“Think Bigger For Your Books”: An Interview with Lucas Carlson
As you know, we are big believers in authors looking outside the publishing world for marketing inspiration, and what better world than the startup one to find “growth-hacking” ideas?
After interviewing startup mentor and venture capitalist Sean Wise last week on what he and Brad Feld are doing to promote their new book, we thought we would sit down and chat with an actual startup founder and author. So today, we’re interviewing Lucas Carlson, hybrid author of Finding Success In Failure, the Ruby Cookbook and Programming for PaaS. Also CIO of CenturyLinkLabs and founder and CEO of AppFog.
We discuss how non-fiction books can bring the author much more through their unexpected upsides than through the sales themselves. We also touch on Facebook, Twitter, Google ads and how to calculate your ROI (Return On Investment) for those. As usual, the lovers of the written word will find a transcript of the key takeaways just below!
The value of your book goes beyond its sales
“One of the things that I didn’t realize about writing non-fiction is how you can take advantage of the books themselves in ways that you never expected. I’ve published three books so far, two traditionally and one was indie published, and the main thing that I got out of each one of them — even if they sold pretty well — wasn’t the book sales, but it was the optional things that happened outside of the book sales themselves.
For example, after being a programmer for a long time I became an entrepreneur, and I started a company to help other programmers get their software on the cloud a lot easier. One of the things I didn’t expect when writing my programming book a few years before that, was how much the reputation that writing a book gives you helps you when you’re trying to raise $10 million from venture capitalists.
Also, my second book, Programming for PaaS, didn’t sell as well as my first one. However, it’s brought me speaking opportunities that have much more return in terms of absolute dollar figures than the book sales ever had.
So as an indie author, what really means the most to me is just getting my words in front of as many people as possible. Not necessarily in order to monetize the book itself, but because I have personally experienced multiple times in my life how much the optionality – the unexpected upside – can change your life. You can’t plan for these things: I didn’t know I was going to start a company when I wrote my first book. But you can cultivate this upside optionality by making sure your book gets in front of as many people as possible.”
Indie authors have more flexibility and a bigger financial cushion to acquire readers
“The onus is on you whether you are traditionally published or indie published. The difference, though, is that if you’re self-published, you are getting 8 times more money every time you sell a book. So you are much more incentivized and, more importantly, it gives you much more flexibility.
You are the decision-maker behind your marketing choices, which means you don’t have to ask anyone for permission if you want to run a giveaway or promotion. Moreover, indie publishing gives you more of a cushion to do certain things. When your margins are 70% of sales instead of 10%-15% of 70%, you can actually afford yourself to go and try doing Twitter ads, Facebook ads, Google ads. The cost per click (CPC) can usually be between $0.15 and $1, and if you’re selling a book for $4 and getting 70% of that, you can definitely afford to give away a third or a fourth of your revenue on the sale in order to attract a new reader.
That’s not possible if you’re traditionally published: you don’t have enough of a cushion, so you depend on the publisher to do a lot of the advertising for you; but they’re not going to, because they don’t think that way.”
How to use social ads to target the right set of ‘customers’
“Before Facebook and Twitter, when you had only Google, people were searching for search terms but you didn’t know what kind of person was searching.
If you haven’t tried advertising with Twitter and Facebook, I highly suggest you give it a try. My book is Finding Success in Failure and it’s directed at people who want to start, or have started businesses, so I try to get into the mind of those people: usually, they like to watch Shark Tank. It doesn’t matter if you’re on Twitter or Facebook, you can actually target the people who watch Shark Tank via those social networks.
You can be very, very specific about the kinds of people you’re after, to make sure you target an audience that is already predisposed to your books and products. This works better, of course, for non-fiction than fiction, and I’m actually finishing my first novel, so I’m not going to do Facebook ads and Twitter ads for my novel, because to me it doesn’t make sense. I might play with it, just to see, targeting Dan Brown readers for example, but I don’t think it’s going to work.
Amazon themselves have an advertising program where you can pay for your book to show up on other books’ pages. All of these are things that are much easier for me to play with as an indie author because of the cushions I mentioned.”
Think bigger: include upside optionalities in your ROI calculations
“It’s important to understand how you want to measure your return. If you measure it just in book sales, if you’re lucky you might just break even… But if you think about the bigger picture, every reader you acquire is a potential reader of your future books. So the question becomes: what is the lifetime cost and the lifetime revenue of that reader? This is a very “startupy” way of thinking about recurring revenue software businesses, but it can totally be applied to an author who publishes regularly. You can almost think of it as a subscription model for your true fans.
Even bigger than that, if you think that you can get speaking opportunities or further your career — if you can monetize your book in ways completely outside your readership itself — then the “Return” part of your “Return On Investment” (ROI) gets much bigger, thus giving you a bigger cushion to play around with marketing strategies.
You’re not necessarily advertising to sell your book, you might be advertising to raise awareness around yourself and your brand across the world, to attract new opportunities.
If you have that faith, then you do everything possible to spread the word about your book.”
Capture the readers you get to turn them into lifetime customers
“Find people who have built fantastic platforms, who have captured their audiences and successfully turned a readership into an actively engaged audience, and read their work. If you need a starting point, read Secrets of the Millionaire Mind and see what he does and how he does it. Ramit Sethi is another: take a look at his work, start reading it and see what it does to you.
Study other people’s platforms and see not only what has worked, but what resonates with you. A lot of the time some things are not going to work for every author. Not everyone wants to do a podcast or prepare online courses.”
What do you think about Lucas’ mindset for non-fiction books? Is it to risky to invest in the books, or to heavily discount them, in the hope they will bring more than sales? Have you tried social ads (Facebook, Twitter)? Leave us your thoughts, or any question for Lucas, in the comments below!