SPS-233: How to Identify Your Author Level – with Nick Thacker

As authors it can be hard to know what to focus on when it comes to marketing. Nick Thacker explains what an author platform is, what it isn’t, and how to make the most of yours.

Show Notes

  • Nick’s email service geared specifically to authors
  • Using a website as an online home base
  • The features that differentiate a website from a platform
  • Why choosing what not to focus on is important
  • The important difference between home base and outposts

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

SPFU: For a limited time, while the world is #socialdistancing, we are offering FREE access to SPF University* (*not a university). Click here for lifetime access.

MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.


SPS-233: How to Identify Your Author Level - with Nick Thacker

Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.

Nick Thacker: You don't own your book page on Amazon's website. Your Facebook profile, even though it's got 10,000 followers on your group or page, you don't own that. That can change at any time. Your online platform, however, is something that you own as an author and it's something that you get to build however you want.

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.

James Blatch: Relaxed in his new studio, his new suite. Have you got a red light somewhere?

Mark Dawson: Um, no. I don't. I'm not a prostitute James, so no I don't.

James Blatch: I turn my whole office red. Try and keep the family out.

Mark Dawson: Does it work?

James Blatch: It doesn't.

Mark Dawson: No.

James Blatch: I mean, they're awful. They just come in. They cross the red light. They used to call it running a red light in the BBC and it's a don't do thing. You don't run a red light unless the Queen's dead. Then you can run the red light.

Mark Dawson: I saw of course what happened with your red light the other day when your son had a three pointer from downtown was very excited. Rushed in and I could hear, it was on Facebook, your nest camera. And, I could hear you going, he said, "Yeah I'm so excited." And James was like, "Great."

James Blatch: I was much more enthusiastic then that.

Mark Dawson: We may have mentioned that before but it was quite a funny video. Parenting, 101 by James Blatch. Crush your son's dreams.

James Blatch: Yeah, of course. You’ve got to keep them grounded, haven't you? Don't have them get ideas above their station. William, you're going to be average.

Mark Dawson: Yes. Apart from that one flash of genius.

James Blatch: He does at the moment, at least. He's 14 and he does still want to be an RAF pilot, which I'd obviously thoroughly approve of.

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: I have been talking to him this week about time distance equations and he's, don't know. I don't feel his commitment at the moment to the math side of it. It's all running, keeping fit. But anyway. Right. Okay. Enough whiffle waffle. Let's talk something serious.

Let's welcome our patron supporters. Catherine has pulled out all the stops and in that 20 seconds told us that we have Siren School, which is a great name. I assume it's a school. It could actually be someone's name. Uh, and Ration Haskins from Oregon, USA. Thank you very much indeed for supporting us. They've been to, where you can become a part of this organisation. You get access to the Self-Publishing Formula University. You know, as we come out of lockdown, well I say we come out of lockdown. We are coming out of lockdown.

Who knows whether there'll be a second wave and as we speak at the moment, towards the end of June, quite a lot of the southern part of the United States is not looking great at the moment corona wise. I think we'll keep our Self-Publishing Formula University open and free for now. At some point it will go back to being a part of your enrollment in a course or because you subscribed to us on Patreon.

If you go to selfpublishingformula/spfufree, you can sign up to the university for free during this period of lockdown. Once you're in, you're in for life by the way. So it's a good idea to get onboard if you can. Regular live training. We've got some good ones coming up.

We've got Pro Writing Aid going to be doing one, fresh from their podcast interview. Also, I thought we'd probably get Prestor's on to do a webinar. And we've got Alex from K-lytics, who's always good value.

In fact, that's something we could potentially talk about, Mark, if you're ready to talk about it. I know you've been hatching a plan with him in the background. But I know before we get going to today's interview, it's really all about author platform building, building your platform as an author with Nick Thacker a little bit later. We do want to talk about BookBub. I'm going to stop talking now because I can see you looking at me thinking, he's talked for two minutes again.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. I'm looking at the camera. Is James talking for two minutes? No one tunes in for you, James. They're here to listen to me.

James Blatch: I'm going to run you the detail on the ratings and find out. My approval ratings.

Mark Dawson: Yes. So I had a BookBub on Saturday. We record this on Monday and on Saturday, my first book in the Milton series. So the books went down to 99 cents and it went really well. BookBub still very effective. I haven't really noticed a huge difference in any of the time I've been using them. And it's probably my 35th or 40th even. I've been very lucky with how many I've been able to get, and it still works very well.

Also what I did this time was, I've been advertising the box set quite heavily in Australia and the states for the last couple of weeks. I thought I would run some ads, very time sensitive, specific ads referring to the fact that you could get the first three books in a multimillion copy, selling series for 99 pence or 99 cents.

James Blatch: You get all three books for 99 or 99 each?

Mark Dawson: Yes, box set. So box set with three books at 99 pence, 99 cents. So really good deal. So I'm not making much in royalty on that. I'm going to be making 30 pence when you get the 30% royalty. But no. I thought I would kind of just see how well they converted. Of course, I'm banking on read through.

So I think I probably spent, I don't know, about $600 I think in addition to the BookBub fee, on Facebook ads for the period that it was at 99 cents or pence, running out yesterday.

I've just done the figures today and I got one of the ads. I don't remember the exact numbers, but the conversion metrics stood out. One of the ads converted at 35%, which I've never, ever seen. Well I have, but not for a long time. That very, very high level of conversion. And I think as a combination of time sensitivity because there's a date on it. So this will end on Sunday the X of, whatever it was, 27th. And the price was on it and lots of social proof in the fact that I referenced the fact that it was a million copy selling series, multimillion copy.

And it was very good. So those were converting very effectively. Now, the return on investment, because it was a high ad spend and a low return, just on the revenue coming in from the ad, directly from the ad, was something like point one, so low percentage of the sale that I was making, was point one, which was dreadful. Obviously, those ads get switched off immediately because it's just terrible.

When read-through is factored in, so let's say if I was converting at 35%, 35 for every 100, I was getting 35 new readers. And when you add in the read through on that, so the box set read through, even if you just imagine it was say $10, which is very conservative as to new readers coming into the books that I've got, those were converting in terms of lifetime read through return on investment, about 600%.

So it was really money-in-hand dreadful. So you could say, well you lost almost all of that $600. Maybe you made $50 back. But what I'm banking on, and I'll keep an eye and see if I can detect it through the box sets two, three, four and five and perhaps the individual. But that's what I'm looking at, is to the long tail effect of that spend. So experience would suggest that they'll do quite well.

James Blatch: Yeah. Well that's good. We saw somebody posting into the group I think only this week saying, "Oh I've heard BookBub International deals aren't really worth it. I've been offered one. Can you give any advice?"

Mark Dawson: This wasn't international. This was worldwide.

James Blatch: This was a worldwide deal. But as we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I had an international deal for the few books that we market and had 500 downloads in a day and a half. And I'm still feeling the benefit of that read through, without question. In fact, I'm doing a blog post and you can see the BookBub spike and then a slow ramp up in the weeks that follow of page reads, which is fantastic. So definitely, as far as I'm concerned and you're concerned, BookBub is still the business.

Mark Dawson: Oh yeah, no question. Yes. It's the gold standard for that kind of promotion. I'm not just saying that because I know they're listening.

James Blatch: Yeah, they do listen actually. We mentioned BookBub, we often get a little note from them. We do love the BookBub peeps. They are a good team.

I'm missing our trips this year, Mark. So that's going to get to that point, particularly in September. It's actually a bit grey here today. First day of Wimbledon, should have been, in the UK. But yeah. We're missing having some time, some chin wagging drinks with people from around the world, including the BookBub crew.

What do you suggest for somebody who ... So for our case with Fuse Books, let's do some of this marketing strategy live on the podcast. I've had the BookBub International deal. A few weeks had gone by. That was the beginning of June, June the 3rd. Should I now be looking at one or two of the other newsletter services and so on to try and do something for the next month?

Mark Dawson: Yeah. It wouldn't hurt. A lot of them, they aren't as effective as they used to be. There are some that are still worth looking at. I think there's a blog post on the Reedsy website. I say hello to Ricardo because he listens as well. I'm pretty sure they've actually broken down into tiers as in, effectiveness. Tier one, tier two, tier three.

So BookBub is probably the only tier one and then there are others that will be reasonably effective but you won't see anything like what you get from BookBub. They're still sometimes worth doing.

James Blatch: Yeah, okay. I'll have a little look into that. What about the countdown deal, which is a button I've never pressed on the KDP? Tell me about that.

Mark Dawson: That's just a different way of doing things. So the idea was introduced, and I don't think it's ever really taken off that way, was to have a tiered promotion. So, 99 cents for one day. Then there would be a counter that's going up to 1.99 and 2.99 and 3.99. And you'd run that over a set period of days. But the main difference is that you'd get 70% rather than 30% when you dropped it below a dollar or a pound.

So unfortunately, you can't tie them in with a BookBub deal because Boob Bub include Australia as one of their markets and you can't do a countdown deal in Australia. You can only do it in the UK and the US. So unfortunately, you have to hit the 30% royalty, which is a pity because BookBub could, if they wanted to, give you the flexibility of not including Australia. So apologies to Australia who's listening. If you didn't do that, you would get to triple your royalty and get up, I'm not quite sure. More than double your royalty.

James Blatch: So can you not do the countdown deal and then manually change Australia in KDP?

Mark Dawson: No, because the price would go down. I'd have to double check but I'm 99% sure you can't. So when you set the price, you can't then tweak it in other jurisdictions. I'd love to be proven wrong on that but I'm almost certain that you can't. So, it does make it a little bit more difficult to benefit in that way for a big promotion.

But there's still, what I'm thinking about doing, I've been meaning to for a little while, is run time sensitive deals and maybe also the first book in the series. Put that down to 99 pence, 99 cents and then run a lot of Facebook ads in the US and the UK, and with the sheer knowledge that you're going to lose money. Well actually, not quite so sure. You would still lose money, even if you were getting 70% on a dollar.

You're not going to convert at at fast enough rate to make that profitable. But what you're of course hoping for is that you'll get your $10 or your $15 read-through value and that makes the ads profit over the longterm. So that's on my list of things to do.

James Blatch: So countdown deal strategy, would you run ads to your countdown deal?

Mark Dawson: Absolutely. Yeah. If you have a deal, so it's 3.99, it's down to a dollar, that's worthy of running ads. As I said, I think I would be including time sensitivity and the ad.

James Blatch: Okay. So, you're talking Facebook ads where you can adjust the copy to that degree.

Mark Dawson: Yes. You can't reference deals on any Amazon ads. And in fact, I think Amazon ads may be removing custom copy because I haven't been able to do that for a while. So, even in the accounts I have where custom copy is possible, I was running ads and it didn't give me the option. So I think that might be coming out. So we better call Janet.

James Blatch: Yes. Anyone familiar with Janet Margo's course will know that she puts custom copy. In fact, if you can watch the webinar, you'll know that she puts custom copy very low down in terms of what you should be thinking about and worrying about. She thinks she's not seen evidence, if that makes any difference. Yes. And she also thinks it's a bit of a hangover. So it wouldn't surprise me if it's going to go.

Good, okay. Well that's interesting. Gives me some stuff to do. I'd like to think of it in months. I do like a nice clean spreadsheet in a month and we've built up our page reads per day to knocking on 50,000 now, which is amazing from where we started 11 or 12,000 a day. But I'd like to do something at the beginning of July to try and get a boost going through July. So I'll maybe look at a countdown deal and some strategy around that a little bit and include the old Facebook ads platform, a bit of that.

Right. Let's move on to our interview, which is Nick Thacker, who's been on many yonks ago I think. We bump into Nick when we traveled in these bygone years. Nick is somebody who does take a wholistic view on authors. He's somebody who's worked also on the tech side quite a bit.

So the interview's really about building your platform. When he says platform, I think the point of this interview is to try and think of your real estate online as a platform. Your presence on Amazon and Facebook and your website. Not simply put a website up and think of that as a platform.

So that's the purpose behind the interview. He's also somebody behind an email service which had a faltering start in the past. I think we do reference that in the interview. That looks like it might be coming back as an email service specifically for authors. Let's hear from Nick Thacker.

Nick Thacker, welcome to the Self-Publishing show. So welcome back. I think you've been on in the past, have you not?

Nick Thacker: It's been such a long time, I'm not sure if I have. I'll have to go back and find some episodes.

James Blatch: I've got a feeling you may have been on with John Logston some time ago, but anyway, in the library somewhere. But you're back. You're in Colorado Springs, or as we've just been chatting pre interview, you're in the process of beginning to move as far west as you can get and still be in the US. No, that's not true, is it? Because I think Alaska goes further west.

Nick Thacker: I think Alaska's a little further west. I know this is the furthest south.

James Blatch: South, that's it. It's one of those pop quiz questions.

Nick Thacker: That's right.

James Blatch: Furthest north, south, west in these states, and three of them are Alaska.

Nick Thacker: That's right.

James Blatch: Okay, there you go. So you're going to move to Hawaii, which is very exciting. Seems like actually one of the great things about being in the industry that we're in, working from home, particularly as we of course we can't go five minutes without mentioning the coronavirus. We're in the midst of that at the moment. But here we are as people selling electronics in one's and zero's that travel across the internet.

And you can do that from anywhere, right? You can it from the beach, you can do it from the Hawaiian beach, which sounds gorgeous.

Nick Thacker: We hope we get there. Again as you mentioned, this virus that we can't stop talking about may change our plans a little bit. It's already messed with it a little bit, but that's the goal. We'll see if we can get down there.

As you said, as long as I have an internet connection. Even if not, I'll fly over once a month and upload the books and then take the money out of the bank and then come back if I need to. But we want to get out. We want to just live that lifestyle.

James Blatch: I really hope we're not going to plunge back into the dark ages. That's not where we're starting.

Nick Thacker: I really hope so. I am way too doughy for that.

James Blatch: I can rub sticks together but no fire's going to happen for a long time. So let's get talking. I think it's good chance to remind people about yourself. You are a writer of a thriller novels, is that you're a thriller writer, Nick?

Nick Thacker: Thriller, action, adventure.

James Blatch: Action, adventure, thriller. Talk to us a little bit about your writing first.

Nick Thacker: My writing is very genre fiction, commercial fiction. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel, I'm not trying to win a Nobel Peace Prize, or Nobel Prize I guess it would be. I am trying to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

James Blatch: Maybe a Pulitzer Prize then. You're not trying to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Nick Thacker: Yeah, Pulitzer. I'm not trying to win a Pulitzer Prize.

James Blatch: You don't have to apologise for writing genre fiction on this podcast.

Nick Thacker: No, no. I understand. I'm just trying to give people paint a picture of what it's like. Very same genre as Clive Cussler, Dan Brown. They're a little bit better than I am at it, but that's what I'm working on. I've got a series called the Harvey Bennett thrillers. It is a park ranger, a reclusive individual. It's sort of a deconstruction of a Jack Reacher character. How did Jack Reacher become Jack Reacher, sort of idea.

Sells very well and it's been my bread and butter series. But I've also got a series about a bartender assassin named Mason Dickson. Very tongue in cheek, edgy, sort of crime noir almost. Very different than Harvey Bennett. But those are the two big series that I've got, the two main ones. And then of course, a lot of co writing projects that I'm working on.

James Blatch: They sound great. Both series sound great. I love the bartending assassin. That's a TV series right now, right?

Nick Thacker: I'm just waiting for those option contracts to roll in, but no bites yet.

James Blatch: We'll start our protection studio when the virus has gone. We got talking a little while back when you developed which was a mailing list. So I never know quite what to say, because you say internet service, but mailing service provider, email service provider?

Nick Thacker: Email service provider. Yeah.

James Blatch: Email service provider. So like the MailerLite and MailChimp and ConvertKit, et cetera. You started one that was specifically geared around authors. I can remember some of the growing pains in those early days. We had that as well, starting a new company and getting things up and going.

Give us an update on where is right now.

Nick Thacker: Thanks for asking. As you remember, we tried to do a launch with you for Self-Publishing Formula. We pulled out because we felt as though we weren't going to scale properly and we didn't want to shoot ourselves or you in the foot by forcing a lot of people through a system that wasn't quite ready to handle it. It was very unfortunate and we hated that. But we kept working.

So over the past four or five years, my business partner and I, Kevin Tumlenson, have been building this system into what it is now, which is sort of a 2.0.

It's also now in an open Beta sort of thing. So there's a waiting list because again, we want to make sure we can scale and maintain reputation, deliverability. Building an email server is an absolute nightmare. I highly do not recommend it. We did because we didn't want to pay $300 a month to MailChimp, ConvertKit or whoever it is. We wanted to be able to do some of the things that we're not able to do in other platforms.

So is up and running. There is a waiting list but we're onboarding now handful or two of people a week and trying to get them in the system. Obviously there's still some user interface things that we're working on. But as far as the system and deliverability goes, so far it's been very cool. Been working out really well.

James Blatch: Where are you looking at it? Where is it going to sit in terms of MailChimp and ConvertKit and MailerLite at the moment? Is it in that mould?

Nick Thacker: It is. Essentially that's the idea, is that if you have Mailer Light, we're trying to do the same thing but restrict it to authors. That gives us a few benefits. Namely, we aren't going to be as aggressive, like MailChimp was, against affiliate marketing links because our authors are typically not in the internet marketing space. They're not doing any harm by sending an affiliate link to their own book. So we don't care about that sort of thing.

Anyway, without getting too technical and in the weeds, the idea is we wanted a service that instead of having a rack of computers over here that we're using and trying to tweak to build our delivery server and build a reputation with ISPs around the world, we decided to go the Cloud route. So we've got delivery servers through Amazon's SES programme, Elastic Email, Pepipost over in, I think it's Ukraine. The idea is that we're using their servers that have already been tested and run through the ringer with ISPs. So our deliverability is just what you'd expect with a MailerLite or ConvertKit or MailChimp.

Like I said, it's been really cool because we can scale now on that side of it much quicker than we would be able to if we were just trying to build a server rack on our own. The benefit to the authors is that it's far cheaper. For example, our bottom package is 10.99 a month right now and it's up to 10,000 subscribers. We don't limit you. You can send as many emails as you want. We don't have limitations for autoresponders. You can build as many lists as you want within that. We count each email one time. So it's an affordable version of a MailerLite or MailChimp.

James Blatch: Excellent. Well good luck with that. We'll keep in touch and see how that roll out and growth goes. I think we're going to talk about platform building today, Nick. I know you have a particular beef. That's the wrong word for it.

You have a particular idea that there's a difference between just assembling some of the nuts and bolts and having a viable platform foundation for your author career.

Nick Thacker: That's a perfect way to put it, James. It's exactly what the difference is.

I came from marketing before any of this writing stuff happened for me. So for me, it was almost intuitive. I don't want to just build a website. I want to build an online platform. But to some people, that doesn't make sense.

The difference is subtle sometimes. But essentially, you have a website built as an author, which is just disseminating some information. Who you are as an author and if you want more, click here, go here.

I like to take the approach that your online presence is your platform. Meaning it's something that you're not just assuming any information. You're actually engaging your readership a little bit more than you would with just a website. For example, instead of just having a website that lists all of your books and people can click away to it, and you've got an online store that you're selling special editions. And we'll get into all this stuff later, but the idea behind an online platform is that you own it. It's sort of like your home base online.

Whereas with Amazon, you don't own that real estate. You don't own your book page on Amazon's website. Your Facebook profile, even though it's got 10,000 followers on your group or page, you don't own that. That can change at any time. Your online platform however, is something that you own as an author. It's something that you get to build however you want.

James Blatch: Yeah. Part of your brand, your shop window in that sense.

Nick Thacker: It's exactly what it its. It's your brand. It's a completely controllable universe, your empire if you will.

James Blatch: Okay, so let's talk about what people should be aiming for them with a website stroke platform.

What do you think are the differentiating features then that are going to make this a platform rather than simply a website?

Nick Thacker: Great question. There's a few subtle things and they're pretty small. Most of it though, James, comes down to the mindset. It comes down to the way you approach your author career. And so in the book, when I give this presentation I'll be doing this in Vegas in November and I might give this same talk. Because I think it's really crucial. It sounds so simple but I think it's crucial to understand that mindset is everything, at least when you get started. For example, these levels that I put in the book talk about different levels of author success as they relate to your platform, your online brand.

So this first level, it's basically just having a book but it's not as simple as that. It's not just writing, okay I've written a book and now I'm a level one author. It's actually this mindset shift. It's going from having a book and you may not be making a lot of money but you're making some money from it, is coming in. Maybe it's $40 a month or whatever. But you start to see that this is a real viable thing. You start to feel that this is a real avenue for income.

So that's this mindset shift that happens at level one. Let's say you already have a website built and it's got your book up there and a place to sign up for a mailing list. But really, until you make that mindset shift, there's a difference. It's not really a platform yet because you're not treating that writing as a business at this point.

James Blatch: I think you're talking about the sort of focus when you look at it and when you make decisions. Making decisions that are commercially driving the point of you doing it rather than making decisions, which is, oh I've got to have a website. This would be a nice picture on a website.

Nick Thacker: Absolutely.

James Blatch: The other thing, you shouldn't be thinking, this is a nice picture on the website. What's the function of that picture there? What's it doing?

Nick Thacker: 100%.

James Blatch: So it's that little detail that feeds into every decision you make.

Nick Thacker: Absolutely. When I wrote my first book, originally it was called the Golden Crystal. I since have changed it and rewritten and launched it again. But it was for me, it was a gift from my father but I just wanted to see if I could do it. There was never any intention of making money from it. I wasn't going to put it on the website other than just put it on a side bar of a blog that I was running. There was no commercial intent behind any of that.

When I did it, I wrote the book and it was bad. But it was good enough to give me other ideas for more books. At that moment, when I had those other ideas pop into my mind and I wrote them down and took notes on those, it became kind of a commercial project at that point. It became something that I thought, I can't imagine ever going full-time doing this but I could probably make some money. At that moment, that was when the mindset shift happened. So I started approaching the next books more like a business.

What happened was, that blog that I had, it was just a life hacking blog that everybody in their 20's builds at one point or another. It became more of a, what's my brand as an author and how do I have that reflected on the website? So that's when the shift from a website to a platform began. Of course it wasn't finished, but that's about the time that mindset shift for me happened.

James Blatch: I think one of the important things about this approach that you're talking about is that you also don't waste time doing stuff that you've got to have a Twitter account, you've got to have a Twitter account. Why have I got to have a Twitter account? Is there a viable commercial reason for having that? For some authors there is, particularly in the nonfiction area. For others, it's a colossal time zap that delivers nothing back.

So again, bringing that decision making process to it, which I think is what you're talking about here.

Nick Thacker: It is. It's a great thing you brought that up too because I treat ... And this is all discussed in the book too because originally the book was actually called Welcome Home, the Author's Guide to Building a Home Base. I rewrote the whole thing and it's very different than it was. But that core concept of having a home base as an online platform is still there.

Twitter, Facebook, Amazon description, a Goodreads page, whatever it is, those are not home bases because you don't ever own them like you own your own home. You're renting that space from them and they can change it or the landlord can pull it at any time, right? So those are what I call outposts.

This mindset shift that happens is going from a website to a platform that happens at some point during the level one phase of an author career involves recognising what do I want to have as an outpost as an author and what do I want to just ignore?

That's not always easy to do because we do see people have massive success with Instagram, whether they're using ads through Mark's course or whether they're just posting pictures of books that they're reading and people are following them and buying their books. Whatever it is, there's always a success story in our niche that we can copy.

But it's not always wise to copy all of the success stories and all of the niches. So choosing those outposts is important, but choosing which ones not to focus on is equally as important.

James Blatch: I think digging deep with people as well, finding out why it's so great to have these conversations on this Self-Publishing Show, in our conference, in our Facebook groups, because you can see somebody who's very prolific on a platform and you think, oh they're so good at that.

Why am I not doing that? And then you speak to the person and the first thing they say to you is, "It makes me no money but I enjoy doing it," which is a valid reason for doing it. But it's also good information for you.

Nick Thacker: Absolutely. I've talked to some people at this conference I was just at recently, superstars here in town, with the same response that you've got. I've also heard the response that, oh I'm making a killing, I'm doing really well. I'm using this platform and I'm the Instagram author. So what we do is, we think as authors that must be the thing that I'm missing. That must be it. It's not chasing the silver bullet or anything necessarily that drastic, but it is this idea that obviously our book is perfect and obviously it's our baby. There's nothing we could do to improve our craft.

So what we're missing is clearly just some outpost somewhere, some hidden social media network that all the successful authors are using. So we go chase those things and we don't give it a fair trial. Meaning, we don't give it a fair chance to see if it actually could be a viable income stream for us or it could take us to another level. We just treat it as, well I put a couple tweets out and no one bought my book and so it doesn't work for authors, which isn't necessarily true. So it's choosing what not to focus on is very, very crucial at this point in an author career at that level one, level two area.

James Blatch: I was going to ask you about the book. I will ask you about that. But I will suggest to follow that also, you can include that little passage and say that this is actually not always easy to tell. You see lots of authors doing lots of different things. It's why it's great to follow Mark, by the way, because that's kind of his thing is to say, this is what you should be doing, this is how I'm doing it, this is how it works. But you do need to spend a bit of time, don't you, doing some research?

Now let's talk about the book because you've referred to it a few times. Just tell us about it.

Nick Thacker: I promise it wasn't a shameless sales pitch. It's just fresh in my mind. I just finished this, put it out there. I'm working on actually the third book now. The second one is BookBub Mastery, and it's about getting featured deals, not BookBub advertising.

James Blatch: Sure.

Nick Thacker: The third one I think will be about emails. But the point is, this first one is really the core foundation for author careers. It's treating your writing like a business and how to do that, and it's what are the different levels of author success?

The whole point of it, when I give this talk or presentation, the point of it is showing authors that no matter where you are in your author career, no matter how bad or good your book is or your writing. You're assuming you're writing to the best of your ability. Without needing to go down the rabbit hole of improving craft, that's always a good thing to do.

James Blatch: That's a good rabbit hole to go down.

Nick Thacker: It's a good rabbit hole to go down. My point with all of this was to say for these authors that, there's something you can do right now using the tools and resources that you have with your books as they are that can get you to the next level in your author career. So like I said, sure, improving craft is always a good thing. Working on character development in your books is always a good thing. But that probably isn't the thing that you're missing that's keeping you at a certain level in your author career. There's something you can do.

Again, it's not a silver bullet. It's not finding this particular outpost and building a Twitter. It's not that. It's treating it with a different mindset and looking at how you can take your product, your brand, and expand horizontally as well, without needing more and more books or faster writing all the time.

Anyway, that was the purpose of the book was to just tell people, hey there's something you can do now that can probably get you to the next level in a certain amount of time.

James Blatch: You can shamelessly plug the book. That's fine. Tell us the title then and where to find it.

Nick Thacker: It's called Platform Mastery and it's an indie author guide. That's sort of the little series that I've got going on. But I'm just basically copying Chris Fox and the other guys that are doing really, really good work with having kind of a series. It's not necessarily a series, is what I mean. You can read each book by itself and, hey if I need help with BookBub, I'll go pick up the second one. But because I like Chris Fox and I wanted to steal everything he's ever done because he's amazing, I just made it a series.

James Blatch: We talked a lot about the website and I like the analogy, it's home plate or what should we say? There isn't really a-

Nick Thacker: Home base.

James Blatch: Home base. What's home plate? That's the plate at home base, isn't it?

Nick Thacker: It's home base, yeah. Is that cricket, home plate? Is that what you call it?

James Blatch: No, we don't actually. I don't know where I got that. I thought home plate was a baseball expression. I love baseball.

Nick Thacker: It is. Yeah, the plate is what the base. Yeah, it's another word for base, right.

James Blatch: I like that analogy. Your website remains to this day and people always talk about the death of websites, the death of emails. Stuff that's been around for a few years, but they're not going anywhere and they're still crucial parts of what we do. The outliers, the outposts as you called them, the other bases I guess.

Nick Thacker: Yeah.

James Blatch: Can you give us a generalised guide as to what those other crucial bits would be and what are less important for you?

Nick Thacker: Sure, I can tell you the ones that are crucial for me. Again, like I said and I've kind of used the example of Twitter and Instagram, those are potential outposts. Those are things that, and the way I'm defining that all is the home base is what you own. That's your space. That's your fortress that you're defending and you control that and you own that. It's your property.

Outposts are anything else. If you don't own it, even if you're investing heavily into building it out which could be a viable thing to do, you still don't own that. Therefore, it's never going to be your home base.

So that's just getting the definitions out of the way. For me obviously, I believe everyone's home base is their website. That's their author platform. That's what we talked about earlier. And then for me personally as an author, I use Facebook. I have an author page that I lean heavily on to promote books and reader engagement, things like that. Facebook I find very good for that sort of thing.

Some people use Goodreads, some people use Twitter, which I've tried and failed at over the years. So that's not one of the outposts that I focus on. I have a Twitter account but I don't do anything with it.

James Blatch: No. I mean, I do not hear success stories from Twitter either. On the ads platform-

Nick Thacker: I typically don't, yeah.

James Blatch: ... or organically. I see people who enjoy being on there and they have a bit of a personality around them. I think maybe it gets to a point where that can work for you. But I think for the vast majority of us, it's somewhere where you get your politics and the weather.

Nick Thacker: And you kind of answered that too. If we're writing fiction, Twitter is typically not going to be as useful a tool for us. Now I hesitate to say never because there's always going to be one fiction author that's like, "I make money on Twitter," and they're absolutely true. But for the vast majority of us, you're right. It's not going to work.

Now if we're writing political, nonfiction or we're doing business things in 140 characters or whatever they allow us now, is a good way to spread your message and get people onboard with what you believe, Twitter could be an absolutely wonderful platform to generate some organic readership. Or I should say outpost, even though it's a platform. I'm using it in different terms for that.

James Blatch: I suppose the other thing we need to do, as you make the point there. So if you're writing nonfiction maybe doing political commentaries or whatever, Twitter could be the perfect place for you. Might work well for you. If you're doing YA, Instagram might be an important platform for you.

Nick Thacker: Absolutely.

James Blatch: If you're doing stuff that skews older, like Cold War thrillers or things I write, Instagram maybe is going to be less useful.

That's an important part also of understand how the wider platform operates in making those good decisions.

Nick Thacker: Absolutely. It really does. At some point it comes down to what you as the author enjoy using. Because if you're going to make anything successful, any outpost or platform, and you don't enjoy doing it, you're going to be working, fighting an uphill battle. You're really pushing against the stream.

James Blatch: Yeah. That is a difficult area I think. It's a real Joanna Penn sort of philosophy is that you've got to be enjoying stuff otherwise it's not going to be sustainable for you. Why the hell should you be doing stuff if it's a slog? But I also talked to people who are frightened of the technology involved in simple things on Facebook and Amazon ads and so on. And yet I can see their books have an audience if they put some effort into finding it. So I always think there's a balance here.

You can't avoid the fact we need to do some work. Sometimes you don't enjoy your work. Sometimes you just have to get through it. But you do have to, I think find those important things. So a Facebook page, to have a Facebook ads platform. Now you might decide in the long run, Facebook ads aren't as profitable for you or are not profitable for you. And you want to focus elsewhere. But you do need to get to that stage of making that good decision. So yes, I hear what you're saying about do stuff that you enjoy. But at the same time, make good decisions about where you're going to put your effort in.

You'll enjoy it if it starts making you money, right?

Nick Thacker: Well, there's that too. Absolutely. I think it does come down to some common sense as well. Starting out, when we don't know any better, there's no problem with going and building accounts on every social media network site on the planet. But to actually take your core work time that could otherwise be better spent elsewhere and focus on these things that just historically haven't paid dividends for authors seems to be a waste of time.

In order to know what those things are, it requires research and being in the community and the network and just paying attention. As an author, if I was just getting started today, I would go start reading forums, K boards, listen to your show, that kind of stuff. It's a great trial by fire from the fire hose if you will. So much information. But you start to hear the same things repeated. Bookfunnel is a great service to use. Or have a website and you need an email list.

Those things are going to be repeated in every space within the author community. So it would be very unwise to not follow that advice. But you don't know what that advice is until you start to pay attention to those bastions of information and knowledge, like this show and Mark's courses and any other popular podcast that's out there right now.

James Blatch: It's funny how there's a few essentials, isn't there, that have emerged? So there's lots of stuff you can do. Goodreads, there's a debate about that. But I would say Bookfunnel, Vellum, Facebook ads, Amazon ads, and your platform. There's five essentials. I can't see anybody making serious progress and not at least, even if like I say, they've decided one of those is not for them. Facebook ads, I'm not going to do. I'm going to do Amazon. You still got to get to that point of finding that out. There's essentials there.

Nick Thacker: Exactly. I probably spent $60,000 total on Facebook ads and as a platform, it works really well for me, for my author career, to build an email list, to give away freebees. It doesn't work as well as Amazon ads to sell books in the particular genre that I'm in. But I'm not allowed to say that unless I've invested the money and the time and the effort into it. I went through Mark's course, I followed all the instructions. I did everything he said to do and it's not that it didn't work. It just didn't work as well as the Amazon platform did for me.

I always test that. I go back every few months and I do some Facebook ads and let's try it now. Let's see what's changed. But so you're exactly right.

You have to get to the point where you know what works best for your particular career and where you are and whatever level I'm on. If I say I'm a level six author, by the time I try to get to level eight, maybe Facebook ads are much more important for me. Then they start to work again.

James Blatch: It's strange how any conversations you have with people who say Facebook ads drive my business as an author and other who say, I've given up because they didn't really work for me. It's actually quite difficult to pick up. I talk to people about their genres and I know some bigger fantasy authors for whom Facebook ads are absolutely crucial. And yet other people in fantasy only run Amazon ads now. Anyway, there you go. So you do have to explore that. You do have to understand it yourself.

So to circle back to the core discussion about the websites before we wrap up, Nick. How often should we be refreshing and checking the relevancy of our platform?

Nick Thacker: My answer to this has changed over the years. Again, I was the blogger. I was the guy who was saying, all the time and the Joanna Penn approach in maintaining this constantly updated, constantly fresh database of content. As a fiction author only, I don't think that's as important these days. I think Google, which means every search engine but the one that we all really use, has certainly said and come out and proven that fresh content is better than old, stale content.

But what that means, I think, has changed over time. I don't think it's necessary as fiction authors to focus so much on maintaining a blog and keeping readers up to date through that sort of medium. I think it's important to make sure our latest releases are there. Our covers of books, if we want to do sort of a book reveal.

An online platform is a perfect way to do that, to host that sort of thing. I have an online store, for example, and I get into this in the book with some later levels, if you will. Like selling products related to your series and that kind of stuff. That's really great to have on your website and that's a way of keeping everything fresh.

But I put all my updates in email format and send them to my readers through email. So that's the way that I keep my content being sent out, meaning what I'm doing, personal updates, books I'm working on. None of that stuff really lives on my website. It all goes directly to email. So in a sense, my website is a much more static, not changing platform.

Again, I'm not saying that it's just, here's my website and it's never going to be changed. I'm just saying that it's not crucial these days in my opinion to worry about blogging and making sure that we've got an article going up every week or every day.

Unless, and again this goes back to Joanna Penn. Unless you're the expert, you're doing the nonfiction side as well. You're helping authors and doing that sort of thing. If you've got that side of it, then yeah it's going to be much more beneficial for you to write content and keep things up to date and make sure you're relevant in search terms and all that. But most people are searching for books on Amazon or they're coming across them in their Facebook feed because of ads. They're just not finding fiction to read by searching in Google, fiction to read. It's like this author and, you know.

James Blatch: So, is it a good way to think of your website as a place where some new readers will find their way and they'll go through it to get onto your free book or your first book, whatever? And then it's not really a place where you're serving an audience who are coming back all the time. It's a place for that initial ... In which case it kind of stays fresh, doesn't it?

Because if it's new people it's serving all the time, it doesn't need to be changed every two weeks.

Nick Thacker: That's exactly the way to look at it. It's fresh because the people who are seeing it are usually seeing it for the first or second time only. In all of my books, the call to action at the beginning and end is sign up for my mailing list. That link sends them to my website, where they can sign up and all that and then click around. But the whole purpose of that platform for me is to drive people to sign up to my newsletter.

Again, I'm speaking as a fiction author only. Now my nonfiction stuff, that's a whole different ballgame. That's different strategies, different things that are involved in keeping content on there is an important strategy for me. But for the fiction side, you're exactly right.

It's people are hitting that website probably once and only once or twice. And then if they sign up for my mailing list, I can now market to them through that. If I have a reason to go to the website, they want to get a new ... I made a drinking mug with my character's slogan on there.

James Blatch: I have mine.

Nick Thacker: Exactly. That lives on the website. So people go to the website to buy those things. But they're not hanging out there. They're not engaging with each other and communicating with one another or me. It's all sort of a one way communication mechanism.

James Blatch:Look, great. Nick, thank you very much. The keen observer would have noticed that we're not wearing the same clothes that we were wearing at the beginning of this interview.

Nick Thacker: Oh, I thought I had the same stuff on.

James Blatch: Oh, is it the same one? Maybe I've given it away. But I have a feeling I've got a different t-shirt on. So in the middle of our conversation, I got a call to pick up my daughter from school because she developed a cough and alarms go off and she's back home. She's fine at the moment, but we're in quarantine.

So that's why we recorded this over two legs, and I appreciate your patience and effort with that, Nick. It's great. I've got to wish you luck, because you've got this move to Hawaii, I guess hanging in the balance a little bit at the moment. But it will happen at some point.

Nick Thacker: That's what we hope.

James Blatch: We'll come and see you because I want to visit some of those observatories they have of the volcanoes.

Nick Thacker: Yes. They've got the Mauna Kea, the one up there on the mountain. Come check it out.

James Blatch: Awesome. Superb Nick. Thank you so much indeed for coming onto the show.

Nick Thacker: Thanks for having me, James.

James Blatch: There you go. There's Nick and talking about author platforms.

Your website's a couple years old now, Mark. Time to refresh it?

Mark Dawson: No. It cost a lot of money and it still does its job quite well. So no, I'm not actually looking at that. I'm going to be building onto it, so just actually commissioned. The design is to add a store onto the page where I'll be offering signed copies as well. So people sign in or they ask what they want, tell me what they want. They give the dedication, they pay for it through Woocommerce and then it spits an email to me, but more importantly, to I'm going to be hiring I think a full-time PA probably in the next week or two. And then that would be one of her jobs, is to collect the book, bag it up and send it to wherever in the world the reader wants it to go. So that's a new project that we're working on in the next couple weeks.

James Blatch: She's not going to sign it for you?

Mark Dawson: No, I'll sign all the books. There'll be dedications as well. That would be fraudulent and I certainly won't do that. But we'll see. I don't think it's going to be a money maker, even if the add on is quite expensive. In the thousands. I could probably get it done cheaper, but I'm too lazy to shop around. It's just kind of a nice thing to have. So perhaps in time it will pay itself back.

James Blatch: Your hardbacks, the deal that you did that you've spoken about in the past, have gone live. They've started appearing in the supermarkets. I'm avoiding supermarkets still at the moment, but I'm sure they're in there. We've seen a couple of photographs of them. But I did notice I think maybe in Aldi, which is a slightly cheap and cheerful supermarket in the UK, being sold at five pounds. That must be-

Mark Dawson: They're not in Aldi. They're in Asda.

James Blatch: Asda. Okay, Asda, five pounds. That must be not far off what they cost to produce.

Mark Dawson: I shouldn't think so, yeah. That's the price in the supermarket, so Tesco and Asda are all in that kind of five to six pound mark. That's deliberate. We're not really aiming to make any money on the hardback sale. It's really just to get volume so that we can hopefully get the Sunday Times bestseller list. I have no idea whether that's possible or not. Numbers, you don't have to sell a tonne usually, although since lockdown has finished, sales have appeared to have been a bit higher than they would normally be. So maybe a bit more competitive.

But it's going to be interesting. I'm fairly relaxed about it, although I drove down to the Salisbury Tesco on Saturday and it was raining and I was completely under dressed for it. So I was freezing my ass off for a half hour to get in. Of course, when I got there it wasn't there. So I was like, oh that's annoying.

So then I drove to Andover, which is about a half hour away. I went to the Andover Asda. It wasn't there. Went to the Andover Sainsbury, it wasn't there.

So I'm like, this is a bit annoying. But then my mum found it in the Asda in Lowestoft so she sent me a copy. And then since then, I've had a few readers and actually a few SPF people have spotted it in their local stores and they've been kind enough to take pictures and send them to me. It's in some stores, not all stores. So, we'll see. I can't really influence it hugely. It's one of those things I'm just going to sit back and see what happens I think.

James Blatch: Good. Well it must be fun to see your book on the shelf in the supermarket. Good luck with that race. I'll buy the Sunday Times on Sunday.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, probably in there. But it runs Sunday to Sunday. I think this week it wouldn't be in, because it's basically Sunday to Saturday? I don't know. It's a bit weird but I spoke to the publisher about it. Lots of weird timing issues and just kind of historical hangups as to when the calculate the list. In the states, it's Tuesday. So Sunday to Sunday for us. So, we'll see.

James Blatch: Good luck. Obviously the visibility you get, you'll be cachinging away on the eBooks and print on demand as a result of that, hopefully. Good, okay. Thank you very much indeed, Mark.

I want to say thank you to Nick Thacker, thank you to Catherine for turning out those patreons in record time. And that's it. We are on the back end of a very, very busy period and I'm really hoping to have at least a couple of weeks before you kick my ass about all the things that are going on in the future, which is already like a mountain in front of us. Can I have another couple of weeks off, boss?

Mark Dawson: You have a couple of days.

James Blatch: Days. Tough man. Got to get the end of month accounts done for then. Good. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. We will see you next week. All that bit leads me to say is that it's a goodbye from here.

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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