Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com. It’s the place where–wow, I had a coughing fit before I started recorded this interview. Apparently there’s still a little bit of it. This is the place where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. Today I’ve got an author, which seems a little bit different, but it’s actually not.
Here’s the thing. What I used to think was that authors actually don’t really make money from their books. What they do is they maybe build a reputation. They sell consulting services, etc. But the books are kind of a loss. In fact, it’s not an imaginary thing for me. I used to interview authors a lot on Mixergy and I remember how downcast they were, how much of their lives they banked on this book like making them into celebrities and all that and how much towards the end of their book run they felt like failures, worse than before. So I thought alright, that’s the way it is.
And then I met today’s guest. He’s a Mixergy fan and an author who apparently loves to write. Twenty-five fiction books is what he’s up to right now. He really seems to enjoy the process and he’s successful at it, I mean financially successful at it. He has been for a long time. His name is Mark Dawson. In addition to writing books now, he’s also teaching people how to actually self-publish and not fail and not be like one of those downcast authors that I interviewed or potentially had an opportunity to interview when I was starting at Mixergy.
Mark Dawson can be found at SelfPublishingFormula.com, where he teaches this. I’m looking forward to hearing how he sells books. Frankly, even if you’re not selling books and I know chances are you probably are not, the marketing tactics that he has used to sell his books will work in other areas. In fact, he brought them in from outside the publishing world and applied them to publishing. So I know that you can take them out to your business too.
This interview is sponsored by two great companies. The first will help you sell more books, sell more software, sell more anything. It’s called ActiveCampaign. I’ll tell you later on why you need to use them for your email. The second company is the company that will help you hire your next great developer or designer. It’s called Toptal. I’ll tell you more about both of them later. Mark, welcome.
Mark: Thanks for having me. Pleasure.
Andrew: You’ve listened enough to know that I’m going to ask you about revenue, so why don’t I start off with that. 2016, what was the revenue from this?
Mark: Which side of the business do you want to talk about?
Andrew: Let’s talk both. How about books first and then courses? What kind of revenue did you pull in from books?
Mark: Okay. So books, 2016 this is kind of fairly rough but it would high six figures for books and that’s pounds, not dollars, so maybe $1 million for books. That would come from book sales, from audio book sales, from translation and associated rights, just kind of sweating those assets and getting as much as can from them.
And then on the other side of the business, from the nonfiction, I can give you kind of an 18-month figure. So, we setup the Self Publishing Formula about 18 months ago, me and two friends. We’ve had 3,000 paid students so far and we’ve brought in $1.8 million gross in the last 18 months. So, generally it’s very busy, but we’re really happy everything is going.
Andrew: So, roughly $100,000 a month, it seems like, on average over the last 18 months.
Mark: Yeah. It doesn’t break down exactly per month because we do [inaudible 00:03:25].
Andrew: You do what? Sorry.
Mark: There’s kind of a scarcity launch. I think we’ve had five launches of two different products during that time.
Andrew: I can’t believe that you’re doing about $1 million in sales form books. How much of that is from audio books versus–where are the sales coming from?
Mark: The vast majority is from eBooks and of that, the majority would be from Amazon, about 75% Amazon, maybe 70% Amazon and the rest–Apple is pretty big, getting bigger. Audio books has been pretty good. That’s an interesting new market that’s developing over time. It’s probably the next area that is going to go big, maybe doing $30,000 or $40,000 over the course of the year from audio.
Then you’ve got things like translation where you get an advance from, say, a German publisher or an Italian publisher and that’s more of a traditional deal structure rather than getting royalties directly from Amazon.
Andrew: The audio is less than Amazon. Amazon Kindle seems to be the best for you.
Mark: Yeah, definitely.
Andrew: Okay. I want to ask you about how you do that later in the interview, specifically because as I told you before we started, I’ve been thinking of a book. I actually hired a researcher to go through my archives and put together information from my past interviews and help me organize into a book that explains what I’ve learned from doing over 1,000 interviews.
But let’s get to you. One of the things that I remember from talking to you, you said it was about a year ago now, was that you were writing on the train. How many hours would you spend writing like that?
Mark: This was 2014, so that was kind of my year of maximum production. It’s weird as I’ve gone full-time, my production has actually gone down. I may be getting a bit lazy. But in that year, I had an hour and a half commute from Salisbury, where I am now, to London, where I was working at the time, so three hours a day. I could write 3,000 to 4,000 words on the train. It was the best environment I’ve ever found for just concentrated writing because I deliberately didn’t tether my laptop. I had no internet. I had some noise cancelling headphones. I always got a seat at a table, just got my laptop and concentrated. Because there was nothing else to do and I’d get lost in the moment, I often found I’d get to London and wish the train had another half an hour to go because I was so much in the moment. Over the course of the year, I think I published about a million words, so probably a touch more than the Harry Potter series in total was written and published during that year.
Andrew: No writer’s block, no hesitation, none of that?
Mark: No. I’ve never–touch wood–I’ve never had writer’s block. I’ve always [inaudible 00:06:07]. I think that’s something that you can get over. It’s just a question of sitting down and writing. There are some tips that you can use to kind of escape that using software like Scrivener. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that before, but it’s a way to write that’s non-linear in the way that Word would be a linear. It’s not really built for those big documents.
Scrivener lets you jump around the manuscript. So I might feel like writing some dialogue. I could do that. I might want to do an action scene, whatever I was having trouble with, I would just do something else and Scrivener lets you do that really, really easily.
Andrew: I feel like to me that would make it harder because if I could bounce around, then I would bounce around and avoid the hard work of sitting and writing.
Mark: You’re still writing, you’re just writing different stuff.
Andrew: I wouldn’t be writing. I would be like, “I should do dialogue,” and then do that for a couple minutes and then say, “Actually, the ending is really in need of some work. Let’s go to work.” And then I would never sit and do more than two sentences.
Mark: Writing is writing and dialogue is writing just as much as descriptive prose. They’re all the same thing and every word is adding to your word count, getting you closer to that maybe 80,000 word goal when you’re ready to write the end. That did work very well for me and it’s continued to work as I’ve taken this full-time.
Andrew: Can you still produce good quality work when you’re doing it by the hour, by the word on a schedule like that?
Mark: That’s a good question. A couple times I got some reviews, I told someone kind of the productivity that I was managing, he was like, “That’s typing, not writing.” After I punched him in the face–the way I look at it is kind of harkening back to the kind of pulp fiction writers in the 50s. I’m not trying to win the Pulitzer Prize here. That’s not my objective. I’m trying to write propulsive, compelling, page-turning fiction.
You look back at people like Elmore Leonard, who’s one of my heroes and you look at how many books he published, it’s dozens and dozens and dozens, probably in the hundreds. When he was starting out, he’d write westerns, he’d write crime thrillers. He’d put those books out every six weeks, every two months.
So it’s not necessarily true that you’re losing quality by writing quickly. Provided that you’ve got the backend support, proper editorial process that you run the books through so they don’t have typos, they’re factually correct, your research is right, provided you do that and don’t cut corners, then the end product can be as good as anything you can get from a traditional house.
Andrew: So the first couple of books that you wrote, as you told our producer, actually didn’t go so well for you. What were those first two books?
Mark: They were traditionally published around the turn of the century. So, the first one was called “The Art of Falling Apart” and the second was called “Subpoena Colada” because I’m kind of a lawyer by trade. So that was kind of a loosely autobiographical book. They were published–it was really exciting. I got an agent very easily. The agent sold the books very easily, but the high point was when they appeared on the shelves, I was kind of doing backflips at that moment.
But when I went back into the shop the next day, they weren’t [inaudible 00:09:18].
Andrew: Sorry. You went back in the shop–sorry, the mic went out.
Mark: Yeah. So I went back in the shop the next day and they weren’t in the right place. They’d been moved. They weren’t in prime real estate anymore. Of course I moved them back to where [inaudible 00:09:32]. From that point, it was a fairly–it was just disappointing. They didn’t seem to get any marketing. I didn’t seem to get any promotion. The extent of the marketing was pretty much to give me a box of books and say, “Go and get some reviews,” which wasn’t really where I thought I was giving away for 90% of the cover price.
Andrew: Because for every dollar that you sold, you got $0.10, they got $0.90.
Mark: Yeah, exactly. I got a big advance. They were generous advances, maybe like $50,000, which was average for those days. It would be a lot today. They sunk away. The whole thing just dispirited me to the idea of writing. I changed jobs, went to work in the film industry for a few years and didn’t write again for six or seven years until the Kindle came out.
Andrew: And that’s the thing that when I used to interview writers, when I used to interview actually not writers but people who had happened to have wrote a book, they would assume that the publishing company would have this great PR machine and they got nothing out of it. Now, I would call up the PR people at the publishers and they were lucky to have somebody care about them at the department and they wouldn’t have to do much work and so they’d introduce me to the author.
That’s basically all they did. That was the problem. You’re saying your first two books you were waiting for somebody else to promote, after that, you realized no, you’ve got to be the marketer.
Mark: That was the penny drop for me. On the one hand it’s quite frightening to think that you’re responsible for everything and on the other hand, it’s massively liberating because if I screw up, there’s no one to blame but me. I’m a hard worker. I enjoy this, fortunately. I enjoy the marketing and promotion. But if I make a mess, I can’t blame the publisher because that’s me. I’m the publisher and the writer. I find that just remarkably encouraging.
Andrew: So you and I talked about a year ago, I said, “I should have you on.” You followed up with me. I don’t remember what I said, but it wasn’t, “Yeah, let’s do it right now.” I know what it was. It was we needed more software entrepreneurs. That’s the basis of Mixergy and we were falling behind. So I wanted to catch up on that. You then followed up and then you had to go through our process and now here you are on my schedule. I realize you’re in the UK. What time is now, 11:00?
Mark: 20 past 10:00.
Andrew: Yeah, 20 past 10:00. So what’s fun about this part? Don’t you ever sit back and go, “Hemingway didn’t have to do this?” People used to sit and write.
Mark: That’s true. I suppose he didn’t. Those days are gone. There are so few writers these days who have the luxury of–my impression is this. If you get given a quarter of a million dollar advance, a really big, juicy six-figure advance, then you can expect the publisher to invest a comparable amount to at least try and recoup that and then make royalties.
But the problem with that model is beneath that quarter-million advance, there are maybe ten authors who are given $30,000 advances. So aggregating those, there’s more money for the publishers in those authors than the one author, but it seems to me that they concentrate their fire on the big hitter and then kind of let the other ones, maybe one catches fire, maybe you get a breakout fit and then everyone is happy.
That business model doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m not really interested in that anymore because I’d rather direct all the promotion to my books, which I care about much more than, as you said, an executive in a cubicle in Manhattan or London, he’s got 25 other books they need to promote this year.
Andrew: You don’t ever resent it. You don’t ever say, “I can’t believe I’m going to do this right now. It’s 10:20. I’ve got to just relax with a whiskey,” or something?
Mark: No. I don’t think I’m going to sell many books tonight. I’m not interested in that. That’s not why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because number one, I enjoy your show and it’s a pleasure to talk to you and I think I may learn some stuff as well. Coincidentally, I didn’t know you wanted to talk about your projects, but I’m very happy to help you too.
Also, I think as you said in the introduction, there are some lessons we might talk about tonight that are applicable regardless of what you’re selling, provided that it’s a digital product, which is effectively what my .mobi files and .epub files are, just the same as the courses that I sell and just the same is the SaaS services that other people that you’ve interviewed. They’re all selling the same things. The principles are exactly the same, things like mailing lists, engagement, turning customers into fans and then into friends and all that kind of stuff. That’s universal.
Andrew: So let’s talk about that then. You discovered the Kindle. 2010 is when it came out. You finally had a friend who said, “Look at this. Self-publishing not only works, but I actually get to communicate with my readers. How do you get a relationship with your readers or how did he back then with the Kindle?”
Mark: He was getting emails. So, when I was originally published, I never got any communication with any of my readers. The only time–I wanted to see someone on the [inaudible 00:14:18] reading one of my books. That never happened. The only time I got anything like that was when a friend of mine picked up one of my books, “Subpoena Colada,” in a charity shop.
So that was a bit embarrassing right from the start. She gave it to me. Inside it was a letter or note that had been written by this reader who had corrected all of my law. She was right. My law was wrong and she was right. I would have loved to have reached out to that reader and say, “I hope you enjoyed it, you are right, by the way. All those points you raised are correct.” But I couldn’t do that.
Andrew: How could your friend do that with the Kindle? Kindle doesn’t give authors my email address.
Mark: No, it doesn’t. But you can put in the back or in the front, you could put–in fact, you should put visit for me MarkJDawson.com and I’ll give you the first two books in my John Milton series and of course, that’s not a completely altruistic gesture because I’m going to be asking for the email address so I can send them to you and then maybe down the line I’ll start to market things to you. Once you have the email address, then you can start to reach out and engage.
Andrew: Okay. You’ve got this new idea here. Did you sit down and write a book for it or did you have one already written and say, “Let’s try this on the Kindle format?”
Mark: Yeah. I’ve been marinating something for a few years. This one was called “The Black Mile.” That was the first one I self-published and it probably took me a couple years to write, which would have been kind of what I was doing before.
These days it takes me about three months to write a novel, so things had changed a bit. I sat down and wrote it. I thought this was a good opportunity. My agent pitched it to traditional publishers and got a couple of nibbles but nothing concrete. In the end I just thought I could either leave this on my hard drive or I can do something with it and maybe try and find some readers. It was probably the best thing I ever did.
Andrew: I’m looking at the reviews on this book on Amazon. It’s four and a half stars at least. No, 4.3 out of 5 stars.
Mark: Yeah. I’m a better writer these days than I was then. Most of those are from my mother, of course.
Andrew: No, you’ve got a lot, hundreds of reviews. So you say, “This is the book I’m going to put into Kindle.” You put it in the Kindle platform. Does it at that point sell or at that point did you figure out one technique for marketing it that we can learn from.
Mark: I learned by mistakes. Those I learned especially for most things. There’s one particular moment of kind of the big failure, which was also a big failure for me. Amazon allows you to give your book away for free. If you’re exclusive with Amazon, you get the chance to do that for five days every three months.
Now, that does seem counterintuitive. So I often told readers how powerful this is or was. They’ll say, “I spent two years writing this book and now you want me to give it away and not get any money.” What I would say to them is you’re giving it away because you need to offer your book out to new readers so you can engage them, all that stuff.
The first thing I did that, it was August or September and I’d gone for a bike ride in the country near where I live right now. It was harvest time. I remember sitting down, get off the bike, getting my phone out and saying, “I wonder how many copies I’ve had downloaded,” expecting maybe 10 or 20. And it was something like 50,000. It was kind of like, “Oh my god. That’s amazing.”
Andrew: That’s a lot, 50,000 people to have downloaded your book. I was going to say who read it, but who knows how many people actually read it, but 50,000 downloads, that’s huge.
Mark: That was amazing. I had a moment of elation. Then I had an immediate moment of, “I’ve missed a trick here.” I had no second book. There was nowhere else for them to go if they enjoyed it and I had no mailing list at all. I had no signup because there was no mailing list. So I probably lost a bit of–I spun my wheels for a bit more months than was necessary because I could have got started with a list a bit earlier than I did, but that was a good learning. It was the thing I say to authors these days. Getting a list setup immediately is the number one thing you need to do.
Andrew: So did you go and set up a list?
Mark: Yeah, the next day.
Andrew: Could you now change the book so that there’s a link to it?
Andrew: For all future buyers.
Mark: Yeah. That’s one of the amazing things about publishing digitally these days is that there is no final manuscript. You can change anything at any time. If someone–this has happened a few times. My first John Milton book, I put a gun in the book and I put a safety on it and it doesn’t have a safety. Now, a word to the wise, if you’re selling books to Americans who know about guns and you get that stuff wrong, basic things, you’re going to get flamed. So I just jumped straight back into the manuscript, changed it, corrected it, republished, no more problems.
Andrew: I see. Does that still work today, giving away the book for free to increase reviews and ratings and then it goes up the charts so you can sell it?
Mark: Not like it used to. So, back in those days, the way that Amazon’s algorithm worked, every free download was equivalent to a sale. You’d rank very highly. Those 50,000 reviews would have got me somewhere in the top 50 on dotcom, something like that. Then when it went back to paid, it would have maintained that visibility, which would mean you’d have a long tail of greater sales because the book has surfaced for a while. No one really understands exactly how the algorithm works these days, but a free download is probably worth a fraction of a sale. You’ll get some bump, but it’s negligible compared to what it used to be.
Andrew: Still worth doing?
Mark: Yeah. It’s worth doing to introduce you to new readers because you want to make that frictionless. If you’re never heard of me before and you’ve got a choice between the new Lee Child book or the new Stephen King book and the new Mark Dawson book, Lee Child is $15, Stephen King is $17 and mine is free, there’s a good chance you might just test that out. At that point, that’s when the writing has a chance to hook you. I need to get you to that point so I can start to sell you on how good my stories are and price is a really effective way to compete with the big guys.
Andrew: I see. So maybe this is a good time for me to talk about my sponsor. If you’re seeing a hesitation in me it’s because I’m wondering should I talk about my sponsor by talking about their competitors or not? I think that it’s probably not–I don’t know if it’s what they want, but if they’re unhappy with it, I’ll give them a refund for it. I think we should talk about their competitors within the sponsorship message.
The sponsor is a company called ActiveCampaign. You don’t use them for email marketing, right? We talked about how powerful your email is. I probably should ignore the fact that there are competitors out there and say, “Hey, if you guys want to setup email marketing, here’s what you do. To do what Mark does, use ActiveCampaign.” But I think that’s just disingenuous. You use Infusionsoft, right?
Mark: I use MailChimp for my list and I use Infusionsoft for the nonfiction side. But I did look. When we were switching from MailChimp, I looked at ActiveCampaign and Infusionsoft. Those were the two and I was very impressed with both. So, it’s a good choice.
Andrew: Yeah. You know what? ActiveCampaign for a long time I don’t think was as powerful as it is today. So a lot of us who were in the space had dismissed it, like in my head, AWeber, kind of weak. I don’t pay attention to it. ActiveCampaign, I wasn’t paying attention to it for a long time. Then people started telling me, “Here are all the features they have.”
These guys will actually tie into your website, for example. So, if somebody goes on a specific page like the buy page or looks at one of your books, they can be tagged. So, you can then market to them differently than someone who’s never considered buying and hasn’t looked at any one of your pages. That’s tremendously powerful to tag people based on what they do on their site.
It can also tag people based on what they’ve clicked on within messages, which you can do with services like MailChimp, not to this degree. Everything is tagged and you treat everybody differently. You write an email once and then you change the middle of the email based on whether they’re customers or not, based on which book they looked at. You have 25 books on your site.
I look at one book, someone else looks at another. We could get the same email except that center section could talk about the book that we each looked at and so it’s much more relevant to us. That’s what ActiveCampaign does. So it’s no doubt, hands down, much more powerful than MailChimp even though MailChimp is advertising everywhere. There’s no doubt about it.
Now, Infusionsoft is a big competitor for them because if you want marketing automation, people think about Infusionsoft. They have tons of features. Here’s the problem with Infusionsoft. They are–I don’t think that ActiveCampaign is going to be happy with me talking about their competitors because then you get stuck with Infusionsoft in your head. I don’t care. People are going to investigate anyway.
Here’s the deal. Infusionsoft is a mess. Any time you talk to anyone who’s in Infusionsoft, maybe you have a different experience, it’s just so messy that they can’t keep track of all their own funnels. Who sets up your funnels for you in Infusionsoft?
Mark: We pay someone to do it.
Andrew: Right? You have to have an outsource company manage it for you. At first it seems so easy. You’ve got all these different visual representations of your email. Then it becomes such a mess that you need somebody to manage it.
Well, the idea behind ActiveCampaign is you get all the power and more of their competitors and it’s easy to manage. They’re coming here to Mixergy because they know that I’ve got a very forward thinking audience, people who are tech–like the same reason that probably Shopify advertised with me in the early days. They said, “Look, it’s not so much we want your audience. We know your audience at Mixergy are the people that everyone else is coming to for advice.” So that’s what’s happening with ActiveCampaign.
Look, if you guys want marketing automation and you haven’t considered ActiveCampaign, you’ve got to look at them. Here’s what they’re offering Mixergy people. If you go to ActiveCampaign.com/Mixergy, they’re going to make it really, really easy. Where is that page? Let me load it up myself–really, really easy for you to try them. They’re going to give you your second month free.
They don’t even have a free offer anymore. They want you to have some skin in the game. They’re going to do two free one on ones. You’re going to get a consultant who’s going to get on the phone and help you manage or think through your marketing based on all their experience and they’re going to do free migration for you.
So this is something that’s incredible. If you’re in one of the weaker competitors, one of the more confusing competitors and you want someone new, I really urge you to go check this out. You owe it to your business to go check out ActiveCampaign.com/Mixergy. You’re going to get all that.
Frankly, even if you’re not ready to switch, go over and see what’s available so that if you ever want to switch or you’re helping somebody new, you’ll know what’s available out there and you’re going to see why this is being more and more by marketers, including people who I’ve interviewed here on Mixergy who are in positions to tell other people what software to use. This is the one they recommend. All right, ActiveCampaign.com/Mixergy.
When you setup your first email list, did you even know what to send out? I didn’t. I didn’t know how to do a drip campaign. What did you do with it?
Mark: I had no idea. In the early days, when I set a list up, I was actually harvesting emails, put them in a spreadsheet and then emailed them manually in the bcc field. That’s how stupid I was. It was only when I kind of looked into MailChimp and realized how easy it was and simple that I got into that. Now I kind of wish that I had looked at something like ActiveCampaign in the early days because I’m so invested in MailChimp for that side of the business, it would be very, very difficult to disengage myself. I’ve got landing pages everywhere. I don’t know where they all are anymore.
Andrew: You actually use MailChimp’s landing pages?
Mark: Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t. Some would be easy to fix. Others in the backs of eBooks, for example, I have links going through to those pages. It would be tricky to find those now and get those changed. I’m kind of stuck with them now at least for the short-term.
Andrew: That’s a lot of hunting for it.
Andrew: How did you figure out how to do it? I remember going out with Noah Kagan and he said, “Andrew, you’ve got to create a drip campaign.” I said, “I know I do. I don’t know what to write it in.” He said, “Let’s go back and you do it right now.” I missed that opportunity with him because I wasn’t even sure with him watching what to put into it. How did you know how to do it?
Mark: I kind of learned by imitation. Plenty of indie writers, especially romance writers are really forward-thinking and they tend to be very switched on and do the new things first. So to use a Russell Brunson term, I’d funnel hack. So I’d subscribe to their lists and I’d find out exactly what they did. I’d copy down their emails and work it out. I’d replicate that, spinning it for my readers. That tended to work. The more you do it, the more you test, you work out which emails work well, which don’t work well. You just optimize and keep improving.
Andrew: I see. Do you have a process now? If you wanted to sit down and teach me how to do a proper drip campaign, would you have like a first email that would go out and a second one a rule of thumb? What is it?
Mark: So let’s say you had a book. The first things you ever think about, you’ve got to make your offer very obvious. Even before you get to the drip campaign, you’ve got to make sure your offer is obvious, it’s easy to see and it’s compelling. That might mean that someone on Amazon sees your book and sees your offer at the same time and they go for the offer rather than buying the book.
You need to look at that as a good thing because a subscriber is going to be worth more to you in the long run than one sale is, especially if you’re going to be doing this for a while. Make it obvious. Put the link to the landing page right at the front of the book so that it’s visible if someone uses the look inside feature on Amazon, they’ll see that right up from. And then put it in the back and make sure they’re clickable.
So, as people read through, they’ll click and go and see your page. Then obvious you get to the kind of standard landing page optimization stuff. So, minimal distractions, they’ve come here to get an offer, make sure it’s very easy for them to do that. Once they’re on the list, the first email is to send them what you promised to send them. No messing around, give it to them immediately.
Three or four days later, email again, check to see where they got it. If they didn’t, offer to help them. Especially if they did get it and they’re struggling to transfer it from their email to their device, side loading is not the most intuitive thing in the world. Amazon deliberately makes it difficult to get the file from email onto the Kindle and the same for the other devices.
So offer to make that process easy for them. And then check back in seven days, ten days, when you think they might have finished and ask them to email back what did they think. If they enjoyed it, would they consider leaving a review? Make it easy for them to do that. It’s that kind of thing. Then you get into the real drip campaign when you offer them something else a week or two down the line.
Andrew: Offering them something else to buy?
Mark: Yeah. I’d say once they’ve had enough time to read your freebie, then it’s completely reasonable to say if you enjoyed that, here’s a great deal on the second book or something else I know you’d like.
Andrew: I’m looking at one of your books, “Falling Apart.”
Mark: Don’t look at that one.
Andrew: I’m looking at the first few pages of it. There’s a link that says, “To be added to Mark Dawson’s mailing list, visit. . .” and then there’s a URL that’s Eepurl.com/ and then some letters?
Andrew: That goes to a broken page, actually.
Mark: Thank you. That’s great. That’s the first book. That doesn’t sell at all. That’s no excuse for me to be lazy. So, I should probably change that. Typically if you look at something like the John Milton books, maybe “The Jungle” or . . .
Andrew: It goes to your page. That’s why I went to it. I saw your landing pages. You really think them through. It doesn’t feel overbearing. It feels clear. It doesn’t feel markety at all. It feels like an author that’s giving you something they care about.
Mark: That’s fundamentally important. One of the things that I–I survey my readers every year. One of the things that comes back again and again and again is they feel that I’m talking to them as friends and I’m not putting that on. That’s true. Every one that’s bought my book has enabled me to leave a job and write full time. I’m genuinely grateful to them. That kind of tone is very important to establish in the communication.
Andrew: And then when it’s time to sell, are you selling them another book? It feels like a lot of work to get somebody to buy a book for a few books.
Mark: Yeah, if you think you sell a few thousand of those books for a few bucks, it adds up real quick. I give away two books in the Milton series and they’re the first two books, one called “A Thousand Yards,” which is a short novella and then the first main book, which is called “The Cleaner.” After I’ve given those books out and they’ve had enough time to read them, the offer that I make to them is, “Would you like to get the first Milton boxed set?” That’s four books, including the two they’ve already got. They can still make a saving on books three and four by buying the collection. That retails for $6.99 in the states. So, I get about $4.80 for that. I sell thousands of those every month.
Andrew: Mark, thousands of those?
Andrew: $4.80 things.
Andrew: So, Mark, every direct marketer I talk to says don’t offer anything for $6. Maybe do $1 so that you get their credit card on file or hundreds of dollars because otherwise it’s not worth building the mailing list. Why are you different? Why is it working out differently for you?
Mark: I don’t think I’m different. Maybe you haven’t spoken to many successful authors before, but it just scale. It’s volume rather than–I can talk about this from the other side of the coin as well. Our courses cost $700. In that sense, our conversion rate can be much, much lower because the revenue is higher. For the books, the conversion rate tends to be 15%.
Andrew: Fifteen percent buy another book?
Mark: More than that. That’s coming in from an ad. A conversion rate form a Facebook ad would be about 15%. But like I’ve mentioned, I survey my readers. I did it about three weeks ago. One of my favorite questions is, “How many of my books have you read.” The median is about ten.
That means I know if I can work out what my customer acquisition should be because I can work out what they’re likely to be worth to me over the course immediately in terms of the books I’ve got available and then every time I add another book, I’m adding to that lifetime value. I’m quite geeky like that. I have fun with trying to ascertain what that might be worth to me. But yeah, ten books per reader is about average.
Andrew: How big is the mailing list?
Andrew: 65,000? Wow. Okay. That’s big, but it’s not like as big as other people’s. It’s much more powerful than other people’s. You mentioned Facebook. At what point did you do marketing beyond Kindle and what was the next thing you did before getting into Facebook?
Mark: The best piece of marketing advice is write the next book. Obviously continue to make product available and that’s always going to be the best way to increase your revenue. I think the real accelerant was Facebook ads. So, I started to experiment with them in late 2014, early 2015. I don’t know exactly what the numbers were last year, but I think probably I spent about a quarter of a million on Facebook ads with a return of at least 100% over the course of the year. They tended to work exceptionally well.
Andrew: Do they still work now?
Mark: Not as well as they used to. Still very well. You’re still getting returns of 50%.
Andrew: You told our producer Facebook for you is an ATM is the phrase that stood out for me, meaning it just works. It produces money whenever you go to it and buy ads. Still to this day, it’s net positive?
Mark: Yeah, easily. In the old days when I started doing this, it was like 400% return. I’d spend one, get four. I had to speak to my accountant to make sure my signs were right and he was like, “What are you talking about? Put all your money in these ads.” And it’s not quite as effective these days, partly it’s my own fault because I’ve taught about 3,000 other authors how to sell books on Facebook.
Andrew: And they’re all using your formula?
Mark: Yeah. A lot of them do.
Andrew: Can you give me an overview of what your formula is? What does the ad look like? What’s a landing page? What’s the sequence?
Mark: The landing page is Amazon. So, if you’re selling something–there are two ways you can use these ads. You can use them to build your mailing list and they’re really effective lead gen ads for Facebook, superbly effective.
Andrew: Let’s take one or the other and then go to the other. You want to start with Facebook first?
Mark: Yeah, lead gen. They’re effective because the targeting is just insanely powerful. So, if I know my books are like Lee Child’s books or James Patterson’s books, I can target my ads to target people who like James Patterson and Lee Child. I know immediately that it’s not a completely cold audience. I know it’s likely they’re going to like those kinds of fast-paced thrillers.
Once I know that information, I can start to craft my copy to take that into account. You could say, this is off the top of my head, “Do you like Lee Child?” Now, I know the answer to that is probably going to be yes because Facebook has told me yes. If I can start establishing a few yes’s, “Do you like Lee Child?” Yes. “Do you like fast-paced fiction you can’t put down?” Everyone likes that. Yes. “Would you like a free book from a million-selling author you might not have heard of?” Yes. If it’s free, why not?
Andrew: Wait, the landing page asks these questions?
Mark: No. That would be in the Facebook lead gen ad. So, this is an ad that’s on Facebook and the process of subscription takes place within that environment.
Andrew: Oh, I see. I’ve seen those. You’re collecting the email address within the Facebook ad because Facebook already has their email address. They hit a button. There’s that popup that comes up. They hit submit. Got it. That’s what you’re using that’s working for you.
Mark: Yeah. They’re mad powerful. There are lots of reasons why. You don’t have to get onto a landing page. Every time–this is basically digital marketing, but every step along the path before you get to what you want them to do, there’s going to be a drop off. That eliminates a fairly big drop off and go from Facebook to go to landing page.
Andrew: What does it cost you per email address for the book mailing list?
Mark: At the moment, between $0.15 and $0.25.
Andrew: What? Wow.
Mark: Now you see when you asked me about the prices for a book, $4.80, if I can get someone on the list for $0.20 and I’m reasonably confident they’ll eventually buy the $4.80 book, that’s why the return can be so high.
Andrew: You don’t have any higher end product for them, like, “Come meet the author,” author camp or none of that?
Mark: Not on that side. It’s different for the nonfiction, but not for fiction.
Andrew: So that’s collecting email addresses on Facebook. I see what happens in the drip campaign. You give them two free books. You ask them if they’ve read it and then you ask them, etc., everything you’ve mentioned. Now let’s talk about Amazon being the landing page. You’re sending them to a free offer at that point?
Mark: No, that will be a sale. If I’m sending them to a sale–there are two ways you can do it. You can either send them to a landing page where you’ve got all your retailer links on Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Nook, all those guys. Or if you’re targeting specifically Amazon customers, then you should send them straight to Amazon. Every click is going to degrade the effectiveness of the campaign.
Andrew: How are you targeting specific Amazon customers?
Mark: You could have kind of they like Lee Child or James Patterson and they like the Kindle.
Andrew: Got it.
Mark: You can target very, very granularly with Amazon.
Andrew: There are enough people saying, “I like the Kindle?”
Mark: Millions. Yeah. Or the other thing about Facebook ads which I love so much is you can take something like your mailing list, use it to generate a lookalike audience. That’s very, very powerful. So, instead of the 65,000 that I’ve got, Facebook will say, “Of that 65,000, 40,000 have a Facebook account. What we’ll do now is take data points from those 40,000 and try and build a two or three million strong look alike audience comprised of people like that 40,000.”
Then I could start to sell them ads and you can target in the audience. You can say, “They must look like my audience and they must like Lee Child and they must like Amazon or Apple or whatever.”
Andrew: And then you just send them over to Amazon. I’m imagining that doesn’t work as well or you’re not getting as many customers that way, right?
Mark: Because it’s not free, it’s not going to be as effective. On the other hand, because it’s not free, I’m also getting paid immediately for that. One of the amazing things about digital marketing, if you go back 20 years, say I was working in advertising, the aim of advertising would be to increase brand awareness and to teach people that this is something that maybe they’d like to take part in down the line. You get that with these campaigns, but you also get immediate purchases. You’re getting twice the effectiveness, just so powerful.
Andrew: How can you tell if somebody bought from Amazon if you–how do you tie the sale back to that ad?
Mark: Well, that’s a very good question. The way to do it is technically, you should–the best way to do it is you have a landing page and this is where you would insert a landing page in that process. So it’s a Facebook ad, go to the landing page and there you use affiliate links. So you have an account with Amazon Associates. They’ll give you a unique tracking link and then you can compare the data that Facebook gives you and the data that Amazon gives you, provided that each tracking link is unique to each variation of an ad, you can work out which ones are effective, you can measure your optimization, all that good stuff.
Andrew: I’ve seen people do stuff like that with coupons too, where they get a coupon on the landing page and that helps them track sales.
Mark: That would be another way to do it, yeah. With Amazon, the problem is the coupon, you might see they clicked and went to Amazon, but unless you use an affiliate tracking link, Amazon won’t tell you which click converted to a purchase. It’s quite difficult to work that out.
Andrew: You can’t do like multiple coupons, where you give each person a different coupon? I forget how it works. Someone in my audience who’s really good, Rui, I can’t remember his last name, he tells me about this stuff but because I don’t use it, it’s not fully in my head. But you’re not couponing.
Mark: I better check that out. Not right now but that sounds interesting.
Andrew: But what you’re doing is often sending people directly to Amazon and how do you know if you’re getting a sale that way and tying it back?
Mark: If I want to track, they’d go Facebook, landing page and then onto the retailer.
Andrew: I see, but you’re not tracking otherwise?
Mark: No. A lot of authors and a lot of marketers will use affiliate links in social media ads, but technically that’s in breach of the Associates terms and conditions.
Andrew: Oh, really?
Mark: I don’t know why that is. But they don’t like–I think it’s an FTC thing. They don’t like those links appearing in the actual Facebook ads.
Andrew: I see.
Mark: It’s fine to put providers on your webpage, it’s not a problem.
Andrew: I see. As long as you have that in between, it’s okay. I really wish that iTunes would give me something like that. I would buy so many ads to grow my podcast subscriber base, but every time I try it, I can’t figure out whether an ad resulted in a subscriber. I can’t really tell how many subscribers I have on iTunes.
Andrew: It’s very frustrating.
Mark: Apple has an affiliate program too for books as well, but it’s very complicated. Amazon’s is very, very easy to understand. So, they market lead in that area.
Andrew: So, I’ve got to tell you about Toptal, my second sponsor. Imagine you have this idea where you say, “Look, what I would like is. . .” You could create infinite unique codes for Amazon, right?
Mark: Uh-huh. I guess, yeah.
Andrew: So imagine this. Imagine you have this idea that you want a landing page with a different unique code, tracking code, a different unique Amazon tracking code for each person who hits it based on the ad they came in on and maybe based on a few other things. You don’t know. There’s no software that does it. You can go to Toptal, get one of these top developers, we’re talking about really professional people, the kind of people who would work at Google, at Facebook but they happen not to want to live in the Bay Area and pay exorbitant rents–what’s the word? You’re an author.
Andrew: That did not sound right, exorbitant rents. They don’t want to be locked into this 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. working schedule, which frankly my wife works at Yahoo and has that freaking schedule. It’s a nightmare. So, these guys say, “I want to work for Toptal. Toptal will place me at great companies.”
Well, if you have an idea like that where you want a unique URL for everyone who comes to the site based on what ad they came in on Facebook, etc., you go to Toptal, you hire somebody from there. Even if it’s just a project basis, they will build this thing for you. They’ll actually help you think through the problem in a way that you hadn’t thought of it yourself because they’re not just hands. We’re not talking about just cheap freelancers. We’re talking about some really smart people. They think it through for you. They build it faster than you expect. Boom. The thing is up.
The reason I’m talking about that is because I’ve talked about Toptal in the past and most people think of them as the developers who build consumer-facing products, the stuff your consumer will engage with, the stuff you’re selling, the stuff you’re making you want people use. But what I’ve noticed is a lot of companies will hire from Toptal, developers that build stuff that only they internally use, the kind that’s like secret stuff that they won’t even tell other people about.
That’s one of the benefits of using Toptal. You get professional people. They can keep your secrets. They can build your product. They can help you think it through better than you could and they’re some of the best people out there. I know because they’ve rejected some really smart developers that I’ve known that applied to be developers on the Toptal network. Toptal wants a top three percent. They screen out 97 out of 100 people that want to work with Toptal, 97 out of 100 developers who want to work with Toptal get the boot, gently but very swiftly. You’re not supposed to work there.
If you want to hire a great developer or designer on a part-time, full-time basis, hire a team of developers to augment your current team, whatever it is, you’ve got to check out Toptal. Here’s what they’re offering Mixergy listeners. This is an offer that even like Airbnb when they hire Toptal they did not get this offer.
Mixergy listeners are going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when they pay for their first 80 hours and that’s in addition to a no-risk trial period of up to two weeks. That is amazing that they offer it. They’ve been buying ads on Mixergy forever. It feels like they just keep locking it down. They bought pretty much all of I think 2017 worth of ads in December of last year. I remember a scrambling. They said, “Why are you doing this? The ads work. People are buying it. You’re happy with it. You have real companies here.”
So it works for other people on Mixergy. If you’re listening to me, you owe it to yourself to check out Toptal.com/Mixergy, top as in top of the mountain, tal as in talent, Toptal.com/Mixergy.
All right. I understand the books. Is there anything I missed about the books and promotion you want to talk about for anyone who wants to market their products, their books?
Mark: I’d say very, very quickly look at Amazon ads, Amazon Marketing Services ads. They’re the next hot advertising avenue that I’m seeing right now.
Andrew: I do hear a lot about that. So, whenever I do a search for something on Amazon, especially on mobile it really is prominent. I will see a bunch of related things that are available and those are sponsored ads often, right?
Andrew: That’s what’s working. Are you doing those a lot?
Mark: Yeah. The trick is scaling them. That’s what we’re working on at the moment. But they’re typical kind of Google AdWords PPC ads, but they are working very well to get the right keywords as long as they’re relevant and the copy is congruent for what people are looking for, you can do really well with those.
Andrew: I’m actually looking at one book that happened to be recommended to me, “Deep Work” by Cal Newport. I thought if I clicked on that, I’d see a bunch of sponsored ads. I don’t. What I see instead is customers who bought this book also bought and then it’s a bunch of other books, “Steal the Show,” “One-Minute Manager,” Gary Vaynerchuk’s book. The sponsored ad looks just like that. So many times I see them and I don’t even think of them as sponsored ads. I think of them as related products. That’s what you’re suggesting works well.
Mark: Yeah. There are those that look like also boughts. The other one is you search that in the search bar and then in the actual search results you’ll get it sometimes at the top. Those are called headline ads. Otherwise, actually within the search results, the only thing that will say this is an ad is a little word that says sponsored and that’s it.
Andrew: Those are pay per click?
Andrew: Do they tie back in that case the order to the ad?
Andrew: So you really know which ones worked.
Mark: You do. The stats aren’t great. Let’s say for me I’ve got an eBook, a print book and an audio book all on the same page. They won’t tell you which one has bought. It will just tell you an aggregated amount. So it’s a little difficult to really dive into it, but it’s better than it could be.
Andrew: I heard from one of my past guests who wrote a book that the reason that audio books were doing well for him was Audible gives him an affiliate commission for each new subscriber. They don’t give him a percentage of the sale. Does that happen for you?
Mark: It’s called a bounty. It’s $50. I think it’s either $25 or $50. It’s reasonably significant. If you can run some Facebook ads and you start getting sales of your book and you also get maybe a few commissions, before you know it, you’re really doing pretty well.
Andrew: Oh, right, you double dip. You get paid for sending Audible a new subscriber and you also get a percent for your book because you just sold your book.
Andrew: Does that also work if you send them to an Amazon page and they buy Audible?
Mark: If they’re not Audible customers, I think it does. Yeah.
Andrew: Wow. Okay. That’s really powerful. I can see why he’s all excited about that. So now I see it. You’re doing it yourself and that at some point, you say, “I’m going to teach this.” Why teach it?
Mark: I was getting asked a lot. This was, say, when would it be, like towards the middle of 2015 people were saying, “How are you doing this?” Specifically they were asking how I was using Facebook ads. So, I put out some free videos and it was enough information in the videos to run those lead gen ads without having to pay a dime. They were free, completely free and people were building their lists and were very happy with it.
Then they asked for much more detail to set things up, how to do sales ads, how to make sure your product pages look good. That was a lot of work. But at the end of the day, [inaudible 00:49:01]. I said there’s another chance for me to have another income stream, to not just rely on books because Jeff Bezos may wake up tomorrow and decide that Amazon is not going to sell books anymore, unlikely, but possible, but it’s nice to have my eggs in a few different baskets.
Andrew: So you say I’m going to do this. The first course, do you sit down in a room and just use Screenflow and start to create the whole thing teaching step by step or did you do it with people?
Mark: There were three of us. So I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.
Andrew: I mean did you do it with customers?
Mark: No. I sat down and I planned it out, first of all and it was originally going to be an A to Z of how to self-publish. I’d never taught that before. I didn’t know I could do it. It was one of the only times my wife could remember me being stressed apart from my kids doing stuff around the house. I had two choices. I was either going to stop it and just concentrate on the fiction or niche down and do something specific. I concentrated on the Facebook ads and I built the course out. It was more contained. It was more [inaudible 00:50:08] more easily.
Andrew: Sorry. It was more contained. . .? Something happened with your audio again. It was more contained and then what did you say after that?
Mark: It was more contained. I could see a way through it a bit more easily. I sat down and I thought I could put something quite decent together and we released it for the first time, did really, really well, got great–we had very, very low refund rates. Students were really happy. We got some [inaudible 00:50:36] communities. We added the content, more content in, released it again, did even better. I think that was the biggest teachable launch, I think, was the second time we launched that product.
Andrew: Did you sell at first–who did you sell at first to?
Mark: We only really sell to other indie authors. I think other people who are kind of on the edges of the space have bought it too.
Andrew: So just the mailing list that you’ve put together.
Mark: Yeah. We’ve built a new mailing list.
Andrew: Why didn’t you go back to your readers and say, “If you like this book and you want to write, here’s a course?” Why didn’t you go to that?
Mark: They’re readers. I could send an email [inaudible 00:51:13].
Andrew: Sorry, again. Can you say that again?
Mark: Yeah. I could send that book out and send the email out and get a million unsubscribes because they’re readers. They’re not authors. Some might be interested, but generally they wouldn’t be. We built a new list. I was well-enough known at that stage for people to know who I was and would sign up to get the free videos. And then they tended to stick around. When we had the course ready to go, I think we had about 3,000 on the list the first time we launched and I can’t remember exactly what the numbers were, but a few hundred bought the full course.
Andrew: For how much?
Mark: In those days it was $497.
Andrew: $497? So, you get a few hundred people out of a 3,000-person mailing list?
Mark: It was about a 10% conversion rate. Yeah. It was really high, something like that. I think it was 300 off of 3,000.
Andrew: What was in those videos?
Mark: The free ones?
Andrew: The free ones. What’s in the free ones that got so many people hopped up on you that they’re willing to part with hundreds of bucks?
Mark: Just a really carefully laid out professionally presented system of advertising that people can see was what was working. They could test these ads. There was nothing held back. It wasn’t one of those deals where I’d say four of the five things you need to do and the fifth thing was you have to pay me for that. That lead is going to come back to me. People apparently quite like the way I teach, which a bit of a surprise to me and quite flattering. They tended to come back.
Andrew: Wow. That’s a really high conversion rate, especially for a new product, the first time you launch it. How did you know what to put into the course, especially once you’d given out stuff that already worked?
Mark: I went into more detail on the subscription side. So I’d give away content that enabled people to grow their list. The other thing was sales. So direct sales, how to sell on Amazon with ads. I hadn’t touched any of that in the free stuff.
Andrew: I see.
Mark: I guess as someone who’s seen the list stuff working, they will reasonably think that if I can teach them how to immediately make money, they’ll quickly make their money back on the course, which is what happened quite a lot of the time.
Andrew: What’s this crisis of confidence you told our producer you had when you started. You touched on it now. You said it was one of the hardest things you’d done. What happened?
Mark: It was just the scale of it. I had a massive list of what I wanted to cover. It was just [inaudible 00:53:35], I couldn’t do this. It was too big. I’ve never taught before. Why would people want to invest that for something that I’m not confident in? So I focused down and did something a little bit more modest and a bit more manageable. That was the way I got through it.
Andrew: And it was you and Screenflow.
Mark: Yeah. A little bit of two camera stuff because the two guys I work with have a video production company. So our stuff tends to be quite, actually very professional. Our videos are pretty good. But yeah, basically it was me, PowerPoint and Screenflow and a decent microphone.
Andrew: Why did you need those two guys? Why couldn’t you just do it all with you in Screenflow and do the whole thing yourself?
Mark: There’s only me. I didn’t want–I have to handle a lot of the customer–if you’ve got a question about how to sell books, you’ll get through straight to me and all ask that question. What I’m not interested in doing is solving [inaudible 00:54:37] can’t get the video to play. And those guys, they do that for me. They built the website, they do the promotion, I do the advertising. We’ve got a lot of different talents. It’s also quite nice because kind of the fiction side is just me sitting in a room all day writing. The other side of the business is three of us who have known each other for ten years and we’re able to work together. It’s more sociable.
Andrew: Who are these guys? Is this Mathias Media?
Mark: No, he built the website. He’s just a contractor in Minneapolis. No. This is a guy called James Blatch. He used to work for the BBC as a reporter. So, we have a podcast like yours.
Andrew: I see.
Mark: James is a professional interviewer, not as good as you, Andrew, but he’s pretty good. And John Dyer is the other guy and he is kind of the technical guru, good at design, good at building websites and all that kind of stuff.
Andrew: I see. By the way, your podcast for anyone who is listening, it’s on SelfPublishingFormula.com. It’s just the podcast category there. You cover things like list building for authors using paid advertising. That’s the latest one right now. What is a mailing list and why should you have one? How do you know at what point it’s too basic for people?
Mark: That’s a good question. We just look at the numbers, really. The one you just referenced there, the mailing list series, this week will be the third of a three-part series. That’s been the one we’ve had the most downloads on.
Andrew: Really? How does anyone even know about it?
Mark: About the podcast?
Andrew: Yeah, to increase the–for me, if I see that one interview does better than the others, I look and I say, “How does anyone know?” and I realize, “It’s because this person was really good at promoting it. Here’s what he did. If we want other people to do it, here’s how we can help them.” What do you do? What would grow yours? For me, it’s all guest-driven.
Mark: Yeah. We’re just in the process of kind of refining that process. We’ve got 50 episodes. We’ll have 50 quite soon. We will eventually do a week’s worth of Facebook ads pushing each episode. We’ll have a giveaway, so a signup offer. For the last one, maybe the ten tips you need to make sure you’ve got covered to build your mailing list as a PDF. You’re right. Guest-driven stuff is valuable. So, if you get someone with a really big list, then it’s definitely in your interests to get them to push–
Andrew: What are you doing with Facebook ads? Sorry, I cut you off because I knew the answer to that but I shouldn’t assume everyone else does and frankly, I shouldn’t assume I should be rude because I want to squeeze more info out of you.
Mark: It’s your show.
Andrew: What are you doing with Facebook ads to get more people to download your stuff?
Mark: For the podcast?
Andrew: Yeah. You can see I’d love to grow my podcast that way?
Mark: So work out what your core takeaway is that week–so for us, it’s mailing lists. Have we got an offer to give away? Yes, we do. We’ve got a PDF kind of takeaway. Then I’ll advertise it to an audience that’s relevant to that particular message. So it’s always going to be self-publish authors for me, but maybe I’ll niche down a bit and find if it’s an advanced topic, I’ll go to a group that I think is more likely to contain and advanced authors. For $50, $100, you can get a pretty decent reach, it depends where you’re going to invest, but that’s a very good way to increase your subscription rate quickly.
Andrew: But how do you know if the ad works to get a subscriber?
Mark: Come back to me in six months?
Andrew: You’re still trying to figure that out too, right?
Mark: That’s the problem.
Andrew: What we’ve done is–what do we do? Podcast subscribers are worth a lot of money to us, like $4 or $5. I’d love to get help. I’ve tried a bunch of things. The only thing that’s come close is we buy an ad that links to an email list and at least we get the email subscriber and then we see how many of the people click over to iTunes and we assume something like 50% of those will subscribe. But there is no way to then tie it back to a subscriber, which is painful.
Mark: It’s very basic. We just take a benchmark and say, “Before I ran the ad, this was my rate of subscription. During the ad, this is what it went up to.” Provided all else is equal, you can assume at least some of that will be responsible because of the ad. That’s not satisfactory.
Andrew: It’s really hard. Yeah. I wish that Google would come in here and offer some sanity and then I’d stop saying, “Go to iTunes.” Right now iTunes is the only thing I can say. I’d love to be able to say, “Go to this Google new podcast app,” and Google will give me all kinds of data on it.
Mark: I would be quite surprised. If your subscribers are worth $5, I’d be surprised if you couldn’t get Facebook to provide you with new subscribers at much less than that.
Andrew: Yeah. I don’t know how to track it back and know if the ads are working or if I’m kidding myself. But yeah, it’s totally worth that. Maybe I should just say if you can get a subscriber at $0.15 a person, maybe that’s what I should be banking on and assume that even if one out of 20 of them subscribes, I’m happy.
Mark: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: 20 of them subscribe to iTunes.
Andrew: You know what? Since I’m getting all personal here and asking for selfish information, let’s talk about this book that I’ve had in mind. Here’s the thing. Since I started, people have asked me, actually forget people, I wanted to–I only did these interviews to get some sanity, to understand what is it that works for all these entrepreneurs? I think I know it.
You mentioned before we started, you said, “Is this kind of like Tim Ferriss’ book?” I don’t think so. Tim Ferriss’ book, “Tools of Titans” basically says, “Here’s what each one of the people that I’ve interviewed reads or what they use, etc. I don’t want that. What I want is I want one thing, like one conclusion from 1,000+ interviews, “Here’s the process that not all of them use, but the best of them use or the process that’s the most sure to succeed for building a business or a new product.”
I think I’ve got it. We’ve gone through 1,000 interviews. I’ve hired a researcher, spend a few thousand bucks to have them go in and just make sure that my theory on what’s working is actually working and then to go in and find examples of it working and frankly counter-examples so we understand when this process doesn’t work.
So he’s done that. Now I’m thinking, “All right, I’m getting closer here.” What should I be thinking of–actually, before we get into marketing, here’s what I’m thinking of now. I go through this whole thing of, “Maybe this idea is too basic. Maybe I don’t have the right information in here. Maybe I should be testing the book.” What do you think? Help me get out of my head about that, about the content before we get into the marketing.
Mark: You’ve got to write it first. The first thing, the best advice is if you’re interested in writing the book, then you’ve got to actually start putting some words down and see how that goes. Let’s assume you can do that. Maybe write 10,000 words. That’s not a huge amount of content. Then maybe start thinking about testing that.
I imagine you’ve got a pretty big Mixergy list. That’s something you can test out. You can say, “Listen guys, here is the first 10,000 words of a book I’m thinking about putting out. Would you be interested in the other 60,000 words?” See how that goes and ask for, “What would you like more of? What would you like less of?” All of that kind of good stuff.
So effectively you’re building in the market research as you write the book. That’s very powerful. Provided that you follow through and get to the end of the process, you’ll have something you can be pretty confident that will at least be popular to your list. Then if you can launch it successfully to your list and there are lots of ways you can do that. Maybe that’s another discussion we can have later.
But provided you can have a decent launch, if you can launch it effectively, you’ll get visibility right off the bat on Amazon. If they notice–I worked with Pat Flynn on his last book launch. Pat’s got a big list and we did some Facebook ads and all that kind of stuff. It was in the top–I’d say it started in the top 50 on Amazon, probably a bit higher than that. Because of that, Amazon starts to market to people it thinks will also like Pat’s book.
That could be the same for your book. Then they’ll tell their friends and then it will be in the also boughts. All that kind of stuff kicks in and you can amplify it with Facebook ads. You can go to companies like BookBub that will do mail outs to massive lists of subscribers.
Andrew: Book Bump?
Mark: That’s a very powerful book marketing service. But just by building that visibility, you start to get Amazon’s algorithm involved. At that stage, if you can build that momentum, you can almost back off and let it sell. That can work for weeks at a time.
Andrew: When you say that there was a launch, what’s the launch process that you recommend?
Mark: Okay. So I have a list of my 65,000 subscribers, I’ve got I think about 500 are what I call advanced readers. They get the full book for free some way in advance of publication. They do a few things for me. They check the editorial process has picked up all the mistakes. They’ll fact check for me.
Then two days before I go to a proper launch, I’ll say, “The book is now on Amazon. It’s available for $0.99 for two days or perhaps shorter. I would be very grateful if you’d go on and leave a review. I’d be even more grateful if you buy it so it gets the Amazon Verified Purchase tag, which means the review is taken more seriously and it’s less likely to be taken off.
Then when I’ve got, say, 50 or 100 reviews in kind of stealth mode, that’s when I’ll email the rest of my list and tell them the book is now available, go and buy it. Because it’s got–they’re predisposed to do that anyway, but it’s also got lots of great reviews, social proof is there and that’s when they started buying and then Amazon tends to get involved.
Andrew: I see. The one thing I wish Pat had done, you mentioned him with his book, is contacted me. I had no idea his book was out until it was too late. I think that he wasn’t bragging about it the way other people do.
Mark: No. I don’t [inaudible 01:04:18] bragging.
Andrew: He’s not a bragger is what you’re saying.
Mark: No. Not at all. But he’s a very effective launch. He did really well. I think he’s extremely pleased with how it went. He hit The New York Times list, which was his aim, I think. That was mission accomplished.
Andrew: I could imagine, yeah. From what I hear, his stuff is so powerful that if he mentions you on his site, boom, orders come in.
Andrew: You had done other podcast’s actually, as part of your promotion. That’s worked for you.
Mark: Yeah. [Inaudible 01:04:48] podcast for the book side of things, but for the courses, absolutely, really powerful.
Andrew: Who’s been really effective for you?
Mark: We did lots in the self-publishing space. So there are a few others apart from our own that have big audiences. There’s one called The Creative Penn with someone called Joanna Penn, who I know quite well. She’s got a big audience. Beyond that, that Teachable panel we did was pretty good.
Andrew: Yeah. You and I got to talk. Teachable is a platform for publishing courses. They invited you, James Altucher. I forget who else.
Mark: Jane Friedman.
Andrew: Yes, he really had a great panel there. Jane is the one that I found the least amount of information on. I’m still looking at my notes here. But she helps authors make the best decisions for their careers. She also a professor at The Great Courses and UVA. That’s probably why I couldn’t find that much online. She’s more of a professor. So, I interviewed the three of you on a panel and you got actual orders from that?
Mark: Yeah, from both sides of things. I know that people have bought the course who saw the panel. I’ve also had people in the survey for my readers who said they found out about my books from the panel, which is not what you’d necessarily expect.
Mark: Not a completely fit, but that did turn into–I had a few come in that way.
Andrew: To me I think of that as more like giving back, that I helped Ankur, the creator of Teachable and he helps me with I don’t know what he would me with, but I imagine he helped you because you publish on his platform.
Mark: Yeah, he’s great.
Andrew: You know what? I was spying on your traffic–boy, we’re over time, but I’ll spend just a few more minutes–I was spying on your traffic using SimilarWeb and your number one source of referral traffic is Teachable, 48.9% according to SimilarWeb. What’s the deal there? Are they actually sending you customers? Is this your students coming back to your site?
Mark: It must be them. Yeah.
Andrew: And then Mashable I see is sending you traffic and Anne Rowlin?
Mark: I don’t know what the last one is, but Mashable, they asked me to write an article for them that I know went pretty well. There was another one, this is probably faded away by now, but a couple years ago a big driver, I just was rereleasing the course completely coincidentally, Forbes did an article on me from the London Book Fair. It was a really clickbait-y title. It was like, “This Author is Making $450,000 a Year and You’ve Never Heard of Him.”
Andrew: Right. I remember that. I used that in my notes to prepare for talking to you. I think that’s where I got the wrote on a train thing. Yeah.
Mark: Guy Kawasaki pushed that to his [inaudible 01:07:27] came in from that, completely coincidentally, but very fortunate.
Andrew: All right. Well, for anyone who wants to go check it out, you have two sites. What’s the one for books and what’s the one for–what’s the one for readers and what’s the one for writers?
Mark: Readers go to MarkJDawson.com, some free books there. Writers go to SelfPublishingFormula.com.
Andrew: Now, how are you going to know if they came from Mixergy? There is no way.
Mark: We need to track that better. We’re not good on the analytics side of things. We should be better on that.
Andrew: I guess the ideal way is to then give a URL, something like, “Go to MarkJDawson.com/Mixergy and I’m going to give you three free books.”
Mark: Hey, yeah.
Andrew: I’ve always been against it. I told my sponsors I can’t do it. I know it’s going to hurt your results, just buy the ad, which is not a good way to sell ads. Now I’ve given in to say, “Let’s have a special URL.” I actually insist on it now. I get it. It kind of makes it more of a salesy conversation when you have a special URL at the end of an interview, but I can see how it helps tracking.
Andrew: Until then, guys, if you sign up for anything of his, let him know you heard about him on Mixergy. He’s a Mixergy fan and it’s a good way for you guys to connect and establish some rapport early on. Mark, I’m really appreciative that you came on here to do this.
Mark: My pleasure.
Andrew: Thank you. I should also say the two sponsors because I know most people don’t write it down until the end. One is the company that will help you hire great developers, whether you need it for software that you use internally or stuff your customers will use. Check out Toptal.com/Mixergy. The second really, if you haven’t checked them out in a long time, you owe it to yourself to look at the way ActiveCampaign will manage your email list and help get you more sales per subscriber. Really good marketing automation. Check them out at ActiveCampaign.com/Mixergy.
Andrew: Thanks, everyone. Bye.