SPS-309: Joffe Books – The Gold Standard of Indie Publishers – with Jasper Joffe
Joffe Books is a growing publisher focused on the work of independent authors. Today James talks to founder Jasper Joffe about his publishing philosophy, why he believes an author’s books are all ‘front list’, and why writers need to see their books objectively in order to make them marketable.
- On the better royalty rates Joffe Books offers to authors
- The agility of a small independent press
- Why being obsessed with ads serves indie authors
- Working with employees and creating a caring workplace
- Reviewing the books that are submitted and finding the gems
- Why knowing where your book fits in the market is crucial
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
FREE TIKTOK AUTHOR ADS ADVENTURE: Sign up here to receive notice when the adventure begins
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-309: Joffe Books - The Gold Standard of Indie Publishers - with Jasper Joffe
Voiceover: On this addition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Jasper Joffe: It shouldn't be a stress fest. So therefore, if one of our editors just thinks, "This book's great. I love it. I want people to read it." We'll publish it because, why not?
Voiceover: 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, it is Friday the 17th of December, very close to Christmas. And I'm all Christmassed up. I'm James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: I'm Mark Dawson. I'm not Christmassed up. I'm wearing a Joy Division t-shirt.
James Blatch: You've got the most miserable band of all time, with the ironic name, Joy Division.
Mark Dawson: Do you know why it's called Joy Division?
James Blatch: No, I don't, actually. I know you're a big fan of all that Ian Curtis stuff.
Mark Dawson: Well, Joy Division, it's worth a quick Google, I'm just going to make sure I get my facts right. But Joy Division was-
James Blatch: I should say, if you're not watching on YouTube, I'm wearing an ABBA Christmas jumper, knitted by Bjorn and John Hurt, and you're wearing a Joy Division t-shirt.
Mark Dawson: So yes, Joy Division, this is from Wikipedia, to avoid confusion with the London punk band, Warsaw Pakt, the band renamed themselves Joy Division in early 1978. Borrowing the name from the sexual slavery wing of a Nazi concentration camp mentioned in the 1955 novel, House of Dolls. So yes, it's a pretty grim name.
James Blatch: It's grim.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, very grim.
James Blatch: The whole thing is grim. Well, on a slightly grim, but also I think a nice note, a very good friend of ours has died, unfortunately, in his sixties, very young, very suddenly. But he was a big music fan; he and his son went to gigs all the time. And for the wake, everyone has to wear their favourite band t-shirt, which I think is a really lovely thing to do for him. So it will probably be Pink Floyd for me, it'll be The Beatles or Pink Floyd. But I think probably I'll pull out a Floyd because he was a bit of a Floyd guy as well. But I suspect there'll be some Joy Division there because they're just one of those bands, aren't they, that trendy people like you like?
Mark Dawson: Right, yeah. Normally, at this point, I would take the piss out of you for your music choices, but I won't on this occasion because I approve of both Pink Floyd and The Beatles. So you're absolutely fine on either of those.
James Blatch: Oh, good. Okay, yes, you do have a go at me sometimes. Anyway, what about ABBA?
Mark Dawson: Oh no, no, I like ABBA.
James Blatch: Yeah, everyone likes ABBA. Okay. Look, if you're not watching on YouTube, this all is meaningless, it's just two disembodied voices. But it's our penultimate episode before Christmas, we have one going out on Christmas Eve, which I suspect you might listen to after Christmas, who knows? But we have two very good interviews.
Today is a man who's pioneered indie publishing in the UK, the sort of hybrid in... What do we call them? Hybrid publishers because you are sort of half indie. They have of indie methodologies, but it is a publishing contract, which is a different use of the term hybrid.
And Rachel McLean, who is a Kindle Storyteller Award winner for this year. And she does a very good interview next week about the specific steps that she took to get commercial success.
James Blatch: So before all of that though, we are going to talk about TikTok, which is our focus. It's going to be our focus in the new year. We're going to make 2022, the year of authors getting on to TikTok, where the pioneers are already there. And it's booming and they're doing very, very well. And we have been very impressed at seeing the results of people who are getting on to the channel.
It's not just romance authors and it's not just women. I've been looking through this morning; I've been editing some stuff we're doing for January. And there's been male sci-fi authors, for instance, are doing really well on there as well. So how did you get on there? How does it all work?
We have something that's going to help you get a foot into the world of TikTok, do we not, Mark?
Mark Dawson: Yes, we do, James. We have our expedition. So we're not calling these challenges because that's a little bit... That's been done. So we're calling these an expedition. So we're going to do an Amazon expedition later next year, but we're going to start with TikTok.
We've got Lila and Jayne, two really expert TikTok expeditioners, I suppose. Trying to squeeze this metaphor as far as I can. Who are going to take you through over, five days, five short videos, with a little bit of homework, a Facebook group to go with it. And we will introduce what TikTok is, how to get on it, how to set your account up, and how to get your first video uploaded using the TikTok video editor.
I've seen the early videos, they're really, really good. I think it's going to be really a lot of fun. I might do it as well. I'm certainly not an expert on TikTok, and so it's something that I can learn too.
And since we announced it a week ago, we've had 3,000 people who are going to take this expedition with us. And I think over 1,000 now who are actually in the Facebook group. So it's going to be a fun and vibrant little adventure for us all to go on as we as get out of 2021, tell it to piss off, and get into, hopefully, a good way to start the year next year.
James Blatch: If you want to take part in the challenge, of course, it's all free. A very useful thing to do, as Mark says, by the end of the challenge, you will have had an account set up and uploaded your first TikTok, which is a great platform to start with. You go to selfpublishingformula.com/tiktok. Simple as that, T-I-K-T-O-K, and sign up.
As Mark alluded to there, we have a Facebook group dedicated to authors on TikTok, which is growing quickly. And you can be in on the ground floor, if you sign up via the web address I just gave out, you'll get an invite to the Facebook group as a result of that.
I'm looking forward to it as well. I think there's definite scope for the field that I'm in, in military history. There's quite a few military history accounts on there, not just in the BookTok world, which is like a hashtag, a world within TikTok. But I think people like me will be able to find audience.
Mark Dawson: Before I forget, we should also add, the Ads for Authors course opens early January. I don't think we've... We have got a date, but it's early January. And as a part of that, we're going to have a TikTok for Authors course, which if you are a member of the Ads for Authors course, you'll get that for free. It will take the exhibition and put it up to the next level. I think it's 10 hours of content, I heard from Jane and Lila last night. So James is going to be very busy editing that and it's going to be really, really good. So we'll have more on that as we open the registration period up for Ads next year.
James Blatch: Yeah, I'm editing it now. And it's going to look very different from our previous courses because there's a lot more production that goes into this. I'm using green screen and methods like that, which is great.
Mark Dawson: Oh my goodness.
James Blatch: Yes, I know. Now, yes, 12th of January, Ads for Authors opens. We'll talk more about that in the new year. Okay, so get on board with TikTok. We now have our interview, and it's Jasper Joffe, somebody, I think, you spotted a couple of years ago. And I remember you saying to me, "Jasper's-"
Mark Dawson: Longer.
James Blatch: Longer than that, was it? Time flies.
Mark Dawson: I think so, yeah. Four years probably.
James Blatch: You noticed just how well he was doing. A couple of authors, in particular in the crime mystery genre, and basically, a glance at the charts told you that he was killing it with them. Faith Martin is one, Joy-
Mark Dawson: Ellis.
James Blatch: ... Ellis is the other. But he's now got a stable, as you'll hear in the interview, of many, many more authors. He's got a team, I think, of 12 full-time employees now. He runs a small business there. The great thing about it is, it's a much, much more equitable split between publisher and author than authors have been used to traditionally.
So instead of getting 5%, 8%, 9%, 10%, if you're lucky, 15% of revenue... And I can't speak for individual deals that Jasper does, but much, much closer to a fairer 50/50 split. In the same way that we run as well with Fuse. So we're big fans of Jasper, really interesting guy. Interesting to hear how he's approached marketing, how he organises himself. And a little bit about how he selects his books, if you're an author who wants to be part of his stable.
Mark Dawson: Probably worth noting, in case you didn't cover it in the interview, which I don't know, because I haven't heard it yet, but one of the ways he approached marketing was to take the Ads for Authors course. So he was an early adopter, one of the earliest, to take the course. And he's very big on Facebook ads. I've seen a lot of BookBub ads now from Jasper as well. So he's clearly getting into that, and Amazon too.
He certainly had a start with the SPF methodology. He's probably tweaked it a bit now and made it more suitable for what he does. But he's living proof that digital advertising is a very, very good way to quickly build a publishing company.
James Blatch: Yeah. He mentions it, unprompted by me, as I ask him, how does he focus on his ads and stuff? He says, "Well, I take Mark Dawson's course and I make sure everybody in my company takes Mark Dawson's course." So yeah, we do get a free plug on that. Okay. Look, here's our chat with Jasper.
Jasper Joffe, welcome back to The Self Publishing Show. I think the time you were on before, did we interview you at The London Book Fair? Or did I interview you-
Jasper Joffe: No, it was from my office, but it's good to be back anyway, James.
James Blatch: I was very excited to meet you the first time because it was a point where I was saying to Mark that this is how... The indie revolution is happening in people's bedrooms and kitchens. But actually, I think the fundamental change to publishing is going to happen at your level.
And now, our level with Fuse Books, where authors, for the first time, get a much fairer, equitable offer from a publishing company. Very different from the traditional setup. And, in the end, why would authors sign an 8% deal with a big five publisher, when they can go and get a much fairer split from people like us? So I think this is the revolution, right?
Jasper Joffe: Yeah.
James Blatch: So anyway, I've been very enthusiastic about this, right from the beginning.
Jasper Joffe: I often mention that we're part of something. I think it is a revolution. I was reading a blog post by, actually, one of my authors, and he was talking about the early days when it was all easy. And now, we're in a different place, that the market's changed, even for indie publishers and self publishers. But to me, it's all part of the same journey. We've come a long way and there's still lots more to do. I'm not seeing any end to the runway as they say.
James Blatch: No, it is different. And it is tougher at the moment. This year, I think, last six months got quite tough for individual authors and for publishing companies. We'll talk a bit about that in a moment.
Why don't we catch up a bit with the Joffe Books history, which I think, actually, starts earlier than I thought it started. 2014?
Jasper Joffe: Yes, around then. I was talking to another publisher, it was a bigger publishing company, and they were going, "Oh, we've been doing this for five years." And I was like, "Actually, we're quite old now." Seven.
We started with just me. I remember the first time I saw on my phone, we'd sold a couple of pounds worth of books in a day. And I was like, "Wow, you can sell books." You just uploaded a Word manuscript to KDP, and then suddenly, you gave it away free. You gave away 10,000 copies and, suddenly, you were making money every single day. They were small amounts of money. And that was seven years ago.
Today, we are going to sell 3 million books this year, our best ever figures. We have close to 100 authors working with us, in one shape or form. We have just increased our staff numbers to 10. So we're double digits, literally, today, our tenth staff member started. Which is just amazing to me.
That's the other bit I would like to talk about, which is working with a bigger team, which is, actually, really fun. And our author, Joy Ellis, last year was up for a Book of the Year. I have to check it on my screen. Crime and Thriller at the British Book Awards with Ian Rankin, Lucy Foley, Richard Osman, Lee Child, and Robert Galbraith, on the short list for that. And that was one of my proudest moments because she's one of the first authors we worked with. She's a great author, wonderful woman, Joy Ellis. And just to be on that list, I think our books are fantastic, but it's lovely to get that industry recognition as well. As well as all the sales.
James Blatch: Joy Ellis, and I think it's Faith Martin as well, have probably been your two standout authors in the early years. Is that still the case, that you have two or three authors accounting for a larger percentage of your sales?
Jasper Joffe: We've sort of diversified. Joy and Faith, I love their names, Joy and Faith have sold around two and a half million books each, which is huge. The wonderful Helen Durrant has also sold a million books. I can remember her email coming in, I always say this, just saying, "I've self published, I'd like to work with someone." I just remember thinking, "This is good. We can do this." And now, she's sold a million books.
We have a lot of authors who've sold 200,000 books, 400,000 books. Some brand new authors, some backlist authors who've come with a quite big backlist. Roy Lewis, who's sadly passed away, but we've sold 450,000 of his books. Just brilliant books that were published in the '80s. So we worked with these backlists. And even Nicholas Rhea of Heartbeat, who publishes with us, we've sold, I think, 200,000 of those. So we have a lot of authors with, actually, fairly substantial sales, some really good authors.
James Blatch: Yeah. And you say you've got 100 authors now on your books?
Jasper Joffe: I think, well, I personally still authorise all the royalty payments. So I think we paid out something like over 90 royalty statements last quarter. So that's getting up there.
James Blatch: And remind us, if it's not confidential, maybe it is, what sort of deals authors get offered? Can you give us a kind of ballpark of what people can expect?
Jasper Joffe: Well, it's substantially more than traditional publishing. I can't give the exact figures, obviously, it's confidential between us and them. The thing we don't do is, traditional publishing is life of copyright. So it's 70 years from when the author dies. So if you sign a book deal, generally with traditional publishers, your books are stuck with them forever, effectively.
We go for a much shorter term. We only renew the contract if we make you some money, which seems absolutely self-explanatory. And we pay quarterly, which I know some publishers actually pay monthly now, but quarterly, with all the paperwork and everything else, seems much better. So we start earning money for authors much more quickly. We produce books much more quickly, even though there's lots of editing, we still have quite a much more accelerated schedule, I suppose, than most publishers.
James Blatch: Yeah. Our model, a lot of what I do with Fuse Books is on you, because you are the gold standard, I think, in this indie area. I love quarterly, by the way, because we do monthly and it's a busy few days at the beginning of every month.
Jasper Joffe: Yes. With so many authors and such, I can't remember what we paid out last quarter, but I think it was either... It was half a million pounds, I think. Don't quote me on that. If we'd to pay it out monthly and then there's always something you have to correct. It would just be, we'd spend all our time doing paperwork. Quarterly seems a fair balance.
James Blatch: If my authors are listening, they're going, "No, no, monthly's much better, James." But there you go. This is part of growing, isn't it? Is making these decisions about structuring your workload so it's manageable. So at the moment, I can get away with just putting in a hard day's graft on the first or second of the month. But I guess it got to the point, or things are getting to the point with you, where you needed help.
When did you take on your first person?
Jasper Joffe: It was a few years ago and there were growing pains, shall I say? We'd done everything with freelancers as you know, the way of doing things. So once you start having payroll and employees, it becomes more complicated. And well, how they actually add value.
So I saw in the first year, I think, we took on two or three staff. And actually, our sales went down, or at least our revenue went down, in some shape or form. Because we just, actually, didn't get as much done. And then I saw, as we got the right people in the right positions, we could do a lot more.
For example, entering our authors in competitions, going to events. We've just hired Kate Lyall Grant, who was the publisher at Severn House, now to be our publishing director. Of course, she's got this amazing traditional publishing background, 10 years, I think, or more, as publisher at Severn House, which is a great crime fiction and print publisher. And now, she's joined us and she'll be going to all the events.
She also has wonderful contacts with agents and authors, who we've been flooded with submissions since she joined us. So there's a point where there's growing pain, just taking on stuff. And then there's a point where you can do a lot more. And we saw in the last year, our revenue and what we could do, just massively grew. And I think, suddenly, I realised we could keep growing with more staff.
James Blatch: What does your day look like today? A few years ago, you did everything, open the spreadsheets in the morning, open the KDP dashboard. What are you doing now?
Jasper Joffe: Exactly, click on a few things. No, it wasn't that simple. Well, we have quite a civilised office schedule. Honestly, I work, and many of our more senior people work a bit longer than that, but we work 10:00 till 4:30. Many of us have parental responsibilities, or other responsibilities, so it gives us quite a flexible schedule. And we work half from the office, half from home.
I've got four people in the office. I've got our new marketing team in the office today. So there's three of them in the office. So I have a morning meeting with everyone, just get things going, discuss the day through, answer emails. So the usual, lots of emails, lots of strategic things.
What this more staff is enabling me to do is to think about what else we can do for our authors. How else we can grow the company. What other opportunities there are. Because I still, I always sound like I've swallowed the Kool-Aid, but I really do believe there is just so much we can do. And we learn from your SPF a lot. We have all the agility, and knowledge, and scrappiness, of the self-published author. They're always looking to find an angle, to work out how you sell books, how you reach readers.
The one thing I have realised with all this, we have this direct relationship with readers. Because I used to answer every single email from our readers. And we have this huge mailing list. So we have all this feedback coming in all the time from readers. So if you think about a traditional publisher, there's so many layers between the publisher and the reader. And the author.
There's agents getting involved. There's PR companies. There's all this layers separating you from knowing why a reader enjoys your book, and what the author thinks about that. Those things are crucial. So there's just this amazing opportunity to take all that knowledge of readers and authors, and to have some of the big infrastructure and big spend of traditional publishing. Last year we spent a million pounds on advertising. So it's a huge budget by any standards. When I talk to traditional publishers, they're like, "Whoa, that's a lot of money." So we can have that. And yet we can have the agility of self-publishing.
James Blatch: Talk about the advertising for a second. And, for me, I think it's the lifeblood, is the paid ads which drive sales. And mastering that is what we do in SPF. But it's a crucial part of success. And the authors who've come to me saying, "Can you publish my books?" They can do covers. They can write blurbs necessarily. No one likes doing that stuff. But the bit they're scared of, and often turn out to have not run any ads at all, because they just don't know how to get going. Now, you ran those ads in those early days.
How do you find someone who can apply themselves and get that level of mastery, when you're growing a team?
Jasper Joffe: I send them to the SPF course, actually.
James Blatch: Of course. Correct answer, by the way.
Jasper Joffe: This isn't product placement. I think it's excellent. I'm not sucking up. I think it's an excellent grounding in the entire advertising world. It helps you do Facebook. I sound like I am actually doing an ad for you guys. But it helps you do Facebook, AMS, BookBub, those are the three key levers that we want to use.
It's not easy, actually. Recruitment, we've just tripled our marketing team. We used to have one other marketing person, and I supervised marketing. And now, we've gone up to three people. So we've got someone just for social. Great, Sasha, she's got 400 followers on YouTube. She was a published author herself so she really understands that world. So we brought her in to do our social. And then we have someone who actually ran a publishing company, another person, Alex, who's going to be doing our day-to-day Facebook and all those kinds of ads.
And actually, without employing 20 people, and 17 people in analytics, and 14 people in ad design, it's actually hard to get the correct skillset for these kinds of positions. Because you need to analyse data, you need to able to make great ads. You need to understand what the books are about. And you need to be on it all the time. And you need to spend lots of money. Of course, we have loads of learning from seven years of intensive advertising.
James Blatch: It's a Liam Neeson thing. It's a very particular set of skills needed for paid advertising and not everyone has it. I think that's the one thing I find the rarest, is that ability. And I think, maybe, traditional publishing struggles a little bit because you almost have to live and breathe paid ads for a bit. You have to be slightly obsessed with them.
In a big corporate environment, I don't think you get that loyalty to your job that gets people inside under the... Which is why I'm interested in how you've managed it. And how confident you feel that you've got somebody with that level of intensity that you and I used to have. And I have today.
Jasper Joffe: Yeah. Well, fingers crossed, they do have it. But our new marketing manager's only been in the job three weeks. It really is about just being... It sounds stupid, sometimes I just say, "You've got to be on it all the time." And you've got to be fiddling around with things. That's Facebook ads.
We actually have an external AMS guy now because AMS is such a... I don't know if this is getting too technical, but AMS is such a huge thing. We're running so many ads that it's just too complicated, with endless tweaks and, I don't know, duplicate... Yeah, I don't know. It's very complicated, AMS, I've found. I used to do it myself. In the old days, it was slightly simpler. It was easier to get a return on investment with AMS ads, but now, it's just become, there's so many levers and types of ads you can do.
James Blatch: Yeah. This is Amazon ads, right?
Jasper Joffe: Yeah.
James Blatch: What is the split between Facebook ads and Amazon ads, do you think you do on your budget?
Jasper Joffe: Roughly similar.
James Blatch: Okay, that's interesting.
Jasper Joffe: We still think Facebook is the biggest driver of sales. I personally love them. They're very simple to see. I still think that's one of the big advantages of indie publishing, is that we're selling direct to the people who are buying the books. So people are clicking on a link, buying a book, hopefully. Rather than, I don't know, a billboard where people walk by and think about it, and might wander into a bookshop a week later. We've got ads where people are, and where people buy books, and they're using them to actually buy books.
James Blatch: And that is the power, isn't it, of indie? It's interesting, isn't it, that observation about the dashboards? Because I think the Facebook ads dashboard is, on the surface, much more complicated than the Amazon ads dashboard. And yet, the reality is the other way around. I think Facebook ads are relatively simple once you've got stuff in place.
I struggle with Amazon ads. I struggle. I can run Amazon ads campaigns, no problem. I can lose money on them, absolutely no problem at all. In fact, it's quite difficult to lose money on them because they won't even, if you don't get everything right, they don't even serve your ads. It's a nuanced platform, isn't it, the Amazon ads one? You'll have to teach me.
Jasper Joffe: Well, we'll have to get our guy to teach you.
James Blatch: Or introduce me to your guy. That's actually another possibility. He's an agency, is he?
Jasper Joffe: Yeah, he's a sole trader, I would suspect. Actually, he doesn't only do books. He does other products. I don't even remember how we found him, but he does a reasonable job. The return on investment, I think, you'll be seeing, I guess, you're getting this feedback from people in your group. But the return on investment on both Facebook and Amazon ads, isn't always great anymore.
We think of building momentum for a book. So we get it in the bestseller chart. It triggers the Amazon algorithm itself, but we lose money on lots of ads. We're spending so much money to get books up there in the charts. At the moment, we've got two books in the top 20, I think, on Amazon UK. And the number one in Australia, just to-
James Blatch: Yes, I saw that, I was going to ask you about Australia and other territories. Is this something you invest ads into?
Jasper Joffe: No, we don't. That's the weird thing about Australia. I don't know if I'm getting too technical for your audience?
James Blatch: No, not at all. This is a technical podcast when it comes to ads.
Jasper Joffe: Okay, well, that's fine. I forget, it's not an infomercial for Joffe Books.
James Blatch: Or SPF, yeah.
Jasper Joffe: We have our mailing list, which has actually got a fair number of... Mailing list is so crucial. It would be the other thing, I would think, to talk about. But yeah, we get to number one in Australia, seemingly, without running any direct ads there. Strange thing is, the Australian Amazon algorithm seems to be triggered by either the UK or the US algorithm. Because it, actually, more closely follows the UK sales ranks.
James Blatch: That's interesting. So in terms of your growth, Jasper.
Are you still in your comfort zone when your day is involved in personnel management? It's quite a far cry, you're suddenly a manager, rather than a doer, aren't you? Has that been a transition you've been comfortable with?
Jasper Joffe: Well, to be fair, the brilliant Emma Grundy Haigh, our editorial director, does a hell of a lot of the managing of people. But yeah, I'm just talking to people, but it's actually quite fun. The thing I didn't realise, and I never really worked that much, I'd been an artist so I'd been a do-it-yourself. It's actually really fun achieving things with a group of people. When something good happens, you have this real sense of satisfaction of like, "We did this."
And of course, you have all the authors, which is wonderful, and we celebrate our successes. But then, there's our team of Joffe Books workers, as I call them, we really enjoy our good moments. Our number ones, our getting shortlisted for things, it's really much more satisfying, in some ways, working with a bigger group of people.
James Blatch: One thing, I suppose, we have to consider, taking people on. And we have, probably, we have one person on PAYE and one person about to join, I think, for SPF. And I use VAs, at the moment, for Fuse.
But I have to be aware at some point, that you've got to have that rather tedious human resources stuff in place. And be prepared for a challenging situation with an employee.
Jasper Joffe: That's true. People are sick, people have things go on in their lives. You realise you have an obligation to people after all. It's not just, "Okay, come and work for us, and do this, this, and this." Obviously, it's obvious, but you have a responsibility to them. And things happen to them, and you deal with things.
We've introduced, I don't know, bereavement policies, for example. Horrible thing to talk about. But we have paid time off for those kinds of things. We have mental health days, we've just introduced, so people can just take a day off when they feel like they need a break. We've extended our holidays because we work really hard and it's very intense. So there's all these kinds of aspects that I never even thought about, really.
James Blatch: And 10:00 to 4:30, you're going to be inundated by applications to work at Joffe Books after this.
Jasper Joffe: Well, to be fair, I have to say, people do work longer than that. But those are the set hours here.
James Blatch: Yeah, clever. Okay, so let's talk a bit about the books themselves. So the submissions, I remember you said to me once that you could tell, without reading a whole book, you could tell, fairly quickly, whether a book's going to work or not.
You've got so many submissions now, how do you deal with that process?
Jasper Joffe: We still have open submissions. So you just go to our website; we have our submissions details. Surprisingly, about, probably, half the people who submit to us, just don't read the submissions details. So we say like, "Send a synopsis, send the whole manuscript, write an... Put something in the email about who you are and what the book is." Just people send all sorts of things. They send 20 PDFs of each chapter. You never know what you're going to get.
Anyway, we have open submissions. Someone reads all those emails. We have a bit more of a complicated process. They all go to our reader, and then she compiles a report of all the submissions we've had that week, and highlights ones that might be of interest. And then our editors also have access to that inbox. So basically, we have a great big email inbox, which the entire company can look in and say, "This is really good."
And then we have a meeting once a week, or once every couple of weeks, where our editors say, "Hey, Jasper, we think this is really good, what do you think?" And then I look at the email and have a read. And I can still, not always, I'm by no means infallible on this, from the email, and from the first few lines of the book, or just diving into it. I can usually tell whether it's probably got potential.
It's amazing though. It is amazing how there is something, you just see it, there's a magical quality to something that's going to work. Well, maybe that's all in my head, but there is a magical quality to a great book. I can remember the emails of many of our bestselling books coming in.
James Blatch: Right, gosh. What, even the way the email's written?
Jasper Joffe: Even the way the email's written. It's partly a lot of experience now, I guess, with reading them. But even in the early days, it's a sense. I think some of the best authors have a way of communicating, which is, obviously, to be able to tell a story. And even when you write an email to a company, to a seemingly anonymous email, if you can tell that story, and if you can express yourself, just in the email, you're probably going to be a better writer than someone who just writes, "Dear Sir or Madam, see attached."
James Blatch: Yes. Sounds like an intriguing beginning to a novel though. A great opening line for a novel there. Yes, in fact, my tip to-
Jasper Joffe: You could run with that one, James.
James Blatch: Yeah. Dear Sir or Madam, see attached. It all begins. Yeah, my top tip, actually, is the email submission. We get, obviously, a lot of submissions as well, is to make it less about why you need the contract, and more about why the book is good for the publishing company. Because it's surprising, you'll get a long email explaining... Sometimes quite personal, as to why they need this contract in place. And I'm thinking, "But I'm very sympathetic to your situation, but I can't make a business decision based on your..." But it's surprising often that happens.
Jasper Joffe: Yes, I think... And just, it's not always the case, because not everyone understands the marketplace. But just understanding where your book is. If you say, "My book's a bit like..." Whatever the number one bestseller is that week, it shows you've understood what the genre is.
The thing I say, and which everyone in the company gets tired of me saying, and this may only be for us, but understanding what kind of book you've written is so crucial. Almost the thing that seems to kill sales is just not being quite in one thing or the other. Like a really clear cosy mystery, or a crime thriller with a DI and a DS, or a really great psychological thriller with a brilliant hook. I want to see that clarity.
And because I know that when we edit the book, and we do so much work on it, when it gets to the moment we have to sell it, we're going to be using the clarity of understanding of the book. And I want all our editors, and everyone in the company, and all our marketing people, what is this book? Why do people want to read it? What is the, I hate the term, unique selling point of that book? And where does it fit in the market? And you have to understand that in order to sell it. Otherwise, who are we going to sell it to?
James Blatch: Yeah. So when an email starts, "My book's unique, it's unlike anything else, and you can't define it by genre", not a good start.
Jasper Joffe: Yeah, I don't want to be prescriptive, but my heart does sink. Or they say, "It's a cosy mystery with an alien." And I'm like, "Well, okay."
James Blatch: I'm up for that one as well.
Jasper Joffe: With BDSM, and you're like, "I don't see how this is going to work."
James Blatch: As they do. Well, the see attached series, which I'm now developing in my mind, I think it's an intriguing legal thriller with a sexual twist.
Jasper Joffe: Fuse Books, I think would be your first port call with that one.
James Blatch: I'm not touching it, I'm telling you now. But I will submit it to you. Good. Okay, so you're still pretty hands on with the submissions. I really like that, just to be big company wide, it's a really good thing. In fact, I know a few very successful, well, film companies, that we used to knock around with in our BBFC days. The newest intern was listened to as much as the person who'd been there for 20 years. In fact, more so, because the person who'd been there 20 years knew that the 17-year-old went to the cinema three times a week with her friends, and was very picky about what they saw.
So that's a really good way of discovering talent and using your resources properly.
Jasper Joffe: Yes. Anyone in the company can basically say, "I think this book is great. We should publish it." And I will listen and we'll make a decision. Also, I always say to our editors, "If you love a book, we can publish it. We have the resources." Even if we're not quite sure it's commercial, I'll say, "Look, just let's try it." Life is too short.
The thing I realise, obviously, as I get older, as we've become a more established publishing company, it's also meant to be fun and enjoyable, this whole thing. We're publishing books. We're not saving lives. We're not making guns. We're doing something which we sell to people this nice thing. And this thing that an author has put so much work into, and which we put a lot of work into. And it's a book, people read it for pleasure.
And so our job should be fun and pleasurable. I say it, pretty much, three times a week, it shouldn't be a stress fest. And so, therefore, if one of our editors just thinks, "This book's great, I love it. I want people to read it." We'll publish it because, why not?
James Blatch: Now, what about other formats, Jasper? In your contract, do you cover audio books, and hardbacks, and print on demand, and so on?
Jasper Joffe: We do, it depends on the author. If the author wants us to cover those rights, we... I think I may have told you this in the past. We have a brilliant sub-rights agent called Lorella Belli, who goes to all the book fairs, and knows everyone, and sells our rights, where we have them. We will go with, pretty much, all rights because we can sell them on behalf of the authors. Or we will go for less, if they have an agent, for example, themselves, or they have some way of selling those rights. I always say to people like, "You can have 100% of all your rights and not make any money from them, or you can share them with us and we can all do all right."
The big one is, obviously, audio rights now. I am thinking that we should be running our own audio department. Just because it's such a huge deal. So that is something with me, working on other strategic projects, something I'm thinking about.
The other avenue is, of course, the paperback market. 98% of our sales are digital. So why can't we have more paperback sales? These are the two big areas, audio and paperback, which I'm really excited about.
James Blatch: Do you mean moving beyond the print on demand, alongside the book on Amazon? Trying to get your paperbacks in high street shops?
Jasper Joffe: Yes. I think our authors are fantastic. We know that people love them. To me, it seems a no-brainer that they should be in Smiths. They should be in airports. They should be in every Waterstones. They should be on those tables.
The truth is, and I've spoken to a lot of people about this, it's actually really hard to get them in there. We're willing to spend the money. We're willing to do the distribution. But it's still very old school, is how I would describe it, how that works. And it's very long lead times. It's complicated.
James Blatch: Yeah. There's one big company in the UK seems to have a stranglehold on all that distribution. I suspect they are old-fashioned, but I suspect they want to be more lean and agile and open to all these amazing indie books that are selling loads. But they are struggling to modify their systems, which ultimately do rely on physical trucks trundling about.
Jasper Joffe: Yeah, you have to store some paper in a warehouse, you have to deliver it to a bookshop. You have to do that months in advance. If the people don't buy the books, they have to be returned to the warehouse. And then some more accounts have to be done. But I still just think if people like... It's not that different. People love books. They love a book, whether it's on... Doesn't matter what format it is, they read it, they listen to it, they buy it in a bookshop.
And, to me, we have all these authors who are selling millions of copies. So presumably, if someone found them in a bookshop, they would also buy the book. Because they're really good and we know that people like them. I don't get that. So there must be some sales in bookshops that we could get, I think.
James Blatch: Definitely. And just going back to the audiobooks, you talk about, potentially, setting up something in-house. Are you talking about setting up a production facility in-house?
Jasper Joffe: I don't think we want to produce audiobooks. I do follow all of your things of these, and it looks complicated to me. I think there are people who are better at producing audiobooks. What I do think is, we can sell the audio books because, effectively, audio's a digital product. People are buying it from their computer, from their phone, from whatever device they are on. And we're very good at selling digital products. So my thought is, we work with another company. I don't know why I'm telling you this, but all right, fine, I'm telling everyone this. It doesn't matter.
James Blatch: Well, it's just an idea.
Jasper Joffe: Yeah, it's just an idea. We are in talks, but I say, we work with another company. We create a Joffe Books audio imprint. And then we use our marketing skills, and our marketing team, to push the sales of those. It's complicated because of Audible, actually, because the Audible platform is quite self-contained, and it's most of the audio book market. And it's actually quite hard to advertise. I do read a lot about this, it's quite hard to advertise directly into Audible, if you see what I mean?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jasper Joffe: Is this getting too technical?
James Blatch: No, no, no. You can't get too technical for this particular podcast.
Jasper Joffe: Okay. But I do think, essentially, we are great at digital. So audio, effectively, is a digital product.
James Blatch: Would you develop your own player for people? I know a few people who are doing this.
Jasper Joffe: No, we would just be the publisher in a more... At the moment, we sell lots of rights in our audiobooks to other companies. We sell to Audible, or we sell to Findaway or Tantor. I think we should be the publisher of the book with someone else. And then be the ones sort of like... Because every time you have another player in the line of rights, they take a chunk of the monies, if you see what I mean?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Jasper Joffe: Chunk of our author's money, chunk of our money. And they do a good job, but I think we should be marketing directly our own audiobooks, through the major platforms, if you see what I mean?
James Blatch: Yeah, that makes complete sense. I think I'm going to do that with my own audiobook, as far as possible, which has been recorded this month, which is great.
Let's talk about from an author perspective, Jasper. So when authors come to you... One of the things that we do at Fuse is, I'm terrified of letting authors down. So I don't want to take on somebody's books, if I think they can make more money themselves. Or even the same money themselves, it'd be pointless them coming to me. So I'm quite interested in what they've done in the past in terms of marketing.
What I need to see there is a failed marketing history and inability to market, before I'm prepared to take them. As well as the book being brilliant. Take it on.
Do you have a same sort of conversation with authors? Do authors come to you and you sometimes say to them, "You should be doing this yourself because you're going to be, basically, handing us a percentage of your income."
Jasper Joffe: Yes. I sometimes joke that if there was terrible covers, and if they self-published, I'm like, "Great they're terrible covers." So there's a lot we can add. Even if the blurb's awful, I'm like, "Yeah, we can do this." Or they've got titles, sometimes we change the titles, and they've got the world's worst titles. And you're like, "Just give a title vaguely within the genre." And a cover that's not made on, I don't know, Paint or whatever.
So yeah, the worse the marketing, the better upside there is. The thing you really do realise, in the long-term, working with authors, is some of them love being in control of everything. It's about control. They want to be doing those bits and pieces. They might not be better at it, but it's enjoyable for them to do it.
Jasper Joffe: But you can never see a book from the inside, the way... Unless you're a genius, and I think there are some genius self-published authors who really do understand their audience. And they have such a great relationship with them that there's nothing we could add. But many authors, they don't see their book from the outside.
I do always say this, because it is, actually, really important. They think of their book, and they think of all the work, and all the hours of writing. And then, when they're trying to market it, they can't see what the book looks like to other people. And what other people might like about it. And that goes through from cover, to blurb, to editorial. Because we are looking at it, "What's the final book going to be like? How do we make it as good as possible?" And it is a huge responsibility.
When you said that, that really resonated. It's someone's work. It's a year's worth of work you're dealing with. It's something you have to really respect. And you don't want it just to sell five copies after all that work, for them and for you.
James Blatch: I think you're absolutely right about that. That difficulty of being unemotional, seeing it as a product, effectively. There needs to be a word for this, because it's something we talk about a lot, and it's quite difficult to put it into words.
If you want to talk about writing in the morning, and marketing the afternoon, of treating your afternoon business as if they're not your books. And I think one of Mark's secrets is, he's always done that. He doesn't feel emotionally slavish to his books. But I speak to authors all the time, as you do, who will say, "Well, the colour of the hair on the front cover's not quite how I see my character." And you think, "Well, this is irrelevant to selling your book and actually will cost you sales." And they can't see that. And it is difficult.
Jasper Joffe: Yes. They're like, "The location of the book is actually 50 metres down the road." And you're like, "Well, I think this image is probably going to have more appeal." And I always say to people, before they buy the book, they haven't read it.
James Blatch: So they won't look at the cover again, probably. In this day and age with e-books, you look at the cover for one and a half seconds when you buy the e-book, you never see it again.
Jasper Joffe: Yes. And you're not going to be like, "Oh, well, the woman's hair, or the background, or the guy was wearing a brown mackintosh, not the green one."
James Blatch: I've had all these conversations. But there's a trick, and this is a real good takeaway from this interview for people, you and me, who market other people's books, it's much easier for us. And one of the reasons we can be effective about marketing, is because we're not emotionally tied, or we don't have that complexity of being in the middle of the woods.
If you can stand outside the woods and treat your book as a product, you've given yourself of a massive advantage, I think.
Jasper Joffe: I think so. I think it does also apply to editorial. Because I know many self published authors do have freelance editors doing lots of work on their book. And sometimes they're the same editors we use because we do use freelance editors. However, there's a difference between a freelance editor working for us and for you directly. They're less likely to be like, "Change this, do this, make this better", because, effectively, they're going to lose their... If you don't like them and you're employing them, you're going to get rid of them.
But we say to our editors, "Make the book as good as you can. Intervene as much as you can to make the book better." And we can say that because we're the publisher. But if you're the author employing them, it's a slightly different relationship. Because they're supplying a service to you, effectively, at that point. And, of course, I'm sure there's some really good editors who do have amazing relationships, I know that, with their authors. But I think that external objective feel about the book is so important. Not just in marketing, also in editorial.
James Blatch: I suppose that's that balance between you wanting to tell this story, and sometimes that's a personal thing, and why you're writing this book. You're writing it for commercial reasons, so there is that side of it.
Jasper Joffe: Yes. And don't just put in everything you happen to be interested in. I do find that sometimes the writer's really good, but they have a particular interest, I don't know, in seagulls. And you get a lot of descriptions of seagulls. And you're like, "Well, the general reader, maybe, wants one expert opinion on seagulls, but not pages on seagulls. So maybe we can cut that out."
James Blatch: I'm making notes for my series, which-
Jasper Joffe: About seagulls. One seagull mention is fine.
James Blatch: One seagull. One seagull per chapter, maybe?
Jasper Joffe: Yeah.
James Blatch: Might be pushing it.
What percentage of your books are written for Joffe Books, and what percentage have been published when the author comes to you?
Jasper Joffe: We do acquire quite a lot of backlists now. We bought an entire company, well, basically, their backlist a while ago, Robert Hale Books. So we bought 300 books there, so that took us a while to publish all of those books. So I think more than 50% are new, brand new.
Again, if you're in my company, you'll probably hear me say this. I don't see a book as backlist. I just see it as a book someone hasn't read before. Which is my catchphrase, but it's true. If you haven't read the book before, it's new to you, and you are like, "Wow, there's this new book and it's about this."
We market every book as though it's new. Because for the 99% of people who haven't bought that book, it is brand new. It's just a book you haven't read. And that, I think, is one of the keys to our success, is just thinking of every book as important. Every book is requiring this really precise marketing plan. Every book you present is beautifully and brilliantly. And is getting to the core of it as possible. And presenting it to the reader. And it's like, "Here's what's good about it. Here's this brand new book you haven't read."
James Blatch: I completely agree with everything you're saying. But that's not surprising because you're an inspirational figure in this field, Jasper. And I mean that, right from the first time I spoke to you, I've been really impressed with how you've run the company, and what you're doing. And the fact that you go from strength to strength. And every time we talk, there's accolades and bottom lines that have moved the needle. It's very impressive.
Jasper Joffe: You're very kind and it's always just nice to hear. Yes, I'm embarrassed, but very kind of you to say.
James Blatch: It's my job to embarrass you. Good. Well, look, thank you, Jasper. You'd better tell people, first of all, where they can find these wonderful books, if they want to pick up, read a Faith Martin or Joy Ellis, or your many other authors. Where's the easiest place? Can they go to your website?
Jasper Joffe: Yes, go to joffebooks.com. On there, we have all the books we've published, with links to click through to where you can buy them in your local Amazon, in paperbacks and e-books. And then on the joffebooks.com, there is also a submissions page.
We also, I should actually mention this and I forgot to mention it, because we're going to announce the winner very soon. We realised that, well, actually Emma, our wonderful editor said, "The industry's not very diverse. Most writers are not... There is some diversity, but we need to work on this." So we created a prize for crime writers of colour. We're going to announce the winner next week.
We had some brilliant applicants. And this is something we're going to take forward every year. So if you're a crime writer of colour, if you come from an underrepresented in traditional publishing background, we're looking for you. And we'll be reopening entries next year for that prize as well. So all on our website is all the details of how to submit a book, how to enter our prize, and all our books, if you want to buy one.
We're honoured, every single person has a choice about what they do with their money and their purchasing. I actually don't take a single reader for granted. They might be buying a book at 99p, I'm honoured that they want to buy one of our books. I'm proud of that.
James Blatch: Yeah. That's great, Jasper. Well, look, I've taken a lot of your time. Thank you very much indeed. You've got a big team of 10 people to manage for the rest of the day.
Jasper Joffe: Yes. Well, I'll go out there now, I'm in the office, and talk some of these things that I've said to you. Because it's, basically, the same stuff I say to you, I say to them. It's really nice of you to have me on the show again.
James Blatch: Hey, no, it's our pleasure. Tell them to listen to the podcast.
Jasper Joffe: I will. No, they're excited.
James Blatch: Yeah. Done for the day. Brilliant. Thank you very much indeed, Jasper. And we'll catch up again, hopefully, in person at some point.
Jasper Joffe: Yes, definitely, James. Thank you very much.
James Blatch: There we go, Jasper Joffe, toiling away there in Shoreditch, trendy Shoreditch, in London. And an inspiration for us at Fuse Books as well. The way ahead, Mark, it's an old broken record, me, isn't it, going on about this? But I do think this is the way publishing is changing. The two parts of it will be indie authors in their pyjamas, in their bedroom, building their fortunes that way, their commercial businesses.
And the other half of it will be organisations like Jasper's Joffe Books and Fuse Books, our own. And That's What She Said, that Lucy and her partner, Tim, run in the States and so on. Taking over from those big trads and starting to dominate the online stores, and now, the physical stores.
We didn't talk actually a lot about physical books. I'm not sure if I talked about it at all with Jasper, but that's an interesting area. It's slowly becoming more accessible to independent authors like yourself and Louise Ross and others. I'm starting to see your books much more often than I did... Well, I didn't see them at all, maybe four or five years ago.
Mark Dawson: No, you wouldn't have seen them at all, no. Yeah, got three Milton books out. Well, third one will be out next year. We've got the kids book, which I'm working at the moment, the launch for that is going to be great fun. I've got a fantastic trailer, I've not shared it with anybody yet, but the book trailer for that is absolutely out of this world. So I'm really looking forward to getting going with that. And I spoke to Welbeck the other day and it's going to be in Smith's. It'll be in Waterstones. I think Tescos are interested in taking some as well.
James Blatch: Which is the big UK stores.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. WHSmith's is a big bookseller. Waterstones is probably the biggest dedicated bookseller. And I've never had any books in there before. So they're a little bit difficult to crack in the crime genre. But kids, they're a big seller. So it's going to be fun to see that. And we've got a fairly fun plan to get books into indie stores as well. A little competition for the indie booksellers to get them to prominently feature the book. So yeah, looking forward to that. January's going to be quite a busy month.
James Blatch: Well, you'll have to post that video into the Facebook community at some point. I'd like to have a look at that.
Mark Dawson: Once it's cleared and paid for, yeah, absolutely. Because it is fantastic, really, really good.
James Blatch: And circling back to TikTok. That's one of the ways that you know TikTok is unlike some of the other social media platforms. Is selling books for authors, is the fact that at Barnes & Noble, they often have a table on the inside, as you walk in saying, "You saw this on TikTok. You saw this on BookTok." So that's really a good sign.
Just a reminder then, if you want to take part in that TikTok challenge. If you go to selfpublishingformula.com/tiktok and signup, you'll be invited into a dedicated Facebook group. And you will start to receive video instruction on the five steps that we're all going to take together to set up our accounts and post our first videos in the New Year. What a great New Year's resolution to have. Good. You look like you're poised to say something, or are you not?
Mark Dawson: No, no, I'm done.
James Blatch: Okay, you're done. You're spent. Okay. Well, that's it. Thank you very much indeed, Mark. Thank you to our guest, Jasper. And thank you to the team in the background who bring this podcast to life every week. And thank you to you for listening. All that remains for me to say, I should say, is it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And, dear listener, it's a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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