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SPS-419: Targeting Trad Readers – with Michael R. Miller

Michael R. Miller found a passion for writing while studying law- only to see success once he took the plunge and became an independently published author. After co-creating his own resource for authors- Portal Books, he has gone on to make a name for himself in the fantasy genre. Today he joins us to talk about his operations with audiobooks, experiences with Facebook ads, and even how his American audience alters how he writes.

Show Notes

  • Portal books.
  • Epic fantasy, RPG fantasy, and worldbuilding rules.
  • Catering to an American audience.
  • The logistics of indie advertising.
  • Michael’s success with audiobooks.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

SPS LIVE: Get your digital tickets here

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Targeting Trad Readers – with Michael R. Miller

Speaker 1: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Michael Miller, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. Great to have you with us. You've gone great guns in just a few brief years, so excited to hear all about your story, but

why don't you start off by telling us a bit about yourself?

Michael Miller: Alright, thanks James. It's great to be here. Long time listener. First time calling I suppose you might say. Yeah. So I'm Michael Ah Miller. I'm an epic fantasy author. I'm best known for the Dragons Blade trilogy and the ongoing series Songs of Chaos, which is a big dragon writer, epic harkening. Back to some of the classics of the genre.

James Blatch: How did you get going in publishing there? I think you started out briefly, at least in trad.

Michael Miller: No, I've never been trad published. I did work for Bloomsbury briefly in 2017, so I'd been self-publishing for at least a year and a half by that point. I got a job at Bloomsbury in London, worked there for about a year, and then I left to start portal books, which was a digital press that focused on what RPG and Progression fantasy. And by that time my own books were just at the cusp of being viable for full time. So I took the leap a little bit early to do two things because doing all three would've been just way too much if they've collapsed.

James Blatch: Did you say you started portal books?

Michael Miller: Yeah, portal books had three founders. Me, te Mathre, who is a bestselling YA fantasy author, and our friend Brooke Abston, who was a marketer at Heinz at quite a high level. So we all had unique insights and skills and we just got along like a House on Fire. Actually met them from an event that Bloomsbury ran. It was a kind of fantasy day at the Bloomsbury offices in London where they had speakers, agents and stuff like that. It was just an event, but we were all there and we got to talking and then we found that we had a lot in common and we really were really fascinated by what RPG and what it was doing and we were all reading it and enjoying it. And so yeah, we just foolishly thought, yeah, let's try this, let's give it a go. That was back in, so we set that up in early 2018. As of last year, I'm no longer involved in the day-to-Day. I stepped down as a director. Brooke is now running the show, but in those first years it was full on lots of fun in the early days actually.

James Blatch: Yeah, so that's still going,

Michael Miller: Going stronger than ever. I just got to a stage where I was splitting my time a little bit too much into portal when my own books were doing so well. And I think when I had a bit of reflection, I always wanted to be an offer first rather than running a full business and having all the extra responsibilities and burdens of worrying about other people's livelihoods and stuff like that. It's enough to worry about your own at times, but they're going and doing better than ever, so it's really cool to see them just taking off

James Blatch: As somebody who runs a small inference. I know that very well indeed. I'd love just to concentrate on my books anyway. Yes. So you got going, you'd already started before you had that brief. Yes. I'm interested in the Bloomsbury bit because I think you were working on digital within Bloomsbury, which is for me a fascinating little glimpse into what their mindset is about digital.

Michael Miller: Yeah, so I mean, bearing on mind, this was back in 2017, so it may well have drastically changed. I was mainly working in the data side of it, so working and cleaning up some of their data internally, they were moving everything into Salesforce, so there was a lot of Excel spreadsheet work. I wasn't directly involved with making any marketing

Graphics or decisions, but I was part of the digital marketing department, so I did see what was going on there. What struck me was there at that point there didn't seem like a huge amount. I mean it was kind of the case that there was one person who we put up the social media posts if they ran some Facebook ads. It was really broad and it was just about trying to get impressions, but in the most loose sense possible. It didn't seem very targeted. It sort of seemed like every post got the same audience, kind of just blasted out generically. It wasn't targeted towards the genre type or the age range, and they were selling books directly from their own website, but they had quite strict DRM on the books and they originally downloaded this very strange Adobe files, which were just difficult and csy to work.

One thing that did happen to, whilst I was there, all the new hires got brought into a meeting with the CEO and I don't know what the purpose of it was, maybe just to, so you get to meet him or something, there was maybe 10 of us around the table and he went around asking people who'd only been there for maybe two weeks, what should we be doing differently? And I don't know what he expected to hear, but I said, you should probably take DRM off those eBooks because it's making things really difficult for people because sitting in the department, a couple of support staff were just constantly dealing with people having issues trying to load these digital books into e-readers up. You couldn't get it on a Kindle. I think it was a weird PDF file. It's all very strange. That eventually did lead to them changing how they did it because the CEO seemed a bit shocked at that, but he took notice of it and they did change how they do it.

They still watermark it, but it became a lot easier. And I don't know whether it's any different now, I don't know whether they put up generic epub files like they should, but it just struck me as very strange that they did want to compete with Amazon, but they were making it really hard for people to download directly and buy directly. And that seems like the main power of being a publisher and a fairly big one is that you should be trying to do more of that at the default, the same way that indies are trying to figure that out as well.

James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. So at that point already you'd started writing and

do you mind me asking how old you're, when you first started writing is something you grew up with or?

Michael Miller: So I'd always wanted to write, it was like the dream at the back of my head as a kid growing up, but you don't do a lot of creative writing in schools. No one really teaches it. There's not a lot of encouragement. So it was always just a back of the head pipe dream that I never took too seriously when I started writing the first. So I had chapters and hundreds of different starts to a book over the years, but never really got much further than chapter five when I started taking it seriously was I'd come down to London to do a GDL course, which is a very condensed law degree. For those that don't know, it's rather than doing a law degree in the three years, it would be one year. So it's very intense, very

James Blatch: Brutal. Can only imagine.

Michael Miller: And about halfway through that I had what I can only call a quarter life crisis and didn't want to continue on that route. I finished the course, but I started writing what became my first book at the same time and I kind of mad staying up to midnight every night doing all the coursework and then turn it right on top of it, which I couldn't handle. That'd be far too much. So I was 22 when I wrote the first book and I would've been 23 by the time it got published and that first series wrapped up when I was 25. So quite young. Quite young.

James Blatch: That's great.

And in those early days, how much did you know about self-publishing and what did you do?

Michael Miller: I was very much learn as I go sort, learn by doing. The reason I chose Self-publishing was in that moment of kind crisis and writing that first book wasn't Escape Valve, but in order to kind of chase the idea of being an author, I had to know the book could come out. I think the idea that I would write the book and then gamble with the idea of it going through agents and publishers, it would've taken a lot of time. I don't think it would've given me the same drive. So knowing that I could make it happen was really important. I could just keep pushing through all everything that was going topsy tur being a bit wrong, I could just keep pushing towards that goal really. And that kind of saved me a little bit. I think that was necessary. So that's why I chose to self-publish in the first place. And so that was late 2015, that first book came out, and I can't remember when I started finding your guys' show and other offers like this, but it's over the years, the information has osmosis sunk in. There were a lot less resources to my mind in 2015. I feel like even this podcast started in 2016, I want to say, or maybe a bit later.

James Blatch: Yeah, probably right. Yeah, 2016.

Michael Miller: Yeah, so I can't really remember where I found out a lot of that information initially, but probably just hodgepodge of sources. And of course the first time I did stuff, it wasn't very good. I learned a lot by doing. A lot of mistakes were made and a lot of lessons were learned, so just kind of figuring it out as I go along. Back then.

James Blatch: It's interesting the point you make about about wanting to know that there was an outlet for your writing. I'd never occurred to me before. That must be very dispiriting being a trad published or wannabe trad published author, we know how hard it is to write a book, writing a book, never knowing if it's going to be published or not, whereas self-publishing authors is a 100% guarantee that that is not going to go to waste.

Michael Miller: Yeah, definitely. I mean, everyone's got a different personality and outlook on it. I do think for some people, trad is the best route for them because they wouldn't feel comfortable handling all the stuff that you have to do, just not who they are. And that's great. They can go that route, but there is that risk that you will occasionally come across people who say, I have written X number of things and none of them have been picked up yet, but they still don't want to self polish, which is fine. I guess that's entirely to them. But that for me just wouldn't have worked. I think I would've, yeah, I am the type of person that quite likes having the control, having had it for so long now, I feel much more calm. Having that control naturally giving that away would terrify me at this point, I think to a certain extent. So for me, it was that knowledge that it would happen. And so even if I made mistakes and I made plenty, and even if I did stuff wrong, I could fix it, I could change it, I could learn. And that has suited me. And I think if that sounds like you, then self publishing probably does suit you as opposed to going the traditional groups.

James Blatch: Yeah. Tell us about the books, Michael. So epic fantasy. Are they big?

Michael Miller: Yeah. Oh, they're pretty big. Yeah. The last book, I put out a book in July, which is 250,000 words long. So pretty big, pretty big chunky, epic fantasy books. Yeah, so my current series, as I say, a big dragon rider, epic, kind of trying to be the spiritual successor to Aragon by Christopher Perini and his series Inheritance, I felt like, I think that series wrapped up in 2010 or 2011. By the time I got to 2018, thinking about this series, I just felt like there hadn't been a follow up. There hadn't been another one of those in some time. And I just wanted to throw my hat in the ring. It is the kind of perfect distillation of all the tropes, but yet it is boundless so you can do so much with it and then wanted to go down that road. So what makes this series different for Stops the Dragon and it is blind.

So there's a little bit of inspiration from how to Train your dragon where the kid and the dragon really need each other because the dragon and how to train your dragon can't fly without the boy hiccup. He has to engineer a tailfin onto the dragon if no one's familiar with those films. And the same in this series, because the dragon is blind, he really relies on the human boy, especially for flight because they kind of sense share and he sees through the boy's eyes. But he also, once were from really young, he was not meant to hatch. The dragons in this world are very against any weakness. So that egg was just to be destroyed, sort of chucked into the sea. And when the main character Holt finds out about this, he's just stunned. He can't believe it. He thought the dragons were so amazing.

So he saves the egg against everyone's wishes and he'll get into a lot of trouble, but he saves it anyway. And so when it hatches, it's this blind baby dragon that bonds to him. So the relationship is really, really strong. And they wanted to focus on that bond being so powerful and based on compassion, not based on a prophecy or a bloodline or rebelling against an empire, just something very pure. And I think people have really latched onto that. It's a slight twist on, it's a lot of the same tropes, but twisted and freshened up in that interesting way. And I think people have really responded to it.

James Blatch: And this is epic fantasy. But you say the portal business was around lit RPG

Michael Miller: It. Yes. Yeah, it was lit. RPG started off in the kind of classic, if you can call it the classic RPG space of the virtual reality games that people would go into and then the story takes place in there. But RPG moves very rapidly, and even within a few years it had moved away from being virtual reality to just more like you fall through a portal into a world that happens to run by game mechanics. You get sucked into another dimension, you whatever. There's some kind of apocalyptic event that for some reason turns the world into a game. People wanted to get out of their VR thing and just make basically huge, big fantasy worlds that run on very strict game-like mechanics. And nowadays it's even just moved even softer towards what we might call progression fantasy, where again, it's like big secondary worlds, but there's very, very, very hard magic systems where there's a clear rank, rank structure to how powerful you are with the magic and the nature of a lot of the books are your character starts as a level one, let's say. There are nobody, but the promise is they're going to become whatever the God tier in this world happens to be, and you're sort of seeing them go through all the stages of that. The best example of that out there is the Cradle Series by Will White, 12 books Long. It just finished this year. Hugely successful, wildly successful, and probably the best example of that genre out there.

James Blatch: Yeah, you talk about the kind of rules of this, is that the same in epic fantasy and you have to create a fairly hard universe.

We've had this conversation on the podcast before, like the prequels and styles where suddenly the force kind of lost its magic because they were so loose with the rules. Is epic fantasy? Do you have to be fairly strict about that?

Michael Miller: No, you can do what you want just as long as you're consistent. So some people will write epic fantasy stories more akin to tokens, magic, which is quite soft. There are some hard rules, but it'll be quite soft, quite mystical, ethereal, you don't really understand it. The characters might not even understand it. As long as you're consistent, that will be fine. You don't want to then throw in suddenly a very hard system in the middle of that. I think it's about being tonally similar through it, but people will set up very hard world rules. Brandon Sandon is the most famous for this, where his magic systems are very hard in the sense that the reader will understand the magic, the characters will understand it. There may be mysteries to it which will be uncovered for the books, but you will always have a good grasp of it.

But I think that is the best way to describe the difference between hard and soft rules. For magic, it's kind of more how much does the reader understand versus they often might have a set of rules, but you keep it hidden to create that sense of it being a female and mystical. But if the reader could repeat back the rules to you and understand it, then you've made it quite hard. And there's two perfectly awesome styles. It does split some people at the margins, but I think most people enjoy a bit of both. It is different flavours. For my first series, the magic was quite soft, but in the Dragon Rider series, it's quite hard. The magic between the rider and the dragon is very hard in the sense that the riders have very set abilities, so they can't just do whatever they want. They develop a handful of abilities each that they hone. And this blacksmithing magic, there's cooking magic. Each of these has their own rule sets, and so the reader knows what can be done, but every so often I leave the door open so that you can bend the rule or do something in a unique way that you might not initially think of. And so that keeps it fresh and interesting.

James Blatch: Bit

Michael Miller: Like playing a game and finding a glitch or a bug in the game that you exploit. I think there's a lot of fun that comes out of that.

James Blatch: Gotcha. I'm assuming you are British by your accent, and I think is your market mainly Britain or is the US a big part of it? No,

Michael Miller: No. The US is by far the big majority. I think the UK Australia is starting to contribute more than it did, but for a long time, I would say 90% of the sales and income was coming from the US starting to. And the US hasn't really changed that. It's just the UK and the Australia is starting to come up a little bit. So that percentage is shifting, but it's the vast, vast majority is from the us.

James Blatch: Do you write your books with American spelling or any nods towards American English?

Michael Miller: Yeah, I do for songs because for the first series in Dragons Blade, I did that in UK English because I didn't even consider this as a factor. I just wrote it. And then obviously I have a UK copy editor and stuff, so it just kind of wrote it and did it that way. And of course, Amazon only likes you upload one version and the number of comments I got on that first series, people saying that there was so many spelling mistakes, this person has no copy editing. And after a while I was like, oh, it's just because the mistakes they highlighting weren't mistakes. It was just UK English. So frustrating as that is, I decided for everything after that series, I would write in US English and my copy editor would do it in US English. You still get some people who, when you start doing that, you realise how different everything is.

Almost everything is spelled a little different and also turns a phrase, there'll be a tonne of phrase that we will use here that the Americans don't have at all. And so what seems really natural to put in, they'll flag as like, what does this mean? For example, like the phrase, I guess it's a British phrase, I don't think it's Scottish particularly, but if you were to say someone is making a meal of something, you get that sense that they're over egging it. They're being a bit over dramatical about they're taking too long, they're dragging it out. They don't know what that means. So I put that in. So someone came to me back and said, is he eating that? What do you mean? He's making a meal of it? Is he eating? No, no, no. So there's lots of stuff like that which you run into. Wouldn't it be great if Amazon allowed us a UK version, a US version also, so that you can put a different cover on them as well, because I think that would be fantastic, which is

James Blatch: One thing the TRA world has been doing for years is versioning their books.

Michael Miller: And it would definitely be helpful, I think, because relatively speaking, my first series, which was UK English with I guess more UK graphic covers sold a little better relatively than this current series. So my current series is US English custom illustrations on the cover. You see the character on the cover sells really well in the states. It does sell well here. When people see it physically in real life, they love it. But something about that online doesn't seem appeal as much. So yeah, it'd be great if you could have separate covers, separate editions, maybe one day. Yeah,

James Blatch: Maybe.

So what are you doing in terms of marketing? Is it mainly Facebook ads or Amazon ads, or do you do a bit of social media? TikTok?

Michael Miller: I never found Facebook ads hugely effective for eBooks. I think most epic fantasy offers struggle in this regard. I think it seems like romance thriller crime works quite well with Facebook still, but for us in Epic, it just seems like either of Facebook doesn't know who to target or the targeting is very limited. It did work for audio. Initially, I found audio success Facebook advertising my box set. So I have a 46 hour box set of the first trilogy, which I started advertising during Covid actually. And for whatever reason, that took off very well. Then of course it was hard to scale it, so there was a sweet spot with the spend. And then the US election happened and the iOS privacy change happened, and after that it just seemed to fall through. It didn't seem to work as well, but I was fortunate in that I kind of pushed the bolt up a hill, so I kind of pushed it into the algorithm.

And even though I am not spending any money in Facebook advertising the audio at all now, the audio books keep selling very, very consistently and very high. So that worked out quite well. I would encourage mean from my experience, audio ads for Facebook did work for me. I don't think they work as well now because of those changes, but you should give it a try and see, because the audio store is like what a third the size of the ebook store in terms of how many sales will equal a ranking, even a small amount of spend, like 10 pounds a day or something. You'll see results. If you get some sales in audio, your rank will jump up quite a bit. You'll see a really noticeable difference. Whereas if you've got a handful of ebook sales, you might not see that difference in the ranks quite so much.

So it should be really obvious. If it's working, you'll know really quickly and you can keep it going or turn it off. So at the moment, I don't spend anything on Facebook. I do run Amazon ads. They kind of seem like life support in a way. There's a sweet spot. Again, it's really hard to scale them. If you tell Amazon to double the budget and double the bids, it's sometimes just shrugs and goes, nah, I'm not going to do that. So I found the sweet spot where I can keep it running a budget I'm happy with, a bit I'm happy with, and that just ticks it along, getting that visibility just in the background. And then after that, it's been more recently in the last June and a half or so, I've been making a big effort to reach out to a lot more book reviewers and booters in the epic fantasy space.

I've become aware of how many people are still relying on finding their books from going into bookshops. There's a lot of people that still go into shops to look for stuff, and so they're never going to find indie stuff, and they're primarily print readers. And so reaching out to some of those influencers seem to talk to those people. That kind of space, which we might call in quotes, trad readers, but only because their preferences is print, their preferences, bookstores, and that's a huge part of the market, and it actually seems like they're the most vocal online. They're the people that really champion stuff and spread the word about stuff. Whereas lots of people that are reading the eBooks and audiobooks, they're there, they turn up, they buy, but they may be on online shouting about it from the rooftops. So I've been finding that it's a slow process, but beginning to crack into that space has led to a huge jump in print sales, which is great, like opening up a whole new format and getting more attention online, which obviously has a nice trickle effect for everything. So that's been my sort of switch now to try and do that lot more longer term influencer kind of outreach, which is a much slower game. You can send books out to folks and it might take them a year to get to it. It's not going to be immediate. And

James Blatch: Are you using Amazon POD for that delivery or are you using book vault or some direct sales?

Michael Miller: No, I switched. I switched all my print into Ingram Spark this year. I always had the KDP print and the Ingram Spark print I discovered. I don't think they make it very public knowledge, but if you sell enough copies through Ingram Spark in a period, you will access a slightly better account and then you'll get a print discount on retailers and you'll also start to get bulk discount if you print lots of copies. So there was two reasons to move into this. One was, I don't know if you've heard of them. In the UK there's a special edition fantasy shop called the Broken Binding. So they do lots of signed copies, lots of special edition and lots editions. I started working with them to handle all my signed books because before that, I didn't really have a way to viably do it. I didn't want to spend time going to the post office all the time.

Now they take a bunch of copies off me, I hand sign them, they sell them and hand everything else. That's great. So printing those off the backend fruit Ingram can be expensive, but with the pro account, when you unlock it, the more copies you print, the deeper your print discount becomes. And so over time, that can be very powerful. It can help to open up the idea of maybe I'll go hand sell at some big events. MCM Comic-Con is in London that's close by. If I sold a couple of hundred books each one of those for twice a year, I'm going to build up a really deep discount on the paperback, stuff like that. You also get to, when you unlock the pro account, you also get a 10% discount off of a retail sale. So if someone orders a copy through Amazon, you're getting a cheaper print there, which means a little bit more in your pocket as well at the end of the day.

Or you can push through discounts a little bit higher to try and crack into some of the stores. So in the UK, it's almost impossible to get into Waterstones as an indie because they really want to order for gardeners. So unless you're doing small print runs yourself and putting it into gardeners, if you're using a PLD service, there's too many people in the middle. The discount just becomes too real. But in America, they like to order from places like Ingram directly so they don't go through as many middlemen. So the discount actually helps you down. So I've been slowly building a presence in bonds and nobles. I think I've got nine or 10 stores that are stocking the books, which is a small foothold, but everything starts with a small foothold and off we go. Yeah, so that was everything went into Ingram for that reason.

And then obviously as you ship books to all these influencers, book troopers, other reviewers giveaway, when there's everything, all of that adds up to increase the discount that you start to get putting out more and more and more orders. So you do need the budget. Obviously if you start printing all these boots, you've got to have the budget to handle it. But I'm in a fortunate position where I do, so that's kind of been the shift away from heavy spend on digital ads like Facebook and into that kind of softer touch approach, but it comes with its own costs.

James Blatch: How do you get the pro account then?

Michael Miller: You just sell enough copies

James Blatch: And you get invited in

Michael Miller: A year? Yeah, you get invited in. It's not an astronomical amount, maybe a couple of thousand, but it is, that kind of tells you how hard it is for indies to get a couple of thousand sales in print in the space of say, 12 months. It's not that common.

James Blatch: And usually you can for people that Ingram Spark is an also thing. Most of their print sales are going to be POD, so I suppose you'd need to close that off, transfer completely, redo your list, your Amazon listing to include the Ingram, et cetera, to try and get that 2000. Yeah,

Michael Miller: Well, I own the IS ESPNs, so even when they were on KDPI used my own is pns, so switching it was relatively easy in the sense that it was set up on both platforms. All I had to do was turn the KDP ones off and then everything just migrated naturally over. So yeah, if you're out there, if you're interested in getting that account, just I would think about switching everything into Ingram and the KDP margins used to be quite a bit better, but it doesn't look like that's the case anymore. If you are able to unlock the pro account, you probably get more via Ingram Spark for your print sales, so might be something to think about.

James Blatch: Yeah, definitely. And Michael, you're doing all of this,

Michael Miller: Doing all of this,

James Blatch: All of this, you're doing all of this and you've done all of this,

but at the same time you have cystic fibrosis, something that you mentioned in bio to me, which I know a little bit about I think So genetic condition you're born with.

Michael Miller: Yeah, yeah. So genetic condition, you just have it from birth. It primarily affects the lungs. It's a sliding scale for everyone. So some people have it really severe, some people have it very, very light, but it affects how the enzymes in your body are produced. And so I have to take dietary supplements to eat food and stuff like that. That one's okay. The thing that affects people, worst of all is in the lungs, the enzyme that your body would make naturally to get rid of all the gunk and mucus doesn't work for us. So your lungs have a habit of getting filled up with that kind of gunk and they can be inflamed and get infections and stuff like this. It can be very hard and people can need lung transplants and stuff like that. I'm fortunate that I never was that severe, but it was bad enough every so often. In 2019, I had two infections that were bad enough that I was in hospital for a total of two months over the year. It can be rough, it

James Blatch: Can be very rough and massively inconvenient when you're running your own publishing empire.

Michael Miller: Yes, massively inconvenient, but thankfully writing doesn't demand too much on the body, so that's okay. But because I've had that, I've always been very conscious of being fit and maintaining fitness, hitting the gym, doing that sort of stuff, never smoking obviously, all that sort of stuff. It was lucky. And during Covid they brought out a new treatment called crio, which is a genetic therapy that actually fixes how the enzyme is produced, and after that, things got a lot better.

James Blatch: Wow.

Michael Miller: Kind of to the point of them saying, yeah, do you know what at this rate, everything, you're basically normal now as long as you keep taking the tablet and it keeps working, there's no reason why you shouldn't live until you're 88. Oh,

James Blatch: That's fantastic. Yeah,

Michael Miller: So they did. It's kind of like a soft cure, but it does depend on how if you were very severely affected, it will help you a lot. It won't quite bring you up to scratch necessarily, but it has been very life-changing for a lot of people with CF that treatment. So thankfully the last few years have been a lot better.

James Blatch: Oh, that's really good news. I wish you well in that. And I can remember covering this story when I was a BBC reporter and getting to know a couple of people, and a friend of mine was a lung surgeon as well, so that's why I know a little bit about it. But I seem to recall not that long ago, maybe 20 years ago, the average age of somebody with CF was in their thirties. So that sounds like there's a massive step forward.

Michael Miller: I think if you Googled it even a few years back would've told you it was like 37 was the life expectancy I think into the 2010s. Life expectancy would been a lot better. They were always developing better treatments. But with the new one, with Ctra, which does seem to help the vast majority of people who suffer with cf, it really has kind of normalised things out. Even for me having, because I was in my late twenties then, so like 29 when the treatment came out, and it's completely changed my life. And so anyone that is born now can get on that treatment straight away. Hopefully they just have no problems. Hopefully they can just live a very normal life and don't have to worry about it.

James Blatch: Gosh, that's such a break test. That's fantastic. What good news, health story for a terrible condition. Now, very last thing.

We didn't talk about audio books. I know that's been an important area for you as well.

Michael Miller: Yeah, well, I So self-fund all the audio productions and I self-published them through a CX, which is unusual. I mean, the majority of indie offers do seem to sell their rights to a studio Podium tend to recorded books, dreamscape or Audible itself. So I think it's a little bit unusual in that regard. And the reason I wanted to bring it up is because people come and talk to me about it, they want to know about it. They want to know what's helped with my success. The truth is, without self-publishing the audio books, I wouldn't be living the life that I'm living because that is my bread and butter. That is also, it is the biggest chunk of my income and increasingly it's also the biggest chunk of the unit sales as well.

If I didn't hold all those rights, I'd be making half or a third of the income per unit and therefore everything would be dramatically lower. There's many good reasons to sell your rights, especially if you're starting out, but as soon as you do that, you're kind of hybridising a little bit, right? You're not purely India, you're working with this publisher even if they're audio only and if things blow up, you're not making as much money per sale. Now that's great when you start out, if you need that, if you need someone to back you initially, I think go for it. Everyone's going to have their own situation there. But if you find success, I would encourage people to think carefully about when they come to write a Nick series or something fresh, whether they want to sell that again or actually keep a hold of it because I tell you it is, it was completely transformative to go from relying solely on the eBooks to suddenly having eBooks and audiobooks both working.

So now you have two formats working for you. You're not as psychologically dependent on eu, for example. Kindle Unlimited becomes a smaller piece of the pie, and now if the print sales also coming up, that also just helps smooth all that out. Getting every format working is going to do a lot more than just relying on that one ebook income. It also means that anything that I do marketing wise or any money that I do spend in advertising, it doesn't matter which format someone goes and buys, I'm still getting the most out of it, which I think, so that makes me more willing to experiment next month. We're recording this November in December, I'm doing a relatively high cost YouTube sponsorship as an experiment, and I'm happy to do that because if everyone goes and buys the audiobook, that's good. If everyone goes buys the ebook, that's fine.

It doesn't really matter which way they go. Whereas a lot of friends that I know, if they did something like that, if they put a lot of money and effort into marketing, but by chance most people got the audio, well, it's more the publisher that wins and you've just put a lot of money down so you find yourself in that difficult position. Whereas if you're fully traditional, yes, it is all down to the publisher. You wouldn't think to spend money advertising because it wouldn't work. It wouldn't work if you're just pushing your ebook. That makes sense. But when you're pushing just in general yourself and your books, knowing that you don't get the full whack off of a certain format, I think does make people think twice about pushing the boat out and experimenting as much as they might. So there's always going to be good reasons to sell the rights of course, but I would encourage people to think don't just by default hand it off even if you've built that relationship up because you could be doing so much more on your own.

James Blatch: So you are self-funding the production, which is something I do as well actually. And are you then not going exclusive a CX? Are you going wide?

Michael Miller: No, no, I'm going exclusive.

James Blatch: Oh, you are exclusive, okay.

Michael Miller: Yeah, I'm exclusive. It's kind of that situation now where, because they are selling so well, I have a rep with Audible via a CX, so I do get access to some of the promotional opportunities that a publisher would. Not all, but his job is to kind of pitch my books for more promotional activity and it really helped with the launch of the foot book in the series in the summer, so it kind of feels like I'm a little bit golden handcuff to it. If I went wide and tried to sell on my own website,

James Blatch: You wouldn't get that.

Michael Miller: It's a big day, you wouldn't get the same treatment. So that has its own problems, that idea, but it's kind like a bucking bronco I'm staying on right now, so I'll stay on for a while, stay on as long as I can.

James Blatch: It's interesting. What's

Michael Miller: The problem? Yeah, go. Sorry, go

James Blatch: On. I was going to say, because I am flirt, I've been exclusive with a CX since the beginning of my two audio books, and I'm thinking I don't have a big series like you of experimenting with going wide, setting up the book funnel thing and then direct advertising because, and I'm big Facebook ads guy, but you've got a margin, you're making two or $3, usually $2, and so your margin is so small, but suddenly being able to make seven or eight, nine, $10 on a single sale gives you so much more breathing space with the Facebook ads campaign. I would look forward to having a bit of that, but I might experiment with it for 90 days and see how it goes.

Michael Miller: Yeah, I do think selling direct is going to be or has to be the future in some regard, but we're still in the early days of that. I kind of straw poll my audience on whether if I were to release a book like that, why I didn't sell it from my website, how many people would come and pick it up. And there was a very depressing sense of, no, I just want everything on my Audible app. It is just slick. It's easy. I've got people in my Discord that's obviously a fantasy discord that they backed the brand Sandon Kickstarter for those four books. And despite having paid for the Kickstarter and therefore they have access to everything, they still haven't listened to those books on audio because they're not on Audible, even though that's how they listen to all his books. With those books, they're like, no, because it's not on Audible.

And that made me think, well, if the Brandon Superfans won't even move platforms, it's still a little too early For me. Epic Fantasy does sell disproportionately better in audio books because they're longer. So the credit system benefits us, right? If you've got a 25 hour audiobook, people see that as higher value for their credit, which is a fixed price. And that's why in the audio charts you see so much epic fantasy ranking, very, very high. Whereas in ebook and print, it's going to be a lot more romance and thriller and crime and stuff like that outranking us. So it's kind, I think, play to your strips. If you are writing big, long books like this, audio might be a really good place to try and grow, but I'd love it if you went wide with yours and it worked because we need to push that frontier a little bit.

I think it's the only way to escape. I just say the golden handcuffs is to eventually get to that place where people are comfortable to come and buy from us. I'm experimenting right now with that by, I have two novellas that I'm releasing for free on my mailing list as an incentive, and I also got 'em recorded, so I'm offering my audio book listeners something as well, rather than just the eBooks. Why would they want that if they're audio listeners? So I'm in the process of doing that with book funnel and setting that up and learning all of that and hopefully getting people used to it. So maybe one day in the future we can try that.

James Blatch: Brilliant. Okay. Well, Michael, it's been really brilliant talking to you. Like I said earlier, you've done a great job and you're building quite an empire there, so I'll let you know how my direct sales go with audio book. You stay in touch with us, so we hear how you are going as well.

Michael Miller: Brilliant. Thanks James.

Speaker 1: This is the Self Publishing Show, there's never been a better time to be a writer.