SPS-263: Plotting Your Book, Made Easy – with Ryan Zee & Cameron Sutter
Cameron Sutter and Ryan Zee have come up with two powerful tools to help authors plot their novels and grow their email lists.
- Why YA author and software engineer Cameron Sutter created Plottr
- The main benefits of using Plottr including organization and time-savings
- How BookSweeps works to help authors grow their newsletter lists and BookBub following
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
COURSE: Ads for Authors is open for a limited time to help you sell more books
WEBINAR: Join BookBub’s Carlyn Robertson for a free webinar on 2 February about BookBub ads
WEBINAR: Join former Amazonian Janet Margot for a free webinar on 3 February about Amazon ads
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-263: Plotting Your Book, Made Easy - with Ryan Zee & Cameron Sutter
Announcer: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show...
Ryan Zee: I think there are applications for lawyers, even, and really anywhere you're plotting out some kind of written document, so I think we're going to be expanding to all kinds of writers as we move forward.
Announcer: Publishing is changing. No more gate keepers, 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, it is the Self-Publishing Show. This is James looking down, making sure everything's recording. I think it is. My names is James and his name is-
Mark Dawson: Mark. Hello.
James Blatch: So when I point at you, you speak. Have you seen Moneyball?
Mark Dawson: No, I haven't seen Moneyball.
James Blatch: Oh, you should see Moneyball.
Mark Dawson: I was slightly bemused by the total lack of preparation that is standard for-
James Blatch: When I point at you, you speak.
Mark Dawson: ... Oh, right.
James Blatch: That's Brad Pitt's line.
Mark Dawson: I'll bear that in mind.
James Blatch: Okay, we have a few more days of Ads for Authors open, it's going to be open until the middle of next week, so Wednesday night. I always say the last night in the world, if you're on Easter Island, it'll be the last night in the world on Wednesday night.
That's the point it'll close and it'll open again not until the summer, so possibly six months away, something like that. If you don't want to get enrolled in Ads for Authors, I would go and have a look at that now at selfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors.
Now, we have two webinars next week on two consecutive days, both are going to be full of value packed information for you. The first one is on BookBub ads, and it's going to be from BookBub themselves. Carlyn Robertson is going to be joining us all the way from Cambridge, well actually she's probably working from home, but I imagine in the Cambridge area in the United States. She's going to be giving us the key tips to making that platform work for you.
Now, you might be like me, I've dipped into BookBub ads, but haven't really had a proper exposure to the platform and the culture of BookBub ads and every ad platform has its own culture and ecosystem. I think I'm really looking forward to getting to know that. It's definitely an area I'd like to explore more.
And then, the next day, on Wednesday night is going to be a session on Amazon ads, again right from the heart, from the coalface of Amazon Ads, from Janet Margot, somebody who is very much involved in the rolling out of that ad platform, while she was working in that department of Amazon. Janet's going to be, again, taking us through these key pointers of getting the most out of the Amazon Ads platform.
You can sign up for these webinars, they're completely free, they've both got a separate address. The first one is selfpublishingformula.com/bookbub and the second one is selfpublishingformula.com/amazon. Looking forward to lots of you joining us, we get thousands of people now signing up for these webinars.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it's worth saying, just to avoid lots of angry emails, that that's going to be first come, first serve. You can all register, there's no limit on registration, so we've had three or four thousand people register for webinars before, but the plan that we have with GoToWebinar, we can only have 1,000 people. So we have had webinars that have been full before, more than one, and I wouldn't be surprised if these are both oversubscribed.
So if you want to come, I would suggest registering now, so you'll get the link when it goes live. And then, probably not a bad idea to actually get on board with the webinar 20 minutes early, just so you have your place in the room. Now, we will also record them, so if you don't get in, apologies for that, but you won't be completely left out, because we will have a recording that will circulate the day after each webinar.
James Blatch: Yeah, the key thing is to register yourself, though, just to be sure you're going to get the recording. We'll try and distribute it wide, but if you go along and register yourself at those two addresses, they'll be in the show notes, if you missed them, or you can just wind back on your phone to get them. We're looking forward to those.
I'm really excited about the new BookBub module, it's definitely an under exploited area, for me. I had a little dabble with them, but it's just one of those things I know you mustn't just throw money at something and expect it to work. You need to know what you're doing with these ads platforms, and so I've left it for now.
Although, excitingly, I do have a BookBub featured deal. First application for our new author, Kerry J. Donovan, and not only is it a feature deal, it's a worldwide, including the US, feature deal, I'm very excited about. And I went for free this time, so I think when I've applied with Robert Storey's books, if offered them a discount deal, and I've got an international deal once, then rejected the second time, with Kerry straight in there with a full deal. So I guess BookBub, clearly they're going to favour... these are feature deals we're talking about now, not the ads, different things. But they are going to favour what is the best value and the best looking offer to their readers. Right?
Mark Dawson: Yes. I think they have a certain amount of slots in each daily email, a certain amount of free slots and a certain amount of paid slots, so it's not necessarily a question of favouring, they just have slots to fill and, for one reason or another, they chose our books, which is very nice of them. Thank you very much. But yeah, I could be wrong, but I don't think it's any more complicated than that.
James Blatch: But you don't think they'd look more favourably on somebody offering a free than a discounted?
Mark Dawson: Well, they've only got a certain amount of slots, they have to fill those slots, so once they've filled the days free slot, it doesn't really matter how many other free ones they've got. That's just how they work. You're not going to get an email full of free deals. There will be some in there that are free, but most of them will be paid.
James Blatch: I'm excited to see what impact it has. Kerry's books are going up in terms of sales and revenue since we took them on at Fuse. And I'll be reporting to him at the end of this month. He'll probably be listening to this, making notes, but try to save my report until the month's end, hit my targets and so on. But I know from experience, and I see this question asked, it was asked very recently, actually, in our group, "I've been offered an international deal, is it worth it?" My answer is, "Absolutely, yes." I mean, it's been tremendous value for Robert Storey on an international deal, it's quite good value for money. A couple hundred bucks, something like that.
And there was a definite spike in our readthrough ramp that went on afterwards. I think I've got the snapshot, the screen grab of that somewhere, which I've posted before. And this time, it's a free deal it includes the US, so I'm expecting great things. I will certainly report back on what we get from that. Okay, yes. Slightly underprepared. That's because I am racing to the end of the rewrite of my novel, which means-
Mark Dawson: Racing?
James Blatch: ... racing.
Mark Dawson: That's not a word I'd associate with your writing speed.
James Blatch: It's amazing. What time is it now? I had a dog walk this morning, as you know, and since then I've been working on the book. It's amazing, if you don't do anything else, just work on the book, you can actually make some progress, but it's quite hard to do that in the life I lead and the work that piles up. No doubt, as I've been writing the book. I still have to go through emails and messages in a minute, but that's the life of somebody who's basically a part-time author.
Many, many people listening to this show will be juggling full-time commitments with trying to write. And I guess, for some, it's the dream to be a full-time author, for others, maybe, it's always going to be a bit of a hobby. I think having a clear idea of what you want from your writing's not a bad thing, so I probably need to work that out at some point.
Mark Dawson: You going to point at me? Now, it's my turn to speak. Yes, absolutely. I imagine most of our listeners are part-time authors. But, I mean, hopefully in the time we've been doing this, lots of them have decided that they want to go full-time and are enjoying themselves. And others, if you're in that position where you're trying to get to that stage then keep listening, you never know. Hopefully, we can give you a little bit of motivation to get those words down.
James Blatch: Yeah, definitely the right place to do that. And let me ask you then about what you think I should do. I'll tell you what my plan is for my book now, in terms of-
Mark Dawson: Here we go.
James Blatch: ... getting to the end of the writing.
Mark Dawson: James's tactic is to wait and ask me whilst we're on the podcast for some free advice. But yeah, go on then.
James Blatch: Yeah, of course. There's got to be some benefit from this, for me. I've done the revision based on the developmental feedback and that's entailed quite a lot of cutting out stuff and quite a lot of rewriting, so I don't know what percentage I've rewritten, probably somewhere between 30 and 40%, something like that, of what was 196,000 word manuscript, so it's quite a lot of rewriting, which means that there will be stuff in there that will be picked up by a readthrough.
My plan, now, is to transfer it to a device, read it, really resist the temptation to make detailed notes on grammar or anything like that, just ignore the typos and grammar at this stage, maybe have a pen and paper by my hand, just to make bigger notes. But try and spot anything that doesn't work or might be confusing or with the way I've restructured it that I miss setting something up that I later rely on as evidence type thing. And then, to go through it scene by scene, and that will be the point at which I can work. So make those bigger changes, and then, finally, go through the scenes for copy and anything else.
Mark Dawson: Well, you're not going to copy edit your own manuscript, are you?
James Blatch: I thought I might do. I've got until March the 1st, when it goes into professional copy edit.
Mark Dawson: Oh right.
James Blatch: And I'd like to get it into good shape.
Mark Dawson: So you're not copy editing it, someone else is copy editing it.
James Blatch: Oh no. It's going to a professional copy editor, but I would like to get in as good of shape as possible before then.
Mark Dawson: What I'd do is I wouldn't worry too much about that, that's their job, right? Maybe make it as tight as you can, but don't make it perfect, because you'll just end up delaying it again, and then it'll be 2022 by the time you send it out. I would get it onto a Kindle, that'd be what I would do, and I'd read it on a Kindle. I wouldn't take extensive notes, I would just highlight bits that you're not happy with, otherwise, you'll just distract yourself. That's what I do.
I'd always put it onto a Kindle, on a Paperwhite usually, and I'll just highlight paragraphs or words that I don't like. I particularly don't like word echoes or repetition too close to each other, so I just highlight words and then go back and I'll change that, which maybe will take me a morning or a day to do, to look for those highlighted notes that I've done, and then I'd send it to the copy editor. I certainly would transfer, once you've finished it, so you get a different experience when you're reading it back.
James Blatch: Okay. That is my plan. Good. I'm very excited. Almost there. It comes back from the copy editor on March the 22nd.
Mark Dawson: So what I'd do now is once it's gone to the copy editor, I would put a pre-order on it. You can't delay that more than once, so if you mess that up, you can't do pre-orders for a year. I'd put a deadline on yourself. The uncharitable might say, "You have demonstrated remarkable skill for prevarication over the last two years." And I think, at this point, I would make sure I have a deadline. And Amazon won't put up with you moaning that you're not happy with whatever. You will just have to ship it, and it's just fine.
James Blatch: Jeff's very sympathetic to my position.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I don't think he's going to be all that sympathetic.
James Blatch: Really? Oh. Isn't he sitting there waiting for it?
Mark Dawson: Well, I think he probably is, but he likes things that fly, so you're probably in his wheelhouse somewhere.
James Blatch: Yes, good.
Mark Dawson: I think he's quite a busy man. That's just the impression I get.
James Blatch: I mean, I do use deadlines, I think I've said this before. And I set myself the 31st of January to finish this revision.
Mark Dawson: 1999.
James Blatch: No, this year. And I've had a spreadsheet, which I fill in every day. And if I haven't done a day's work, the words required every day goes up, and it's currently at about 2,400 a day. This is revision, by the way, not writing, so very achievable. And I'm actually into the last 10, 15,000 words now. I will meet the 31st of January, no question about that now. And I will meet the copy edit deadline on March the 1st, because that's booked in and paid for. Yeah, deadlines are good things.
Mark Dawson: Isn't it a Douglas Adams quote about deadlines.
James Blatch: Yes, "I love the whooshing sound they make as they go past."
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Yes. But here we go. It's been a bit of a long haul, but there you go. I've really enjoyed it. I'm thinking a lot about novel two, which I'm 40,000 words into a first draft. And this is where today's interview comes into play, because I've been thinking about it.
We're going to be talking to Ryan Zee, who is the creator of Plottr. P-L-O-T-T-R. Plottr. And it is a bit of software that you subscribe to that you can use to plot out your books. I think I am somebody who has to have a plot, but it doesn't necessarily need to be incredibly detailed.
I haven't used Plottr yet, but for the first draft, it probably needs to be a side of A4. A word piece that says, act one, this is going to happen, act two, act three, type thing. And then I can write as a discovery writer and let things develop. But after that, I'm thinking Plottr might be a useful thing for me for the second write, the second time I write it. I know you don't write books more than once. You don't need to. But I think I probably do at this stage.
Mark Dawson: Not from scratch. No.
James Blatch: Because I probably would write it from scratch again, I think.
Mark Dawson: As you get more experience you won't need to do that, but I rewrite extensively, so I kind of layer upon layer upon layer upon layer, so I'm just going to what will, I hope, be the final pass through the second Atticus book, because that's slightly more twisty. The Milton books can be twisty, but they're not mysteries really. Milton has something to do and he goes and does it. The Atticus books are more of a mystery.
That has been quite tricky and the central mystery and some of the clues that lead Atticus to their solution have changed a bit over the course of the last couple months since I've been writing it. And I think I've got it in my head now. I usually get ideas when I'm out with the dog, in the mornings. And I think I've got the final version now.
I don't use any software, but I have a Scrivener file or a little, yeah, I suppose a file in Scrivener where I have the timeline and I have an act one, act two, act three, and I'll be tweaking it as we go along. But something like Plottr, it does seem like something that I, potentially, could see myself using. It is, from what I understand, this is coming from a position of relative ignorance, so I'm looking forward to listening to this interview. But from what I understand, it will offer the kinds of things that will make that process a little easier.
James Blatch: Yeah. I know some very successful writers who are huge fans of Plottr, they think it's really essential to their process. But that's one of the things that I love about the interviews that we do and I always ask people about process, how they write, how they come up with their ideas, all those cliché questions that members of the public ask writer, but actually writers are interested in each others process. But I do know quite a few writers, though, for whom Plottr is very important.
Mark Dawson: Okay. Well, let's hear it from Ryan Zee himself, founder of Plottr and hear all about this platform, what it can do for us.
James Blatch: Well, Ryan Zee, Cameron Sutter. Have a said Sutter correctly? Or is it Sutter?
Cameron Sutter: It's Sutter.
James Blatch: Ah, Sutter. Okay. That might be a European, American thing. Sutter. Okay. Ryan and Cameron. Ryan, I'm familiar with you, we've probably shared a couple of beers in various places around the world at various points in the past, and people might or might not know of your connection with Plottr, which we're going to talk about today. And also we're going to talk about BookSweeps.
Why don't we start off with you guys, perhaps, individually just giving us a little bit of your own background. Ryan, do you want to kick off with that?
Ryan Zee: I've been working with authors since about 2013. I started interning at literary agencies and publishing houses in New York, and one thing led to another. I ended up at Writers House literary agency, and that led to me starting my own marketing agency in 2015.
Since then, I started BookSweeps, which has turned into a fairly popular, well-known platform for authors, helping them growing their email list and social media following. And then, more recently, I joined up with Plottr.
James Blatch: Okay. Cameron, you're on.
Cameron Sutter: I'm an indie YA author. I've written a few books under the name C. Lewis S. By day, though, I'm a software engineer. I write software, and I found a way to connect those two things that I really like and made a tool for writers and it's kind of selfish to help my own writing be more organised.
James Blatch: Well, that's how most of the best productivity, et cetera, work isn't it? People solving their own problems. It's a bit like writing a book, because, for you, which is a really good idea, as well. Because if you enjoy it, but there you go.
Cameron Sutter: Yeah, that's true.
James Blatch: That's the philosophy behind it. Just explain to me how the Plottr relationship works. You wrote it, Cameron? You came up with it.
Cameron Sutter: Yeah. I was writing stories and frustrated with my process and with staying organised, trying to keep things organised, and then I could see the books visually in my head and there was no tool that existed that did that. I looked for tools and tried to find one that was good, but couldn't find any that really fit my process and the way I thought about it. And so, I just started making the tool myself, since I had the skills.
Then, I showed it to a few writers and they really liked it and they wanted me to keep building it, keep making it better, and it just spread from there.
James Blatch: At what point, Ryan, did you become involved?
Ryan Zee: I found out about Plottr late in 2019, I actually discovered it through a facebook post, and then one thing led to another as we started talking to each other and I joined, basically, at the very end of 2019, January 2020.
James Blatch: Okay. Less than a year ago?
Ryan Zee: Yeah.
James Blatch: And what was the pitch for you, Ryan, to Cameron to join?
Ryan Zee: What was the pitch from me to him?
James Blatch: Or was it the other way around?
Ryan Zee: It was sort of a mutual thing, I think. But basically, I've grown a successful business with BookSweeps. I was excited myself, as an aspiring author, about the tool as I discovered it. I was like, "How have I never heard of this thing before?" It looked really interesting and I wanted to help grow it, so I basically pitched him on that as a concept.
Cameron Sutter: Basically, it's a cool tool, but you're doing it all wrong. You're marketing it all wrong, so let's work together.
Ryan Zee: Basically.
James Blatch: And that was an attractive proposition for you, Cameron, I can see that being the case.
Okay, let's talk about Plottr then. Explain to us how it works. Cameron, I guess it's your baby, you should probably do that.
Cameron Sutter: It's kind of like sticky notes on a wall. A lot of writers either have index cards or sticky notes that they'll put up on a wall and it looks like that, it's very visual, it's a visual programme. But there's multiple plot lines, so it's like a grid or maybe an Excel spreadsheet, but you can drag things around, it's all easy to use, it looks nice, it's not complicated, and it's a very visual programme.
Instead of those index cards or sticky notes falling off the wall or getting written on by your kids or eaten by your dog, they're somewhere digitally. They're all organised in one place and you can move them around real easily.
Somebody told us, actually, that they stood up on a chair one time, with all their index cards on the floor and they were trying to take pictures of it, to be able to remember where it was, and then all of a sudden the dog ran through and all their work was gone. They couldn't remember when they're put all those cards. And so, this is a digital form of that, and it makes it really easy to stay organised and to visually see your story.
James Blatch: This is useful not just for somebody starting out with a blank canvas plotting their novel from scratch. But I imagine, if you've got a manuscript, particularly after first draft. Some people just like writing a draft anyway, without doing too much plotting. And then, maybe get involved in that revision stage.
It seems to me that would be a good place to then use Plottr to sort out the various story lines in your book.
Cameron Sutter: Yeah, that's definitely the two ways that we see people use it. Either they use it right at the beginning as the brainstorming stage or organising their story or after their first draft. And a lot of people that are discovery writers or pantsers some people call them, after their first draft they'll come in and fill out the visual timeline, and then it makes editing so much easier, because you can drag things around, instead of having to move tens of thousands of words around.
James Blatch: Yes. I must remember to use discovery writer, in the future, rather than pantser, which is really a horrible expression.
Cameron Sutter: I've heard it both ways.
James Blatch: Even though it's a useful term for us to use. Okay, you can do a little bit of this is Scrivener. They have the scenes and chapters and there is a note board view of your manuscript. I guess you can move it around. And I guess you could, ultimately, sort of do this is Word and Excel, but not very easily. But this is a user interface thing. I mean, I haven't used Plottr, I'm going to after this actually, to start looking at it. Obviously, should've done that before the interview.
I'm guessing you've put some time and energy into making this a very user-friendly interface.
Cameron Sutter: Yeah, that's one of the big draws. Scrivener does a lot of things, but it's complicated. There's whole courses about how to use it, and this is very friendly, approachable, kind of fun. Actually, that was one of the things that attracted Ryan. He said it looked fun.
Ryan Zee: Yeah. It feels kind of like a kid walking into, I don't know, a candy shop, but the candy is all the different functionalities that you can use to help easily plan your book.
James Blatch: One of the problems with using Scrivener for that is that Scrivener is your manuscript. You start moving stuff around, it's not the same as moving ideas around and seeing how they're going to work and then, perhaps, going back to, for me, they're different things, the plotting-
Cameron Sutter: Yeah, definitely.
James Blatch: ... and the actual writing. So it's probably a good idea to not do too much of that in Scrivener. It would be the computer equivalent of someone opening the door and all your sheets being blown across the floor.
Cameron Sutter: Right. Yeah.
James Blatch: Ryan, you saw the product, you like the product.
What was Cameron doing at the time that you thought, "There's room for growth here," to put it politely. What wasn't he doing?
Ryan Zee: A, his pricing was way too low. But I think from just a pure functionality standpoint, just over the last year we've added a lot of the functionality that I thought was missing at the beginning. We were missing certain character functionalities to help your create series bible in a particular way. We just released apps for Android and IOS, so there were all these different, very obvious avenues to both improve the user interface and just the general functionality that I thought I could help with when I saw it initially.
Cameron Sutter: And I was doing it part-time.
James Blatch: Right.
Ryan Zee: Yeah, Cameron was doing it part-time. Exactly
James Blatch: I was going to just say let's just mention the price before we go on. I still think it's pretty reasonable. Have you got a sale on at the moment? Because it's $25 is that annually? I'm looking at Mac version, for me.
Ryan Zee: Yeah, the current pricing's actually going to be going up at the end of the year, but you can see we have annual and then the lifetime pricing on the website right now.
James Blatch: Okay. So $99 for lifetime ownership.
Ryan Zee: Yeah, correct.
James Blatch: I think that's still pretty reasonable, as you say, going up.
Ryan Zee: Yeah, going up at the end of the year. Yeah.
James Blatch: Do you know, I'm not sure when this interview's going out. Might to be before the end of the year, so I don't know, maybe you could do it as a coupon, to get that historic price, but we'll talk about that afterwards and Mark and I will mention it at the end, if there is.
Ryan Zee: That sounds good.
James Blatch: Okay. And yes, I can see a very nice explanatory website, a lot of helpful tips and some social proof there from Michael Anderle, among others. And so, have you started to find a bigger audience for it? I think Plottr, I'm trying to think when I started to know about it. It probably is the last 12 months, actually, that I've seen it mentioned in Facebook discussions a couple of times. So yeah, does definitely seem to have just got its head above the parapet now.
Cameron Sutter: Yeah, we've increased our user base about five times over the last six months. We really, basically, relaunched it in May of this year, so we're really only six months into the relaunch at this point-ish. Six, seven months. But yeah, it's been going well. Like I said, I think we've had over 10,000 writers download the product at this point, so we're excited to see how things continue into next year.
James Blatch: It is one of these things that once you start using it, you are there then. You're locked into it and, I guess, either people look at it and don't use it or start using it and probably don't stop using it for some time.
Cameron Sutter: Right.
James Blatch: Until something else comes along. But then, I'm sure you're going to keep one step ahead of the game on that front.
In terms of its application, it's just for fiction novels would you say or does it work equally for non-fiction type manuscripts?
Cameron Sutter: We currently have people that are using it for non-fiction, as well. I used it for a non-fiction book. It's geared, right now, towards fiction, but it definitely works for either.
James Blatch: Does it have any of those, because one or two of the early types of these things, nothing as fancy as Plottr, but they had alongside you putting your storyline of characters, they had hints and tips about how characters should develop. Is there any of that in this, have you tried to steer people in terms of story arcs, et cetera?
Cameron Sutter: As far as that, we don't try and have people follow a writing process, but we've got these templates in there and I don't know if that's what you were going to talk about, Ryan.
Ryan Zee: Yeah, just to pick up on that, we have templates at both the plot and character level, so we provide templates, basically across a variety of genres and writing methods, so we have a hero's journey, for example, we have romancing a beat for romance authors, we have templates for mystery authors. I think the point of Plottr is its flexibility. You can create your own templates.
I think most writing programmes on the market typically steer people towards a particular philosophy, whereas Plottr is philosophy agnostic. However you want to go about plotting your book, that's the point, really. We have character templates, too, that provide guidance in terms of ways to go about thinking about your characters, like conflict. Cameron, you know what I'm talking about.
Cameron Sutter: Goal, motivation, conflict.
Ryan Zee: Yeah, goal motivation. And others like that. We have one based on the snowflake method that Randy Ingermanson contributed. We have, I think, maybe five to 10 different character templates and probably a dozen plus plot templates and we're always adding more.
James Blatch: I think that can be really useful, certainly at the beginning of your writing career. Looks nice. It looks like a nicely put together bit of software.
What do you think it the main benefit, Cameron, for someone using Plottr? Where are they going to feel that advantage?
Cameron Sutter: It's really going to improve their productivity, and it's going to do that by helping them to visualise their plot points, outline faster, and because of that, they'll have cleaner first drafts.
James Blatch: Yeah, so spot those areas. It's something that we've been talking to Jennie Nash a lot in the revision process is trying to identify bits of your manuscript that aren't working.
Cameron Sutter: Yeah, you'll be able to see plot holes, pacing problems. Just visually they pop out at you and it's really nice.
Ryan Zee: One of the writers who uses Plottr fairly frequently, very often, talks just about what Cameron was saying, so you can skip it, it's fine.
James Blatch: Oh, okay. That's good. Okay, so the price is there on the website, people will be able to find it. It's plottr.com, I guess, is it? Yes, it is.
Cameron Sutter: Yeah, it is. We just updated that actually.
James Blatch: Okay. And people should know that Plottr is spelled P-L-O-T-T-R.
Cameron Sutter: Yes.
James Blatch: Plottr. Okay, neat name. You're not going to forget it once you know it, and how has it been then, since Ryan's been on board.
You say you've increased your membership five fold? Are you seeing month on month growth at the moment?
Cameron Sutter: Oh yeah, yeah it's been awesome. Ryan is really awesome. One thing that we forget to mention that was missing in Plottr was the educational part of it, like helping people to be able to use it better and also these templates, the idea of having these things that guide people along and give them these methods. But yeah, it's been awesome. He's really good at what he does, and so it's been really great having him on board. A lot more people are going to be able to have better first drafts and increase their productivity because of Plottr, because of Ryan.
James Blatch: So good decision to bring him on board.
Cameron Sutter: Yeah, definitely.
James Blatch: Good.
Ryan Zee: I think the one tangible thing that we've done in that regard is just we created a real easy to follow video course for authors. It's a minute or two minutes per video that really guides them through very step-by-step how to use the application, without any fluff. We have really thorough documentation now, which we didn't have six, seven months ago. We have demos that people can use, so we have a demo of Pride and Prejudice that you can download and play with in Plottr. We have demos of Three Little Pigs and some other fun stories, so I think that kind of thing really does help people understand better how to use the product.
James Blatch: Excellent. Well, good luck with Plottr. I'll dive in after this, I'm in the middle of a revision at the moment, my fifth revision of my novel, so probably a bit late for me to start with Plottr, but I'm on the final hurdle, final stretch hopefully.
Ryan Zee: Yeah, probably not for this book, at least.
James Blatch: But the next one, which is halfway through first draft, could well be a benefit from that, because I am somebody, I think, that likes to get writing first and then think later, and I'm quite happy to rewrite a novel several times, which not everyone is. But at some point, I think, that process at least, is an absolute necessity, whether you use Plottr or whether go do use bits of paper, firstly, I think it's an absolute necessity to break down your novel and thoroughly check whether everything is working as well as it should be. And it's surprising how often you'll find little things that dovetail very nicely together that you missed that you can change little bits of action that join two bits together as one, I found anyway. So, that's Plottr. Should we have a chat about BookSweeps, Ryan?
Ryan Zee: Let's do it.
James Blatch: You better tell us what BookSweeps is.
Ryan Zee: BookSweeps is a platform that helps authors grow their email lists and BookBub following, primarily. I've been doing it since 2016. We've worked with over 5,000 authors and it's going strong five years later, somehow. So here we are.
James Blatch: How does it work?
Ryan Zee: Basically, as an author, you would sign up on our website for a promotion and we provide materials, we provide contest materials, including promotional graphics, contest language, and social media sharing images. You as an author would sign up for the promotion, we provide those materials, and then the contest typically lasts about a week to 10 days. Then you can share those materials with your readers.
We share it with our own audience of over 100,000 readers on our email list and on social media. And then, some readers sign up for the list of the authors that they're interested in. They get to select individually who they want to sign up for and we use a double opt-in process to make sure everything is GDPR compliant. And then, at the end of the promotion, we send out those emails to the authors who were signed up for.
James Blatch: You gather the emails, but people are obviously aware they're signing up for these particular authors list and these you distribute the emails afterwards?
Ryan Zee: Correct.
James Blatch: And sorry, so I understand, you give the authors a competition? A contest?
Ryan Zee: Yeah. We're running a giveaway where each author will contribute two copies of their book, there are two winners. So the grand prize winner will get a copy of each book plus a Kindle Fire or a Nook or a tablet of some sort, and then the second place winner gets a copy of each book that was provided, as the runner-up.
James Blatch: Okay. And you have your own list of readers?
Ryan Zee: Correct.
James Blatch: And in addition to that, I guess the author pumps it out, too.
Ryan Zee: Yeah. Oftentimes we encourage the authors to share it, as well, with their social media and newsletter followings. It isn't absolutely required, but we do encourage it.
James Blatch: And is this something that you or the author would run social media ads, too?
Ryan Zee: Yeah, some authors will run ads, we run ads ourselves, too. But the majority of the sign-ups come via the email list directly, via our own email list.
James Blatch: Okay. You've got readers who are used to, each week, having a chance at winning these books and, at the same time-
Ryan Zee: Yeah, exactly. Our lists are segmented by genre. Our main reader email list is segmented, so that we're not sending romance promotions to thriller readers and vice versa. So it's all very thought out.
James Blatch: We all need a bit of romance in our lives, but yes, that doesn't always work.
What sort of results are people seeing on this?
Ryan Zee: Recently we're seeing typically somewhere in the 400 to 800 emails per author range, depending on what it is, it could be more in the 600 to 1,000 type range, but that's typical for a promotion, for romance and mysteries and the more popular genres like that typically is on the higher end. Something like children's fiction would probably be on the lower end.
James Blatch: 400 to 600 is typically the email list growth you'll get through the contest?
Ryan Zee: Yeah, that'll be on the lower end, correct.
James Blatch: Okay. Well, that's pretty decent. And how much does it cost to take part in the promotions?
Ryan Zee: The promotions are $50 each. We often run discounts and sales, but the typical retail price is $50.
James Blatch: Okay, well that's a really good price per contact, I would say, for your email list. And your list will grow by these people who mainly come from your existing 100,000 or so list. I mean, there's always discussion about quality of reader, particularly if you've given something away, people worry that, basically, what you have on your list is people who want books for free, and what you really want on your list is people who are going to buy books.
Are you finding that there's a decent quality of reader that people are building onto their list?
Ryan Zee: Yeah. I think the majority of the reports we get back are that readers are opening 40, 50%, at least that first email. And we don't get many people who have issues with mass unsubscribes. I think if that was an issue, it would've popped up a long time ago. I think, basically, the methodology that we've constructed around the process that we have for filtering out readers has improved to the point where it's not a big issue, is I guess where I would put that.
We put obstacles in place that make it so that people who aren't necessarily committed to staying are not probably going to sign up in the first place.
James Blatch: What do people need to prepare themselves for one of the promotions? What does the author need to do?
Ryan Zee: As an author, you would just need to have a book, not even ready right now necessarily, you would need to have a book that's going to be available within, let's say, a month after the promotion ending. You would need a copy of a book that has some sort of cover image, and that's basically all you would need to sign up. You pay the submission fee and, basically, you're telling us that you're promising to deliver that book within a month after the promotion ends. That's pretty much it. If you have a newsletter list, if you have a social media platform already, great, but it's not absolutely required.
James Blatch: This could be a place for a new author to start their list building?
Ryan Zee: Yeah, absolutely. We have many, many folks who come to us for exactly that purpose.
James Blatch: And I see that you use BookFunnel as integrated into the process.
Ryan Zee: We have a separate portion of the website that is geared towards allowing authors to promote their free books in a passive fashion. So I think what you're looking at there is an author who's uploaded one of their books to the website for free.
James Blatch: Oh, gotcha.
Ryan Zee: Some authors can also actually upload their books to their website if the have a BookFunnel or StoryOrigin link or elsewhere, they can upload at least one book to the site for free and we plans available where folks can upload more books, if they're so inclined.
James Blatch: When you run the competition, how many authors take part in each one?
Ryan Zee: Typically, there'd be about 30 to 50 authors. We have a hard cap right now of 50 authors in a given list building promotion. It used to be higher, but that's one of the changes we made to keep the quality up, was to lower the cap of authors involved in promotions. Typically, you'll see about 30 to 50. The BookBub promotions cap out at 30.
James Blatch: Okay. And how is this linked to Bargain Booksy?
Ryan Zee: It's not linked to Bargain Booksy. They are one of our sponsors, so they sponsor some of our promotions, but it's not linked beyond the sponsorship affiliation.
James Blatch: Okay. Just noticing people get an option to join the Bargain Booksy newsletter, in addition.
How long as this been going? BookSweeps?
Ryan Zee: BookSweeps launched officially in the summer or 2016, I think it was July 2016, I guess around July 4th, and it's been going on since then. So what's that? Five plus years. I can't count.
James Blatch: Yeah, getting there. Okay. So, booksweeps.com, spelled exactly as it sounds, is the place to find that. And it sounds, I think, a really useful first step for authors, and it's one of our most frequently asked questions, "How do I begin to build an email list?" People at the beginning, obviously, have the hardest time of it. And it looks to me like a pretty good way to get a foot on the ladder.
Ryan Zee: Yeah, I would say so. Thank you so much for the comment. Yeah. Sorry, I wasn't sure what to say there.
James Blatch: Sorry?
Ryan Zee: Sorry, that was awkward. Sorry, that was awkward, I wasn't sure what to say there.
James Blatch: This is really like that Moneyball scene, you have to watch it. Just sitting there saying, "Do I speak now?" "Yes, when I point to you, you speak." Yeah. Okay, great.
Well, look, I mean this landscape that we're in, and I often end up talking to people who are authors and technical and dovetail those two together and it's a driver of this industry. Not least, our own Mark Dawson, who's very hands-on when it comes to creating processes and systems that stem exactly from his experience as an author. I think this is probably in greatest tradition of things, especially you, Cameron, who just started at the beginning thinking, "I need something to help me put my books together."
Cameron Sutter: Yeah, and I was luck that I had those skills, because it's really helped me to write better stories. My writing totally changed after making Plottr for myself, and it's really cool that it's helped so many other people, too.
James Blatch: It's the nearest thing, I suppose, to a visual glance at your book. The best thing is that whilst you're thinking about a plot, is that somebody makes a full length feature film based on your idea and you sit and watch it, think about it. That would be the golden way of doing this, and maybe in 200 years time, when AI's got to that point, that'll happen. But you almost need that, don't you, to really understand why your story isn't working in the middle or why a character people are going to scratch their head thinking, "Well, what was the point of him or her?" That sometimes only becomes clear to you when you visualise it in, I guess, any tool you use to do that.
Cameron Sutter: Yeah, and especially for getting feedback, as well. When you give your book to beta readers or a to a writing coach or to an editor, if they have to read 100,000 words, first of all, it takes a long time, but also you might miss the forest for the trees. But if you can just see it visually and just give them your Plottr timeline, they can get it in just a few minutes. And then, it's a lot easier to give feedback and it could be a lot quicker, so you can have more iterations of feedback, more feedback loops. And it's just a lot easier for somebody to get the story and be able to tell you, "In the middle it's kind of bad, because of this," or "If you just were to move these around, maybe it would work out."
James Blatch: Great.
Cameron Sutter: It helps for that part of it, too.
James Blatch: And finally, Ryan, what are your tactics for growing Plottr? It's still a smallish community, I think, the indie authors, we all seem to know each other. At least, I guess actually, the vast majority of indie authors aren't part of this community, they're just writing in their rooms unaware of everyone else, but there's 10% of us that are all talking to each other.
Getting visibility in that group, what are your tactics?
Ryan Zee: We've been doing a lot of webinars with various author groups, but I think the bigger picture moving forward is we want to bring this to schools, hopefully, creative writing programmes, more non-fiction oriented folks, who can use it for writing whatever they'd like to, write from maybe a business perspective or however they want to think about using it.
I think there are applications for lawyers even and really anywhere where you're plotting out some kind of written document. So I think we're going to be expanding to all kinds of writers, as we move forward.
James Blatch: And evil tyrants hell-bent on world domination. They must have a need for plotting out.
Cameron Sutter: Everybody needs it.
Ryan Zee: Everyone, you need to plan out your plan somehow.
James Blatch: It's a not as visual in Dr. Evil's lair is of him just on a little computer, but there you go. Okay, which bring us back to the novel. Okay, guys. Thank you very much indeed, thank you for your work in this area, for those of us who are going to benefit from it and make our lives a bit easier and make the books better and the readers, hopefully, getting a high level of enjoyment out of it, as well, so I appreciate all your time and effort.
Ryan Zee: Thanks for having us.
Cameron Sutter: Yeah, thank so much for having us.
Ryan Zee: Thanks for talking to us.
James Blatch: There you go. Ryan Zee. I know he's got lots of fanboys and fangirls in the reader community for what he's done. There are a couple of other plotting bits of software floating about. I think I used something call the Novel Factory once. I think I'm maybe I'm somebody, Mark, who likes to change. Not stick to doing the same thing over and over again. I quite like the novelty of using something new, get some energy out of that, and then I'll move onto something else, so I'm definitely going to give Plottr a go.
Mark Dawson: I'm more of a creature of habit, so I haven't changed the way I do things for years and years. I quite like the fact that I don't need to think too much about what the process is, because I've done it enough times now that it's second nature. But that's not to say that I couldn't see situations where you can tack bits and pieces on that will just adapt things slightly.
James Blatch: You're like Roald Dahl in his shed every day, without the anti-Semitism.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I'm not sure I want to be compared to Roald Dahl, to be honest. But yes, without the anti-Semitism, absolutely. Allegedly. Well, no, not allegedly.
James Blatch: No, not allegedly.
Mark Dawson: It's kind of out there.
James Blatch: I loved his books-
Mark Dawson: Me too, yeah.
James Blatch: ... and I know lots of people do.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely.
James Blatch: It's a complex area, all of that, isn't it? When we talk about people out of their own time. Let's not get into that now. Okay, right.
Thank you very much indeed to Ryan Zee. We are talking to Ryan about a couple of exciting maybe cooperational things in the future, so we'll keep you posted on that, to do with courses and other. And we may even have a link, probably an affiliate link, on our website by the time this podcast goes out for Plottr, if you're interested in going down that route. Okay, that's it.
Thank you very much indeed to everyone for listening. We will speak to you again next week. Don't forget, my final shout out to sign up for those webinars. Selfpublishingformula.com/bookbub and selfpublishingformula.com/amazon. Get yourself registered, join us live on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Look forward to speaking to you then. All that remains for me to say is there's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And it's a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Announcer: Get show notes, the podcast archive, and free resources to boost your writing career at selfpublishingshow.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at selfpublishingshow.com/facebook. Support the show at patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. And join us next week for more help and inspiration, so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author. Publishing is changing, so get your words into the world and join the revolution with the Self Publishing Show.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Grab Your SPF Freebies!
Sign up to receive your SPF starter package, which includes a free 3 part video series on getting started with FB ads, and inspirational and educational weekly emails.