Mailchimp attracted extreme criticism this week when it became clear how its new marketing services would impact its core email offering — particularly in terms of pricing — leading many long-time users to start explore alternatives (including this one).
I have been a loyal and happy Mailchimp customer for over eight years. I have also recommended Mailchimp to thousands of other authors. There have always been cheaper services, or those with more bells-and-whistles when it comes to advanced automation options and the like, but — for me at least — Mailchimp was always the perfect combination of price, user friendliness, and reliability.
What Happened With Mailchimp?
changes included entirely new pricing tiers and policies, and a revamping of
associated feature sets, with some pretty radical differences. Mailchimp’s emails
weren’t clear on what was changing or who was affected, Help pages weren’t
updated properly, and Support was giving out conflicting information.
the dust settled, it wasn’t pretty.
biggest change of all is that Mailchimp no
longer determines monthly charges based on total subscriber count — as has
historically been the case, and as is standard among email services. Instead, Mailchimp
now bases monthly charges on a new metric which it calls Audiences, which some
users may have noticed appearing in their accounts recently.
Key here is that Audiences also includes unsubscribed emails, meaning that users will be charged for unsubscribed emails as well as subscribed ones. Naturally, this announcement was received very negatively by Mailchimp users, as some would be facing increases of over 100% in their monthly charges (myself included). The situation was compounded with a lot of confusion, as the Help pages at Mailchimp weren’t yet fully updated to account for these changes, and Support seemed confused about whether existing users would be grandfathered in under the old terms.
First, Mailchimp explicitly told me in an email that legacy users would be affected by this new policy.
hours later, after a hugely negative reaction online, Mailchimp appeared to
backtrack, saying that legacy users would be unaffected by these changes — which
would only apply to new users. Whether this was a change of heart, or muddled
messaging, or a simple error, it’s hard to know for sure.
Hi David. It looks like our billing agent provided incorrect information regarding your account. We're sorry about that. Our new pricing plans apply only to new users, so your account won't be affected unless you purchase a new plan to use more features.
a close examination of the now-updated Help pages at Mailchimp shows that
legacy users of the Free plan will be
badly affected by these changes. Previously, Mailchimp’s services were free up
until a user reached 2,000 subscribers, at which point you transitioned to a
paid plan. It was a clever approach from Mailchimp which got them lots of new
customers and made it the easiest service to recommend.
policy is now changing. Not only will unsubscribed users count towards the
2,000 threshold, all those on a Free
plan who subsequently transition to a paid plan will do so under the new
pricing regime with no option to be grandfathered in under the old system.
those who are paid customers under
the Pay As You Go system — where users pay per send rather than per month,
something which was very popular with users who emailed more sporadically then
regularly (for example, if you only used your list to announce new releases) —
will be adversely affected also, despite Mailchimp’s claims.
any credits they purchased before 15 May will expire in one year — despite Mailchimp
previously stating that these credits will never expire. That could get Mailchimp
in some legal hot water, of course, and has caused extreme anger, particularly
among those who stocked up and bought significant numbers of credits recently.
Mailchimp is explicit about not
offering any cash refunds for purchased credits, but it seems Mailchimp will convert
email credits into dollar credits towards a Monthly plan. However, anyone
converting to a monthly plan, even if
they do it right away will be subjected to the new pricing regime, with no option
to be grandfathered in under the old system.
The only customers spared — for the moment — are those who were on a legacy paid Monthly plan as of 15 May, the day these changes were announced. I asked Mailchimp if they could guarantee that legacy Monthly plan users wouldn’t be forced into the new pricing regime at any point in the future. I also asked Mailchimp if moving to a new pricing tier (i.e. when your subscriber count increases) would trigger a move to the new pricing regime.
Mailchimp failed to respond to these inquiries and would only confirm that if you purchase any add-ons to your legacy plan, this may immediately trigger a move to the new pricing regime. So, I think it’s probably wise to conclude that this change will come to legacy Monthly plans too, sooner rather than later, I would guess — probably under some guff about “harmonizing our payment plans” or similar corporate blather.
Indeed, in a statement to TechCrunch, all Mailchimp would say is that legacy customers will “maintain current pricing structure and features for the time being” — which isn’t very reassuring and sounds very temporary.
this has some people asking what the alternatives are, and I’ll get to that in
a moment. But you’re probably asking yourself how we get here, and, crucially,
whether there is any chance of this change being rolled back.
Mailchimp’s Big Pivot
Mailchimp has been slowly building out additional marketing services over the last couple of years: customizable landing pages, a real-world address finder so you can do things like send postcards to your customers, and the ability to run Facebook, Instagram, or Google Ads to your email subscribers via their platform.
This week, Mailchimp fully pivoted to becoming a CRM platform — short for Customer Relationship Management. Essentially, Mailchimp wants to be your go-to platform for managing the entirety of your relationship with a customer, not just for email marketing.
The other obvious question is why anyone would want to run their Facebook or Google ads via Mailchimp, and that question is much harder to answer. Mailchimp claims these changes are driven by customer demand but that is difficult to believe.
I know literally no one that wants Mailchimp to become an all-in-one Marketing Platform. Exactly everyone I have spoken to is concerned that Mailchimp is moving away from its core competency and losing focus too. All the recent changes have been crappy (e.g. Audiences). https://t.co/5MzGKUWPr1
may or may not be interested in the deeper reasoning behind this big change
from Mailchimp, I merely explain it to show that this is new set of policies has
been a long time coming, is part of an overall corporate strategy which Mailchimp
views as central to its future. In other words, this approach is unlikely to be reversed. It seems that Mailchimp
has invested to much in this pivot.
leaves authors with a choice. Can they keep recommending Mailchimp? Can they
keep using Mailchimp — even though
switching is a giant pain in the ass?
argue momentarily that the answers to those questions is “No” and “Probably Not”
but let’s break down the full implications depending on what kind of user you
are, before looking at alternatives recommended by the Newsletter Ninja herself — Tammi Labrecque.
Why Mailchimp’s Changes Are Bad
rebranding as a supposed one-stop-shop for all your customer marketing needs is
more worrying on a general level, as it indicates a lack of focus on the core
product — particularly pertinent when Mailchimp launches those other services
by making adverse changes to its email offering.
particular concern, however, are those immediate and negative changes to email:
Charging by Audiences is patently unfair. You aren’t using those contacts, but you have to maintain records of them for GDPR compliance (and other reasons I’ll get to), so there is no justification for deciding how much you pay based on inactive subscribers.
This will inflate costs for mosts users, significantly in some cases. If you have a large mailing list, you will have a lot of unsubscribes. It goes with the territory. Things that also increase unsubscribes include very common practices such as listbuilder promos, competitions, reader magnets, BookFunnel giveaways, or any kind of advertising aimed at boosting your mailing list. Most galling of all, those who are strict about engaging in email best practices such as list hygiene/list culling and using onboarders to weed out users who shouldn’t be on your list, will have a lot of unsubscribes for the most legitimate of all reasons. Finally, if — like me — you run your onboarder through a separate list, which people do for various logistical reasons, all new sign-ups essentially get unsubscribed when they finished onboarding and moved to a new list. Which means in practice your Audience size will be over double your actual subscriber count. Under the new pricing regime, this means your costs will now double too.
Mailchimp’s justification for charging by Audiences is that you can now use their remarketing services to reach these unsubscribes, like by sending them a postcard or running a Facebook campaign to unsubscribes. But Mailchimp will charge you for unsubscribes even if you never use these services. Which is completely ludicrous. You can’t charge customers for services they have never used and have no intention of using.
Deleting unsubscribes is definitely not the answer, as I’ve seen some suggest. Deleting unsubscribes could cause you two kinds of legal trouble. First, under my reading of GDPR, this will put you in breach of the requirement to maintain records of how a customer subscribed. You can only delete their records if they request a deletion. (That’s my understanding, at least, as someone who is not a lawyer and definitely not a GDPR expert.) Second, if Customer X unsubscribes from your list in the normal manner, and then enters some kind of group competition or promotion (like BookSweeps or a BookFunnel giveaway) that you are participating in, you are not legally allowed email Customer X again. But if you have deleted them as a contact, you will have no record of this unsubscribe, you will add Customer X to your list again when importing all the participants, and then when you invariably email Customer X again you will be breaking the law. Third, if you have any level of visibility, you might be attracting junk/spam sign-ups to your list. If you are a big author, you probably get a lot of junk sign-ups. Leaving these spammers as Unsubscribed acts as a kind of block from them signing up again under that email and keeps the problem manageable. Simply deleting these junk sign-ups leaves spammers to sign up again under the same address, removing your only real defense, other than double opt-in — which doesn’t prevent it from happening.
Mailchimp’s workaround is extremely problematic. Mailchimp has attempted to defend the above by saying, “If you plan to use Mailchimp for only email marketing, you can archive your unsubscribed contacts so that they are not counted towards your whole audience pricing.” I’m not entirely clear on the GDPR implications of archiving contacts, even after reading Mailchimp’s Help pages and explicitly asking Support about same in numerous emails — a subject which was ignored, I should note. Even leaving that non-trivial matter aside, archiving unsubscribes fails to deal with the problems above surrounding importing previous unsubscribes, preserving customer history for various business reasons, those who do onboarding via a separate list, and fails to prevent junk sign-ups. Even with this workaround, it will still increase your costs as Mailchimp will charge you based on the highest point your audience reached over the last 30 days. It also creates yet another layer of busywork, forcing users to manually archive everyone that unsubscribes, and the more irregularly you do that, because it’s a cumbersome process and Mailchimp hasn’t designed the tools to do it easily and quickly, the more you will end up paying. As with double-counting subscribers who are on multiple lists, Mailchimp has again made a top-down business decision that unfairly costs users unless they engage in continual, maddening busywork. Except this is several factors worse as no one can avoid unsubscribes.
And, of course, there is a massive trust issue with Mailchimp now, where there was none really before. It’s hard to give your backing to a company that has screwed its users in such a dramatic fashion.
What Should You Do?
all the above, here are my recommendations for New users, Free users, legacy
Pay as You Go users, and legacy Monthly users.
think New users should stay away from Mailchimp unless they reverse these
changes — which I doubt will happen. So New
users should look for alternatives. You’ll get info on some of those below.
goes for Free users. They may have a little breathing time until they hit that
2,000 Audience total limit, but Free
users should start planning ahead and looking at other services.
The same also goes for Pay As You Go users. The situation is a little more complicated for them, depending on how many credits they have purchased. Those with significant credits may wish to interface with Mailchimp’s billing department to see what options are available in terms of converting to Monthly plan credit. But, in general, my recommendation is that Pay As You Go users should look for alternatives so they are ready when their credits are used up. It’s an open question whether Mailchimp is planning to phase out Pay As You Go altogether at some point — it could explain why credits suddenly have a 12-month shelf life.
situation is more nuanced again for legacy users on a paid Monthly plan (which
includes me). For the moment, we seem to be spared the new pricing regime. It’s
notable that Mailchimp were reasonably quick to respond to my other questions
yesterday, but pointedly refused to give any guarantees that legacy Monthly
users wouldn’t eventually be subject to the new pricing system at a later point,
despite numerous opportunities to do so.
take is that it will probably happen at some point for legacy Monthly users
to use Mailchimp after 15 May — explicitly gives Mailchimp that power.
of this, and all the foregoing, particularly the trust issue which has now
appeared out of nowhere, my
recommendation for legacy Monthly users is to start looking for alternatives
too — although you appear have a little more breathing room than everyone else.
For now, at least.
More Stealth Changes At Mailchimp
case you are still unconvinced of the need to look elsewhere for mailing list
services, I discovered some more changes which weren’t communicated to users at
all. These currently affect new users only, and anyone else switching to a paid
Monthly plan, but I think we can expect them to impact everyone eventually.
Certainly, they indicate the direction Mailchimp is heading. And that is a very
worrying direction indeed.
Entry-level plans are now limited to
just three audiences. In other words, you can’t have more than three separate
mailing lists without paying for a premium plan which costs 50% more. This will
greatly affect anyone who writes in multiple genres, or keeps separate lists
for whatever reason (onboarding, different niche, separate pen name, blog
subscription, side business, etc.). Even the premium plan only allows you to
have five audiences. To show how limiting that is, I currently have seven
audiences before I even launch my new pen name. And, of course, the new pricing
regime means you can’t even combine audiences without getting charged double
for moving those names across.
Most shockingly, basic paid plans will no longer include multi-step automations. This is a fairly basic feature for any email service — it’s normal to welcome new sign-ups to your list with an automated sequence of emails. Mailchimp will no longer include that feature in new Monthly plans, unless you upgrade to a more expensive plan, which will be charged at an even higher rate per month. Also not included in entry-level plans anymore are previously included features such as send time optimization and delivery by time zone.
Another change which is bound to be hugely unpopular, and sure to cause Mailchimp trouble as they haven’t flagged this to users either, is that Mailchimp will no longer automatically move you up (and down) the various pricing tiers depending on your usage/subscriber count.
Finally, Mailchimp has had a long-standing and permanent 10% discount for using two-factor authentication. This is now transitioning to a temporary, three-month discount. It’s yet another back-door price increase, and 10% is not nothing either.
To sum up all the financial aspects, Mailchimp has massively increased prices through underhanded means, and gutted features at the same time. To give a real-world example, if I was starting a new Monthly account with Mailchimp today, the cumulative effect of these changes would mean I’d actually be charged triple what I’m paying right now without even getting the full set of features I have right now. For that, I’d have to subscribe to the Premium plan where I’d be facing an increase of up to 500%. It’s crazy!
Alternatives to Mailchimp
As I have been using Mailchimp for the last eight years, without needing to look at alternatives, I thought it best to bring in a real email expert to make some recommendations here. Regular readers will know that I named
Reader Targeting is yet another concept we have to juggle. It’s no wonder many writers take to the drink, or otherwise lose the run of themselves. Or can be a little… kooky. We have to wrestle with a number of contradictory notions all the time — it’s enough to make anyone batty.
The most obvious is with the writing itself: we need at least some level of ego to push something out into the world and ask money for it. But we also must have the requisite critical faculties to see what’s wrong with it and to motivate ourselves to fix it, and to otherwise work on our craft until the things we make are as good as we need them to be.
(As a famous editor once put it — Nan Talese maybe? — those first few years, when our taste is much more developed than our skills, are tough.)
The experienced author isn’t done with these trying dichotomies though; one in particular that we all continue to struggle with is between our artistic natures, and our commercial sensibilities. It’s not so much about what to write or how to write it — most pros can navigate that part. The battlegrounds are elsewhere, things like cover design, series titles, descriptions, branding.
And one more surprising, perhaps: reader targeting.
It’s not just with packaging that our Inner Artist can lead us astray, trying to convince us to be unique instead of realizing that a cover’s job is to communicate genre very clearly and get readers, the right readers, to click.
That Inner Artist is often what drives us to create, but she can mislead us with marketing, trying to push us to broader audience. That feeling of wanting to share it with the world is great and beautiful and powers us through some tough moments in the process of creation but can actually harm our book’s chances of connecting with its core readership.
And it’s not just those indulging their Inner Artist at the wrong moment who can fall into this trap. I also see very hard-nosed commercially minded writers seeking to “break out” of a niche they haven’t dominated yet, which is a little backwards.
The core principle of reader targeting is this: aim your book exclusively at true fans of that genre.
That might seem uncontroversial, but it’s harder to adhere to than you might think. Your Inner Artist is quite the Wormtongue. You can be building an Amazon Ads campaign and wondering whether you should include Conn Iggulden as a comp author. Your commercial instincts will be telling you that you don’t really have enough audience crossover with this author as your books don’t have quite as much action, but your Inner Artist will seductively whisper, “tryyyyy it.”
BookBub might knock you back for the Historical Fiction list and offer you Action/Adventure instead, which isn’t really a good fit, but your Inner Artist can convince you to make a bad decision. These adjacent audiences are a killer and where we waste most of our money.
But it’s not just wasted money that is the danger here. In fact, with really adjacent audiences you can actually make the sale to that reader who isn’t quite in your target audience. As you should all know by now, this can scramble your Also Boughts, something I have spoken about a lot.
Dangers of Also Bought pollution aside, these are the readers that may be less than happy with your story, and can leave you a bad review. Only a small percentage of readers bother doing that though, the more insidious cost — Also Boughts aside — is the slow corrosion of DNFs and weak-ass sellthrough and strangely low sign-ups to our mailing list and muted page reads after a push of some kind.
The way to combat this is to enshrine that core principle of reader targeting in absolutely everything you do. It’s not just about pointing your ads at the right people, that philosophy has to influence the entire chain. This means your description, your cover, the categories and keywords you choose, the story itself, of course, the way your write your end matter, the manner in which you speak to readers during your onboarding process for your newsletter — all this stuff should be appealing explicitly and exclusively to your target audience.
I think people mostly get the “explicitly” part but often struggle with the “exclusively” part. A simple example: a lot of people fall into the trap of posting things like cat pictures and memes to their Facebook Pages, because these tend to be very popular and generate a lot of engagement. But that popularity is a general one, it’s not unique to your target audience. It’s much better to focus on things that appeal exclusively to your target audience.
Your Inner Artist might be the kind of people pleaser that desperately wants everyone to Like that Facebook Page, but you have to remind yourself that it’s okay to turn people off. You want to repel the people who aren’t your core audience. (This is really important, in fact.)
To ground this more explicitly in the world of books, a snarky first-person blurb might be the perfect way to sell a snarky first-person contemporary romance or urban fantasy, and an excellent way to speak to those particular readers as they join your mailing list, but will be incredibly jarring for third-person epic fantasy or science fiction.
Those readers might mock such blurbs when they see them, or make snide comments about a man-titty cover in romance or a glowy hands cover in urban fantasy but their opinion is irrelevant because it’s not for them — and you certainly don’t want to fall into the trap of sanding down all those distinctive edges in an attempt to appeal to everyone, as you’ll usually end up being so bland that you appeal to no one. Really, those knots and grains in the wood are what make up your voice anyway, the unique fingerprint that makes a book uniquely yours.
It’s not an easy mindset to adopt. There’s barely enough room in our heads as it is between our Inner Artist and Inner Businessperson and all those characters screaming to get out too. Which is why I developed the concept of the Ideal Reader. Or, in true hack style, stole it from Stephen King.
Most of us are familiar with King’s concept of the Ideal Reader — the person you are writing for. It can be someone you actually know (for him, it’s his wife), but more often it’s an idealized person, representative of your target audience.
My “twist” was to take that concept from the artistic part of the process to the commercial side. If you have read my book Strangers to Superfans, you will know that I talk about how to develop this concept of your Ideal Reader and why that’s important. Because once you can put yourself in the shoes of your Ideal Reader, you look at your entire marketing and publishing process with new eyes.
It’s a POV shift, and all writers will know how that can totally change the perception of a scene. And once you look at that journey your Ideal Reader takes, from being completely unaware of you and your work, to being the kind of raving fan that does the selling for you, you will start to identify a number of roadblocks. Failure points, I think I called them in the book, which is such a neat phrase I must have stolen it from someone else. (Chris Fox maybe? Sorry Chris!)
This is all a very diplomatic way of saying that we screw it up all the time.
An interesting contrast is to look at the really huge bestsellers. Often we talk about a kind of “X factor” that these books seem to have, and what I think that truly involves is every single element being in perfect harmony: the product, the presentation, and the promotion. All of it is appealing explicitly and exclusively to the Ideal Reader of that book.
What this means for you on a practical level is that you might not have a clear idea of your Ideal Reader, but even if you do, you might not be aware of the roadblocks that are in place, preventing more of those people you are pointing ads towards becoming true fans of your work. You might be — unwittingly — chaining together a series of those failure points and losing a lot of people along the way.
The good news is that all this can be reversed. And when you flip those failure points into conversion factors, when you optimize each stage of The Reader Journey, the cumulative effect can be incredible.
If you are interested in getting into all that topic a little deeper, check out my book Strangers to Superfans — that link will take you to a page here on this site where you can choose your preferred retailer, and you should find it everywhere for around $4.99, give or take a few pennies where taxes and currencies are involved. It’s also available in paperback, if that’s how you roll.
The key point, though, is this: reader targeting isn’t just something you do with ads. It should be baked in to everything.
The above post was written for my mailing list last summer, but the topic was on my mind recently as I spent a lot of time discussing this with the guys at The Bestseller Experiment podcast, where we got deep into how Amazon works, how important Also Boughts are in the recommendation engine, and why you need to look at reader targeting holistically, so it doesn’t just inform your ads, but the cover and blurb too, as well as the tropes baked into the story itself.
If that last point above intrigues you, check out Chapter 15 of Superfans where I talk to Kit Rocha about how she views branding as an extension of worldbuilding.
And if you don’t want to miss emails like this in the future, sign up here to my free marketing newsletter. Over the last year we’ve covered everything from reader targeting and launch plans, to how a new writer gets going in today’s environment (or how an older one might relaunch themselves or start fresh in a new genre).
We’ve even done an in depth (and free) series on BookBub Ads which was wildly popular, are partway through a similar one on Facebook Ads, and have just kicked off one on Amazon Ads too. If you ping me after you sign up, I’ll happily link you to any of the stuff you missed.
It’s 2019 so this caveat is unfortunately necessary: there is no catch, no affiliate crap, no upselling, no shady partnerships, no course that I’m really trying to flog. When I launched this newsletter I said I wanted it to be the “antidote to that plague of bullshit,” and I think I’ve been successful on that front. I might try and hawk you a book now and then, but that’s about it.
You get a free copy of Amazon Decoded to sweeten the pot too, and if that wasn’t enough to convince you, here’s a glimpse of what you missed on Friday:
What is an author platform? Which elements should it contain? And is any of this stuff more important than just writing another book? Perhaps not. But certain aspects of an author platform are important tools for reaching readers and, especially, for holding on to them.
The topic can be confusing as everyone seems to be mean something different by the term. And then this problem is compounded by a lot of terrible advice proliferating, quite frankly. Number-chasing nonsense which doesn’t serve anyone.
Even the term
“platform” seems to be quite nebulous and elastic — fertile ground for
snake-oil salesmen. Let’s nail that down first:
Author Platform – A Definition
Everyone will agree a website is part of an author platform, as well as any blog and your various presences on all the different social media channels, if applicable. But what about your email list? Personally, I think it’s most useful to be open here.
An author platform is a writer’s collective presence on the internet.
That seems pretty straight forward and uncontroversial. Where opinions diverge is with regard to what an author platform is truly for, and what it should contain. And people often skip over the first part of that and jump right to the second. But it’s hard to know if you’re building the right tool if you don’t know what it will be used for.
There are many ways to slice this onion. Primarily, though, author platforms:
entice new readers; and
engage existing ones.
You might assume author platforms are largely for finding new readers, whereas I’d strongly argue that their real value is in engaging existing readers, and deepening connections with people we have already sold books to, or otherwise interacted with. More on that in a moment.
The internet is a big place and you can’t be everywhere, not if you want to keep producing books regularly — which should always be your main goal. So, what should you focus on? Which platforms can be dispensed with? How can you build a platform worthy of the name with what little time you have?
To put a finer point on it, is any of this worth the bloody effort? Social media networks in particular are giant time-sinks, as we all know only too well. *closes eleventeen tabs*
Elements of an Author Platform
The only truly
necessary elements in an author platform are a website and a mailing list.
Everything else is optional. I’d also strongly argue that a basic presence on
Facebook, at minimum, is very useful indeed, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
But, really, the only absolutely essential thing to have is a website where readers can find basic information about you and your books, and also sign up to your mailing list. And it’s actually the latter that’s the truly crucial part. Everything else is secondary.
But which other elements might an effective author platform contain? Before you can answer that, you must think about what a platform is truly for and what you, in particular, want to achieve.
How About Sales?
Sales are good! I like making money. But author platforms aren’t as good for that as people often assume. If you want to sell books, I strongly recommend adopting the killer strategies from this post: How To Sell Books in 2019.
The real value in an
author platform is in deepening connections with readers. And the danger for anyone
building a platform is that they can try and build a sales-generating apparatus
when they should really be building a connection-building contraption.
Email is a classic example. It’s not a sales tool. Wait, scratch that. It’s an awesome sales tool. But you shouldn’t approach it that way or you will come across in the wrong manner. You should look at it as a way to creating real, authentic, and meaningful engagement with your readers.
If you are genuine, and not just faking it, then regular communication with your readers in this manner can turn your email list into a sales generating machine. It’s a by-product of having an open, healthy, and meaningful relationship with your readers. Or creating community, if you prefer that formulation.
Author Platforms and Social Media
You might think this view of an author platform leaves out a lot of stuff — and it does. Deliberately. You don’t need to be on Facebook. It’s not essential that you have a Twitter following. You don’t have to have an Instagram account. And it’s certainly not a necessary condition for success that you be active on Pinterest or anywhere else for that matter too.
That’s not to say that these platforms can’t be incredibly useful, they just aren’t imperatives.
Of course, it can be wise to invest time into building a presence on social channels if your target audience hangs out there — or at the very least to be passively available on these networks if that’s where readers wish to connect with you. But I want to remove some of the pressure from the equation as some authors spread themselves far to thin, or berate themselves for not “maximizing the opportunities for exposure on LinkedIn” or whatever’s trending this week.
authors should take the opposite approach, in fact.
Instead of asking what you can do for Twitter, ask what Twitter can do for you. Rather than wondering how much time you should invest in Instagram, question whether your readers are truly active there, and if putting more effort into that specific platform is the smartest way to grow that audience further.
For example, newer
writers often ask questions like “Should I have a blog?” when it’s completely
the wrong way to approach this.
A better way for them to frame that question might be “Will I be actively using content marketing as part of my strategy to reach and retain readers?” And even when the answer is in the affirmative, usually something like Facebook or email (in particular) is a better tool to achieve those goals.
That’s not to say blogs don’t have uses of course, he says on his blog. I’m obviously a huge fan of blogging. I enjoy it and it helps me achieve my particular goals. Just keep in mind that my needs aren’t necessarily your needs. Or in any way typical either. *gnaws pterodactyl drumstick*
What Is The Best Use Of Your Time?
Let’s say you have a basic website and newsletter sign-up in place, and are focusing primarily on producing new books, what should you do with any time left over?
There are often periods in the day (evening for me) when you aren’t physically tired per se but you might be creatively zapped after several hours in the word-mines. This can be a good time to catch up with some platform building tasks; there are always a few things I can do which don’t require as much brainpower or headspace as writing fiction.
So, assuming you have the must-haves set up, and your priorities straight, where should you spend your remaining time?
Once you have removed the pressure from your platform to be (primarily) a sales-boosting gizmo, and instead approach it as something you are going to use to deepen relationships with readers (whether that’s current readers or potential ones), that clears some of the mental fog surrounding this issue.
I was speaking this morning with an author who doesn’t see the point of being active on Instagram as she doesn’t think her Ideal Reader would use the platform. You know what? That’s an excellent reason to skip Instagram. But, as I said to her, if she wrote PNR or NA or Contemporary Romance, the answer might be different.
You can approach most social channels the same way, whether that’s Snapchat, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Twitter. Are your readers active there? Is it somewhere you can reach them? If so, is it worth, at the very least, being passively present so they can connect with you?
Being passively present doesn’t take very much effort, and will give you a sense of whether it’s worth devoting more time to actively building up a platform there. It will also give you a sense of whether that’s something you would actually enjoy doing — a rather important part of the equation too.
One particular channel is different though.
The World of Facebook
The biggest social media network on the planet has had a torrid time in the press over the last couple of years, leading to many high-profile departures and calls for boycotts. However, key metrics don’t seem that affected: Facebook still had 2.32 billion monthly active users as of the latest figures I saw (31 December 2018). This was an increase on the previous quarter, in case anyone thinks it’s trending downwards.
Even more telling: 1.15 billion of those users log in daily; again this figure is up 9% year-on-year. In other words, it’s not just where your readers might be, it’s where everyone’s readers are every single day. The only real exception might be among the younger demographic, and those related genres mentioned above. You can reach that segment via alternatives like Instagram, and the following mostly applies.
Back to Facebook.
I think the same winning principles for email are relevant to social media too — the likes of Facebook is a wonderful tool for deepening relationships with existing readers and enticing potential readers to check out your work. And the great thing is you achieve both goals in the same way: by regularly sharing content that your target audience enjoys. That content acts both as a magnet for new readers and sticky-paper for existing ones.
Just don’t fall into the trap of sharing content that is enjoyed by a general audience. It’s easy to post cat videos and dank memes, and hoover up the resulting likes and shares. But that will attract (and retain) a generalist audience. You don’t want that. You need a niche audience — one specifically interested in your niche. This means sharing content that only that audience will enjoy. And if that repels everyone else, then that’s a good thing.
You need to divest yourself of the old broadcast model of promotion, of highway billboards and radio announcements and TV ad spots… and number-chasing. That model doesn’t work on social media and it won’t work for you. It’s easy to fall for the Million Follower Fallacy.
Instead, think of yourself more like a laser beam; spread yourself too thin and you’ll lose all power. You need to be focused.
There is a lot more you can do with Facebook, of course, even aside from the giant topic of advertising. If you want more on using Facebook as a content marketing channel and building up a tightly focused group of Likes that are exclusively interested in your niche, read this email I sent to my list last year: Content Marketing With Facebook
By the way,
that email is part of an ongoing series on Facebook that I’m doing with my
up here if you don’t want to miss the rest (you’ll also get access to
Author Platform Takeaways
As a writer, you need tools to reach readers, of course, but you must work hard to retain them also. Book advertising is by far the most effective tool for reaching new eyeballs en masse. And email is easily the best at retention.
However, social channels can be very effective at the latter and pretty helpful with the former as well, particularly those social networks with viable advertising options like Facebook, as you will get all sorts of symbiotic benefits. For example, Facebook Ads generate spillover Likes, and growing your Likes makes advertising on Facebook easier and more effective.
A basic author platform, when pared back to the author essentials, only really needs to consist of a website and a mailing list, and you should consider the latter a vehicle for deepening relationships with readers, rather than viewing it primarily as a sales tool. (And it will be much more effective at generating sales if you take this approach.)
I’d also strongly recommend throwing at least one social channel into the mix — and Facebook is the obvious candidate, given both its ubiquity and also its power as an advertising platform, although there are alternatives.
Most important of all: don’t do anything if it makes you miserable. Any antipathy (or inauthenticity, for that matter) will shine through. If you’re not enjoying it, there’s no point. Or in the words of the great Swedish philosopher Roxette, listen to your heart.
Marketing these days can feel like tackling a high-wire on a unicycle… while juggling chainsaws. And that’s for experienced authors. For those with lower budgets or fewer books, the challenge can seem like entering the World Ice-Sculpting Championships armed with a box of matches and an ice cube.
what you are aiming to do is this:
Sell enough to rise in the Best Seller Lists and get seen by lots of new readers.
Shift sufficient units over an extended period to jump up the Popularity List and get pushed en masse to Amazon customers via emails and on-site recommendations.
Keep that higher level of sales consistent enough over at least four or five days – i.e. minimizing spikes and, especially, dips throughout – hoping to convince the Kindle Store algorithms that you are the real deal, whereupon they may take over and do the selling for you.
and this also:
Exclusively target the right readers so that your conversion rates are decent and the bloodthirsty Amazon algorithms don’t take your book to the woodshed.
Avoid having the wrong readers purchase, so your Also Boughts are in fine fettle and Amazon has a clear idea of who might like your book. If this get muddled, Amazon will start recommending you to all the wrong people, often a one-way ticket to the primordial ranking ooze.
this point, you might be planning some quality time with a bottle of vodka.
all this right is hard. Even wrapping
your head around all the underlying concepts is not exactly natural for someone
whose primary job is writing great stories and bringing characters to life, and
desperately trying to maintain a relationship with their editor despite never
knowing where to put a comma.
It’s not all bad news though. Aside from the huge rewards for getting all this right, you don’t actually need to get all this right. The prizes for near misses can be considerable too. And getting just some of this working will bring significant benefits. Also, you can take it step-by-step and bootstrap yourself into place, and layer on the complexity (and budget) as you learn.
first you need to really understand what all that stuff means and how all the
parts should interact.
This one aspect, at least, I can make straightforward for you. Read Amazon Decoded.
It’s free FFS – a 50-page book that will break down the Kindle Store and all the algorithms which power it, including that mysterious and important and goddamn lucrative recommendation engine. Oh, and it will tell you how to change your approach to marketing to take advantage of all that too.
There is a catch, of course, you have to sign up to my list. But you can grab the book and then unsubscribe which will ruffle nary a feather of my wonderful plumage. Just note that the real prize for signing up is access to a marketing newsletter which people are calling “free” and “weekly.” An endorsement if ever there was one.
But that’s only Step 1 in this market-slaying process. Once you page through that book, you will know how the Kindle Store works (and maybe a teeny bit about the other retailers, but they are much more of a black box and/or have less of the recommendation and algorithm-powered wotsits built in to their operation).
You will also know – or you will do after reading Amazon Decoded – what visibility marketing is, how you need to tweak your metadata to increase discoverability, how to greatly boost the power of your promotions, and stretch out that halo too for good measure.
Next you must put theory into practice, let the rubber hit the road, and put together a promotion. Yes, Step 1 was more of a proto-step, but one that will serve you for your entire career. At least until the robots take over completely and we spend our days reclining in nice, cozy vats of goo, plugged directly into Netflix.
Pre-Requisites to Self-Publishing
I’m also making some pretty major assumptions here, namely that you have:
worked hard at the craft of writing;
written a marketable book with great presentation which is appropriate to your genre;
published – or are working on – a series of books and not just trying to flog one book or some unconnected standalones; and,
implemented a basic reader-capturing apparatus: a website, a place to collect reader emails on that website, enticing end matter in all your books pointing to that place on your website, some kind of newsletter service like Mailchimp or Mailerlite to send those emails, and a pretty Facebook Page because everyone is still on Facebook despite the bad press.
you don’t… fix all that stuff first before wasting money on ads.
The Case of the Secret Skeleton
Chart-topping, algorithm-tickling promos can be incredibly complex with lots of moving parts. You might see the champagne being popped on Twitter but might not know everything that had to be done to get to that point. It’s a lot more than just having lots of readers and publishing regularly and throwing money at the problem.
well as promoting my own books, I’ve run giant campaigns for huge authors over
the last couple of years, launching multiple books into the Top 100, running major
backlist promotions that generated tens of thousands of sales during their
foray into the charts, and million and millions of page reads, as well as
multiple Kindle Unlimited awards. Some of these campaigns can generate extraordinary
I don’t say that to brag – the respective authors most certainly did the hardest part by writing books which resonate so widely with readers, and I had quite the headstart in the marketing aspect by working with big-name authors with an existing audience and a large budget. Not quite barrel-fish shooting, but not starting from zero either.
I say this to show that these methods work. And so that I can explain something else: all these promotions, colossal ones right down to smaller pushes, usually have the same underlying skeleton.
Drop your price.
Advertise the discount.
Jump up in the charts.
Raise your price and make some (more) money on the way down.
You can advertise full price books, of course, it’s just much harder (with the exception of Amazon Ads, which I’ll get to in a moment).
And there are other ways to market books that don’t necessarily involve cutting prices, whether that’s content marketing (particularly for non-fictioneers), list-building and email marketing, or various forms of cross-promotion, among other things.
Price Promotion Springboard
said, price promotions – and pushing those discounts with advertising – is the
tentpole for most successful self-publishers, along with regular new releases,
of course. Those promotions generally involve free or 99¢ books.
the “do you not VALUE books?” crowd get warmed up, let me say this: those cheap
deals are used to pole-vault us into position to shift even more books at full
price. A springboard, if you like. I don’t focus so much on prices anyway, these
things are all tools to me. I prefer to look at monthly income. Running price
promotions increases it greatly.
and cheap books don’t just make you more visible (and enticing) to new readers,
they also generate sellthrough to full-priced books. A classic example is a
free or cheap Book 1 hooking a reader, who then goes on to purchase Books 2
that’s devaluing books, I’ll do it every day of the week. And twice on Sundays.
This basic approach works very well, but sometimes you want to… juice it a little. So, let’s look at a few pared-back marketing plans, before turning to the various promo tools for executing those plans, and some resources to help you master them.
assume you have a three-book series normally priced at $2.99, $4.99, and $4.99
respectively. That’s a fairly typical and moderate pricing approach.
also assume that you are in Kindle Unlimited and have easy access to Countdowns
and free runs (we’ll talk about some differences with wide authors in a
simple plan to launch that Book 3 might look like this:
Book 1 – 99¢ Countdown Deal.
Book 2 – $1.99 Countdown Deal.
Book 3 – $2.99 manual discount.
can’t do a Countdown on that Book 3 for its launch so the price drop will have
to be manual. It’s often worth doing for Kindle Unlimited authors though. Not
always. This is definitely not a One True Way scenario. This is just one way
you can do it.
wide author often needs to be more conservative with pricing strategies, for
example, as they don’t get the cream of page read income and miss out on that
special 70% royalty rate that Countdowns give you on sub-$2.99 books. So, I
might run it like this instead if I was wide.
Book 1 – 99c manual discount.
Book 2 – $2.99 manual discount.
Book 3 – $4.99 (no discount).
will have less oomph, naturally, but you’ll be making more per sale on those
later books and still have deals in the earlier ones to push with ads and so
on. The immediate sellthrough will be less with those steps up in pricing, but
this approach can still reap dividends.
of either stripe can adapt this kind of approach and be more, or less,
aggressive, depending on their current needs. For example, that Book 1 can go
free temporarily. Or you can offer a temporary discount just to your mailing list
for that Book 3. There are lots of options here.
Playing around with different approaches is a great way to learn the ropes. There’s always some kind of trade-off between pricing and royalties and the responsiveness of your ads too, but, with experience, you’ll begin to instinctively know which approach might best serve your needs.
Those are your discounts. Now you need to advertise them.
Book Advertising Toolbox
Obviously, the first thing you will reach for is your mailing list and social channels as those are free. These tools will likely be of little use to you starting out, as most of us don’t arrive into this world fully formed.
But even for those of us with large mailing lists and/or social platforms, they only get you so far. Plus these promotions are predominantly about finding new readers – particularly if your strategy centers around using deals on older books to help sell newer ones.
Which means you need to look at some form of book advertising to reach those fresh eyeballs.
There are lots of different places you can promote a free or cheap book. Your first port of call should invariably be what we call reader sites or deal sites or discount sites or promo sites (you would think we’d have this terminology nailed down after nine or ten years, but there you go…). In short, these are sites where readers can sign up to get notified of deals in various genres.
BookBub is the most famous, obviously, and is significantly larger than all the other sites combined with millions of genuine book buyers on its lists. There are no sure things in marketing, but a BookBub Featured Deal is the closest you’ll get. Authors typically report making the cost back in twenty-four hours or less, and then enjoying a significant increase in visibility and sellthrough and email sign-ups and reviews.
The only real issue with BookBub is getting a Featured Deal is very difficult, and doubly so for authors who are exclusive to Amazon. The cost can be a barrier to some also. It is considerable, especially for some categories. Newer/smaller ones are quite a bit cheaper, but still hard to get.
There are a whole host of smaller sites, though, usually charging significantly less. Authors still need to be careful here. There are innumerable sites which are overpriced, have no audience to speak of, or even those which are outright scams or use illicit means to promote your book which can put you in serious hot water with Amazon.
This list of promo sites is curated, regularly updated, and dependable. Some sites are better for freebies, others are better for 99¢ deals. A few of them won’t take new releases or have a minimum review count/average requirement, others are more open. You can check them all out there, where they are handily tiered for effectiveness also.
I think newer authors should restrict themselves to advertising on these promo sites first as this requires the least knowledge and experience, and these are often the cheapest clicks going anyway.
Me, quoting me. Hey, I was the only person I could get at short notice.
Experienced authors, those with more books and knowledge and money will want to look at advertising options which scale a little better – there is a hard limit to what these sites can generate in terms of sales and downloads. To step up to the next level you will almost certainly need to grapple with at least one of Facebook, Amazon, or BookBub Ads.
There are lots of resources out there which will teach you about book advertising more generally and those platforms individually, with a huge variation in quality, it must be said. Those prices vary a lot too from free blog posts and cheap books, all the way up to courses which can cost four figures or more.
I should point out that the quality level often has little relationship with that price. I’ve seen terrible courses charging several hundred dollars and read wonderful blog posts which cost nothing. Scams proliferate too.
As with most things in our increasingly shady world, get a referral from someone you trust. And then double-check with someone else too. And then probably triple-check if we are talking about serious money because there is often affiliate cash being thrown around these days which can… skew opinions.
I taught myself these ad platforms, but that takes time and patience and money, of course. And there’s no need for you to make all the mistakes I did – I’m happy for you to learn from my singed eyebrows.
You are also in danger of making a lot more mistakes than I did, quite frankly, as I come from a marketing background and previously ran huge pay-per-click campaigns for big corporate clients in a previous life; I wasn’t coming at this cold.
Even with that professional background, I really struggled with some of this, so be careful. Tackle the platforms one at a time. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. You don’t need to master all of them. Being good at one way of reaching readers is often enough.
Make sure you understand the basic principles of online advertising and start small in terms of budgets. Don’t get drunk on the first flush of success either. If you are stepping up the spend, do it slowly or the wheels can come off quite spectacularly.
I’ve only covered these a little for my mailing list as this is the platform I’ve had most difficulty with. Amazon Ads is the most paradoxical platform. It’s the simplest to use, but the hardest to master. It’s the easiest place to get a modicum of sales going, but the most difficult to scale. It requires the least speciality knowledge to get things moving, but on the other hand you will end up grappling with some arcane algo-alchemy to really master it.
I find Amazon Ads to be the best platform for advertising full price books. It’s
also the best tool for nailing down the right Also Boughts on a new release –
which is pretty crucial. The great problem with Amazon Ads that everyone runs
into, aside from spiraling click costs which can reach a dollar or more on the
bigger authors and books and keywords, is scaling.
Most people can get a baseline of sales going with a little practice. Almost everyone struggles to scale those ads to anything more meaningful except perhaps in a fleeting way. Although I’m interested in some recent changes Amazon has made which might help in that regard.
terms of resources, I recommend this course from Reedsy Learning – Amazon Ads For Authors – which is free and will
teach you the basics.
for those of you on my mailing list: I’ll be covering those exciting new
changes at Amazon Ads this Friday, as well as a new approach I’m testing. For
those not on my list: sucks to be you!
I kid, I kid: you can sign up here. You’ll get a copy of Amazon Decoded too for your troubles, which should help increase the results from book advertising.
scales like Facebook, but it’s also the most complex platform, where you can
lose the most money for the least return if you don’t know what you’re doing – which
describes at least 90% of people using it, I’m guessing.
took me ages to figure it out. And
quite a bit of cash.
of the problem with talking about Facebook Ads is that everyone has quite a
different experience. Some people are able to target by author and get good
results that way. Certainly that’s the easiest way to use Facebook Ads. And
those authors can’t understand why the rest of us struggle so much.
coverage is patchy though. In many genres targeting by author simply doesn’t work.
People have to either target their niche more broadly, or get super creative in
finding those readers. This makes Facebook Ads much more difficult to use – but
absolutely not impossible.
over time you’ll be switching from mostly targeting by interests to – most likely
– leaning more on your own custom audiences you develop over time. People who
have engaged with your ads before, or who visited your website, or who
commented on your page, or who watched a video you posted. The options are
endless. Which makes learning Facebook very intimidating. It’s certainly not the
first ad platform I’d recommend tackling.
is the one with the most upside, so you should grasp that nettle at some point.
users should check out Jon Loomer’s site – he’s my go-to resource. He’s a general marketer
rather than book-specific, so you often have to tailor some things, and
straight up ignore other things, but advanced users should be able to do that
For the rest of you, I’ve been slowly covering my Facebook method with my mailing list. You can get a taste of the approach here: this was the first episode, so it’s super basic, but you’ll get the idea. I think we’re up to about episode six or seven now and the last one was a really cool trick for cloning and mirroring your ads which multiplies your social proof like crazy and sends CTR through the roof. So, you can see that even though it starts basic, it ramps up pretty fast to some cool techniques.
only about halfway through those episodes, by my reckoning, so you can still
jump aboard. Plus, you can get access to old episodes by signing up to my mailing list.
My favorite book advertising platform right now, and probably the second easiest to use after Amazon Ads. And the easiest to master, without question. Certainly the most reliable once you have cracked it. And, these days, can scale to impressive levels too.
I have literally written the book on BookBub Ads. And I can use the definite article there without tooting my own horn because it is – I believe – the only book on BookBub Ads!
my penchant for luxury mustache balm won’t pay for itself, meaning I have the
temerity to charge five whole dollars for this comprehensive guide to mastering
the platform – which is called BookBub Ads
Expert and is available from Amazon and all other retailers too – which may not suit
those who are unsure about BookBub Ads and are still unswayed despite reading all these glowing reviews.
have a solution.
I’ve launched a FREE course at Reedsy Learning – BookBub Ads For Authors – which covers the basics of the platform. It’s a nice format too: ten emails over ten days, each introducing a different aspect. They are bite-size and will take you just five minutes to read each morning.
Note: you can only take one Reedsy Learning class at a time. So if you have signed up for the Amazon Ads course already, finish that before signing up for this one.
Obviously, this course won’t be anywhere near as comprehensive as the book, and the whole point is to get you hooked and empty your wallet of that precious five dollars but you will get the basics for free, which is the best price I can rustle up without breaking the laws of physics. Which cannae be done.
Before I wrap up this monster post, I’ll point you to one last BookBub Ads resource because every writer knows you must tickle more than one sense: I did a podcast series with Chris Syme at the Smartypants Book Marketing podcast. We did three shows and really got into the weeds on BookBub Ads and you can listen to those – free – right here:
Author websites are an increasingly important tool, but one that can cause a lot of aggravation. While most people have a handle on the basic set-up needed, they can quickly run into issues when trying to level up; these days your Author HQ needs to be slicker than the cobbled together afterthought we got away with a few years ago.
There are a bunch of solutions out there, but most aren’t fit for purpose in one way or another — either too expensive, overly complex, or just not attuned to the specific needs of the modern writer.
GoCreate.Me addresses all these problems with a selection of free and premium themes designed specifically for authors. I’m using one of their themes here at DavidGaughran.com myself and it is wonderful — with so much cool stuff going on at the back-end which will make your life easier. And it’s just plain nice to use, which is big for me after previous struggles. These days, I only use WordPress themes which spark joy.
I have a big breakdown below of what I think an author needs today from a website, before explaining how Parallax for Writers from GoCreate.Me helps me tackle all that. Some of you won’t need all that detail though, so here’s the meat:
2017 For Writers is the free theme. It’s not so-named for its age but because it’s a child theme based off the WordPress in-house Twenty Seventeen theme. You can check it out here where all the features are explained and there is even a helpful video showing you the theme in action
Parallax for Writers is the showstopper. This premium theme costs $199 for a lifetime license and that INCLUDES installation. I have a custom version of it powering DavidGaughran.com at the moment and I do love it so.
GoCreate.Me was set up by indie author Caro Bégin — who works in multiple genres under several names, and gets all the various requirements that different writers have. She’s also a WordPress expert, a pleasure to deal with, and possibly some kind of sorcerer; I’m not exactly sure.
If you are sold already, check out the links above, or you can book an installation slot directly here. Fair warning: I told my mailing list about this a few weeks ago and Caro’s calendar is filling up pretty fast — there’s only a couple of dates left in March and April is starting to go.
For those who want to dig deeper first, I have tons more information for you below. Two quick announcements first:
BookBub Ads Expert is done, and will be in your hands in a matter of days. If you are signed up to my marketing newsletter you already had a preview of some of the tips and strategies. Those lucky ducks will also hear about the release first AND get an exclusive launch discount. Sign up here today to ensure you get that email too. Of course, I’ll post about it on this blog at some point also, you’ll just miss that list-exclusive deal, and the free weekly marketing tips that come with it. There’s a sample newsletter below if you want to preview that content, but this book coming very soon is the main point, I guess. I’m unreasonably excited. Also about the accompanying sale on my other writerly books, he says, glancing at his thrice-underlined notes.
Events. I’m not doing many this year but will be presenting at the Self-Publishing Day 2019 in London on March 9th – in just a few weeks. You can read the jam-packed schedule here (affiliate link). Speakers include multi-million selling author Rachel Abbott, myself, and hybrid author/impresario Harry Bingham. We’re covering everything you need to start a successful self-publishing career – from cover design and email, to websites and reader magnets, as well as Amazon algorithms and ads. Last year was the first time we did this event and it was a huge success. But if you’re unsure whether the knowledge level is suitable for where you, simply and I’ll try to guide you appropriately. For those on the other side of the Atlantic, I’ll be in OK City at WriterCon in August and then at NINC in St. Pete’s Beach, FL in September. Between those, back over this side of the pond, I’ll be at the Festival of Writing in (Old) York. And that’s probably it as I have all the books to write.
Author Websites — What You Need
When I started self-publishing, author websites had limited use. I know one particular self-publisher who didn’t even have a website until he had sold half a million books. Websites were essentially viewed as a kind of online business card — some limited info about you and your books. Maybe a contact form. If the writer in question was a real self-starter, there was a blog… which inevitably fell into disrepair after a few rudderless posts.
All that has changed.
I wrote about the increasingly important role that author websites play in a newsletter back in January. It was the first in a four-part series called How To Sell Books in 2019that I did for my list over the last few weeks. I talked about author websites in the first part which you can read here.
(I don’t generally share newsletter stuff publicly, so if you want the rest, you have to sign up!)
As I said there:
This is your Author HQ, on a domain you control, and at minimum it should have some basic information about you and your books, along with links to where they are on sale, and — most important of all — an effective way of collecting readers’ email addresses. Any other presence you have scattered around the web should point back to this Author HQ.
A good Author HQ can fulfill a number of roles today. It’s still a place for readers to find out more information about you and your books, but can do all this stuff too:
Optimized squeeze pages for newsletter sign-ups
SEO-boosted blogging architecture for content marketing
Book-specific landing pages with geo-redirects to global retailers
Pixel tracking for Facebook ad custom audience remarketing
Smart follow buttons for social media platforms
Private areas with bonus resources for book purchasers
Customizable temporary promo pages optimized for conversion
Responsive layouts which are viewable on any device
But how do you get that all set up? What’s the best way to go about it?
To get the most options in terms of features and customization and ease of use, you really have to go with WordPress. It’s #1 for a reason. Some people like alternatives like Wix and Squarespace, and while they might appeal to those looking for a more drag-and-drop approach, I think going for WordPress and a self-hosted set-up will stand to you over time, even if there is a bit more of a learning curve.
You can start with the simpler, free version at WordPress.com if you prefer, but ultimately you will want to transition to self-hosted WordPress to get the full feature set, access to lots of cool plug-ins, and a much bigger (and better) selection of themes.
Which WordPress Theme?
This is usually where we start reaching for the turpentine. There are just so many and choosing one can be impossible. I’ve made several missteps on this front. For example, I bought a highly rated theme a few years ago — the X Theme — which had more features than an archive of Sunday papers. And every time I tried to build the most basic page it would leave me clawing my face in despair. It was just so complicated — and this is coming from someone who knows a little HTML.
The end result is that I built the most basic website possible, never incorporated my popular blog (that was still mooching around over at WordPress.com) and missed out on quite a few marketing strategies because I was just too frustrated with my website to tackle it, quite frankly.
It’s hard to find a good theme. None of them — until recently, at least — seemed designed with authors in mind, or could comfortably be adapted for our purposes without running into a wall (usually when you had the least capacity to deal with it). And there are just so many themes.
Even if you go to a recommended site like ThemeForest, you’re still going to be faced with over 40,000 themes. How can you possibly find something suitable? You’ll probably make the same mistake I did: look for something recommended and hope for the best.
Yeah. Doesn’t always work out, let me tell you. Which meant I was delighted when Caro Bégin told me she was working on some WordPress themes which would be designed from the ground up, specifically for authors. She approached me and a bunch of other self-publishers to get feedback on the themes, and also to see what kind of features we would like incorporated, what kind of needs we had, and so on. Because everyone runs their business a little differently and requirements vary a lot.
The end result — Parallax for Writers — has allowed me to revolutionize my Author HQ, and has given more than enough space for future growth too. Let me point out some of my favorite features, and explain why they are important and why this theme does them so well.
Key Features of Parallax for Writers
Responsiveness. The majority of traffic is now mobile which means you simply must optimize for mobile devices. This means having a responsive theme. You can see how responsive Parallax for Writers is by viewing this site on various devices, or simply manually making your browser window smaller. You’ll see it scales beautifully and is perfectly navigable at any screen size with menus that adapt for mobile also. If you don’t have a responsive theme, you’ll lose over half your customers. This is non-negotiable.
Killer Book Pages. I don’t need to tell you how important this is. I personally wanted something which placed the book covers front-and-centre. Could handle links to all the retailers without looking messy. And something we just looked pro — I think book pages often look messy on author websites. I love what Caro did here. Here’s an example of what my non-fiction pages look like. And here’s an example of what my fiction pages look like — the latter have things like excerpts while I didn’t want those for non-fiction. It’s really simple for me to add new books or edit any of the old info too, or put in a nice review quote. I can also put in series information at the top so readers can click on that to jump to the related titles further down. If I decide to enter Kindle Unlimited, I can nix the other links with a couple of clicks. And then if I want to add new retailers, or more formats, that’s a doddle too. Oh, and the best part: if someone clicks on one of those Amazon links, for example, the website will detect their location and direct them to the appropriate Amazon store globally AND insert the requisite affiliate link for that local store. Pretty nifty. (That’s Amazon OneLink by the way, which can be incorporated in any site, with a little fiddling.)
Customizable Home Pages. To show you how different I can make my home page look — even while keeping the same/similar branding that I use in the fiction and non-fiction halves of my business — check out the difference between my non-fiction homepage and my fiction homepage. The former is a bit more sales-y so I wanted a personal message up top to soften that a little. That’s actually a slot for a slideshow though, so if you wanted something to showcase various books or series in that space instead, you can do that too — as you can see from my fiction website. Note: that fiction site is a little sparse at the moment, but I’m focusing on that side of my business this year so big changes will be coming there too.
Please note that I’m running a custom version of Parallax for Authors. There are certain things built in to my particular website that aren’t included with the theme. For example, DavidGaughran.com is essentially two separate websites under the same tent, and that’s not a standard feature. My fiction domain is actually DavidGaughranBooks.com and that redirects to a separate half of this website.
There are very few links between the two halves of my site because I want it that way, for Also Bought reasons and so on; they are two distinct audiences with no natural crossover anyway. But this split also allows me to do other cool things, like have two different Facebook Pixels for each half of my website. Facebook Pixel tracking is built into the Parallax for Authors theme, just not the capacity to handle two — although that’s a pretty niche requirement.
More of you may require a blog though, and there are some key differences I should point out there — as my needs were quite different to the average author, given the sheer volume of content on this site, and the amount of traffic both feeding in every day, and the levels it can spike to when something goes viral.
I’ve made that great seething mass of content much more discoverable by categorizing all posts and making those categories easy to navigate via icons and tags and crisp buttons scattered hither and tither. A cool feature, no doubt, but not one bundled with the regular version of Parallax for Authors, and not one that 99% of you will need, quite frankly.
Some of my favorite new blogging toys aren’t custom features though — they come from using a free plugin called Yoast, which I can’t believe I went so long without using. It analyzes posts on the fly for SEO optimization, and nudges you to fiddle with titles and sub-headings and HTML slugs until you are maximizing the discoverability of each post on Google. I’m already seeing a difference on that front.
Yoast will also optimize social sharing too. If you drop one of these posts on Facebook, a special preview image tailored for that platform will be used, and I can have a custom headline and description too, if I wish. But if you drop one of these posts on Twitter, a different sized image will be used there, one more tailored for Twitter. Again, I can have a different headline and description there, if so desired. All very powerful stuff.
But back to the theme. If you want to see how the regular blogging set-up looks, check out Pete Bauer’s blog (and his website is here if you want to just see how the theme looks with different branding again). Just note that Pete has gone for quite a minimal blog look to fit with his branding, but you can populate the sidebars like I have, if you prefer, in the usual WordPress way. Just for completeness, the bloggy parts of my homepage are also custom to my site, but then most of you won’t care anyway — my reasons for needing that are relatively unique, and if you want a section on your homepage for news or upcoming events or whatever, you can do that easily.
Maybe a couple more examples of the theme in action will be useful. Here is the website of Sarah Woodbury, who has adapted the theme with a nice historical vibe to reflect her work. And here is Cidney Swanson’s website, with her branding reflecting her work in speculative YA of various shades.
I’ve only talked about some of the features I like most. I didn’t even tell you how you can customize the 404 pages so that if someone hits a broken link, you don’t totally lose them.
To see the full, considerable feature set and specifications, check out the page on GoCreate.Me for more. As I said up top, the price is $199, which amazingly includes installation, and as part of that process, Caro will work with you to get fonts and branding suitable for you site nailed down. Which is a steal, quite frankly.
In case you need more convincing, here’s a video from GoCreate.Me walking you through the theme. I’ll leave you with that while I go prep for a launch…
My book of the year is Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque. It has wonderful things to teach authors at any stage of their career; it helped to revolutionize mine.
This is a febrile time of year. The sins of the old year are washed away, and the ambitions of the new are laid out. It’s a clean slate, a fresh start, a time to gather stones together. It’s also a time when people like to review the year gone by and make predictions for the next.
I won’t poke that particular hornet’s nest, let’s just say there has been a fair amount of tumult. I remember saying a few years ago that chaos was the new normal and that people shouldn’t expect things to settle down any time soon — at least one prediction that has both aged well and remained evergreen.
I’m not one for fretting about the future, but I definitely am one for preparing. And the best insurance policy against any seismic changes in our industry is to have a large group of engaged readers which you regularly communicate with through a platform you control.
I knew this, and I still screwed it up. But I stopped screwing it up in 2018 and Newsletter Ninja is the reason why.
Please note that this is a somewhat biased recommendation. Here’s what I said when speaking about Newsletter Ninja a few months ago:
Disclosure: Tammi edited Digital 3 and Superfans, but I asked Tammi to edit those books because she knows her sh*t inside out and is a literal ninja.
I also wrote the foreword to this book, which Tammi has kindly allowed me to reprint here. And the reason why I wrote the foreword, and the many, many reasons why you should buy this book, will become very clear once you read the excerpt below — so thank you Tammi for letting me do that.
Before we get into it, I should mention that you can buy Newsletter Ninja from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Google. And you really, really should. Here’s, erm, me with more:
I’ve been self-publishing for seven years. That’s quite a long period to be screwing up almost the entire time, but I managed it! My whole approach to email was backwards. I did all the don’ts, ignored all the warnings, missed out on so many opportunities to build myself a happy and engaged audience of readers that it causes me literal pain when I think about it. I don’t say this to elicit sympathy. Rather, I hope that my long experience of doing exactly the wrong things can act as a deterrent—a giant sign made of bones spelling out “Here Be Wolves.”
What did I do exactly? I only emailed people when I had a new release. I thought I was being considerate and not clogging up everyone’s inboxes when, in reality, I was only turning up at their door when I wanted something: their money. This was compounded by my slow production speed, particularly with those painstakingly researched historical novels I seem to enjoy writing for some reason. That problem was further exacerbated by working in more than one genre, so the books came out even slower and the emails were even less frequent. Clearly, I felt I wasn’t antagonizing my most loyal readers enough with this set-up, so I decided to have one Frankenlist—my fiction and non-fiction peeps all lumped together—neatly ensuring that everyone really wouldn’t care about at least 50% of the (increasingly infrequent) messages I was sending out.
Yeah, I was officially Bad At Email.
There were more insidious effects too. Deep down I knew I was Bad At Email, but instead of this manifesting in some change of tack, I retreated into myself. Messages became less personal. I lacked confidence—dreading launch day instead of getting a thrill of anticipation when hitting my list. Because I knew I’d see a continuation of several disturbing trends: falling opens, reduced clicks, less conversions, increasingly tepid engagement, and then people unsubscribing or marking the email as spam as the final kick in the teeth. How did I get here? And how did I climb out of that hole?
I started listening to Tammi, is the short version. She started teaching a course on email and I was one of the first people to sign up. Yes, I was at least partly motivated by wanting to support a friend, but Tammi sounded like she knew her stuff and I was beginning to accept that I needed to radically change my approach. I had already taken one important step: I had separated those fiction and non-fiction readers. But I didn’t really know what to do next, and I was hoping I’d get some ideas from Tammi’s course.
Within a month I had started a brand-new mailing list with a five-part automated onboarding sequence, during which I doled out my custom-written reader magnet which was getting rave reviews. I had pivoted to a weekly newsletter approach and weeded out the dead weight on my old list, and open and click rates were climbing.
Within two months I had launched my first book to these new readers, and it hung out at the top of the charts for a considerable time. My newsletter subscribers were responding in greater numbers than ever because my “ask” (and a new release is still an “ask” because you are looking for their money!) came after a string of “gives” for a change.
Within six months I had re-energized my existing non-fiction list and had a brand-new list containing thousands of new readers— passionate and engaged and loyal subscribers who not only opened and clicked but actually looked forward to getting my emails. I know this because they email me and tell me! I can’t explain to you what this means to me, how much I have been reinvigorated by this. My whole career feels like it has been rebooted, and I look to the future with confidence rather than trepidation. I get a tingle again every time I hit my list.
I don’t know where you are in your career or whether you have made all these mistakes too. If you are just at the beginning of your journey, you have the chance here to do things right from the start. But if you have screwed things up as badly as me, I want to give you the confidence that you can turn things around—remarkably quickly too. Even quicker if you haven’t ticked every box on the Giant List O’Mistakes!
So, just listen to Tammi, learn how to put value in every single email, and start building a passionate list of engaged readers. I wish I did it years ago.
BookBub Ads is the platform where I’ve seen most growth in the last year, to the point where it is rivaling Facebook, especially when factoring in conversion. The amount of money I can spend effectively on BookBub — and by that I mean get an immediate return on investment — has quadrupled in the last twelve months.
This might sound incredible, in the literal sense, to anyone who hasn’t cracked BookBub Ads yet. It can be an unusual platform for those more used to Facebook or Amazon Ads, leading to an unexpected learning curve, perhaps. But I find that if you take the time to understand what works on BookBub, it’s the most responsive and consistent ad platform out there. Getting over that first hump is where many authors seem to struggle though. I know that from running an eight-part series on BookBub Ads to my mailing list earlier this year.
Well, there’s help on the way. I’ll have a book called BookBub Ads Expert coming very soon — make sure to sign up to my list to hear about that first and get an exclusive launch discount that will be offered nowhere else — and I have a wonderful guest post today to give you a headstart while you’re waiting for that.
If you have attended any major writer conference in America over the last couple of years, you will probably have encountered Carlyn Robertson and her BookBub colleagues — who spend a lot of time understanding author’s needs and taking feedback. She has a very useful guest post for you today which is filled with high-level insights and actionable takeaways.
Here’s Carlyn with more:
The BookBub Ads platform is the most flexible marketing tool BookBub offers right now — it gives advertisers the ability to target narrow, customized audiences of active BookBub readers, to run promotions entirely on their own schedules, and to have complete control over their costs and budgets. This flexibility means that you can use BookBub Ads to supplement any kind of promotion or marketing initiative.
David has discussed how he uses BookBub Ads to tactically support launches and other promotions when he needs a last-minute, sure-fire boost in sales, so we wanted to share some additional ways authors are successfully using BookBub Ads to support different marketing goals and sell more books.
Boosting New Release Sales
A new book is a chance to both re-engage your current fan base and to introduce new readers to your work, so new release launches are often an important time to make big marketing investments. BookBub now offers several marketing tools dedicated to new release promotion, and many authors have made BookBub Ads part of their launch plans. You can use Ads to promote your book throughout the launch period and personalize your messaging to target existing fans or hook new readers.
To reach existing fans, you can target yourself with BookBub Ads. Unlike other ad platforms, nearly every author with published ebooks is available to select as an ad target on BookBub. This audience includes not only your BookBub followers, but any readers who have interacted with you on our platform, whether by visiting your profile or clicking on one of your books in an email. If you’ve run a Featured Deal before, this means you can retarget any readers who clicked on that deal to tell them about your new release.
You can also target the fans of similar authors with BookBub Ads, which is a fantastic opportunity to reach a relevant audience of new readers who are highly likely to be interested in your books. To find comp authors, many authors look at their also-boughts on retailers, study trends in their genres, or even ask their readers for suggestions. We recommend searching for your potential targets on BookBub.com to confirm that they have a large enough audience on our platform. You can also browse popular BookBub authors by genre here (note that this page won’t display any authors you’re already following on BookBub!). You can find additional tips from a number of successful advertisers on choosing and assessing comp author targets here.
CD Reiss targeted both her own fans and the fans of similar authors for the launch of a second book in a duet, using different strategies to appeal to each audience.
The ad on the left targeted CD Reiss fans on BookBub during the last four days before the book’s launch. The copy — “How will the game end?” — appeals to readers who have already read book one and are dying to know what happens next, and the launch date further builds anticipation and entices them to preorder. The ad on the right targeted fans of CD Reiss and fans of a number of comp authors she’d tested during the launch of book one. It was meant to appeal to readers who were either waiting for the duet to be completed before purchasing or hadn’t heard of the books before and would want to start at the beginning with book one. Both of these ad campaigns had over a 3% CTR.
Lauren Blakely used BookBub Ads to support her launch of Mister O, which hit multiple bestseller lists in its first three months after publication. Lauren was more focused on exposure than ROI, so she targeted broadly, set a high CPM bid, and invested her budget on ads with high CTRs. She reached thousands of readers with this campaign and drove sales for her new book at $3.99.
The ad on the left was targeted to just her own fans, and drove 1,400 clicks at a 4.9% CTR. The ad on the right was targeted to her own fans plus those of 34 comp authors, generating over 5,000 clicks at a 1.3% CTR.
Gaining Marketing Insights During Preorder Periods
One of the best times to run A/B tests for an upcoming release is during the preorder period. Preorders can be a tougher sell for new readers, but you can still gain valuable insights by comparing the CTRs of different ad images among different comp authors’ fans. Once you know what images and targets deliver the best results, you can invest your budget in those ads as soon as the book is live and hit the ground running.
Jules Barnard ran tests during her preorder of Tempting Levi with a goal of simply breaking even rather than driving a positive ROI. She used this time to figure out which ad designs and copy would drive the most engagement among new-to-her audiences so she was prepared to ramp up her spend on the most effective ads during launch week. Her ads were one part of a larger marketing plan that helped her hit the USA Today list with this book.
Jules found that “less was more” in her ad designs. The image on the left had a CTR below 2%, which didn’t meet her goals. She was much happier with the performance of the image on the right, which earned a CTR above 3%.
Gaining Branding Insights
Ads allow you to gain practical marketing insights that can inform future ad campaigns, but they can also provide big-picture branding insights.
We hosted a panel on preorder promotion at BookExpo featuring marketers from top traditional publishing houses, and one takeaway was they consider their preorder periods testing grounds for marketing copy. Ads help them determine which elements of a book are resonating with readers the most — and they were often surprised! These insights allowed them to shift gears in their promotional plans to adjust to the signals readers were sending and to better align with their preferences before launch. And at RWA, indie author Skye Warren said she’ll even change her book descriptions if new ad copy outperforms an ad using quotes from her existing description.
BookBub Ads are particularly efficient for running tests because they start serving right away and report results within the hour. But you can test more than just ad designs or blurbs—Tricia O’Malley used BookBub Ads to A/B test her covers! Her goal was to see how the fans of authors whose readers she wanted to acquire responded to new cover designs before updating her series. She ran five rounds of tests, investing $20 to $40 in each test ad, and has already seen a 40% increase in downloads of book 1 after switching to the winning cover design.
Stacking Promotions for Discounts to Hit Bestseller Lists
As David’s written about before, BookBub Ads are excellent for promoting discounts. BookBub readers are always on the hunt for new books, and discounts are an extremely effective way to hook new readers to your brand — 95% of BookBub readers have purchased a book from an author they hadn’t heard of before because of a discount.
In his tests, the image on the right performed 40% better than the one on the left. Andrew started running this ad before the Featured Deal and continued throughout the promotion week. He used a high CPM bid to reach as many readers as possible, since his goal was unit sales rather than ROI.
Continually Promoting a First-in-Series
Promoting the first book in a series to readers who haven’t heard of you before can be a really effective way to introduce new readers to your brand. It’s also easier to run profitable ads for books in a series because advertising the first book usually results in sales of the rest of the series, too. This increases the value of the readers you acquire, which in turn increases the amount you can afford to pay to acquire them.
Continuous ads offer authors the ability to set a low daily budget and run ads on an ongoing basis, driving consistent clicks and sales to a series. Eva Pohler used a continuous BookBub Ads campaign to promote her $3.99 first-in-series in the lead-up to the launch of the 3rd book in the series. With a budget of $10 per day, she doubled the daily sales of book 1 from 2-3 to 5 or more and increased sales of books 2 and 3.
Eva targeted her ad to her own fans as well as the fans of 20 similar authors. She set a high CPC bid ($2/ click) to ensure her campaign would be competitive in the auction, but ended up paying far less than that on average ($0.65/ click). She ran this continuous campaign for over a month, and including the revenue from series sell-through, it remained ROI-positive during that time.
Final Takeaways and Trends
There are a few things all of these successful campaigns had in common that you should keep in mind when setting up your own ads.
1. Design custom creative
We provide a simple template to build your ad creative directly in the ad set-up form, but well-designed personalized ad images tend to drive higher click-through rates. As you can see from the above examples, clean and simple with just a few elements tends to work best! You can easily design your own ad images using free tools like Canva or Book Brush. For further inspiration, check out some engaging BookBub Ads designs here.
2. Target readers based on author interest for high CTRs
Choosing the right author targets is key to generating clicks and sales from your ads. Category targeting alone is usually far too broad to achieve a positive ROI, but if you’re targeting authors who write across multiple genres, you can combine category and author targeting to narrow your audience to only the most relevant readers. You can find some tips from successful advertisers on identifying author targets here.
3. Clearly identify and prioritize your goals
If you want to maximize sales or exposure, you may have to sacrifice ROI. If you want a positive ROI, you may have to sacrifice scale and target a narrower audience. If you want to run certain tests or gain particular insights, you may have to sacrifice sales — for example, testing different cover designs could impact conversion rates if readers click through and see a different cover on the retailer. However, if you know what you’re trying to accomplish with your ads, you can identify the tradeoffs you may have to make and set up your campaigns accordingly.
4. Run tests
Running tests is the best way to determine which targets will be most effective for your books and which ad images will encourage readers to click. Use low budgets ($5-10 can be sufficient!) and a high CPM bid when running test ads to win impressions and gain insights as quickly as possible.
Carlyn Robertson works for BookBub’s Partners Team, where she ensures that authors and book marketers know how to use BookBub’s tools to accomplish their marketing goals and effectively promote their books. Follow her on Twitter at @CarlynAtBookBub.
Most web traffic is now mobile, but we can forget that when considering how to make a pretty Facebook Page, leading to ugly header images that are cropped in weird ways — a terrible first impression to prospective new readers.
The tipping point with mobile was probably reached some time in late 2016 or early 2017, yet here we are in 2018, often still optimizing for desktop, when most of our customers are accessing our web pages and viewing our ads on mobile devices of some description — not just phones but tablets of all kinds too.
When I was redesigning this website, I was very conscious of that and made sure it was responsive and looked good for all screen sizes. And that requires more than just the screen resizing and things still being legible and images rendering correctly and buttons still working and navigation remaining intuitive. You also have to think about things like sign-up pages and sidebars too.
One thing that seems to get regularly forgotten about is your Facebook Page. We all understand the importance of having a pretty Facebook Page these days — particularly if you are investing in ever-more-expensive ads, it’s crucial to have an enticing welcome on your Page itself, so you can catch as many “spillover” Likes as possible from your ad spend. Anything that helps with ROI these days is sorely welcome.
Unfortunately, it seems that lots of authors haven’t checked what their Facebook Page looks like on mobile, which can lead to some cropping of that desktop-friendly image. There is contradictory advice out there on how to resolve it, which doesn’t help, and lots of info that is out of date too as Facebook keeps changing the recommended dimensions in an ongoing effort to improve the mobile experience.
I combed through all the advice online and did a bit of testing myself, and put together not just one solution, but two, and you can choose whichever approach suits the image you would like to use—because most sites advise an approach which leads to side-cropped images, when sometimes only a top crop will do.
By the way, the below was sent to my mailing list over the summer, and those lucky ducks have been swanning around with mobile-optimized Facebook Cover Photos for five whole months now, snaffling readers from under your inexpertly cropped noses. If you want to join that crew and get the drop on the latest marketing advice every Friday gratis then sign up here. You get a free copy of Amazon Decoded too!
For those of you who are already on my soon-to-be-universally-acclaimed mailing list and feast each Friday on these multifarious marketing morsels, I won’t leave you high-and-dry. You can check out this guest post I did over at the BookBub Partners Blog today — Book Marketing Mistakes You Need To Stop Making. The rest of you can read that in a few minutes. First, scroll down and we’ll give your Facebook Page a quick makeover.
The reason we are starting here is because an enticing Facebook Page will collect Likes for us passively in the background — and these “organic” Likes are some of the best quality Likes you can get, costing nothing too. Also, having a tricked-out Facebook Page will also increase the “free” spillover Likes we get from any advertising, helping with that ever-slippier ROI. Facebook helpfully encourages users to Like advertiser pages in various ways, but you aren’t going to get many spillover Likes if your page looks like this one by my lazy friend, who was in no way invented for this spurious exercise.
Jeremiah No Goode if you ask me! *awkward laughter*
There are a whole variety of ways you can pretty up your Facebook Page and make it enticing to your target audience, but two things are key: engaging content, and a nice Facebook Page Cover Photo (that’s the official term for the banner-like image at the top of your Page). We’ll get into the topic of content marketing another day; here we’ll focus on making a good first impression with a neat, on brand image.
In its continuing mission to keep graphic designers busy, Facebook is always tinkering with image sizes. Compounding this is the rather problematic issue of the plethora of screen sizes out there, and how to serve images on all those different devices without distorting them.
Facebook has made it simple in one sense — we can only upload one image for all these different audiences — but complicated in another as that image will be cropped differently on different devices AND it will either crop the sides or the top/bottom, depending on what shape image we upload.
Confused? Good. That means these images I prepared won’t go to waste!
You will get tons of different answers if you Google something like “Facebook Page Cover Photo Size 2018” — some of which contradict each other and many of which are plain wrong, quite frankly. I’ve done endless testing on this, so I can set you straight. And maybe give you some extra options you didn’t know you had.
Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t just one optimal image size for a Facebook Page Cover, there are two. Facebook will always display a more postcard-shaped image on Mobile and a kind of letterbox shape on Desktop, and it will either crop the top/bottom or the two sides, depending on which image size of those two you choose to upload.
I know what you’re thinking (“where’s the whiskey?”) but don’t do what many authors do and just upload a Desktop-friendly image. While it’s tempting to not give a Jerusalem fig what Mobile looks like, that’s also a huge mistake. Most traffic is Mobile now, as that includes all tablets as well as phones, so don’t be lazy here. Some images can look TERRIBLE on Mobile. You don’t want your first impression to a potential new reader being one of a sloppy-ass mofo who couldn’t be bothered tucking in his shirt and combing his hair. That particular delight can be saved for meatspace.
And this bit of fussiness is actually a godsend, in a way, because you can choose whether you want your image cropped at the top/bottom, or at the sides, so it looks prettiest on all devices. And some images you may wish to use will only be suitable for cropping one way or the other — as I’ll explain shortly with hotly anticipated visual aids.
Plus, I’m going to make this pretty easy for you, so stop grousing. Yes, I can hear you.
I’ll lay out your options and point out what you need to watch out for, and illustrate it all with examples. That should give (or your designer) enough ideas to get going, and you can test it all on a “fake” Facebook Page like I did, if you like. As for the images themselves, getting a pro to do this is very cheap, particularly when getting your covers designed, but you can also fool around yourself Canva. (Some tips here.) But whether you do it yourself, or outsource, you’ll need to know this stuff, so read on padre.
Facebook officially advises… well the official advice is kind of crap actually. A little misleading, and most definitely incomplete. I vote for ignoring it altogether as it just confuses more than anything. And it completely neglects one of the options here, because, as I said, you have two: the Side Crop, which is the standard approach recommended everywhere, and the Top Crop — which many advice articles miss out on.
For the Side Crop, you need to upload an 828×315 image. That’s what will display on Desktop. Here’s an example from our friend Jeremiah.
While he’s mending his lazy ways, he hasn’t been thorough enough, because you also need to factor Mobile into your design, and, in the above example, a good chunk of those sides will be lopped off. Like so:
Nightmare! Imagine that was your new release or website address or something else really important you needed readers to see? And that’s aside from the fact it looks pretty unprofessional.
So many writers do this. Which is a shame, because it’s not really that complicated once you wrap your head around the idea that you should include no important stuff at the sides as more than half of visitors to your Page won’t see it. Like this:
But hey, I hear you say from the other end of the internet tubes, what if I have an image which I really need to use which has important stuff at the sides? Don’t be mad, Chad. Get ready for the Top Crop!
You can “trick” Facebook into lopping off the top and bottom instead by upload a slightly different sized image — namely 828×461. And you really might need that option if, for example, you want a new Facebook Cover Photo to celebrate Book 9 of your bestselling series. Just remember to factor where that cropping happens into your design.
Here’s what a Top Crop looks like on mobile — still at 828×461 because this time the cropping happens on Desktop. Notice I put nothing important at the top/bottom this time.
Hey, a gal can dream.
This is what it looks like on Desktop with that cropping in play.
This isn’t the place to get into branding too deeply, but aside from when you are pushing a certain book at launch or promo time perhaps, you should consider having consistent branding across your entire web presence. I’ll give you a real-world example using my own Facebook Page.
This is my Facebook Cover Photo. At least, this is what it looks like on Desktop.
And here is what it looks like on Mobile.
Aaaaaand then this is the homepage of this here website.
Once you have prettied up your Facebook Page, you are ready to start rolling out organic content to grow your Facebook Likes.
* * *
I send out advice like the above every single Friday to the thousands of authors on my marketing mailing list, where we regularly cover all sorts of marketing topics from newsletter engagement and creating superfans, to launches and relaunches, and advertising on BookBub, Facebook, and AMS. It’s all free, no catch, so if you aren’t signed up, you really should do that here.
And if you haven’t checked out my post over at BookBub, get to it!
A situation blew up at Amazon over the weekend which is ghosting most KDP ebooks (and many Amazon imprint titles) for international readers who use the US Kindle Store — which has also exposed a glaring security problem. Amazon appears to be unaware of either issue.
This issue — which is either a bug or a very badly bungled roll-out — is causing great confusion as its effects are only visible to those outside the USA, which might explain why Amazon has been so slow to address it, or even understand the problem, it seems.
The first reports of this issue were from a few weeks ago when Australian readers who use the US Kindle Store were unable to see a handful of new releases. It seems to have spread significantly since then. This weekend I noticed the issue myself for the first time. Buy buttons had disappeared from a couple of my ebooks and they were no longer appearing in Search results or on my Author Page. It was as if they had been ghosted. Read More...