SPS-285: How Trad Pub Feels About the Indie Revolution – with Jane Friedman
Jane Friedman’s Hot Sheet newsletter is one of the premier sources of information about the writing and publishing industry. Today she talks to James about how she got started in publishing, how subscription services might change the industry, and where publishing goes from here.
- The one metric that matters with book advertising
- On traditional publishing’s view of indie publishing
- How indie publishing is an area of opportunity for authors
- Why thinking like a publisher is important for authors
- Will traditional publishing ever embrace the ebook?
- Will gamified storytelling change the landscape in years to come?
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-285: How Trad Pub Feels About the Indie Revolution - with Jane Friedman
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Jane Freidman: There's always been this funny tension for both publishers and authors. With one eye on the business and one eye on the art. And I guess there's just this long standing artistic attitude that you can't sully yourself too much with those business concerns. Because it demeans the art in some way. Which I think is silly.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gate keepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join Indie best seller 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, on a Friday, with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson. And my hay fever. I'm going to sound really dreadful in today's episode. So apologies for that. Hopefully you can still understand me. But it is pollen central in Salisbury at the moment. And I'm really suffering.
James Blatch: You've really suffered this year, I've noticed. It's not fun, I don't think. I've been touch whatever this desk is made of. I've never had hay fever. I think it can come on at any point. Can't it? But I haven't had it.
Mark Dawson: No, I had it when I was a kid quite badly.
James Blatch: Right.
Mark Dawson: But normally, not too bad. But at the moment, as I said to you just a moment ago, there's this great, big field over there to my left. The farmer is growing so he can cut some silage. And it's huge. Just looking at that and thinking there's a lot of pollen there, I think. And it's drifting this way into my nose. Yes. There we go.
James Blatch: Yup.
Mark Dawson: Apologies to everyone if I'm a little bit bunged up today.
James Blatch: In the YouTube comments and comments generally, you're now going to get lots of suggestions. This always happens when you mention an ailment. People say, "This is what you need to do. Drink a cup of-
Mark Dawson: Wow. That's funny.
James Blatch: ... lemon tea, upside down."
Mark Dawson: Yeah, people have become very expert in all kinds of things. I think in my newsletter, month or two ago, I mentioned that I had the vaccine. I had more than one person telling me that keys would now magnetically attach to my forehead.
James Blatch: Yup. I keep checking my 5G signal on my phone. But it's exactly the same as it was before I had the vaccine.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: I don't really understand. Now we had a YouTube comment as well this week, from somebody who said, "Why did Lucy Score feel the need to mention a vaccine? This is a very dangerous, unproven thing that's costing lives around the world."
Mark Dawson: Oh, dear. Okay.
James Blatch: I'm afraid I said, "Lucy, you, me, and others on SPF are very pleased and proud to have had our vaccine. And we are very strongly encouraging everyone else to have it." And her view is narrow and potentially could cost millions of lives.
Mark Dawson: I see.
James Blatch: I didn't mince my words.
Mark Dawson: No. I think that's reasonable.
James Blatch: I did want to get into a discussion, I want to delete the conspiratorial YouTube video she then posted in reply.
Mark Dawson: Right. Okay.
James Blatch: Because we don't need time for that. But yes, we are mainstream in terms of vaccines. Although, if somebody does have a magic hay fever cure, of course. I have already mentioned, I occasionally use a steroid spray for an allergy I get. I'm allergic to alcohol.
Mark Dawson: Oh, my God. That's awful.
James Blatch: I know. It's not the worst allergy you can have. It makes me very bunged up if I don't have the steroid spray. That enables me to drink to my full capacity, which is where I need to be. We can't be writers without drinking, right? Can you? Or can you? Actually, that's a bit unfair to people who can't drink anymore. You can drink.
Mark Dawson: Yes. I think you don't need to be a writer. You don't need to drink to be a writer. No, absolutely.
James Blatch: It helps. Okay.
Let's have a little chat, just about paid ads. Because I've been having some interesting experiences since I've been writing my own book as well as Fuse and as well as talking to you about your books, Mark. As that's the core business that we do here at SPF. And we've had a few people asking about how many books you need to be profitable?
I am actually making a profit on one book at the moment. Now, it might be that my book is a very genre-specific book. And I found a niche audience. But that's what you can do with paid ads, and I'm using Facebook ads.
I think I suggested to you, I told you that I was making a small loss every day, sometimes five or six, seven dollars a day. Which I don't want to be losing that much. But then I did some analysis and worked out that the U.S. is costing me money. And the U.K. looked like it was profitable.
So I cut the U.S. ads out. And obviously their sales went down. But actually, yes, lo and behold, I was making a profit just or breaking ... just going as negative, but overall just slightly in profit in the U.K.
I also said to you that I was suspicious about my video ads campaign. I have a nice video ad. I think you've seen it. I think it might have been served to you. And while it looks good, it's well put together by John Stone. And it does really well on the Facebook ad dashboard. In fact, it gets me nine P clicks over the last month. Lots of them for not much money.
My suspicion was it wasn't pushing books. It wasn't actually selling books. I don't have affiliate account, unfortunately, to do a detailed tracking. Which you'd need to do. What I did is on Sunday, I turned it off. And I just left my interests ad running. Which I think targets Tom Clancy and a couple of other similar authors. And lo and behold, I've made, on average, four pounds, 33 a day since then. That video ad was performing on the Facebook ads dashboard, but not performing in terms of sales.
I think this is a key message. When we're looking at metrics, we do talk about cost per click and click through rate and all these things. But there's only one metric that really matters in the end. And that is sales.
Mark Dawson: Yes. It's almost as if I've heard that before somewhere. I don't know. Maybe that's a thing I've banged on about quite a lot. Yeah, absolutely.
The other metrics are interesting. And they can be useful health checks as to whether an ad is doing what you want it to do. But the most important thing is, as I think I said on the webinar the other night, it's just looking at the return. How much money is it making?
It doesn't matter if you're getting ... here comes the terrible math. If you get a five cents per click on a video ad and your image ads are 20 cents per click. Perhaps your video ad is only converting one in 10. But your image ad is converting three in 10.
I think if I sat down and worked that out, that would probably demonstrate the image ad is making you more money, even though it's more expensive than the video ad. You just need to be aware that there will be some variances in there. And see if you can cut through and find out what the answer is, as you've done.
James Blatch: Yeah. And obviously, I've got one book. So it's not complicated by read through. Read through, we talked about, it does complicate things. You can expect to see a loss on your dashboard.
In fact, in many cases, you will see a loss in your dashboard for book one. Which you've then got four or five books behind it. Or even two or three books behind it. That's where the profit can come. So you certainly need to take that into account. Mine's not complicated by read through. It's just one book.
Obviously, you can expect to see a loss with book one if you've got a series. Even if it's just two or three books behind it, you might well see a loss on book one. But you will get a profit down the line with that. But nonetheless, it is sales. That's what you got to keep your eye on, not getting carried away with some of the other metrics.
I'm making $6.00 a day. I just worked out, I've just converted it for our American friends. Which is $2,200 a year from one book. Which pays for a bill or two. Or more than just a bill. Which is a great start for me. And the only thing I really want to do at this stage is break even, but build an audience. And keep me motivated while I'm writing book two.
Mark Dawson: Now there's two things I'll say about that. First of all is $2,000 is not small change, by any means. And as I mentioned again in the webinar for the course, which is now closed. I think probably has closed. The ads for all the scores, you can have it for $1.45 per day. So if you're making $6.00 a day on it, even if it's just one book.
Obviously, you'll make more if you've got more books and it's doing very well. It's not easy to do that. But that just goes to show that it's possible to profit quite quickly. And as you said, the main thing for you is not really the money here, it's you're building an audience who'll be looking for book two.
What's your mailing list growth like at the moment?
James Blatch: Yeah, haven't checked in the last few days. But I've been doing ... I mean, these are small numbers of books I'm selling a day in page read. The numbers aren't very high. But yeah, I haven't checked it for a while. But it was building by two or three a day. I think.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, well that's good.
James Blatch: Last time I noticed.
Mark Dawson: Obviously, that's fantastic. Maybe you'll have 1,000 extra readers by the time you launch the next one. Although that will be in 10 years. So maybe 10,000 readers by the time you launch the next one.
James Blatch: Rude.
Mark Dawson: Truthful. And then you'll be ready to go. You'll have a much bigger audience ready to buy the next book.
James Blatch: Because I had 15 new subscribers on June 17th. Which is a big day. Yes. It looks like actually it may have gone up to maybe average four a day now.
Mark Dawson: For one book, that's excellent.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: Are you running any kind of lead generation campaigns?
James Blatch: No.
Mark Dawson: Well, that's fantastic. They're the best kind of subscribers.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: That's really, really good.
James Blatch: That's the ones from the book. I think I do have quite a high conversion rate. And I did steal this idea off you. Where you did your redacted personnel file.
Mark Dawson: You steal everything off me.
James Blatch: I do.
Mark Dawson: That's all right. That's okay.
James Blatch: Of course. That's how this works.
Mark Dawson: That's how it works. And you've actually done a better job than I have. The stuff you've offered at the back is very, very, very connected to the book.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: And interesting. And I would probably download that. And I'm pretty jaded when it comes to these things. It's really good.
James Blatch: I think it has quite a high conversion rate. Good. Well, look.
While this is going on, let me just say for those of you who are suddenly thought, "Well, maybe I should look into this course." This is going out on Friday the second of July. And actual facts, the course officially, unofficially, closes at the end of Sunday, on the fourth. And the reason we say that, we actually close on the 30th of June. That's the big advertised public date.
But for technical reasons, we don't actually close it until Sunday night. Just because there's always people whose transactions don't go through for a couple of days. If you did go to SelfPublishingFormula.com/adsforauthors, you might get lucky before Sunday night. And then that's it, probably until 2022. Then we'll open ads again. We're going to be working on the new modules and stuff in between, of course.
Mark Dawson: TikTok ads for authors. That's what I'm thinking about. You sent me my ad.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: Brit Andrews, I think it's Brit Andrews, the foundation winner who we're going to interview soon. Without going into too much detail, because I think it's something we'd like to kind of release in the podcast that we do. She's gone from making not much, pennies, really, eight months ago. To making mid-five figures. This month, I think she's on for. And that's all down to advertising.
She's told Lucy, who's been talking to her, that one of the things that she's done really well is TikTok advertising. That's on my radar. And I have to say, I won't be the person to teach that. I don't have the TikTok app. I'm not really into that. And I may be wrong. But I don't think that's the place that my readers would hang out. Thriller readers.
James Blatch: What's her genre?
Mark Dawson: Romance.
James Blatch: Yeah. I love TikTok.
Mark Dawson: Well, you love romance.
James Blatch: I do, I love romance.
Mark Dawson: You're perfect.
James Blatch: I am. I don't read romance books, generally. Unless they're friends. I do watch TikTok and I actually have to limit myself. It's like late, end of night, if you're not careful, 45 minutes can turn into two hours on TikTok. But I, like you, looked at it in a bit the same way we looked at Instagram. And thought that you can make nice ads and make them look pretty. But it will only be a few genres that specifically work.
Mark Dawson: I don't know that that's true. I've heard more than just Brit now has said that TikTok ads have really working well. The reason for that might be is that people like us ... and I'm a fairly ... I like to test things. And I'm quite new to adopt when it comes to new platforms and things. Even I haven't thought about it yet. So there's probably not much competition.
James Blatch: Okay.
Mark Dawson: In terms of clicks. When I say we need to look at it, that's one for you, probably, to have a little look at.
James Blatch: Yes.
Mark Dawson: And we'll see if we can find someone who might be able to put something together for us.
James Blatch: I shall very happily put some SPF investment money in the way of The Final Flight and see if it flies on TikTok.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. You could do.
James Blatch: We'll have a look at that. Of course, we're now going to get lots of emails from people saying it's the Chinese. You're going to give everything away to the Chinese. But, you know. There's nothing the Chinese don't know about me. I'm all over TikTok, and I'm happy to share.
Good. Okay. Look, that's a little chat about paid ads. Please don't say, "The waffle goes on." Because we're talking about what we're supposed to be talking about."
The interview today is with a very high profile person in the publishing space, called Jane Freidman. She has a newsletter. Actually a paid newsletter, which is an interesting way of doing things. I think you and I both subscribe to it. Her thing is to keep her finger on the pulse and let us know what's happening.
But unlike lots of people who are more in the traditional industry than they are Indie, she's not even close to sniffing about the Indie world. She loves it. And she thinks it's a really exciting thing. And she thinks lots of people in the traditional industry have just got blinkers on when it comes to the changes that are happening ahead. I love that, it's refreshing to hear from somebody who, as I say, really does come from the traditional background.
She has a huge following on social media. She talks a little bit about that in this interview, as well. But generally, what we hear is we're testing the temperature of the publishing industry at the moment. I think it's going to be a useful thing for us to all listen to. Here's Jane.
Jane Freidman, welcome to The Self Publishing Show. Very nice to have you with us. A very clear picture, I have to say. You're somewhere in the States, I'm guessing?
Jane Freidman: I'm in Charlottesville, Virginia.
James Blatch: Charlottesville, Virginia. I'm jealous of the quality of that picture. This is a nerdy thing. Is that a really good webcam? You've got some kind of a super webcam?
Jane Freidman: I have a digital SLR that I've hooked up to my computer.
James Blatch: You've got an SLR working as a live streaming device? I've never been able to do that.
Jane Freidman: Right.
James Blatch: This is really not interesting to anybody listening apart from me. And one or two other people who do podcasts. But that's something I'm going to have to pick your brains about.
Jane Freidman: Yeah, well Canon came out with a bunch of utilities. So if you have an old Canon lying around, you can probably hook it up to your computer.
James Blatch: I do have an old Canon lying around. I've got 5D somewhere. Okay, well, anyway. That's a non-publishing thing to start with. Except in this modern world, a lot of authors do a lot of videos. So it may be of interest. But anyway. Let's talk to you about you, for a bit. Jane, if that's okay.
Why don't you start off with a sort of potted history of how you've got to where you are today?
Jane Freidman: I started in traditional publishing. And I went into it right out of college. I even had an internship while I was in college. I'm a lifer, at this point. I have no intention of leaving the industry. Going on 25 years now. I entered traditional publishing in the late '90s. It was still very much a print business.
Obviously, there was the internet, but no one was really thinking about it all that much. I spent about 12 years at the same house. It was a Midwestern company. It wasn't one of the big, New York houses. But it was still a sizeable house. I would say it was maybe ... if you're just counting in terms of sales, maybe the 15th biggest publisher in the U.S.
After I left that, I went to teaching. I went back into publishing for a while on the more literary end of the spectrum. And then I went full-time freelance in 2014. And a lot of people know me for my time at Writer's Digest. I have, what I would consider, a 360 view of the industry. I look at traditional. I look at self. I look at the more literary. I look at the more commercial. I like to service a bridge between all of those communities.
James Blatch: I think you do that very well. Just on the bits that you were doing in traditional media at that time.
The e-book revolution came along. Did they grasp it? Have they grasped it to today?
Jane Freidman: It certainly wasn't grasped at the time. Interestingly, though, there were a few people who definitely saw and tried to talk about it. Tried to start businesses around it. Some succeeded. Some didn't. One in particular I'll mention.
Richard Curtis, a literary agent. We actually did a book with him at Writer's Digest about how to publish e-books. I think that came out in the year 2000, 2001. Long before the Kindle-
James Blatch: Wow.
Jane Freidman: When you still had, what was it? The Rocket Reader?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jane Freidman: Something like that. And that was when Stephen King did his singles and everyone was like, "Oh, is Stephen King going to leave his publisher and just make millions on his e-book singles?" And that quickly disappeared.
There was that first wave where there was actually a lot of excitement in traditional publishing. And then it totally went away. Because we didn't have the Kindle. And then when the Kindle did come, I think there was just a lot of, what, like, "Here we go again." There were a lot of people who just thought, "Nah. This isn't going to go anywhere."
James Blatch: Is that the predominate thought or is there a feeling of not wanting it to be successful, because it disrupts a model that hasn't changed in a long time?
Jane Freidman: Yeah. I think the latter. But I think as of today, though, publishers clearly see that for most commercial fiction, half the sales are digital. That's putting audio into the mix, of course. But now everyone's very focused on digital audio, because of the higher price point and the really nice profits. And e-books have been declining in sales until the pandemic, when they started going back up.
But part of that is traditional publishing depressing that market quite intentionally. Partly to preserve bookstores, print sales, which are profitable. To not put too much power into Amazon's hands. Which is understandable. Yeah, there's still a real tension there.
James Blatch: Yeah. And that's very visible. You talk about depressing. I subscribe to KU. And try to read to get my money's worth. But end up going to books that simply aren't enrolled. Particularly military history books. Very traditionally published books that I quite like. And it's frustrating for me to see a price point of 11 pounds 99 for the e-book and 7.99 for the paperback.
Jane Freidman: Yup.
James Blatch: But that's a deliberate strategy, right, from the Trads?
Jane Freidman: Oh, yeah. That's very deliberate. Although, I'm not on the inside looking at their PNLs, but I think it still puts more power in the hands of Amazon. Because they're the ones who are selling more of print books alongside the digital. So it's just strengthened their hand anyway. But publishers do, I guess, get to hold on to that print market. For what it's worth.
James Blatch: Yeah, and is that because the physical product, because they have these lines of economy, they obviously print in bulk. And the mark up there is simply more than they're going to make on the e-book side?
Jane Freidman: But definitely for hardcovers. Hardcovers are pretty lucrative. Once you get into the paperback, I think there are a lot of variables.
James Blatch: Yup.
Jane Freidman: And then you also get into the effects of the third party market, used books. All of the third party sellers on Amazon. Because there are lots of people who can undercut the new retail price. But still, at the end of the day, they like selling their print.
James Blatch: Yeah. They certainly do. And I suppose that's still the area that they dominate. You walk into bookshops ... And I'm sure it's the same in the States, certainly in the U.K. starting to see L.J. Ross and Mark Dawson, my colleague here on the show. I start to notice their books in the bookshops. But by and large, I'm still saying 90% plus are traditionally published books.
Jane Freidman: Yeah.
James Blatch: That still is a difficult place ... I've just published my first book. And my friends will say, "Well, can I see it? I haven't seen it in the shops yet." And I also have to say, "Well, you probably aren't going to see it in the shops."
That's still a traditional area, isn't it?
Jane Freidman: It is, very much so. And it's very much the New York publishing area. I don't know what it's like in the U.K., but at least at your average Barnes and Noble, at least until recently, we'll see what James Daunt does with it. But 80% of what's stocked is from the big New York houses, the conglomerates. They're not necessarily from smaller, independent presses. It's a very particular type of book that tends to make its way there. Although, that may have to change. We'll see.
James Blatch: What's your take on it, really, Jane? Because some people with your background, quite traditional, I still sense from some of the things they say publicly, are still sort of wanting the old days to be the case. And a little bit dismissive of the Indie world. But you're not like that.
I think you're quite enthusiastic about Indie side of life.
Jane Freidman: I am, very much so. And maybe part of it, I was influenced early on by being assigned ... When I started with Writer's Digest I was assigned to the self-publishing beat. And so I saw some of the earliest success stories there. And the people who were doing some pretty amazing things in the 2000s, before the Kindle came on to the scene.
Jane Freidman: I just saw it as a lot of rebels and rule breakers. And progressive, technically savvy folks. And it was exciting to be around. I think it's always been an area for opportunity for authors. A way to reach your readers directly, do things that the publishers just don't ... they're not necessarily risk takers, for the most part.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jane Freidman: I think there's just a lot of room for experimentation.
James Blatch: Of course, there's so few books. That's been the big thing. It's put a lot of power on their side of things of selecting who's going to be published. And that's the interesting thing for me that's changed. Because it was like winning the lottery to get a publishing contract. And now, I can publish a book and my friends are reading my book. And that's quite a seismic change. That takes that power away.
James Blatch: So you can see why the traditional industry is resistant to that fundamental change. Because that changes their role.
Jane Freidman: It does. It's harder for them to play the gatekeeper, curator, taste maker. It turns them more into, "Let's just take this author who's already succeeding and make them even bigger than before."
James Blatch: Yeah. Which is what is happening, of course, from time to time with Indie authors getting quite nice contracts.
I wonder what impact it has on them in the houses. I know you're outside of that system now. But there's been an explosion of genre fiction, of sub-genre fiction of fantasy and Lit-RPG and all these things. And reverse harem trends. Things that didn't have the space to grow and breathe with the few books that were published traditionally.
Indie has changed reader's habits a little bit. Or readers have changed writer's habits, maybe. That's the way around.
Jane Freidman: Yeah. The publisher that I worked at was primarily a non-fiction publisher. And there was interest in series and there was a lot of profitability in certain types of non-fiction series. One of the big things I've seen change, though, is with fiction. Is how series-driven it's become in some of the genre fiction areas. Where, I don't know, it just feels like it was unheard of to do a 10, 15, 20 book series with spin off series. And that's very interesting to me.
Maybe it's also a little bit cultural or trend driven. Because of our binge activity in other areas of the medium, wanting things to continue. And live in that story world longer and longer.
James Blatch: Yeah. It's the odd exception in Fleming's James Bond series. But his contemporaries, Fleming's, people like Alistair MacLean. I think they just all wrote standalone novels, didn't they? Their next novel would be ... you didn't have to read anything in order, but that's not the way Indies tend to write.
Jane Freidman: Correct. And especially for the literary MFA leaning publishing crowd series. It's so standalone driven. And I'm still waiting to see if and how that changes.
James Blatch: Jane, you said you went freelance from after Reader's Digest. What services would you offer and what was your freelance role?
Jane Freidman: When I started freelancing, it was a mix of consulting, teaching, and speaking, editing clients, helping a lot of folks with their queries and proposals. Trying to get them traditionally published.
More recently, I've shifted away from consulting and editing and more towards doing a paid newsletter. It's an industry analysis newsletter. Comes out every two weeks. And then I'm also leaning heavily on teaching. Especially during the pandemic, that was very good for online teaching. I host different instructors throughout the year on various topics. I also teach myself. I'm trying to get away from selling my time for money. And more into writing and longer term activities.
James Blatch: Yeah, there's only so much of your time. It's a finite resource. I hadn't realised you have a paid newsletter, because I get all your stuff for free on social media.
But there's a paid, obviously more instructional, more thorough version of that.
Jane Freidman: Yeah, it's very trends oriented. It's kind of like the investment newsletters of yore. Where you're getting the inside track on what's happening. It's for all authors. I cover traditional and the independent equally. Although, I find that more self-published authors are inclined to subscribe. Which probably says something about the average, traditional, published author. They just want more to be taken care of and let someone else worry about the business bits.
James Blatch: Yeah, the business side is certainly, I think, deliberately kept at arms' length from authors.
Jane Freidman: It is.
James Blatch: They don't really want to have discussions about unit shifts and profit lines.
Jane Freidman: Agreed. I think it's too bad. Because I think treating authors is ... at least publishers. If they treat authors as if they can't handle it and it just encourages ... I don't know. Childishness, really, when it comes to the business side.
James Blatch: Yeah. I find it odd. Occasionally you see discussions. I saw one last year, I think, Dreda Say Mitchell was on a culture show here in the U.K. sitting next to a traditionally published author. And she's an Indie. Very successful Indie. And the traditional author did that thing where he was slightly bristling at the business discussion that Dreda was talking about. He said that classic thing, is, "It is not about the money for me."
And I thought about this after, as I was thinking, "But the money is being made. When you say it's not about the money, someone's making the money from your books. You sell a lot of books. So what you're basically saying is you don't really want the money." That's fine, by the way. That's a completely legitimate position to be in. I want to write. I'm very happy with the income I get. I'm free to do this. But to pretend it's not about the money when the publishing business is a business. It's just a decision you've made, is that they can do that and take the money.
Jane Freidman: There's always been this funny tension. For both publishers and authors. With one eye on the business and one eye on the art. And I guess there's just this longstanding artistic attitude that you can't sully yourself too much with those business concerns, because it demeans the art in some way. Which I think is silly.
James Blatch: Now let's talk about business a little bit. So your view at the moment, particularly in the Indie world.
Jane, do you see some common mistakes people are making? Or do you think Indies are getting the business side of it right, generally?
Jane Freidman: I think they're getting it right. They're very flexible, nimble. They're very market-focused. Maybe sometimes too much so. I think traditional publishing has a lot to learn from how nimble and flexible it is.
I often encounter authors who are just entering into the system. Maybe they've got one book or maybe two at most. And they're expecting success too soon. Or they're expecting they can just do this thing that they want to do and the readers will come, without thinking about packaging and positioning and their competition.
There are a lot of folks new who are self-publishing and they're just not thinking like a publisher yet. They're still thinking like an artist. And that they're going to break the mould of their genre. And I say, "Well, that's going to be challenging for you starting out. And you shouldn't expect to gain momentum quickly if you're trying to break all the rules as you begin."
James Blatch: Yes. That's interesting. I completely agree. That is something. And having just published my first book. But I'm steeped inside the Indie mindset and the business mindset, because of my position here. So I think I do have my eyes open to this. I've started to think recently, my friends who aren't in publishing are saying, "Are you making money from your book yet?" And I think of it almost like an old business method, where book one is probably going to lose you money.
Jane Freidman: Yeah.
James Blatch: Book two, you might break even. Book three is the time where you should start being able to turn a profit by investing in book one.
Jane Freidman: Yeah.
James Blatch: And that's how most businesses start. So why would it be different starting? And the reason it feels different is because you spend 10 years of your life, whatever it's been, writing this book. Which is huge and drains you emotionally. And then publish it. And it's quite hard to think, "Well, I'll probably watch this lose money every day whilst I'm writing book two." But that is a mindset.
Jane Freidman: Yes. You're absolutely correct. And people really struggle with that. And they often drop out of the game at that point. When they're, "I can't spend another 10 years writing and publishing something that doesn't sell."
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jane Freidman: They just haven't given it enough time. And also, you can't spend 10 years writing a book.
James Blatch: No, you can't. And that was my first book, to be fair. And I didn't spend all 10 years writing it.
Jane Freidman: Yeah.
James Blatch: But next one will be quicker.
Jane Freidman: Of course.
James Blatch: Now you're writing, Jane. What are you writing at the minute?
Jane Freidman: Almost all of my writing is business related. I like to say it's not such a secret anymore, but I don't particularly like writing books. I like really fast-paced, high churn sort of writing. So newsletters and blogging. That's great for me. I love instalments.
James Blatch: Non-fiction's more your background, both traditional and now.
Jane Freidman: Yeah.
James Blatch: But you've never been tempted to have a go at fiction? You haven't got that novel in you that everyone says they've got?
Jane Freidman: Absolutely not. No.
James Blatch: That's interesting. Now in terms of the work you do with authors now, are you working mainly ... I mean, I know you're trying to shift away from your time, very understandably.
Is it still mainly Indies, as you're alluding to just then? Or are you working traditionally published authors? And if you are, what conversations take place with them?
Jane Freidman: It's an equal mix of traditionally published authors and Indies. With traditionally published authors, it's often work on book proposals or queries or trying to get that yes from an agent or a publisher.
With self-publishing authors, it's often troubleshooting about why something isn't working or, "Why am I stalling out?" Or sometimes I get people really early in the process where they're trying to make decisions about how to get that first book on the market, what sort of help should they hire? Do they want to do it entirely themselves? Do they want to go with a so-called hybrid? Which has some issues associated with it. People are really super confused by the options out there. And they just don't know what's worth the money. I'm there to kind of cut through all of that and guide them.
James Blatch: Is your plan to turn that into online courses and webinars and so on? Rather than one to one?
Jane Freidman: Frankly, I'm trying not to do any of that, aside from basically speaking engagements and webinars. I'm not really into the passive income side of this. Which I know many people are interested in. It's not interesting to me to do longterm online courses. I just really like the live, interactive engagement, short bursts, and then move on to something else.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jane Freidman: There's kind of a pattern here, I guess.
James Blatch: Talking of short bursts, you've got a big following on social media, Twitter in particular. How did that come about? Was that a deliberate strategy of yours?
Jane Freidman: That was a bit of strategy and a whole lot of luck. I got on Twitter early on in 2008 or so, dabbled a little bit, left, came back around 2009. And decided maybe I should try to make sense of this for other people. Because there was a lot of interest, but it was hard to find the substance. Twitter in 2009 was not the Twitter of 2021 or even the Twitter of 2016.
At the time, I rounded up interesting information that was being shared there. Links, stories, articles that were helpful to writers. And I did a weekly column called Best Tweets for Writers. Which was really not so much about Twitter as about what I found on Twitter. I did that religiously for a couple of years. And because of that, I had lots of people linking to my Twitter account, lots of people tweeting that column. Lots of followers as a result of the column.
I wanted to grow a Twitter base. And that's one of the reasons I did this column. But what happened as a result, not just the added attention of doing this list, but Twitter itself saw the activity and put me on its recommended list for the books community, generally. And that's when my following just astronomically increased. And then as soon as they took me off, it actually achieved more normal human proportions. That's what did it.
My Twitter following today is really much bigger than what I actually am in real life. So people have this kind of distorted view of how popular I am.
James Blatch: How many followers do you have now?
Jane Freidman: I think it's 215,000.
James Blatch: Quarter of a million. That's great.
Jane Freidman: Yeah.
James Blatch: How much work did it take to keep servicing that account?
Jane Freidman: It pretty much runs itself at this point. There's certainly a lot of check in that I do to keep up with any replies or people engaging with me. I am very much interested in those conversations. But I don't have as much time for instigating conversations as I would like. And that's where I think the real value comes, is in throwing out questions or doing threads. But oftentimes, I have other work to do. And not all day to spend on Twitter.
James Blatch: Yeah. It's definitely, it's an interactive medium, isn't it? And I see the accounts will start right from the beginning with almost zero interactivity. Or the ones worse than that, they start something, but then they never reply or respond to anyone.
Jane Freidman: Right.
James Blatch: Think you're not really getting that right. But your account does seem to be quite lively, interactive account. But maybe I'm just catching those moments when you're there live. And I can imagine also, not only at times that we know social media can be a time suck. Quite a diversion for you, as well. When you've got that sizeable entity that Twitter account is.
Jane Freidman: For me it's like having the radio on in the background. I use Tweet Deck and I've always got it minimised. And I pop it open, I don't know, every hour or so. Or if I'm feeling bored or I want to procrastinate, i just pop that open and see, "What are people talking about? Do I have something to add?"
But unfortunately, it has become a very politically charged platform, which scares some people. Fortunately, I've been on it long enough now that I know where the land mines are.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jane Freidman: That helps. It's hard to suggest that people do anything like what I did, because Twitter was a different place then.
James Blatch: Yeah. Can be quite negative and toxic on occasions, Twitter, that's for sure. Okay, Jane. So where are we going next?
How do you think things are going to shape up in the future? The traditional industry going to find a way of the e-book being a central part of its offering? Or are they going to continue to resist it?
Jane Freidman: I think the really big decision point or pressure point for traditional publishers is the subscription service. Which relates to e-books, but also audiobooks. I'm really fascinated by the difference in business models. Where we see in Europe something like Story Tell, where it's an all you can listen or consume service. And they pay based on consumption. Kind of similar to Kindle Unlimited in the U.S.
You've got the Story Tell model, which is very different, at least I think, in theory from the Audible model. Which is you can't just listen to everything you want. It's a credit system. Although we know the returns issue kind of throws that to some doubt. But still, publishers are making what I would consider a la carte sales, money and profits off of Audible. Which is really dominant in the U.S., and I believe in the U.K., as well.
Consumers are getting more accustomed to subscription services, where you're not limited in how much you can consume. We've got Scribd in the U.S. that has grown because of the pandemic. In fact, all the subscription services have grown because of the pandemic. How long will publishers be able to ... At least the U.S. publishers have really kept their titles, audio in particular, out of these subscription services. They put their back list e-books into things like Scribd.
They've stayed out of Kindle Unlimited. How long can they do that? And I feel like part of it's a missed opportunity. Like they're probably not experimenting enough. And then part of it probably is a threat to their profits. So that's the biggest thing that I'm looking at on a monthly basis.
James Blatch: And they are coalescing a bit, the big triad. How many are there now? Four. Whatever. I can't really keep count on how you define them. But any kind of joint venture between them, if they decided to pull from Amazon and have a joint venture, an alternative subscription service, that would be a big chunk of the world's books.
Jane Freidman: Yeah.
James Blatch: Could you ever see them doing anything that radical?
Jane Freidman: I feel like it's inevitable. If Penguin Random House does in fact acquire Simon & Schuster, it has to be approved first, but they're going to have an enormous share of titles in the U.S. market. They could launch their own e-books subscription service. And I can't imagine why they wouldn't unless they feel like it would really anger the independent bookstore community and it's not worth it.
But they're such a tiny percentage of the market, I don't think they would care what Amazon thought. Although, I guess Amazon of course could really express its anger in many different ways. But Amazon's also under great scrutiny for already being too big.
I think it could happen. Some publishers who are in niche markets already do that. Like O'Reilly and the tech market. There are some romance publishers that are doing it. Children's publishers, as well. There's Epic. I think it feels inevitable. And they have to be having those conversations.
James Blatch: Yeah. So some more turmoil to come in the future. Hopefully it just benefits writing, creating the content. Because it's got to come from somewhere to be morphed into this.
Jane Freidman: Yeah.
James Blatch: And in terms of the Indie side of things, Jane. I think you said you feel quite enthusiastic about the Indie side of publishing.
You're feeling optimistic for writers, as long as they're not too naïve about their expectations?
Jane Freidman: Yeah. I know that people feel like it's crowded. I think there's maybe some frustration that you have to advertise now to keep the visibility. But that applies to everyone, traditional publishers, I feel like, are in the same boat. I know there's a bit of a learning curve there. But for those writers who know their genre, know how to package and position, I think it's very exciting. And there are also other additional storytelling platforms that I'm also interested in from a publishing nerd perspective. We've got Kindle Vella that's coming.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jane Freidman: Which I'm interested to see how that plays out. And how it competes against all of the more Asia-based online literature platforms. The chat-based story telling and the more gamified storytelling, I'm wondering if that's going to really stick with the young people who are experiencing that now. Are they going to want to see it? Keep engaging with it? Will that change help publishers publish? I think these are really interesting questions.
James Blatch: Yeah, they really are. It seems very zeitgeist, the whole movement Vella being Amazon's grasp of it. But it's a bit like it fits into the way you were praised, I think, Jane. You're saying you prefer those short bursts of content.
Jane Freidman: I do.
James Blatch: There you go. You're very zeitgeist, aren't you? Great.
How can people find you, Jane? Specifically that newsletter people might want to be take advantage of?
Jane Freidman: It's called The Hot Sheet. And you can find it at Hotsheetpub.com. There's a free trial. And then if you can't remember the name of that newsletter, you can find it mentioned at my author website, which is JaneFriedman.com.
James Blatch: Obviously, we're in a digital conference era at the moment. When we come out of the pandemic, will you be at live conferences where people get an opportunity to see you speak?
Jane Freidman: Yeah. In fact, yesterday I just got my first invitation to speak at a 2022 conference in person.
James Blatch: Right.
Jane Freidman: For me, it's like one of the biggest signs of a return to normal, whatever that might mean. To actually have an in-person event approach me. So I'm pretty excited.
James Blatch: Great. People can look out for you there. Jane, thank you very much for keeping us all informed. You're one of, I think, the first book Twitter accounts I followed. That seems to work.
Jane Freidman: Thank you.
James Blatch: And you're definitely a voice in our industry, appreciate the work you do. So thank you very much, indeed, for coming out to the show, as well.
Jane Freidman: My pleasure, thank you, James.
James Blatch: Can you believe it? My gardener has turned up. Your leaf blower was on at the beginning of the interview, now my gardener is turning up. Well, our many staff we have.
Mark Dawson: Middle class. There you go. Middle class problems. Goodness sakes, Jeeves.
James Blatch: I'm slightly worried now, because the puppy has left several puppy presents on the lawn, which I feel bad about. I always try and pick up before Paul gets here. Paul Young is my gardener.
Mark Dawson: Well, wherever he leaves his hat.
James Blatch: Everyone does that. Okay, that's Jane Freidman. I know you've been following Jane for a while, haven't you?
Mark Dawson: Yeah. I was on a webinar with Jane and a few others long time ago. So yes, I have been following Jane for a while. And The Hot Sheet is her newsletter. Which is well worth subscribing to. She's very detailed. Goes out every week. And usually lots of interesting stuff there. And as you say, she's agnostic about how things are published. Just about there are different ways of getting books to readers, really. Which is the right way to look at it.
James Blatch: Absolutely is what it is. Good. Okay, look. Thank you very much indeed, Mark. Thank you to our guest, Jane, this week. Don't forget you can support the podcast at Patreon.com and you get lots of goodies to go along with that. Patreon.com/SelfPublishingShow, I should say. And I think that's probably it, Mark.
Mark Dawson: I think that probably is. As I can't hear. If your lawn mowers going, my leaf blower has stopped.
James Blatch: Right.
Mark Dawson: I'm going to go and take another antihistamine tablet and then I might go and play some golf. I think that's what I might do today.
James Blatch: Because that's good for hay fever.
Mark Dawson: It's at least those will be well manicured lawns with hopefully less-
James Blatch: Not where your ball lands.
Mark Dawson: No, that's very true, yes. Very good, yes. You're fired.
James Blatch: Okay. We're going to play again soon, aren't we? I think?
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Should be exciting. Good. Okay. Thank you very much, indeed. All that remains for me to say is it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And it's a sneezy goodbye for me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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