bottom.

What truly makes something go viral? It’s hard to say.

Sure, afterwards, we can all point to something — with the crystal clear vision bestowed by hindsight — and list off elements which contributed to the explosion: it had a cute dog bouncing on a trampoline or just the right amount of indignation, it was funny and there was a well chosen emoji, it was topical or it tapped into some lingering but unspoken resentment about a hot button issue… that list could go on forever.

Trying to assemble a Franken-thing that ticks all those boxes will quickly show you that this retrospective diagnosis is missing something — the X-factor that makes one thing go viral and another thing, which was very like it (or even “superior” in many ways), do the exact opposite.

I’m not going to tell you what that X-factor is. I’m not even sure anyone can answer that with confidence. If you had to push me, I’d say it’s probably luck, as long as we allow timing to share luck’s umbrella.

And if you think that’s a dodge, wait for this: it doesn’t matter.

Going viral has less value than you think. Unless you are more interested in celebrity than building something more meaningful, then going viral often has very little lasting value.

I’m a million times more interested in money than fame. If it was an actual choice, I wouldn’t have to think about it at all — give me the bag of gold and I’ll be a happy hermit. This might surprise anyone who hasn’t gone viral so let me share some experiences.

A close friend of mine went viral last week after posting something to Facebook. Her personal page too, not her business/author page. It wasn’t a new release announcement or ad. It wasn’t anything that was going to put money in her pocket or promote or books or company in any way. It was a funny post, but with an underlying serious message that obviously resonated with a lot of people because it got something like 30,000 Facebook shares. That’s a lot of eyeballs on a post that might otherwise have been seen by a couple of hundred people.

The first thing you should realize about something like this is that you don’t get to choose what goes viral. You might prefer it to be something which could provide more tangible benefit — like maybe something that had a link to one of your books — but you don’t get to choose what goes viral.

(I should note that these things genuinely can have real value which transcends grubby monetary concerns, and I know that my friend both enjoyed the experience in itself, and was also deeply touched by how that post made so many people feel, but we’re strictly talking about business and marketing stuff here, not the emotions of puny hoo-mans.)

And if you start pumping out stuff that is explicitly designed to go viral, you just end up turning into a clickbait pusher, telling people 7 Reasons For This and How To Do That and pretty soon you are just regurgitating the historically common elements in viral posts in an empty and robotic way, and your site descends into slideshows of desperation.

You don’t get to choose what goes viral. You can’t make something go viral. And you shouldn’t care either.

More personal experience: I’ve gone “viral” a few times. Not like meme-ing my way to an appearance on Ellen, or being shared by George Takei, but my old WordPress site was officially certified as “Stephen Fry-proof” which was a jokey designation if you were able to handle a sudden, unexpected, and massive spike of traffic, as if you had just been tweeted by Stephen Fry.

In my case, I actually was tweeted by Stephen Fry, so it was literal. I think I had 60,000 visitors in an hour or something insane like that. Luckily, I wasn’t self-hosted at that point or I could have fried my servers (and my pricing plan!). But the good people at WordPress.com had systems in place to handle viral outbreaks like this and cycle in beefier servers, so the site was able to stay online with nary a burp.

Cards on the table: the first time it happens it’s a huge rush. You are refreshing the numbers every ten seconds, watching them climb and climb and CLIMB. And, of course, because the brain often needs to be treated as a hostile witness, you start thinking, “Maybe I’ve finally made it!” or other such hilarious nonsense.

I should note that, unlike my friend’s example above, the first time this happened to me it was actually was a blog post which was totally nailed on for my audience, so it was natural to think that the traffic surge would be comprised of people I could potentially sell books to, or at least maybe get blog sign-ups, or Twitter followers, or email subscriptions.

But none of that really happened, not in meaningful numbers.

The first time, I blamed myself. I reorganized my website. I changed up my book links. I made my blog subscription more prominent. Tried to clean up my act and sharpen my hooks, and just make everything look more pro. Next time it happened… well, to be honest, I blamed myself again! And tweaked all that stuff again.

After a few times the penny started to drop. (While I am a slow learner, I’m not a total lost cause.)

Here’s the deal: this kind of traffic is drive-by traffic. The very fact that you have gone viral is usually a sign you have gone beyond your target audience.

Drive-by traffic isn’t sticky. These people don’t hang around. Well, maybe a handful will, but if you expect a meaningful chunk of the 10,000 or 100,000 or 1,000,000 people who clicked on your post — because the planets happened to align that day — to turn into fans or readers or customers or prospects, you are going to be very disappointed. It’s not junk traffic per se, but you haven’t struck gold either.

It’s kind of like press attention, in a way. Something that can be nice to happen, as long as you don’t treat it with too much seriousness, and don’t expect it to change your life or throw your book to #1 or land you a big deal.

Again, that’s not to say there is no value in going viral. In my case, I was able to influence a public conversation that I felt strongly about. That has huge personal value to me — I genuinely cared deeply about the issue. But in pure mercenary terms, it did little or nothing for me. Which makes it a terrible thing to shoot for if you are trying to sell books, or boost sign-ups, or make money, which will all need to do now and then.

What does lead to success on those fronts is the slow, hard slog of producing things that people want and getting it into their hands. Building something over time that people need, something real, something substantial. Targeting those people with laser-like precision. Drilling down into the subset that digs your stuff, whatever that may be, and working that niche crowd. Not the bigger one surrounding it.

And if you do go viral, what will make those few stick around is that slow, hard slog you have already put in, not the dog picture, however cute he might be. Sorry, Fido; you still get a treat.

One last thing…

I hope you enjoyed this post! It was originally published as a newsletter last year. I send out content like this every Friday to my subscribers.

Well, not quite like this. More normally I cover things like Facebook, BookBub, and Amazon Ads, and all sorts of other topics like reader psychology and email marketing and launch strategies and how to start a new pen name from scratch.

You also get a FREE copy of Amazon Decoded – a book that you can’t get anywhere else! I strongly recommend that you join thousands and thousands of authors and sign up today because I have some really special treats coming soon.

Mailing list sign-up graphic listing bonuses - free ad courses, weekly marketing tips, a copy of Amazon Decoded, exclusive discounts, sneak peeks and, most importantly, dad jokes.

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7 Expert Tricks To Improve Your Author Newsletter https://davidgaughran.com/2020/01/23/7-expert-tricks-improve-author-newsletter-mailing-list-email/ https://davidgaughran.com/2020/01/23/7-expert-tricks-improve-author-newsletter-mailing-list-email/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2020 14:15:15 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=8519 Authors these days are getting great at offering enticements to sign up – commonly known as magnets or bribes or sign-up bonuses – and also at deploying automated sequences to further warm-up new subscribers. But sometimes we can be a little… overeager.

Your first priority should be to keep the promise that you made to the reader, which means ensuring the subscription happens smoothly and they get their free ebook.

If you overload the first emails the subscriber receives, you might get dropped into Promotions or *gasp* Spam. If you’re lucky the subscriber will email you complaining they didn’t get their gift. If you’re lucky. Most probably won’t even bother complaining which means you’ve just lost a sign-up. Read More...

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There is so much more you can do with your author newsletter these days beyond simply telling your fans that you have a new book.

Email isn’t just good at bringing you new readers, it’s uniquely good at deepening engagement with your audience. These tricks won’t just help you increase the responsiveness from your list – they’ll also help you make some cold, hard cash too.

Before we dive in to these next-level strategies, please note this is primarily intermediate/expert level stuff. If you are less experienced – or less convinced of the merits of email marketing, like contacting your readers regularly and using onboarders etc. – then read this post on the power of email marketing instead.

1. On The First Date, Take It Slow

Authors are getting better at offering strong enticements to sign up – commonly known as magnets or bribes or sign-up bonuses – as well as deploying automated sequences to further warm-up new subscribers. But sometimes we can be a little… overeager.

Your first priority should be to keep the promise that you made to the reader, which means ensuring the subscription happens smoothly and they get their free ebook.

If you overload the first emails the subscriber receives, you might get dropped into Promotions or *gasp* Spam. If you’re lucky the subscriber will email you complaining they didn’t get their gift. If you’re lucky. Most probably won’t even bother complaining which means you’ve just lost a sign-up.

Don’t hit new subscribers with ten different links to all your Amazon listings and Facebook Page and Twitter account and Website and BookBub profile… at least until you have confirmed their subscription, and they have received their sign-up bonus.

There might be a little delay if you deliver your reader magnet as the first email in your welcome sequence, rather than in the confirmation email, but there are all sorts of advantages to doing so, which you will know all about if you have read Newsletter Ninja – which you really, really should.

Besides, the more CTAs you roll out at once, the more diluted the response will be. Always focus on the most important and, here, that’s getting the relationship off to the right start by keeping your word.

2. Always Test Deliverability

Getting your author newsletter into reader inboxes is important and making sure that initial welcome sequence does so is absolutely critical. Never leave it to chance. Not only should you minimize links (and images) in those first couple of emails, you should also test to ensure those emails aren’t dropping into Promotions or Spam.

Sign up to your list under an alternate Gmail address – specifically: one that you have never had any email history with – and send your test emails to that address instead of your own. If they drop into promotions, then you need to fiddle with that email before letting it out into the wild, whether that’s reducing images, taking out a few links, dropping some buttons, or taking out any words with a high spam score in your message or, in particular, the subject line.

3. Use Contextual Magnets

Reader magnets are great! Sign-up bonuses of any kind always act as a strong hook for your author newsletter, and any downsides (such as attracting freeloaders) can be deftly handled during your welcome sequence.

But not all reader magnets are created equal and sometimes it pays to think beyond a simple one-size-fits-all approach. Some bribes will appeal more to existing fans, others will do a wonderful job of bringing in new readers.

Savvy authors often have a different sign-up bonus depending on who exactly they are trying to entice on to their list. Is this reader new to me? Or is this a long-term fan who just hasn’t signed up yet?

It might be easier than you think to differentiate – just look at the entrypoint. Someone coming in via a giveaway is most likely to be a new or otherwise cold sign-up. At the other end of the spectrum, a sign up at the back of a book is most certainly a warm lead, an existing fan, and a different magnet could be optimal here. It’s more work, sure, but it might also give you a second bite of the cherry, getting some highly valuable sign-ups from those who weren’t enticed the first time around.

This is just the most obvious way that you can have contextual magnets. Non-fiction authors can really go to town here, offering all sorts of content upgrades around their site, from worksheets and checklists to video guides and ebooks, there are many possibilities. But the format isn’t as important as tailoring that piece of content to where it appears. This might sound like a lot more work, but a super customized piece of content doesn’t need to be very long if it hits the mark.

All this can apply to fiction more than you might assume. I’ve seen authors offer deleted scenes, alternative endings, spaceship schematics, case files, maps, and recipe books based on their stories.

4. Red Hot Affiliate Action

Warning: this is sexy and dangerous. There’s a lot of potential money to be made from affiliate schemes, but all that glittering gold can blind you to the point where you start to view your list as a cash cow… and then proceed to milk it dry. I’ve seen authors with huge lists completely destroy them after they had basically lost respect for their readers and just viewed them as numbers and dollar signs. Each of those email addresses is a real flesh-and-blood person and the second you forget that you have already lost.

There are ethical and legal concerns which you should educate yourself on with regard to affiliate schemes but the short version is if you are completely transparent about any affiliate relationships you may have, you won’t go far wrong (legally or ethically). The FTC recently made its guidelines even clearer on this stuff: you must be transparent and explicit.

One thing that can trip you up regardless are Amazon affiliate links. You can’t use them in email. This is incredibly dumb, but Amazon considers email to be “offline communication” and your affiliate account could be terminated if you drop affiliate links in your emails – and Amazon seems surprisingly sensitive to the practice, especially if you consider much more egregious sins it routinely ignores. Just don’t risk it.

Anyway, this topic is probably of limited interest to most of you. Fiction authors can monetize their newsletter in other ways by selling book-related merch (I know some authors who make crazy money with this), but affiliate schemes are usually only useful for writers of non-fiction.

If only there was some magical way of showing certain people specific niche content, and keeping it hidden from the rest…

5. Dynamic Content Blocks

If you don’t know what tagging and segmentation are, then read this excellent guide from MailerLite. Note: that is an affiliate link. Not only am I an affiliate for MailerLite, and use MailerLite personally, I strongly recommend that you use them too. I switched to MailerLite last year and it has been a very positive experience.

Anyway, even if you prefer another reputable and effective email service like Active Campaign or ConvertKit, I still recommend perusing the MailerLite help pages regularly. They have a ton of guides like that on every imaginable email topic, with lots of video content too which makes it all very digestible. And a lot of it is general best practices which apply no matter which service you use. They are smart digital marketers.

Those who are with MailerLite can enjoy a cool new feature. Dynamic Content Blocks take segmentation and tagging to a whole new level.

The way segmentation and tagging works is already pretty cool. For example, if your erstwhile subscriber Alice Audioslave clicks on the Chirp link in your announcement of a new release, you can automatically tag them in your database as an audiobook listener.

Then the next time you want to distribute some audio ARCs, then you can specifically email the people who clicked on that link with an ARC offer. The possibilities really are endless with this, but you get the idea. You can set up separate segments or groups for “audiobook listeners” or “Barnes & Noble customers” or “readers in Australia” or whatever takes your fancy.

Some authors get very fancy with this and tailor their new release announcements, sending separate emails to their Apple customers, with Apple specific links and branding, or push their launch email out to Australian subscribers at 11:00 am in Sydney, instead of the middle of the night.

Real whizz kids take it to another level again and have all sorts of conditional automations which only kick in if subscribers take certain actions (usually if a reader clicks on a certain link).

That’s all well and good, but Dynamic Content Blocks take this one step further again, and allow you to send the same email to everyone but have different bits of content appear to any given subscriber, depending on how they are tagged. Which means that, in our above example, our diligent author would only have to send one email to all their subscribers, but the system would adjust the content to reflect their interests and preferences.

Email converts like nothing else, but you can push those rates even higher by having the content dynamically reflect readers’ interests. This is getting pretty fancy, people.

6. Classy goodbyes

Breaking up is never easy and it’s usually best to end on good terms. Even the most entertaining authors will get unsubscribes, but you shoud know that this is also an opportunity.

It’s not just generic sign-up forms and confirmation emails which can be customized but unsubscribe pages too. That’s right!

“But they don’t love me anymore,” you might protest, not without grounds either. Here’s the thing, though: not all unsubscribes are quitting because their love has turned to bitterness and hate over you repeatedly squeezing the toothpaste from the middle like some kind of monster; some people are just overloaded with email at that moment. Others are just… hungover.

For example, for my non-fiction author newsletter which goes out weekly (rather than monthly) my #1 unsubscribe reason is that my emails are too frequent. I don’t mind – it is supposed to be frequent! Plus, I know this doesn’t mean they hate me or my newsletter and will never buy a book from me again; they’re just swamped right now.

Even for people with the more standard monthly author newsletter, a handful of subscribers can still, at times, feel overwhelmed. It’s not about you per se but often down to the overall volume of emails they receive. Plenty of those people may still interested in you and your books, they just don’t want to be on your list right now for whatever reason.

Don’t take it personally and don’t slam the door in their face! Customize that unsubscribe email so it isn’t so cold and impersonal.

More importantly, give people the opportunity to follow you in more low-touch ways, like on Amazon or BookBub for New Release Alerts only, or on Facebook for bite-sized newsy bits, if that’s more their speed. They may come back to you – and in my experience, that happens more than you might think. Another reason to keep things friendly.

That’s just the basics. There are so many more things you could potentially do with an unsubscribe page, and MailerLite goes through just some of the possibilities here (affiliate link, of course). Particularly useful and relevant might be the example from USA Today Bestselling Author Kelsey Browning, but never be afraid to import best practices from other industries!

Getting specific advice on best practices with your author newsletter is important, of course, but also keep in mind that the publishing business tends to be a couple of steps behind the rest of the world.

7. Get Help With Your Author Newsletter

Don’t worry if you aren’t in a position yet to implement advanced techniques like this, it’s great just to be aware of some of the things which are possible with email. Then you can start working towards them.

Here are my recommended resources for getting to the next level with your author newsletter:

Read This Book

Newsletter Ninja – so good, I’m mentioning it twice. Buy it, read it, do what Tammi tells you.

Listen To This Speaker

Erica Ridley is my other favorite email expert. She often gives talks at conferences like RWA and NINC – get ready to take a lot of notes. I’m not even joking when I say my phone was overheating after one of her workshops.

Make this hummus

Nothing to do with author newsletters, as such, but it is tasty and delicious.

Use this email service

You need to use a specialized service to deliver your author newsletter. MailerLite is my preferred provider. It is what I use for all three of my pen names and I’m very happy with it indeed. That’s an affiliate link, of course, but feel free to do your own research.

There are a million articles out there comparing all the different services and you can read why I chose MailerLite here and check out my further thoughts after I made the move in this guide to moving from Mailchimp to MailerLite. Short version: it’s powerful, easy-to-use, very competitively priced, and the customer service is excellent.

As I said above, you might consider an alternative like ConvertKit to be more suitable to your needs – especially if you get really deep into automations (affiliate link) – but MailerLite is hardly basic on that front and more than suffices for my needs.

I’m also very comfortable giving MailerLite a general recommendation as it has a pretty stellar free plan too where you don’t pay until you reach 1,000 subscribers. Companies like Mailchimp might sound a better deal but if you look at the small print most of the features are hobbled on their free plan these days.

Plus, Mailchimp has gone this direction recently – not good, and why I left them after eight years. I rather suspect that was a factor in MailerLite doubling in size last year. Oh, Mailchimp…

Check out this WordPress theme

You need a clean, fast-loading landing page to collect email addresses for your author newsletter. I always recommend WordPress and my current theme – which I cherish, love, and adore – is a custom version of Parallax for Writers by GoCreate.Me which is designed by indie author Caro Bégin – who perfectly understands our specific needs – and does so many nifty little things under the hood.

Use this service to deliver your magnets

Speaking of nifty, BookFunnel is the best at delivering your reader magnets. Not an affiliate link, just an awesome company which puts authors first and specifically designs its products based on our needs, pain points, and feedback.

Aside from being best-in-class at getting your free ebook onto reader devices (a tricky enough technical challenge), and handling customer service for you (anyone who had a reader magnet several years ago before BookFunnel existed can share their pain!), BookFunnel has lots of cool additional features which I recommend exploring.

Particularly relevant here is that BookFunnel is very flexible and can allow you to set up multiple funnels with different entrypoints with as many different magnets as you like – and it integrates neatly with MailerLite too.

Take this free course on author newsletters

Finally, this might all be overwhelming. Well there’s no might here. This is a lot of stuff. You may have hit Peak Stuff, in fact.

To help you get a handle on it all, the Newsletter Ninja herself – Tammi Labrecque – has put together a free course on getting yourself all set up to slay at email.

It’s called Rock Solid Foundation and you can sign up here. Don’t worry about the Out of Stock message, that just means the class starting on Monday is full.

There will be a new one in February and Tammi tells me you’ll get an automatic email when it opens up again for registration. It covers some pretty great stuff too – so much that I signed up myself to get a refresher!

Blurb for Rock Solid Foundation course, readable at https://newsletterninja.net/product/newsletter-ninja-foundation/

The glamorous and discerning folk who are already subscribed to my newsletter will have heard about this free course weeks ago – part of the reason why the first round is full – and we will be in the class kicking off on Monday.

They have also been enjoying two months’ worth of emails from me guiding them through the process of absolutely slaying with email in 2020. Just like Tammi’s course above, this newsletter is free, and I cover Facebook, BookBub, and Amazon Ads (I’ll be sending Episode 11 in my FREE guide to Facebook Ads tomorrow, just as an example).

It’s not just ads and email, I regularly talk about other topics like reader psychology and branding and content marketing. Sign up here to get an email each Friday.

Not only that, but you get access to all the stuff you missed too, so you can catch up on the whole email series, and everything else too.

You also get a book for signing up, and the entire list of ancillary benefits is growing all the time too. And that’s even before I add some really juicy stuff beyond what is listed below… which is pretty great already, if I do say so myself. And I do!

That’s it, let me know your email questions in the comments.

List sign-up graphic listing benefits: weekly marketing tips, free ad courses, amazon decoded, exclusive discounts, sneak peeks, and dad jokes

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Content Marketing – what the heck is it? https://davidgaughran.com/2020/01/21/content-marketing-for-writers-authors-fiction-non-fiction/ https://davidgaughran.com/2020/01/21/content-marketing-for-writers-authors-fiction-non-fiction/#comments Tue, 21 Jan 2020 16:53:26 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=8509 A classic authorial flub is beating your readers over the head with all that painstaking research you conducted while suffering from Level IX Procrastination. After going to the trouble of boning up on the mating habits of fruit flies – so your supposedly smart entomologist heroine doesn’t say something truly dumb – there’s a real danger of info dumping or otherwise sucking the drama out of any scene.

Like with so many other literary devices, these bloody things are like saffron: a pinch can transform a dish, but two pinches can ruin it. Meanwhile we authors are backing up the saffron truck and dumping it onto the reader’s driveway…

But what if I told you there’s another use for all these writerly offcuts? Let’s talk about content marketing. Read More...

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This post on content marketing was originally written for my newsletter last year. I’m re-running some of those older emails to highlight the growing list of benefits when you sign up to my Friday newsletter. More details at the bottom.

A classic authorial flub is beating your readers over the head with all that painstaking research you conducted while suffering from Level IX Procrastination. After going to the trouble of boning up on the mating habits of fruit flies – so your supposedly smart entomologist heroine doesn’t say something truly dumb – there’s a real danger of info dumping or otherwise sucking the drama out of any scene.

Like with so many other literary devices, these bloody things are like saffron: a pinch can transform a dish, but two pinches can ruin it. Meanwhile we authors are backing up the saffron truck and dumping it onto the reader’s driveway…

But what if I told you there’s another use for all these writerly offcuts? Let’s talk about content marketing. *blows alpenhorn*

Content Marketing 101

This is the perfect palette cleanser if you are sick of the overwhelming focus on ads these days, because content marketing is on the other end of the spectrum. It’s also way more natural to the average author and her typical skillset. Making and distributing content is what we do. And the big buzz word in content marketing right now is… wait for it… storytelling.

“I’ve heard of it,” you might respond.

The actual practice of content marketing is quite old, even if the moniker is more modern in nature. And it has become particularly fashionable in the last few years as the focus switched from outbound marketing – where you go out there in the world and try to find customers, often through advertising – to inbound marketing. Which is basically like Field of Dreams: you build something – namely a Bunch O’Content – that organically and passively attracts customers to you instead.

You might think you’re doing that already. And you are. All of you are probably content marketing in some shape or form, even if you don’t slap that particular label on it.

For example, if you run a regular newsletter, you are engaging in content marketing, most likely. If you have more extensive information on your website beyond the usual basic info about you and your books – like if you have a blog or some other informational resource there – then you are probably committing some acts of content marketing even if that wasn’t your explicit intention. Even using a permafree or having a reader magnet can be viewed as a form of content marketing; it only sounds a bit weird because our primary business is also selling content.

Either way, there’s probably a lot more you could be doing with content marketing, especially if you approach it in a little more organized and structured way.

If you are a non-fiction author, content marketing should be a central part of your strategy. But there’s valuable stuff here for fictionauts too. And if you are one of those authors grimacing at the focus these days on advertising, and all the associated costs and complexity, well then get ready to roll up your sleeves: because content marketing is mostly about sweat rather than seed money. And you already know how to do the hardest part: writing good content.

Content Marketing Examples

The first recorded example of content marketing is way back in 1732 when Benjamin Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanack, which was designed to promote his publishing business. The popularity of this as a marketing strategy really grew in the 19th century, and there are lots of examples of things like bookstores opening reading rooms and printing their own newspapers to attract new customers, or publishers releasing magazines where the idea wasn’t to make a profit from the magazine as such but to subtly promote their authors and books, or medical companies printing informational pamphlets for doctors which were genuinely educational and useful but also pushed their products of course.

That last distinction is pretty crucial and an example will tease it out further: John Deere launched its own magazine in 1895 to promote their range of vehicles. Not a catalog, I really must stress. A magazine with actual content that was interesting to people – specifically, its target market, rural farmers and their families. I guess you could think of it like product placement, but where the manufacturers of the product are also making the content in which they are placing things.

Anyway, now content marketing is everywhere, even if we don’t always realize it. For example, the GI Joe comic was revived in the 1980s to promote the new action figure, rather than the action figure being some kind of spin off merchandise.

To give an even more modern example, you might be Googling the best way to clean your Converse and end up on a site like Cleanipedia – which seems like a typical, independent informational site on the internet, but is actually a vehicle for promoting Unilever’s large range of products. It doesn’t mention competing products and only links to Unilever brands, including places where you can buy them. It’s definitely commercial, but it’s not salesy.

It’s also very different from a typical corporate or retailer site promoting or selling a product, because that’s not what this is. It’s a very focused collection of content, designed to bring customers to them passively and over time via SEO, without being in their face. And without costing the kind of money that ads can cost.

It’s also a long-term approach – with all the pros and cons that entails. You can (in theory) flick on ads like a light switch. Content marketing, like that aforementioned Field of Dreams, must be built. Which takes time. And if that part makes you wary – the necessary time investment – that is the right reaction to have. But we’ll talk about some ways you can adopt a more efficient approach in a moment.

On the plus side, the benefits don’t fade away as quickly as a switched-off light either. As long as the content is relatively evergreen, it will keep attracting potential customers, some of whom turn into actual customers. And if you keep adding content (or refreshing it), then the effect becomes cumulative.

Content Marketing For Writers

Content marketing is such a huge topic generally that we should drag this corpse back to the literary saloon before it begins to fester.

There are three main channels which authors can use for content marketing: email, your website, and social media. But don’t panic! That doesn’t mean you need to be pumping out Hot Content 24/7 to satisfy three greedy maws. If you are strategic about it, you can take a piece of content and sweat it in multiple ways.

Take the eight-part series of emails I did on BookBub Ads back in 2018, for example. That was the first shot in a content marketing strategy. A lot of this was fleshed out on the fly, but I knew some of what I was doing in advance, and then just layered more stuff on top of it.

The content was My Knowledge of BookBub Ads, to state the obvious, and I started pushing that out occasionally via email. That’s my core audience, and I want them to get the good stuff first, fresh out of the oven. This creates anticipation for a future book, but also acts as a kind of reward as they are getting an exclusive preview.

I have another audience here on this blog/website. While I want to keep a good chunk of stuff exclusive to my list for obvious reasons, I also want to show a bit of leg publicly too. This creates anticipation for a future release too, while also driving sign-ups. And then places like Google will index that (SEO-friendly) post, resulting in some further long-term content marketing benefits over time.

Then there is social media, where I would throw out a morsel or two in the lead-up to publication, designed to create anticipation, drive sign-ups, bring traffic to my site, and/or lead directly to book purchases.

But it’s the same content, being reworked in different ways – some things added, other aspects stripped away. And that’s before you even get to the book, which is obviously the same content, just in a much deeper sense.

The point is you can take a piece of content and work it in different ways depending on your needs and goals, and the inherent strengths of the channel itself (Twitter isn’t a great place to sell a book, but an email isn’t a likely candidate to go viral). This kind of selective recycling massively cuts down on the time invested needed to create whatever content you need.

Does it work for fiction authors?

I know what you’re thinking: you’re hungry and you want a sandwich. But also, how does this apply to fiction in any way? Good question.

I don’t think it’s necessarily the best use of your time to take this strategy wholesale and simply transpose it to fiction. You can do it, and some people do it well, but the ROI on that time investment often doesn’t look great; you might be better off streamlining it a little.

This really goes back to what is most effective in content marketing: giving people solutions to problems. If someone wants to speak Mandarin, learn the Ukelele, explore vegan cooking, or discover what really happened after Columbus arrived in Hispaniola, they are an easily definable person with a problem. Which needs a solution. And your content is that solution.

With non-fiction, those “problems” also map rather neatly onto products you are selling – i.e. your book, which goes deeper into solving that problem.

That mapping is super tricky with fiction. You can have a blog all about Italian food, and write romances set in Tuscany, but what if I’m Googling how to make handmade pasta, and stumble across your site and love it, but don’t read romance because I’m an empty husk of a person? If you had a book on Italian food culture, or a travel guide to Florence, maybe I would have picked that up, but I’m dead inside and don’t read romance so there’s no chance of making that sale to me.

You often end up losing a lot of people along the way with fiction and blogging, so unless you are going to go big, and have a real passion to blog about your topic anyway, then I wouldn’t recommend starting there.

Email and social media is a different matter. This is where a fiction author can adopt a smart content marketing strategy without losing all their precious book-writing time.

One last thing…

I hope you enjoyed this post! It was originally published as a newsletter last year. I send out content like this every Friday to my subscribers.

For example, there was a Part 2 to this email with specific examples for authors of both fiction and non-fiction on how they can use content marketing to grow their fanbase. If you want to polish off this two-hit bong of content marketing goodness, sign up to my list.

You’ll get access to all the other emails you missed too, covering Facebook, BookBub, and Amazon Ads, and all sorts of other topics like reader psychology and email marketing and launch strategies and how to start a new pen name from scratch.

You also get a FREE copy of Amazon Decoded – a book that you can’t get anywhere else! I strongly recommend that you join thousands and thousands of authors and sign up today because I have some really special treats coming soon.

Content marketing footer image - email sign up content upgrade

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What The Piña Colada Song Teaches Us About Marketing https://davidgaughran.com/2020/01/18/what-the-pina-colada-song-teaches-us-about-marketing/ https://davidgaughran.com/2020/01/18/what-the-pina-colada-song-teaches-us-about-marketing/#comments Sat, 18 Jan 2020 18:08:23 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=8365 It was the release of his fifth solo album – and particularly the single Escape (The Piña Colada Song) – which made him truly famous. At least among those who didn’t mistake the singer for Barry Manilow, a surprisingly persistent error over time.

While that case of mistaken identity didn’t dampen the song’s initial reception, another form did. It was originally released as Escape – with no mention of those famous piña coladas in the song title.

People would call up radio stations and ask for the song about piña coladas, only to be met with bafflement. And when they went to their local record store to order The Piña Colada Song, they were told the store didn’t have it. They did, of course, but it was titled something else: Escape. Read More...

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This post on the marketing lessons you can learn from The Piña Colada Song (yes, seriously!) was originally written for my newsletter last year. I’m re-running some of those older emails to highlight the growing list of benefits when you sign up to my Friday newsletter. More details at the bottom.

You may love it, you may hate it, but you’ve definitely heard it: The Piña Colada Song is one of the most recognizable and enduring hits of the last fifty years – the only song ever to hit No. 1 in America in two different decades.

But it almost sank without trace.

The artist behind it is Rupert Holmes, who is primarily known to many for penning this one tune, but he has led an interesting and varied life. While he currently lives in New York, Holmes was born in Cheshire in 1947 as David Goldstein – a US Army brat, with an American father and an English mother, the wonderfully named Gwendolen.

His was a very musical upbringing, and when the family were uprooted and moved to Nanuet, New York in the 1950s, he ended up attending the prestigious Manhattan School of Music and majored in the clarinet, although he didn’t follow his brother into the world of opera and “serious” music.

Instead, he became a session musician and did side-gigs like writing jingles for shampoo commercials. Holmes was delighted to be working in the music business at any level, but it also enabled him to support himself while working on his own music. In the early 1970s, he had a couple of minor hits under his own name, while also wrote songs for big stars like Dolly Parton, the Drifters, Gene Pitney, and the Partridge Family.

He broke out himself in 1974 with the album Widescreen which really nailed down his soon-to-be-signature style of witty but romantic story songs. And when Barbara Streisand asked to cover some of the songs from that album for her movie A Star Is Born, he’d hit the big time.

It was the release of his fifth solo album – and particularly the single Escape (The Piña Colada Song) – which made him truly famous. At least among those who didn’t mistake the singer for Barry Manilow, a surprisingly persistent error over time.

While that case of mistaken identity didn’t dampen the song’s initial reception, another form did. It was originally released as Escape – with no mention of those famous piña coladas in the song title.

People would call up radio stations and ask for the song about piña coladas, only to be met with bafflement. And when they went to their local record store to order The Piña Colada Song, they were told the store didn’t have it. They did, of course, but it was titled something else: Escape.

Word-of-mouth was hitting an impenetrable wall and sales remained tepid throughout October 1979. The record label begged Rupert Holmes to change the title to The Piña Colada Song, but he resisted the pressure. The theme of escape is central to the whole meaning of the song, he clearly felt, which is all about the protagonist wanted to escape his boring life, and the prospective love interest taking out a personal ad to escape hers.

Rupert Holmes dug his heels in and refused to change the title… right up until December of that year when he finally agreed to a compromise and renamed the song Escape (The Piña Colada Song).

It went straight to No. 1.

Marketing Lesson #1: a title is part of the commercial packaging – ignore your Inner Artist when it comes to business decisions.

There was another reason for Holmes’ reticence to change the song title. The original version never mentioned piña coladas at all. It’s hard to imagine now, with that chorus tattooed into your brain over decades of radio airplay, but the original line of the chorus was “If you like Humphrey Bogart…” rather than any kind of drink.

Holmes only changed it at the last minute when he thought it didn’t feel right. The piña colada didn’t have any special significance to him, it just happened to be the first cocktail which popped into his head. He later confessed that he didn’t even drink piña coladas.

Marketing Lesson #2: don’t associate your brand with creamy drinks if you are lactose intolerant.

I kid. I have no idea if Rupert Holmes is sensitive to dairy; I think he just doesn’t like piña coladas. Fans buy them for him all the time, assuming he is as fond of them as his characters are. But at the time of writing the song, he had never even tasted one.

The real reason he changed the line is because of feedback he got when he was running the song by various people. For reasons we’ll get to in a moment, he only had a day or so to nail down the lyrics and when he was on the way to the studio, he read them out for his taxi driver.

What he was specifically seeking opinions on was the infamous twist at the close of the song.

If you’re not familiar with the narrative behind this most famous of story songs, it goes a little like this: a guy in a long-term relationship – presumably married, but that’s not made explicit – is a little… bored with his “woman” and starts perusing the personals. For the millennials in the audience, this was an old-school form of Tinder which took place in a newspaper, where people could take 24 hours or more to swipe right.

Anyway, one of the personal ads catches his eye, one particular lady’s declaration of love for piña coladas and beachy trysts, as well as antipathy for the yoga craze that was also flourishing at the time. Our wannabe cheater responds with similar affectation for piña coladas, expanding this boozy smorgasbord to include champagne, but dismissing the comparative merits of health food. (His views on sandy shagging are unstated but can be safely inferred.)

He offers to meet the mysterious lady tomorrow, at noon, in O’Malley’s Bar, where he says they can plan their escape, and presumably their new life together. The twist – and this is where it gets really weird – is that he walks into the bar and the lady behind the personal ad is… his wife. (Or girlfriend. We never got that fully established. Let’s go with “partner.”)

Either way, they have been together for a while – that’s clear from the start – and neither of them seemed remotely perturbed by the fact they are respectively taking out, and responding to, personal ads looking for extra-curricular activities. They both seem quite blasé and enjoy discovering they have more in common than previously assumed.

The seventies, man; it was a different time.

Holmes wasn’t worried if that twist was bizarre or even palatable – but whether it was too obvious. He sang the song to several people to see if they could see it coming, but obviously they couldn’t because it’s completely crackers.

Another problem emerged during this process though: the line about Humphrey Bogart just didn’t scan well.

It was only in the studio, just before laying down the vocal, that Rupert Holmes decided to change it to the first exotic cocktail he could recall. Time was tight, he was just about to get on the mic, and he didn’t have the luxury of dawdling. Perhaps we should all be glad it wasn’t a Harvey Wallbanger.

Marketing Lesson #3: Loop in feedback, and bake it right into the product.

If all this wasn’t random enough, Escape wasn’t even originally planned to be single from that album. It was nothing more than a filler track – Holmes needed something up tempo to offset all the ballads and went through a variety of half written songs and melodies, desperately trying to find something that would fit before they ran out of studio time.

The drummer had over-indulged during this lull and had to be put in a taxi home, forcing Holmes to use a primitive form of sampling to lay down the backing track. But it didn’t matter so much, this was just filler, he thought. Even the vocal was done in just one take, as they were running out of time on the final day of recording. Holmes couldn’t summon the energy or enthusiasm for a second attempt.

He was worn out from recording this album, and particularly this final song. As I mentioned previously, he only had a day or so to write the lyrics. He had the melody already, but no words to go with it, and pulled his usual trick of scanning the personal ads in the Village Voice to see if any interesting characters jumped out at him.

One ad did: a woman describing herself in such glowing terms that he sardonically wondered to himself why such a putative catch would need to place a personal ad to get some action. Then he thought he was perhaps being unfair. She might just be looking for adventure, for an escape. He wondered what would happen if he replied…

Boom, the song was born.

Marketing Lesson #4: hunger is the best sauce and necessity is the mother of invention.

Even after the crazy recording session and the track came together, Holmes didn’t view it as a standout track on the album at all. He considered it “too simple musically and harmonically … it was just supposed to balance out the album.”

And he was surprised when the studio expressed interest in releasing it as the main single, but decided not to fight them on it, if they were so convinced – and they most certainly were.

Marketing Lesson #5: seek opinions from those with more emotional distance.

Rupert Holmes is sometimes described as a one-hit wonder, which is both unjust and inaccurate – he had several hits before and after the monster success which overshadowed the rest of his pop career, just not to the same crazy level.

And that professional career was just as varied afterwards too. Aside from continuing to write and record music, he was a playwright and novelist and composer. He wrote a TV show and worked on several movies. He won the Tony Awards – twice – for a couple of the many musicals he penned. And he even won the Edgar award for one of the mysteries he wrote, a book called Where The Truth Lies, which was published by Random House and subsequently turned into a movie starring – naturally – Kevin Bacon.

The song was anomalous in some fairly key ways though. As Rupert Holmes said himself, “It’s my most successful song and probably the least typical of my work.” It was an interview in 2003 he gave just after he won the Tony award for his musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood and just before he won the Edgar for his mystery Where the Truth Lies, so he was hardly in a creative rut or sour about it all. He seemed bemused more than anything.

It was never meant to be heard 100 million times; it was meant to be a little short story with a little wink at the end of it, and that was supposed to be it. It was also not supposed to make the piña colada a popular drink in Idaho.

Rupert Holmes

I guess that’s the final marketing lesson here, although it’s more of a life-lesson: you don’t get to decide how people feel about your work. All we can do is keep putting it out there. It becomes its own thing then. In a way, it’s not ours anymore.

One last thing…

I hope you enjoyed this post! It was originally published as a newsletter last year. I send out content like this every Friday to my subscribers.

Well, maybe not exactly like this. More normally I talk about the latest tricks with Facebook Ads or BookBub Ads, I also get into topics like content marketing, reader targeting, and everything else under the sun that pertains to building audience and reaching readers.

By signing up to my list, you get access to the all the old emails too, as well as sneak previews of upcoming books (meaning you get the jump on the latest tricks strategies of everyone else), and exclusive discounts too.

You also get a FREE copy of Amazon Decoded – a book that you can’t get anywhere else! I strongly recommend that you join thousands and thousands of authors and sign up today because I have some really special treats coming soon.

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12 Free Graphic Design Tools For Authors https://davidgaughran.com/2020/01/16/12-free-graphic-design-tools-authors-writers-canva/ https://davidgaughran.com/2020/01/16/12-free-graphic-design-tools-authors-writers-canva/#comments Thu, 16 Jan 2020 15:01:54 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=8340 One big change in my business over the last few years has been recognizing the importance of branding… and doing something about it too, I guess. Because I was always somewhat aware of the role branding plays in marketing but really fell down in the execution.

Which is a nice way of saying my branding was awful.

That’s no slight on the designers who turned out excellent work for me. My book covers were great, for example, I just didn’t have a coherent vision across my titles which was then parlayed across websites and Twitter headers and email graphics for brand cohesion – or really why that would be so important.

These days my site looks more professional, and the branding lines up with that of my books, social channels, and newsletter. And I’m quite proud of it as I handle all of it myself. Well, almost – I still outsource book covers. But I do the rest, and the funniest part about that is that I’m not remotely artistic in that sense; I couldn’t match colors if you paid me and can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. Read More...

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Free graphic design tools have had a huge impact on my business. One big change in the last few years has been recognizing the importance of branding… and doing something about it too, I guess. Because I was always somewhat aware of the role branding plays in marketing but really fell down in the execution.

Which is a nice way of saying my branding was awful.

That’s no slight on the designers who turned out excellent work for me. My book covers were great, for example, I just didn’t have a coherent vision across my titles which was then parlayed across websites and Twitter headers and email graphics for brand cohesion – or knew why that was so important.

These days my site looks more professional, and the branding lines up with that of my books, social channels, and newsletter. And I’m quite proud of it as I handle all of it myself. Well, almost – I still outsource book covers. But I do the rest, and the funniest part about that is that I’m not remotely artistic in that sense; I couldn’t match colors if you paid me and can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.

Unsurprisingly, that’s what used to hold me back. I just didn’t have the skills or the confidence to make graphics, and even if I was inclined to hire a designer for every single little job that routinely crops up – and when you start taking this seriously, there are quite a few of those – even throwing money at the problem wouldn’t have been sufficient, unless I actually had a full sledding squad of designers chained in the basement.

All that has changed. The tools available to us today are so sophisticated that even dullards like me can turn out professional looking graphics… with a little practice, it must be stressed. I didn’t develop phat skillz overnight. This isn’t some kind of one-click wotsit. You will need to invest some time to gain competency here.

On the plus side, many of those tools are free. Which means your only excuse for not getting good at this is laziness. Which is a pretty valid excuse, in fairness – just ask my accountant, dietician, or parole officer.

And I’m not just talking about free Photoshop alternatives like Canva, below we also have handy things like color pickers, color matchers, 3D cover generators, and tools which will crack open a book cover and allow you to pull out any of the layers or elements. Super handy stuff!

This is my branding-slash-design-slash-promo toolkit.

Canva

Out of all the Photoshop alternatives, Canva seems to be the most popular among authors, and what I use personally.

Canva is free, powerful, easy-to-use, and browser based too – meaning you can use it on the go. This has been a lifesaver for me when I had sudden need for promo graphics while traveling and away from my own computer.

There’s a little bit of a learning curve with Canva, but nothing like Photoshop. You don’t need training to produce professional-looking graphics with Canva. I’m living proof. Just some practice.

Disclosure: these Canva links are affiliate links, but I only found out about Canva’s affiliate program the other day and have been recommending Canva for a few years. I don’t think I’m alone in that, by the way, so if you also routinely recommend Canva to your audience, I recommend checking out the affiliate program here – which has flown strangely under the radar. It’s super easy to set up on affiliate account too, as they use the same Impact platform as AppSumo and other companies – so if you are already set up on that, it’s just a couple of clicks to get it all going for you.

To be completely balanced, I have had customer service issues with Canva in the past. I don’t like their policy on paid elements, and they really didn’t react well when I aired those criticisms online. Not a great response, and I was unhappy enough to start looking for Canva alternatives.

(For those curious: Canva has a huge library of free photos and elements you can use in your images with little restriction. But it also has paid images and elements, and the licensing around same is weirdly restrictive, and I recommend avoiding paid elements altogether to avoid all that messiness. I haven’t had any issues since then and they have streamlined those policies a little since – although I’m still not crazy about how that all works. Just so you know.)

That said, I still think it’s the best online graphic design tool out there and cool new features are being added all the time. I like it so much that I spring for the paid version every month – and still do so. There’s a more detailed breakdown of Canva Pro at the end of this post.

However, there are some interesting Canva alternatives these days which you might also want to check out.

Canva Alternatives

First up is one designed specifically for authors: Book Brush.

Book Brush seems pretty plugged in to the author community. The team does a lot of outreach and appear at conferences and the like, which means they have some cool author-specific features, like box-set cover generators.

Something like Canva might be slicker overall and have more complexity, but fans of Book Brush tell me it is much easier to use for a total beginner, so keep that in mind.

The team also seem to be working hard all the time to launch new features, particularly author-specific ones. For example, the new video effects feature is really cool and will certainly get me to give Book Brush a proper trial this year.

Like Canva, Book Brush has a free version and a paid version with additional features. You can check it out here.

There are other Photoshop alternatives like GIMP, which is free, and online Canva competitors like Stencil, which has free and paid versions. I picked up a lifetime license for Stencil from AppSumo a while back, but I haven’t tried it yet.

At some point, I plan to do a more in-depth Canva/Book Brush/Stencil comparison, but my quick take is that Canva is really worth it if you want to invest a little time in getting good at it. That’s what I recommend, but Book Brush might be more appealing if you want something simpler that might have less of a learning curve. You have options.

More Free Graphic Design Tools

Moving on from full-on graphic design programs, there are a whole bunch of handy, free tools which help me get the job done.

Coolers.co is a color scheme generator. Basically, you plug in your primary color, and it will suggest a bunch of matching colors for you to use. So simple and incredibly useful. Also has an iOS app and Photoshop integration, if that’s how you roll. I honestly don’t know how I did anything before I discovered this little bit of wizardry.

HTML Color Codes allows you to upload any image and pick out a color. It will give you a hex code for that exact shade and you can just drop that in Canva (or whatever you use) to get that exact color for your design. This has reduced 95% of the faff from my design life.

Tin Eye is the best reverse image search out there, which will help you determine if that image you have your eye on really is available for use. I say “help” deliberately. Be cautious in such things!

PSD Converter will crack open those Photoshop (.psd) files and allow you to extract whatever layer you wish. SO USEFUL.

3D Cover Creator is a pretty slick tool which seems far better than any of the others that I know of, with lots of options. Just download the file as a transparent PNG, and then upload it to Canva, pick your background, and you’ve got yourself a Facebook Ad. (See? Anyone really can do this! See this post for more involved instructions.)

Lunapic Background Remover isn’t the fanciest background remover out there, but most of those cost money (you mightn’t notice until you try and download your pic afterwards – sneaky!). This one is completely free.

Remove BG – thanks to Maggie Smith in the comments! This is a much better background remover tool, and unlike many of its slick brethern, this is 100% free.

SmallPDF – PDF to JPG converter might not be the most obvious choice here, but I need it for one very specific job: fixing blurry BookBub Ads. Sometimes Canva (and other programs) exports a blurry image at smaller sizes, an issue when it comes to BookBub Ads and the small, 300x250px format. Here’s my workaround: export the image as a Print-Ready PDF in Canva, convert it to a JPG using this tool, then reduce the size to 300x250px. That should kill your blurriness. (Note: I heard that Book Brush may have solved this problem in another way, but I don’t know the details – perhaps a Book Brush user can let us know in the comments).

ImageOptim handily solves a problem that all the above might create. Putting lots of fancy graphics on your website can slow it down, something you don’t want generally, but really, really don’t want for something like your newsletter sign-up page. This useful tool will reduce the size of all of your images to appropriate resolutions for web usage – and as a bonus it’s really quick and easy to use, so you can fly through a whole stack of images in no time. And it really does make a huge difference – see below for proof.

Canva Pro

As I said above, Canva is an awesome tool, and the free version will be probably be good enough for most of you. Heavier users might want to spring for Canva Pro – which costs $12.95 a month. Actually, you can get it for as little as $9.95 a month if you pay annually, but that’s still not nothing, so what do you get for that extra cost?

(BTW this screenshot of Canva Pro features was a whopping 758KB – which would have really slowed down page loading. Then I ran it through ImageOptim – which reduced it to a much more manageable 81KB. A huge reduction!)

You can read the full feature set of Canva Pro here but let me highlight the features that – for me at least – make it easily worth the price:

  • Magic Resizer – don’t tell Canva, but I’d pay just for this alone. Before Magic Resizer waltzed into my life, I would spend a decent amount of time making a nice Facebook graphic. Then I would have to build the whole thing from scratch again to make a BookBub graphic. And then again to make a Facebook Cover photo or whatever else I might need. Now, I click a couple of buttons and my promo image is magically resized into whatever format I want. Wonderful! Such a time-saver, and it has encouraged me to be more comprehensive in my branding too, making all my graphics match across various social channels.
  • Custom Fonts – the selection of fonts in the free version is quite comprehensive, but that selection grows significantly in Canva Pro. Not only that, you can upload your own custom fonts too, like all these beautiful ones I buy from Set Sail Studios. This helps solve a rather prevalent problem. Some people don’t realize the importance of establishing your own branding, native to you and your books, and they will… piggyback on someone else’s branding, sometimes even copying every little detail of their Facebook or BookBub Ads. Using a bigger selection of fonts can prevent a lot of this copying. Although, errr, I just told you where I buy fonts from. MOVING ON.
  • More free elements – the selection of free photos and elements also expands significantly once you switch to the paid version. This also helps prevent some of the copying that can happen and helps you establish more unique branding, which will be less likely to get diluted by competitors. I think you get access to 4m more elements in the paid version, so we are talking a significant expansion of the available selection here.
  • Gifs! – the paid version lets you make gifs but I honestly haven’t tried this yet because I think if I go down that rabbit hole you will never see me again! But one day…

Your Favorite Free Graphic Design Tool

What about you? Do you use any of these tools? Are there any others you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

One last thing…

I hope you enjoyed this post! I just wanted to let you know that I send out exclusive content like every Friday to my mailing list subscribers.

I talk about the latest tricks with Facebook Ads or BookBub Ads, I also get into topics like content marketing, reader targeting, and everything else under the sun that pertains to building audience and reaching readers.

By signing up to my list, you get access to the all the old emails too, as well as sneak previews of upcoming books (meaning you get the jump on the latest tricks strategies of everyone else), and exclusive discounts too.

You also get a FREE copy of Amazon Decoded – a book that you can’t get anywhere else! I strongly recommend that you join thousands and thousands of authors and sign up today because I have some really special treats coming soon.

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The Combined Book Exhibit and Author Scams https://davidgaughran.com/2019/09/12/combined-book-exhibit-author-scams-new-title-showcase/ https://davidgaughran.com/2019/09/12/combined-book-exhibit-author-scams-new-title-showcase/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2019 12:14:58 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=8122 The Combined Book Exhibit has been taking its traveling bookshelf, packed with hopeful authors’ books, to trade events and book fairs around the world for 85 years. But while it may have started as a vehicle for genuine publishers and authors to showcase their wares at far-flung events, today it is notorious for enabling a very particular kind of author scam.

If an author approaches the Combined Book Exhibit directly via its website, they can display their ebook or print book at prestigious events like the London Book Fair or BookExpo America for $325. This is a considerable fee when you consider what the author gets in return, especially if you have seen these tired, unloved bookcases at industry events. The idea that an agent or editor or movie producer would peruse these shelves, let alone actually acquire something from them, is risible.

Package deals are also flogged to authors. For example, to have your print and ebook edition displayed in the New Title Showcase at the London Book Fair and BookExpo America next year costs the considerable sum of $900. And then something called the 2020 International Package will take your hopefully sturdy paperback to the London Book Fair, BookExpo America, Beijing Book Fair, Frankfurt Book Fair, Sharjah Book Fair, and the Guadalajara Book Fair, at a cost of $1400 or $1650 if you want to include the ebook also. Read More...

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The Combined Book Exhibit has been taking its traveling bookshelf, packed with hopeful authors’ books, to trade events and book fairs around the world for 85 years. But while it may have started as a vehicle for genuine publishers and authors to showcase their wares at far-flung events, today it is notorious for enabling a very particular kind of author scam.

If an author approaches the Combined Book Exhibit directly via its website, they can display their ebook or print book at prestigious events like the London Book Fair or BookExpo America for $325. This is a considerable fee when you consider what the author gets in return, especially if you have seen these tired, unloved bookcases at industry events. The idea that an agent or editor or movie producer would peruse these shelves, let alone actually acquire something from them, is risible.

Package deals are also flogged to authors. For example, to have your print and ebook edition displayed in the New Title Showcase at the London Book Fair and BookExpo America next year costs the considerable sum of $900. And then something called the 2020 International Package will take your hopefully sturdy paperback to the London Book Fair, BookExpo America, Beijing Book Fair, Frankfurt Book Fair, Sharjah Book Fair, and the Guadalajara Book Fair, at a cost of $1400 or $1650 if you want to include the ebook also.

Needless to say, this is quite a lot of money for some rather questionable return. And when you sign up for one of the smaller packages you are quite strongly pushed towards the more expensive ones – indeed, the individual shows are hidden away behind a button. Even if you do discover it, and select the 2019 Frankfurt Book Fair, for example, at a cost of $400, additional services are pushed: Ads in Exhibit Catalogues for $150-$350, Autographing slots for $695. All of which the author will struggle to get any kind of return on whatsoever.

Of course, the Combined Book Exhibit has been hawking these questionable products with the full-throated support of the publishing industry. It has endless partnerships and is pretty much protected from any criticism.

However, some criticism has pierced that bubble. One of the Combined Book Exhibit’s most controversial practices doesn’t just involve hawking overpriced services of questionable quality, but reselling those services to exploitative vanity presses who then go on to add an incredible mark-up on top of these already high prices. Of course, these vanity presses tend to adopt the hard-sell, making outrageous promises regarding what these services can achieve.

Writer Beware has written multiple times about the plague of vanity presses coming from the Philippines right now, mostly inspired by Author Solutions, often directly set up by Author Solutions alumni. There are so many of these companies now that Victoria Strauss needed two separate posts to detail them all (Part 1, Part 2).

The key lesson these vanity presses learned from Author Solutions was that you can adopt an instant veneer of respectability by partnering with well-known companies at the heart of the traditional publishing business. Author Solutions infamously did this with HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson, Harlequin, Writers Digest, Hay House, Simon & Schuster, Lulu, Barnes & Noble – even the bloody Authors Guild – before netting itself the big kahuna: getting purchased by Penguin. (All that really happened right? It wasn’t just a crazy dream?)

The Author Solutions copycats since found a much easier way to get that fig-leaf of legitimacy: just purchase packages from Combined Book Exhibit for the purposes of re-selling, and then offer services to authors promising to “take their book to the London Book Fair.”

These vanity press copycats are now cold-calling authors, often rerouting their number via the USA, and deploying the language skills they learned on the job at Author Solutions, under Penguin’s tutelage.

The situation has gotten so bad that Combined Book Exhibit themselves have issued a warning on their own site about these scams. And, really, this was a huge surprise to me because, a few years ago, when I asked the Combined Book Exhibit about their policies surrounding the reselling of their packages to companies applying huge mark-ups, they responded by… blocking me on Twitter.

While I commend the Combined Book Exhibit for warning against specific companies on their site – including companies that have been aggressively cold-calling authors like Books Magnet and Capstone – and detailing red-flag practices too, I can’t help wonder about a couple of things.

First, if Combined Book Exhibit was truly worried about this scam and these companies, it could stop it tomorrow by stopping the reselling of its products to these companies. Why continue to do business with companies that you yourself have labelled scammers? Why would they continue to allow the reselling of your products for, in their own words, “exorbitant rates upwards of $1,800.”? If you stop selling them your display case slots, they have nothing to re-sell. Problem solved… if you really want that. Otherwise this looks like a giant ass-covering exercise.

Second, and rather more pertinently, there are very obvious omissions from this list of problematic companies. The reselling of Combined Book Exhibit products is not limited to some fly-by-night operations out of the Philippines. These book display packages are resold, often at crazy mark-ups, often in very aggressive and disingenuous ways, by a whole host of self-publishing service companies, vanity presses, and “hybrid” publishers.

I can only speculate about why the Combined Book Exhibit chose not to include Lulu on its list. Here they are selling another book display package of seriously questionable value at $1,799 – just a dollar shy of the “exorbitant” level warned about by Combined Book Exhibit.

Another curious omission is AuthorHouse – especially given that AuthorHouse is considerably larger than any of the called-out companies. It’s also charging significantly more than that “exorbitant” figure of $1,800 which Combined Book Exhibit specifically called out. Here’s one such AuthorHouse package for the quite frankly bonkers sum of $2,699.

Even stranger again is the omission of Partridge Publishing, a vanity press based in India and Singapore and South Africa which is charging the barely credible price of 197,599 rupees – approximately $2,800.

And I know Combined Book Exhibit is aware of these packages and their pricing because it was this was what I was querying when they blocked me.

These style of packages were also previously offered by Simon & Schuster-owned vanity press Archway, HarperCollins-owned Westbow, (formerly) Writers Digest-owned Abbott Press, Hay House-owned Balboa.

What do all these companies have in common, aside from some rather famous names which presumably inure them from criticism? All of these companies are actually operated on the ground by Author Solutions. Yes, even Partridge Publishing, which is still owned by Penguin Random House BTW, is operated on their behalf by Author Solutions.

Which means Combined Book Exhibit must be doing a hell of a lot of business with Author Solutions every year. If only there was a way they could prevent all this price-gouging, right? The very price-gouging which they themselves call a “scam” on their own website? If only.

There are all sorts of scammers and weasels in publishing. And partnering with known and trusted entities is how they dupe authors in such huge numbers, particularly inexperienced authors, very young authors, or those of more advanced years – who make up the overwhelming majority of victims.

We are supposed to be able to trust famous names like Penguin and the London Book Fair. They aren’t supposed to act as fig leaves for industrial-scale author exploitation.

Keep in mind that the Combined Book Exhibit isn’t an unknown entity operating at the margins of the publishing industry, it is right at the heart of the traditional end of the business, with long-standing partnerships with the most prestigious industry events and deep links with the likes of Publishers Weekly and some writing organizations too (who should know better).

Unlike many author scams, this one actually has a pretty simple solution. Combined Book Exhibit could review its reselling policies, it could stop all this tomorrow, but it most likely won’t – I suspect Author Solutions is a huge chunk of its yearly income.

Which means the onus is on those partnering with the Combined Book Exhibit. Will you continue to play your own part in this operation? Or will you use your influence to make it right?

The choice is yours.

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The Black Hat Riddle https://davidgaughran.com/2019/09/05/black-hat-riddle-scamming-amazon-self-publishing/ https://davidgaughran.com/2019/09/05/black-hat-riddle-scamming-amazon-self-publishing/#comments Thu, 05 Sep 2019 12:39:37 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=8018 There are serious problems in publishing right now with black hat authors. Nobody is talking about it either, because the cost of speaking out is simply too great. Scammers are increasingly litigious. Dirty tricks abound. White hat writers are suffering in other ways too as readers come to mistrust any name unknown to them, and the only entity with enough power to enforce any kind of justice doesn’t like going on patrol. But maybe there is something else we can do.

My first introduction to the concept of black hats and white hats was not via cowboy movies – I am not American and my own cultural milieu was less focused on that… frontier – but from Philosophy classes as a college student. Particularly what is known as the Hat Riddle (or the Prisoner Hat Riddle).

There are many variations, but in the version I heard, four cowboys – two wearing black hats and two wearing white hats – are captured by banditos who decide to have a little fun with them. They bury the cowboys up to their necks in sand so they can’t move or even turn their heads. The banditos swap their hats around so each cowboy doesn’t know which color hat they are wearing. And then they are asked to guess… and if they get it wrong, they die. Read More...

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There are serious problems in publishing right now with black hat authors. Nobody is talking about it either, because the cost of speaking out is simply too great. Scammers are increasingly litigious. Dirty tricks abound. White hat writers are suffering in other ways too as readers come to mistrust any name unknown to them, and the only entity with enough power to enforce any kind of justice doesn’t like going on patrol. But maybe there is something else we can do.

My first introduction to the concept of black hats and white hats was not via cowboy movies – I am not American and my own cultural milieu was less focused on that… frontier – but from Philosophy classes as a college student. Particularly what is known as the Hat Riddle (or the Prisoner Hat Riddle).

There are many variations, but in the version I heard, four cowboys – two wearing black hats and two wearing white hats – are captured by banditos who decide to have a little fun with them. They bury the cowboys up to their necks in sand so they can’t move or even turn their heads. The banditos swap their hats around so each cowboy doesn’t know which color hat they are wearing. And then they are asked to guess… and if they get it wrong, they die.

The cowboys are arranged in the manner displayed in the picture at the top of this blog post. No one can see their own hat, of course. The first man, wearing a black hat, is behind a wall and can see none of his companions.

The next in line, on the other side of the wall and wearing a white hat, can only see the two men in front of him and their respective hat colors. The third man, wearing a black hat, can only see the cowboy in front of him. And then the final cowboy can see none of his friends or their hat colors, or indeed his own.

The cowboys have ten minutes to figure it out, or they will be executed. Communication between them is not permitted, and if they attempt it, they will be shot. But if any of the cowboys guesses the color of his own hat correctly, he will save them all.

After just one minute in the searing hypothetical heat, one of the cowboys calls out the color of his hat. Correctly. The riddle is this – and it’s not a trick question – which one of them calls out, and why is he 100% sure of the color of his hat?

The answer – and the logic – is in the comments, and it requires a bit of lateral thinking. Just like the problem we are all facing in the Kindle Store today.

Black Hat Silence

People have noticed that I’ve become increasingly vague when talking about those in our community wearing black hats. I haven’t blogged about the topic since last October. I occasionally try and give out warnings on Facebook and Twitter, but often people are frustrated by vague warnings and want all the particulars – and I just can’t give them. I won’t get into the particular details of why, but let’s just say that the personal cost of speaking out on these topics is far greater than anybody knows.

However, perhaps there is something else I can do, something we can all do, to fight those who cheat and swindle their way to the top. We don’t necessarily have to confront the black hats directly – perhaps we can lift up all those with white hats instead.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could create a network of authors with similar values? I mean those who don’t engage in unethical behavior to game the charts. Those who actually care about the quality of the books they publish, and don’t use any tricks to cheat readers or retailers or bestseller charts.

Good people, if you want shorthand.

What if there was a way that good people could promote each other? Instead of tearing down the scammers and slimeballs, we could just… leapfrog them. Don’t invite them to our promos. Shut them out of our networks. Instead, only loop in those who respect the craft, the work, the business, and each other.

I’ve been thinking about this all weekend, while at a conference in America. It was a wonderful event with some really superb sessions which got the brain whirring. I won’t drop any names here as I rather deliberately don’t want to associate anyone with the views I’m expressing in case they attract any heat, but you can see me raving on Twitter about the event and all the things which impressed me.

During the many long discussions I had with fellow authors and industry people last week, a recurring topic was where the industry was headed, of course. Again, not associating anyone else with my opinion – I want to be clear on that – but my personal view is that the problems posed by unethical individuals and entities and groups are growing, not abating, and that there is real danger here because we are talking about it less. Publicly, at least.

Scamming and cheating hasn’t stopped just because fewer people are speaking about it – in many ways it is worse than ever, but the dangers of highlighting it today are such that many voices have retreated from the discussion. I’m not criticizing anyone who that applies to; it also applies to me, quite frankly. There are so many things going on right now that I would love to be explicit about, because there are really dangerous currents going on under the surface, and some particularly nasty people operating, worse than those that have come before, engaging in even more insidious practices.

And the community can’t police itself like it used to.

I don’t know how all this will pan out. To really combat all this stuff, you would need the world’s biggest retailer to actually care what is happening to its store. You would need some superpowered version of the watchdogs of before, with endless legal funds and reserves of energy – a full time staff with a panel of technical experts who understood how all the ad platforms and algorithms worked, so they could grapple with the incredibly complex scams that are operating right now. And you would need institutional support to handle the cyber-security (and actual security) implications of taking on people who routinely employ clickfarms and bots and hackers, people who think nothing of issuing legal threats (or other kinds of threats).

Which is not going to happen, of course. This isn’t to criticize any entities or individuals that have sacrificed a lot over the last few years, and decades, to protect authors from various scams. I think they deserve a tremendous amount of gratitude from the community.

But the simple fact is that the scams have now exponentially exploded in technical complexity, and those wearing black hats are much more ruthless; they have deeper pockets, more to protect.

Creative Solutions

So, what do we do? Nothing? I’m not prepared to go there yet. There are still little bits of activism we can all engage in, if this is something we truly care about. We can still bend the ear of retailers in private, about certain things they are doing… or not doing – and not accept the usual corporate blandishments. We can join one of the organizations that does actually fight for authors. And maybe we can lift up the good people and use what little power we have to exclude the bad people a little more.

You don’t have to do any or all of these things. I’m not an organization person, for example, although I do amplify their campaigns when I can. But is lifting up good people and steering clear of bad people something else we can all consider?

I’ve turned down more than a few opportunities in the last 12 months, when I decided to draw a line in the sand. I’ve turned down attractive speaking gigs when I saw who was on the slate. I’ve withdrawn from lucrative promos when I saw who else was on board and what practices might be deployed. And I’ve started telling organizers why I was withdrawing too, instead of citing scheduling conflicts, or whatever I used to do.

It’s not easy, and it certainly doesn’t make you popular. I’m not looking for any prizes here, just showing how you can – maybe – use whatever power you have to get people thinking about what kind of industry we want to have. What kind of behaviors we want to reward.

Events and promos are starting to realize that I won’t participate if certain people are involved, or if certain practices are engaged in. And this doesn’t make me unique or different – authors have been doing this for a long time and have made far bigger sacrifices. I’ve just started being explicit. At least in private.

These are things you can do too. I’m not saying you have to agree with everything I say, or share my specific values, or even particularly like me. But you can – I respectfully suggest – make a small step towards having the kind of industry you want by taking a similar stance.

Or at least thinking about it.

Maybe it doesn’t suit. Perhaps I’m in a more privileged position here and have the luxury of turning things down. That’s a fair criticism, and I’ll accept that. But consider the following, if you can.

What about doing something positive for the people who do enshrine your values? What about only choosing authors to list-swap with who are good people who truly care about the books which carry their name?

What about only inviting people into your box set who are nice people who don’t cross the line when it comes to reaching readers and making money? I know it’s tempting to invite the person with the 40,000-strong mailing list, or massive Facebook presence, or whatever. I know, because I’ve succumbed to that temptation before. I’ve participated in things which I regret, promoted with people I wished I hadn’t, gone to events where, in hindsight, I wished I had pushed back on certain practices, or at least called them out privately.

I also know that other people have been doing this kind of thing for a long time. I’m not claiming any of this is new, or that this makes me in any way special; I’m just trying to get more people to think about doing the same thing. Because I think the industry needs to change course. And maybe we – collectively – have the power to help ourselves if no one else is going to help us.

We all have mailing lists and Facebook Likes and passionate readers. We can combine our networks to lift up the right people. And we can avoid succumbing to the temptation to include that questionable person because they’ll make us a ton more money.

I waited until my recent promo was over so there could be no accusations of some kind of self-serving weaselry, but I think a concrete example is useful.

Because I was going to a con last weekend and giving a couple of talks on marketing, I wanted some live examples of cross-promotion. I had been meaning to do a group promo with a bunch of fellow authors for a while and decided to pull something together quickly in time for the weekend. It was also the only window where certain people could participate; I had strong feelings about the kind of person I wanted to include.

I personally wanted authors who were strong on craft and ethical in their approach to marketing. I wanted good people. Books and authors who I could comfortably stand behind, and not worry how they were pushing the promo.

Now, the list of writers I included isn’t proscriptive, of course. I’m not saying these are the only ethical people in the business and everyone else is a black hat author – just in case anyone misinterprets this. I plan to do more promos of one kind of another, and I want to cross-promote with as many good people as possible, people who care about their books, and their fellow authors. Ethical people.

I think there’s a hole in the market here. The community really responded to this approach in huge numbers. I don’t have the final tally, but my estimate is that this promo shifted at least 15,000 books. And the only spend was around $600 of affiliate income rolled back into ads, with a little extra from me. We had no retailer support – there was no time to pull anything like that together – no discount sites, no advance buzz, no elaborate social media campaigns. Just our respective lists and platforms and networks.

And a ton of sharing from participants and writers in general (thank you, btw). There was no buy-in for participants, and no hassle. A genuine win for everyone.

All this got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great if we could do this all the time? I don’t mean cross-promote, that’s old hat, but exclusively focus on lifting up good people and skipping over those who engage in tawdry practices.

We might not be able to end scammers and ban black hats, we might not be able to confront the sleazy internet marketer types directly, but maybe we could stop inviting them to our parties? Maybe we could stop exposing our audiences to these people?

This is but a simple request: think about it. Maybe it’s worth a try.

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Audio Innovations and Superfans https://davidgaughran.com/2019/09/03/audio-innovations-and-superfans/ https://davidgaughran.com/2019/09/03/audio-innovations-and-superfans/#comments Tue, 03 Sep 2019 20:30:37 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=8003 When I was at NINC last year in Florida last year, I was telling my mailing list that all the exciting developments in audio are coming from outside Amazon right now, from people like Findaway, Kobo, Chirp/BookBub, and various companies serving the library market.

This is a most welcome development because it also feels like many of the moves (Amazon-owned) Audible has been making lately have been quite negative: the royalty cut, the new subscription service and its low pay rates, and Amazon’s controversial and brazen move to start captioning audiobooks without compensating publishers and authors – which resulted in an immediate lawsuit from the Big 5.

Those large publishers have themselves been making no friends with libraries recently, offering ever-worsening terms for audiobooks, to match those for ebooks. Which is an opportunity for indies, of course, especially those using companies like Findaway to better serve that market. Read More...

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When I was at NINC last year in Florida last year, I was telling my mailing list that all the exciting developments in audio are coming from outside Amazon right now, from people like Findaway, Kobo, Chirp/BookBub, and various companies serving the library market.

This is a most welcome development because it also feels like many of the moves (Amazon-owned) Audible has been making lately have been quite negative: the royalty cut, the new subscription service and its low pay rates, and Amazon’s controversial and brazen move to start captioning audiobooks without compensating publishers and authors – which resulted in an immediate lawsuit from the Big 5.

Those large publishers have themselves been making no friends with libraries recently, offering ever-worsening terms for audiobooks, to match those for ebooks. Which is an opportunity for indies, of course, especially those using companies like Findaway to better serve that market.

But what really excites me is the dynamic in audiobook publishing that is the complete opposite of that which upended the ebook market. In the same way that Amazon gave indies a level playing field, and pricing control, and let them do their thang, the non-Amazon entities in this space have adopted that strategy while Audible resolutely goes in the other direction.

Companies like Findaway and Kobo and Chirp realized something very important: if you let indies actually market their audiobooks (especially by giving them pricing control), they can bring you lots of new customers. We’re growing the pie, and everyone is benefiting – not least us.

(Unless you are tied to ACX/Audible right now, of course, which is the situation with one of my titles; I’m counting down until I get those rights back…)

I spoke with my list about various audio experiments I will be engaging in over 2019/2020 and the first of those was launched on Sunday: the audiobook edition of Strangers to Superfanswhich you can check out here.

This audiobook is produced and distributed by Findaway Voices – a company I’ll be talking a lot more about over the coming weeks, because they have a very different approach to production and distribution.

But just to give you a taste of how much broader your distribution will be with Findaway, check out this list of retailers and library services where Superfans will be available:

Amazon, Audible, Apple, Nook Audiobooks, Kobo, Audiobooks.com, Google Play, Scribd, Biblioteca, Chirp, Walmart, Hibooks, Hoopla, Storytel, OverDrive, Playster, Baker & Taylor, Beek, Downpour, Ebsco, eStories, Follett, Hummingbird, Instaread, Libro.fm, Mlol, Nextory, 3Leaf Group, 24Symbols, Odilo, Permabound, and Wheelers.

That’s not even a complete list, there will be more coming very soon too. And notice that Amazon and Audible are on that list – being with Findaway doesn’t keep you out of any of the major stores, including Audible. Just to knock another myth on its head: it also doesn’t stop your Findaway-distributed title getting Whispersynced on Amazon either.

Having pricing control is exciting. The ability to run discounts will allow indies to truly market their audiobooks for the first time – some are even experimenting through various storefronts with perma-free series openers. It’s a really exciting time, and I’ll have lots more on this topic soon.

For now, check out the Superfans audiobook here. It’s narrated by Melinda Wade, who was just wonderful to work with, and I’ll speak more about that process in future posts.

Last Day of Writer Blowout!

Everyone on my mailing list heard about this on Friday because they get first dibs on everything, but I just grabbed enough time in the airport en route from Oklahoma to Dublin to share it here too:

I’m hosting a MASSIVE sale of writer books for just 99¢ each. The line-up is truly great and I’m honored these authors including their books. The sale ends midnight tonight PST so act now if you want to save $59!!!

It’s right here: Writer Blowout!

Oh and make sure you are on my mailing list and you won’t miss future promos like this (yes, there will be more). OKAY, I must get on this plane and stop wrestling with airport wifi…

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Email Marketing: Your Secret Weapon https://davidgaughran.com/2019/08/21/email-marketing-secret-weapon-author-newsletter/ https://davidgaughran.com/2019/08/21/email-marketing-secret-weapon-author-newsletter/#comments Wed, 21 Aug 2019 12:27:01 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=7842 There is no question that email marketing is the most powerful tool at your disposal; not taking advantage of all the unique benefits of email marketing is really missing a trick. Here’s why.

I’m sure all of you know the power of having thousands of committed readers signed up to your mailing list, allowing you to send each new release into the charts. Even if you’re not there yet personally, this should be something you are aiming for. Every single author should have a mailing list and be seeking to actively grow it.

But before we fly through the basics and delve into more advanced topics, let’s be clear about something: email marketing is not about spam. It’s not about fake intimacy. It’s not about posing BS questions to create false engagement. And it’s not about bait-and-switches, contrived urgency, click-baiting subject lines, or other emotional tricks; that’s what cheesy internet marketers do. Read More...

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Email marketing is the most powerful tool at your disposal and not taking advantage of its unique benefits is really missing a trick. Here’s why.

I’m sure all of you know the power of having thousands of committed readers signed up to your mailing list, allowing you to send each new release into the charts. Even if you’re not there yet personally, this should be something you are aiming for. Every single author should have a mailing list and be seeking to actively grow it.

But before we fly through the basics and delve into more advanced topics, let’s be clear about something: email marketing is not about spam. It’s not about fake intimacy. It’s not about posing BS questions to create false engagement. And it’s not about bait-and-switches, contrived urgency, click-baiting subject lines, or other emotional tricks; that’s what cheesy internet marketers do.

It’s a huge mistake to look at someone doing email marketing in a slimy way and decide that email isn’t for you. There’s a right way and a wrong way to use every tool.

Example of a spammy use of email by an internet marketer sending sleazy messages every two days to a totally unengaged audience
Definitely don’t do this.

Email Marketing Basics

I recommend MailerLite (aff link) for the job, which is free for the first 1,000 subscribers and reasonably priced thereafter, has an intuitive drag-and-drop interface for creating pretty emails, enables you to slice-and-dice your lists whichever way you please, gives you a nice clean and clear interface, offers great customer service, and allows surprisingly powerful automations.

(Note: I switched to MailerLite from Mailchimp, for reasons detailed in this post – Time To Ditch Mailchimp? – which also recommends MailerLite alternatives for those with specific needs).

Also make sure to have an enticing call-to-action right at the end of all your books, pointing people towards a clean sign-up page on your website, so that you can capture as many of those readers as possible who were delighted with your story.

Okay. This is just the bare minimum reader-capturing apparatus that you should have in place, preferably with some form of welcome sequence too.

Writing good books, releasing as frequently as you can manage, and growing your list over time organically will get you going. But email marketing can do so much more for you than simply roll out launch announcements.

Reader Retention via Email

As authors, we have various techniques aimed at getting people to check out our work, whether that’s engaging in price promotions, giving our work away for free, buying a spot on various reader sites, advertising on Amazon, Facebook and BookBub, engaging in cross-promotions with other writers, beefing our review count by giving away ARCs – the list of such tactics is endless, and the amount of time and money and headspace we devote to these activities is considerable.

But you know what’s way easier than gaining a new customer? Keeping an old one.

If you have read my book Strangers to Superfans (links to all retailers here) you will know that I talk a lot about the five stages that your Ideal Reader goes through in the transformation from stranger to superfan, and the various blockages along the way that can impede that process. One of the biggest blockages is internal, which is a diplomatic way of saying one of the biggest problems is you.

Aside from assuming discoverability is our biggest challenge – and mistakenly devoting all our energy and focus into getting discovered – we also assume our job is done once the reader clicks the Buy button. Our prose will sweep them away, our rakish duke will make them swoon, our battle-scarred captain will inspire enough loyalty among our reader-crew to get them through all ten books of our tentpole series. Right? Wrong.

Like all relationships, the relationship with your readers must be nurtured, or you will lose many of them along the way. We can’t be so arrogant to assume that we will instantly become everyone’s favorite author once they read our killer opening line. We should remember that some readers get through a book a week. Retired readers can get through several!

All of those authors will be jockeying for position in the reader’s consciousness. Whose work do you think they are more likely to read again: the author who releases the next book in the series five months later and hopes that Amazon recommends it to them? Or the author who convinces the reader to sign up to their mailing list?

Even out of those already working the mailing list angle, which writer is our hypothetical reader more likely to remember: one who doesn’t contact them again until the launch of the next book five months later? Or one who stays in touch regularly, building up a relationship by emailing them something of value (i.e. of genuine interest) every month or so?

There’s no contest. You can take any of those approaches; it’s your choice. But not having a refined email marketing strategy makes it much harder for you to retain readers. Which is a shame considering all the sweat expended getting them to buy those books you labored over.

Advanced Email Marketing

It’s not just with retaining readers where email marketing really shines. Your email list has all sorts of uses from deepening engagement and relationships (creating superfans), launching books into the stratosphere by concentrating sales during launch week, driving sales of backlist books your readers may have missed, and boosting reviews by drawing from a pool of your most committed fans.

Some authors use their list to have a true back-and-forth with their readers – not the kind of fake engagement you see internet marketer types deploy. I know authors who have drawn from their subscriber list for beta readers. Others (me included!) have used their regular emails to flesh out book ideas – their list becoming a sounding board of sorts. More again rave about the having an open, direct channel with their readership, the psychological benefits of which should never be understated in what is largely a solitary profession.

But there’s more! Certain email strategies can help you gain readers too. Dangling something as a sign-up bonus is a very powerful way to drive sign-ups. Often referred to as a “cookie” or “reader magnet” it usually takes the form of a free book or story – but doesn’t need to. Writers can get very creative with this sign-up bonus and really tie it in to the universe of their books.

These books or bonuses – especially when exclusive – can be enticing enough to draw in new readers as well as existing fans, and then if you really are delivering value with your regular emails, and not just squeezing your list for sales, then you have a great chance of converting these “cold” readers into buyers and fans too.

I see it happen all the time: someone signs up to my list because they want the bonus book – you can’t get it anywhere else for all the money in the world. They hang around for a few weeks, seeing if the emails have any value to them. I make sure that any “ask” in my emails only comes after a succession of “gives” – so they might get four or five emails of genuine value before I might mention my work, often tangentially. And they then might check it out because there has been no hard sell.

Unique Advantages of Email

“But wait!” you might cry, just as I was getting up to speed, “Why does all this have to be done by email? Don’t people use Facebook to talk to fans? Isn’t it better to put all this content out on social media or a blog where it actually has a chance of going viral?”

Fair points. So, let’s look at the unique advantages of email. Why is email the best tool for the job? What does it have over blogging or Facebook or anything else? These are good questions and worth teasing out.

Ownership. That might be your name on your Facebook wall but you don’t own it – as you soon find out when you have to pay to make sure all your Likes actually see your launch announcement… or when you get thrown in Facebook jail by an errant AI.

Attention. Email converts like crazy. Nothing comes close to it. Compare the percentages on a Facebook or Amazon Ad versus an email to your list, or BookBub mailing their list (which is what those powerful Featured Deals are, lest you forget!). When you are reading an email, you are far less distractable then when you are on social media or any other web page for that matter. Email trains attention. Email converts.

Intimacy. Perhaps a by-product of the above, and maybe down to the feeling that this is two-way communication, email is far more intimate. It feels like someone talking to you, rather than broadcasting to you via a blog or social media post. (And sometimes it really is two-way communication because an actual dialogue happens between you and the sender.)

Data. I know who is opening my emails, who is clicking on the links, and who is ignoring them completely. I have no idea with my blog subscribers. I just get aggregated states on views and visits and link clicks. Facebook gives me data morsels here and there, but, again, only aggregated. I don’t know who are the solid core which see all my posts organically before I drop a dime (I don’t even know if it’s the same people, or different tranche each time). With email, I have all that data at my fingertips, well presented, and easily searchable. Digestible too – which is pretty important. I look at Google Analytics and I just want to close the window right away (and usually do). All this is important because…

Flexibility. Even if I did know who was seeing my Facebook post and who wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to do much about it. But with email I can segment out people who don’t open 5 or 10 emails in a row and try to re-engage them through various tactics, or cut them loose if they are irretrievable, keeping my costs down. But on Facebook, as I said in Strangers to Superfans, “those now-uninterested Likes keep accumulating like mercury in the body.” Not only does this drive up your costs overall, it makes your content look unengaging to Facebook’s system, making it harder for you to reach those who are still interested.

Portability. If Twitter pulls a MySpace, all those followers I’ve accrued will disappear too. But when Mailchimp jacked up its prices, I was able to take my carefully cultivated mailing lists and move over to MailerLite. (The process was pretty straightforward, as detailed in my post Moving from Mailchimp to MailerLite.) But if Facebook runs into trouble and jacks up its prices, it will be a million times messier for you because you don’t own your Facebook Page. You would have to post repeatedly and/or run ads to your own Likes, desperately trying to move them to your new social network of choice, or your blog, or your list – realistically, you might be lucky to sweep up 5-10% of them. All those other Likes you built up will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. But you most definitely do own your list. And you can export it at any time with one click.

The Right Tool for the Job

It’s important to remember that it’s not either/or. As you may have noticed, this piece of content is coming to you from a blog. I also have a Facebook Page – indeed you may have seen this post on social media first and then clicked through to my blog. And I have an email list, of course.

All these different tools can achieve different things. A really slick content marketing strategy involves knowing what type of content should go out via what channel and in which form. Because all of these channels can act in symbiosis, and cross-pollinate each other.

(BTW, if you’re interested in learning more about content marketing generally, I’m covering the topic in a series of emails to my list at the moment, and by signing up here, you get access to the Email Archive and any episodes you missed.)

All this talk of content marketing strategies might be overwhelming for some, but take it step by step. Make sure to prioritize so that you aren’t spread to thin. And you don’t have to do all of it – this really must be stressed. An involved content marketing strategy is going to be much more important for a non-fiction author, for example.

Your priority, though, should be your email list, along with a website so there is a clean and slick place for readers to sign up. If you were only going to focus on one thing in the whole world of content marketing and email marketing make it that you will regularly email your readers – once a month is perfectly fine!

The unique advantages of email mean this is a tool you really shouldn’t ignore. Yes, you could use Facebook for customer retention. Yes, you could rely solely on advertising to get you new customers and to tell existing ones about new releases. But email is just so much better at customer retention and can save you so much money in advertising… if you do it right.

Authenticity or Bust

Doing it right starts with respecting your readers, making sure that you stay in touch with them regularly but only emailing them with something that has genuine value. Make sure that any “ask” – i.e. any time you want something from them, whether that’s a sale or a share or a review – is surrounded by a string of “gives.”

You might think you are doing readers a favor by not bothering them unless you have a new book but what you are really doing is only turning up at their door when you want money from them. I made this mistake for years. It was only when I tried a different approach, that I could see the benefits of regular contact.

If you want help with any of this stuff, if you want to do email right, check out Newsletter Ninja – the best book out there on the topic. It changed my whole approach.

And whatever your approach to email is, don’t listen to anyone who tells you that email marketing doesn’t work just because spammers are a thing. That’s an incredibly limited view, one that could end up limiting your own potential.

One last thing…

I hope you enjoyed this post! I just wanted to let you know that I send out exclusive content every Friday to my mailing list subscribers.

I talk about the latest tricks with Facebook Ads or BookBub Ads, I also get into topics like content marketing, reader targeting, and everything else under the sun that pertains to building audience and reaching readers.

By signing up to my list, you get access to the all the old emails too, as well as sneak previews of upcoming books (meaning you get the jump on the latest tricks strategies of everyone else), and exclusive discounts too.

You also get a FREE copy of Amazon Decoded – a book that you can’t get anywhere else! I strongly recommend that you join thousands and thousands of authors and sign up today because I have some really special treats coming soon.

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Coming Soon: Big Facebook Ads Changes https://davidgaughran.com/2019/08/15/coming-soon-big-facebook-ads-changes/ https://davidgaughran.com/2019/08/15/coming-soon-big-facebook-ads-changes/#comments Thu, 15 Aug 2019 11:06:24 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=7826 There is a huge change coming to Facebook Ads which could have a profound effect on the performance of all new and existing campaigns from next month onwards. You need to start getting your head around this now as the change is quite unpopular and the solutions for managing it are all a bit… fiddly.

In short, the new feature that Facebook is rolling out is called Campaign Budget Optimization. You might have seen it in your account already – it’s a feature which allows you to nominate a budget for your entire campaign and then hand the reins over to Facebook’s friendly neighborhood AI and allow it to determine how it should be spent.

Campaign Budget Optimization has been available as an optional feature for several months now so lots of people have been experimenting with it and sharing data – which we’ll get to. The big change is this: from next month, it will start being compulsory. Read More...

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There is a big change coming to Facebook Ads which could have a profound effect on the performance of all new and existing campaigns from next month onward. You need to start getting your head around this now as the change is quite unpopular and the workarounds are all a bit… fiddly.

The new feature Facebook is rolling out is called Campaign Budget Optimization. You might have seen it in your account already. It’s billed as a quality-of-life improvement, allowing you to simply nominate a budget for the campaign – and then hand the reins over to Facebook’s friendly neighborhood AI, which will determine how it should be spent. And if you like the sound of that, you trust Facebook’s system a lot more than me.

Campaign Budget Optimization has been available as an optional feature for several months now so lots of people have been experimenting with it and sharing data – which we’ll get to. The big change is this: from next month, it will start being compulsory.*

*Note: see the update at the bottom of the post. It appears this change will only start being compulsory next month for some users and others may be spared for a few months. Read on for more!

To explain why this is such a big deal, and why it will particularly affect authors, first we must quickly go over the basic structure of a Facebook campaign and how things work right now (experienced users can skip to the next section).

Facebook Ads – Campaign Structure

Facebook Ads have a three-level structure, much like Google Ads: Campaigns, Ads Sets, and the Ads themselves. The last level is the only thing that users see, and the other two levels are basically settings behind the curtain for advertisers, if you like. It breaks down like this:

Facebook Ads Structure - Campaigns, Ad Sets, Ads

The Campaign level is all about what kind of ad it is: Traffic (this is what you select when running a bog standard ad to your Amazon listing, for example), Leadgen (designed to boost your mailing list), or other types of ads like Awareness, and Video Views.

The Ad Set level is where you fiddle with all the primary settings for your ads like budget (how much you are spending), schedule, audience (who sees them), and placement (where your ads turn up).

The Ad level is the public face: the image, the link you are sending people to, the accompanying ad text.

Taking the picture above as our example, I might have a Campaign pushing a new release on Amazon, and then I might have one Ad Set targeting my mailing list, another targeting those who have Liked my Facebook Page, a third hitting a bunch of comp authors, and a fourth re-targeting anyone who has visited my website in the last six months. And then I might have two alternate Ad images inside each of those Ad Sets to see which my readers respond to best. That’s not the only way to structure a campaign, of course, but a fairly common one.

Facebook Ads – What’s Changing?

As you have just seen, budgets are currently set at the Ad Set level. But soon you will only be able to set budgets the Campaign level. Why is this change being made? And what difference does it make?

Facebook is deploying more and more machine learning these days, aiming to simplify the platform to draw in more advertisers and to also cut through some of the ever-growing complexity around Facebook Ads. Or if you want to be a little less kind, they are dumbing down the system… whether you like it or not.

You can already see this machine learning being deployed with split tests – either the formal Facebook feature which runs split tests for you, or the more manual ones you can just run yourself (i.e. like the example above where you put two alternate images in the same Ad Set). If you have done any split tests like this on Facebook, you will have seen the system actively monitor the results and give priority to the better performing ad out of the pair without you having to do that proactively.

Now Facebook wants to do that with budgets. And it’s more than a little controversial.

Instead of setting your budget at the Ad Set level, and assigning a separate budget of your choice for each of those Ad Sets, you will now set your budget at the Campaign level and the system will decide how to split it among your ad sets, based on performance.

In fact, you already have this option. What’s controversial is that from September this will start becoming compulsory.

The reason that experienced Facebook advertisers are unhappy with this change is twofold:

  • It removes control. We know what budgets we want to spend where and don’t need “help.” Particularly because…
  • To be blunt, the system isn’t as smart as billed. And doesn’t have a rather crucial bit of context: knowledge of your particular business needs.

Facebook Changes – Case Studies

Let’s say I’m a Kindle Unlimited author running a Countdown Deal on Amazon UK and Amazon US, and I want to spend $30 a day in the UK on my Facebook Ads, and $120 a day in the US, pushing both deals over the full seven days. Under the current systems, I can assign the respective budgets exactly like that and don’t have to worry about it further.

Under the new system, if Facebook sees that my UK ads are performing better – for example if they have a 4.2% CTR versus a 2.6% CTR on my US ads – it might start spending the majority of my budget in the UK. But I don’t want to do that because Kindle Store visibility is worth much more in the far larger market of America.

Another example should underline the problem.

Suppose I’m a wide author of bestselling military romances (a gal can dream…). With the current system, I can have one Ad Set targeting Amazon US, pushing my permafree Book 1, chewing through a $40 a day budget. And then have three more ads targeting American users of Apple Books, Nook, and Kobo with budgets of $5-$10 a day.

Again, I don’t want to spend more than $10 a day targeting Nook readers, or less than $40 a day targeting Amazon customers, because a sale on Amazon is simply worth more to me, as visibility in the much larger Amazon store is more valuable by several factors.

But Facebook’s new system might see the more deal-starved Nook reader responding with slightly more engagement on those ads and start shifting over some of that Amazon budget. This could cause me to fall off the front page of the charts on Amazon, and have a real knock-on effect on overall income, and Nook simply can’t make up the shortfall.

The point is that I know my business and my priorities. Facebook doesn’t – and can’t know that, no matter how many billions of calculations its AI can make on the fly.

There are further issues. One huge one: Facebook’s system is a notoriously slow starter. It can take four or five days to really click into gear and start making the right decisions – which makes it tricky to use for launches or other time limited promos.

The system can also make decisions a little too hastily, in my experience. A long-standing rule-of-thumb for as long as I’ve been working in digital advertising – so at least fifteen years – is that you can’t really judge an ad until it has accrued 1,000 impressions.

Facebook obviously didn’t get the memo because I’ve seen ads get ditched by the system after as little as 200 impressions – which is calling things way too quickly.

This is a real problem because day-to-day results can be quite variable, particularly if you’re talking about the smaller budgets and audiences that authors typically work with. And that goes double for any limited-time promos where you don’t have the luxury of waiting for the system get its sea legs.

What can you do?

Workarounds/Solutions

Even though the change doesn’t fully kick in for a while, I recommend getting ahead of it – because there are potential solutions to all these issues, but they are all quite fiddly. You will have to experiment to see which is best for your own workflow.

Options include:

  • Setting Automated Rules for each Ad Set to nudge the system back on track. (More on Automated Rules from Facebook and Jon Loomer).
  • Implementing max/min budgets for each Ad Set as appropriate. (Just note that Facebook advises against doing this unless you are experiencing extreme imbalance.)
  • Creating separate Campaigns for each Ad Set where you want to absolutely control the budget.

All these approaches have more or less the same goal – grabbing back that control of budget and making sure the right amount of money flows to each Ad Set. I’ve mostly been doing (3) so far, and plan to experiment a touch more with (1) or (2), because splitting everything up by Campaign is not really ideal (for example, it can create issues with audience overlap, ad fatigue, and frequency – possibly issues with bidding against yourself also). But the other approaches aren’t problem-free either.

Whatever approach you ultimately opt for, you should be able to steer things at least somewhat as intended, even if all this does create an extra layer of busywork. Which is quite ironic given that the change is intended to reduce busywork, but that’s tech for ya.

Further Facebook Ads Resources

Some resources to help you handle all this:

  1. Facebook’s Help Page on the topic. Even for Facebook, this page is surprisingly thin on the ground and doesn’t mention any of the negatives, let alone workarounds. But it’s always good to check the official material first – even just to see how they discuss the feature.
  2. Jon Loomer’s peerless blog (best for more advanced users). My go-to resource for all things Facebook. One caveat: as with all general digital marketing sources, you have to translate the advice into something that will work for publishing and books. Just keep that in mind.
  3. Ad Espresso’s house blog (also for more advanced users). This is a popular Facebook & Google ad management tool which I can’t give you the skinny on as I’ve never properly tried it – but I know it has its fans. I have been on their mailing list for some time now, and they share some great data for free. Same caveat as above though. Also note other ad venues are covered by them too, but Facebook is their real area of expertise.
  4. Me! My weekly newsletter covers all ad platforms in depth. We are up to Episode 9 or 10 in my free series on Facebook Ads (I’d peg it as better for beginner/intermediate users but we’re getting more advanced as we go along…). Sign up here to join the fun and get access to all previous episodes gratis. No catch, other than the occasional off-color joke. And when I say occasional…

What do you think? Will you be negatively affected by this change? Or do you think it could streamline the Facebook Ads experience?

Update: I’m reliably informed that compulsory Campaign Budget Optimization may be postponed until as late as February 2020 for some users. The process of switching accounts over to compulsory Campaign Budget Optimization being next month, as I said, but it appears that Facebook will first focus on those accounts which have been using it a lot. I’ll update this note if I get further clarification, but, either way, I strongly recommend experimenting with this now so you don’t get ambushed.

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BookBub Ads – What the FAQ? https://davidgaughran.com/2019/07/29/bookbub-ads-what-the-faq-book-advertising-marketing/ https://davidgaughran.com/2019/07/29/bookbub-ads-what-the-faq-book-advertising-marketing/#comments Mon, 29 Jul 2019 13:10:00 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=7789 BookBub is a wonderfully passionate community of over ten million book buyers – and its ad platform is the only one at this scale which is exclusively made up of readers. BookBub Ads is unique in lots of other ways too and I’ve received hundreds of questions from authors over the last few months who are confused about one aspect or another. Today, we’ll look at the most frequent issues… and give you solutions to all those problems.

I’ve been using BookBub Ads for two or three years, I’ve been covering the platform in some depth for my mailing list for well over a year at this point, my dedicated book came out a few months ago, and the course… I can’t quite remember when that launched. Around the same time?

I’ve also run some giant campaigns for authors in a range of genres, as well as my own ads, and compared data and strategies with hundreds of other authors writing every kind of book imaginable. These are the issues and questions which come up most frequently. Read More...

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BookBub is a wonderfully passionate community of over ten million book buyers – and its ad platform is the only one at this scale which is exclusively made up of readers. BookBub Ads is unique in lots of other ways too and I’ve received hundreds of questions from authors over the last few months who are confused about one aspect or another. Today, we’ll look at the most frequent issues… and give you solutions to all those problems.

FIVE recommended BookBub Ads resources before we dive into the mailbag:

  1. BookBub Ads Expert is THE best book on BookBub Ads. I can say that without hesitation because it is also the only book about BookBub Ads. Read more about the book at this dedicated page on my site, where you will also find links to all the retailers and a bunch of nice things people had to say about it.
  2. I also have a FREE course on BookBub Ads via Reedsy. It’s ten bite-sized emails every morning each introducing you to a different aspect of the platform – a handy introduction.
  3. Also free is my weekly marketing newsletter, where we regularly cover BookBub Ads, along with Facebook and Amazon Ads, as well as all other book marketing topics: reader targeting, email sorcery, how to launch a book, content marketing – the works. That goes out every Friday, and you get a free copy of Amazon Decoded just for signing up. Do that here if you know what’s good for ya…
  4. Continuing the freepalooza is a killer set of bonus resources for purchasers of BookBub Ads Expert – a gallery of winning ad images, detailed optimization advice, up-to-the-minute info on BookBub changes, case studies, and a place to ask questions! – but you only get access to that when you buy the book, because I am crafty like that. It is a great add-on for all the glamourous and discerning folk who do purchase the book though, and they will tell you that I’ve been adding to it continually since March and it has grown into something quite cool.
  5. Prefer podcasts? I’ve got you covered. The three-part, super in-depth podcast I did with Chris Syme has to be mentioned first because we go deep into everything (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). But also check out further podcasts I did with William Bernhardt, Novel Marketing, the Self-Publishing Show, and, errrr, I’m forgetting a couple. Sorry!

I’ve been using BookBub Ads for two or three years, I’ve been covering the platform in some depth for my mailing list for well over a year at this point, my dedicated book came out a few months ago, and the course… I can’t quite remember when that launched. Around the same time?

I’ve also run some giant campaigns for authors in a range of genres, as well as my own ads, and compared data and strategies with hundreds of other authors writing every kind of book imaginable.

These are the issues and questions which come up most frequently.

BookBub Ads or Featured Deals?

Honestly, as fond as I am of BookBub Ads, Featured Deals beat anything hands down. You are probably getting clicks for a third or a quarter of the cost than you will get them on any ad platform, with unparalleled conversion rates too. The ROI on Featured Deals is wonderful, and nothing else comes close to matching it. A Featured Deal can deliver thousands of sales and put you in the Amazon Top 100 all on its own. They are quite something.

This power means they are in high demand though, and acceptance rates are as low as 20%. Meaning you can’t count on being selected, and you will most likely get rejected even if you have a great, well-presented book with a strong sales record. And you will almost certainly get rejected if you are in Kindle Unlimited, as BookBub strongly prefers that Featured Deals are also available to the significant numbers of readers on its lists who use Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play, or Barnes & Noble/Nook.

But aside from being open to everyone, BookBub Ads does have some key advantages, ROI differences notwithstanding: you can run them whenever you like, at whatever budget suits you, switching between whichever titles you need to push, and can choose to push harder in whatever country or retailer suits your strategic needs. It’s very flexible.

Actually, I was able to get a Featured Deal, should I do BookBub Ads also?

I think they can perform a great 1-2 punch. You have a few different options here. Sometimes I like to scoop up any stragglers after a Featured Deal with some BookBub Ads pointed at the same audience. Other times I like to hit that same audience again with a deal on another book.

There are lots of ways to do this. For example, you can target yourself the day after the Featured Deal and you will see the Reader count – i.e. the total size of the audience you can target, which is all your Followers plus anyone that has ever interacted with your books on the platform – will have grown significantly. With new people who are proven to be interested in your work! So hit them with something else while you are fresh in their minds. Either a deal on Book 2, or something else.

Alternatively, you can use the ad platform to hit different pockets of readers that might not have seen your Featured Deal.

How much do BookBub Ads cost?

You set your own budget, and you decide your own bids. You can (and should) start small before scaling up, and that minimizes your risk. Just don’t dump money in and expect it to work out. Be cautious to begin with. Even if you are Ms. Genre Queen. Seriously. BookBub is a very different platform and you must start from scratch here, even if you are whizz with Amazon Ads or killing it on Facebook.

CPC or CPM – which is best?

BookBub is the only ad platform that lets you truly choose CPC or CPM – i.e. cost per click or cost per impression. Facebook appears to give you that choice, but it’s really an illusion. No matter which of the many choices you pick on Facebook, you are always getting billed by CPM regardless. Anyway, back to BookBub. Most people choose CPC because that’s what they are familiar with. Just paying for clicks sounds like just paying for results and has a logic to it. That logic is flawed, I respectfully suggest.

I find CPM works better almost all the time. And when I say “works better” I mean that it delivers cheaper clicks, more of them, stretches out your audience, teaches you how to be a better advertiser, and gives your promos more power overall. They win on every metric for me. The only time CPC works better is if you have bad ads. So… make your ads good, use CPM. It really is the way to get BookBub Ads working for you. The only real way, IMO, that you can drive click costs down to really cheap levels, and still deliver at scale. (Fuller discussion/explanation on all that in my book.)

What kind of images work?

Good ones!

Haha, I was so tempted to just leave it at that. I probably shouldn’t, because this is the area people screw up most often. Use your book cover, have an offer, highlight the price, keep text to a minimum (even though there are no restrictions like Facebook), and above all else, make it look good FFS. I see people making their own ads, and they are just baaaaad. Honestly. Either take the time to get it right, or just outsource.

I’ve paid as little as $20 before to get some ads made up. Actually, I’ve paid less than that because my designer bundles ad graphics for free now when I get my covers made up. I also make my own quite regularly. There are a bunch of tools now which make this much easier.

I have used Canva a lot. And I’m looking forward to experimenting with Book Brush – a dedicated tool for authors making promo graphics – and also trying out a more general one called Stencil. I think I’ll do a three-way post comparing them all at some point over the next few weeks.

Can I use BookBub Ads to push a reader magnet?

No. There is a hard restriction against using BookBub Ads to directly collect email addresses. You can point them at a book you are selling on your site, that’s perfectly fine, but not a free book where readers have to sign-up to a list before getting the download. Absolutely 100% no.

A freebie at a retailer is allowed, of course. And pointing them to a book for sale/download somewhere that has a link to your reader magnet/sign-up inside the book is totally fine as well, of course, just to be clear.

What’s wrong with my targeting? I can’t get anything to work…

Well, the problem might be your image (see above). That’s the problem most of the time. Targeting can be tricky too though. You need to be patient and go through a proper period of testing. It’s so important that discussions around testing images and targets takes up about 20-25% of my book. If you rush through it, you are setting yourself up for a fall.

One of the common mistakes people make is simply importing a list of comp authors from Facebook or Amazon Ads, assuming they will work just as well on BookBub. You really can’t make that assumption. What you need a comp author list native to BookBub.

(If you want to learn more about the general topic of comp authors, what they are and how to find them, read this post.)

Can’t I just target my genre?

You can, that is an option, but I strongly recommend you don’t do that. You need to target by author. Often targeting by author and genre is the way to go, especially useful when any of your targets write in more than one niche but targeting by author is a must in almost all cases.

What about full price books?

Advertising El Dorado. Everyone wants to sell full price books. We all want some kind of machine working away in the background that will sell thousands of books for them while we sleep. But let’s get realistic: if it was that easy, everyone would be doing it.

Advertising is a tricky business. All the platforms are difficult and complex in their own way. One of BookBub’s quirks is that it is a deals newsletter primarily, so its readers respond best to discounts. Of course they do. That doesn’t mean you must have a 99¢ book or a freebie to make BookBub Ads work. But it does mean it’s a lot easier if you do. You can sell more expensive books on BookBub, but maybe not for your first rodeo. Learn the ropes first.

Oh, and a 99¢ book is best for testing, in my experience. Testing with a higher priced book is really, really hard. Also keep in mind testing with a freebie means increased response rates will mask some problems with your ads that a 99¢ book will be better at teasing out.

What about scaling up if they are working?

This is what BookBub Ads is best at, for my money. Testing is tricky, there’s no avoiding that. But once you get over that hump, and you have a reliable list of author targets, you can scale your campaigns with relative ease. It’s not like Amazon where the wheels can come off right away when you try to up the budget. And it’s not like Facebook where you often have to step it up a little, then recalibrate, then step it up again, and so on.

Once you are seeing positive results with a campaign, you can turn BookBub Ads up to 11 and enjoy the ride.

Do you use BookBub Ads differently when wide versus in KU?

Great question. I would punt slightly and say everything about marketing is different when you are wide. I wrote a long post about that here. Read that for a comprehensive answer.

Has there been any big changes since your book came out?

Two changes, in fact. The first is one that people THINK is huge but is actually quite small in my opinion. The second is one that seems to have flown under the radar completely, but I think is a much, much bigger deal.

Readers v Followers: BookBub introduced a new metric called Readers. This is just a new label really for a concept that has always existed. Contrary to what many believe, BookBub doesn’t just show your ads to a target author’s Followers, but also all the people who have interacted with that author’s books on the platform – for example anyone who has clicked on their Featured Deals or Ads previously. Obviously that number is bigger. In the case of an author who has had multiple Featured Deals of free books, that number can be MUCH bigger. This has always been the case, the only change is the new label, and those numbers are now surfaced in our interfaces. Adjust accordingly.

CTR-by-Author is the change that seems to have been ignored by many people, but I think is pretty huge. If you dig into your Aggregated Stats for any campaign, you will now see a breakdown of the CTR (and CPC and CPM and impressions) for every single author in any set that you target. This is a wonderful change and is going to be so very useful in so many different ways.

Can you share more tips around these changes?

I already have! On my BookBub Ads Resources Page – which is exclusive to purchasers of BookBub Ads Expert. I’m a cad, yes, but also one that likes eating with some regularity as my increasingly porcine appearance will attest.

Any more recommended resources besides the ones that line your ermine pockets?

Sure. BookBub themselves have a great blog – you should check it out. Here are all their posts on BookBub Ads, for example, although the blog covers all book marketing topics. There are some other guides and resources and case studies there too if you nose around.

But really, BookBub Ads Expert is where it’s at, he says, not quite dispassionately. It genuinely is a comprehensive guide covering all sorts of uses for the platform, and getting really deep into strategy too – with some killer tricks that could really take your sales to another level.

Do you have any questions I missed? I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments, but, fair warning: I may say “that’s covered in more detail in the book,” quite a lot, especially to very complicated questions.

Anything I can answer quickly and easily I will happily tackle.

BookBub Ads Expert banner

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How To Find Your Comp Authors https://davidgaughran.com/2019/07/11/comp-authors-advertising-marketing-titles/ https://davidgaughran.com/2019/07/11/comp-authors-advertising-marketing-titles/#comments Thu, 11 Jul 2019 12:30:50 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=7700 Knowing your comp authors is increasingly important these days, but writers tend to tie themselves into knots with the concept. Today, I’ll explain a very simple way to cut through all the noise and determine your true comp authors, but also detail why that line-up should change considerably depending on the context.

Comp Authors Explained
Let’s start with the basics before scaling up the complexity and getting deep into ads: “comp author” is publishing shorthand for “comparable author.” You might also hear people these days in indieworld using it in phrases like “know your comps,” or “target your comp authors.” Or you might come across the phrase “comp title” more frequently in traditional publishing.

Originally, the phrase was used by publishing professionals as shorthand to describe a given author’s voice in marketing communications and sales pitches. An agent might shop your book to a publisher describing your sizzling romantic suspense as “EL James meets Lisa Jackson,” and the acquiring editor will know right away that she’s in for a dark, twisty story where the sex isn’t just open door – the windows are probably open too. Read More...

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Comp authors can be tricky, and nailing that down for yourself is increasingly important these days, especially when it comes to ads. Writers tend to tie themselves into knots over this but there is a very simple way to cut through all the noise and help determine your true comp authors.

Comp Authors Explained

Let’s start with the basics before scaling up the complexity and getting deeper into marketing concerns.

“Comp author” is publishing shorthand for “comparable author.” You might also hear people these days in indieworld using it in phrases like “know your comps,” or “target your comp authors.” Or you might come across the phrase “comp title” more frequently in traditional publishing.

The phrase was originally used by publishing professionals as shorthand to describe a given author’s voice in marketing communications and sales pitches. For example, an agent might shop your book to a publisher describing your sizzling romantic suspense as “EL James meets Lisa Jackson,” and the acquiring editor will know right away that she’s in for a dark, twisty story where the sex isn’t just open door – the windows are probably open too.

The same trick is used in marketing where readers might be told a hot new debut is like “Malcom Gladwell meets Chuck Tingle,” and they will instantly know they are in for a profound rethinking of the societal impact of unicorn butt cops on beach patrol.

This kind of triangulation really does work, which explains its ubiquity. It was a piece of advice handed out to querying authors the last time I bothered an agent (i.e. about 10 years ago) and I believe it’s still considered best practice today. Although newbie authors are warned to adopt a different tone than marketers; instead of “The best thriller since Gone Girl,” our hypothetical agent-seeker is usually advised to use the much more demure formulation of, “May appeal to fans of David Eddings and Raymond E. Feist.”

This is something that newbie authors struggle with. But don’t worry newbs: salty old pros can struggle with it too. And coming up with comp authors is even more important for indie authors today than for the fretting queryer.

Comp authors are used by indies to inform decisions on presentation: covers, pricing, blurbs, taglines, and marketing copy generally. But these days they have a much more important role in addition to all of that: ads.

Targeting comp authors is one of the most rewarding strategies with Facebook and Amazon Ads, and pretty much the only workable approach with BookBub Ads. Not having a good sense of your true comp authors can end up getting very expensive, very quickly. It’s also one big missed opportunity, because if you can nail down good comps, you are halfway to advertising success.

The first step to homing in on your comps is overcoming an internal block – one equally shared by newbies and pros. I think this goes back to the crucible that many of us were forged in, that aforementioned query process, and the attendant (well-meant) warnings not to get too big for our boots.

Many authors can be reluctant to compare themselves to giants of the genre, or anyone with outsized success. Others can be hesitant to compare themselves to anyone at all, having a very strong sense of what makes their voice, and that of other authors, utterly unique. And then at the other end of the scale, some authors can be absolutely instinctual about how they approach the craft of writing and might simply not have any idea who writes in a similar fashion.

Reframing The Concept of Comp Authors

Here’s the rub: it’s not about voice. It’s not even about who you write like. It’s about who you share an audience with. This simple reframing of what a comp author is – at least in a marketing sense – can be liberating.

It’s no longer about comparing yourself to Elin Hilderbrand or Brandon Sanderson or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Instead, it reframes the question from the reader’s perspective: what other authors do my readers enjoy?

Instantly, this can unlock something inside your head. I don’t have to worry that I’m putting myself on the same level as an author who has sold over 100 million books, or who is critically acclaimed, I can simply say that Ken Follett and Bernard Cornwell are comp authors because my readers also enjoy their work. Which means that the audiences of Ken Follett and Bernard Cornwell may be fruitful targets for my ads.

This reframing is so crucial that it bears repeating: a comp author is someone who you share an audience with. Your Inner Artist may object to this reformulation, but she is not to be trusted when it comes to marketing. Remember, at least when it comes to marketing, a comp author is not a writer with a similar voice or style or level of success, but one you share an audience with.

It really is that simple and adopting this approach should expand your comp author list significantly.

(Note: almost any aspect of marketing can benefit from adopting the reader’s perspective, and I’ve written a whole book on the topic called Strangers to Superfans: A Marketing Guide to the Reader Journey, if you want to get deeper into that.)

Building Your Comp Authors: Also Boughts

Now that you have thrown off the shackles and are ready to welcome more comp authors into your marketing life, where should you go looking for prospects? Amazon’s Also Boughts are a good place to start, as it’s a relatively pure reflection of what other books people are buying along with yours.

A couple of things to keep in mind though: various things can skew your Also Boughts.

  • If you were too scattergun in your marketing, your Also Boughts might be scrambled.
  • If you just had a free run (or big 99¢ promo) which was promoted heavily on reader sites, your Also Boughts might reflect – at least for now – the other books that were free/99¢ and similarly promoted around the same time.
  • If you are a big name in your genre, then your books might be relentlessly targeted by heavy spenders on Amazon Ads, which can reorder your Also Boughts quite significantly and render them not very reflective of organic reader sentiment – which is what you are looking for.
  • Oh, and if you have sold little to date, then this data puddle won’t be reflective of anything meaningful. Indeed, Also Boughts usually don’t even begin displaying on your books until you have reached 50 sales.

Those caveats aside, Also Boughts are generally a very useful source of comp authors, and should be your first part of call. Indeed, you can end up with a very complete list just from this one step.

And many of the above skewing factors can be side-stepped by either checking the Also Boughts of your books a little deeper into your series (the Also Boughts on Book 4 should be much more reflective of what your core fans like to read rather than that more broadly flogged Book 1), or by perusing your Author Also Boughts – i.e. the list on your Amazon Author Page – as these are kind of aggregate Also Boughts across your entire catalogue.

Don’t forget one thing: you can go more than one step deep here. For example, if you write cozies and are 100% sure that you share an audience with Betty Rowlands and that she is a very solid comp author for you, then you can check out her Also Boughts and consider whether someone like Faith Martin would work for you too – even if that name don’t appear very prominently in your own Also Boughts. Just don’t go too many steps removed from your own work and its primary Also Boughts.

Building Your Comp Authors: Other Sources

What if one of the above caveats does describe you? What if you haven’t really started selling yet, or if you are Mr. Big Cheese in your genre and relentless targeted by big spending advertisers? What if your Also Boughts, for whatever reason, aren’t delivering enough good comp authors?

There are a number of other potential sources for comp authors. You should have at least some sense of your work and where it fits in the marketplace, and sincerely hope you are having conversations with your readers in one form or another which will give you a sense of what else they enjoy.

Seriously, don’t dismiss that step. This information is gold and you are getting it straight from the source. You can ask your readers what they are currently reading, what their favorite book this year was, which authors are an insta-buy for them. Facebook is a good place to ask questions like this. Email is even better, because all that organic two-way communication improves your deliverability and open rates, and develops an actual relationship with your readers too, which in turn will improve engagement.

However, if you want more solid, aggregate data, Facebook Audience Insights can be eye-opening.

Although recent privacy scandals have led to Facebook quietly axing a lot of the data in this tool, there is still enough left to be very useful for our purposes. Facebook Audience Insights allows you to look at your Facebook Page and see what other pages your audience likes, and what interests they collectively have. Not only that, but you can perform the same exercise for any other Page on Facebook, and also for any custom audience you have developed, such as your list or website visitors.

And, of course, any previous adventures in advertising will have generated a short list of winners for you (and probably a much longer list of losers!). On that note…

Using Comps In Advertising

Having gone through all this trouble to generate a list of comp authors, you think the universe would do you a solid and just let you roll out ads to all of them and see what happens. Unfortunately, the universe is an asshole.

Facebook, Amazon, and BookBub Ads are all very different platforms, with their own unique quirks. You can’t simply take one approach to all these ad venues, and so it goes with comp authors.

Here’s the bad news: you need to develop a separate list of comp authors for each venue. Which sucks, I know, but there’s a flipside. Most people don’t bother, so it’s a huge competitive advantage if you take the trouble.

About those quirks. In my personal experience, Amazon Ads seems to handle the broadest comp author list, and BookBub Ads really requires you to drill down to the tightest comp authors on that list.

Facebook Ads are a bit weird in that you can directly target some authors, but not others, and it’s not always dependent on how many Likes they have or how famous they are in meatspace either. And that can vary hugely by genre – coverage is much patchier in some genres than others. On the plus side, Facebook Ads can handle giant trad authors as comps like no other platform. And if you can identify one of those, you have your own golden goose.

BookBub Ads don’t handle those giant trad authors well at all, but if you can get a short list of medium sized indies working for you there, that’s often all you need. This platform probably has more unique quirks than any other, but if you learn to embrace those instead of fighting against them, that’s half the battle. When it comes to comp authors in particular, definitely don’t make the mistake of targeting anyone without testing – even if it’s a solid comp author that is a money printing machine for you at other ad venues.

(I also have a book called BookBub Ads Expert: A Marketing Guide To Author Discovery which covers how to use the platform in comprehensive detail, including a huge chunk on testing, and developing BookBub-specific comp authors. And if you want a free intro to the approach, I also have a short, free email-based course at Reedsy.)

While I am much more fond of spending my ad money at Facebook or BookBub, Amazon Ads is probably the best venue to do some initial testing of comp authors – particularly for those who are completely lost and have no real hard data yet on which authors work for them. This comes down to the different ways the platforms charge you.

Despite popular misconceptions, Facebook charges by impressions. Always. Even if you select the option to be charged for link clinks or video views or conversions or whatever, Facebook just takes the impression cost and converts it to your preferred metric – it always comes back to impressions in the end. In more prosaic terms, this means you will pay for your ads whether someone clicks on them or not.

(And if you want to get deeper into Facebook Ads or Amazon Ads, I’m currently covering both platforms in detail – for free – in my weekly marketing newsletter. When you sign up, you’ll get access to all the episodes you missed too in my brand new, subscriber-exclusive Email Archive.)

Bookbub gives you the choice of CPC or CPM – paying for clicks or impressions. However, as anyone who has read BookBub Ads Expert will know, I strongly, strongly recommend using CPM in almost every instance. Which means you will also be paying to show your ads there, whether someone clicks on them or not.

Amazon Ads, however, is all about clicks. You can display your ad to thousands and thousands of people, and if no one clicks on it, then you won’t pay anything at all, which makes it a good candidate for this kind of early-stage, scattergun, test advertising – even if I move the action elsewhere when I want to spend real money.

Go Forth And Multiply

It’s baked into most of us to be a little gun shy when it comes to comp authors, but I’m going to keep repeating this until it sticks: a comp author is someone you share an audience with.

Keep telling yourself that until it becomes reflexive and start building a broader list of possible comp authors. Farm those Also Boughts, pull in data from any other source you can, and be comprehensive. You can winnow the list down later, and tailor it to each ad platform as you go. Just remember to test any author before throwing down real money.

Above all, be hard-nosed and results-driven in your approach.

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Moving from Mailchimp to MailerLite: A Guide https://davidgaughran.com/2019/07/03/moving-mailchimp-mailerlite-switching-guide/ https://davidgaughran.com/2019/07/03/moving-mailchimp-mailerlite-switching-guide/#comments Wed, 03 Jul 2019 16:02:14 +0000 https://davidgaughran.com/?p=7675 Mailchimp made some major changes recently which were received very negatively – causing many users to flee into the arms of alternatives like MailerLite.

I moved to MailerLite myself last month and have been very happy with the change but there are a few things you need to watch out for, whether you have multiple, big lists with lots of automations, or are still growing on the free plans. This post should guide you through all the issues.

First we run over the differences between Mailchimp and MailerLite – things like free plans, pricing, features, and integrations, and which of those differences really matter. Next we look at the steps involved in physically moving your list across to MailerLite. This is actually the easiest part of the whole process, but there are important things to look out for. With that taken care of, we move on to more advanced topics like switching over your automations, what to do about those pesky website forms and sign-up links, and also how to sweep up any stray Mailchimp forms out there in the wild so you don’t have precious reader sign-ups going to the wrong place. That last part can be tricky. Read More...

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Mailchimp made some major changes recently which were received very negatively – causing many users to flee into the arms of alternatives like MailerLite.

I moved to MailerLite a couple of months ago, and have been very happy with the change but, there are a few things you need to watch out for. Whether you have multiple, big lists with lots of automations, or are still growing your first list on the free plans, this post will guide you through all the issues.

Warning: it’s long. But there’s a prize for making it to the end. Plus it covers a lot.

  • First we run over the differences between Mailchimp and MailerLite – things like free plans, pricing, features, and integrations, and which of those differences really matter.
  • Next we look at the steps involved in physically moving your list across to MailerLite. This is actually the easiest part of the whole process, but there are some wrinkles.
  • With that taken care of, we move on to more advanced topics like switching over your automations, what to do about those pesky website forms and sign-up links, and also how to sweep up any stray Mailchimp forms out there in the wild so you don’t have precious sign-ups going to the wrong place. That last part can be tricky.
  • Then we wrap up with a few things you mightn’t have considered, like how to maybe keep a shell of your Mailchimp account open without paying anything, and why you might want to do that, at least temporarily… but also the hidden costs involved.

This post is not a comprehensive guide to those cataclysmic changes at Mailchimp which had swarms of people dropping it like a hot potato. That breakdown is here, if you missed it: Time To Ditch Mailchimp? (Spoiler Alert: the answer is “yeah, probably.”)

Okay, let’s get to it.

Mailchimp vs MailerLite: Pricing

MailerLite is considerably cheaper than Mailchimp, but one thing can take a bite out of those savings if you are based in Europe: VAT.

Depending on the nature of your business, you may be VAT registered, but you may not be, so that charge will come out of your pocket. Even with VAT, it’s still cheaper than Mailchimp, but VAT of 20-25% is pretty hefty (depending on which part of the European smorgasboard you call home).

Americans have no such worries though.

Pricing chart Mailerlite v Mailchimp

(Click on the above pricing chart if you want to see that in more detail.)

The only other catch, of sorts, isn’t really that big of a catch anymore. Historically, one huge advantage Mailchimp had over MailerLite was that it was free for up to 2,000 email addresses, whereas MailerLite’s paid plans kicked in at 1,000 subscribers. However, now that Mailchimp has significantly hobbled the free plan and is counting unsubscribes as part of your audience, the difference is essentially non-existent.

In fact, it has arguably swung the other way because Mailchimp no longer gives you access to basic things like automations or more than one list on the free plan, whereas MailerLite gives you all that stuff. And when it comes to paid plans, MailerLite’s are considerably better value given that Mailchimp has also gutted many of the paid plans while simultaneously jacking up their prices (note: legacy paid users at Mailchimp are spared most of the changes… for now… but new and free users will see this gruesome twosome right away).

Those new basic paid plans at Mailchimp don’t even include multi-part automations anymore and are limited to three lists, which is just crazy. You could have a list of 8000 people, paying Mailchimp $75 a month, but it won’t give you access to proper automations unless you shell out for the fancier plan at $99 a month, and even then you have usage limits. It’s pretty sly.

That same list will cost you $50 a month at MailerLite, with everything included. There is no gatekeeping of needed features behind a paywall or any of that BS. And the price savings will grow with your list. (Euroheads: that $50 charge will come out at $60ish with VAT.)

One thing that might reduce your costs – on either platform – are the respective affiliate schemes. MailerLite has two versions. The Refer A Friend program earns you credit against your monthly costs for each friend you refer who signs up. It also has a more standard affiliate scheme which you can read about here. Maybe I’m missing something, but I can’t see the advantage of using the Refer A Friend program over the affiliate scheme, which seems far juicier. Mailchimp also has an affiliate program but one where you earn credits against your monthly costs rather than cash-money.

(Note: I am both a Mailchimp and MailerLite affiliate.)

Mailchimp vs MailerLite: Features & Integrations

The feature set is pretty similar. There are some differences, but they may not be anything you particularly care about. For example, I haven’t noticed any feature missing from MailerLite yet that I was using at Mailchimp. I’m sure they exist, but I haven’t personally run into anything while rejigging a couple of onboarding sequences and sending my first few campaigns. And while MailerLite does have some extra features, they aren’t really things I use that much.

The big difference is with those Free plans, and Mailchimp’s growing tendency to strip away key features for higher priced plans. Automation is the big one obviously. Free plans at Mailchimp, and even the basic paid plans, don’t allow for more than an automated welcome message now. If you want a proper onboarding sequence for new subscribers (and you should!) then you can’t do that at Mailchimp without paying more.

The other feature differences are more minor – for me at least. MailerLite offers things like a Custom HTML editor and surveys which I don’t use, and things like sending by Time Zone and Landing Pages with custom domains, which Mailchimp does have but are only available on certain plans.

However, one big point in Mailchimp’s favor is its size, meaning the selection of integrations and plugins and widgets available are far greater. There’s no getting around that, but the number of MailerLite integrations is considerable and growing fast. Check if they have what you need here.

And then one big point in MailerLite’s favor is its challenger status, meaning customer service – in my experience at least – is more responsive and helpful and just friendlier. It feels like they want the business more, whereas maybe Mailchimp is too big to care now. (Not a slight on the customer service staff at Mailchimp, more the management/policies.)

Moving to MailerLite: Lists

This really is the easiest part of the process. It only take a couple of clicks. Once you open your MailerLite account you can import all your Mailchimp lists with a few button presses via the Mailchimp API. There’s a step-by-step guide here if you need it, but it’s so simple you probably won’t. You have the option to import all your fields, and keep those lists separate too. It’s very neat.

And then if you want to set up new lists, or splice and dice things differently now that you won’t be charged for duplicates, that’s super easy too – just note that “Lists” are called “Groups” at MailerLite (and have been changed to “Audiences” at Mailchimp – in case you haven’t logged in recently).

Unlike Mailchimp, you don’t start paying at MailerLite when you exceed the Free thresholds. You won’t pay anything until you actively upgrade your plan – but you will need to do that before sending to your list if it is greater than 1,000 subscribers, of course. But you can go ahead and open your account, import your list now, and get it all set up.

You don’t have to upgrade your plan and start paying MailerLite until you are ready to start sending emails.

Whether you start off on a Free plan or upgrade right away, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the interface. Set up all your lists (i.e. “Groups”), and copy across your various automations and onboarders (more on that below). I think I tooled around for a couple of weeks before actually importing my list, so you can do it that way too if you like. Just keep in mind that you might end up continuing to pay Mailchimp during any changeover period even if you reduce your subscriber count to nothing. More on that below too.

Anyway, moving subscribers is the easy part. Switching your forms and automations is a little trickier, and requires lining everything up right.

Moving to MailerLite: Automations

For some reason, I had it in my head that MailerLite’s automations either weren’t that advanced or were clunky or otherwise hard to use. I was very wrong. The system is simpler in the sense that the interface is much cleaner and more manageable, but you can do a lot more with MailerLite’s automations. Or maybe the system is just easier to use that I’m discovering more features, I don’t know.

You’ll see what I mean when you play around with it. Once you get used to the interface differences, it’s all quite intuitive. The only real thing I’ll add here is that you should take the opportunity to optimize those automations while you are going to the trouble of rebuilding them anyway.

If you’ve been skating by with a simple welcome email to date, and haven’t been properly onboarding people, then now is the time to build that out. And if you don’t send any welcome emails at all, then go stand in the corner until you’ve read Newsletter Ninja.

If you do have a multi-stage automation to warm up new subscribers, great. But perhaps review your reports in Mailchimp one last time to see if one of the emails isn’t pulling its weight. For me personally, I actually shortened my onboarding sequence. I felt the welcome emails were not fully representative of the weekly content of my list, and what I now do instead is push people towards my brand new Email Archive, which houses all the greatest hits.

This saves me a little admin too as new subscribers were often requesting links to previous emails on Facebook Ads or BookBub or how to launch a new pen name. Now they get access to all of that as part of the sign-up process.

(BTW that’s another reason to sign-up to my list if you haven’t already. Do that right here. You get a copy of Amazon Decoded to sweeten the already sugary pot.)

This also helps with my deliverability and open rates, as I don’t have to put so many links in emails. But the decision to create an Email Archive was inspired by something else: a welcome bit of forthrightness from Mailchimp customer support. I was asking them what happens to the web versions of all my old emails (like this, for example). While Mailchimp said that those old emails would initially survive my account being paused or closed, they couldn’t guarantee how long they would stay up for. Fair enough, perhaps, but something to keep in mind if you also refer back to old emails a lot.

The only remaining wrinkle is what to do with subscribers part-way through an automation sequence, especially if it’s one that plays out over multiple weeks. Well, there’s no super neat solution here, because (AFAIK) you can’t just dump people into Step 3 of your new MailerLite automation. If you add those subscribers into the group which has a new automation attached, that will start them back at Step 1. But you can also choose to not have the automation fire at all and just throw them straight into your regular pool of subscribers. That’s what I chose to do as it’s easiest.

If you are having any trouble with setting up your automations, or just getting a handle on the interface, as this aspect is quite different to Mailchimp (but better, once you get it), then check out this helpful video guide. There are lots more guides like this on the MailerLite site too if you want to delve into segmentation or anything else.

Moving to MailerLite: Forms & Sign-Ups

Rebuilding automations in MailerLite is actually fine. It’s not quite the button pressing ease of importing a list, but I got through it way quicker than expected. Switching those forms across, and hunting down everywhere you might have scattered sign-up links is a bear though.

Well, it actually depends. If you were smart when dropping sign-up links in your books or during interviews or on social media etc., you would have linked to a page like this – a clean, optimized sign-up page on a domain which you control. Switching this to MailerLite just requires changing the place the form is pointing at. You can do that with plugins/widgets or you can get into the code itself, if you prefer.

This is really important: you must remember to re-authenticate your domain after switching to MailerLite. This will improve the deliverability of your emails. The guide to doing this is here and it basically involves going to the website of whoever your hoster is (e.g. GoDaddy) and changing the DNS records.

Just don’t do what I did, i.e. start the authentication process, get distracted by a sandwich, and then forget to finish it. This will break your sign-up forms and have everyone at customer service scratching their heads (sorry, customer service people).

That’s not the only wrinkle though. Maybe you didn’t realize that best practice for sign-ups was to host the form on your own site, rather than to use the free Mailchimp sign-up forms. If you linked to those instead, you have a more painful task ahead of you. This is what I used to do pre-2018 when I was crap at email, so I feel your pain. I still have a lot of books and posts floating out there in the cyber-ether pointing at Mailchimp forms.

I know that will describe some of you too, so here’s a workaround. Actually, I think everyone should do this to make 100% sure you have closed off all the pipelines going to Mailchimp.

Closing Down Mailchimp & Monitoring Pipelines

After I switched everything over to MailerLite, I turned off my automations at Mailchimp. I knew there would still be some people trickling in from somewhere, but I also knew that if they didn’t get the free books they were promised, they would email me to complain. I wanted them to complain!

Why? Because it gave me the opportunity to ask them where they signed up (and to apologize and give them their free book, of course). I find a couple of little pipelines into Mailchimp through this method, but it also gave me piece of mind too. I then took that handful of people and dropped them into my onboarder which started automatically firing and whisking them through.

Maybe you want to monitor that kind of thing over a longer period, but you don’t want to pay Mailchimp a hefty sum just to make sure you have switched all your forms and links across. There’s a way, but let me explain something about Mailchimp billing first, so you don’t get stung too badly.

Mailchimp determines your monthly fee based on the size of your list, but it makes that calculation based on the highpoint of that number in the last 30 days. I presume this is to stop people gaming the billing system by importing 20,000 subscribers, sending an email, then exporting them all again and paying nothing. So whatever the high water mark was in the last 30 days, that’s what they use to calculate your billing.

In other words, if you have 3,500 subscribers, and then move them all across to MailerLite and then export the records to your computer (which you must do to comply with GDPR – you must maintain records of how everyone signed up, and I don’t think importing your list to MailerLite will suffice), and reduce that subscriber count down to zero just to see who trickles in, you will get charged for 3,500 subscribers on your next billing date.

Closing your account or pausing your account means you will dodge that bill, but just reducing the account to zero won’t do that. But there is a workaround if you want to keep a shell of your account open for monitoring purposes, and you can follow the steps here – scroll down to “Downgrade to the Free plan.”

You have to actively downgrade your plan, simply removing all subscribers won’t trigger that for you. Note that if you have downgraded to the Free plan previously, and subsequently upgraded to a Paid plan, you will not be able to downgrade again.

Also of note: Mailchimp says this will keep your old emails from getting purged – remember, Mailchimp can’t guarantee that for paused or closed accounts.

However, there is a kind of hidden cost to doing this. That Mailchimp policy of charging you based on the high water mark of your subscriber account is going to kick in here, at least for the first month you are back on the Free plan. It’s only the subsequent month where you will commence paying nothing.

So, I made a clean break – I just wanted to outline the option to you, and the associated cost. To permanently close your account, follow these steps. Remember this will permanently delete your account, all your lists, reports, and maybe those old emails too. Make sure to back up all your data first. That process will export all your lists, reports, templates, campaigns, and any content you uploaded like pictures. It’s quite handy. However, if you ever deleted any audiences or contacts, those are gone permanently.

Moving From Mailchimp: A Checklist

That’s it! Moving is really not as bad as you think. You will be glad you did it, especially if you take my advice and use this as an opportunity to buff up your automations. Here’s a handy checklist to help you order your tasks:

  1. Sign up for your MailerLite account. Familiarize yourself with the interface and Help pages (they’re great, actually – with lots of video too if that’s how you roll).
  2. Import your list. Don’t worry about this automatically triggering payment. It’s not like Mailchimp, and you don’t start paying until you want to. (You can’t send to lists over 1,000 people until you do though.)
  3. Organize your account into the various Lists/Groups you want to use.
  4. Build your Automations/Welcome Emails/Onboarding Sequences.
  5. Switch Your Sign-Up Forms/Plugins/Widgets (plus your links in your books, if necessary).
  6. Export your audiences/lists to your computer for safekeeping – even though you have already imported them to MailerLite. You will need to keep records of how everyone signed up to comply with GDPR so this is very important.
  7. Start sending your newsletters from MailerLite.
  8. Close your Mailchimp account once you’re sure all sign-up forms are switched and data is exported. (Or revert to a free account by downgrading your plan to monitor that temporarily.)

One last thing…

I hope you enjoyed this post! I just wanted to let you know that I send out exclusive content every Friday to my mailing list subscribers.

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