Do you want to sell more books, write faster, and make a living as an author? The Sell More Books Show Summit held in Chicago May 4 – 6, 2018 was the place to be for indie authors who want to level up their careers.
The event, hosted by Bryan Cohen & Jim Kukral of the Sell More Books Show podcast and co-hosted by J. Thorn & Zach Bohannon of the Career Author podcast, brought over 100 indie authors together for learning and networking in the Windy City.
The conference brought together a much-anticipated speaker lineup including Lindsay Buroker, Chris Fox, Monica Leonelle, Brian Meeks, and Rachael Herron in addition to Bryan, Jim, J, and Zach. So many of my indie author heroes in one place!
What made this conference stand out from others? Intimacy. The venue was a small comedy theatre in Lakeview (a Chicago neighborhood away from the Mag Mile tourist hustle & bustle). I connected with nearly all of the attendees given the smaller audience size.
Access to the speakers was incredible. The hosts put a lot of thought into the design of the event. Friday evening was an icebreaker at a local watering hole where authors could chat over drinks and listen to two live podcast episodes:
The Petal to the Metal (J. Thorn and Rachael Herron)
The Sell More Books Show (Bryan Cohen & Jim Kukral)
Even for the most introverted among us, there were numerous opportunities to connect with speakers, sponsors, and other authors.
Saturday was jam-packed with all-day sessions followed by a happy hour networking event sponsored by BookFunnel, then a genre dinner at a nearby Swedish restaurant. I sat at the sci-fi table and enjoyed connecting and sharing ideas with the authors I met.
I had the privilege of being part of the SMBSS AV club with author Jamie Davis! We had a lot of fun in our front row seats.
Here were my top takeaways from the event.
1. Flagship Series
Chris Fox says authors should consider creating a flagship series such as A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones), Harry Potter, and Dresden Files.
Flagship series are well branded, long (1 million words+), and designed to create loyal readers. Readers should get lost in your world. Series such as this can be easily expanded.
Marketing gets easier because you create lifelong fans who will be ravenous for your work.
Tips for creating a flagship series include:
- Create open loops that make readers wonder about your world.
- Narrative drive – Why does the main character do what they do? Simple plots don’t sell as well.
- Character growth – Everyone should change, not just your main character.
2. Revision is the most important part of writing.
Rachael Herron spoke about revision & improving as a writer. While many writers dislike editing, Herron says, “embrace it.” She provided the audience with her own editing process.
Start with theme. When you do so, every choice is made easier. Every scene should support your theme.
Go fast and write your first crappy draft. Then create a short sentence outline that becomes your map.
Ask yourself whether certain scenes are boring. When in doubt, cut the scene but always make a file where you save the text you’re deleting.
Herron talked about multiple layers of revisions. Do a pass for each: setting, character description, character voice, dialog tags, emotion.
3. Write Faster. Get mobile.
Authors Lindsay Buroker, Chris Fox, and Monica Leonelle hosted a panel on writing faster.
Monica does a deep outline with beats. This approach cuts down her editing time. She recommends you “get your writing mobile.” Write on your phone. You can do an 8-minute writing sprint anywhere and get 150-200 words down. Check out my article about her book, 8-Minute Writing Habit.
Chris Fox: Push the writing goal a little every day. Track your time. Check out Chris’s book 5,000 Words Per Hour.
4. Get the basics in place before you start advertising.
Bryan Cohen gave a talk on email sequences and connecting. He stresses the importance of laying the foundation for your website and email list, including creating email sequences that are sent automatically.
Many authors make the mistake of advertising when they don’t have a good system in place to engage with readers coming onto their lists.
The basic steps are:
- Write automatic emails for your future readers. (Block an afternoon and write these).
- Write a related short story or novella as a lead magnet.
- Set up an email list and landing page.
- Test your funnel yourself and with a few friends.
- Send traffic to your landing page.
5. Get your first book into the hands of as many readers as possible.
I’m in awe of Lindsay Buroker. She’s sold over 1.7 million books since 2010. Yes, that’s million. You can believe when she spoke about how to create loyal fans, my ears perked up.
Plant the seeds, nurture your fandom. Readers want characters who are badass yet vulnerable. Readers love unresolved sexual tension (UST). We do, don’t we? Just think of Scully and Mulder on X-Files. Hint: use UST in your back matter to tease the next book.
Similar to Chris Fox’s open loops concept, Buroker suggests including mysteries/secrets in your writing that are gradually resolved. You don’t need to explain everything at first.
Get your book one into the hands of as many people as possible by using permafree, 99 cent, Kindle Unlimited. Do this, she says, and the money will follow.
Use your mailing list to keep readers excited. Share bonuses such as short stories, interviews with characters, fan art.
6. Use collaboration to grow your body of work and improve your craft.
J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon talked about author co-writing. The key is to find someone who is in a similar life stage and shares similar values.
Complementary skill sets also help. For example, Zach writes the first drafts and J edits. They play off each other’s strengths and interests when it comes to launching and marketing their books.
They use slack and Google docs to collaborate. They stressed it’s up to you to look for opportunities. Co-authoring might not be right for everyone.
7. Look at Cost per Click when it comes to Amazon ads.
Brian Meeks covered everything (Amazon Marketing Services) AMS ads. Brian loves all things data and was an energizing speaker.
PDI interest ads have become harder. Generally, they take 2-6 weeks to turn on. Brian recommends creating 1-2 new PDI ads every 2-3 days. You can have more than one ad with the same ad copy. His best sales days happened when multiple PDI ads turned on.
You should aim for 1 in 10 or even 1 in 8 conversions on your ads. This means 1 in 10 people who click on your ad will buy your book. Using Brian’s approach, you can learn how to track your impressions, conversion rates, and more.
The copy in your sales description (your Amazon book page) is critical to increasing your conversion rate.
Brian recommends ignoring Amazon’s ACOS and instead, looking at cost per click. Also look at your read-through rate on a series. How many go on to read subsequent books?
Bryan’s book, Mastering AMS Ads is amazing and I highly recommend it.
8. Understand the novelist’s dilemma and get creative.
Monica Leonelle’s talk was business-focused. She recommends that authors create product funnels like those used in digital marking. Non-fiction authors have a head start over fiction authors because they can sell products like courses, coaching, and consulting and charge hundreds or thousands of dollars. Books are typically seen as loss leaders.
Novelists have a dilemma because the majority of our products are $2.99 – $5.99 books. There aren’t typically higher-dollar products that we can offer. Leonelle challenged authors to be creative about finding new opportunities.
Series can help you create higher-value offerings. Have multiple series? You could write a standalone that ties your series together (e.g., Marvel Avengers).
- Chris Fox: Keep writing series in the same world.
- Brian Meeks: Pick one thing, get good at it. Get competent at what you enjoy learning.
- Monica Leonelle: Her turning point came when she started thinking of books as products and writing as production time.
- Lindsay Buroker: Consistency was her turning point. If books aren’t selling, it could be your craft. Consider workshops or whether your writing is too niche.
- Chris Fox: Take the long view on your backlog. It’s okay to shelve a series. You can always come back to it after you write another.
- You can track changes in Scrivener and use with your editor as long as they have Scrivener too.
- Rachel Herron: Be brave with your mailing list.
- Zach Bohannon: Connect locally with other authors.
- Bryan Cohen: Do power poses in from of your mirror:-)
You can catch an update from Lindsay Buroker on the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Marketing podcast.
My head spun with so much great content, but one of the best reasons for attending a live conference is the chance to meet and bond with other authors. I met so many talented and friendly authors, several local and others who traveled from far away. We’re all at different stages of the author’s journey, but we all share a passion for writing. We can learn from each other, and together we are stronger.
Rumor has it that there will be a 2019 Sell More Books Show Summit! I’m definitely going again, and I recommend you put this summit on your list if you’re an indie author.