Alinka Rutkowska is a USA Today best-selling author, a Wall Street Journal best-selling author and a top 100 Amazon best-selling author in business and money. She’s sold more than 100,000 copies of her books and her book creation process has been showcased in Entrepreneur magazine. She’s also the CEO of Leaders Press, where she turns entrepreneurs' book ideas into best-selling books. She has launched all its titles to best-seller status.
On today’s episode, I sit down with Alinka Rutkowska to talk about two things. The first is how to outsource your book and what that process looks like. The second is Alinka’s best tips on how to hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller list.
During this conversation, we kind of break down her strategy for those two things with what worked and what didn’t. She will be sharing some practical and hopefully pragmatic tips on what you could do to implement for your own launch, regardless if you are shooting for a best seller list.
Did you enjoy today's broadcast of In The Trenches? Please click here to leave an honest rating and review on iTunes. Your review helps me spread the word of this podcast, which allows me to line up amazing guests and continue to produce this podcast ad-free. Thanks so much in advance for your support.
Gregory Diehl has always understood the importance of universal ideals. Though he was raised in California, he soon embarked on a journey of global quest for learning, self-discovery, entrepreneurship, and inquiry. Since then, Gregory has lived and worked in 48 countries and continues to use his experiences to help others along the path of self-fulfillment through exploration. Gregory is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: Brand Identity Breakthrough and Travel as Transformation. His podcast, Uncomfortable Conversations with Gregory, taps into the core of people’s conceptions of self. He helps entrepreneurs prepare complex value messages across many mediums, and offers unconventional lifestyle coaching and brand identity consultancy for impassioned individuals.
I brought Gregory on today because he’s working on two new books, both of which I thought would be interesting to touch on. During this episode, we talk about writing and publishing and how to create meaningful books with meaningful ideas. Our conversation ends up going in the direction of meaning and how to live a meaningful life. My big takeaway from today’s conversation is that we all need principles and values to live by. We cannot navigate this world without a set of principles that guide us in the direction we want to go.
Did you enjoy today's broadcast of In The Trenches? Please click here to leave an honest rating and review on iTunes. Your review helps me spread the word of this podcast, which allows me to line up amazing guests and continue to produce this podcast ad-free. Thanks so much in advance for your support.
Did you enjoy today's broadcast of In The Trenches? Please click here to leave an honest rating and review on iTunes. Your review helps me spread the word of this podcast, which allows me to line up amazing guests and continue to produce this podcast ad-free. Thanks so much in advance for your support.
I think it's pretty common knowledge at this point that if you’re an author who wants to make more than $500 per year, you need a website and an email list.
A website is important because it’s the place where your biggest fans can come to find out about your books.
More importantly, it’s the place where your biggest fans can send other people to see your work.
But a website isn’t enough.
You also need an email list so you can connect and engage with these readers.
I’ve gotten an overwhelmingly positive response to both articles with hundreds of shares and thousands of views (if you were one of the people who shared, thank you so much).
The positive reception to this idea also led to an equivalent number of questions asking about the how. Specifically:
“what tools / tech / software do you recommend for authors and self-publishers to build a lucrative platform?”
(which is only the second most commonly asked question I get after “how are you so really, really, ridiculously good looking?)
So today, I’m going to take you behind the scenes and show you how I use ConvertKit for myself (as both a publisher and author) and for the authors I work with through Insurgent Publishing.
If you find this article helpful, please share!
10 reasons you should use @convertkit to grow your email list: http://bit.ly/1M5R1r8 via tmorkes #selfpublishing #emailmarketing (click to tweet)
If you’re not familiar with ConvertKit, it’s an Email Marketing Service (EMS) that lets you build an email list and engage with your readers, subscribers, and customers easily.
And today I’m going to share with you 10 reasons you should be using it for your publishing projects.
But first, let’s start at the beginning…
Email marketing is directly marketing a commercial message to a group of people using email. – Wikipedia
So if email marketing is sending messages to a group of people using email, an Email Marketing Service (EMS) is software that allows you to do just that (versus, say, sending an email with 10,000 people cc’d).
You do, if you plan to sell products or services (sorry, social media is not a replacement).
For a more detailed answer why, check out my free, in-depth resource: The Author’s Guide to Building an Email List (and selling more books)
There are a lot out there. Search Email Marketing Service and you’ll find dozens if not hundreds of competitors. I’ve been doing this stuff for the past few years and have had the chance to work with many EMS’s through consulting work with various clients. They all have their pros and cons. Below, I’ve listed just a few of the more well-known EMS’s for authors, bloggers, and product creators:
A favorite of affiliate marketers (it has a great affiliate program), Aweber provides a simple platform to connect with people in mass (who have opted into your list, of course). I have dabbled with Aweber, but found it no better than Mailchimp, and Mailchimp is free to start, which made it the no-brainer solution a few years back when I was debating between the two.
This is the EMS I used for over two years. It was great at first because it was free…then after a few months, I realized I needed more advanced features like the ability to create email autoresponders, which was NOT free with Mailchimp. So I upgraded and continued using the platform…unfortunately, it’s mind-boggling how unituitive it is for the most simple tasks, like sending out an email broadcast or creating online courses (more on this below). Bottom line: I really wouldn’t recommend Mailchimp to anyone who is serious about starting or growing a business online.
This is the big boy in town. A lot of the biggest names in blogging use Infusionsoft with good reason: it’s an all-in-one solution (email marketing, ecommerce tool, etc.). Infusionsoft has been around long enough that it integrates with just about every piece of relevant software and can do some pretty advanced stuff…but it also costs an arm and a leg (starting at $199/month for only 2,500 contacts). I’ve also been told that to do anything with the software, you need to hire a consultant. Bottom line: not worth the investment until you’re making $100k / year (and even then, may not be worth the investment unless you need an all-in-one solution).
This is the new EMS in town, started by Nathan Barry, a professional designer and published author, to scratch his own itch as a blogger, author, and product creator. There are a lot of reasons to consider ConvertKit if you’re working online, 10 of which I’ll point out in today’s article.
ConvertKit is intuitive.
Hands down, it’s one of the simplest, easiest to understand email marketing service out there.
With Mailchimp, I have to struggle with the simplest actions. Even sending a routine email (known as a campaign in MailChimp and a broadcast in ConvertKit), is painfully counter-intuitive. There are about 6 different pages I have to go through and 12 buttons I need to click before I can send an email. With ConvertKit, sending a Broadcast can be completed in 3 pages and 4 clicks.
Here’s the process you need to go through to send an email with Mailchimp:
Here’s the process to send an email with Convertkit:
This may sound minor. but when you’re sending emails weekly, and when the same complexity spills into everything else (see segmenting below), it quickly becomes a time suck (and therefore a drain on your wallet, because time is money – am I right or am I right?).
ConverKit also excels at auto responders (what MailChimp calls automation and what ConvertKit refers to as Courses). Once again, the process of building an auto responder in MailChimp is a huge pain that is needlessly convoluted. With Converkit it just makes sense:
“Drip email is so powerful, but for some reason it’s incredibly complicated in other software. The way ConvertKit allows bloggers to organize their drip emails is just logical.” – Andrew Warner
Here’s a brief video to walk you through the user interface and dashboard of ConvertKit:
What can I say, I’m a sucker for good design.
Not in the “hey, everyone look at my [place name of status-symbol device here]” kind of way, but in the functional kind of way. This is one of the reasons Apple can charge exorbitant prices for their products – because people will pay money for looks that improve function.
ConverKit’s interface is clean, clear, and tells me everything I need to know at a glance. Compared to competitors, it’s the Model X of Email Marketing Services. (if Nathan reads this, yes he can use this as a testimonial)
Because of ConvertKit’s design, it’s a tool I don’t need to spend much time with, but when I do, I don’t mind.
One of the fastest ways to build an email list is to offer an incentive for people to subscribe.
For more on how to build your email list with free gifts, check out: The Author’s Guide to Building an Email List
Say you’re an author and you want to get people to sign up for your email list. A simple way to do this is to offer a free chapter of your book.
With MailChimp (or Aweber), it’s impossible to do this out of the box (not if you want different optin gifts for different forms).
Alternatively, you can pay $40 / month for Leadpages and use their lead magnet delivery tool. I’ve used this solution for the past year or so and have had great success with it, growing my list several thousand people in the process. However, Leadpages is a bit pricey if you’re just getting started, and is more of an add-on than a core piece of software for most authors, self-publishers, and product creators.
With ConvertKit, on the other hand, you can create an unlimited number of form-specific optin incentives which can be automatically delivered when someone subscribes.
This is made even more powerful within ConvertKit because you can tag users based on what what form they opted into, what gift they downloaded, or dozens of other variables that can help with segmenting your list.
Now, with the help of ConvertKit, you can figure out what form is resulting in the most subscribers, which free gift is most enticing (and leads to the most downloads), and which type of form placement is the most effective.
Convertkit comes with powerful and easy-to-understand analytics baked into the software.
With Mailchimp I can see how many people receive my email, open my email, and click through a link in my email. This is a good start, but there is absolutely no way to measure exactly where these people signed up for my list, or which form is working the best (not without additional software, at least).
ConvertKit does all of the above, but does one even better – it tracks how many people see and sign up for my various forms or signup pages.
A few months ago, I spent the better part of 30 hours and hundreds of dollars on education to figure out how to track Mailchimp conversion rates on signup pages throughout my website via Google Analytics. While I’m not the most technically inclined person, I can usually figure out a hack with enough time and effort. I simply couldn’t do it with Mailchimp and Google Analytics.
Luckily, ConverKit tracks these conversion rates right out of the box.
Tracking conversion is important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it lets me know what is working and what isn’t working on my website. For example, if one of my forms only converts at 5%, and a similar form but with different sales copy and a different image, converts at 55%, which do you think I should replace?
Without ConvertKit, I would still be in the dark about what is working or not, and therefore would have no idea how to fix it to improve my overall results.
ConvertKit has similar pricing to Mailchimp, but with features that are closer to (and some that are on par with) Infusionsoft.
One of these features is subscriber tagging.
Tagging is the process of applying a specific description or keyword to a user / subscriber. Tagging is powerful because you can tag a single user with multiple tags, and then filter your list before sending an email (so you send the right emails to the right people). Tagging users is usually reserved for higher end EMS’s like Infusionsoft.
Another really cool feature is the “resend to unopens.” Basically, what this feature lets you do is resend an email to all of the people who did not open your last email (and automatically removes anyone who opened it, so you don’t hit someone with the same email twice).
I recently used this feature and went from a 35% open rate to a 45% open rate (a 28% increase!). That was an extra several hundred people I was able to share my recent blog post with, who would NOT have seen it had this feature not been available.
Very powerful stuff.
ConvertKit also comes with the ability to create unlimited autoresponders, unlimited forms, and digital product delivery. While not as robust as Infusionsoft (there is no built-in ecommerce solution, for example), ConvertKit strikes a great balance between cost and features (features that actually matter and that you will use).
Believe it or not, some Email Marketing Services restrict how many autoresponders and forms you can create.
This means you could create an automated book sales funnel for every book you’ve written, or create a free course to teach people about a really cool, unconventional pricing technique that actually works.
In this video, I’ll show you how to set up and deliver free courses to build your email list:
Believe it or not, adding a simple email signup to your website can be a nightmare depending on who you’re using for your EMS.
With Mailchimp, the process for embedding a form into a simple wordpress page is overly complicated and doesn’t loos right unless you hire a designer (or have a background in design and CSS). Creating an optin page is just as tiresome and often still looks sloppy (maybe it was just me, but I could never get the optin form to look the way I wanted it to, unless I was using a 3rd party plugin, which slows down your site and adds another layer of complexity to your sales funnel).
With ConvertKit the process is painless and intuitive. Even better, there are multiple types of forms you can embed. For example, you can make any of your forms inline (they sit at the bottom of a page), modal (popup when you press a button), or slide-in (an automated popup where the form slides in from the side of the screen).
These forms are also dynamic if you choose, so once someone subscribers, they won’t see the same form optin incentive. Insted, you could replace it with a link to a new product (“buy my new book”), new blog post, or whatever else you want.
This is really powerful because if you send subscribers to your site why would you want to keep asking them to subscribe? That’s amateur hour.
Before ConvertKit, I would have had no idea how to do this. It would have been expensive and probably wouldn’t have very much longevity (as I’d probably have to keep updating the software over time).
With ConvertKit, you can make any form responsive, which is incredibly powerful.
In this video I’ll show you how to create and embed forms throughout your website:
I remember when I first started writing two years ago, all I wanted was a simple way to email my blog posts to subscribers. Instead of the process being automated or simple, I’d have to copy and paste my work into MailChimp and reformat everything so it would look right. The process took at least an hour per email, on average. That’s several hundred hours I’ve wasted in the past few years just formatting emails. Absurd.
With ConvertKit, new blog posts can be turned into email broadcasts that are ready to send to your list automatically.
This means instead of spending hours of your life copying, pasting, and reformatting every blog post into your EMS, ConvertKit does the heavy lifting for you, so all you need to do is click send.
In this video, I’ll show you some of the more advanced features inside ConvertKit:
Here are just a few of the things ConvertKit does out of the box:
ConvertKit also seamlessly integrate with software relevant for authors and product creators, including:
Each integration only takes a few minutes to set up and then you can create some really powerful automation:
Nathan Barry is the creator of ConvertKit, and the author of several books including one of my personal favorites, Authority.
What’s important to note here is that Nathan built this software to solve his own problems as a blogger and author. He wanted a better solution to connect with and interact with his readers. He wanted a painless way to create automated emails sequences. He wanted a way to offer a gift (free book, free chapter, free course) in exchange for people signing up. He wanted software that just worked and didn’t require dozens of 3rd party apps or plugins to achieve the same endstate.
The result is a very simple, powerful piece of software that is great for authors, self-publishers, bloggers, and product creators (oh, and it’s constantly being improved with new features added every month).
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of ConvertKit.
It does everything I’ve wanted an EMS to do from the start, and it does it much cheaper than Infusionsoft.
Bottom line: if you’re a blogger, author, or product creator, you should look into ConvertKit – it could save you a lot of time, money, and frustration versus going with bigger, entrenched (but not necessarily better) competitors.
Get this: In 2012, 391,000 books were self-published in the US alone.
That number increased to more than 458,564 by 2013 (a 17% increase in self-published books year over year).
If this pace continues (and it looks to), in 2015 there will be 1,728 books self-published daily, or about one book published every minute.
Oh, and these stats only refer to books that are tracked by Bowker...and only self-published books...
Which begs the million dollar question:
How can your book stand out in such a competitive, super crowded marketplace?
The german philosopher Spengler once wrote:
"The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious."
In other words, the people who succeed (in war, business, or life) are those who are able to do the hard, creative work other's aren't willing to do.
If you pay attention to the book publishing space, it's pretty clear that most authors are doing what most other authors are doing. Like the Sega Genesis game Lemmings, this is entertaining if you are in control, not so much fun if you're following the guy in front of you right over a cliff.
If you want to avoid the fate of most authors (who sell less than 100 books a year), then you're going to need to do what 99% of them are not doing...
Thing Number 1: build an email list.
I've already explored this subject in detail here - The Author’s Guide to Building an Email List (and selling more books). Bottom line - authors with big email lists sell a LOT more books on average than authors with no email list.
However, in order to do thing number one well, you need to do...
Thing Number 2: create a website that turns visitors into subscribers, loyal fans, and repeat customers.
If you're thinking "well dhur, Tom, that's obvious - tell me something I don't know ya turkey!" just look around at the majority of self-published authors; they either have no website, or they have a poorly designed website that actually diminishes their credibility (even if their books might be amazing).
Worse still, most authors (even many bestselling authors with good looking websites) use their websites to send readers to their Amazon book sales page.
Don't do this!
I'll explain why in a second, but first, to clarify - the key here isn't a fancy looking website. Just because you can blow $10,000 on a new website doesn't mean you should (or that anything will happen as a result).
The success of an author's website does not depend on money spent, but on thought put into the strategy and philosophy behind the website (which is what we're focusing on today).
CLV stands for Customer Lifetime Value (and is sometimes written customer LV, or LTV). CLV is an estimate of the revenue a customer will generate for your business during their lifetime.
In other words, every customer is (potentially) worth far more to you than a single book sale...
But when you send readers from your website to Amazon immediately, without asking for an email address, you lose out on the ability to stay in contact with them, and this minimizes your chance of a repeat customer (thus, CLV decreases, which is not a good thing). Sure, the reader might finish your book and might love it and might come back to your website, and might buy another book...but probably not.
Most people are busy.
Most people see a website once and never return to it...unless there is a trigger that makes them go to it. A trigger is anything that initiates an action. The most powerful trigger you, as an author, can actually use, is email. But by sending people to Amazon, you lose out on getting the reader's contact information (i.e. email address), which means you lose out on the ability to trigger an action in your reader in the future, which ultimately leads to fewer sales and a lower customer lifetime value.
Getting an email address means you can initiate a trigger, which means more sales and a higher Customer Lifetime Value.
Bottom line: if you want to make a living from your writing, you need to increase CLV, which means don't send people immediately to Amazon from you website, but instead try to get permission to contact again via email.
At this point, you understand the importance of building an email list...but how?
Before we get to the design and execution of the website (which we'll cover later), I want to focus on strategy, or how you should approach your author website in order to increase customer lifetime value.
The following 4 steps will put you on the right path:
What is your goal? What action do you want the visitor to take when he or she lands on your website?
The best author websites aren't chaotic and filled with links, and ads, and social media widgets, and other distractions, but are focused on a particular path they want the visitor to take, culminating ultimately in a choice they want the visitor to make (such as signing up for an email list to get a free book bonus). Now, while I have made the focus of this getting an email address from your reader, there is a time and a place to send people to your book sales page or other types of content. The point isn't so much what the goal is, but that you've thought through it and been deliberate about how you design and setup your website because of it.
Now that you've decided your primary goal and the action you want visitors to take, you need to outline how they will reach this step and how they will take this action. The best way to do this is to draw or sketch out what happens when people land on your home page.
Questions you should consider:
Is it clear what I should do when I land on your homepage? If I land on a blog post or another page, is it equally clear what I should do? Is it clear that there is only one action to take here? If there are many, does that take away from the goal? How many steps, clicks, or scrolling before I can sign up for your email list from any particular page or blog post?
Anything that doesn't lead your website visitor to the desired action you want him or her to take should be scrapped.
Questions you should ask yourself:
Why do you need that widget? Why are you showing us your recent tweets? Why do I care how many Facebook fans you have? Do you really need X, Y, or Z?
It's not that any of these are wrong, per se, but you should only use them if they achieve the desired result you defined previously.
Also note the fact that minimalist (read: less distracting) websites lead to higher conversion, which means by de-cluttering your website and focusing on your singular goal, you'll increase subscribers, repeat customers, and loyal fans. #winning.
I touched on book bonuses like free chapters and free courses in this article, and I we'll touch on this subject again in the next section, so I won't belabor the point here.
Now that you know the strategy behind building an effective author website, let's talk design...
Fact: looks matter.
It only takes a fraction of a second (.05 seconds to be precise) for someone to form an opinion about you from your website. And most users won't stick around if a website is confusing or poorly designed. (source)
This is good news because the design and structure of your website is almost 100% under your control.
The following are the 5 C's of a High-Converting Author Website, which will help you develop a more effective author website:
5. Call to Action
Let's go through them one by one...
Is your message clear? When I visit your website, do i know you're an author and you write books in genre X or Y? Is there anything that would take away from this message?
Meredith Wild is a bestselling fiction author. Her website has great design, looks sharp, and sets the tone for her novels. Everything is great design-wise, but she misses the opportunity to get readers to sign up to her email list (the images at the top send people to Amazon to buy the book... *head slap*).
This could be easily improved by changing the message at the top to encourage visitors to sign up to get one of her bestselling books for free (or for a discount, or using a free chapter, etc.). She might lose out on an immediate sale, but again - CLV is what we care about. In addition, her website could be improved by updating her call to action at the bottom of the page. The current incentive says: "Sign up for Meredith's Updates." But why should I? What does an update look like? What's in it for me?
Always consider these questions as you build out your author website.
Is your website devoid of distractions like unnecessary widgets, twitter feeds, etc? Does your website fee professional or does it look like an amateur hack-job? Of the few images you use, are they high-quality and do they lend credibility to your work?
Garrett Robinson, bestselling fiction author, has a clean website and great offer "get your free library." This free gift is very compelling - much better than giving away a free chapter of the book. Garrett also has one of the cleanest looking layouts I've seen of any fiction author. The presentation is spot on and makes me trust him as an author.
Can I figure out what you write about in two sentences or less? If you're showing me a book, do I know what it's about in less than three bullet points (not a hard and fast rule, but less is almost always more)?
When I visit your website, what makes me want to stick around? Why would I want to dig deeper into what you write? Why should I ever come back to your website?
Tim Ferriss is the bestselling author of the 4 Hour series. His home page is designed for one purpose - to get you to sign up for his email list. Tim does this by overwhelming you with social proof - just look at all the big names and publications saying kind words about his books.
This is proof that you too should sign up for his email list, or otherwise miss out on something that many others seem to enjoy. Anything that adds to your social proof (reviews, testimonials, logos of big publications that have referenced your work, etc.) will add to the credibility of your message and make your website (and newsletter) more compelling.
From the moment I land on your website, is it simple and easy for me to take the action you want me to take? If you want to build your email list, is there a clear optin at the top of the home page? At the bottom of blog posts? On your about page? Is it easy for me to sign up? Is there an incentive for me to take this action (i.e. a book bonus, free gift, etc.)?
Like Tim, there’s a lot of social proof on Jeff Goin's homepage, and there’s only one or two actions you can take – sign up or go to the blog. It doesn't get more focused than that.
Note: If you don’t have as much social proof to dish out as Jeff or Tim, consider highlighting the benefits to signing up for your list (either through your free gift optin incentive, or why signing up will improve the life of the person signing up).
For those of you who are visual learners or who want more depth, I recorded a 10 minute video explaining all 5 "C's" in more depth, with real life case studies. Check it out here:
Because I’ve been attempting to build an Author’s platform for several years, I have gone through many iterations of my website, slowly but surely improving it along the way.
I want to show you the changes that have been made so you can get an idea of how I’ve learned over time and why I’ve changed up what I have (so you can start two years faster).
Here's what my home page looked like, circa 2013:
So at that time, I had approximately zero followers, unless you include me signing up for my own newsletter (if I won't, who will)?
This type of design and offer is weak.
Who cares about my book? And what does signing up even mean? Does it mean blog posts once a day? Once a week? A podcast?
Not very clear - and one of the reasons it took me six months to get 150 subscribers.
Tom Morkes circa 2014:
With this design, I made my home page a single optin page. It could be skipped by signing up or by scrolling down.
This increased sign ups, but it was still a weak incentive.
Why would people want exclusive, weekly updates? About what? Who even cares who I am?
Even though it was weak, this optin page helped me reach over 1,000 subscribers, so it definitely works better than the alternative.
You can create a similar optin home page using Sumome (free plugin for WordPress and works with non-Wordpress websites as well).
I stuck with this type of website for a while before finally investing in www.newrainmaker.com to build a proper author’s platform.
Here's Tommorkes.com circa 2015 (current iteration with modifications in the work):
Notice that essentially everything on my website rewards people for signing up. Even my blog posts, if you click through them, provide blog-post-specific bonuses for those who choose to subscribe.
I recently offered a group of self-published authors the opportunity to have me evaluate their websites and offer feedback on how they can improve their websites to turn more visitors into subscribers and repeat buyers.
I had about 20 requests, so I decided to start a series on Youtube called "3 Minute Author Website Teardowns."
I'm adding them here as I create them, so check back soon for more.
If you'd like your website analyzed, please leave a comment below with your website, and then tweet me saying something like "Hey @tmorkes, help me sell more books by doing an #authorwebsiteteardown: [your website here]"
Make sure to include the hashtag #authorwebsiteteardown so I can find your tweet easily
Alright, let's get to them:
Author Website: Alisakathrynstapelmanauthor.com
Author Website: Selfsufficientman.com
Author Website: Harshmanservices.com
Author Website: Chaiwatspace.com
Author Website: Leadtolove.com
Author Website: Ederholguin.com
Author Website: Thescholarshipsystem.com
Author Website: Controlyourownbankbalance.com
Author Website: Terrencebrown.net
Author Website: Seampublishing.com
Author Website: Expandbeyondyourself.com/
Let me know in the comments below your biggest takeaway from today's lesson.
And if you want your website evaluated, again - just post a comment and tag me on twitter with the hashtag #authorwebsiteteardown
Stay tuned for the next lesson in this series that will show you how to create and deploy amazing incentives to get people to sign up for your email list and to keep them coming back for more...
Fact: 1/3rd of all self-published authors earn less than $500 a year from their publishing efforts.
Take that in for a moment…
That’s not even enough money to pay for a single month’s rent in most major cities.
This makes sense when you consider that 80% of books tracked by Nielson Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies in 2004.
In other words, 4 out of 5 books won’t even hit triple digit sales in a year.
The correlation is pretty clear: if you can't sell 100 copies of your book in a year, you probably won't be cracking $500 in annual income from your writing, either.
If you’re a self-publisher, time to throw in the towel then, right?
Well, maybe not…
Making money from your writing is not impossible.
I do it, as do many of the authors I work with and publish. Many make decent incomes this way, too (from $20,000 to $100,000+ per year).
The reason they're successful where most authors fail is because of two reasons:
The first part of this is a personal issue - are you capable of writing a book worth reading? For the purposes of this guide, I'm going to assume you are.
The second part is all about developing the right marketing and sales channels.
A marketing channel is any avenue or outlet that lets you promote a message to your target market.
Podcast, radio, tv or magazine advertising; blogging or guest posting; billboards, sponsors, etc. Any of these can be used to market a product. Done the right way, they put the appropriate product in front of the appropriate audience (this is a billion dollar industry, so you can be sure they're getting better at this every day).
A sales channel lets you turn this awareness into a sale. So you might pay for advertising on a podcast, but you won't sell the product on the podcast. Instead, the advertising, if done right, will point the listener to the right place to purchase.
This could be Amazon, or your website if you’re selling via Gumroad, or a third party website where you can buy the product. In this case, any one of these outlets would actually complete the sale.
Here’s how one Quora user defined marketing vs. sales channel:
"Marketing channels create demand. Sales channels harvest demand."
So back to you, the author with a book worth selling...
How do you sell your book?
If the answer is Amazon, you're missing half the equation (and you’re probably one of those unfortunate people selling less than 100 copies of your book a year).
With very few exceptions, Amazon is a sales channel, not a marketing channel. Putting a book on Amazon allows you to "harvest demand" but it doesn't create it.
You've probably heard the philosophical question: "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it still make a sound?"
For self-published authors, it's more like "If a book is published on Amazon and nobody knows about it, is it really for sale?"
By itself, Amazon is not a sales strategy.
So if you can't use Amazon to market your books, what can you use?
The answer is an email list.
With an email list, you can promote and share new ideas, products, and services and then direct readers to a place where they can make the purchase (Paypal, Gumroad or Amazon).
Moreover, email is the fastest, cheapest, most powerful way to engage with your readers at scale.
No other service (not even social media) is as personal as email, and if done right, you'll sell way more books through email than you could any other way.
I started this blog in late 2012. I wrote and published my first book, The Art of Instigating, shortly thereafter. I had no audience, so I decided to give the book away free in exchange for people signing up for my newsletter.
In 2013, I released my second book, Notes From Seth Godin’s Revolution Conference. I made this book free as well but with a twist – I let people contribute as much or as little as they want to my creative work. I shared this with 166 subscribers and made $492 in the first month.
Over the course of the next year, I experimented with many small guides, ebooks, and resources – all pay what you want.
In the fall of 2013, I released my third book, The Complete Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing (all the experimenting did not go to waste). This time I shared it with an email list of 467 subscribers and generated $954 in the first month (including presales).
In 2014, I launched my fourth book, Collaborate, via a crowdfunding campaign. This book raised $12,979 in 30 days from an email list of 1559 people.
If we break this down into a chart, here’s what that looks like:
As you can see, there is a very real correlation between subscribers (list size) and revenue. While the crowdfunded book is an outlier because I was selling more than just the book (consulting packages, for example), the results are still relevant.
If you have an email list, you will sell books.
If you don’t, you might, but you might not.
Therefore, your best effort is spent building an email list so you can sell more books.
Note: In order to sell more books, you're going to have to invest in a few tools (sorry, sometimes you have to pay money to make money).
That said, I'm a bootstrapper by heart. So if there's a faster, better, and/or cheaper product or service available that does what I need it to do so I can focus on bigger picture stuff, then I'm going to jump on it.
In this guide, I’m going to share tools, software, and technology I use to market and sell books, my own and those that I publish or market through Insurgent Publishing. You can use them or find alternative solutions for your situation. I’m affiliated with several of these items, so if you do buy through me, I get paid a fraction of the price as a finder’s fee, which does not come out of your wallet, but helps me operate and pay for expenses around this free blog so I can keep making content like this for you.
A Content Management System is what you use to create and manage your website.
It's basically the backend piece you'll interact with on a daily or weekly basis to post new blogs, create book sales pages, reply to comments, etc. There are lots of options out there for your CMS, but I like to keep things simple, cheap, and proven, so I recommend WordPress (www.wordpress.org).
If you're just building a simple author's platform, WordPress will have everything you need and then some. Because WordPress is one of the most popular CMSs, they also have thousands of plugins available to tweak your site to your hearts content. Plus, you'll never find yourself without a designer or engineer to fix whatever problems you have because there are so many options available.
If you want to be taken seriously as an author, you should have a website and you should own the url. Some big name authors can get away with a .blogspot, but if you're an unknown author, this will detract from your credibility.
Another option is www.newrainmaker.com, which is like the Lamborghini of WordPress frameworks and is an all-in-one solution (hosting, podcast hosting, SSL, ecommerce solution, Learning Management System, etc.). A lot of successful bloggers and authors are choosing Newrainmaker for their all-in-one solution, like Chris Ducker, Chris Brogan and yours truly, among others. That said, it costs a pretty penny, so if you're just starting out, you may want to start generating enough monthly revenue from book sales before switching over (at least $1,000 in revenue per month would be my recommendation).
A theme is the skin of your WordPress site. You get professional looking themes for as cheap as $50 (sometimes less) through Themeforest. Don’t worry too much about flashy design. What matters is structuring your website the right way, which we’ll talk about later in this guide.
Every now and then you might run into some issues with your website. If you're not technically inclined, you should either invest in something like www.newrainmaker.com, which comes with unparalleled support (literally anything I need they either do for me or show me how - it's incredible) or go with a service like www.wpcurve.com, which allows you to make unlimited small fixes to your WordPress website for a fraction of the cost it would take to hire a developer.
This is particularly important if you’d rather spend time writing and selling books, and not fixing widgets on your site.
An Email Marketing Service (EMS) is something that allows you to send bulk emails to people who have given you permission to stay in touch.
Remember, one of the keys to selling more books is engaging with readers. To do this, you're going to need an EMS so you can stay in contact, share updates about your book, or otherwise provide useful, valuable, relevant content your readers would like.
I started Tommorkes.com with Mailchimp, but after two years of pulling out my hair (and I have very little left) trying to do the most basic things, I switched to www.convertkit.com. I haven't looked back.
ConvertKit is the new EMS on the block and it does everything an author could want his or her EMS to do and more, with none of the headache of other platforms like Mailchimp, Aweber, nor the restrictive cost of Infusionsoft.
A lot of the Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures I'm sharing with you today are possible because ConvertKit makes them so easy, so while you don't have to invest in ConvertKit, it will surely make your life easier. Up to you.
Most authors immediately think Amazon is the only place to sell a book. Amazon is great, but it’s by no means the only place to sell your book, especially if you’d like to capture more revenue than the paltry 30 – 70% Amazon gives you.
As an author and blogger, my personal favorite ecommerce solution is www.gumroad.com. With Gumroad, I can easily setup a new product, in this case a book, and start selling it within minutes. The process is painless, simple, and fast. And while Amazon will take 30 – 70% of your profit (plus hidden charges, depending on how big your book is), Gumroad only charges 5% plus $.25 per paid transaction.
Paid transaction is the key word, because I use Pay What You Want pricing and this makes Gumroad a very, very powerful tool for building an author’s email list and selling books – I’ll touch on this later in the guide…
In order to build a list, you need to give people a good reason to sign up and pay attention to you. One of the best ways to do this is through an optin gift (some sort of bonus you give the reader for subscribing). Here are a few examples:
The simplest way to encourage potential readers to sign up to your email list or to buy your book is to offer them the chance to read part of it.
Giving away part of your book, whether a chapter or the first 20% of your book, is a simple, fast way to start building your list. Not everyone is going to sign up for this, but you can bet that those who do are your target readership, which means you should make sure you have an autoresponder set up to email them several times after they receive the free sample to encourage them to buy (more on this later).
A more compelling option than a free chapter is a free copy of an entire book.
I did this with The Art of Instigating, which you can see above. It’s by no means the most compelling gift – after all, if you don’t know me, why would you care about my book? – but the act of getting a full book for free, especially if it has a price tag in the Amazon book store for $10, for example, makes it a much more compelling incentive and increases the perceived value of the gift (which is important to encourage email optins).
Hands down, the most effective way I’ve been able to get new subscribers and sell more books is through creating free email courses.
I’ve done this for The Complete Guide to Pay What You Want Pricing by creating a free course: Pay What You Want Pricing 7 Day Email Crash Course, which leads people through a series of training emails on how to use PWYW pricing. At the end of the ecourse, I share my book and ask people if they want to contribute. This generates several hundred dollars a month for me, completely on autopilot.
“I giveaway all my books for free to subscribers: no matter how big my list is, I want their support in the form of downloads and reviews, not money.
But that won't matter if they haven't read the books yet, so I also leave really long excerpts and have some perma-free books for visibility.
But that's not enough either... so I send out special gifts for each book, as a thank you for followers who review - silver mermaid charms, postcards of the cover art, appreciation mail... that works great for engagement, but only for readers who liked the books.
For strangers, it's harder to get them to sign up, but an expensive prize and raffle is great for list building before a book launch. Maybe a special mermaid vacation/party or a vampire-hunting set. Something over $100; worth signing up for and having a chance at winning; something that only appeals to target readers of the genre. Then I can warm them up with some cool genre-related trivia, or history, or fun news, and finally launch the book, with another chance to win what they signed up for in the first place.” – Derek Murphy
If you take a look at the analytics of most websites, you’re probably going to find that most readers land on a few select pages. These are usually the home page, about page, and the resources page.
Here’s what Tommorkes.com looks like:
As you can see, my top pages are my home page (www.tommorkes.com), my about page (www.tommorkes.com/about), and my books and resources page (www.tommorkes.com/cache).
Knowing this, these are three pages you should make sure are optimized to get subscribers.
A strong home page is one where the experience is tailored to the type of reader you want.
The most effective home pages are clear, compelling, and make people want to sign up for your email list because they're getting something of value immediately.
My current home page is entirely geared toward building an email list. If someone doesn’t want to subscribe to my newsletter, I don’t really care if they hang around. On the other hand, I want to over-deliver for the people who want more writing / books / etc. from me. That’s why I create so many free and Pay What You Want products – to hopefully delight my readers and give them an incentive to keep coming back and to keep supporting my creative work.
The about page is usually the second most visited page on any website after the home page. This makes it an ideal place to turn readers into happy subscribers. Yet so many authors miss the boat on this one by making their about page about them, instead of the reader. Mistake!
For my about page, I tried to make it about my target reader – someone who has just stumbled over to my website via word of mouth referral (where most people come from). I try to hook the reader in a few sentences and then give him or her a lot of opportunities to sign up for my newsletter or one of my email lists, either directly, or by sending readers to my books (where their purchase will lead to becoming a subscriber), or by sending readers to particular blog posts with blog-specific optin incentives.
This is another commonly accessed page on a website or blog: the free resources / books / guides / whatever page. You should make sure this page delivers and gives away some compelling stuff to get people to optin.
Every book I sell is Pay What You Want and I set it up to automatically subscribe downloads to my “Gumroad” list, which is something I set up directly inside ConvertKit. Because of this, every book sale builds my email list – which is way better for my platform than selling on Amazon (one of the reasons I personally avoid selling most of my books on the platform).
Note: every reader can easily opt out of my email list after purchase, which means not every single sale leads to a new email subscriber (some opt out), but it's still incredibly effectiv.
Just like your home page, every blog post is an opportunity to build your email list.
The way I was able to go from 500 to 3,000+ subscribers in less than 12 months was from creating blog-specific optin gifts. This works the exact same way as creating a free chapter or book giveaway, but instead focusing on creating something specific for individual blog posts. This is incredibly effective because people reading a particular blog post might be interested in a certain subject, but not everything else you write. So if you sell lots of books in different genres, this gives you the opportunity to properly segment your email list.
Here’s a guest post I wrote that shows how to create blog-specific optins for your website.
I find that a lot of fiction authors have trouble applying what seems like non-fiction-specific advice to their book marketing and author platform building. I’m not exactly sure why this is, but I have a feeling it’s because there simply aren’t enough good examples to reference.
That’s why I connected with Toby Downton, author of Solaversia, who is building a huge email list before the hard launch of his book this fall.
“Here are some quick facts:
I knew right from the start that I faced a monumental challenge as a first-time self-published author; nobody knew who I was, yet I was asking for the most precious a person can give - their attention. And not just a few seconds of it either, like when you're asking for a retweet or a like, but 10-15 hours of time. That's a huge ask.
I'm building my platform by getting readers invested in the bigger picture - the aim is to create Solarversia (the virtual world the book takes it name from) for real, to launch in 2020 so that people can play it. I use the word "Solo" to identify players of the game in the book and people have already started to call themselves Solos when I talk to them on Twitter (I've also encouraged people to use the #Solarversia hashtag). In this way, readers are slowly connecting with each other and getting collectively excited.
Finally, I've created a promotional game that is themed to the book. Every one of the 100 million players of Solarversia has a number from 1 to 100 million, located in the Player's Grid. It's a central concept within the book, acting like a giant scoreboard, and it's even used in one of the later rounds. I've selected a 10x10 section of it, called the Golden Grid, and will assign the 100 numbers via a series of competitions starting on the launch date. A competition will run every month or so, meaning that the "story about the story" provides ongoing exposure." – Toby Downton
According to Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, there are 19 traction channels (i.e. 19 marketing channels to find and acquire users). Not all of these are relevant for authors (billboards, for example, is only relevant if you have a lot of money to spend toward your promotional efforts, which I assume you don’t), so I just want to focus on a few high-impact, low-cost ways to acquire new potential readers or your books.
Note: for a full list of all traction channels, check out this great post on Zapier: How to Acquire Customers
This is a fancy term for writing blogs or creating other content that encourages people to come to your site. If you’re writing in a particular genre, writing about that genre is one way to drive readers to your site (in such a way that they may want to buy your book).
For example, I sometimes write about Pay What You Want pricing, which is the perfect content to attract my ideal reader (someone who would be interested in buying my book on the subject).
For a great example of a fiction author killing it with content marketing, check out Solarversia by Toby Downton. He is building a universe around his writing, and it’s captivating to say the least.
Ryan Hanley is the author of Content Warfare. He uses a combination of free webinars and an email autoresponder to automate book sales. Here’s what he says:
"Webinars are incredible. I use WebinarJam to run interactive webinars with my audience. Attendees must register for the webinar with their email address. The last two webinars have added over 100 new subscribers each. These were pure education. I want to break the audience in with 100% value and then add CTAs as we go. All are soft sells for the book. I do have an autoresponder set up which sends new subscribers emails directing them to old posts that are still popular. They get one post each Sunday and the 4th Sunday is a pitch for the book." – Ryan Hanley
Bottom line, your book should encourage word-of-mouth referrals. But your website and your sales funnel should also be optimized to draw in new readers.
A simple way to do this is by adding book-specific thank you pages that encourage your readers to share your book, free resources, free courses, etc.
One of the best ways an author can drive email subscribers is to add a Call to Action inside their book. After all, if someone enjoyed your book, they probably want more books from you, right?
Here's how Rebecca Howard gets readers to join her email list:
“I just released a new book. In the book (a paranormal mystery) a minor character refers to something scary that happened to her a long time ago. At the end of the book, I put a little blurb "want to know what Susan REALLY saw all those years ago?" and then offered a free companion story download from "Susan's" perspective. Yes, it's free, but it’s not made for the masses-only for those who purchased the book. And I wrote it specifically for that purpose. I sent it out into the world 2 weeks ago and am now up to 200 subscribers on that list. These are just readers who have downloaded the short story. They're already fans of the series because they bought the original book and most have already read the first 3 books in the series. There are about 6 overlaps from my other, regular list, so I gained lots of new subscribers.”Rebecca Howard
Here’s the deal – nobody is going to buy your book if they don’t know you. Yes, there’s the potential that a captivating cover, title, and description can encourage a stranger to part with their time and money, but it’s unlikely.
The most successful authors have readers that buy all their books. That’s why a sequel makes so much more money than the first book in a series – repeat customers (aka happy readers).
So the point is, you need a referral from someone your reader trusts, or you need an introduction to your reader if you want the best shot at building a relationship with your readers.
The fastest, cheapest way to do this is through guest posting or getting featured on podcast interviews.
Once someone signs up to your email list, then what?
This is where a lot of people differ, so I'll keep it simple: you need to stay in contact just often enough so people don't forget you exist...and when you do get in contact, you need to offer something extremely valuable so people will allow you to keep sending them stuff. On that note - extreme value is relative. It doesn't mean you need to give out free gifts all the time, but you do have to provide useful or relevant content to your readers, otherwise, they will unsubscribe.
As you build your list, remember a couple things:
What good is doing all this if you don’t know what’s happening?
Most people would create these types of optin gift incentives, then simply look at how many people sign up for their website every day. This is a good start, but generally useless. After all, how do you know whether the problem is the optin gift itself, driving people to the wrong page, or something else entirely.
The key here is to make sure you’re tracking the right statistics.
For example, if you create an optin gift, you’ll want to know how many people look at it and how many people subscribe. If you just look at total subscribers, you’ll have no idea what your conversion rate is (how many people view versus sign up), which means you’ll have no idea whether you should try a new one, or keep going with what you have.
Here are a few ways to track and measure results:
Google Analytics will give you a basic overview of traffic to certain pages on your website. You can learn a lot more from it, but honestly, I’ve lost too many brain cells from getting punched in the face, so figuring out Google Analytics just isn’t happening for me.
Luckily, my friend Dave Chesson, founder of Kindlepreneur, is really good at these things (and has more brain cells than me), so I asked him for advice. This is what he recommends authors do to best utilize Google Analytics:
"I use Analytics to tell me what pages or posts are getting the outside traffic (through either SEO, referral, or other means). To me, this traffic is the "initial views" - the people who are there for the first time. Therefore it is imperative to me that I get a second chance with them, which is through email.
So to ensure I get that, I will create blog post-specific optins. The way I see it, if they came to that post from an outside source, then they are super interested in that subject. So giving them an extra bonus on that subject really captures them.
In Google Analytics:
This will let you know which blog posts are getting the most readers. Systematically create an optin bonus for each of these blog posts and you’ll start increasing conversion right away.” – Dave Chesson
Here's what my Google Analytics told me:
According to this, I should be creating optin gifts for these top posts. This will lead directly to more email list signups with minimal effort (a great place to start).
ConvertKit has incredibly powerful analytics baked into the software (not to mention, very easy to use and understand).
As a point of comparison, with Mailchimp or Aweber, I can see how many people receive my email, open my email, and click through a link in my email. This is a good start, but it doesn’t tell me anything about what or why people are signing up in the first place. That’s why I spent the better part of 30 hours and hundreds of dollars on education to figure out how to track conversion rates on signup pages on my website via Google Analytics and Mailchimp.
To no avail.
Luckily, ConvertKit tracks this information right out of the box.
The reason tracking this is so important is so that you know what people are responding to, positively and negatively. If one of my forms only converts at 5%, and a similar form but with different sales copy and images, converts at 55%, which do you think I should use?
With ConvertKit, I know what's working and what’s not. This allows me to fix, modify, and optimize my site to achieve my goal (more readers, more subscribers).
Note: It is essential to measure conversion rate properly because this is the start of your sale funnel. Eventually, as an author, you’re going to sell your books. But before you can do that, you need to see if the message you’re spreading is resonating with anyone to begin with. ConvertKit will let you do that out of the box very easily, which means a more lucrative sales funnel down the road (i.e. you will sell more books with a better optin form).
Leadpages offers built in analytics as well. Not only can you see which pages and which Leadboxes (double optin subscription forms) are performing, but you can do A/B split testing with them to improve their performance even more.
Here’s what that looks like for me:
Knowing this information, I can test out new optin forms, new headlines, new images, etc. in order to optimize and improve optins. For smaller authors like myself who are not driving millions of visitors to our websites, it is essential that we improve conversion as much as possible to capture the smaller amount of traffic we do get. Leadpages offers simple A/B split testing which helps dramatically, and makes optimization possible on a very limited budget.
Unfortunately, the stuff I sharing with you today is not static.
Even once you have everything setup, you still need to put time and effort into improving your platform. This means taking the time to act on the results you’ve been measuring in the last step.
But whatever you do, make sure to measure the results so you can act on the information in a deliberate, calculated way.
This is the only way to improve your author's platform, build your email list, and ultimately sell a LOT more books.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I'm going to break down author's websites, show you how I would improve them to increase email signups, as well as show you how to create free gift optins, how to create free ecourses, and much more.
For now, though, leave a comment below and let me know what your biggest takeaway is from this.
Have you written a book? Is it selling more than 100 copies a year?
What could you implement today from this article that would have the biggest impact on your success as an author?
Share below and let's get the conversation started!