SPS-308: Foreign Market Opportunities for Authors – with Alex Newton
When is it a good time to translate your books into another language or turn them into audiobooks? Alex Newton walks James through some of the ways he crunches the numbers to determine if a book is worth this investment.
- On Mark’s recent recovery from the ‘rona
- The return of Self-Publishing Show live in 2022
- Book selling trends and growth during the pandemic
- How the pandemic has affected sales in specific genres
- Should authors invest in audiobooks and translation?
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
SPS LIVE IN 2022: Sign up here to receive notification when tickets go on sale for SPS Live in London
FREE TIKTOK AUTHOR ADS ADVENTURE: Sign up here to receive notice when the adventure begins
WEBINAR WITH ALEX: Join the free SPFU and you’ll receive access to Alex’s webinar on Using Data To Make Good Decisions
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-308: Foreign Market Opportunities for Authors - with Alex Newton
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Alex Newton: Whether it's big data or small data or some data, if you treat your author business like a business, you should inform your decisions with facts and figures rather than hearsay.
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. Yes, it is Friday, which means it's time for The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Mark Dawson who has been at the door of death.
Mark Dawson: No, not quite.
James Blatch: You've tweaked. You've peeked out, seen you've peeked into the lights, but then you stepped back because you've had the Rona. You've had the Coronavirus.
Mark Dawson: I have, yes. It wasn't that bad, to be honest.
James Blatch: I shouldn't make light of it.
Mark Dawson: No, probably best. I posted into the community I think a couple weeks ago. I definitely got it in Vegas, which is fine.
James Blatch: I thought what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Mark Dawson: That's the idea, but it didn't happen this time, but no, it's one of those things. I started to feel a little bit shaky on the Monday I got back to Heathrow. As I also mentioned in the community, Will Smith was sitting behind me. So, I've been waiting to see whether he came down with it, but he didn't.
I felt a bit ropey on Monday, and did a lateral flow test. We have to take one as you come back into the country, kind of a A2 test they call it, and that came back positive. I did a PCR test to confirm that, and that came back positive. And yeah, just wasn't that bad. It was kind of a moderate flu.
So, not really that terrible. A little bit feverish for a couple of days. Very tired, actually. That was the main thing. I was knackered for a good week after that. Just I think my body just basically fighting it off. But subsequent to that, we found out Lucy and Samuel both tested positive, but we think that was they were completely asymptomatic last week. So, we think they actually had it a while ago, and it's just been picked up by the test, which is sensitive for three months apparently.
Then yesterday my daughter Freya got it at school. So, she's come back. She's at home now. She was pretty sick last night. She had a very high temperature, and explosive vomiting all over our carpet in the bedroom, which was interesting at half 1:00 in the morning. Not really what you want to deal with, but she's fine. Kids check it off quite quickly, I think. It's been interesting.
James Blatch: Sounded tough. I know there are lots of people listening will have had it to varying degrees, and some people get lucky, don't they? Lucy and Samuel asymptomatic didn't even know they had it.
Mark Dawson: Lucy was tired. She said about, she thinks she knows when she might have had it. She was very tired, but didn't have any other symptoms. I consider myself to be pretty, pretty fortunate. I'm double jabbed. I'm sure that's had a useful effect. And now I basically feel invulnerable, so I'm not worried about Freya's infection because I've double jabbed, and I've just had COVID so bring it on.
James Blatch: Double indemnity.
Mark Dawson: Bring it on Omicron or unicorn as my son calls it, one of the Transformers villains.
James Blatch: And we're learning the Greek alphabet, which is one aside-
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I didn't know Omicron. That's a new one on me.
James Blatch: I didn't know it, and there's Epsilon, which I know.
Mark Dawson: Why are they not following it sequentially? They've just jumped to the one they feel sounds the coolest.
James Blatch: Well, interestingly, I do know part of this. I don't know the full answer to that because there's some missing. I wonder whether there are variants that just did get a name, but didn't become newsworthy, but there was one of them which is X-I, which is Xi, which is the same name as the Chinese president, and they decided not to call deadly strain of the virus after the Chinese president.
Mark Dawson: Probably best. I think that would have been world class trolling, wouldn't it?
James Blatch: I think films with United States frat houses in it, and the coronavirus are the two places where I learned the Greek alphabet.
Mark Dawson: Yes, exactly. Kappa, Phi, Beta-
James Blatch: All that stuff.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, exactly.
James Blatch: Good. Well, glad to you back up and running. How does it impact you as a full-time author?
Mark Dawson: Well, it didn't have much impact at all. So, I actually just sent out an email to my list this morning, the monthly newsletter. Just it had no effect. My life didn't change. I was still at my desk writing most days. The only difference was I tended not to change out of pyjamas.
I wouldn't say I was productive, but it wasn't completely unproductive. I was a bit worried about the brain fog, and that kind of stuff, which would be a bit of an issue, but didn't have that. Haven't as far as I know, touch wood, no side effects. Completely back to normal now.
James Blatch: Good. We wish you well. Thank you for struggling up to the microphone for this recording. We were lucky we recorded a couple of episodes in Vegas because you would've been struggling I think this time last week.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Good. Well, we haven't enough announcement to make, don't we Mark? In fact, if you're watching on YouTube, I am wearing, appropriately wearing.
Mark Dawson: Oh, you are, yes.
James Blatch: The right clothing for this announcement because it's very, very exciting. Go ahead, Mark, and announce it.
Mark Dawson: We've got several announcements actually, but yes, the first one is that we are fairly certain we have dates for the return of The Self-Publishing Show Live, which we think will be June the 20th and 21st 2022 in the South Bank Centre in London. So, the same venue as before, but we're going to have it for two days rather than one, and we're going to have the whole venue rather than some of the venue.
So, we'll have another theatre, which we can use, and we have of course some ideas on that. We spoke to Amazon. Amazon are keen to be involved again. So, that's great. I've spoken to a few other industry friends, and BookBub, and Ricardo and Emmanuel from Reedsy who are interested.
I've started to look for some potential speakers, and I've got some. Quite a few actually have said, yes. I won't announce anybody yet because nothing's confirmed, but definitely some speakers that you'd like to listen to. Because we've done this before now, so we have a rough idea what some of the pain points are.
One of the things we got a little bit of heat for last time was trying to distribute tickets equitably to people all around the world, and it is actually quite difficult given that we're all on different time zones. So, what we're going to do this time is we will probably... We've got round about 1,000 tickets, a little less than 1,000 tickets to sell, and we will probably split those into separate tranches, and we'll make those available at different times. So, there'll be a time available for Aussie and Kiwi friends. There'll be a time available for our North American friends, and the time available for Europeans. So, hopefully everyone who wants a ticket will have an equal chance to get one.
We do think it will be oversubscribed. We have a registration page, which is not where you can buy the tickets, but you're just basically registering yourself for an email list, which means you'll get the first dibs on tickets when we release them. I think we've got about 1,200 expressions of interest so far. So, that's if everyone wanted really does want a ticket, we are already oversubscribed.
So, if you want to come, if you want to get a chance to get a ticket, you should go to selfpublishingformula.com/sps Self-Publishing Show Live, SPS Live, and just leave your email address there. And you'll be put onto a separate email list. And then when we're ready to make tickets available, you'll get the first crack at getting one or two.
James Blatch: We go down to the venue next week and start talking to them again. As Mark says, likely to hold it in South Bank Centre. None of this is in ink yet, and we still, of course, do have the virus flying about, so a potential fly in the ointment. So, we're thinking hard about how we approach this to be fair to people who buy a ticket and ultimately for whatever reason can't come. So, we're thinking about that.
We're thinking about what happens to us if we've committed to tens of thousands. I mean, it's going to be knocking on $100,000, I think, to put this show on next summer, so we can't really commit to that complete expenditure in complete uncertainty. So, all of this discussion is going on in the background, and once we've got that nailed down, contracts written, we then will move into ticketing mode, which is likely to be in January, and we'll give you plenty of notice of those sales, but I cannot wait.
I absolutely loved it last time. I think the venue's great. I think we're going to use it more effectively this time. We've got two theatres, so we can... We already, you and I talking about how that's going to work. We've got a huge foyer area just be for us. So, I think what we will do is on the Monday night, it's Monday and Tuesday we will hold an event. There'll be a separate ticketed event. So, if you don't manage to get tickets to the main show or you can't go because it's during the day on a weekday you can come along to the evening event.
We'll try, and I don't know what the capacity is at the moment for that, but it'll be a different number. So, you'll get into that. We'll have some fantastic music and booze and stuff, and a real chance for networking, which frankly Mark is, as we know from Vegas, such an important part of these conferences anyway.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it's one of the most fun things. Networking is something I used to hate as a lawyer. I really hated it, especially trying to force small talk is very difficult sometimes. But what it is, is a chance to make friends, and make connections. That's the way to look at it, and it's also for authors who've been stuck in their homes for the last two years. If you're a full-time author, you might not see very many people because you're just going to be stuck at home.
Even if you're not a full-time author just there is something to be said for getting out there, and meeting other authors. It's really great for enthusiasm and motivation, and going back to your desk after the event feeling like you really want to crack on again.
So, that just by itself is a good reason to go to something like this. And so, we will try and make something fun. Last time we did it, we did this on a boat. Probably not going to do it on a boat this time, but we had Buster Birch and his jazz band last night were fantastic. And hopefully we can get Buster to come and play again. And as you say, there's other things we could do in a venue as big as this. So, yeah, looking forward to it. It's going to be fun.
James Blatch: Self Publishing Show Live in London, June 20th, 21st, 2022, all things being equal with the fair wind behind this we'll get there. So, all nailed down the next couple of weeks. Good. Okay.
We have a couple of other things to announce. So, very excited about what's working in the background, which is our TikTok module, which is going to be our TikTok for authors course. We think it's going to be the best TikTok course for authors on the planet. It's shaping up very nicely indeed. You are about to see some preview stuff for the first time. I can tell you it looks great. And to run into that because TikTok's turning for some genres an absolutely must have. And I think probably for all genres, at some point, it's going to be a big value added aspect to your marketing, and great thing is your early adopter stage.
If you sit there thinking, "Oh, I wish I'd been around in '09, '10, '11 writing my book. Well, this is your chance with TikTok to be there at the beginning of this. Not quite the beginning, but it is still in its early stages. So, running into that, we've decided to do a TikTok challenge, which will be something that I'm going to take part in, and try and use it to become familiar, and have a base level of competency with the platform.
Mark, I know you sketch this out with Lela and Jane, and I think we're probably ready to start taking signups for people who want to take part in the challenge, which will be completely free, of course
Mark Dawson: Yeah. The challenge is going to be free. So, challenges have been a thing now... Well, in this space and more broadly in that for a little while now. So, what it will be is a five day programme of short tuition by way of video, and then some backup with a Facebook group that we'll set up that will take you from the very, very, you never use TikTok or you don't know what it is to actually having your first TikTok on the platform.
Short videos, five, 10 minutes each, but you'll get something valuable at the end of it, and there'll be feedback. You'll be in a community of authors who are trying it for the first time. Some of them go viral. There are some things we can do with a lot of authors doing the same thing at the same time that we can amplify the effect of everyone's TikTok.
We're working on some ideas on that, but it's definitely going to be worth something that you should sign up for, I think. There isn't one of these, no one has done this for TikTok before. So we are right at the start, and even someone like me more pessimistic... Not pessimist, it's not the right word, sceptical perhaps than you are in terms of could this work? As I went to Vegas, and hung out with Caroline Peckham who is writing bully romance, I think she would describe it as. I describe it as Harry Potter, a porny Harry Potter, but really they're doing amazingly well. I'm very, very pleased for Caroline.
James Blatch: I am reading one of her books at the minute because I'm interviewing them in January. Dark romance, I think is the general title.
Mark Dawson: She calls it bully romance as well. Her and sister just an amazing good job, but one of the things she's done incredibly well, and I am seriously impressed with what they do, and what she does in particular is she uses TikTok brilliantly. Really funny, and I can completely see why it works for her audience, and she is just killing it on TikTok, and just killing it more generally.
James Blatch: She's hilarious on TikTok. Also, Susanne Valenti. Look up Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti to see how well it can be done.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, she's very funny. I don't think you have to be very funny. There are lots of different ways that you can make TikTok work. Anyway, the point of that was that she basically has persuaded me without even trying really that this is something that we have to have in the Ads for Authors course. So, we will have it in the course. It will be free to everyone who's a member. It will be part of this launch in January, and prior to that there will be this challenge, which again, is free, and I would strongly recommend people at least take a look at that.
Again, just like SPS Live, we are running a little registration list for you to get your place. And there's no limit on places, but we are just going to have a separate list so we can make sure everyone knows about it. And the signup page, I think we've decided is selfpublishingformula.com/tiktok, T-I-K-T-O-K. So, sign up there, leave your email, and then we'll see you just after Christmas, and just after the New Year for what we think will be something that is quite fun, and hopefully something that we can all look forward to.
James Blatch: Good. I'm very much looking forward to that. And we should say that we're going to actually do the challenge after Christmas. There's a very busy time between now and Christmas if you're worried about your time's up, but January is a perfect time to learn a new skill.
Mark Dawson: First week in January, I think, yeah.
James Blatch: In January, to do that. Good. Okay. Well, look, let's move on to today's interview, which is all about data, Mark. I think there are two people who jump out in my mind who teach us about data. I suppose Data Guy is a third person. I'm thinking of Dave Chesson in the States. I'm thinking of Alex Newton here in Europe, and they are two people who just make a life out of delving into the numbers, into in Dave's case the categories, and categorization, keywords, et cetera. But in terms of Alex's he's into sales, chart position numbers, supply and demand stuff.
The sort of thing that if you are running a traditional industry, you're making little widgets that fit into kettles, you would do market research. You would have to do market research. You'd have to work out where the demand is, what you can supply, and you can have these, what they call blue sky sessions where you come up with something that solves a problem in the kitchen or whatever. This is 100 year old, well tested, and only way, frankly of doing it, of building products.
The same applies to selling books, and okay, you might have this burning desire to write whatever genre is you want to write, and you are going to do that. Maybe it doesn't even fit into a genre, fine. But if you are also approaching this right from the beginning. Commercially, the Suzy K Quinn approach, and lots of people listening to the show will do this.
Listening to this interview with Alex is your key to understanding the kind of work you need to do to find those niches, find those areas that you can write in, and give yourself the best possible chance of commercial success. It is quite nerdy, but we do need to get nerdy every now and again. And if you're watching on YouTube, in fact, if you're listening, I would say to you, if you get a chance to watch this on YouTube because we do have some slides that go along with what Alex is talking about. So, you can see them, and they're not absolutely necessary. You can certainly listen to the interview as well, but they might help just to reinforce some of the points.
In fact, we'll try and give those away because we have... In fact, I don't need to give it away because in conjunction with this interview is a webinar which is going to take place next Wednesday, the 15th of December, where you're going to get an opportunity to ask questions directly to Alex. He'll do a bit of teaching, a bit of tutorial, particularly about how K-Lytics worked, which is his service that you can subscribe to. Some of it's free by the way, and some of it is paid service, but he'll explain the difference on the night.
So, he'll do some teaching and then there'll be an excellent opportunity for you to ask about a niche that you might want to write into, or you are already writing into. And he'll delve into that and he'll give you some excellent feedback, and help you make good decisions about the future.
And finally, just to tee this up as part of the interview, Mark and I gave Alex a bit of a challenge. So we said, well, we think a fairly typical couple of big questions that authors in our space ask themselves is, is it worth me investing in audio books? Is it worth me investing in translation? So, we took the latter on of those translation. And I said to Alex, "Look, I've written one book. I'm breaking even in the UK. Is it worth me investing in translation? Here's the cost rough, cost that Mark knows from his time."
So, Alex has shown how you go about making that decision based on the market. That's a really useful part of this interview. Okay. I've introduced it enough. Here is Alex Newton.
Alex Newton, welcome back to The Self Publishing Show. How lovely to talk to you. You are ensconced, a German in Switzerland is the name of your autobiography?
Alex Newton: Yeah. That's going to be my autobiography. The immigration from Germany into this wonderful skiing country, and much more than it offers, obviously.
James Blatch: Yes. Well, watches, clocks, and chocolate, and nice lakes. I'm hoping to go there briefly to drive through it to my skiing holiday. But as we speak at the beginning of December, we've just had a discussion off air about yet again this blooming virus raising its head, and I'm over it. I don't know why they're still going on because I'm bored of it now. I think the show's run its seasons. I think season one was quite exciting. Season two, yeah, okay, we went with it. Season three, it's just not working. It's just not working now. It's time to move on.
Alex Newton: Yeah. If it was a Netflix thing, I think we'd stop it by now because now we try to give it titles, and I was immediately now reminded Omicron is like Megatron and Transformers and probably they have teams to find the most threatening names that we could possibly have. So, it's getting boring. I agree.
James Blatch: I think they've jumped the shark, haven't they? It's time to call it quits. Our happy days eventually finished.
Let's talk about happier things, which is data. We love data. I'm a bit of a data guy. You are Mr. Data. In this world, you're a man who's got his head buried deep under the surface of what we will see on Amazon, and it's always fascinating talking to you.
Before we start with a little overview of the market, why don't you just remind people of who you are, Alex, and what it is that K-Lytics does?
Alex Newton: Well, for all of you who don't know me, Alex Neuehaus AKA Alex Newton. About six years ago when all this publishing hype started I looked into publishing. I basically come from a corporate career in management consulting where you deal with a lot of numbers and lots of complex problems. And we always try to bring facts to the table rather than opinion in those CEO... In these boardroom discussions.
As an experiment, I applied it to Amazon, and Amazon sales ranks because I was wondering, could I quit my corporate career and get rich with publishing paleo breakfast recipe books. Now, I probably wouldn't have needed this degree to figure out that that's not possible.
James Blatch: What breakfast?
Alex Newton: Paleo breakfast, these special diet breakfast, low carbohydrate diet books, that was a big hype six years ago. Now, this is just a joke alluding to the Kindle gold rush time when every John, Dick and Harry jumped at self-publishing thinking by uploading grandmother's recipe book, you could buy a Ferrari, which you obviously can't.
Now, that's when we started monitoring the market or at the time I was alone, I did, and the rest is history. And today we every month monitor the market and look at what's happening in genres. And what are the trending categories, the down trending categories, what are the sales doing? And doing lots of research for the marketing and project decisions of authors and publishers digging into thousands and thousands of books. So, that simply you don't have to, that I think would be the essence of it.
James Blatch: Sounds good, and we'll talk about the service, and how it can personally benefit you towards the end of the interview, but why don't we start then with a little market overview?
It's obviously been an unusual couple of years, but you could perhaps tell us exactly how the market is looking from your perspective.
Alex Newton: Well, to start off with looking at the overall market, and this conversation very much focuses on what we monitor, which is the Amazon platform, and specifically also taking the US market as an overall signalling market because as you will see later the share of the US market is overwhelmingly big. And since Amazon has such a big share in it, especially on the ebook side, it is a bit of an indicator industry.
I think the good news, first of all, well, we talked about this strange times, and the pandemic. If there was any good news about it, we saw that overall sales have been for books very buoyant after this initial dip during the first lockdown periods when high street bookshops were closed.
I think I remember 2020 finished also with the highest print book sales growth in a decade. It was plus 8.2% in the US. And that's print high street, retail, trade books, print books. And at the time the Amazon market, ebook market grew by more than 20%. I think that's an overwhelming growth number.
So, we had a closer look just recently this year, and one indicator, Amazon doesn't publish a lot as you know about their overall financials, but the one thing they do, do publish is the size of what they call the Kindle Select Global Fund, which is all the royalties paid to authors who decided to go exclusive with Amazon in the Kindle Select. So, in the Kindle Unlimited scheme, and those royalties last year in 2020 were roughly 377 million. And that was basically after the first Corona year constituted growth of 25%. So, Corona and the pandemic basically doubled the already existing and high growth rate they had.
Now the time has passed. We are now towards the end of 2021, and if you look at the actual numbers for the first 10 months, so up to October, we are already at 370 million. And if you project this towards the end of the year, we're going to end up with close to $450 million paid in royalties to these types of authors and publishers. And that would be 19% growth.
So, after 25% growth last year, 19% this year. Tell me one industry apart from the mass manufacturers and vaccine manufacturers who have such growth rates.
James Blatch: Yeah. That's heartening. There's also, we know this is the other side of the equation. A lot of authors uploading their books as well.
So, the supply is growing, but the demand is certainly there, isn't it?
Alex Newton: Yes, and last year it was funny. We made a little analysis looking at the number of books published on Kindle every month, and with a lockdown. That average number per month jumped from roughly 70,000 new books per month to 100, 105,000. So it's not just that the readers got busy, the authors and writers who sat at home, they got busy, too.
James Blatch: That is incredible, isn't it? That's three and a half thousand new books a day appearing on Kindle.
Alex Newton: Yes.
James Blatch: One thing I always have to remind people is that if you put your effort into marketing, and book packaging, you become a part of that tiny top few percent of that three and a half thousand. That's the trick these days, isn't it?
Alex Newton: That's certainly one trick. But we also see that that number can be intimidating and overwhelming that number of books per month or per day on aggregate. But mind you, a lot of those are also bulk uploads by certain niche publishers, even mostly also in the nonfiction arena where some niche publishing company who has whatever, 1,000 books on classical composers, even sheet music, they start now uploading stuff to Kindle.
So, that is one side that tunes down the number from being overwhelming to a bit less overwhelming. And still, you have a lot of niche markets, which are pretty small in nature. And as you will later see when we look at the one author case studies, and how many books for a certain topic are published per month, you quickly go into numbers like 50 per month, 60 per month. Billionaire romance, okay, let it be 250 per month, which is a lot, but the numbers become much smaller.
James Blatch: Your task of standing out is a lot easier than those first figures might suggest. Okay. So, that's good. That's a big, broad overview of what's been happening over the last couple of years, and this follows a pattern from last time we spoke, which is good. In terms of drilling down to the next level, Alex, and I know you're all about drilling down into the detail.
What specific have you noticed with genres have been going on?
Alex Newton: The starting position is that in terms of the overall market size in Kindle, just a quick recap. The big money is being earned, literally if you cast aside for a second the umbrella genres, literature and fiction, which is obviously a catch all. It's always like romance, number one, mystery, thriller, suspense, then sci-fi and fantasy. And that picture just if you take this month of November over the last month, that ranking, that relative ranking has not changed. So, there is a lot of stability in the market.
Even if you take this then, and drill a little further down. If I look at just the highest selling subcategories as of the point in time you've find a lot of women's fiction and romance related things here in the red for those people who see the exhibits. So, we're talking about women's fiction, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, romantic comedy leading.
Then we see a lot of the big thriller genres, thriller suspense, mystery crime fiction, and even a bit of kids' books these days, and teen young adults. sci-fi and fantasy also big. So, that is the next level.
And then one has obviously the big question's on everyone's mind is then, well, then once you dive into those genres, they're obviously much more granular, and do we have any winners and losers within those genres? I'd be happy to go a bit into those.
James Blatch: So, this is taking into account, how many books are in there and how many authors are competing?
Alex Newton: Yeah, that is one part of the framework that we'll dive deeper into, in the webinar we do together in, I think, two weeks from now. So, there we also introduce all these things about the niche sizes, and niche attractiveness.
Now, from a trend point of view, I'd say let's... For simplicity sake, look at some sales trends, sales rank evolutions, which already gives a good indicator of what's been going up and down. And then as you are completely right, bringing other things such as pricing and competition into the equation would be obviously the next level.
But looking at now more than one year of impact of this pandemic. I think by now apart from it overall helped the genres. You still have to face the fact that the pandemic did have an effect on individual book category. So, just for an illustrative case, books about internal medicine shot all the way up from last year to this year, while books about travelling to Florence, Italy took a huge dive.
Now, that is not surprising, but just to illustrate the point that this pandemic did have effect on genres of a certain kind. What we saw overall is that the darker reads were clearly on a decline.
To illustrate this, I brought here for those of you who also watch, and not just listen, I brought a graph with the sales rank of the horror genre over the last five years. And unsurprisingly, there was a huge upturn until the beginning of the pandemic, and then disaster struck, and ever since the last 18, 24 months, their journey has been downward. By the same token, we see things like post apocalyptic and dystopian reads, all those have been going down with the pandemic. Although, here he could argue, okay, is there a bit of the end of the Walking Dead type of effect, which is probably there, too.
And then on the other side of the equation, if we look at those reads that were clearly bringing some humour, lighter read, and some escapism to the readers, the number really shows. We have here, for example, the category for humour and satire, which was going up and down prior to the pandemic from 2016 to 2019. Then the pandemic came in there, and up to the present day this has been on a continuing upward trend.
So, I think the overall verdict is dark reads, except dark mafia romance, which is trending like crazy right now. The darker reads have lost a bit in share, and everything which brings more escapism. And now paired with trends like epic fantasy, Wheel of Time by Amazon Prime, and all these investments into these types of things. You see all this escapist type of literature, Dune, Wheel of Time, these types of things, which transport you in a different world that they're doing extremely well these days.
James Blatch: We should draw a distinction between dark romance and dark fiction because the dark romance seems to do quite well, doesn't it? And that's not the same thing as we're talking about in dark fiction. You're talking about sort of the dystopian.
Alex Newton: Absolutely. And just lastly for those who then talk about the individual genres. Romance in general has, if we look at the sales data of the last five years in a row month by month, it's always been trending up there. Every sales ranks across the top 100 titles between 100 and 150, but really after the first dip of the first lockdowns the whole romance genre was elevated up like crazy, and what might come as good news, too, is during that time it did not happen by romance authors dropping their prices left, right, and centre. In fact, we've seen a continuing search in romance book... Well, search, it's still one of the lowest prices in the industry, the romance genre, but we have good news that even despite all these new books coming out every month in romance, the price levels ever since 2015 have continuously risen. And while years back we've been talking about a price point of say not even three dollars a book. We're now up in terms of sales price close to five dollars, which I think is great news for the romance authors.
James Blatch: Yeah, definitely is. Okay.
If somebody came to you and said I've written the book that I was born to write, and now I want to choose a genre to be commercially successful. What would you say to them? What would you advise?
Alex Newton: I think the first advice I'd make is, well, are we talking about fiction or are we talking about nonfiction? Because the one thing at least we observed on the Kindle platform is while fiction has always outsold nonfiction on the platform. Say, the relative distance between the two was always pretty constant, almost parallel with more volatility in nonfiction than literature and fiction.
But ever since the start of the pandemic, we hear a certain renaissance happening of certain genres such as take romance as an example. We had a long year decline of paranormal romance. It was literally for three, four years in a row, paranormal romance was going down. And then in the pandemic, we have all of a sudden this big resurgence of werewolves and shifters as a category. And if you look in it, a lot of dragon shifter romance, a lot of fay romance, fantasy romance.
So, almost the marriage of those trends where we have romance in total going up, but also as before mentioned this escapist more fantasy type of literature going up, and both coming together, you all of a sudden have this resurgence in certain sub-genres. So, in romance, I think if you're in there in paranormal romance. There were short lift trends such as historical romance on the back of the first Bridgerton series on Netflix. That one I would not necessarily bet on. It depends a bit on what the success of the next season is going to be. It was at least not as sustained a trend as you had in some other blockbuster movie stuff.
The faes do well. The fantasy romance does well. And also interestingly we see in romance a resurge of the more erotic, steamy things that have been on a decline also for years during the pandemic. For example, romantic erotica all of a sudden came back up, despite all the advertising restrictions you have in there. So, that's a bit in romance.
There are more than 100 sub markets. We might dive deeper into this also in the webinar, James, and I think good news also for the mystery thriller suspense authors. That market went up, and there are a couple of extremely good niches. Not highly competitive, but you have really good people, and good publishers in there.
My most favourite example is domestic thrillers where if you take that category as a dot and you map it as to how good are the sales, and how little is the competition, relatively speaking to other genres? It's almost off the charts. So attractive it is these days with domestic thrillers. The bestseller list really going up through the roof. So, perhaps everybody's sitting at home during the pandemic, and working at home, there are quite some domestic thrillers going on, I suppose, and some people put it in writing.
James Blatch: That was a brilliant overview, Alex. Thank you very much indeed. You've mentioned the webinar a couple of times. So, I should say that we are going to have one of our regular SPF University webinars with Alex. We'll get a proper opportunity to dive a bit deeper and crucially you will get an opportunity to ask Alex those specific questions about the genre that you are writing in because I have plenty of space for Q&A.
If you're not in the SPF University at the moment, if you're in any of our courses, you'll automatically be enrolled in it, but you can just enrol in it. It's still free at the moment during the pandemic. It's always going to be free, and you can head off to selfpublishingformula.com/spfu. Sign up, and then you'll get an email inviting you to the webinar, which is going to be on the 15th of December, the last one of the year.
Looking forward to that, but we are doing a helicopter chat in this particular interview. It'll be a bit more detailed, and have an opportunity to learn something, and get some takeaways from you, Alex, properly in the webinar.
Alex Newton: I'm looking forward to it.
James Blatch: Me too. Now, I do want to ask you a little about translations, and I tell you what, because you said to me months ago, actually, when we were first planning this you said, "What would you like to know?" And I think it's a question that's quite a difficult one to ask.
There's two big questions for authors who are getting a lot of else right in KDP. They're getting good covers, good packaging. They're running their ads. They're uploading their books. Two big questions.
Do I invest in audiobooks, and if I do, how do I do that? Do I get my books translated, and if I do, how do I do that? Is it the right thing to do?
Let's talk about translations because that's what I think is a question for you. I've written a book. Mark has a series of 20. He has started his translations now. I've asked you to have a think about the sort of genres that we write in. Mine's cold war, military historical fiction. Mark is I guess also sort of coldish war, MI6 kind of guy, and people hopefully can extrapolate to their own genres because I think some of this will work elsewhere.
It's an expensive investment, right? And one of the questions you asked me last week is ask Mark how much it costs to get his book translated as a starting point.
Alex Newton: Yeah. Both questions by the way, audio and this one, I think are excellent questions about the foreign markets because while on the one side of the equation we all know that self-publishing has very low barriers to entry in your home market, in your native of market because you just write something, and even if it's badly edited you can still upload it and off you go, right? But you have either that format boundary with the not insignificant cost of putting something into the audio format, especially if you do it professionally. And the other thing by the same token, the market has become very professional, so you need a professional translation.
Now, obviously, you asked me two weeks ago. I did a little bit of homework, and try to report back here to you what I found. Now, for this case study let's for arguments sake take your book, The Final Flight, just as an example for whichever genre you're in that you have a genre, and you have a certain, say niche market or sub market within it. Like you say in your case, it's the thriller genre overall, but it would be military thrillers, historical thrillers, cold war spy novel type of thing, right? And so, not vigilante justice necessarily like where Mark is probably more into, but there's some overlap.
And so, we also, I think used the one or other of his data points, but I think the overall simplicity of it, and the question is like a business person, you need to look at certain considerations regarding the return on investment in simple plain English. Do I earn back the money I've spend on that market entry in a foreign country?
What people need to distinguish very simply is on the left hand side, on the one side, you have one time investment. So, in this case, the bulk of it is going to be the translation, perhaps a bit of the formatting, and one could also argue the case, do you need a cover adaptation? Now, for example, Mark, I think he stuck to his cover because he wants to drive some brand consistency across borders. However, I think I together once looked at it with him. The cover cliches in the German market, especially in this crime literature type of thing that is dominating the market. We're talking about somewhat different cover cliche.
So, there could be an additional investment and decision on top, but for argument sake, let's just say a translation, and a rough ballpark number. Let's say for a really professional all in translation, 10,000 euros as a rough number. It could be 5,000, it could be more depending on do you do it on Fiverr or do you do it with someone professional?
Now, against that very simply we will have to look at what is the monthly royalty income we could expect from the German market, in this case sold copies. And potentially, if you enrol in KU what's the monthly cost against it because a market entry, your name is a nobody name in the market. There will at least have to be some startup advertising, a monthly cost that will give you a monthly profit, and the big question then is how many months does it take to earn back your one time investment?
James Blatch: We should just say that 10,000 euros is about 11,300 US dollars, and eight and a half thousand UK pounds just to give people an idea. It's not cheap.
Alex Newton: It's definitely not a cheap endeavour, but what do you then do as a next step? I always look at two things. One can get at this very top down and say, "Okay, what's the overall German market versus a reference market to get a feel, especially to those authors of you who say are already successful in the UK or in the big lead market, the US."
So, the first thing I'd look at very simply put is if you want to have an estimate of what is the level of sales you could expect in a certain country, especially to those authors say who are in the US as an example. Very simplistically if you look at the country's share in the overall total sales of the global publishing market, and now this is not distinguishing between EBOG, and print, like super rough.
You will see that the US holds about 30% of the global market, then China, and don't get the idea you now translate your book into Chinese and go there. But the fact is from a monetary, from a value of view, the Germans obviously read a lot, and they read a lot of expensive books. From a value point of view, Germany is the third largest publishing market in the world, which I found pretty amazing. It's larger than Japan.
And then you have France, UK, Italy, Spain. So, you see Germany is about the third of the size of the US, right? And the UK is about, what is it? A sixth or a seventh of the size of the US. So, very quickly for an author who is very successful in the US, you can make the simple, and your sales numbers in the US you could simply say, "What if I was similarly as successful in Germany, relatively speaking as a relative position in the market." You could say, "Okay, for Germany divide by three, then for the UK divide by seven," and so on, and so forth.
So, this at least gives you a first order of magnitude. Then the next question I'd look at is before I go into the market, well, what is my reference market doing, and how big is the reference market? So if you look in the US, for example, on Amazon, if you looked at the top 20 bestsellers in the espionage category. It's an average sales rank of around 500 in the US, and those who are in the US will know what that roughly translates into. Historical thrillers in the US roughly around 2,500, and that pretty, if you take it as an average over time. So, one approach would be you simply infer from the US with some assumptions to get at least a ballpark number on what you could expect in the foreign market just by the sheer relative size of the markets.
Now, in Germany, I would not probably directly translate it, but cut it a bit lower down because in the US you have an Amazon market share of rumour goes 80, 85%. In Germany, by comparison, there were other publishers then, or other channels than Amazon who decided to come up with their own ebook device, the Tolino, and so Amazon market share is probably at the most half of what it is in the US.
Now, the one thing you need to understand also, and then we go from the US to Germany is the publishing activity to get a feel how many books are even published every month in the US. And then if you take the equation, divide by three in Germany, if there was a translation of these sizes. If you search for spy thriller in the mystery thriller suspense category in the US, you'd see, and that's a blue line on a graph I'm showing here. Currently, in 2021, November, get this, the average number of new books with spy thriller in the title, which many would do to show people what type of books it is, you have about six per month. That is not a lot for the US.
I'll show you what it is in Germany in a second, but you already see, okay, that is a pretty niche type of market. By the same token, if you look at the publishing activity in the US for the world cold war like a cold war novel, or a cold war... Now, many books will not have that designation in the title, but as a proxy, and in romance, by the way, that works very well as an approximation. There is only one or two titles a month on the left hand scale of this graph on the blue line that is published every month in the mystery thriller suspense category that has a reference to the cold war.
So, James, first of all, in the big lead market even, cold war is a pretty small segment. We grew up with it. We were still when we were young, we saw the end, but to the many of the younger readers today this is historical rather than contemporary thrillers. So, it's pretty small.
James Blatch: I wonder if you broke that down by demographic. If you said 45 plus age group, you would see, I think, a bigger market share, but anyway.
Alex Newton: Absolutely. That's 100% correct, but the total publishing activity is pretty niche. So, I thought let's compare the US specifically with Germany. So, one approach is if you just searched, and this is what we did here, the sales ranks for the search on Amazon spy thriller and cold war, and then sorted the search results unfiltered. Not really checking whether every search result in the first 160 is really something to do with spies or called a war. We would have an average sales rank across the top 20 in the US of 580 and cold war 1,900. Now, that's pretty solid, but it would go down if you filtered out those that have no real relation to the two topics.
Now, I did the same in Germany, and Germany is interesting because if you tick the box and search for the equivalent, say spy thriller and cold war, the German equivalent espionage thriller, then you get a lot of search results. And if you sort them by descending order of sales rank, you first get a very, very good impression because you think, "Hey, that's great. There was a book you recommended by Amazon that is number one in the store, and number three in the store for cold war." But if you really look into the books and book descriptions, you will figure that Amazon is almost recommending any of their high selling criminal crime novels to your search spy thriller.
So, in a second attempt, what I did, we just took the books as they were displayed. So, the number one book being displayed on the search was not necessarily the highest ranking one, but here you have sales rank the first book, which really mentions an agent spy is sales rank 20,000 in Germany, and the next one is 90,000. Then there's one with 36,000.
Suddenly, we're talking about an average sales rank of 46,000 in the German Kindle store, and 42,000 as an average for the top 20 search results for that search on cold war, and spy novel. So, that you go like, "Let's find out what a sales rank of 42,000 means in Germany."
If you want to do that, I recommend there is one site by a person you might know, Matthias Matting. He's like the founding father of a website called The Self Publishing Bible in Germany. It's the selfpublisherbibel.de, and Matthias, by the way, he's a great guy, and also he is a very successful author in sci-fi under Brandon Q. Morris. And he put on his website, which you can... It's www.selfpublisherbibel.de. He has a little section called tools, and there he has from his own experience, and the experience over the years, a little translation formula that would translate your sales rank into an equivalent how many copies is that per day? Now, I did this for you, but with a bit more aggressive assumption on the sales rank.
What we did here is we looked at, what if you published your books in Germany and you did some initial, perhaps even advertising, but you just let it sit there organically, and have word of mouth. And it would sit there. Now, not at sales rank 40,000, but for arguments sake, James wrote a really good book there, and it's hovering around sales rank 30,000 in the German store. Now, according to Matthias' formula, that would translate into approximately 2.5 books, copies a day. And now for arguments sake, let's just say they're sold. And they're sold at the same price as Mark Dawson is currently selling John Milton at three euros 99.
If that was the case, the royalty per day would be seven dollars. You would spend zero on advertising. It would just sit there, and your profit per day would be also those seven dollars. And if you put $10,000 translation cost against it, it would take you 1,456 days to earn back the 10,000 you spent. Translated in months, 48 months or roughly four years, which you go, "Okay, perhaps there's a second in a series." So, if it has some of these minimal sales level, you could argue, hey, and I was surprised by this. I would've thought if the book is just hovering around such a low sales rank that is not working out.
Now, there could be another scenario where you argue, "Hey, what if I bring that average sales rank over time up to 5,000." So, not even talking sky, sky high in the store. 5,000, now that would equate to 7.9. So, let's say eight copies a day according to that formula, and say you achieve that by spending 25 euros a day on advertising. And we all know how quickly you spend $25 or $20 a day on advertising. In this case, you would not make a profit per day. And so, you would never earn back the money.
The whole thing is very sensitive to what is the sales rank you can realistically expect? What is the amount of money you put against it?
For example, if the assumption was, and we could for the webinar talk to Mark about that. His book for example is currently... He has, I think Milton number three or so say is in the 1,600. I now put down here sales rank 2,000 for your book would equate to 14 copies a day. Now, KU assumed here, and that would give you 40 euros in royalties per day at that price point of 3.99.
Now, put against this, an advertising spend of $35 a day that were perhaps required to achieve that sales rank. You would do $5 in profit today, and you would still need five years to earn back your money. So, this is a bit the equation, and I'll send you the spreadsheet gents because it's hugely fascinating to play around with the drivers.
James Blatch: It is and that's great. Obviously, there are assumptions here, and there are complexities to this, but you do need something to start with to make good decisions. And sometimes you have to work with the best you can do, and that clearly is what that is.
I suppose the complexity for Mark is that he has multiple books, and makes profit down the line with his books 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 is what people are listening to. I'm sure the ones making profit will do that, but then there's 10,000 euros per book to translate. So, you've got to scale that up as well, but that's a different set of calculation.
Let's say we do three. We do 30,000 initial investment, but then there is somewhere for somebody to go after that first book if you can get the sales rank up.
Alex Newton: Exactly. That would then obviously be a multi-book equation, and just to show how sensitive it is. Say if you spend, let's be super aggressive. I don't know what super aggressive is in Mark's terms, but if that is just one book, and you spend $100 a day in advertising, you see all numbers look red. So, if I achieved sales rank 1,000 with that spend. For argument sake, it's probably still red, and it is. If I achieved sales rank 500 in Germany the equation is still red, but getting close to-
James Blatch: To breakeven, yeah.
Alex Newton: Close to breakeven. Let's say we make it into the top 300 and stay there. All of a sudden, you see it becomes positive, and you earn the money in less than a year if you achieve sales rank 300. So, you see how extremely sensitive this is. It is a make or break point whether that daily advertising spend brings you into the top 300, and you break even and sustain that, or whether it's in the top 500, and you all of a sudden have a loss. And I think that was the surprise.
These spreadsheets, I think very quickly show you not the absolute answer yes or no, but the risk factor, and what the big drivers are. And the big drivers are, obviously, the price point, the sales rank that you achieve with a very high sensitivity on that one because the sales are not linear.
It's not that if your rank drops from 500 by 100 to 1,000, it's not that there is a, then the sales drop even more, and it's very sensitive to this. And I think the other big sensitivity in that, so these are the big three questions is, and you need to talk to local authors in your genre. How much will an advertising spend of good ads 50 versus 100 versus $200 a day or $5 a day or nothing. What is the sales rank I can expect or sale rank improvement you can expect from advertising in that target market.
Very quickly you will see, "Oh, my God, it's super highly risky," or which I actually found very encouraging and surprising in Germany. There seems to be an organic scenario where you have a portfolio of books that is floating around between 10,000 and 30,000 because it's a really successful series. Perhaps, there is a case for that. So you see these are the big three questions. Advertising spend, achievable rank with it, and obviously with the price point related to it, and will you then get, earn back the 10,000 per book in translation?
James Blatch: Yeah, brilliant. Obviously, not everyone's going to be watching this, but you followed along, I'm sure. You've been paying close attention, but for those of you watching, if you do want to watch this later on YouTube, there is a helpful PowerPoint presentation that's gone along with what Alex has been talking about.
I think what the good thing about Alex is not just the reality of that case that you've given us, that you've very kindly gone into that amount of detail. It's teaching people the kind of mindset in making these decisions, the process you need to go through.
This applies to almost every aspect of your decision making when it comes to marketing and what you're going to do with your books.
Alex Newton: Absolutely. And I think that's also a good lead in to the webinar we want to have jointly. I think when we once did it, we called it Selling More Books Using Big Data. Now, whether it's big data, or small data, or some data, if you treat your author business like a business, you should inform your decisions with facts and figures rather than hearsay. And in the webinar, we'll have a look at quantitative trend spotting, how to use data, and how to inform your decisions both from a more strategic point of view should even write a certain book versus really the nitty gritty of it. What price should I put my book? What should be the book cover all these seemingly questions that you can also take like this. You will be surprised how precise the answer from the market is in some of these cases and decisions.
James Blatch: Great. Okay, well, that webinar is going to happen on the 15th, that's next Wednesday because this interview should be going out on the 10th of December. So, on Wednesday the 15th, and if you are not already in the SPF University go to selfpublishingformula.com/spfu, sign up, and you will receive an invite to sign up for that webinar. We'll call it Using Data To Make Good Decisions. How about that?
Alex Newton: I love it. Let's do it.
James Blatch: We'll call it that, Using Data To Make Good Decisions. And I think a key thing I will promise you that I will make a decent amount of space for questions for Alex because people I know always have their questions for their little niches. Show me the niches I'll show you the riches.
Alex Newton: Exactly, exactly.
James Blatch: Alex, look, we're taking loads of your time. Thank you very much indeed for joining us from Switzerland. Really looking forward to the webinar, and hopefully who knows by then, I might even be saying to you, I'm definitely going skiing because everything's looking better.
Alex Newton: Oh, my God. That would be so cool.
James Blatch: That would be really cool. Alex, thank you so much for joining us today.
Alex Newton: Thank you so much. See you next time.
James Blatch: There we go. Quite nerdy, but very important part of it, isn't it, Mark? We mustn't forget, and it's one of your mantras right from the beginning that ultimately we are business people as much as we are authors, if we are going to make a success of this.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. There's lots of decisions we need to make, and it's difficult to make decisions without the background and the context that enables you to make the right call. So, the kind of information that Alex provides is really useful. As you say, whether you are starting out and thinking about where you want to write or you want to learn a bit more about the genre that you're interested in or that you're writing in. All of that is useful. I don't think it's possible too much information.
James Blatch: TMI.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. So, you can make educated calls when you're... Even if it's not necessarily a money thing. There's going to be some money invested, but if you're going to write a book in a new genre, that might take you a month, two months, three months. You want to make sure that that time is being invested into something that number one, you enjoy, number two has a good chance of making you some money. So, yeah, all very useful stuff.
James Blatch: If you want to join us for the webinar on Wednesday, you do need to be a member of the Self Publishing Formula University, not a real university, SPFU. So, if you simply go to selfpublishingformula.com/spfu, and sign up, and you will receive an email within a day or two inviting you to this webinar, which is just for SPFU students.
It's free to join the university at the moment. We've kept that free during the whole pandemic, and the pandemic doesn't seem to go away. So, that's remaining free. Once we think we are back to normal, who knows when that will be? The SPFU will become a paid option as part of our courses, so definitely something you should get into. You have it for life once you're in there.
James Blatch: Mark, that's it. Been a busy show today. A lots of announcements. We're excited about the live show in London next summer, and I'm very excited about TikTok as well and learning everything I can. I'm already buzzing having edited the first couple of sessions from Layla and Jane. They're really, really good, and we've got a few experts emerging. You mentioned Caroline Peckham being very good at TikTok, and there's others as well. So, I think we can put together a fantastic mastermind, and I imagine TikTok will feature quite heavily when we get to the show in June as well. So, good. I think that's it. I don't know if I was up through your energy now, have I?
Mark Dawson: No, I'm back to normal now. I've got things to do. Finishing a book off today. So, yeah, I'll jump onto that. All good.
James Blatch: Good. Well, all that remains for me to say, therefore, is it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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