Episode 37 – Indies, Pricing and Premium Facebook

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Jim and Bryan welcomed March to a Bestseller 2 Contest Winner Tara Ross onto the show to chat about Facebook’s 2015 changes that will affect indie authors. Before that, they discussed digital tools like MightyBell, New Year’s resolutions for writers, and launching pieces of meat into space. The temporary trio also talked about being an indie midlister, reasons for quitting self-publishing, how the indie tide is turning, traditional publishers using lower price points, and Facebook’s upcoming monthly fee for promotional posts. The Question of the Week: How will Facebook’s changes impact your promotional strategy?
What You’ll Learn:
  • How seven new tools can help you to increase your productivity and creativity
  • Why you should get rid of some kinds of comparison for New Year’s
  • How one author sent meat to space as part of a promotional video
  • Why one author gave up on self-publishing and how she’ll distribute her work in the future
  • Several ways in which indies are turning the tide in publishing
  • Author Russell Blake’s theory on why indie sales are down
  • The ways in which Facebook’s policy changes could impact your social media platform
Question of the Week: How will Facebook’s changes impact your promotional strategy?

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  • Michael La Ronn

    I’m eliminating Facebook from my social media calendar next year. It actually had nothing to do with the advertising. For me, it boils down to audience. The types of readers I’m looking to attract are more on Google+ and Pinterest, anyway. The new Facebook changes were just another reason to leave the platform.

    • Michael, I think that’s a great point about knowing your audience well enough to know what social networks they’re using. Pinterest and Google+ are both super options, if for no other reason than discoverability of your work. I tell my clients that Google’s social search function means that they are going to show up more readily in the Google searches of their G+ network based on the keywords that are used. Any blog post from your site would gain greater exposure just by having you copy/paste the first few paragraphs of it into G+ with a link back to your website for the remainder of the article. Likewise on Pinterest, content remains available long after it is published and the visual nature definitely enhances content. Combining these two platforms is one of my favorite tricks, too, with a Google post that ends with a “click to pin for later” sending the reader to Pinterest to archive your work.

      • Bryan

        Good tips, Tara!

      • Michael La Ronn

        Great tips indeed, Tara. I look forward to checking out more of your blog. It’s very timely for me!

    • Bryan

      Nail in the coffin!

  • Guest

    TV Series are very seldom written by one person (the only exception I know of was “Babylon 5”). Aaron Sorkin did not write every episode of “The West Wing” or any other series. He was the show runner but even then not every season. I’m afraid the writers in his writing room were fully capable of writing his way. This is not to say he wasn’t in control, but it wasn’t all him.

    • Bryan

      True. I think he only stopped being the showrunner when they gave him the boot though 🙂

      • After 4 seasons I think he was exhausted with producing 22 episodes a year. However when that 5th season started with new writers, it felt like they had about half the dialog of the previous 4. Sorkin managed to pack so much into his 44 minute scripts. 🙂

        • Bryan

          Exhausted. Rehabbing. Same difference ;).

  • Ember Casey

    What’s funny (or sad?) is that I’m FINALLY getting lots of interaction on my Facebook page (I’ve even given up updating my author PROFILE on Facebook–I only really use that these days for participating in groups and/or networking with other authors–because I’ll cross-post the same thing on my page and my profile and get 40 “likes” on the page and 2 on the profile.

    I experiment with a lot of different types of posts on my page–posting funny images, links to sites/content relating to me and my books, questions for my readers, teaser posters for my books, etc–and BY FAR I get the most interaction on the posts that are the most promotional–new release announcements, teaser graphics, notices of sales, etc. And those are the posts that seem to reach the most of my followers, too (without boosting–though I’ll strategically boost posts as well). So… maybe I’m just being naively optimistic, but I’m hoping that FB’s algorithms “see” that those posts are what *my* followers seem to want to see (And I suspect the same is true for many authors). There’s a huge difference between authors sharing links to their latest release with the people who WANT those notifications and them posting spammy “Buy my books!” posts 15 times a day, and I hope FB makes that distinction.

    (I also agree that mailing lists are still probably the most important thing to cultivate… but so many readers love the interaction with authors on FB, so I hope FB doesn’t completely destroy that opportunity.)

    • I agree, Ember! My understanding is that interaction that does not directly promote will not be charged. But getting readers to see the initial post that sparks the interaction may be. Who knows, though? I think the only thing we can say about Facebook is that it always changes and thus we should only use it as one tool in our repertoire of tactics for promoting our books.

      • Bryan

        Agreed, Tara! What was it like hearing yourself on the show? 😉

        • Good! I just need to figure out how to keep Abbie the dog from letting herself in the room though!

    • Bryan

      Thanks for the input, Ember! Maybe the fee Facebook charges will be reasonable. It’s gotta be scaled for different sized businesses, right?

    • Bryan

      Hey, Ember, could you shoot me over an email? I’m working on something for the next episode, and I wanted to get a few specific people’s input on it. bryandavidcohen (at) gmail.com. Thanks :).

  • I have been frustrated by Facebook for a long time. I don’t have an author page, but I do have a personal account. I don’t intend to put much time, effort or money into it going forward, unless my fans and readers insist.

    • Bryan

      Agreed, Erik.

  • I basically quit Facebook this year, because of the way they decided to “throttle” the number of followers that actually receive updates from author (and other) pages. To me, it doesn’t make sense to pour a lot of time and effort into a platform that isn’t even delivering your message to the people who want it, so I’ve switched my efforts to other platforms like Twitter and Pinterest, while also encouraging people to head to my blog and sign up for my mailing list.

    The news that Google+ may also follow suit on this type of pay-for-play setup is also frustrating, but since I haven’t really developed much a G+ platform, I suppose there’s no need to start now. To be honest, that’s sort of freeing, because once Facebook and Google+ count themselves out of my game plan, I can focus more on the platforms that will yield better results. I recall reading somewhere (or maybe you guys mentioned this on one of the previous shows?) that Pinterest is the only social media platform that can actually demonstrate a direct correlation between interactions on the site and sales of products, so it seems like my time will be better spent on developing my presence there rather than bemoaning Facebook’s changes and cash grabs.

    • Bryan

      Good stuff, Laura! You’ll have to keep us up to speed on how well your Pinterest efforts go.

    • I’m with you, Laura. My favorite platforms are Twitter and Pinterest, which is odd because the two could not be more different!

    • It not JUST a cash grab (although the do want to make money). if one has 1000 friends, belongs to 25 groups, and has liked 100s of pages, a live stream would be a firehose. Facebook wants their users to see what the users want to see to keep the users happy, and they are happy to throttle thing down by reducing promotional posts that aren’t from paying customers.

      Twitter is mostly a live stream, but people use it differently; they build lists and do searches to find what they want. Rarely is something shoved in front of a user unless twitter gets an advertising fee from the promoter.

  • Kim Smith

    I am like Ember Casey…only now seeing results from untold hours of efforts to connect with fans and friends on Facebook. If it indeed goes to a pay model I will give up on it. I nearly did this year when the reach was skewed so wrongly. As Bryan said, nail in the coffin.

    • Bryan

      Well, let’s see how much it costs first…

      • The people who jump in first, might have a short advantage for a while. Never know.

  • LOVING the sound effects. Keep’em coming, Jim 😉

    • I agree, J.! I enjoyed your episode last week, by the way. 🙂

    • Bryan

      Hardy har.

  • Does anyone have a source for Edie’s Facebook news?
    This doesn’t look terribly legit: http://www.nymeta.co/facebook-will-start-charging-monthly-fee-holidays-users-jan-1-2015/ and this is from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/business/news/update-to-facebook-news-feed It doesn’t say anything about a fee there. Wasn’t able to find anything else on it.

    • Bryan

      There’s always a chance that we’ve been duped. A pretty reputable site linked to this, but perhaps we were both duped. We’ll take a look into this.

      • She doesn’t source anyone either in her article but a few people asked the same thing I did. She said someone from Facebook told her. I’m a teeeeeny bit skeptical but I would also not be surprised.

        • Bryan

          I suppose we’ll wait and see :).

    • From her comments: “I got this information from speaking with actual people who have been trained and certified by FB to work with businesses so they are not in violation of the UPCOMING Facebook guidelines.”

      I have heard this one other place, so unless they also read Edie’s post…

      What we DO know is that facebook will be actively throttling posts that it views as salesy, spammy, or posts with clickbait included (5 ways to succeed with…, etc.). They will also throttle posts with less engagement; not just fewer likes or comments, but posts where people click and then immediately return to facebook rather than stick around at the destination and actually spend time reading. Facebook will decide that those posts aren’t worthy of showing compared to ones where users activity participate, like, comment, and linger to read.

      Write content that your readers want, whether it’s your book, your product, or your facebook post. …and be prepared to pay some money to get more people to see it.

  • I don’t know who SUW is, but she’s the one who wrote the ‘bailing on self-publishing’ piece that has ‘manifesto’ and ‘living in a one room cabin in the woods of montana’ written all over it.

    Does she buy clothes? Sales tax. She’s using the internet. Taxes. And it’s not taking a cut of your profits; you raise your shown price. EVERYONE will have to raise their shown prices, even the big 5. She thinks big publishers and producers are going to take a 10-28% cut? Nope. That’s how this works. In the US our prices are our prices, and sales tax is on top. When my wife’s country got VAT, they at first added VAT on top of the prices, but later custom changed to showing the the complete charge, so they bumped the price on the label to price + VAT.

    I don’t like it either, and it’s causing all sorts of complications for my wife’s business because she produces online, streaming content, and tracking where it comes from is going to be a PITA, but you can do what you love and make the best of it or decide that you don’t really love it enough to have that business as is.

    BTW, this law was signed in 2008. Amazon knew it only had until 2015 before the VAT changed from country were sold to country where purchased.

    “And then there are the utterly batshit, arrogant self-published writers who behave like spoilt children denied their pudding.”

    I get that, but you don’t have to be involved with the self-publishing community to self-publish. For that matter, she can outsource all the self-publishing tasks that she claims to hate and stay off the forums and blogs.

    There’s a deeper issue at work here, right? 😉

    • Suw

      I am the Suw to whom you refer, and I’m sorry to say that I feel the wrong end of the stick has been grasped by yourself and this podcast.

      I don’t have anything against paying tax when tax is due: I pay my taxes on time every time. However, the UK has an exemption from VAT that is available to anyone turning over less than £81k. That exemption does not apply to EU VAT, and in the original formulation of HMRC guidance, if you registered to pay VAT on EU sales, you lost your exemption for UK sales too. For many nano-businesses that would make selling digital goods to the EU no longer worth it.

      They have changed that after pushback, but other issues remain, including the logistical overheads of dealing with filing VAT, separating out your EU sales from your UK/ROW sales, locating the two non-conflicting bits of evidence of your customer’s location, and the secure storage of that information for 10 years.

      I don’t have the resources to deal with that, and given the very low income from digital sales, it simply isn’t worth my while dealing with it. I could better spend that time focused on growing other parts of my business.

      And yes, the law was passed in 2008, but HMRC did not reach out to the self-employed/sole trader/nano-business community at all – they focused all their communications efforts on existing VAT-paying businesses. So tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people in the UK only found out about this around a month ago. There are a lot of nano-businesses in the UK – some 17% of the workforce is self-employed iirc – and many were entirely blindsided by it.

      When you’re making a business decision, such as which products to focus on, you have to take the overheads in to account. If overheads suddenly increase, whether that’s because you lose an unexpected 15-27% to EU VAT, or whether that’s the time and resources required to register for VAT, register with the Information Commissioner (which you’d have to do as you’re holding people’s information), figure out how to secure the location date you’re required to gather and store… well, you have to ask if it’s worth it? I decided it wasn’t – ebooks are not the core of my business.

      With regards to self-publishing, yes, I’m not a big fan of the way that public discourse around self-publishing has evolved over the last 18 months especially. And I have chosen to stop writing about it on Forbes, where I covered it for two years. I originally stopped writing on Forbes because I was moving from the UK to the US, (my business remains in the UK, though, hence the issue with UK VAT laws and implementations). I found I liked not writing about self-publishing, so if I do go back to Forbes it will be with a different focus. I don’t know yet if I will return to writing for them or not.

      Furthermore, I found that the act of self-publishing had become, for me, toxic. It was stopping me enjoying my writing. Now you can do any kind of cod-psychology you like on that, but this problem is my problem and I have solved it the way that makes sense to me. I have stopped selling ebooks, and am only distributing them (not selling them – giving them away for free) to people on my mailing list. Those people have expressed an interest, and I’m happy to do my very best for them.

      My main aim is to help myself write more. For me, that’s the goal. Write more. Develop my craft. Become better. Different people achieve that in different ways. For some, self-publishing is exactly the thing they need to spur them to do more, better work. For me, the opposite was true. Realising that was a surprise. I really had expected, four years ago when I started self-publishing, that it would motivate me, but I looked at my output since then and realised how sparse it was. It took me a long time to understand why.

      Finally, with regard to the point raised in the podcast about artists v entrepreneurs, I disagree that these things are in opposition at all. I am an entrepreneur – I’ve been running my own business since 1998. However, self-publishing wasn’t working for me. I think the big reason for that is not that I’m some sort of artist who wants to live in the wilds of north Wales and who doesn’t care for all that dirty money stuff. The problem was that the self-publishing was getting in the way of the writing, and without writing, what do you have to self-publish?

      Looking back, I should have focused just on writing, and maybe on sharing it with a smaller group of interested friends which then could (as my mailing list mostly has) organically grow. I started self-publishing too soon. I should have had more patience. Actually, any patience at all would have been good. I was too optimistic with regard not just to how much I would write, but also how much time all the rest of what goes with self-publishing takes up.

      But hey, lesson learnt. I’m going back to basics. It’s me, a typewriter, a red pen, and whatever is in my head. I may self-publish again in the future, though I can imagine that I would mostly likely focus on binding my own books in very small custom runs, rather than putting out ebooks on Amazon. I like the physicality of bookbinding, it’s very satisfying. But ultimately, we’ll just have to see what happens.

      I realise that this comment is a bit tl;dr, so there’s one takeaway for me, it’s this: Every author has to find out for themselves what works best. Sometimes we will make mistakes. It’s up us to correct those mistakes in our own way.

      • Bryan

        Thanks, Suw, for dropping by! Glad to hear your side of the story. I think it’s great that you’re making a choice for yourself and what’s right for your business. Kudos!

  • Pete Bauer

    I think the changes to Facebook will suck short term, but, as Jim would say, there’s always a way to game the system. Can they charge me for telling my friends to buy Portal Combat? Can they charge me for saying something about the latest Hunger Games? I’m guessing you could get your email list to do the talking for you via recommendations. I write YA thrillers and, like Michael La Ronn said, my readers are moving off of Facebook anyway.

    • Bryan

      Good points, Pete. Thanks!

  • Alyne de Winter

    I want to see NostroJimus with a turban!
    I’ve been wanting off FB for ages, but I have actual friends on there. Taking lemons and making lemonade—the idea of those platforms no longer being a option, gets the idea of sales out of the way so we can focus on relationships.