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SPS-408: Essential Tips for New Authors – with Mark Dawson

What was it like for Mark Dawson to dip his toes into publishing? And does he have advice for new writers? Well of course he does! With the upcoming launch of the SPF ‘Launchpad’ course, Mark delves into publishing tips, complete with anecdotes and personal recommendations!

Show Notes

  • The Launchpad Launch.
  • Mark’s 10 Tips for your writing career.
  • Mark’s start with publishing.
  • The development of SPF courses.
  • The publishing and distribution process at large.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Essential Tips for New Authors – with Mark Dawson

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and 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.

Mark Dawson: Hello, there it is, Mark Dawson from The Self-Publishing Show and welcome to another episode of the podcast. You'll notice if you're watching on YouTube, and you'll very soon notice if you're listening to the podcast on one of the podcast apps that I am on my own. Today I've given James another day off so I can bring you some new content, which is specifically tailored this week to accompany the forthcoming launch of Self-Publishing Formulas launchpad course. So I'm going to talk about that a little bit, tell you a little bit about the course. As I recall this, it is the 19th of October as I record, and the course goes live on Wednesday the first. So I think you'll be listening to this if you're listening contemporaneously at taking around about the 27th of October. So you've got about three or four days until the course goes live on Wednesday. So I want to tell you a little bit about the course, but I want to give you some useful information if you are just getting started on your self publishing journey or if you've been doing this for a little while, and a refresher might be helpful to give you some foundational blocks that you need to have in place if you're going to maximise your chances of doing this amazing career as a writer, if you're going to make this something that you can do full-time, support yourself, support your family, all of the fantastic things that have been made available to us ever since we've been able to go directly to readers without having to worry about any third parties or gatekeepers standing between us and them.

Mark Dawson: So I am going to be looking at 10 things I think is important for us to consider as we get started on our writing careers. So I've had a good think about this. These always change. I would've given you 10 different things if I'd done this five years ago and probably would've given you a few things would be different if I'd done this last year. So things are always evolving and that is actually one of the things I'm going to be telling you about as we get towards the end of the list. One of the things we need to do is to keep an eye on things. Things are always changing. AI is the thing at the moment, which is kind of getting everyone shook up, but before then, it could have been Kindle Limited. It could be going directly to readers, not using a retailer.

Mark Dawson: Lots and lots of things always popping up. Every year is different really when it comes to this career, and it is important to keep an eye on things. So as I get into this, these are the things I think are important at the moment. Some of them will be universal and wouldn't have changed in the decade since I started independently publishing. Some of them are a little bit new and we'll get into those as we push on. Before I do that, I just want to give you the link for the launchpad course and tell you a little bit about it. So when we got started with S P F seven, eight years ago, now I've told this story before, but it is probably worth telling you it again. I remember sitting down and I took out a Scrivener file actually, and I started plotting out what I could include in a course that I thought would be useful for people to take advantage of the experience that I had at that stage.

Mark Dawson: And my initial thought was to make this as comprehensive as possible, I wanted everything, absolutely everything to be in it from the very moment you type the end on your manuscript or finished your nonfiction, but whatever it was, as soon as it was finished, that was when the course would start and then it would take everything into account, all the pre-publication process, publication, all of the different retailers, and then marketing and advertising and formatting and basically everything. And I had a thing to this given a file and realised reasonably quickly that this was going to be absolutely massive. And it was one of those moments where I was kind of ready to actually not do anything at all. I just looked at the size of the task ahead of me and was really kind of daunted by it. I didn't want it to take the place of my writing.

Mark Dawson: And that's always been my philosophy is I'm a writer and it's great that I'm able to do other bits and pieces around the edges, but it is writing that is my passion and the thing that still makes me the most money. So couldn't interject itself in that process and give me problems in that respect. But I remember speaking to Lucy, my wife and she and I thought, well, what could we do from, what could I do from that huge curriculum? What could I do to offer something that was more self-contained and manageable for me? So I went back and looked at Facebook ads. That was the thing that I was having most success with in those days. And so that was how the first course was born. It was Facebook ads for authors. Obviously subsequent to that, it's grown into something much, much bigger. Ads for authors is a huge course now covering pretty much everything.

Mark Dawson: But once I got a year into providing this kind of material through S P F, I decided to go back to that Scrivener file and see whether I could pull anything out of that, whether I was ready to go back and do something more foundational. And I figured out that it was quite surprising and not expected that I enjoyed teaching as much as I did. And it was pretty obvious that ads for authors was not going to be suitable for someone who was just kind of getting started and didn't really know what they were doing because there's no point in advertising something if it's not optimised, if it's not professional, all of these things that we need to do to make the books that we're trying to sell attractive to readers. So I went back to the long curriculum and I decided to have a go and it was a very long process.

Mark Dawson: It probably took three or four months actually from start to finish to put the course together. But when we had finished it and I looked back at it, I was really pleased with how it turned out. So it used to be called 1 0 1 to give the impression that it was a fairly basic to intermediate course Recently, the last couple of years, we rebranded it to launchpad, which we felt was a more evocative title and a better descriptive title. And the idea was that you build your launchpad and then ads for authors is the rocket fuel you put into your rocket and launch yourself into the stratosphere. So S P F launchpad is what it's known as now, but it is a really big course. It's got literally everything you need from the moment you finish your book to getting it online and then maximising your chances of success.

Mark Dawson: It dovetails very nicely with the ads to authors course, but there is also some stuff on basic ads in the course as well, but it really does cover everything. And the intention we had when we were putting it together was it would be a reference point that you could dip into and out of whenever you were ready to do something different. So maybe you start out in KDP Select, you don't need to know about how to upload to Apple, but when you're ready to go wide, you want to try something else, you could just go back to the course and there would be something kept up to date that would enable you to learn quickly and easily how to get your books up on Apple. So that's always been the philosophy. And the same with all of our courses. As I said, we keep things current so when things change, we make changes and we make sure that your screen will look like my screen when you are doing the course and we add stuff to it all the time.

Mark Dawson: So as things develop and if we feel that a piece of content is appropriate for launchpad, it will go in the launchpad course and everyone who's ever taken that course gets that new content at no extra cost. It also keeps things up to date and fresh for us as well. So you can find out about launchpad at self-publishing formula.com/sps. No, I'm going to change that. It's slash launchpad, unsurprisingly self publishing formula.com/launchpad. The there's a wait list there when this goes live, I think. But the sales page with all the details you'll need, including walkthroughs and testimonials, all of that kind of stuff will be available on Wednesday round about 10:00 PM UK time. So keep an eye on that. Okay, with that said, that's launchpad, but I wanted to tell you about some of the things, the kind of foundational principles that you will see in the launchpad course.

Mark Dawson: So not necessarily the tactics, but more the strategies, things that I think are really important to make sure that you are setting off on your career as a writer, putting the right foot forwards. So 10 things give or take. I might add things on the fly as we go through this, but these are the 10 things that I noted down this morning as I was preparing to do this podcast. And we're going to start out with a couple of things that are quite connected to one another. The first one is you need to put out your best work. Now that probably sounds fairly obvious.

Mark Dawson: It doesn't make much sense to put out something that isn't as good as you can make it, but it is really, really important and it's something you see now and again, people talking about just kind of uploading something without really doing anything beyond writing it, no polish applied, just uploaded, and fingers crossed and hoping that that will lead to success. Probably not going to work that way. I won't be a surprise to learn. It was possibly the case at the start of this digital publishing. You could get away with cutting corners now and again because there wasn't much competition. That's definitely not the case now, and you're going to be competing with lots and lots of other really good writers, and that could be trad writers. It will equally be other indie writers who are approaching this seriously and making sure that the books that they put out are the best they can write and something that they can be proud of.

Mark Dawson: And it is kind of common sense, but I have a theory about this. I'm pretty good. I think I'm picking myself up too much at digital advertising, and I've always said that I think it's pretty easy to sell one book to one person once so I can put together a Facebook ad or an Amazon ad providing that the packaging. So we'll get to that in a minute to cover the blurb. All of that is optimised and that the ad is itself is attractive, well-targeted. I think given all those things being true, it is reasonably easy to sell that book to a well-targeted writer who has seen that ad. Now, at that point, as soon as that ad has done its job and the book is on the reader's device, it's not on me as an advertiser anymore, it's on me as an author. Because if the reader starts to read the book and discovers after the first page that it's litted with errors or maybe gets in and finds that the story doesn't work or that there's inconsistencies, there are typos, it's badly formatted, all of these things, anything that can give the reader a reason to regret making the purchase, then it doesn't matter from that point how good I am as a marketer or an advertiser.

Mark Dawson: That reader will remember the terrible experience they had with my book and they'll never buy another book by me ever again. It doesn't matter how good my ads are, my ads could be incredible. The first thing they'll think when they see that they might go, well, that looks good. Then they'll realise that the book is written by this writer that they had a bad experience with before and it just won't matter. They're not going to buy it again. And it's really, it's not a question of cost or although that could also be relevant. It's just they've invested time in an experience that didn't deliver what they expected. So once bit and twice shy, they're not going to buy from you again. So I think it's really important to make sure that the work you put out there is the best work, the absolute best work that you can do, and that standard will change over time.

Mark Dawson: My first books weren't great, the first books I wrote pre Milton, I don't sell those anymore. I don't think they're particularly good. They're flawed in a number of different ways, and I took them down. I don't want readers to buy those books and then form an opinion of me as a writer based on something I wrote when I wasn't as good a writer as I am now. So it is really important. It's one of the fundamental things I think that need to underpin our careers as authors, is that we concentrate on making sure that our books are the absolute best that we can make them. And we are not rushed into releasing something because we feel we have to hit a certain cadence. We are not rushing to release something because we've been told that it's getting more difficult by the month and we're not rushing to release something because we're going for a rapid release strategy.

Mark Dawson: That means we need to have a book out every month. If you can write great books once a month, that's great. And I know lots of authors who can do that. Not this one though. It's not something that I can comfortably do. So I want to take my time, make sure that I go over the manuscript several times, make changes, get some feedback, make more changes based on that, and only when I feel I'm getting to the stage where I'm starting to move punctuation around, that's usually the kind of the warning signal that tells me that the sliding scale of time and effectiveness is starting to go against me and the book is probably ready to be released. All right, so connected to that, putting out your best work is the second thing, and that is be professional. As I said, the days have long gone when we could have books with awful covers that we've made in paint, badly edited or not edited at all, badly formatted, just taken from word documents dumped into the Kindle.

Mark Dawson: The days have gone when those books can shoot up the charts with a 99 cents, 99 pence promo campaign because there's just a lot of competition now that wasn't there back then. So I think this is very important to me. Others may disagree, but this is something that I have learned over the last 10 years. You really do need to be professional. Professionalism, super important. You want to put out the best product that you can. I'm going beyond the actual content of the book, the story, or if it's nonfiction, making sure that that is addressing the problem that you're seeking to address. Or for fiction, you're telling a story that hooks the reader, makes them turn the pages and ready to buy the next book when they get to the end. What we're talking about here is the actual packaging. So we're definitely talking about the cover design here.

Mark Dawson: I think it's really important to make sure that our book on the virtual shelf will hold its own against books designed by professional designers working for trad houses. It's not as hard as it might seem. I know when I started, I struggled for quite some time actually to find the right designer, and this was pre Reed Z, it was pre 99 designs. I did some research, founded a designer I liked by the name of Stuart Bish, and we've been working together ever since. He's probably done 30 covers for me now, all of them great and all of them punching their weight, holding their own when it comes to going up against the Lead Child series, the Jack Reacher books or David Balducci or James Patterson. I don't want readers to look at the search results and think that one looks not as professional as the other ones because that's the reason why the reader would choose the other ones over mine.

Mark Dawson: So it needs to be professional, it needs to be genre appropriate, and it needs to be eye-catching and stand out in those online stores and also in promotional materials, including of course ads. So beyond the cover design, which I think is kind of the first thing that readers look at when they are browsing for something new to read. The second thing is probably the sales copy. So the blurb blurb again is important and it's a skill that is very different from writing a hundred thousand word novel. Distilling that down into 250 words is difficult. It's not something that I'm very good at. I had to teach myself how to do a halfway decent job on that. And usually these days I will subcontract that to a blurb writer who actually lives in Salisbury, not too far away from me, who has done blurbs for the tread houses, and she does a really great job.

Mark Dawson: Now, there are other things coming along all the time that give us options on this, and the newest one, as I've mentioned on the podcast before, is AI with generative text. Things like chat, g p t, clawed, all of these kinds of LLMs enabling us to write blurbs quite simply. And it could be with chats, just writing a couple of paragraphs yourself about the plot, what happens, and then asking it for a blurb. And I think I may have this by this stage of posted something in the S P F C showing how this works. I think it's clawed, this wasn't as, I've done it a couple of weeks, but you can now upload a P D F of your book. It will effectively read that book and then provide you with, you can ask it to generate a blurb for you. And it does a pretty good job.

Mark Dawson: I mean, it's not perfect, but it'ss getting better all the time. It'll certainly give you something that you can start from and then you work to make that as professional as possible. So really important and getting easier to do that. Tools are developing all the time that make it easier for us to write those punchy and effective blurbs. And then the final thing is kind of connected to the first of those rules that I set out, but it is editing. So I think editing is essential, and I'm not going to go into the types of editing in too much detail here. I could have a podcast just about the difference between developmental copy and proof, but for me, in my process right now, it definitely involves copy editing and it definitely involves proofreading. I think those two things are just basically non-negotiable for me, for this writer.

Mark Dawson: I am not happy putting out a book that hasn't been through that process because as I said up at the start, it's easy to sell that first book once, but if my book has inconsistencies or there are spelling mistakes or I'm getting character names wrong, or a character has blue eyes in one paragraph and green eyes in the other paragraph, those are all reasons why the reader might decide that I'm not the kind of writer that they want to read because they know they can go and get a great experience with the new Jack Reacher book. So I need to at least manage to hit the standards that they're hitting. And my aim is to better them and not impossible. It is easy enough now to find really good editors who can help you put your best foot when it comes to your manuscript. Again, Z is a really good place to go to as a starting point, to find people who are able to help you in that process.

Mark Dawson: And re Z is they're friends of ours. I don't recommend very many people, but I have no hesitation in recommending them. And you can get [email protected], R E E D S y.com. And I'm not paid to say that I'm a fan of Reedsy and very happy to send authors their way when it comes to finding the professionals to help them improve their book as much as possible. Alright, the next thing, the third thing I want to tell you about is just your online presence. So you are probably going to be selling online at least to start with the kind of offline marketing techniques. I'm doing a few of those now. In fact, quite a few of those now in order to generate sales on the Atticus series in particular. But that's not really something that we would be looking at as a 1 0 1 level. We are going to be selling most of our content online, and that could be through a retailer or it could be through our own website, but it doesn't really matter.

Mark Dawson: We'll go into both of those things in a moment. But we are going to need to stake our claim to some online territory. And the first place to go is probably going to be having a website. I say probably, I don't think our website is absolutely essential these days. I think it is almost essential, but I think it is possible to use social media channels depending on where you feel most comfortable and what your genre suggests. It is possible to use those places to be your kind of online hq. So it could be Facebook, it could be, it's not going to be Twitter or X, it could be Instagram, it could definitely be TikTok. All of those places are definitely going to be places you could look to build your community. But what I would say as a warning, and nothing really has changed since I started saying this five or six years ago, is you don't own those places.

Mark Dawson: You might find that, let's just say worst case scenario, TikTok gets banned by the US government. If all of your online territory is based on having a big TikTok channel, then that could go completely outside of your control. And it could be you go to sleep and you've got hundreds of thousands of views, you wake up and they've all gone. So it's really important to have somewhere. And actually, and just to kind of go back on that, that's not just a TikTok thing. That could very easily be a Facebook thing. It could very easily, let's say you are big on Twitter, there have been some changes on Twitter or X of course over the last six months or so. That might mean that that's not a place you're comfortable being anymore. Maybe you've gone to Blue Sky or you've gone else. So these are things that are outside of our control and we need something that is within our control.

Mark Dawson: So a website is a really good place to stake our claim online. We own that content, we own that U R L. We own that data. If we have readers coming to visit us, they will search you, stick the Google Pixel on your website and you can look at the traffic, where it's coming from and how much you're getting. They will come there and that's a great place to offer them something. Give them something to join your mailing list. Spoiler alert, we'll be getting to that next. But you need to give them a place where they can visit to find out about your books, maybe even buy your books. We're looking at shopping direct or buy your books if we're using links to send them to a particular store. These are really important facilities that we are able to generate by having our own website.

Mark Dawson: So I do think it's important. I think it can be something you can perhaps do without or perhaps not go big on the bells and whistles if you're on a budget, but I think having a good looking website is a really excellent investment in your career. Again, lots and lots of places where you can get a good design reads Z again is a good place to look if you're looking for a designer. One I would recommend, and again, I'm not paid to say this, but a friend of SS P F is Stuart Grant who is involved in the, actually in the podcast, he helps us with the podcast, but he has built a really successful business doing excellent websites at a good price for authors in particular. And I think if you search digital author toolkit, that will take you to Stuart's website and you can get in touch with him there.

Mark Dawson: But yeah, it's important, not absolutely essential, but I think it's one of those things that if it's not the first thing on your list, it will probably be just below that first level. Now, something that is essential, and I don't think there's any way of getting around this is having a really good email list this, I've said this before and I'm happy to say it again. This will be the most important asset that you can build as an author in the 21st century. Amazon is not going to give us the email addresses of our customers. Our readers just not going to do it. Cobo won't do it. Google won't do it. Apple won't do it. No one will do it because apart from anything else, it would be illegal. But they're not going to give us that information. It is not going to happen. So we need somewhere where we are able to communicate directly with our readers through newsletters, for example, and a place that we own.

Mark Dawson: So we don't own MailChimp or mailer like, but what we do have is the ability to build our lists on those platforms and then we export those lists in a spreadsheet with all the email addresses of our readers. And if we decide we want to go to flow desks or we want to go to active campaign, we can move from provider to provider, but we do need to have those emails. So this is kind of a non-negotiable. It probably should be towards the top of this list. And again, a little anecdote from the start of my career, I remember I tell this on webinars all the time, but it's really, it's true, and I think it's a mistake I made that you can learn from. I put my first book up for a free promo back in the days when you could get by doing very little, you could get tens of thousands of downloads.

Mark Dawson: And I forgot about it over the weekend, it ran Friday to Monday I think, and on a Sunday I'd gone out into the countryside on a bike ride, sat down, took out my phone, just kind of thinking, I wonder how many downloads this book has had over the course of the promo and almost kind of fainted when I saw 50,000 downloads over the course of that promotion. And I was kind of elated. But then my next reaction was, what do I do now? How do these readers find me? Again, there was no mailing list. I didn't have a website in those days. I don't think I'd even put the social details into the back of the book. So they downloaded this book and maybe they loved it, maybe they didn't. But the ones that did love it had no way to keep in contact with me.

Mark Dawson: So the first thing I did when I realised that I'd dropped the ball was to set up my mailing list. And I think even in those days, I'd made mistakes. So I remember I used to have my normal email address in the back of the book, and I'd get emails now and again, and it was really exciting. These were people I'd never met before, but they'd email me at my normal email address and they'd say, yeah, thanks for giving me this. And I think I'd offered them a couple of free novellas and they'd email to ask me for those novels. And then I would by hand every night, and it was a first world problem to be able to do this, but I remember replying to them, attaching the PDFs and then sending them through my normal email account, which was nuts. Eventually, if you do that enough, you're going to get into trouble with your I S P because it looks like you're spamming people.

Mark Dawson: But it also takes tonnes of time. And so one of the things that, and it looks unprofessional. So one of the things that I did when I realised that I'd been kind of messing around for too long was to set up a MailChimp account, and I've been nurturing that ever since. And I have something over a hundred thousand readers on that list now, and it is definitely the most important channel I have in my business, the most powerful lever I can pull when I have something new to sell or a promotion or I want to do a survey or a competition, anything like that. It is by far the most powerful way to reach that audience. And apart from the hosting fee, and when you get to that kind of level on MailChimp, it does get quite expensive quite quickly. Other service providers are available and are cheaper, but you just have that ability to reach out to those readers and it doesn't cost you anything beyond that hosting fee. That's an asset that you have forever. You're not renting the list. You can use them whenever you want for the rest of your career, and it will continue to be super, super important.

Mark Dawson: So the next thing is kind of connected to email list, and that is to build an advanced team. So an advanced team known by lots of different terms. They can be called beta readers, advanced readers, street teams, all kinds of different ways to describe them, but they kind of do the same thing. These are effectively super fans who are usually self-selecting. So you might put out a call to your list and ask for people to join your advanced team. So these people will come along and it's not a transaction. You're not requiring them to do something at least you shouldn't be because you can get into trouble with things like Amazon review policy quite quickly if you start requiring reviews, but you're engaging with them in a slightly different way than you would to the rest of your list. I can only talk from my own experience and what I do with my readers.

Mark Dawson: I will send them the new Milton book, for example, after it's been copy edited, and I'll ask them if they want to, if they have time and the inclination to read the book and come back to me with comments. And some of my advisor, I mean, they're so generous because of the time they take, I'll get like 15 page word documents coming back with really considered comments, picking up mistakes, not just typos. They'd take care of that too, but telling me things that I didn't know I needed to know. So I have some fairly senior police officers who helped me with Atticus. I have some people serving either retired or still serving in the military who helped me with Milton, and these are things I don't know. I didn't know that I had got something wrong on how to land a helicopter. Luckily, one of my readers is a helicopter pilot and was able to tell me that I'd got something wrong and went beyond that and actually told me, this is how you should say that.

Mark Dawson: This is what would happen in that case. So that's amazing. Then beyond that, once the book has been proofread and uploaded, you can then ask those guys again, you're not requiring it, but you're saying that if you would like to now leave a review, that would be amazing. And not everyone is going to do that, but lots of them will. You might hear a bit of background noises. My gardener goes around with a leaf blower. But anyway, we'll ignore that. They'll go onto the Amazon and they'll leave a review, which is great because when you then have the book ready to be sold to wider readers or even readers who aren't on your list, readers who just browsing for a new book, they suddenly see reviews. That's social proof and again, really, really helpful when we start to advertise as well, because this is cold, this is awful.

Mark Dawson: Internet term cold traffic readers who dunno anything about us coming to our sales page for the first time, they see a few reviews, positive reviews that's going to make them feel more comfortable that this might be the kind of book that they would like to read. Alright, so the next thing is, and there's more, there's a tonne more on advanced readers, there's a lot more they can do, which is all of that will be covered in the launch pair course in that all of these things are covered in much, much more detail with tactics and strategies specific to each particular thing. But the next thing I want you to think about is metadata. So this is the data that we include when we upload our book to Amazon. So I mean metadata includes things like the cover, the blurb, all of that, but it also includes the kind of keywords that we are going to be using, those seven slots that Amazon give us.

Mark Dawson: It will also include categories, tags, all of these kinds of things that can improve the book's visibility and make it more searchable for people looking for their next read. So is, I mean it's a big topic and beyond really what I've got the scope to go into on this podcast, but it's important that we address that, the provision of those keywords from a reader perspective, we want to think about what kinds of keywords are readers who like our kinds of books using to find those kinds of books. And then we use those keywords and we hope that when they search on those particular terms, our book will appear in the search results. That's kind of organic traffic. We're not paying for that, we're just making sure, and Amazon loves relevance. We're making sure that our book is book and reader come together and it's a relevant book for what that reader is looking for at that particular time.

Mark Dawson: More likely than not to see that that reader will have a good experience with that, but once they get into it, now that's also important. Or the thinking behind metadata and keywords is also important for ads and particular Amazon ads because what we'll be doing in that case is using the same principles to make sure that when someone searches on a particular term, so let's just say small town romance, that's our keyword. When someone is searching for small town romance, we want our book, we know we write small town romances that are exactly what these kinds of readers are going to be looking for. We want to make sure that our book appears in the search results as a sponsored search results when they're looking through in that process. So again, really important and the underpinning logic behind the keywords that we use for our books and also the keywords that we will be bidding on in an ad campaign is very, very similar.

Mark Dawson: Now, again, this is slightly more speculative, but I'm going to chuck it in there anyway. I think it's quite likely that Amazon is indexing our sales pages with a particular eye on the kind of content in those pages. So I think keywords or the frequency of words will also be relevant in things like the blurb, possibly the reviews, anywhere that you can see on the sales page. I think that is an ability, if we can amend that text, if there's a field that we have some control over, I think it is something that can increase the visibility of the book in terms of organic search and also in the ad campaign, Amazon is always looking for relevancy. What's relevant ads to be served to read is looking for that kind of book. I think if we can give Amazon signals that the sales page is relevant to the keywords that we're bidding on.

Mark Dawson: So if it is small town romance, Amazon wants to make sure that we are actually selling a small town romance. All of that kind of comes together in what should be a virtuous circle to ensure that readers get what they expect. Amazon is all about the reader, all about the customer, remember. So we want to make sure that the experience is not unexpected for them. They're getting what they think they're going to be getting. Again, metadata a big, big topic. It is important to get your head around it. I know it can seem daunting and I'm only really giving it a five minute overview here, but it is important to get that understood and of course that's all covered in the course. Okay, the next one is networking. I hate that word. I dunno why I put that in there. I used to hate the idea of it before I was an indie author and I was a lawyer or after that when I worked in the film industry, when I was going to events where I was expected to do small talk with people, I used to absolutely hate it.

Mark Dawson: I wasn't good at it. I wasn't good at public speaking, I wasn't good. I wasn't even good at making phone calls. I remember when I was younger, hated the idea of making a phone call. So yeah, networking not a great word. What we are really talking about here is kind of meeting people and making friends. That's what it means in this context, and I think it is really helpful to find a community of like-minded authors who are able to share their experiences with you. And again, I hate using the word journey, but because it's the first thing that pops into my mind, these are authors are going to be on the same journey as you. They're going to be having the same experiences and they may encounter problems that you've yet to encounter and they can offer you solutions. You might be able to do the same for them.

Mark Dawson: You can swap services, cross-promotion opportunities, and perhaps even more important than that, it's just being with your tribe. And I'm in, I'm here on my own today. I haven't spoken to anyone since Lucy and my daughter went off earlier this morning and I'm fine with that. I quite like my own company. But there are times when we are working on a manuscript and especially when you get into the slog, the sticky middle, and you doubt yourself. I doubt myself all the time thinking that this is rubbish. Readers are going to hate it. We all feel that way. This is not something that is exclusive to me as a writer. It won't be something that's exclusive to you. And finding a place where you can unburden yourself or the things that are bothering you, finding people who are able to offer support and advice that is going to be invaluable, absolutely invaluable.

Mark Dawson: So there are loads of places you can go for that. I mean, online communities are great. There's Discord servers, Facebook groups, S P F community. It's a good place to look, 20 books to 50 k, another good place to look. And there's also places where you can actually do that live. So I'm going to tell you, I'm going to shill for our live conference, but it's a really, really good place to meet people doing what you do. So it could be just lots of other writers, it can feel really energising to be in a room with 800 writers doing this amazing job just like you are. Or maybe you want to find writers writing the same kind of genre that you do. And we try to make it easier with badges and meeting places where you can meet fantasy authors or sci-fi authors or thriller authors or contemporary romance authors.

Mark Dawson: It's just a really, really good venue to do that. And one of the things that we are really keen on is people who come to the conference leave with a spring in their step because number one, they've learned some stuff they didn't know. And number two, they've been in their tribe for two days and then they can go back to their towns and their cities, different countries energised and ready to get back to their desks to start writing again. So if you want to be involved in that, tickets are available for the show next year, June 25th and 26th in London, and you can go to s p s Live Dock, sorry, I'll say that again. It's self-publishing formula.com/spss live, and you can get all the details on that and I think the early bird price is still available, so to get involved there. Alright, next thing is distribution strategy.

Mark Dawson: So how are we going to sell our book? We've got our best book, we've professionally marketed it, we've got a great cover, we've got a great blurb, it's on the store, or maybe we are thinking about putting on the store, but what do we do? How do we decide that that could be going exclusive with Amazon and kdb Select, meaning that we get into Kindle Unlimited or it might be going wide, so we want to be on Amazon, Cobo, Barnes and Noble, Google everywhere, or perhaps we want to sell direct maybe. And this is definitely a trend which is becoming more and more prevalent and important I think is actually not having a retailer and taking maybe 95% of the cover price rather than 70% using something like Shopify Gumroad. Lots of places where we can do this directly and send ads directly to our website to sell to readers using book funnel perhaps for fulfilment.

Mark Dawson: It's a very, very important decision to make. When I was putting the launchpad course together, this particular module was the one I had the most difficulty with because it really does, as I discovered trying to get this right, it's a very personal decision. You might have an ethical problem with just going with one retailer philosophically, maybe you don't like the idea of having all your eggs in one basket and you want to spread your risk, which in that case you might want to be in on all the retailers. On the other hand, maybe you don't want to learn everything and you know that Amazon is the biggest market by a factor of, I dunno how many, and you want to make sure that you get that right first. Maybe your readers are all on Kuku and it would be a bad decision for you to try and forge a path yourself on a channel that isn't as well known for, say, reverse har romances or whatever it is.

Mark Dawson: They're all on ku, so you probably should be there. But it's one of those things that you've just got to think about yourself. You've got to assess how you feel philosophically, strategically what your ethics say, all of these things, political decisions, lots of things that it's not possible really for me to prescribe. And this is me as a very happy exclusive author with Amazon and I've been in and out two or three times now. So I've got lots of experience and I love the other retailers too, but for me financially it makes more sense to me to be in KU. That may be different for you and it's not something that I'm able to tell you what to do, but what I can do is give you the pros and cons of all of the approaches and then you can make that decision for yourself.

Mark Dawson: But again, really important and everything else from that will diverge depending on what you decide to do. So things like your ads and your promotion strategy, marketing will all be dependent upon that decision is important. Okay, couple more. My voice is going to go in a minute. I've been going for 44 minutes. This is a marathon. So marketing and promotion, again, super important. We need to work out how we're going to be telling readers about our stuff. So that might be paid advertising, Amazon or Facebook almost certainly. I think that's kind of essential. Now we can't really get away from that. It might be doing book giveaways. So giving a free book away, people say, does that still work? It does still work. I do it all the time. I've got an ad on Facebook in the US and the UK just continually churning, giving away a copy of Tarantula, which is a novella in the Milton series, adding readers to my list all the time.

Mark Dawson: I think $10 a day, 10 pounds a day on both those marketplaces, just continually adding readers to my mailing list. They get the book and then they'll get another email a week or two later telling 'em about the cleaner, the first book in the series, which they'll have to pay for. It could be book fairs, maybe there's a ComicCon type thing that might be suitable for your kind of book or it could be a virtual book tour loads and loads of avenues that we can look at in order to put together a marketing strategy. But it is important to sit down and think about how we are going to do that. And maybe we want to mirror an author in our genre who has been successful doing a certain thing. So if you are doing romance, maybe you want to look at someone like Lucy Score who has gone from selling not that many to selling an absolutely vast amount of books and you might want to mirror what she's done.

Mark Dawson: You might want to mirror what I've done. If you're writing thrillers or other authors doing really cool things on TikTok or different channels that I don't use, maybe I might want to look at how someone is using TikTok as free organic traffic generation, not costing me anything to do that apart from time and see if I could generate some more interest in my books that way. Loads of things that we can think about, but it's important to actually have a plan. I think that kind of sitting back and just chucking stuff up and crossing our fingers, probably not going to be a very effective use of our time. Alright, so the last thing is just continuous learning and adapting. So things change all the time. I've been doing this a while now and I have seen significant changes. So the rise and fall decline of 99 cent as a price point 99 pence is a price point that's happened. It still works, but probably not as well as it once did. Promotional channels come and go Places like Pixel of in from the olden days, a really, really effective kind of BookBub precursor, disappeared completely, but was really, really, really powerful when it came along.

Mark Dawson: Those things come and go. I mean, hello books. Our own version of that kind of promotional lever has only been around for a couple of years. BookBub arrived out of nowhere with a huge list, straight out the gate and was effective from day one. But you need to know about these things. If you don't know, you can miss the boat. Amazon ads, Facebook ads, different ways to make those work. Different approaches to try. Some writers having success with a particular way of doing things, other writers, doing things a different way. You need to keep your finger on the pulse so that you know what's working, what isn't working, what's worth testing and experimenting with. And a good place to do that on an online community. A place like our genius group for students of launchpad, really a vibrant group, lots going on. The wider community on Facebook, the SS P F community.

Mark Dawson: Another great place to spot trends, ask questions, develop your own strategy, work out new tactics that will be particularly effective for you and your books. But it is important to always keep an eye on things. I mean, look at ai. This came out of nowhere over, well, Joanna Penn would say it hasn't come out of nowhere, but for most people the last year would've been quite disruptive. Things are changing very fast and it would be easy to be scared by these things sometimes The same thing happened when KU came along. So it's important to learn what's happening, learn how to take advantage of it, learn enough so that you have a sense of perspective that it probably doesn't mean the end of your career, but just new opportunities that we can all take advantage of. So, and we do keep the course up to date so when things change, if something isn't working anymore, we'll take that out and we'll replace it with something that reflects things that we are seeing as being effective.

Mark Dawson: New strategies and promotional tactics that are working. So if you want to learn about launchpad, you can go to self-publishing formula.com/launchpad. It goes live on Wednesday, the 1st of November. All the details will be there. We'll have some emails going out, sending out the content that you'll be able to enjoy, take advantage of, and we'll be available for questions you can get me at any time really at Mark at self publish inform me.com. If you want to ask me about launchpad or the ads course, whatever you want, I can grab me on Facebook in the community as well if you tag me. And I'll usually reply if things are, I'm not too busy with other stuff, but I will, I'll sign off there. And it's kind of 50 minutes of a solo episode and it's fun. I enjoyed it. It was a good one. I think it's useful to come back and look at this every now and again, even if you've been doing it for a while.

Mark Dawson: Just refreshing my outlook on the important things, the important foundational building blocks that I have used over time to build my career. Sometimes those blocks will start to crumble a bit and they need to be refreshed, repaired, or even replaced as one thing becomes out of date. And we need to replace it with something that's more current. So a useful opportunity for me to do this. I've enjoyed the process of preparing this morning and then waffling on for 50 minutes this afternoon, but I will sign off there back next week with James. I think we've got another interview. We've got quite a lot in the can, some good stuff coming up that I think you're going to find enjoyable, but I will sign off now. I've got to pack my case because the family will after 10 AIF for half term, we've got a taxi coming to pick us up tomorrow. So lots and lots of things for me to do before that happens. So I will say have a wonderful weekend Friday as you get this. You have a fantastic Saturday, fantastic Sunday, and that you're ready to get back to your desk on Monday with that spring in your step that I mentioned earlier. Ready to write some new words and hopefully sell some more books. But it's me, Mark Dawson, signing off back next week. But until then, bye-bye.

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