SPS-409: Catering for the Christian Market – with Thomas Umstattd
Websites for authors, Podcasting for authors, and the separated Christiaan publishing market. Thomas Ummstadt, a fellow podcaster whose show is dawning on it’s ten year anniversary, joins us to talk about a variety of topics based in the knowledge he’s accumulated over that decade and more!
- Search engine optimization tips.
- Thomas’s Podcasts.
- Indie data accessibility.
- Christian literature and publishing.
- Facebook ads, Amazon ads, and AI.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
SPS LIVE: Get your digital tickets here
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
Catering for the Christian Market – with Thomas Umstattd
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
James Blatch: To be a writer. Yes, hello and welcome. It is the Self-Publishing Show with me James Blatch
Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: People will wonder if I've been abducted by aliens leaving you alone to do the podcast, but you do such a good job, mark. I mean, I must say, if this doesn't sound too patronising, well done.
Mark Dawson: Thank you very much. It does sound very patronising and I'll take it anyway. Yeah, no, it's nice to take it off your plate at least once a month and I quite enjoy it.
James Blatch: Yeah, therapy for, you're talking to yourself
Mark Dawson: For those Don who skip those episodes. I've done one actually because this goes out. I would've done one last week where I talked about the foundational strategies and tactics for new authors, and it is, I did about 50 minutes with a little script. Well actually not own a script, some headlines and then kind of just waffled on about those for a little bit and tie them back to some personal anecdotes and things that I've done over the course of the last 10 years or so. It was quite fun. I actually had, after I had a call with some Amazonians and they said they also enjoy it, which number one says that they were listening, which makes me nervous and I had number two, it was very nice that people, of course, they could just be saying that they were talking to me on the phone and they don't want to be,
James Blatch: They were blowing smokers. The Americans say, I
Mark Dawson: Think that is what the Americans say. Yes, but no, I think it's nice hopefully for the audience as well. It gives you a little bit of variety rather than we've done 404 episodes of you interviewing someone,
James Blatch: So
Mark Dawson: Now and again might be quite nice for people to hear what I think about stuff, but yeah, I'm enjoying it.
James Blatch: The interviews don't stop though. I interviewed on Monday night, I think it was Monday or Tuesday night, Stephen King's personal assistant of 30 years who's just retired a couple of years ago and kept it secret from Steve as she calls him, but she has now started writing co mysteries and she never told him, but someone else told him on Twitter, and he's now aware
Mark Dawson: That well, hopefully if she doesn't get a positive blur for the cover, then I don't.
James Blatch: Well, she's very modest and she doesn't want to ask him about anything and she doesn't. She said, I don't want to put him in that position if he doesn't like the books and thinks they're awful, he's just going to be polite
Mark Dawson: To
James Blatch: Her. She's very lovely like that. But anyway, it was very interesting talking to her about his methodology. She started in 1985 to hear a bit about Stephen King writing those books back in the day and how that all worked. Anyway, that's coming up at some point in the future. We have an interview with someone else today to Mark Emad I want to say, but it's actually Thomas Emad. He's in Texas, and it's a really good interview, particularly if you are at the first stage of your career, I think a kind of health check on all the basics you need to be getting right. It kind of follows on from what Mark was talking about last week, which leads me onto nicely to our course SPF Launchpad. Launchpad is the course that will set your foundation up in order for you to start selling your books, everything you need to get in place.
It's not simply a case of just throwing your book up on Amazon and crossing your fingers, which may have worked in 2009, doesn't work in 20, 23, 24. You need to have quite a reasonable amount in place. So we have this all-encompassing course, the starter course for authors, and you can find out all about it at self-publishing formula.com/launchpad. That is open for another week or so until 2024. So check it out, join us, and getting on the Facebook group that goes along with that course and we'll have fun getting everything right together, getting ourselves ahead of the game, talking of which getting ahead of the game. AI is doing that. For authors like Billy at the moment, mark, you and I both quite excited about using it in various ways. You are more the tech guy you're getting. I mean, I can see even in our interactions within SPF how you are using chat GPT to increase productivity, to increase effectiveness of decision making and what we do, and I'm big into images and the sort of assets you need to run ads, particularly Facebook ads, but this is something that is transforming our landscape at the moment, isn't it?
Mark Dawson: Absolutely. Yeah. Just saying to you offline, not sure I've mentioned it on the podcast yet, but I had a chat with Joanna Penn, who is certainly several leagues ahead of us when it comes to what she's doing with AI and has been into it for ages. She showed me something the other day, which I thought was amazing. You basically take your book as APDF, upload it to Claude, which is another large scale language model, and ask it to read it and write a blurb for you. And it did, and it was really good. I tested on a novella and it was like, my God, that is not a million miles off being ready oven ready and you can do it chat g PT will write blurbs for you, but you have to kind of tell it what the book is about, what the kind of tone is, the kind of,
James Blatch: There's a word limit on Chapter GT 3000 I think maybe the top.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, but I don't think, well, no, I know you can't upload a document, so you could cut and paste quite a long extract if you wanted to, but the Claude's word limit is I think a hundred thousand. So you could get away with a
James Blatch: Yeah
Mark Dawson: Sized novel, upload it, ask it to identify tropes for you, and then to write a blurb and it cuts out Che G PT makes it easy, but this makes it even easier. You don't even have to do anything and then it gives you the document or the blurb to word work with, and you probably do have to massage it. I think it would need a little bit of TLC, but not much. It was
James Blatch: That's amazing.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it is just so amazing in the last two weeks being able to, now, I dunno if you've seen this, you can upload an image into Chat G PT and ask it to describe the image.
James Blatch: Yes, you can say what? What's the calorie count for this dish and photograph of your food? I saw someone the other day photographing their cupboard saying, can you analyse my herb collection? God, and it did a really good job of saying how balanced they were and what you're probably missing. I've
Mark Dawson: Seen someone do that with a fridge and say, what
James Blatch: Must
Mark Dawson: Be a good idea with these ingredients? Which is, I mean,
James Blatch: It is amazing. Anyway,
This leads me onto the fact that we have a course called AI Marketing for Authors. Now, if you're in our Ads for authors programme, you will get this as part of that package, but we are because it's so important and there's going to be this golden opportunity which comes out every now and again. Again to get your noses out in front for a few months, maybe 18 months, two years before the rest of the author world catch up. We are going to put that course out as a standalone so people can grab it. We'll give you more details in the very near future about that. We'll price it as keenly as we can, but obviously we don't want to undermine the fact that people have invested NA for authors do get a premium, so we will have to charge something for it for sure. Okay, right. Mark. 1 million,
1 million pounds. A million billion pounds. All right. I think we need to go on with our interview, which is with Thomas Ummstadt. I keep pronouncing it in the German way, but Ummstadt, I dunno how he said it. He says at the beginning of the interview. Anyway, but this is Thomas, who's in Texas. He runs a little publishing empire. He has a podcast mainly to do with Christian style romance, and fiction crosses actually all the genres, but within that broad umbrella, which is very hard to define, but he's very keen and very up to date, I think on the latest techniques. Although he did pay dues to you, I think Mark learned a lot of his stuff in the early days from you and us and SPF. Anyway, let's hear from Thomas then Mark, and I'll be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Thomas Ummstadt. Have I said that correctly? Ummstadt
Thomas Ummstadt: Ummstadt.
James Blatch: Okay. I was going a little bit German there, Germanna with Unad, but Unad will work. Yes. I wasn't sure actually when I saw your name, whether you're being Berlin, but you are in the US Of course, everyone has a heritage from somewhere around the world.
Thomas Ummstadt: Yeah, lots of imports over here, especially a lot of Germans here in Texas, that's for sure.
James Blatch: There you go. Okay, so we are going to be talking, well, you've been in publishing for some time, I think Thomas Christian Publishing in particular, so we're going to talk about those two tranches, but
why don't you give us the skinny on your background?
Thomas Ummstadt: Yeah, so I got started about 15 years ago. I spoke at my first writer's conference in 2009. I started building websites for authors in 2007, so that's where I got started was on the web design side. And back then people were going traditionally publishing for the most part since they get this big 5,000, $10,000 advance, and the first thing they'd want to spend their money on is a website. So being in the author website business was a really good business back then. And as people transitioned to indie publishing and they started experiencing costs of editing and covers and all of that themselves and stopped getting advances, the website budgets got squeezed. So the transition to indie was rough for the website business, but we actually pivoted and started making WordPress plugins for authors to make it easier to build an author website. So we developed the MyBook table plugin, which is the most popular bookstore plugin for authors. I've since sold it to another company, but I think it's still the number one most downloaded WordPress plugin.
James Blatch: What's the plugin called?
Thomas Ummstadt: My book table. It allows you to build a bookstore on your website,
James Blatch: But
Thomas Ummstadt: Without having any sales yourself. So instead of the buy button going through your own checkout, it has an affiliate link to Amazon affiliate link to Barnes and Noble and affiliate. It's got little buttons for 20 or 30 different stores. So if you just want Amazon, you can do Amazon, but it allows you to have series and authors. And if you write a lot, if you're following the self-publishing formula, it makes adding your 12th book a lot easier. If you just have one book, it's probably more than you need, but if you have 30 books, it's a lifesaver. And so anyway, we developed that plugin back in 2013 and launched it. And I also that year started the novel marketing podcast where we were teaching book marketing. So we're coming up on 10 years of novel marketing as well. Yeah, so I've just spent a lot of time helping authors in various aspects of the business. The podcast ended up taking off and I needed to focus and prune my life, so I sold the website, spun off the website business, sold the plugins, so I don't do that anymore. I'm not here to sell websites, but I do know a lot about search engine optimization and how to get your book page to outrank Amazon when someone searches for your book. And since then I've just been coaching and teaching authors on how to sell more books.
James Blatch: Great. Well, let's pick up a couple of those themes. In fact, let's start with websites. It's funny, I think in the time that we've been doing this podcast, the 400 odd episodes, I think author websites were something you should have because it's your own little bit of space on the internet, and then they dipped probably in importance, but they're suddenly back in importance. Now, direct selling is all the buzzword. Having a good website with a good optimization and your own store is suddenly like forefront of everyone's minds.
I do think the optimization is a bit of a dark art for most people don't really understand it or how to do it. SEO, can you talk to us a little bit about that? Any takeaway tips we can learn?
Thomas Ummstadt: It is something that you need to study, but it's not nearly as complicated as you might think. If I were to give a couple of quick tips, one would be use WordPress. Because WordPress is by far the most optimised of the platforms and it's the tools for search engine. Optimising a WordPress page are much more robust and much easier to use than say a Wix or Squarespace. Wix and Squarespace have the basics, but they don't help you figure out what to do. And so you actually need more education and you have less ability. And if you are using WordPress, the Yost SEO plugin is the plugin that I recommend. It's excellent, and it has little dots, and you turn those dots green so it tells you what to do. And it comes with free training. They have a free course on search engine optimization that you can go through on their website that will teach you some of the basics of how to have a good meta title, how to have a good meta description, good headings, kind of the basics of keyword optimization, search engine optimization.
And then the final tip I would give is research what terms you want to rank for. And as an author, the main terms you want to rank for, you want to rank for your name, you want to control your name on the search results pages. And so if somebody does a search for your name and it goes to a page that you don't control, even if it's a Facebook or Twitter page that you feel like you control, but really that company could pull that away from you at any time, that's a scary, scary place to be. So you want the number one result for your name to be your website, and ideally you want the number one result for each of your book titles to be a page on your website specifically for that book. So the most common mistake authors will make when search optimising their websites is having a books page that lists all of their books with links to Amazon that's search optimising Amazon, because Google will see that page and then see the links to those books on Amazon and just send people straight to Amazon, which takes away your opportunity to get affiliate money.
And it takes away your opportunity to get a direct relationship with that reader. So you want a page all about each one of your books with quotes and book club resources and all kinds of fun stuff. That's stuff that's not even on Amazon maps. If you write fantasy, put some high-res maps there, especially if you have an audiobook. It's an audiobook fantasy reader. I'm so irritated when I want to see a map of an author's world and I go to their website and it's this tiny little low resolution picture. It's like, I want to zoom in. I want to be able to experience your world. Don't give me a second class experience paying more than the ebook people.
James Blatch: So
Thomas Ummstadt: Put all that on one page and that page will be much more likely to rank for your book title on.
James Blatch: That's such a good tip. So I'm busy googling my name here and my title, see what comes up. So my name does pretty well, james blatch.com, cold War author, which and my website, second is my Amazon page, third is my Twitter account, fourth is my Facebook, fifth is my Instagram, and then it's all me. And there is a guy called James Black who's a bodybuilder in Sydney who used to pop up on the first page as well. It's all me now. So I'm doing pretty well there.
Thomas Ummstadt: Yeah
James Blatch: When I put in the final flight, actually the top result is my book on Amazon and everything else is Challenger, the Space Shuttle Disaster. I think they did a drama doc called Challenger the Final Flight. But you're quite right, so it goes to Amazon. Actually, my page jamesblatch.com does not rank with my book title name. So that is an area I would need to look into.
Thomas Ummstadt: That's right. Another thing I recommend is to try to buy your book title.com. So the final flight.com is actually available. Somebody could buy it, but it's available in the aftermarket, so it's $3,500. It's probably more than you want to spend,
James Blatch: And
Thomas Ummstadt: You can't always buy your book title. The more common your book title is, the more likely somebody else will own it. But when I'm working with an author to brainstorm titles for their book, that's one of the things we'll [email protected] available because when you're doing media, it's really nice to be able to say, go to the final flight.com to learn more about my book, the Final Flight. And that way you get to reiterate, you keep saying your book title over and over again on the media interview, and it sticks in people's heads.
James Blatch: Yes, that was a good one. Unfortunately, my other book, dark Flight is 2,134 pounds. That's about two and a thousand dollars. Let's see, desert Venom, which is the most unusual in my titles if that's available. Yes, one pence for the first year. So I can do it with Desert Venom, but I can't do it with the other. I've chosen two. Well, I suppose there's a balance here because you want it to be a really sexy title for your book, and that's going to make it probably a good domain, an expensive domain.
Thomas Ummstadt: That's right. And the more important thing is that the title is good on Amazon. It looks good on your cover, but the secondary consideration I would say is the.com. I would say buy it now before this episode goes live. Somebody else will buy it and then try an for a markup. They set it
James Blatch: For a hundred dollars. Yeah. Hey, they're really good tips. That's superb. Thank you very much.
And is this the sort of thing that you are working with authors on? Because I know always you have your podcast, but do you work directly with authors as well? You have author services?
Thomas Ummstadt: Not much anymore. The podcast is my main business. We're patron supported, and I also have courses for authors. I do some coaching and consulting here and there, and a lot of my courses include Live q and A Elements and live coaching. But the podcast was really taken off, and that's the main engine for what I do.
James Blatch: Okay.
And tell us about the podcast. Is this a solo effort with you?
Thomas Ummstadt: So the Novel Marketing podcast started off as a co-hosted podcast. I co-hosted it with James Ella Rhubarb, who at the time was a award-winning author, and now he's in the Hall of fame. So they made him ineligible for more awards by putting him in the Hall of Fame. He was scooping them all up, but he stepped down from actively co-hosting three or four years ago, and he still comes on occasionally as a guest. And as far as I know, it's the longest running book marketing podcast in the world. So we've been doing it for a really long time. There's some older podcasts for authors, Joanna Penn's been doing it longer and writing excuses have been doing it longer. And when did y'all start? You may be. Well, we've
James Blatch: Just done our as well, just done our 400th episode was last week and we're weekly, so 400 divided by 52, 6 years, something like that. Is
Thomas Ummstadt: That right? Okay. Yeah. So we weren't that consistent in the early days, so we weren't doing it weekly until 20 17, 20 18. I think
James Blatch: My math is terrible. Over seven and a half years we've been doing it.
Thomas Ummstadt: I have a rule never to do math live on me because crazy, I always do it wrong. Crazy,
James Blatch: Crazy. As I started to say the sentence, I realised the trap I'd set for myself, but there you go.
So how long have you been going then?
Thomas Ummstadt: So our first episode was in October of 2013, so our 10 year anniversary is next month.
James Blatch: Yeah, that's terrific. I mean, that's elder statesman in the world of indie publishing in particular, which is still in the foothills. Really?
Thomas Ummstadt: You're making me feel old James. You're making me feel old. Sorry, you're
James Blatch: Younger than me, so there you go. So that's my job. Yeah. So you've got your podcast and the website business is just something you have the knowledge of.
So in your podcast, do you do mainly interviews or do you talk through lessons and do some instruction stuff?
Thomas Ummstadt: Ideally it's a mix 50 50 where I do a solo episode where I'll teach something. So last week we're working through the four Ps of marketing. So I did the first P, so occasionally I'll go back to a marketing 1 0 1 topic. And so it is a mix of sometimes a really advanced interview. A week before that, I interviewed an author's wife who helped him build a self-publishing business. They sold over a million copies, but we weren't talking about writing at all. She handles the business sites, we're talking LLCs, we're talking copyrights. And so we got really in the weeds. And so after that episode I was like, I better take a step back and talk some big picture stuff. We try to have a mix of stuff for beginners and stuff for more advanced authors. But yeah, we talk a lot of technical things. So websites, but also a lot of marketing psychology, how to create urgency, how to leverage scarcity, what's the psychology behind pricing, that sort of thing.
James Blatch: That's great. And pitching I think is always the most difficult thing to do, particularly when we get asked to do conferences. It's hard to look at a room full of authors and you will know that for some of them, everything's going to be over their head. They dunno what the language you're talking about. Others in the room will say, go, I did this five years ago. Why am I listening to this? And so getting that right from the majority audience, I always find quite difficult.
Thomas Ummstadt: We surveyed our listeners several months ago and I was surprised how many listeners kind of pick and choose the
James Blatch: Episodes that they
Thomas Ummstadt: Listen to. And because, because we have such a broad variety of people just getting started and industry professionals and people who are marketing directors at publishing companies who listen, there's a lot of innovation amongst indies because indies have such good access to the data. This is the biggest thing I talked to authors about when they're trying to decide between traditional and independent is will you have access to marketing data when you do some sort of promotion effort will, whether it was successful or not. There's
James Blatch: A
Thomas Ummstadt: Lot of superstitions passed between traditional authors and they don't know that that's not working. They're still spending time on Facebook thinking that if they get more Facebook likes, that will lead to more sales. It's like that doesn't work anymore. But if you can't measure, you won't know. And some traditional publishers will give their authors a dashboard. Sometimes you have to ask for it. Sometimes their royalty management system just can't support it. But sometimes it's just a few clicks of a button. It depends on the publisher, but if you don't know to ask that question, you won't get the data. But all indies have access to their KDP dashboard. They can know how many sales came in on January 14th and if it was more or less than January 13th. So they're able to innovate very quickly and they don't have to ask permission to try crazy off the wall things. And most of the time it fails, but occasionally it doesn't. And when it doesn't, that can become a new best practise that other authors can use.
James Blatch: It is amazing the amount of data we have, isn't it that we can work out basically how many clicks we need for sale, more or less. You could average that over, you don't need that big a sample of data six months and you've nailed it and then you can really start focusing your campaigns around that. You can start accurately measuring budgets and doing stuff that even big companies 20 years ago with all the surveying that they did, it was really
Thomas Ummstadt: And big companies. Today I was talking with a marketing director, I won't name the company. This is a large publishing company, and this marketing director said that he got the data, the sales data once a week at the Friday meeting from the sales department. So Monday through Thursday, he's dealing with last week's data purely because of politics, purely because of intercompany politics. And it's like, no wonder his job is tough. You got to have better data than that.
James Blatch: Now you also have a publishing company or you write Christian books yourself.
Thomas Ummstadt: Yeah, a second podcast called the Christian Publishing Show. And this podcast is shared on one of the top literary agent blogs in the Christian space, probably the top Christian publishing blog. It's a Steve Lobby blog. So the episodes go out on Christian publishing show.com, but they also go out on steve lobby.com and that is more craft focused and it's more focused on the Christian genre, which is unique in some ways from a business perspective. It's more like the comic book market than it is like other genres because it has its own publishers, its own distribution company. So Ingram's not the biggest player, arguably in Christian publishing distribution with the stores. It's a company called Anchor and at its own retail. So you go to, I don't know how it is in the uk, but in the US we have comic book shops.
James Blatch: They
Thomas Ummstadt: Sell comic books and board games. Well, we also have in the US Christian bookstores that sell Christian books and many churches will operate a bookstore in the foyer. So you open up the doors to the church and before you get into the sanctuary, you're walking through a bookstore. And so from a business perspective, it's very unique from the difference between say, fantasy and romance in the secular market.
James Blatch: So this might sound like a silly question, what is a Christian book? I mean know I've come across Sweet Romance, Christian Romance, and I know that's a subs genre because romance is every subs genre you could ever possibly think of, but
a Christian bookshop is you just alluded to fantasy and I mean the Christian based thrillers and fantasy and all the genres there.
Thomas Ummstadt: Yes. And the question, what is a Christian book is actually hotly debated in one way. We've had a lot of episodes on with a lot of different perspectives. I think the best way to understand it is to understand where Christian books came from and why there's a separate everything. So in the States back in the fifties, Christians got pushed out of publishing, and I had an interview with Les Doby who was around back then. He was running bookstores in the fifties in a publishing company in the sixties, and he's at the very end of his career. And I just tell me the story of Christian Publishing. You were there the whole time, and so it's a great interview and if you're curious about the history, you should check it out. But Christians were pushed out of the bookstores. We were pushed out of the distribution and we were pushed out of a lot of the publishing companies.
And so what we did was create particularly conservative Christians, we created our own parallel economy, so our own publishing houses, our own distribution, and our own retail that operated completely separately for decades from traditional publishing. Then in the nineties, some of the people who started those companies in the fifties and the sixties started retiring and exiting, and they sold some of them anyway, sold their companies to the Big five publishers. So Thomas Nelson sold to Harper Collins. I think Harper Collins also bought Zondervan, but some of the Christian publishing companies are still independent in the sense of independent from the Big Five and are still owned and run by Christians. Now, Harbour Collins will hire Christians to run it, but they're running it as an imprint of their bigger company. The other big shift was in the nineties, we had our first mega hit out of Christian publishing. I don't know if you remember the Left Behind books, but they sold roughly a billion dollars worth books, really? Books they've been made into multiple motion pictures. I think they've made the first left behind movie into three movies. First book has been made into three movies. Now they're going to
James Blatch: Quality squeeze that franchise then.
Thomas Ummstadt: Yeah, so very, very popular, very, very popular series. So popular that it kind of broke out of the Christian bookstores. So suddenly you could buy left behind everywhere. They were even selling 'em at Walmart at one point. I mean, it was a very, very popular series. And once the secular market realised how much money could be made into Christian publishing, they started inviting the Christians back to the party, so to speak. And now anybody can publish Christian book and put Christian in the category on Amazon. So if you're independent, there's no gatekeepers. It used to be the Christian bookstores would have a theological motivation and they would determine what books are Christian and not Christian. And each store had its own kind of decision matrix and they're like, oh, that kind of Christian, they're too charismatic or they're too liberal or they're too conservative. And the different bookstores had their own style. Now that Amazon is in charge, Amazon's not picking winners and losers. They don't want to get into the theology. They're like, if you say you're Christian, we'll take your word for it. They're starting with the new changes, being a little more picky with the categories. But I haven't heard any Christians complaining of like, Hey, I got kicked out of this Christian subcategory. I suspect that that's a bag of cats that Amazon doesn't want to open.
So the market in some ways have gone back to how it was back in the 1940s where you'd have a publisher and they'd publish secular books and they would publish Christian books and it was the same supply chain top to bottom.
James Blatch: That's interesting. I mean, it feels a sort of uniquely American thing. I don't think we have quite the separate Christian industry. I mean, it is a big business. Christianity in the States and the churches alone look like big expensive buildings compared to, I mean ours or 1200 years old of course, but they were probably expensive back in the day. I guess we did this 1200 years ago.
Thomas Ummstadt: Yeah, incredibly expensive back in the day. And if you had invested that money 1200 years ago at even 2% interest, you'd be very wealthy today.
James Blatch: They probably cost a few lives to put up as well. But mediaeval building, it is an interesting in its own right and one that's taken more seriously probably in the States than it is in the uk,
but is it a market that international writers can get into?
Thomas Ummstadt: They can, but they have to understand the Christian market. And the most important thing, if I were to give anyone advice if they're wanting to write for the Christian market, is that you need to go to church. And ideally, I would recommend a church that's growing to kind of understand the kind of vibrant growing part of Christianity. Those are the kinds of Christians who are specifically wanting to buy, I don't want to buy romance. I want to buy a Christian romance. I don't want to buy a fantasy. I want to buy a Christian fantasy. And there are authors who are selling hundreds of thousands and millions of copies specifically and primarily to this Christian market. So while left behind is the only billion hit, there've been a lot of seven figure authors who are doing very well, both in fiction and in nonfiction, but there's authors like SD Smith who sold a million units and he's gone kind of outside of Amazon and selling directly to conservative Christians at homeschool conferences.
So there's this kind of secret world of book fairs that are presumably for homeschoolers, homeschool moms, but they're not just buying books for their children, they're also buying books for themselves. And this world, you'll have authors who'll sell 10, 20, $30,000 worth of books in a weekend and it's cash on the barrel. NPD group is not tracking it. Book scan doesn't know about these sales. Sometimes even credit card companies don't know about these sales because it's literally cash. It's not a barrel anymore. It's a conference room table, but it's being changing hands. And some of the books that are being sold aren't even for sale on Amazon, depending on again, how conservative it is. There's a distrust of big tech companies and a distrust of Amazon and specific, and some of the communities are very conservative, Amish and Mennonite, and they're buying books and they're making books. And the books about the Amish is actually a really hot genre. They're typically not written by Amish people, but there's a whole world and a whole ecosystem. And the ticket in is you need to start spending time with Christians and understand how they're different.
James Blatch: But it quite mean Christianity is a broad church. I mean, you're talking about conservative and liberal, so you're going to get presumably some tensions in your community about that. And also you mentioned fancy books. I mean, I certainly know that there's some branches of Christianity simply look at anything like that as being the devil's work.
And you must, how you hold all that together in a community. I don't know.
Thomas Ummstadt: So I should clarify when I'm saying conservative and liberal, I'm not talking about politically conservative or politically liberal necessarily. I'm primarily talking about theologically conservative and liberal. So the split between the left and the right happened in the church a hundred years ago. It's now kind of manifesting in politics. And when we are talking about the Christian market economically, almost all of the economic activity is on the right side of the market. The more progressive Christians, they're buying Harry Potter, they're buying Game of Thrones. And if a book is written by Christian so much, the better. They're not necessarily biassed against Christian authors, but they're not going to choose based off of that. And so inside of Christianity, as you say, there's lots of diversity. There's a lot of different kinds of Christians who are looking for different kinds of things, and some are very suspicious of fantastic elements. Others are okay with it, but only if it's written by a Christian. So Narnia is fine. Lord of the Rings is fine, but Harry Potter is not okay. So there's a lot of variety and understanding who specifically you're writing to and marketing to is really important. And I would say this is true for all authors because writing for audiences of tens of millions, we're all writing for
James Blatch: Thousands,
Thomas Ummstadt: Tens of thousands of hopefully millions, but that's across the planet. So suddenly we're talking about a really specific group of people that have a lot of things in common, and the more that you focus on thrilling that specific group of people, the more books you'll sell.
James Blatch: Yeah, that's interesting. Interesting area for somebody who doesn't know too much about it. Thank you.
So going back to your understanding of the industry, your 10 years of podcasting, what have been the significant changes? I mean, 10 years, you're in the early days of Kindle, three years old, probably four years old, maybe at that stage. So what have been the big landmark moments and desert Venom, which is dramatically changing now?
Thomas Ummstadt: So the early days were fun because people were buying brand new Kindles with no books on them.
So there's a time sometimes when fish get really hungry and you just throw a hook in the water and doesn't even need bait on it, and they just see the flash of the metal and they bite on the hook. That's how it was in the early days, and it's not like that anymore. One of the things that's been interesting being in the industry so long is seeing techniques that work really well going in and out of fashion. So a classic example of this is a book launch bonus. So 10 years ago, 12 years ago, it was really common to see a big bonus package of goodies delivered to people who bought the book in the first two weeks or first four weeks as a motivation for climbing up the charts. And there's a lot of authors who are able to hit various bestseller lists with this tactic, and then people started copying the tactic, but they started taking shortcuts and the bonuses got worse and worse and worse until finally the tactic stopped working, not because the underlying psychology was any good, but because the rewards weren't any good. People were putting in the bare minimum of effort. And then the consensus was, oh, launch bonuses don't work. And I've learned to be very suspicious of someone trying something and then saying that this won't work for else. No, what you learned is that the way you did it didn't work for you.
James Blatch: I tried Facebook ads this afternoon, didn't sell any books, so Facebook ads don't work. We get that post about once a week into our groups.
Thomas Ummstadt: Facebook ads goes in and out of fashion about every three weeks. And it's also common for people that have fundamental problems with their book. They either don't know who they're writing to or the cover mismatches with their genre or the book is not well written. Instead of accepting responsibility that there's a product market mismatch and the product market fit is low, they'll instead blame the marketing techniques of like, oh, I tried advertising my book on Amazon and it didn't work, therefore Amazon ads don't work.
James Blatch: It's
Thomas Ummstadt: Like I've interviewed authors who are making a lot of money, Sally advertising on Amazon. I've also talked with authors who aren't because their books don't work, the covers aren't working, or the series isn't long enough for them to be able to bid competitively. And so understanding what will work for others and understanding what will work for you requires you to understand the principles behind the tactics. And this is one of the things I really try to teach on my podcast is that I'm not just teaching a tactic of, say, a launch promotion, but I'm trying to teach the psychology behind it of scarcity and urgency and social proof. And if you understand that psychology, it allows you to craft your own strategies that will specifically work for you and for your audience.
James Blatch: Yeah, I agree completely with that. And I think the devil is always in those details, and it's also a lot, we talk about mindset as well, and you can sort of tell straight away when somebody's haven't quite got the mindset for it, looking for excuses often here when they see somebody being successful and they immediately look for a reason why that person's successful. Mark Dawson often gets this and Well, you are rich. That's why you can sell books, and he has to point out to them, yes, but I'm rich because I've sold loads of books. I used to schlep into London on the train until it wasn't worth my while. So yeah, the techniques do work. So yeah. Well, you've had a front row seat. I was going to ask, ask you what's changing now? I mean, we're talking about direct selling a lot, which you sort of alluded to at the beginning as being very important,
and AI of course is something we talk about a lot as well at the moment. Are they the things you're seeing changing as well?
Thomas Ummstadt: AI is going to have a really big impact on indie authors particularly, and to understand the impact of ai, I think it's important to go even farther back and understand the impact of the word processor. So back in the 1970s, if you wanted to write a book, you had to type it on a typewriter
And you had a copy of your book. If you wanted to submit that book to a publisher, you had to take the copy that you had typed and put it in the mail and hope it didn't get lost. You'd return and you'd include a self-addressed self stamped envelope so that if you would get that copy that you typed back, because that may have been the only copy, right? Copy machines eventually entered the stage, but the difficulty of writing a book was so high that it sorted out people pretty effectively, and if somebody didn't have what it took to write a book, they wouldn't be able to complete the book. So the act of writing the book and having a completed book already demonstrated quite a bit of competence and quite a bit of persistence. Then word perfect comes out, Microsoft Word comes out and it's got a built-in Spellchecker, and you can print on your dot matrix printer a copy of your book, and suddenly writing books opened up to more people.
People who couldn't have completed the process with the typewriter now can complete the process worth the word processor. And if you look at the number of books published, there's a giant leap in the number of books published. The number of books being read doesn't change, so there's more authors writing and more people getting bites at the pie without the pie growing in any significant way. It's growing a little bit, but not like the number of books coming in. So AI is going to do that same thing where people who couldn't have completed the process just with the word processor now can put together something halfway decent with the use of ai. There's going to be even more straws drinking out of the Kindle Unlimited Cup, right? And quality still rewarded, right? Bestselling books are selling just as many copy. Well, bestselling books still sell a lot of copies.
The Big five right now have a real challenge with their new books not resonating with current day readers. Same problem that musicians have. I suspect they've made too many political decisions and not enough data-driven decisions, but you have to get into the weeds on that, and we don't have to go there, but there's still successful hits, and there will still continue to be successful hits as AI comes out, but the barrier to entry is going to change, and that is going to change the economics, especially for authors who are kind of on the bottom rung right now. There's going to be a lot more authors on that bottom rung with them.
James Blatch: Yeah, interesting. And I think that we're going to see resistance in the communities. We're already seeing that at the moment, but we always say it's happening anyway, genie's out of the bag, and
Thomas Ummstadt: Well, the challenge is where do you draw the line, right? Because technically Microsoft Word spellcheck is ai, right? It's an algorithm that's making decisions. You're like, oh, well, that's not real ai. It's like, okay, well, where do you draw the line? It's Grammarly ai. It's a little bit more robust of a spellchecker may suggest more rephrasing. It's like, well, Grammarly's, okay, if somebody
James Blatch: Says, I'm not using ai, you can challenge them on almost everything they do during the day online and say, I mean Google searches image reverse search.
Thomas Ummstadt: I
James Blatch: Spoke to Dan Wood recently who pointed out that when you submit your book to KDP, AI has been for 10 years now, AI has been checking the quality of the book and picking up things in there and working out whether it's a well-written book or not, and whether there's any issues that need to be referred to a human or not. So if you want to opt out of ai, you are not left with very much.
Thomas Ummstadt: Are you working in an office with air conditioning? The thermostat has an algorithm that's sensing the environment and making decisions, right? It's very difficult to draw the line of like, oh, this is the good ai and that's the bad ai. And I think ultimately there'll be a lot of drama that at the end of the day, 10 years from now, all that matters is the quality and what the readers want, because ultimately, the readers are the boss, the readers are the customers, they're the ones we have to thrill, and what they want is a good story. What they want is a nonfiction book that answers their question. And if AI helped you make the story better or write it faster and they just want one right after another, then they'll continue to buy it. And if it's making it worse, they're going to go for the authors who are writing the better book and not using ai.
James Blatch: Brilliant. Thomas, it's been fascinating talking to you. Congratulations on your longevity of your podcast. We bow to your superior timeline.
Thomas Ummstadt: You'll have more episodes than we do. I'll give you that and we'll never catch up because we're not doing any more than one a week now.
James Blatch: Okay. We've got our noses in front end. That way we can look at each other as equals. No, it's been brilliant. I really appreciate it, and thank you very much for your insights and good takeaways in the interview.
Thomas Ummstadt: Yeah, thanks for having me on.
Speaker 1: This is the Self-PublishingShow. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: There you go. I'm going to do a quick plug again for SPF Launchpad, which is the foundation course. If you want to learn all this stuff that we're talking about, some of that sounded like a foreign language to you do need to get into this and you can learn all about the course at self-publishing formula.com/launchpad. Thank you very much indeed to Thomas for joining us today. All the way from Texas. Mark
Mark Dawson: Indeed. Yes. Yeah, no, it is good. It's good to hear different experiences and opinions of how the marketing is working for authors in different genres. Always often hear people saying, well, will Facebook ads work for me? I'm writing whatever. And the answer is almost always yes. If you can find the audience and Facebook makes it reasonably easy to do that, then they just ads and ads sell books. They sell everything. So yes is the non woefully way to answer that question.
James Blatch: I mean, you'll find every weird and wacky genre out there, and you'll find examples of people making money off them. So I mean, Jane Austen, fan fiction through to Bully Romance, why choose you? Name it? Oh, by the way, in terms of success, I know we mentioned her from time to time, but she's having such a stellar year. I can't stop smiling about her success, but Lucy's score last week was had three books in the New York Times Top 20.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I
James Blatch: Saw that may have been top 10. Just an incredible feat for an indie author. Origins in Indie is now sort of hybrid as obviously the big companies want a piece of the action, but very savvy about how she's doling out some of those pieces. Of course. So we love Lucy and couldn't be happier for her and Tim, who I think is out of the closet, Mr. Tim. Well,
Mark Dawson: You should probably qualify that he's not gay at Lisa, I don't think. Not
James Blatch: There's anything wrong with that.
Mark Dawson: No, he's very huggable.
James Blatch: He's very huggable.
Mark Dawson: Yes. I think he's kind of boiled by what you mean. I was going to say he's outed. He's not outed either. She has photographs of him on her social platform now, which wasn't the case for quite some time. So yes, I think his existence has been proven to her fans. Let's leave it at that.
James Blatch: Yeah, so Mr. Tim is out there, and Mr. Lucy, was it Mr. Lucy? Mr. Lucy, presumably he's now called Mr. Tim. He gets his own name, but he is very huggable. He's a huggable bear, and I've seen that happen. I've been close up when the bear's been hugged. I
Mark Dawson: Hugged him in Vegas, not Vegas.
James Blatch: You got a hair from the bug? I hug him hair from the bug.
Mark Dawson: I hug from the bear. Yeah,
James Blatch: Hug from
Mark Dawson: Hug Bear. I had hug from the And link, Amanda. Yeah, it's a very nice hug. We couldn't really be more off tangent here, couldn't we? This is sending into
James Blatch: That's a nice way to,
Mark Dawson: It's
James Blatch: A nice way to end the podcast. Cuddly,
Mark Dawson: Cuddly chaos. Yes,
James Blatch: Yes. There you go. Okay, look, getting ready for Vegas as well. So I will give some details out somewhere. You can come and say hello to us in Vegas. We'll be wandering around the corridors and I know that lots of people do come up and say hello to us then. So this is going out on the 27th, which means, yeah, we will be flying. I will be in the air on the following Friday the 3rd of November, but I'm going on a little side trip first, as I always do before Vegas with Tom, poor Tom. But we'll be around probably from Monday the sixth onwards. So do come and say hello and we'll try and make sure, mark, that you and I are in a bar at an advertised time and place. I'll work that out and I'll post that into our community group and we'll mention it on the third. Actually, no, this is going out on the third, so I'll post it into our SPF Facebook group will be somewhere at some point. I dunno how much fun Vegas is going to be because of the F one stuff there. Everyone's saying don't come to Vegas at the moment. But in fact, one guy did qualify it said, don't come to Vegas unless you're already coming because of a conference.
Mark Dawson: Right? Yes,
James Blatch: We are. So we'll see how we get on.
Mark Dawson: It'll be good.
James Blatch: It will be good. So if I hire our bikes again and do Red rocks,
Mark Dawson: I don't know if I'm there long enough for that, but yes, but if we could, it would be nice. That was a good fun that
James Blatch: I was trying to persuade someone. I think it was Stuart, and he said, oh, I won't be able to do that. And I said, no, they're electric. He goes, no, I haven't got the fitness. You do not need fitness on the electric bikes.
Mark Dawson: It'll
James Blatch: Be absolutely fine.
Mark Dawson: Everything to do. Really good fun.
James Blatch: I think Stuart, Tom, and I'll probably do it then, even if you don't,
Mark Dawson: Grinch.
James Blatch: Okay, that's it. Thank you very much to everyone who helps get this podcast to air as a huge team behind the scenes. We're very appreciative of that. That is it. All that remains for me to say, is it a goodbye
Mark Dawson: From him and a goodbye from me.
James Blatch: Goodbye. Goodbye.
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