I have a special treat for readers today. I just completed an interview with Matt Stone and Rob Archangel, co-founders of Archangels, Inc. and they’ve graciously agreed to share some of their knowledge about Kindle publishing.
Matt, you pulled the plug on blogging to write Kindle books. Do you have any regrets?
Matt: Dear lord no. I've added almost 100 new direct email subscribers daily since the blog went down. It's steady, too. In fact, yesterday I got exactly 100 new subscribers. It took me 7 years to get 3,500 subscribers. In the last 100 days I've gone from 3,500 to 12,600. I'm selling more books, writing much less, and everything worked out as planned. Plus, I've got way more time on my hands to do other things, which have included launching two new online ventures without hurting my first business at all.
You talk about how easy it was to get started on Amazon. 1) Because you had a catalog of books, and 2) You had a ready audience.
I believe the way you put it was, “Having an established audience to use as rocket fuel for a book launch is, quite simply, everything when it comes to success on Kindle.”
What about the guy who doesn’t have a catalog of books or an audience to drive to his book? What do you think he should concentrate on starting out?
Matt: If you do the work and keep at it, it's almost a mathematical certainty that you will achieve success with a decent strategy in today's modern publishing environment. The formula is simple, create a big loop that builds upon itself with each round. Write a book, get as many free downloads as possible, use your book to drive subscriptions back on your website, then price it low and let it sell some copies. Repeat this process again and again. With each round your mailing list will grow, each free promotion will sell other books in your collection, and the amount of download activity you generate at launch will steadily push each new book release higher and higher in the ranks (as that mailing list grows). By the time you have 13 books you can run a 5-day free promotion every week and subsist on that activity almost exclusively.
How important is your mailing list to your success? Do you think you’d be where you are now if you had just published your book and hoped for the best?
Matt: I had huge success before I had a big mailing list, but that was mostly through the connections I had made with other influencers in my niche. If you can get someone with a big audience to promote your book, that's a lot more significant than even tapping into your very own mailing list. People who already have an audience built, if you can tap into those people with radical generosity and irresistible sincerity, can help you reach success almost overnight. I just built a business successful enough to be overwhelmed with clients by the third month primarily with three emails to the right people in my appropriate niche.
Many authors look at social media as a major time suck. You take the opposite view. You say, “It’s really important to focus that time on doing the stuff that works.”
You suggest, “Posting good content, links to interesting stuff, great survey questions, funny pics and memes, short rants, and whatever is relevant to the subject matter you want to be known for – as well as intimately interacting with people (especially people of influence as we’ll discuss in the next chapter), is the best way to build a good social media following fast.”
Can you tell me one or two social media tactics that have worked best for you?
M: I communicate frequently with dozens of people with over 100,000 Facebook fans. I'm not a very gifted social media builder, because I've always been spread out so thin. But do those people have tremendous power and influence to turn everything around them to gold? Absolutely. They built their following by posting a dozen times a day with a mix of questions, pics, trending topics, videos, and other engaging content. Most of them used a virtual assistant to do this for them for $100 a week. I plan to take advantage of this soon for a new company of mine.
Another thing you talk about is getting rid of all your fears and phobias and just reaching out to touch people you want to meet? That’s how you and Rob hooked up.
Say I want to shoot for the moon, and reach out to Stephen King and let him know I wish he’d go back to the days of writing short books, I could read in a few days. How should I contact him? What would you suggest saying?
Matt: Well, I wouldn't bother with big celebrities like ol' Steve K. There are literally hundreds of thousands of middle-class internet entrepreneurs out there that have the power to ignite your career, who are also totally approachable. You may not know them by name yet, but search around and always make a note of all the movers and shakers, big, medium, and small, in your area of expertise. You can get great tips from these people, do favors for them (not in a brown noser kind of way, but in a cool way that maintains your dignity), and build great relationships--and accelerate your success in the process. I know this sounds nebulous, but man does it ever work when done right. Help the right people, get reciprocation from powerful people, and use that to reach out to a bigger audience.
Rob: That’s actually how Matt and I connected years ago. I followed his work and was moved to email him just because I liked what he had to say and he seemed like a cool dude. We communicated over email and through his website for a couple years, had a chance to meet and connect in person, and then later when he needed some help on some outreach and communication projects, he had me in mind. We started collaborating and now almost a couple of years later we’re making some noise in the indie publishing world, having learned a lot together since we started.
Publishing my books to Create Space was a major turning point for me. I was struggling to get by until I made my catalog available in paperback. Why do you think so many authors think print is dead, and stubbornly cling to a Kindle only publishing policy?
Matt: It’s worth it to publish in paperback just to get the little price strikethrough shown on your Kindle listing. It also makes you look more like a real, reputable author and not some indie-publishing hack putting out 20-page books with 50 typos and second-rate content. I make more in audiobooks than paperbacks now, but paperbacks are still worth it. They make up about 20% of my total author royalties, but it's different for each author. We're helping someone publish a cookbook soon, and that will probably do much better than that in terms of Kindle to paperback sales proportions.
Rob: I think indie authors discount print also in part because they know how hard it is for most authors to get on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, unless they have one of the big publishing houses behind them, and even then, unless they’re one of the big shots they get behind. There are plenty of Random House books you’ll never see on the end cap of bookstore aisles.
Working on Kindle only also makes the self-publishing process easier to in-house. It’s more time and effort to format a paperback yourself. You actually have to know a bit about typefaces and layout and be willing to go back and forth, making multiple proofs, to make sure everything looks the way it’s supposed to. Formatting for the reflow-able text of e-readers has some of its own particularities, but in the end, I’d say it’s a good bit simpler than doing the actual layout of a print book, where every decision you make translates directly to the end-user experience.
The last thing I want to talk about is audio books. Matt, you recorded “S. M. A. R. T. Goals Made Simple” for Steve Scott. What was it like working for Steve? I’ve been following both series of his books for years, and he seems to have it all together.
Matt: Steve is an efficiency machine, and he knows how to examine some numbers and make a quick, smart decision. I found out about Steve back in November while researching everything I could about publishing. I emailed him three days later and had a manuscript to record a few weeks later. He now routinely has us turn all of his manuscripts into paperback and audiobook (at least a book per month), and he just promoted us on his website, landing us seven audiobook projects in the last 48 hours of when I write this. So yeah, it's good to send emails to the right people. I spent two minutes locating his email address on his website, and crafted the email in 5 minutes. I've already gotten more than $1,000 per minute out of that email. Did I mention emailing people and offering a service to them helps?
Rob: Building the right connections is everything, as Matt says. Steve is great to work with in part because, having established our thoroughness and the quality of our work, he lets us take the reigns and doesn’t micro-manage. Knowing that we can make the little decisions that have to be made, rather than doing everything by committee, saves both him and us time, and makes each project simple and straightforward. If I had to wait on him for feedback on the preferred indentation pattern for lists, or pagination preferences, or ideas for numbered versus lettered lists, or the particular font size for a heading versus sub-heading within a paperback, and we had to do that for every project, we’d grind to a halt, and ultimately end up producing something that would likely be no better than us doing it ourselves.
Likewise for audiobooks: did you want the emphasis on the second or third word of that sentence? How about a dramatic pause to let that idea sink in? Or maybe you want to build some momentum and speed up as you get closer to the end of the paragraph? How about some vocal variance? Where do you want that? Those sorts of decisions are best left to us.
What advice do you have for authors who want to publish their books on Audible?
Matt: Get it done or have it done for you, and man up for upfront payment instead of the royalty split unless you have a book that doesn't sell well and is 400 pages long. Most poorly-selling eBooks will bring in over $1,000 per year through ACX (which lists on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon) and most indie authors are publishing a lot of 15,000-word books that can be produced from scratch for just $400. It will hurt to pay up front, but over the course of years, trading hundreds for thousands is better than the traditional 50:50 author/narrator split.
Rob: And we say that as audiobook producers with more to gain from convincing you to split royalties with people like us. We still will do royalty splits and may end up doing more in the long term. But if we were committed to having your fiduciary interest at heart, flat-fee up front production would be the recommendation.
What types of books sell best? Are their certain genres or types of books that don’t sell at all?
Matt: Fiction and self-help/motivational kind of stuff is what I'm seeing excel. One book we produced is making $1,500 per month on a book that is lucky to bring in $1,000/month on Kindle and Createspace combined. But I have publishing and health/nutrition books that I've done, and like I said, the audiobooks have ended up being more viable than paperbacks, with audiobook royalties increasing every month while paperbacks stay about the same. Don't wait to hear about how great audiobooks are selling in three years. Get in and get positioned and be on the plane as it takes off instead of diving for the wing as it taxis to the runway.
I was amazed by the number of offers I received when I made my books available for publication on Audible. Many of my books had five to seven auditions the same day. Is that normal?
More to the point, if there are so many people looking to voice audio books, what should an author look for when he’s listening to auditions, and trying to select a voice actor?
Matt: We have no experience with that whatsoever, as we don't audition for books or get into that whole competitive madness, but get used to it. Voiceover people, especially those looking for a royalty split, are clamoring to join the party right now. The number of customers flooding Audible right now is creating a rapidly-increasing demand for audiobooks, and quick increases in sales figures.
Rob: Our niche is making audiobooks affordable for the small and mid-sized authors, who don’t have thousands and thousands to shell out for Neil Gaiman to read their work. And so we’ve pinched every penny to keep costs low. Perhaps at some point our pricing will change to reflect our experience in the arena and to handle the increased demand. But right now, Archangel Ink is still on a rookie contract. If you’re looking for someone not us, you’ll want to find the right balance of ‘knows what they’re doing and can do a great job’ and ‘not yet so established in their career that you’re priced out as a middle class author.
The last question, I promise. How important is it to have the same voice actor, especially for those books in a series? Will it piss listeners off if you change voices midway through?
Matt: I have no idea. Can't imagine that it would be that big of a deal for nonfiction authors, but I could see it being a little problematic for fiction when your characters voices suddenly sound totally different than in earlier books in the series!
With all of that said, is there anything you want to be said about Rob or Matt, and is it ok to ask, which one of you is Buck Flogging anyway?
He is I and I am him, slim with the tilted brim, what's my flutherbucking name? Buck Floggy Flogg. The bomb.
Matt Stone and Rob Archangel are co-founders of Archangel Ink (archangelink.com), an outfit established to help make self-publishing easy for authors. They’ve produced more than two dozen audiobooks and counting, design covers, format for Kindle and paperback print on demand, and serve as marketing consultants to help their authors maximize their current reach and leverage that into greater success and prominence. You can connect with them through the contact form on the main page of their website. Visit our books page at http://archangelink.com/