From the host’s website:
“This is the best advice I have heard for
beginning ALL authors in a long time.
In this podcast you will hear some of the best most down to earth advice, and you will notice that Mike really cares about you struggling authors out there.
My favorite part is not the absolutely GOLD advice about facebook ads, but how Mike DEMYSTIFIES everything.”
What you’ll learn:
- The Lazy Man’s (or Woman’s) Way to building your own storytelling empire… if like to keep things simple then you’ll LOVE my publishing strategy (it doesn’t get any easier)…
- How to use Facebook’s least understood advertising feature to sell more of your books while reducing your overall ad costs…
- Why I’m super jealous of Andy Weir (and it’s not just because he gets to work with Matt Damon)…
- My “Isaac Asimov” story publishing philosophy that generated over $700,000 in the my first year as a self-published author…
- Why I’ve dumped all my books into KU for the time being…
- And much, much more…
Here’s the audio version of the interview:
Here’s the link to Eric’s musings on the Interview (plus his free offer of a Facebook training course):
(I have not personally reviewed his webinar nor have I seen his FB ads course for authors. The above link is not an affiliate link. Eric was just a super nice guy. Thought I’d send him some link love.)
Here’s the transcript for you readers out there:
Eric: Welcome to Zbooks’ second podcast of all. I have the honor now to interview Mr. Michael Shreeve. In case you don’t know who Michael Shreeve is, he wrote this article, How I Sold 978 Fiction Ebooks Per Day in 2014 and, ever since that, me and my readers have been just foaming at the mouth to interview this guy. Let’s get to know Mr. Mike Shreeve. Mike, you’re in Seattle right now?
Mike: Yeah, just up in Washington here. It’s been nice weather, things are going swimmingly, just writing away.
Eric: Right, so when I saw this article, How I Sold 978 Fiction Ebooks, I also went to the podcast, I don’t even remember what website that was and the podcast is fascinating. You write 10,000 words a day?
Mike: Yeah, between 10,000 and 15,000 words per day. I usually will wake up around 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning, get right to work and go until about 11:00 at night.
Mike: That’s about six days a week.
Eric: Yeah, that’s dedication.
Eric: And another thing is, what really gets the readers interested is the Facebook ads and I’m afraid most people are going to think it’s a silver bullet. You know, I write a book, I make a Facebook ad and then boom, I’m in business, and I’m sure it’s not like that.
Mike: I think the silver bullet is writing a lot of books. I think if you look at any indie author’s success, with the exception of Andy Weir and The Martian, of whom I’m very jealous. That guy struck it rich off of one book, but I think if you take the sort of mid-lister approach, which is the model I’m sort of aiming after, it’s the Isaac Asimov approach to building a writing career…
Eric: Oh, my favorite.
Mike: Writing as many books as you possibly can, then it doesn’t matter what type of advertising you do. I think there’s guys like that Stephenson guy who just did that big product launch…
Eric: Nick Stephenson?
Mike: Yeah, Nick Stephenson. Nick Stephenson and then there’s another guy whose just released Facebook training.
Eric: Oh, it’s hot right now.
Mike: Yeah, they’re releasing a lot of Facebook trainings, but I think the silver bullet is to have a lot of books and then to find a way to get all of those books in front of people. Now, it doesn’t matter if it’s Facebook, it doesn’t matter if it’s stuff like Free Books E or BookBub. I’m using Pinterest ads a lot right now and they’re actually working better than Facebook ads. I’m also using Facebook video ads, which are getting cheaper cost per click and better downloads.
That will always change. The way that you deliver your content is always going to change, that’s the nature of the internet. A year ago Facebook ads were costing me about one penny to two pennies per click, now they’re costing me about six to eight pennies per click and I consider myself very, very good at Facebook ads.
As these sorts of advertising platforms get more popular, they get more competitive and they get more expensive. The silver bullet isn’t the ad platform, it’s the having a ton of books and then figuring out a way that works for you to get those books in front of other people and that will always change.
Eric: That’s great advice. It’s the process, not the platform, right?
Mike: Yeah, exactly. Even look at James Patterson. James Patterson built his career by, he got his first book traditionally published and then the publishers were like, “Hey, we’re not going to give you a big marketing budget.”
Well, he was an ad guy, and he said, “Well, forget this, I’m going to drop the $2,000 myself and run a TV commercial,” and he was one of the first authors to run a TV commercial.
Now he’s running YouTube commercials. He’s one of the only authors that I’ve ever seen do that. Even he is changing over time, the way that he’s delivering the advertising for his books as well.
Eric: Interesting. You mentioned Nick Stephenson. I read his reader magnets and I did it and that’s how I got my first followers, in one day, no problem. I’m a big fan of Nick Stephenson.
What do you think about the perma-free model where you always have the first book in the series free, leads to the next book and so on?
Mike: I think that it worked amazingly last year.
Eric: You sold a million or gave away a million books?
Mike: I gave away a little over a million, yeah, and then sold something like 350,000 or something like that, I’d have to get the specific numbers. For every ten that we’d give away, three would buy into the next book.
What I’m actually doing this year is getting away from that model and the reason is two-fold. One is, there’s a better way to give away free books and that’s Kindle Unlimited.
Mike: You can actually target with your Facebook ads people who like your genre and also like Kindle Unlimited. In other words, people who are members of Kindle Unlimited, who are in your genre. You can show Facebook ads to them and you can say in the Facebook ad, “Hey, this book is free on Kindle Unlimited,” and then they go download it for free. There’s a couple of advantages to that.
One, you get paid for the pages read, so you get paid for giving away free books. The second one is that Kindle Unlimited, as much data as I’ve seen, is given preference in ranking, especially over free books. Even about last September/October, it used to be that a free book, depending on how many downloads it would get, would get the same ranking as a paid book. Then they changed that and it got less effective. Now with Kindle Unlimited I think it’s even less effective in terms of the visibility you get on Amazon itself.
Eric: This is gold because ever since Amazon has changed, what is it, their payout, in Kindle Unlimited and their reviewing algorithms, they’re deleting more reviews. A lot of authors are just steaming and they’re saying, “Okay, I’m going wide now and no more Kindle Unlimited, no more Kindle Select. I’m going all platforms now,” and you now are directly countering that because in order to be in Kindle Unlimited, you have to be Kindle Select, right?
Eric: You’re three months bound to Amazon, you’re allowed to put 10% of the book in a preview on your blog or anywhere, but you have to stay with Amazon, you’re not allowed to publish it anywhere and this seems like a one-two punch, because I’ve tried these Facebook ads already and I have found them much easier to use than AdWords, but you can’t revive a dead book!
You were talking about this targeting and that is what I find fascinating with Facebook, because with AdWords, you do keywords, what people search for, which has its advantages, but with Facebook, you can go direct to a group of people and what happened with me was, I said, “Okay, English in this, interests that, blah-blah-blah, divorced dads,” and then I got 24 ‘Likes’ on my ad from the United Arab Emirates and not one sale.
Everybody liked my coverage. Gee, thanks, 24 ‘Likes’. Buy the book, no, it’s not that simple. This seems like a really interesting one-two punch, you can target the people in Kindle Unlimited. In Facebook, I did not find that pull-down menu.
Mike: Yeah, so you can do that. Another thing that you can do also is if you’re getting sales on your book, and this really only kind of works if you have some volume, but if you’re getting sales on your book and you have a link in the back of your book to say, “Hey, come join my email list, either get a free story or just to stay updated,” you can put a tracking pixel on the page of your website where they go to sign-up for their email list.
Eric: A Facebook tracking pixel?
Mike: Yeah. What that Facebook tracking pixel will do is it will build the website custom audience and what that means is it will track the specific people who have ended up on that page. Then what you do is you take that website custom audience and you build a new audience off of it called a ‘lookalike’ audience.
The lookalike audience will take basically the data and break down who hit that page, figure out more about them and then it will build an audience of a million or two million people who are just like that person. Then you can run an ad to that lookalike audience and it will convert significantly better than just running ads to generic interests.
Eric: This is gold. I am going to publish this. For me, I’m a beginner, so I understand the pixel, I’ve put that on my web page too and what happens when people start visiting your website, it starts transferring to Facebook. You go to your ad-dashboard and then you have an audience there, from that pixel. So why make a lookalike audience? You’ve already got it?
Mike: What happens is, the website custom audience, the pixel that you put on your website to collect people, that will only collect the people who visit your website. These are people who have already shown interest or already bought the book. We don’t necessarily want to pay money to get those people to buy our books. Not yet, not in the beginning.
You’ve got this website custom audience of people who are just a select group of people, let’s say it’s 100 people, what the lookalike audience does, which is generated by Facebook’s algorithm, based off of the data you provide with the website custom audience. What it does is it says, basically, you say “Dear Facebook, here’s my website custom audience, can you give me a million more people who are exactly like the 100 people that already visited my site?”
Eric: That is awesome, it’s like a multiplier.
Mike: Yeah, and then what that does is basically you’ve created your own kind of audience profile with real data of actual people. It’s not guessing, for example, if you target Stephen King as an interest. You could be targeting people that don’t read his books, but just like his movies. There’s issues with targeting ‘Likes’ and especially if you get into genre, if you target ‘romance’ and you’re selling a ‘new adult’ book, not every romance likes new adult, etc. This other way allows you to get really, really specific and that’s when your ads start getting profitable.
Eric: This is mad scientist James Bond, I love it. I would have never thought about that. I just thought, “Hey, you run a Facebook ad and then you can use the target and pull down.” You have so many options. I really like it. I wonder if you could do something like that with AdWords too, but that’s another animal in itself.
Mike: Yeah and, ultimately, I think if anyone is listening to this and are saying, “Oh my gosh, this is way too complicated,” there are two avenues. One is to remember that every skill takes time and practice and just get in there and practice and make mistakes. It’s not going to be perfect. It took me a lot of ads before I got profitable and, even now, I have to use something called AdEspresso.
Eric: What’s that?
Mike: It’s a program that allows you to basically quickly create a bunch of split test ads like in two minutes, versus maybe 20, 30.
Eric: On any platform?
Mike: Just for Facebook, for now, but it gives you the clearest answer to which ad is working and it allows you to make a lot of ads very quickly, so within 2 to 3 days you can make 200 to 300 ads and you don’t have to guess, you don’t have to be good at ads. It’ll tell you which ones are working and then those are the ones that you use. I use that.
Eric: That’s awesome.
Mike: Even now, it’s not like I know which ads from the gate are going to be the best and then the other thing is, there are easier ways than Facebook to advertise. There are those paid newsletters, like BookBub. There’s hundreds of those out there, free books etc.
There’s genre-specific ones, like if you’re in science fiction, there’s Book Barbarian, where all you have to do is just pay a fee and put up your book and it’s no big deal.
Eric: What do you think about those? A lot of people have 20 Facebook pages in their favorites and then they put in there, “Hey, my book’s free today” and then they go through all of these 20 Facebook pages and I don’t know if that’s effective or not? A lot of people think, BookBub you have to pay to be on, 200 bucks or something.
Eric: And they have to accept you, of course. What do you think about that? I’m talking about effectiveness for time invested.
Mike: I use those all the time. I use sites similar to BookBub, Free Books E, etc. I think the important thing to realize with my particular business model is that I don’t spend money on ads to get sales. I spend money on ads to get exposure in the Amazon algorithm and I let Amazon make the sales for me. I spend just enough money on Facebook ads every day to stay in the Top Twenty, that first page of my specific sub-category.
Eric: Let’s dive deeper into that. Tell us about your ad. Is it the cover of your book and you say, “Go to this page” or how does that work?
Mike: I change the image of my ad about every two to three months because I’ll run the same ad to the same audience over time and they’ll get ad blindness from seeing the same image over and over again. It depends on what the image is of my ad. I do everything from run just like a scene, so a single image of maybe a guy standing alone in the woods and then it’ll say “Free on Kindle Unlimited” and that’s all it is. Then the ad copy will say, “Bestselling author giving his book away on Kindle Unlimited.” All that sort of ad copy stuff.
The only purpose of the image is to grab the attention, to make them stop in the newsfeed. I’ve used everything. Sometimes I’ll put the book in, sometimes it will be just the book with “This book has over 200 five star reviews” or something. There’s lots of different ways that you can approach that.
Eric: But you don’t use the book cover?
Mike: Every once in a while I will, just to test. Sometimes that does do better. The problem with just throwing in the book cover is you might not have a good enough book cover, you know what I mean? Sometimes the book cover isn’t what pulls people in and so you just have to test.
Eric: Before I forget, AdEspresso, is that a free tool?
Mike: It is paid.
Eric: If it’s that good, it’s got to be paid for.
Eric: This is fascinating stuff. What is most effective, your Facebook ads or the lists like BookBub?
Mike: Right now Facebook ads. I say Facebook ads because what Facebook ads allow you to do is, one, you don’t have to go through any gatekeeper. Getting a BookBub ad is pretty hard. Getting it in Free Books E is not so hard, but you still have to work with their schedule, when they have availability and all those other sorts of sites.
Facebook ads allows you to start advertising your book today and you can advertise it every day and you can build up sort of a snowball effect. More downloads generate more downloads, which generates more exposure for downloads, etc.
Eric: You said something very interesting. You don’t go for the sale, you go for the exposure to trigger the algorithm in Amazon. What is your target URL for these Facebook ads?
Mike: I go directly to the book.
Eric: In Amazon?
Eric: Okay, but wait a minute. How do you put the pixel on there? Oh, the pixel’s in your book, the Facebook pixel, okay.
Mike: The website custom audience pixel?
Mike: It’s not in the book. It’s in a page that is linked to from the book. You have to have basically started reading or finished reading my book to reach that custom audience pixel and that’s why it’s such a powerful tool. It only tracks people who have actually read the book.
Eric: Then your ad links directly to the Amazon book page?
Eric: I was doing it wrong already. I was linking to one of my pages. Interesting.
Mike: Every page you have in between your ad and your download is going to reduce your conversion.
Mike: Yeah, it’s one extra step and people are terribly lazy.
Eric: This is awesome. Because you use a Facebook ad, you get onto your Amazon page. How does that trigger the algorithm?
Mike: It just triggers it by downloads. I’m just running people and hoping that they download a good book cover, a good blurb, a good story, a good first ten pages or whatever, the 10% I mean, and just hope that they download it. The cool thing is that with Kindle Unlimited, those downloads, as far as I can tell, count a little bit more than regular books.
If I’m talking how many people have Kindle Unlimited, they kind of are loose with their downloads, they’ll download any book that looks interesting and just put it on Kindle, those downloads add up and it gets me exposure and the rest is history.
Eric: This is gold! This is the stuff that nobody would have even thought of, at least not me! Again, my members are almost all beginners, like me. I just started in 2015 seriously making books. I had a bestseller and an anonymous book in a decent category, but nothing to brag about. At the same time, it wasn’t a ‘one book’ category. I can’t brag about it because it’s anonymous.
For everybody that is still thinking they’re going to write a book and then run Facebook ads, do you validate your books? I’m always telling people, “Don’t write a book until you know people are going to buy it. Do what Nick Stephenson and Noah Kagan and Simon Whistler, Jim Kukral do. You put your cover on a webpage or you send everybody your cover and ask them to buy it first.” This is just one example. The point is, you don’t push your books out there blindly. Do you do any kind of validation?
Mike: No, actually. I don’t validate my books like those guys and the reason is because, with fiction, anyways, what people want is the same, but different. I basically just use my own internal compass to say, “Is this a book that I would read?” I think one of the important things to understand as a creator or somebody who creates things is that you aren’t that different. People are unique, yes, but they aren’t as unique as they think! If you like Interstellar, well, guess what? Millions of other people also like Interstellar.
If you create a book that’s like Interstellar, with your own little twist, it’s going to sell. There’s a huge audience out there. I validate through my consumption.
Eric: I sometimes call that indirect validation because you choose a profitable niche, rule number one, choose a profitable genre or niche. Science fiction and romance, independent authors own science fiction and romance. So you choose a profitable niche and, like you just said, you look at other guys, Interstellar, you emulate them and so you know it will sell, right?
Mike: Yeah, and I think it’s really important, too, to remember that if you’re doing fiction, in particular, and non-fiction, to some degree, you’re in the entertainment business. Your number one goal should be to entertain and the very first person you should entertain with your work is yourself. If you’re not entertained by what you’re creating, if you’re not like, “Wow, this is such a cool idea,” then either you need to choose a different genre or there’s some tips and tricks you could do to get to that point in time where you’re entertaining yourself.
The idea of trying to predict whether a book is going to be a bestseller or not, I think, makes for interesting information product training. But if it was actually possible, then there would be people in Hollywood who do that for a living and there would never be a movie that lost money. Movies lose money all the time.
Eric: One of my favorite threads on the KBoards is about, I Cracked the Code for Bestsellers. I don’t know which university it was, I think it was England, and they analyzed all of these books and the verbs they used and the adjectives and they said there’s a definite trend.
I’ve got my own tool now and I’m going to release that soon and it’s along those lines. I have found one hard point that all writers, the bestselling writers, have, and this is just a little anticipation, I’m not going to tell anybody.
Mike: I agree that there are things that major successful writers have. I do agree with that. I do agree there are certain things that a book must have in order to be successful and I think that’s a craft issue. It’s like the engine of a car must contain certain parts in order for the engine to actually be effective. I think that’s similar with successful books.
Eric: Okay, you just preempted yourself. Give us a run-down. What is your summary of those parts?
Mike: For writing a book?
Eric: Yeah, a successful book.
Mike: I think that, for me, the stories that I enjoy and the stories that are successful for me are character-driven stories. What that means is that the character could be easily identifiable by anything other than what they look like and what their job is in the story or what they do, what actions they take in the story.
What I mean by it is, there’s a really interesting video on YouTube, I wish I could remember the name of it, but it’s basically an analysis of Episode One of Star Wars, which is Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi and all of the characters in those movies. In the first couple of movies, you can’t describe them without saying what they look like, what job they’ve done and the actions they’ve taken. You can’t describe their personality at all.
I think being able to create characters that people say, “I can describe their personality,” is really powerful. The fundamental action of story is to put yourself through these little mini stress tests. This is from David Farland, Million Dollar Outlines, which is basically like, “Don’t write happy-go-lucky stories. The characters that you create, you have to love and the reader has to love, must go through stressful, hard times because we, as humans, turn to story to experience these stressful times, etc.”, theory, theory. Basically, it has to be dark moments and all these sorts of things.
The last is, there are story structural pieces. Read, Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. There’s so many craft books, techniques of the selling writer, etc. There are not necessarily plot points, but things that must occur in a story for it to be enjoyable.
Eric: Interesting. Those are some awesome tips. The one about the character-driven, that means you have to have characters that cannot be described except by what they do? Their function?
Mike: Basically what you want to do is you want to try and paint a picture of a character who exists outside of the story itself. What that means is if your readers can only describe your character as, “Oh yeah, he’s the guy who chopped off the arm of this other guy,” that’s not really a character as much as that’s just a plot point that has a name. He has to be able to exist with a personality. I was watching the The Big Lebowski the other day.
Eric: Oh, yeah. Great!
Mike: That’s incredible characters because if you think about “The Dude” and then you think about his two friends, you can describe them without describing what they do in the film, without describing what their job is.
Eric: I had it backwards.
Mike: Yeah, without describing what they look like, right? You could say, “The Dude, he’s really relaxed. He takes things easy. His friend, he’s like a Vietnam veteran. He’s always bringing up Vietnam. Then his other friend, he’s always lost and interjecting.” You can describe them without having to describe those other three things and those are really powerful characters.
Eric: Now I understand. Have you seen the English version of The Office? I think it was actually before the American one?
Eric: This is a perfect example because the Americans characters are developed way better. Dwight Schrute and the boss Michael. The English characters, they’re all really snide, but they’re all really flat and it’s just not as good as the American one. Everybody knows that Dwight Schrute, a volunteer sheriff or a volunteer fireman. In the English one, he’s just a real snotty jerk, a flat character. This is my favorite example of character development, is the American Office versus the English Office.
Mike: That’s a really good example.
Eric: I love it. Before I dominate your time here, let’s get to some reader questions. One of them was, “I’m not sure what to ask, but what is his best-kept publicizing tactic?”
Mike: For me, I think it comes down to the business plan level. If you’re going to become an independently published author, a self-published author, your number one thing you need to realize is that you are going into business for yourself. Like any business, you should have a business plan. The business plan that I chose was the Isaac Asimov Business Plan. He wrote over 500 books, he wrote in every Dewey Decimal system category, except for one, I think. He just wrote a lot and he put those books out. Isaac Asimov is amazing. He wrote over 500 books, but people only remember him for like three or four.
Eric: I, Robot.
Mike: Yeah. I, Robot and The Foundation Trilogy.
Eric: One of my favorite authors.
Mike: And pretty much beyond that, he’s not really known, even though he wrote 500 books. That’s what I’m doing and the reason that I’m doing it that way is because I am not, how do I put it? I’m a very risk-averse person. I’m not going to spend six months on a book and then hope that it’s the one that pays for that six months of time. I’d rather do a book a month, as Isaac Asimov. Write 3,000 words a day, 2,000 to 3,000 words a day, publish, publish, publish. That sort of thing.
My best-kept secret is that’s what I do and the great thing is that the self-publishing revolution and indie publishing allows you to do that. With traditional publishing, it costs them anywhere from a $100,000 to $350,000 to publish a book, traditional publishing and how that all works.
Eric: And they get a terrible cut. What is it, 10% average?
Mike: Yeah. I think a lot of people get angry at traditional publishing, but traditional publishing can’t afford to publish like the old pulp writers because it’s just too expensive for them, whereas self-publishing, it costs a cover and an editor and you can do it over and over and over again.
Eric: That is one of the reader questions, too. “Did or does Mr. Shreeve hire ghost authors?”
Mike: I did for like 11 or 12 books, maybe it was 13. When I say ‘books’, that does include novellas, as well, novellas and novels. I’m not going to anymore. There’s just a lot of reasons. One, it almost takes as much time to work with a ghost writer as it does just to do it yourself.
Eric: You have to clean it up?
Mike: Yeah, you’ve got to clean it up, you’ve got to tell them what’s going on and I wrote James Patterson style outlines. My outlines for a 250 page book would be 80 pages long. It’s like, put in a little extra time and you can control everything a little bit more. The other part is now, with Kindle Unlimited, you get paid per page. I don’t have to write as many books to make more money.
Mike: That’s the great thing about this. A lot of people are complaining about Kindle Unlimited and that you get paid per page and these sorts of things. I’m happy to see it because now you can write a 350 page novel and you can get paid for your 350 page novel where, before, to compete, you kind of have standard pricing and there’s no incentive to write a longer book. Now there are incentives to write longer books and, as a reader, I enjoy longer books, for sure.
Eric: Your books are all in Kindle Unlimited, Kindle Select?
Mike: Yeah, now they are.
Eric: Wow, you’re going against the stream. A lot of people are mad and dropping off now because of the latest changes.
Mike: Yeah. There’s a big author, and I’m not going to say names because no disrespect or anything, but there was a big author that everybody in the indie world looks to as an example of being successful. This particular author has been very successful, but this particular author put all of their books into Kindle Unlimited and then saw a decrease in their income and they blamed Kindle Unlimited for their decrease in income.
I looked at that situation and I talked with other authors in some other groups and, to me, what the problem with this author was is that, yes, maybe Kindle Unlimited did affect their sales slightly, but what had a bigger effect is that this particular author was continuing a single series into book, like 18 and 20, when readers were done reading at Book 5. They kept trying to pump out the single series and put more books into it because they were trying to milk the cash-cow.
Eric: Flogging a dead horse.
Mike: Yeah, flogging a dead horse and then they put it on Kindle Unlimited to try and revive the series and it didn’t work and it backfired. Kindle Unlimited is a great tool for discovering new books and new series. I wouldn’t put Books 4,5 and 6 in it, if I had Books 4,5 and 6, but I only ever do trilogies anyway.
Eric: You do. Always trilogies.
Mike: Yeah, I’ve never done a standalone, not yet. I’m going to try it, though, with Kindle Unlimited.
Eric: You said that in the podcast, never run a Facebook ad to a standalone or something?
Mike: Yeah, and that’s simply because, look at the numbers. A standalone will only make you maybe $2 or $3 per sale. A series can make you $6 or $8 if somebody goes through all the way. You’ve given yourself a bigger buffer to have, to cover Facebook ads and all that sort of thing.
Eric: And then box sets, right?
Mike: Yes, box sets.
Eric: That’s gold, man. Talking about business models, you chose the Asimov business model. What are other ones? What’s the most lazy, effective business model? I’m talking lazy for guys like me with a family and seriously time-challenged guys who have to steal time to write.
Mike: I think the Asimov model is the lazy model. It sounds crazy, but I wake up at 7:00am and I’m done at 11:00. I still do sales copy and sales copy takes up most of my time. I only have about two to three hours a day to devote to fiction at this particular point. The reason I think the Asimov model is the lazy way is that, number one, you can make money faster, because you can get books out faster and that money you can use to leverage your time. You can hire other people to edit and get covers and run your Facebook ads and these sorts of things.
Also, it’s lazy because the only thing you have to really figure out is where are you wasting time in the day and then fill that time with writing and the other ways. I cannot think of his name right now, there’s a really cool guy, I’m a big fan of his, like business sense and savvy. He used to have a start-up and he sold the start-up and he was retired for three years and then he wrote science fiction and it was an international bestseller. Why am I blanking on it right now?
Eric: Do you know the first letter of his name?
Mike: No, I cannot think of it right now. I can’t even think of the title of his books. There’s a picture of a crashed airplane and a woman walking towards the airplane, Departed, I don’t know. I don’t like his model because what he did was he spent two years writing the first book. To me, that seems like way more work because he spent two years writing the book and then he spent another year selling the book.
Eric: That’s where I come with validation. Validate it before you spend two years on it.
Mike: Yeah. I have made and lost enough money to not trust my ability to pre-validate anything.
Eric: That’s a reader question. “How did Mr. Shreeve lose a hundred and fifty grand when he started?”
Mike: I lost a hundred and fifty grand, and this was actually not with fiction, this was a different business, it was for a client-based business. I basically lost money by giving someone else the reigns to my business, which is one of the reasons why I’m getting away from ghost writing. They basically just blew through money that I then had to chase with more money and it just got to be a big mess.
Eric: For the readers out there, this is actually in the podcast. I will have a link to it. You explain that rather well and fascinating stuff. That’s why I wanted to continue from that podcast, what we missed.
Another one from the readers is how exactly to set up a profitable Facebook ad. We kind of already went over that.
Mike: Yeah and I think, just a really quick side-note, I just found it. It’s A.G. Riddle, the name of the guy I was talking about, The Atlantis Gene. The dude is wildly successful, sold over a million copies of his trilogy.
Eric: A.G. Riddle?
Mike: Yes, he’s an ex-internet marketing guru guy turned author. He retired. Sold his company, anyways.
To start a Facebook ad, the first thing I would do, well, the thing about Facebook ads, it’s as complicated as teaching someone how to write. It’s a skill set, advertising as a skill set.
Eric: How about a checklist, like don’t run. Do a standalone?
Mike: Yeah, don’t run. Do a standalone, at first. Only run to free stuff because it’s much easier to get people to click if you say, “Hey, I have something that’s free.” Number two is, run direct to the Amazon page. Just bring traffic to Amazon. Use an Amazon Associate link.
Eric: Yes, I know that.
Mike: I cover 80% to 90% of my ad costs with the commissions I make from Amazon Associates. Commission affiliates.
Eric: That is awesome. It’s affiliate marketing but they call it ‘Associates’ in Amazon.
Mike: Somebody clicks through your link, it’ll track for 24 hours or whatever and people hit Amazon, they buy stuff like diapers or whatever, other books and things and you get commissions on that.
Eric: Interesting side note to that. Not with Facebook ads, but I put an Amazon Associate link to one of my $2.99 books and I made almost $10 or something in one month, because they were going to this other book that was $50, so it’s interesting. They were going to my book and then readers also liked this book and I got a commission for that. I’m a big fan of Amazon Associate links. I’m sorry I interrupted you. The checklist?
Mike: Yeah, put those in your ads and you’ll make money. A year ago you could cover your Facebook ad costs and profit just with running Associate links to your books. Now it’s a little bit more expensive. Be careful with that. Sometimes Facebook will get weird and say, “Don’t do that.” They don’t have a strict policy or anything. You’re not going to get your account banned or anything, they just might not approve of that.
Eric: It’s a free book or $2.99. You’re either tracking it, but you’re not really, you know.
Mike: The problem with Facebook now is there’s a saying that marketers ruin everything. Facebook has just gotten so big that marketers have ruined everything and now Facebook is kind of being a little silly to everybody, just trying to weed out the bad apples.
The next thing I would do is I would start swiping. Swiping is basically taking screenshots of advertisements that got you and they don’t have to be in fiction. Some of the best ideas are stolen from somewhere else and applied to what you are doing.
Mike: Yeah. What I’ll do is just jump on Facebook for a while and just scroll around and if there’s an ad that jumps out to me, I’ll take a screenshot, crop it in paint and put it in a little file I have. It doesn’t have to be about books. It doesn’t have to be about anything. Then, what I’ll do is later I’ll come back and when I’m creating a Facebook ad I’ll say, “Okay, why does this work? What about it?” And you can even take headlines and be like, “Wow, this headline I really liked,” and just put your own words in there. Instead of “Get this program on Facebook ads”, “Get this book,” on whatever.
Eric: I do that with my friends or anybody who wants to write a new book. About the cover, I tell them to go to the grocery store and look at the packaging. Sometimes you just can’t leave it because that packaging is so good-looking and then make your cover like that packaging.
Eric: We just saved you $200,000 from design school.
The checklist, number one, at first, only run to free. Number two, run to your Amazon page directly. Less friction. Number three, use your Associate link, as long as Facebook lets you. Number four, emulate other ads that caught your eye. What else?
Mike: Number five, go to jonloomer.com and absorb all of his stuff. I have to be careful because I write sales pages for a lot of my clients who sell Facebook ad training programs, but there are very few paid programs out there that teach you how to do Facebook ads as effectively as Jon Loomer’s free blog posts.
Eric: Awesome. Yes. You said that in the last podcast too or on your web there. I’ve been there, so that’s an awesome tip. I’ve been reading him too and there’s a lot to absorb there.
This checklist is awesome. Anything else?
Mike: Test. Split test.
Eric: Ad Espresso?
Mike: Yeah, you can use Espresso. You can do it manually, too. It’s just a real big pain in the butt.
Here’s the key to split testing. A lot of people will put up ten different ads with ten different images, ten different interests, etc., and that is not how you split test.
What you do is you put up one ad to one interest and then you start running that ad and you say, “I’m going to improve this ad and I’m going to do it by testing one variable at a time.” A split test would be, you have your Ad A, which has the headline, the image. I’ll just talk about headline and image for now.
You’ve got the image, headline, interest, that’s Ad A. Now, it’s an A, B split test, you then just change one of those three things and you create a new ad. Let’s say we’re going to run Ad B. It now has a different headline, but it’s the same image in the same interest as Ad A.
Eric: And interest you choose in Facebook?
Mike: Yes. The Facebook interest or your audience. It could be your custom audience, whatever you’re going to use, but only do one at a time.
Now you have two ads running. Ad A and Ad B, with a different headline than Ad A. Now you can say, this headline is not performing better than Ad A headline, so you scratch Ad B and now you try maybe a different headline or you can say, “Okay, we’ve got the best headline we’re going to get. Now let’s try a different ad image,” and then you try different ad images until you find the best ad image. Then you say, “Okay, let’s try interest,” then you find an interest.
My recommendation would be split test the interests first because there’s a rule called the 40/40/20 Rule. It was first put forth by Ed Mayer. It’s a direct response.
Eric: I only know the 80/20.
Mike: Yeah, the 40/40/20 Rule is that the success of any advertising campaign is based on… 40% of your effectiveness comes from the audience or the list that is seeing your advertisement. If you want to make a lot of money, go sell water for $5 a pop at an outdoor music festival in the middle of summer because it’s just a bunch of really thirsty people. You won’t make any money if you sell water for $5 a pop in the middle of the winter for something. That’s the difference.
40% of the success of any ad campaign is the list or the audience that’s seeing your offer. The other 40% is the offer itself. It’s the something that people want to buy and when it comes to the books it’s an interesting book. Did you do a good job on it, etc. Is it a compelling sounding story, all these sorts of things.
Then, 20% is the ad creative, itself. That 20% is broken down to a certain percentage of the design. In Facebook, that would be the image. Then a certain percentage of that is the copy of the ad.
Essentially, when you tweak a headline, you’re being a quarter as effective in increasing your conversions as if you tweaked the interest and found a better audience.
Eric: This is so awesome. You’re giving us the advertising copy and psychology tutorial all in one here. Thanks!
Eric: The 40/40/20 Rule and who was that?
Mike: Ed Mayer. I think that was back in the ‘30s, I could be totally wrong about that, but it was a long time ago.
Eric: Awesome, but he’s one of the big guys? One of the best?
Mike: Yes, one of the pioneers of direct response marketing.
Eric: Interesting, this is great stuff. Another reader question, “What’s one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out writing books?”
Mike: I wish I hadn’t bought into writing as magic.
Eric: The silver bullet.
Mike: Yeah. Again, I don’t mean to be offensive, but I just think we live in the information age and a lot of these old myths need to be busted out.
Eric: Yeah, let’s do it.
Mike: I took a writing course in college and I loved my teacher. She was an awesome person, but she very much bought into writing is mysticism and writing is magic and isn’t writing so wonderful and beautiful and life-changing and you must be in this special zone when you write and it has to be poetry and all these sorts of things.
That’s just not the case. Books are a product, like any other product. You can learn how to make them and you can make good ones and it’s not magic. It really isn’t.
It’s just not magic and I wish that somebody would have told me that because I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what’s my genre, what’s my personal passion and all this kind of stuff.
Eric: Well, tell me you’ve had this before. I’ve met people that have been writing a book for ten years, they’re pouring their life into their first book and I tell them, “Hey, you’re never going to finish if you’ve been writing that long.”
Mike: I think there are two paths to being a writer and maybe this is why it needs to be better explained. If you want to go that route and make this your life’s work, that’s totally fine, but you’re not allowed to complain that it’s not selling because you didn’t do the things necessary to build a business. You just looked at yourself and said, “What do I want?” Any business is founded on, “What can I deliver to people that will make their life better?”
Eric: You said that so eloquently in the podcast where you said, you write the book that your reader wants. How did you say that? I forgot.
Mike: Yeah, write the book that your readers want, not necessarily the book that you want to write. I hesitate to say that because there’s going to be a lot of people who will be like, “Oh, you don’t know anything. That’s fine. I’m still going to write my books and I’m still going to do what I’m going to do.” But if you look at Hollywood and the career of a screenwriter, they give that up. TV is a really good example.
I think TV writing is the model that we should all be looking towards in this new self-published world. TV writers very much know that when they walk into that writer’s room, they have a job to do. Their job is to entertain people. It’s not to look at themselves and be like, “What do I want to do?” It’s not that kind of self-possessed approach. They’re willing to create that thing and I think that’s really important as writers.
If you accept that as the reality of creating books in the 21st century, in 2015, then you break yourself free, like you’re free of all these impossible to pin down ideas, like personal passion and all these sorts of weird, crazy ideas.
Eric: You know what Scott Adams says about passion right?
Mike: I’m not sure who Scott Adams is.
Eric: The guy that Dilbert created.
Mike: What does he say?
Eric: He’s got an awesome presentation. You have to read his blog. There’s so much gold in there. He says passion is bullshit. If you start making a million dollars selling toilet brushes, I bet you’ll get passionate about toilet brushes.
Mike: Yeah, the way I’ve heard it and I can’t remember who told me this, but be passionate about your business, be passionate about the customer and then that will more easily allow you to be passionate about what you’re doing.
I hate writing and that’s not a lie. I seriously hate writing. I write so that I can do other things and I think that what I’m passionate about are my readers. The other day I got an email from someone who said, “I’m dyslexic and thank you so much for writing the way you write.” Because I write very simply. I’m not eloquent at all.
Eric: That’s awesome.
Mike: “It was one of the first few books I was able to finish and I absolutely loved it.” That’s what I’m passionate about.
Am I passionate about my stories? Yes, because I want my stories to affect people, not because I’m so in love with this world I’ve created, all this sort of weird kind of stuff. I’ll have to look at that Scott Adams stuff, that sounds way up my alley.
Eric: He’s got a blog and he puts some amazing stuff in there. I’ll send you the link later. He’s got several presentations with Rexie Media, The Art of Presentation. It’s in his blog, so if you Google Scott Adams, Rexie Presentations, blog or something, it’ll probably take you straight to it. Really good stuff and he thinks passion is BS and I think it is a buzzword, too.
Mike: As I said in the other podcast, I write for a lot of these guys that sell these products and it absolutely is a sales pitch, but what’s even more important, I think, is think about what you were passionate about five years ago and you’re probably not passionate about those same things now.
People change and your passions change and I think you have to separate passion from your business because if you want your business to last more than your short attention span, it has to be about something other than passion.
There has to be something. I want to write for the rest of my life. I finally have found a career that I love. I want to do it for 40 years. I want to die in the chair writing because I love it. This is a business, a love and wow, wouldn’t it be great to have my name around even when I’m dead. Even if it’s not big, just on Amazon, I still exist.
Eric: You are my benchmark now and I’m going to do the Asimov business model, a la Mike Shreeve. It’s awesome.
Another reader question was, “What is the most important skill you should learn in order to become a successful writer?”
Mike: The most important skill you should ever learn to be a successful writer is time management.
Eric: Tell us about your time management.
Mike: I have two pieces of software that help me. The first is Simpleology. simpleology.com. I’m pretty sure they have a free version of it. simpleology.com and rescuetime.com. I think they both have free options. I use the paid options just because I use them pretty advanced and if you actually track your time and the thing about RescueTime is it’s an app that runs on your computer 24 hours a day.
Eric: Yeah, but it blocks Facebook and that’s where you’re running your ads.
Mike: RescueTime you can set up. within RescueTime and within Simpleology there’s something you can turn on, which is like a focus time, which you can create a list of websites that are distracting to you. What RescueTime does, just the main software itself, is it tracks everything you do and you can categorize, like if I’m on this site, it can categorize it as distracting, or if I’m on this site, categorize it as productive or if I’m on this site, categorize it as neutral.
When you have RescueTime tracking everything you’re doing, I guarantee you will find that you have not been as productive as you thought you had been and that you’ve been quite distracted.
One of the cool things about RescueTime is that it can’t lie. It will tell you what you actually did and you say, “Oh, I spent 10 hours today writing” and really what you did is you spent 8 hours on the internet, 2 hours actually writing.
I think discipline is the number one skill of writers. I think the difference between a successful writer and a non-successful writer is that the successful writer figured out how to spend more time writing, actually writing, not thinking about writing, not talking about writing, not researching, not editing, but writing, than the other person. I think that’s the only difference.
Eric: What does Simpleology do differently than RescueTime?
Mike: Simpleology is a productivity app. RescueTime will tell you what you’re missing, Simpleology will help you fix what you’re missing. Simpleology is like a step-by-step habit creator and you just sit down and you watch these 10 minute videos it has and they adjust according to your abilities and it’s like, “Hey, today you’re going to do this and then tomorrow you’re going to do this.” It’s all about increasing your ability to be productive and RescueTime will track everything.
Eric: Awesome. That is some interesting stuff. I’ve heard of RescueTime, but not Simpleology. I will definitely be checking that out. Where is my ‘Grab Bag’ question? If you could have dinner with anybody, living or dead, past or present, who would it be?
Mike: For me, it would definitely be Isaac Asimov. I would like to just sit down and just talk to the guy. He’s a super interesting guy, number one, PhD in chemistry and all these sorts of things, but I just want to talk to him about his attitudes, because he started his career as a pulp writer and he was never ashamed of being a pulp writer.
Dean Wesley Smith has a lot of very interesting articles about this, but there’s a lot of shame right now in writing fast. I would want to ask him how he got over that. How did he just say, “Screw you guys, I’m going to write fast anyways.”
Eric: You know what I think? With every generation, the kids nowadays don’t know what pulp is. I think it’s going away because Amazon is the default book criteria, so you say you published a book on Amazon and you tell the kids nowadays pulp or novella, they don’t know the difference. I think the generations, if we just stop using the word, we’re going to unstigmatize the whole thing.
Mike: Yeah, I agree.
Eric: Isaac Asimov is then obviously your favorite author.
Mike: Yeah, he’s my favorite working writer. My favorite author is Philip K. Dick.
Eric: Oh yeah, Orange County. One of my favorites. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? What was that Tom Cruise film? After the guys dead they make all of these blockbusters. Gee, thanks!
Mike: Minority Report.
Eric: I mean this guy was just one awesome book after the other and like Blade Runner, it took a generation or two and now they’re cult. Philip K. is awesome. What else do you want to say? What would you like to ask the readers?
Mike: I would say, just treat this like a business, that’s what it is. Remember, you’re in the entertainment business. Remember to entertain yourself first. Remember that people will only give you money if you give them value. Don’t get caught up in the magic of writing. It’s just a job, it’s just a business. There’s no reason to wait to get started because you look at guys like James Patterson or Nora Roberts or Stephen King and you look at the books they’re putting out and you say, “Oh my gosh, I can’t write like that.”
Stephen King couldn’t write like that 20 years ago either. It took him 20 years to get there. So, just get started. Writing is a mental game. Don’t put pressure on yourself.
I recommend everybody take the Isaac Asimov Model because, you know what? I write a book and I don’t have to worry about whether it’s going to be a bestseller. If it’s a bestseller, great. There’s no pressure. I didn’t spend six months on it. It’s going to sell and it’s going to sell enough copies and I’m going to write the next one and eventually one of these will break out and sometimes they do break out and sometimes they don’t. Just remove the pressure.
Then, lastly, learn to discipline yourself. Learn to discipline yourself and the key to solving all of your problems, financial, personal, lifestyle, is to create stuff. Just go make stuff, as much of it as you possibly can. You’ll get better over time. You’ll have more fun and you’ll make money.
Eric: But emulate a good author with good covers and a profitable niche, right?
Mike: Yeah and the profitable niche thing is hard to determine because people say horror doesn’t make any money. Well, Stephen King made $48 million last year in horror. Emulate, I think, more importantly, a group of successful authors.
Eric: Awesome. Anything else?
Mike: No, I think that’s about it.
Eric: Awesome, Mike. Thank you so much for time. I’ve been writing along. Maybe you’ve heard my keyboard and this is gold stuff. I’m going to pack it up and make a book. No, I’m only kidding!
Mike: Go for it!
Eric: It’s awesome. I love it and thanks for taking time out of your day for us because I know you write 10,000 words a day. I’m really looking forward to more interviews with you and I’m going to go on that Asimov plan. I’ve been so busy with other things and running my blog and all this other stuff, but I have to get back to writing books, too.
I really look forward to talking to you again. Your website is mikeshreeve.com?
Mike: mikeshreeve.com. I’m going to be putting out a blog post this week on how to write 15,000 words a day. It’ll be a pretty big one. I think it’s going to be like 8,000 words long. If anyone is interested on how to increase their writing productivity, that blog post will be up.
I don’t sell any information products. I don’t really sell even non-fiction books. So you can all come. mikeshreeve.com. There’s a lot of stuff there. I’ll try and share as much as possible.
Eric: Awesome. Thanks again, Mike.
Mike: Thanks for having me.
Eric: Excellent and everybody go to mikeshreeve.com. The information there is gold and I will see you guys next time.