SPS-273: ScribeCount: Numbers for Your Words – with Philippa Werner
Introductory line goes here
- James’ book, The Final Flight, is available for pre-order!
- Tips from Mark about launching that book
- Jumping in and writing for Michael Anderle’s Kurtherian Gambit universe
- What ScribeCount is and how it works
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
NEW MINI COURSE: Mark has recorded a new course on how he does book launches.
Our SELF PUBLISHING 101 course is available now – for a limited period.
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-273: ScribeCount: Numbers for Your Words - with Philippa Werner
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show, "I find that people have an instinctive feeling that they can't work with data. If you strip out the jargon, that's really not true. People have a very instinctive visual grasp of what information can do for them. If you can just present it to them in a way that doesn't trigger their, "Oh, I'm doing math," feelings, people can be making these great informed decisions about their books and their career."
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join Indie bestseller, Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show; there's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome, it is The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson, from home again, not in the office today.
James Blatch: I've got to say straight away for people watching on YouTube, we are just coming to the end of our main lockdown, second little lockdown-
Mark Dawson: Third.
James Blatch: Third? Is it third?
Mark Dawson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Blatch: I can't keep count. My hair is out of control, I haven't shaved for weeks.
Mark Dawson: Me too.
James Blatch: It looks awful. I've got my old Boston hoodie on, but things will improve. I've emailed Bea, who cuts my hair, and I'm waiting to get into the list, the long queue that they'll be out of lockdown, to every haircut anyway. So just to apologise, people watch you on YouTube. But having said that. I am quite excited because if you're watching on YouTube, you can see in my hands, this is a unique experience for me, and I know it's a very common experience for you Mark.
Mark Dawson: I've spotted a typo.
James Blatch: I knew you'd say that. I have already spotted a typo actually. I can't tell you how many times I've actually re uploaded this.
Mark Dawson: For those who are listening and not watching, James is holding up a copy of The Final Flight, by James Blatch, which is the book that he's been writing for all of this podcast, all 270 whatever episodes. And then probably another five years on top of that. He has it in his sweaty hand, and it's almost ready to release.
James Blatch: It is. I'm very, very excited about it. And yes, a lot of people have helped me get to this point, but so there's a long acknowledgement section.
Mark Dawson: It was my pleasure, really, you don't need thank me, it was a pleasure.
James Blatch: Awesome fix of you... actually, lots of other people helped me. Yeah, so very exciting. So I have everything, I mean, everything is ready now, and I want to talk to you a little bit about this launch strategy, because goodness knows. We've talked about every other aspect of writing this book on this podcast. So now we need to get over the finishing line with it.
I am inevitably tinkering a little bit. I've been really unhappy with the whole Blurb process. Not because people have told me it's not very good, not that at all. It's just, I'm still to this day, not really happy with it and some of the other-
Mark Dawson: It's fine now.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. I mean, it is what it is, but anyway, I looked at actually a couple of, I might share them with you after this, a couple of ones I did a year or so ago, which actually looked tighter and better.
Anyway, apart from the Blurb, which is what it is and may or may not be okay, everything's done. the KDP version is up, the print on demand version is up. On your advice Mark, on the phone, the print on demand version is live.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: And the KDP version has a release date at the moment of the 6th of May. Although I can't see any particular reason for holding it that long now, because it's all ready to go. In my mind, I thought I might enter the Kindle Storyteller Award, which has to be published from May to August, but it has to be in KDP Select, and I've now published the POD version, so I think that's probably disqualified me already.
Mark Dawson: No. That has nothing to do with it.
James Blatch: And I'm not going to win it. Doesn't it? The POD version?
Mark Dawson: Well, the KDP books version, KDB print?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: No. That doesn't disqualify at all. What they mean, when it's in selected, it just means that you can't be on Apple or you can't be on Kobo. You are completely fine to use KDP for the print version. That's not disqualified.
James Blatch: No. What I mean is I've probably published it outside of the publication periods.
Mark Dawson: I see.
James Blatch: The POD version is now live, so I haven't published it between May and August, so I think I've probably-
Mark Dawson: You'd have to check. I suspect it hasn't actually. I think that probably means the ebook.
James Blatch: Okay. Either way, I'm not going to win that award, so that's not the point. The point is, what do I do to maximise the release now of this?
The only people who know the data are my social media followers on Twitter, which is not that many, really 1200 or 1500, something like that. And only those who paid any attention to a couple of tweets. I think maybe I've adjusted the onboarding for new subscribers to our mailing list too, to update it with that release date in it. But I haven't broadcast emailed my list, which is only 550 at this stage.
But presumably a reasonable number of those people will buy it. So what am I looking for? Presumably, I'm looking for as much visibility as possible in those first seven days, whatever it is.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, so kind of the slightly clumsy segue here is that we have a little mini course on launching that we released last week, which nearly had almost 1,000 people take it, which is kind of is lovely, about 800 and something, I think it is at the moment. And you've looked through that course, it's sort of like a mini cheap course.
It's about three hours worth of content with some downloadable time sheets that I follow and some ads and some email copy that I use. And I'm also going to be live blogging the launch of the next Milton book. So I'll be posting as I do things, I'll be posting into a Facebook group, showing what I'm doing and the effect that it has, and that's directly commercial, but you can get that, it's on the SPF resources course page is called Improve Your Launches. And it's about $20. So it's pretty cheap for us.
For you, the main goal now is to try and increase the visibility as much as you can. So you've got your POD up, so your advanced team can now leave reviews. If you've got people, obviously not related to you, people who... so I'm not going to do it, but people who have read the book, perhaps your advanced readers, they can leave reviews on the print version. And those reviews will then appear on the ebook version, when both of the versions are live. Amazon will link those reviews and you'll get them on the ebook as well. So that's useful. Getting some reviews will help with conversion as you send traffic to the actual ebook page.
But if you've decided that you don't want to wait until May, there isn't really any reason why you can't bring that pre-order forward now. And I think if you were to say to Amazon, "I'm ready to launch it now," it won't be launched today. It will be about four days, three to four days from now. So probably towards the end of the week.
One thing to think about, it depends how many copies you think you might sell. You might be surprised, you might sell more than you think that you will, because 12,000 people will listen to this podcast on average, there's 150,000 in the SPF mailing list now? Something along those lines?
James Blatch: I should say, nobody should feel obliged to buy my book. I've benefited from your support all along this way, and that's been great.
Mark Dawson: Absolutely. No one should feel obliged, but people are lovely generally, and I think you'll find a lot of people do buy it because they want to support you. Now that does open up lots of interesting issues about also bought some things that is kind of not so much a we can do about that now, I think because people are just going to buy anyway, which is very kind of them. But yeah, the only thing to think about is whether you want to do it on a Tuesday.
If you launch on a Tuesday, you maximise the chances of hitting the USA Today Bestseller List. But then to do that, it needs to be on more than just Amazon. So you have to decide whether you want to do an all platforms launch or a Kindle only launch.
James Blatch: I would like to launch it wide, I think, and then put it into KDP Select; that was my inclination to do the audiences in that order.
Mark Dawson: So one way you could look at it is you could launch it wide now. You could put it on all the other platforms through Draft2Digital or individually on each platform, if you wanted to, and you could release it that way for a week, and start directing traffic to it, up until the day when you want to launch it.
Then when you launch, if you want, you could then take it down. This is what I do now, is take it down from the wide platforms and then launch it into Select.
By doing that, you'll maximise your Amazon rank because rank is calculated, as far as we understand it, by way of à la carte sales. So actual sales of the book from people who are not in KU, and KU Borrows. So if you click on Read Now in your Kindle unlimited subscription, that will effectively be equivalent to a sale. The actual page reads, that's how you get paid, but that doesn't affect the rank.
So by doing it that way, if you launch that way, you'll get the benefit of KU reads. And I think you'll get quite a lot of KU Borrows because a lot of people in the communities are quite excited.
So you'll get people who in the community, lots of all of us, well, not all of us, but lots of us will have KU subscriptions. And you may find people will borrow it almost immediately because it doesn't actually cost them anything to do that. So if you wanted to get rank, I would suggest that you should be in KU, when you launch. So you can kind of launch it wide on all the other platforms, take the book down when you've decided you've sold as many wide books as you think you're going to sell, and then launch in to KU.
James Blatch: Okay. I understand that. And what is the strategy in terms of mailing lists and advertising around that?
Mark Dawson: Well, and your list is not very big is it?
James Blatch: No.
Mark Dawson: How many?
James Blatch: 560 knocking on 600.
Mark Dawson: Normally I'd say split that up a little bit. So you could do this, you could do 200 on one day, 200 on day two, 200 on day three. The reason we split it like that is because Amazon, again, largely speculation here, but educated speculation. Amazon, the algorithm will seek to identify quick spikes, and then it will decay those spikes quite quickly.
I think possibly in after seeing BookBub ads going out, and books going from 25,000 in the store to two or three, because they get thousands of downloads. The half-life on those sales is a lot more aggressive than would be the case if you kind of just gradually ramp up sales with sustained sales over a period of days, rather than a period of hours. So say you chose to launch next Tuesday, you could do 200 emails on Tuesday, 200 on Wednesday, 200 on Thursday.
James Blatch: Sorry. This would be with the book wide KDP, but not KDP Select, not KU-
Mark Dawson: No. What I would do with your list is I would, first of all, decide what your strategy is. If you're going to do what I've just laid out, you'd set your pre-order in your propensity in just for say next Tuesday, put it wide as soon as you can. So this week, and then tell your list they now have the chance to...
I'm kind of making this up on the fly a little bit, because this is perhaps not exactly what I would do, but you tell your list that it is available on all platforms now, and it's available to pre-order on Amazon now, for the ebook. So print is available now, all the other channels are available now, Amazon through ebook and KU will be available next Tuesday.
And then send those emails out. Probably I wouldn't segment them because there's not quite enough to make a big difference on that score. Then we've plenty of time to make sure that those stores all come down and Barnes & Noble will be the one that is an irritating one, because it's sometimes quite slow. You want to make sure Kobo and Apple will be almost immediate, Barnes & Noble sometimes quite slow.
So make sure you've got a bit of a buffer in there, because what you don't want to do is set the pre-order for Amazon to go live on Tuesday and you still have the Barnes & Noble one live on Tuesday, because it hasn't come down yet.
Three days would be enough, but probably, but it can be unreliable. So email them now tell them that it's available in all of those platforms and then they can pre-order it, and then email them on Tuesday, and tell them again, that it's now available in Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited.
James Blatch: And on Tuesday I switch over, I close off the wide, and only have Amazon?
Mark Dawson: You'll need to close off the wide because Barnes & Noble can take three days, so you need to close that off. I'd say Thursday, you don't have to launch on Tuesday, you could push it to say next Thursday.
James Blatch: Or Tuesday to give me-
Mark Dawson: Or the other way round. Tell people that it will be available very soon on Kindle, and then it's available wide now, then say at the end of this week, then de-list it on all the stores and as soon as it is down everywhere, then tell Amazon, "Okay, now we're going to go with the..." it's going to go into KU.
You're going to bring the pre-order forwards officially and it will be three or four days, since you made that decision, then it will go live on Amazon. Because Amazon's not immediate. If your pre-order is set into May and you tell Amazon you want to launch now, it won't be on that day. It will be two or three days away from that day.
James Blatch: Okay. So put it wide, I can do that today. Email my list, say it's wide, it's on pre-order on Amazon. Although the POD version is available on Amazon. Let that run. See what happens. At some point, decide, "Okay, we're going to switch over to Amazon," close it off wide. Wait until everything is finally closed off, so I don't break any rules and then put it into KDP Select. So launch it and put it into KDP Select at the same time.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Bring the pre-order forwards. So basically tells Amazon you're ready to sell it now, and then tick the box that says it's in KU, and then as soon as that goes live, which as I say will be... I've just done this with the German book that's gone live today. As soon as it is live, and you've got the email confirming it, then email again.
James Blatch: Yep. Okay. So if you're listening to this, I think what's probably going to be the case is it will be available wide next Tuesday. I think 13th of April?
Mark Dawson: It's Tuesday the sixth today. So it will be the 13th.
James Blatch: Yeah. 13th. It's my wife's birthday, and the day after the pubs open in the UK.
Mark Dawson: There we go. Auspicious.
James Blatch: And then maybe, a few days after that, it'll go in to KU probably the following Tuesday might be the way it works. Thinking about how this structure turns out.
Mark Dawson: People can pre-order it now.
James Blatch: Pre-order it.
Mark Dawson: But not...
James Blatch: I haven't told anyone it's on pre-order. The only people I've told literally are our close friends, who've asked me about it and they wanted the paperback version, which suited your strategy of putting that live now. So I've had half a dozen orders on the paperback, but I've had 30 pre-orders in a couple of days without telling anybody it's on there, but then people in the community have just been searching for it, I think.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Exactly.
James Blatch: And something I learned from your course, which I wasn't aware of, people might well know this already, is that pre-orders count to rank as they are ordered, not on the day that they're fulfilled, which seems odd to me.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Just on Amazon, it's different for the other platforms. So pre-orders on the other platforms effectively count twice. So you'll get a rank boost when they're pre-ordered and then they're counted again when the book goes live.
Amazon though, that's why there's lots of different ways to launch, but those pre-orders will affect your rank as they're pre-ordered, but they won't then count when you launch. That's one of the main thinkings about the three different kinds of launches that I talk about in the course.
James Blatch: Yes, cool. So you can go and check out the course which I can thoroughly recommend as a new author, trying to launch his book. If you go to selfpublishingformula.com/launches, you can read all about it, and it's keenly priced at 20 bucks. There you go. Couple of cups of coffee, couple of very expensive artisan cups of coffee-
Mark Dawson: Very expensive.
James Blatch: Or four normal cups of coffee, five maybe. Good. Okay. Well thank you very much, indeed.
Joking aside, there was a lot of acknowledgements in here because the community helped me and quite a few professionals along the way, have helped me. I'm enormously grateful for the help I've received, the encouragement, the occasional bullying along the way, to get to this point. I'm late to this party, I think, for most people listening to this podcast, will have published books in the past and held this copy in their hand.
But for those of you who are still yet to do it, I can tell you, it is a fantastic feeling. At this stage, I'm very proud of the work that I've put in and others have put in with me, to get to this point. I'm excited to move on to book two, Redneck, which is the working title at the moment. Which I think would probably work. I've spoken to Stewart about it.
I think if we can do the old hammer and sickle on the R for Red. There's a long line of thrillers with red something that are set in the Cold War. So I think that's going to work as well. I'm on the runway Mark to carry on with the flying analogy. I'm on the runway.
Mark Dawson: Doesn't the plane in your book crash?
James Blatch: No spoilers, please. Yeah. And the front of the podcast, I think we did think about this, so it can stay as it is for now. We don't need to get Huey back in. I still am a first time author.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. I can't remember what it says now. I think you need to sell a few before we decide to change it.
James Blatch: Yeah. How are you going to cope when I get nominated for The Booker and the Whitbread?
Mark Dawson: We hate it when our friends become famous. No, I want to see you sell as many as possible.
James Blatch: Thank you.
Mark Dawson: I think it's exciting.
James Blatch: Good. Okay. Well look, thank you very much indeed, Mark. You do get a mention in the acknowledgements, you'll be pleased to know.
Let's move on to today's interview. I think we've talked about what we needed to do. I suppose we should just say that the 101 course is still available. It's open until next Wednesday, as the 14th, that'll be the last day for signing up to Self Publishing 101.
This is the course that I took, as well as helping Mark put together, to enable me to get to where I am now. So if you look at jamesblatch.com and my Twitter account, and if you're lucky enough to be served a Facebook ad from me, this is all the early foundational stuff.
Mark Dawson: I texted him the other day, that I saw one of his ads in my feed and the image is great. I don't know who... is that Stuart did that?
James Blatch: Well that was taken by John Western with me actually, in my helmet. And then that was turned into that striking image.
Mark Dawson: It's a really good idea. I would be very tempted to buy based on that. It's really good.
James Blatch: I think that must be where the pre-orders are coming from, because that's all I'm doing, is running those ads.
Mark Dawson: As you said, I think some of them might be, it's hard to say because you can't track pre-orders with any kind of tracking, but some of it will be, but I think a lot will be lovely people in the community here, are just looking for your book and buying it. So combination of the two, I think.
James Blatch: Good. Let's start thinking about the audio book. I did a little test record this morning to see whether I think I might want to voice it or not. Not sure. Trouble is, I don't like the sound of my own voice when I listened back to it.
Mark Dawson: I wouldn't. I think you'd have more fun with a professional.
James Blatch: Probably. People do like authors reading their own books though. I think there was something to it.
Mark Dawson: I think non-fiction I think is fine. I think that's probably best. Unless you got a voice like Neil Gaiman. He's quite talented, has a nice voice.
James Blatch: That's what you're saying?
Mark Dawson: I don't think he was talented-
James Blatch: Hire a broadcast professional?
Mark Dawson: Well, there's broadcast. I don't think people want Alan Partridge reading a book of out of the cold war or something. But I think you'll have much more fun doing the process properly and finding a narrator and go through it. You'll learn more as well, which is good for everybody because then we can do a podcast about that experience.
James Blatch: Okay. Well, we need to move on to the interview because we're running out of out recording time.
Mark Dawson: Before we do that, you've forgotten Patreon, so I'll do it.
James Blatch: Oh yes. Thank you.
Mark Dawson: Thank you very much, sir. Two Patreon subscribers and I don't have any problems with the names today. We've got Gordon Murphy from Cowden in the UK and Stephen Crab. Thank you very much for supporting us on Patreon. We're very grateful. It makes it a lot easier for us to continue putting the podcasts out when we've got lots of very kind authors supporting us. So we thank you very much once again.
James Blatch: Thank you. I know you chose it, but we have two very easy to read out names and I have those other weeks. We love every Patreon supporter though. Thank you very much, indeed. Okay look, let's move on to the interview. Should I keep teasing up? So there are a few dashboards available for you to help you interpret on a daily basis and monthly and yearly basis, your KDP and other data. Data from COBA, et cetera, bring it all into one place. It can be time consuming. People have different ways of doing it.
Well, there's a new kid on the block and it's called ScribeCount. And does all those things and a little bit more. It's done by authors for authors launching as we speak. I think it's launching actually this week. So a good time for us to feature the interview. This is Phillippa Werner from ScribeCount, and then Mark and I'll be back for chat off the back.
Phillippa, welcome to The Self Publishing Show. Lovely to have you with us.
Phillippa Werner: Thank you so much.
James Blatch: Where are you? It looks like you're joining us from deep space, but where more specifically are you joining us from?
Phillippa Werner: The frozen wastes of Minnesota. It's quite snowy and brown outside right now, actually.
James Blatch: America is such a vast country because some people are bathing in sunshine, aren't they? This time of year and you still got the snow around.
Phillippa Werner: Yeah. Some of our team is in Kentucky, Ohio, Florida and then there's me.
James Blatch: Still, the summer is coming. Spring is around the corner. Okay. Look Phillippa. We're going to talk about ScribeCount.
I would like to talk a little bit about you first. I want to find out a bit about your author history, where you are with your own writing, because we're all interested as writers. So let's start with you. I think it's sci-fi. You look like you're into sci-fi. If you're watching on YouTube. So there you go. That's what it is?
Phillippa Werner: Sci-fi and fantasy. Yeah. I started off in 2012 with fantasy and 2013 was my first big series that was Light And Shadow and it's a young adult fantasy. It's about a young woman who's an orphan. She gets taken from her family and becomes a body guard for a noble woman who she and the noble one absolutely despise each other.
James Blatch: What realm or universe is that set in?
Phillippa Werner: It's a fantasy, historical fantasy setting. It was based politically on the War of the Roses. So that would be familiar to a lot of fantasy readers because Game of Thrones was also based on that. But it is a great deal, less brutal and graphic than that.
James Blatch: Then George R. Martins and the actual war of the roses, which were fairly brutal.
Phillippa Werner: Yes.
James Blatch: There was a bit of romance going on the sidelines, I'm sure.
Phillippa Werner: Yes. There is a romance and then mostly it's actually centred on the eventual friendship between the two women. And since then I've moved on. I've been doing more fantasy work. I'm working on an Epic fantasy series right now that will come out next year.
I'm also working on some sci-fi stuff I was working with Michael Anderle on Kurtherian Gambit Series. And under that pen name, which is Natalie Grey, I'm doing a space marine series right now,
James Blatch: Okay. Space marines. So you separate out the pen names because you don't feel there's an overlap between sci-fi and fantasy or is that because you were working specifically with the Anderle project?
Phillippa Werner: Part of it was because I was working with the Anderle universe and a part of it was that there was a difference. A lot of the sci-fi and fantasy that I was doing under the Moira Katson pen name is a different quality. There's a lot more political wrangling. Not like politics as in interspersed with today's politics, but in terms of court intrigue and mystery, and then the things that I do under the Natalie Grey pen name tend to be snappy or a lot more sarcastic.
James Blatch: That's interesting. It's so important not to confound the expectations of readers, isn't it? If you have a cover that doesn't match what's going to be on the inside of a blurb or indeed you're selling to a list of authors for one genre, something that they're not expecting or enjoying, it's just going to back far, isn't it?
Phillippa Werner: Yes. And it's difficult honestly, to separate out what those things are going to be because a lot of my work seems very similar to me, despite being sci-fi or fantasy. And then trying to segment your reader list and say, “Okay, are you just interested in fantasy or are you just interested in sci-fi? Which of my works do you like?” And trying to segment people and then say, “Okay, how can I give you more of what you were looking for and not bother you with…” because everyone's inbox is so full all the time. You don't want to be sending emails that people don't like.
James Blatch: No. But you have a mailing list?
Phillippa Werner: Yes.
James Blatch: And you use that, I suppose you can always just explain to people, “Look, I also…”
Do your mailing list know who you are? They know you write as another.
Phillippa Werner: Yes. And right now I'm in the middle of a rebrand on my website so that people can easily see, “Okay, these are the same person,” and putting a flow chart quiz in there about, “Okay, what do you want to read next? What sounds interesting to you?” And then they can cross over, but a lot of things that I will send to both of them.
James Blatch: How many books have you written now?
Phillippa Werner: Oh, Lord. I want to say it's past 40 at this point, considering ghost writing and my own writing.
James Blatch: And my last questions on your writer career, when you write with Michael in his universe, how does that work or how has it worked for you?
Phillippa Werner: So the first thing was obviously for me to read through all of the work and then talk with him and talk with some of his readers. Because he has a group of beta readers and just say, “Okay, here's what we've been wanting to know,” because the Kurtherian Gambit is such a rich universe that there are plenty of places that could be expanded or plenty of pieces of backstory that he wrote for himself as plot lines and then could be expanded from there.
So there were a couple of side characters whose stories I wrote and side adventures I wrote that had been hinted at, or sideways mentioned in the main story, but it was, “Oh, you know, last month Steven and Jennifer were off doing X, Y, Z,” and then I can actually bring that to life and show what was happening in the background. And that's really fun. His beta readers are passionate.
Among other things, you can get a sense of the emotions underlying that world and really get the feedback you only dream about as an author. Here's what I love. Here's my own head Canon. Here's what I've been thinking about this character. And it's just great to have that very live, very dynamic feedback going on.
James Blatch: What fun for the fans as well, because if I could write to George Lucas or the Alien Ridley Scott and explain what I'd like to see in the next Alien film and have a conversation and see that come out, that would be awesome. So it was a great experience for the fans.
Phillippa Werner: It is. I think that's one of the great things about self-publishing too, is that there is that responsiveness. And it's something that sometimes works for me in series and sometimes doesn't. So for instance, the fantasy series I'm writing right now, I'm actually drafting all of it before any of the books come out so that I can not have the feeling of, “Oh, well, if I go in this one direction, that might really disappoint people or…” Sometimes you really want to work with the fans that way and sometimes you think, “Oh wow, this will be really paralysing.”
James Blatch: Yes. I can imagine that. And ultimately, you've got to write something that you want to write as well. If you really don't like the idea of it, you've got to be your own person. I'm in the middle of trying to get my book done.
I'm getting so much advice that I am at that point now where I realise I have to do what I think is the right thing ultimately, however many conversations you have with people.
Phillippa Werner: I think it was Neil Gaiman who said, “Whenever someone tells you that something in a book isn't working, they're almost always correct. And whenever they tell you how to fix it, they're almost always wrong.” And so I try to keep that in mind.
James Blatch: The Neil Gaiman part. We must get Neil Gaiman on the show. He's going to be great to talk to. Okay, right. Let's should we move on to ScribeCount then.
You've got to explain what ScribeCount is and what problem it solves.
Phillippa Werner: ScribeCount provides dynamic reporting. The idea behind it is that you can log into your computer in the morning, you bring up ScribeCount, you know exactly what's working and what's not in your writing. You know what's selling and what's not.
If you're in Kindle unlimited for instance, and you're just exclusive to Amazon, you can be seeing the split between page reads and eBooks sold. Soon there will be audio and print as well.
And if you're a wide distributed, you can log in and see, “Oh, wow. Draft2Digital had this huge jump the other day. Let's dig down and see, was that Talino, was that Vivio?” or, “Wow, Barnes & Noble has this huge new chunk here and what series is selling there.”
And then once you have that snapshot, you can also be looking in and see, you can tag things differently. So one of the things I do is I have my books tagged by some genre, and so I can look in and see, “Okay. Is epic fantasy selling more for me than urban fantasy right now? Has there been a surge there? Are different series or genres selling better at different retailers?” Things like that.
James Blatch: So how do you link it up in the first place to your various accounts?
Phillippa Werner: This is actually one of the super interesting parts of ScribeCount. Randall and I ended up handing our developers a fairly impossible brief. We said, “We want you to be able to get the data from these six major ebook platforms without having any of the user information, cookies, session IDs, any of that. We'd like them to be able to delete their data at any time so that they know we're not storing it, which is big for a lot of authors.”
And so essentially what it is, is when you go to enable it, there are basically six doors. There's one that goes to Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo. And you can enable those, if you want to. Once you've enabled it, you click a link that says Go to Login.
That basically teaches your ScribeCount the path to iTunes Books or Google Play bookstore. And it works with the fact that you're already logged in on your computer. So every 15 minutes, it will just send a request over to Kobo or Google and say, “Hey, is there any new data?” And Kobo or Google will say either, “Yes,” or, “No, the user's logged out. The store is closed.”
So it can't open any doors on its own. It can't keep any doors open. It just works if you are logged in. And so most mornings I actually have to log into Apple. Again, Apple has one of the more stringent security measures, of any of the platforms and usually Kobo.
I'll log into those and then it syncs and uploads the data that came in overnight because it can't see that when the computer's off. It doesn't have any data streams coming in. And then I go back to my dashboard and I can see what my distribution is for the month.
One of the things we're working on is making sure that the dashboard will be much more customizable. So if you've got, for instance, a BookBub on one particular series for the week, you could set it for that week as, “Okay. I just want to see this series. And I just want to see it for the past few days.”
James Blatch: Okay. In terms of what it presents to you when you glance at it.
Presumably if you have multiple accounts, that would be a problem? If I had more than one KBP accounts or?
Phillippa Werner: Yes. For now, yes. The way we're handling it right now is, we would recommend two things. First of all, that you email us and say, “Hey, I have two accounts.” And that way we can comp one of them and make sure you're not paying twice. But the other thing is that we would want you to run them out of different browsers so that it could pull in those streams of information. And in the future, we will be looking at making two KDP accounts work on the same ScribeCount login.
So that will be something that happens. It's obviously because of the way ScribeCount works with the active login. It's a little bit of a, how do you make that work all at the same time? Are you archiving data? Is that consistent with our data practises? That sort of thing.
James Blatch: Sure. There are a few dashboards around for people. What's the USP? What's the differentiator for ScribeCount?
Phillippa Werner: ScribeCount has six of the major platforms. So that is far and away the biggest thing right now. We're also looking at a lot more analytics that people can shift and look at very easily. So you can have your royalty payout and you can download that and just forward it to your accountant. You'll be able to manually add income. So if you're getting income from Payhip or Patreon, one of our big updates that's coming is an interactive calendar, so you can add promotions and their costs. You can add dates when things are going into, or coming out of Kindle Unlimited, dates that you need to have your pre-orders uploaded, things like that. Because I mean, we've all whiffed on a pre-order date, right?
James Blatch: I've already got one but hopefully I'm not going to miss it. I shouldn't do.
Phillippa Werner: Good luck.
James Blatch: Thank you.
Phillippa Werner: Knock on wood. So that calendar feature will be tracking ads. It will be tracking promotions and expenses. And you'll be able to see your data going day by day, compared to what you're promoting, what you're putting out there in terms of marketing, and you can see, “Oh wow. I spent $400 on this one series and there is no spike coming after that. Okay. But there's this other series that is having a huge spike and I haven't spent anything on it. Should I try to ride that wave and get a couple of newsletters going?” Things like that.
So it's really the amount of data and the help in filtering it. And that's part of why I was brought on board is I'm a data person. That's what I was majoring in. It's what I've worked in. And I find that people have an instinctive feeling that they can't work with data. And if you strip out the jargon, that's really, not true.
People have a very instinctive visual grasp of what information can do for them. And so if you can just present it to them in a way that doesn't trigger their, “I'm doing math,” feelings, people can be making these great informed decisions about their books and their career and all of that.
James Blatch: It sounds like it's very author centric, indie author centric geared around the way that we run our businesses and what we need to know, which is obviously a very positive thing.
Where did this all come from? And when did you join development? You weren't there at the beginning or were you?
Phillippa Werner: I was not the original person behind it. That's Randall Wood. He's our CEO, and then he brought me and Suresh on as co-founders. Suresh Venkatapathi is our lead developer. He's often in Kentucky, Randall's in Florida, I'm here in Minnesota and then the rest of our development team is scattered worldwide. And so between the three of us, we got things underway. Suresh has a background in software as a service, SAS programming and then Randall and I are authors.
For Randall and myself, we wanted to use this. We were spending so much of our time trying to collate our data, trying to come up with good directions to go in. And part of it is, it's not just the time, right? Because if you're trying to figure out which direction to go, where to promote, where not to promote, whether you should be in KU or you shouldn't, you're downloading all of these reports, you're trying to put them together, but it's also a really error prone process.
It's so easy to put something in the wrong column and all of a sudden you're working with the wrong data and just having something that you can look at very quickly and you don't have to add things up and you don't have to sum and none of that. And so to have a computer, do the things that computers are best at, so that you can do the things you are best at that was something that Randall and I wanted to do.
And then for Suresh, it was one part really great challenge, and then one part Phillippa and Randall keep sending me things like, “You can't use session IDs,” and now I would like to stop the two of them. So, you know, you win some, you lose some.
James Blatch: I can't imagine that being a, “Really? That's what you want to do?” It's very convenient, it makes it nice and easy at the beginning where I imagine as a pain point for a lot of these dashboards, as they fall over in that first 10 minutes, when the author gives up trying to connect it or get it going.
Phillippa Werner: Yes. That's the thing, is we wanted it to be very intuitive to use so that you could log into it and say, “In five minutes, I'm up and running and my data are coming in.” Obviously if you have a huge back list or all of your data are back to 2012, it's going to take a few updates for all of the information to come in, but you should be able to get through set up in two to five minutes.
James Blatch: How's it going? What stage are you at in the development? Has this has gone beyond beta now?
Phillippa Werner: Yes. So we're recording this on March 29th and April 1st is the end of the beta phase.
James Blatch: Ah, okay.
Phillippa Werner: One of the things that happened was we did a soft launch. No matter how much beta testing you do, as soon as you release something into the wild you'll see people that are using software differently than you would intend to. You'll also see people with different browser configuration and bugs will pop up that you wouldn't have known about.
So, we're finishing up with that live beta period, getting all of the wrinkles smoothed out and what we'll be doing next is we'll be starting to add more platforms.
Smashwords is firing and away, the largest number of requests that we have. And then IngramSpark after that, we have a lot for audio and things are kind of tied after that. There's a lot of Payhip or Patreon and different things, but there are so many of the different platforms and that presents its own issues as, how do we make it easy for you to log in and see if you have 48 platforms instead of six? How is it easy to check?
That's part graphics, it's part programming, and each of the different platforms regularly throws a wrench into the works. For instance, right after we launched in mid-January, Amazon decided to change how it's stored pre-2016 data. And so suddenly we had people that weren't able to get any of that, not everyone, just some people or Google changed when and how it updated daily data. And that happens regularly, and so that's why this isn't something that's just one and done. Every platform is optimising all the time. Because it really is optimising, it's not just changing for the sake of changing. They're trying to make things more useful for us.
James Blatch: Yeah, of course. It's for those of us who do online courses and software that interacts, it can be frustrating experience. When Jeffrey used to be Jeff wakes up in the morning and says, “I think we're going to do things differently today.” Anyway, it is improvement generally.
How much does this cost?
Phillippa Werner: Ah, yes. There are four tiers. If you're making combined up to $500 a month, you are not paying at all, prescribed count. And then between there it's between 15 and $25. So, $15 between $500 and $1,000, $1,000 to $5,000 I believe is $20 a month. And then $5,000 that is $25.
Each tier gets all of the features. You're not paying any more for different features but we were tiny baby authors at one point. And we want to help people grow beyond that baby stage if that's what they want.
But also, we know that when you're just dipping your toe in this, this isn't something you can necessarily pay for. And so, we want to give people that chance to get an idea of what's going on with their data and work with it. And then also, because we found the Indie community to be so welcoming, so pay it forward. You are in a sense helping out other authors if you're one of the larger ones paying at ScribeCount. Because you're helping that stay afloat so that baby authors can come on board.
James Blatch: In terms of you present the data, can you also download in various configurations because people do like to have… Certainly somebody who likes to work with a spreadsheet.
Phillippa Werner: Oh yeah, absolutely. And so, you are able to download there. And then we'll be debuting and working with different pre-made analyses. So, we'll say to people, “We think this might be useful to you let me know”. And if it keeps being something that people want, you can select, "I'd like this particular analysis," this for instance, velocity analysis of a series or this sell-through of a particular series. And we'll add that to the pre-made.
James Blatch: One of the complicating factors of downloading the data individually is dealing with exchange rates, I think.
Phillippa Werner: That brings up two actually very interesting things, is that we have people emailing us and saying, “I want you to know that your numbers are slightly off.” So, "Okay, can you give us any details?" And they say, “For the month of February or the month of March, it's showing different numbers than book report or published drive.”
We say, “Okay, well thank you. Those numbers aren't set yet. Those payments aren't set in an exchange rate yet,” which means that all of us are guessing about what that exchange rate is going to be.
And each one of the sales aggregators has its own methodology for that. So we use the daily exchange rates. We use yesterday's exchange rates into whatever you've set your default currency as, and different places may use different ones. I don't know how each other place that does that.
James Blatch: I think that's a good solution. I generally do more or less the same thing on my spreadsheets as I look at xe.com, and the market rate for that day. You're right, it's guesswork, but unless there's a horrible crush of somebody's currency, it's not going make a massive difference. It's going to make a £100 in £5,000 over a month or so.
Phillippa Werner: Yeah, it's a small thing. And so usually we'll have people calling and saying, “I've got this $16 difference,” something like that. It's all guesswork until the payments are set and out.
James Blatch: On a related note, I quite like the dollar to get stronger seems to be in the doldrums recently. So if you could boost that would be great. I'm not sure how much influence you and Randall have, but get that one up.
So how's it going? You've had your beta, you're on the cusp of the main launch and your feeling is in a good place at the moment?
Phillippa Werner: Yes. I'm trying to gather my thoughts because in a lot of ways it's been very emotional, honestly. And part of that is on a personal level. Randall brought me on board last year and it was, “Oh my God, this is such a great idea. And this is so great.” And then there's actually the moment that you login in the morning and you see a sudden chunk of pink, “Oh, something happened on Kobo.” And I know that immediately, and I can look at what that was and I can, "Wow this is actually doing all of the things that I wanted it to do."
And then there's also seeing the preliminary feedback and having people write to you and just say… you get an email, that's all in caps and that's how you start your morning, that says, “I FEEL LIKE I JUST GOT A PUPPY!” It's so nice to be able to see that and to be able to work with people who are saying, “I'd love you to be able to do this, I'd love for you to be able to do that.” "Okay. I literally never would have thought of that."
It's been tiring. There's been a lot more coffee than I think my stomach and blood pressure appreciate. And it's been very difficult at times, trying to find ways around software constraints and all of that, but it feels so exciting. And almost enough adrenaline that you don't need any coffee.
James Blatch: Yes. I think we are authors, we are driven on coffee. I'm probably the same as you and have a little bit too much than everything, so the body sets up for.
We can find you at scribecount.com, is that correct?
Phillippa Werner: Yes.
James Blatch: I'm looking at that. Nice looking website, oh look at that. Yeah, very nice. We do like a nice website and I'm always going to do my scaling tests. It scales for mobile very nicely as well. Excellent. So, people can go along there and sign up for free. So out of interest, if somebody's doing 10,000 a month, but they want to have a dip in and see what it's like and use the free service for a bit, just to see. What happens as a result of that? Does it cap the figures at 500 or?
Phillippa Werner: Oh no. They'll see all of their data, they'll get the two-week free trial.
James Blatch: Oh, okay. There's a two week free trial. I guess I missed that. You did probably say that, but yeah, okay.
Phillippa Werner: I may completely have whiffed on that. So, there's two weeks free, and then because some people can dip in and out of different tiers, the amount that you pay is based on your prior month. And we will be looking at annual subscriptions, but that will depend somewhat on what ends up being a good deal. If someone tends to be rotating right around that 1,000 to 2,000 number, then what is a good deal for them if they're prepaying for a year. Because we don't want to charge them 18 a month if half the months they would have been at 15 anyway. So, once we have more annual usage data we'll know what's good.
James Blatch: The problem is that the people who fumble around on the board, is it going to be difficult for you but everyone else, I suppose generally the pricing structure is geared around going up and being more successful. And therefore it's an economy of scale, isn't it? So, it's not so bad.
Phillippa Werner: Yes. We definitely do want it to be one of those things where you think, “Oh, wow. Now I have to pay, but that's because I make more money.”
James Blatch: Yes. Exactly. Great. Well, I'm quite excited to download it. My life is complicated because I run Fuse books, I run SPF books. I run James Blatch books now. And so I do have multiple accounts all over the place, so it's going to be complicated, but I will definitely have a look at it and check it out.
I'd urge our listeners also to have a go and check it out and I'm sure we'll see some discussion about it in our various Facebook groups.
What are your plans for marketing? Here you are on our podcast, obviously the number one podcast in the self publishing circle, but you must have some other plans for marketing?
Phillippa Werner: Definitely, we'll be trying to do a long-term organic structure, just bringing in other authors and looking at all sorts of aspects of publishing success. One of the things that we're tackling very much this year is, what does publishing success look like? And so bringing in authors who have very different careers; some who are still doing day jobs because they want to be doing day jobs and their writing is either connected to that somehow, or it's just totally different. And what does that look like for them, versus people who have set up an entire business or all sorts of things.
That will be reaching people. And we hope to be part of that discussion, partly because we want ScribeCount to be that data source that lets you figure out what your success looks like. We know that will be different for everyone. But also, we will be going on podcasts, we'll be talking to authors.
One of the things that we want is to be in the communities where people are discussing this. Because there is so much easy little questions where people say, “Oh man, I'm clicking through the sunburst graphic. And it's just so annoying to have to click all the way back out.”
And just imagine having someone there who says, “Oh, there's the little reset button in the upper right-hand corner. And so, you can just one click and go back to the whole sunburst.” Things like that, that make it easier to use having responsive customer service there. And then people can interface with us directly to say, “Oh, Hey, Smashwords please.” Or whatever platform it is that they want, whatever features they want. So definitely being embedded.
James Blatch: That is very important. And there's no reason not to in this day and age, to have your own little forums where people can... typically would be a Facebook group, I guess. To ask the horse's mouth, so, I get the word from the street. Well, that's great. I'm full of admiration.
I know from our own experience in SPF, the work that goes in, we've just launched Hello Books, that was a year and a half of doing something every day for it to the point of launching. And then the work starts. But also, I do know what it's like and so on. And so congratulations on where we're sitting now, at least, good luck.
Phillippa Werner: Absolutely. Thank you so much. As you say, and now the work starts.
James Blatch: Yeah. In many ways it's a new phase, that's for sure. Good. Okay. It should be live by the time this goes out. Probably be a couple of weeks from now, So, mid-April, I imagine. It'll be ready for people.
Phillippa Werner: Yes. Ready and adding new features all the time. So, we can't wait to be piling those on the calendar feature, especially, that's one that I'm very excited about.
James Blatch: Superb. Phillipa, I thank you so much for joining us today.
Phillippa Werner: Thank you, James.
James Blatch: There you go. They've been in touch with us and yeah, so there's Book Report which people use, there's John Logsdon's Reader Links. And what are the other ones there? I must've missed it.
Mark Dawson: There's a few.
James Blatch: There's a few? I must have missed any. Of course, if you're using, Draft2Digital or PublishDrive, you get a certain amount of data there as well. And then there's XL, which I have to say, I'm a bit of a fan of. I used the process of logging down. I'm exclusive with the two series we market. It makes it a bit easier, but of logging that information, I use the process of filling in an Excel spreadsheet that I've designed to help me keep an eye on the data and analyse it.
Because every time I do that, I think I've got to optimise these campaigns, I've got to refresh these campaigns. I prefer it that way, but I will certainly have a look at ScribeCount.
You're a Book Report person I think Mark, are you?
Mark Dawson: I am. I remember when I started doing this and I was like you, I like spreadsheets and Excel too. And I did them all of the stores every night and the start of the things. I had a few books, it might take 10 minutes and not many sales and not many books. It didn't take long, but it got to the point where it's taking me 45 minutes every night to do it. And it was starting to get a little silly. And so I stopped doing the spreadsheet very little weekly. Now I do it monthly. So, the monthly one is just, I do daily, any money going out, in some ways it's better.
You need to give more closer eye than money coming in. So, I'll do an ad check once every three or four days at the moment, and then make sure I have a monthly overview. The actual income, I just use Book Report and the KDP dashboard these days, obviously a lot easier now that I'm just with Amazon. But I think it is useful when you're starting out to have really be on top of your numbers and to know, and to be able to get a sense of what promotions are working in a way that's easy to decode if you did it six weeks later.
You've doing it that way for a while now. I think it's a bit spotty to use a word from the '80s, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I am a bit of a beta spot when it comes to X out of stuff, but it does feel quite nice to count up the pennies coming in every night and to be able to get a real feel of what your business is like.
James Blatch: Yeah. There are two figures that are produced from equations on my spreadsheet, the report, and one is the percentage of ad spent against revenue, which the spreadsheet helped me identify early on with Robert series that was out of… not out of control, but it was too high. It was 55%, sometimes 60%.
I knew that without growing the revenue, I could increase profits by getting that down to about a third. And the other thing is the profit. So, it doesn't really matter how much revenue you get from KDP or anyone else if you're spending too much on that. So you're right.
I did talk to Phillipa actually about that, about having that spend in there. I think that a lot of things will be added to these platforms over time. I know with PublishDrive's Abacus, you can put in spend, I'm sure with Book Report as well, you can. It's very important to look at those two together,
Mark Dawson: No Book Report. It doesn't.
James Blatch: No, it doesn't do spend? Okay.
Mark Dawson: Just income only, Amazon does. So, the benefit of Reader Links and Scribe Count is that it's a way to programmatically, and in other words, hands-off, ingest data from all of the platforms that you're on. When I got started six, seven years ago, there was a platform, a little piece of software, which had the name, I can't remember it now, but it basically, you download these spreadsheets from all of the platforms, you'd upload them and it would then interpret those and put them into a dashboard.
It was quite good. Not brilliant. So, it's great that we've got people like ScribeCount making it easier to see all of the data in a convenient to gather it conveniently and then present it in a way that enables you to see how your business is doing across all platforms.
James Blatch: It was an interesting interview and Phillipa had to say it was annoying to them sometimes, a challenge to them every now and again, Amazon would change things and they would have to re-order the programme. And I thought welcome to our world.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, you see them go down occasionally. And I mean, the guy, we've never spoken to before, he's a guy called Liam runs Book Report, and you see Amazon changes the API and Book Report falls over. He fixes it really quickly, but you've just go to get keyboards and it's like, world is falling because it's fallen over. And it's like, give the guy a break, he's fixes really quickly. I'm sure it will be just the same as Randall and Philippa.
Randall is an author that I've known for a little while. I'm sure, get that fixed super quick. So patience is sometimes required these things.
James Blatch: I think we did speak to Liam from Book Report very early on in the podcast. I think. Long time ago, it's been going a long time. Like the book writing process, things take a long time, like a good wine. It takes a while to mature.
Okay. I think that's it. Thank you very much, indeed for a reminder that the 101 course selfpublishingformula.com/101 is available until Wednesday. And if you want to check out the launches course, we've talked about launches today, selfpublishingformula.com launches.
That my friend, is that. You've been playing a bit of golf. I developed a shank in the range and I was watching YouTube videos last night, terrible thing, a shank, terrible thing. Need to get rid of it. Don't ever watch a video about it. If you don't have it, just pretend it doesn't exist.
Mark Dawson: James been shanking again.
James Blatch: Don't let that bombshell. Thank you very much indeed to our guests from ScribeCount and good luck to ScribeCount's launching this week; Philippa Werner, and we will be here next Friday. Until then, all that remains for me to say, is this goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye for me and the terrible shanker. Good bye.
James Blatch: Thank you. Goodbye.
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