It’s been an exciting year for Mark Dawson. When last I spoke with Mark, he was busy writing bestsellers during his commute to his day job. Since then, he’s built up a six-figure-a-year publishing business using email campaigns and targeted Facebook ads. On top of that, Mark’s also joined Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint with his Beatrix Rose series and — oh, yes — he was recently featured in Forbes!
Why These Words – The short story course that I am taking.
The Self-Publishing Formula – Click to check out Mark’s excellent free Facebook ad videos.
Mark Dawson started self-publishing in late 2013, with The Black Mile (Soho Noir Thrillers, #1). He followed that first book up with numerous releases in 2014, in the Soho Noir Thrillers series, as well as his popular John Milton series, and his as-popular Beatrix Rosespin-off series. He has since sold the Beatrix Rose books to Amazon’s thriller imprint Thomas & Mercer. He’s also sold the audio rights for his John Milton series to Audible, and was recently featured in Forbes.
While Mark has continued to grow in popularity with readers, he’s also making quite a name for himself in the indie community as a savvy Facebook marketer. Not only is he finding a lot of success with his ads, he’s also teaching his strategies to other writers.
Last year, Mark was writing a new book every six weeks. Since leaving his full-time day job, he has shifted his focus from building up his catalog of books to optimizing what he has, and so he has slowed down on production. He estimates he now spends 50% of his time writing new stuff and 50% on business stuff and growing his business.
And how is he growing his business?
Thou Shalt Build Thy Mailing List
Mark is religious about his mailing list, what he considers one of his most valuable assets. At 15,000 subscribers strong, it’s clear to see why! But how does he get them to sign up?
He starts by introducing readers to his starter library. He places CTAs (Calls to Action) that provide links to his website and subscription form in the front and back of each book, on his website, on his product page, as well as prominently on major ads like BookBub. Readers who click on his links will find themselves at his beautifully-designed website where they are offered a very compelling deal of four free books (that include the first chapter from other books in his catalog).
Mark maintains separate segmented lists from each of his links so he can track where his subscribers are coming from. Further, he surveys his readers after they finish receiving an automated sequence of emails, a practice that yields accurate, up-to-date, and useful information that informs his future business decisions. That’s how Mark knows that his median reader buys 7 to 8 books from him.
Regarding the “Power of Free,” Mark says he ran a BookBub ad on a free book and ultimately gave away 100,000 copies. While some writers might feel they’ve cannibalized their market of readers and lost potential revenue from 100,000 sales, Mark sees 100,000 new readers…and if they like his free book, he’s got 16 other books they can buy.
The Game Changer: Facebook
Mark currently spends $200-$300 a day to earn $500-$600 in return, but it took a lot of studying and experimenting to see what works best.
His first Facebook ad campaign, he tried to steer people to his KU books as it seemed like a pretty easy proposition, but it didn’t work well because it was difficult to target KU subscribers. But he saw enough success from the ad to see it was interesting.
So he ran another ad steering potential readers to his website and subscription sign-up form by offering his free starter library of four books. For this one, he targeted Facebookers who had liked author pages of writers who wrote similar kinds of stories to his, like Lee Childs. Over course of 6 to 7 weeks, he spent $2,500, and added 4,000 new subscribers, a cost that works out to about $.65 per subscriber.
While subscribers who come in through Facebook are not quite as “valuable” as people who subscribe from links inside his books — what he calls “warm leads” — he’s discovered through surveys that once offered a chance for a paid sale, subscribers who come in from Facebook ads are taking action. And while it’s not as high a percentage as his “warm leads,” it’s enough to make it worthwhile.
Once signed up, new subscribers receive a series of automated sequenced emails that lead them through their four free books. Then the fifth email has an offer for the paid sale. Through diligent data tracking and analysis, Mark has found that 2.5% of subscribers who come in through ads will buy that book.
Now he regularly runs Facebook ads for paid sales, but cautions that it only works with higher-priced items. In order to determine if a product is worthwhile to run an ad on, he takes his royalty amount he’d get for a paid sale and divides that by the cost of sending a click to the Amazon page. Typically, you can get clicks for $.25 to $.40 apiece. For example, if you have an item for $6.99, and your portion of the sale is $5.20 (70% commission rate), and you divide that by the cost of $.25 a click, then you get 20.8 — which means you’ve got to make a sale at least every 20.8 clicks in order to cover what you spent. Anything above that is profit.
Mark says he tends to get a 100% return on his investment, spending about $300-350 a day to make $600, but notes there are some romance writers who are making as much as a 400% return. Your mileage will vary based on the quality of your product, your genre, and the value you’re offering future readers. Of course, there’s no guarantee for any ad campaign and some are losing money…but he also points out that writers don’t have to start out with a daily budget of $300. He himself started small, spending $5 or $10 to get started.
The Forbes Effect
Mark was recently interviewed by Forbes, along with other indie authors, something that was arranged through Amazon for their Author HQ authors at this year’s London Book Fair. To his pleasant surprise, the resulting article was titled “Amazon Pays $450,000 A Year to This Self-Published Writer,” and featured his photograph. It’s brought him a lot of attention — he’s been approached for an interview with The Daily Telegraph, as well as a radio interview — but he says he’s glad to do it to help “kill the lie,” to focus people’s attention away from outliers to the majority of working indie writers who might not be making a killing, but they’re making a living.
He also reports that since the article came out on 4/17/15, he’s gone from 100 new subscribers a day to 300!
Although Mark went through ACX to get his Beatrix Rose series into audio format, he approached Audible Studios and ultimately sold the John Milton series. It was an 80/20 decision, he says. While the experience of going through ACX was great and he was happy with the final product, he decided that his time was better spent elsewhere in his business than in screening auditions and managing production. In exchange for the audio rights for seven years under his contract with Audible, he received an advance and, more importantly, their marketing resources. Having a high-powered partner invested in his books is invaluable. Thanks to that advance, Audible is motivated to promote his books to their customers, and who knows their customers better than they? He points out that these are things that are typically beyond the read of most indie authors, and so the trade-off is worth it.
In the meantime, he’s also got a new book coming out through Thomas & Mercer, as well as developing a paid course on Facebook advertising through his new website Self Publishing Formula, where he currently offers a free mini-course to writers looking to increase their own subscribership.
“I’ll take a subscription over a sale any day of the week. It’s much more valuable.”
- Offer free incentives to entice new subscribers. Whether it’s a free story or free books, make sure your offer is compelling and feels like a solid value to your reader.
- Mind your CTAs. Make sure you have links pointing readers to your website subscription form in the front of your books as well as the back. Simon notes that he gets three times the number of subscribers from his front-of-the-book links as he does from his back-of-the-book links. Make sure to include these links everywhere you exist online, from promo ads to product page. Get those readers through your front door and reading something fun from you…
- Educate yourself. Mark joked that he was majoring in Facebook, but it’s really not a joke. He invested many, many hours learning as much as he could about targeted ads and marketing through podcasts, blogs, tutorials, and articles. Be sure to check out the resources listed under “Links” at the top of this article, as well as Mark’s new resource for indie authors at Self Publishing Formula.
- Afraid to take on Facebook ads? Dip your toe in the pool by starting with small budgets of $5 to $10 to gain experience and confidence.
- Set up those autoresponders, folks! Resistance is futile! You’re gonna have to do it eventually. Just block off an afternoon and tackle it. It’s really not too difficult or expensive, it’ll save you time, and it’ll bring in more revenue. All good things!
- Track your data! Mark is diligent with his record-keeping, tracking his sales and stats across all platforms daily on spreadsheets. While it is a time-consuming task, it provides Mark with a clear understanding of where his business is on a daily basis. Definitely a habit to strive for.
- Don’t forget that extra 9%! When you run ads to paid products, make sure you’re signed up and using your Amazon Affiliate link. Not only do you get an extra 9% on the retail price of your book if purchased, you get a commission on any other items that person purchases through your link over the next 24 hours! One time, Mark got a $100 commission because a customer bought a $1,000 watch through his link. Free money! So if you don’t have an affiliate account set up yet, remedy that as soon as possible!
Have you used Facebook ads to market your books, and if so, what kind of results have you gotten? If not, do you think it’s something you might try in the future?
Leave a comment below or get in touch with Simon by email at firstname.lastname@example.org