SPS-340: The Self Publishing Show Live! 2022 (Show Recap) – with Mark Dawson & James Blatch

A round-up of highlights from the Self-Publishing Show Live in London, June 2022.

Show Notes

  • Caroline Peckham and Suzanne Valenti on their astronomical Kindle success
  • How to sell books using TikTok
  • How does an email newsletter list tie in with selling books?
  • What is the creator economy and how does it work for authors?
  • Tips for making self-publishing work for you
  • Why your book’s metadata matters so much
  • What are the secrets to writing a bestselling book?

Resources mentioned in this episode:

DIGITAL ACCESS: Get your digital ticket to the show here.

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.


SPS-340: The Self Publishing Show Live! 2022 (Show Recap) - with Mark Dawson & James Blatch
Voiceover: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show...

James Blatch: That's a bit of a highlight, that EL James has bought a ticket for our party.

Mark Dawson: She bought a ticket to the party, which was great. And we had a nice chat with her.

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, and welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. My name is James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: My name is Mark Dawson and we are in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank at the second day of the second annual SPF SPS Live conference.

James Blatch: It's easy to say. We are 1.5 days into a two day conference, and we've got two sessions left. So we are in a pretty good position, I think, to reflect on the show. And in this episode of the podcast, we're going to give you a preview of what happens over these two days here at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. There is a package still available that you'll be able to get every session in detail.

And Mark, the sessions, I know we've put this together. But I'm so proud of this schedule we put together. I've sat in the hall as much as possible when I've not been introducing and working backstage. I've sat in the hall and listened. And I said to you, months ago, "There are two things we need to do for a session. Either needs to inspire so people are walking on air afterwards or they're making notes with things that they can implement into their press."

Mark Dawson: Sorry, I've been distracted. Out of shot, you can't see Lucy Score and Tim Score, who actually Lucy spoke at the start of the second day.

James Blatch: Ignore them, Mark, stay professional. Look at the camera.

Mark Dawson: Moving on.

James Blatch: Look, if you are going to get onto BBC One, you need to hold your composure.

Mark Dawson: I'm never going to BBC One. Lucy spoke today and she was fantastic as we expected. And it has been the schedule. I know you said we put it together. I put the schedule together. The schedule has been fantastic. All of the speakers have been great and you'll be able to get a little taste of how those sessions went in this session as James suggested. But I would really recommend if you haven't got the digital ticket yet, it's definitely worth getting, because we've had a really fantastic time the last couple of days.

James Blatch: Yeah, to get that ticket. It's yours for life. So there was one session I will take credit for.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, sorry.

James Blatch: Which I went to Madrid a couple of weeks ago, to 20Books Madrid and our friend Marc Reklau. By the way, I love Marc. He's infectious and he was doing a talk on nonfiction, not really my -

Mark Dawson: Nice choice of words.

James Blatch: Area.

Mark Dawson: Infectious.

James Blatch: Yeah. But I thought I would go and support him. So unfortunately he was up against Kate Pickford in the other room, which is the big room. So it was like 70 of us, I think in there, maybe not even 70. I sat at the back and honestly I was on the phone to Mark immediately at the end of the session. I said, "We need to find some space in the programme for Marc. And it's absolutely perfect for our audience. And he just cuts through, I think all the nonsense and he says, 'You've got to work hard, but here are the things that I've seen the successful people doing.'" And he broke it all down and it was, I think, a highlight for me.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, it was probably my highlight too. He only had half an hour, but he was great. And everyone subsequently who I spoke to, was really impressed and not just him, Suzy Quinn this morning was really great. What else have we had? We've had our Janet Margot talking about ads, which is great. We should probably cut away at this point and let people have-

James Blatch: Probably do have a little look. So you'll get a preview now, just a few minutes preview of the weekend. We haven't decided how long this is going to be. Obviously hasn't been cut yet because we're still filming it. But maybe 20 minutes, the whole thing is many hours. Of course, it's two days' worth. And that's where all the goodies and the detail are. But this will give you a taste of what happened here in London, June the 28th and 29th.

So after an opening that you had to be there to fully appreciate, our first session was with Caroline Peckham and Suzanne Valenti. We called it The New Queens of Kindle for good reason. Caroline and Suzanne have taken the Amazon charts and the sales figures by storm. And really it's happened in the last 12 to 18 months. It's been an incredible rise to success. Great to hear from them.

This session was sponsored and brought to you by Reedsy, which is of course the marketplace for professionals who can help you in your author career, go to I just want to say that I think Caroline, you came up to me in 2019, 20Books Vegas, introduced yourself.

Caroline Peckham: Tracked you down.

James Blatch: Tracked me down. Six months later, starting to feel like stalking. You came up to me again at this show on the boat.

Caroline Peckham: Yeah, we keep for a very long day.

Suzanne Valenti: One day to get to you.

James Blatch: Found me on the boat. And I think at that stage, you'd said you'd just transitioned to not shovelling cat poo anymore. And you were earning enough of your writing to be able to do that full time. Here we are a couple of years later.

Can you tell me how many page reads you've had on Kindle Unlimited?

Caroline Peckham: Two billion.

James Blatch: And how many books have you sold?

Suzanne Valenti: Five million.

Caroline Peckham: Five million.

James Blatch: I just wanted you to understand the success and what's happened to these two for the last two years. If you keep an eye on the Amazon charts, you would've seen them at number one recently. Okay.

Let's talk then about how you've achieved this. Let's talk about the writing first of all. So you write spicy romance and in particular you would call it dark or bully romance. Is that right? Perhaps Caroline's time.

Caroline Peckham: Yeah. We do a mixture. We do fantasy romance, we do contemporary romance and then we do reverse harem and MF and MF is male, female, just standard romance.

James Blatch: Is that contemporary romance or is there an element of one of those sub-genres in there as well?

Caroline Peckham: With the MF?

James Blatch: With the MF.

Caroline Peckham: So we have contemporary and fantasy. Both.

James Blatch: So how many series do you have going?

Caroline Peckham: I want to say seven or eight series, something like that.

James Blatch: It's been a bit of a "Brit Out."

Caroline Peckham: Nine?

Suzanne Valenti: Nine.

Caroline Peckham: Go with that. And a standalone.

James Blatch: And your biggest series I think is the Zodiac Academy. So tell us about that.

Caroline Peckham: What, in what way?

James Blatch: If I don't know anything about the Zodiac Academy, tell me who it's for, what sub-genre and so on it is.

Caroline Peckham: Okay, it's a fantasy romance, which is new adult college-age characters. We market it as Harry Potter for adults. So it's a magic school based around astrology. So we used an astrology based system, which would be like star signs. And then we have two twins. We write one each of the twins, that's how we write. Generally we write different point of views of characters, they get whisked away to their phase school.

James Blatch: And these are spicy romance.

Caroline Peckham: They are. It's a slow burn. You have to hang in there for the spice.

James Blatch: Oh, do you? Now, I have read one of your books. So during lockdown you had a lot of mini-projects, didn't you? I do a lot of interviews as you know, on the show every week, and get introduced to all these sub-genres. Reverse horror was new to me until about a year or so ago. And it started to crop up in conversation, but bully romance I wasn't really sure about, and I was intrigued enough to read one of your books. And it was interesting.

Caroline Peckham: You went in at the deep end.

James Blatch: I went in at the deep end. Did I?

Caroline Peckham: With the harshest bully romance we've ever written and you read book one, which is fully just the guys being assholes. Literally.

James Blatch: Yes. Well that's how I would describe it.

Caroline Peckham: But you didn't go any further and you were just like, "Oh, how do they, how would you ever...?" Of course.

James Blatch: I can't go any further with those people. The second session of Day One was due to be Nick Stephenson, but an injury put paid to him arriving in London. And so I took the helm and gave an impromptu session, but carefully worked out of course on Tik-Tok. It's a newish platform as you know, social media terms. It's driving books to the top of the Amazon charts, but more significantly, I think for us, it's driving sales for mid-list and small authors alike.

Here is a taste of the session on how to sell books using TikTok.

Now, how are you going to run your accounts? There are two ways I think of appearing on TikTok, of having an account and using it to sell your books. One is using #BookTok, which is where readers and authors find each other. It's huge. And when I say huge, I think I've got a screen grab here of the latest use of the hashtag, but it's very big indeed. It's an obvious choice for the mainstream genres.

Unfortunately, cold war, military aircraft isn't one of them, although I don't really know why, but if you are romance, sci-fi, you will find an active community of people, of readers, mainly who drive BookTok, who use BookTok to find books. I think a lot of you would've walked into Waterstones here in the UK, Barnes and Noble in the States, and noticed a table at the front of the store that said, BookTok made me buy this book or BookTok made me read this book, they've caught onto.

Although I also understand according to people on TikTok, that table's now full of books, that publishers are paid to be there and have never appeared on BookTok. But anyway, there you go. It was originally organic. TikTok is particularly good if you write spicy and erotica, obviously because you have limited marketing options elsewhere, and BookTok is definitely the place to do it.

Jane reckons she gets a sale every 250 views. So again, reinforcing the fact that you don't need viral videos. Don't need to get million-plus views at all to sell books. You're going to get fewer views, I guess, if you go down this route with BookTok, but they're going to be readers, and they're going to give you, more often, they're going to convert to sales.

Subject based. So this is how most of TikTok operates outside of authors or artists trying to sell something specifically. This is people who run an account because they have a passion for an interest. And this is how I've operated my account. I run an account on military aviation. You get flexibility in what you post. You don't have to be very specific, which we'll talk about in a second with your post. You'll get a larger audience, but of course they're not all readers.

Most of the people who follow me are not readers and not likely to read my book, but once you're getting 1.4, 1.5 million views, if you can build up an account like that, you only need a tiny percentage of those people. And I noticed when I was doing well, I've only got... At the time I only had one book out. I've got a second book out today actually. I don't know if I mentioned it earlier.

I have one book out and I noticed straight away because I know I'm very nitty on my baseline advertising. I know where I am. I was immediately selling six or seven books a day more, out of nowhere. And that must have been from TikTok and as long as I was posting. So for me, it's a big deal at that stage, obviously with a bigger series and read through that could be very significant for you.

So I stepped in for Nick Stephenson because he was unable to make the live conference. However, he has provided his presentation. He's done it especially for the digital ticket audience and here is a preview. It's about email marketing under a banner that Nick has made his own called, Your First 10,000 Readers.

Nick Stephenson: Context is everything. Same with your emails. When you write an email and you want somebody to buy something or you want somebody to do something like leave a review or whatever it might be, the goal is not trying to convince them to do anything. You're not taking them from a state where they don't want something, to a state where they do want something by trying to coerce them or trick them or convince them otherwise. No, the goal is to deliver the right value that people want, give people what it is they expect and what they want and have fun doing it and doing it in such a way that people want to go and buy what you've got. They want to leave you a review. They want to support you. You're not trying to convince them to do something they don't want to do. You want to get to the point where if you don't sell anything via email, it's going to be a little bit weird.

So not selling is going to be weird. The example here, I love this example. If you're at a restaurant and you sit down at your table and nobody comes over, no waiter or waitress comes over with a menu. Nobody asks, "What would you like to buy to eat?" It would be very strange because of the context in which you are sitting, you are in a restaurant because you want to buy food. If nobody comes over to sell you food, you are going to be very angry, and we want to get to that situation where people on your email list are coming into the restaurant. They expect you to start delivering value and offering them things that they want to buy.

That's the context. And that's the mindset that we want. Another thing to bear in mind as well, outside of context, is looking at awareness versus influence. This is something, it's a key marketing concept. There's different levels of marketing to get somebody to actually take action. One stage is awareness and another stage is actually getting them to do something because you can be aware of something and take no action on it whatsoever. Like with my example, terrible email, people were aware I had a book out, they just didn't do anything about it so marketing isn't just like awareness. We have to have influence as well to get people to take action.

James Blatch: After our first networking break, we heard from Joanna Penn, one of the stalwarts of the indie world and Joanna, who's always looking forward, always looking to the future, did not disappoint with her session on the creator economy. The session's brought to you by ProWritingAid. It's become a mainstay of my own writing of fixing things and making your book as readable as possible. Check out ProWritingAid.

Joanna Penn: What is the creator economy? First of all, creators make things. That's us, we're creators. And we put them into the world and consumers connect with, buy from, and support the creators they love. Now so far so normal, right? That's what we are doing, but there's also a culture shift.

Consumers increasingly want to buy from creators they love. People would rather buy from creators than faceless brands they don't know anything about. And it's all about values. So many of us have supported people on Kickstarter and on Patreon. The creator economy is also a software-facilitated economy that allows creators to earn revenue from their creations. And many of the wonderful companies that we use are here today, KDP and Kobo and Google and Draft2Digital and PublishDrive. These are all companies that help us. So again, aren't we in the creator economy?

Well, realistically for the last 15 years... And I've been doing this for 15 years, I first published in 2007... We have surfed this wave for the last 15 years of technologies that have helped us with the independent author movement. But what I see coming is something bigger, more exciting, more opportunities. Yes. More technology, but hopefully will help us with the dream of getting off that treadmill into that creative and financial freedom side of things. Because hey, after 15 years I need it.

So what we're going to talk about is how can we surf the next wave of change? Because the last 15 years really has been incredible change for independent creators. And those of you who listen to my podcast, you know more than ever, I'm excited about what's coming. It's been a hell of a time, but it's going to be even more exciting. So these are things we're going to talk about. Mindset, business model, and technology.

Let's first talk about shifting your mindset. It's not just about "write more books" because of course, we love doing that. So we will do that. But the opportunities of the creator economy are a chance to redesign your business. And if you are just writing your first book, being an independent author is really having a business mindset. But what I want to stress is, it's your creator economy. You're going to hear from lots of people doing things in different ways, but you are the creator. You get to choose. It's a choose your own adventure journey.

James Blatch: After Joanna in the 20 minutes before lunch, we heard from Marc Reklau, Marc is a non-fiction author who writes self-help books and his book was entitled How to Make Self-Publishing Work for You. It was a scintillating, gripping, compelling, wonderful 20 minutes or so.

Mark Reklau: One thing is, also take your profession seriously. That's also something I discovered because sales won't appear magically. All the authors I looked at, I studied, they had this business mentality. So it means if you only want to write, I'm sorry to say that blunt like this, but then you will probably stay poor. Except if, this is also based on my experience, there can also always be outliers, but I really would recommend to adopt this business mindset, which you are here today to learn. So you already have it.

And then you have to do your homework, it's not luck that some of us sell and some of us don't. It's mostly, when you look at it, it's hard work behind it. And you have to do your homework. You have to have a good cover or a great book, great cover, a compelling title.

You have to write an enticing description. You have to put the right price and you have to have reviews. That's just the way it goes. If one of those fails, not even ads will work for you. So you have to do the homework. Like James said before, you need a foundation, but on that foundation you can build and then you keep studying, keep learning and above all study marketing, also take control. Nobody knows your books like you, nobody will sell your books like you, that's just a fact. And I know some of us, we would love that other people do it for us and it's okay. But then maybe you get a smaller cut. So everything is okay. But my suggestion would be take control and do it yourself. Keep writing consistently. Not only when you're on the mood for it.

When I was not having success, I just wrote every now and then, or when I'm inspired, like movies tell us. You see the author there in a hat, next to a lake and in front of a blank screen, because he has to wait until he is inspired, and all of us know that's not the way it is. We plan our books and then we sit down and then we write. No matter if we are inspired or motivated or whatever, because this comes along the way. Sometimes you have to sit down 10 minutes when you're not inspired and suddenly inspiration comes.

So if your books are not selling, you know what to do. The last slide. Check everything, check your system, check your cover. I know it's not nice because you can. I have been, I have been in the worst denial. I wasn't the denial of money, but you can also be in denial of cover and say, "Oh no, but I think it's good." And the book doesn't sell. Yeah, but it's not the cover, but sometimes it's the cover. That's just the way it is. Take your profession serious. So you're not longer just a writer. You are a publisher now, and this brings a lot of work, but it also brings a lot of freedom, like Joanna said in her last talk and there's nothing better. There's nothing better. I would always prefer this. And also the nervous I was before doing this talk, than being back on my boat four years ago and suffering because of not having enough money.

James Blatch: So our first afternoon on Day One, we began with a session I think probably unique, in terms of conferences of watching a book cover get designed from start to finish. I wasn't sure how this session was going to work out, but Stuart Bache pulled an absolute blinder. There were gasps and oohs and ahs, as we watched his prowess in Photoshop, bring this cover to life.

Here's a little taste and this session's brought to you by Google Play.

Stuart Bache: Then the most important part for me is comparative authors and comparative covers. Now I don't copy. I emulate, but for me, it's important to know what... It's not who your favourite author is, and sometimes you have to, I have to ask a client a few times to really tell me who it is. And I don't mean just in the sense of a Amazon search or these guys popped up in my genre on Amazon, in a list. And here's a bunch of covers. It's something that's really important to try and figure out because a cover is actually, it's a big part, but it's also a very small part of marketing your book because people spend hardly any time looking at covers. They'll pop up. If you like it, you click on it and you have to ask yourself, why do I like it?

Most of the time that's because it's relevant to something that you like reading, a genre that you like reading. It gives you what I call familiarity theory, gives you little tropes in terms of typefaces, even just down to typefaces or even colour, sometimes image choices, whether it's a figure running away, which I know, not everyone likes.

Those are really important aspects of the covers. And you could say, I have been told before, "Well, I want you to do that. I want you to find out all that information." Unfortunately I don't have all of your resources and I don't have the knowledge of how you've sold, where you've sold. I can ask for all of that, but that's a huge amount to ask me. So I ask you to tell me, who would you say is the closest to you selling books at the moment and doing well? Not just some random, but just who are doing well.

For me it gives me a good idea of where I'm placing your cover. Once again, I'm all about sales. I am less about making things look pretty or doing what you want me to do. I am professional and I've spent a huge amount of time working for places like Waterstones and seeing how they place their books. I have worked for KDP in the past and they really are really hard on what works and what doesn't.

James Blatch: Next in the afternoon on Day One, Amazon ads was the subject. And of course we had Janet Margot, herself, part of the team that brought you Amazon ads for authors inside the Amazon organisation. She now works outside of that department and she is the perfect person to give us a detailed insight into how we can make the Amazon ads platform work for us.

Janet Margot: So relevance hinders on your metadata and metadata matters for all discoverability, whether we're talking about organic, which is unpaid, or whether we're talking about paid ads. So the KDP listing data is the core of the metadata that you can control. Your book title, your categories, and your seven keywords. So that is really the heart of your relevance, that particular metadata.

I call this out because people who have poor metadata, weak for whatever reason, also wind up, they not only struggle with organic discoverability, but they also struggle with Amazon ads. And then of course, in the advertising network, they're also pulling in customer interactions as measured by your click-through rate and your revenue potential. So I can't emphasise this enough, other than a good book with good packaging, metadata is going to be at the core of your Amazon success.

Let's talk about identifying your audience. I'm a little surprised sometimes how many authors come to me and they're having trouble with their ads or having trouble with their marketing. And they don't know who their comps are. Comps are your standard brand competitive set. It's a standard marketing term. And it really identifies the principal group of competitors for a particular company. As an author, whether you're looking at it from a perspective of a book, an author, or a series, I recommend identifying three to five comps.

Let me stop there for a second. I also get people who say, "Oh, my book is different. There's nothing like me. I don't have any comps." That may be true in the whole finished product, but I want you to try to look at different dimensions of your book to identify the comps.

For instance, what I did when I wrote my ads book is, I looked at my potential competitors who were my peers who wrote other ads for indie authors' books. I looked at people who had written just basic business marketing books. And then in my case, I also took a peek at people who were at Amazon and left Amazon, and what they had written. I looked at it more about how they packaged it and presented it rather than the guts of the how-to, but this is what you want to be looking at, choose different dimensions and then go check out and see how are they classified?

What do you think the main keywords are that they're going to? So you're going to use those for your metadata, but they're the building blocks for your entire discoverability strategy. And notice here that I am saying things about discoverability and not just advertising, because like I mentioned before, and I will mention again, your success on ads will rely on some of your organic success as well.

James Blatch: It was a bit of an Amazon-themed end to Day One, because after Amazon ads, we had our Amazon panel, which included Lisa De Mere, head of books for the UK. And of course our old friend of the show you'll recognise him, Darren Hardy, also on the panel, Michaela Parks, who is a UK books relationship manager, Frank Eula from KDP Germany, and Andrea Pasino, who looks after KDP in France, Italy and Spain. Mark, John and I spend a lot of time thinking, what training do we provide for people?

How do we get to them set up, build their foundation to be successful in indie publishing. I'm interested to know from the inside, whether you've got tips or advice for people on getting started with KDP.

Lisa De Mere: I think that's a great question. The one thing I would say is there's no one-size-fits-all approach. I think quite a lot of speakers today have already mentioned that you can do a bit of experimenting. There are recurring themes, I guess, but it's not one-size-fits-all. Having spoken to a lot of authors in this role and over the course of today and at things like London Book Fair, I think the one thing that I would say is a common, is that they always have a plan. So there are almost two hats that you wear as an indie author. One is the writer. One is running the indie business and you have to have a plan for both so that means thinking about the strategy. You wouldn't launch, I don't know, a new app without writing a business plan for it.

So you need to do that for your books. Authors say that's really helpful in setting goals and timelines, and thinking about all the different levers that you need to pull within that. And part of that is about building your readership so I would think about things like social media. We obviously had the TikTok talk today, fascinating, by the way. But other ways, maybe are you coming to events like this? Are you building a community and thinking about all of the different aspects that will help build your readership and get you that following?

James Blatch: Treating it like a business was one of the things Marc Reklau said when he looked around and looked at what were the common factors and the successful authors, and one of them was they treated their publishing as a business. That must be a key part of it from Darren, from your point of view as well.

Can you give advice to people getting started with KDP?

Darren Hardy: I think that's absolutely right I think, and planning ahead, and we've certainly heard from, I think Mark's talked about this in the past, certainly heard from other authors about planning ahead is not just that book or the book you're publishing today. Presumably you're already thinking about the third book that's coming down the line and what does that look like?

James Blatch: Easy.

Darren Hardy: It is a business ultimately. And obviously, the great thing about being an indie author is it's up to you to choose how you want to approach this. There's no secret formula. There is no magic algorithm that if you put all of these elements into place, is going to guarantee you success, but it's an opportunity to say, "Well, this is what's important for me. This is what I want to do. These are my aims," and then experiment and test and learn and find out over a period of time, but not to see as each step in the process, as an individual isolated event, but think about how that builds over time.

I think as we've alluded to, in some of the earlier sessions, the most successful authors are those where you see them thinking about a plan and think about how the writing dovetails with the business side of things, with the marketing side of things and treating it seriously. And I think that is definitely something that we've seen a lot of.

James Blatch: Day Two got going with another fireside chat with me. And this was with another queen of Kindle, Lucy Score who was not quite sitting at number one in the entire .com store as we did the interview. She was at number two. She was at number one, two days before. And I think she went back to number one afterwards because her book, Things We Never Got Over, has absolutely taken the world by storm.

We're so delighted for Lucy. If you've been listening to this show over the last few years, you'll have heard her rise from quitting her job, actually being fired from her job, and making it as an independent author. So it was great to chat to Lucy. And this session was brought to you by our friends at BookBub, we were very sad that they couldn't make it across to London. We hope they all join us next year. But BookBub is such an important part of the indie world. We are very glad to have them sponsoring this excellent session with Lucy Score.

When did you realise this book was going to rise above the rest?

Lucy: Well, the funny thing is it didn't even break the top 100 on the first day.

James Blatch: I remember you posting into our WhatsApp group a little bit despondent.

Lucy: Yeah. I was like, "Well, I guess that's the reaction to this book. Okay. All right. I'm happy with it. That's what matters." And then it made it into the top 100 and then it kept going.

We launched on a Thursday and I think by Saturday or Sunday, I hit refresh and usually I'm superstitious. I don't look at rank. No, I didn't. That's right. I don't look at rank. So Tim and I were sitting on the couch watching TV and I was like, "Maybe you should hit refresh." And he did. And his face was just like, and I was like, "What is it?" And we had hit number one, which was really exciting. We had hit number one way back in the beginning when it was easier to do that. I hadn't realised what a big deal it was back then until I tried to do it again. It was much more difficult.

James Blatch: Yeah. And we've talked about books. You help me think about plot and lines and marketing. And we have our little WhatsApp group and so on. And I know that you have said, "Can you keep an eye on the charts for other people?" That is difficult to get in there. And you look at the books that get there and you wonder what strategy they've employed. So suddenly this book gets to number one, but that's not really the story here. The story is how long it's stayed there. How long it's been in the top five. And how often it goes back to number one, this week it's been back at number one and this was released in January.

Lucy: January. Thank you.

James Blatch: And I should say it's a big store, Amazon's a big store. It's a very big shop.

Lucy: Large.

James Blatch: Very large store.

Lucy: Curvy.

James Blatch: You're selling a lot of books to be up there. But in that top five, we've had Amy Daws, Meghan Quinn both in our SPF group and both part of our community, both regulars on the podcast. Colleen Hoover. I think you must know Colleen.

Lucy: Yes, the first time the four of us were at the top, we were one, two, three, four. So I nervously started a little Facebook messenger group because I don't know Colleen personally, I just know she's super awesome. So I sent a little message out. I'm like, "Look at us, hanging out." And then she responded. I'm like, oh my gosh. So cool. So the four of us hit again, one, two, three, four.

James Blatch: You know she's going, "Oh my God, Lucy Score just messaged me."

Lucy: I think it's more like, "Oh my gosh, can this girl just give me a break?"

James Blatch: So it's a book that's got something about it that has just captured. And do you think TikTok has played a part in that?

Lucy: Definitely, which I can't take credit for. I'm terrible at TikTok, but I think that... I call it Twingo. Twingo came out and hit number one, thanks to the newsletter list and reader excitement. But generally books should die off, after that. But Colleen Hoover released a book the next week and somehow our two books got tied together. So as TikTok went crazy for Colleen Hoover's book, they started looking for something else once they finished it and they found Twingo and so got very lucky there. And that's still a huge driving force in the performance of this book.

James Blatch: Okay. Nerd alert: Alex Newton came all the way over from, I think he's living in Switzerland now, Alex, a German by birth, but he is the man who gets underneath the fingernails of Amazon's data and brings us important insights that can help us make really good decisions about our career. Here's his session or at least a taste of it on big data unleashed.

Alex Newton: Book market, clear skies ahead. Now all the numbers you're going to see are based on what's officially available to the outside world. Amazon does publish, obviously, their Kindle Slack global fund, which given the market share of Amazon's eBooks platform as a whole, as well as the market share by now of Kindle Unlimited, is I think a pretty indicative number. And just look at that. We looked back at three years of double digit growth and we took all the numbers of the Kindle Slack global fund, as it stands right now. And based on what the experience was the three years before, we are going to look at another, probably 17% growth of that money being paid out to authors.

Tell me one industry that has these types of growth rates, but the story becomes even better because every book has a sales rank. Now, what if you had a friend? What if you had a friend who went through 43,000 books or even more I think, and looked into the publisher name and mapped the publisher name or lack thereof, against 600 big five publishing imprints and imprints of the imprints and no matter what spelling they did, and then told you who gets what part of the pie? Wouldn't that be cool? You're welcome.

Indie authors rock. You can give yourself a hand.

Now there's a little disclaimer. This is only the share of Kindle royalty partner. Now it is across 30 main best seller lists so it is not just the romance genre. We don't have much insight obviously into the whole tail end, but because the sales are so concentrated up there, it's pretty indicative of what is happening out there and you should be so proud, let me tell you.

And let's get one thing out of the way, because so many times indie authors, quality or quantity, let's get one thing out of the way. When it comes to the quality of the books, this here is the ratings of 43,000 titles across the 30 Top 100 Kindle best seller lists over the last two and a half years, indies 4.5 stars out of five, Amazon imprints 4.4 out of five, big five, 4.6 out of five, other trade publisher 4.6 out of five. Now tell me, and the one digit deviation is really down to statistics so don't bash the Amazon imprints, your Amazon people. They're good.

James Blatch: After the first networking break on day two, one of the sessions I was really looking forward to, and I sat in the audience for this one. This is Suzy K. Quinn, a bestselling author herself. She gives us the secrets of bestselling authors. This is a taste really of the course, but it was a pretty detailed taste. Suzy's session was brought to you by Draft2Digital, which is a one-stop shop. If you want to be wide, upload your book and it goes to every store you could possibly imagine. And quite a few you can't even imagine existing.

Suzy K Quinn: Okay. So let's whiz on, to secret number one and talk a bit more about that. So how many of these books did you love? We have 50 Shades of Grey. Apparently E.L. James was here at the party last night. Did anyone hear that? I missed it because I went home. I'm gutted, but anyway, 50 Shades of Grey, DaVinci Code, which I loved, but not everyone did. Frankenstein. Hated. P.S. I Love You was all right, Gone Girl, didn't finish it, just my taste.

The point I'm illustrating is, these are massive selling books, massive selling books. Some of the times we feel as right as that, oh, they're massive because everyone loves them. Right? Not the case. Okay. So bestseller does not appeal to everyone. Most bestsellers are in fact, not universally loved, they're disliked probably more than they're loved and that's okay because the people who love them really love them.

And that's really important. So let me reveal the first secret, which is that best sellers target a pre-made audience. Let me go into a bit more detail about that. Eat Pray Love connected with a pre-made audience, which was, it was a new demographic at the time, childless women in their thirties. So there was this growing demographic of women that were choosing not to have children or maybe they chose their career and waited too long and weren't going to have children and they were a niche, right? So they were a group of people and this group of people connected.

I'm not saying it's not a good book, by the way. I think all of these are good books, but this group of people connected so particularly with this book that they absolutely loved it. And they told all their friends about it and they bought it in huge numbers and it rose in the sales ranks and became visible.

When it became visible and there was buzz about it, everyone else started buying it as well, and those people that then bought it didn't necessarily love it, but they bought it because there was a buzz about it. I don't know if you guys have, I buy books all the time that there's a buzz about that I think, "Oh, that was okay." I don't know about you guys, but maybe you're better book lovers than I am.

Another example is The Beach, which connected with the student backpacker generation, which I was part of when I was 19, it was a new thing, travelling as a student. In Thailand, every backpacker had this book in their backpack, obviously that sales to a certain level. And then at that level, everyone else starts to see the book, starts to notice the book. Girl on a Train connected with commuters.

You've got so many commuters who buy books. The first page is someone sitting on a train, drinking a gin and tonic from a can, then having another gin and tonic from a can. And that's such a powerful connection with anyone doing that every day, anyone doing that every day is like, "Yeah, this is the book. This is an interesting book for me. I connect with it." And then it found its wider audience.

Bestsellers target a specific reader group. Now these can be genre readers and genres are a great way to target specific readers because they're pre-made and we know they're book lovers, so romance, thrillers, spicy romance, et cetera. They can be sub genre readers. Caroline, Suzanne's I guess sub genre of romance is spicy romance. And then I guess Lucy as well, romance is a huge genre anyway. So there's loads of sub genres. Or some other kind of fan base like the illustrations I just gave earlier. So commuters and so on and so forth.

James Blatch: After Suzy, we had a self-editing masterclass. Having written our best seller, we need to make sure it's edited. And this was Hayley Milliman from ProWritingAid. Really good presentation from Haley.

Hayley Milliman: I believe that clarity is an essential part of storytelling and it is the key goal of self editing. That's because if your writing is not clear, it's not going to engage readers. I think a lot of times as writers, we spend a lot of time worried about our plots, our character, our settings, how we're going to market our books later. We don't think very much about how we will structure our sentences to convey our ideas. But that is the key essential point.

If we want readers to come back to us, we have to communicate our ideas clearly and effectively. So again, I believe clarity is the key goal of self editing. So what am I actually talking about when I'm talking about clarity? I define clarity as three things. First, how easy your writing is to understand, and I'm going to come back to that one in a second.

The next thing is whether or not your sentences are set up, in a reader-focused way. And finally, clarity is whether or not you are using rich and specific language that adds to your reader's understanding. Now I want to highlight that on this slide, I have used the term "reader" several times. That's because clarity is not a set thing. I can't just say, "Oh, this is clear." Clarity is a sliding scale that depends on who your readers are.

Every single person in this auditorium now is going to have a different sliding scale for clarity because we all have different readers. What sci-fi readers understand and what they expect and what's clear to them, is very different than what is clear to romance readers. It's also very different than what is clear to academic readers or readers who are reading business reports. So it's incredibly important to understand who your readers are, when you're evaluating whether or not your work is clear.

So again, clarity is how easy your writing is to understand, whether or not your sentences are set up in a reader-focused way, and whether or not you are using rich and specific language that adds to their understanding.

I also want to talk about that third principle for just a second, because a lot of times when I talk about clarity, people think, "Oh, you're just talking about how to make everything very simple and how to cut away. All that makes my writing interesting." Could not be further from the truth. Clarity is both being simple, but it's also about being specific and using language richly to enhance your audience's understanding. And we'll talk more about each of this as we keep going. So this is what clarity is. Clarity has nothing to do with how simple or juvenile the ideas in your writing are. And it also has nothing to do with whether or not your prose is engaging, unique, and exciting. I believe that complex ideas deserve clear sentences.

James Blatch: Now, just before lunch, on the final day of the two-day conference, we had an inspirational talk from our friend from the 20Books organisation and his own publishing company, LMN. I can never say it. Michael Anderle.

Michael Anderle: One of the things that riled me up as a very young author was I saw an article about this guy over in England, who was making like three to $400,000 a year. And I'm like, I want to beat him. And it turned out to be someone who is an amazing fellow and provides opportunities like this for myself and Judith to come out and share the success and the opportunity for you and where you can go. Now, a lot of the different discussions that have happened have been very specific.

What I'm here to do is encourage you that whatever you wish to be and whatever you wish to become, is within your grasp. It takes effort. It takes work, a lot of it, but it is possible. Just a little bit of my background. Back in 2015, I happened to release one book November 2nd, the second book, November 11th, the third book, November like 23rd or so, I wrote those two books during that month.

And then the fourth book in December, the fifth book I released in January and I was making $10,000 a month. By the 12th month, by the following November, I was making a hundred-thousand plus a month writing and releasing. Then I went on and created with some others, LMBPN Publishing that started bringing collaborators. Now we pay out over a hundred-thousand a month in collaboration income every month. So if you want to be a writer and be successful, you've heard all of the stories here. If you would like to be a publisher, you can do it.

James Blatch: After lunch on Day Two, we started the afternoon with Rachel McLean, a winner of the Amazon Kindle Storyteller Award. She is a brilliant person to talk about getting your book in front of as many eyes as possible and using as many platforms as possible. Now this session was brought to you by our very own Hello Books, a great place to get your book in front of readers.

Rachel McLean: Training Amazon is what made my career. As you can see, I published my first book in, well, I published a story in December 2017, which was a freebie, which was designed to encourage people to then buy the book that I published in January 2018. As you can see, there's nothing. I was selling two or three books a day. I had a day job as a technical writer. So I knew that I could produce words to order on very boring subjects.

In January 2020, I reached a point where I wrote about WordPress and WordPress is largely written in a language called PHP. And it's been over the last few years, moving across to JavaScript. And I would've had to go away and learn JavaScript to be able to continue doing what I was doing in my day job. I didn't want to learn JavaScript.

I wanted to learn how to write better, how to market better and how to publish my books faster. So I took the decision in January 2020 before the last SPS Live and before COVID was even a thing really, that I was going to really double down that year and focus on my career. I stopped writing books that didn't fit in genres. So I was writing, for example, I wrote a post apocalyptic psychological thriller. I thought post apocalyptic fans, psychological thriller fans, I'll get them both. Ha. No, didn't get either of them. I also wrote a series of dystopian political thrillers, again, dystopian political thrillers, no. Absolute crickets. So I thought, what can I write? I've talked in previous events about the idea of a Venn diagram of choosing what you write, which is what people want to read, what you love to read and to write and what you are good at.

My sweet spot there was suspense. And so I decided to write crime. I have to admit, I copied people like LJ Ross and JD Kirk. I saw what they were doing and they were doing incredibly well. And I thought I can have a piece of that. So I started writing the first book in my first crime series, the DI Zoe Finch series set in my home city of Birmingham, any Birmies in the audience? Hey, I started writing that in lockdown in April 2020, and on, I think it was April 17th, 2020, there was an edition of the Self-Publishing Show, the podcast that went out, in which Mark said, "There are going to be people listening to this podcast who make their careers during lockdown, who write the book that makes their careers." And I thought that's going to be me. So I wrote that book.

I put it up for pre-order in May 2020. And you can see that August 2020 is when it starts taking off. I actually released it in July. It did really well on pre-order, sold by my standards at that point, sold about 1200 copies on pre-order and I was aiming for a thousand. So I was really pleased with that. And then that series took off. I went full time at Christmas 2020, and then the following summer, I rapid-released the first three books in my Dorset Crime series. And the first of those books was The Corfe Castle Murders, which was the one that won the Storyteller Award. And as you can see, it zoomed up there.

James Blatch: The final session was called Quitting the Nine to Five, an inspirational panel of people who weren't making millions, but were making enough to replace their salary and live off their writing. An aim I note for many people. On the panel, Gary Ross, Jordan, Tracy Green, Ben Brown, Liz Hurley, not that one, Meg Jolly, and the session was moderated by our friend from Reedsy, Ricardo Fayet.

Ricardo Fayet: So a really great thing about this panel, as I mentioned when I introduced it, is all the authors here weren't doing that well, or being that prolific or selling that well a few years ago. And I think they started doing well when they found their niche. In the startup world we've got this thing called the product market fit, which is when a company finally creates a product that is perfect for a specific market.

Gary, how did it happen for you?

Gary: I was working as a coast guard. Coast Guard worked quite long hours. So 12 hour days, night shift as well. I've got four in the family, so I was not enjoying it. I really wasn't. And my wife and I said, "Right, we've got to change," but you can't just walk out of a job when you've got four kids. So we said, "Write, go part-time." And the pay wasn't phenomenal. But we dropped down to quite a per pay. And for a year I continued writing what I'd started, which was Lovecraft-ian fantasy, a wee bit about horror and stuff. And they sold nothing.

And you suddenly realise that you're actually sharing money. I was doing ads. I was actually penning ads, 50 word ads to try and pay for my books to put them out there. And I was getting nothing from it. I had invested in the courses. I had looked at the courses, but I hadn't found what was working for me. My wife saw a advert for a 2000-word competition for crime on the black isle, Ian Rankin attached to it. So she was like, woo, so I entered it and I didn't win it.

I didn't win it, but I got a commendation and she says to me, "You should write crime." And of course I'm a typical husband. No, you don't, no. And she kept at me and I said, "Okay, I'll write one." I put this book out and it came out in December 2019, and it sold 300 copies in December with nothing behind it, unedited. I had to do the editing for it because we had no money, very cheap cover. And I said to her, "This is actually doing all right. Let's take those things I learned in the course and put something behind it here. Let's do the Facebook ads." And suddenly in January, it started going up and we had a conversation and I said, "I'm going after this." And so I thought, right, I'd heard before, one of the best ways to advertise a book is your next book.

So let's write and I did that year. I wrote, and we kept the Facebook ads going on it. And suddenly I was looking around and going, "Do you know what we've covered the other half of the Coast Guard salary," Winona says okay. And then another few months later it was like, whoa, we're on up there, we've got a full salary. In the meantime, I'd come here.

I remember I walked in, Matt Benedict, soon as I walked in through the door, but sitting here that day really inspired me. And L.J. Ross was the one who really inspired me that day. Because she said to me, didn't say to me, she said to everybody, but she says, well, she was really talking to me. She said, "Don't worry about the naysayers, the people who say I don't like this, about your book, look to the fans, look to the people who want more of what you've got." And I've done that. That was the Highland Island detective series. And that is now 20 books and the 20th is coming out soon.

James Blatch: There we go, so that was it. Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank London, I suppose the first question I should ask you, Mark, are we going to do this again?

Mark Dawson: I think we are. Yes, sales have been pretty strong. We found, I think people have been a little bit concerned about COVID, at least in terms of booking tickets, it hasn't been an issue whilst we are here. Not that we've seen.

James Blatch: I'm sorry, next week.

Mark Dawson: We'll tell you next week, but we've had fairly strong ticket sales. A lot of digital tickets were sold as well, we would've done this and made a small loss. We would've been happy with that because it is a fun thing to do. We like meeting authors and doing things like this, but I think we'll do it again.

Can I tell a funny story?

James Blatch: You can tell a funny story if you like.

Mark Dawson: James and I and John, we were press ganged by Catherine. He was organising these volunteers to check people into the venue for the drinks reception last night. So we had our phones out, we were scanning people's QR codes and I was going through them. And I saw there, John, Rebecca, Susan, Erica, Mary, Sarah, and then someone came up to office and said, "Erica is E.L. James from 50 Shades of Grey, who just wandered past." I didn't even look up.

James Blatch: That's a bit highlight that E.L. James bought a ticket.

Mark Dawson: She bought a ticket to the party, which was great. We had a nice chat with her, she's really lovely. I think she's not all that big on public speaking, but we are going to try and persuade her to.

James Blatch: Erica, if you're watching this, I'll make it so easy for you. Fireside chat. We'd love to have you on the podcast. She's quite humble, really about the first thing Erica says to me, "I've got nothing to teach because I had an unusual experience," but I think everything she's gone through is valuable. And Suzanne, we hadn't mentioned Caroline and Suzanne, Caroline Peckham and Suzanne Valenti, unbelievably successful romance authors here in Britain at the UK. For instance, they wanted to talk to Erica last night because of potential deals in the background that Erica's been through. And I think they had a very useful conversation with her. So Erica, if you're watching at some point, we'd love to have you on now. We are big fans.

Mark Dawson: So yes, that's a long way of saying, we are thinking about doing this here. We don't know when. And I think June is quite nice, it's nice in terms of weather, but it's June.

James Blatch: I'm a big fan of June. I don't want to go back to March.

Mark Dawson: No, we've some people have asked if we could do March again, but I think June is nice. London in the summertime is preferable to London in a wet, late winter, early spring. So I think that's probably our preference, but we'll see, we've got to talk to the venue, whether they have us again. Drunk and off dancing around to Buster Birch's band last night may have got the car wash on that permanently built.

James Blatch: We joke about the party, but of course what's happening now. This is people who have been out for lunch and on their way back, these conversations are the reason you come to a conference. I know it can be, some people feel it's overwhelming to them. Having those conversations, you have to be brave, but honestly, you'll make friends here, supporters for your career that will help you and lift your sales. So it's an important happening, I think if you can get to conferences, this is one, there are others. It's a good thing to do. I feel motivated.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, me too. That was of course what we want to be with us so they can leave today feeling, understanding what's possible and feeling motivated to sit down at their desk tomorrow and start or continue writing. That was always our aim.

James Blatch: So I think that's it, Mark, coming in. I'm in shirt sleeves. You're in a suit. Have you've got a job interview later?

Mark Dawson: I'd just like to make an effort.

James Blatch: Were you in court?

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: For what charge? I don't know. So that's it for this year, from the Self-Publishing Show. My thank you. If you were here and you came up and said hello, it was delightful to meet you. And if you weren't here, I think watch the channel here, watch the channel carefully, we will have an announcement soon for you. That's it for this week. We'll be right next. All that remains for me to say is it's a goodbye from him and a goodbye from me.

Mark Dawson: Goodbye.

Voiceover: Get show notes, the podcast archive, and free resources to boost your writing career at Join our thriving Facebook group at Support the show at and join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author. Publishing is changing so get your words into the world and join the revolution with the Self-Publishing Show.


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