Session: Go Wide 1: How to Reach Your Target Market On All Platforms
It’s one thing to consider “publishing wide” as a way to grow your author business. It is quite another to appreciate that the concept isn’t just about a “taking your Amazon strategy and applying it elsewhere” approach. It requires a bit of research and understanding. It involves new skills and perspectives. It isn’t easy, but it’s a worthwhile endeavour for an author who is ready for long-term career-building success and taking their author business to the next level. Join Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital and former Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations for Rakuten Kobo, Inc., on a look at overall strategies and approaches for learning about retailers far beyond the ones that dominate the US, as well as retail, library and bookstore opportunities that exist for authors.
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 am joined today by Mark Lefebvre. Hello, Mark.
Mark: Thanks, Sacha, how are you doing?
Sacha: I’m great, thank you. Thank you so much for joining us. Could you first of all tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing career?
Mark: Yeah, sure. So, suppose, well it started when I was really young, 14 years old and I was pounding out a novel on an Underwood typewriter in the basement of my mom’s house but my first story was published in 1992 and that was the same year that I started a job as a part-time bookseller. And so from 92 to today, I’ve had many, many books published, self published and traditionally published. And I’ve worked in the book industry. I started off as a part time bookseller and I’ve worked in virtually every aspect of the book industry. The only two areas would be I haven’t worked for a Christian bookstore, I haven’t worked for a used bookstore, but I’ve worked for every other kind of bookstore, including online. I was also at Kobo for six years where I created the Kobo Writing Life platform. I’ve run a print on demand business and I’m currently the director of business development for Draft To Digital. And again, embracing both the traditional and self publishing opportunities for writers.
Question: Can you tell us what the biggest differences are between being exclusive to Amazon and marketing wide across all platforms?
Mark: Of course, I mean the main difference is, obviously when you’re only publishing Amazon, you only have to worry about Amazon, which is actually simpler, right? When you’re starting off, rather than worrying about how you’re going to publish, are you going to publish directly to the platforms? Can you publish directly to the platforms or are you going to use a third party aggregator? And again, there’s no right or wrong way of doing it. Every author, every single book you publish may have its own unique way of doing it. And that’s perfectly fine. That’s the first thing I would make sure authors pay attention to. There is no one way of doing it all. The way that works best for you is the right way of doing it. So, when you think about Amazon, you take, yes, it’s the world’s biggest bookstore, but a lot of it is algorithm based.
Mark: And so most of the marketing strategies that authors were using for Amazon are relating related to tricking the algorithm or working with the algorithm or riding those waves, right? It’s like surfing and the minute you learn how the waves are coming in and you don’t crash on the rocks and the beach, the waves change and the tides change and all of a sudden it’s a different game. So it’s this constant game of catch up and really educated guesswork. Some of the difference with the other retailers is some of the other retailers will actually tell you how it works. Kobo, for example, will tell you how things work so you’re not guessing. That’s even better than guessing, isn’t it? But I like to think of Amazon as a place where the inmates run the asylum. So you know, you do this, this gamification and there used to be, you would make your book free and it would run up the ranks and then you’d flip it back to paid.
Mark: And you’d ride that wave down and then they found out people were doing that and they changed it. So then people did other things. And so you’re constantly doing that. But at other places, and I can speak to Kobo cause I worked there for a number of years, but places like Kobo and Nook and even Apple are a lot more like a traditional bookstore where there’s a lot more human curation. That doesn’t mean algorithms aren’t in play, but there’s a lot more human curation. So you have to take that into account. So in a lot of cases you may be thinking about things a little bit differently as opposed to, I just got my book back from my editor, I’m happy with what my designer did for the book cover of the book is ready to go, let’s launch it now, thinking about pre orders because on all the other sites, Amazon will penalize you if you have to change a preorder date.
Mark: But on the other sites you get a double bang for your buck. So for example, on Apple, you get the sales now just like you do on Amazon. But then on release day, you get an additional bang. You get an extra bonus. On Kobo pre orders count for two times the regular ranking boost, which means you can really ride that into the launch date. I was speaking with an author yesterday who said they send out to their newsletter group, they send notes about about their releases and then on release day, half the people on the list want to buy it on release day. So it’s a great way of, of getting both things because even Amazon and the other retailers, even when you look at the algorithms, they reward consistency over time, over a one day spike. So that’s really, really important to consider.
Mark: And then when you think about those other retailers like Kobo and Nook and Apple as the other large ones, think that there are people looking at reports every morning to see what forthcoming titles are selling well, because they’re going to want to do that self fulfilling prophecy where they see a book that’s already selling well so they feature it. So, so pushing on preorders is a key thing. And then the merchandisers are also, again, they’re looking for those things to, think about an independent bookstore. Think about the person in the store who decides, they may have, in a smaller shop, they’ll have 10,000 titles in a larger shop, like a W.A. Smith or one of the larger bookstores, Barnes and Noble. They’ll have 100,000 titles, but somebody’s in charge of deciding what books go in the front window. And what you’re trying to do is not just catch the attention to the algorithm, you’re trying to catch the attention of that person who is going to put the book in the window and what reasons are they going to put the book in that window. So those are just a couple of the things that I think are different ways of perceiving promotions when you think about the other retailers.
Question: You’ve talked before about the opportunities working with libraries can bring. Can you tell us about the various models there are and how authors can best ultilise them?
Mark: Sure. So, perhaps I’ll start with digital books for libraries because you know, a lot of the stuff that we have control over is digital. So starting with digital, I think Overdrive, which, so Overdrive is owned by Rakuten and Rakuten is the same company that owns Kobo. Overdrive is based out of the US, it’s based out of Cleveland and it’s one of the world’s largest digital book platforms for libraries. So a lot of libraries in North America and even around the world are powered by Overdrive. So one of the best ways to get to Overdrive is you can do it, if you’re publishing directly through Kobo Writing Life, there’s an opportunity to get into the platform there. If you’re using a third party aggregators such as Draft to Digital and there are others, you can use that to get into it. And I think one of the differences to keep in mind is that take a look when you’re going to send it to the library, the terms that they accept.
Mark: So for example, and I know this because I negotiated the terms for Kobo Writing Life to get into Overdrive, with the sister company before I left there. And they have a very simple, and I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. Is the one to one relationship, meaning that when the library purchases your book, they’re purchasing one copy, which means they’re allowed to loan that book out, one at a time to one customer at a time, usually for a two week period, and then it’s gone and then they can push it back out there. So the pricing strategy for libraries is usually the retailers, Draft to Digital, Kobo, et cetera, et cetera, we’ll recommend that you price your book and it’s in US dollars. So let’s say your book is $4.99 US. They recommend that you go with about two to three times the retail price because the library is only purchasing one copy.
Mark: Now if you go directly through Kobo Writing Life, you get 50% for example, if you go through a third party, like a Draft to Digital or others, you get somewhere in the realm of 45 to 48% so they keep a little bit, that’s how they make money. That’s the one to one relationship. And the reason that this recommendation is put into place is because the major publishers are charging libraries upwards of 20, 30, 40, 50 up to $80 for a single book in the same licensing term. So they could buy your entire catalog for the price of one book from Penguin Random House, for example. And so that’s something that’s really, really generous to the libraries and it allows them to use their budget better. So for example, if you write Mark Dawson style thrillers in the same realm that Lee Childs would, maybe Lee Childs’ publishers, maybe charging 30, 40, $50.
Mark: But if you want to buy Mark Dawson or Diane Capri or other independent authors titles that are very similar, you can get them for probably $6.99 or $8.99 and you can buy a lot more. The other thing to be aware of is library’s got burned by buying really crappy books for 99 cents in the early days when the flood came in. So some librarians want a deal but not too much of a deal because when they see the cheap prices, they go, “Oh yeah, we bought some of those cheap books thinking it was going to be good and they were useless. Right? It was like this ugly bargain bin.” So be very, very careful. Yes, you want to give them a good deal but not too much of a good deal. Now the second terms that exists, and this is an opportunity that when you’re publishing through Draft to Digital, you’ll have the one to one license through Overdrive, but then you also have a model that’s the cost per click model and it’s a little bit different.
Mark: So instead of getting 50% of the US retail or library price, you get 10% of the regular retail price that you set. And the way that that works is instead of thinking of it the way that Amazon sort of democratized the slush pile, used to be in a publisher’s back room and they took all the, like basically self publishing took all the manuscripts and stuck them not in the publisher’s back room, right on the retail site and they let the customers decide what they wanted to buy. Right. That really changed the game for the book industry. The library does the same thing with the cost per click model. They don’t curate and decide from this list of 100,000 new titles or the hundred we’re going to buy. They put the whole catalog up and they let their patrons decide what they want to checkout. There’s still curation involved in what they’re going to feature, but there’s more of a chance of a patron discovering you and and getting it in.
Mark: The way that that works is every time someone checks out your book, you get 10% of the retail price on it. So for a $5 book, $4.99 you’re going to get 50 cents every time someone checks it out. So it’s not, you know, $5, let’s say if you were to set your library price for $10, $5 or just under $5 instead of getting the $5 now and then never getting anything again, you have the potential if it’s really popular and lots of people check it out because there’s no waiting list, right? Somebody could have the book out and someone else wants it. You could actually make more in the long run with a model like that. And that’s how, in the way I discovered that this was a really good opportunity is that’s how some of my audio books through Find A Way Voices to some of the smaller retail and library systems, that’s how they work. And I was surprised and shocked to find that you could actually make really good money off of that. So again, there’s more than one model when it comes to libraries. The other thing I need to say about libraries, which is critical because you and I are both, I’m in a Commonwealth country. And, Commonwealth countries like Canada, Australia and the UK have a public lending right? And that means that you as an author, whether it’s a self published title or traditionally published, you can register your ISBN with the local authorities. So in Canada, I registered with the Public Lending Right commission, and I actually get a royalty check every year for audio books, ebooks, and print books of mine that they do a random sampling of library systems. And if they find my book, they pay me because it’s kind of like this, you lost royalties now, but we want libraries to stock Canadian authors so we’re going to give you a check in lieu of lost royalties. And in many cases, especially with my traditionally published books, I make more money from a single find in the library system that I make if that book were to sell, you know, for a single copy of that book to sell. So, if you’re in Canada, Australia, and the UK or a Commonwealth country, double check to see if you have a public lending right program. If you do, please take advantage of that and please get your books into the the market as much as possible and even if the library doesn’t have your print book and I know in Canada they just opened it up in the last couple of years to ebooks. So there may be opportunities there for again, additional revenue, additional discoverability of local authors. What three things can you author do now to increase their sales on non-amazon platforms?
Mark: We’re going to assume that they’ve already published to the other platforms because that’s the big one. They can’t but it if it’s not there.
Sacha: Right. Go wide.
Mark: But I know it sounds kinda funny, but actually link to the other platforms. So for example, when I was at Kobo, I used to see people say, “Oh man, my Kobo sales sales suck. I never sell any books at Kobo. And then I would go to the author website and I would see there’s the book and the only link anywhere was to Amazon.com. So it was like, wow, okay. So link to all the retailers. Now one of the things and, yes, I work for Draft to Digital now, but I’ve been using this for years and it’s free and it’s not just for self published titles. You can go to books2read.com and that’s books, the number two read dot com and you can create, so if you’re publishing through Draft to Digital, it automatically creates a universal book link, but you don’t have to publish their draft to digital to use this free tool.
Mark: You can even use it if you’re exclusive to Amazon because they have eight links because they have eight different stores and you put your link in and then you press a find button and it’ll go out and it’ll find links to all the retailers. So when you go to that page, you can actually see the links to Amazon and Apple and Kobo and Nook and Google and all the other places where your book is published. Then here’s the valuable thing, cause I do a lot of radio interviews and even for my traditionally published books, so I put out a book called the McCobb Montreal with a coauthor, you know, true ghost stories from this French Canadian city. And when I was on the radio for it, I could just say go to books2read.com/MccobbMontreal. And that’s where, an easy way, rather than saying go to bit.ly or or whatever the short, or go to MarkLeslie.ca. So, and that gives the consumer choice and so you can use that. It’s completely free. You can put your affiliate codes for Amazon and Apple and all the other places in there. And then again, there’s also free landing pages where people can discover your other titles if they happen to get there. So that’s one that I think is really, really critical.
Sacha: The thing I like about them is that you can also, you can see the performance of the clicks.
Mark: Yeah. So then you know how many people clicked it and then right now you see the top three places that people go. I know Draft to Digital is going to be releasing more detailed stats so you can see more because again, your book may be at 30 different stores. If you publish through Kobo, it’s going to go to a whole bunch of retail partners, including WH Smith and FNAC and a whole bunch of worldwide places.
Mark: And you want to be able to see the long tail because a lot of us make money in the long tail, right? Those ones and twos sales that don’t really burn up the charts, but over time add up. That’s really important. I think the other thing that you can do is, again, not just on your website, but in your social media, include those universal links. Include the links. Even if you find a, for example, at Kobo, I know we used to pay attention to a customer’s discovering Joanna Penn would say, “Oh cool. I know I’ve sold a book in Burkina Faso because of Kobo Writing Life because you could see it on the map. So you know, “Hey, Nook readers in the US, thanks for buying my books.” Like, “Hello, Apple readers. I appreciate you making me hit the bestseller list in Australia, right?”
Mark: Those are the things you can do. And then the other thing is remember that, the entire world, I mean, Amazon is the world’s biggest bookstore. There’s no mistaking that, but the entire world doesn’t buy on Amazon. And so think about your global pricing, and that goes beyond just US dollars or even pounds. If you’re in the UK, think about the pricing and most of those English language territories and manually make them look good. The other thing when you ask for reviews, don’t just ask for reviews on a single retailer, ask for reviews on goodreads. Sure, it’s owned by Amazon, but people on goodreads read on all platforms and they read print books too. Get them to review it on whatever retailer they read it on, whether it’s Nook, Apple, Kobo, or whatever because on those retailers, I know that that’s, you know, on Kobo we had looked at the stats and said that even a book with a single star review is twice as more likely to sell as a book with no review. So yeah, just having a review is the social proof that somebody read it and actually took the time to comment. So that’s something that’s kind of, those are some things that people can do. I think that’s sort of three and a couple pieces of change there.
Question: Writing in a niche can be seen as a bad thing, but you don’t share that opinion. Can you tell me why you think niches are important and how can we capitalise on them?
Mark: I mean, I think one of the biggest mistakes authors can make is assume that the book is good for everybody, the reality and I faced this reality immediately because I write in horror and people don’t like horror. It’s not as universal as romance, although it is universal. Fear is universal, but the genre of horror is not as universal as romancer or thriller. So understanding that you can’t please everybody and then focusing in on the people you want to please. I often go back and I think about Stephen King. Yes, he’s one of the world’s most famous authors and rich authors, but he addresses constant reader and constant reader is his wife, Tabitha. And all he thinks about when he writes a story is “Is Tabitha, my ideal reader, this one person, is she going to throw the book across the room or she going to enjoy it?”
Mark: And if he pleases her, fortunately her tastes are like millions of other people. But that’s the thing to focus on. It’s like, when you’re writing your book, think of one reader, think exactly of how they’re going to react to that and make them happy. Just that one person. Cause you’re not going to make everybody happy. The other thing that I think is critical, and this is something I learned from my good friend Robert J Sorry, who is a huge Canadian science fiction writer that ABC television turned one of his novels. Flash Forward into a TV series about 10 years ago and he’s just having another one being produced for TV show now. So you may, you may hear of him shortly after this, he always advised, “Define yourself as a big fish in a small pool.” So for example, I write horror and I can compare myself to Stephen King, perfect example, and think of myself as this teeny tiny Gnat or bug that nobody would ever notice.
Mark: But one day in Costco, with one of my traditionally published titles, one of my books was honest skid, right, besides, besides Stephen King’s book, Doctor Sleep. So when that came out a few years ago and I was doing a book signing at this Costco and my skid outsold Stephen King’s skid. Yeah, of course, if he was there, he would have outsold me, but he wasn’t there and I was there and I outsold Stephen King on a single day in a small city in northern Ontario, in Canada. And King would never notice it. But again, it could be, I could say that, you know, I’m the bestselling horror author from Sudbury, Ontario. I’m actually not, there is a better author from Sudbury, Ontario, but that day I was the best selling horror author. So again, focusing on those wins and not how you’re insignificant. It also gives you confidence. And we need, writers we need that confidence because we’re beat down upon all the time. And it’s okay to focus on those small wins because those small wins become big victories later on.
Question: What different strategies do you think we should be using on the various wide platforms?
Mark: This is an interesting one because, and it’s the reason that I wrote the book Killing It On Kobo and I did is because 99% of the books out there and 99% of the marketing strategies out there are all focused on Amazon, which is great. It’s the world’s biggest bookstore. so one of the things I do is Bookbub, I’m sure most authors will have heard of Bookbub, but there are places where you have a better chance of getting an international Bookbub, which is good. And that, and again, it will go well beyond Amazon, but follow their blog as well. They offer all kinds of tremendous insights, not just about discounted books but about features for the reader. So for example, the one thing I know is that through Bookbub ads, which you know, anyone can use, you don’t have to wait to be accepted.
Mark: They indicated that 75% of their readers, and this is a stat from probably late 2018 that they posted on their blog, 75% of their most the best readers will buy books at full price. And usually they’re buying the books at full price in other countries outside the US on Amazon, on Apple or on Kobo and on Apple, for example. But again, follow the blog. There’s other places as well, like Bargain Booksy and Freebooksy, Written Word Media. They have a great blog as well, and they also have less expensive tools that you can use to promote your book. And you’re not going to see the windfall you get from a Bookbub. But again, all of those little things help. And Ricky Wollman, who’s the CEO there talks about the importance of stacking your promos. So not just having a single book, but you know, using Bookbub and Bargain Booksy and Ereader News Today and Fussy Librarian and getting that, you know, tricking those algorithms into not thinking you’re a flash in the pan, but that there’s consistent sales over time.
Mark: I think patience is probably one of the most critical things that’s different from Amazon, although Amazon is becoming more of a pay to play with Amazon advertising or what used to be called AMS ads. But I do know from experience that it would take six to nine months for an author to reach success in terms of sales on Kobo. So being very, very patient. It’s kind of like, I harken it back to when I started in writing, I would pound out stories on a typewriter. I would mail those stories away and I would wait patiently for nine to 18 months for the rejection to come back in the mail. Right. So the difference, maybe because I got to experience that so many times I got used to the patience so it wasn’t just, “Oh, I published my book, hit refresh on the dashboard and oh 15 minutes later I haven’t sold a book, you know,” so that 8-9 to 18 months, the other platforms, unlike Amazon, because they’re not as big or they’re more niche markets may take more time for that to happen.
Mark: And then I think the other thing, and this is kind of critical and it’s sort of that forward thinking thing. Think about the first authors who were indie publishing on Amazon and they were the first one to do a 99 cent book deal. They’re the first ones to sell 100,000 copies. They’re the first ones to quit their day jobs and write full time. Think about some of those other platforms that aren’t yet that size but are growing because ebooks we’re still on a 20, 25 plus year trajectory for this change to the book industry. We’re only about 10 years into it. Think about those other retailers, those other places as an opportunity for you to be that breakout author for you to be the number one selling author in that territory. Think of a place like Scribd for example, which just recently announced that they have over 1 million paid subscribers and Scribd isn’t just books, but it’s books and magazines and sheet music and other things.
Mark: Think about that as an opportunity, the way Amazon is an opportunity of people who go there to buy something else and may discover a book. People go to Scribd to read all kinds of different things, maybe they’re magazine readers that you can lure in, so there may be different marketing tools that we haven’t even thought of yet for these new platforms. Imagine being the first to break it big there and then everyone else will be those kids, those 10 year olds playing soccer that are chasing you. You’ve got the ball and they’re all following you across the field. That’s the kind of thing I always think about when I think about different strategies. Think about where is a place that you want to explore and experiment, and maybe you can be first in that market. Someone’s gotta be first. Where can we learn more about you and find your books? Well, pretty much all my books are published wide across all platforms. You can find links to them from Mark Leslie.ca. I am Canadian, so I don’t have a .com. Some rich guy took that when I took .ca. From there you can find links there and then, if you can’t get enough of my silky voice, you can listen to my weekly podcasts, Stark Reflections on Writing and Publishing, which is linkable from that main website.
Sacha: Thank you so much. That’s been absolutely brilliant.
Mark: Thanks, Sacha.
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