SPS-272: Splitting Up: Dividing Royalties with Draft2Digital – with Kevin Tumlinson
As the director of marketing for Draft2Digital, Kevin Tumlinson also lives the indie life as an author and self-publisher. In this episode he talks to James about the freedom of #vanlife, how Draft2Digital stepped up to help authors during the pandemic, and how he gets his own writing done every day.
- How are good book descriptions written?
- What Draft2Digital is and how it works for authors
- The free formatting resources D2D has available
- Pros and cons to exclusivity vs. going wide
- Your strategy as an author and how that will inform your decisions
- How D2D makes it possible to split a book’s (or a box set’s) revenue with another author, authors, or illustrator
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
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Our SELF PUBLISHING 101 course is available now – for a limited period.
SPS-272: Splitting Up: Dividing Royalties with Draft2Digital - with Kevin Tumlinson
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Kevin Tumlinson: We saw remarkable growth over 2020. The indie publishing space was positioned to serve a need no-one could've seen coming. Traditional publishers could not keep up with the demand. Of course they couldn't. Their model wouldn't allow it.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No-one's 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, it's Friday. It is The Self-Publishing Show, the place where we tell you every week it's never been a better time to be a writer. Haven't said that for ages. Hello, I'm James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And I'm Mark Dawson. Hello.
James Blatch: I'm to the point now of writing the front and back matter for my book, and I've written the acknowledgements and I've actually said something along the lines of, "It's a great time to be a writer." I haven't used exactly our line, but-
Mark Dawson: As long as I'm in the acknowledgements.
James Blatch: You may or may not be in the acknowledgements. You'll have to buy a copy at two dollars, 99-
Mark Dawson: Oh, I see.
James Blatch: At all good bookshops.
Mark Dawson: Very clever.
James Blatch: Yes. So before we have our guest today, who is Kevin Tumlinson, old friend of the show, from Draft2Digital. We talk a bit about Kevin's own writing, which I'm intrigued about. Kevin's quite prolific on social media, so you sort of keep an eye on his nomadic lifestyle as well.
We also talk about Draft2Digital and the aggregators on the places where you can upload your book once and then distribute it wide to very many platforms. I can't remember how many he said now, might be 38 or something. There's a lot of places where you can sell your book that aren't Amazon, including Amazon. So Kevin's coming up in a minute.
We thought we might talk about blurbs, Mark, because I've been on a bit of a blurb rollercoaster for the last week. It hasn't always been a pleasant ride, but you know. I've done everything I've done with this book publicly, I've taken all the blows, I've rolled with the punches and other cliches, and so I thought well, I'll put the blurb out there.
You told me before the first one went out, I think we mentioned it last week, that it was rubbish and that people would say that, which they did. But the pointers I got back were very useful.
But one of the problems, I think, when you start with something that's probably not right, if you just spend a lot of time trying to reshape that, you're reshaping something with dodgy foundations.
In the end, this weekend, after probably 10 days of ruminating on this and going on and off, I started again. And, really, it's prompted by the examples you gave me, particularly The Hunt For Red October, which was basically two or three short sentences and I really liked it as it sunk in. Because that's the other thing about this process, I should say now, is when you get criticism, it's so easy ... However good I think I am at taking criticism and trying to be better at things, you have an emotional response to it, right?
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: You're all wrong-
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: And I'm right. And actually, I'm not good enough to dismiss that, though. You might be that sort of person, actually. Good enough just to park that and be persistent. It has to seep through me for a few days. I have to vent, stand up for myself and then quietly sit there and think, "Yeah, they're right." Which is a process I had to go through. I don't know if you have that. Well, no-one criticises you anymore. Too successful.
Mark Dawson: Oh, they do. I get lots of criticism. Blurbs are one thing and also, the position that you're in in the community means that lots of people will want to help, other people will want to feel that they are involved in a thread that is quite popular, lots of interaction on it and will want to chuck their two pence worth in.
My view on that is you look at it constructively. They're not making suggestions because they want to criticise you, they are trying to help in that situation. And, obviously, I've looked through that thread as well and a lot of those suggestions, I think, are not good suggestions, but that's just my opinion. That doesn't mean I'm right either.
But the thing to do is to take it all onboard, live with it for a bit, as you have done. And I think you did the right thing. The first one was bad, I told you it was bad and I think everyone else pretty much told you that it was bad. And the one you came back with, you sent to me on Saturday, was really good.
It was 100 percent better than the last one. Still not quite right, but definitely the right direction. And the feedback you've got when you posted the second one has been much more constructive. A lot of people are just tweaking small things, which is kind of what I would do at this stage.
James Blatch: Yes.
Mark Dawson: A few words. The syntax isn't great. I'm quite a big one on flow, so I like to hear it in my head. Does that scan, almost like poetry.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: Are the emphases falling in the right place? And that's quite anal, but I find that's a good indication of how something reads. The blurb is an important ... It's a small part of the process, but it's an important part because it does give readers the chance to gauge what your book will feel like when they're reading it. How will it read? Is it going to be a pleasurable read, or is it full of staccato sentences or too long or the grammar's wrong, syntax isn't right, spelling mistakes? You didn't have any of those. So you put it all together and at this stage now, you are just basically changing occasional words, but you're close to the end now. I think you could probably park it now if you wanted to and it would be okay.
James Blatch: I've taken onboard some of those small syntax changes, particularly with the very top line, which two or three people came up with the same alternative, which just shortened it and made it less ambiguous as to what NATO was without going into the detail. So, I've taken that one and another one.
And I've probably rewritten it in that basic form probably half a dozen times on a Word and I leave it for a bit and come back to it. But I think you're right. I think I'm probably at the point now, as long as I make sure the syntax is basically right and it's got a nice flow, I could probably go with it now and it's not going to be the end of the world, even if it could benefit from another two weeks of me ruminating and coming back. But anyway, at some point, I have to publish.
Mark Dawson: What's the word? Marginal goes. And also, the biggest improvement was made when you junked the last one and came up with a new one, so that was a lot of work for significant benefit. At the stage now, when you start to make small tweaks, the benefit becomes small as well, but it can still take a lot of time. So, there comes a point where the incremental improvement is so slight that it's probably not worth the effort to actually do it, and you're probably around about that point now or almost there.
James Blatch: Yeah, it's a good point. One of the things, as well, I was ... Because we're also putting together a webinar, which we may or may not do in the next couple of weeks, we haven't decided yet, but we'll probably roll it out in the autumn for certain at the conferences. And it's basically based on the success we've had with Fuse Books, where I've come at it as a rookie student of yours and implemented a lot of things that you talk about and we've gone from zero to hero.
With a couple of series now, really impressive ... Even though I say so myself, really impressive leaps up in revenue. And so I've been analysing what I've done, which has been a really good thing to do for this webinar. And when I got to blurbs, I sort of took a seat back, parked the fact that I was in the middle of my own blurb and thought what's the job of the blurb? What's it trying to do? Without looking up Bryan and other people who are experts in this, from my experience of marketing these books. And I think blurbs do a few things, but two really important things they do ... Just two.
I think the most important is they reinforce accurately what genre the book is and that's got a dovetail with the cover, and they've got to give you a reason to read the book. Because what you've got is somebody who's seen the cover, attracted in because they read those sorts of book, they need it reinforced. I haven't made a mistake, this isn't a misleading cover, this is a Cold War thriller or this is a romance book.
And then there's the hook, there's the reason to read it. There's not a lot of work the blurb has to do, really, at that point, I don't think. You don't need long waxing lyrical, and I'm not a big fan of the please buy the book line at the end. I don't think you see that in traditionally published books-
Mark Dawson: No, no, no, no.
James Blatch: Very often.
Mark Dawson: No, you don't do that. That's not a great idea at all.
James Blatch: And that's why the Red October blurb came back to me. I'm using it as an example in the webinar. I think it does it so beautifully. It's basically two sentences, one that says this is what this book is, it's exactly what you might've thought it was from the cover, and this is why you should read it. And that's its job done.
Mark Dawson: It's a really good one. I wanted to see what Clancy did and it's basically ... Yeah, I'll read it now. "The hunt is on. Silently, beneath the chill Atlantic waters, Russia's ultra-secret missile submarine, the Red October, is heading west. The Americans want her. The Russians want her back. With all-out war only seconds away, the superpowers race across the ocean on the most desperate mission of a lifetime." So it's three, four, five sentences, but it's less than 65 words.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: So, I mean, it's really punchy, but it's really effective. And, of course, also it's worth mentioning that with a blurb like that, you're also kind of subconsciously importing the fact that you probably saw the film.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: So there is a lot of that. They don't have to say too much because readers will just know what that's about because they may have seen the film. But even if they hadn't, I think that is intriguing. I'd be tempted to read that. That's right in my kind of ballpark.
James Blatch: It's quite an old film now, Red October, but our generation all saw it. I'm not sure if the 25 year old thriller readers have seen it. Yes. Anyway, so I've been thinking a lot about that and it was a good process to go through from a learning point of view. And the other thing, course, about blurb is in six months' time, I can change it. Three months' time, I can change it-
Mark Dawson: Absolutely. Yeah.
James Blatch: And there's no reason not to try something else. And my final word on this, when I look at what people say this works, this doesn't work, there's always this question in your mind of what's the evidence to that? How do you know what?
One thing I can tell you from writing a lot of copy for ads, particularly Facebook ads where they rely on copy, is I'm very often surprised by what has worked and what hasn't worked. I've even had stuff with mistakes in it, which I've then gone back to correcting, then looked at the results and thought do you know what? Didn't seem to affect it.
So it's a strange one, this, and I definitely wouldn't advise ... I'd really double-check your copy. But if somebody does tell you that doesn't work and this does work, they probably don't know what they're talking about, is what I'm saying politely, because it's surprising what works. Wordy narrative description on one of the books has worked really well in America and bombed in the UK, as I would expect it to.
Mark Dawson: My view on that is that people who say, "This is the way," right?
James Blatch: Mm.
Mark Dawson: "There's a formula that you have to follow, say this, say that," that's just BS, right? That's not accurate. I don't buy that for a minute. It depends on so many variables. If people followed prescriptive paths all the time, then there's no originality, so I'm not a fan of that. Certainly, look at what people in your genre are doing. It's a very good idea to look at the charts, see which ones are selling and see if there's any kind of common traits that you can see through all of the top 10 books, for example. Covers and blurbs especially.
And then you use that as your starting point and work up something from there. But you don't have to say line A has to be like this, and then you have the middle paragraph and then you end with a conclusion based on this. That doesn't work at all for me and I wouldn't recommend that.
James Blatch: They are difficult to do. I've heard people saying that before, it's difficult to write a blurb for your own book and boy, have I learnt that.
Mark Dawson: It's very difficult. Yeah.
James Blatch: So if you're going through that, you have my sympathy. I mean, the group is there. It can be bruising, but ... As you've heard, hopefully this discussion has helped you pick your way through that sort of critical feedback and how to use it. And, of course, Bryan is here from time to time and is a good guy, so I will have a chat with him specifically about my blurb next time we're on the Book Lab, which must be soon. We must choose somebody else very soon.
Mark Dawson: One final thing on blurbs before we get to the interview, I have been using a lady in Salisbury who was introduced to me by a mutual friend, and she's done traditional publishing blurbs before. She's very good, so she's been doing that ... I can do blurbs, but I just can't be bothered half the time because it is hard work and it's not something that is ... I quite enjoy it because I do love making those full tweaks, but it does take a while.
But she wasn't available this time, so for the latest Atticus book, I had to do the blurb and I did it quite quickly, and I'm not saying it's perfect, but three paragraphs with a punchy ending. I probably took about half an hour putting it together and didn't obsess about it.
James Blatch: But that's confidence.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, and experience as well. I've done enough of this now to know that there are better uses of my time than sweating over something for hours and hours and hours, as long as it's decent and this is decent. I could probably improve if I wanted to, but it sold ... Atticus has been in the top 250 for a month, so there's-
James Blatch: Wow. Yeah.
Mark Dawson: The blurb hasn't hurt it, that's for sure.
James Blatch: Now you tell me you've got someone who can do blurbs in Salisbury.
Mark Dawson: She's quite busy, unfortunately, but yes. I keep her to myself.
James Blatch: I see. Okay, good. Well, that's enough on blurbs.
There'll be a Book Lab along, which is a time we can cover it in a little bit more detail in the near future.
Our interviewee today is Kevin Tumlinson. I'm trying to think where I first met Kevin. I think probably in NINC, it might've been in London. I know I met Dan for the first time in London. These are the team who run Draft2Digital, D2D. And I think at the beginning, we do explain for rookies and people who don't necessarily know what D2D is and what it does, but we also talk to Kevin, who's a great indie writer, about his own experience writing, what he's doing and also a little bit about his lifestyle because he's somebody who likes to travel, work on ...
You often see him tweeting from the side of a lake somewhere and I'm a little bit jealous of that particular lifestyle. Okay, so let's hear from Kevin then. Mark and I will be back for a quick chat off the back.
KT, Kevin Tumlinson, welcome back to The Self-Publishing Show. It's been a long time. When was the last time you were on this show?
Kevin Tumlinson: I can't even remember.
James Blatch: Were in this neck of the woods? No, I can't remember. I think it might've-
Kevin Tumlinson: I can't remember. I was starting to think you guys ... I maybe said the wrong thing and you guys shot me down.
James Blatch: Yeah, we expelled you. I can't remember what it was now, that's how long ago it was.
Kevin Tumlinson: That's right.
James Blatch: I think we had Dan on, didn't we, just about a year ago actually?
Kevin Tumlinson: Yes.
James Blatch: I think a year ago tomorrow, we interviewed Dan because it was the day after our conference in London.
Kevin Tumlinson: That's right.
James Blatch: And just before we all disappeared into our homes and are yet to emerge here in the UK.
Kevin, I love following you on social media because you have a enviable lifestyle. You're a nomad.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yes. The whole hashtag van life thing. My wife and I started doing that. And we refer to the van as our COVID escape pod. We were able to move around and stay isolated from people and enjoy life instead of being locked into a house. That was by accident because we were already planning to do that. When the pandemic hit, we'd just gotten out of our home and gotten into the van without quite realising that that was going to be the case.
James Blatch: Do you have a house somewhere? You're in a house at the moment, I can see.
Kevin Tumlinson: We're in a house right now. This is not our house, this is my in-laws. We're building a house in the Texas Hill Country.
James Blatch: Okay.
Kevin Tumlinson: But it won't be ready until probably August or so, so we're touring.
James Blatch: You're genuinely van people. The Texas Hill Country must be where the Texas Hill people live.
Kevin Tumlinson: We'll just say that's true. Sure. Yes.
James Blatch: Sounds like a novel.
Kevin Tumlinson: It sounds like it has negative connotations, though. Is there a negative connotation to Texas Hill people?
James Blatch: No, I think it's the good old folk who keep things simple and-
Kevin Tumlinson: There are good people there, I will say that. My good friend, Michael Bunker, lives in the Texas Hill Country. Saying the Texas Hill Country is a little deceptive, though, because it sounds like you're talking about a very small area, where it's actually a third of the state.
James Blatch: Right.
Kevin Tumlinson: And if you are familiar with Texas, that's a-
James Blatch: It's flat on one side. I mean, it's a big state. I've never heard of the Texas Hill Country. As you know, I know Texas-
Kevin Tumlinson: Oh, okay.
James Blatch: Because my brother still lives, actually, in Katy in the suburbs of Houston. But I do know Texas is pretty flat in places because I fly across it occasionally.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yes.
James Blatch: It's very flat where I live here, we've got a lot in common with that sort of thing.
Kevin Tumlinson: Well, we have every sort of environment and landscape here. Short of mountains themselves, but the Hill Country has some hills that might just be edging onto the mountain territory. But-
James Blatch: There you go.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Right. Anyway, enough of the geography. Fascinating, though, it is. It's nice, it's vicarious to talk about it because we haven't been allowed out for so long. And we finally booked some tickets, actually, for NINC this week, so I'm very, very excited about travelling in the autumn. I can't wait for that.
Kevin Tumlinson: Oh, I'll get to see you there.
James Blatch: Yeah. Will look forward to that. Now, let us talk about Draft2Digital, let's talk about the big, wide world and all the opportunities there are out there for authors.
Why don't we start, because there'll be people listening who don't know what Draft2Digital is or does, let's start with that.
Kevin Tumlinson: Oh, man. Are there still people who don't know-
James Blatch: There's only one of them listening, but he wants to know. It's key.
Kevin Tumlinson: Well, listen, guy. Draft2Digital, at its heart, we are what's known as a publishing aggregator, meaning that you can bring your manuscript to us in the form of a Word document or an EPUB or various other formats and we will convert the document for you for free, distribute it for you for free to all the various retailers and we don't charge anything at all, we just take a 15 percent cut if you make a sale through us. So we manage a whole bunch of features for you. We got a tonne of free features built and baked right into the service.
James Blatch: Aggregator's the keyword there, which is a kind of new-ish word, I think, to lots of people, but it basically means that you could go to all these sites individually, and there's quite a lot of them now. There's obviously the big ones, like Amazon and Kobo and Apple and Google, but there are plenty of other platforms, Barnes and Noble, blah, blah, blah. I was surprised, actually, the first time I used D2D, that the list of potential retail outlets is much large ...
There were names there, not being American, names there I hadn't heard of.
Kevin Tumlinson: Exactly. And well, even if you were American, they may be names you hadn't heard of because ... Over the past year, we added a French distributor, Vivlio, which is Tolino's French distributor. And we're constantly doing that.
We're constantly looking for new markets, new retailers. We're very, very picky about the retailers we have because we want to make sure authors get paid, we want to make sure that everything's on the up and up, their books aren't being scanned and redistributed somewhere on a pirate site or something like that.
We try to make sure we are protecting the best interests of the authors with the retailers we partner with. One of the sort of side perks you don't really hear that much about from Draft2Digital.
James Blatch: Yes. Doing the due diligence on our behalf.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yes. And it's a job of work, let me tell you. There's been some tragedies. For example, we stopped distributing to Google Play because of issues we were having with price changes and things like that, that we couldn't get them to play the same way we needed them to play and all the other retailers play when it comes to our authors.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kevin Tumlinson: So, ultimately, we had made the very tough decision to stop distributing to Google.
James Blatch: Yeah, that is a big decision. Because Google is not a small organisation.
Kevin Tumlinson: They're not. And they will crush us if they want to, but for now-
James Blatch: Suddenly, you can't be found on a search. Okay. Well, that's great. So there's a sort of quality assurance, if you like.
Kevin Tumlinson: Right.
James Blatch: Helps you navigate that complex world. Just on the price model, so 15 percent of the sale, that's ... So just so people understand, you sell your book for 10 dollars, you're going to get a royalty of a little bit less than seven dollars because there's a tiny delivery fee they take out of that as well.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah.
James Blatch: If it's on the 70 percent plan, a major retailer, like Amazon. And then you take your 15 percent out of that royalty.
Kevin Tumlinson: Right.
James Blatch: Okay.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah. Most retailers are giving 35 to 70 percent, you are probably going to make 60 percent a lot of the time, 60 to 65 percent a lot of the time, if my math is right and it's probably not. But let's just say we try to minimise that sort of thing as much as possible.
And with some of the retailers, and I won't necessarily say who, but anyhow, some of the retailers, we actually get a better deal for you than you would get going direct. I can't say Barnes and Noble was one of those retailers. There are some advantages to going to those retailers through us, but we don't begrudge anybody going there direct. We actually will help you with that if you want, in a way, because you can use all of our conversion tools.
We have a very cool free layout tool, it's similar to Vellum. If you haven't heard of Vellum, it's a layout tool, costs a couple hundred bucks and you can only use it on Mac, but ours can work on any device. I've actually used it on my iPhone.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kevin Tumlinson: So you can get your book laid out, get an EPUB for it, get a print-ready PDF for it and take it directly to retailers if that's what you want. We don't own your book, we don't want to own your book, we just want to help you sell.
James Blatch: Doing the maths in my head, I reckon it works out about 60 percent instead of 70 percent. For a retailer that offers 70 percent, it works out about 60 percent with that model. But here's the thing. If you weren't going to make that sale because you didn't find that retailer and make your book available on it, it's all free money. It's no point in looking at necessarily ... Or do I want to give away? You've got to do a lot of work by yourself to get your book in all the places that Draft2Digital can do with a few clicks of the button. So that's the way I look at it anyway.
Kevin Tumlinson: Plus, we offer all that, all the sales reporting and everything is taken care of for you. You don't have to go hunt those down. And we make sure that you get paid. As soon as we receive money for you, you get it by the 15th of the following month at the latest. So as long as there's money on the account, we pay every 15th. Those are our terms. So if money comes in on the 16th, you won't see it until the 15th, but if it came in on the 14th, you see it the next day.
James Blatch: So that brings us onto why people use you and what sort of author uses you. And the big thing, of course, is that if your ebook is in Kindle Unlimited, you are going to find it less useful as a service because you can't distribute your ebook anywhere outside of Amazon, but you can still distribute the print version.
Is it possible to do that using Draft2Digital?
Kevin Tumlinson: Yes. A couple years ago, we announced our beta programme for D2D Print. Beta meaning it's in testing and we're working out the best way to eliminate little bugs and troubles that really had nothing to do with our service, they're more like problems with distribution and getting author copies, things like that.
We are making some pretty dramatic changes to D2D Print at this moment. So you can still get in the beta, you can still distribute. I distribute all my print books via our service. But it's going to get even better in the next couple of months, I'm thinking. Three months or so, I think, we're going to have almost a total revamp of how we've been doing that service.
James Blatch: Okay.
Kevin Tumlinson: There's ridiculously exciting things going on behind the scenes with D2D Print that I really wish I could talk about, but we have NDAs and stuff that prevent that.
James Blatch: Well, we'll have to chat again.
Kevin Tumlinson: Just trust me.
James Blatch: I imagine we'll have a chat over a beer and you can spill the beans at some point.
Kevin Tumlinson: Exactly.
James Blatch: But I think this is interesting, this is an area I pursued with Dan, I think, last year when maybe some of these ideas were sort of embryonic. I manage a couple of authors now through our little Fuse imprint and they're both in KU, but I am aware that there's money on the table out there from the print distribution that I just don't give myself an opportunity, don't give the company an opportunity to earn. So, I think it's quite a good area.
There's a lot of people in KU who could spend one afternoon, probably on Draft2Digital and just make your book available elsewhere. And if money doesn't come in, you haven't lost anything.
If money comes in, that's money that you would not have had.
Kevin Tumlinson: There's a lot of benefits to using D2D, even if you are in KU. You can't distribute because you're exclusive to Amazon, except for print. There's no exclusivity in print.
Some of the advantages are things like we have our universal book links, which you can use to promote your book. Where that's helpful to you is ... There's two things that I see as being helpful to authors in this space. One is that you can add affiliate links, including your Amazon Associate affiliate account. So if you promote your book that way and people buy it, you get a little extra kick from the Amazon Associates dollars.
But, two, if you do decide to go wide and distribute wide later, you're already set up. It would just be a click of a button to just go wide. Once you're out of your exclusivity with Amazon, there's nothing to limit you at that point, so there is an advantage to having that.
Plus, we have promotion tools, we have our D2D Author Pages, which are kind of like a website for you as an author, tonnes of built-in tools that you don't have to distribute through us to use. I mean, we make sure everything is available to these authors for free.
James Blatch: I know you talk a lot about wide versus exclusive and funny enough, Mark distributed it recently, posted the link, but Lindsay Buroker and her team on their podcast had a very good discussion, just an hour long, I think it was, discussion on this, which I thought was very reasoned because it is a topic that people can get a little bit hot under the collar about.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Obviously, you're looking as an aggregator, the wide is the area mainly that you're operating in, people who don't go exclusive with KU.
Kevin Tumlinson: Right.
James Blatch: Are you the evangelist for wide versus exclusive or do you still see it as horses for courses for some authors?
Kevin Tumlinson: I think that whether you go wide or you stay exclusive with Amazon is going to be a matter of your strategy as an author and your goals as an author. You can have a pretty lucrative career being exclusive to Amazon if you want, you're just limited on the audience you're going to get.
Amazon, as big as they are, as widespread as they are, there are quite a few markets where they don't penetrate, they don't distribute in certain countries. We can get you to those countries, but it comes down to whether or not you are exclusive. So it's just a matter of how far do you want your reach to go, and what is your ultimate endgame as an author?
It's not a bad thing to use Amazon exclusivity. I have books that are in KU as well because it helped me to build an income rapidly with a certain series, get it going, fund things like audiobooks and things like that, some of the marketing and everything. And then I slowly start to pull those out and go wide with those titles and almost benefit from a second launch in a way.
A big chunk of my mailing list, despite all efforts, they are primarily Kindle readers. So if I'm being honest, Kindle is my biggest platform and behind that is Apple. But the bulk of readers on my mailing list came ... For whatever reason, I didn't target them, I wasn't trying to cultivate a list of Kindle readers, they just happen to be Kindle readers because that's the biggest platform out there.
So there's certainly an argument to be made for exclusivity, I just think most authors, that's not what they started out wanting. I think most authors were looking for the kind of career that included being able to hit bestseller list, things like that, which you're a little limited on if you're in KU.
James Blatch: It's interesting you refer to regional differences.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yes.
James Blatch: So here in the UK and where you are in the US, you can be a KU reader, right? Which, of course, I am. You probably are as well.
Kevin Tumlinson: Right.
James Blatch: And frankly, I haven't read all the books in KU yet, so-
Kevin Tumlinson: No. Nowhere near.
James Blatch: And I'm not going to read one percent in my lifetime, so there's no motivation to move. But in other parts of the world, it's not as accessible, not available, even, and also not so much a thing.
Kevin Tumlinson: Right.
James Blatch: And so they're the areas I think you're referring to as an author. When you're sat there pouring over a book, and even I know what it's like giving birth to a book, the idea that there's people who are just never going to see it, really, it's never going to cross their path very easily in France or wherever, that's disappointing in a way, isn't it?
Kevin Tumlinson: To me, it's always been a question of what did I envision when I became an author? And I never had a conversation with myself where I said, "I can't wait to publish so that I can only distribute to Amazon readers." That was never my dream. So I think for a lot of other writers, that's true.
I think the experience of going wide, it's challenging because in a lot of ways, Kindle Unlimited is an easy button. KDP Select is almost an autopilot for some authors to make some kind of income. You still got to market, you still got to do all the things that all authors do, but it does seem like it's easier on that platform because Amazon likes to assist that group. There's all kinds of things that they do to nudge readers towards your work.
But, again, it comes back to your strategy. What is your plan for your career? And for me and a lot of authors, the plan was to make sure that I was available to as many regions and markets as possible, so that's guided my decisions.
James Blatch: Yeah. And, of course, there's nothing wrong with doing a mix. You can come in and out, there's a 90 day period minimum, I think, to be in KU, where there's no harm.
For instance, I think a fairly common strategy, I think even Mark follows this, is to distribute wide for a period of time and then at some point, put the book into KU and that's probably something I'll follow in May.
Kevin Tumlinson: I've certainly gone in and out of KU with certain books over the years. And honestly, one of the things that drove that was the fact that at the time, I didn't have a very wide series or a very deep series, I guess might be the way to describe it. I had trilogies, a couple of trilogies, and I had some standalone books, but it wasn't until I developed an ongoing series, and I'm at 12 books in that series now, so it wasn't until then that I realised I had the potential to start breaking those books out of KU and making more money outside of KU than I made inside. So that has been a tremendous help. And as those books become free of the KU terms of service, I'm able to take them wide and start making a little more without being locked down.
James Blatch: That's interesting because I think there are people with big series in KU who seem to talk about doing well, but your experience ... And you're talking here about that being something that lends itself to wide.
Kevin Tumlinson: Right, because you can play both sides. Because, frankly, what I'm doing is treating every book that comes out as if it's launching for the first time. And so I have the KU audience already for those books, I don't have to go after those guys. So it actually helps me with marketing costs because I'm only targeting other markets, I'm only targeting the Apple readers and the Barnes and Noble readers and others. I'm trying to find a balance there so that I'm not blowing a bunch of money trying to target every market, so there is that sort of limitation. But you can get pretty creative with this stuff, as Mark, I'm sure, would know, being the guru of Facebook ads and other forms of promotion.
I've been looking at this for a long while and the strategy that I always promoted was exactly this. If you are just starting out, KU, KDP Select is a pretty good place to start so that you have a way to start generating some income for your writing. You need to strategize around this, by the way. You need to plan. At what point am I comfortable starting to pull books out of that system and put them in a wide distribution?
The answer's not the same for everyone. I was 12 books in before I started pulling. At first, tried to go wide with all those Kotler books and they did okay, but they weren't generating the kind of revenue I really needed or wanted, at least, to generate.
So it wasn't until I started strategizing around leveraging KU and then going wide, which hurts, by the way, because we have a philosophy of we're empowering the beast whenever we're putting these books in exclusive. We should all be working to lessen Amazon's power rather than continuing to use it, but we also want to put a roof over our head or buy a van and travel the country, things like that.
James Blatch: Yes. Practical considerations.
How much of your time, Kevin, is spent writing and marketing as an author and how much is spent on D2D?
Kevin Tumlinson: I'm an early riser, I usually get up around anywhere between 4:00 and 5:00 AM.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kevin Tumlinson: I write until about 9:00 AM and then I am on D2D work until the afternoon, usually around four. I try to do at least an hour's worth of marketing work each day for me, but I'm marketing for D2D all day long. So that's not as gruelling as it may sound because sometimes marketing for D2D or me is ... It comes down to doing something like this, getting on a podcast or writing a blog post, something like that.
I'm a very fast writer, so writing a blog post doesn't take me more than an hour or so most of the time. So it's not quite as labour-intensive as it may sound, it's just about keeping plates spinning.
James Blatch: How fast are you at writing, writing your novels?
Kevin Tumlinson: If I'm really pushing it, I can do 5000 words in an hour.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kevin Tumlinson: But that's a gruelling hour, so I generally try to aim for 2000, 2500 words in an hour.
James Blatch: Is that typing?
Kevin Tumlinson: Yes, that's typing. You don't get this kind of carpal tunnel syndrome by dictation, my friend.
James Blatch: You've got to put some work in for that.
Kevin Tumlinson: See, I have to caveat that, though, because I hate when people talk about the number of words they put down like that and it makes people feel like they should be doing that and I don't think that at all. I think that whatever number words you're able to put down each day, that is your word count and it's precious.
I used to experiment and push myself to ridiculous limits. I have a book I wrote called Evergreen that I wrote in a single day while I was in Manhattan over a Thanksgiving holiday several years ago, and I will never do that again. But that was possible because I kept pushing the limits of what I could do. Can I write a book in 30 days? Can I write a book in 15? Can I write a book in a week?
The answer is you can. If you've got other things going on in your life, it's very, very difficult to do something like write a book in a week, but it's not impossible. I always encourage authors to push themselves a little. How fast did you write the last book and can you beat it by a day? And if you can keep doing that, you'll improve your speed.
James Blatch: I hope I write my next book at least one more day quicker than I wrote my last book. Bearing in mind, the last book took 10 years.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yes. Well, if you get that to nine years and 364 days and you haven't finished, don't feel bad.
James Blatch: Pressure's on.
Kevin Tumlinson: Just accept that that's your rate.
James Blatch: How many books do you have out, Kevin?
Kevin Tumlinson: Around 50. It's always hard for me to answer that question because I have books in various stages at all times, and I've even pulled some books from publication over the years because I now realise some of them weren't ready. I've done some rewriting and republishing. Evergreen was one of those, by the way, because I was so proud of it and I did edit it, but it was written in one day, it had its flaws. So, I recently went and re-edited that book and re-released it. So yeah. I always give long answers for short answer questions. It's around 50.
James Blatch: Around 50. There you go. That's okay. It's the detail that's important.
And you write science-fiction? It's not really science-fiction. What would you describe it as?
Kevin Tumlinson: I write thrillers. Right now, I've been writing archaeological thrillers for the past five years.
James Blatch: I think that's why I'm looking at it thinking it might be archaeological. I knew you did sort of Indiana Jones type stuff.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah. I've got a new series I launched with a female protagonist that I label as escapist fugitive thriller because she's a ... And a little bit of a technological thriller as well. But she's on the run and is using an advanced AI she created to keep ahead of all the alphabet agencies in the United States.
James Blatch: Sounds great.
Kevin Tumlinson: That's only two books in. I'm really excited about how it's going. People are very enthusiastic about the character and about the books.
James Blatch: Who are your readers?
Kevin Tumlinson: I probably have a very similar audience to Mark's audience, honestly. And it seems like it's largely women. I have far more female readers than male readers, for sure.
James Blatch: That's because you're a good-looking man.
Kevin Tumlinson: That could be it. Yeah.
James Blatch: Is that why you came up with a female protagonist or did you just want to write one?
Kevin Tumlinson: I have several reasons for coming up with a female protagonist. One of them was I am so annoyed with female protagonists that I encounter in fiction, especially in films and TV, because there is a real man in a dress feel for a lot of those characters.
I was raised by my grandmother, I have very strong female influences in my life. These were women who were smart, who were very capable, who taught me things. I learned certain mechanical skills from my grandmother, for example. These were women who were strong without having to imitate someone else.
And I was always annoyed because I would come across female protagonists that seemed so shallow, no depth whatsoever, nothing about them ... If they showed femininity, it was always to show how weak they were. If they showed strength, it was a masculine sort of strength. It was always rough edges and bitter attitudes and they were somehow damaged because of their strength.
Kevin Tumlinson: I wanted to have a character who could joke and play and who understood that she was in trouble, but didn't let it bother her, and who was brilliant, but was not ... She wasn't like some sort of savant or anything, she's a real flesh and blood character with real flaws and real strengths, and that's what I was aiming for. I know there could be some controversy over that idea of a male writing a female protagonist. I've had a couple people say some things, but my hope is that what I'm doing is an homage, not appropriation.
James Blatch: It's also a free world, last time I looked. You can write a female protagonist if you want.
Kevin Tumlinson: I live in a free world. You can get mad at me for it, but that's where I live.
James Blatch: That's all right. I always go back to Princess Leia in the first Star Wars film. I think it changed after that. But there, for me, she did what you just described. She did do male things a couple of times, she grabbed the blaster off the men when they were being useless and took control. But her strengths in that film were leadership.
Kevin Tumlinson: That's what I felt too.
James Blatch: She was the leader in the room. She knew what was going on. When she sat on the Millennium Falcon, they were on their way back, she knew it was being tracked. She was way ahead of the blokes. And I had a powerful mother as well, who's a leader in her field, and that was a really strong impression on me growing up. I feel almost the same influence as you did on that.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Right. So let's just circle back a little bit to Draft2Digital. I love talking to you about your writing and your books, but-
Kevin Tumlinson: And that's an easy way to distract me, by the way, and get me off of D2D is to talk about my writing. But yeah, that's what I'm here for. Let's talk about Draft2Digital.
James Blatch: Well, you're here for both.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah.
James Blatch: On the D2D front, I mean, how has it been over the last year? We've seen other organisations reporting an uptick and we've certainly felt that in SPF. I know 20Books has grown quite a lot over the summer.
Has the COVID the last 12 months reflected in your figures as well?
Kevin Tumlinson: It is reflected in our figures. It basically trended everything up. We saw remarkable growth over 2020 and that was all due, of course, to people being locked down and having precious little else to do. Running out of Netflix is basically what that was due to.
They were turning to ebooks and not really the first time, but in a very real way, the indie publishing space was positioned to serve a need no-one could've seen coming. The traditional publishers could not keep up with the demand. Of course, they couldn't. Their model wouldn't allow it. But we saw people turning to indie-published ebooks in record-setting ways, and that trend has continued. It's tapered off. We're not seeing as quite as high a spike as we did mid-2020, but we are definitely seeing growth. We're still seeing growth. Our numbers are above what they've been in pretty much every year past.
I think it was interesting. I think everybody's rediscovered a love for reading and a love for great stories, and that is very advantageous to the self-publishing crowd because unlike traditional publishers, there's so many of us, first of all, but we can just keep churning this stuff out and keep meeting that demand.
I always hesitate to say things like a blessing in disguise about something that has killed so many people, but in terms of not just benefiting authors and benefiting them financially, but also benefiting all those readers because this was, in an essence ... I've always felt authors are providing a service of mental health and spiritual health to their readers. I cannot tell you how many readers emailed me just to thank me, because I reduced all my prices over most of 2020 so that people could buy more books without bankrupting themselves. And I had thousands of readers write to tell me how grateful they were for that. This isn't just a blessing for the writers, it was a blessing for the readers well.
James Blatch: Yeah. I completely feel that. And I think in practical terms, self-publishing ... The indie author is the ultimate agile author.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yes.
James Blatch: He/she adjusts and amends very quickly to the market in a way the traditional industry can't so much. And readers are agile as well. They're not going to get to go to the library, go to browse the bricks and mortar bookshops. For the first time, they'll get an e-device sent to them and start reading on that, and we've certainly seen that and those people, I imagine, will stick with that e-device one way or another for some time. So there's never been a better time to be a writer, Kevin, as someone once said.
Kevin Tumlinson: That's true. And we spent 2020 making sure that we were building things that would help that writer community and help them grow. Over 2020, we started what we started off calling D2D Spotlight and we launched D2Dlive.com, but we ended up using all those ... We were doing a bunch of live streams is what we were doing.
Every day for almost three solid months, we interviewed someone from the self-publishing community and we have started turning all of those into a podcast, we launched a few months ago now, called Self Publishing Insiders. It's not just those interviews, it's also our team talking about the industry, talking about what we've learned, that sort of thing. So, that's been a big deal.
But the thing, I think, I was most excited about and everybody was most excited about in our company was we finally launched ... In November, we launched something that everybody was so anxious for, we've been asked about this a million times, which was our D2D Payment Splitting, so that authors could finally do what they've always wanted to do. We constantly have people approaching us about making it easier to do box set releases.
James Blatch: Is this for collaborations?
Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah. Exactly right. And because we distribute to Amazon and Apple and Barnes and Noble and all the biggies, this was a very big deal. You can arrange these splits with, really, as many people as you want and you can actually adjust the percentages per contributor.
If the organiser, for example, is going to make more because they spent money out of pocket for cover design and layout and all that stuff, then you can adjust that percentage and then everyone else, you can split however you need to. We've even had authors splitting with illustrators, for example. So, it's a great way for you to do not just box sets, but any kind of collaboration.
That was our big announcement for 2020 and we wished it could've come sooner, but it came right at the tag end of the year. This was, to me, a way to provide just that much more hope at the end of the year. Everybody was talking about how miserable 2020 was and we just wanted to do something that told everyone there is hope, there is something. This is our way of contributing, but it's not earth-moving and it's not curing cancer or anything, but it was a big deal for a lot of writers.
James Blatch: Can you feed in marketing spend into that, so that splits that as well?
Kevin Tumlinson: Not directly, and that's something that we could look at in the future. You could always figure marketing costs and just adjust your own percentage. But it's not that developed, it's not that advanced yet. It was a real challenge. People have no idea how challenging this could be, because one of the things we had to deal with was taxes.
Every nation has their own rules and laws about taxes, so we had to work around all of that. And if you think dealing with taxes in your own country is a challenge, wait until you have to deal with several. The payment stuff was also challenging. We had some of this groundwork already laid because of our D2D Shared Universes and we sort of built on the backbone of that service. And if you're not familiar with that, that was our replacement for Amazon's Kindle Worlds. So if you were a property owner and you wanted to allow other people to write within your universe, we have a way for you to do that and share the royalties with the IP owner.
So we already had some of the puzzle figured out, we knew what people wanted. There were even some people who were using Shared Universes sort of as royalty splitting. It wasn't quite designed for it, but people were kind of figuring some things out. And we've already had a ton of requests for new features, things like how can I add a nonprofit as one of the payees? And there's some creative ways people are doing that right now as well. If the nonprofit is willing to create a Draft2Digital account, there's really no problem.
James Blatch: Yes.
Kevin Tumlinson: They can totally do that.
James Blatch: Well, I think collaboration is another great indie ... It's not an innovation from indie world, but it's certainly something that's far more prevalent than it used to be in a traditional and how often Roald Dahl get together with Jerome K. Jerome and say, "Let's put a box set together," or something.
It's a very creative way of servicing readers' desires and appetites for books.
Kevin Tumlinson: What's interesting in the indie space is that collaborations, box sets, anthologies, that stuff gets used more as a marketing tool than anything. And in certain respects, it's the same way in the traditional world, but I don't see them utilising it nearly as well as self-published authors tend to do. And frequently, they'll do things like we're going to do a box set so that we can get on the USA Today list, for example.
I don't know where everybody falls on their approval or disapproval of that practise, but it is a clever way to try to use that system. And I don't know if there's really that much of a benefit there, but if you want to have that USA Today bestseller as one of your feathers, then you can do it. But I've seen people use this for charity, for example.
James Blatch: Yeah. Mark's done that.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah, exactly right. We've lost some authors in our community over the past couple of years. Even before COVID, we lost a few authors who were beloved by the community. This community is always very fast, very quick to gather together and support the families of those authors. And so a tool like this is used for that sort of thing now. We're going to box up our first in series and sell it for 99 cents and give 100 percent of the profit to the widow or the widower of this author. It shows that this community ... Not only are they creative in the way they use these tools, but it shows how much heart they actually have. It's really kind of touching to see that happen.
James Blatch: Yeah, it is. Absolutely. Another great thing about this indie space that we both enjoy occupying.
Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Great. Well, I think we're up to date on D2D. I think we did get around to talking about Draft2Digital, you can tell your colleagues.
Kevin Tumlinson: They'll be so pleased.
James Blatch: Yeah. "Did you mention us this time, Kevin?" they'll say.
Kevin Tumlinson: This time, I managed to mention everybody.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Kevin Tumlinson: I think what's interesting is the evolution of what we decided was important over ... I kind of hate talking about the pandemic, really, because we all know it's there and we all know it's happening, so I tend to avoid even mentioning it. I think it's important to point out that one of the things we did early on was start looking at what is it we can provide for that author community while this is happening?
If you recall, everyone was suddenly locked in their homes and looking for things to occupy their mind, get their mind off of everything. We decided it would ... Actually, again, Wood deserves really all the credit for this. He decided it would be a good idea to launch something that allowed us to share the perspectives of everyone in the writing community that we were in contact with, the insiders that we knew who could provide tips, could provide suggestions, ideas and resources.
It was interesting how that evolved because it started off as let's just do this for a month, and then it became two months and three months and then it was we've got all these videos and all the audio, what can we do with it? So, now there's this thing out there that authors are finding useful and it all started because we were trying to find a way to distract everyone from being afraid.
To me, that is the spirit of indie publishing, really. Maybe we're not always trying to distract people from a pandemic, but we are always trying to figure out not just how do we make the next buck, but how do we assist the rest of the community? How do we make people happier, wiser and more successful?
James Blatch: I'm just having a glance down at the episodes. They look great. Some of our friends on there, lots of names I recognise and a few that I don't, so it'd be very interesting to delve into that.
Kevin Tumlinson: I need to bring you guys on. Just get you on and we'll talk together or separately, I don't care.
James Blatch: Yeah, we'd love to.
Kevin Tumlinson: We'll talk publishing.
James Blatch: Yeah, let's do that. Talk publishing and we can talk writing as well, if you like. I'm launching a book in May, might even be out by the time this goes out.
Kevin Tumlinson: I'm excited for you. I've been waiting for this moment for you since I met you.
James Blatch: How excited I am. And you've been kind to me. You've been encouraging and keeping me honest.
Kevin Tumlinson: Well, you were always going to do it.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Kevin Tumlinson: I'm a little concerned it took you 10 years, but only because I think you were being your own roadblock.
James Blatch: Yes, I think I had to get out my way, but, to be fair, I didn't touch it for quite a few of those years.
Kevin Tumlinson: Right.
James Blatch: I just wrote a first draft, then put it in the drawer.
Kevin Tumlinson: But here's where I think you're going to be an inspiration to writers, though, James, because if you tell that story ... So what you need to do is create content around that story because so many things happened to you on that journey, you connecting with Mark, you deciding I'm going to go this way with it, I'm going to put it on pause, and that's the same journey that a lot of authors are on. So, it's important for them to hear success stories that weren't overnight.
People hear about things like, "I wrote a book in 30 days," or whatever and they get excited, but that's-
James Blatch: I completely agree. And we get that quite a lot from people who say, "Mark spends 1000 dollars alone on advertising, I can't compete with that," and we always have to remind them Mark started with five dollars a day and lost money. We all started there, but it's very difficult. But I'm in the midst of it now-
Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah.
James Blatch: So I think it's a good time to talk about that. Yeah, absolutely. Right. My wife is telling me it's teatime.
Kevin Tumlinson: Okay. Well, far be it for me to interfere with teatime.
James Blatch: When I say, as an Englishman, teatime, do you imagine me with a cup of bone china and a cup of tea?
Kevin Tumlinson: The American in me imagines that you guys are sitting around with a pinky up with a tiny cup of tea.
James Blatch: Well, I've got to go and get changed first for dinner.
Kevin Tumlinson: Right. But the researcher in me knows that you're actually referring to dinner.
James Blatch: Good. I'm referring to dinner. It's spaghetti bolognese or something. Good. I'm pleased to know the world is drinking like that.
Kevin, thank you so much for coming on. Can't wait to be with you somewhere in person-
Kevin Tumlinson: Yes.
James Blatch: And sharing a beer. That will happen again soon, I'm sure.
Kevin Tumlinson: That will happen. Thank you so much for having me. We love you guys and we actually always appreciate when you have us on, so thanks so much.
James Blatch: Our pleasure.
There we go. Kevin Tumlinson, KT. Hopefully, we will see him this autumn. Just to let people know, I think-
Mark Dawson: KT.
James Blatch: KT.
Mark Dawson: You mentioned this last time before. Is there something I don't know?
James Blatch: About KT? Yes, he's transitioning, so that's that.
Mark Dawson: Oh, very good.
James Blatch: Yes. In the autumn, we are going to hopefully be at NINC in October. Now I know we've been speaking to D2D this week. We're going to be doing some sponsorship with them. And I know that they are restricting numbers at the moment to NINC, but I think that's-
Mark Dawson: 200. Yeah.
James Blatch: Yeah. Seems to be a local rule in Florida, so they're hoping to open that up as we get closer. But that's a great conference to go to. There is a membership level for NINC, so you do need to be published and making some money, so they pitch the conference at that.
And then Vegas is for all comers. It's for people who are just starting out, who just want that kick of enthusiasm at the beginning and there's no better place, frankly, to get that motivational boost than being in those Vegas showrooms. It's going to be in the Bally's Hotel this year, so we're excited about that. That's in November. And frankly, Mark, although it's a nice sunny day today in the UK, we do look forward to a little bit of autumnal sunshine, don't we?
Mark Dawson: We do, yeah. It's very nice. Certainly. May even get a couple of rounds of golf in, you never know.
James Blatch: Yes, there's some lovely looking courses in Vegas, as you might expect. There's one course, I think it's owned by the MGM Grand and you can only play it by invitation. A car picks you up from the hotel, it's the only way to get to the course, it drives you out to the course-
Mark Dawson: Oh, wow.
James Blatch: And then, of course, the beer cart follows you around. But I don't know if we can get invited ... Actually, it looked quite-
Mark Dawson: That won't be us, no.
James Blatch: It looked quite tough as well, so maybe we'll choose a nice manicured one that's easy to play. Good. Okay.
I want to say thank you very much indeed to Kevin Tumlinson and the team at Draft2Digital, our friends there, for being on the show today. I think we're talking about a brand new author dashboard that's being released this month next Friday, so that's an exciting one for us to look forward to. For now, though, Marcus, all that remains for me to say is a goodbye from him-
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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