SPS-169: Six Indie Mistakes to Avoid – with Alessandra Torre
Every author learns from their mistakes and when we know better, we do better (to paraphrase Maya Angelou). Wildly successful author and publishing teacher Alessandra Torre shares the six things she’d do differently now that she knows more about publishing.
- On the recent removal of barriers to publishing
- Offering a conference live and then via video
- The six things Alessandra would do differently with her writing career
- Including signing a six-figure contract with Harlequin
- On the perils of changing genres
- The benefits of connecting characters across books
- The necessity of tracking ad spend so you can see what’s working
- Balancing writing with a side-hustle
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
CONFERENCE DISCOUNT: Go to Inkerscon.com/dawson to save on conference registration, including the digital conference, from Inkers Con
LIVE EVENT: Mark will be speaking in June at Slaughter in Southwold
Transcript of interview with Alessandra Torre
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.
Alessandra Torre: I have groups where there’s four of us and we’ve all signed NDAs and we share everything. When they have a release, I know how much they make, I know what they spent on advertising and I know what day they had what sales. But it’s great because we can all learn from each other and we can see what works and what doesn’t without all of us having to make those mistakes.
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: Hello, and welcome to the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: How are you, Mark Dawson?
Mark Dawson: I’m all right. Well, we try not to mention the weather, but it’s hard not to today because it’s lovely outside. So I’ve just been for a walk. I haven’t even had my lunch yet because I’ve had a phone call about five minutes ago saying, “Could we record now rather than in 15 minutes time?” So I haven’t even eaten today.
James Blatch: You bark to my demands. What do dogs do? You can demand they sit, stand, anyway.
Mark Dawson: They do bark.
James Blatch: Yeah, they do bark. I am going to McDonald’s. I mean, other fast food restaurants are available, but that’s the one I’m going to because Cambridge United are at home, the glorious Premier League football team. Except they’re not Premier League, or glorious.
Because it’s holiday time. It’s Easter. Happy Easter to you. At the moment, kids are off school, and that is a mixed blessing for us. We get to spend some time with our children. It also massively interrupts the daily routine of our lives.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Other religious festivals are available.
James Blatch: Yeah. Happy Hanukkah.
Mark Dawson: Yes. It is busy. I came to the office today, and the little complex where my rooms are was locked because everyone else is having a holiday.
James Blatch: Not us.
Mark Dawson: Not me. Too much to do.
James Blatch: Too much to do. Well, you haven’t heard Alessandra Torre’s interview because I’ve just recorded it with her, and I think you’re going to really enjoy it because there’s a lot of parallels between the two of you.
She’s talking about the things she would’ve done differently, and I can hear you saying almost word-for-word about a few of them. Not collecting email addresses early on in the career and all that sort of thing.
But also starting a non-fiction business. So she has her own courses and teaching and some of the pitfalls of that. So a really interesting conflation, hearing her talk about it. But a really, really good interview. It’s quite long as well, so we’re going to get onto that very quickly in today’s podcast.
And one of the reasons why we’ve got Alessandra in now is because next week, at the time we’re recording this, releasing this podcast, she is convening a live conference in Dallas called Inkers Con, but they are investing heavily in the video production side of it and you can attend the conference a month down the line, so a month also from now.
It will be available to you after all the editing’s done. I mention this in the interview and it’s clearly not going to be a case of sticking a small camera 50 feet back from the podium. This is going to be properly produced video, and that’s available to you.
She’s also done a discount for listeners to the Self-Publishing Show. We do mention it in the podcast, in the interview, but I’m going to give out the link now so you can go and check this out. At inkerscon.com/dawson. So Inkers Con is I-N-K-E-R-S-C-O-N dot com, forward slash Dawson.
Mark Dawson: It’s very public school.
James Blatch: Very public school. All right, Dawson.
Mark Dawson: Why can’t it be a forward slash Mark? It’s much more friendly.
James Blatch: I called you Dawson-
Mark Dawson: I’ll have to have a word with her.
James Blatch: … all the way through the interview.
Mark Dawson: Oh dear. James was abused at a public school.
James Blatch: I was slippered, actually, but it wasn’t called abuse in those days.
Mark Dawson: Daisy chains, pick it up.
James Blatch: That sounds very rude. Alessandra has a great track record in writing and teaching in this industry, and she’s brilliant to talk to. Really, really great. I’m so pleased we’ve finally got her onto the show because it was really worthwhile and we’ll certainly have her on again.
I have a couple of Patreon shout outs to go to people who have joined us via Patreon. And that is Brendon Noble from Rockford, Illinois, in the United States of America, and Greg H.. The mysterious, enigmatic Greg H. has also joined us. So thank you very much indeed.
You can join us, too. You get a shout out on the Self-Publishing Show, and you get access to all sorts of goodies if you go to Patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. You can support us for as little as a dollar an episode and as much as three dollars an episode.
And the best thing you get from that, without question, in my view, is access to the SPFU, the Self-Publishing Formula University, not a real university, where we are building a repository of very good instructional webinars, teaching you various aspects of this industry.
And I’ve just added in … it’s in two places now, but there were some calls for it. I’ve just added into the SPFU the GDPR podcast episode as a place people who can easily go and hear the various arguments around GDPR and to get some ideas for that. And let’s not mention GDPR again because it makes Mark shiver.
Next week is a book lab episode. We are featuring Michael Parker, whose book The Boy From Berlin has been put into the laboratory, and that is coming up. It’s a very interesting one. I would say quite a lot of criticism, critique-ness, coming Michael’s way.
And then, of course, Michael reacts to that at the end of it, so it’s an interesting and intriguing one, but it’s a learning experience for Michael, a learning experience for us, particularly those of us starting out on our careers. So that’s next week’s episode.
I’ve been talking a lot. You need to say something. You’ve talked about the weather.
Have you finally caught up with your writing, because I think you were feeling a little bit stressed the last couple of weeks?
Mark Dawson: Well, not stressed. Just, yeah, slightly irritated that I’m slightly behind. I’ve had a patchy week of writing up, but I decided to light a fire a little bit, so I’ve actually put the book up for pre-order now.
I’ve put it up for the maximum of three months. It definitely won’t take three months to publish, but at least there’s a date there and I can start to collect pre-orders now. I suspect it will be finished by me by this time next week, and then it will go out to my editor, and then I’ll start the advance reader team process after that. The cover’s there, obviously. I’ve put a blurb together, and it’ll be ready to go pretty soon.
James Blatch: That feels like a bold strategy.
Mark Dawson: Well, yeah. But I know that it won’t take three months, so I’m not concerned about that. I mean, you can delay it
by a month once a year, if you have to. I won’t need to do that. But you can also bring it forwards.
So I suspect it will actually be ready for sale end of May, or perhaps middle of May. That’s where I’m looking at at the moment. So I’ll just bring it forwards and then everyone who’s pre-ordered it at that point will get it delivered when I click the button to say when it’s ready to go.
James Blatch: And if you cancel it, you get banned from pre-ordering for a year?
Mark Dawson: If you push it back once, you get banned. And if you cancel it, you get banned. So basically, that date, I think it’s like the 17th of July, I’ve got to go. So yes, I’ll be hitting that deadline.
James Blatch: Shall I put this on pre-order?
Mark Dawson: No. That’s a really bad idea. Well, if you can have like a year pre-order then maybe. Even then, I’d be nervous about it. There’s another typo.
James Blatch: There’s lots of typos in there. My dad’s been through it with his pencil. See all those crosses on there? A lot of that is-
Mark Dawson: “Rubbish. Rubbish.”
James Blatch: … what he describes as RFA protocol errors.
Mark Dawson: Oh dear. Excellent.
James Blatch: Good. Look, let’s move straight onto this interview. We can have a quick chat off the back of it, but it’s a really worthwhile one with an excellent voice and an excellent personality in the indie and publishing space, Alessandra Torre, and she’s speaking to us … In fact, I don’t know where she’s speaking to us from. Somewhere in Eastern Time. North Florida, is it? North Florida.
Mark Dawson: Florida.
James Blatch: Alessandra Torre. Welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. How great to have you on here.
Alessandra Torre: Thank you. I’m excited.
James Blatch: Now, you’ve been a little bit a part of the SPF community for some time, actually, but we haven’t ever spoken. We’ve never got you on the show. We’ve never interviewed you. So I’m quite pleased today we’ve got you on here because you’re a figure in the indie community and the publishing world.
Alessandra Torre: “Figure” is a strong word, but I think it’s a great connection for us to meet, because I think we have very similar audiences, and I’m a big SPF fan.
James Blatch: Well, that’s very kind of you. Well, look, we want to hear all about you. You’ve got a very exciting conference coming up which we’re going to talk about, but we’re also going to learn from you. You’re a very successful writer and somebody who blogs and talks about the industry a lot, and I think the theme of this is the mistakes that you’ve made, which is always a great learning point.
Why don’t we start, before we talk about the conference, why don’t you give me the pitch of who Alessandra Torre is?
Alessandra Torre: I’m a hybrid author. I’m both traditionally and self-published, but I started in self-publishing. I’ve written 20 novels, mostly romance, but I also write suspense and erotic romance and erotic suspense.
Two years ago, I moved into teaching online courses and writing, publishing and marketing. So now I juggle both hats. But first and foremost, we’re always writers. It’s just now exciting because I get to talk about writing. It’s such a solitary activity, so it’s nice to have a community around that now.
James Blatch: There’s a lot of similarities between you and Mark, actually, in terms of your journey of writing first and now teaching. And I don’t know if you’re feeling the same thing that we’re feeling at the moment, maybe in the last 12 months, there just seems to have been this sudden growth, this sudden spurt, that the opportunities available for indie publishing are suddenly spread up to the next level.
Are you feeling that as well?
Alessandra Torre: Yeah. The barriers, especially like there used to be so much that you had to have a traditional publisher for. There was still like that old school rules that kept us out of bookstores and kept us out of everything. But now we’ve really taken over.
In romance, especially, it is hard to get a romance print deal because it’s not a profitable segment for them anymore. They’re just not investing in romance because indies have taken over so much, and it’s hard for them to compete with us.
There’s a ton of opportunities, which means there’s a ton of new writers, which means the market is saturated. But there’s always room for a strong voice and a strong book. There’s always going to be room for success.
James Blatch: Let’s talk about this conference. This is very exciting. Before we move onto the mistakes that we’re going to learn from. So this conference seems like a good place to go to avoid making those mistakes and to learn the latest things.
It’s called Inkers Con. Just explain it to me, Alessandra?
Alessandra Torre: Sure. So Inkers Con, I, as I’m sure you have, have attended a lot of writers’ conferences, and one of the ones that was most instrumental in my career was RT, Romantic Times, which stopped. It had its final year last year.
And so, I really felt like for me personally, there was going to be a hole in the market for that. But I’ve also, I have an Inkers group on Facebook with almost seven thousand writers, and they’ve all been clamoring for something. A writing retreat or something.
We started out planning a digital conference. All of my teaching is online. I never get that one-on-one, in person interaction. I started planning a digital conference, and then it became, “Well, we really need to get the speakers all together, so we can be consistent with the video and the sound.” And then once we got all the speakers in one place, it was like, “Well, it seems kind of weird not to allow a writer to be in this environment, so maybe we’ll just bring like 50 writers.”
And so, before we know it, it’s a full-fledged conference.
It’s a five-day event. The first three days are strictly for aspiring authors. Just debut authors or someone who’s trying to write their first book, or is working through their first book. And that’s the bootcamp, and that’s really just one-on-one. We have one instructor for every three students.
And then the weekend conference is for published authors, though we have a lot of aspiring authors, and we have over 20 speakers and 24 classes.
But the really cool thing about Inkers Con, and that’s this May in Dallas, the May 4th and 5th in Dallas, Texas. The really cool thing is, we’re filming everything in high def video. We have two videographer teams on, and then everything will be re-released in digital format one month later. We’re going to have a separate digital conference.
So anyone from around the world, or if you’re busy that weekend, or whatever else, you’ll have a full year to access every single panel, presentation and workshop at Inkers Con. Not the aspiring authors bootcamp, because that is a one-on-one thing. But everything at Inkers Con, you can log in and watch and re-watch.
So the attendees also have access to that live, which is great, because they can attend but you can’t be in two places at once. So we have two tracks going at once. So whatever they miss there, or whatever they want to re-watch later, they can. They have that year of digital access.
James Blatch: You don’t have to put Bella down on the floor. She’s a great addition.
Alessandra Torre: She’s a camera-hog.
James Blatch: If you’re watching on YouTube, Alessandra’s dog, gorgeous dog, Bella, just made a wonderful appearance. Okay, look, I know a bit about video, and it’s my background as well.
Alessandra Torre: I know you do.
James Blatch: I know that it’s easy to do badly, and it’s difficult to do well. And it sounds to me like this is not going to be the … with all due respect to other conferences, this is not going to be the camera placed 50 yards from the podium with an open sound feed into it.
You are employing a professional team to turn this into something that’s going to be easy to watch and a professional course, if you like, online?
Alessandra Torre: Yeah. And that’s one of the reasons it’s a month in between the live conference and the digital, is because at every presentation, we’ll have two cameramen, plus the AV team. And then, we have to add in the PowerPoint presentation later so that those who are watching can see the PowerPoint presentation and the speaker at the same time, and add closed captioning and all of those things.
So yeah. It’s been a learning experience because I wasn’t even really familiar with videography, other than what I’ve tried to do at home with our courses.
I’m really excited. Just everything, the lighting. I mean, we have this huge lighting from far away and you have to have a headlight and all this stuff for glare. And I wanted a cool background, because I didn’t want just a boring curtain. So it’s been everything is very high-end and high quality, and I’m really excited to see how that’s going to turn out.
Because, honestly, this whole live event is really for the video. It’s for us to create that video.
We have over 200 digital attendees, and that in itself is its own little community, which is great. Because normally people from Australia, from the UK, don’t really get a chance to be at these conferences and to hear these speakers.
James Blatch: Okay. Well, we should say it’s soon. So May the 1st to the 5th, as you say. And very kindly, Alessandra, you’ve done a deal. You’ve got an offer for SPF, for listeners to the Self-Publishing Show, and members of SPF community, so we should give them the details, where they can go to get that discount?
Alessandra Torre: Yeah. So if you visit inkerscon.com/dawson. D-A-W-S-O-N. So the live registration is 695, but for SPF followers, it’s 495. So it’s 200 dollar discount off the live registration. And then the digital access is 249, but for SPF followers, it’s 195.
And there’s also a discount on the bootcamp, if someone’s interested in the bootcamp, if they happen to be in the Dallas area, that’s also a 200 dollar discount off that.
James Blatch: The bootcamp sounds amazing.
Alessandra Torre: I would love you to be at the bootcamp.
James Blatch: I would love to be at the bootcamp. I’m looking at the dates first. It might be a bit of a tall order from where I am now, but it would be a perfect place for me to sit.
Alessandra Torre: As much for the personal connections as anything. I’ve made friends at conferences. It’s great to find someone who’s at the same place as you that you can grow with.
And it’s funny because the people that I sat next to we were all on our first book, and now these are multiple New York Times bestsellers. I see them at the top of the ranks, and it’s like, “I know that person. I can call that person. I can ask that person for advice and get an answer like that.” So that’s a really cool thing that, unfortunately, often times you really need to be somewhere to experience.
James Blatch: I think doing the digital version of it is going to just make it accessible to people. Because, best will in the world, I’m probably, unfortunately, not going to be able to get to Dallas in a few days time with everything else going on. But being able to watch the sessions, although not the bootcamp, obviously. But there you go. You can see my mind’s ticking over.
We’ll give that link again. That’s inkerscon.com/dawson. And Inkers Con is inkers, as in inkers, people who write with ink. I-N-K-E-R-S-C-O-N. Sounds brilliant, and we’ll touch on it again before we finish the interview to remind people where to go.
Let’s move onto our learning from your mistakes, Alessandra, which is a pretty good thing to do.
I think you’ve identified six key things that you perhaps would’ve done differently to get to where you are?
Alessandra Torre: Yeah. And we always talk about things you can do, but we often don’t talk about the things you shouldn’t do. I’ve had a great career. I’ve made a lot of money. I have a lot of readers. But looking back, there are six things I would’ve done differently. Shall I just dive in?
James Blatch: Yes.
I’m intrigued by the first one because this is something we should be shouting to people who know nothing about publishing, but want to write a book. I’ve got friends like this and they only know to do the traditional thing. So they often query, and if they’re lucky, they get what they think is an amazing deal put in front of them, and they’re as happy as anybody in the world.
But you’re here to tell us that’s not necessarily the right thing to do, to sign that contract?
Alessandra Torre: Right. My first mistake is that I took a six figure publishing deal. I self-published my first book. It was a massive success. A slow but massive success.
Three months after pub, my book went to auction and we sold it for multiple six figures, to Harlequin. And it was actually in a two book deal, and a sequel.
At the time, I thought I was making good money but I wasn’t making that kind of money. And I thought, “This is amazing. This is the dream that everybody wants,” right? Like a traditional deal. So I took it.
And the reason why that was a mistake, in one way it was great because it really gave me a lot of cash that I could use to then say, “Okay, this is my new career. I am not going back to work. I’m going to write and this is my job now.” So it gave me that security, financial security to move forward.
But this is the big issue. The issue is that I sold them my first book and my second book, which were book one and two of a series. So I then wrote a third book in that series. So I have written two trilogies. Both are owned by traditional publishers.
I could have made myself, as you know with everything you can do with a series, especially a continuing series, and that’s what this was. It was one couple that had three books. I could have made so much more money on my own, and that could be a tool in my tool belt that I could use continually to bring new readers. It is one of my readers’ favorite series.
Whenever I ask my readers their favorite series, it’s that series, and I have absolutely zero control over it. They’ve republished it three different times and with three different ISBN numbers. They change the cover constantly. I can’t organize a sale with them. I have no control over that series.
And readers ask me all the time to write a fourth book in that series, and I’d love to, but I can’t do that until I buy back those rights, because I’m not going to invest more in this couple that I have no control over. So I am trying to buy back that. It would involve me writing a very big check, and that isn’t something that … Every time I come close to that, I’m like, “I don’t know.”
But if I did everything again, I would keep that control for two reasons. One, they published the sequel, the second book in that series, 18 months after the first one, even though they had it in the can. They could have pub-ed it a year before they did. But that 18-month gap killed that second book.
So I would’ve done a lot of things differently, and that was really the first mistake I made was, while it gave me a financial backing to move forward with my career, it’s a huge asset I will probably never get back, even though I would like to.
James Blatch: Sure. And a lot of it, it’s the control for you. It sounds slightly poncy way of saying it, but the artistic control.
This is your creation, your content, and now you’re at arm’s length from it and I can feel the frustration?
Alessandra Torre: Yeah. And if it wasn’t a series, I would just write off those two books, and they would be their own thing. But because it’s a series, it is such a powerful tool that I might as well just not even have.
James Blatch: On the financial side, two sides of this, I’ll ask you about the buyout in a minute.
Financially, have you sat down with a spreadsheet and thought, had you not traditional published it, you would have made more money as a self-publisher?
Alessandra Torre: I would’ve made more money as a self-publisher. It’s hard to know how much money, because I don’t own a single series. So everything I know about series and incomes comes from watching Mark’s videos or having friends who have trilogies or longer series, and knowing what they can do with first free or with a BookBub on book one or things like that.
I’ve never been able to do that myself, because all of my other books are stand-alones.
So it’s hard to know exactly, but I know what a new release could do on book four, and I know if I had properly done it myself, what I could’ve done. My book three in that series was a complete flop, where, at that point in my career, I should’ve … on that book itself, I should’ve made 150 thousand dollars. And instead, I made like 30.
James Blatch: And in terms of the buyout, I mean, this is possible then? So you’ve had a negotiation with the company?
Because some people are in this position and say that the publishers don’t even entertain the idea with them?
Alessandra Torre: Well, my other trilogy, which is with Hachette, that book has earned out its buyout. I haven’t even approached them about buying it back because it’s a profitable book for them.
But to answer your question, I haven’t had that conversation with Harlequin. I’ve had that conversation with my agent, and we’ve looked at what’s owed back on my advance. And I feel confident, if I paid them that money back, they’ve made the money that they’ve paid me, but when you look at the royalty statements, I still owed them several hundred thousand dollars.
I feel confident that, looking at what it is now earning, they’re not even printing the second book in POD. I don’t understand why. So they’re not making any money off the second book, off their own choice. But I feel confident, if I wrote them a check for 200 thousand dollars, that they would give me those two books happily.
At this point, I have to really decide if it’s worth 200 thousand dollars.
James Blatch: I can imagine. You’d have to quietly mortgage the house one night without anyone knowing. Okay. Look, that’s mistake number one and it’s a counterintuitive one, I think, for a lot of people who don’t know a lot about how the industry is changing at the moment and the choice that’s available to you, so it’s a really good learning point.
Alessandra Torre: And just on a side, I don’t want to harp on this too much, but I had a great deal, right? Like that kind of money is very hard to get for a … At the time, I was a debut self-published author, and it was a book that was already published. They don’t even do that anymore.
But most of my students that are coming to me with deals, very excited about these deals, I mean 90% of the traditional deals, I would say, “Do not take this deal.”
So do not chase the prestige of a traditional deal. Do not chase what you think is a big step in your career, unless they’re going to do massive things with this book, I would not take the deal.
I have a book right now that’s out on submission and unless I get something that I think is going to be the next Gone Girl, I don’t want to take that traditional deal because it’s not worth it for me.
But there are traditional deals that are the right move but 90% of them in this market right now, I’d walk away from.
James Blatch: What about authors who just don’t like the idea of doing any hands-on marketing or promotion themselves? Just don’t feel comfortable with that?
Alessandra Torre: I would hire somebody to do the marketing and promotions for me. And the publishing … I mean, it’s not even that much. For three to five thousand dollars. That might seem like a lot to someone, but when you look at what you’re giving up by taking a traditional deal, you’re going to give up three to five thousand dollars in the first six months on royalties, and then never own that book again for the rest of your life.
I meet older people all the time who don’t want to do the technology. You can hire a PA to get you through your first six months of publishing and marketing for not very much money.
James Blatch: Yeah. And there is a growing side industry, growing up alongside the boom in self-publishing, for exactly that. Okay. That’s the traditional deal. Mistake number one.
Mistake number two.
Alessandra Torre: Mistake number two is, I jump genres. You have to write what you love and what’s in your heart, but it would be so much easier for me to market books if I wrote in a consistent, clearly defined genre.
But instead, my first book was erotic romance. My second book was erotic suspense. I’ve written a strictly suspense mystery novel that had no romance or sex whatsoever. I’ve written hardcore erotica. I’ve written soft romance. And it’s just hard. It’s hard to build a consistent audience if you’re jumping back and forth.
That’s another thing students ask me, like, “Oh, shall I get a second penname?” Or whatever. It’s really hard to build more than one penname. That’s really hard.
If I did everything over again, I would pick a genre and I would stick to that baby and I would try not to. But it’s one of those things. It’s a mistake for the bank account, a mistake. But at the same time, I’m writing because I love to write, and I want to write books that I want to write.
James Blatch: So you moved across the genres because you really wanted to write in a different genre and try something out, not because you sat there at any point and thought, “Actually, commercially, I think this is a better genre,” and jumped?
Alessandra Torre: No. In fact, most of the things I’ve written, I’ve said, “This is a passion project and I don’t expect to make any money off of it.” And I try to do one of those books a year, just for my own personal happiness.
James Blatch: And each one of those genres you talked about are highly commercial genres in their own right, so you could easily choose one of them. So what are you going to do now?
Alessandra Torre: Well, right now, I wrote a psychological suspense, which doesn’t really fit any of my genres.
James Blatch: So you’ve done it again?
Alessandra Torre: That was my passion project, yeah. And that’s the one we’re out on submission, so you never know. But that’s one of the reasons why I’d like to bring a publisher, because it’s not my audience.
James Blatch: You’ve told everyone this is a mistake you’ve made.
Are you going to stick to a genre now?
Alessandra Torre: It’s a mistake that I’ve made, yeah. It’s a mistake that I’ve made, but at this point, because I am in so many genres, I have followers in every genre. So writing books that kind of jump outside of those lines, at this point, my audience is very well-versed in pretty much my writing style and they’ll read anything.
I’ll continue down that vein, but it’s something that has certainly made things harder for me.
James Blatch: Do you run a mailing list, Alessandra, and do you have one mailing list, or because of your different genres?
Alessandra Torre: I have one mailing list. I just have one mailing list. I have tags that divide, so that I know who has bought my non-romance novel, so I could reach out to them. But they’re not on a separate mailing list. They do get my monthly newsletter just like everybody. So they are aware of my other releases, if that makes sense?
James Blatch: Sure. Yeah, it does. Okay. Genre hopping. And yeah, we get lots of comments. It’s a fairly frequently asked question in the group is the, how do I market my two different genre books? And a lot of people do type in the comments below saying, “Don’t do that. Just have one genre,” because life becomes a lot simpler, as you say.
So number three of six?
Alessandra Torre: Mistake number three was I didn’t connect books. And I still make this mistake and I can feel myself making this mistake now. It could be so easy for me. I have four books set in Los Angeles. Why on earth did I not have the characters from those four different books interact with each other in telling of those stories?
Because even just one scene that carries characters from a separate book allows me a marketing and promotion opportunity for that book, and for both sides. I can feed business from both sides. And readers love it.
Readers love to see characters from a prior book, an update on their life or a chance to see those personalities, or see them interact with this new couple.
And it’s one of those things, and I can still, I’ll be writing a book right now that’s based in New York and I’m like, “Gosh, I really should pull in my New York audience, or my New York characters.” But it can often feel awkward or like I’m forcing. It’s not an authentic thing.
So when that happens, I always stick to whatever feels best and whatever feels authentic. And if it’s not a natural fit, then I don’t want to force the characters in.
But if I had done more planning from the beginning, and really, because some authors do such a great job of this, they have siblings and spin-offs and everything can kind of work together to sell other books. But instead, I’ve been in this rut of stand-alones where each character is in their own world that doesn’t involve any other characters, and that circles back to me not having series. So I don’t have that opportunity that a lot of authors do have.
James Blatch: Do you know, I’m a little surprised, just from my own point of view, because I’m now thinking about my second book and, as I’m finishing off my first book, and I’m absolutely loving the fact that I’m now starting to write a character who I know is going to be a much … the story will be based around him in, which will be a prequel book. I enjoy that almost god-like ability. Because it’s our decision, right? We create these worlds.
I’m drawn to that, whereas you’re almost resistant to it because you feel it might look clunky and forced?
Alessandra Torre: Here’s the problem. I think you’re starting from a great place, which is the very beginning, right? You’re planning this now when you’re starting the book. What typically happens for me is I’m 70% in the book and I’m like, “Oh, crap. She’s in New York. I have two other books in New York. I should fit in a New York character somewhere.” And then it doesn’t make sense.
Where, if I was starting from the beginning, like, “I know I’m going to use this character and this is how they’re going to work together,” that’s great. That’s what I should be doing.
But instead, I’m starting a book with this idea for a novel and a world and a situation that’s going to happen, and then I’m trying to, after the fact, be like, “Oh, how could I randomly cause her to run into my attorney from this town?” It doesn’t work like that.
There’s only one book I’ve done that has been natural; somebody needed a divorce attorney and I had this divorce attorney from my other book, so it worked out perfectly. I was like, “Oh, I can bring in that person.” But that’s the only time I’ve done it.
And as a result, when I had that big release, that other book sold. It bumped up my back-list, so it worked out perfectly. But I need to do a better job of planning that from the beginning. When I’m sitting down when I’m plotting I say, “Okay. I know this world. Is there a way I can bring in …” or, “Let me look at the books I currently have and see if there are any opportunities of a spin-off or for somewhere else I can take these characters.”
James Blatch: Yeah. It’s your universe. You are god. Sorry, my camera just switched off, because it’s too hot, which is random in England at this time of year, but they can still see me on another screen. That’s fine. We’ll carry on.
Number four of six?
Alessandra Torre: Number four is I ignored metrics in pursuit of action, and what I mean by that is … Metrics is now a huge part of my life, which is the result of each action. And when I really started paying attention to this is when I started teaching, because I wanted to suddenly have a learning opportunity with every action that I created.
If I ran a Google ad, I wanted to know if that actually created sales, so that I could tell other people whether they should be running Google Ads. And so it caused me to look at my business in a completely different way, and one that I should have done from day one.
Because I realized, I’m just running around doing stuff, and I don’t even know what’s leading to what result. I am throwing everything against a wall at a book release and I have no clue what’s working, which means I’m going to do all of that again with the next release, and that’s a complete waste of time and effort and money.
So, my mistake is, from the very beginning, and a prime example of this is Google Ads. I spent 2700 dollars on Google Ads before I actually said, “Huh. Like maybe I should find out if this is working for me.”
And it turned out, 2700 dollars of Google Ads had led to like 44 sales. So it was like I was spending 112 dollars on every sale that I was making through Google Ads. Had I looked at that at week two of Google Ads, I could’ve stopped that. I should have moved that money somewhere else and spent it on something else.
If you are going to make the effort to do something, put in a trackable result as best you can, and one of the ways I do this all the time is on my back-list. I’ll do a newsletter list, or I’ll run a quiet sale that I don’t tell anyone about, over a month long period and I’ll test newsletter … these 20 or 50 dollar newsletter lists that you can pay to be on, and I’ll run them three or four days apart over the month, and then I’ll look at my graph and see, “Okay. Which of these actually made a result?”
And then I’ll put those on my good list, so that when I do have a big sale or something that I’m pushing, I know what is actually effective, what reaches my audience, and what doesn’t.
James Blatch: Okay. Well, this is Dawson territory, the old metrics and he’s keen on them. I love my metrics as well and I pore over a lot of spreadsheet stuff to find out whether it’s working or not.
I think that what puts people off, once it’s set up and once you understand it, actually, I personally find it quite pleasurable and it’s easy. It doesn’t take a lot of time. At the beginning, it’s a mountain.
Because people just don’t understand how links work, and that’s normal. I just want to say to people feeling panicky and like it’s a mountain in front of you is a normal bit at the beginning. But you will crack it. You’ll understand it. There’s plenty of people out there who’ll teach you how to do it.
Good example with the Google spend. And that applies to AMS and Facebook ads and small tweaks to Facebook ads can make a big difference.
But only if you’re paying attention and looking at the results and then checking the figures.
Alessandra Torre: Well, and this is one of the reasons why … not to bring up Inkers Con, but conferences are built … it doesn’t have to be at a conference. Building strong relationships with other authors is huge, because I don’t have to waste 7500 dollars on a Goodreads campaign to see if it’s effective.
All I need to do is have a friend who spends 7500 dollars on a Goodreads, who will then come and say to me how it worked and how it doesn’t work.
And you’re not going to find that with 10 thousand people online, but if you can find a group of five to 10 authors who you are really close. I have groups where there’s four of us and we’ve all signed NDAs, non-disclosure agreements, and we share everything.
When they have a release, I know how much they make. I know what they spent on advertising, and I know what day they had what sales. But it’s great because we can all learn from each other, and we can see what works and what doesn’t without all of us having to make those mistakes, or all of us having to find that success.
James Blatch: That’s great. And that’s a great thing about this community, being able to do that.
We’re up to number five in your list of mistakes, Alessandra, you’re recovering from?
Alessandra Torre: Number five, and this sounds different than what I’m about to say, but I didn’t start with a base. And I’m not talking about a base of readers. I’m talking about a base, period.
When I published my first book, and thankfully, it was a huge success, I didn’t have a Goodreads profile. I didn’t have a website. I didn’t have social media. I had nothing. I had absolutely nothing.
And I think it was because I wasn’t really expecting this book to do much. I remember, the only thing I would do is I would go and I would read the reviews on Amazon, and I remember somebody left a review and she was like, “I can’t find this author anywhere. She’s not on Goodreads.”
And at that point, I’m just like, “What’s Goodreads?” That was where I was coming from. So I Googled Goodreads, I’m like, “Oh. Okay. I’ll create an account on Goodreads.” And then I wanted to reply to that Amazon review and be like, “I’m on Goodreads now.” Which, of course, I didn’t.
But I think back, and that book, which was just a runaway success, I completely lost all of those readers. I didn’t have a newsletter sign-up in the back of my book. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have anywhere for them to follow me. They might have become my most avid fan ever, and I won’t know because I didn’t have that in place.
And I’ll see a lot of people who are like, “Oh, my hairdresser wrote a book.” You don’t have to have everything. It’s overwhelming and it’s hard. But you have to have something. At bare minimum, you have to have a link to a Google form in the back of your book where you can collect their email address.
People, if they love your work, they will want to have more, and you have to give them at least some way to find out about that.
James Blatch: That’s a great one, and again, very similar to Dawson’s early days where he rues the tens of thousands of readers that came and went before he had any way of gathering their information.
I had yesterday a query on an email to us saying, “I’ve written my first book. I’m doing my second. Do you think I should be starting a mailing list now or leaving it for a bit?”
Alessandra Torre: No, wait until book 10.
James Blatch: Yeah. I haven’t even published my book, and believe me, my mailing list is out there and growing. And it’s a
little bit easier, I think, for … In the Dawson and your early days, you were pioneers, and today, you and Mark, for instance, are people who provide a lot of how-to information. So it’s a little bit easier for people, my generation of reader, I’d say.
Alessandra Torre: Yeah, it’s there now. In 2012, I had no idea what self-publishing was. I just happened upon a lunch conversation who told me about it. And had it not been for that lunch conversation, I never would’ve written a book. I mean, because I wasn’t going to query. I wasn’t going to go through all that.
It was in its infancy and I remember Googling like, “How to advertise books.” With my first book, when it succeeded, I was on the phone with Google Ads. That was like the only thing I knew was like, “Oh, I’ll do a Google ad.” And we were trying to do like search results, like you know, I mean, ads.
Now there’s so much more. There’s so much more, which is great. But it’s also a huge amount of information.
James Blatch: Yes, it is. It does need to be taken in bite-sized chunks, but it is doable. We both know people who are not technically savvy, who are primarily writers and never imagined they would be opening a spreadsheet, but they’re doing it now, and they’re enjoying it and they’ve been converted by this.
Google Ads, which you’ve mentioned several times, we don’t teach them. I’m sure you don’t instruct them-
Alessandra Torre: No.
James Blatch: They just don’t work for books.
They work if you’re selling combine harvesters, I guess, or something that costs a hundred thousand dollars, but I can’t make Google work.
Alessandra Torre: The price point, it’s too low. It really is. And honestly, I haven’t even seen success with it with my courses, which is a higher price point, because it seems like there’s so many bots. Like, I think that’s what it is. I think it’s just bots.
James Blatch: That’s interesting, actually, because I’m thinking about it for the pure reason that … YouTube ads do work for us. I mean, they’re much more variable than other ads, but they do work for the courses, not for books. They work for the courses.
And I’m thinking about upping our spend with Google because they’ve changed the criteria on getting access to some of
the features like uploading your own audience to YouTube, which is crucial for its efficiency.
So literally I’m thinking about running Google AdWords just to waste money, so I can get my spend up, which says a lot about that platform.
I think we’ve got to number six?
Alessandra Torre: Last but not least, I started a second business, and I recently was reading a book and … Gosh. I can’t remember. I can’t believe I’ve forgotten her name. But I was reading a book and she was talking about, if each day you get up and you have five kicks of a soccer ball, right? Like that’s all you can fit in that day is five kicks of a soccer ball. And you have two soccer balls on the field, which is what I am right now. I have my writing career and I have my teaching career.
I only have five kicks of a soccer ball. So I can divide it between the two or I can use it to focus on one. And a soccer ball is going to move so much further down that field if you just have one soccer ball and each day you kick that soccer ball five kicks.
I love teaching, but I see a lot of people who start side businesses in the author career, and if you’re also doing editing or you’re also doing cover design or you’re promoting other authors, or whatever. You’re starting a blog to do whatever. Or a YouTube channel, or even something like that.
Again, I love teaching because I need both in my life, really. It helps me compartmentalize. But it definitely has taken away income from my writing career because I can’t focus on novels all day.
With all the prep we’ve done for Inkers Con, I haven’t written a chapter in a book in a month. So if I look back at mistakes I made in my writing career, that has stopped my books’ success to a certain point because it is a second thing in my life.
And by all means, I am not saying, “Quit your day job and become a full-time writer,” because there can be a lot of people who are on that thing like, “Oh, I have a job.” Writing full-time puts so much pressure on you and on your books to succeed. So I don’t suggest anyone do that unless they’re really strongly in a position where they can do that.
But for me as a full-time writer, I’m almost not a full-time writer right now because my courses and the conference take up so much of my time. I would be more successful as a writer if I wasn’t teaching. But, again, it’s one of those, it’s a mistake but it’s a mistake I happily make for my own … I make so much money.
I want to be happy.
James Blatch: I don’t want Dawson to hear this answer, because his side-hustle is my first business.
We work closely together and when he is at his most stressed about things, it’s when he doesn’t have time to concentrate on his books because the SPF work becomes overwhelming.
But his answer, and I’m trying to manage this with him, is to bring in more people, increase the size of our team, keep him as a strategic decision-maker and less hands-on.
Is that an option for you?
Alessandra Torre: I do have a team now, and that helps. And I think part of it’s I really just enjoy it so much. And definitely a huge thing this year has been Inkers Con, because, for me, it’s something that’s really important to me personally. So I have made myself the ringleader of that, which I didn’t need to do.
But all of the speakers are friends of mine, and a lot of the readers are my students. A lot of the attendees are my students. So it’s something that I have made into a full-time job, when I could’ve just turned it over to a team.
I need to be better about that, and I am becoming better about that. But I should probably go down. Mark is really great at having experts on his classes and he’s not the sole voice of his classes.
For me, in my classes, I am that person in front of the camera every day. Or, not every day, but when we record those. But I am starting to transition that as my team becomes more capable. And my team is made up of mostly business people, so they’re not in the author world. But now, for the last year and a half, they have become their own experts in the author world. So I can really move more stuff onto them.
James Blatch: That’s fantastic, Alessandra, to learn from the things you perhaps would’ve done differently. And a nuanced argument, I think, because you’ve benefited from some of those mistakes, but at the same time, think that maybe it would’ve been a bit different.
And let’s just wrap up with, I mentioned again, as you just mentioned, Inkers Con. So you’ve got this conference coming up very shortly. So we’re recording this on a Friday, on Good Friday, in fact. The podcast will go out a week today, and the conference is the week after that, so people have got just a few days to register. So you might not get a lot of live attendees out of this, but you may-
Alessandra Torre: It’s a little tight with live attendees. Next year we’ll have to do this. Next year, I really hope to have Mark himself there. But what I think will really appeal to those of you who aren’t in the Dallas or Texas area or can’t get to Dallas, or if you’re watching this video two months from now, the digital access, it will be available for a full year.
Or you can always pre-register for next year, for digital or for live, that’ll be up in a month or so.
But the digital access, you’ll get full access to all 24 presentations, the handouts, the PowerPoints, and you can re-watch that content as much as you want.
And for some of us, like a lot of the aspiring authors who are attending live, they don’t need classes in Facebook ads now, but in nine months, they’re going to. And in nine months, they might have a series, or they might want to learn about pushing their back-list or things like that.
So the great thing is, even though there are things that might not apply to you now, over the next year, you’re going to have a lot of those needs that you might not know. And we have classes in everything. We have legal issues for authors, business productivity, writing more words, increasing your word count, marketing, advertising and craft. So it really covers everything, and it’s all genres. It’s not just romance or just something else.
James Blatch: Is there a Facebook group or a community space that goes with this?
Alessandra Torre: Yeah. So Alessandra Torre Inkers. And really, if you search “Inkers”, it should probably come up. That’s our free group. You can get a lot of content there, and we talk about the group. And then there is an attendee group.
James Blatch: I’m just thinking, the benefit of networking that you talked about from the live attendance, there is some element of that with the digital access as well.
Alessandra Torre: Yeah. Digital access has its own Facebook group. So you have to have a ticket to be a member. But yeah, it has its own Facebook group and we’ll be doing our own digital conference weekend when that comes out. So there’ll be a lot of networking opportunities then, as much as we can. Digitally, we’re really working to make that happen.
James Blatch: Cool. Okay. So inkerscon.com/dawson. I’ll get there in the end. Alessandra, I said you’re a figure in the community. You’re very impressive indeed. It’s been really brilliant talking to you. I know this interview is going to go down really well on the show, so I’m so pleased we finally got you onto the Self-Publishing Show.
Alessandra Torre: Absolutely. I’ll come back any time.
James Blatch: At some point, we’ll meet at a conference, maybe yours in a year’s time, we’ll see.
Alessandra Torre: Absolutely. I hope so. I hope to see you guys there next year.
James Blatch: There we go. Alessandra Torre. Now, I have the advantage on you because I’ve just done the interview and you haven’t heard it yet.
She really did spell out some of the things I think you will have some sympathy for, in the way she’s gone through it, but the very interesting … One was right at the beginning of that, which where she said her number one mistake that she made was signing a traditional deal for multiple six figures because, despite all the money that came to her at the time, it was the wrong thing to do, and that’s really interesting to hear someone saying that.
Mark Dawson: As we record this, the interview with M. J. Arlidge has gone out. Matt Arlidge, which is last week as people listen to this show. And he has the opposite opinion in that he’s had a very good experience with his deals with Penguin and Orion. But it’s not for everyone.
There are different ways. That’s the beauty of publishing these days is that there are different options available depending on what you want.
So you might want the stability, perhaps, of having a publishing deal with advances so you know what money’s coming in over the next couple of years. Or you might want to have more control and do it yourself.
Obviously, I cleave towards the latter. Alessandra, the same. But other writers like Matt are more comfortable with trad.
I think with Matt, it was also a case of, he doesn’t know what’s available the other way. He was still feeling his way into the industry even after four years.
James Blatch: Well, most people don’t, Mark. Most people who write a book think they’ve got to get an agent and get a traditional publishing deal, and don’t know about anything else.
Mark Dawson: I know we’ve mentioned that before a few times that people listening to the podcast are ahead of almost everyone when it comes to people who are interested in writing, in that we … our listeners have taken the time to … Well, number one, know that there are podcasts available like this one, and also have found us and are listening to us. So that immediately puts people ahead of the queue. I saw that lots of times over the last couple of years. Doing press, national TV, radio, that kind of stuff. It’s very evident when you do that that people have no idea what’s possible.
And when they get an inkling of what you can do with your own publishing industry, your own publishing business like what we’ve got, they tend to fall off their chair and quite quickly reassess their priorities. Or not. It’s fine. It doesn’t matter. There are options for everyone.
James Blatch: Absolutely. And it’s still the right choice for many people to go down a traditional route. Okay, so just one more time, that link to Inkers Con, which is this online conference. Well, live and online conference, that Alessandra’s organizing in Dallas-Fort Worth next week. It is inkerscon.com/dawson.
The digital version of that will be available in about a month from now, and I think it’s available for 10 months before they start building up to next year’s. I think they want to get you there next year, so it may be even that we have a closer role with it next year. We’ll see.
Mark Dawson: You should also say that that is an affiliate link, so if you go and sign up through there, we will get a very small slice of the fee.
James Blatch: That’s 95% I’ve negotiated.
Mark Dawson: Exactly. No, it’s good. I’ve seen the agenda, and there are some interesting talkers, speakers there. So it’s definitely one that I wouldn’t have a problem in recommending that, and Alessandra is the real deal. So very happy to put that out to our audience as well.
James Blatch: She is. Okay. Look, we have a big episode next week, and we may even be wearing the same clothes for it.
Mark Dawson: Oh dear.
James Blatch: Which is book lab number five. So we look forward to seeing you then. Thank you so much indeed for joining us this week. It’s a goodbye from me.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from him.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Mark Dawson: Goodbye.
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