Session: Grow Your Sales: How Collaboration Helps Authors to Succeed
How does a musican go from giving guitar lessons to a highly successful publishing machine publishing over 30 books a year? Joseph will explain all in a candid interview discussing how he’s turned collaboration into one of the most successful musical tutition book companies in the world.
Format: Video Interview
Audience: All Levels
This post is part of London Book Fair Self-Publishing Advice Conference (#SelfPubCon2019), an online author conference that showcases the best self-publishing advice and education for authors across the world — harnessing the global reach of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ network. Our self-publishing conference features well-known indie authors and advisors, for 24 sessions over 24-hours, in a one-day extravaganza of self-publishing expertise straight to your email inbox. We hope you enjoy this session. Let us know if you have any questions or input on this self-publishing topic. Visit our Facebook Group and join in the conversation there, or leave your questions and feedback in the comments section below.
Sacha: Hello everybody, and welcome back to the Self Publishing Advice Conference. I’m Sacha Black and I am with Joseph Alexander. Hello, Joseph.
Joseph: Hello, Sacha. How are you doing?
Sacha: I’m good. Thank you. Would you, first of all, start by introducing yourself, telling us a little bit more about yourself and your journey to, from musician to publisher.
Joseph: Yeah, absolutely. So, I’ve played guitar all my life, I went to music college and had a bit of a difficult time at music college. It felt there was so much information being thrown at me. I didn’t really know how to make sense of it. And a few years later I was teaching privately and I found that a lot of my students were kind of coming across the same issues that I was, you know, through, should I be learning this now and you know, what should I be doing next? There’s so much information out there, you know, like online guitar lessons, Youtube, and they don’t know what to focus on. So I started kind of writing down the lessons and really trying to simplify the process of learning music. Those lessons, somebody told me I could kind of self publish on Amazon, this is going about almost seven years now.
Joseph: And that was my first book, threw it up with a terrible cover, you know, no real editing, that kind of thing. For some reason, you know, I’ve got few sales, I don’t think there were many people doing that all the time. Sort of saw that as like a, you know, very, very low level passive income for me at the time. And so I thought I’ll do another one, another one and ended up writing I think 14 books in the first year cause I just had so much in my head I wanted to get out. Did that for a couple years, eventually ran out of stuff to write about. And I thought, well, you know, I’m the world’s worst like death metal guitar player, but I know a guy who’s great at it. So I asked him, you know, by this time, you know, we’d sort of developed a brand a little bit.
Joseph: And I said, well, if you write the book we’ll publish it, we’ll do, we’ll, you know, we’ll lay it out, we’ll publish it under our label and we’ll just split the royalties 50/50. And that was the point that I kind of, I mean I still write and you know, I’m sort of doing about four or five books a year myself, but that was really the point where I started running my author business as like as a coauthor, but really as a publisher. So that’s kind of been the journey over the last sort of five, six years now because we’ve built this brand, we’re getting to work with some of the top musicians in the world, like people that are my heroes are sort of popping around for tea on a Saturday afternoon, you know, sort of thing, it’s really surreal. And we’re working with some great names, big music schools and things. So it’s just been this sort of crazy journey, but it’s really come about through co publishing. So, co-writing and co-publishing.
Sacha: Thank you. And can you tell us a bit more about the model, the business model and why co-authoring and collaboration works so well?
Joseph: Yeah, I mean I saw some kind of hints that it’s like, I found this only so much in me as a guitarist, there’s things I’m just simply not good at, I don’t know about, but that, you know, musicians are hungry to learn about. So by reaching out to other people who could do that really, really well, combining that with my experience and skills publishing and generating an audience and a mailing list and all this sorts of thing, we really found the by, having other people write, not only could we get new books, but we could really develop this brand. So if you’ve searched guitar book on Amazon for example, you’ll see loads of our books that, you know, that’s in fairly templated colors. You’ll know when you see a Fundamental Changes book. So from that, you know, somebody searched guitar and suddenly we’re this really legit brand and people you know, don’t see any kind of difference between that and the sort of traditionally published music books.
Joseph: So it was a great way to get a lot of titles very quickly. Obviously the input, I’ve certainly went from writer to like full time editor for a long time and we’ve taken on staff now and things, but yeah, like getting more products out there. But really the biggest thing was building the brand so that we have the sorts of cross pollination between our titles. And that’s been the massive thing. And I think we’ve got, we just published our 87th title. We published, 37 books last year. So we’re doing about one every 10 days now.
Sacha: That’s kind of mind blowing pace. I’m going to throw a wild card question. Sorry.
Joseph: That’s fine.
Sacha: So can you tell me a little bit about, I guess the kind of key mindset changes you know, that you’ve had to go through from being a writer by yourself, moving more in, you know, kind of outwards and becoming a self or not self, a publishing company so to speak?
Joseph: So you mean the, I was sitting, I was writing by myself and like how has that changed now that, um. Well, it sounds sounds really like corporate, but I do sort of tend to think more in terms of acquisition.
Joseph: And being careful about which titles that we’re doing because I think there’s a, to an extent, we don’t necessarily want to cannibalize our own titles. You know, like, obviously when you’re getting up to a hundred titles and they’re not all guitar, you know, we’re writing for, you know, drums, bass, vocals, all the sorts of things that, yeah, I mean, finding people to work with that are influential and good musicians. It’s really important that we have that integrity that this is a good project. Good, good book is going to teach somebody something that they want to learn.
Joseph: But I’m through doing that. You know, we’ve, like, we’ve worked with guys like Martin Taylor who’s one of the world’s top jazz guitarist, Martin Terry who’s like, you know, who’s amazing like neo soul guitarist and we’re sort of developing this massive line. But it’s kind of, there’s been, if it’s ever been any sort of cynicism of it, like this guy’s great, but look, he’s got 100,000 followers on Youtube that built like kind of thinking, well this guy’s got an audience and he’s got something to say. So it’s sort of picking the projects that we do quite carefully and sorts of trends to titles like, “Okay, yeah, he’s great, but does he have an audience?” Sorts of thing. It’s not having that slightly cynical business mind every now and again. It’s not the part of the business I like but there’s only so many books that we can actually cope with doing. So we’ve had to become more picky.
Sacha: And if you were talking to somebody who wanted to go from writer to you know, co-author and grow a collaborative business model, what lessons would you tell them or what things would you tell them to put in place for their business?
Joseph: I think it’s really important to define the relationship. Who’s doing what? So are you cowriting, who’s going to do the editing. If you are going to use an editor, you’re going to use cover, is somebody going to foot the cost of that in lieu of maybe them doing more of the editing side and actually understanding what role you have in that relationship is really, really important. So there’s no surprises. I think the most important thing is like you’ve just got to have a good vibe about each other. I mean, there’s like out of all the books, all the authors we’ve worked with, there was one person I’m obviously not going to name that I just thought of it was a bit of a funny vibe from the start and that just turned it into like a really difficult relationship while we were trying to get that book out.
Joseph: And you’ve got to think, well, if we’re going into this together and it’s going to be successful, then there’s potential. I’m going to, we’re going to be splitting royalties on this for the rest of our lives. You starting like a long relationships. So if you’ve got kind of reservations about feeling and let’s just, anything that’s sort of a bit of a niggling doubt about something, I would think about that very, very carefully. You know, and I think sometimes you can just click with people. You’re totally on the same vibe. Go for it. If, I’m not saying don’t do it, you know, it’s good to go into these things cautiously. But yeah, if you get a bad vibe about it my sort of feeling would be just work with somebody that you like. There’s so many great people in this industry. And also just on the practical end, you’ve got to sort of get, you know, a contract together.
Joseph: You know, just define that sort of legally. Unfortunately it’s not the favorite part of the industry and but you know, make sure that if somebody says they’re going to pay your royalties you can actually hold up the contract and say you’re going to get that, which ties into the other half of that Amazon are going to pay royalties and sales into one KDP account, right? You have to trust the person they are going to give you your half or vice versa, you know, so that that level of trust and understanding of how it’s going to work is really important straight off the bat.
Sacha: And I think flipping that on its head and thinking about any mistakes or kind of, you know, things that somebody who’s going from author to publisher should avoid, you know, what things moving into this business model should somebody not do?
Joseph: Ooh, what should you not do? It’s a really hard question to answer. One thing is, when I started doing this, it was very much a case of I really want to get more books. I really want to build my brand. And so for that we it was a 50/50 royalty split. So they would provide the content and the music and the notation, we would edit it, we’d brand it up, we would launch to our audience and we would promote it, right? That was how it split. They gave us content, we did the publishing side of things. And at that point it was sort of, you know, well we’ll do it 50/50, it’s a fait split. Now as we expanded what we realize and obviously things like Amazon advertising as the publisher, we, the need to advertise those books fell on us and we, you know, sort of generally would spend as much as we can possibly spend on that.
Joseph: But margins can be quite tight and all the advertising spend was coming on our side. So the, you know, the author that we were publishing was getting that 50%, but the margin at all, you know, we would get ours but all the advertising costs and the time investment, editing, all that kind of thing came out. And actually it ended up not being only marginally profitable for us. So assessing that relationship, it’s like if you are going to act as a publisher you have to behave as a publisher and we’ve sort of adjusted our royalty rates accordingly. So we do offer slightly less, but that extra share of the money goes straight back into advertising and pushing things. So not necessarily as much of a mistake but like a learning experience, growing pains, thing that you have to kind of account for.
Sacha: Absolutely and last question, what is the best part about working collaboratively as a publisher?
Joseph: Yeah I think I said before, I just, I get to work some of my heroes, you know, like these, these amazing guitarists I mean I was watching growing up and like, oh my God. And then the sort of getting around to go around their house and they have this really, I mentioned Martin Taylor, I went round to his house. He’s there and he’s like, making me a tuna sandwich. I’m just like, this is so surreal. So just like almost without exception, every relationship that we’ve had is great, it’s allowed me to massively build our brands and become recognized to the point where we’re getting quite big offers, some quite big distribution companies and things like that now. You know, we’re getting like really high level writers, authors, musicians approaching us because they want to work with us in like, as a feeling, you know, other than like my own sort of publishing my own book and getting it out there, it’s such a humbling experience to just sort of go, “Oh my God, they want to work with us.”
Joseph: And yeah, a wonderful thing. I think it’s probably the human relationships, like just actually, you know, getting to towards people and work with the, We get to help them, you know, create their idea for a book and get their message out there. So it’s, yeah, it’s, you know, we facilitate a lot of things and you know, the good, the reviews still seem to be good. So, you know, we get to help a lot of people who want to learn music as well. So yes, it’s really positive all of a sudden.
Sacha: Well, thank you so much for your time. Would you like to tell everybody where they can find you?
Joseph: Yeah, so the guitar books, that is fundamental-changes.com. And then, recently because of all the skills that we’ve managed to get together, we can do editing, book covers, you know, you name it, promotion, marketing. We started a services for self published authors company and that is self-published.co.uk. So come and find us there if you want chats about marketing or getting your book out there or doing what we do.
Sacha: Well, thank you very much.
Joseph: Absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
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