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How can you use paid advertising as part of your book marketing strategy? How can you reach more readers and sell more books in the year ahead? Mark Dawson provides strategies and tips in this interview.
In the intro, publishing trends for 2023 [Written Word Media]; Apple AI narration; ChatGPT into Bing [The Verge]; Comments on Audible [Brandon Sanderson, Audiblegate]; TikTok ban and problems [Reuters, Rolling Stone]; my Pilgrimage Kickstarter.
Today’s show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at draft2digital.com/penn
Mark Dawson is the award-winning USA Today best-selling author of the John Milton series and other thrillers, with over 6 million copies sold. He’s also the co-founder of SelfPublishingFormula.com, with books, courses and events for indie authors who want to sell more books.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.
- How advertising has changed in the past decade
- The difference between paid advertising and other forms of marketing
- Why building your mailing list can be your best free advertising option
- Is it worth it to advertise a standalone book?
- Different ways to monetize your brand to make ads profitable
- What is the biggest mistake indie authors make with advertising?
- The effect of Apple’s privacy rules on Facebook ads
- Using AI to create more and sell more
You can find Mark at MarkJDawson.com and SelfPublishingFormula.com.
Image generated by Joanna Penn on Midjourney.
Transcript of Interview with Mark Dawson
Joanna: Mark Dawson is the award-winning USA Today best-selling author of the John Milton series and other thrillers, with over 6 million copies sold. He’s also the co-founder of SelfPublishingFormula.com, with books, courses and events for indie authors who want to sell more books.
Today, we’re talking about how to use paid advertising as part of your book marketing. So welcome back to the show, Mark.
Mark: Hi, Jo. Thanks for having me. Third time? Fourth time?
Joanna: I reckon it might be the fifth time.
Mark: Oh, my goodness.
Joanna: I know. We’ve been doing this together for a while. And in fact, that does bring us to the first question because you recently tweeted a great thread, and you did a blog post and things, about your lessons learned from a decade of being an indie author. And I reckon I was there at the beginning, would that be right? We met quite soon after you got started.
Mark: I would say we met two years after that, perhaps. So I thought my decade was next November, but Amazon contacted me in early November 2022, and said, “Your anniversary is coming up. Do you mind if we post something on our Facebook feed?” And I checked, and obviously they were right. I published 2012 was my first book.
So it’s weird. It’s a good opportunity to look back and see how things have changed. And I’ve been full-time since 20 — oh, goodness, I don’t know now — 16, something like that. So about six, seven years. And it’s been the most fantastic second career, really. I have to pinch myself sometimes to think I can still do this and make a living out of it.
Joanna: And I think that’s what’s exciting. And I often say to people, that a lot of this journey is learning from other people who have been doing this longer or doing it differently, or who are still here.
I think that’s the other thing, the more the years go by, the more we know people who’ve disappeared and fallen off the radar, who’ve stopped writing.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with people leaving the career, you know, we’ve come into this career, but things change — some things change, some things stay the same.
Since this is about advertising, I want to pick up one of the things you said in your long list, which I will link to in the show notes if people want to read the whole thing.
“Advertising used to be a luxury. It isn’t anymore – it’s a necessity.”
So I wonder if we could just take a step back and think about when do you think things changed? When did organic reach stop being effective on its own?
Mark: I think it’s a combination of things. I think it’s kind of organic reach becoming less effective, and also, there’s so much more noise you need to cut through now.
By which I mean, other authors advertising or other choices for readers to get whatever they want to read next. You have to shout a little bit louder now to put your book in front of them. But on the organic reach — so I should I suppose we should probably say organic reaches effectively publicity that you don’t have to pay for on social media.
So back in the good old days, maybe eight or nine years ago, you could post something on your Facebook feed, and it would get through to a good number of your followers without you needing to spend anything to amplify it. And everyone knew that that couldn’t last forever. Eventually, Facebook was going to monetize that and turn itself into one of the biggest advertising platforms in the world.
And that happened, I don’t know exactly when that would be, I’m going to say five, six, seven years ago, it became less and less easy to reach your followers without having to pay for the privilege.
It started off with boosting posts becoming a thing. So I remember spending $10 or $20 to amplify the message so that more readers would see what I was trying to tell them. But then they added different abilities and different mechanisms that enabled you to reach different segments of your potential readership, and the advertising platform was built.
And things have just continued from there. I don’t know what the percentage is now in terms of how many people would see your updates without you having to pay, but it will be low single digits, I’d have thought in terms of percentages.
Joanna: But of course, it is not just social media or Facebook or wherever. It’s also Amazon and the other stores online, in that back in the days of the so called “Gold Rush”, which never really was, you could upload your Kindle book, and they were so few books back then in 2008, 2009 when it all kicked off, you could upload a book with a terrible cover — and I wish I’d taken screen prints back when Kindle launched as to how many books were in the store.
But organic reach back then was literally you’d upload a book and people would buy it.
And that’s also gone, hasn’t it?
Mark: Definitely. And I remember this just as I started publishing, so 10 or 11 years ago, the trend was either free books because the rankings were different then.
So if you had a free download, that counted pretty much the same as a sale in terms of the algorithm. So you’d get loads and loads of visibility when you ran a free promotion for the three days that you had with Select. And then you had the 99 pence promotions backed up by sites like Pixel of Ink, FreeBooksy, BargainBooksy, BookBub came a little bit later, but it was a big entry into the market.
You could do really, really well with kind of priming the algorithm, and then it will continue to sell after the promotion had ended. But as you say, those days are gone now. I think there’s something like 11 million books on the Kindle store now. And, you know, most of those probably won’t be being promoted, so it’s easy to rank above them, but you do have to do something now more proactively than just uploading and crossing your fingers, which kind of did work a little bit back in the day.
Joanna: And I think this is why having a quick retrospective is good because things change all the time. I mean, I don’t know when the last time we did an interview, but possibly it was before TikTok. I mean, 2022 was a year of TikTok taking Colleen Hoover into the stratosphere, and a whole load of other authors taking advantage of that.
But things change every year. There are new platforms. I mean, when I first started out, it was MySpace. It’s kind of crazy to think now. Things change, some things stay the same. So let’s get into what’s happening right now. So we’re recording this at the beginning of 2023.
What are the main paid advertising options for authors right now? And how is advertising different to other forms of marketing?
Mark: Well, for the paid platforms, the two main ones are Facebook and Amazon.
So those will be the primary levers that you can pull as an author to start generating sales or finding readers. Kind of the third major platform, but not as important as the first two, but still important, is BookBub. So BookBub has been around now for ages, they’ve got millions and millions of people on their lists. They also offer an advertising platform that you can use as well.
So those would be the three main paid platforms, but then kind of bubbling up around those are lots of other opportunities to do the same thing. So TikTok is definitely a thing now. As you said, we saw Colleen Hoover go into the stratosphere last year, basically, because of her brilliant TikTok strategy.
We’ve seen people like Lucy Score, who’s a friend of the SPS podcast, recently one of her readers, a BookToker, put something together for one of her books, and it’s shot straight back up to the top of the charts again. And Lucy is quite sure that the reason for that was because of TikTok.
So there were things developing all the time. And who knows, maybe even Twitter will become a platform. I doubt it, given the way that Musk is running it at the moment, but it’s not impossible that that could become a platform that has an effect. It never has been before in terms of selling books, but you know, things change. So it’s definitely something worth keeping an eye on.
Joanna: It’s so interesting, isn’t it — and again, we’re recording this in January 2023. Twitter is still around, it’s going through a lot of difficulties, and a lot of people have left. But it could become a completely different type of platform.
Also, a lot of people have gone to LinkedIn. It’s so funny as a nonfiction author in the self-help space, as I am, and you have I know some free stuff in nonfiction, but nonfiction authors, I mean, now looking at LinkedIn advertising again, which to me is kind of funny.
So it’s also when what goes around comes back around, in some cases. And even as new things emerge, like you mentioned TikTok, I mean, still, like you said, Facebook, still going, Amazon ads, still going.
So I guess the message is: Try new things, but don’t forget the old things.
Mark: No, it’s worth experimenting on all of the platforms that are available and finding the one that works for you, and also that you enjoy.
I think it’s important, if you can, to find a platform that you feel most comfortable on. I’m comfortable on Facebook and Amazon, not really confident on TikTok. I don’t have a problem with doing videos and things, I just have a problem with finding the time to do them properly. For that reason, it will probably be something I don’t really concentrate on because you can’t do everything.
But then if you look at new authors like Adam Beswick, who again is one of our SPS alumni, he just posted that he’s had a six-figure year from nothing, effectively a standing start. He’s a nurse in the UK, writing fantasy books. And he’s gone from zero to six figures, and it’s all based on TikTok, nothing else really. And that’s amazing to see, and he’s kind of comfortable on the platform. He’s demonstrated that you don’t have to write romance, which is one of the things we hear now and again, that TikTok only works for romance and genres of romance.
Adam writes fantasy. James, my co-presenter at the SPS show, he writes military aviation, and he’s made TikTok work for him. So I think the message is experiment, find out what you like and find out what works, and then do more of that.
How is paid advertising is different to other forms of marketing?
Because just to be clear, you’re on the show and lots of people are listening, and you didn’t pay me to come on the show and neither of us take paid guests on our podcast because we want to offer value to our audience. And we get paid in other ways through affiliate income or sponsorship or other marketing.
So, to me, podcasting is the basis, really, of content marketing for me as Joanna Penn, my nonfiction books. And then I guess email marketing would be another really big pillar. Some people are still using blogging or articles on other websites. So those types of things would be, I guess, earned marketing (as opposed to paid).
Mark: I guess so. James and I do the podcast for SPS, and we enjoy doing it, it’s fun, and we try and give value every week. But of course, we are running a business there, and it is really good marketing for us for people to know who we are, what we do, and the courses that we have available and things we can offer. So that’s great.
Amazon asked me just before Christmas, if I’d do an article, if I’d be interviewed for Business Insider. So I said yes, it was a little bit of time in terms of the interview and a few follow up questions. But that’s something that will have introduced me, not really for readers, I think, but more for people who want to sell books and to be more effective in marketing their books. That will introduce me to an audience who might not otherwise have heard of me.
And the only thing that I had to spend was my time, there was no money involved in that. It was set up by Amazon, I just had to answer some questions. And that can be really, really effective in terms of reaching lots of people at scale. So this chat now, I know you’ve got 1000s of listeners, we have 1000s of listeners, it is a really good way to do something that’s quite enjoyable and also reach lots of people.
Joanna: So listeners, don’t discount the free things. I’ve had many guests on here, Dorie Clark was the most recent one, who sent me an email later saying, “Wow, your podcast audience really do buy books.” So, thanks for everyone who bought Dorie’s book by listening to this show. So you can definitely shift books through other ways.
But we are focusing on paid ads as part of this because it feels like, again, I know this having been podcasting since 2009 —
It takes a long time to build up these audiences when you’re building it slowly for free. It takes years.
Whereas with paid ads, you can pay and get traffic. Yay!
So it’s either your time, or it’s your money, or it’s a combination of both. I think both of us really do a combination of both now, don’t we?
Mark: Yes, definitely. So I mean, in terms of kind of moving it to the author side of things in terms of actually writing and building an audience, a really good free way of doing that — and I’m gonna sound like a broken record because I say this all the time — but still one of the best ways is to build your mailing list.
And to do that effectively, put something at the end of a book offering something else that will be of interest to the reader, get them to join your mailing list, and then you have them on a platform that you own and control. You’re not at the whim of Zuckerberg, Musk, or Bezos or anybody.
You can control that platform and then reach them when you’ve got something that you want to tell them about. So a new book or promotion, anything. And that doesn’t cost you anything, that’s a little bit of time in order to set that up, perhaps to write something that will be of interest.
It doesn’t have to be a novella, it could be anything at all, really. And then that will just work in the background and you will grow your mailing list on autopilot, which that’s the goal, isn’t it? That’s the least effort, most results. That’s worked for me for all of my career, and it’s still the most effective platform that I have, ahead of the paid options.
Joanna: Well, and again, to reemphasize, what’s old is new again. I mean, email has never gone away. And people kept saying, “well, social media will kill email.” But it hasn’t.
And in fact, many people are saying social media might be dead in 2023, which I definitely don’t believe. But people are cutting back on social media time, but still reading emails. So I agree with you. I mean, I’ve also built my business on email, and this podcast is the second thing I would definitely keep, along with the website. But yeah, that’s really important.
But let’s get into a quick fire round. Some of the most asked questions that people are always emailing me and I’m sure they email you all the time. So quick fire round.
Does paid advertising only work for certain types of books?
Mark: No, definitely not. It works for everything, really.
The good thing with advertising is there are no categories of products that someone will go, oh, advertising doesn’t work for that. Not that I’m aware of anyway. It’s ideally finding an audience that’s interested in what you’ve got to sell, and then you’re putting a message telling them about what you’ve got to sell in front of them. So it doesn’t really matter what books you’re writing, just got to make sure that there is an audience for those books on the platform that you’re using.
So Facebook is huge. Amazon is huge. Effectively, Amazon is like a search engine that’s kind of a shop as well. Facebook has all kinds of people with all kinds of different interests available for you to reach.
We get people saying, “Can you advertise kids books?” That’s a fairly common one. And yes, definitely. I have a series of worth nearly six kids books, and I use Amazon and Facebook ads to build that audience. And that works quite well.
Nonfiction definitely works. In some ways, it’s easier because you’re identifying a problem that the reader wants to have solved, and it’s usually quite easy to find other people with the same problem or the same issue, and then you can put your ads in front of those people. So yes, I’m not aware of any book that wouldn’t be able to be advertised effectively.
Joanna: In fact, just on that, I’m pretty excited about my next book, which is Pilgrimage, and it is a solo walking book. And I’m excited because, in my other genres, it can be quite competitive to do paid ads. But I really think there is possibly nobody else who wants to advertise a book on pilgrimage!
Mark: Yeah, you could do really well with that. Absolutely.
Joanna: Exactly. Well, that’s what I was thinking. I feel like it’s a niche market that I don’t feel like a load of authors are gonna rush into.
Mark: No, no, I think unless, of course —
Joanna: I start a trend.
Mark: You start a trend, exactly. Then by this time next year, there’ll be a huge subcategory on Amazon, and it’ll be your fault.
Joanna: Oh, fun!
Is it worth advertising one book, or is it only worth doing for a series?
Mark: It’s easy to do for series, definitely, because you have what we call read through. So if someone buys the first book, and they like it, the next book they buy is probably going to be the second book. And that’s definitely the case if it’s a series with a recurring character, like my Milton books.
But I would not dismiss advertising if you’ve only got one book. It is more difficult, but it’s not impossible to turn a profit.
And again, I look at James. James posted in the 20 Books to 50K Facebook group yesterday, actually, I think, as we record this, and kind of summed up his first 18 months or so of advertising his one book. And he turned a small profit. Now, he’s not gonna better retire on that, but you got to remember what he’s also done is built an audience, effectively at a cost zero basis. He wasn’t actually paying for that because it was covered by the money that he was making.
So it is possible to do. It is more difficult. I would recommend, definitely, if you’ve got one book and you’re intending to write more then building an audience with lead generation ads, finding readers who would be interested in your books or your subsequent books. It’s something that I would definitely do if I was starting out again. I would start to build that readership as quickly as possible, and build it as big as I could, because that then gives you an audience who’s ready to buy the book when you’re ready to release it.
Joanna: And again, of course, coming back to Pilgrimage, as an example. If you have a nonfiction book, where you can have a higher price, for example, compared to let’s say, a romance novel or thriller, where your prices, I guess, are more controlled by the rest of the market. So if you have a higher priced book, or you have other forms of income off the back end of it.
So again, for nonfiction, that might be affiliate links, it might be a course, it might be your consulting.
A lot of nonfiction authors — as long as you break even or even if it costs a little money — they’re happy to do ads because it brings in more leads for their business.
So I think it’s really important to consider all the different types of books. And it doesn’t need to be a $3.99 Kindle book. It could be something else.
Mark: One thing I’d say for you, I mean, this is kind of consultation coming up now. I would be quite excited for that book because there’s a lot you could do in terms of finding your audience.
You could do things like maps, you could give away annotated maps of the routes that you’ve taken. And that could be the Camino, you can have a map about the Camino with a few notes. And then of course, as they get their email, the next thing they get is a link to the actual book itself. And they would probably be quite interested in that.
And then in terms of kind of — I hate monetizing, but we might as well use that word — you could have the kit that you used, you could have it on your website, you’ve probably done this already, and then have affiliate links that would take people to Amazon, and you’d get a commission if they bought $100 pair of hiking boots. There are loads of things that you could do that I couldn’t do as a fiction writer because it’s a different story that you’re telling, with different opportunities to reach readers and then to offer them things.
Joanna: Absolutely. And I’m doing a whole load of special editions that are higher priced as well.
And again, just to say to people, because I’m selling a lot direct now through my Shopify store, CreativePennBooks.com that I can make more money on print books. And doing ads to print books is not so common for mainstream fiction authors because the profit on Amazon, for example, isn’t that high.
Also audiobooks as well, for example, I’m looking at the Spotify platform to do ads for audiobooks now Spotify has audiobooks. So this is the thing, there are always different opportunities for different formats, different price points. So I want people to think beyond just Kindle on Amazon, right? It can be everything.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely.
Then you can take everything you just thought of in English, and then multiply it by all the languages that you might be able to sell it in.
And so in German, big market now. I got an email from Bella Andre yesterday. I hadn’t heard her for a little while. But Bella might be speaking at the conference in June. Bella is great, and she’s been doing it for a long time. And I won’t kind of spoil too much about what she might talk about, but she’s absolutely crushing it in translation at the moment, and not just in German.
So that’s something that I haven’t done. I’ve got German nailed with about 45 books in German now, but I haven’t managed to figure out the Latin languages because I might be under the misapprehension that they hate Amazon. Maybe they don’t because it looks like Bella might have cracked that one. So that can be something for me this year, is let’s look again at the French and the Spanish and the Italian markets. Millions of readers who’ve never heard of me, but will probably like my books. Really exciting.
Joanna: Yes, and those ad platforms often have very few people on. So, yeah, again, it feels like some people say, “Oh, it’s too late to get into this.” Yeah.
So what do you think about the “it’s too late” people?
Mark: Definitely not. We’re on the same page on this. Amazon has a motto, “It’s always day one.”
I had lunch with someone and they took their laptop out, and there’s a decal on the lid, saying “it’s always day one.” And from their perspective, we are still at the beginning. You know, Amazon has been around for 20, 25 years now, but from their perspective, and in terms of the wider scope of history, they are still a baby company with huge amounts of growth that that they can still find. And that’s definitely the case for us.
I’ve been doing this for 10 years. You’ve been doing this for longer than that. And because we can kind of find ourselves in an echo chamber sometimes where we talk to each other, and we’re like, “oh, I remember when he was around, or when she was doing this.” And it feels like ancient history, but it isn’t. You know, most readers still read in print, which is great, because eventually they will move to digital, and then we’ll be waiting for them.
These are hundreds of thousands, millions and millions of readers who, as I say, have never heard of us before, and they’re just waiting to be introduced to what we’ve got to sell them, and tell them, and things that they can enjoy. It’s really exciting.
Joanna: Yes, I think so too. And again, we wouldn’t still be around if this was boring for us or we weren’t still excited about it. So just another couple of things.
Has Apple, with the new privacy rules, broken Facebook ads?
Mark: No, definitely not. Everyone panicked about this. I was a little bit concerned until we realized exactly what had happened. And what’s happened is Apple is much more concerned about privacy. They’re definitely using that as a reason why you’d want to invest in an iPhone or an iPad because they will look after your data, or so they say.
So what they’ve done is they’ve effectively prevented Facebook from using what we call cookies to track you across the internet. So what Facebook would do is you’d have a Facebook pixel on your web page, and you would then build an audience that you could serve ads to comprised of people who visited that webpage. Facebook would be told that this person, or these 100 people, all visited this website, you can now serve these people ads.
Apple’s made it difficult to do that if you’re using Apple products to surf the internet. So it’s definitely hobbled that particular aspect of Facebook and other marketing, Google offers that as well. But it hasn’t really affected the Facebook platform itself.
So Facebook, if you think of it as a walled garden with lots and lots of different ways to reach the people within the walled garden. So interests, look alike audiences, all kinds of different facilities to build the audiences you want to advertise to. What Apple’s done has had no effect on that whatsoever. So it’s affected kind of a slightly more sophisticated marketing, but it hasn’t affected the simple and most effective advertising that’s always worked.
Joanna: So just as a practical example, if author Mark Dawson targets a Lee Child / Jack Reacher interest on Facebook, that’s all within Facebook, so the whole Apple thing doesn’t make any difference whatsoever. Yeah, that makes great sense. Thanks for explaining that.
And then the other question that’s happening a lot is Amazon ads are too expensive. New authors have no chance.
So are Amazon ads just too expensive for most authors to use?
Mark: No, they’re not. So one thing I would say, a bit of advice there is, if people are starting to do Amazon ads for the first time, you’ll see when you’re setting your ads up, Amazon will give you a suggested bid. And that suggested bid has nothing to do with books.
I don’t know exactly how they come up with it, but it looks at other products, not just including books. So you know, things that cost $200 when you could afford to be at 150 per click, because there’s a really big margin for you there.
If we start following those suggested bids blindly, and I do see this all the time, authors will go in, there’ll bid above the suggested bid because they think they have to in order to have their ads on the platform, it will be too expensive. Unless you’ve got a really deep series with lots of read-through and lots of profit, you can’t bid 150 on a 2.99 book because the numbers just do not work. So don’t look at that. Don’t be afraid to bid beneath that.
It is a question of testing, it is a competitive marketplace, and some clicks are going to be more expensive than other clicks depending on the authors and the advertisers that you’re competing with. But it is something that can still work at lower bids, more competitive bids, where you are going to have to experiment and test quite a bit to make sure you get things right.
Joanna: Absolutely. So if people are thinking now of trying ads or maybe trying again, because I mean and I know this, I mean you go in and you try. What’s so funny is — well, you wouldn’t remember this as it was before we met — I tried Facebook ads when they first came out, and I’ve still got a blog post on my site, and it was really, really early on when it was super basic, and I just didn’t like it, so I stopped doing it.
And then it was probably like, whatever, a year later, when you started doing things and just doing amazing. And I was like, right, I gotta try again. And this just happens to me every year. I’m like, right, I’m gonna try again with ads.
So anyone listening, if you’re like, oh, I’m just over it, and now I’m gonna try again, that’s me, too.
What is the biggest mistake that indie authors make with advertising that you could help them avoid this time around?
Mark: It’s not understanding the platform, I think is probably the main thing.
You do need to learn how to do it properly. So you don’t need to be a genius to do ads effectively, you don’t need to be great at maths, or to really understand data. You need a kind of a surface level of understanding, so you can see what’s working and what isn’t. But what I wouldn’t recommend is just going on to Facebook or Amazon and then just kind of closing your eyes and hoping for the best because that’s probably going to be quite expensive and won’t work.
I tried that when I started out. I did that with Facebook ads, and I couldn’t get them to work. And I’m just very grateful that I tried something else which did work and led to a fairly explosive growth in terms of the book sales because no one else was really doing it the way I was doing back in those days.
So you need to learn, and you don’t have to learn from me. There are a few people out there I would recommend now. From generalists that teach all kinds of people how to advertise to other authors who know what they’re doing. But you do need to learn.
The other thing I’d say is your product — and you know, I tried quite hard to be honest about this, but you also have to know when to stop being an artist and start being a business person.
And you need to see your book, not as a labor of love, although of course it is. At the point that you’re trying to sell it, it is effectively a widget that you’re trying to sell, interest someone so that they might go and buy it and read it.
So you need to be able to make that switch. And you need to make sure that your product is as professional as possible because you’re going to be competing with traditional publishers who have great covers, great blurbs, well known authors. You’re going to be competing with authors like me and the authors that we teach at SPF.
So you want to make sure that your product is absolutely as perfect as it can be. So cover has got to be on point, your blurb certainly can’t have any typos, it’s got to effectively tell the reader what they’re going to get. And then you want to make sure that you’re targeting effectively, in terms of both relevant potential readers and in a way that’s cost-effective. So not rushing, basically.
Have a great product, don’t rush, and learn how to do it.
Joanna: Yes. And again, it’s not too late, and it won’t be too late next week or next month, either.
Mark: Or next year.
Joanna: Yeah, or next year. They’ll just be something else. Although a lot of what we’re talking about will probably still be around next year. I mean, that’s what’s funny. I mean, people always talk about the demise of this, that and the other, and there it is again, another year. Including us, we’re still here!
Regular listeners to the show know that I’m very interested in playing with sort of AI tools. So in 2022, the emergence of image generators, like Midjourney and DALL-E and Stable Diffusion, and text generators, like ChatGBT. And we’ve got coming in 2023 things like text-to-video. In fact, Meta/Facebook itself, has a generative AI text-to-video, which should be emerging at some point in 2023.
What are your thoughts on how we can use AI to help us create more and also sell more?
Mark: Well, I’ve told you this before, I usually say you’re about five years earlier than everybody else. But you’re almost always right in the end.
And you’re definitely right about AI. Obviously, I’m a longtime listener of your show, and one of the reasons is because you really do keep your finger on the pulse of what’s coming up.
I was in Florida last year for the NINC conference, and a writer, Elizabeth Ann West, who might listen showed me SudoWrite, and I wasn’t convinced. I could see some potential, but I wasn’t convinced. When I looked at ChatGPT late last year after you recommended it, I could immediately see. And I was just blown away. It was so impressive for what it could do.
And, you know, people worry, authors are worried now about how AI is going to take our jobs. And I don’t think that’s a medium-term threat, with long-term, potentially, but I don’t think we’re near that yet.
What I can see it doing, and I’ve already tested it and it works really well, is generating ad copy. So you can give it some information about your book and tell it to write a punchy blurb, and it’s done a pretty good job of that, certainly as a first attempt, which you can then polish.
I did it with headlines for Facebook ads. I gave it an example and said ‘write me 10 more variations’ based on this example. And it came up with some really, really good ones, like ones I would use without changing.
So I can definitely see that, as you describe it, these are kind of tools in our tool belt that we should learn how to use because they will make us more effective as marketers, and also as authors with some of the things that it can do. So I’m not afraid of it, I’m quite excited that this is something that is going to really make things even more interesting over the next 12 months or 18 months.
Joanna: I really feel like 2023 is going to be a very interesting year in terms of the possibilities that emerge, but also some of the legal stuff that is going to have to come in.Because at the moment, it’s a free for all and there are no legal things at all about anything.
Mark: Yeah —
Whenever you get new technology, the law is usually very slow to catch up.
And it’s definitely very slow. I think copyright, generally, hasn’t really been brought up to date to reflect the digital age. It’s a fairly static law, there hasn’t really evolved as much as it needs to. And there’ll be interesting cases, I think, over the next couple of years that will bring a little bit more certainty, because at the moment, it is kind of like the wild west out there.
Joanna: It is. But it feels to me like the Wild West when 2007, 2008, the early days of digital in general, which was just brilliant. And so many people took so long to catch up, and yet those of us who kind of got involved were able to build careers on this. So hence why I continue to be up on these things.
And also you mentioned I’m always five years early. I first mentioned this in, I think it was November 2016. So given that it went mainstream in 2022, I’m about right.
Mark: Now, the reason I said that was we were talking about German translations a while ago, and I think you were a little early.
Joanna: I was too early. 2014. It was too early.
Mark: But now, when did I do my first German translation? It was probably about 2018. And the translated market now is a really, really important part of my business. So yeah, you’re kind of a Nostradamus. You’re definitely right almost all the time, just that sometimes a little bit too soon.
Joanna: But also Nostradamus was doom and gloom, and I am not.
Mark: Oh, that’s true. Very true.
Joanna: Yeah —
So let’s talk about this ad challenge you have coming up.
So this is a time-sensitive thing, although I’m sure you’ll have the Facebook group going, but tell us about this ad challenge.
Mark: So we launch the ads course, Ads for Authors, launches on the 18th of January. And on the 11th of January, we’ve got kind of a one week — we call it an expedition because we’re trying to avoid the word challenge because that’s a bit ubiquitous these days. So we have an ad expedition where — and this is really stretching the metaphor about as far as we can stretch it — we’re going to climb the mountain of Facebook ads together. And we’re going to have seven days worth of short videos in a Facebook group, with some email as well, not particularly demanding.
But what I will do, because I’ll be presenting this, is I’m showing authors how to use the very simplest kinds of Facebook ads to find readers and then add them to your mailing list.
The most important thing that you can do as an author is to build your mailing list with relevant readers.
And I’m going to show you how to use Facebook ads to do that in a way that is not particularly expensive. You will definitely get readers. And that’s one of the things I’m always like, well, I can’t guarantee it, but I can guarantee it about as far as I can that at the end of it, you will have new readers for your books.
It will all take place within a community of I think about 1500 other authors who will be kind of doing the same thing that you’re doing at the same time. And I’ll be in that Facebook group all the time as well, giving advice and answering questions.
So we’re quite excited about it. We have fairly high production values at SPF, so we’re going to make sure this looks good, the content is completely up to date. I haven’t even recorded it yet, so it’ll be completely fresh. And you’ll get good results at the end of it.
Joanna: So —
Where can people find that expedition?
Mark: So you can find us on Facebook, if you do a search for Facebook Ads Expedition, I think it will take you there. But we have a pretty link set up at selfpublishingformula.com/FBexpedition, and that will take you to a page where you can link directly to the Facebook group where all the action will take place.
Joanna: I think I might do that again. It’s another one of my ‘get back into ads,’ which I always do every new year. But again, things change. And like you said, you haven’t recorded it yet, probably because Facebook don’t tell anyone and then they suddenly roll out something new and you’ve just recorded a video and then you have to change it again.
Mark: In our experience, it’s usually the week before we launch the course. I’m sure someone is watching us on Facebook HQ, and going, “Right. Wait, wait, wait. Now!” And then we have to scramble for all week basically re-recording everything because one of the things we are very keen to make sure is everything is relevant when you take the course, and we also keep it up to date so we have re recorded things to make sure that even if you bought it five years ago, if you want to refresh yourself, it will still be as it needs to be.
Joanna: Yes, and I am an affiliate for your Ads for Authors course, which is fantastic. And it goes into lots of other things. It’s not just Facebook, is it? What else is in the course?
Mark: Oh my goodness. It was just Facebook Ads for Authors when we started. But it’s Facebook, Amazon, BookBub, TikTok, ad copy, ad images, there’s about 60 hours worth of content now. It’s a really big course. But we don’t intend for you to do every single minute. It is intended that if you want to learn about BookBub CPM ads, you can just do that particular section of the course and learn how to do it and be off and running without too much bother. Of course, if you want to do everything, then that’s your option too. But it’s not really intended to be consumed that way.
Joanna: It is a fantastic course. And if you would like to use my link, listeners, you can go to thecreativepenn.com/ads. And as ever, there will be links in the show notes. So final question, looking into the year ahead —
What is coming this year for you as Mark Dawson the author, and also for SPF?
Mark: So for me, as an author, I’ll probably do three novels, maybe four. I hope to do four. And then two or three short stories, I’ve got a new character, had a novella out just before Christmas that’s done pretty well, so I’d like to do a couple more with him. And certainly more in German, and I’m going to look at Italy, French and Spanish for translation. So a busy year. That’s about the level I’d expect to manage to hit.
And then for SPF, Ads for Authors, as you mentioned, launches on the 18th of January. And the other thing I’d say is we have the live show in June, which I think is the 20th and 21st of June, and details are at selfpublishingformula.com/SPSlive. I’m starting to schedule that now. Bella Andre will be there, Elana Johnson is coming from the States, Dave Chesson is coming over. And this will be the third time that we’ve done it, and it’s been great fun. And we’ve had Jo, you spoke for the last couple of times, and the most popular session both times to my chagrin, more popular than me.
Joanna: I’m not going to speak this year, but I’ve got my ticket, so I will be there. And I’m really looking forward to that. So you can win best talk this year!
Mark: Oh, thanks. Thank you. That’s great. I probably won’t, though. It’ll be somebody else.
We had a lot of fun doing that. It’s a lot of work, and it’s quite stressful, but we always kind of finish the conference feeling that itt’s been a really, really productive couple of days. So I’m looking forward to seeing authors there on the South Bank in London in June.
Where can people find you and your books online?
Mark: Okay, so books, I’m at MarkJDawson.com. And for the author side of things, I’m at selfpublishingformula.com.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Mark. That was great.
Mark: Thanks, Jo.