In this weeks episode James speak to Mike Hourigan, Mike is one of the forces behind Written Word Media and a whole host of promotion brands that you might be familiar with, including our very own Hello Books

Show Notes

  • Who are Written Word Media?
  • What do WWM offer?
  • What are ‘promo stacks’?
  • Best practice and what options you have
  • WWM at the Self Publishing Show LIVE

Resources mentioned in this episode:


SPS LIVE 2024 DIGITAL TICKETS: Get your digital tickets here

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page


Voiceover (00:03):
Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch(00:19):
Hello and welcome to the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch joining you on a Friday. If you're listening live, we have a bit of spring in the air. I've just got back from Majorca, which is this beautiful island, the ballet, Erics just south of Barcelona and the Mediterranean. And I'm seriously thinking about joining one of those house swapping websites because it's been so miserable here in the winter and it does make everything better when there's a blue sky and a bit of warmth on your face, even swam in the sea, which I've got to say even the Mediterranean was quite cold this time of year, but fine. What your room. And it gave me a couple of days off. I'm hellishly busy at the moment, I've got to be honest. It's quite difficult to switch off completely and I'm probably in a place where I'm too busy because I didn't really get to properly relax.
Just had the, first of all, I did a bit of work every day and second of all, didn't really stop thinking about it. And I think we need to do an episode soon and I need to take some advice from somebody on learning to compartmentalise a bit so you can properly decompress when you're not working rather than let the thoughts spill over and sort of spill your waking hours and sometimes should be your sleeping hours as well. Having said that, I enjoy the work I do and we're making progress all over the place. What we're doing in Vinci is really exciting, even though it's very busy at the moment and there's a lot to think about, but that isn't always healthy and isn't always sustainable for the future. So this is me just thinking aloud, but I do need to find a way of being able to relax a bit more in the future.
But lots of interesting conversations going on at the moment and we are getting all the dots and cross t's in place for the conference, which means I'm talking to people about subject areas for discussion for panels, and I think I mentioned before, the audio book's quite big at the moment. A lot of movers and shakers in that market, including some shakers. So people like 11 Labs and, are fairly new, but they are I guess a competitor to 11 labs. 11 labs is a place where you can go and get a synthetic voice to voice your book. We know that a CX themselves part of Amazon have got a beta programme. I think they announced this week that something, well, I've learned this week that 40,000 synthetically voiced audiobooks have appeared on Audible on a CX since that beta programme has been launched. 40,000.
Think about that. And 11 Labs you go off and you basically the DIY system, subscription based and will use their tools to get your book voice. But is a more interesting model in some ways because they have their own code which will produce the voice, and some of it is based on real human's voices with the cooperation of the human. So we know that there's some bad actors at the moment. We'll take voice samples from some of the Hollywood stars and have Tom Cruise in Commons voicing their commercial work without Tom's permission, which of course is well, although it can't be copyrighted, which is another issue is at least ethically wrong and probably legally wrong as well. But what sound did do is that they work in cooperation with the humans who do get a cut of sales. But how does it work for us as authors?
It's interesting. You pay as little as I think like $99 to have your book done, but you are then tied into their distribution, which is a bit like draught or digital. They're a bit aggregated. They have their own platform. is a consumer facing platform as well, but they also put it elsewhere and obviously they take a cut and pay you a royalty percentage. And then there's a medium point about $249 I think it is, where you're tied into that for a year. But then you get your work back and you can distribute it and take all the royalties yourself. And then there's a thousand dollars model, I think, where you get to globally distribute your book straight away, but it has a kind of ethical system built into it and also doesn't count as ai, I've been told by the founder, so that in America is copyrightable.
So to avoid problems like that in the future. So definitely is an interesting entrance to the market and this is becoming a crowded market. We've got some really big established players in it and a lot of people fighting for your attention to produce the audiobook versions of your books. I am fascinated with AI and what it can do in machine learning and synthetic voices and stuff. I'm not sure if I'm going to use it. I'll let you know if I'm going to use it. I'm definitely going to have another play to hear what they're like. Last time I played with the Levi Labs, I felt it took quite a lot of work for me to rewrite some sentences to get the emphasis right, the keywords and also the pronunciation of some stuff from when I write 1960s aviation stuff. So it's not surprising that the ai, the computer, whatever it is, didn't know how to pronounce some of those words.
And so I had to spell them phonetically, which obviously takes some time. But I did speak to Hugo at 11 Labs in London earlier this year at London Book Fair, and he was telling me it's moved on a lot since I was playing with it. And it used to take 10 hours of your own voice for the machine to learn your own voice before it could be used, a synthetic version of you. He says now it's a couple of hours, or not even that, I think 15 minutes or something, and I've got recordings of my voice. You're listening to a recording of my voice now, so I could upload all of these. In fact, why don't I do that and then I'll introduce a podcast episode in the future, or at least part of it will be done by an AI version of my voice and you have to tell me which part of it was done.
So we'll do that for next week. If you're watching on YouTube, it might be obvious I'll have to do their lip syncing like they do in Hollywood. I'll see if I can do that for next week. And yeah, we'll give a prize out to somebody if they can tell me exactly where the robot took over from me. I'll make sure it's not the beginning end. There's a clue. Okay, so anyway, I thought I'd just tell you some of the conversations I'm having at the moment, which are going to be impacting us in the future. Things are moving quickly in that field as well as other fields as well. But today we are going to be talking about promotions and promotions such as Free Booksy, bargain Booksy, hello Books, of course, book BA are the big player in that market and these is a key way of getting new eyes onto your books, particularly effective for your first in series.
So if you have a series of 10 books promoting book one or two and getting that read and getting people into your series is a very good way, an efficient way of making good sales of your book. So for me, running Vinci Books, it's a sort of cycle through using the five free days. You're getting Kindle Unlimited to promote your books, a very important part of it. But we are going to speak to Mike Horrigan from Written Word Media, who are the operators of a lot of those brands I talked about including Hello books Occur partners with us, but they do the operational side of it. Mike is a brilliant man who is very into how things work. I do apologise, by the way, if you can hear my golden retriever Enzo shouting at me from the other side of the door. I let him in after I've finished this recording.
But Mike is a really good person to listen to help you plan your promotions, and in particular, they're working hard on things called Stacks where you can take off the shelf a single stack of multiple promotions. So Red Feather Romance and Free Booksy for instance, might go out on the same day or consecutive days to help you make the most of your free days. I need to go and open the door to let Enzo in. So let me hand over to Mike. This is our chat we had earlier this week and I'll be back at the end of the interview.
Voiceover (08:22):
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch(08:27):
Okay, Mike Hourigan, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. Lovely to have you here. We are colleagues, aren't we? We're colleagues.
Mike Hourigan (08:36):
We are, yes. On the Hello Books Front
James Blatch(08:39):
We Are, which is just one of the many brands that you are involved with. So you are written Word Media, and it's funny, I think some people might not know, I mean most people do, but some people might not know written Word Media despite the fact they use their services because you have quite a few front facing. You better tell us about them. Start off with
Mike Hourigan (08:58):
Absolutely. So yes, written Word Media is kind of the blanket parent company, but we have a lot of what we call reader brands that are part of our portfolio. So if you've ever used Free Booksy or Bargain Booksy or Red Feather Romance to run email promos for one of your books or multiple of your books, those are email promo sites that we own and manage. And then we also on the backend run the Hello Books, email promotions as well. So that's where James and I work together. Our team actually facilitates the operations behind Hello Books, but in a nutshell written word Media. We are the marketing hub for in these. So we have quite a few, like I mentioned, email promo brands that authors can promote their books on. But we also have lots of other marketing services like our reader reach product where we will run your Facebook ads, Instagram ads and Amazon ads for your book for you if that's a pain point. If you don't enjoy running your own ads and doing all the media buying, our team can do that for you.
James Blatch(10:19):
He doesn't love that.
Mike Hourigan (10:21):
Well, that's the funny thing. So that's where James and I work together a lot is on the reader ads for Hello Books and we're both digital marketers and nerds when it comes to that and we actually love doing that, but we're certainly part of the minority
James Blatch(10:36):
There. That is definitely the case. And you have links with some other organisations. I fuss your librarian is another one that people will know and would've used and you have a partnership with them.
Mike Hourigan (10:45):
We do. So we launched our promo stacks product last year and really what we've done there is made it very simple for authors to book all of their email promotions in one place through written word media. So if you've used e-Reader iq, you read our news today, fussy Librarian Hello Books, in addition to free going in between sites. And what we've done is we've brought a lot of these partners on formerly competitors right now partners where you can use our promo stacks tool to purchase email promos across multiple days from our website, including with our promo partner brand. So you're not having to go back and forth between different tabs on your website and your Google calendar and figuring out what availability is. You can just say what date you want, we'll tell you if all of the promotions are available either on one specific date or across multiple dates and you can book them all and it's quite time saving. It's been one of the most fun things to launch since I've been at written Word.
James Blatch(12:04):
Yeah, I mean as you say, it's like a hub, isn't it? A hub for all these primary places in one place? Yeah. So you're mentioning the stacks a couple of times. We should explain what they are, and this is relatively new concept, but it's quickly become part of my process both for Vinci Books and my own books is I go to the stacks when I do a promo. So we should also say, I mean most people know this, but just explain that if you are in Kindle Unlimited, you get five free promo days in your 90 day enrollment period, which you can use, you set your book to free for those days. If you're not unlimited, you can do a price match and have your book for free or you can discount it yourself and there are a few other discounts flying around. So really it's what you do to back up those discounts when your book goes to free or your book goes to 99 cents, whatever, how do you back that up with promotions?
And that's what this is. This is getting your book during that promo period in front of as many readers as possible. So with Hello Books, we've built this I think fairly fresh feeling group of readers well into six figures now, free books. So you've been going a lot longer, you've got a much bigger number of people, but you can get your book on an email landing in front of those hungry readers and get as many downloads as possible. And the Stacks is a way of doing both, for instance. So three Booksy and Hello Books at the same time with one cart operation at your place.
Mike Hourigan (13:27):
That's exactly right. And really where I'll start kind of speaking with promos stacks. This is certainly something that real expert author marketers have been doing for a bit of time and it takes a lot of work to do it up until really this promo stacks product we launched. But essentially the benefit of promo stacking is historically if you've run an email promo, it's kind of a one day spike in your book downloads or sales on Amazon. And the Amazon algorithm in terms of your category or genre ranking realises that people can do things that are kind of a flash in the pan. You can have one big day and then if Amazon sees that, okay, you went from 5,000 downloads in one day back down to double digit downloads the subsequent days, they're not going to give your ranking a boost. They're going to say there's a flash in the pan.
I'm not really going to put it up into the top of the category. With promo stacking, when you're running multiple promos across multiple days, it makes kind of a bell curve in terms of your sales and downloads. And when Amazon or other retailers see that bell curve, they put a lot more emphasis on it in terms of your rank and what does that mean? So if you're getting up there, your top 50, top 10, even number one in your category, you're going to get Halo sales or Halo downloads, what we call them, where you have readers who say, I like the steamy romance category and they're browsing the top books in that category. If you get your book there, even if it's just for a day, a couple days or a week or two, which is amazing, you get this kind of long tail just exposure and boost to your downloads and sales.
And so that is really the reason behind promo stacking and why it's beneficial for authors. What we do at Written Word is we do have one day promo stacks, but we also have three day and five day promo stacks. Just like James said, if you have your Kindle free days with five of 'em, I would recommend a five day promo stack where you're going to get multiple email promos, you can get hello books free. And then we also layer on our Facebook ads service where we will run Facebook ads for your book in addition to those email promos for that five days to give you kind of a solid base of sales or downloads for your book. While the email promos are really boosting you up each day. It's fascinating. This is the type of marketing stuff that I really love and it's fun to put a product out there that just makes it so simple for authors because before it's like I said, you're having to go across multiple sites. You're probably having to do the research initially to say, should I be doing promo stacking? What is it? Why is it beneficial? And we kind of have these pre-vetted packages based on the genre you write in with really vetted and expertly chosen promos and marketing tools within a certain period of day. So it's neat.
James Blatch(17:03):
Yeah, really cool. And it gets people doing, as you say, the very advanced market worked out the best practise for using those five days, but this is an easy one click way of being at that level and getting that bell curve, getting that recognition. I love the expression Halo sales as well, halo downloads. Obviously, I immediately thought of the Space Marine from the video game series, but I assume what you mean is you just get into that area where a lot of browsers are and likely to see your book.
Mike Hourigan (17:36):
That's exactly right. It's not dissimilar from say, SEO where the whole point of SEO is to do it well, where when someone searches for you on Google, you're going to be one of the top in the list and the higher up in the list you are, the more clicks you're going to get and hopefully the more newsletter signups or purchases you get on your website. So it's a similar premise to that except it's on retailers. So anything you can do to boost yourself up there in your category is only going to be beneficial in addition to if you make it to the top of your category, that's a great accolade for authors to use, whether it's on their author website, even if you're there for a day, you can say number one mystery author on Amazon. Right. That's neat.
James Blatch(18:32):
Yeah. Number one in political assassinations, I think we got a couple of weeks ago with one of our books, which is a strange thing to say that you are good at.
Mike Hourigan (18:40):
You should put that as a bumper sticker on your card, James.
James Blatch(18:44):
Definitely big, very zeitgeist I feel this year in America, particularly on all sides.
Mike Hourigan (18:52):
James Blatch(18:53):
Let's talk about best practise then. So the five days, if you're in Kindle Unlimited, getting the five days, I mean, first of all, I personally think you should be using them and personally I'm a big fan of free, but there is a choice to be made there, isn't there? Because you can also run a slightly different type of promotion. The countdown deal, which you can count down and have it go down in price or go up in price in fact is the best way of doing it or stick at say 99 cents for those days. Do you have a view, Mike, and from what you see the data in the background of what practise is best?
Mike Hourigan (19:30):
So it really depends on your goals. So free book promos, they're going to get the best results in terms of number of eyeballs on your book. So it's free. You're going to get a lot of downloads. It does lead to read through which authors can be compensated on read through. Sorry. Sorry about that.
James Blatch(19:55):
Is that your dog?
Mike Hourigan (19:58):
We have a, yeah,
James Blatch(20:00):
Sorry. We love a dog. We'll
Mike Hourigan (20:01):
Pick this up. He's a British laugh actually. Winston, it's a British laugh and his name is Winston
James Blatch(20:10):
For Winston Churchill. Oh my goodness. I love Winston. Yes, he should be in the interview. I
Mike Hourigan (20:16):
Know. Well, he's trying by barking. We actually have a he'll stop here in a sec. My wife got me for Christmas last year. It's a painting of his face standing in front of Tin Downing cigar in his
James Blatch(20:32):
Mouth. Excellent. That sounds slightly scary at the same time as being wonderful. I can hear embarking in a British accent, which is great.
Mike Hourigan (20:43):
Yeah, I don't know what sort of expletives. Hey Bud Winston, easy, easy. Sorry about that.
James Blatch(20:51):
Okay, so we were talking about the free versus 99 and obviously as you say, you do get read through from free, but 99 you get some money.
Mike Hourigan (21:03):
Yes. So free you get read through. It also leads to reviews. And before I move into talking about 99 cents, I will say if you're doing free, I want to talk about front matter and back matter. So regardless of what sort of book marketing you're doing, you want to make sure that you're adequately using front matter and back matter in your book to drive readers to either your website, to a lead form page, to a reader magnet so that you are collecting their email addresses. So some folks who might not be comfortable with running, putting their book as free and promoting it, one other benefit is you might get thousands if not tens of thousands of readers to your book, who then you can drive a proportion of them to your website and get them on your email list. So it is eyeballs for free. It is adding readers to your newsletter list, it's getting reviews and then it's also read through, especially read through subsequent titles if you have a series.
So that's what I would say about free and then 99 cents or even you can promote books at 1 99 or 2 99 up to 4 99 on our other brands like Bargain Booksy and Red Feather Romance. These are ones if you're looking for more of an immediate return on investment for your book promos. So these are not going to get the volume obviously as a book that's free in terms of downloads, but you will get sales. And one thing I will say here, if you are looking to run a non-free promo and you have a series, I would highly recommend looking at one of our series promos on our sites. So what those do is if you have a series and you have an Amazon series page, you can actually put your series in one of our emails that goes out and it'll drive readers directly to your series page, which has a one button, one click button to buy your entire series. So if you're looking for the best return on investment and you do have a series, I would highly recommend looking at our series promos, and I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but we're also looking at rolling out promo stacks for series, which is something we don't have quite
James Blatch(23:48):
Yet. And you say if you're doing 99 to consider a series stack, can you have your lead book as free and also have a series stack promo?
Mike Hourigan (24:01):
So a series stack. So we are looking, you're saying for the future, right James, when we add the promo stacks for a,
James Blatch(24:10):
No, sorry, not the promo stacks, what I mean is to doing a series promotion, you said it works best if you are discounting book one, but could you have book one as free and do a series promotion?
Mike Hourigan (24:22):
Yes, absolutely. Yep, absolutely. First and series free and those work very well.
James Blatch(24:29):
Yeah, and I'm assuming Amazon would calculate the series price based on the current discount of book one. They do do that. They must do that. I've never checked it, but I'm sure they do. I
Mike Hourigan (24:39):
Think they do
James Blatch(24:41):
To make that work. That's great. And also there's those whale readers who aren't shy of paying $30 to buy a series of 10 books knowing that they're going to rip through them.
Mike Hourigan (24:57):
Totally. And the other thing I would say too, this is one of the fun parts of my job at RIT word media is I get to interface with both authors and readers and we do annual and quarterly surveys of authors and readers, but particularly in our most recent reader surveys we sent where we got, I think it was about 5,000 reader responses. It's very interesting. A lot of our readers say that what's important to them is they understand and appreciate indie authors and want to do what they can to support 'em. A lot of the time that's voting with your pocketbook or your wallet. But it's just fascinating that readers will say, I'm willing to spend to support these authors because I know their art form and craft is very time consuming and also costs them a lot of money. So that's been really neat to see because it's not just readers who are only looking for free. If you can give them a compelling enough reason to support you and buy from you continually, they will. A lot of them will. Yeah.
James Blatch(26:17):
Well that definitely is the case. And I run a lot of promos, a lot of free, nearly always free. Although we are going to experiment a bit with 99 soon, but I see that readthrough, so it's not just, you only get readers after a free book and they're not going to do the rest of the series. They get hooked. It's one of the oldest tricks in commercial selling, right? Isn't it? That you discount, you lead loss with you a loaf of bread in the supermarket or you give away. I mean the classic one is the drug dealer on the side of the street, probably a slightly unhealthy comparison, but even they know first one free works. Yep,
Mike Hourigan (26:56):
That's exactly right. Get them hooked. Right, right. Good books, put out good products, get it in the hands of as many people as possible and let your product, let your work, let your book do the talking and keep people engaged. That's really the name of the game.
James Blatch(27:18):
And getting hooked on Billionaire Romance or Cold War thrillers is better than getting hooked on crystal meth just for the record.
Mike Hourigan (27:23):
Yeah, agreed.
James Blatch(27:26):
I'm wondering better
Mike Hourigan (27:28):
Advice to
James Blatch(27:28):
Have. Yeah. Now you are coming to London, Mike, which I'm very excited about. Are you going to be speaking at the Self Publishing Show live on the Southbank in June? What are you going to be talking about?
Mike Hourigan (27:39):
So I'm going to be talking about best practises for book marketing and email promos and discounting and promo stacking and really going into details there. I'll be touching on a lot of how book marketing has changed over the past couple of years too. You kind of said James, some of the email promos and free book promos, that kind of practise has been around and now there's a lot of new types of book marketing strategies out there. And I think it's incredibly exciting because authors now are able to develop their own kind of hybrid approach to how they want to sell their books and how they want to build their fandoms. And there's not a one tracker one size fits all to book marketing. It's going to be different for different authors. It's going to be different for people who write in different genres. And at the end of the day, the most successful authors are going to be the ones who test and iterate kind of quickly on what strategies they're trying to market their books and then develop the best kind of amalgamation and hybrid of these different channels and marketing tactics. You have Kickstarter, you have email list building, you have direct sales, then you have retailers and email promos, and some work better for some authors than others. But at the end of the day, I feel like the authors that are going to be the most successful, say over the next five years are the ones that really find a good balance between these different channels and marketing tools.
James Blatch(29:32):
Superb. We're looking forward to it. Are you going to have a chance to look around the uk, London while you're here?
Mike Hourigan (29:38):
That's the plan. I'm very excited. Wife is actually going to be able to join me and it'll be her first time in Europe actually. Wow.
James Blatch(29:47):
Who's looking after Winston?
Mike Hourigan (29:50):
Yes. So our dog, Winston, still to be determined, James, I have a feeling we'll have some family maybe come and keep Winston Company while we're checking out Downing Street and all of that. And Tower of London and Imperial War Museum, the Churchill War rooms.
James Blatch(30:10):
Yes, they're superb. The Churchill War rooms. Well, if I get a chance to come along with you, I'll tag along because you and I think have quite shared interest. In fact, your wife and my wife probably have a similar holiday experience of being taken to a few too many air museums that they would normally choose to go to. But my wife's very patient about it. She did say she's not going to go to a baseball game again with me. I've taken her to three and she said, that's it. Now I'm done with baseball, but I will continue to go. But Amy's in, she'll go too. I
Mike Hourigan (30:38):
Don't blame her on that, on baseball. But yes, even being an American, they can get quite boring. Depends how many beers you want to
James Blatch(30:46):
Have. I think we were unlucky, a couple of those dreaded one run games, which are not great, but there you go. Look, it's always a pleasure talking to you. I love working with written word media. I think I've said this to you guys before. I probably didn't say enough. Incredibly professional organisation. I think you do a great job for authors and honestly, I'm proud to be a part of the WW M family with Hello Books and we're growing that organisation thanks to your help really well at the moment. So thank you, Mike, thank you for being part of it and yeah, I guess we look forward to seeing you in London.
Mike Hourigan (31:22):
I appreciate it, James. Thank you for having me on and I am, it's stacked to be there and be able to speak and talk to all the authors in London. It's something I've been looking forward to for months and it's going to be a good time. Superb.
Voiceover (31:39):
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch(31:44):
That was Mike Horigan, a brilliant man who is one of the geniuses behind written word media and it couldn't be more fun and interesting and educational working with Mike. So hopefully you learned a little bit about how the promotion system works over there at ww m and help you make the most of them in the future key part of our book promotion cycle. Okay, look, I need to go and give this boy some attention. That is it for this week. Don't forget next week if I can get this done. Here I am adding to my workload. If I can get this done, I'm going to train my voice, add a voice synthesiser, and try and slip some of it into next week's podcast. So we'll see if you can spot that. So another task for me goes onto my list. Right? That's it. Thank you very much. All that remains to me to say it is a goodbye for me. The good boy for me.
Voiceover (32:38):
Get show notes, the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at self-publishing Join our thriving Facebook group at self-publishing Support the [email protected] slash self-publishing show. And join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author. Publishing is changing. So get your words into the world and join the revolution with the Self-Publishing Show.