“What’s in it for your readers?” — Nick Stephenson on Author Marketing
“You’ve got to think about what the benefit is for the reader.” This is what author marketing is all about, according to bestselling author Nick Stephenson, who we have the pleasure of interviewing today.
We first reached out to Nick over a year ago, when he had started implementing this mindset and his ‘reader magnets’ technique. In a year, he has built a hugely profitable business out of his writing career, hitting bestsellers lists, writing full-time, and now offering a premium marketing training program for authors.
He shares his insights on email lists, incentives, reviews, and Amazon search engine optimization. If you want 24 minutes of exceptionally condensed marketing advice, just hit “play” below. For the lovers of the written word, we also provide, as always, a nice, clean transcript. Enjoy!
Hi Nick, great to have you here! You’re a UK bestselling indie author of crime and thrillers. Can you give us a bit of background on what your books are about?
Thanks for having me. I write mystery and thrillers, the Leopold & Blake series, and I write non-fiction as well: books specifically designed to help authors find their first 10,000 readers and build their platform.
My fiction work is based on a modern-day Sherlock Holmes character and is great fun. It’s all based in the US, with American characters and American language. There are 6 books in the series; I’ve been publishing for about two years now and started seeing some amazing results about 12 months ago, when I started really focusing on building my marketing strategy and on what works. It’s been a very exciting year or so for me.
I can imagine. And it’s actually a year ago that I first got in touch with you to present you the idea we had about Reedsy, so I’d say it’s been a great year for both of us!
Absolutely, yes! It’s great to see so many emerging authors and services to help grow this industry, because it’s such a new market! It’s just great to see all this exciting stuff happening.
Exciting is definitely the word! You also have a free webinar on the Your First 10k Readers website that I really enjoyed, especially the first video, because that video starts by effectively setting the right mindset for book marketing. I see many authors out there thinking “how can I sell my books”, when it should actually all be about adopting a reader’s perspective.
Absolutely. I think the problem with a lot of authors, like you said, is that they see marketing as a problem, when marketing can be fun as well! Because when you’re building a real connection with your fans, you get to have that exchange of ideas. Getting emails from people telling you how much they love your books and how they can’t wait for your next one, every day, is a wonderful feeling.
And when you have a next book to launch, knowing that you can launch it into the top 200 on Amazon, go to the top of the charts on your bestseller lists, without having to pay for advertising, that is amazing, because you have this built-in platform that you have direct control over. Whereas if you’re relying on Amazon or other ebook stores, or even Facebook, to do that for you, the rules can change at any minute.
That’s because you don’t own that platform: it’s their platform, so they can change the rules. But if you have your own platform, you don’t have to worry about that: you control it, and therefore control your career. So my premium training is all based around how to develop that for yourself and how to build that up, so you can take control over being an author.
The webinar you mention are the free videos that I show to people to let them know exactly what they can do to get this process started. There are currently 4 videos and you can sign up for them at Your First 10 Readers.
The first one will essentially take you through how the online retailers work. And this is a big one because most authors think about marketing like old school, traditional marketing that publishers used to do (and some still do), where it’s all about the physical bookstores.
It’s nothing like that, because Amazon and the other stores are really search engines. They’re like Google for products, Google for books. And if you don’t understand how a search engine works, how it indexes books and pages and how you can get to the top of those search results, you’re leaving a lot of visibility on the table. So I talk about exactly how to get that right mindset.
So how can authors do SEO (Search Engine Optimization)? How should they, for example, decide which keywords to enter for their book?
It’s difficult I think, because Amazon and the other retailers don’t publish their search traffic. If you’re on Google, you can go to the Google Keywords tool, type some keywords and see how much traffic they get, what the competition is like, etc. Amazon doesn’t do this, they keep it very much to themselves, so you’ve got to be manual about it – you have to use a bit of common sense.
The easiest way to do it is to use the search bar at the top of the book page and start typing in some relevant search terms that you think might apply. Amazon will suggest some for you, so you just pick some suggested terms and check out whether the books listed under those terms are selling well. If they are, it’s a good keyword, so you have to determine whether you can compete at that level of sales. So if you’re currently selling one copy a day, you don’t want to be in a keyword pool of books that are selling hundreds of copies a day. It’s a lot of manual work, trial and error, but keywords are so important.
Do your recommend changing them often and testing/iterating?
It depends, I don’t change mine that often. If I see my sales drop, I’ll go back and check, but really there is no kind of set that you want to change them out, there’s no magic answer.
One post I really liked on your blog was the one about readers magnets. Because often, I finish an indie book and I read something like “we indie authors rely on reviews/on our newsletter, so please leave a review/subscribe to my newsletter”, and that to me is not a real incentive. You, however, offer a real incentive.
Yes, you’ve got to think about what the benefit is for the reader. Because if you put a call to action at the end of your book like “buy the next book” or “subscribe to my mailing list” or “leave a review”, the reader’s thinking: “what’s in it for me? Why should I do that?”
I mean, some people will do it, of course, but most people will just completely ignore that. What you have to do to get more results is offer the reader something for them, something of value, to get them to take action. And personally I’d rather have them subscribe to my mailing list than anything else. Because if you get their email address and get their consent for you to contact them in the future, you can ask them for reviews or sales later on down the line, when you’ve built up that brand and that relationship.
That has made a tremendous difference. We’re talking more than a 1000% increase in signups, just from doing that. I offer them a book, a full book (either another book in the series, or a related book if it’s a non-fiction book), but you don’t have to offer a full book, you can offer bonus chapters, deleted scenes; or in non-fiction: cheat sheets, case studies, videos, anything you want as long as it’s related to the book that the reader has just finished.
It just makes all the difference because you’re thinking about what is in it for your readers, not what’s in it for you.
Exactly, I think that is definitely the key in marketing. And it’s funny because in January, we’ve seen a couple of indie author stars like Hugh Howey or Joanna Penn posting videos about their reading habits and how they find their next reads. It shows that they have this right mindset: they easily put themselves into their readers’ shoes because they are readers themselves.
Absolutely, and they build a connection with their readers that way. I’m always going to make as much effort as possible to build a connection with readers, because from a reader’s point of view, you’ve got a book out there but they have no idea who you are, they don’t know what your life story is, what their personality is, all they know is your book.
If you’re publishing videos like Joanna Penn and Hugh Howey, you really build that connection and readers start to understand who you are as a person. And then they’re much more likely to buy from you because they’re invested in your success: they feel like they know you.
Another great thing about indie authors is the community they’ve built, and the collaborations that emerge between authors. You’ve been working very closely yourself with Matt Iden, another author in your genre, right?
I think collaboration is absolutely key, because this kind of old school mentality of “book launch is the be all and end all” is gone, you know. It used to be that where your book didn’t sell 20 or 30 thousand copies in the first three months, your publisher would either drop you or reduce your advances, or be less invested in marketing your next book. The indie mentality is different because we don’t rely on huge sales in the beginning, we can be happy with a few hundred sales in the first month, or a few dozen, or even ten!
We’re not “in competition”, because we don’t have to compete for shelf space with this or that bestseller during launch week: we’re available forever. So we can actually work with other authors to benefit everybody because in the end we all have the same objective, which is to reach more readers and get our work out into the world. And there’s no reason we can’t do that together: I email out my audience all the time, and if I’ve got nothing of my own to promote, I’ll recommend other authors’ books. I want my readers to trust me so if I can give them something good to read that’s a great way of doing it!
Another thing I wanted to discuss was your brand, that you’ve built across the years, and that is particularly evident in your covers. Would you say that branding is one of your selling points or is it just there to support your other marketing activities?
Branding is very important because it basically means that your readers know what to expect. Your name is a brand, so if someone is going to read the next Nick Stephenson book, they should understand what that’s going to be like.
From a visual point of view, having those covers, almost identical across the series, means that when they’re scrolling through a list of books, they immediately know it when they see a Nick Stephenson book. And if they look at it, they’ll see the “also bought” at the bottom of the page and there will be all my covers lined up. And on my website they can see them in a banner too. It creates a very strong visual trigger that gets people excited about looking at your books.
One of the most important things you should do is have a nice, professional cover, and if you’re writing in a series, having those covers match as closely as possible can make a very big difference.
Do you do “perma-free” on the first book in the series?
Yes, I do, and there is a reason for this. We talked about ebook stores being like search engines, right? Well, this is like any other online business, you need two things: traffic, and conversion (turning traffic into customers).
Perma-free is a wonderful way to get traffic, because you can get 50x to 100x more downloads on a book if it is free, compared to if it was even 99c. Then, if you’re smart about it, you can find ways to convert that traffic into paying customers.
Even if you don’t do perma-free you can do regular free promotions if you’re enrolled in KDP Select, and use those 5 days every 90 days when your book is free to really promote it. You’ll get subscribers that way that you can then lead on to your other books. It just makes a huge difference.
One thing I’ve noticed in the latest numbers you disclosed about your expenditures for your books, is that you’re not afraid to spend money as long as it brings more back. I’ve heard that you’ve even tried Facebook ads, is that right?
Yes, I do, even if I didn’t include it in the breakdown (I’d only been doing it for a couple of months). It’s like anything, you know, if you want to take your business to the next level, you’re not going to be able to do it using free marketing tools, or a $5 add.
I’m not saying that you cannot have sales without paid marketing, I’ve started making serious money from publishing without really spending that much money. But you hit a plateau pretty quickly. And if you want to go to the next level, you really need to think about how you can invest in your own business.
Then, it’s not about cost, it’s about how much value that investment is going to bring. If it’s going to earn you money, save you money, or save you time, then it’s a good investment.
Facebook ads have been absolutely incredible. Aiming it at my non-fiction author marketing side of things, I’m getting subscribers through Facebook ads that cost me around a dollar, but they’re earning me around $15, so it’s just an incredible amount of ROI. I actually don’t think that will last forever, Facebook will catch on to how much money people are making through this, and prices will go up. But while it’s like that, it’s just fantastic!
Thanks for these insights, Nick, and for your time!
For more insider tips on author marketing, follow our Facebook page!
How do you build your mailing list? What incentives do you offer? Leaves us your author marketing thoughts and tips in the comments below! And don’t hesitate to ask Nick any questions!