SPS-211: My Year in Review – with Mark Dawson
Mark walks us through the last year of writing, publishing, advertising and more, with reminders about keeping an eye on what actually goes into your bank account, and that starting small is not only possible, it’s practical.
- Updates from the world of publishing
- Mark’s revenue growth in 2018 and 2019
- An update on the print only deal
- The strategy behind the marketing push for a print book
- Thoughts on how forward-thinking publishing houses are changing the deals authors can get
- How Mark gets his audiobooks produced
- The risks and rewards of a big advertising spend
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
Voiceover: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.
Mark Dawson: These days I could spend five dollars on an ad and make us an immediate sale of, say, four dollars, which looks like a loss, but I know the read through on that is about 10 to $15 worth. So it’s actually a very, very good investment. You’re taking those principles and then applying them to slightly more scary numbers, but the principles are just the same.
Voiceover: 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 James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Here we are for another week of banter and laughter, and there’s no interview this week. So it’s 40 minutes of pure banter.
We’re going to be looking back at 2019 and the year that Mark Dawson had. The driving authorial force… Is authorial a word? Authorial’s a word-
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: Authorial-
Mark Dawson: Authorial is a word, yes.
James Blatch: Force behind Self-Publishing Formula. So we’re going to find out what’s been happening in the world of being a best-selling author in 2019. Good. How are you Mark?
Mark Dawson: I’m all right, not too bad. Yes, looking forward to 40 minutes of unmitigated banter.
James Blatch: Yes. Good. Well we’ve got a couple of things just to do before then.
First of all, I want to say a thank you to Easton Charles Livingston for becoming a Patreon supporter. I think I may have said his name wrong last week. So I just want to correct that right at the beginning. Very welcome, Easton. Thank you very much indeed for supporting us.
You can go to Patreon.com/selfpublishingshow if you want to be a part of this show and get some goodies in return.
A couple of things in the news, publishing news this week.
Velum have got a new version it gets ever better, a tool I think we both really like and enjoy using and it’s particularly for illustrations, which will now go right to the edge, to the bleeding edge, as I believe they say in publishing, and some of these screen grabs look very nice.
It’s not something that’s going to be of particular relevance to most authors who simply write novels, but there is a growing collection of people for whom those illustrations are important and the print version of it and your ability to make it look, again, as good as anything that gets printed by Clay in St. Ives, whoever the big printers are in the UK and in the US.
So that looks very nice, onwards and upwards with Velum.
I was also going to mention ConvertKit had a slightly strange announcement, generally, because I got briefly excited by it because I’ve often thought… Mailchimp have grown and Mailchimp, they are a massive default mailing list provider.
Mark Dawson: You could say that they’re the gorilla in the room, James.
James Blatch: They’re the gorilla in the room, and you’re, for instance, with Mailchimp to this day and that’s largely down the fact that when you shopped around at the beginning, they offer a free service for you to get going and it lures people in. And then it’s quite difficult moving away from a service provider. People are so reluctant to do it. So they end up there. Very good tactic.
Now, I thought it was a bit odd of Mailchimp last year to make that slightly less of a good offer, their free service, but they may have had their reasons for it. But nonetheless, there is still a good free service there.
ConvertKit, who people do move on to very often if they want to become slightly more sophisticated with their mailing list provider or one of the others, MailerLite and so on, they didn’t have a premium free bit, but they announced they did.
I posted it into our group thinking oh, this is quite good. ConvertKit have got a free bit. This could be a big game-changer, but then you read the details, and it was so restrictive to be, I would say, not really worth it. To the point where… Well, firstly to say that you can’t send an email on the free service on the free plan of ConvertKit.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, which kind of defeats the point of an email service provider. So, basically what they’ve tried to do is get you to build your list and then when you’ve got your list, obviously you’ll want to send email. So at that point, they charge you, but it’s just a terrible business decision.
I like ConvertKit. I think it’s a good service, but they’ve made a couple of really, really thick-headed decisions over the last 18 months. There was that whole rebrand where they… They did a Blatch basically and insulted a religion. What did it change to?
James Blatch: I can’t remember what it’s called now.
Mark Dawson: It was a Hindu god or something like that.
James Blatch: Something like that, yeah.
Mark Dawson: It was something like that and it was just they hadn’t thought that through, and then quickly reversed back and changed back to ConvertKit again, which is a perfectly decent name. I suppose it doesn’t really say what it does, but it kind of does I suppose. It works and people knew it.
And then this latest decision, non-decision really, just basically a worthless offer. And it would annoy me as well. If you signed up thinking oh great, I’ve got a free plan. I can send some free emails, then you realize you can’t, it’s actually I think-
James Blatch: Counterproductive.
Mark Dawson: A little bit deceptive. So not the best decision, I think, on their part.
James Blatch: No. If you sign somebody else up you get 100 free slots, email slots. You can send emails to those 100, but woof.
Mark Dawson: Woo hoo.
James Blatch: I know. It is odd. Anyway, okay. So thought I’d mentioned that.
Also, I keep meaning to mention the Cops and Writers Facebook groups. So we had Patrick O’Donnell on. This cop in Milwaukee, been a lifer. He was coming up. He was something like two months away from retirement when we interviewed him and-
Mark Dawson: He’s been shot.
James Blatch: Well we’ve all seen that film, right? We know what happens when somebody’s two months away from retirement from a lifer on the violent streets. There’s going to be Carlito’s Way moment at the end.
Mark Dawson: Just one more mission.
James Blatch: Just one more mission. However, he did his one more mission, and he’s retired.
Mark Dawson: Oh good. Excellent.
James Blatch: And he’s safe and well, which we’re delighted for Patrick. Anyway, he mentioned this Cops and Writers Facebook group in the interview that we recorded in Las Vegas in November. I sort of dialed into it a month or so ago, and do you know what? It’s absorbing. It’s a really brilliant group. I think you’d enjoy it.
Mark Dawson: Probably, yeah.
James Blatch: It’s populated by cop real cops and attorneys. So people type in things like, “So you’ve arrived. You’re the first cop on the scene of a dead body, a couple standing there. He’s holding the knife and says he did it. What are your immediate actions?”
Then cops weigh in and say… Well they sometimes disagree a little bit about their procedure, but really useful stuff for somebody writing. Obviously, in their mind, they know the woman killed and the man’s going to take the blame. So they’re trying to understand how it all works and lots of threads like that.
The body is discovered in this position. What do you do next? And attorneys weigh in. “Can I get my diary back if it’s evidence in a murder trial,” was a question today, and you get attorneys explaining the differences in states.
It’s a really interesting little Facebook group. Once you start scrolling down these threads, you get lost into this world of expert advice and people’s real life experiences on the frontline of law enforcement.
Mark Dawson: You murder things every Friday.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: Names.
James Blatch: I do.
Mark Dawson: Geographical locations.
James Blatch: Probably Easton Charles Livingston. He’s got lots of name checks now though. Yeah, so I thought I’d mention the Cops and Writers Facebook group. I definitely think you should plug into it at some point because you are, of course, developing a little police thing in the background, which I guess we’re going to talk about. It’s possible. That’s a 2020 project really isn’t it? But…
Mark Dawson: Yes, it is.
James Blatch: And the final thing I’ve got to say in the banter bit, which you can skip at your peril, and lots of people said, by the way, in response to our rants last week that they really enjoy the banter, which was lovely. Lots of love for the bants.
Final thing to say is you may have noticed I’m wearing some merch. I am wearing a Mark Dawson Self-Publishing Formula hoodie and mine, if I get up here, oh. I have one of these logos. Hang on. So you will remember, Mark, you can explain this better than I can, that you had an insulting email-
Mark Dawson: First of all, remember that this is a podcast. What are you wearing James?
James Blatch: Oh yes. Yes.
Mark Dawson: Describe it for the audience.
James Blatch: I’m wearing a hoodie in a rather fetching gray from Amazon merch store. It has the Mark Dawson Self-Publishing Formula logo in the top left and then a main logo, which I have chosen. There’s lots to choose from.
You can simply have the Self-Publishing Show, which looks really cool, but you can also choose one of these levels, which was devised, it comes from a sort of in joke in our Facebook group following a very snarky email to you about you being a journeyman writer at best. People took all the various insults from this email and turned it into a list of your earnings level as an indie author.
I think I have the top one. I think this is a million dollars a year plus, isn’t it? No, I think that’s yawning hippopotami.
Mark Dawson: Yes. Yawning hippopotamus, and you’ve basically broken the rules by wearing a shirt you’re not entitled to wear.
James Blatch: Yeah, I have.
Mark Dawson: There needs to be penalties for people who do that.
James Blatch: In my defense, this was the very first one we uploaded to the shop. We wanted to order it to find out what it looks like. Look, you can go to selfpublishingformula.com/merch and you can be the proud owner of a the-shirt, a Self Publishing Formula or Self-Publishing Show t-shirt or hoodie.
And I have to say this is really good quality. I mean, hoodies and t-shirts are what I live in being a child who never grew up, and this is really good quality. I’m really impressed with it. So I think it’s £28 in the UK. So I guess that’s like 33, $34 for the hoodie-
Mark Dawson: Which is basically as cheap as we could make it. We’re not making any money on these. We uploaded them. Actually, there’s been quite a lot of work.
Kudos to Catherine for a lot of work getting these designs uploaded, and also to Sarah who’s our designer, and John as well. He’s been working on-
James Blatch: And John who’s in India sitting on the veranda putting this store together, as we speak. But it is live, and you can buy them. Now, not everyone in every country can buy it just because Amazon merch store doesn’t deliver to every country. So I did notice some quite big countries like Spain, not on the list and Italy.
Mark Dawson: It’s not that they don’t deliver. This works just the same as KDP print. So there is a big cell, like a print cell. There’ll be a t-shirt print cell attached to a big Amazon warehouse, and I’ve been to the print cell in Milton Keynes for the UK. There may be more than one now, and there’s… Obviously, there’s a few in the US, but not ever geographical location has one of those yet. What they’re not going to do is print it in the UK and ship it to Australia because Amazon’s business model doesn’t work like that.
So unfortunately, some of them aren’t available. We might see if we can work out a way that we can get people in different countries. We could always buy them and then ship them on or something like that. I’m sure we can figure something out.
James Blatch: Yeah, drop something into the group if you’re desperate to have one, and why would you not be desperate to have one and we’ll sort that out for you. I think it ships to about 56, 57 countries. So it does ship to most of the big ones.
Mark Dawson: Right.
James Blatch: Yeah, Selfpublishingformula.com/merch, M-E-R-C-H, and there they are.
I’m just scrolling through now. They look good. I think the logo ones, the Self-Publishing Show ones look great. It’s a woman’s t-shirt which is slightly more fitted, and then a man’s t-shirt hangs down straight.
Mark Dawson: Which one are you wearing?
James Blatch: Actually my t-shirt’s in the wash because I’ve been wearing it all week. So back to just wearing the hoodie. This is a medium hoodie which fits me perfectly, I’d say. No, I am impressed. I think they’re going to be great and I think a lot of people would turn up to the Self-Publishing Show live in March-
Mark Dawson: Well that’s the plan.
James Blatch: Wearing this. Yeah. Then hopefully London Book Fair.
Now, we are going to have a look back at your year 2019. Now this is all a mystery to me. Well not a complete mystery because I work alongside you every day of the week, and you never stop droning on about everything you’re doing, but I don’t know exactly how you’re going to stage this.
Mark Dawson: Nor do I.
James Blatch: Why don’t I ask you to start off by saying did you have particular things you wanted to hit in 2019? I know you’re not a big resolutions man.
Mark Dawson: No, I’m not, and I don’t really hit targets. I don’t go for targets either.
Obviously I want to get growth. I want to grow the business from year on year. So in 2018, for the first time I hit seven figures. So I did $1.1 million in 2017 revenue. So that’s not profit. I don’t exactly know what profit was in that year, but obviously thrilled about that.
I think I hit the million in about… I remember it was about end of November, and I remember being in my study upstairs refreshing my book report waiting as it got to 999, 998 knowing that out of the next few refreshes it might hit that seven figures, and I wanted to get a screen grab of that the moment it happened, which was pretty nuts to think that that was possible. I would have never said it was possible when I started doing this, but that was cool.
I wanted to try and beat that if I could, and the good news is I did beat it. I posted, I have been posting for about 18 months now monthly income reports into the Self-Publishing Formula Facebook group.
I could see that we were on track to do that, and I think I went through a million round about July or August last year, 2019, and actually ended up with, just from KDP. So it doesn’t include a few other things which we might get onto, but just from KDP it was 1.579 million last year revenue from those KDP book sales. So that includes what I call a la carte sales and also Kindle Unlimited page reads.
James Blatch: Sorry, that’s ’19? 2019?
Mark Dawson: That was last year, yeah. Last year. And the breakdown, I didn’t actually… I was taking a few numbers down as kind of so we might want to touch on some things, but I don’t have the split between KU and sales. I think it would have been around about 50/50 and this year it has been a little more towards KU. So 55/45 I think this year in terms of KU, which is quite interesting. So definitely that part of my audience is growing at a faster rate than the sales audience.
James Blatch: Okay. A couple of things changed for you or sort of new ventures in 2019, and one was a new print deal. Just explain to us because obviously you couldn’t upload your book and have it as print on demand on Amazon, but you obviously felt you were missing out some other outlets.
Mark Dawson: Well yeah, nothing has actually happened with that deal yet because the first book hasn’t been published. But I think I probably do about two to $3000 a month from print on demand.
That’s people going onto the website, probably from seeing an ad, and then clicking the format that they want and they prefer print. So it isn’t people buying them in stores. It’s people buying them on Amazon and then getting them downloaded. Obviously, that’s not to be sniffed at. That’s about as much as I was making at the-
James Blatch: And getting them printed you should say.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Yeah, printed and sent out, yeah.
Mark Dawson: Yes, yeah. Just like the t-shirts and hoodies. So that has been pretty good. It’s not to be sniffed at. That’s a pretty decent three or 4000 a month in terms of just print. That’s excellent.
But it definitely isn’t touching anywhere near the level that I could hit if I could get into supermarkets and Waterstones and airport bookstores and Smiths and places like that.
So what we’ve been working on, and I had a phone call this morning actually about this, and I’ve seen the cover of the new edition. The Cleaner comes out in print with a big marketing push and will be in all of the stores, supermarkets, everywhere as far as we know around about I think it’s the 20th of June this year. So that could have the potential to generate a pretty significant return.
James Blatch: That seems like a long lead time to me. I mean to the type of timescales that you work to in publishing, that is a long time between deciding something and it being on the shelf.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, there are reasons for that. It’s going to be in hardback and we want to make sure we have first of all we time it so that it’s not going up against the new Lee Child book or new James Patterson book.
Also Tesco’s will only have about six slots every month for new stuff that they’ll promote at the level that we want them to promote. So we’re bidding against other publishers to try and win those slots. So what the sales team has had to do is sit there and work out which, in the same way that a film will be pitched depending on what else is coming out and what availability there is and what the market is like in that time.
We could publish it in March. What we don’t want to do is go out in March when we’re not ready. We only get one chance to launch this. We don’t want to eff it up the first time. So we want to make sure that everything is aligned.
So once that first one is done, then we’re probably looking at two a year. We may do another one this year, but then 2021 it will be two or three books. That is the plan, and not necessarily all in hardback.
Of course, we’re doing paperback out and just fire those out. Sorry, I’m just laughing. People on the podcast won’t be able to hear this. James’s mic keeps raising itself and it’s a little bit phallic. I have to just kind of-
James Blatch: Are you finding it quite erotic?
Mark Dawson: I’m finding it a little bit erotic. Yes, it’s a bit strange. It just keeps rising up.
James Blatch: It’s really annoying. This is a really expensive arm as well. You’ve got one. You’ve got the same one haven’t you?
Mark Dawson: I think I do. Yes, I do. Yeah. Mine is resolutely erecting itself. Anyway, yes-
James Blatch: You can get a blue pill for that.
Mark Dawson: You can. Yes.
James Blatch: Okay. I might weight it down with something whilst you’re talking your next rambling or your succinct answer. Okay, so that’s exciting.
Famously Barry Hutchison on this show said that he calculated that book in a supermarket of his netted him something like 11 pence.
I suppose the next question is is it going to be worth it for you?
Mark Dawson: Yeah, but Barry would have been on about 10% of those cover price. I’m on 50%. This is a joint venture. It’s nothing like a traditional deal. It’s just print only. It’s JV between me and a publisher, up and coming publisher whereby I put in the IP, the actual content, and then they put in the money.
So I don’t even have to fund the new work that we’re doing or the sales team or the printing or anything like that. That’s on their side, and then once that’s taken off the revenue that we generate the remainder is split 50/50.
James Blatch: Excellent stuff.
Mark Dawson: So yeah.
James Blatch: So very similar to the indie publishing houses of which Joffe books and others that we’ve mentioned on here and Fuse books, which is the brand new imprint, the new entry to the market of which we’ll talk about more in a future show.
But things have happened in the background on that, which is our venture of course. That’s great because we’ve batted on about this for a while about the changing nature of the industry, one that’s more fair and equitable to authors than the industry used to be. Doesn’t have all the overheads and cumbersome nature of that industry.
I guess this company is running quite lean. They probably just a couple of them doing everything. There’s low overheads.
Mark Dawson: Oh no, no. There’s about 50 staff now.
James Blatch: What?
Mark Dawson: I mean it’s a… yeah, yeah. This is a-
James Blatch: How are they doing 50/50 deals then and the traditional publishing houses do 10%?
Mark Dawson: Because they are much more forward thinking than the traditional houses.
We can’t talk about that in any detail today but it’s a whole podcast episode perhaps with a guy called Mark Smith who’s the CEO. We’ll get him on the podcast. He’s entrepreneurial like me.
So the two of us, we think the same way. So yeah, nothing like a traditional house. Very, very different kind of structure.
So that was the headline figure, and that doesn’t include things like Thomas & Mercer. So there’s another 100,000 or so from Thomas & Mercer for six books, maybe more than that now in the Isabella and Beatrix series. Doesn’t include Audible. So that’s another 60 or 70,000 in there as well.
James Blatch: Can I ask you about those deals?
Where does Amazon sit next to Fuse and Joffe at one end and traditional publishing at the other end in the type of deals they offer out?
Mark Dawson: Not quite as generous, but much more generous than would be the case for a normal operation. I don’t think I’m actually allowed to talk about percentages.
Anyone who’s published by an imprint will know what that is. It won’t be that different from person to person, but it’s not something that I can talk about on the podcast.
James Blatch: I’ll go through your rubbish bin next time I’m there to see the contract. Okay. Well, I guess that’s why we’re getting some big names coming across to Amazon because it’s the comfort of a large organization that knows what it’s doing and also a much more generous deal than they would have been getting for the rest of their writing career up until that point.
Mark Dawson: Dean Koontz was interviewed by Forbes or the Wall Street Journal, something like that, just talking about the deal that he did and he’s either moved completely across or is publishing fairly heavily with Amazon going forwards and had a couple of six short novellas that I’ve enjoyed actually.
I’ve read about three of them. They’re very addictive. They’re quite cheap. You can get them in KU, and I think they all generated a significant amount of money. They wouldn’t even have been published by a traditional house just because they don’t really fit the model, the 20,000 word shorts. Maybe even less than that. So yeah, that’s all interesting.
So that’s looking back, focusing back on what we’re talking about is those add into the bottom line this year.
Then I haven’t touched on things like non-fiction income, by which I kind of put that down as SPF. That’s the bucket that that goes into. We won’t go into that in too much detail. Perhaps we do that another time, talk about how that works for us.
Then in terms of the geographical split, so I had a look at that and 70% of my income comes from the US, 24% from the UK, 2% from Germany and 2% from Australia. And just because I’ve been focusing a bit more on Germany, I suppose over the last six months, but especially since the turn of the year with more Milton books going into the market.
The split at the moment, so for January, is 63% US, 26% UK. So a little dip in the US there. 6% Germany and 1% Australia.
So we’ve tripled the German share, and I suspect that will continue to climb. Over the last few days, it’s been between 450 and 500 euros a day just from German sales, and that’s with nine books I think in total. Five Miltons, eight books, three Beatrixes, and I’m pretty excited about that.
That’s with minimal advertising as well as I mentioned last time. Still only really firing a few AMS ads into that. Not doing too much else right now. So almost all organic.
James Blatch: And remind me on your March into Germany, have you outsourced very much of that to people? How much it is hands on once you’ve sort of paid for the translation and so on?
Mark Dawson: Everything is the same as it would normally be with me. I upload it. All I don’t do is I don’t do the translation because I can’t speak German, but once the translation comes in, I format it through Vellum, which is very easy.
I upload it, I monitor it, I run the ads. I may need to get ad copy translated and things like that, but apart from that… Anything that involves language I’ll need help on, but the business principles are just the same as it would be for anywhere else. So I’m best placed to continue to do those.
James Blatch: Can we talk about audiobooks before you talk about what you want to talk about?
Mark Dawson: Yes. What would you like to talk about?
James Blatch: Is every book you do now automatically at some point you do audio? In which case, how do you do it? What’s your deal?
Mark Dawson: Every author should do audio now, and it’s easy to do it. If you want, it can be free. So yeah, everything I do gets an audiobook and the way I tend to do is by licensing the audio rights to Audible Studios. So that’s the studio behind Audible.
There is lots of reasons why I prefer to do that. It’s first of all, they’re good. They know what they’re doing. Most importantly, they are also the store. So as I’ve said before, I want my producers to have skin in the game. So they go to the expense of producing the audiobook and then everything else that goes with it, QC and uploading and all that kind of stuff, they’re going to want to recoup that money. They can recoup that by running promotions and email blasts and things like that.
That has worked quite well. Most of my books have done well. I think I’ve hit top of the store a couple of times, at least in the UK. So that’s one way to do it.
The other ways are, I’ve got about three books with ACX, which is the Amazon company whereby you can find a narrator and they can produce the book. They can upload it for you, all that kind of stuff.
James Blatch: Is this the one Gemma Whelan’s doing?
Mark Dawson: No. That’s Audible Studios.
James Blatch: Okay.
Mark Dawson: She wouldn’t be on ACX. I don’t think you get too many famous narrators on ACX. She would be found by Audible Studios themselves.
The other option, which I am considering for the Atticus book, which probably comes out in end of next month or the month after that, is to use a third-party producer. So someone like Tantor or Podium, both of which have offered on that series, which is really great.
I’m just weighing up at the moment which I prefer. Whether Audible, which actually I’ve had three offers on that series now from Audible, Tantor, and Podium. All quite keen to try that out. I’ve got to make my mind as to which of them I want go with, which is going to be something that I’ll do in the next three or four weeks.
James Blatch: How important is Audible and audiobooks in your income?
Mark Dawson: Well, I mean last year it was about 60 to 70,000. Probably a touch more. Maybe about 80,000 in total for audio income. So it’s about, I don’t know, 5% or something like that.
I think others do a lot better than that and it is something I could probably optimize if I wanted to. You get a high royalty rate by doing it through ACX that you… Top of my head, I don’t recall exactly. I think it’s 30% or something like that whereby if you want to pay for the upfront recording, which I think would cost about two to 3,000, you can then own all those rights.
Then anything that you make going forwards on that you would take a a much bigger chunk. The deals with Audible Studios are much more restrictive in terms of the amount they’re prepared to offer as a royalty.
Again, it’s one of the things I probably could think about, but there’s only so much that I can do, and I have to prioritize where I want to spend my time. I don’t know that I want spend my time in queue seeing 10 hours of audio. Whether I can get someone else to do that is another question, but then I’ve got to manage them, and it’s just more hassle and work. But on the other hand, I quite like money, and I could probably make it a bit more that way.
James Blatch: Good. Gemma Whelan. I’m excited about her doing your books. She’s quite prominent in the UK at the moment. Obviously, she was in Game of Thrones, but she’s starring in this ITV crime drama based on real murders, which everybody seems to be watching at the moment. So she’s high profile at the moment.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, she is. So that’s available now. She’s done the first one. It’s been up for about six months and she’s down I think to do another Beatrix one when I finish it.
I’ve actually sold a Beatrix book without having written it. So, by the end of the year, I’ll need to have done that. So no pressure on me for that one.
James Blatch: Good. Okay. So we’ve done your German foray. We’ve done your Audible books or audiobooks, I should say, and your overall figures and your print deal.
What else was big for you in 2019? What changed?
Mark Dawson: Well spending because we’ve done revenue. We haven’t actually done outgoings, which turnover is vanity, profit is sanity or something along those lines. You know, terrible business buzzwords.
But anyway, it’s all very well saying you’ve made one point whatever, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect what goes into your bank account.
It was an expensive year last year. There’s no two ways about that. I’ve mentioned this I think on the podcast before. I went to Seattle in November to talk with the AMG team that I’ve been working with. So that’s Amazon Media Group.
I’ve curated high, big scale as on Kindles, typically Kindle Fires and on the Paperwhites and Oasis and all that kind of stuff, the e-readers. One of the first things they did, they sat me down on like the 50th floor of this skyscraper looking over Seattle, and they walked me through what my year had looked like in terms of the impressions. I must have had 100 million impressions last year. They were everywhere.
Then of course you got to how much they had cost, and as I think I said before, they said, “Well, you’ve spent half a million dollars this year.” I was like, “Right, okay.”
Now obviously I knew how much the checks I’d been writing or… Well, I don’t write checks, but how much I’ve been sending to Wells Fargo every month when I was invoiced, but seeing it in those terms as an aggregate was slightly sobering.
Half a million dollars in terms of ad spend was ridiculous, but there you go. That’s what it was, and that was one of the reasons why I drove very high sales on Amazon.com.
Again, it’s a long-term play. These are all new readers. So they’re introducing them to the first book in a 16 book series with two spinoffs on top of that. If readers read into that series, they’re worth quite a lot to me.
So, obviously I’ve sat down and to the best of my limited mathematical ability, I’ve worked out what I think I can afford to spend in order to generate future profits, and that is within the ballpark.
James Blatch: Are you saying that your half a million spend was basically breakeven at this point?
Mark Dawson: No. It might even be small loss. If you look at actually just on the clicks and the sales on that ad, it would have been a loss. They calculated it. The metric they use is called ROAS, return on ad spends.
It’s basically the money you make divided by the money you spend. Obviously you want to get as close to one as you can. If you can get to above one to two to three to four, that’s when you’re making profits. I imagine, I don’t have this number off the top of my head, but ROAS would have been 0.5, something like that. So on that basis you could say, I’ve wasted a quarter of a million dollars.
But now, realistically, that’s not a waste. I don’t do things like that, and it’s more than probably, not certainly, in the long-term that will be made up as readers then go, “I’m going to read book two or I’ll go and read all the way to book 10 or book 16.”
Then of course, I’ve got more books coming out that they can read as I’m introducing them to more books in the series.
James Blatch: So that actually disproves the old adage about turnover being vanity because it’s important here that your turnover will go up, your profits will go down relatively because of higher turnover with no profit or little loss, and yet it’s an investment in the long-term.
I think this goes back to your fundamental point you tell authors about making business decisions, being a business person because I think no end of authors would simply… I’m not going to say they wouldn’t have the vision to do that, but they would be turned off of making a cold hearted and slightly risky business decision based on such amounts.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. If you think about it, if you look at it that way, it would seem to be quite risky.
We get this a lot when I do webinars; people look at the amounts that I spend on advertising and they find it very hard to take the things I’m explaining and then apply those things to their own circumstances because the numbers are so big.
That’s fine, but it was like that when I started. So I may have spent five dollars on a Facebook ad and then maybe I made 2.50. Now that would like, again, that’s a ROAS of 0.5, but the reality of it is that those ads are worth… these days I could spend five dollars on an ad and make an immediate sale of, say, four dollars, which looks like a loss, but I know the readthrough on that is about 10 to $15 worth. So it’s actually a very, very good investment.
So you’re taking those principles and then applying them to slightly more scary numbers, but the principles are just the same.
James Blatch: How trackable are AMG ads?
Mark Dawson: Reasonably. I mean you get a rep, and I have weekly phone calls with them when I’m running campaigns, and they’ll send me reports and I can ask for data as I want it. They’ll send me daily emails on how much I’ve spent the day before, how many impressions that served, and how much they think it’s made.
I often find their numbers, in terms of the sales, don’t marry up with what I’m seeing in the KDP dashboard, which is really annoying. They also can’t track KU, which is doubly annoying because up to half of the impact of the ad is not trackable.
What you have to do is I’ve got an enormous spreadsheet now all of my daily ad spend. So all three or four platforms that I’m using, it takes me about half an hour now probably to do it. I’ll plug in how much I’ve spent and how much I’ve made using data that I can see.
The KDP dashboard looking at sales and the KU reads, and then comparing that with what they’ve told me that I’ve spent. I ignore everything else they tell me. So as long as that I made decisions based on what I can see because at the end of the day, that’s what goes into my bank account.
James Blatch: Are you carrying on with that?
Mark Dawson: I am. We ran a campaign starting in January. It was going to be a fairly big one, 40,000 I think it would have been for January. It was a complete failure. I could see immediately it was spending really fast but not generating the sales I’d expect.
So I switched it off, and we’ve had a few postmortems about what was wrong with it, and it was basically trying new targeting because when you spend half a million dollars, you’re getting millions and millions and millions of impressions and it’s quite hard to find people who haven’t seen the ads before.
We were trying something a bit left field, but I thought it certainly had potential. I could see that it would work from, or might work from my Facebook experience, but turns out it didn’t work at all. So we just killed it, and interestingly, sales have remained very healthy this month.
One thing we know in terms of the other platform where I’m spending that it’s not just at AMG, but the monthly expenditure percentage is usually about 40% last year. So I’m spending 40% of what I’m bringing in. This month, the spend is about 10%. Sales are about the same-
James Blatch: Is that including the AMG bit that you spent and then turned off?
Mark Dawson: If I included that, I’ve probably spent about $6,000 on that failed campaign. So not really looking at that, but even if you included it, it’s not going to make a massive difference. You’re probably looking at maybe 15% as my percentage of revenue going onto expenditure and profit has maintained just about the same.
It’s actually possibly about the same, maybe slightly better. So with that being taken into account, the actual profit that we’re making this month is much better than it was last month even with that big spend. It’s interesting. So just keeping an eye on that.
James Blatch: Can we just take a second to praise Jeff Bezos and the Amazon model here because you’re basically paying for the ads. The ads are advertising a product they sell that they get 30% profit from plus a little bit for the costs of delivery and so on.
Mark Dawson: Yep, yep.
James Blatch: And that is a win-win from their point of view. What a beautiful model that is.
Mark Dawson: I know. It’s very interesting how that has developed, but yeah, it’s true. They kind of win twice, which
James Blatch: They should spend 30% on the advertising.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, in theory. I think I’ve tried to make arguments along those lines before and they just basically laugh at you.
James Blatch: I suppose they are running the advertising. That’s the thing. You’re paying in part for people-
Mark Dawson: Yes. They are.
James Blatch: Yes.
Mark Dawson: And they’re very professional. I’ve got nothing but praise for the guys I’ve worked with. I’ve done AMG ads in all three major jurisdictions now; Germany, UK and US and they’re all different levels of success.
US, bigger install base and more people that you can send the ads to, but I wouldn’t spend that much if I didn’t think it was working.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: To show that we’re completely honest about this and open is around about half a million on AMG. Facebook, about 40,000 and AMS about 130,000. So the total spend last year was about $670,000 on advertising.
James Blatch: I’m surprised how little in a way you’re spending on Facebook ads now. That’s really changed around hasn’t it over the years?
Mark Dawson: Yeah, but it also, in this month, it’s completely the opposite. I’m spending much more on Facebook ads. Some of the things I’ve been teaching in the advanced Facebook class are working very well.
No need to go into too much detail now, but slightly working on the targeting a little bit and engagement and seeing people through the reader funnel, the concept that I introduce in the ads class has been working really well. Especially in the UK, I’m putting in maybe $150 a day in terms of UK spend at the moment, and that’s generating 200 to 250. So looking at a pretty good profit. So gradually just turning that tap again and increasing the spend on those ads.
That’s the thing. You’ve got all these different levers. You can pull them all at different times. What I wouldn’t want to do is spend half a million on AMG and then half a million on Facebook ads in the same year. We’ll see.
Maybe we’ll get up to that level eventually, but you’ve got to focus quite a lot to make sure that everything is working as you want it to, and to focus on AMG and Facebook at those kinds of levels is a bit beyond what I have the time to do. So yeah, got to be a little bit careful with that.
James Blatch: Before we move on to the next subject, any word from Hollywood?
Mark Dawson: Still ticking along. They didn’t get any success with the first round they went out to, and NBCUniversal was the studio that was funding that level, early development. They had optioned the book twice.
In other words, Universal had paid me twice for an annual option to give them exclusivity for a year. They decided they didn’t want to do it three times.
So as far as we were concerned, that was probably the end of that project with those people, but then we got a email before Christmas from the producers, and these are the guys that made the Bourne films and saying that they really want to get this done. They’ve now got a financier who is prepared to step in and push it forwards.
So again, I’m so laid back about this. There’s nothing I can do. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t happen, c’est la vie.
James Blatch: I want to be in a limo going down Hollywood Boulevard to some sort of red carpet.
Mark Dawson: Oh we can do that anyway if you want.
James Blatch: Do that anyway, yeah. Just present. Okay.
What else, Mr. Dawson have you done in your busy 2019?
Mark Dawson: Well you may as well also note the other expenditure. So another big one was production. I have down as production in my account. So that typically was translations, cover, and editorial. That was about 70,000 so last year. That’s mostly translation.
About 15 books I had translated into three different languages; Spanish, German and French, and you’re looking at around about £4000 for each of those to be done, including the actual translation, editing, the translation, getting the cover and and getting those books up there.
Again, a pretty significant expense and adding it all together and deducting revenue, deducting expenditure from revenue brings out… The total profit was around about 750,000 last year, which is obviously I’m very pleased with that.
Very happy with that, very satisfied with that, but because I’m also quite competitive and that’s a good way of keeping score, I want to do better this year.
Actually, the one thing I didn’t mention was that was with two new releases last year. So only two, which I kind of surprised myself when I looked back at when I was putting this together thinking about how the year played out.
I’d written I think four, I only published two, and the reason for that was The Vault, which was an Audible original. They had six months exclusivity. I can only release that after about six months. So that goes live on the 31st of January. So actually this time next week. When this podcast goes out, The Vault will be available. Available at all good bookstores. See, always selling.
The Atticus book, I finished that in November, and that could have been released last year, but I’ve decided to hold onto that for a bit just so I look at the options I have available to me for launching that series.
James Blatch: Are you thinking about a deal with Atticus?
Mark Dawson: We’re looking at everything. My publisher is shipping it around at the moment. My agent is putting it around London at the moment just because why not? I don’t mind them having a look at it and making an offer. I know what those books could be worth.
If they sell as well as the Milton books, they’re worth probably a few million. Now, it’s not realistic to think that a publisher is going to make me an offer high six figures for three books. Just not likely, but they might, and there’s no harm in putting it out there just to see whether they want to talk to me about what might be possible.
Most likely is that book goes live at the end of February or perhaps the middle of March, by which time I’ll have also written the next Milton book which I’m working on at the moment.
So this year should look like in Q1 three books, three new books coming out, which will be more than my production last year. The aim is to do I’d say at least five, maybe six new releases this year. That’s what I’m shooting for. So hopefully, those books typically the new releases will sell really strongly.
Bright Lights was the last Milton book. That’s done really, really well, and the new one is called The Man Who Never Was. That one has already had a good number of preorders, a very good number of preorders. So it should do about as well as Bright Lights.
So with these new releases, there should be a pretty good momentum push to see if I can beat last year’s revenue figures. Well certainly the profit figures. Revenue we’ll see, but profits as I perhaps dial down on some of the bigger ad spends and go back into slightly more nuanced Facebook spends and AMS spends, we’ll see. Hopefully that will mean, at the end of the day, we have slightly more in the bank at the end of the year.
James Blatch: Cool. Okay, what’s next? Any more spending hidden away?
Mark Dawson: No, that’s mainly that. That’s pretty much it.
The main things to take away from that are it’s very easy. You’ll see people posting their revenue all the time all over Facebook and other places. Me too. I do it. It’s a good way to keep myself accountable, and also I think it’s quite good for people who are just starting out to see what’s possible and I’m certainly not the biggest selling indie in the world, not even close.
I’m certainly not the biggest selling indie in the UK. We’ve got her at the live show. And certainly not in the US, but that’s a very, very respectable income and I would have questioned whether it was possible when I started.
So that’s one of the reasons why I publish that, but when you’re looking at people posting their numbers online, it is important to make sure that those are net figures and not gross because it’s very, very easy to spend $100 and make $80 worth of sales. That’s pretty easy to do that.
But what you obviously want to do is to make profit, otherwise you’re not going to be doing it as a business very long. So it’s always important to make sure you know what the true figure is and what they’re actually getting in their bank account.
That’s one of the reasons why I think it was useful to do this podcast today just to set out some of those things so people can take back into their own businesses.
James Blatch: You also have to think about what stage people are at in their careers and what they want to be doing in the future. So having a large spend and a large revenue might suit your business model at that particular time. So almost making no profit, but gaining a gazillion readers is going to stand you in good stead in the future.
I do see sometimes get a grump who’s “Oh, so well done you. You’ve spent 100,000, but you’ve not made any money.” Well, it might be the right thing for them at that stage to do that, and there are some companies that operate on that. Good companies with a long-term vision that don’t have to produce a profit that month for the shareholders.
Mark Dawson: Well that’s right. Look at BookBub. When they came along they spent a lot of money before they launched building their list. Now you could have said well you’ve spent half a million dollars to build a list and you haven’t made any money yet, but BookBub does quite well now because they’ve got 10 million on their various email list and they can charge authors $800 a shot for a daily advertisement, plus an ads platform that is pretty good as well.
So there are always reasons why people might do that. So yeah, absolutely. People’s motivations will change depending on where they are in their journey.
James Blatch: Good.
Do you want to say anything about some ambitions for 2020 apart from your competitive streak and wanting to increase your margin?
Mark Dawson: One thing that I would like to get in the Sunday Times bestseller in print, which is our aim for The Cleaner relaunch, which is not that hard. You only need to sell a few thousand hardbacks to hit the list, which we should be able to do that.
I’d quite like to launch a book into the top five in the UK. Never done that before. So I’d like to do that, and I’ve got indies ahead of me that are doing very well. I’ve got them in my sights. I’m going to take a shot at some of them.
James Blatch: Is Atticus your secret weapon to catch up with…
Mark Dawson: Atticus was written very… Yeah. I absolutely have seen a big demand in the UK market for those kinds of books. Absolutely. You look at well, Louise is a very good example. Barry writing as JD Kirk, I think he’s in the top 20 with one of his books at the moment. So obviously he’s doing really, really well.
And then you can go to anyone, the Bookouture kind of model, Angela Marsons, Robert Bryndza, Jasper Joffe’s crime line. That kind of crime thriller with a regional angle, and they all have that in common.
I have noticed that and I’ve analyzed it quite carefully, and this is a naked play to hit that with an interesting character with Salisbury and this location as a third character after the… I’ve done quite a lot of work on analyzing what I wanted to write before I started writing this. So it has been the most weaponized launch-
James Blatch: Yes. Ticks those commercial boxes that you’ve seen being successful elsewhere, and that’s not a bad way to approach it. I’m surprised you didn’t write a regional detective series about a man called Swallow from Norwich-
Mark Dawson: I knew you were going to say that.
James Blatch: Who is not afraid to break the law. For instance, if he wants to get somewhere fast, he might go over the speed limit.
Mark Dawson: Yes, listeners and viewers, if you’re not sure what James is referencing here, of course it is Alan Partridge. But who else? Yes, Swallow was fictional series that Mr. Partridge pitched.
James Blatch: Pitched. Yeah, one of his great pitches along with monkey tennis and youth hosteling with Chris Eubank cooking in prison and the list goes on. Good. Okay, well great to catch up with you. We’ve whizzed through. We’re probably up on an hour, Mark. I don’t know. Let me turn-
Mark Dawson: Not quite.
James Blatch: My little light on. Not quite an hour. 50 odd minutes. Good. You’re always happy I know to answer questions about some of the specifics. You’re in the group.
So join our Facebook community and you can have a one on one little chat with Mr. Dawson. He loves it when he gets tagged. No, don’t tag him unless it’s specifically-
Mark Dawson: Oh gosh. Please don’t tag me.
James Blatch: For him, or me, in fact, for that matter.
I just want to remind you that we have merchandise that you could be sitting here this time next week listening to the podcast wearing a very elegant, very soft and adorable hoodie or t-shirts like the one I’m wearing here if you’re watching on YouTube. If you go to selfpublishingformula.com/merch, and if you’re coming to our conference, 916 of you on March the 9th in London, this is the uniform.
Mark Dawson: Yes, and I’ve been announcing more people. I don’t think I’ve announced this in the group yet, but Olly Rhodes who founded Bookouture is going to be on a panel.
We’ve got the founders of Hera, which is a new female fronted imprint. Made a really great start and discovered Angela Marsons when they worked with Olly at Bookouture. Who else? We’ve got Jasper Joffe we’ve announced. Might even have Nick Stevenson.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: I’ve been talking to Nick. So we might get Nick to come down and do something as well.
James Blatch: Nick’s a superstar in this community. I’d like to see and hear from him.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, Nick. He did say it’s childcare with him. I had a chat with him yesterday. It’s whether he can get his kids looked after. So we’ll see, but it’s going to be great. Really looking forward to it.
James Blatch: And Jared, of course.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, Jared Uppen and some Amazonians, me. I’ll do something.
James Blatch: Good. Well next Tuesday I’m going down to the venue with Sam Livie and Elaine Bateman and a small team of us who are going to do our kind of final recky of the venue and make sort of more specific plans for how the day’s going to work, but I’m looking forward to it. Getting exciting now.
Mark Dawson: I think we’re going to have some giveaways as well. I’ve been speaking to Amazon about that, and they are, I think, going to be doing some flash prizes. Some of which could be quite quite cool. So we’ve got to try to think of the best way to do it.
We may have some kind of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory golden tickets. I’m reading that to my daughter at the moment.
James Blatch: Not too much in the way of paper in the building though.
Mark Dawson: This won’t be paper. This will be a golden foil.
James Blatch: Okay. As long as you can soak up Greta’s tears because we need to be-
Mark Dawson: Oh God.
James Blatch: Environmentally sound. We can’t-
Mark Dawson: There we go.
James Blatch: I’ve said we’re not having printed programs.
Mark Dawson: You almost not offended anybody, but now you’ve offended anyone who cares about the environment.
James Blatch: But I’m actually making an eco point because I think we should be paper-free at this conference. People can bring their printed programs if they want, but I don’t want to print programs.
Mark Dawson: No.
James Blatch: That’s it. Thank you very much indeed. Mark, it’s been brilliant to catch up with you. I hope people enjoyed hearing about your year and feel some inspiration for it.
And just to remind you what Mark said at the beginning, you can do this. You don’t have to be spending half a million. You could be spending five dollars a day or $20 a week and starting off because that’s how Mark started, and that’s how he got to where he is today. So everything he’s doing is applicable whatever level you’re at.
Mark Dawson: I sacrificed a lot of goats in the garden as well.
James Blatch: You did. Poor goats.
Mark Dawson: Worth mentioning that.
James Blatch: I hate those goats. Okay, good. Thank you. I think all that remains for me to say is it’s a goodbye from him-
Mark Dawson: And a slightly hoarse goodbye from me.
James Blatch: Hey, goodbye.
Mark Dawson: Goodbye.
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