The Dave Chesson Interview: Part Two
Part two of the wonderful conversation I had with the self-publishing master, Dave Chesson, of Kindlepreneur.
Hello, readers! Welcome back to the second part of the interview with Dave Chesson. Hopefully, the first part had plenty to enjoy, and part two is certainly no less sparse on insights from Dave. So let’s jump in.
At the end of the last part, Dave and I were discussing using self-publishing as a platform for diversifying into trad publishing. So let’s continue with that:
Morgan Greene: I've spoken to agents through Grindstone and they've been very honest and said; “I get a lot of submissions in my slush pile that I read and I think, oh, this is, this is good. I like this.” But then one question crosses their mind and it's: “Will this sell, can I sell this?” You know, “Is this a sealable product as well as a book that I like?”
And if it doesn't check both of those columns, then more often than not that agent doesn't go forward with it because if they don't think they can sell it, what’s the point? And as they work on commission, so if they can't sell it, they're not going to get paid. So you know, I think what you're saying in terms of leveraging your figures and leveraging your sales to show the agent that you're not only writing a good book, but you're also writing a saleable product: that’s key.
Perhaps I’m taking some of the shine off the creative purity of wanting to become an author. But I think in today's hyper-competitive publishing world where there are supposedly dwindling reader numbers and growing author numbers, I think you've got to do something like that. You know, think more in a business mindset and work in more of a business mindset if you want to make a career out of being an author.
Dave Chesson: 100%. And that's the thing, is that, if you think about it, you can't make a career doing anything that doesn't pay you enough to live off of that money. Which means that marketing has to be a big part of that. And I know a lot of authors kind of fear marketing, or it's not their favourite thing. They just wish they could just sit down and write the book and somebody else would sell it for them. And I get that. But the truth of the matter is, is that if you want people to read your book, you have to market it, all right?
So don't just think about it as a financial component. I mean, that should be somewhat of a consideration. But getting the books into the right people's hands, that's what marketing actually is. And so if you're content to just write and put it out there, and if somebody reads it, then awesome, you've got a good hobby. But if you're really devoted to getting your story out there, you believe that it could change somebody's life or that it will help somebody. Or you know, whatever that purpose is, then the art of getting it in the right hands … that's marketing.
I love what Dave says here; something I didn’t pick up on during the interview. He says, “If you're content to just write and put it out there, and if somebody reads it, then awesome, you've got a good hobby.” And that’s so true. If you’re writing but not marketing and selling, then it’s just a hobby. In the same way that you can sit in your house and play the guitar or piano, or paint canvases; if you’re not selling your art and making money, then it’s just for fun, it’s for you, and it’s a hobby.
And I think that’s what’s unique to writing is that people think that writing and putting it out there will be enough to make money. But musicians or painters aren’t under that same illusion, and I often wonder why that is. I also find that lots of people who read a lot pick up a pen and think they can write a great novel. Does listening to Mozart mean you can write a symphony?
It’s definitely a burden to have to be both emotional and utterly detatched when it comes to your work. To pour your emotions and energy into writing it, and then once it’s done treat the thing like a slab of meat to hock at a local market, selling your product through scattergun marketing to whoever will buy it. But, that’s the nature of self-publishing, and of traditional publishing too: the only difference in the latter is that you’re not the one pulling the trigger.
Morgan Greene: That’s spot on. So true. When I first kind of went into self-publishing and tried to learn to market my books; it’s so much to take on all at once. But there are so many good resources out there, and Kindlepreneur is the one that I'm going to herald as the one that taught me how to do it because it’s the one I used when I started. It’s the one that took me from publishing a crime novel, having never done it before, to breaking top 30 in the UK Kindle Chart, and having that coveted orange bestseller sticker on my book.
And, you know, once you get to that point, it does begin to open doors for you whether you're looking for them or not. And I can't stress enough how how rewarding it is to have that, but also how hard it is to attain that. And how hard, you know, you have to work to get there. And how much you have to be open to learning and working at the same time, and not just writing, as you said, but also taking on the role of marketer and publicist, speaking to readers and building a list and doing all these things.
There's a lot of balls to keep juggling. But I think that’s how it is to be an author these days. And by author, I mean somebody who's making money from their work. I think you have to be willing to take on and wear all of those other hats as well as just your author hat. And it's only going to become more difficult to break away from the pack as time goes on.
But I don't think it will ever be impossible. And I think if you've got a good story and a good work ethic and you want to work and you want to make a career of it, I think that there's still success out there to be found. There are still readers waiting for great books.
Dave Chesson: Yeah, absolutely. You know, one of the things that authors need to understand is that, just like the art of writing a good book, which takes a lot of time and consistent devotion to the craft. The same thing goes with marketing. Marketing is an art. It's a science and art put together, but you have to take it one bit at a time.
Let’s go back to writing: look at the first time you wrote a book, right? And you look later on after you've written many books and you're like: Oh my goodness, I can't believe I did that. Like the plot holes, the writing style. Oh my goodness. The same thing goes for marketing. First time you try it it might not be amazing. You know, nobody really hits a Grand Slam off their first pitch or anything like that.
But, you know, that's what happens when they start marketing and realise how hard it is. A lot of authors just get so discouraged, like immediately. And they just, they either, treat it like the plague, run away from it, get mad about it and stuff like that. Blame it, whatever it is. But it's just a skill. And as you do it more and more, you get better and better and things stack.
This is so true. You can take an Amazon crash course on ads, read an article or two, and have the gist of how to set them up. And, Amazon isn’t too difficult to do because you’re not creating ad copies or creatives, you’re just setting bid-ranges. And while it goes on autopilot for the most part, over time, with care and attention, with some serious self-teaching, you can improve that ad efficiency like crazy.
And when it comes to Facebook and social ads, it’s a different thing entirely. Because now, clicks hinge on what people read and see and if they’re intrigued. It requires creativity, but also objectivity, and an understanding of psych to a certain extent. You have to know readers, but also how to spark their interest. But when you’re inevitably wrong, you need to know how to analyse data, too. And then reshape and redeploy, run AB tests, try different campaign types with different objectives.
It’s a deep, dark, and daunting rabbit hole, that much I can say for certain. I completely underestimated how much there was to learn about marketing. So learn from my mistake and don’t do that: take the time to learn marketing and devote as much attention to it as you do to your writing, because the latter is pointless without the former. Unless you know how to sell your book, you’re just spending time on a hobby.
Morgan Greene: I have you know some authors coming to me now and saying: “How have you got to where you are?” And I think the trick people play on themselves when they see an author that they perceive as doing well, is they come to them and they ask them; how did you get from zero to here so fast, as if it's happened overnight. But they just haven't noticed all the hard work that's been put in over the previous eighteen months.
Because whenever I speak to a new author, and I give them some advice or I tell them what my journey actually looks like, I always say; “Well, 18 months ago, you know, I started. And it's just been six books in 18 months, and it's been this many hours of courses and reading articles and how-tos on ad creation, and this much in ad spend, and this is how much I started with as my marketing budget and this is how I structured it and this is how I scaled it. Eighteen months ago I was spending this much and now I'm spending this much.
“But you have to be prepared to dedicate, I think, at least twelve or eighteen or twenty-four months to it. And accept that, yeah, you’re not going to be successful with your first book and with your first ad, but you’re going to learn, you know, how to write better, and you’re going to learn how to market better, and you’re going to learn how to sell, and ultimately, you’re going to learn how to be an author.
“And in two years that's when you’re going to have that ability to springboard into something, and gain real stability. To choose whether you want to stay self-published forever, or whether you want to go with an indie publisher, or whether you want to look for traditional representation and try to diversify.”
And they don’t like that, usually. They were hoping it wouldn’t be that hard. But I think for anybody out there who is considering self-publishing and thinking, you know, is this the route for me, for my career, they need to know: it's not a quick thing. It’s not easy. And you know, and I hope that you'll agree with that it's something that you have to dedicate yourself to, and commit to for, you know, a year or two years, before you're going to see anything that looks like, you know, serious success.
Dave Chesson: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a really good point for people to take away. One other recommendation that I give to people is that I believe that authors need to separate their time for marketing and writing. And be very intentional about it.
So what I used to do when I got started was, and you know, for some people this may sound crazy, but that's kind of what it takes, is I got up at 4:30 every morning Monday through Sunday, and I wrote from 4:30 till about 7:00. And the reason why I did that was because I knew in that time was my writing time. That was my time to work on the craft. Nobody was up. No kids were asking for breakfast. Nobody was on social media, like pulling me away. That was unadulterated time to just write and work on the craft. That was it.
But then what I did was that in the evening time – and by the way, I used to watch a lot of movies at night or Netflix and all that jazz, but I actually got rid of it. And instead of doing that, that was my time to learn or do marketing. And so that way I would wait to the end of the day to sit down and watch YouTube videos and take courses and read articles and learn and plan, you know, the next launch.
And because I did that, I didn't ever feel like marketing took over my writing. And at the same time, I never let writing take over my marketing. And it was this good, separated balance between the two that allowed me to really dig into writing when it was time for writing and dig into marketing when it came time to marketing.
And the combination of those two together helped to create a more balanced author across the board than one that's just a really good author, but one who’s frustrated. One nobody reads. Or another person who knows their book is junk but they're making sales because they’re a good marketer. If you can do both, separately, you'll see much better result.
I really like Dave’s method here of separating your time depending on what you’re working on. The fact that he separates his writing and marketing time so he has a clear deliniation is the perfect way to ensure that you keep focus on what matters. I definitely don’t do this enough and very often find myself ‘procrastinating’ while writing because I’m able to just quickly check on my ads or make some tweaks here and there, do a Facebook post … All while I should be writing.
So I think if you do have the freedom to say my writing time is from X to X and my marketing time is from Y to Y and you give yourself that little bit of structure, it’s going to be an efficient way to handle those various roles.
Morgan Greene: There's there's so much proof in the result. There are so many authors who have gone straight to traditional, and they’ve leapfrogged the self-publishing path, and their book had come out, and, like you said, the publisher put a bit of money behind; but it’s just falling flat.
They don’t have the marketing expertise and maybe, if they were lucky, there was a couple weeks where they were charting, but that kind of, you know, dropped off quickly. And now they don’t have an author website and a list, and there’s not a pre-order up for the next book. And you just wonder whether or not that next book deal is being pulled by their publisher because they made that bet and they lost.
But when it comes to a self-published author who had a social media following, who has a good sized list they can leverage, you know, who’se working hard and making appearances at festivals and signings, they’re the authors who are set up for those two, three, four, five, six book deals. And once you’ve got those skills for marketing, you can always fall back on them no matter the situation. Show the publisher that you are a good longterm investment.
Because I think that’s what it’s all about, right? There’s no such thing now as just write a book, get an agent, sell to a publisher, make a million bucks, and then walk away and never worry about money ever again. That just doesn’t exist anymore, you know, for anyone who’s trying to break through now, I don’t think. So having those marketing skills you can rely on, whether you stay self-published, or go traditional, they’re a safety net you can use to secure yourself.
If you learn how to sell your own books, whether the money’s going into the publisher’s hands or yours, it’s going to turn the ‘I’ve written and published a book’ authors into ‘I’m making good money and this is now my career’ authors.
Dave Chesson: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a major look at what it's like between those that do it as a hobby and those that end up making it a career.
Morgan Greene: Okay, so I think that's amazing, and I think there's so much there for our [readers] to digest and take away. And I really just hope that it opens up the discussion in their heads of what they want to do in terms of pursuing being an author as a career. And hopefully elucidates to them the options that they have available. But just before we go, I'm going to ask you: what is your one gold dust tip? For anybody who is embarking upon the wild ride of self-publishing, what is the one tip that you think is just more important than anything else to keep in mind?
Dave Chesson: For those who are looking to make a career, I'm going to reiterate something I said earlier, which is to start your e-mail list as soon as possible. Because every time you make a book sale and you don’t have an e-mail list, that is a lost opportunity for multiple future sales. Because at some point, through your efforts and your writing, you convince somebody out there to not only pay you money, but then to read your book.
Now, if they get to the end of it, they're clearly the right kind of market and there's a really good chance that they'd want to read something else you wrote. And for every time a sale happens without you giving them an opportunity to connect with you and to learn about your next book, it’s multiple future sales lost. And again, like we've talked about too, those e-mail numbers really play a big part if you're going the published route.
And I get it, I know that a lot of authors are like, super scared about e-mail. I'll admit, too, it's my least favourite thing in the world. So I'm not an e-mail lover. I get it. I sweat every time I have to send out an e-mail. It just … I get it. But there is no denying the efficacy of an e-mail list across the board from future sales to publishing deals.
Morgan Greene: You’re completely right. But it’s never been tougher to do that. It's harder than ever now to gather an e-mail list as an author because many readers especially in crime and thriller, they're reading across multiple, multiple authors and finding new authors all the time. They are consumers of fiction. They read so much that it's difficult to get them to kind of commit to an e-mail list because you’re one of so many authors they’re reading. So you know, I think building it from the very start is important, but having a plan of how to build it, I think is is just as important.
Dave Chesson: I think the biggest reason why e-mail lists are so hard is because I think a lot of people really don't put the right effort into it. Telling somebody: Hey, join my e-mail list. No, no. Like, I'm not gonna join e-mail. It's like, why would I do that? I mean I have to really love your writing and more than likely I will have had to have read multiple books before I sign up. I'm just like, I'm a fan of this author and sure, whatever you want.
But here's the thing though: my number one recommendation, especially to fiction authors, is to write an offer. A mini book or a free content upgrade, as we call it, that's connected to the story they just read. A lot of authors will just sit down and say: Hey, sign up and I'll send you my short story or some random other story. No, I don't care. Like just because I read one of your books does not mean I love your writing.
Okay, now that's that's a mistake a lot of authors make. I love the story. I'm invested in the story. I believe that it takes four to five interactions with somebody's writing before somebody will finally say I'm a fan of this author and I will read whatever they write. So just by offering me some random short story, I'm not going to sign up.
But imagine this: I just finished reading your book and we'll say that it was a crime mystery novel. Okay, I got to the end of it. I'm into the story, this is great. Now imagine, what if you offered to, if I sign up for your e-mail list, send me the prelude to the story I just read or, a short story on the first murder that the serial killer did. Or maybe a side story.
You know, maybe inside the story that I just read, it talked about somebody who was murdered. Okay, but because this is a serial killer, it moved on to the next murder, then the next murder. And so you offer me a detailed short story on the first murder.
Or we can even do this on say if your protagonist is an ex-cop and that there was some case that caused them to just quit the force and become a detective. You don't have to tell me the full exact details of said case, but, boy, if you offered me that short side story on that first case that caused the protagonist that I just rooted for the thing that made them pivot from the the police force to then come and be a private detective … Oh, my goodness, yes. I'm all about that.
And so not only am I going to sign up for your e-mail, I'm actually going to read the thing you send me. And now you've got me hooked even more in this series or story or character or whatever it is. And when you do that, you're going to have much higher conversions on people who sign up for your e-mail, and you will have even higher conversions of those who actually will read the thing you send. So my message to authors is to give readers something connected to the story they just invested their time into, and you will not only have happier customers, you'll have better numbers and you'll have better interaction.
This is such an interesting tip here: build your email list. But it’s so, so hard. People don’t want to sign up for more thing to receive more emails. They are inundated as it is. It’s why there’s such a fine balance with the amount of energy and money you put into an email list and the rewards you reap. As an author, the primary function of my list is to; a) when a book comes up on pre-order, I tell my list and they order it (if they haven’t already). And b) when a book comes out, tell them, and they order it.
The thing is that a pre-order-click-through at the end of your previous book is so useful for capturing pre-orders of the next title. Imperative, I’d say. The question is, how do you get those readers out of that Amazon loop, and into a sign-up funnel? Because that’s the tricky part, right? You run ads to get readers to buy the book. They’ll only sign up, as Dave says, once they love your work. Three, four books, whatever. But at that point, how do you get them out of this Kindle loop or whatever it is, and into your email list?
This is one of the biggest issues facing authors, and it’s one I haven’t cracked. It’s really difficult, and really time-consuming, and expensive, and it doesn’t yield solid, replicable results. I’ve tried giveaways on my socials, and only succeeded in having the same people sign up for the same list multiple times. I’ve offered free books through ads; but that doesn’t work either. So, what’s the answer? Honestly, I don’t know. But it’s something I’m going to be diving into with my upcoming author interviews to see how all the successful author do it.
Morgan Greene: I don't think that there is a better takeaway than that. And I think that that is a, as we said, a gold dust tip for anybody who is looking to embark on this journey. There's never, never a point where it's too early to start building your list.
And if you are thinking about putting out your first book or you've just put it out, build your list, get emails, get people you can e-mail to tell them about new releases. To tell them to get excited about your next book coming out.
Because as we've said, whether you're going it alone, you're going to do it with an indie publisher, or you're going to go the agent and traditional publisher route, having that list, having those figures and having the ability to sell your own books is going to, turn your hobby into a career.
Alright, well, that’s it! That’s the Dave Chesson interview. If you enjoyed this and found something to take away, then leave a comment down below and consider subscribing for more author-focused content like this. There are lots of great interviews, both written and live to sink your teeth into, so stay tuned.
Thanks for reading. See you next time!