SPS-167: How to Sell More Books Through Reader Engagement – with Dan Blank
Author and book marketing expert Dan Blank takes a human-centred approach when he teaches authors how to grow their reader platform. Our stories are written to connect with other humans, why shouldn’t we?
- Reminders about the free resources available from SPF
- On the Self-Publishing Show’s spin-off program
- The two most important elements of an author’s platform
- On ways to establish closer connections with those who read your books
- The importance of a community of other authors
- Why the focus of your message to readers matters
Resources mentioned in this episode:
FREE AUTHOR COURSES: Including the List Building Course
FREE BOOKS FOR AUTHORS: Including Instagram for Authors
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
HANDOUT: Five Ways to Immediately Connect with Readers courtesy of Dan Blank
Transcript of Interview with Dan Blank
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self Publishing Show:
Dan Blank: If you want to have a career or hobby as an author and you don’t have collaborators, then it’s not really going to be a profession and I don’t mean a full-time profession, but even a hobby, you need to have that kind of interaction. You need people who will hold you accountable. You need people giving you feedback. You need people who will help you along the way.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers.
Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self Publishing Show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Yes, hello and welcome to The Self Publishing Show. It’s James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: And here we are again with a fabulous episode with really useful interview that hopefully is going to change the way that you talk to your readers, to help you build engagement and sell books. A really interesting interview coming up at the moment.
With a free handout as well, but before that, let’s have a quick catch up of what’s going on. We had Mark Stay last week, of The Bestseller Experiment, and I’ve been looking around this week about what sort of resources are available for free for authors.
I don’t know how often we mention, quite a lot of the things that we’ve made available to people, Mark, so I thought we’d just remind listeners. If you’re getting into the world of indie writing or you’re trying to turn it into something that’s going to enable you to quit that train journey into Detroit or Delhi or Melbourne, and that means you can get up and work in your pants, as Mark and I do. Not together. Every day.
Then, you need some of these resources. So what have we got, Mark?
First of all, I would say, the list building course is a really good resource, isn’t it?
Mark Dawson: It is, yes. That’s the first course, mini-course I have put together which is using Facebook Ads to find people who’ll join your list. And it’s been taken now by I don’t know how many people. Well north of 20,000 I would’ve thought. And has had some great success stories with people like John Loxton. He used it and went from seven people to 27,000 or something like that on his list within six, seven weeks. It definitely works.
Nothing is held back. It’s one of those courses you can jump in, you can start to run those ads yourself to start to build your list.
James … where is the link for that?
James Blatch: Well, Self PublishingFormula.com. And you’ll see a tab at that top on our website, which is “Courses,” and it’s called The List Building Course in the middle of that. I think it’s selfpublishingformula.com/courses if you want to go straight to that page. And it’s called List Building for Authors. And I’ve changed the system. I did this last year.
First of all, we updated the course. We update all our courses regularly. And Mark, you slaved over that one to bring it upstate with the changes to the adds manager, etc. Inside Facebook.
I also changed the system so that people … I think our mailing list, and this is a bit detailed to do with mailing lists, the sort of thing that is covered in our courses, but you’ve got to think about people who come back to you and go off your main list and come back on. And they can be tagged in a certain way that means they don’t get any of the resources again because they’re an existing user.
I’ve changed it slightly now, but if you put your email address in there, even if you’ve had that course in the past, you’ll get it delivered to you with an email that says, “We know you’ve heard this before, but here it is again because you just asked for it.” So, everyone will get that, and you can do the up to date version of it.
I would say that course is a good introduction to the sort of things that occupy your afternoon as a marketer as well. It’s a cultural glimpse into that side of being a modern indie writer.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. There’s lots of stuff is touched on there, including how to use ads to find readers, how to target the ads, what to do with the readers once you find them, all of that kind of stuff. And it is fundamental to what we do as indie authors.
There’s that which I would strongly recommend you check that out … it’s done really well. The other stuff, I would say, we’ve got tons and tons of books. Some again, one on Facebook Ads, Amazon ads, we’ve got stuff on InstaFreebie, which is going really well at that moment. We’re having loads and loads of copies of that have been downloaded. How to use InstaFreebie for Writers.
The stuff on editing tips that you can employ in your writing. And we’re just in the process of checking out and finalizing a book on the “KU or Not to KU” debate, which is always a vexing question.
James Blatch: Very Macbethian … No, not Macbeth. Hamletian.
Mark Dawson: You mean Machiavellian?
James Blatch: Machiavellian. No, I meant Hamlet, wasn’t it, “To be or not to be?” “To KU or not to KU?”
Mark Dawson: Oh, I see. Yes. Yes, that’s Hamlet, yes. “To be or not to be,” exactly.
That one we’re just in the process of finishing that. So, that should be out quite soon and those are all free and they’re on the website as well, so you can just grab those and download the link so you can read them however you like.
We’ll have more as we progress through the year, as we decide to put more together. Always a good place to check for new stuff.
James Blatch: Yeah. And then we keep those up to date as well. And without piling some more work on our colleague, John, it’s probably time for vault volume 3, is it not?
Mark Dawson: Yes, it is. Yeah. The vault is a compendium of the wisdom from the podcast. And yes, so that’s … again, done quite well, so certainly worth having a look at that one as well.
James Blatch: You’ll get the books on the resources pages, under the resources tablet, SelfPublishingFormula.com. There’s also a link to some of the actual resources, software and stuff that we recommend and use. And that’s changing a little bit at the moment, some new stuff coming on soon.
I’ll also mention the webinars. This is not exactly free because you have to be a Patreon supporter or having purchased one of our courses, but we decided some time ago, that anybody who’d taken that next step in to SPF, and that could be as little as a dollar an episode, in terms of Patreon, if you go to Patreon.com/SPFpodcast, you would be members of the SPF University.
Mark Dawson: Not a University, in case anyone’s thinking of suing us.
James Blatch: Not a real university. This is a place where we dig a little bit deeper and offer free, very good instruction on a range of subjects. And we’ve covered quite a few things so far. The most recent one was the K-lytics deep dive. And we’ve got some good ones planned for that in the future.
Mark Dawson: We do, yes. We’ve had Tammi Labreque on mailing lists. We’ve had Adam Croft talking about mindsets. I did the first one on, what was it? Amazon ads? I can’t remember now. It was a while ago.
We’ve had four or five of those, and they’re all available as James says, to Patreon subscribers and also to students. And we’re going to be having … I think Dameon Courtney is going to come on and do something about BookFunnel. Craig Martel, Michael Anderlay, we think, might come on as well.
If anyone has got any ideas of people that would be good subjects for that, just drop us a line, ’cause I’m happy to reach out and see if we can get some additional people delivering those webinars ’cause they’re fun to do and the ones that I’ve been involved with … I’ve learned a lot, so it’s definitely worth checking that out as well.
James Blatch: There is a lot to learn. I can remember the early days of me being exposed to this whole world, not knowing what a lot of terms were, mailing list and subscribers and conversion percentages and so on. And you can’t learn it all in one or two sittings.
It is a case of absorbing over a period of time. Some of these things won’t make sense to you to start off with, but you will eventually be a ninja expert.
Mark Dawson: That’s is the plan, yeah. You’re always learning, even I’m still learning stuff. And I’ve been doing this for a little while now. There’s a lot things that change, so you need to keep on top of that. And new opportunities coming around all the time. When I started doing this, Amazon ads were impossible, and now they’re a fundamental part of the ecosystem that everyone really needs to have a handle on.
It’s a pretty good place to make sure that you are on the cutting edge, and aware of how things are going with the indie space.
James Blatch: There’s an insight into the free resources available to you. In addition to that of course, very often, on our podcast episode, we’ll have something that we hand out that goes along with that that you can learn from and that will apply to this episode. In a moment, you’ll find out.
I’m going to mention one more thing before we get to the interview itself, which is that our self publishing show here has had a little baby.
Mark Dawson: Oh yes! That’s true, yes. Not sure when the plan is, but we decided to put another smaller podcast out, probably going out on Wednesdays, mostly hosted by young Tom. Although, I suspect you and I might do the odd one as well.
It’s called, at the moment anyway, as we record this, Self Publishing Show: Extra Chapter, which took me about ten seconds to come up with. And what it will be is it’s another interview show, but shorter with a format: five questions that will be repeated every week. And anyone can go on there.
You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to be selling Anderlay quantities of books, you could just be starting out and only have sold one book if necessary.
It will be fun. We want it to be something that is approachable, feels relevant to wherever people are, whatever stage. We will have some big sellers on there as well, but we also want people who are just getting started and all their challenges and their hopes and what they’ve learnt, lessons that they’ve learned and mistakes that they’ve made and all of that kind of stuff that we can all learn from, from that kind of content.
We think it will go out on Wednesdays, when is the first one James? Do we know?
James Blatch: We’ve been through all the technicals today and young Tom is ready to go. He’s reaching out, as they say, to our first potential guest, who I won’t name at this second because we don’t know if he’s said yes yet.
Mark Dawson: J.K. Rowling.
James Blatch: Yeah. J.K.vShe’s sold more than one book, I’m sure.
Mark Dawson: Possibly. One billion.
James Blatch: We think it’s going to be on Wednesday. And it’s going to be hosted as a Facebook Live, so that’s how it will originally be recorded. It will be recorded live and done live. It’ll sit down on our Facebook page and we’ll find ways of disseminating it after that. If you go our community group, which I believe is SPF Secret Group, is it not?
Mark Dawson: I think so yeah.
James Blatch: I think that’s where it’s going to sit. That’s going to be its main home.
Mark Dawson: It’ll also be podcasted as well.
James Blatch: It’ll be podcasteed as well. We’re going to package it up afterwards.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Podcast it.
James Blatch: Do you see how we work here, dear listener?
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: On the fly. Mark tells me in the conversation, on the podcast, that we’re doing another podcast.
Mark Dawson: Pretty sure I’ve mentioned that right back at the start.
James Blatch: Yeah. But I don’t listen that carefully to you.
It’s in our Facebook group if you want to watch it as a Facebook Live, but we’ll also send it out on the usual channels.
You can be on it, we should say. How do you get on it? I would go to the Facebook group and that’s where we’re going to be looking for people to come on and be a guest on that and will be grilled by me or young Tom.
Mark Dawson: Or email, assuming that … this is me speaking on the fly here, but to[email protected] would be a pretty good place …
James Blatch: No, he doesn’t have that email address yet.
James Blatch: He should have.
Mark Dawson: Oh, dear. He should.
James Blatch: I don’t know why he doesn’t, but at the moment, just email [email protected].
Mark Dawson: Yes. Yep.
James Blatch: I think Tom will probably … “tom@” or anything “@” that does exist will go into a pot somewhere that we’ll get anyway.
Look, we are talking today about human centric marketing. Now, what is human centric marketing? It’s less complicated and less airy fairy than it might sound. It’s basically about making sure that you have a story to tell even in between writing the stories that you tell.
In your emails and in your conversations with readers, you give a little bit of yourself up and in return for that, people get to know you and like you and it helps you sell books.
Now, it sounds like a fairly simple concept, and it is. Like all the great concepts, quite simple, but a lot of people don’t practice it as well as they could do
We have an expert on the subject today. His name is Dan Blank. He’s written well on the subject. He’s actually put together a resource for us to come away with. It’s a PDF entitled Five Ways to Immediately Connect with the Readers: five things that you can change about the way that you are dealing with your readers immediately to make a difference and help you sell more books. And you can get that if you go to SelfPublishingShow.com/connect.
James Blatch: Okay. Let’s hear from Dan and then I’ll have a human centric conversation with the automaton, Mark, afterwards.
Dan, welcome to the Self Publishing Show.
Dan Blank: Thank you for having me.
James Blatch: I was just admiring the clarity of this signal considering you’re 3000 miles away in the United States, but you’re on the eastern coast, so I guess you’re this side.
Dan Blank: That’s the miracle of technology.
James Blatch: A short swim away.
Well, look, it’s great to have you here. We are going to talk about reader engagement and I was interested in something you quoted to me, actually, in some of the notes that you sent ahead of the interview, to say that one of your friends had identified Mark Dawson as being a kind of guru or marketing in the indie space.
And his view was the next thing you needed was you. Was somebody to do that more personal engagement and reader engagement service. There’s a lot to talk about here.
One of them is that some authors, quite a lot of authors, feel uncomfortable perhaps, reaching out to individuals and people and building up those relationships and maybe they’re chose being a writer because they don’t have to meet so many people.
And other authors don’t really know quite where to start, and there are lots of places to start in this. So, I don’t know … I’m kind of in your hands with this, Dan.
What should we talk about the general importance of reader engagement first?
Dan Blank: I don’t think people choose to be a writer ’cause they don’t want to engage. I think they choose because they want to. They have a story, a message, that they feel should be in the world, that can change someone’s life. To me, that is inherently a social thing.
I always think of art, and I grew up as an artist, my wife is an artist … I always think of art as complete when it reaches another person. The author brings half of what they bring. And the art happens when the other reader brings their life experience. That is the moment.
James Blatch: I absolutely agree with that. It’s a long held philosophy of mine that a work of art is only completed when the viewer of the sculpture, the viewer of the painter, the reader of the book, the viewer of the film, completes it in their own mind, which is why I’m always slightly reticent to listen to an author or a painter explain what the meaning is behind their work because that kind of misses the point. It’s the meaning in the person who’s receiving it. That’s the validity of your work of art. What you set out to do is fine. And it’s interesting. But the work of art is in the mind of the receiver, I think.
Dan Blank: Yeah!
James Blatch: The completion of it.
Dan Blank: It’s half and half and I think it’s up to the reader, too, if they’re interested, it’s why we have DVD commentaries, it’s why I’m constantly on Netflix watching documentaries about Pink Floyd and Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen.
James Blatch: We’re soul brothers here. I went to Tom Petty’s last ever concert. But that’s another story.
Dan Blank: Wow.
James Blatch: We went to Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles a couple years ago and it turned out he died four days later. It was so sad. And I’ve just booked tickets for Billy Joel in New York in July and I’m really worried for him because we’ve got a bad track record at this point.
We’re interested in the meaning behind and yes it is great to hear. And I’m a big Pink Floyd fan as well, so to listen to David Gilmour talking about what they were trying to do with Dark Side of the Moon, but I believe very strongly, that what Dark Side of the Moon meant to me when I was 12 years is the most valid that work of art gets for me, and for that work of art.
And that might be different for somebody else.
Dan Blank: Yes. When we talk about this idea of marketing that work from a writer’s standpoint, I often think about … I try
to gear my work towards introverts because what I think is inherently an introvert is someone who values the one on one connection. They value empathy. They value this idea of listening. It’s a part of a process of communicating.
And they want it to feel like it’s within in their control. And it’s step by step. I think a lot of what we fear is the idea that you’re thrust upon a stage, you say something, it’s heard by hundreds of people, you lose control of it, you walk off the stage, you have no idea what connected, why it resonated with anyone, you feel like you flubbed it, whether you did or not, and you basically feel terrified.
And I’m like, “Well, that is terrifying.” That’s not really what marketing should be when a typical writer is thinking, how do I communicate what I write? And how do I connect that in a trusting manner with people?
I think that those two things, trust and communication, are probably at the center of what I think is author platform or even the basis of marketing.
James Blatch: When you say trust: who’s trusting who here?
Dan Blank: For someone to have you in their life, there has to be an element of trust. And I think that happens on a very superficial level, on someone I follow on Instagram, or someone I follow on YouTube, these are voices I’m bringing in my life.
A podcast is the perfect example: ther are voices in your head for 30, 40, 50 minutes and it can always happen on a deeper level, the idea that, “Oh, how do I get word of mouth marketing going?” And someone gives you some spreadsheets that’s got a flow chart and there’s all these buttons.
It’s like, word of mouth marketing is about trust. It’s this idea of there’s an identity build it, the identity the person, saying, “I read this book. I thought this book was great. I love this book.” I’m putting myself almost at risk to recommend this to you, but it’s a trust in the work and it’s a trust in what that work represents about the person recommending it.
James Blatch: Absolutely. And I suppose that can be misused a little bit in the same way that you become a bit vulnerable when you say to somebody, “I really like this.” And you can feel a little bit hurt if they said, “Well, I didn’t like it.”
It happened to me actually last week. A friend of mine, I told him to watch Thoroughbreds the film, and I saw him last night and he said, “Eh, didn’t really like it.” And you take it a bit personally, which is silly. And at the same time, there’s a whole world of virtue signaling going on in there, where people will put forward a petition or wear a T-shirt or something to try and validate themselves a little bit. But I see what you mean.
It’s very much, you’re putting yourself out there, one way or another.
Dan Blank: I think that’s a big core of marketing. And certainly in the modern age, in terms of technology, but it’s very much about identity, and it’s something I hear a lot from authors, who are saying, “I used to blog and I used to get all these comments and now no one comments on my blog.” And they’re bitter.
And it’s like, well, that’s because those comments have moved on to individual social media channels. They don’t want to be secondary to you, where they’re commenting on your blog, they want to celebrate who they are and what they love and what they read on their own channel. It’s very much about who they are and, as you said, kind of signaling that to other people.
I think that’s a lot about identity. It’s why you or I didn’t feel fearful of saying, “I love Tom Petty. I love Pink Floyd.” We found a connection in that, without meaning to. I just got finished watching a four hour documentary on Tom Petty, so there is that connection that happens there. And it’s that kind of identity: what does liking that kind of music say about you or about me? That sort of thing.
James Blatch: And we should say that this is such an important area. We talk a lot about the increasingly competitive nature of writing and authoring and selling books at the moment. The five million new works, etc., on Kindle.
This engagement, this building up of an audience, it’s not just a pretty after sales tactic, it’s about your tribe and people recommending you and becoming your advocates, is that right?
Dan Blank: It’s funny, I don’t see it as competition, although of course, I understand and respect the numbers there. What I always wonder at is the access that we have now to reach people directly.
I’ll be 46 next month and I grew up in an era where I grew up as an artist that was an artist in high school, was an artist in college, I was a writer, a poet, a photographer, all these wacky, artsy things. And all my friends were.
And what I found back then, was it was so hard to get one person to care about what you do. Or you’d have your little group and no one outside of that.
I used to manage a café. And I’d book performers, I’d book open mic nights, I’d book these artsy things, and if we had like, nine or ten people come into the door, that was a good night. If you had 20 or 30, literally, they’re flowing onto the pavement outside.
What I love about what we have now is that you have that access to other people. I follow a lot of illustrators and artists on Instagram, of course as well as authors.
What I find is it’s not really a zero-sum game. It’s not that I’m saying, “Just because my kid reads this book and all the friends are reading it,” there are so many other ways of finding and discovering connecting with authors and with books and with people who love reading.
A lot of what I think about is that authors have this opportunity to directly engage ten people, a hundred people, a thousand people, and the challenge there is they have to do that work, that very human-centered work to be active in channels, to be generous in those channels, to be sharing thing consistently.
And that’s something I think a lot about, where a lot of people say, “Oh yeah, I had podcast. It didn’t work.” And they did two episodes. “I was blogging for a while. It didn’t work.” Or “I tried Facebook.” And you find that they really hoped it was like buying a lottery ticket.
A lot of what I talk to writers about is that idea of really, how do you dedicate yourself to this? How do you actually do it in a way that feels meaningful? But how do you open up that connection? So, it’s not a competition of, there’s ten widgets, someone’s only going to buy one, is it going to be yours? How are you finding more threads to connect with people?
Again, it’s a really good example, the music thing with us, which we didn’t expect, but I’m like, “Oh, I have a better sense of who you are, and of that connection to you because of that.”
James Blatch: I’m 52 tomorrow, so that also explains a little bit of our music taste, the sort of age bracket, which I’m going to count myself in the same age bracket as someone who’s 46 next month, by the way.
Dan Blank: I’m with ya.
James Blatch: Yeah. Good.
You’ve hinted, really, at some of the practical steps, i.e., the consistency, the sincerity.
If we move more practically, what platforms should authors be looking at? And then we can perhaps talk about how they should be using them.
Dan Blank: The thing I’ve been totally obsessed with recently is one-to-one outreach, is thinking of the platforms of social media as secondary. These are the context around more direct outreach.
Something I work on a lot with writers and something I really research is this idea of emailing people directly, or if we’re using social media, on Instagram, it’s not a matter of digging into Instagram, how do you do it? I dig into that and am happy to talk about it.
But how are you using direct messages on Instagram? Are you reaching out specifically? If there’s an author you love, and you want to support them, you want to signal to other people as you hinted at before, that this is the type of book that you write, well there’s a real difference between liking something on Facebook, you and sixty other people liked it, next level, you commented on it, “Congratulations!” Alright, you and fifteen other people did that.
And then there’s something about, how can you buy ten of their books and do a giveaway? How can you create a launch party for them? The launch party could be just that you’re Tweeting about them a lot for a day.
How can you make that author’s day? How can you signal to other people that you love this book, or this is a genre that you love? You’re active, you’re one of these people they should know. Not by doing anything really outlandish, but really getting very specific about who cares about this work, who are the types of readers?
Who are the types of authors? Type of maybe Instagrammers or podcasters or librarians who love these books, and then how can you connect with them in some way that’s not just using a platform the way everyone else is?
You can definitely use Twitter or Instagram, but I think that the least crowded channels are the ones that people feel have social risk. People, I think, are much more comfortable now, to get on Facebook, and ten years ago, they weren’t because I couldn’t get anyone I knew to join Facebook back then.
But now, there’s little social risk in following someone, in liking a post, in re-Tweeting it and leaving a review on Good Reads. And I think that when you email someone, when you say, “Can I interview you? Can I feature you?” These things have social risks, so people don’t do them, but I think that they’re really powerful.
One thing I try to have authors do is email an author whose book they loved. And it can be a bestseller, but it’s better if they’re not super duper famous, but if they are, that’s fine. I can’t tell you how many times I ask them to do that and they say, nothing but, “Oh, they’re never going to get back to me. They’re too busy. I’m wasting their time. What am I going to say?” All the barriers.
They send the email, and a day or two later, they get an email back and the author says something like, “You totally made my day. Thank you so much. I’m so glad you love,” whatever book. And that reader feels amazing. And it sort of unlocks something.
It unlocks the idea that marketing and publishing and readership is very much about those connections. And we can pretend that before social media, that didn’t exist, it was just the author writing by themselves in their attic, and then the publisher did all the marketing.
I live in New Jersey, my mom grew up in the lower east side of Manhattan, my dad grew up in the Bronx. I’m very New York-centric. And don’t tell me that publishing in the 1970s and 1940s wasn’t concentric to the social circles that you knew, about who you knew, about launching, about all the things that didn’t happen ’cause we had no social media, it’s just been updated now.
I think that people have these tools. It’s not about, should an author use Instagram or Facebook? It’s how do you use these tools to connect in a very personal level with readers or with people who will connect you with readers.
James Blatch: Let me pick up a couple of those points. First of all, a little counterintuitive and you hinted at why it was important to do this type of thing, for an author to laud another author and be seen to do so because they like them, giving them a lot of publicity and drawing traffic to them.
This goes back to what you were talking about at the beginning, which is the trust.
Dan Blank: It’s trust. It’s also thinking about what kind of life do you want to have as an author? And most authors I talk to or I hear from, they’ll say something like, “Ugh. Now I have to launch my book or market my book.” And it’s like, they put it off as long as they can.
They’re putting on the full wetsuit to protect themselves from all of the bad things, and I try to think about, well that doesn’t sound like much fun. I have plenty of author friends who, they have a whole community of other authors and it feels great.
The clearest illustration of this, I would say, is a promotion I did with an author Miranda Beverly Withermore a few years back where we’re going through a book launch with her, we had our spreadsheet and we got to the point where it said … you know, she texted me, she’s like, “Ugh, we’re up to the point the spreadsheet where it says, ‘Do a giveaway.'”
She just said all the things she didn’t want it to be. And she didn’t want to do it. And we said, “Well, how can we make this really great? How can we make it feel generous? How can we want to be a part of it?”
What we ended up doing was pulling in a third person, who was Julia Fiero, who runs the Iowa Writers Workshop in Brooklyn. She knows a lot of authors. And what we did was we said, “Let’s find a whole bunch of other authors publishing their book that month, who are kind of in the same general field. And let’s give their books away.”
So, what we ended up doing was pulling in about 25 other authors, we, for 30 days featured an interview with each author, we gave away their book each day for 30 days, we gave away grand prizes. Everyone gets all the signed books with of all the authors.
What we did was we created a program that people wanted to share. Nobody wants to share that you’re giving away a $9 book. That’s not some huge thing like, “Wow! I want to really share this!” When you’re sharing, you’re celebrating 30 other authors, when you’re giving away all these books, when you’re sharing why they wrote those book and who they are, first of all, what author doesn’t want to wake up and hear, “Wait a minute? You’re strategizing how you can promote my book?” That’s an author’s dream.
It pairs them together so they don’t feel lonely anymore. You have 25 people feeling like, “Oh, I’m not the only one freaking out this month. We’re all freaking out. I can support them.” And that really spread. I got to talk to people and they’re like, “Oh, that was everywhere!”
What it meant was, for Miranda, she established closer connections with other people who care about these books, and it just felt great. And it felt like it’s not just something you’re doing for marketing, like you’re tricking people then you run away from it, she still has deep relationships to this day.
It felt like something where, “Oh, if this is the life of an author, I’m totally good with this.” And that was a part of why we would do something like that.
James Blatch: Great. And okay, so let’s move into the detail again.
You talk about that one-on-one contact being the strongest, the direct message, I mean, there’s ways of automating direct messaging.
Are you talking about that or are you talking literally about, either you reaching out to your readers or encouraging … and Mark does this, he encourages his readers as much as possible to email him and message him and he replies to every one. That’s more what you’re talking about.
Dan Blank: Exactly. Automation to me is … you’re missing all the value in automation. One, when people find out about that, they don’t feel good about it, but two, a lot people don’t know. They don’t know anything about how to talk about, how to communicate about their work.
When you talk to just a couple readers even, you’re like, “Oh, that’s interesting. And they said this or that. That’s why they read this kind of book.” And you learn how you can talk about your book without feeling spammy. You learn where there’s common ground.
This is just a wonderful opportunity. And it’s something that I think a lot of people resist because they say, “Well, I’m busy. I can’t get any more email.” What if the email is about your books? What if the email is about topics that you write about that you love?
I find this is an incredible research tool. A lot of people talk about Facebook analytics and Google insights and … all this stuff, which can be useful, but understanding how and why people talk about these things, how you can engage them in conversation and not feel spammy, that is like gold. That’s the type of thing that a one-on-one conversation will tell you.
And then you can use that for other things down the road, when you say, “I’ve got a marketing plan for a book launch. How do we describe the book in this context? What do I do in an interview? I don’t want to just talk about the same thing again. We’re going to do this other promotion. How do we talk about that in a different way?”
You have all that data already, ’cause you’ve had hundreds or maybe dozens of conversations along the way.
James Blatch: Dan, how do you teach this stuff? You’ve got your own little place on the web.
Is this through online courses, books, one-on-on consultation?
Dan Blank: Something I started nine years ago and I started right off of the course, Build Your Author Platform. And a few years back, I told myself that I’m not allowed to do anything that doesn’t have one-on-one collaboration with it.
The ways that I do it always involve me. There’s the free stuff. I run a podcast, I run a weekly blog. I’ve had the blog and the newsletter for 14 years, the podcast is weekly.
Beyond that, what I do is I try to be involved with it. I do one-on-one consulting with authors, and that’s going to be a very high touch, personalized thing.
Then I run programs. I run a quarterly mastermind group, which is like an accountability group where I’m in there every single day. In that group, there’s a group of ten other writers in a group. And each day I record an original video for that group; I’m answering their questions and collaborating with them. And we’re going through a three month period together to pick a specific goal for each person for that three month group.
I launched a program recently called Human Centered Marketing for Introverted Writers. And that’s more like a course. Although I don’t call it that. And that’s something where we go through a four-week program. It’s focused entirely on action. Giving you a strategy you can take after the fact, but every week, you have a very simple action to take.
Every week I do a personal video for each person in that group. It’s usually a 10-15 minute video. You’re getting a collaborator in that process. And I tend to find that’s what writers need.
We’re at a point now where there’s so many podcasts and blogs and Tweets and to do lists that you could do a thousand things for your life as an author this year and still feel horrible about yourself ’cause you missed another 500. And what I feel a lot of people need is a collaborator. They need someone else to work with, someone to get a read on.
They need to meet other authors who are someone like myself, someone like you, where they can actually get feedback on it. And I think that just throwing people into a big group and saying, “Here’s a community: ask them questions,” is very different than having a group of one or three or ten people that are kind of on your team in that process.
Those are the ways I tend to work with writers.
James Blatch: I think you said that you’d put together a PDF, and five steps, or something, essential steps. It might be worth it. We’ve talked relatively generally, but to give some people some takeaways from this interview to talk through those steps and I should say, we’ll set up a place where people can download the PDF, if we go to SelfPublishingShow.com/connect. This seems like a good word: connect. And we’ll make sure you get that PDF.
Takeaways for people, Dan. What are the must-dos here?
Dan Blank: What I try to think about is a practice that you have, establishing these practices. One thing I always encourage people to do is take one action per week to reach out to someone who is a reader, and we’ll use the term … it’s not a great term, but an influencer, someone who connects with readers.
If you can do one thing a week to send an email to pick up the phone, to ask someone a question, what that means is that 52 times a year, you’re getting some kind of data back about something that relates to your book. And it’s ideal if you do it way before you’re going through a book launch.
One way to do that is obviously what we talked about already is getting a sense of … I guess one thing I’ll have people do is I’ll visualize the book launch: “Who do you hope talks about this book? What do you hope happens? How many reviews do you hope you have? What do you hope they say?” And that lets you visualize, well, if I want 30 reviews in the first month, I guess I’d better get to know 30 people who read this kind of book.
If I want to be interviewed on these podcasts, I guess I’d better start really thinking about those podcasts, listening to them, supporting them. Maybe reaching out to them. Getting on their radar.
It can be very strategic in that manner. There’s plenty of times we’ll build a launch plan a year or more ahead of a book. And some of it’s just doing that research a lot of people don’t do.
Another thing is getting really clear about how the marketplace defines your work. One thing I’ll have people do is define their comps by really doing their research. Go to Amazon … a lot of people have no idea where to start with comparable books, but if you can start with one place, Amazon and GoodReads gives you some hints at other books to follow.
And then, if you can find five or ten books you think are in the universe, read every single review for that book. Take note of keywords that come up again and again, take note of how readers talk about these books because suddenly, when you say, “Well, what’s going to go on my website? Why am I doing this now?” You have that language, what drives them to that book. You start thinking about how they want to talk about these books, you start building a content strategy for maybe what you share on social media.
And again, these things are done when you’re a year or more ahead of a book launch because this is something that you’ve got to learn over time. And likewise, I think you need to experiment, you need to be putting things out there consistently, not because I think you should take time away from writing or drive yourself crazy.
People have assumptions about how a book launch or how marketing works, and most of those times, those assumptions are wrong: it was a good idea, that give away was a really good idea, but for some reason it didn’t hit, it didn’t scale.
And we tell ourselves these stories about how it works. And I’ve got an example just from this week. I interviewed illustrator Rebecca Green for my podcast. As a second interview I did with her, she has a quarter million Instagram followers. And right after the interview, she did a Instagram story, she tagged me, and it was a swipe up to listen to Dan’s last podcast with me and then the next day, she mentioned me again.
You know how many new followers I gained on Instagram from that? From a quarter of a million? I think it was six. And the chance of those six people still following me a month from now, maybe 50%?
We tell ourselves that if we do these things by numbers, that, “Well, if I can get half of 1% of her people, then I can convert them, and I do this funnel,” that this is how it all works. And sometimes it does work that way, and I do plenty of launch strategies with people that do that, but you can’t count on that.
The sooner that you have experiences where you’re experimenting … kind of like this week, I didn’t … I was not interviewing her to do that and I’d no expectation of it, but it was neat to see that actual data and say, “Huh. I can see an author pin their entire launch strategy on saying, ‘I’m going to be on Mark Dawson’s podcast and he’s got … and I’ll make up numbers here … quarter million downloads, so let’s say 5% of those people buy my book, and let’s say 1% of those people leave a review and …'” And then they do that and it’s a wonderful experience, but they end up jaded and disappointed because the numbers don’t actually pan out.
It’s something I encourage people to do to figure this out before your book launch, so you know the types of things that might work because you’ve experienced it.
James Blatch: The philosophy here is … obviously you do need scaling. Authors don’t want to sell 12 books a year, they want to sell 100,000 books a year, so you need some amount of scaling. Is the philosophy you’re talking about here and I don’t know if this is an expression that works in America: look after the pennies because the pounds will look after themselves. Do you have that expression, look after the cents ’cause the dollars look after themselves?
If you work on the small bits and pieces, the sincerity, the outreach, talking to people, being generous, being interested and outgoing, then the bigger things start to look after themselves?
Dan Blank: It’s a good point, I’ve never heard that expression before. I do think that that is actually what does scale. Because the podcast is a good example too, where when you have these real connections with people, they start recommending you to other people. And they start doing these things where that is actually what scales. And sometimes you don’t know how it happens, you’re like, “How did they hear about me? How did I get that?”
And again, this is something I notice from being very New York-centric, is I’ve plenty of friends who write for big magazines or big newspapers. Look at the bylines in these newspapers and for one of these Sunday features, when they followed an author around for a day, “What’s the life of this author like on a typical Sunday?”
You start noticing circles. You start noticing that they pull from the same pool of authors that they trust. That some of the people for actually writing some of the guest articles, they’re from people they feature, you notice, “Oh. I know some of these people. So, he knows her and she knows her and she knows her. That’s probably how they found that author.”
These relationships that don’t feel like they scale because they’re one-on-one are actually the things that actually does scale because this is how word of mouth marketing works.
I think the alternative is, I’ve talked to so many authors who will say, “I’ve won this award and that award and I have … ” I mean, literally, I’ve had authors say, “I’ve 80,000 followers.” And I’m like, “Okay, cool. Can you tell me about a typical follower. Why does someone follow you? What are they engaged with?” “Oh, I don’t know.”
Because they try to scale first. They bought those followers. They outsourced it to someone else who’s kind of Tweeting for them. And you have these big numbers and you have no insight about who these people are, what engages them. And then the problem is that when you get really nitty gritty with marketing plans and outreach, you don’t know where to even go ’cause you don’t know how to talk to them, you don’t know anywhere to start.
Whereas, if you have 20 people who love your work and you say, “Okay, what should I do?” And if you have like an inner circle like that, well suddenly you have a lot of ideas, you have a lot of people who are going to spread that to people, and I find that that is really where word of mouth marketing starts.
I don’t know if this is totally true, but there’s a phrase: the only marketing that works is word of mouth marketing, and of course whatever you and Mark teach. But we’ll add that in.
James Blatch: Of course. That’s like the other one: half of all advertising works, we just don’t know which half.
Dan Blank: Yes. I love that one.
James Blatch: I’m also thinking about authors and I’m writing a book myself, and that idea that you talk to people and they give you feedback and that, in itself, is a bit of a step for some authors. I say this to myself: part of me doesn’t want to hear, “It’s not for me,” or “I didn’t like the way that worked.” You have to have a mental jump just working with an editor on this.
The idea of basically crowd sourcing your next project is a little bit scary for some people.
Dan Blank: I don’t view it as crowdsourcing, the work itself. Your writing is your writing. I think that when you look at the idea of publishing: publishing is a business in the way a lot of people look at it with book sales and authorship. And maybe separately from that, your identity as a writer is an identity.
I’m a huge advocate for people who want to write or make sculpture or do poetry or photography. And they don’t want to publish. They do it for art’s sake. I think that that is a beautiful and wonderful thing and I encourage people to do that.
If you want to have a career or hobby as an author and you don’t have collaborators, you don’t have other authors you know, then it’s not really going to be a profession. And I don’t mean a full-time profession, but even a hobby. You need to have that kind of interaction.
You need people who will hold you accountable, you need people giving you feedback, you need people who will help you along the way. Every professional author, and again, you can define that really broadly I know, they have that. Because otherwise, you’re lonely, you’re scared, you’re grasping at straws. This is everything, I think, outside of creating the work itself. I do not think you need to crowdsource the actual work.
It’s when you describe that work. It’s when you think about doing a marketing plan. It’s when you think about, “Huh, I’m a private person: how will I be public with this?” How do you bridge that gap between not saying, “Well, you’ve got to become an extrovert?” That’s not the right answer. How do you do it in a way that gives you an identity and an experience where you’re being strategic and also feels good?
Again, I think this is where the benefit of being in my 40s helps, where I’ll look back to those communities at a local club or a local bookstore, a local café, where there was a community around poetry, there was a community around music, there was a community around sculpture and art. And those people had to leave their house to be a part of that community.
It wasn’t spammy, no one came out there with their business card. It was a matter of being public. And that is inherently what publishing is.
James Blatch: Yeah. The public, in publishing. Hadn’t thought about that before.
Okay, this is a fantastic approach for people to think about. And I can’t remember it, it’s probably a bank or someone very corporate, I think, had an expression about thinking global, acting local. Or something like that. But it is sort of that. It’s basically, look after the people in front of you. And again, goes back to that other expression.
But to bring a little bit of corporate world into it … and we talk a lot about how if you’ve got an Instagram account there’s no, as you say, there’s no point in building up an audience for the sake of it, how is that going to help you? And one of the things we hear from people is that … and it does sound very corporate, you’ve got to be on brand.
When you do all this stuff, when you do talk to people, there’s got to be some consistent message from you, right? That’s going to support you.
Dan Blank: I think there’s two sides to that.
One is you want to focus. And this is something I see a lot, where a writer is not good at saying that they’re a writer. And they’re not good at focusing people. I mentioned earlier, communication and trust. And communication side of it: you’ve gotta get really clear about prioritizing what you do.
I can’t tell you how many writers I see, their Twitter bio is, “Husband, Mets fan, Tom Petty aficionado, accountant, thriller author.” And it’s like, wow, you want … you’re on Twitter to succeed as writer, but you put everything else first. And you gave this list of things.
I do think that you want to be really clear about how you communicate what you do and putting that first. And then thinking about, how can I share that in a way that’s authentic? “I do a lot of research around my authorship, so let me write about that. I live in Boston. I’m going to be a part of the Boston literary community. Let me share a little bit about that. I love other books that are in this genre. Let me illustrate that I buy these books, I support their authors.”
‘Cause even writing about them, as the word you use, it signals to other people that, if I’m a thriller writer and I’m sharing books about thrillers, that’s the same thing. Or if it’s a TV show or a movie.
I think the other end of it is that, what actually engages people on social media is the really human stuff. The classic example I use is my friend Kate who works in publishing, and years ago, we’re just getting started on Twitter and she’s doing publishing Tweet, publishing Tweet, publishing Tweet, and very middling response and one day she’s in Whole Foods Market on 14th Street and a rat runs by her.
She gets right on Twitter and she’s like, “I’ve never seen so much as engagement as I did with the rat Tweet.” Because everyone can relate to the craziness of that situation.
My friend Lori Richmond, who’s a children’s book illustrator, does this as well. She’s very on brand on Instagram. She shares a lot about her art and the books coming out and her creative process, but late last year, her refrigerator broke, and she lives in Brooklyn. And the ordeal to get a refrigerator that fit into her tiny apartment in Brooklyn, it was an ordeal. And she said, “I’ve never gotten so much reply from people about this refrigerator and where to shop and how to fit it in,” and all of that process.
I do think there’s the way, as you say, being very strategic, knowing what to wipe away, but then knowing how to be a human being and realizing that, like I mentioned Tom Petty randomly, and that connected with you. We’re much more likely to say, “Oh, I’m going to stay. I’m going to follow him on social media. Maybe I’ll connect with him in six months. Maybe I’ll send him something.” Because of that connection.
That really is what people want. They don’t want to wake up every day and market. They want to wake up every day and fill their lives with interesting people and talk about things that they relate to.
James Blatch: You mentioned the Mets as well. Are you a Mets fan?
Dan Blank: Nope. Only an example, sorry.
James Blatch: That would’ve been third thing. ‘Cause I’m a Mets fan.
Dan Blank: Now we can’t be friends.
James Blatch: I think that’s absolutely right. And what I find really interesting following … ’cause I’m … I’ve got a lot of friends who don’t like Twitter. It’s not their platform of choice. I love Twitter and I don’t know if it’s because I quite like politics and sports. And there’s quite niche areas, you can actually hear the real people in the middle of these things talking offhand.
And you’re absolutely right, you watch corporations trying to do it and getting it wrong and it’s hideous sometimes. And sometimes they accidentally get it right. And there’s a good example of that going on that moment with British Airways. I’m a bit of an aviation geek.
British Airways, very corporate company, big Spanish corporation, ironically, for “British” Airways. And their corporate account has very slowly developed, but they’ve got three or four pilots and cabin crew who Tweet as a pilot or a cabin crew and they’re brilliant. And they’re just life and soul people, they love being in different cities around the world.
One of them’s massively interested in showing you little bits of the airplane and why they do this and how they fly. And it’s the best publicity British Airways could get.
And yet, I know from being in that environment, there would’ve been a lot of sucking teeth at the beginning, saying, “Well, this could all go wrong,” and “This is not on brand, it’s not going through corporate, we’re just not going to do this.” And it may have taken this guy five years to persuade them, “Look, can I just Tweet as a pilot?” And it’s the best publicity British Airways could … it makes me want to fly even more on those planes with those people. ‘Cause it’s human.
Dan Blank: I love that. And to bring that back to an author: if we think about what is the process of writing like? I’ve heard plenty of, “Oh, people don’t want to know how the sausage is made.” And it’s like, sometimes they don’t. But oftentimes they do. They’re fascinated that one human being can create a whole universe.
I interviewed an author Joseph Finder recently, and he’s written books and he’s had his books made into movies. And he said, “I’ve been on set with Morgan Freeman,” and that, and it’s like, “There’s 500 people here to make this movie for a book that I wrote by myself.”
And I think that the British Airways example is really great to think about, well, what is it that’s interesting here? Because it could be the writing process, it could be the research, it could be the whodunit?
So, you write mysteries, you’re not going to write about that, but it’s like, people watch TV, they watch movies, they’re classic movies. What’s that whodunit moment? I can write about that.
Maybe there’s something about, I’ve got typewriters behind me. The vintage instruments: what is a writer, and there’s somebody I follow, Danni Shapiro on Instagram and Twitter and, she gets very deep with these things. She’ll take a tone. This resonant, deep, almost spiritual tone because that’s what resonates with her and her readers. And it’s not exactly what her book’s about at all, but it resonates with the tone of what her books are about.
James Blatch: Being genuine, being sincere and enjoying connecting.
Dan Blank: And I do think you can spreadsheet this out. You can actually create a spreadsheet of saying, “What are the five things I could write about?” And you could say, “Writing process: well, what does that look like? I guess it’s my daily practice? I can maybe, every time I write, I’ll create a little graphic or I’ll have a typewriter there and I’ll do a photo on Instagram.”
And you can say, “What’s the editing process? Or vintage things?” You can really do a whole mind map to figure these things out if you’re like, “I don’t know what to share on Twitter. My book doesn’t come out for a year.”
I do think you can also be strategic. It’s not just this vague word of being authentic. Because authentic is a little too broad. And sometimes authenticity means people just want to watch sports for nine hours in row. And that doesn’t really help when you’re trying to figure out a Twitter strategy for your author life.
James Blatch: You could be too honest sometimes.
Dan Blank: Yes!
James Blatch: Dan, it’s been brilliant talking to you. You better tell people where they can find you and I’ll give the URL again as well, to get the PDF, in a moment.
Dan Blank: Sure. I’m at WeGrowMedia.com. And then on Twitter and Instagram and all the social media, I’m at @danblank.
James Blatch: Excellent. And you’re going to put together this PDF of handy tips to get started. And we will give that away. It’s at SelfPublishingShow.com/connect.
Dan, it’s been great talking to you. We found a lot of common interests, apart from the fact that you’re yet to be converted to the glory of New York’s most losing major league baseball team in history, the Mets, but you know, there’s time. When you get to 52, maybe you will have discovered them.
Dan Blank: Yes.
James Blatch: Do you just not follow baseball at all?
Dan Blank: I don’t. My family does, but I don’t.
James Blatch: There you go. Okay, well, I’ve got some work to do.
Dan, thank you so much indeed for joining us today, it’s been brilliant.
Dan Blank: Thank you.
James Blatch: Hello, Mark.
Mark Dawson: Oh dear.
James Blatch: Speak now!
Mark Dawson: Oh dear.
James Blatch: You are occasionally human, which is nice as well. Is this something that you think about? I know it is something you think about because I read your emails and I know you write them as a personable person.
Mark Dawson: Absolutely. If you’ve taken either of our courses, you’d know that fundamental to my whole philosophy is to reach out to readers. I hate saying that, “reach out … ” Is to talk to readers.
James Blatch: Are you in the four tops?
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Exactly.
Is to talk to them like you’re having a conversation with a friend. That kind of boils down to the way I look at it. And I think readers … anyone, really, can tell when someone has written an email, written correspondence with that in mind, rather than approaching it in a formal fashion.
I’ve seen lots of emails from writers whose lists I’m on and you can tell when they’re working too hard and they don’t have that informal touch, and it can be a little cold and it feels a little bit inauthentic. And it doesn’t make me want to continue to buy their books sometimes.
It’s a fairly simple change that you can make to your correspondence with your readers, but it can have a really big impact, make a big difference to your career.
James Blatch: And one of the key things is … and we talked about this in the interview is that you are what you’re selling, effectively. People are investing in an author. We all like our favorite authors and we say that. We say we like our favorite author. We don’t say we like those books. I suppose you might do, but really it’s an author who you become attached to.
That’s different from selling a car or running an airline or anything like that. You can get away with more corporate language there, but we shouldn’t be. We should be talking to people one on one.
That resource again that we talked about in the interview, is SelfPublishingShow.com/connect is the place to go to download the PDF “Five Ways to Immediately Connect with Readers”, because relationships sell books, Mark.
Mark Dawson: They do, yes. Exactly. It’s a good tip. And you’d be well advised to remember that when you finally release your book, some time in the next …
James Blatch: I’ve had to interrupt a writing session to record this interview. I’m going back. It’s all happening down in Salisbury in my book now.
Mark Dawson: Ah.
James Blatch: Just outside the cathedral. I knew it’d end up there eventually.
James Blatch: Okay. Good. And on that bombshell, let’s say goodbye for this week. Don’t forget, you can support us at Patreon.com/SelfPublishingShow where you will immediately be enrolled as a student in the Self Publishing Formula University. And have a lot of resources immediately available to you. And we’re building more of those in the future.
Don’t forget our mini podcast, son of podcast, or daughter of podcast, on Wednesday, live on Facebook, probably around 4pm UK, we think. Which is what? 8am in Los Angeles, bit later in the day … three hours later in the day in New York. And if you want to be on that, your opportunity to be a guest on daughter of podcast. That’s it.
Thank you very much indeed Mark. Plans for the weekend?
Mark Dawson: I’ve been running around all week with my daughter in … sorry, with my son because he’s on holidays now for an effing month. So I’ve done practically nothing this week. Today has been a fairly busy day.
And then at the weekend, I think I’ll be parenting. And then I’m back again in Lostoff on Monday with my daughter this time for another week. Lots of driving. Ten hour. I’ve, what … ? Five hours driving yesterday with my son. And he wouldn’t listen. He wouldn’t watch his iPad. He just wanted to talk to Daddy.
James Blatch: Superb.
Mark Dawson: And after, I don’t know, 50 miles of 5-year-old nonsense, I was about ready to crash into the central reservation, but anyway … we’re still here.
James Blatch: My favorite conversation with my son, who I think was nine or ten, and we were driving through Norway to go skiing, long trip through Norway … it’s just me and him and he spent the entire journey saying, “I know there’s a rude word that begins with C. What is it?” And I said, “I’m not talking to you about that. Your sister should not have spoken to you and said there’s another rude … ” “There’s a really rude word. It begins with C. What is it?” And on and on and on.
He almost found out exactly what that word was by the time we got to our destination. There you go, well, these are lovely moments we’ll treasure for the rest of our lives.
Mark Dawson: Yes, I’m told that’s true. Yes.
James Blatch: Good. Well, look, have a good time in Lostoff next week. We’ll be on the podcast again next Friday. Until then, have a great week reading, and a great week writing and great week selling. Do all three of those things. Add another reading in. And that’s it. It’s good by from him.
Mark Dawson: And it’s goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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