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SPS-431: Support for Self Publishing with Draft2Digital 

Nick Thacker VP of Author Success at Draft2Digital joins James to dive into what’s new and what D2D can offer the self publishing world.

Show Notes

  • Last chance to grab your SPS Live 2024 ticket – maybe ever …
  • Draft2Digital email list service, deliverability and costs
  • Selfpubbookcovers.com (acquired almost a year ago), what the service can offer
  • Where D2D stands on AI
  • What’s happening in the future.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

SPS LIVE 2024 TICKETS – GET THEM HERE!

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Speaker 1 (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, the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch. Welcome along. If you're listening to this on release day, it's the 21st of June. We are just a few days away from our big annual conference, the Self-Publishing Show Live, Europe's largest gathering of indie authors, which is going to take place in London on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. And if you want to come along and join us, you've got today basically until midnight tonight. We can't sell tickets any closer to the event than that, so we can't sell 'em over the weekend and they won't be available on the door. So if you want to snag a ticket and join me and several hundred others up to 916 I think is our absolute limit. Now you can go learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. I'm looking forward to it. We're going to hear from some industry titans. We're going to hear from some Titan authors.
(01:05):
We're going to hear from authors who make enough that they don't have to do their nine to five every week. We're going to hear from people providing services to the indie community. We're going to hear from people that you will recognise like El James and Lucy Score and Ricardo Fiat, and some people you may not know who are going to perhaps surprise you with some of the lessons and teachings that we're going to have. And I'm going to be doing a session on ai, which is the big topic, of course, one of the big topics that we're talking about at the moment. And there might even be some surprise announcements if you're there in person as well. Yeah, so looking forward to that. That is next week. If you're listening to this on Wednesday or Thursday next week, then I'll be lying down in a darkened room with a few others.
(01:51):
Catherine in particular, who's done an absolutely fantastic job of organising this conference, A big shout out to Catherine, keeping all the balls in the air, all the plates, spinning on all the other cliches to get that conference going. Okay, look, there's not much to talk about. We are absolutely very, very busy. It's Wednesday night as I'm recording this, I'm doing this very quickly and then moving on to a hundred other things I've got to do between now and the conference starting on Tuesday. So let me just introduce to you our interviewee, which is somebody, one of the companies that will be at the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dan Wood is going to be there from draught to digital. The interviewee, although is Nick Thacker, who works with D 2D, but he looks at some of the other author services. So D 2D is a service that will distribute your book wide, distribute your book to dozens of retailers around the world.
(02:41):
So you upload it once to draught to digital. It makes sure it's in Barn and Noble and Coone and I mean there are gazillion others that it goes to. And it could even be Amazon if you want it to distribute to Amazon as well if you don't want to do that yourself. So they take a cut of sales, but it saves you a painful business of putting your book everywhere. But they have some other services as well. Alongside that, I have an email service provider exclusively for authors, and they have a cover designer, obviously for authors who else would need a cover design? And that is the domain of Nick Thacker, a thriller author from Colorado. And I know Nick quite well, met him over the years, so it's always a pleasure to chat to him. So Nick's up here. I'll be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1 (03:28):
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (03:34):
Hey, Nick Thacker, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. When you first joined us now, I thought you'd wrapped yourself in the Union Jack flag, but I think it's just your top.
Nick Thacker (03:44):
This is my local hockey team.
James Blatch (03:47):
I was going to say, is it hockey? It looks like a hockey thing.
Nick Thacker (03:50):
Yeah. Yep. Ice hockey. Yep.
James Blatch (03:52):
And for people. Yeah, people in the rest of the world. Ice hockey, not field ice hockey.
Nick Thacker (03:57):
Exactly. Yeah. Not field hockey. Nope.
James Blatch (04:01):
No. The default for hockey in the UK is on grass. If you say hockey, that's what people mean.
Nick Thacker (04:07):
I know. And that's unfortunate
James Blatch (04:08):
Hockey. It's ice, isn't it?
Nick Thacker (04:11):
It's unfortunate too. Ice hockey is so much more fun. There's already too many sports happening on grass. We need a lot more ice.
James Blatch (04:18):
Yes, too much grass has too much. It's a monopoly. We need to end the grass Monopoly of sport. End
Nick Thacker (04:23):
The pitch.
James Blatch (04:24):
Yeah. Listen, we're going to talk about drafted digital because you work there now. You got a job there? I do,
Nick Thacker (04:30):
I do. Yeah, I'm a company man now.
James Blatch (04:33):
Yeah, you are the man, you're the corporate man. What are you doing at Drafted Digital Nick Thacker?
Nick Thacker (04:37):
No thanks. I'm the vice president of Drafted Digital, which is weird. It's a new role, but we're calling it Vice President of Author Success. And to put it succinctly, we as drafted digital as you know have always been how do we help authors without charging a fee beforehand? We want to distribute books to all the stores and we'll take a royalty if you make money at those stores, but there's never been a time when we've offered a service that you pay upfront. And so when I came on board and we've had this conversation, I think on this call years ago, I sold author email to Drafted Digital and it was of an acquihire where instead of a big multi-billion dollar payout, I'm sure they would've offered. They said, why don't you come work for us and you keep this thing running. So Author email is under that department, if you will, newly, and we've also just acquired a company called Self Pub book covers.com, and it's exactly what it sounds like.
(05:35):
It's book covers. And so when we did that, we decided now we're charging for services, now we're charging for products, and we want to sort of silo that to make sure that we're not coming across as some sort of hybrid publisher or vanity press because that is not at all what we're doing. We're offering services and products to authors that they need. And one of our core tenets of this venture is to do it in an ethical and financially attractive way for authors. It's always authors first with drafted digital. And so that hasn't changed. I'm now running both of those companies and anything else we may acquire in the future, hopefully. But for now, the big one is book covers. We're doing pre-made book covers and customs, things like that.
James Blatch (06:19):
Okay. Well, let's break it down a bit. Let's talk about all three Mail to start off with because it's been a while since that's been running. The company has matured a bit. Where do you position it? So first of all, just describe, it's a mail list service right alongside MailChimp, mail Alike Convert, et cetera. Where do you position?
Nick Thacker (06:37):
Well, we are the most cost effective email marketing platform We are for authors only, which is one of the reasons we're able to be so inexpensive. We don't have to deal with the internet marketing riffraff, the scum, the scammers, the people like that because authors just need to send emails to their mailing list. And almost nothing of what authors do generally speaking is going to be something that raises a red flag. So for that reason, we can keep it very affordable. Now, when it was first brought into Draught to digital's fold, the idea was we've got this resource, the development resource to make this really, really nice fancy look, great ux, UI changes, overhauls, all that. And that was the plan. And then this little thing called acquiring Smashwords happened. And so we put author email back on the back burner and it's been there for longer than we all want, but for good reason because we've been focusing on smash words, migrating user accounts takes an ungodly amount of time and resource investment, but it's definitely not forgotten. So author email always has worked, but there's always been a list of things where, hey, we want to fix this, we want to make this better, we want this to be improved. And we just haven't gotten to develop that as much as we want yet. But that's absolutely still in an open beta is what we call it. It's working great. Deliverability is absolutely as high as it always was and very competitive with anything else in the industry.
James Blatch (08:00):
Yeah, I was going to ask about deliverability. That is the big thing with email service providers. I'm an experienced user of quite a few. Keep is the one that we use for SPF that's got a quarter of 1,000,300 thousand odd names on it. And I get emails very regularly from them about things that they think we might do occasionally that impact deliverability and then tips on deliverability. And I know as a company, they fight this almost never ending battle on and getting that deliverability up and it's frustrating. You send an email out to that number of people and then we get some support requests from people. They just never saw the email. It just never got blocked to ISP level. But you think author email, because it's authors, because not people sending Bitcoin scam emails out. You've got a pretty good reputation already.
Nick Thacker (08:48):
That's one of the major reasons, of course, is who's using your service. That affects deliverability of course, because you're sending emails through somewhere else, almost inevitably, unless we had our own rack of servers and a closet somewhere, and we absolutely will not do that. That's just a nightmare that you're going to be using someone else's infrastructure. Even if you're MailChimp, even if you're Mailer Light, even if you're Convert Kit, there's some infrastructure they're bouncing emails through. It could be as simple as sending it through the ISP. The end user has to get that email from Comcast over here in the United States or at t, whatever it is. And so for one reason, yeah, the users that we've got are great because they're authors. They're not trying to scam anyone. But another big reason James, that deliverability is really high is we've been working with the same delivery servers for over probably eight, nine years now, and we've just been slowly coaxing them and warming them up to who we are and what we're doing.
(09:45):
And unfortunately, or fortunately, I guess there's no way around that You can't tomorrow start your own email marketing service and have deliverability be as high. It just takes time and lots of effort and minutia to get this thing warmed up. And we've got a couple major servers right now, and we've got probably a handful of others that were always warming up. And the way we decided to do it early on was we didn't want that closet back here of servers sending emails. We wanted to use a professional company that all they do is host email servers. And so we picked a few and we started working with them and then we've picked other ones. So now we've got a great collection of delivery servers that we pay money to every month so that authors can send on our behalf or I guess vice versa, we can send on author's behalf.
(10:32):
And this is not entirely different than most email marketing services do it. We just chose to do it in a way that we're not using one company for their delivery servers. We're not just using AWS or email octopus or whatever. We've got a bunch of these, and so we can both bounce your emails from one box to another so we can keep deliverability high. Sometimes they flag us for something that comes through and we have to work with them to get that fixed. Meanwhile, we can route those emails to another company's servers. So it's just a great way using the cloud infrastructure that's already existing to be able to maintain deliverability and reputation. But yeah, at the end of the day, there's a lot of these little reasons like that. The biggest one of course is that we work with authors and only authors and there is a small vetting process. So if you sign up and want to send us your MLM and Bitcoin scams like you said, then we're going to say, Hey, that's not what we do. Go choose another service. We're for authors only. We've done that in the past.
James Blatch (11:27):
And this is something that goes on in the background that a lot of people who use email service providers don't realise. There's reputation building, which takes a long time, which is what you've said you've been doing. So that sounds like a good fit. And I've got a final question. How do you ensure that you are only being used by authors?
Nick Thacker (11:47):
Well, as I said, we have a small vetting process, and what that means is there's never going to be a 100% guaranteed way of ensuring that you're an author. And the truth is, we get people who are authors and running a business that has nothing to do with authors. And so those bring up some questions like, do we allow them to use the service, do we not? Is there something in between that we can figure out? The truth is what we try to do is what we do actually is look at what is being sent. And if we see that there's somebody sending all these emails, they're getting a high bounce rate, there's all these flags that we can see that imply something isn't right in the way they're sending, it's either something's broken, they haven't verified an email address, or they're sending things that they shouldn't be sending, and they're getting pushback from that from the end users. So we'll come down and say, Hey, you can't be doing that on this platform if you're not an author, we're going to kindly ask you to leave and we'll cancel your account and refund your money.
(12:41):
That's how we do it. So far it's been working pretty well. As I said, you can't guarantee that we're always going to be perfect, but we're looking at what gets sent every single minute and if we see something that raises a flag, we start asking questions.
James Blatch (12:56):
Okay, I'm looking slightly yellow because we just had a power cut in Huntington where I am and power is back on, but we're going to resume this interview as if nothing happened and make it all smooth in the edit. I just look yellow. My lights have not rejoined the internet yet. Okay, so we talked about author email, which I think is the address, isn't it? Author email,
Nick Thacker (13:18):
Author email or author email.com, either one.
James Blatch (13:20):
And if they want to check that out, I think you are very competitive. I just got up your little slider. So if you had 10,000 subscribers, that's less than 20 bucks a month compared to MailChimp at 130 bucks a month. So that is a very significant difference. Even light is 75 at that point. In fact, you don't really go up until pretty high. Is it 20,000? I think it goes up to the next jump.
Nick Thacker (13:49):
Yep. Yeah, we start at $10 99 cents a month for under 10,000 subscribers, and then the next jump is 29 99 for I think up to 49,000 subscribers. And that was the goal, James. I mean, when we started this, I was paying somewhere $300 at MailChimp and I thought there's got to be a better way to do this. We don't need the CRM tools that MailChimp offers. We don't need to manage all the different detailed granular things that MailChimp allows you to do. It's fantastic if you want to run an enterprise resource platform or something, but that's not what authors needed. It's not what I needed. I just wanted to send emails and have autoresponders and lists, and that's absolutely what we do. And so we just didn't have any of those additional features that wouldn't be useful for authors. We only focused on the ones that would be useful.
James Blatch (14:38):
And what about things like integration with other tools like Lead Pages or Wix forms? Can that integrate with author email
Nick Thacker (14:50):
In a way? Yes. It's not easy. I'll admit that's one of the things on our list that we never got to was let's make sure these integrations are much easier. Right now it's workarounds. It's possible of course, but it's not as easy as it should be. We do have integrations, OneClick integrations with services like book funnel, story origin, things like that. So it is possible to run your author business and use author email as the segmentation and list building tool that some of these other services provide. But one of the major overhauls that we've got planned is a UX UI change, which for anyone listening doesn't know what that is. The interface. The interface isn't where we want it to be. It's not bad, but it's just not as intuitive as we'd like. And so that's a major part of what we've got coming down the pike hopefully soon.
James Blatch (15:36):
Yeah. Okay. Right. So that's all through email and the other side of the business that you're looking after, the other business within the business you're looking after is covers. So just tell us about that. I know it's a separate domain. It
Nick Thacker (15:50):
Is. It's a wholly different business that we've acquired about 11 months ago. It's called self pub book covers.com. So depending on when you go, that site may or may not redirect to the new site, which we're building now. But we have taken over self put book covers, which has been around for a while. It's over a decade old. The owners of that website are fantastic people and they just wanted to make sure that the company went somewhere that cared about authors first and foremost. And so that's what we're trying to maintain as we go forward, the integrity of that business. But it's a pre-made book cover marketplace. So rather than if you're a designer and you set out to shingle as a book cover designer and you have some pre-made on your website, this is a marketplace for multiple designers to offer their covers for multiple authors.
(16:42):
And one of the main unique selling propositions of this website was and is that any author can come purchase a cover and customise the text on that cover. So add a title, add their name, they can configure that, they can change the text right there in the browser, download the cover that's high res, ready to go for upload to Amazon, drafted digital, wherever that if you are looking at the older site is working and very outdated, no fault to anyone who built it. It was built 13, 14 years ago and it has worked flawlessly since then, which is kind of a testament to how well it was built, but it obviously looks outdated and it needs an overhaul. And so what I've been doing, and I've got a small team working with me here on the draught to digital side is what I've been doing is building a brand new version of this and we are launching it's book covers.com.
(17:35):
We've acquired that domain. Everything from self pop book covers.com is going to be transitioned over. It's in process of being transitioned over users covers all that stuff. And we've just totally revamped everything about the site. So the marketplace aspect is far easier to navigate. Payouts are automated rather than manual authors and designers can go make an account and communicate with each other a little bit to get the cover they want, and authors can still go in and customise their covers, but the editor for that is much, much easier to use. And the design is just better because of modern technology. We're not quite done yet as of recording this, but we are launching in phases. So the first phase is ready right now, which is if you go to book covers.com, you'll see the website, what it's going to look like. There's some placeholder covers that we're getting, some of the old covers transitioned over as we speak.
(18:25):
You won't be able to create an account, you won't be able to purchase, you won't be able to do any of the things we're talking about. That's our phase two and that's what we expect to come out sometime end of summer. And we're very excited about this. It's a huge, huge initiative. But the idea is again, what do authors need to publish their book? And of course a book cover is a requirement, and so we're hoping that we can offer fantastically designed book covers at an attractive price that will also lift up the designers who are doing this and they have a whole marketplace now where they can sell their designs. And so anyway, that's the premise of the website. I need to work on the elevator pitch a bit. It's a bit long, but you get the idea of what we're trying to do here.
(19:07):
And of course if there's something pre-made is the idea behind the marketplace, but we do offer custom covers. We do offer ways to modify a cover if you see an image you like, but it's not quite right. And all of this stuff is mostly automated. It's back and forth with the designer who will then either do the modification or say that they can't, at which point we've got an in-house designer who will get it. So it's a really elaborate system that I'm very happy. It's quite streamlined in the way it works and hopefully the industry feels the same way when they see this. It's going to be hopefully very, very good and beneficial for the industry at large.
James Blatch (19:43):
Yeah. So is it in part like a marketplace like Rez or fiverr.com and in part an automated system it's got a bit of both. You can basically pick up a cover designer there or you can work with the automation tools and modify an existing cover.
Nick Thacker (19:59):
Exactly. It's both. So the automation is really just, I'm saying that because that's been my biggest headache with running the old site is the things that needed to be automated were not, and it's a lot of back and forth with that. I'm just trying to remove any of the back and forth that's unnecessary. So if you're an author, you go to book covers.com, you can find a cover designed by somebody, and if you like it, you can customise it right there even before you purchase it. Once you buy the cover, the designer gets paid automatically. You have a cover ready to go in your dashboard that you can customise as many times as you want. This isn't a one-time thing, so you've got the image in place and then you can put your own text on there and change the text, add a subtitle, whatever you need to do.
(20:38):
If it becomes part of a series, add the series tag for as long as you are using our website. And so then you just redownload the cover every single time. Some of the things that I mentioned are automated are things like if you know you're going to do a print wrap, if you're going to do a full wrap paperback, for example, you can purchase the cover and then check a box and say, I would also like the full wrap, and you don't have to email us. You don't have to find the designer and hope they're still around you purchase it. And if the designer can't complete that project for you and design a full wrap, then we do it in house and you get it within 48 hours. So that part is what I'm saying is automated. You can find your cover and everything you need for that cover, audiobook, custom modifications, things like that, and it just makes it a lot easier.
(21:22):
And then of course, the marketplace idea is to make it a little bit more social, so make it a little bit more so that if you're a designer, you can come in here, not just sell cool book cover designs, but you can actually build a store and people can keep coming back. Authors can keep coming back to you because they like what you've done, and so you'll have your own storefront on our page where you can show off your covers, run promotions, all that stuff is fully automated. You can run ads on the website to get yours to the top of our homepage, things like that. So we're really excited about this. I'm hoping that the author community will be as well, but we've got so many authors and designers that have used the old site and every single one that I've talked to is excited to have a newer platform that's easier to use and I only expect that to grow as we go.
James Blatch (22:07):
Yeah, sounds great. And this feels like it's kind of drafted digital's longer term plans to have author services alongside its core service of distribution of books.
Nick Thacker (22:18):
That was one of our original initiatives was this idea that you go through the draught of digital process to upload your book, and there's a question that says, do you have a book cover? And if you do, you upload your book cover image. If you don't, we say, go get one. And so the idea was what if we just linked to another website that we know and trust and that became, well now let's purchase a company. Now let's get this redone and everything. And we tend to want to make things as easy as possible for the authors, which makes things more complicated for us on the backend. But again, at the end of the day, how much cooler would it be for us to have a fully integrated system where you're on drafted digitals platform, click a link and it says, pick a cover and you pick a cover, put your text and title fonts, things like that, and then you're done, and that's all this is going to be.
James Blatch (23:07):
Yeah. Dara mentioned ai, which is having an impact in lots of areas of our industry, including cover design. Is this something that you've got your eyes on or are you keeping away from it for now?
Nick Thacker (23:19):
Oh my gosh. Well, we have no choice but to keep our eye on it, right? I'm not a lawyer and I'm not following very closely how the US et al is dealing with this sort of fair use stuff, which is kind of the big legal topic. So I'll stay away from that. What I will talk about is how we approach this as a policy as a company with the need to have a policy regarding can I use AI to design my cover? Historically, self put book covers.com had a policy that said, no AI whatsoever. You cannot use ai. And then of course, if you're following along in the industry, that is a really difficult thing to define. What is ai? Well, did I use Grammarly at all when I wrote the book or did I use generative fill and Adobe to do the background, which I would argue are uses of ai?
(24:06):
And so it's really difficult is the answer. What we've done now, the policy if you will, is to say, we don't want a book cover that is click a button, design a cover in ai, whatever that means. If you're using Adobe Firefly or midjourney, we don't want you to say, imagine a book cover for this and then have an image and upload that and you're done. That's not the intent of the marketplace. We do want designers to design, but it's also true that designer can use, for example, Adobe generative fill to say, I need to fill out the rest of this background image with content, and you can click a button in Photoshop and do that. And so first of all, there's no way to prove that an author or an artist did or did not use that. And so we can't really come down and say, you can't do that.
(24:53):
But it's also true that this is a way to make the design more efficient or more usable in different iterations, and the designer still has to know what they're doing in order to place a stock photo on top of that in order to blend those layers together. There's all sorts of design elements that cannot be done with AI at this point, and I believe maybe one day they will be able to be done, but even then, I think it's going to take someone who understands design, who understands composition, who understands layout, and so that's our policy At this point. It's not as what I just said, but the intent is we want designers to design book covers, and if you use a stock element from a stock website, you don't know that that wasn't generated by AI in the first place. There's no way to tell, and we've always said that using stock photos is allowed, and so that's not changed.
(25:37):
What we're just trying to stay away from is clicking a button, getting a fully designed book cover with every element on it, and you're done. That's not really helpful to the industry at this point. And so what we're trying to do is say, design your book cover if you need to use an element that was generated with ai, like the sword for example, was wrong or the fire was the wrong colour, things like that. We've always been able to manipulate photos and things like Photoshop, and that is how I think AI is being used really well. So I hope that answers your question. Anyone coming to the website, you can read the official policy, which is very much just the same thing, just saying, look, there's no way to really tell. We don't want images that are fully baked AI out of the box, but we also know that we can't police this nearly as well as people would hope.
James Blatch (26:22):
Yeah, I think that seems like a sensible way because I think using AI to replace, to get the stock image, to get the image, the kind of key figure you want or location you want, we've all had this over the years of you kind of run out of the same stock images that everyone else is using, and AI has amazingly allowed us to suddenly have the capital building on the wonk site, someone's running that's replaced stock images, but all that does is give you some elements needed by a designer to create a great cover. It doesn't create a great cover by itself. So I think you're doing authors a service and saying You do need a designer ultimately, because the covers are much better.
Nick Thacker (26:56):
I believe so I think I've always said, I don't believe covers sell books, but they are absolutely a reason why you may not sell a book, right? It's too late in the game now. There's too much. It's saturation in the market for good book covers that if you have a cover that's subpar, people won't click it. People won't decide to read the description, to read the blurb and then buy it because they won't even get there. So you have to have a cover that's been thought through enough to say, this matches the expectation of the reader in this particular genre. That's it. No one's going to click on the cover and go, oh my gosh, this picture is so amazing. I'm going to buy it regardless of what it's about. We just don't do that. But it does have to be good enough. It does have to be able to fit into a genre at a thumbnail size that looks like it belongs there.
James Blatch (27:43):
I think signalling the genre is the most important thing it does. The second most important thing it does is just look professional, and if it does those two, it's done its job. It doesn't need to be, as you say, a Mona Lisa work of art after that. Good. Well, that's great. And D two D's core business, is that something that's not really in your VP sphere, you are the guy doing these add-ons, these extra value added things for authors?
Nick Thacker (28:08):
That's right. That's right. Yeah. My role, I don't have any say or any push really on how we distribute books. There's much smarter people doing all that, but I am absolutely involved with day-to-Day operations. Things like talking to the groups and figuring out what we want to do. I'm part of the company as much as anyone else, but yeah, my day-to-Day role is very much working on author success. How do we make authors more successful through services and tools and products that we can potentially provide at a cost that's very, very reasonable, especially compared to the vanities out there, the ones trying to make a buck off the back of an author without really giving them what they're wanting.
James Blatch (28:49):
Yeah. Okay. Well, people can visit draught digital drafted digital.com. You are not coming to London, I don't think, but I think Dan is. Is that right?
Nick Thacker (29:00):
Yep. I'm not this year. Dan doesn't like to bring anyone along so he can have all the fun by himself, but we'll work next year maybe,
James Blatch (29:07):
If Dan's lucky, he'll get a tour of London statues with me. I know it was a highlight for him last year when I took him to a statue and gave him a lecture. He still talks about it.
Nick Thacker (29:17):
I would like that tour myself, but I'm have to make that happen next year. I'd like the James Blat tour statue tour. Yeah,
James Blatch (29:24):
I promise you. Remind me where you are, Nick. Are you West Coast
Nick Thacker (29:27):
Almost? I'm Colorado. Yeah, so it's Colorado. If you're familiar with Hunger Games. We're the region that didn't get decimated. I think we're district one.
James Blatch (29:36):
District one.
Nick Thacker (29:38):
Yeah.
James Blatch (29:39):
If you're watching on YouTube, putting up my little sign. Okay, excellent. Well, Nick, thank you very much indeed. Great explanation of those two products and a bit of shout out, of course for D 2D. They will be at the conference. If you're coming along next week, you can have a chat with Dan and hopefully we'll see you in London at some point,
Nick Thacker (29:58):
Some point. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me and for the time, I really appreciate
Speaker 1 (30:02):
It. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (30:07):
There we go. There is Nick Thacker, and if you want to speak to Dan Wood, he'll be there on Tuesday and Wednesday at the South Bank Centre in London For our conference, last chance to buy a ticket, learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. That closes at midnight tonight regardless of how many have been sold. Okay, that's it. Thank you very much indeed. All the remains would say, is this a goodbye for me? So goodbye
Speaker 1 (30:32):
Get show notes, the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at self-publishing show.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at self-publishing show.com/facebook. Support the [email protected] slash self-Publishing show, and join us next week for more help and for 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.

SPS- 430: The New Content Creation Place with Marco Moutinho from Dibbly

James talks to Marco Moutinho from Dibbly, a content creation platform, which can help you with freelance services. Dibbly also offers an AI tool ‘Kip’ that has some fantastic features to offer the indie author.

SHOW NOTES

  • What is Dibbly?
  • What Dibbly can offer.
  • Security for authors and backup systems
  • AI integration and choices, AI prompts to help with stories, ads, formatting and much more
  • Pricing options
  • Meet Dibbly at the SPS Live show

Resources mentioned in this episode:

SPS LIVE 2024 TICKETS – GET THEM HERE!

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Speaker 1 (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, the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch. Welcome along. If you're listening to this on release day, it's the 21st of June. We are just a few days away from our big annual conference, the Self-Publishing Show Live, Europe's largest gathering of indie authors, which is going to take place in London on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. And if you want to come along and join us, you've got today basically until midnight tonight. We can't sell tickets any closer to the event than that, so we can't sell 'em over the weekend and they won't be available on the door. So if you want to snag a ticket and join me and several hundred others up to 916 I think is our absolute limit. Now you can go learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. I'm looking forward to it. We're going to hear from some industry titans. We're going to hear from some Titan authors.
(01:05):
We're going to hear from authors who make enough that they don't have to do their nine to five every week. We're going to hear from people providing services to the indie community. We're going to hear from people that you will recognise like El James and Lucy Score and Ricardo Fiat, and some people you may not know who are going to perhaps surprise you with some of the lessons and teachings that we're going to have. And I'm going to be doing a session on ai, which is the big topic, of course, one of the big topics that we're talking about at the moment. And there might even be some surprise announcements if you're there in person as well. Yeah, so looking forward to that. That is next week. If you're listening to this on Wednesday or Thursday next week, then I'll be lying down in a darkened room with a few others.
(01:51):
Catherine in particular, who's done an absolutely fantastic job of organising this conference, A big shout out to Catherine, keeping all the balls in the air, all the plates, spinning on all the other cliches to get that conference going. Okay, look, there's not much to talk about. We are absolutely very, very busy. It's Wednesday night as I'm recording this, I'm doing this very quickly and then moving on to a hundred other things I've got to do between now and the conference starting on Tuesday. So let me just introduce to you our interviewee, which is somebody, one of the companies that will be at the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dan Wood is going to be there from draught to digital. The interviewee, although is Nick Thacker, who works with D 2D, but he looks at some of the other author services. So D 2D is a service that will distribute your book wide, distribute your book to dozens of retailers around the world.
(02:41):
So you upload it once to draught to digital. It makes sure it's in Barn and Noble and Coone and I mean there are gazillion others that it goes to. And it could even be Amazon if you want it to distribute to Amazon as well if you don't want to do that yourself. So they take a cut of sales, but it saves you a painful business of putting your book everywhere. But they have some other services as well. Alongside that, I have an email service provider exclusively for authors, and they have a cover designer, obviously for authors who else would need a cover design? And that is the domain of Nick Thacker, a thriller author from Colorado. And I know Nick quite well, met him over the years, so it's always a pleasure to chat to him. So Nick's up here. I'll be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1 (03:28):
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (03:34):
Hey, Nick Thacker, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. When you first joined us now, I thought you'd wrapped yourself in the Union Jack flag, but I think it's just your top.
Nick Thacker (03:44):
This is my local hockey team.
James Blatch (03:47):
I was going to say, is it hockey? It looks like a hockey thing.
Nick Thacker (03:50):
Yeah. Yep. Ice hockey. Yep.
James Blatch (03:52):
And for people. Yeah, people in the rest of the world. Ice hockey, not field ice hockey.
Nick Thacker (03:57):
Exactly. Yeah. Not field hockey. Nope.
James Blatch (04:01):
No. The default for hockey in the UK is on grass. If you say hockey, that's what people mean.
Nick Thacker (04:07):
I know. And that's unfortunate
James Blatch (04:08):
Hockey. It's ice, isn't it?
Nick Thacker (04:11):
It's unfortunate too. Ice hockey is so much more fun. There's already too many sports happening on grass. We need a lot more ice.
James Blatch (04:18):
Yes, too much grass has too much. It's a monopoly. We need to end the grass Monopoly of sport. End
Nick Thacker (04:23):
The pitch.
James Blatch (04:24):
Yeah. Listen, we're going to talk about drafted digital because you work there now. You got a job there? I do,
Nick Thacker (04:30):
I do. Yeah, I'm a company man now.
James Blatch (04:33):
Yeah, you are the man, you're the corporate man. What are you doing at Drafted Digital Nick Thacker?
Nick Thacker (04:37):
No thanks. I'm the vice president of Drafted Digital, which is weird. It's a new role, but we're calling it Vice President of Author Success. And to put it succinctly, we as drafted digital as you know have always been how do we help authors without charging a fee beforehand? We want to distribute books to all the stores and we'll take a royalty if you make money at those stores, but there's never been a time when we've offered a service that you pay upfront. And so when I came on board and we've had this conversation, I think on this call years ago, I sold author email to Drafted Digital and it was of an acquihire where instead of a big multi-billion dollar payout, I'm sure they would've offered. They said, why don't you come work for us and you keep this thing running. So Author email is under that department, if you will, newly, and we've also just acquired a company called Self Pub book covers.com, and it's exactly what it sounds like.
(05:35):
It's book covers. And so when we did that, we decided now we're charging for services, now we're charging for products, and we want to sort of silo that to make sure that we're not coming across as some sort of hybrid publisher or vanity press because that is not at all what we're doing. We're offering services and products to authors that they need. And one of our core tenets of this venture is to do it in an ethical and financially attractive way for authors. It's always authors first with drafted digital. And so that hasn't changed. I'm now running both of those companies and anything else we may acquire in the future, hopefully. But for now, the big one is book covers. We're doing pre-made book covers and customs, things like that.
James Blatch (06:19):
Okay. Well, let's break it down a bit. Let's talk about all three Mail to start off with because it's been a while since that's been running. The company has matured a bit. Where do you position it? So first of all, just describe, it's a mail list service right alongside MailChimp, mail Alike Convert, et cetera. Where do you position?
Nick Thacker (06:37):
Well, we are the most cost effective email marketing platform We are for authors only, which is one of the reasons we're able to be so inexpensive. We don't have to deal with the internet marketing riffraff, the scum, the scammers, the people like that because authors just need to send emails to their mailing list. And almost nothing of what authors do generally speaking is going to be something that raises a red flag. So for that reason, we can keep it very affordable. Now, when it was first brought into Draught to digital's fold, the idea was we've got this resource, the development resource to make this really, really nice fancy look, great ux, UI changes, overhauls, all that. And that was the plan. And then this little thing called acquiring Smashwords happened. And so we put author email back on the back burner and it's been there for longer than we all want, but for good reason because we've been focusing on smash words, migrating user accounts takes an ungodly amount of time and resource investment, but it's definitely not forgotten. So author email always has worked, but there's always been a list of things where, hey, we want to fix this, we want to make this better, we want this to be improved. And we just haven't gotten to develop that as much as we want yet. But that's absolutely still in an open beta is what we call it. It's working great. Deliverability is absolutely as high as it always was and very competitive with anything else in the industry.
James Blatch (08:00):
Yeah, I was going to ask about deliverability. That is the big thing with email service providers. I'm an experienced user of quite a few. Keep is the one that we use for SPF that's got a quarter of 1,000,300 thousand odd names on it. And I get emails very regularly from them about things that they think we might do occasionally that impact deliverability and then tips on deliverability. And I know as a company, they fight this almost never ending battle on and getting that deliverability up and it's frustrating. You send an email out to that number of people and then we get some support requests from people. They just never saw the email. It just never got blocked to ISP level. But you think author email, because it's authors, because not people sending Bitcoin scam emails out. You've got a pretty good reputation already.
Nick Thacker (08:48):
That's one of the major reasons, of course, is who's using your service. That affects deliverability of course, because you're sending emails through somewhere else, almost inevitably, unless we had our own rack of servers and a closet somewhere, and we absolutely will not do that. That's just a nightmare that you're going to be using someone else's infrastructure. Even if you're MailChimp, even if you're Mailer Light, even if you're Convert Kit, there's some infrastructure they're bouncing emails through. It could be as simple as sending it through the ISP. The end user has to get that email from Comcast over here in the United States or at t, whatever it is. And so for one reason, yeah, the users that we've got are great because they're authors. They're not trying to scam anyone. But another big reason James, that deliverability is really high is we've been working with the same delivery servers for over probably eight, nine years now, and we've just been slowly coaxing them and warming them up to who we are and what we're doing.
(09:45):
And unfortunately, or fortunately, I guess there's no way around that You can't tomorrow start your own email marketing service and have deliverability be as high. It just takes time and lots of effort and minutia to get this thing warmed up. And we've got a couple major servers right now, and we've got probably a handful of others that were always warming up. And the way we decided to do it early on was we didn't want that closet back here of servers sending emails. We wanted to use a professional company that all they do is host email servers. And so we picked a few and we started working with them and then we've picked other ones. So now we've got a great collection of delivery servers that we pay money to every month so that authors can send on our behalf or I guess vice versa, we can send on author's behalf.
(10:32):
And this is not entirely different than most email marketing services do it. We just chose to do it in a way that we're not using one company for their delivery servers. We're not just using AWS or email octopus or whatever. We've got a bunch of these, and so we can both bounce your emails from one box to another so we can keep deliverability high. Sometimes they flag us for something that comes through and we have to work with them to get that fixed. Meanwhile, we can route those emails to another company's servers. So it's just a great way using the cloud infrastructure that's already existing to be able to maintain deliverability and reputation. But yeah, at the end of the day, there's a lot of these little reasons like that. The biggest one of course is that we work with authors and only authors and there is a small vetting process. So if you sign up and want to send us your MLM and Bitcoin scams like you said, then we're going to say, Hey, that's not what we do. Go choose another service. We're for authors only. We've done that in the past.
James Blatch (11:27):
And this is something that goes on in the background that a lot of people who use email service providers don't realise. There's reputation building, which takes a long time, which is what you've said you've been doing. So that sounds like a good fit. And I've got a final question. How do you ensure that you are only being used by authors?
Nick Thacker (11:47):
Well, as I said, we have a small vetting process, and what that means is there's never going to be a 100% guaranteed way of ensuring that you're an author. And the truth is, we get people who are authors and running a business that has nothing to do with authors. And so those bring up some questions like, do we allow them to use the service, do we not? Is there something in between that we can figure out? The truth is what we try to do is what we do actually is look at what is being sent. And if we see that there's somebody sending all these emails, they're getting a high bounce rate, there's all these flags that we can see that imply something isn't right in the way they're sending, it's either something's broken, they haven't verified an email address, or they're sending things that they shouldn't be sending, and they're getting pushback from that from the end users. So we'll come down and say, Hey, you can't be doing that on this platform if you're not an author, we're going to kindly ask you to leave and we'll cancel your account and refund your money.
(12:41):
That's how we do it. So far it's been working pretty well. As I said, you can't guarantee that we're always going to be perfect, but we're looking at what gets sent every single minute and if we see something that raises a flag, we start asking questions.
James Blatch (12:56):
Okay, I'm looking slightly yellow because we just had a power cut in Huntington where I am and power is back on, but we're going to resume this interview as if nothing happened and make it all smooth in the edit. I just look yellow. My lights have not rejoined the internet yet. Okay, so we talked about author email, which I think is the address, isn't it? Author email,
Nick Thacker (13:18):
Author email or author email.com, either one.
James Blatch (13:20):
And if they want to check that out, I think you are very competitive. I just got up your little slider. So if you had 10,000 subscribers, that's less than 20 bucks a month compared to MailChimp at 130 bucks a month. So that is a very significant difference. Even light is 75 at that point. In fact, you don't really go up until pretty high. Is it 20,000? I think it goes up to the next jump.
Nick Thacker (13:49):
Yep. Yeah, we start at $10 99 cents a month for under 10,000 subscribers, and then the next jump is 29 99 for I think up to 49,000 subscribers. And that was the goal, James. I mean, when we started this, I was paying somewhere $300 at MailChimp and I thought there's got to be a better way to do this. We don't need the CRM tools that MailChimp offers. We don't need to manage all the different detailed granular things that MailChimp allows you to do. It's fantastic if you want to run an enterprise resource platform or something, but that's not what authors needed. It's not what I needed. I just wanted to send emails and have autoresponders and lists, and that's absolutely what we do. And so we just didn't have any of those additional features that wouldn't be useful for authors. We only focused on the ones that would be useful.
James Blatch (14:38):
And what about things like integration with other tools like Lead Pages or Wix forms? Can that integrate with author email
Nick Thacker (14:50):
In a way? Yes. It's not easy. I'll admit that's one of the things on our list that we never got to was let's make sure these integrations are much easier. Right now it's workarounds. It's possible of course, but it's not as easy as it should be. We do have integrations, OneClick integrations with services like book funnel, story origin, things like that. So it is possible to run your author business and use author email as the segmentation and list building tool that some of these other services provide. But one of the major overhauls that we've got planned is a UX UI change, which for anyone listening doesn't know what that is. The interface. The interface isn't where we want it to be. It's not bad, but it's just not as intuitive as we'd like. And so that's a major part of what we've got coming down the pike hopefully soon.
James Blatch (15:36):
Yeah. Okay. Right. So that's all through email and the other side of the business that you're looking after, the other business within the business you're looking after is covers. So just tell us about that. I know it's a separate domain. It
Nick Thacker (15:50):
Is. It's a wholly different business that we've acquired about 11 months ago. It's called self pub book covers.com. So depending on when you go, that site may or may not redirect to the new site, which we're building now. But we have taken over self put book covers, which has been around for a while. It's over a decade old. The owners of that website are fantastic people and they just wanted to make sure that the company went somewhere that cared about authors first and foremost. And so that's what we're trying to maintain as we go forward, the integrity of that business. But it's a pre-made book cover marketplace. So rather than if you're a designer and you set out to shingle as a book cover designer and you have some pre-made on your website, this is a marketplace for multiple designers to offer their covers for multiple authors.
(16:42):
And one of the main unique selling propositions of this website was and is that any author can come purchase a cover and customise the text on that cover. So add a title, add their name, they can configure that, they can change the text right there in the browser, download the cover that's high res, ready to go for upload to Amazon, drafted digital, wherever that if you are looking at the older site is working and very outdated, no fault to anyone who built it. It was built 13, 14 years ago and it has worked flawlessly since then, which is kind of a testament to how well it was built, but it obviously looks outdated and it needs an overhaul. And so what I've been doing, and I've got a small team working with me here on the draught to digital side is what I've been doing is building a brand new version of this and we are launching it's book covers.com.
(17:35):
We've acquired that domain. Everything from self pop book covers.com is going to be transitioned over. It's in process of being transitioned over users covers all that stuff. And we've just totally revamped everything about the site. So the marketplace aspect is far easier to navigate. Payouts are automated rather than manual authors and designers can go make an account and communicate with each other a little bit to get the cover they want, and authors can still go in and customise their covers, but the editor for that is much, much easier to use. And the design is just better because of modern technology. We're not quite done yet as of recording this, but we are launching in phases. So the first phase is ready right now, which is if you go to book covers.com, you'll see the website, what it's going to look like. There's some placeholder covers that we're getting, some of the old covers transitioned over as we speak.
(18:25):
You won't be able to create an account, you won't be able to purchase, you won't be able to do any of the things we're talking about. That's our phase two and that's what we expect to come out sometime end of summer. And we're very excited about this. It's a huge, huge initiative. But the idea is again, what do authors need to publish their book? And of course a book cover is a requirement, and so we're hoping that we can offer fantastically designed book covers at an attractive price that will also lift up the designers who are doing this and they have a whole marketplace now where they can sell their designs. And so anyway, that's the premise of the website. I need to work on the elevator pitch a bit. It's a bit long, but you get the idea of what we're trying to do here.
(19:07):
And of course if there's something pre-made is the idea behind the marketplace, but we do offer custom covers. We do offer ways to modify a cover if you see an image you like, but it's not quite right. And all of this stuff is mostly automated. It's back and forth with the designer who will then either do the modification or say that they can't, at which point we've got an in-house designer who will get it. So it's a really elaborate system that I'm very happy. It's quite streamlined in the way it works and hopefully the industry feels the same way when they see this. It's going to be hopefully very, very good and beneficial for the industry at large.
James Blatch (19:43):
Yeah. So is it in part like a marketplace like Rez or fiverr.com and in part an automated system it's got a bit of both. You can basically pick up a cover designer there or you can work with the automation tools and modify an existing cover.
Nick Thacker (19:59):
Exactly. It's both. So the automation is really just, I'm saying that because that's been my biggest headache with running the old site is the things that needed to be automated were not, and it's a lot of back and forth with that. I'm just trying to remove any of the back and forth that's unnecessary. So if you're an author, you go to book covers.com, you can find a cover designed by somebody, and if you like it, you can customise it right there even before you purchase it. Once you buy the cover, the designer gets paid automatically. You have a cover ready to go in your dashboard that you can customise as many times as you want. This isn't a one-time thing, so you've got the image in place and then you can put your own text on there and change the text, add a subtitle, whatever you need to do.
(20:38):
If it becomes part of a series, add the series tag for as long as you are using our website. And so then you just redownload the cover every single time. Some of the things that I mentioned are automated are things like if you know you're going to do a print wrap, if you're going to do a full wrap paperback, for example, you can purchase the cover and then check a box and say, I would also like the full wrap, and you don't have to email us. You don't have to find the designer and hope they're still around you purchase it. And if the designer can't complete that project for you and design a full wrap, then we do it in house and you get it within 48 hours. So that part is what I'm saying is automated. You can find your cover and everything you need for that cover, audiobook, custom modifications, things like that, and it just makes it a lot easier.
(21:22):
And then of course, the marketplace idea is to make it a little bit more social, so make it a little bit more so that if you're a designer, you can come in here, not just sell cool book cover designs, but you can actually build a store and people can keep coming back. Authors can keep coming back to you because they like what you've done, and so you'll have your own storefront on our page where you can show off your covers, run promotions, all that stuff is fully automated. You can run ads on the website to get yours to the top of our homepage, things like that. So we're really excited about this. I'm hoping that the author community will be as well, but we've got so many authors and designers that have used the old site and every single one that I've talked to is excited to have a newer platform that's easier to use and I only expect that to grow as we go.
James Blatch (22:07):
Yeah, sounds great. And this feels like it's kind of drafted digital's longer term plans to have author services alongside its core service of distribution of books.
Nick Thacker (22:18):
That was one of our original initiatives was this idea that you go through the draught of digital process to upload your book, and there's a question that says, do you have a book cover? And if you do, you upload your book cover image. If you don't, we say, go get one. And so the idea was what if we just linked to another website that we know and trust and that became, well now let's purchase a company. Now let's get this redone and everything. And we tend to want to make things as easy as possible for the authors, which makes things more complicated for us on the backend. But again, at the end of the day, how much cooler would it be for us to have a fully integrated system where you're on drafted digitals platform, click a link and it says, pick a cover and you pick a cover, put your text and title fonts, things like that, and then you're done, and that's all this is going to be.
James Blatch (23:07):
Yeah. Dara mentioned ai, which is having an impact in lots of areas of our industry, including cover design. Is this something that you've got your eyes on or are you keeping away from it for now?
Nick Thacker (23:19):
Oh my gosh. Well, we have no choice but to keep our eye on it, right? I'm not a lawyer and I'm not following very closely how the US et al is dealing with this sort of fair use stuff, which is kind of the big legal topic. So I'll stay away from that. What I will talk about is how we approach this as a policy as a company with the need to have a policy regarding can I use AI to design my cover? Historically, self put book covers.com had a policy that said, no AI whatsoever. You cannot use ai. And then of course, if you're following along in the industry, that is a really difficult thing to define. What is ai? Well, did I use Grammarly at all when I wrote the book or did I use generative fill and Adobe to do the background, which I would argue are uses of ai?
(24:06):
And so it's really difficult is the answer. What we've done now, the policy if you will, is to say, we don't want a book cover that is click a button, design a cover in ai, whatever that means. If you're using Adobe Firefly or midjourney, we don't want you to say, imagine a book cover for this and then have an image and upload that and you're done. That's not the intent of the marketplace. We do want designers to design, but it's also true that designer can use, for example, Adobe generative fill to say, I need to fill out the rest of this background image with content, and you can click a button in Photoshop and do that. And so first of all, there's no way to prove that an author or an artist did or did not use that. And so we can't really come down and say, you can't do that.
(24:53):
But it's also true that this is a way to make the design more efficient or more usable in different iterations, and the designer still has to know what they're doing in order to place a stock photo on top of that in order to blend those layers together. There's all sorts of design elements that cannot be done with AI at this point, and I believe maybe one day they will be able to be done, but even then, I think it's going to take someone who understands design, who understands composition, who understands layout, and so that's our policy At this point. It's not as what I just said, but the intent is we want designers to design book covers, and if you use a stock element from a stock website, you don't know that that wasn't generated by AI in the first place. There's no way to tell, and we've always said that using stock photos is allowed, and so that's not changed.
(25:37):
What we're just trying to stay away from is clicking a button, getting a fully designed book cover with every element on it, and you're done. That's not really helpful to the industry at this point. And so what we're trying to do is say, design your book cover if you need to use an element that was generated with ai, like the sword for example, was wrong or the fire was the wrong colour, things like that. We've always been able to manipulate photos and things like Photoshop, and that is how I think AI is being used really well. So I hope that answers your question. Anyone coming to the website, you can read the official policy, which is very much just the same thing, just saying, look, there's no way to really tell. We don't want images that are fully baked AI out of the box, but we also know that we can't police this nearly as well as people would hope.
James Blatch (26:22):
Yeah, I think that seems like a sensible way because I think using AI to replace, to get the stock image, to get the image, the kind of key figure you want or location you want, we've all had this over the years of you kind of run out of the same stock images that everyone else is using, and AI has amazingly allowed us to suddenly have the capital building on the wonk site, someone's running that's replaced stock images, but all that does is give you some elements needed by a designer to create a great cover. It doesn't create a great cover by itself. So I think you're doing authors a service and saying You do need a designer ultimately, because the covers are much better.
Nick Thacker (26:56):
I believe so I think I've always said, I don't believe covers sell books, but they are absolutely a reason why you may not sell a book, right? It's too late in the game now. There's too much. It's saturation in the market for good book covers that if you have a cover that's subpar, people won't click it. People won't decide to read the description, to read the blurb and then buy it because they won't even get there. So you have to have a cover that's been thought through enough to say, this matches the expectation of the reader in this particular genre. That's it. No one's going to click on the cover and go, oh my gosh, this picture is so amazing. I'm going to buy it regardless of what it's about. We just don't do that. But it does have to be good enough. It does have to be able to fit into a genre at a thumbnail size that looks like it belongs there.
James Blatch (27:43):
I think signalling the genre is the most important thing it does. The second most important thing it does is just look professional, and if it does those two, it's done its job. It doesn't need to be, as you say, a Mona Lisa work of art after that. Good. Well, that's great. And D two D's core business, is that something that's not really in your VP sphere, you are the guy doing these add-ons, these extra value added things for authors?
Nick Thacker (28:08):
That's right. That's right. Yeah. My role, I don't have any say or any push really on how we distribute books. There's much smarter people doing all that, but I am absolutely involved with day-to-Day operations. Things like talking to the groups and figuring out what we want to do. I'm part of the company as much as anyone else, but yeah, my day-to-Day role is very much working on author success. How do we make authors more successful through services and tools and products that we can potentially provide at a cost that's very, very reasonable, especially compared to the vanities out there, the ones trying to make a buck off the back of an author without really giving them what they're wanting.
James Blatch (28:49):
Yeah. Okay. Well, people can visit draught digital drafted digital.com. You are not coming to London, I don't think, but I think Dan is. Is that right?
Nick Thacker (29:00):
Yep. I'm not this year. Dan doesn't like to bring anyone along so he can have all the fun by himself, but we'll work next year maybe,
James Blatch (29:07):
If Dan's lucky, he'll get a tour of London statues with me. I know it was a highlight for him last year when I took him to a statue and gave him a lecture. He still talks about it.
Nick Thacker (29:17):
I would like that tour myself, but I'm have to make that happen next year. I'd like the James Blat tour statue tour. Yeah,
James Blatch (29:24):
I promise you. Remind me where you are, Nick. Are you West Coast
Nick Thacker (29:27):
Almost? I'm Colorado. Yeah, so it's Colorado. If you're familiar with Hunger Games. We're the region that didn't get decimated. I think we're district one.
James Blatch (29:36):
District one.
Nick Thacker (29:38):
Yeah.
James Blatch (29:39):
If you're watching on YouTube, putting up my little sign. Okay, excellent. Well, Nick, thank you very much indeed. Great explanation of those two products and a bit of shout out, of course for D 2D. They will be at the conference. If you're coming along next week, you can have a chat with Dan and hopefully we'll see you in London at some point,
Nick Thacker (29:58):
Some point. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me and for the time, I really appreciate
Speaker 1 (30:02):
It. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (30:07):
There we go. There is Nick Thacker, and if you want to speak to Dan Wood, he'll be there on Tuesday and Wednesday at the South Bank Centre in London For our conference, last chance to buy a ticket, learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. That closes at midnight tonight regardless of how many have been sold. Okay, that's it. Thank you very much indeed. All the remains would say, is this a goodbye for me? So goodbye
Speaker 1 (30:32):
Get show notes, the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at self-publishing show.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at self-publishing show.com/facebook. Support the [email protected] slash self-Publishing show, and join us next week for more help and for 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.

SPS-428: The Bookbub new release – Rocket boost.

Join James and Carlyn Robertson from BookBub talking about what’s new at BookBub and what BookBub can offer.

Show Notes

Show notes:
– What is BookBub and BookBub’s blog
– BookBub’s Featured Deals and what it can offer
– New Release Tool
– Growing your fan base on BookBub
– Weekly new release for less email
– BookBub at SPS Live

Resources mentioned in this episode:

SPS LIVE 2024 TICKETS – GET THEM HERE!

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Speaker 1 (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, the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch. Welcome along. If you're listening to this on release day, it's the 21st of June. We are just a few days away from our big annual conference, the Self-Publishing Show Live, Europe's largest gathering of indie authors, which is going to take place in London on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. And if you want to come along and join us, you've got today basically until midnight tonight. We can't sell tickets any closer to the event than that, so we can't sell 'em over the weekend and they won't be available on the door. So if you want to snag a ticket and join me and several hundred others up to 916 I think is our absolute limit. Now you can go learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. I'm looking forward to it. We're going to hear from some industry titans. We're going to hear from some Titan authors.
(01:05):
We're going to hear from authors who make enough that they don't have to do their nine to five every week. We're going to hear from people providing services to the indie community. We're going to hear from people that you will recognise like El James and Lucy Score and Ricardo Fiat, and some people you may not know who are going to perhaps surprise you with some of the lessons and teachings that we're going to have. And I'm going to be doing a session on ai, which is the big topic, of course, one of the big topics that we're talking about at the moment. And there might even be some surprise announcements if you're there in person as well. Yeah, so looking forward to that. That is next week. If you're listening to this on Wednesday or Thursday next week, then I'll be lying down in a darkened room with a few others.
(01:51):
Catherine in particular, who's done an absolutely fantastic job of organising this conference, A big shout out to Catherine, keeping all the balls in the air, all the plates, spinning on all the other cliches to get that conference going. Okay, look, there's not much to talk about. We are absolutely very, very busy. It's Wednesday night as I'm recording this, I'm doing this very quickly and then moving on to a hundred other things I've got to do between now and the conference starting on Tuesday. So let me just introduce to you our interviewee, which is somebody, one of the companies that will be at the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dan Wood is going to be there from draught to digital. The interviewee, although is Nick Thacker, who works with D 2D, but he looks at some of the other author services. So D 2D is a service that will distribute your book wide, distribute your book to dozens of retailers around the world.
(02:41):
So you upload it once to draught to digital. It makes sure it's in Barn and Noble and Coone and I mean there are gazillion others that it goes to. And it could even be Amazon if you want it to distribute to Amazon as well if you don't want to do that yourself. So they take a cut of sales, but it saves you a painful business of putting your book everywhere. But they have some other services as well. Alongside that, I have an email service provider exclusively for authors, and they have a cover designer, obviously for authors who else would need a cover design? And that is the domain of Nick Thacker, a thriller author from Colorado. And I know Nick quite well, met him over the years, so it's always a pleasure to chat to him. So Nick's up here. I'll be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1 (03:28):
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (03:34):
Hey, Nick Thacker, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. When you first joined us now, I thought you'd wrapped yourself in the Union Jack flag, but I think it's just your top.
Nick Thacker (03:44):
This is my local hockey team.
James Blatch (03:47):
I was going to say, is it hockey? It looks like a hockey thing.
Nick Thacker (03:50):
Yeah. Yep. Ice hockey. Yep.
James Blatch (03:52):
And for people. Yeah, people in the rest of the world. Ice hockey, not field ice hockey.
Nick Thacker (03:57):
Exactly. Yeah. Not field hockey. Nope.
James Blatch (04:01):
No. The default for hockey in the UK is on grass. If you say hockey, that's what people mean.
Nick Thacker (04:07):
I know. And that's unfortunate
James Blatch (04:08):
Hockey. It's ice, isn't it?
Nick Thacker (04:11):
It's unfortunate too. Ice hockey is so much more fun. There's already too many sports happening on grass. We need a lot more ice.
James Blatch (04:18):
Yes, too much grass has too much. It's a monopoly. We need to end the grass Monopoly of sport. End
Nick Thacker (04:23):
The pitch.
James Blatch (04:24):
Yeah. Listen, we're going to talk about drafted digital because you work there now. You got a job there? I do,
Nick Thacker (04:30):
I do. Yeah, I'm a company man now.
James Blatch (04:33):
Yeah, you are the man, you're the corporate man. What are you doing at Drafted Digital Nick Thacker?
Nick Thacker (04:37):
No thanks. I'm the vice president of Drafted Digital, which is weird. It's a new role, but we're calling it Vice President of Author Success. And to put it succinctly, we as drafted digital as you know have always been how do we help authors without charging a fee beforehand? We want to distribute books to all the stores and we'll take a royalty if you make money at those stores, but there's never been a time when we've offered a service that you pay upfront. And so when I came on board and we've had this conversation, I think on this call years ago, I sold author email to Drafted Digital and it was of an acquihire where instead of a big multi-billion dollar payout, I'm sure they would've offered. They said, why don't you come work for us and you keep this thing running. So Author email is under that department, if you will, newly, and we've also just acquired a company called Self Pub book covers.com, and it's exactly what it sounds like.
(05:35):
It's book covers. And so when we did that, we decided now we're charging for services, now we're charging for products, and we want to sort of silo that to make sure that we're not coming across as some sort of hybrid publisher or vanity press because that is not at all what we're doing. We're offering services and products to authors that they need. And one of our core tenets of this venture is to do it in an ethical and financially attractive way for authors. It's always authors first with drafted digital. And so that hasn't changed. I'm now running both of those companies and anything else we may acquire in the future, hopefully. But for now, the big one is book covers. We're doing pre-made book covers and customs, things like that.
James Blatch (06:19):
Okay. Well, let's break it down a bit. Let's talk about all three Mail to start off with because it's been a while since that's been running. The company has matured a bit. Where do you position it? So first of all, just describe, it's a mail list service right alongside MailChimp, mail Alike Convert, et cetera. Where do you position?
Nick Thacker (06:37):
Well, we are the most cost effective email marketing platform We are for authors only, which is one of the reasons we're able to be so inexpensive. We don't have to deal with the internet marketing riffraff, the scum, the scammers, the people like that because authors just need to send emails to their mailing list. And almost nothing of what authors do generally speaking is going to be something that raises a red flag. So for that reason, we can keep it very affordable. Now, when it was first brought into Draught to digital's fold, the idea was we've got this resource, the development resource to make this really, really nice fancy look, great ux, UI changes, overhauls, all that. And that was the plan. And then this little thing called acquiring Smashwords happened. And so we put author email back on the back burner and it's been there for longer than we all want, but for good reason because we've been focusing on smash words, migrating user accounts takes an ungodly amount of time and resource investment, but it's definitely not forgotten. So author email always has worked, but there's always been a list of things where, hey, we want to fix this, we want to make this better, we want this to be improved. And we just haven't gotten to develop that as much as we want yet. But that's absolutely still in an open beta is what we call it. It's working great. Deliverability is absolutely as high as it always was and very competitive with anything else in the industry.
James Blatch (08:00):
Yeah, I was going to ask about deliverability. That is the big thing with email service providers. I'm an experienced user of quite a few. Keep is the one that we use for SPF that's got a quarter of 1,000,300 thousand odd names on it. And I get emails very regularly from them about things that they think we might do occasionally that impact deliverability and then tips on deliverability. And I know as a company, they fight this almost never ending battle on and getting that deliverability up and it's frustrating. You send an email out to that number of people and then we get some support requests from people. They just never saw the email. It just never got blocked to ISP level. But you think author email, because it's authors, because not people sending Bitcoin scam emails out. You've got a pretty good reputation already.
Nick Thacker (08:48):
That's one of the major reasons, of course, is who's using your service. That affects deliverability of course, because you're sending emails through somewhere else, almost inevitably, unless we had our own rack of servers and a closet somewhere, and we absolutely will not do that. That's just a nightmare that you're going to be using someone else's infrastructure. Even if you're MailChimp, even if you're Mailer Light, even if you're Convert Kit, there's some infrastructure they're bouncing emails through. It could be as simple as sending it through the ISP. The end user has to get that email from Comcast over here in the United States or at t, whatever it is. And so for one reason, yeah, the users that we've got are great because they're authors. They're not trying to scam anyone. But another big reason James, that deliverability is really high is we've been working with the same delivery servers for over probably eight, nine years now, and we've just been slowly coaxing them and warming them up to who we are and what we're doing.
(09:45):
And unfortunately, or fortunately, I guess there's no way around that You can't tomorrow start your own email marketing service and have deliverability be as high. It just takes time and lots of effort and minutia to get this thing warmed up. And we've got a couple major servers right now, and we've got probably a handful of others that were always warming up. And the way we decided to do it early on was we didn't want that closet back here of servers sending emails. We wanted to use a professional company that all they do is host email servers. And so we picked a few and we started working with them and then we've picked other ones. So now we've got a great collection of delivery servers that we pay money to every month so that authors can send on our behalf or I guess vice versa, we can send on author's behalf.
(10:32):
And this is not entirely different than most email marketing services do it. We just chose to do it in a way that we're not using one company for their delivery servers. We're not just using AWS or email octopus or whatever. We've got a bunch of these, and so we can both bounce your emails from one box to another so we can keep deliverability high. Sometimes they flag us for something that comes through and we have to work with them to get that fixed. Meanwhile, we can route those emails to another company's servers. So it's just a great way using the cloud infrastructure that's already existing to be able to maintain deliverability and reputation. But yeah, at the end of the day, there's a lot of these little reasons like that. The biggest one of course is that we work with authors and only authors and there is a small vetting process. So if you sign up and want to send us your MLM and Bitcoin scams like you said, then we're going to say, Hey, that's not what we do. Go choose another service. We're for authors only. We've done that in the past.
James Blatch (11:27):
And this is something that goes on in the background that a lot of people who use email service providers don't realise. There's reputation building, which takes a long time, which is what you've said you've been doing. So that sounds like a good fit. And I've got a final question. How do you ensure that you are only being used by authors?
Nick Thacker (11:47):
Well, as I said, we have a small vetting process, and what that means is there's never going to be a 100% guaranteed way of ensuring that you're an author. And the truth is, we get people who are authors and running a business that has nothing to do with authors. And so those bring up some questions like, do we allow them to use the service, do we not? Is there something in between that we can figure out? The truth is what we try to do is what we do actually is look at what is being sent. And if we see that there's somebody sending all these emails, they're getting a high bounce rate, there's all these flags that we can see that imply something isn't right in the way they're sending, it's either something's broken, they haven't verified an email address, or they're sending things that they shouldn't be sending, and they're getting pushback from that from the end users. So we'll come down and say, Hey, you can't be doing that on this platform if you're not an author, we're going to kindly ask you to leave and we'll cancel your account and refund your money.
(12:41):
That's how we do it. So far it's been working pretty well. As I said, you can't guarantee that we're always going to be perfect, but we're looking at what gets sent every single minute and if we see something that raises a flag, we start asking questions.
James Blatch (12:56):
Okay, I'm looking slightly yellow because we just had a power cut in Huntington where I am and power is back on, but we're going to resume this interview as if nothing happened and make it all smooth in the edit. I just look yellow. My lights have not rejoined the internet yet. Okay, so we talked about author email, which I think is the address, isn't it? Author email,
Nick Thacker (13:18):
Author email or author email.com, either one.
James Blatch (13:20):
And if they want to check that out, I think you are very competitive. I just got up your little slider. So if you had 10,000 subscribers, that's less than 20 bucks a month compared to MailChimp at 130 bucks a month. So that is a very significant difference. Even light is 75 at that point. In fact, you don't really go up until pretty high. Is it 20,000? I think it goes up to the next jump.
Nick Thacker (13:49):
Yep. Yeah, we start at $10 99 cents a month for under 10,000 subscribers, and then the next jump is 29 99 for I think up to 49,000 subscribers. And that was the goal, James. I mean, when we started this, I was paying somewhere $300 at MailChimp and I thought there's got to be a better way to do this. We don't need the CRM tools that MailChimp offers. We don't need to manage all the different detailed granular things that MailChimp allows you to do. It's fantastic if you want to run an enterprise resource platform or something, but that's not what authors needed. It's not what I needed. I just wanted to send emails and have autoresponders and lists, and that's absolutely what we do. And so we just didn't have any of those additional features that wouldn't be useful for authors. We only focused on the ones that would be useful.
James Blatch (14:38):
And what about things like integration with other tools like Lead Pages or Wix forms? Can that integrate with author email
Nick Thacker (14:50):
In a way? Yes. It's not easy. I'll admit that's one of the things on our list that we never got to was let's make sure these integrations are much easier. Right now it's workarounds. It's possible of course, but it's not as easy as it should be. We do have integrations, OneClick integrations with services like book funnel, story origin, things like that. So it is possible to run your author business and use author email as the segmentation and list building tool that some of these other services provide. But one of the major overhauls that we've got planned is a UX UI change, which for anyone listening doesn't know what that is. The interface. The interface isn't where we want it to be. It's not bad, but it's just not as intuitive as we'd like. And so that's a major part of what we've got coming down the pike hopefully soon.
James Blatch (15:36):
Yeah. Okay. Right. So that's all through email and the other side of the business that you're looking after, the other business within the business you're looking after is covers. So just tell us about that. I know it's a separate domain. It
Nick Thacker (15:50):
Is. It's a wholly different business that we've acquired about 11 months ago. It's called self pub book covers.com. So depending on when you go, that site may or may not redirect to the new site, which we're building now. But we have taken over self put book covers, which has been around for a while. It's over a decade old. The owners of that website are fantastic people and they just wanted to make sure that the company went somewhere that cared about authors first and foremost. And so that's what we're trying to maintain as we go forward, the integrity of that business. But it's a pre-made book cover marketplace. So rather than if you're a designer and you set out to shingle as a book cover designer and you have some pre-made on your website, this is a marketplace for multiple designers to offer their covers for multiple authors.
(16:42):
And one of the main unique selling propositions of this website was and is that any author can come purchase a cover and customise the text on that cover. So add a title, add their name, they can configure that, they can change the text right there in the browser, download the cover that's high res, ready to go for upload to Amazon, drafted digital, wherever that if you are looking at the older site is working and very outdated, no fault to anyone who built it. It was built 13, 14 years ago and it has worked flawlessly since then, which is kind of a testament to how well it was built, but it obviously looks outdated and it needs an overhaul. And so what I've been doing, and I've got a small team working with me here on the draught to digital side is what I've been doing is building a brand new version of this and we are launching it's book covers.com.
(17:35):
We've acquired that domain. Everything from self pop book covers.com is going to be transitioned over. It's in process of being transitioned over users covers all that stuff. And we've just totally revamped everything about the site. So the marketplace aspect is far easier to navigate. Payouts are automated rather than manual authors and designers can go make an account and communicate with each other a little bit to get the cover they want, and authors can still go in and customise their covers, but the editor for that is much, much easier to use. And the design is just better because of modern technology. We're not quite done yet as of recording this, but we are launching in phases. So the first phase is ready right now, which is if you go to book covers.com, you'll see the website, what it's going to look like. There's some placeholder covers that we're getting, some of the old covers transitioned over as we speak.
(18:25):
You won't be able to create an account, you won't be able to purchase, you won't be able to do any of the things we're talking about. That's our phase two and that's what we expect to come out sometime end of summer. And we're very excited about this. It's a huge, huge initiative. But the idea is again, what do authors need to publish their book? And of course a book cover is a requirement, and so we're hoping that we can offer fantastically designed book covers at an attractive price that will also lift up the designers who are doing this and they have a whole marketplace now where they can sell their designs. And so anyway, that's the premise of the website. I need to work on the elevator pitch a bit. It's a bit long, but you get the idea of what we're trying to do here.
(19:07):
And of course if there's something pre-made is the idea behind the marketplace, but we do offer custom covers. We do offer ways to modify a cover if you see an image you like, but it's not quite right. And all of this stuff is mostly automated. It's back and forth with the designer who will then either do the modification or say that they can't, at which point we've got an in-house designer who will get it. So it's a really elaborate system that I'm very happy. It's quite streamlined in the way it works and hopefully the industry feels the same way when they see this. It's going to be hopefully very, very good and beneficial for the industry at large.
James Blatch (19:43):
Yeah. So is it in part like a marketplace like Rez or fiverr.com and in part an automated system it's got a bit of both. You can basically pick up a cover designer there or you can work with the automation tools and modify an existing cover.
Nick Thacker (19:59):
Exactly. It's both. So the automation is really just, I'm saying that because that's been my biggest headache with running the old site is the things that needed to be automated were not, and it's a lot of back and forth with that. I'm just trying to remove any of the back and forth that's unnecessary. So if you're an author, you go to book covers.com, you can find a cover designed by somebody, and if you like it, you can customise it right there even before you purchase it. Once you buy the cover, the designer gets paid automatically. You have a cover ready to go in your dashboard that you can customise as many times as you want. This isn't a one-time thing, so you've got the image in place and then you can put your own text on there and change the text, add a subtitle, whatever you need to do.
(20:38):
If it becomes part of a series, add the series tag for as long as you are using our website. And so then you just redownload the cover every single time. Some of the things that I mentioned are automated are things like if you know you're going to do a print wrap, if you're going to do a full wrap paperback, for example, you can purchase the cover and then check a box and say, I would also like the full wrap, and you don't have to email us. You don't have to find the designer and hope they're still around you purchase it. And if the designer can't complete that project for you and design a full wrap, then we do it in house and you get it within 48 hours. So that part is what I'm saying is automated. You can find your cover and everything you need for that cover, audiobook, custom modifications, things like that, and it just makes it a lot easier.
(21:22):
And then of course, the marketplace idea is to make it a little bit more social, so make it a little bit more so that if you're a designer, you can come in here, not just sell cool book cover designs, but you can actually build a store and people can keep coming back. Authors can keep coming back to you because they like what you've done, and so you'll have your own storefront on our page where you can show off your covers, run promotions, all that stuff is fully automated. You can run ads on the website to get yours to the top of our homepage, things like that. So we're really excited about this. I'm hoping that the author community will be as well, but we've got so many authors and designers that have used the old site and every single one that I've talked to is excited to have a newer platform that's easier to use and I only expect that to grow as we go.
James Blatch (22:07):
Yeah, sounds great. And this feels like it's kind of drafted digital's longer term plans to have author services alongside its core service of distribution of books.
Nick Thacker (22:18):
That was one of our original initiatives was this idea that you go through the draught of digital process to upload your book, and there's a question that says, do you have a book cover? And if you do, you upload your book cover image. If you don't, we say, go get one. And so the idea was what if we just linked to another website that we know and trust and that became, well now let's purchase a company. Now let's get this redone and everything. And we tend to want to make things as easy as possible for the authors, which makes things more complicated for us on the backend. But again, at the end of the day, how much cooler would it be for us to have a fully integrated system where you're on drafted digitals platform, click a link and it says, pick a cover and you pick a cover, put your text and title fonts, things like that, and then you're done, and that's all this is going to be.
James Blatch (23:07):
Yeah. Dara mentioned ai, which is having an impact in lots of areas of our industry, including cover design. Is this something that you've got your eyes on or are you keeping away from it for now?
Nick Thacker (23:19):
Oh my gosh. Well, we have no choice but to keep our eye on it, right? I'm not a lawyer and I'm not following very closely how the US et al is dealing with this sort of fair use stuff, which is kind of the big legal topic. So I'll stay away from that. What I will talk about is how we approach this as a policy as a company with the need to have a policy regarding can I use AI to design my cover? Historically, self put book covers.com had a policy that said, no AI whatsoever. You cannot use ai. And then of course, if you're following along in the industry, that is a really difficult thing to define. What is ai? Well, did I use Grammarly at all when I wrote the book or did I use generative fill and Adobe to do the background, which I would argue are uses of ai?
(24:06):
And so it's really difficult is the answer. What we've done now, the policy if you will, is to say, we don't want a book cover that is click a button, design a cover in ai, whatever that means. If you're using Adobe Firefly or midjourney, we don't want you to say, imagine a book cover for this and then have an image and upload that and you're done. That's not the intent of the marketplace. We do want designers to design, but it's also true that designer can use, for example, Adobe generative fill to say, I need to fill out the rest of this background image with content, and you can click a button in Photoshop and do that. And so first of all, there's no way to prove that an author or an artist did or did not use that. And so we can't really come down and say, you can't do that.
(24:53):
But it's also true that this is a way to make the design more efficient or more usable in different iterations, and the designer still has to know what they're doing in order to place a stock photo on top of that in order to blend those layers together. There's all sorts of design elements that cannot be done with AI at this point, and I believe maybe one day they will be able to be done, but even then, I think it's going to take someone who understands design, who understands composition, who understands layout, and so that's our policy At this point. It's not as what I just said, but the intent is we want designers to design book covers, and if you use a stock element from a stock website, you don't know that that wasn't generated by AI in the first place. There's no way to tell, and we've always said that using stock photos is allowed, and so that's not changed.
(25:37):
What we're just trying to stay away from is clicking a button, getting a fully designed book cover with every element on it, and you're done. That's not really helpful to the industry at this point. And so what we're trying to do is say, design your book cover if you need to use an element that was generated with ai, like the sword for example, was wrong or the fire was the wrong colour, things like that. We've always been able to manipulate photos and things like Photoshop, and that is how I think AI is being used really well. So I hope that answers your question. Anyone coming to the website, you can read the official policy, which is very much just the same thing, just saying, look, there's no way to really tell. We don't want images that are fully baked AI out of the box, but we also know that we can't police this nearly as well as people would hope.
James Blatch (26:22):
Yeah, I think that seems like a sensible way because I think using AI to replace, to get the stock image, to get the image, the kind of key figure you want or location you want, we've all had this over the years of you kind of run out of the same stock images that everyone else is using, and AI has amazingly allowed us to suddenly have the capital building on the wonk site, someone's running that's replaced stock images, but all that does is give you some elements needed by a designer to create a great cover. It doesn't create a great cover by itself. So I think you're doing authors a service and saying You do need a designer ultimately, because the covers are much better.
Nick Thacker (26:56):
I believe so I think I've always said, I don't believe covers sell books, but they are absolutely a reason why you may not sell a book, right? It's too late in the game now. There's too much. It's saturation in the market for good book covers that if you have a cover that's subpar, people won't click it. People won't decide to read the description, to read the blurb and then buy it because they won't even get there. So you have to have a cover that's been thought through enough to say, this matches the expectation of the reader in this particular genre. That's it. No one's going to click on the cover and go, oh my gosh, this picture is so amazing. I'm going to buy it regardless of what it's about. We just don't do that. But it does have to be good enough. It does have to be able to fit into a genre at a thumbnail size that looks like it belongs there.
James Blatch (27:43):
I think signalling the genre is the most important thing it does. The second most important thing it does is just look professional, and if it does those two, it's done its job. It doesn't need to be, as you say, a Mona Lisa work of art after that. Good. Well, that's great. And D two D's core business, is that something that's not really in your VP sphere, you are the guy doing these add-ons, these extra value added things for authors?
Nick Thacker (28:08):
That's right. That's right. Yeah. My role, I don't have any say or any push really on how we distribute books. There's much smarter people doing all that, but I am absolutely involved with day-to-Day operations. Things like talking to the groups and figuring out what we want to do. I'm part of the company as much as anyone else, but yeah, my day-to-Day role is very much working on author success. How do we make authors more successful through services and tools and products that we can potentially provide at a cost that's very, very reasonable, especially compared to the vanities out there, the ones trying to make a buck off the back of an author without really giving them what they're wanting.
James Blatch (28:49):
Yeah. Okay. Well, people can visit draught digital drafted digital.com. You are not coming to London, I don't think, but I think Dan is. Is that right?
Nick Thacker (29:00):
Yep. I'm not this year. Dan doesn't like to bring anyone along so he can have all the fun by himself, but we'll work next year maybe,
James Blatch (29:07):
If Dan's lucky, he'll get a tour of London statues with me. I know it was a highlight for him last year when I took him to a statue and gave him a lecture. He still talks about it.
Nick Thacker (29:17):
I would like that tour myself, but I'm have to make that happen next year. I'd like the James Blat tour statue tour. Yeah,
James Blatch (29:24):
I promise you. Remind me where you are, Nick. Are you West Coast
Nick Thacker (29:27):
Almost? I'm Colorado. Yeah, so it's Colorado. If you're familiar with Hunger Games. We're the region that didn't get decimated. I think we're district one.
James Blatch (29:36):
District one.
Nick Thacker (29:38):
Yeah.
James Blatch (29:39):
If you're watching on YouTube, putting up my little sign. Okay, excellent. Well, Nick, thank you very much indeed. Great explanation of those two products and a bit of shout out, of course for D 2D. They will be at the conference. If you're coming along next week, you can have a chat with Dan and hopefully we'll see you in London at some point,
Nick Thacker (29:58):
Some point. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me and for the time, I really appreciate
Speaker 1 (30:02):
It. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (30:07):
There we go. There is Nick Thacker, and if you want to speak to Dan Wood, he'll be there on Tuesday and Wednesday at the South Bank Centre in London For our conference, last chance to buy a ticket, learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. That closes at midnight tonight regardless of how many have been sold. Okay, that's it. Thank you very much indeed. All the remains would say, is this a goodbye for me? So goodbye
Speaker 1 (30:32):
Get show notes, the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at self-publishing show.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at self-publishing show.com/facebook. Support the [email protected] slash self-Publishing show, and join us next week for more help and for 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.

SPS- 427: Direct Selling FTW with Alex Smith from Bookvault

A fast emerging aspect of indie marketing is direct selling. Bookvault have risen quickly to the top of many authors go-to suppliers for print-on-demand, especially for those special editions that can be extremely good for your bottom line.
This week’s show features a chat with Bookvault’s Alex Smith.

Show Notes

Show notes:

  • SPS Live giveaway, if you can’t afford the ticket price, we are going to gift 10 tickets, send an email to [email protected] and state your case
  • Bookvault and what they can offer
  • Special edition new features
  • Direct selling app, ecommerce platforms and shipping
  • US services
  • Using platforms to your advantage

Resources mentioned in this episode:

SPS LIVE 2024 TICKETS – GET THEM HERE!

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Speaker 1 (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, the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch. Welcome along. If you're listening to this on release day, it's the 21st of June. We are just a few days away from our big annual conference, the Self-Publishing Show Live, Europe's largest gathering of indie authors, which is going to take place in London on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. And if you want to come along and join us, you've got today basically until midnight tonight. We can't sell tickets any closer to the event than that, so we can't sell 'em over the weekend and they won't be available on the door. So if you want to snag a ticket and join me and several hundred others up to 916 I think is our absolute limit. Now you can go learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. I'm looking forward to it. We're going to hear from some industry titans. We're going to hear from some Titan authors.
(01:05):
We're going to hear from authors who make enough that they don't have to do their nine to five every week. We're going to hear from people providing services to the indie community. We're going to hear from people that you will recognise like El James and Lucy Score and Ricardo Fiat, and some people you may not know who are going to perhaps surprise you with some of the lessons and teachings that we're going to have. And I'm going to be doing a session on ai, which is the big topic, of course, one of the big topics that we're talking about at the moment. And there might even be some surprise announcements if you're there in person as well. Yeah, so looking forward to that. That is next week. If you're listening to this on Wednesday or Thursday next week, then I'll be lying down in a darkened room with a few others.
(01:51):
Catherine in particular, who's done an absolutely fantastic job of organising this conference, A big shout out to Catherine, keeping all the balls in the air, all the plates, spinning on all the other cliches to get that conference going. Okay, look, there's not much to talk about. We are absolutely very, very busy. It's Wednesday night as I'm recording this, I'm doing this very quickly and then moving on to a hundred other things I've got to do between now and the conference starting on Tuesday. So let me just introduce to you our interviewee, which is somebody, one of the companies that will be at the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dan Wood is going to be there from draught to digital. The interviewee, although is Nick Thacker, who works with D 2D, but he looks at some of the other author services. So D 2D is a service that will distribute your book wide, distribute your book to dozens of retailers around the world.
(02:41):
So you upload it once to draught to digital. It makes sure it's in Barn and Noble and Coone and I mean there are gazillion others that it goes to. And it could even be Amazon if you want it to distribute to Amazon as well if you don't want to do that yourself. So they take a cut of sales, but it saves you a painful business of putting your book everywhere. But they have some other services as well. Alongside that, I have an email service provider exclusively for authors, and they have a cover designer, obviously for authors who else would need a cover design? And that is the domain of Nick Thacker, a thriller author from Colorado. And I know Nick quite well, met him over the years, so it's always a pleasure to chat to him. So Nick's up here. I'll be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1 (03:28):
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (03:34):
Hey, Nick Thacker, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. When you first joined us now, I thought you'd wrapped yourself in the Union Jack flag, but I think it's just your top.
Nick Thacker (03:44):
This is my local hockey team.
James Blatch (03:47):
I was going to say, is it hockey? It looks like a hockey thing.
Nick Thacker (03:50):
Yeah. Yep. Ice hockey. Yep.
James Blatch (03:52):
And for people. Yeah, people in the rest of the world. Ice hockey, not field ice hockey.
Nick Thacker (03:57):
Exactly. Yeah. Not field hockey. Nope.
James Blatch (04:01):
No. The default for hockey in the UK is on grass. If you say hockey, that's what people mean.
Nick Thacker (04:07):
I know. And that's unfortunate
James Blatch (04:08):
Hockey. It's ice, isn't it?
Nick Thacker (04:11):
It's unfortunate too. Ice hockey is so much more fun. There's already too many sports happening on grass. We need a lot more ice.
James Blatch (04:18):
Yes, too much grass has too much. It's a monopoly. We need to end the grass Monopoly of sport. End
Nick Thacker (04:23):
The pitch.
James Blatch (04:24):
Yeah. Listen, we're going to talk about drafted digital because you work there now. You got a job there? I do,
Nick Thacker (04:30):
I do. Yeah, I'm a company man now.
James Blatch (04:33):
Yeah, you are the man, you're the corporate man. What are you doing at Drafted Digital Nick Thacker?
Nick Thacker (04:37):
No thanks. I'm the vice president of Drafted Digital, which is weird. It's a new role, but we're calling it Vice President of Author Success. And to put it succinctly, we as drafted digital as you know have always been how do we help authors without charging a fee beforehand? We want to distribute books to all the stores and we'll take a royalty if you make money at those stores, but there's never been a time when we've offered a service that you pay upfront. And so when I came on board and we've had this conversation, I think on this call years ago, I sold author email to Drafted Digital and it was of an acquihire where instead of a big multi-billion dollar payout, I'm sure they would've offered. They said, why don't you come work for us and you keep this thing running. So Author email is under that department, if you will, newly, and we've also just acquired a company called Self Pub book covers.com, and it's exactly what it sounds like.
(05:35):
It's book covers. And so when we did that, we decided now we're charging for services, now we're charging for products, and we want to sort of silo that to make sure that we're not coming across as some sort of hybrid publisher or vanity press because that is not at all what we're doing. We're offering services and products to authors that they need. And one of our core tenets of this venture is to do it in an ethical and financially attractive way for authors. It's always authors first with drafted digital. And so that hasn't changed. I'm now running both of those companies and anything else we may acquire in the future, hopefully. But for now, the big one is book covers. We're doing pre-made book covers and customs, things like that.
James Blatch (06:19):
Okay. Well, let's break it down a bit. Let's talk about all three Mail to start off with because it's been a while since that's been running. The company has matured a bit. Where do you position it? So first of all, just describe, it's a mail list service right alongside MailChimp, mail Alike Convert, et cetera. Where do you position?
Nick Thacker (06:37):
Well, we are the most cost effective email marketing platform We are for authors only, which is one of the reasons we're able to be so inexpensive. We don't have to deal with the internet marketing riffraff, the scum, the scammers, the people like that because authors just need to send emails to their mailing list. And almost nothing of what authors do generally speaking is going to be something that raises a red flag. So for that reason, we can keep it very affordable. Now, when it was first brought into Draught to digital's fold, the idea was we've got this resource, the development resource to make this really, really nice fancy look, great ux, UI changes, overhauls, all that. And that was the plan. And then this little thing called acquiring Smashwords happened. And so we put author email back on the back burner and it's been there for longer than we all want, but for good reason because we've been focusing on smash words, migrating user accounts takes an ungodly amount of time and resource investment, but it's definitely not forgotten. So author email always has worked, but there's always been a list of things where, hey, we want to fix this, we want to make this better, we want this to be improved. And we just haven't gotten to develop that as much as we want yet. But that's absolutely still in an open beta is what we call it. It's working great. Deliverability is absolutely as high as it always was and very competitive with anything else in the industry.
James Blatch (08:00):
Yeah, I was going to ask about deliverability. That is the big thing with email service providers. I'm an experienced user of quite a few. Keep is the one that we use for SPF that's got a quarter of 1,000,300 thousand odd names on it. And I get emails very regularly from them about things that they think we might do occasionally that impact deliverability and then tips on deliverability. And I know as a company, they fight this almost never ending battle on and getting that deliverability up and it's frustrating. You send an email out to that number of people and then we get some support requests from people. They just never saw the email. It just never got blocked to ISP level. But you think author email, because it's authors, because not people sending Bitcoin scam emails out. You've got a pretty good reputation already.
Nick Thacker (08:48):
That's one of the major reasons, of course, is who's using your service. That affects deliverability of course, because you're sending emails through somewhere else, almost inevitably, unless we had our own rack of servers and a closet somewhere, and we absolutely will not do that. That's just a nightmare that you're going to be using someone else's infrastructure. Even if you're MailChimp, even if you're Mailer Light, even if you're Convert Kit, there's some infrastructure they're bouncing emails through. It could be as simple as sending it through the ISP. The end user has to get that email from Comcast over here in the United States or at t, whatever it is. And so for one reason, yeah, the users that we've got are great because they're authors. They're not trying to scam anyone. But another big reason James, that deliverability is really high is we've been working with the same delivery servers for over probably eight, nine years now, and we've just been slowly coaxing them and warming them up to who we are and what we're doing.
(09:45):
And unfortunately, or fortunately, I guess there's no way around that You can't tomorrow start your own email marketing service and have deliverability be as high. It just takes time and lots of effort and minutia to get this thing warmed up. And we've got a couple major servers right now, and we've got probably a handful of others that were always warming up. And the way we decided to do it early on was we didn't want that closet back here of servers sending emails. We wanted to use a professional company that all they do is host email servers. And so we picked a few and we started working with them and then we've picked other ones. So now we've got a great collection of delivery servers that we pay money to every month so that authors can send on our behalf or I guess vice versa, we can send on author's behalf.
(10:32):
And this is not entirely different than most email marketing services do it. We just chose to do it in a way that we're not using one company for their delivery servers. We're not just using AWS or email octopus or whatever. We've got a bunch of these, and so we can both bounce your emails from one box to another so we can keep deliverability high. Sometimes they flag us for something that comes through and we have to work with them to get that fixed. Meanwhile, we can route those emails to another company's servers. So it's just a great way using the cloud infrastructure that's already existing to be able to maintain deliverability and reputation. But yeah, at the end of the day, there's a lot of these little reasons like that. The biggest one of course is that we work with authors and only authors and there is a small vetting process. So if you sign up and want to send us your MLM and Bitcoin scams like you said, then we're going to say, Hey, that's not what we do. Go choose another service. We're for authors only. We've done that in the past.
James Blatch (11:27):
And this is something that goes on in the background that a lot of people who use email service providers don't realise. There's reputation building, which takes a long time, which is what you've said you've been doing. So that sounds like a good fit. And I've got a final question. How do you ensure that you are only being used by authors?
Nick Thacker (11:47):
Well, as I said, we have a small vetting process, and what that means is there's never going to be a 100% guaranteed way of ensuring that you're an author. And the truth is, we get people who are authors and running a business that has nothing to do with authors. And so those bring up some questions like, do we allow them to use the service, do we not? Is there something in between that we can figure out? The truth is what we try to do is what we do actually is look at what is being sent. And if we see that there's somebody sending all these emails, they're getting a high bounce rate, there's all these flags that we can see that imply something isn't right in the way they're sending, it's either something's broken, they haven't verified an email address, or they're sending things that they shouldn't be sending, and they're getting pushback from that from the end users. So we'll come down and say, Hey, you can't be doing that on this platform if you're not an author, we're going to kindly ask you to leave and we'll cancel your account and refund your money.
(12:41):
That's how we do it. So far it's been working pretty well. As I said, you can't guarantee that we're always going to be perfect, but we're looking at what gets sent every single minute and if we see something that raises a flag, we start asking questions.
James Blatch (12:56):
Okay, I'm looking slightly yellow because we just had a power cut in Huntington where I am and power is back on, but we're going to resume this interview as if nothing happened and make it all smooth in the edit. I just look yellow. My lights have not rejoined the internet yet. Okay, so we talked about author email, which I think is the address, isn't it? Author email,
Nick Thacker (13:18):
Author email or author email.com, either one.
James Blatch (13:20):
And if they want to check that out, I think you are very competitive. I just got up your little slider. So if you had 10,000 subscribers, that's less than 20 bucks a month compared to MailChimp at 130 bucks a month. So that is a very significant difference. Even light is 75 at that point. In fact, you don't really go up until pretty high. Is it 20,000? I think it goes up to the next jump.
Nick Thacker (13:49):
Yep. Yeah, we start at $10 99 cents a month for under 10,000 subscribers, and then the next jump is 29 99 for I think up to 49,000 subscribers. And that was the goal, James. I mean, when we started this, I was paying somewhere $300 at MailChimp and I thought there's got to be a better way to do this. We don't need the CRM tools that MailChimp offers. We don't need to manage all the different detailed granular things that MailChimp allows you to do. It's fantastic if you want to run an enterprise resource platform or something, but that's not what authors needed. It's not what I needed. I just wanted to send emails and have autoresponders and lists, and that's absolutely what we do. And so we just didn't have any of those additional features that wouldn't be useful for authors. We only focused on the ones that would be useful.
James Blatch (14:38):
And what about things like integration with other tools like Lead Pages or Wix forms? Can that integrate with author email
Nick Thacker (14:50):
In a way? Yes. It's not easy. I'll admit that's one of the things on our list that we never got to was let's make sure these integrations are much easier. Right now it's workarounds. It's possible of course, but it's not as easy as it should be. We do have integrations, OneClick integrations with services like book funnel, story origin, things like that. So it is possible to run your author business and use author email as the segmentation and list building tool that some of these other services provide. But one of the major overhauls that we've got planned is a UX UI change, which for anyone listening doesn't know what that is. The interface. The interface isn't where we want it to be. It's not bad, but it's just not as intuitive as we'd like. And so that's a major part of what we've got coming down the pike hopefully soon.
James Blatch (15:36):
Yeah. Okay. Right. So that's all through email and the other side of the business that you're looking after, the other business within the business you're looking after is covers. So just tell us about that. I know it's a separate domain. It
Nick Thacker (15:50):
Is. It's a wholly different business that we've acquired about 11 months ago. It's called self pub book covers.com. So depending on when you go, that site may or may not redirect to the new site, which we're building now. But we have taken over self put book covers, which has been around for a while. It's over a decade old. The owners of that website are fantastic people and they just wanted to make sure that the company went somewhere that cared about authors first and foremost. And so that's what we're trying to maintain as we go forward, the integrity of that business. But it's a pre-made book cover marketplace. So rather than if you're a designer and you set out to shingle as a book cover designer and you have some pre-made on your website, this is a marketplace for multiple designers to offer their covers for multiple authors.
(16:42):
And one of the main unique selling propositions of this website was and is that any author can come purchase a cover and customise the text on that cover. So add a title, add their name, they can configure that, they can change the text right there in the browser, download the cover that's high res, ready to go for upload to Amazon, drafted digital, wherever that if you are looking at the older site is working and very outdated, no fault to anyone who built it. It was built 13, 14 years ago and it has worked flawlessly since then, which is kind of a testament to how well it was built, but it obviously looks outdated and it needs an overhaul. And so what I've been doing, and I've got a small team working with me here on the draught to digital side is what I've been doing is building a brand new version of this and we are launching it's book covers.com.
(17:35):
We've acquired that domain. Everything from self pop book covers.com is going to be transitioned over. It's in process of being transitioned over users covers all that stuff. And we've just totally revamped everything about the site. So the marketplace aspect is far easier to navigate. Payouts are automated rather than manual authors and designers can go make an account and communicate with each other a little bit to get the cover they want, and authors can still go in and customise their covers, but the editor for that is much, much easier to use. And the design is just better because of modern technology. We're not quite done yet as of recording this, but we are launching in phases. So the first phase is ready right now, which is if you go to book covers.com, you'll see the website, what it's going to look like. There's some placeholder covers that we're getting, some of the old covers transitioned over as we speak.
(18:25):
You won't be able to create an account, you won't be able to purchase, you won't be able to do any of the things we're talking about. That's our phase two and that's what we expect to come out sometime end of summer. And we're very excited about this. It's a huge, huge initiative. But the idea is again, what do authors need to publish their book? And of course a book cover is a requirement, and so we're hoping that we can offer fantastically designed book covers at an attractive price that will also lift up the designers who are doing this and they have a whole marketplace now where they can sell their designs. And so anyway, that's the premise of the website. I need to work on the elevator pitch a bit. It's a bit long, but you get the idea of what we're trying to do here.
(19:07):
And of course if there's something pre-made is the idea behind the marketplace, but we do offer custom covers. We do offer ways to modify a cover if you see an image you like, but it's not quite right. And all of this stuff is mostly automated. It's back and forth with the designer who will then either do the modification or say that they can't, at which point we've got an in-house designer who will get it. So it's a really elaborate system that I'm very happy. It's quite streamlined in the way it works and hopefully the industry feels the same way when they see this. It's going to be hopefully very, very good and beneficial for the industry at large.
James Blatch (19:43):
Yeah. So is it in part like a marketplace like Rez or fiverr.com and in part an automated system it's got a bit of both. You can basically pick up a cover designer there or you can work with the automation tools and modify an existing cover.
Nick Thacker (19:59):
Exactly. It's both. So the automation is really just, I'm saying that because that's been my biggest headache with running the old site is the things that needed to be automated were not, and it's a lot of back and forth with that. I'm just trying to remove any of the back and forth that's unnecessary. So if you're an author, you go to book covers.com, you can find a cover designed by somebody, and if you like it, you can customise it right there even before you purchase it. Once you buy the cover, the designer gets paid automatically. You have a cover ready to go in your dashboard that you can customise as many times as you want. This isn't a one-time thing, so you've got the image in place and then you can put your own text on there and change the text, add a subtitle, whatever you need to do.
(20:38):
If it becomes part of a series, add the series tag for as long as you are using our website. And so then you just redownload the cover every single time. Some of the things that I mentioned are automated are things like if you know you're going to do a print wrap, if you're going to do a full wrap paperback, for example, you can purchase the cover and then check a box and say, I would also like the full wrap, and you don't have to email us. You don't have to find the designer and hope they're still around you purchase it. And if the designer can't complete that project for you and design a full wrap, then we do it in house and you get it within 48 hours. So that part is what I'm saying is automated. You can find your cover and everything you need for that cover, audiobook, custom modifications, things like that, and it just makes it a lot easier.
(21:22):
And then of course, the marketplace idea is to make it a little bit more social, so make it a little bit more so that if you're a designer, you can come in here, not just sell cool book cover designs, but you can actually build a store and people can keep coming back. Authors can keep coming back to you because they like what you've done, and so you'll have your own storefront on our page where you can show off your covers, run promotions, all that stuff is fully automated. You can run ads on the website to get yours to the top of our homepage, things like that. So we're really excited about this. I'm hoping that the author community will be as well, but we've got so many authors and designers that have used the old site and every single one that I've talked to is excited to have a newer platform that's easier to use and I only expect that to grow as we go.
James Blatch (22:07):
Yeah, sounds great. And this feels like it's kind of drafted digital's longer term plans to have author services alongside its core service of distribution of books.
Nick Thacker (22:18):
That was one of our original initiatives was this idea that you go through the draught of digital process to upload your book, and there's a question that says, do you have a book cover? And if you do, you upload your book cover image. If you don't, we say, go get one. And so the idea was what if we just linked to another website that we know and trust and that became, well now let's purchase a company. Now let's get this redone and everything. And we tend to want to make things as easy as possible for the authors, which makes things more complicated for us on the backend. But again, at the end of the day, how much cooler would it be for us to have a fully integrated system where you're on drafted digitals platform, click a link and it says, pick a cover and you pick a cover, put your text and title fonts, things like that, and then you're done, and that's all this is going to be.
James Blatch (23:07):
Yeah. Dara mentioned ai, which is having an impact in lots of areas of our industry, including cover design. Is this something that you've got your eyes on or are you keeping away from it for now?
Nick Thacker (23:19):
Oh my gosh. Well, we have no choice but to keep our eye on it, right? I'm not a lawyer and I'm not following very closely how the US et al is dealing with this sort of fair use stuff, which is kind of the big legal topic. So I'll stay away from that. What I will talk about is how we approach this as a policy as a company with the need to have a policy regarding can I use AI to design my cover? Historically, self put book covers.com had a policy that said, no AI whatsoever. You cannot use ai. And then of course, if you're following along in the industry, that is a really difficult thing to define. What is ai? Well, did I use Grammarly at all when I wrote the book or did I use generative fill and Adobe to do the background, which I would argue are uses of ai?
(24:06):
And so it's really difficult is the answer. What we've done now, the policy if you will, is to say, we don't want a book cover that is click a button, design a cover in ai, whatever that means. If you're using Adobe Firefly or midjourney, we don't want you to say, imagine a book cover for this and then have an image and upload that and you're done. That's not the intent of the marketplace. We do want designers to design, but it's also true that designer can use, for example, Adobe generative fill to say, I need to fill out the rest of this background image with content, and you can click a button in Photoshop and do that. And so first of all, there's no way to prove that an author or an artist did or did not use that. And so we can't really come down and say, you can't do that.
(24:53):
But it's also true that this is a way to make the design more efficient or more usable in different iterations, and the designer still has to know what they're doing in order to place a stock photo on top of that in order to blend those layers together. There's all sorts of design elements that cannot be done with AI at this point, and I believe maybe one day they will be able to be done, but even then, I think it's going to take someone who understands design, who understands composition, who understands layout, and so that's our policy At this point. It's not as what I just said, but the intent is we want designers to design book covers, and if you use a stock element from a stock website, you don't know that that wasn't generated by AI in the first place. There's no way to tell, and we've always said that using stock photos is allowed, and so that's not changed.
(25:37):
What we're just trying to stay away from is clicking a button, getting a fully designed book cover with every element on it, and you're done. That's not really helpful to the industry at this point. And so what we're trying to do is say, design your book cover if you need to use an element that was generated with ai, like the sword for example, was wrong or the fire was the wrong colour, things like that. We've always been able to manipulate photos and things like Photoshop, and that is how I think AI is being used really well. So I hope that answers your question. Anyone coming to the website, you can read the official policy, which is very much just the same thing, just saying, look, there's no way to really tell. We don't want images that are fully baked AI out of the box, but we also know that we can't police this nearly as well as people would hope.
James Blatch (26:22):
Yeah, I think that seems like a sensible way because I think using AI to replace, to get the stock image, to get the image, the kind of key figure you want or location you want, we've all had this over the years of you kind of run out of the same stock images that everyone else is using, and AI has amazingly allowed us to suddenly have the capital building on the wonk site, someone's running that's replaced stock images, but all that does is give you some elements needed by a designer to create a great cover. It doesn't create a great cover by itself. So I think you're doing authors a service and saying You do need a designer ultimately, because the covers are much better.
Nick Thacker (26:56):
I believe so I think I've always said, I don't believe covers sell books, but they are absolutely a reason why you may not sell a book, right? It's too late in the game now. There's too much. It's saturation in the market for good book covers that if you have a cover that's subpar, people won't click it. People won't decide to read the description, to read the blurb and then buy it because they won't even get there. So you have to have a cover that's been thought through enough to say, this matches the expectation of the reader in this particular genre. That's it. No one's going to click on the cover and go, oh my gosh, this picture is so amazing. I'm going to buy it regardless of what it's about. We just don't do that. But it does have to be good enough. It does have to be able to fit into a genre at a thumbnail size that looks like it belongs there.
James Blatch (27:43):
I think signalling the genre is the most important thing it does. The second most important thing it does is just look professional, and if it does those two, it's done its job. It doesn't need to be, as you say, a Mona Lisa work of art after that. Good. Well, that's great. And D two D's core business, is that something that's not really in your VP sphere, you are the guy doing these add-ons, these extra value added things for authors?
Nick Thacker (28:08):
That's right. That's right. Yeah. My role, I don't have any say or any push really on how we distribute books. There's much smarter people doing all that, but I am absolutely involved with day-to-Day operations. Things like talking to the groups and figuring out what we want to do. I'm part of the company as much as anyone else, but yeah, my day-to-Day role is very much working on author success. How do we make authors more successful through services and tools and products that we can potentially provide at a cost that's very, very reasonable, especially compared to the vanities out there, the ones trying to make a buck off the back of an author without really giving them what they're wanting.
James Blatch (28:49):
Yeah. Okay. Well, people can visit draught digital drafted digital.com. You are not coming to London, I don't think, but I think Dan is. Is that right?
Nick Thacker (29:00):
Yep. I'm not this year. Dan doesn't like to bring anyone along so he can have all the fun by himself, but we'll work next year maybe,
James Blatch (29:07):
If Dan's lucky, he'll get a tour of London statues with me. I know it was a highlight for him last year when I took him to a statue and gave him a lecture. He still talks about it.
Nick Thacker (29:17):
I would like that tour myself, but I'm have to make that happen next year. I'd like the James Blat tour statue tour. Yeah,
James Blatch (29:24):
I promise you. Remind me where you are, Nick. Are you West Coast
Nick Thacker (29:27):
Almost? I'm Colorado. Yeah, so it's Colorado. If you're familiar with Hunger Games. We're the region that didn't get decimated. I think we're district one.
James Blatch (29:36):
District one.
Nick Thacker (29:38):
Yeah.
James Blatch (29:39):
If you're watching on YouTube, putting up my little sign. Okay, excellent. Well, Nick, thank you very much indeed. Great explanation of those two products and a bit of shout out, of course for D 2D. They will be at the conference. If you're coming along next week, you can have a chat with Dan and hopefully we'll see you in London at some point,
Nick Thacker (29:58):
Some point. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me and for the time, I really appreciate
Speaker 1 (30:02):
It. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (30:07):
There we go. There is Nick Thacker, and if you want to speak to Dan Wood, he'll be there on Tuesday and Wednesday at the South Bank Centre in London For our conference, last chance to buy a ticket, learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. That closes at midnight tonight regardless of how many have been sold. Okay, that's it. Thank you very much indeed. All the remains would say, is this a goodbye for me? So goodbye
Speaker 1 (30:32):
Get show notes, the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at self-publishing show.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at self-publishing show.com/facebook. Support the [email protected] slash self-Publishing show, and join us next week for more help and for 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.

SPS-425: Which Book Promo is Right For Me? with Mike Hourigan

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 GET YOUR TICKETS HERE

SPS LIVE 2024 DIGITAL TICKETS: Get your digital tickets here

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Speaker 1 (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, the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch. Welcome along. If you're listening to this on release day, it's the 21st of June. We are just a few days away from our big annual conference, the Self-Publishing Show Live, Europe's largest gathering of indie authors, which is going to take place in London on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. And if you want to come along and join us, you've got today basically until midnight tonight. We can't sell tickets any closer to the event than that, so we can't sell 'em over the weekend and they won't be available on the door. So if you want to snag a ticket and join me and several hundred others up to 916 I think is our absolute limit. Now you can go learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. I'm looking forward to it. We're going to hear from some industry titans. We're going to hear from some Titan authors.
(01:05):
We're going to hear from authors who make enough that they don't have to do their nine to five every week. We're going to hear from people providing services to the indie community. We're going to hear from people that you will recognise like El James and Lucy Score and Ricardo Fiat, and some people you may not know who are going to perhaps surprise you with some of the lessons and teachings that we're going to have. And I'm going to be doing a session on ai, which is the big topic, of course, one of the big topics that we're talking about at the moment. And there might even be some surprise announcements if you're there in person as well. Yeah, so looking forward to that. That is next week. If you're listening to this on Wednesday or Thursday next week, then I'll be lying down in a darkened room with a few others.
(01:51):
Catherine in particular, who's done an absolutely fantastic job of organising this conference, A big shout out to Catherine, keeping all the balls in the air, all the plates, spinning on all the other cliches to get that conference going. Okay, look, there's not much to talk about. We are absolutely very, very busy. It's Wednesday night as I'm recording this, I'm doing this very quickly and then moving on to a hundred other things I've got to do between now and the conference starting on Tuesday. So let me just introduce to you our interviewee, which is somebody, one of the companies that will be at the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dan Wood is going to be there from draught to digital. The interviewee, although is Nick Thacker, who works with D 2D, but he looks at some of the other author services. So D 2D is a service that will distribute your book wide, distribute your book to dozens of retailers around the world.
(02:41):
So you upload it once to draught to digital. It makes sure it's in Barn and Noble and Coone and I mean there are gazillion others that it goes to. And it could even be Amazon if you want it to distribute to Amazon as well if you don't want to do that yourself. So they take a cut of sales, but it saves you a painful business of putting your book everywhere. But they have some other services as well. Alongside that, I have an email service provider exclusively for authors, and they have a cover designer, obviously for authors who else would need a cover design? And that is the domain of Nick Thacker, a thriller author from Colorado. And I know Nick quite well, met him over the years, so it's always a pleasure to chat to him. So Nick's up here. I'll be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1 (03:28):
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (03:34):
Hey, Nick Thacker, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. When you first joined us now, I thought you'd wrapped yourself in the Union Jack flag, but I think it's just your top.
Nick Thacker (03:44):
This is my local hockey team.
James Blatch (03:47):
I was going to say, is it hockey? It looks like a hockey thing.
Nick Thacker (03:50):
Yeah. Yep. Ice hockey. Yep.
James Blatch (03:52):
And for people. Yeah, people in the rest of the world. Ice hockey, not field ice hockey.
Nick Thacker (03:57):
Exactly. Yeah. Not field hockey. Nope.
James Blatch (04:01):
No. The default for hockey in the UK is on grass. If you say hockey, that's what people mean.
Nick Thacker (04:07):
I know. And that's unfortunate
James Blatch (04:08):
Hockey. It's ice, isn't it?
Nick Thacker (04:11):
It's unfortunate too. Ice hockey is so much more fun. There's already too many sports happening on grass. We need a lot more ice.
James Blatch (04:18):
Yes, too much grass has too much. It's a monopoly. We need to end the grass Monopoly of sport. End
Nick Thacker (04:23):
The pitch.
James Blatch (04:24):
Yeah. Listen, we're going to talk about drafted digital because you work there now. You got a job there? I do,
Nick Thacker (04:30):
I do. Yeah, I'm a company man now.
James Blatch (04:33):
Yeah, you are the man, you're the corporate man. What are you doing at Drafted Digital Nick Thacker?
Nick Thacker (04:37):
No thanks. I'm the vice president of Drafted Digital, which is weird. It's a new role, but we're calling it Vice President of Author Success. And to put it succinctly, we as drafted digital as you know have always been how do we help authors without charging a fee beforehand? We want to distribute books to all the stores and we'll take a royalty if you make money at those stores, but there's never been a time when we've offered a service that you pay upfront. And so when I came on board and we've had this conversation, I think on this call years ago, I sold author email to Drafted Digital and it was of an acquihire where instead of a big multi-billion dollar payout, I'm sure they would've offered. They said, why don't you come work for us and you keep this thing running. So Author email is under that department, if you will, newly, and we've also just acquired a company called Self Pub book covers.com, and it's exactly what it sounds like.
(05:35):
It's book covers. And so when we did that, we decided now we're charging for services, now we're charging for products, and we want to sort of silo that to make sure that we're not coming across as some sort of hybrid publisher or vanity press because that is not at all what we're doing. We're offering services and products to authors that they need. And one of our core tenets of this venture is to do it in an ethical and financially attractive way for authors. It's always authors first with drafted digital. And so that hasn't changed. I'm now running both of those companies and anything else we may acquire in the future, hopefully. But for now, the big one is book covers. We're doing pre-made book covers and customs, things like that.
James Blatch (06:19):
Okay. Well, let's break it down a bit. Let's talk about all three Mail to start off with because it's been a while since that's been running. The company has matured a bit. Where do you position it? So first of all, just describe, it's a mail list service right alongside MailChimp, mail Alike Convert, et cetera. Where do you position?
Nick Thacker (06:37):
Well, we are the most cost effective email marketing platform We are for authors only, which is one of the reasons we're able to be so inexpensive. We don't have to deal with the internet marketing riffraff, the scum, the scammers, the people like that because authors just need to send emails to their mailing list. And almost nothing of what authors do generally speaking is going to be something that raises a red flag. So for that reason, we can keep it very affordable. Now, when it was first brought into Draught to digital's fold, the idea was we've got this resource, the development resource to make this really, really nice fancy look, great ux, UI changes, overhauls, all that. And that was the plan. And then this little thing called acquiring Smashwords happened. And so we put author email back on the back burner and it's been there for longer than we all want, but for good reason because we've been focusing on smash words, migrating user accounts takes an ungodly amount of time and resource investment, but it's definitely not forgotten. So author email always has worked, but there's always been a list of things where, hey, we want to fix this, we want to make this better, we want this to be improved. And we just haven't gotten to develop that as much as we want yet. But that's absolutely still in an open beta is what we call it. It's working great. Deliverability is absolutely as high as it always was and very competitive with anything else in the industry.
James Blatch (08:00):
Yeah, I was going to ask about deliverability. That is the big thing with email service providers. I'm an experienced user of quite a few. Keep is the one that we use for SPF that's got a quarter of 1,000,300 thousand odd names on it. And I get emails very regularly from them about things that they think we might do occasionally that impact deliverability and then tips on deliverability. And I know as a company, they fight this almost never ending battle on and getting that deliverability up and it's frustrating. You send an email out to that number of people and then we get some support requests from people. They just never saw the email. It just never got blocked to ISP level. But you think author email, because it's authors, because not people sending Bitcoin scam emails out. You've got a pretty good reputation already.
Nick Thacker (08:48):
That's one of the major reasons, of course, is who's using your service. That affects deliverability of course, because you're sending emails through somewhere else, almost inevitably, unless we had our own rack of servers and a closet somewhere, and we absolutely will not do that. That's just a nightmare that you're going to be using someone else's infrastructure. Even if you're MailChimp, even if you're Mailer Light, even if you're Convert Kit, there's some infrastructure they're bouncing emails through. It could be as simple as sending it through the ISP. The end user has to get that email from Comcast over here in the United States or at t, whatever it is. And so for one reason, yeah, the users that we've got are great because they're authors. They're not trying to scam anyone. But another big reason James, that deliverability is really high is we've been working with the same delivery servers for over probably eight, nine years now, and we've just been slowly coaxing them and warming them up to who we are and what we're doing.
(09:45):
And unfortunately, or fortunately, I guess there's no way around that You can't tomorrow start your own email marketing service and have deliverability be as high. It just takes time and lots of effort and minutia to get this thing warmed up. And we've got a couple major servers right now, and we've got probably a handful of others that were always warming up. And the way we decided to do it early on was we didn't want that closet back here of servers sending emails. We wanted to use a professional company that all they do is host email servers. And so we picked a few and we started working with them and then we've picked other ones. So now we've got a great collection of delivery servers that we pay money to every month so that authors can send on our behalf or I guess vice versa, we can send on author's behalf.
(10:32):
And this is not entirely different than most email marketing services do it. We just chose to do it in a way that we're not using one company for their delivery servers. We're not just using AWS or email octopus or whatever. We've got a bunch of these, and so we can both bounce your emails from one box to another so we can keep deliverability high. Sometimes they flag us for something that comes through and we have to work with them to get that fixed. Meanwhile, we can route those emails to another company's servers. So it's just a great way using the cloud infrastructure that's already existing to be able to maintain deliverability and reputation. But yeah, at the end of the day, there's a lot of these little reasons like that. The biggest one of course is that we work with authors and only authors and there is a small vetting process. So if you sign up and want to send us your MLM and Bitcoin scams like you said, then we're going to say, Hey, that's not what we do. Go choose another service. We're for authors only. We've done that in the past.
James Blatch (11:27):
And this is something that goes on in the background that a lot of people who use email service providers don't realise. There's reputation building, which takes a long time, which is what you've said you've been doing. So that sounds like a good fit. And I've got a final question. How do you ensure that you are only being used by authors?
Nick Thacker (11:47):
Well, as I said, we have a small vetting process, and what that means is there's never going to be a 100% guaranteed way of ensuring that you're an author. And the truth is, we get people who are authors and running a business that has nothing to do with authors. And so those bring up some questions like, do we allow them to use the service, do we not? Is there something in between that we can figure out? The truth is what we try to do is what we do actually is look at what is being sent. And if we see that there's somebody sending all these emails, they're getting a high bounce rate, there's all these flags that we can see that imply something isn't right in the way they're sending, it's either something's broken, they haven't verified an email address, or they're sending things that they shouldn't be sending, and they're getting pushback from that from the end users. So we'll come down and say, Hey, you can't be doing that on this platform if you're not an author, we're going to kindly ask you to leave and we'll cancel your account and refund your money.
(12:41):
That's how we do it. So far it's been working pretty well. As I said, you can't guarantee that we're always going to be perfect, but we're looking at what gets sent every single minute and if we see something that raises a flag, we start asking questions.
James Blatch (12:56):
Okay, I'm looking slightly yellow because we just had a power cut in Huntington where I am and power is back on, but we're going to resume this interview as if nothing happened and make it all smooth in the edit. I just look yellow. My lights have not rejoined the internet yet. Okay, so we talked about author email, which I think is the address, isn't it? Author email,
Nick Thacker (13:18):
Author email or author email.com, either one.
James Blatch (13:20):
And if they want to check that out, I think you are very competitive. I just got up your little slider. So if you had 10,000 subscribers, that's less than 20 bucks a month compared to MailChimp at 130 bucks a month. So that is a very significant difference. Even light is 75 at that point. In fact, you don't really go up until pretty high. Is it 20,000? I think it goes up to the next jump.
Nick Thacker (13:49):
Yep. Yeah, we start at $10 99 cents a month for under 10,000 subscribers, and then the next jump is 29 99 for I think up to 49,000 subscribers. And that was the goal, James. I mean, when we started this, I was paying somewhere $300 at MailChimp and I thought there's got to be a better way to do this. We don't need the CRM tools that MailChimp offers. We don't need to manage all the different detailed granular things that MailChimp allows you to do. It's fantastic if you want to run an enterprise resource platform or something, but that's not what authors needed. It's not what I needed. I just wanted to send emails and have autoresponders and lists, and that's absolutely what we do. And so we just didn't have any of those additional features that wouldn't be useful for authors. We only focused on the ones that would be useful.
James Blatch (14:38):
And what about things like integration with other tools like Lead Pages or Wix forms? Can that integrate with author email
Nick Thacker (14:50):
In a way? Yes. It's not easy. I'll admit that's one of the things on our list that we never got to was let's make sure these integrations are much easier. Right now it's workarounds. It's possible of course, but it's not as easy as it should be. We do have integrations, OneClick integrations with services like book funnel, story origin, things like that. So it is possible to run your author business and use author email as the segmentation and list building tool that some of these other services provide. But one of the major overhauls that we've got planned is a UX UI change, which for anyone listening doesn't know what that is. The interface. The interface isn't where we want it to be. It's not bad, but it's just not as intuitive as we'd like. And so that's a major part of what we've got coming down the pike hopefully soon.
James Blatch (15:36):
Yeah. Okay. Right. So that's all through email and the other side of the business that you're looking after, the other business within the business you're looking after is covers. So just tell us about that. I know it's a separate domain. It
Nick Thacker (15:50):
Is. It's a wholly different business that we've acquired about 11 months ago. It's called self pub book covers.com. So depending on when you go, that site may or may not redirect to the new site, which we're building now. But we have taken over self put book covers, which has been around for a while. It's over a decade old. The owners of that website are fantastic people and they just wanted to make sure that the company went somewhere that cared about authors first and foremost. And so that's what we're trying to maintain as we go forward, the integrity of that business. But it's a pre-made book cover marketplace. So rather than if you're a designer and you set out to shingle as a book cover designer and you have some pre-made on your website, this is a marketplace for multiple designers to offer their covers for multiple authors.
(16:42):
And one of the main unique selling propositions of this website was and is that any author can come purchase a cover and customise the text on that cover. So add a title, add their name, they can configure that, they can change the text right there in the browser, download the cover that's high res, ready to go for upload to Amazon, drafted digital, wherever that if you are looking at the older site is working and very outdated, no fault to anyone who built it. It was built 13, 14 years ago and it has worked flawlessly since then, which is kind of a testament to how well it was built, but it obviously looks outdated and it needs an overhaul. And so what I've been doing, and I've got a small team working with me here on the draught to digital side is what I've been doing is building a brand new version of this and we are launching it's book covers.com.
(17:35):
We've acquired that domain. Everything from self pop book covers.com is going to be transitioned over. It's in process of being transitioned over users covers all that stuff. And we've just totally revamped everything about the site. So the marketplace aspect is far easier to navigate. Payouts are automated rather than manual authors and designers can go make an account and communicate with each other a little bit to get the cover they want, and authors can still go in and customise their covers, but the editor for that is much, much easier to use. And the design is just better because of modern technology. We're not quite done yet as of recording this, but we are launching in phases. So the first phase is ready right now, which is if you go to book covers.com, you'll see the website, what it's going to look like. There's some placeholder covers that we're getting, some of the old covers transitioned over as we speak.
(18:25):
You won't be able to create an account, you won't be able to purchase, you won't be able to do any of the things we're talking about. That's our phase two and that's what we expect to come out sometime end of summer. And we're very excited about this. It's a huge, huge initiative. But the idea is again, what do authors need to publish their book? And of course a book cover is a requirement, and so we're hoping that we can offer fantastically designed book covers at an attractive price that will also lift up the designers who are doing this and they have a whole marketplace now where they can sell their designs. And so anyway, that's the premise of the website. I need to work on the elevator pitch a bit. It's a bit long, but you get the idea of what we're trying to do here.
(19:07):
And of course if there's something pre-made is the idea behind the marketplace, but we do offer custom covers. We do offer ways to modify a cover if you see an image you like, but it's not quite right. And all of this stuff is mostly automated. It's back and forth with the designer who will then either do the modification or say that they can't, at which point we've got an in-house designer who will get it. So it's a really elaborate system that I'm very happy. It's quite streamlined in the way it works and hopefully the industry feels the same way when they see this. It's going to be hopefully very, very good and beneficial for the industry at large.
James Blatch (19:43):
Yeah. So is it in part like a marketplace like Rez or fiverr.com and in part an automated system it's got a bit of both. You can basically pick up a cover designer there or you can work with the automation tools and modify an existing cover.
Nick Thacker (19:59):
Exactly. It's both. So the automation is really just, I'm saying that because that's been my biggest headache with running the old site is the things that needed to be automated were not, and it's a lot of back and forth with that. I'm just trying to remove any of the back and forth that's unnecessary. So if you're an author, you go to book covers.com, you can find a cover designed by somebody, and if you like it, you can customise it right there even before you purchase it. Once you buy the cover, the designer gets paid automatically. You have a cover ready to go in your dashboard that you can customise as many times as you want. This isn't a one-time thing, so you've got the image in place and then you can put your own text on there and change the text, add a subtitle, whatever you need to do.
(20:38):
If it becomes part of a series, add the series tag for as long as you are using our website. And so then you just redownload the cover every single time. Some of the things that I mentioned are automated are things like if you know you're going to do a print wrap, if you're going to do a full wrap paperback, for example, you can purchase the cover and then check a box and say, I would also like the full wrap, and you don't have to email us. You don't have to find the designer and hope they're still around you purchase it. And if the designer can't complete that project for you and design a full wrap, then we do it in house and you get it within 48 hours. So that part is what I'm saying is automated. You can find your cover and everything you need for that cover, audiobook, custom modifications, things like that, and it just makes it a lot easier.
(21:22):
And then of course, the marketplace idea is to make it a little bit more social, so make it a little bit more so that if you're a designer, you can come in here, not just sell cool book cover designs, but you can actually build a store and people can keep coming back. Authors can keep coming back to you because they like what you've done, and so you'll have your own storefront on our page where you can show off your covers, run promotions, all that stuff is fully automated. You can run ads on the website to get yours to the top of our homepage, things like that. So we're really excited about this. I'm hoping that the author community will be as well, but we've got so many authors and designers that have used the old site and every single one that I've talked to is excited to have a newer platform that's easier to use and I only expect that to grow as we go.
James Blatch (22:07):
Yeah, sounds great. And this feels like it's kind of drafted digital's longer term plans to have author services alongside its core service of distribution of books.
Nick Thacker (22:18):
That was one of our original initiatives was this idea that you go through the draught of digital process to upload your book, and there's a question that says, do you have a book cover? And if you do, you upload your book cover image. If you don't, we say, go get one. And so the idea was what if we just linked to another website that we know and trust and that became, well now let's purchase a company. Now let's get this redone and everything. And we tend to want to make things as easy as possible for the authors, which makes things more complicated for us on the backend. But again, at the end of the day, how much cooler would it be for us to have a fully integrated system where you're on drafted digitals platform, click a link and it says, pick a cover and you pick a cover, put your text and title fonts, things like that, and then you're done, and that's all this is going to be.
James Blatch (23:07):
Yeah. Dara mentioned ai, which is having an impact in lots of areas of our industry, including cover design. Is this something that you've got your eyes on or are you keeping away from it for now?
Nick Thacker (23:19):
Oh my gosh. Well, we have no choice but to keep our eye on it, right? I'm not a lawyer and I'm not following very closely how the US et al is dealing with this sort of fair use stuff, which is kind of the big legal topic. So I'll stay away from that. What I will talk about is how we approach this as a policy as a company with the need to have a policy regarding can I use AI to design my cover? Historically, self put book covers.com had a policy that said, no AI whatsoever. You cannot use ai. And then of course, if you're following along in the industry, that is a really difficult thing to define. What is ai? Well, did I use Grammarly at all when I wrote the book or did I use generative fill and Adobe to do the background, which I would argue are uses of ai?
(24:06):
And so it's really difficult is the answer. What we've done now, the policy if you will, is to say, we don't want a book cover that is click a button, design a cover in ai, whatever that means. If you're using Adobe Firefly or midjourney, we don't want you to say, imagine a book cover for this and then have an image and upload that and you're done. That's not the intent of the marketplace. We do want designers to design, but it's also true that designer can use, for example, Adobe generative fill to say, I need to fill out the rest of this background image with content, and you can click a button in Photoshop and do that. And so first of all, there's no way to prove that an author or an artist did or did not use that. And so we can't really come down and say, you can't do that.
(24:53):
But it's also true that this is a way to make the design more efficient or more usable in different iterations, and the designer still has to know what they're doing in order to place a stock photo on top of that in order to blend those layers together. There's all sorts of design elements that cannot be done with AI at this point, and I believe maybe one day they will be able to be done, but even then, I think it's going to take someone who understands design, who understands composition, who understands layout, and so that's our policy At this point. It's not as what I just said, but the intent is we want designers to design book covers, and if you use a stock element from a stock website, you don't know that that wasn't generated by AI in the first place. There's no way to tell, and we've always said that using stock photos is allowed, and so that's not changed.
(25:37):
What we're just trying to stay away from is clicking a button, getting a fully designed book cover with every element on it, and you're done. That's not really helpful to the industry at this point. And so what we're trying to do is say, design your book cover if you need to use an element that was generated with ai, like the sword for example, was wrong or the fire was the wrong colour, things like that. We've always been able to manipulate photos and things like Photoshop, and that is how I think AI is being used really well. So I hope that answers your question. Anyone coming to the website, you can read the official policy, which is very much just the same thing, just saying, look, there's no way to really tell. We don't want images that are fully baked AI out of the box, but we also know that we can't police this nearly as well as people would hope.
James Blatch (26:22):
Yeah, I think that seems like a sensible way because I think using AI to replace, to get the stock image, to get the image, the kind of key figure you want or location you want, we've all had this over the years of you kind of run out of the same stock images that everyone else is using, and AI has amazingly allowed us to suddenly have the capital building on the wonk site, someone's running that's replaced stock images, but all that does is give you some elements needed by a designer to create a great cover. It doesn't create a great cover by itself. So I think you're doing authors a service and saying You do need a designer ultimately, because the covers are much better.
Nick Thacker (26:56):
I believe so I think I've always said, I don't believe covers sell books, but they are absolutely a reason why you may not sell a book, right? It's too late in the game now. There's too much. It's saturation in the market for good book covers that if you have a cover that's subpar, people won't click it. People won't decide to read the description, to read the blurb and then buy it because they won't even get there. So you have to have a cover that's been thought through enough to say, this matches the expectation of the reader in this particular genre. That's it. No one's going to click on the cover and go, oh my gosh, this picture is so amazing. I'm going to buy it regardless of what it's about. We just don't do that. But it does have to be good enough. It does have to be able to fit into a genre at a thumbnail size that looks like it belongs there.
James Blatch (27:43):
I think signalling the genre is the most important thing it does. The second most important thing it does is just look professional, and if it does those two, it's done its job. It doesn't need to be, as you say, a Mona Lisa work of art after that. Good. Well, that's great. And D two D's core business, is that something that's not really in your VP sphere, you are the guy doing these add-ons, these extra value added things for authors?
Nick Thacker (28:08):
That's right. That's right. Yeah. My role, I don't have any say or any push really on how we distribute books. There's much smarter people doing all that, but I am absolutely involved with day-to-Day operations. Things like talking to the groups and figuring out what we want to do. I'm part of the company as much as anyone else, but yeah, my day-to-Day role is very much working on author success. How do we make authors more successful through services and tools and products that we can potentially provide at a cost that's very, very reasonable, especially compared to the vanities out there, the ones trying to make a buck off the back of an author without really giving them what they're wanting.
James Blatch (28:49):
Yeah. Okay. Well, people can visit draught digital drafted digital.com. You are not coming to London, I don't think, but I think Dan is. Is that right?
Nick Thacker (29:00):
Yep. I'm not this year. Dan doesn't like to bring anyone along so he can have all the fun by himself, but we'll work next year maybe,
James Blatch (29:07):
If Dan's lucky, he'll get a tour of London statues with me. I know it was a highlight for him last year when I took him to a statue and gave him a lecture. He still talks about it.
Nick Thacker (29:17):
I would like that tour myself, but I'm have to make that happen next year. I'd like the James Blat tour statue tour. Yeah,
James Blatch (29:24):
I promise you. Remind me where you are, Nick. Are you West Coast
Nick Thacker (29:27):
Almost? I'm Colorado. Yeah, so it's Colorado. If you're familiar with Hunger Games. We're the region that didn't get decimated. I think we're district one.
James Blatch (29:36):
District one.
Nick Thacker (29:38):
Yeah.
James Blatch (29:39):
If you're watching on YouTube, putting up my little sign. Okay, excellent. Well, Nick, thank you very much indeed. Great explanation of those two products and a bit of shout out, of course for D 2D. They will be at the conference. If you're coming along next week, you can have a chat with Dan and hopefully we'll see you in London at some point,
Nick Thacker (29:58):
Some point. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me and for the time, I really appreciate
Speaker 1 (30:02):
It. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (30:07):
There we go. There is Nick Thacker, and if you want to speak to Dan Wood, he'll be there on Tuesday and Wednesday at the South Bank Centre in London For our conference, last chance to buy a ticket, learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. That closes at midnight tonight regardless of how many have been sold. Okay, that's it. Thank you very much indeed. All the remains would say, is this a goodbye for me? So goodbye
Speaker 1 (30:32):
Get show notes, the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at self-publishing show.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at self-publishing show.com/facebook. Support the [email protected] slash self-Publishing show, and join us next week for more help and for 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.

SPS- 424:What’s the big deal about Romantasy? With Alex Newton

Join James and the numbers man, Alex Newton from K-lytics who digs beneath the Romantasy data and explains current trends.

Show Notes

Show notes:
– Trends and longer trending genres
– What is the Romantasy genre?
– What does the K-Lytics report on Romantasy include
– Other genre data
– German markets

Resources mentioned in this episode:

SPS LIVE 2024 TICKETS – GET THEM HERE!

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Speaker 1 (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, the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch. Welcome along. If you're listening to this on release day, it's the 21st of June. We are just a few days away from our big annual conference, the Self-Publishing Show Live, Europe's largest gathering of indie authors, which is going to take place in London on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. And if you want to come along and join us, you've got today basically until midnight tonight. We can't sell tickets any closer to the event than that, so we can't sell 'em over the weekend and they won't be available on the door. So if you want to snag a ticket and join me and several hundred others up to 916 I think is our absolute limit. Now you can go learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. I'm looking forward to it. We're going to hear from some industry titans. We're going to hear from some Titan authors.
(01:05):
We're going to hear from authors who make enough that they don't have to do their nine to five every week. We're going to hear from people providing services to the indie community. We're going to hear from people that you will recognise like El James and Lucy Score and Ricardo Fiat, and some people you may not know who are going to perhaps surprise you with some of the lessons and teachings that we're going to have. And I'm going to be doing a session on ai, which is the big topic, of course, one of the big topics that we're talking about at the moment. And there might even be some surprise announcements if you're there in person as well. Yeah, so looking forward to that. That is next week. If you're listening to this on Wednesday or Thursday next week, then I'll be lying down in a darkened room with a few others.
(01:51):
Catherine in particular, who's done an absolutely fantastic job of organising this conference, A big shout out to Catherine, keeping all the balls in the air, all the plates, spinning on all the other cliches to get that conference going. Okay, look, there's not much to talk about. We are absolutely very, very busy. It's Wednesday night as I'm recording this, I'm doing this very quickly and then moving on to a hundred other things I've got to do between now and the conference starting on Tuesday. So let me just introduce to you our interviewee, which is somebody, one of the companies that will be at the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dan Wood is going to be there from draught to digital. The interviewee, although is Nick Thacker, who works with D 2D, but he looks at some of the other author services. So D 2D is a service that will distribute your book wide, distribute your book to dozens of retailers around the world.
(02:41):
So you upload it once to draught to digital. It makes sure it's in Barn and Noble and Coone and I mean there are gazillion others that it goes to. And it could even be Amazon if you want it to distribute to Amazon as well if you don't want to do that yourself. So they take a cut of sales, but it saves you a painful business of putting your book everywhere. But they have some other services as well. Alongside that, I have an email service provider exclusively for authors, and they have a cover designer, obviously for authors who else would need a cover design? And that is the domain of Nick Thacker, a thriller author from Colorado. And I know Nick quite well, met him over the years, so it's always a pleasure to chat to him. So Nick's up here. I'll be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1 (03:28):
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (03:34):
Hey, Nick Thacker, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. When you first joined us now, I thought you'd wrapped yourself in the Union Jack flag, but I think it's just your top.
Nick Thacker (03:44):
This is my local hockey team.
James Blatch (03:47):
I was going to say, is it hockey? It looks like a hockey thing.
Nick Thacker (03:50):
Yeah. Yep. Ice hockey. Yep.
James Blatch (03:52):
And for people. Yeah, people in the rest of the world. Ice hockey, not field ice hockey.
Nick Thacker (03:57):
Exactly. Yeah. Not field hockey. Nope.
James Blatch (04:01):
No. The default for hockey in the UK is on grass. If you say hockey, that's what people mean.
Nick Thacker (04:07):
I know. And that's unfortunate
James Blatch (04:08):
Hockey. It's ice, isn't it?
Nick Thacker (04:11):
It's unfortunate too. Ice hockey is so much more fun. There's already too many sports happening on grass. We need a lot more ice.
James Blatch (04:18):
Yes, too much grass has too much. It's a monopoly. We need to end the grass Monopoly of sport. End
Nick Thacker (04:23):
The pitch.
James Blatch (04:24):
Yeah. Listen, we're going to talk about drafted digital because you work there now. You got a job there? I do,
Nick Thacker (04:30):
I do. Yeah, I'm a company man now.
James Blatch (04:33):
Yeah, you are the man, you're the corporate man. What are you doing at Drafted Digital Nick Thacker?
Nick Thacker (04:37):
No thanks. I'm the vice president of Drafted Digital, which is weird. It's a new role, but we're calling it Vice President of Author Success. And to put it succinctly, we as drafted digital as you know have always been how do we help authors without charging a fee beforehand? We want to distribute books to all the stores and we'll take a royalty if you make money at those stores, but there's never been a time when we've offered a service that you pay upfront. And so when I came on board and we've had this conversation, I think on this call years ago, I sold author email to Drafted Digital and it was of an acquihire where instead of a big multi-billion dollar payout, I'm sure they would've offered. They said, why don't you come work for us and you keep this thing running. So Author email is under that department, if you will, newly, and we've also just acquired a company called Self Pub book covers.com, and it's exactly what it sounds like.
(05:35):
It's book covers. And so when we did that, we decided now we're charging for services, now we're charging for products, and we want to sort of silo that to make sure that we're not coming across as some sort of hybrid publisher or vanity press because that is not at all what we're doing. We're offering services and products to authors that they need. And one of our core tenets of this venture is to do it in an ethical and financially attractive way for authors. It's always authors first with drafted digital. And so that hasn't changed. I'm now running both of those companies and anything else we may acquire in the future, hopefully. But for now, the big one is book covers. We're doing pre-made book covers and customs, things like that.
James Blatch (06:19):
Okay. Well, let's break it down a bit. Let's talk about all three Mail to start off with because it's been a while since that's been running. The company has matured a bit. Where do you position it? So first of all, just describe, it's a mail list service right alongside MailChimp, mail Alike Convert, et cetera. Where do you position?
Nick Thacker (06:37):
Well, we are the most cost effective email marketing platform We are for authors only, which is one of the reasons we're able to be so inexpensive. We don't have to deal with the internet marketing riffraff, the scum, the scammers, the people like that because authors just need to send emails to their mailing list. And almost nothing of what authors do generally speaking is going to be something that raises a red flag. So for that reason, we can keep it very affordable. Now, when it was first brought into Draught to digital's fold, the idea was we've got this resource, the development resource to make this really, really nice fancy look, great ux, UI changes, overhauls, all that. And that was the plan. And then this little thing called acquiring Smashwords happened. And so we put author email back on the back burner and it's been there for longer than we all want, but for good reason because we've been focusing on smash words, migrating user accounts takes an ungodly amount of time and resource investment, but it's definitely not forgotten. So author email always has worked, but there's always been a list of things where, hey, we want to fix this, we want to make this better, we want this to be improved. And we just haven't gotten to develop that as much as we want yet. But that's absolutely still in an open beta is what we call it. It's working great. Deliverability is absolutely as high as it always was and very competitive with anything else in the industry.
James Blatch (08:00):
Yeah, I was going to ask about deliverability. That is the big thing with email service providers. I'm an experienced user of quite a few. Keep is the one that we use for SPF that's got a quarter of 1,000,300 thousand odd names on it. And I get emails very regularly from them about things that they think we might do occasionally that impact deliverability and then tips on deliverability. And I know as a company, they fight this almost never ending battle on and getting that deliverability up and it's frustrating. You send an email out to that number of people and then we get some support requests from people. They just never saw the email. It just never got blocked to ISP level. But you think author email, because it's authors, because not people sending Bitcoin scam emails out. You've got a pretty good reputation already.
Nick Thacker (08:48):
That's one of the major reasons, of course, is who's using your service. That affects deliverability of course, because you're sending emails through somewhere else, almost inevitably, unless we had our own rack of servers and a closet somewhere, and we absolutely will not do that. That's just a nightmare that you're going to be using someone else's infrastructure. Even if you're MailChimp, even if you're Mailer Light, even if you're Convert Kit, there's some infrastructure they're bouncing emails through. It could be as simple as sending it through the ISP. The end user has to get that email from Comcast over here in the United States or at t, whatever it is. And so for one reason, yeah, the users that we've got are great because they're authors. They're not trying to scam anyone. But another big reason James, that deliverability is really high is we've been working with the same delivery servers for over probably eight, nine years now, and we've just been slowly coaxing them and warming them up to who we are and what we're doing.
(09:45):
And unfortunately, or fortunately, I guess there's no way around that You can't tomorrow start your own email marketing service and have deliverability be as high. It just takes time and lots of effort and minutia to get this thing warmed up. And we've got a couple major servers right now, and we've got probably a handful of others that were always warming up. And the way we decided to do it early on was we didn't want that closet back here of servers sending emails. We wanted to use a professional company that all they do is host email servers. And so we picked a few and we started working with them and then we've picked other ones. So now we've got a great collection of delivery servers that we pay money to every month so that authors can send on our behalf or I guess vice versa, we can send on author's behalf.
(10:32):
And this is not entirely different than most email marketing services do it. We just chose to do it in a way that we're not using one company for their delivery servers. We're not just using AWS or email octopus or whatever. We've got a bunch of these, and so we can both bounce your emails from one box to another so we can keep deliverability high. Sometimes they flag us for something that comes through and we have to work with them to get that fixed. Meanwhile, we can route those emails to another company's servers. So it's just a great way using the cloud infrastructure that's already existing to be able to maintain deliverability and reputation. But yeah, at the end of the day, there's a lot of these little reasons like that. The biggest one of course is that we work with authors and only authors and there is a small vetting process. So if you sign up and want to send us your MLM and Bitcoin scams like you said, then we're going to say, Hey, that's not what we do. Go choose another service. We're for authors only. We've done that in the past.
James Blatch (11:27):
And this is something that goes on in the background that a lot of people who use email service providers don't realise. There's reputation building, which takes a long time, which is what you've said you've been doing. So that sounds like a good fit. And I've got a final question. How do you ensure that you are only being used by authors?
Nick Thacker (11:47):
Well, as I said, we have a small vetting process, and what that means is there's never going to be a 100% guaranteed way of ensuring that you're an author. And the truth is, we get people who are authors and running a business that has nothing to do with authors. And so those bring up some questions like, do we allow them to use the service, do we not? Is there something in between that we can figure out? The truth is what we try to do is what we do actually is look at what is being sent. And if we see that there's somebody sending all these emails, they're getting a high bounce rate, there's all these flags that we can see that imply something isn't right in the way they're sending, it's either something's broken, they haven't verified an email address, or they're sending things that they shouldn't be sending, and they're getting pushback from that from the end users. So we'll come down and say, Hey, you can't be doing that on this platform if you're not an author, we're going to kindly ask you to leave and we'll cancel your account and refund your money.
(12:41):
That's how we do it. So far it's been working pretty well. As I said, you can't guarantee that we're always going to be perfect, but we're looking at what gets sent every single minute and if we see something that raises a flag, we start asking questions.
James Blatch (12:56):
Okay, I'm looking slightly yellow because we just had a power cut in Huntington where I am and power is back on, but we're going to resume this interview as if nothing happened and make it all smooth in the edit. I just look yellow. My lights have not rejoined the internet yet. Okay, so we talked about author email, which I think is the address, isn't it? Author email,
Nick Thacker (13:18):
Author email or author email.com, either one.
James Blatch (13:20):
And if they want to check that out, I think you are very competitive. I just got up your little slider. So if you had 10,000 subscribers, that's less than 20 bucks a month compared to MailChimp at 130 bucks a month. So that is a very significant difference. Even light is 75 at that point. In fact, you don't really go up until pretty high. Is it 20,000? I think it goes up to the next jump.
Nick Thacker (13:49):
Yep. Yeah, we start at $10 99 cents a month for under 10,000 subscribers, and then the next jump is 29 99 for I think up to 49,000 subscribers. And that was the goal, James. I mean, when we started this, I was paying somewhere $300 at MailChimp and I thought there's got to be a better way to do this. We don't need the CRM tools that MailChimp offers. We don't need to manage all the different detailed granular things that MailChimp allows you to do. It's fantastic if you want to run an enterprise resource platform or something, but that's not what authors needed. It's not what I needed. I just wanted to send emails and have autoresponders and lists, and that's absolutely what we do. And so we just didn't have any of those additional features that wouldn't be useful for authors. We only focused on the ones that would be useful.
James Blatch (14:38):
And what about things like integration with other tools like Lead Pages or Wix forms? Can that integrate with author email
Nick Thacker (14:50):
In a way? Yes. It's not easy. I'll admit that's one of the things on our list that we never got to was let's make sure these integrations are much easier. Right now it's workarounds. It's possible of course, but it's not as easy as it should be. We do have integrations, OneClick integrations with services like book funnel, story origin, things like that. So it is possible to run your author business and use author email as the segmentation and list building tool that some of these other services provide. But one of the major overhauls that we've got planned is a UX UI change, which for anyone listening doesn't know what that is. The interface. The interface isn't where we want it to be. It's not bad, but it's just not as intuitive as we'd like. And so that's a major part of what we've got coming down the pike hopefully soon.
James Blatch (15:36):
Yeah. Okay. Right. So that's all through email and the other side of the business that you're looking after, the other business within the business you're looking after is covers. So just tell us about that. I know it's a separate domain. It
Nick Thacker (15:50):
Is. It's a wholly different business that we've acquired about 11 months ago. It's called self pub book covers.com. So depending on when you go, that site may or may not redirect to the new site, which we're building now. But we have taken over self put book covers, which has been around for a while. It's over a decade old. The owners of that website are fantastic people and they just wanted to make sure that the company went somewhere that cared about authors first and foremost. And so that's what we're trying to maintain as we go forward, the integrity of that business. But it's a pre-made book cover marketplace. So rather than if you're a designer and you set out to shingle as a book cover designer and you have some pre-made on your website, this is a marketplace for multiple designers to offer their covers for multiple authors.
(16:42):
And one of the main unique selling propositions of this website was and is that any author can come purchase a cover and customise the text on that cover. So add a title, add their name, they can configure that, they can change the text right there in the browser, download the cover that's high res, ready to go for upload to Amazon, drafted digital, wherever that if you are looking at the older site is working and very outdated, no fault to anyone who built it. It was built 13, 14 years ago and it has worked flawlessly since then, which is kind of a testament to how well it was built, but it obviously looks outdated and it needs an overhaul. And so what I've been doing, and I've got a small team working with me here on the draught to digital side is what I've been doing is building a brand new version of this and we are launching it's book covers.com.
(17:35):
We've acquired that domain. Everything from self pop book covers.com is going to be transitioned over. It's in process of being transitioned over users covers all that stuff. And we've just totally revamped everything about the site. So the marketplace aspect is far easier to navigate. Payouts are automated rather than manual authors and designers can go make an account and communicate with each other a little bit to get the cover they want, and authors can still go in and customise their covers, but the editor for that is much, much easier to use. And the design is just better because of modern technology. We're not quite done yet as of recording this, but we are launching in phases. So the first phase is ready right now, which is if you go to book covers.com, you'll see the website, what it's going to look like. There's some placeholder covers that we're getting, some of the old covers transitioned over as we speak.
(18:25):
You won't be able to create an account, you won't be able to purchase, you won't be able to do any of the things we're talking about. That's our phase two and that's what we expect to come out sometime end of summer. And we're very excited about this. It's a huge, huge initiative. But the idea is again, what do authors need to publish their book? And of course a book cover is a requirement, and so we're hoping that we can offer fantastically designed book covers at an attractive price that will also lift up the designers who are doing this and they have a whole marketplace now where they can sell their designs. And so anyway, that's the premise of the website. I need to work on the elevator pitch a bit. It's a bit long, but you get the idea of what we're trying to do here.
(19:07):
And of course if there's something pre-made is the idea behind the marketplace, but we do offer custom covers. We do offer ways to modify a cover if you see an image you like, but it's not quite right. And all of this stuff is mostly automated. It's back and forth with the designer who will then either do the modification or say that they can't, at which point we've got an in-house designer who will get it. So it's a really elaborate system that I'm very happy. It's quite streamlined in the way it works and hopefully the industry feels the same way when they see this. It's going to be hopefully very, very good and beneficial for the industry at large.
James Blatch (19:43):
Yeah. So is it in part like a marketplace like Rez or fiverr.com and in part an automated system it's got a bit of both. You can basically pick up a cover designer there or you can work with the automation tools and modify an existing cover.
Nick Thacker (19:59):
Exactly. It's both. So the automation is really just, I'm saying that because that's been my biggest headache with running the old site is the things that needed to be automated were not, and it's a lot of back and forth with that. I'm just trying to remove any of the back and forth that's unnecessary. So if you're an author, you go to book covers.com, you can find a cover designed by somebody, and if you like it, you can customise it right there even before you purchase it. Once you buy the cover, the designer gets paid automatically. You have a cover ready to go in your dashboard that you can customise as many times as you want. This isn't a one-time thing, so you've got the image in place and then you can put your own text on there and change the text, add a subtitle, whatever you need to do.
(20:38):
If it becomes part of a series, add the series tag for as long as you are using our website. And so then you just redownload the cover every single time. Some of the things that I mentioned are automated are things like if you know you're going to do a print wrap, if you're going to do a full wrap paperback, for example, you can purchase the cover and then check a box and say, I would also like the full wrap, and you don't have to email us. You don't have to find the designer and hope they're still around you purchase it. And if the designer can't complete that project for you and design a full wrap, then we do it in house and you get it within 48 hours. So that part is what I'm saying is automated. You can find your cover and everything you need for that cover, audiobook, custom modifications, things like that, and it just makes it a lot easier.
(21:22):
And then of course, the marketplace idea is to make it a little bit more social, so make it a little bit more so that if you're a designer, you can come in here, not just sell cool book cover designs, but you can actually build a store and people can keep coming back. Authors can keep coming back to you because they like what you've done, and so you'll have your own storefront on our page where you can show off your covers, run promotions, all that stuff is fully automated. You can run ads on the website to get yours to the top of our homepage, things like that. So we're really excited about this. I'm hoping that the author community will be as well, but we've got so many authors and designers that have used the old site and every single one that I've talked to is excited to have a newer platform that's easier to use and I only expect that to grow as we go.
James Blatch (22:07):
Yeah, sounds great. And this feels like it's kind of drafted digital's longer term plans to have author services alongside its core service of distribution of books.
Nick Thacker (22:18):
That was one of our original initiatives was this idea that you go through the draught of digital process to upload your book, and there's a question that says, do you have a book cover? And if you do, you upload your book cover image. If you don't, we say, go get one. And so the idea was what if we just linked to another website that we know and trust and that became, well now let's purchase a company. Now let's get this redone and everything. And we tend to want to make things as easy as possible for the authors, which makes things more complicated for us on the backend. But again, at the end of the day, how much cooler would it be for us to have a fully integrated system where you're on drafted digitals platform, click a link and it says, pick a cover and you pick a cover, put your text and title fonts, things like that, and then you're done, and that's all this is going to be.
James Blatch (23:07):
Yeah. Dara mentioned ai, which is having an impact in lots of areas of our industry, including cover design. Is this something that you've got your eyes on or are you keeping away from it for now?
Nick Thacker (23:19):
Oh my gosh. Well, we have no choice but to keep our eye on it, right? I'm not a lawyer and I'm not following very closely how the US et al is dealing with this sort of fair use stuff, which is kind of the big legal topic. So I'll stay away from that. What I will talk about is how we approach this as a policy as a company with the need to have a policy regarding can I use AI to design my cover? Historically, self put book covers.com had a policy that said, no AI whatsoever. You cannot use ai. And then of course, if you're following along in the industry, that is a really difficult thing to define. What is ai? Well, did I use Grammarly at all when I wrote the book or did I use generative fill and Adobe to do the background, which I would argue are uses of ai?
(24:06):
And so it's really difficult is the answer. What we've done now, the policy if you will, is to say, we don't want a book cover that is click a button, design a cover in ai, whatever that means. If you're using Adobe Firefly or midjourney, we don't want you to say, imagine a book cover for this and then have an image and upload that and you're done. That's not the intent of the marketplace. We do want designers to design, but it's also true that designer can use, for example, Adobe generative fill to say, I need to fill out the rest of this background image with content, and you can click a button in Photoshop and do that. And so first of all, there's no way to prove that an author or an artist did or did not use that. And so we can't really come down and say, you can't do that.
(24:53):
But it's also true that this is a way to make the design more efficient or more usable in different iterations, and the designer still has to know what they're doing in order to place a stock photo on top of that in order to blend those layers together. There's all sorts of design elements that cannot be done with AI at this point, and I believe maybe one day they will be able to be done, but even then, I think it's going to take someone who understands design, who understands composition, who understands layout, and so that's our policy At this point. It's not as what I just said, but the intent is we want designers to design book covers, and if you use a stock element from a stock website, you don't know that that wasn't generated by AI in the first place. There's no way to tell, and we've always said that using stock photos is allowed, and so that's not changed.
(25:37):
What we're just trying to stay away from is clicking a button, getting a fully designed book cover with every element on it, and you're done. That's not really helpful to the industry at this point. And so what we're trying to do is say, design your book cover if you need to use an element that was generated with ai, like the sword for example, was wrong or the fire was the wrong colour, things like that. We've always been able to manipulate photos and things like Photoshop, and that is how I think AI is being used really well. So I hope that answers your question. Anyone coming to the website, you can read the official policy, which is very much just the same thing, just saying, look, there's no way to really tell. We don't want images that are fully baked AI out of the box, but we also know that we can't police this nearly as well as people would hope.
James Blatch (26:22):
Yeah, I think that seems like a sensible way because I think using AI to replace, to get the stock image, to get the image, the kind of key figure you want or location you want, we've all had this over the years of you kind of run out of the same stock images that everyone else is using, and AI has amazingly allowed us to suddenly have the capital building on the wonk site, someone's running that's replaced stock images, but all that does is give you some elements needed by a designer to create a great cover. It doesn't create a great cover by itself. So I think you're doing authors a service and saying You do need a designer ultimately, because the covers are much better.
Nick Thacker (26:56):
I believe so I think I've always said, I don't believe covers sell books, but they are absolutely a reason why you may not sell a book, right? It's too late in the game now. There's too much. It's saturation in the market for good book covers that if you have a cover that's subpar, people won't click it. People won't decide to read the description, to read the blurb and then buy it because they won't even get there. So you have to have a cover that's been thought through enough to say, this matches the expectation of the reader in this particular genre. That's it. No one's going to click on the cover and go, oh my gosh, this picture is so amazing. I'm going to buy it regardless of what it's about. We just don't do that. But it does have to be good enough. It does have to be able to fit into a genre at a thumbnail size that looks like it belongs there.
James Blatch (27:43):
I think signalling the genre is the most important thing it does. The second most important thing it does is just look professional, and if it does those two, it's done its job. It doesn't need to be, as you say, a Mona Lisa work of art after that. Good. Well, that's great. And D two D's core business, is that something that's not really in your VP sphere, you are the guy doing these add-ons, these extra value added things for authors?
Nick Thacker (28:08):
That's right. That's right. Yeah. My role, I don't have any say or any push really on how we distribute books. There's much smarter people doing all that, but I am absolutely involved with day-to-Day operations. Things like talking to the groups and figuring out what we want to do. I'm part of the company as much as anyone else, but yeah, my day-to-Day role is very much working on author success. How do we make authors more successful through services and tools and products that we can potentially provide at a cost that's very, very reasonable, especially compared to the vanities out there, the ones trying to make a buck off the back of an author without really giving them what they're wanting.
James Blatch (28:49):
Yeah. Okay. Well, people can visit draught digital drafted digital.com. You are not coming to London, I don't think, but I think Dan is. Is that right?
Nick Thacker (29:00):
Yep. I'm not this year. Dan doesn't like to bring anyone along so he can have all the fun by himself, but we'll work next year maybe,
James Blatch (29:07):
If Dan's lucky, he'll get a tour of London statues with me. I know it was a highlight for him last year when I took him to a statue and gave him a lecture. He still talks about it.
Nick Thacker (29:17):
I would like that tour myself, but I'm have to make that happen next year. I'd like the James Blat tour statue tour. Yeah,
James Blatch (29:24):
I promise you. Remind me where you are, Nick. Are you West Coast
Nick Thacker (29:27):
Almost? I'm Colorado. Yeah, so it's Colorado. If you're familiar with Hunger Games. We're the region that didn't get decimated. I think we're district one.
James Blatch (29:36):
District one.
Nick Thacker (29:38):
Yeah.
James Blatch (29:39):
If you're watching on YouTube, putting up my little sign. Okay, excellent. Well, Nick, thank you very much indeed. Great explanation of those two products and a bit of shout out, of course for D 2D. They will be at the conference. If you're coming along next week, you can have a chat with Dan and hopefully we'll see you in London at some point,
Nick Thacker (29:58):
Some point. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me and for the time, I really appreciate
Speaker 1 (30:02):
It. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (30:07):
There we go. There is Nick Thacker, and if you want to speak to Dan Wood, he'll be there on Tuesday and Wednesday at the South Bank Centre in London For our conference, last chance to buy a ticket, learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. That closes at midnight tonight regardless of how many have been sold. Okay, that's it. Thank you very much indeed. All the remains would say, is this a goodbye for me? So goodbye
Speaker 1 (30:32):
Get show notes, the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at self-publishing show.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at self-publishing show.com/facebook. Support the [email protected] slash self-Publishing show, and join us next week for more help and for 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.

SPS-423: Create a Killer Author Website – with Stuart Grant from Digital Authors Toolkit

Join James Blatch and Stuart Grant from Digital Authors Toolkit and also the highest rated web designer on Reedsy, as they discuss the future of Author websites, direct selling, and how you can make your website stand out.

Show Notes

· Show notes:
– WIN Tickets for the SPS Live 2024 show
– Fable Draft 2 Digital
– Vinci Books update
– Sponsoring at the SPS Live shows
– Bookvault Plugin
– Promoting your website and SEO’s
– What is WIX and what can WIX offer
– Direct selling and Shopify
– Animated covers and harnessing AI

Resources mentioned in this episode:

SPS LIVE 2024 GET YOUR TICKETS HERE

SPS LIVE 2024 DIGITAL TICKETS: Get your digital tickets here

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Speaker 1 (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, the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch. Welcome along. If you're listening to this on release day, it's the 21st of June. We are just a few days away from our big annual conference, the Self-Publishing Show Live, Europe's largest gathering of indie authors, which is going to take place in London on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. And if you want to come along and join us, you've got today basically until midnight tonight. We can't sell tickets any closer to the event than that, so we can't sell 'em over the weekend and they won't be available on the door. So if you want to snag a ticket and join me and several hundred others up to 916 I think is our absolute limit. Now you can go learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. I'm looking forward to it. We're going to hear from some industry titans. We're going to hear from some Titan authors.
(01:05):
We're going to hear from authors who make enough that they don't have to do their nine to five every week. We're going to hear from people providing services to the indie community. We're going to hear from people that you will recognise like El James and Lucy Score and Ricardo Fiat, and some people you may not know who are going to perhaps surprise you with some of the lessons and teachings that we're going to have. And I'm going to be doing a session on ai, which is the big topic, of course, one of the big topics that we're talking about at the moment. And there might even be some surprise announcements if you're there in person as well. Yeah, so looking forward to that. That is next week. If you're listening to this on Wednesday or Thursday next week, then I'll be lying down in a darkened room with a few others.
(01:51):
Catherine in particular, who's done an absolutely fantastic job of organising this conference, A big shout out to Catherine, keeping all the balls in the air, all the plates, spinning on all the other cliches to get that conference going. Okay, look, there's not much to talk about. We are absolutely very, very busy. It's Wednesday night as I'm recording this, I'm doing this very quickly and then moving on to a hundred other things I've got to do between now and the conference starting on Tuesday. So let me just introduce to you our interviewee, which is somebody, one of the companies that will be at the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dan Wood is going to be there from draught to digital. The interviewee, although is Nick Thacker, who works with D 2D, but he looks at some of the other author services. So D 2D is a service that will distribute your book wide, distribute your book to dozens of retailers around the world.
(02:41):
So you upload it once to draught to digital. It makes sure it's in Barn and Noble and Coone and I mean there are gazillion others that it goes to. And it could even be Amazon if you want it to distribute to Amazon as well if you don't want to do that yourself. So they take a cut of sales, but it saves you a painful business of putting your book everywhere. But they have some other services as well. Alongside that, I have an email service provider exclusively for authors, and they have a cover designer, obviously for authors who else would need a cover design? And that is the domain of Nick Thacker, a thriller author from Colorado. And I know Nick quite well, met him over the years, so it's always a pleasure to chat to him. So Nick's up here. I'll be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1 (03:28):
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (03:34):
Hey, Nick Thacker, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. When you first joined us now, I thought you'd wrapped yourself in the Union Jack flag, but I think it's just your top.
Nick Thacker (03:44):
This is my local hockey team.
James Blatch (03:47):
I was going to say, is it hockey? It looks like a hockey thing.
Nick Thacker (03:50):
Yeah. Yep. Ice hockey. Yep.
James Blatch (03:52):
And for people. Yeah, people in the rest of the world. Ice hockey, not field ice hockey.
Nick Thacker (03:57):
Exactly. Yeah. Not field hockey. Nope.
James Blatch (04:01):
No. The default for hockey in the UK is on grass. If you say hockey, that's what people mean.
Nick Thacker (04:07):
I know. And that's unfortunate
James Blatch (04:08):
Hockey. It's ice, isn't it?
Nick Thacker (04:11):
It's unfortunate too. Ice hockey is so much more fun. There's already too many sports happening on grass. We need a lot more ice.
James Blatch (04:18):
Yes, too much grass has too much. It's a monopoly. We need to end the grass Monopoly of sport. End
Nick Thacker (04:23):
The pitch.
James Blatch (04:24):
Yeah. Listen, we're going to talk about drafted digital because you work there now. You got a job there? I do,
Nick Thacker (04:30):
I do. Yeah, I'm a company man now.
James Blatch (04:33):
Yeah, you are the man, you're the corporate man. What are you doing at Drafted Digital Nick Thacker?
Nick Thacker (04:37):
No thanks. I'm the vice president of Drafted Digital, which is weird. It's a new role, but we're calling it Vice President of Author Success. And to put it succinctly, we as drafted digital as you know have always been how do we help authors without charging a fee beforehand? We want to distribute books to all the stores and we'll take a royalty if you make money at those stores, but there's never been a time when we've offered a service that you pay upfront. And so when I came on board and we've had this conversation, I think on this call years ago, I sold author email to Drafted Digital and it was of an acquihire where instead of a big multi-billion dollar payout, I'm sure they would've offered. They said, why don't you come work for us and you keep this thing running. So Author email is under that department, if you will, newly, and we've also just acquired a company called Self Pub book covers.com, and it's exactly what it sounds like.
(05:35):
It's book covers. And so when we did that, we decided now we're charging for services, now we're charging for products, and we want to sort of silo that to make sure that we're not coming across as some sort of hybrid publisher or vanity press because that is not at all what we're doing. We're offering services and products to authors that they need. And one of our core tenets of this venture is to do it in an ethical and financially attractive way for authors. It's always authors first with drafted digital. And so that hasn't changed. I'm now running both of those companies and anything else we may acquire in the future, hopefully. But for now, the big one is book covers. We're doing pre-made book covers and customs, things like that.
James Blatch (06:19):
Okay. Well, let's break it down a bit. Let's talk about all three Mail to start off with because it's been a while since that's been running. The company has matured a bit. Where do you position it? So first of all, just describe, it's a mail list service right alongside MailChimp, mail Alike Convert, et cetera. Where do you position?
Nick Thacker (06:37):
Well, we are the most cost effective email marketing platform We are for authors only, which is one of the reasons we're able to be so inexpensive. We don't have to deal with the internet marketing riffraff, the scum, the scammers, the people like that because authors just need to send emails to their mailing list. And almost nothing of what authors do generally speaking is going to be something that raises a red flag. So for that reason, we can keep it very affordable. Now, when it was first brought into Draught to digital's fold, the idea was we've got this resource, the development resource to make this really, really nice fancy look, great ux, UI changes, overhauls, all that. And that was the plan. And then this little thing called acquiring Smashwords happened. And so we put author email back on the back burner and it's been there for longer than we all want, but for good reason because we've been focusing on smash words, migrating user accounts takes an ungodly amount of time and resource investment, but it's definitely not forgotten. So author email always has worked, but there's always been a list of things where, hey, we want to fix this, we want to make this better, we want this to be improved. And we just haven't gotten to develop that as much as we want yet. But that's absolutely still in an open beta is what we call it. It's working great. Deliverability is absolutely as high as it always was and very competitive with anything else in the industry.
James Blatch (08:00):
Yeah, I was going to ask about deliverability. That is the big thing with email service providers. I'm an experienced user of quite a few. Keep is the one that we use for SPF that's got a quarter of 1,000,300 thousand odd names on it. And I get emails very regularly from them about things that they think we might do occasionally that impact deliverability and then tips on deliverability. And I know as a company, they fight this almost never ending battle on and getting that deliverability up and it's frustrating. You send an email out to that number of people and then we get some support requests from people. They just never saw the email. It just never got blocked to ISP level. But you think author email, because it's authors, because not people sending Bitcoin scam emails out. You've got a pretty good reputation already.
Nick Thacker (08:48):
That's one of the major reasons, of course, is who's using your service. That affects deliverability of course, because you're sending emails through somewhere else, almost inevitably, unless we had our own rack of servers and a closet somewhere, and we absolutely will not do that. That's just a nightmare that you're going to be using someone else's infrastructure. Even if you're MailChimp, even if you're Mailer Light, even if you're Convert Kit, there's some infrastructure they're bouncing emails through. It could be as simple as sending it through the ISP. The end user has to get that email from Comcast over here in the United States or at t, whatever it is. And so for one reason, yeah, the users that we've got are great because they're authors. They're not trying to scam anyone. But another big reason James, that deliverability is really high is we've been working with the same delivery servers for over probably eight, nine years now, and we've just been slowly coaxing them and warming them up to who we are and what we're doing.
(09:45):
And unfortunately, or fortunately, I guess there's no way around that You can't tomorrow start your own email marketing service and have deliverability be as high. It just takes time and lots of effort and minutia to get this thing warmed up. And we've got a couple major servers right now, and we've got probably a handful of others that were always warming up. And the way we decided to do it early on was we didn't want that closet back here of servers sending emails. We wanted to use a professional company that all they do is host email servers. And so we picked a few and we started working with them and then we've picked other ones. So now we've got a great collection of delivery servers that we pay money to every month so that authors can send on our behalf or I guess vice versa, we can send on author's behalf.
(10:32):
And this is not entirely different than most email marketing services do it. We just chose to do it in a way that we're not using one company for their delivery servers. We're not just using AWS or email octopus or whatever. We've got a bunch of these, and so we can both bounce your emails from one box to another so we can keep deliverability high. Sometimes they flag us for something that comes through and we have to work with them to get that fixed. Meanwhile, we can route those emails to another company's servers. So it's just a great way using the cloud infrastructure that's already existing to be able to maintain deliverability and reputation. But yeah, at the end of the day, there's a lot of these little reasons like that. The biggest one of course is that we work with authors and only authors and there is a small vetting process. So if you sign up and want to send us your MLM and Bitcoin scams like you said, then we're going to say, Hey, that's not what we do. Go choose another service. We're for authors only. We've done that in the past.
James Blatch (11:27):
And this is something that goes on in the background that a lot of people who use email service providers don't realise. There's reputation building, which takes a long time, which is what you've said you've been doing. So that sounds like a good fit. And I've got a final question. How do you ensure that you are only being used by authors?
Nick Thacker (11:47):
Well, as I said, we have a small vetting process, and what that means is there's never going to be a 100% guaranteed way of ensuring that you're an author. And the truth is, we get people who are authors and running a business that has nothing to do with authors. And so those bring up some questions like, do we allow them to use the service, do we not? Is there something in between that we can figure out? The truth is what we try to do is what we do actually is look at what is being sent. And if we see that there's somebody sending all these emails, they're getting a high bounce rate, there's all these flags that we can see that imply something isn't right in the way they're sending, it's either something's broken, they haven't verified an email address, or they're sending things that they shouldn't be sending, and they're getting pushback from that from the end users. So we'll come down and say, Hey, you can't be doing that on this platform if you're not an author, we're going to kindly ask you to leave and we'll cancel your account and refund your money.
(12:41):
That's how we do it. So far it's been working pretty well. As I said, you can't guarantee that we're always going to be perfect, but we're looking at what gets sent every single minute and if we see something that raises a flag, we start asking questions.
James Blatch (12:56):
Okay, I'm looking slightly yellow because we just had a power cut in Huntington where I am and power is back on, but we're going to resume this interview as if nothing happened and make it all smooth in the edit. I just look yellow. My lights have not rejoined the internet yet. Okay, so we talked about author email, which I think is the address, isn't it? Author email,
Nick Thacker (13:18):
Author email or author email.com, either one.
James Blatch (13:20):
And if they want to check that out, I think you are very competitive. I just got up your little slider. So if you had 10,000 subscribers, that's less than 20 bucks a month compared to MailChimp at 130 bucks a month. So that is a very significant difference. Even light is 75 at that point. In fact, you don't really go up until pretty high. Is it 20,000? I think it goes up to the next jump.
Nick Thacker (13:49):
Yep. Yeah, we start at $10 99 cents a month for under 10,000 subscribers, and then the next jump is 29 99 for I think up to 49,000 subscribers. And that was the goal, James. I mean, when we started this, I was paying somewhere $300 at MailChimp and I thought there's got to be a better way to do this. We don't need the CRM tools that MailChimp offers. We don't need to manage all the different detailed granular things that MailChimp allows you to do. It's fantastic if you want to run an enterprise resource platform or something, but that's not what authors needed. It's not what I needed. I just wanted to send emails and have autoresponders and lists, and that's absolutely what we do. And so we just didn't have any of those additional features that wouldn't be useful for authors. We only focused on the ones that would be useful.
James Blatch (14:38):
And what about things like integration with other tools like Lead Pages or Wix forms? Can that integrate with author email
Nick Thacker (14:50):
In a way? Yes. It's not easy. I'll admit that's one of the things on our list that we never got to was let's make sure these integrations are much easier. Right now it's workarounds. It's possible of course, but it's not as easy as it should be. We do have integrations, OneClick integrations with services like book funnel, story origin, things like that. So it is possible to run your author business and use author email as the segmentation and list building tool that some of these other services provide. But one of the major overhauls that we've got planned is a UX UI change, which for anyone listening doesn't know what that is. The interface. The interface isn't where we want it to be. It's not bad, but it's just not as intuitive as we'd like. And so that's a major part of what we've got coming down the pike hopefully soon.
James Blatch (15:36):
Yeah. Okay. Right. So that's all through email and the other side of the business that you're looking after, the other business within the business you're looking after is covers. So just tell us about that. I know it's a separate domain. It
Nick Thacker (15:50):
Is. It's a wholly different business that we've acquired about 11 months ago. It's called self pub book covers.com. So depending on when you go, that site may or may not redirect to the new site, which we're building now. But we have taken over self put book covers, which has been around for a while. It's over a decade old. The owners of that website are fantastic people and they just wanted to make sure that the company went somewhere that cared about authors first and foremost. And so that's what we're trying to maintain as we go forward, the integrity of that business. But it's a pre-made book cover marketplace. So rather than if you're a designer and you set out to shingle as a book cover designer and you have some pre-made on your website, this is a marketplace for multiple designers to offer their covers for multiple authors.
(16:42):
And one of the main unique selling propositions of this website was and is that any author can come purchase a cover and customise the text on that cover. So add a title, add their name, they can configure that, they can change the text right there in the browser, download the cover that's high res, ready to go for upload to Amazon, drafted digital, wherever that if you are looking at the older site is working and very outdated, no fault to anyone who built it. It was built 13, 14 years ago and it has worked flawlessly since then, which is kind of a testament to how well it was built, but it obviously looks outdated and it needs an overhaul. And so what I've been doing, and I've got a small team working with me here on the draught to digital side is what I've been doing is building a brand new version of this and we are launching it's book covers.com.
(17:35):
We've acquired that domain. Everything from self pop book covers.com is going to be transitioned over. It's in process of being transitioned over users covers all that stuff. And we've just totally revamped everything about the site. So the marketplace aspect is far easier to navigate. Payouts are automated rather than manual authors and designers can go make an account and communicate with each other a little bit to get the cover they want, and authors can still go in and customise their covers, but the editor for that is much, much easier to use. And the design is just better because of modern technology. We're not quite done yet as of recording this, but we are launching in phases. So the first phase is ready right now, which is if you go to book covers.com, you'll see the website, what it's going to look like. There's some placeholder covers that we're getting, some of the old covers transitioned over as we speak.
(18:25):
You won't be able to create an account, you won't be able to purchase, you won't be able to do any of the things we're talking about. That's our phase two and that's what we expect to come out sometime end of summer. And we're very excited about this. It's a huge, huge initiative. But the idea is again, what do authors need to publish their book? And of course a book cover is a requirement, and so we're hoping that we can offer fantastically designed book covers at an attractive price that will also lift up the designers who are doing this and they have a whole marketplace now where they can sell their designs. And so anyway, that's the premise of the website. I need to work on the elevator pitch a bit. It's a bit long, but you get the idea of what we're trying to do here.
(19:07):
And of course if there's something pre-made is the idea behind the marketplace, but we do offer custom covers. We do offer ways to modify a cover if you see an image you like, but it's not quite right. And all of this stuff is mostly automated. It's back and forth with the designer who will then either do the modification or say that they can't, at which point we've got an in-house designer who will get it. So it's a really elaborate system that I'm very happy. It's quite streamlined in the way it works and hopefully the industry feels the same way when they see this. It's going to be hopefully very, very good and beneficial for the industry at large.
James Blatch (19:43):
Yeah. So is it in part like a marketplace like Rez or fiverr.com and in part an automated system it's got a bit of both. You can basically pick up a cover designer there or you can work with the automation tools and modify an existing cover.
Nick Thacker (19:59):
Exactly. It's both. So the automation is really just, I'm saying that because that's been my biggest headache with running the old site is the things that needed to be automated were not, and it's a lot of back and forth with that. I'm just trying to remove any of the back and forth that's unnecessary. So if you're an author, you go to book covers.com, you can find a cover designed by somebody, and if you like it, you can customise it right there even before you purchase it. Once you buy the cover, the designer gets paid automatically. You have a cover ready to go in your dashboard that you can customise as many times as you want. This isn't a one-time thing, so you've got the image in place and then you can put your own text on there and change the text, add a subtitle, whatever you need to do.
(20:38):
If it becomes part of a series, add the series tag for as long as you are using our website. And so then you just redownload the cover every single time. Some of the things that I mentioned are automated are things like if you know you're going to do a print wrap, if you're going to do a full wrap paperback, for example, you can purchase the cover and then check a box and say, I would also like the full wrap, and you don't have to email us. You don't have to find the designer and hope they're still around you purchase it. And if the designer can't complete that project for you and design a full wrap, then we do it in house and you get it within 48 hours. So that part is what I'm saying is automated. You can find your cover and everything you need for that cover, audiobook, custom modifications, things like that, and it just makes it a lot easier.
(21:22):
And then of course, the marketplace idea is to make it a little bit more social, so make it a little bit more so that if you're a designer, you can come in here, not just sell cool book cover designs, but you can actually build a store and people can keep coming back. Authors can keep coming back to you because they like what you've done, and so you'll have your own storefront on our page where you can show off your covers, run promotions, all that stuff is fully automated. You can run ads on the website to get yours to the top of our homepage, things like that. So we're really excited about this. I'm hoping that the author community will be as well, but we've got so many authors and designers that have used the old site and every single one that I've talked to is excited to have a newer platform that's easier to use and I only expect that to grow as we go.
James Blatch (22:07):
Yeah, sounds great. And this feels like it's kind of drafted digital's longer term plans to have author services alongside its core service of distribution of books.
Nick Thacker (22:18):
That was one of our original initiatives was this idea that you go through the draught of digital process to upload your book, and there's a question that says, do you have a book cover? And if you do, you upload your book cover image. If you don't, we say, go get one. And so the idea was what if we just linked to another website that we know and trust and that became, well now let's purchase a company. Now let's get this redone and everything. And we tend to want to make things as easy as possible for the authors, which makes things more complicated for us on the backend. But again, at the end of the day, how much cooler would it be for us to have a fully integrated system where you're on drafted digitals platform, click a link and it says, pick a cover and you pick a cover, put your text and title fonts, things like that, and then you're done, and that's all this is going to be.
James Blatch (23:07):
Yeah. Dara mentioned ai, which is having an impact in lots of areas of our industry, including cover design. Is this something that you've got your eyes on or are you keeping away from it for now?
Nick Thacker (23:19):
Oh my gosh. Well, we have no choice but to keep our eye on it, right? I'm not a lawyer and I'm not following very closely how the US et al is dealing with this sort of fair use stuff, which is kind of the big legal topic. So I'll stay away from that. What I will talk about is how we approach this as a policy as a company with the need to have a policy regarding can I use AI to design my cover? Historically, self put book covers.com had a policy that said, no AI whatsoever. You cannot use ai. And then of course, if you're following along in the industry, that is a really difficult thing to define. What is ai? Well, did I use Grammarly at all when I wrote the book or did I use generative fill and Adobe to do the background, which I would argue are uses of ai?
(24:06):
And so it's really difficult is the answer. What we've done now, the policy if you will, is to say, we don't want a book cover that is click a button, design a cover in ai, whatever that means. If you're using Adobe Firefly or midjourney, we don't want you to say, imagine a book cover for this and then have an image and upload that and you're done. That's not the intent of the marketplace. We do want designers to design, but it's also true that designer can use, for example, Adobe generative fill to say, I need to fill out the rest of this background image with content, and you can click a button in Photoshop and do that. And so first of all, there's no way to prove that an author or an artist did or did not use that. And so we can't really come down and say, you can't do that.
(24:53):
But it's also true that this is a way to make the design more efficient or more usable in different iterations, and the designer still has to know what they're doing in order to place a stock photo on top of that in order to blend those layers together. There's all sorts of design elements that cannot be done with AI at this point, and I believe maybe one day they will be able to be done, but even then, I think it's going to take someone who understands design, who understands composition, who understands layout, and so that's our policy At this point. It's not as what I just said, but the intent is we want designers to design book covers, and if you use a stock element from a stock website, you don't know that that wasn't generated by AI in the first place. There's no way to tell, and we've always said that using stock photos is allowed, and so that's not changed.
(25:37):
What we're just trying to stay away from is clicking a button, getting a fully designed book cover with every element on it, and you're done. That's not really helpful to the industry at this point. And so what we're trying to do is say, design your book cover if you need to use an element that was generated with ai, like the sword for example, was wrong or the fire was the wrong colour, things like that. We've always been able to manipulate photos and things like Photoshop, and that is how I think AI is being used really well. So I hope that answers your question. Anyone coming to the website, you can read the official policy, which is very much just the same thing, just saying, look, there's no way to really tell. We don't want images that are fully baked AI out of the box, but we also know that we can't police this nearly as well as people would hope.
James Blatch (26:22):
Yeah, I think that seems like a sensible way because I think using AI to replace, to get the stock image, to get the image, the kind of key figure you want or location you want, we've all had this over the years of you kind of run out of the same stock images that everyone else is using, and AI has amazingly allowed us to suddenly have the capital building on the wonk site, someone's running that's replaced stock images, but all that does is give you some elements needed by a designer to create a great cover. It doesn't create a great cover by itself. So I think you're doing authors a service and saying You do need a designer ultimately, because the covers are much better.
Nick Thacker (26:56):
I believe so I think I've always said, I don't believe covers sell books, but they are absolutely a reason why you may not sell a book, right? It's too late in the game now. There's too much. It's saturation in the market for good book covers that if you have a cover that's subpar, people won't click it. People won't decide to read the description, to read the blurb and then buy it because they won't even get there. So you have to have a cover that's been thought through enough to say, this matches the expectation of the reader in this particular genre. That's it. No one's going to click on the cover and go, oh my gosh, this picture is so amazing. I'm going to buy it regardless of what it's about. We just don't do that. But it does have to be good enough. It does have to be able to fit into a genre at a thumbnail size that looks like it belongs there.
James Blatch (27:43):
I think signalling the genre is the most important thing it does. The second most important thing it does is just look professional, and if it does those two, it's done its job. It doesn't need to be, as you say, a Mona Lisa work of art after that. Good. Well, that's great. And D two D's core business, is that something that's not really in your VP sphere, you are the guy doing these add-ons, these extra value added things for authors?
Nick Thacker (28:08):
That's right. That's right. Yeah. My role, I don't have any say or any push really on how we distribute books. There's much smarter people doing all that, but I am absolutely involved with day-to-Day operations. Things like talking to the groups and figuring out what we want to do. I'm part of the company as much as anyone else, but yeah, my day-to-Day role is very much working on author success. How do we make authors more successful through services and tools and products that we can potentially provide at a cost that's very, very reasonable, especially compared to the vanities out there, the ones trying to make a buck off the back of an author without really giving them what they're wanting.
James Blatch (28:49):
Yeah. Okay. Well, people can visit draught digital drafted digital.com. You are not coming to London, I don't think, but I think Dan is. Is that right?
Nick Thacker (29:00):
Yep. I'm not this year. Dan doesn't like to bring anyone along so he can have all the fun by himself, but we'll work next year maybe,
James Blatch (29:07):
If Dan's lucky, he'll get a tour of London statues with me. I know it was a highlight for him last year when I took him to a statue and gave him a lecture. He still talks about it.
Nick Thacker (29:17):
I would like that tour myself, but I'm have to make that happen next year. I'd like the James Blat tour statue tour. Yeah,
James Blatch (29:24):
I promise you. Remind me where you are, Nick. Are you West Coast
Nick Thacker (29:27):
Almost? I'm Colorado. Yeah, so it's Colorado. If you're familiar with Hunger Games. We're the region that didn't get decimated. I think we're district one.
James Blatch (29:36):
District one.
Nick Thacker (29:38):
Yeah.
James Blatch (29:39):
If you're watching on YouTube, putting up my little sign. Okay, excellent. Well, Nick, thank you very much indeed. Great explanation of those two products and a bit of shout out, of course for D 2D. They will be at the conference. If you're coming along next week, you can have a chat with Dan and hopefully we'll see you in London at some point,
Nick Thacker (29:58):
Some point. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me and for the time, I really appreciate
Speaker 1 (30:02):
It. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (30:07):
There we go. There is Nick Thacker, and if you want to speak to Dan Wood, he'll be there on Tuesday and Wednesday at the South Bank Centre in London For our conference, last chance to buy a ticket, learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. That closes at midnight tonight regardless of how many have been sold. Okay, that's it. Thank you very much indeed. All the remains would say, is this a goodbye for me? So goodbye
Speaker 1 (30:32):
Get show notes, the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at self-publishing show.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at self-publishing show.com/facebook. Support the [email protected] slash self-Publishing show, and join us next week for more help and for 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.

SPS-422: The Audio Explosion with James Blatch and Victoria Gerken from Podium Audio.

Join James and Victoria Gerken from Podium Audio as they discuss how audio is exploding the world of publishing and providing authors with another income stream.

Show Notes

Show notes:
– The low down on the NEW How to Make Money with Translations course with Bella Andre
– SPS LIVE show in London, early bird price finishes on this Sunday 14th April
– Victoria Gerken from Podium Audio, one of the largest publishers of Audiobooks gives the back story of Podium
– Podium’s submission process for authors
– How Podium Audio make sure authors are listened too and expectations are met
– Distribution and being exclusive with Audible
– AI and the future of audiobooks
– Audiobook narrators
– Advice for authors looking to submit their book to Podium (

Resources mentioned in this episode:

SPS LIVE 2024 TICKETS – GET THEM HERE!

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Speaker 1 (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, the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch. Welcome along. If you're listening to this on release day, it's the 21st of June. We are just a few days away from our big annual conference, the Self-Publishing Show Live, Europe's largest gathering of indie authors, which is going to take place in London on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. And if you want to come along and join us, you've got today basically until midnight tonight. We can't sell tickets any closer to the event than that, so we can't sell 'em over the weekend and they won't be available on the door. So if you want to snag a ticket and join me and several hundred others up to 916 I think is our absolute limit. Now you can go learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. I'm looking forward to it. We're going to hear from some industry titans. We're going to hear from some Titan authors.
(01:05):
We're going to hear from authors who make enough that they don't have to do their nine to five every week. We're going to hear from people providing services to the indie community. We're going to hear from people that you will recognise like El James and Lucy Score and Ricardo Fiat, and some people you may not know who are going to perhaps surprise you with some of the lessons and teachings that we're going to have. And I'm going to be doing a session on ai, which is the big topic, of course, one of the big topics that we're talking about at the moment. And there might even be some surprise announcements if you're there in person as well. Yeah, so looking forward to that. That is next week. If you're listening to this on Wednesday or Thursday next week, then I'll be lying down in a darkened room with a few others.
(01:51):
Catherine in particular, who's done an absolutely fantastic job of organising this conference, A big shout out to Catherine, keeping all the balls in the air, all the plates, spinning on all the other cliches to get that conference going. Okay, look, there's not much to talk about. We are absolutely very, very busy. It's Wednesday night as I'm recording this, I'm doing this very quickly and then moving on to a hundred other things I've got to do between now and the conference starting on Tuesday. So let me just introduce to you our interviewee, which is somebody, one of the companies that will be at the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dan Wood is going to be there from draught to digital. The interviewee, although is Nick Thacker, who works with D 2D, but he looks at some of the other author services. So D 2D is a service that will distribute your book wide, distribute your book to dozens of retailers around the world.
(02:41):
So you upload it once to draught to digital. It makes sure it's in Barn and Noble and Coone and I mean there are gazillion others that it goes to. And it could even be Amazon if you want it to distribute to Amazon as well if you don't want to do that yourself. So they take a cut of sales, but it saves you a painful business of putting your book everywhere. But they have some other services as well. Alongside that, I have an email service provider exclusively for authors, and they have a cover designer, obviously for authors who else would need a cover design? And that is the domain of Nick Thacker, a thriller author from Colorado. And I know Nick quite well, met him over the years, so it's always a pleasure to chat to him. So Nick's up here. I'll be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1 (03:28):
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (03:34):
Hey, Nick Thacker, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. When you first joined us now, I thought you'd wrapped yourself in the Union Jack flag, but I think it's just your top.
Nick Thacker (03:44):
This is my local hockey team.
James Blatch (03:47):
I was going to say, is it hockey? It looks like a hockey thing.
Nick Thacker (03:50):
Yeah. Yep. Ice hockey. Yep.
James Blatch (03:52):
And for people. Yeah, people in the rest of the world. Ice hockey, not field ice hockey.
Nick Thacker (03:57):
Exactly. Yeah. Not field hockey. Nope.
James Blatch (04:01):
No. The default for hockey in the UK is on grass. If you say hockey, that's what people mean.
Nick Thacker (04:07):
I know. And that's unfortunate
James Blatch (04:08):
Hockey. It's ice, isn't it?
Nick Thacker (04:11):
It's unfortunate too. Ice hockey is so much more fun. There's already too many sports happening on grass. We need a lot more ice.
James Blatch (04:18):
Yes, too much grass has too much. It's a monopoly. We need to end the grass Monopoly of sport. End
Nick Thacker (04:23):
The pitch.
James Blatch (04:24):
Yeah. Listen, we're going to talk about drafted digital because you work there now. You got a job there? I do,
Nick Thacker (04:30):
I do. Yeah, I'm a company man now.
James Blatch (04:33):
Yeah, you are the man, you're the corporate man. What are you doing at Drafted Digital Nick Thacker?
Nick Thacker (04:37):
No thanks. I'm the vice president of Drafted Digital, which is weird. It's a new role, but we're calling it Vice President of Author Success. And to put it succinctly, we as drafted digital as you know have always been how do we help authors without charging a fee beforehand? We want to distribute books to all the stores and we'll take a royalty if you make money at those stores, but there's never been a time when we've offered a service that you pay upfront. And so when I came on board and we've had this conversation, I think on this call years ago, I sold author email to Drafted Digital and it was of an acquihire where instead of a big multi-billion dollar payout, I'm sure they would've offered. They said, why don't you come work for us and you keep this thing running. So Author email is under that department, if you will, newly, and we've also just acquired a company called Self Pub book covers.com, and it's exactly what it sounds like.
(05:35):
It's book covers. And so when we did that, we decided now we're charging for services, now we're charging for products, and we want to sort of silo that to make sure that we're not coming across as some sort of hybrid publisher or vanity press because that is not at all what we're doing. We're offering services and products to authors that they need. And one of our core tenets of this venture is to do it in an ethical and financially attractive way for authors. It's always authors first with drafted digital. And so that hasn't changed. I'm now running both of those companies and anything else we may acquire in the future, hopefully. But for now, the big one is book covers. We're doing pre-made book covers and customs, things like that.
James Blatch (06:19):
Okay. Well, let's break it down a bit. Let's talk about all three Mail to start off with because it's been a while since that's been running. The company has matured a bit. Where do you position it? So first of all, just describe, it's a mail list service right alongside MailChimp, mail Alike Convert, et cetera. Where do you position?
Nick Thacker (06:37):
Well, we are the most cost effective email marketing platform We are for authors only, which is one of the reasons we're able to be so inexpensive. We don't have to deal with the internet marketing riffraff, the scum, the scammers, the people like that because authors just need to send emails to their mailing list. And almost nothing of what authors do generally speaking is going to be something that raises a red flag. So for that reason, we can keep it very affordable. Now, when it was first brought into Draught to digital's fold, the idea was we've got this resource, the development resource to make this really, really nice fancy look, great ux, UI changes, overhauls, all that. And that was the plan. And then this little thing called acquiring Smashwords happened. And so we put author email back on the back burner and it's been there for longer than we all want, but for good reason because we've been focusing on smash words, migrating user accounts takes an ungodly amount of time and resource investment, but it's definitely not forgotten. So author email always has worked, but there's always been a list of things where, hey, we want to fix this, we want to make this better, we want this to be improved. And we just haven't gotten to develop that as much as we want yet. But that's absolutely still in an open beta is what we call it. It's working great. Deliverability is absolutely as high as it always was and very competitive with anything else in the industry.
James Blatch (08:00):
Yeah, I was going to ask about deliverability. That is the big thing with email service providers. I'm an experienced user of quite a few. Keep is the one that we use for SPF that's got a quarter of 1,000,300 thousand odd names on it. And I get emails very regularly from them about things that they think we might do occasionally that impact deliverability and then tips on deliverability. And I know as a company, they fight this almost never ending battle on and getting that deliverability up and it's frustrating. You send an email out to that number of people and then we get some support requests from people. They just never saw the email. It just never got blocked to ISP level. But you think author email, because it's authors, because not people sending Bitcoin scam emails out. You've got a pretty good reputation already.
Nick Thacker (08:48):
That's one of the major reasons, of course, is who's using your service. That affects deliverability of course, because you're sending emails through somewhere else, almost inevitably, unless we had our own rack of servers and a closet somewhere, and we absolutely will not do that. That's just a nightmare that you're going to be using someone else's infrastructure. Even if you're MailChimp, even if you're Mailer Light, even if you're Convert Kit, there's some infrastructure they're bouncing emails through. It could be as simple as sending it through the ISP. The end user has to get that email from Comcast over here in the United States or at t, whatever it is. And so for one reason, yeah, the users that we've got are great because they're authors. They're not trying to scam anyone. But another big reason James, that deliverability is really high is we've been working with the same delivery servers for over probably eight, nine years now, and we've just been slowly coaxing them and warming them up to who we are and what we're doing.
(09:45):
And unfortunately, or fortunately, I guess there's no way around that You can't tomorrow start your own email marketing service and have deliverability be as high. It just takes time and lots of effort and minutia to get this thing warmed up. And we've got a couple major servers right now, and we've got probably a handful of others that were always warming up. And the way we decided to do it early on was we didn't want that closet back here of servers sending emails. We wanted to use a professional company that all they do is host email servers. And so we picked a few and we started working with them and then we've picked other ones. So now we've got a great collection of delivery servers that we pay money to every month so that authors can send on our behalf or I guess vice versa, we can send on author's behalf.
(10:32):
And this is not entirely different than most email marketing services do it. We just chose to do it in a way that we're not using one company for their delivery servers. We're not just using AWS or email octopus or whatever. We've got a bunch of these, and so we can both bounce your emails from one box to another so we can keep deliverability high. Sometimes they flag us for something that comes through and we have to work with them to get that fixed. Meanwhile, we can route those emails to another company's servers. So it's just a great way using the cloud infrastructure that's already existing to be able to maintain deliverability and reputation. But yeah, at the end of the day, there's a lot of these little reasons like that. The biggest one of course is that we work with authors and only authors and there is a small vetting process. So if you sign up and want to send us your MLM and Bitcoin scams like you said, then we're going to say, Hey, that's not what we do. Go choose another service. We're for authors only. We've done that in the past.
James Blatch (11:27):
And this is something that goes on in the background that a lot of people who use email service providers don't realise. There's reputation building, which takes a long time, which is what you've said you've been doing. So that sounds like a good fit. And I've got a final question. How do you ensure that you are only being used by authors?
Nick Thacker (11:47):
Well, as I said, we have a small vetting process, and what that means is there's never going to be a 100% guaranteed way of ensuring that you're an author. And the truth is, we get people who are authors and running a business that has nothing to do with authors. And so those bring up some questions like, do we allow them to use the service, do we not? Is there something in between that we can figure out? The truth is what we try to do is what we do actually is look at what is being sent. And if we see that there's somebody sending all these emails, they're getting a high bounce rate, there's all these flags that we can see that imply something isn't right in the way they're sending, it's either something's broken, they haven't verified an email address, or they're sending things that they shouldn't be sending, and they're getting pushback from that from the end users. So we'll come down and say, Hey, you can't be doing that on this platform if you're not an author, we're going to kindly ask you to leave and we'll cancel your account and refund your money.
(12:41):
That's how we do it. So far it's been working pretty well. As I said, you can't guarantee that we're always going to be perfect, but we're looking at what gets sent every single minute and if we see something that raises a flag, we start asking questions.
James Blatch (12:56):
Okay, I'm looking slightly yellow because we just had a power cut in Huntington where I am and power is back on, but we're going to resume this interview as if nothing happened and make it all smooth in the edit. I just look yellow. My lights have not rejoined the internet yet. Okay, so we talked about author email, which I think is the address, isn't it? Author email,
Nick Thacker (13:18):
Author email or author email.com, either one.
James Blatch (13:20):
And if they want to check that out, I think you are very competitive. I just got up your little slider. So if you had 10,000 subscribers, that's less than 20 bucks a month compared to MailChimp at 130 bucks a month. So that is a very significant difference. Even light is 75 at that point. In fact, you don't really go up until pretty high. Is it 20,000? I think it goes up to the next jump.
Nick Thacker (13:49):
Yep. Yeah, we start at $10 99 cents a month for under 10,000 subscribers, and then the next jump is 29 99 for I think up to 49,000 subscribers. And that was the goal, James. I mean, when we started this, I was paying somewhere $300 at MailChimp and I thought there's got to be a better way to do this. We don't need the CRM tools that MailChimp offers. We don't need to manage all the different detailed granular things that MailChimp allows you to do. It's fantastic if you want to run an enterprise resource platform or something, but that's not what authors needed. It's not what I needed. I just wanted to send emails and have autoresponders and lists, and that's absolutely what we do. And so we just didn't have any of those additional features that wouldn't be useful for authors. We only focused on the ones that would be useful.
James Blatch (14:38):
And what about things like integration with other tools like Lead Pages or Wix forms? Can that integrate with author email
Nick Thacker (14:50):
In a way? Yes. It's not easy. I'll admit that's one of the things on our list that we never got to was let's make sure these integrations are much easier. Right now it's workarounds. It's possible of course, but it's not as easy as it should be. We do have integrations, OneClick integrations with services like book funnel, story origin, things like that. So it is possible to run your author business and use author email as the segmentation and list building tool that some of these other services provide. But one of the major overhauls that we've got planned is a UX UI change, which for anyone listening doesn't know what that is. The interface. The interface isn't where we want it to be. It's not bad, but it's just not as intuitive as we'd like. And so that's a major part of what we've got coming down the pike hopefully soon.
James Blatch (15:36):
Yeah. Okay. Right. So that's all through email and the other side of the business that you're looking after, the other business within the business you're looking after is covers. So just tell us about that. I know it's a separate domain. It
Nick Thacker (15:50):
Is. It's a wholly different business that we've acquired about 11 months ago. It's called self pub book covers.com. So depending on when you go, that site may or may not redirect to the new site, which we're building now. But we have taken over self put book covers, which has been around for a while. It's over a decade old. The owners of that website are fantastic people and they just wanted to make sure that the company went somewhere that cared about authors first and foremost. And so that's what we're trying to maintain as we go forward, the integrity of that business. But it's a pre-made book cover marketplace. So rather than if you're a designer and you set out to shingle as a book cover designer and you have some pre-made on your website, this is a marketplace for multiple designers to offer their covers for multiple authors.
(16:42):
And one of the main unique selling propositions of this website was and is that any author can come purchase a cover and customise the text on that cover. So add a title, add their name, they can configure that, they can change the text right there in the browser, download the cover that's high res, ready to go for upload to Amazon, drafted digital, wherever that if you are looking at the older site is working and very outdated, no fault to anyone who built it. It was built 13, 14 years ago and it has worked flawlessly since then, which is kind of a testament to how well it was built, but it obviously looks outdated and it needs an overhaul. And so what I've been doing, and I've got a small team working with me here on the draught to digital side is what I've been doing is building a brand new version of this and we are launching it's book covers.com.
(17:35):
We've acquired that domain. Everything from self pop book covers.com is going to be transitioned over. It's in process of being transitioned over users covers all that stuff. And we've just totally revamped everything about the site. So the marketplace aspect is far easier to navigate. Payouts are automated rather than manual authors and designers can go make an account and communicate with each other a little bit to get the cover they want, and authors can still go in and customise their covers, but the editor for that is much, much easier to use. And the design is just better because of modern technology. We're not quite done yet as of recording this, but we are launching in phases. So the first phase is ready right now, which is if you go to book covers.com, you'll see the website, what it's going to look like. There's some placeholder covers that we're getting, some of the old covers transitioned over as we speak.
(18:25):
You won't be able to create an account, you won't be able to purchase, you won't be able to do any of the things we're talking about. That's our phase two and that's what we expect to come out sometime end of summer. And we're very excited about this. It's a huge, huge initiative. But the idea is again, what do authors need to publish their book? And of course a book cover is a requirement, and so we're hoping that we can offer fantastically designed book covers at an attractive price that will also lift up the designers who are doing this and they have a whole marketplace now where they can sell their designs. And so anyway, that's the premise of the website. I need to work on the elevator pitch a bit. It's a bit long, but you get the idea of what we're trying to do here.
(19:07):
And of course if there's something pre-made is the idea behind the marketplace, but we do offer custom covers. We do offer ways to modify a cover if you see an image you like, but it's not quite right. And all of this stuff is mostly automated. It's back and forth with the designer who will then either do the modification or say that they can't, at which point we've got an in-house designer who will get it. So it's a really elaborate system that I'm very happy. It's quite streamlined in the way it works and hopefully the industry feels the same way when they see this. It's going to be hopefully very, very good and beneficial for the industry at large.
James Blatch (19:43):
Yeah. So is it in part like a marketplace like Rez or fiverr.com and in part an automated system it's got a bit of both. You can basically pick up a cover designer there or you can work with the automation tools and modify an existing cover.
Nick Thacker (19:59):
Exactly. It's both. So the automation is really just, I'm saying that because that's been my biggest headache with running the old site is the things that needed to be automated were not, and it's a lot of back and forth with that. I'm just trying to remove any of the back and forth that's unnecessary. So if you're an author, you go to book covers.com, you can find a cover designed by somebody, and if you like it, you can customise it right there even before you purchase it. Once you buy the cover, the designer gets paid automatically. You have a cover ready to go in your dashboard that you can customise as many times as you want. This isn't a one-time thing, so you've got the image in place and then you can put your own text on there and change the text, add a subtitle, whatever you need to do.
(20:38):
If it becomes part of a series, add the series tag for as long as you are using our website. And so then you just redownload the cover every single time. Some of the things that I mentioned are automated are things like if you know you're going to do a print wrap, if you're going to do a full wrap paperback, for example, you can purchase the cover and then check a box and say, I would also like the full wrap, and you don't have to email us. You don't have to find the designer and hope they're still around you purchase it. And if the designer can't complete that project for you and design a full wrap, then we do it in house and you get it within 48 hours. So that part is what I'm saying is automated. You can find your cover and everything you need for that cover, audiobook, custom modifications, things like that, and it just makes it a lot easier.
(21:22):
And then of course, the marketplace idea is to make it a little bit more social, so make it a little bit more so that if you're a designer, you can come in here, not just sell cool book cover designs, but you can actually build a store and people can keep coming back. Authors can keep coming back to you because they like what you've done, and so you'll have your own storefront on our page where you can show off your covers, run promotions, all that stuff is fully automated. You can run ads on the website to get yours to the top of our homepage, things like that. So we're really excited about this. I'm hoping that the author community will be as well, but we've got so many authors and designers that have used the old site and every single one that I've talked to is excited to have a newer platform that's easier to use and I only expect that to grow as we go.
James Blatch (22:07):
Yeah, sounds great. And this feels like it's kind of drafted digital's longer term plans to have author services alongside its core service of distribution of books.
Nick Thacker (22:18):
That was one of our original initiatives was this idea that you go through the draught of digital process to upload your book, and there's a question that says, do you have a book cover? And if you do, you upload your book cover image. If you don't, we say, go get one. And so the idea was what if we just linked to another website that we know and trust and that became, well now let's purchase a company. Now let's get this redone and everything. And we tend to want to make things as easy as possible for the authors, which makes things more complicated for us on the backend. But again, at the end of the day, how much cooler would it be for us to have a fully integrated system where you're on drafted digitals platform, click a link and it says, pick a cover and you pick a cover, put your text and title fonts, things like that, and then you're done, and that's all this is going to be.
James Blatch (23:07):
Yeah. Dara mentioned ai, which is having an impact in lots of areas of our industry, including cover design. Is this something that you've got your eyes on or are you keeping away from it for now?
Nick Thacker (23:19):
Oh my gosh. Well, we have no choice but to keep our eye on it, right? I'm not a lawyer and I'm not following very closely how the US et al is dealing with this sort of fair use stuff, which is kind of the big legal topic. So I'll stay away from that. What I will talk about is how we approach this as a policy as a company with the need to have a policy regarding can I use AI to design my cover? Historically, self put book covers.com had a policy that said, no AI whatsoever. You cannot use ai. And then of course, if you're following along in the industry, that is a really difficult thing to define. What is ai? Well, did I use Grammarly at all when I wrote the book or did I use generative fill and Adobe to do the background, which I would argue are uses of ai?
(24:06):
And so it's really difficult is the answer. What we've done now, the policy if you will, is to say, we don't want a book cover that is click a button, design a cover in ai, whatever that means. If you're using Adobe Firefly or midjourney, we don't want you to say, imagine a book cover for this and then have an image and upload that and you're done. That's not the intent of the marketplace. We do want designers to design, but it's also true that designer can use, for example, Adobe generative fill to say, I need to fill out the rest of this background image with content, and you can click a button in Photoshop and do that. And so first of all, there's no way to prove that an author or an artist did or did not use that. And so we can't really come down and say, you can't do that.
(24:53):
But it's also true that this is a way to make the design more efficient or more usable in different iterations, and the designer still has to know what they're doing in order to place a stock photo on top of that in order to blend those layers together. There's all sorts of design elements that cannot be done with AI at this point, and I believe maybe one day they will be able to be done, but even then, I think it's going to take someone who understands design, who understands composition, who understands layout, and so that's our policy At this point. It's not as what I just said, but the intent is we want designers to design book covers, and if you use a stock element from a stock website, you don't know that that wasn't generated by AI in the first place. There's no way to tell, and we've always said that using stock photos is allowed, and so that's not changed.
(25:37):
What we're just trying to stay away from is clicking a button, getting a fully designed book cover with every element on it, and you're done. That's not really helpful to the industry at this point. And so what we're trying to do is say, design your book cover if you need to use an element that was generated with ai, like the sword for example, was wrong or the fire was the wrong colour, things like that. We've always been able to manipulate photos and things like Photoshop, and that is how I think AI is being used really well. So I hope that answers your question. Anyone coming to the website, you can read the official policy, which is very much just the same thing, just saying, look, there's no way to really tell. We don't want images that are fully baked AI out of the box, but we also know that we can't police this nearly as well as people would hope.
James Blatch (26:22):
Yeah, I think that seems like a sensible way because I think using AI to replace, to get the stock image, to get the image, the kind of key figure you want or location you want, we've all had this over the years of you kind of run out of the same stock images that everyone else is using, and AI has amazingly allowed us to suddenly have the capital building on the wonk site, someone's running that's replaced stock images, but all that does is give you some elements needed by a designer to create a great cover. It doesn't create a great cover by itself. So I think you're doing authors a service and saying You do need a designer ultimately, because the covers are much better.
Nick Thacker (26:56):
I believe so I think I've always said, I don't believe covers sell books, but they are absolutely a reason why you may not sell a book, right? It's too late in the game now. There's too much. It's saturation in the market for good book covers that if you have a cover that's subpar, people won't click it. People won't decide to read the description, to read the blurb and then buy it because they won't even get there. So you have to have a cover that's been thought through enough to say, this matches the expectation of the reader in this particular genre. That's it. No one's going to click on the cover and go, oh my gosh, this picture is so amazing. I'm going to buy it regardless of what it's about. We just don't do that. But it does have to be good enough. It does have to be able to fit into a genre at a thumbnail size that looks like it belongs there.
James Blatch (27:43):
I think signalling the genre is the most important thing it does. The second most important thing it does is just look professional, and if it does those two, it's done its job. It doesn't need to be, as you say, a Mona Lisa work of art after that. Good. Well, that's great. And D two D's core business, is that something that's not really in your VP sphere, you are the guy doing these add-ons, these extra value added things for authors?
Nick Thacker (28:08):
That's right. That's right. Yeah. My role, I don't have any say or any push really on how we distribute books. There's much smarter people doing all that, but I am absolutely involved with day-to-Day operations. Things like talking to the groups and figuring out what we want to do. I'm part of the company as much as anyone else, but yeah, my day-to-Day role is very much working on author success. How do we make authors more successful through services and tools and products that we can potentially provide at a cost that's very, very reasonable, especially compared to the vanities out there, the ones trying to make a buck off the back of an author without really giving them what they're wanting.
James Blatch (28:49):
Yeah. Okay. Well, people can visit draught digital drafted digital.com. You are not coming to London, I don't think, but I think Dan is. Is that right?
Nick Thacker (29:00):
Yep. I'm not this year. Dan doesn't like to bring anyone along so he can have all the fun by himself, but we'll work next year maybe,
James Blatch (29:07):
If Dan's lucky, he'll get a tour of London statues with me. I know it was a highlight for him last year when I took him to a statue and gave him a lecture. He still talks about it.
Nick Thacker (29:17):
I would like that tour myself, but I'm have to make that happen next year. I'd like the James Blat tour statue tour. Yeah,
James Blatch (29:24):
I promise you. Remind me where you are, Nick. Are you West Coast
Nick Thacker (29:27):
Almost? I'm Colorado. Yeah, so it's Colorado. If you're familiar with Hunger Games. We're the region that didn't get decimated. I think we're district one.
James Blatch (29:36):
District one.
Nick Thacker (29:38):
Yeah.
James Blatch (29:39):
If you're watching on YouTube, putting up my little sign. Okay, excellent. Well, Nick, thank you very much indeed. Great explanation of those two products and a bit of shout out, of course for D 2D. They will be at the conference. If you're coming along next week, you can have a chat with Dan and hopefully we'll see you in London at some point,
Nick Thacker (29:58):
Some point. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me and for the time, I really appreciate
Speaker 1 (30:02):
It. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch (30:07):
There we go. There is Nick Thacker, and if you want to speak to Dan Wood, he'll be there on Tuesday and Wednesday at the South Bank Centre in London For our conference, last chance to buy a ticket, learn self-publishing dot com slash sps live. That closes at midnight tonight regardless of how many have been sold. Okay, that's it. Thank you very much indeed. All the remains would say, is this a goodbye for me? So goodbye
Speaker 1 (30:32):
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