#289 Marketing Books with Written Word Media

Tune in to our conversation with Clayton Noblit and Grant Shepherd of Written Word Media. They gave us lots of insight into successful marketing as an indie author, and the various services they offer to help authors sell books, including the newer Reader Reach program.

Tune in to our conversation with Clayton Noblit and Grant Shepherd of Written Word Media. They gave us lots of insight into successful marketing as an indie author, and the various services they offer to help authors sell books, including the newer Reader Reach program. We also talked about the results of the 2021 indie author survey.

  • Grant and Clayton explain how they got their start in publishing and give us some background on the services offered by Written Word Media
  • They dive into their newest offering, Reader Reacher, which aims to make Facebook advertising easier for authors
  • Grant and Clayton offer advice on the most important factors authors should consider when it comes to selling books, including blurb, cover design, and price point
  • We also dive into the 2021 survey, which revealed some surprising trends – including the fact that over 80% of authors surveyed were writing in multiple genres.
  • And lots more!

Useful Links

Written Word Media website

Facebook page

Twitter profile

Brotherhood by Mohamed Sarr

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Episode Transcript

Transcription provided be Speechpad

Joni: Hey, writers. You’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life” podcast, where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts. I’m Joni, author relations manager at Kobo Writing Life.

Rachel: And I’m Rachel, promotion specialist at Kobo Writing Life.

Joni: On today’s episode, we’re talking to Grant Shepherd and Clayton Noblit from Written Word Media.

Rachel: Written Word Media is a platform that authors can use to promote their books. Whether they’re promoting a free book, a book that’s on discount, a new book, or they can use their new Reader Reach program, which helps authors run Facebook ads.

Joni: It was really interesting chatting to them, partly because a lot of what they do is sort of similar to us. They spend a lot of time talking to authors and gathering feedback and using that to dictate how they move forward with things. So, it was really interesting to hear specifically what they were saying, regarding marketing and the trial and error involved in Facebook ads, which made me realize once again, just how challenging that part of being an author is. But, yeah, it was a really informative conversation. I felt like I learned a lot, so we hope you enjoy it. Hey, we are here today with Clayton Noblit and Grant Shepherd from Written Word Media. Thank you so much for joining us.

Clayton: Yeah. Thanks for having us.

Grant: Thanks for having us.

Joni: Can you start by telling our listeners a little bit about yourselves and what you do?

Clayton: Yeah. So, my name’s Clayton Noblit. I’m a senior digital marketing manager for Written Word Media. And so a lot of my job is telling authors about our services and getting the word out about what we do, and also trying to find new ways for authors to sell books online.

Grant: Yeah. My name’s Grant shepherd. I’m the ad fulfillment manager at Written Word Media. So, I look after our newest service, which is called Reader Reach. So, I’ve specialized in getting Facebook ads up for authors, and running those day-to-day, and helping authors with the whole marketing process.

Rachel: And before we dive more into Written Word Media and Reader Reach, how did you both get started in digital publishing?

Clayton: Yeah. So, I’ve been with Written Word Media for three years now, a little bit over three years. And I really just kind of stumbled into it. I was working for another small tech company in the same building as Written Word Media, that company was acquired for our technology. And so then I was looking for a job and, you know, word gets around in the building with a bunch of small companies. And I interviewed with Written Word Media for a marketing position. And the rest is history. So, you know, we are fully remote now, but my entire professional career was just on the second floor of this one building. So, that’s really how I came into it. And I’ve always been a huge fan of reading. My family was one of those families, like without television growing up, so just nothing but reading books and then really getting into it. So, yeah. It really made a lot of sense for me.

Grant: I’ve been with Written Word for just over five years now. Before that, I originally was a journalist. So, I did that for a while. I did technology journalism for a while, and I wanted to sort of get more into the marketing side. So, I had a background in writing, and I also had some familiarity with marketing and technology. And then very similar to Clayton, my wife worked in this startup hub building. And it was in the same building as Written Word Media and found out this company was here that were hiring. And, yeah, that’s how I got into this world. So, Durham, North Carolina has this sort of big startup hub that it’s really exciting sort of place. So, you know, everyone knows everyone, which is really exciting.

Joni: Cool. And I know you touched on it a little bit at the beginning, but could you tell us a little bit more about Written Word Media and the kind of services that you offer?

Clayton: Yeah. So, we are a book promotion company, and so authors come to us when they’re looking to sell more books or generate more downloads, get reviews. And so our core services are all about emailing links to books out to readers. And so an author can come to our website and browse through our different products, and they’re all broken down by price and genre. So, if you have a fantasy book that is set at, you know, $299, and you’re looking to send it to a bunch of fantasy readers, you can book a promo with us, that sends it to thousands of fantasy readers. And so on the day of your promo, your book gets sent out to a bunch of readers that have said they like books in that price range, and they like fantasy books. So, it’s a really effective, targeted promo. And we have promos like that for a wide variety of genres and price points. And then our newest product, Reader Reach, is not based on email, it’s actually based on Facebook ads. And so, for that, if an author books a Reader Reach promo, we run ads for their book on Facebook.

Rachel: And to just kind of dive a little bit further into the services you guys have, Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy, Red Feather Romance, NewInBooks. Can you kind of tell us a little bit about each one and when authors should be using them?

Clayton: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. So, our largest kind of promotion brand is Freebooksy, and this is for promoting ebooks while they’re free. And so if an author has a first in series that they wanna make free, that’s probably the most common use case we see. Or if you’re just trying to breathe some life into an older title that has kind of decreased in sales over time, you’re looking to get some buzz, that’s a great time to run a Freebooksy promo. And so when you run a Freebooksy promo, you’ll get a lot of downloads, some reviews as well. And so that really signals to retailers like Kobo or Amazon, that this book is popular, people are downloading it and reading it. And that can help it shoot up the charts. And also if a reader, you know, checks out the first book in your series for free, they might be more likely to read the next book in the series if they like it. So, it’s a great way to bring in new readers to your series, if you have one.

And then our next largest brand is Bargain Booksy. And that’s for promoting books that are priced between 99 cents and $499. And so a Bargain Booksy promo is great if you have a book in that price range that you’re looking to get some sales from. And so we see a lot of authors do what’s called creating a promo stack, where they run a series of marketing activities over a short period of time. And so you might run a Bargain Booksy promo and some Facebook ads, and send out an email to your newsletter to try to get one book, you know, up those retailer charts, like I said earlier. And so Bargain Booksy is a great way if you’re looking to generate sales, not just downloads and actually make some revenue from running it promo. And Bargain Booksy and Freebooksy,

both have a really wide variety of genres available. So, almost any genre, you can come to one of those sites, and we’ll have a promo that works well for you.

We also have Red Feather Romance, which Grant actually used to run. So, he knows a lot about that. But Red Feather Romance is a romance-only site. And so your book can be any price, but it has to be romance. So, we have a bunch of different romance categories you can choose from. And so if you’re a romance author, you can reach, you know, a romance audience on Bargain Booksy, and you reach a different one with Red Feather Romance. We also have Audio Thicket, which is for promoting audiobooks. We have a few different genres available there. That is one of our smaller and newer sites. So, the results aren’t as exciting, I guess, as a Freebooksy or Bargain Booksy, you know, with thousands of downloads sometimes. But Audio Thicket is a great way to boost your audiobook. And audiobooks, typically you get a little bit of a higher return on those as well. And then finally, we have NewInBooks, which is for promoting new releases. And a NewInBooks promo is a little more expensive. But basically, what it does is someone on our team builds your launch promo stack for you and books your NewInBooks promo to that list. And they might put in a Bargain Booksy or a Freebooksy, or something else to really get your new release on the map.

Joni: And who are you working with? Is it typically small or independent publishers, or is it just everyone?

Clayton: Yeah. So, really, it’s anyone who comes to us. Most of our customers are small indie publishers or just individual authors. That’s the majority of our customers. But we do also work with some larger publishers to get their books out there.

Joni: And Grant, you mentioned the Reader Reach program. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that started?

Grant: Yeah, sure. So, it essentially started from feedback we got from authors. So, we’ve been running for many years our email promo platforms, and our authors love them. They come back again and again, but they were always telling us that just marketing, in general, is the hardest part of their job. And so we wanted to find out what was sort of the next best thing that we could offer an author outside of just doing email newsletters. And we found out that Facebook ads was one of the biggest ones, where there’s a sort of a whole spectrum of authors out there, the ones that sort of don’t want to do it, the ones that can’t do it, or the ones that sort of just don’t have the time to do it. So, there’s a whole sort of range there of the different needs for authors. So, we just wanted to offer a full-service platform for authors to basically just give us your book information. We’ll take it from there, and we’ll do the rest for you. So, we handle everything from the creative, the copy, the audiences, the budget, all that kind of stuff. So, we do all of that.

And we officially launched September last year. But basically, from the beginning of last year, we were doing a lot of testing, sort of running through, finding out which genres were the best, which ones we could launch with. And then even to this day, we’re still expanding, we currently have 13 genres available. But we’re still working on adding as many as we can to sort of offer the service to as many authors as we can. So, we’re sort of just still testing, figuring out new audiences. And every week or so, we’re coming out with new stuff, which is really exciting. But to answer your question, the original question, it just came from feedback. They told us that it was a service that they needed. And we always want to help out everywhere we can. So, Reader Reach is our new platform that’s sort of branching out from just email promotion. So, it’s a really exciting time. We have a new product, and it’s exciting for the whole company because it’s something new that we can test and we can get all the data and we can help authors in different ways.

Rachel: I can imagine that being really popular because I think Facebook ads are…like, it’s a lot of work, and I think a lot of authors struggle with getting it right. So, I imagine you have a lot of demand for it.

Grant: Yeah. It’s one of those things where it’s more than anything it takes a while to get it right. And, you know, you have to spend a lot of money, a lot of time figuring out, which audience responded best to this book? And which one respond…like what price points were responding best? And there’s so much trial and error, and authors don’t wanna waste that time or money. So, we’ll do that for you. That’s what I do. I figure out that hard part, and then we kind of… Basically what we try and do is what we call, like, a recipe for each genre. And once we know that recipe of, like, this audience, this price point, this amount of days, this budget, then it makes it easy to get that out to everyone. But, yeah. It’s definitely something that people… You know, Facebook’s hard. And sometimes even we’re experts at it, basically, and some days you come in, and Facebook has changed something, or they’ve made new rules or they’ve made new… Like things have changed, and we have to adapt to it. But it’s a fun world. And we’ll do that hard work. So, the author doesn’t have to keep, like, keeping up-to-date with all of their changes, which seem to happen, you know, every month.

Clayton: Yeah. That’s definitely a big advantage of Reader Reach for authors is we kept hearing… You know, we survey authors every year to get their opinions on what’s going on in the industry. And we kept hearing that marketing is the hardest part about being an author, and it’s not even close. Everyone hates doing it. And it’s difficult. And that makes sense. You know, I am a marketer, and marketing can be hard for me. But not many people are writing a book just so they can market it, right? They like to write books. And so, you know, when you run an ad with Reader Reach, you can book your promo in about three to five minutes. It really doesn’t take very long, and you’re completely done. And so you don’t have to learn how to use ads manager, figure out all your targeting, make your ads and then manage them on an ongoing basis. With Reader Reach, it’s really simple and really easy. And then also you’re getting access to proprietary audiences that we have. So, we have over a million readers across all of our brands. And so we can build look-like audiences off of those. And that’s an advantage that we have as a larger company, that individual authors aren’t gonna be able to do, right? They might not have the website traffic to build audiences, so they’re gonna have to rely on targeting that everyone has. So, that’s another advantage to Reader Reach.

Rachel: Now, Grant, you mentioned testing ads, and I’m just curious about what this kind of looks like, and how you measure whether or not an ad is successful. Do you just kind of make a bunch of ads, throw it at the wall and see what sticks?

Grant: At the beginning, yes. When we were doing our first genre, when we were trying to figure out, like, the initial process, like, figuring out what kind of creative, what kind of copy, what kind of budget, there was a lot of different things. And thankfully, after the first genre or two, we started to figure out trends and what was working. So, there was certain images, certain, like, the length of the copy and the description, the price point, the budget. We started to figure out very loose sort of trends. And we could start sort of slowly and slowly making that testing timeframe shorter. But it’s saying that sometimes a genre is easy. Sometimes the genre is hard. So, a lot of what Facebook is, is, you know, some of the times it’s using the audiences we have, but then also combining them with general interest groups on Facebook. So, some things are a little more niche, that are a little harder to pigeonhole into, like, a genre that’s gonna deliver. But some other genres are very simple.

You know, like, for example, we started with Cozy Mystery. And a Cozy Mystery, it’s a much easier audience to sort of figure out because it’s a much similar demographic of reader. The tropes sort of in the genre are very similar. You know, there’s like a…you know, it’s a bakery or animals are in it, and there’s things like that, right? But then when you get to some of the other genres, like one we haven’t actually launched is like nonfiction. And nonfiction’s a lot harder to test because everyone’s nonfiction book is basically about something different. And it’s really hard to get that reader sort of pinpointed when it comes to sort of a scalable product that we can offer. So, in answering your question, it got easier, but some genres are harder than others. But we do have a good sort of testing cadence now where I know what sort of tends to work. And then certain metrics we look for are certain click ranges, certain impressions, or certain CPCs, or cost per click. So, little metrics like that, which we know should fit into a range, that’s gonna deliver a good result for an author. So, if something is outside of that range, we generally haven’t watched it yet, or haven’t figured out the exact audience. But once we hit those sweet spots of, you know, it’s delivering X amount of clicks, we’re getting this many clicks per the budgets we’re setting. We sort of know that they’re good. We’ve had a few repetitions of it.

Joni: One of the focuses at Kobo is, and I think with digital publishing, in general, is trying to reach readers all over the world, and not just in the countries where authors are located. And I wonder how international is your Reader Reach? Like, are you dealing with English language only, or North America, or is it really everywhere?

Grant: Yeah. So, we’ve started out with, yeah, English language only, and we’ve started out with North America. Yeah, we did the U.S predominantly, this is mainly because it is new. So, it is something where we need to sort of pick something to start with. And this is sort of across the board. We generally do have sort of a North America focus for our email brands too, because there are a lot of different rules we’re sending to different countries and different languages, of course. But we do have that opportunity with Reader Reach because it is using something like Facebook, where is very global. We have access to a lot of people. Currently, we are just sticking to English language in North America. But hopefully, sometime in the future, we can expand that because the possibility is there, which is exciting. There’s a lot of potential here, but we have to sort of start out slow. And we have to grow it step by step.

Clayton: Yeah. I do think the international market is a really exciting opportunity with Reader Reach. With our email brands, you know, growing an international email list takes considerable more time than just changing your targeting on Facebook to a different country. So, I think, you know, Reader Reach is a really…you know, that’s an exciting opportunity for us. We don’t have it, you know, firmly on the roadmap yet. But I think seeing how the international, you know, ebook market has grown over the past few years, I think that’s something that we’re definitely keeping an eye on. And I think, you know, authors should definitely be considering, you know, expanding into as many countries as you can because now’s a good time to get a foothold.

Joni: Absolutely. Infinite opportunity, I think.

Clayton: Yeah.

Rachel: I just wanna stay on ads just for a little bit longer because it sounds like you have kind of been steeping yourself in Facebook ads for the last little while. And I was just wondering if you have any advice for authors who are creating their own ads or who are getting ready to kind of enter the ad space for the first time?

Clayton: Yeah. The best approach I could say is to test. So, don’t jump in and just run one ad, and have, you know, one image, one sort of text, and run it once for a week, and just sort of set it and forget. That’s generally doesn’t work because there are so many variables that you can play with on Facebook. And the thing about Facebook is, it will spend your money regardless of what you do. So, the best advice I have is to sort of start small and start with many different iterations of an ad, whether it’s sort of maybe start with one audience and then try different creative ideas. So, maybe have an image of, you know, a zoomed-in pitcher of your book cover, and then maybe a 3D book image, and, you know, various different sort of creative images, and maybe play around with the text. And then you can find out which image does the best. And then once you have something like that, you can then move onto finding the exact audience. And then you can sort of maybe set up different ad sets. So, you can have different ones running at the same time, and then you can pinpoint which audience. And then you can start sort of mixing and matching with those things. But I would always suggest to sort of keep your eye on it. So, if you’ve set an ad for a week, check in once a day, like go in in the morning, jump into your Facebook ad manager and see how many clicks, how many impressions, what sort of cost per click you’re seeing. And if it’s not sort of what your ideal range is, you can pause it. You can change something or like start over again. So, basically, don’t throw all of your money away with just one campaign and say, “Hey, it didn’t work for me.” Like, there is a lot of experimentation there. And Facebook has a lot of different dials you can turn to change the effectiveness of their ads. A lot of people out there, you wanna make sure you’re reaching the right one, so.

Joni: You weren’t lying when you said testing takes a long time and can be a little tedious for you?

Clayton: No, there’s a lot. There’s a lot of variables, but it’s, you know… I enjoy it, thankfully. It’s my job. So, I find it enjoyable, but I know probably 99% of authors, don’t.

Grant: So, Clayton, we launched Reader Reach in what, late September, 2021. And you probably started testing in January, February of 2021. Is that

right?

Clayton:Yeah, that’s about right. Yeah.

Grant: [inaudible 00:19:02] spent most of the year running ads and most of them not working, right? [inaudible 00:19:07] to go. So, he stuck with this for a long time and really figured it out. And so like that, that can give you some insight into, you know, how difficult Facebook ads can be to run. And just digital ads, in general, it’s rarely do they work on the first try. So, it’s about, you know, trying something, seeing if it works, and trying to decide what didn’t work about it, changing that, and then trying again.

Joni: And that’s…

Clayton: It’s all patience.

Joni: Like you said, it changes all the time too. So, constant challenge. Is there one piece of marketing advice that you’ve ever gotten that you thought found really, really valuable, or one that you would give to someone, either?

Grant: For me, it really is all about mindset. I think, you know, there are little tips, like technical tips, right, about, you know, maybe if you can find a really well-known author that writes in a similar genre to you and targeting people that are fans of them. So, there’s stuff like that that has helped in individual campaigns. But, like you said, stuff like individual advertising changes constantly. And Facebook removes a targeting option, or Google changes their algorithm. And so, for me, the most valuable, you know, advice that I keep getting from older marketers is when something changes or when something doesn’t work, don’t take it personally. It’s not you that messed up, right? Like, you are here to experiment and improve slowly over time. You’re not here to get everything right on the first try. And so once I stopped, you know, feeding myself up for, you know, just losing some money or running a campaign that was a complete dud, and changing the focus to learning and more of a growth mindset, that’s the best advice I’ve gotten as a marketer.

Clayton:I don’t know if I’ve had like a specific instance. But I know just working amongst our company, I think something we’ve all learned is that I think it’s a very fast-paced world. But sometimes being patient and stepping back, instead of looking at data, looking at results, and sort of, you know, just taking your time to look at things and figure it out before jumping head over heels into something, can play off a lot in the end. So, that’s something I’ve sort of learned and was probably some advice I would give. Despite the noise of the marketing world in the whole digital marketing world, is just take a step back sometimes and, you know, just look at what you’ve done, and then that’s when you can make informed decisions.

Rachel: And when it comes to marketing a book into selling books, there are so many different aspects that authors need to focus on. You need a good cover, solid blurb, good copy, ads, etc. Do you think for new authors, there’s one area where they should focus first?

Clayton: You know, I think for newer authors. So, you know, it really depends on your goals as an author, right? Some authors just want to write a book and publish it. And they don’t really care if, you know, a ton of people read it. Other authors are really concerned about, you know, making money from their writing, right? And having this be a career with, you know, financial backing. And so first, I think you need to think about what your goals are. And a lot of authors that promote with us are looking to generate revenue from their books. And the thing that we’ve seen time after time is that if you only have one book published, it’s really hard to make a significant amount of money from that one book. And so newer authors, I think you might, you know, publish your book, and you’re like, “Okay, now I’m gonna make a career of this right away, and I’m gonna generate a lot of sales.” And even if you do generate a lot of sales from that one book, when those readers finish the book, they don’t have anything else to get from you. And so I think, you know, as disheartening as this might be, I think, you know, the key is continuing to publish and publishing more books. And that’s how you build a career as an author. So, for new authors that have recently published, you know, dip your toe in the marketing. If you’re interested in it, if you’re excited about it, try it out, try to get some reviews, some feedback on your book. But don’t think you’re gonna, you know, make a career off of one book. I think, you know, continuing to enjoy writing and publishing more books is how you make this into a career.

Grant: I also think it’s important, especially if it’s like your first book to sort of not rush some of the things that it’s easy to rush, like the cover, like the blurb, and things like editing as well. I think a lot of those are very important for your first book. Because we know, especially with like Freebooksy, that’s a great way of driving reviews for a book. If people can get a free book, then the reviews will generally go up. And hopefully, they’re gonna be positive for you. And the way to ensure that is to make sure little mistakes aren’t…there’s not like too many grammatical errors, that you have a nice looking cover that is reflective of the book and that the descriptions also reflected it. So, like, once you finish writing, don’t rush the other parts. It is probably something I would recommend as well, especially for those early one…like first or second books, I think making sure your readers fall in love with you, like your work, and love the worlds you create. And if you sort of have a few little mistakes that might prevent other readers picking it up, if you say, you know, that someone gives you a bad review that can hurt a lot in the early stages.

Clayton: Grant, I think that’s a great point. I was speaking with an author the other day, and they were talking about the first book that they published, and they got a bad review where someone said, “This book was great, but I thought it was gonna be this, and it wasn’t.” And so the book was great, but just because the reader’s expectations weren’t met, they gave it a one-star review. And so not rushing that blurb or, you know, that book description on Amazon and really setting the expectations correctly can make a big difference. Because even if you have a really great book that’s well-edited and the plot is well structured, if the reader goes in with the incorrect expectations, they could be disappointed. So, I think that’s spot on, like focusing on kinda every asset you have and making sure those are all buttoned up well.

Joni: It’s interesting listening to both of you talk because I think much of what we do, you spend a lot of time listening to authors, and taking feedback from them, and taking direction from them. And it sounds like you hear a lot of the similar things that we do. And I know that you did a survey recently or at the end of last year on indie authors, like the state of what’s going on right now. And I’m curious to hear, like, what were your major findings from that? And was there anything that surprised you?

Clayton: Yeah. I think so. You know, we found out a lot of different things. But I think the thing that took me both by surprise was that 80% of authors that we surveyed said they were writing in more than one genre, which, you know, I just found that somewhat surprising. I know a lot of authors that, especially earlier in their career are just writing in one genre, but a lot of authors are writing in two or three different genres. And so, yeah, that was just super interesting to me. And also I think that’s pretty exciting, right? I think authors aren’t feeling constrained by, you know, writing more to their audience. They’re letting their creativity go wherever they want it to. And so that was a really exciting finding for me. And so I don’t know if I’ve just been talking to authors that write in one genre more often than not, but now that’s something that caught my eye right away. Do you guys speak to authors that write in multiple genres often?

Joni: Yeah. And I think that’s one of the interesting things with indie, is like you’re saying they do feel less constrained. And they’re not even necessarily sticking with the genres that you would expect. They’re mixing, like, kind of a surprising genres together sometimes. And we have a lot of authors actually that dip their toe into multiple, but that’s interesting.

Clayton: Yeah.

Rachel: I don’t know if this information would’ve come up on the survey, but do you find that when authors cross genre, they stick with the same author name, or do you find that authors use different pen names across genres?

Clayton: Yeah. So, we didn’t ask that specifically in the survey. But I went through the results and looked up some individual people to see what was going on here. And more often than not, I saw different pen names, which was interesting to me. And so I wonder if that’s a conscious branding exercise for these authors to kinda separate their genres. But, yeah. So, I more often than not saw different pen names. But I am curious, like, you know, I read a bunch of different genres. And I think if I, you know, read an author in one genre and saw that they wrote a book in a different genre that I also read, I would be more likely to read that book. So, yeah, that is interesting.

Grant: I think there are some authors too that don’t necessarily hide the fact that they have another pen name as well. Like, I think gone are the days, like, some authors still do sort of hide behind a pen name and they have like, you know, a cartoon character as their sort of avatar. But now I think, like, their personal branding’s very important. And I’ve seen a lot of authors sort of they’ll have the same author photo, but a different name, or it might just be a, maybe either they use their first initial and then their surname, or the first name when they’re writing another genre, or… There’s generally… I’ve seen a lot of similarities between the pen names. But it’s enough to sort of connect the dots, or you can see their face. It’d be like, “I remember you,” which is kind of cool.

Clayton: I’ve also seen some author websites with multiple pen names kind of across the header, right?

Grant: Yeah.

Clayton: So, you’re on the website where you can click on all the different pen names as well.

Grant: Yeah.

Clayton: Another finding that I thought was cool to see was that 62% of author surveyed were using professional editors. And so this is a number that we always keep an eye on. I think, you know, like, we were saying earlier, editing is really important because those early reviews really matter on a bunch of different retailers. And so a good amount of authors are using professional editors. And then around, I think it was 10% of authors are using, like, a fellow author to edit their work. And so maybe they’re doing a trade or maybe they just have a friend who’s doing them a favor. But I hope that was interesting to see how many authors are using professional editing. And I think, especially if you’re a first-time author or a newer author, it can be hard to invest the money in an editor, especially if you haven’t made any from your work. So, I think it’s good to see that more and more authors are using professional editing.

Joni: Yeah. That’s good to know. And I thought it was interesting also that you talked about, in the survey, you talked about top and bottom kind of margins for pricing. And we talk about that a lot because I think this is changing now, but I feel like indie authors used to maybe price on the lower end of the scale. And I feel like they’re starting to go up a little bit. Do you have any advice for authors when it comes to pricing their work? Have you found that there’s a sweet spot?

Clayton: It really varies by author of what I, you know, have heard, right? You know, obviously, we have data from our sites and what works well. But we obviously, have a specific audience. And a lot of our audiences are pretty price-sensitive, especially Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy. These are people that are looking for free or discounted books. And so, you know, our data, we can’t really give directional advice on that for the broader, you know, author population. But I think different authors find different things work. And I think, you know, one thing that works for most authors is having that first book in a series, or kind of that first book of theirs that they want readers to read at a lower price, right? So, readers don’t feel like they’re making a big commitment to an unknown author. And so if they read that first book, you know, for a dollar or free, $2, and they like it, then they’re much more willing to pay more for the following books in the series. And so we often see, you know, in our survey, I think over 50% of authors said their lowest price book was free or 99 cents. And then many authors, I think over 50% had a book priced over $5. And so that I suspect is what’s happening there, where an author sets the first book in a series free or 99 cents. And then the next book is much more expensive because the readers are willing to pay for it.

Grant: And I think sometimes we see as well, if you are an indie author that’s been around for a little while. So, say you’ve been around for a couple of years, you have a catalog of at least sort of, you know, maybe around five books. We’ve found that even with some of our price-sensitive readers, they’re more willing to spend a little more if they recognize that name. Like, if they’ve read another book before or, you know, their new release just came out, we’ll see some authors, you know, even on Bargain Booksy where they’ll have a new release, and they might put it in the email for $399 or $499. And they do well as well. But I’m not sure sort of a brand new author with their first book would see the same results, as say, a 99 cent because I feel like that barrier to entry, you know, for an unknown first-time having it to be free or 99 cents. Or maybe even $299, I would say, is probably a good cutoff point of people will more generally take a risk on a newer author. But then I think some of those higher price points are reserved more for some of the more seasoned indie authors who, you know, have either a built-up audience or their name recognition is there, maybe they’ve been, you know, in Bargain Booksy email, you know, like every few months over the last year. And that reader sort of is like, “Oh, I’ve seen that name multiple times. Yeah. I’ll spend a little more to try them out.”

Clayton: Yeah. And I think, you know, one thing I hear from authors is, you know, they want to test a higher price to kind of signal the quality of their book. And that’s a common thing in marketing in e-commerce, right? But product is vastly underpriced, it might be perceived to be less quality. And while that isn’t always the case, I think that can be true sometimes. So, I hear authors saying, “You know, I’m gonna price this book, you know, at $7, $8, $10 to signal to the reader. This is a really good book, a lot of work went into this. You should pay this much because this is really worth this much.” And I think that’s a totally valid strategy. What I would say is that if you are going to signal quality with your price, you need to make sure that your cover and your ebook description also signal quality. So, a really high price book with a, you know, unprofessional or poor-looking cover is gonna have a really hard time selling. But if you have a high-priced book with a really sleek cover and really nice description and good reviews, that book is gonna have a much better chance at succeeding.

Grant: I think it can depend on the genre as well. If the genre is very competitive for price, and there are a lot of other options out there for cheaper, it might be a harder sell. But, you know, for example, for like a steamy romance where, you know, like, most of them are 99 cents or, you know, maybe $299. But for something like maybe if you’re writing in literary fiction, or nonfiction, or something like that, where it’s not as price competitive from the other authors, then maybe you’ll have a better shot at it as well. So, I think it’s sometimes it depends on the competition as well. Yeah.

Rachel: I know a lot of authors on Kobo also use like free first-in series or free promos, and find them very, very successful. And it sounds like it’s similar for your audience. But I’m curious, do you have any opinion on whether it’s worth keeping a book permafree, or whether it’s more valuable to set it free for a limited time so that it is kind of special for a short time?

Clayton: You know, like, I said earlier, I think a lot of these things are specific to the author and the working techniques they’re using. I will say, I think the limited time as a marketer, like time pressure and limited time things really work, right? If something is free for a limited time, and if you do it now, you get a better value. That is a really compelling selling point online, not just for books, for everything. And so I think if you can communicate to the reader that, hey, this is cheap or free for just a limited period of time, that can be really, really powerful and can really drive sales. So, I would encourage authors to experiment and see if they can get better results with either one. But definitely try the limited time because I think that can have some good results.

Grant: Yeah. I think one side to that too, is how large your series is. I think from some of the authors we work with, if they have a very large series, say like 20 books in their series that having a permafree, I think is a really good strategy because they’re always getting new people in, and then they’re sort of, you know, there’s 19 other books to read. But if you have a smaller series, maybe, you know, one to three books in the series, I think definitely maybe a time-limited one is probably the way to go to experiment with. But if you have a very large catalog, I think having some permafree books is a very good strategy to sort of build your brand as an author so they can read your other books. Yeah.

Rachel: Just speaking on like pricing sweet spots, is there one when it comes to ads or ads effective with selling full price books, or are ads more effective when it’s a significant price drop?

Grant: That’s a great question. For Reader Reach, in particular, we don’t have a specific price. Like, we won’t restrict authors from promoting a book, say, if it is over $499, or we can promote anything. We do know that there is… It’s sort of similar to Bargain Booksy’s upper limit of $499, we find that that’s kind of the higher point limit that we see the best results from. Like, obviously, free and 99 cents are the best at getting large quantities of readers, that might not necessarily translate to the most revenue return for you as an author though. So, the main trade-off we see is maybe the cost per click is gonna go up for a higher-priced book. But in many cases, the higher the price of the book, the higher price you can sort of take of a CPC. So, say your book is, you know, $10, you could theoretically, you know, even if you’re paying, like, well over a dollar for a click, if they’re converting, you’re still making a high revenue return there. But, you know, on a book that’s 99 cents, you might wanna see like a CPC that’s more around 20 cents, and you’re seeing a way more higher volume. So, the answer is that all price points can work, it just sort of depends on the return you wanna see if you prefer, you know, higher revenue or higher readers. And it’s sort of that balancing act where you kind of have to make that trade-off in your goals as an author, where do you just want to make the highest dollar value? Or do you want to get the most amount of readers now, and then maybe capitalize on them later, further down the line? But to go back, we do see the best results, probably from $499 and under, in terms of having a good mixture of the price for a click. Yeah. So, that’s probably my best suggestion there.

Joni: So, you mentioned that you’ve recently started working with audio as well. And audio is relatively recent for Kobo as well, at least compared to ebooks, but it’s a huge area of growth. And I think it’s only getting bigger. Have you seen that trend in your work as well?

Clayton: Yeah, absolutely. I think the audio buzz really, you know, took off a few years ago and, you know, we’re hearing more and more about it from authors. And I think kind of what signals that this trend is really continuing and here to stay, I think is kind of these really large companies investing in audio. You see companies like Spotify acquiring Findaway, Amazon continuing to change how they’re working with Audible, Kobo getting into audiobooks, right? And so these big players are committing to audio. And so what that means for any authors I think is, you know, you can invest in audiobooks and know that you’re gonna be able to sell them, likely, successfully, for a long period of time. This isn’t just a fad. This is something that listeners and the big companies both want to happen. So, yeah. I think that’s absolutely a trend that is, maybe not even a trend, that’s just a fact of life, right? The audiobook market is very large, and it’s here to stay.

Joni: And honestly, it’s interesting that you say that we talked to some of Toronto Public Library librarians on here and they said, “Well, you know, like, books on tape have been around forever. Like, libraries know just how popular audio is. It’s not new.” And you’re right. I absolutely think it’s here to stay.

Clayton: Yeah. I remember checking out audiobooks. From a kid, I used to listen to a bunch of like “Star Wars” fan fiction. And they had all the sound effects in there, and I just ate it up. So, yeah, yeah. You’re probably right. It’s been here for a long time, and I was obsessed with it. Yeah.

Grant: I remember watching it too, goosebump books on tape when I was a kid.

Joni: Audio is great for kids because like kids wanna listen to a story so much longer than an adult wants to read to them, I think, a lot of the time.

Clayton: That’s very true. Those long car rides, it’s a necessity.

Rachel: So, as we’re talking about trends, and we are recording this in the third week of January. So, I think this is a great time to ask your predictions for trends we’re gonna see throughout 2022 in indie publishing.

Clayton: All right. So, yeah, we actually just wrote a blog post on this, where we asked some other industry professionals their thoughts as well. So, I can’t be blamed fully for anything that I’m about to say. But one thing that… You know, we heard from authors last year that direct sales are growing, and more authors are making income from direct sales on their websites. And then in our trends post, we also saw that industry professionals think direct sales are growing. And so, yeah. I think in 2022, more and more authors are going to get a larger portion of their income from direct sales. And I think this is interesting because authors, traditionally, it’s hard to get an audience to your website, right? So, if you’re a newer author, this likely is not a great strategy for you. But if you are established and, you know, have a mailing list of fans that love your work, selling directly from your website is likely a good option for you because these people want to read your work, not just because of the platform that it’s on but because they really like you and how you write specifically. And when you sell directly from your website, you don’t have to pay a distributor any cut of the profits. And so it’s a higher margin for the author. And so I don’t think direct sales are gonna displace, you know, Amazon, or Kobo, or Apple. But I think more and more authors are going to have that option for kind of their top fans in this coming year.

Rachel: Grant, any predictions? You’re not getting off the hook.

Grant: I think one of the big ones, I think we touched on this briefly in the article as well is just, there’s a lot of technology changes, I think, that can happen that are, you know, both on the marketing side and on the book side. And I think one, we already talked about audiobooks. I think that’s always gonna grow in some way or another every year. But there’s other things. Like, we’ve seen a lot of successful authors promoting books on like TikTok and things like this, where that’s a huge new and sort of…it’s a new world for a lot of authors and a lot of marketers, like, it’s one thing that we’re all trying to wrap our heads around. And then there’s, you know, other things like other ways to publish, like, you know, Amazon trying things out like Kindle Vella, like shorter serialized forms of writing. And I think there’s just a lot of exciting things that could happen in the year in terms of technology. And that’s one of the coolest parts of our job is sort of watching this, how the trends shift, and how they move, and how authors adapt to these changes, and sort of embrace some of these new things. So, I think just, in general, technology is gonna be another big step up this year and in the future.

Rachel: Do you guys think Written Word Media will ever enter the TikTok space?

Clayton: We very well could. It’s hard to say. I don’t know, you know, a marketing plan that we could sustain over a period of time yet, but it’s definitely something that is very interesting to us because we’ve definitely seen, I think there’s one author recently who released a book and made it into… It was a mystery book and then they made it into like a mystery for the readers to try to find out who the author was. And just, like, really inventive, you know, marketing kinda, not even, you know, activities but full campaigns of different things for readers to do with the author and with the book on TikTok. So, I think it’s a really interesting space, for sure. One technological thing that I’m pretty intrigued by is kind of, like, artificial intelligence writing rate and how authors can use AI tools to generate copy for ads, or even help them write books. I think that’s super interesting. I don’t know. I’d be curious to hear authors’ thoughts on the, like, ethics or morality behind this. I could see some authors saying like, “No, that’s not real writing. I would never do it.” And other authors saying like, “No, the genesis comes from me so that I view it as, you know, true art.” But that’s something that I think is really interesting. And I’m not quite sure what I think about it yet, but, yeah, that’s something I’m watching.

Grant: I’d say you think AI might better write a convincing science fiction book, right? Like, that could be scary though. If they make it too realistic or things start to come true.

Rachel: They’ll watch out for Skynet. Actually, we interviewed an author last year, Shane Neely, and he wrote a book with the assistant of AI and then kind of wrote about his experience. And I don’t think AI is quite there yet when it comes to beautiful prose, but it’s really entertaining to watch it try.

Clayton: Ooh, interesting. I’ll have to go back and listen to that Shane Neely. Will do.

Joni: And if not on TikTok, where can listeners find you online?

Clayton: Yeah. So, they can just go to writtenwordmedia.com. We’ve got a big promote your book button there, if you’re interested in promoting with us. And we also have a great blog where you can find our survey results that we mentioned earlier and tons of posts about everything to do with book marketing, publishing, and writing as well. So, I recommend checking out our blog as well.

Joni: Awesome. Thank you. We’ll post those links in the show notes. And before you go, we would love to hear about anything that you’ve read lately or are excited about reading this year. We like asking everyone.

Clayton: Yeah. So, I’m actually in the middle of a book called “Brotherhood” by Mohamed Sarr. And it’s just a really, really intense book. It’s kind of a political dystopian sort of vibe, but it’s actually just really, really intense. And so it’s the sort of book where you read two chapters, and you’re like, “I need a breath.” So I’ve been really enjoying that. So, that’s what I’m working on right now.

Grant: And for me, I think my favorite author is Stephen King. So, I find myself always going back and reading something random, either old or new. I just finished, I think I got through all of it, one of his more recent short story collections, I think was called “If It Bleeds.” So, it was, you know, a normal, you know, Stephen King array of weirdness. That was what I’ve read recently.

Joni: Have you read all of his books?

Grant: Not all of them. No.

Joni: Yes, there’s a lot.

Grant: But I’ve read… There’s a lot. And there’s, especially if you go into his speaking of earlier pen names, if you go into all of his pen name stuff, that’s where you get the really weird ones. So, the less popular ones.

Clayton: How about you guys? What are you guys reading?

Rachel: I just finished a sci-fi book called “The Galaxy, and the Ground Within” by Becky Chambers. And if you like character-driven sci-fi, I cannot recommend Becky Chambers’ “Wayfarers” series enough. This was book 4, it’s the final book and it is phenomenal. The first book is called “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet,” highly recommend.

Joni: I just finished “Station Eleven” on Rachel’s recommendation because she wanted to bum me out in the third calendar year of a pandemic, but it was good. It was just a heavy read. But it was good.

Grant: I just read that as well. Yeah, she was telling me about it.

Joni: Are you watching the show?

Grant: No, I think we both started to watch it, and she was like, “The book was way better.” And I think she went right from reading it to watching it, and she was like, “This is too much.” Yeah. As you said in the middle of a pandemic, it’s like, “This is too much. I’ll have to revisit this.” So, I’ll probably do the same. I’ll probably wait and watch it maybe later when things are better.

Rachel: I do have one more book-related question for both of you, because you probably, like I do, spend a lot of time looking at book covers when it comes to marketing. Do you have any favorite covers or any that you think really stand out? It’s a tough question. I know.

Grant: I don’t know if I can say one specific example, but I do have to say as a genre as a whole, I’m loving YA covers right now. YA has really sort of in the last year or so embraced super colorful, vibrant, diverse covers. And they just pop out at you, like, from the screen both. And as a marketer, I love that. As much as we hate to say it, people do sometimes judge books by covers, and when we’re trying to sell them, a nice, bright, vibrant color is really great. And I think that’s a trend that I’m really enjoying seeing is just covers that pop, and that are just super colorful. Yeah.

Clayton: Yeah. I agree. I don’t have a favorite cover off the top of my head. But I do love seeing the trend of bright colors, especially with all our email newsletters that I get every day. It’s really fun to see them really bright and exciting. I will say that the book that I’m reading, “Brotherhood,” is a really interesting cover because it’s orange and brown, but is at the same time dull, but really captures a sunset in part of the cover. So, it’s not overly bright or neon, and it’s a really interesting cover. So, I do like that cover, I will say.

Joni: Amazing. Well, thank you so much for your time. This was really great and really informative.

Clayton: Great. Yeah.

Grant: Yeah, thanks much for having us.

Clayton: Yeah. Thanks so much for having us. This was a great time. So, yeah. I hope you guys have a great rest of your week.

Joni: Thank you. You too.

Rachel: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life” podcast. If you are interested in learning more about Written Word Media or their Reader Reach program, we will include links to both in our show notes. If you are enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe, and tell your friends. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at kobowritinglife.com. And be sure to follow us on socials, we are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter, and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.

Joni: This episode was produced by Rachel Wharton and Joni Di Placido. Our editor is Kelly Robotham. Our theme music is composed by Tear Jerker. And a big thank you to Clayton Noblit and Grant Shepherd for being our guests today. If you’re ready to start your self-publishing journey, sign up at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.

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