SPS-212: How to Make a Living Writing One Book a Year -with Jami Albright
Jami Albright didn’t start writing until she was 50. Since then she’s learned how to self-publish, built a strong email list, launched four books, and more than replaced the income from her day job. Her story is both inspiring and affirming for those new writers who are intimidated by the process or think it’s not possible for them.
- Updates on SPF march
- Announcement of the 2020 SPF Foundation winners
- Beginning to write at 50
- The uses (and cautions) about a critique group
- On the beginnings of setting up the all-important email list
- Why the type of reader on an email list matters
- Selling plasma to pay for book edits
- On being flexible and changing advertising platforms when necessary
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.
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Jami Albright: I started a $2 a day AMS head and James, let me just say we were broke. We had two kids in college, I was planning a wedding. I sold plasma to pay for my edits for this book.
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 James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And Mark Dawson. Hello.
James Blatch: Hello. On a rainy Friday in the UK. We hope you’re well. Hopefully, it’s perhaps sunnier where you are and that you’ve had a good productive week writing and marketing your books.
In this episode we’re going to be talking about the people who don’t write a book every 14 days. Those of us who write slowly perhaps produce a book a year. But can make money from it.
So that is the theme of today’s interview, which is refreshing I think. Because some of us get a little bit beat by when we have friends who every time we see them seem to say to me, “Oh, I’m launching a book today.”
Mark Dawson: Yes, so we might talk about that in a minute, but yeah, Jami Albright is the guest today. And a book a year, that’s pretty good.
How did you feel when you were interviewing her? Did you feel quite daunted?
James Blatch: I think that when I was interviewing her, I was feeling more optimistic about our book than I am now. But that’s another subject.
Mark Dawson: It’s on my Kindle. Don’t worry, I’ll be reading it soon.
James Blatch: You haven’t read it yet. You haven’t said anything to me. I’m nervous.
Let me do a shout out to the patrons. It’s the fun part of the show where I murder someone’s names. Makayla Love, what a lovely name, from Texas in the United States of America. Tony Righton, Trivia with Budds and R. K. Lander. Sounds like a good author name.
Thank you very much indeed, Makayla, Tony, R. K Lander and Trivia for joining us. Go on to patreon.com forward slash Self-Publishing Show your chance to join the SPF University, not a real university, and get live training.
We’ve got one coming up soon. And we’re going to talk about a couple of things before we get into the interview today.
But the first thing very excitingly is we both got an intriguing parcel this morning. Did we not?
Mark Dawson: We did. Yeah, I wondered if it was like ricin or something because it was very carefully wrapped. I remember someone had asked me for my address, I couldn’t remember who it was I’d given it to and I don’t normally do that, so I opened it, delicately.
Before we get onto that, because I’m going to have to change clothes to indicate what we received. We should first of all say that I am wearing I am One Smug S-H star T today, I’m wearing my merch. Ordered that and it arrived by Prime the next day.
James is wearing his, so we’ve got hoodies on. And they’re very warm. I don’t know about yours James, but I’m fairly cold-blooded most of the time and this is actually fairly warm for me. Even though it’s in the depths of January I’m not wearing a coat today. So this is my coat. This morning I went to my daughter’s assembly, I’m going to my son’s assembly and if you have sensitive ears, you might want to block your ears at the moment.
But going into an assembly with moms and dads and small children and your shirt says one smoke (beep) is probably not the most sensible sartorial decision I made today.
But yeah, they were available now and we were quite pleased with those. And we’ve had quite a few sales. So we’re not making any money on this we’re just trying to kind of get these out into the community so you can go and see the shirts and the hoodies available.
So you’ve got an SPS Live shirt for the live show and also based on the famous Christian S. Peterson email that I received. We’ve got the author monthly earnings levels from Smoke (beep) to Gracile Creature and Bulbiform Hindquarters.
This will mean nothing to you if you haven’t read the email though, have a look in the community for that. So you can get those at selfpublishingformula.com/merch, which is a very neat way for me to segue into what we received this morning.
I opened up my package before I came out today and I’m going to leave them here. James has got one too. I received this card, which I should now hold in front of my camera and screw the folks up. But you see my face for those who, yeah James has got the same one, so those who are listening, it’s a card with James and me on it and a little message inside. And then we got this as well.
I’m now holding up a framed, come over here, a framed picture with the SPS logo and it’s a goodbye from him and a goodbye from me.
We’ve obviously nicked that from The Two Ronnies and it’s got our glasses on, which we’ve also nicked from The Two Ronnies and Stuart Grant for it is he who sent this to us. He helps us with various bits and bobs and is a lovely chap, all around chap, in the community.
He says, “I wanted to send you a little something to say thank you for all the support from SPF. The image is an actual vector redraw of your individual glasses or frames.”
James Blatch: That is a very Stuart thing and I love that detail.
Mark Dawson: What I’m taking away from that is that he has spent an amount of time, which is probably not good for him staring at our faces. But it’s lovely. So I’m now going to have to undress.
James Blatch: Ladies and then some of the gents will be tuning into YouTube for this. This is a moment I thought I’d never see. He’s loosening up finally on the podcast, starting to strip down. That’s great.
Mark Dawson: So I’m now back and I’ve now got a t-shirt, not available as such, but maybe we’ll make it available, which is very similar to that lovely framed SPS picture that you sent us with the glasses. So I am now proudly wearing the SPS live, we should put that on the store really. We should get him to send us the design. We’ll upload it.
James Blatch: I want it to be our little exclusive thing. It’s our little buddy thing.
Mark Dawson: Oh right? Okay.
James Blatch: We’ll make it slightly different for the… these will always be ours. Excellent. Thank you so much indeed Stuart. It’s great to have Stuart on the team and we have an interview. Has Stuart’s Instagram interview been or?
Mark Dawson: I think it has.
James Blatch: So people listening to that will know that Stu had some health news, very shocking health news last year when he was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer sort of brain tumor, I guess.
Mark Dawson: If you want to see someone who is basically F cancer, that is Stu. His Facebook posts are ridiculous. I don’t know how he does it.
He’s got a very small daughter and was married not too long ago as well. And he’s so upbeat and positive. It really does put not being able to get the kids’ shoes and staying school and getting into a bad meter by that really puts that kind of thing into perspective.
James Blatch: It’s genuinely inspiring and, I hope that if faced with similar news, that I could be half the person that Stewart is on this front.
Mark Dawson: I’m pretty sure. I wouldn’t.
James Blatch: I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t as well. I’d just probably hate everyone. But he loves everyone and he’s lovely to have around.
I think that there has been some relatively good news for him recently on his latest scan, which is excellent. I think he’s feeling unwell from some of the treatments, but the latest news is, is no sign of growth, which is absolutely excellent news and we’re delighted about. What a brilliant thing.
I have to say we did get an email recently asking for our addresses and there was a little debate between us about, you never quite know what’s going to turn up in the post, and so our slightly trepidatious opening, there’s of quite a few layers well packed, a lot of knife and scissor action involved this morning.
But what an absolute delight to have that. I’m not quite sure where to put it. Might be the downstairs loo.
Mark Dawson: I actually had a designer in this space yesterday. The lady who helped us when we moved house who is… Because I can’t buy the barn that I want to build my office in. It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to buy that.
So I think what I’m going to do now is, given that I’ve got this place for a couple of years, I actually get to spend a little bit of money to make it look lovely. So that will be changing soon.
James Blatch: Brilliant. Okay. Well thank you so much and that’s brilliant to have and I think that’s a good idea Mark. We can add that to our merch store. Copyright Stuart.
In fact, tell you what we could say, that any proceeds we make from that particular t-shirt, let’s give that to a chosen charity for Stuart there’s probably a charity linked to his particular condition. So that’d be one t-shirt where we do make some profit and we hand it off, as it comes in. Okay. Brilliant.
Something else to talk about is our foundation. So it’s the beginning of the year, the SPF foundation in association with reedsy.com, we put together some money and some access to materials particularly our premium courses, ads for authors and on Self Publishing 101, and we hand-pick from an application process a few authors who fit the criteria that we’ve created and they will get that headstart, they’ll get that material, they’ll get that financial help, from us.
Mark Dawson: And they get two and a half thousand dollars each and both of our courses. So it’s great. I think we discussed this last week, we’ve had some success stories with authors who’ve come in through the foundation.
L. Thorpe has done particularly very well. And I know you’ve spoken to her and we’ve got her coming up on the podcast to explain how she’s, I think she’s retired or her husband now or something, one of the latest from one of his jobs, I think. So that is great.
L was a foundation winner last year, I think, and has done really well. So we hope that, at least one and hopefully all four of the winners this year, have similar success as they publish their stuff. So who are they? James?
James Blatch: The winners of the foundation scholarships for 2020 are:
Kate Givens who writes romance is from Kansas in the USA.
Kat Belmore who writes contemporary sweet romance, also from the United States.
Shaun Banes, who writes noir and mystery, from Scotland.
And Jay Aspen who writes sci-fi, is from the UK but currently residing in New York, a very sensible decision.
So Kate, Kat, Sean and Jay, congratulations on being winners of the application process for our foundation and we can’t wait to follow your story in 2020.
And thanks to Ricardo and Emmanual at Reedsy for, I think this must be the third year they’ve sponsored this with us. So it’s very much appreciated and they remain one of the, if not the best place, if you want to go for finding cover designers or editors or anyone who can help you with, with your books, reedsy.com.
We should also say thank you to Lucy Dawson who does all the administration and sorts through and does all the work on the behind the scenes for the foundation.
Now if you would like to be considered as an applicant, or be considered as a winner for the foundation awards for 2021, you can do that throughout this year. You go to selfpublishingform.com/SPF-foundation and the applications will close on the last day of this year, 31st of December 2020. Okay.
What else do we want to talk about? Do you want to talk about your book launch?
Mark Dawson: We should do that after the interview?
James Blatch: Yes, we’re at 15 minutes now, aren’t we? So it’s probably time to move on and we’ve whetted your appetite.
I do know that we have lots of conversations with authors, particularly when we travel to conferences. And it is a bit dispiriting for people who, you know people do write at different paces and some of these whale writers, I suppose as a way of terming it to go along with the whale readers, people who turn out endless amounts of books, and all credit to them and it’s amazing and hugely helpful commercially to you.
And the whole 20Books concept is really about that. But not everyone writes like that.
Is it possible to make money writing one book a year?
Well, here’s somebody who’s come along to tell you that it absolutely is and she’s going to prove that to you now. So here’s our interview for today, which is with Jami Albright.
Jami, look, we’re running now. So welcome to The Self-Publishing Show. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. And I’m excited about this conversation because I’m your target audience here.
I have one book on the brink as we’re talking of coming out, hopefully autumn this year. And I listen, in fact, I don’t listen to the interviews I do the interviews with some really prolific authors.
Literally, my last interview was with Kevin J. Anderson, who’s written 165 novels. We talk to romance authors who tell us they knock a novel out every three weeks, four weeks, and they’ve got a factory process, which contributes to their ability to make good income.
But we’re going to talk about being able to realize commercial soundness, income, business-wise from just a few book.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Jami Albright: I write romantic comedy and I have a four book series, The Brides on the Run series, so they’re all runaway brides and they’re set in small town Texas.
I didn’t really begin writing seriously until I was 50. I had started a book and put it aside then lost it because my computer crashed. But my daughter found the flash drive where I had saved about 20,000 of the 30,000 words that I had written. And that was right after I turned 50.
I was like, well, it’s now or never and if I don’t do it now, I just never will. So I started writing and I joined Romance Writers of America and got involved in a critique group where they kicked my butt weekly and they taught me to write and six months after I joined the critique group, I won my first RWA writing contest with that book. And then the rest is history only it took probably several years to publish.
James Blatch: We’re going to talk about where you are and commercially where you are in a moment with with these books, but just on that subject, so the RWA, the critique group sounded like a really important step for you.
Is the critique group something organized by RWA and is it online or is it real world?
Jami Albright: It was real world. Our local chapter had a critique group. I went the first night, I didn’t know you were supposed to send your 10 pages in advance. So I brought my 10 pages and I passed it out around the table and we’re sitting at a little restaurant that serves potato soup, that’s kind of what they’re known for.
I’m eating my potato soup pretending like I’m not about to throw up because they’re all reading it as we’re sitting there. And one lady kind of threw it on the table and went, “I don’t know if I can do anything with this.”
But then two other women who eventually became my full time critique partners both said, “Well wait, it’s funny and there’s some good stuff.” She just doesn’t know how to put it all together.
That began literally a six month process of every week they would like just correct something. Usually it was grammar stuff cause my grammar is not great and it’s not great now. It was abysmal then and like one week they hit me for run on sentences.
So I went home and fixed it. The next week they hit me for sentence fragments. That week I actually cried, but I waited till I got in the car to cry.
James Blatch: But you’ve got the right attitude.
If you can take that kind of tough love and channel it into improving your writing.
Jami Albright: I think it helped because I knew that I didn’t know what I was doing. I had never really aspired to be a writer because of my grammar, I never really thought I could do that.
So when I started writing, I knew there were things I just did not know and I was open to them teaching me. And while they were tough on me, they were also really encouraging. So it worked out.
James Blatch: I think writing is one of those things where people who don’t do it think… I mean classically everyone says, well how often do they say to you, “I’ve been thinking about doing this novel.” And it is classically one of those things that right up until the point where you sit down and try and write a novel, you probably think it’s quite easy and then you are just abused of that within minutes really fast.
Jami Albright: The first thing I wrote, it was going to be my reading buddy’s birthday like in three months and I thought, I know I’ll write Jennifer a book for her birthday because I’m an idiot and I thought that’d be so easy. And I quickly wrote myself in a corner but in doing that I realized, well it’s not all horrible and I really did. I did love the process of writing. So that’s what started it.
James Blatch: Excellent. I am going to return to your writing. Whereabouts in Texas are you?
Jami Albright: I’m in Houston.
James Blatch: You’re in Houston. Okay, so a big metropolis. I’m just trying to think if some people in the middle of, I mean Texas has some big rural areas. I guess that would be a more difficult thing.
But you were able to find your local people.
Jami Albright: Right. And RWA does have online critique groups and critique is tricky, there are a lot of people that won’t touch it with a 10 foot pole because they just feel like it’s someone coming in and trying to change their writings.
And then there’s some people that are just not nice. Like the lady who threw my pages on the table and said, “I can’t do anything with this.”
But I think if you find the right people especially, I feel like everyone needs a separate set of eyes on their work, but that’s just my opinion and probably from my own bias. But if you can find the right group of people, it can be totally invaluable.
James Blatch: Okay. Well look, that woman put your manuscript down and says you couldn’t do anything with it. Just tell us now you have, you’ve got three books I think, forth coming out. Is that right?
Jami Albright: I have the fourth out. The fourth came out in July.
James Blatch: The fourth is just out.
Last year when you had three books, how much did you make?
Jami Albright: In the calendar year I made $81000.
James Blatch: Okay. So for people who are thinking, can I get myself to the point where I could quit my job? $81000. I’m going to suggest is a point where you can start living.
Jami Albright: Yeah. And that’s gross. I will say that. I do advertise heavily, so I always want to make sure people know that.
I replaced my income within six months of the first book coming out, but I was working a part time job and I do have a husband that is the primary breadwinner. However, my part time job was in a hospital. And so I was paid very well for what I did. Plus I’d been there a very long time. So to replace that money was huge for us. It’s just huge.
James Blatch: And that’s gone up. So just to bring us up to date with where you are now.
Jami Albright: Yeah. Thus far I’ve made 80, I think 86000. In this calendar year.
James Blatch: In this calendar year? And we’re talking at the beginning of September at the moment. So you’re going to do well.
You’re going to hit six figures this year you think?
Jami Albright: Yes, I will. Even if I make what I made before the fourth book came out, if I made that for the next four months, I would still hit six figures.
James Blatch: You are living proof in romance that you don’t need to be a factory necessarily to make money.
Some of the people who are a factory by the way are making a million a year and that’s great. But for a lot of us replacing our daily salary. So I could find out Mark Dawson and say “We’re done buddy.” You know what you can do with your SPF now. No, I’m joking. If he’s not leaving SPF, obviously I’m not.
Let’s talk about how this worked for you then. I’m full of admiration by the way, the way you, you took on that critique stuff and you turned the books around. And you’re absolutely right.
I know this more than anybody else. I’ve no idea what I’m doing and I’ve really benefited from, from probably a slightly kinder, a bit of feedback, but working closely with a book coach who’s been a little bit more managing, how she’s spoken to me, but nonetheless has said to me, “This is why this doesn’t work.” Which is always hard to hear. But turning that into your manuscript, you got through that process.
Was self-publishing always something on your agenda?
Jami Albright: Actually, it wasn’t, when I won that first contest, they wanted the manuscript and I was like, “Oh, funny thing, it’s not done.” And thank God it wasn’t because I would have given it to them and it was a small press and well, they’re a reputable company. I would have made no money at all.
So in the process of writing my first bride’s book, I also co-wrote a book with one of my critique partners and we decided to self-publish that book because it was a 99 cent novella, Christmas novella.
And we thought, well, if we’re not going to make like $4 and 50 cents, I want my $4 and 50 cents. I don’t want to give more than half of it away.
So we self-published it in December 2015 and we put it out and we’re like, “Okay, who’s going to buy our book?” And then of course nobody did except our family and friends because they didn’t know about it.
I asked a friend of mine, I was like, “How do people get their books noticed? It’s like a drop of water in this ocean of books.” And she said, “Well, you should listen to the Sell More Books Show podcast.”
Which I did, but which was an odd, suggestion for her because it’s a news podcast and not a necessarily a how-to podcast. But on there they kept talking about the self-publishing podcast and the SPP guys and what they would do and, and they were doing crazy things.
I started at the beginning, but even I knew that a lot of things, they were talking about wasn’t relevant anymore. So I skipped forward.
So this was in December and they were talking about their Smarter Artist Summit that they were going to have in April or May. And I told my husband this, and it was in Austin which was only two and a half hours for me. And I said, “I think I should go to this and I can drive, I have friends in Austin, I can stay with them.”
But the ticket was $500. And he’s like, well that’s a good idea, but how are you going to pay for it? And I was like, “Oh yeah. Hadn’t thought of that.” It’s Christmas, we’ve got two kids in college, and I was thinking I should probably wait until I have a book out before I spend that kind of money.
So we go to Christmas, we come home and when I get home, I have an email from them cause I’d subscribed and it had the lineup for the speakers. Joanna Penn was a speaker, which I was listening to her, but the big thing was, Julia Kent was a speaker and Julia Kent writes romantic comedy.
I had never read her, but the fact that she wrote romantic comedy was my sign from God that I was supposed to go to this conference. So I had gotten a mileage tech that I forgot about and I returned all my Christmas presents and I paid for my ticket and that was the best $500 I’ve ever spent my whole life.
James Blatch: That’s alongside Shane Silvers who raided his wife’s pension fund to finance his career. But you sent the Christmas presents back.
Jami Albright: I sent them back. Yeah. Some really cool red converse shoes that I had wanted for a while. I took them back.
But when I got to the conference, the book was ready. It still needed to be sent to an editor. But other than that it was ready and I even had the cover. But in talking to Julia and Sean Platt, they really advised me to wait. They really said wait until you have three books. Well, I had two books really by the time I put out the first one, but I waited a year because also they really recommended that I learn this business.
So that was in April 2016 and in April 2017 I put the first book out. And I took my time learning everything, listening to podcast after podcast.
The big thing that Mark says to build your email list. And frankly, if I could have seen Mark Dawson I would have punched him in the throat because how do you build an email list when you have nothing to get? I had nothing.
But in February, I was in the 20BooksTo50K group and somebody was doing a preview promo, so you would put out three to four to six chapters of your book as a preview and then they were going to get subscribers after they read the preview. So I was like, “Oh, I’d love to do this.” The organizer said, “Great, send us your link.” And I was like, “What link?” And I had no idea. I didn’t have a Mailchimp.
I hadn’t set anything up on what’s prolific works now. I had nothing. I called a friend who I had met at the Smarter Artist and she had just gone through this whole Mailchimp thing. So we get on Skype, she helps me set it up.
It took us the entire weekend. I am drinking heavily by the end of the weekend. But we got it set up and then they said, “Okay, now you need to load your file to prolific works.” And I was like, “I don’t have a file.” So I have to get another friend who helped me, she formatted the first three chapters on Vellum and we put it up and I used the cover that I had with just a little, ring on it thing, sticker on it that said a preview.
I got 82 subscribers and I was thrilled with 82 subscribers because I had none. And then I was working for another author doing some PA stuff and she’s a pretty big romance author and she did a promo for full books, but she said, “Put your preview in.”
I got like 1100 subscribers from that. So by the time that book came out, I had 1200 subscribers on my email list and that was like was six weeks before the book came out. So I emailed them every week for six weeks.
The first thing I sent them was it was this crazy story about how I accidentally put my daughter’s pants on and thought I’d gained a bunch of weight and which was very much in the vein of what I write. And so they knew what I was getting.
So when that book came out, in that six weeks, I think only had maybe 20 unsubscribes. And so when the book came out, I had 1200 people who wanted the book that I could send it to. So after that happened and the book launched to a 1350 in the store, I would have happily kissed Mark Dawson on the lips.
James Blatch: Did you do the 101 course?
Jami Albright: I did do the 101 course.
James Blatch: During that period?
Jami Albright: Yes. Right before I did the 101 course I had all my autoresponders set up and I had gone through the thing about the email list and all of that stuff. But I guess the biggest thing, because I knew a lot just from a year of listening and learning, but the autoresponder thing really saved my bacon because I really had no idea how to set that up.
James Blatch: I did the same thing, just following Mark’s advice and I set it up and I’ve got a great set of emails now as well.
We should say that Mark does specifically address the course, just to be fair to him, how to get emails when you don’t have anything to give away or when you’re starting out. There’s chapters and reviews as well as the other thing when you’re just starting.
Obviously your writing must’ve been magnetic to people because you grew that list just on those excerpts amazingly well.
Jami Albright: Because of the critique group and because I’ve worked, then after the initial critique group kind of broke apart, the two women who kind of really loved the work, we all stayed together and we were very prolific during that time. We were all publishing, but they were more advanced writers than I was and they just knew how to hook a reader from the beginning. And they taught me what they knew.
I was an actor and I’ve done standup comedy, so some of it I know just a little bit instinctively about how to grab somebody and then pull them through a story. But it’s always better when you have a couple of people who know how to do that, coming in behind you. But yeah, the beginning of that first book is, is pretty hooky.
James Blatch: So, you said you got to 1350 in the store? In your category or in the store? No, in the whole store. Because I know some of the romance categories can be big. So 1350 that’s pretty good.
So you made money from out of the gate.
Jami Albright: What I did as I had the email list, but the Sunday before the book came out on a Thursday, I set up a bunch of newsletter swaps with people who wrote very close to what I wrote. And I had swaps set up for like nine days, every day for nine days after the book came out.
I tried to build them up to the biggest one. And that helped a lot too, I think. And then, I started AMS ads.
Now I knew very little about it. I knew what I knew, which was what I had heard on podcasts, but I hadn’t taken a course or anything, but I started a $2 a day AMS ad and James, let me just say, broke. We had two kids in college. I was planning a wedding.
I sold plasma to pay for my edits for this book because it was that important to me. So when I put the book out, I didn’t really have $2 a day to advertise and I was adding it up. Okay. Today’s the 15th, I’ve got 15 more days. Do I have $30?
I ended up increasing it. The first month I spent $130 and I didn’t tell my husband. So I had to tell him that I spent $130 and he said, “Well how much did you make?” And I said, “I made $1800.”
He said, “I think that’s a pretty good return on investment.” So we did it again the next month and but really conservatively.
But then when I got my money two months later, with every check that was more, I spent more. But I didn’t spend it. Those first two months I spent only what I had, which wasn’t very much. But as I had more I spent more.
James Blatch: Because there’s a bit of a time lag to getting the money.
Jami Albright: Yes. It’s so hard and it’s continued to be hard. With every book you put out, you’re advertising, right now four books. But I’m still just making what I made on three books, which is still good, but it’s harder especially in a launch month for me to spend more.
James Blatch: So, AMS ads. Mark’s got a module as part of the ads for authors course. I don’t know if you’ve done that.
Did you teach yourself that?
Jami Albright: Yeah. But it’s partly ads course, which I hadn’t taken but I have networked, like it was my job since I got into this. I just met people. I tried to be a good community member. I tried to do for other people as much as I could do when I had nothing to give really, except for support and encouragement.
People have been really great and kind to me because of that. But I just kept learning as much as I could and for six months, because it took me six months to get the second book out because this is what happened.
I got a little caught up in the excitement of doing so well. Everybody’s emailing me, what did you do? What did you do? And I just got sucked into it. And so I got kind of distracted and it took me six months to get the second book out. But with AMS ads, I kept that book in the top 5000 for six months.
James Blatch: Fantastic. That’s part of the power of AMS ads.
How big are your books, what’s the word count?
Jami Albright: 79000 was the first one. The second one was around 80. The next one’s 97000. And then the last one is 92000.
James Blatch: I’m amazed, I’m inspired and it’s great to hear. You’ve got a lot of application. There is a lot to learn, isn’t there?
You can listen to podcasts and making notes and spending hours on Google reading blog articles. It’s not for everyone, which is partly, by the way, why Mark did the 101 course to exactly address that.
Jami Albright: I would go back to it I would have a question and I would go back and watch a module.
James Blatch: But the secret juice, I don’t know. So people listening here, and perhaps all of us fall into this a little bit thinking, well why wouldn’t this work for me?
What was it about Jami’s set up that made it work? Do you have an answer to that?
Jami Albright: I think the reason, well I’ve told people this, that the reason for any success I had in the beginning was I got my book in front of the exact right people with that email list.
James Blatch: So it’s not just a case of having a list, it’s relevancy?
Jami Albright: Right. Because those people were romantic comedy readers. They wanted that book. And so that helped.
Then when I did the newsletter swaps, that helped too and I continued to do swaps too for six months. But they became a little less effective as time went on. They still worked, but I think it was that I wrote the best book that I knew how to write, then I made sure it was the best book by getting a good editor, and having beta readers, which were my critique partners go through it for me and made sure that everything was as good as it could be.
And then just put it in front of the right people. It wasn’t a shotgun blast. It was very targeted. And I knew that I had to do that. I just knew that that was important to do so.
I did do a pre-order with that one. I think I had 99 pre-orders, which I was really thrilled with because that also set up my Also Boughts. So the day that book released all the books in my Also Boughts were the exact right book.
James Blatch: And today you’re still running AMS ads, you said.
Are you doing any Facebook ads? Are you working on your main-list?
Jami Albright: Actually I haven’t done AMS ads since last year, last May. Because they quit working for me. And so I started Facebook ads, but it took me a year to get them the courage to do Facebook ads because they will spend your money.
But here’s the power of Facebook ads. In the first year, April to April, I made $72000 or something. So, that was April 2017 to April 2018. In May 2018 to November 15th 2018 so six months I did Facebook ads and I made $72000 just in six months with the same number of books.
But with Facebook ads, they’re just really powerful. I was fortunate enough to get involved with the group of writers who are good at them and they helped me, a little bit of it is to, I think I meant a little intuitive in that I know what I liked as a reader and so it’s easy for me to kind of translate that sometimes into my ads. But, I did have really smart people coaching me and helping me, evaluating the things I did.
James Blatch: It does go to demonstrate that you do need to have a handle on all these platforms because some are going to work for you at some point, then dip down and come up again. And who knows where we are in a year’s time. It might be the other way around.
Again a lot of authors have said to me recently, Facebook ads are less effective for them and Amazon ads is where it’s at. You’re feeling the opposite and that’s to do with where you are and genre and audience and so on. So there’s no, unfortunately, you can’t just say this is what’s going to work for you.
There is a certain amount of understanding each platform and practicing it and getting in there.
Jami Albright: Right. And I’m really still trying to make, AMS ads work for me right after the first of the year, they did great for a couple of months. I even got a lock screen ad to turn on for me, which was incredible. And then after that, nothing. I can’t get them to.
I’m trying different things. I’m talking to different people, but for right now it’s really-
James Blatch: To be fair, I’m not sure how many people have had massive success with the lock screen ads.
Jami Albright: I know. I do spend on ads and if I can double my money, I’m very happy. I would rather two and a half, three times my money, triple my money, which I was last year almost quadrupling my money.
But after the first year Facebook ads kind of, not at first year, after September of last year, they kind of got a little wonky.
James Blatch: I’d say another really good point that you illustrate here, Jami, with your story is that, it’s how the digital revolution, the ability for authors to self-publish and find their readers themselves without having to go to a publishing house.
It’s not just democratizing in the incentive that opens up publishing to you and me. It’s also, giving a living to people who couldn’t under the old model have living, cause as you said yourself, the margins involved in traditional publishing would not have made your sales worth it.
And if you’d been traditionally published top of my head number sales you’d had, you would’ve made about $14000 this year. They would have given you an advance. But if you get a 15% type thing, which is not… And there are people signing those deals by the way, and selling that number of books and in the end, after three years thinking, I’ve got paid basically about 15000 a year and you’ve made 100000, okay, you’ve got a big margin there for this year.
But that’s still 50,000 cleared as profit.
Jami Albright: Yeah, it’s 50000. And that’s more than, of course, what I was making at a part time job, but really and truly for me and my work experience because I do have a degree, but I ended up staying at home with my kids and doing part time stuff. That’s pretty much the top of my earning. I don’t know that I could earn a whole lot more.
James Blatch: And you’re only going one way. Right, you are putting a platform down. This is the early years when you’d expect those first couple of books where I’m expecting to break even if I’m lucky, to try and get some money back on it, but basically build a platform for the future. That’s what a lot of people set out to do.
You’ve got a tremendous start here and it’s possible and doable.
Jami Albright: It’s so funny we’re having this conversation because yesterday I was just basically crying to a friend because I would love to write faster. If I wrote faster and published faster, I would spend a lot less on advertising because you just have that bump from having a release.
That’s just not my process. As much as I want it to be, my process. It is not. I’ve tried multiple things. I’m still working on it. I am a little faster than I used to be. So that’s great. But it’s, it’s still a struggle.
And, I do wonder if someday that’s going to be a big issue for me, but right now I can’t really worry about that. I just have to do what I’m doing.
James Blatch: And your husband’s definitely calmer about your spending on advertising now he’s seen some of these royalty checks arrive from Amazon, as Mark said at the beginning. It’s lovely. I haven’t spent so much on Amazon over the years and suddenly they’re paying you.
Jami Albright: Exactly. And, he’s very encouraging and he tries to get involved as much as he can but we like our marriage, so it’s sometimes better if he doesn’t get involved at all.
James Blatch: I hear that.
I wanted to circle back to your writing a bit because I think all of us who write enjoy hearing about other’s process and so on, and this feeds in a little bit to you talking about, ideally you’d like to write faster and produce more books. So talk us about your process.
What do you write on? Where do you write? How often do you write, do you plot, et cetera?
Jami Albright: I run on a Mac and I write in Word. I wrote one book in Scrivener, but I really didn’t love it. I’m pretty old school I guess.
I write every day, but I don’t put words on the page every day. Does that make sense? Because my process is, I’ll write for a few days and do great, have really good word count. Because I’m pretty fast if I know what I am going to write, but then I have to sit and think about it for a couple of days. It doesn’t just all fall out in front of me.
Plus I wrote comedy, so sometimes that’s really hard. I’ll go back and redo one scene five or six times, sometimes more to make sure it’s as funny and as tight as it needs to be. But I won’t do that in the beginning.
In the beginning I just write the book and then I’ll go back and I edit it. I do have an outline. It’s a loose outline. I know the beginning, I know the mid point and I know how I want it to end. But I’m a discovery writer. A lot of times things that I write down that I know I want to happen or I think will happen don’t happen.
When I start writing I’m like, “Oh yes, this is what happens”. And my instincts are usually really good. So I try not to get too freaked out about veering off the path a little bit. But I know that if I’m having trouble with the scene or having trouble with a section, it’s because I’ve gone the wrong way. That either there’s not enough conflict or I’ve taken the conflict out because I took the characters in a way they weren’t supposed to go.
James Blatch: What’s your revision process like? So you get to the end of this first draft…
Jami Albright: I get to the end, I try to let it sit for a few days. I would love to give it more than a week but I’m trying to finish this draft before we go to NINC, so I’ll have a week to let it rest. And then I read it through and then I’ll go chapter by chapter and the first pass-through, I’m just putting in action and some emotion because my first draft looks a lot like a script.
I’m good at writing dialogue. I think that’s because of my acting experience and stuff because I just know what things should sound like.
But it’s the emotion. I never know what to do with their hands. I’m always like, “What are their hands doing at this moment?” And then the third pass-through, I’m making sure that each scene turns. If it starts one way, if starts here, that by the end of the scene it’s turned and we’re going a different direction or something bad has happened or whatever.
And then I don’t normally do a fourth because during that time I’ll really make sure as much the grammar is fixed as I can fix. I usually take the chapters out and put them in a different document and really work on them there and then I’ll put them back. And that’s what I do.
So it’s usually three passes and then I went to a developmental editor this time, or she’s a heavy beta reader or they were, there were two of them and they helped me just kind of make sure there weren’t any holes and there wasn’t a problem. And then I fixed their stuff and sent it to my editor.
James Blatch: And when you read your book through, it’s just the stage I’m at, it’s a practical question.
Do you sit there on the computer? Do you put it onto your Kindle? Do you print it?
Jami Albright: I put it on my Kindle. I usually can find things. If I read it on my computer, it’s harder for me. If it’s on my Kindle, it reads more like a book and then I can tell, “Oh, I’ve got a problem here.”
James Blatch: How do you note that?
Jami Albright: I’ll just make a note in my Kindle, you can make a note and then you can go back and check your notes later.
James Blatch: I’ve seen the notes process, but I’ve never used it. Sorry, this is just for me now. This is literally just because I’m in a practical stage and it’s on my Kindle.
Jami Albright: That’s what I’d do but of course I’m not the fastest person so you might want to ask somebody else. I mean, that’s the thing, but for me that works better. I feel like I’m more in control of it.
I don’t know, that probably doesn’t make any sense to anybody, but sometimes I feel like my story gets away from me and so if I have it there and on my Kindle and I can make marks on it and stuff, I just feel like I’m more in control of it.
James Blatch: Jami, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind conversation and that’s how your career has been. You hit the ground running, but you sort of didn’t hit the ground running because you did a lot of groundwork and that advice, was it Sean I think you said, Sean Platt, who-
Jami Albright: Sean Platt and Julia Kent.
James Blatch: … and Julia just said to you, “Just hold off for a year, get your ducks in a row,” and looking back, did you feel that was a good move?
Jami Albright: Oh, it’s the smartest thing I ever did because I felt overwhelmed almost daily in this business. I didn’t feel like I was unprepared. Does that make sense?
Even if I didn’t know what to do, I knew where to go to get the answer to what to do. I knew that there was an answer and it just made me feel a little more confident about, something that really, frankly, I’m not very confident about all the time.
Knowledge is power. I would definitely recommend people learn this business and I tell people that all the time and then build your email list.
James Blatch: And it would be remiss of me not to mention that Mark obviously did also play a part in teaching.
Jami Albright: Absolutely. I remember the very first time I ever heard him say that, build your list before you have a book out. And I remember where I was at when he said it. I was in the car on the way to critique group and I had just got to critique group, and I’m like, “Do you know what he just said? He said, you should build your list first. How do you do that? That’s ridiculous.”
But then of course I did learn that in 101 but I had already heard him say some stuff like that. So that’s why I jumped on that preview.
James Blatch: Well Jami, we’ll keep in touch. I’ll see you at NINC anyway, but I’m looking forward to speaking to you in a year’s time to hear that you’re coming up to your first quarter of $1 million year with your books four and five.
Jami Albright: From your lips to God’s ears.
James Blatch: There you go. Yeah. Then you can write the book on how to do that. So brilliant. Thank you so much indeed, for being on the show. It’s been valuable.
Jami Albright: Thank you.
James Blatch: Okay. We have a few minutes left. We have a few hours left, by the way, being in the EU. People, we’re recording this on Brexit Day.
James Blatch: We’re definitely going there.
James Blatch: I’m going to Secret Cinema tonight. Which is Stranger Things. So we are literally going back in time, several decades tonight.
Mark Dawson: Do they show the whole series or they all?
James Blatch: No, Secret Cinema is a kind of-
Mark Dawson: I know what it is, but it’s films normally. So actually, I know it but I suppose our listeners might not know. So yes, I’ll shut up and stop interrupting you.
James Blatch: They’ve done Back to the Future and Empire Strikes Back and there is a showing of the film as well as lots of stuff that goes on around it. I think this is, because it’s a TV series, is more about tasks and things and themes, like an augmented reality VR type experience. So we’ve been told to bring a note pad and pen to complete the tasks.
Mark Dawson: So are they showing one episode or six episodes?
James Blatch: I don’t know.
Mark Dawson: Probably not six episodes or you’ll never get home.
James Blatch: Exactly. We’ll get mixed up with the Brexit parties. Anyway, I’ve got a wig and I’m going as a rocker with a blonde mullet.
Mark Dawson: Okay. Well, pictures, or it didn’t happen.
James Blatch: It’ll happen. Okay. Look, we’ve got a few minutes left. We’ve got about four minutes left.
You are launching a book today. How’s that gone for you?
Mark Dawson: It’s gone quite well. Yes, it’s called The Vault. It’s been out in audio for ages and it’s been on a year long pre-order. So, this was before we were able to set pre-orders ourselves for that long, so I had to do it through support at Amazon.
Obviously it’s great that I could do it but the downside is I don’t have any visibility as to how many pre orders I’ve got for this book. So I only really found out when they went live. And the sales all hit, when I woke up this morning and it’s gone well. Not as well as a Milton book, but very, very healthy, in any event.
So that’s, that’s great. And that’s just on the strength of I think one email a little while ago. And, in terms of numbers, I think it’s had about three or 4,000 sales in the first. Those are the pre-orders hitting.
I haven’t done any emails out or serious Facebook action to readers to tell them that the book is available. So yeah, that’s fine. Launching is great. I love doing that.
I really like pushing the buttons in a certain order to maximize the launch. And I forget things, so I got an email from someone, one of the readers yesterday saying that when we will the print book be available and I had to go and check and thought, “Bollocks. I haven’t actually approved the print books.”
I’m now waiting for that to be approved, which might not be today. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t, but I can’t send the email out until I’ve got all of their various formats to be included. So I just need to wait for that to go live.
So I’ll have all the Amazon stores, I’ll have Apple, Barnes and Noble, NOOK, all those guys, and print as well, and then start seeing some sales come through and then I’ll start running some Facebook ads and all the usual stuff that I do. So, yeah, launch is fun. I love doing that.
James Blatch: I wouldn’t know. It is nice and refreshing to hear that you make mistakes.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I’m not perfect. I’m almost perfect. But yeah, not quite. It’s been such a long time this book has been brewing along and I’ve actually got print copies, the advanced proofs to actually give to reviewers, I’d done some press on this and I just forgot to actually tell Amazon that I approved the advanced copy. So I’ve done that now, so I’m just waiting for them to press the button and get those rolling off the print on demand conveyor belt.
James Blatch: Good luck.
Mark Dawson: Well, next to the Self-Publishing Formula T shirts and hoodies, which are available at…
James Blatch: Selfpublishingformula.com/merch. M-E-R-C-H.
Mark Dawson: That’s right. Absolutely.
James Blatch: And by the time this episode goes out on Friday, we’ll see if we can get Stewart’s amazing design with our very own spectacles out. Another reminder for people watching on YouTube. What this looks like? I mean, this is a unique.
Obviously it’s a slight in-joke but it’s a bigger, wider in-joke I think, than the all before hindquarter.
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: If you’re British in particular, that will mean something lovely for the comedy of our youth. Okay. I think that’s it. Well, I’m running out of time. You’re not because you faffed about with your camera for half an hour before we started.
Mark Dawson: I did. That’s true. Yes, I did.
James Blatch: But I’m in the last 90 seconds or so. So yeah, just a reminder that you can get your merch at selfpublishingformula.com/merch or you can sign up to patron.com/selfpublishingshow. And if you go to the main website, selfpublishingformula.com you can get pretty much everything you need, including this foundation application.
Mark Dawson: Also quickly, the last remaining tickets for the live show will be available first week of February, I think.
James Blatch: Yes, they will. So that’s going to be an email that will go to you if you’re on the wait list. And if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/SPSlivewaitlist, all one word, make sure you’re on that list. There are more people on the list than there are tickets, but an email will go to everybody on the list to be first come, first served, same as they do for big concerts.
There may be just a couple more in the couple of weeks before the actual event, but there will be a big block of 50 or so I think, tickets next week. And yeah, so I know people are hanging on for those.
My camera’s about to die now, so we got to wrap it up. So it’s a goodbye from me and…
Mark Dawson: It’s a goodbye from him.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Mark Dawson: Goodbye.
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