I recently had a great conversation around self publishing and building your audience with author Phillip Duncan.
My favorite part of this conversation was how he got over 200 reviews on his book across both Amazon and Goodreads.
How did he do it?
He made his book free for five days, then timed a bunch of newsletter promos to push audiences towards his book while it was free.
Those newsletter promos consisted of
During the timeframe that it was free, his book got thousands of downloads.
Eventually, those downloads turned into over 200 reviews on Amazon (“verified reviews” - since books were “purchased” on Amazon) and Goodreads.
He's got a lot of other great advice and I've created some highlights from our conversation. So let's go ahead and jump into it.
I was trying to find something that I enjoyed because I know I didn't enjoy what I was doing.
I was basically throwing anything at the wall to see what stuck, but I kind of always in the back of my head knew I liked writing.
I knew nothing about self publishing.
I was probably like most people, and traditional publishing was the only thing I ever heard of.
So I thought that was the route you would go.
Then, I found self-publishing and saw it was possible to do it full time.
It's definitely a marathon, not a sprint, but it can be absolutely a full-time career.
Then, it came down to what kind of books that I wanted to write, so I asked myself, “What kind of book do I like to read?”
I like thrillers, and really, I like fast-paced thrillers - something that's action from start all the way through to the end.
I can think back to just getting started and there's a thousand things going through your head and you just don't know where to start.
If you're anything like me, you end up starting about 10 different spots, which means you don't ever get to the finish line of anything.
And, I knew the importance of an email list, because the job I worked at before was a small business.
I just didn't realize how important it was as an author.
So, I asked myself, “How do you get an email list? What email provider do you go to? What do you write these people?”
I thought there's no way anybody is ever going to get on my email list. There's no way some random person's going to stumble across you.
Then, I stumbled across StoryOrigin.
I had zero people on my list, and I had no idea how to get anybody on my list.
StoryOrigin is where my very first email subscriber came from, and that's where my continual growth comes from.
Being able to connect with people on my list has been really cool, and I think that in the long run it helps with your platform, your brand, and getting more sales.
Every time I look at Amazon, I get a couple of new reviews on there, and I'm not pushing anything. I don't have ads running or promos running or anything like that.
As people trickle onto my email list, and they get my book. Then, they'll go on Amazon and they'll leave a review, which is huge.
I didn't understand the concept of reader magnets at first, and I didn't want to spend the time to write one when I could be writing my next book.
I decided to just make my first book my reader magnet.
I tell people now: if you can get a reader magnet, especially if you haven't launched a book yet or published a book, to just write a short story.
But I've also seen some really creative, different ways people have done it.
It just has to be something attention grabbing for that genre that is going to give somebody the incentive to give you their email.
I didn't have this mindset starting out. Nobody told me that the first book is really just a stepping stone.
Write that first book and use that as a reader magnet, or use that to get people on your list. That's so important.
Then, focus on writing more books, because that's where the money comes from.
You can have a reader magnet, but if readers can't find it, it doesn't do anything.
I've got a landing page on my website, so anybody that stumbles across my website can just type in their email and get it.
Sometimes, I also run cheap Facebook ads, and link it to my reader magnet on StoryOrigin, which makes it super easy for them to get it, I get their email, they download it.
It's just seamless.
I don't run Facebook ads all the time and I actually haven't done it in a while, but when I do, I just set a $5 limit for the day and I just target two big people in my genre.
I'm more concerned with getting an email than I am getting $1.50 from Amazon.
I don't know if it's just my genre being a thriller genre, but I've seen 50, 60, 70, 100 sign-ups in a day from that $5.
It's wild sometimes.
Since I've started, my open rate has always hovered between about 33 and 40%.
It's never really wavered too far, one way or the other.
A lot of it is about having a welcome sequence.
As soon as you get somebody's email, they shouldn't be sitting there for a week, two weeks, three weeks before they ever hear from you.
If you wait two weeks, they'll say “Oh, who are you? I got your book? I didn't even know I had your book. I totally forgot. Oh, I'll read it sometime.” Then, you'll never hear from them and they'll unsubscribe.
They want to know:
It gets your readers into your mind, which makes them feel more personally connected with you.
You have to connect with them as soon as you can, or they're going to lose interest, they're going to forget who you are
I think having a call to action to get engagement back is really important.
It's especially with new readers on your list, because that's when they form an initial impression. Try to connect with that person.
If I share what really drove me into becoming a self published author, then my call-to-action might be, “Hey, have you ever thought about writing a book? If so, what kind of book would you like to write?”
Even if the person just replies, “romance.” and they don't really engage, just reply, “Oh, that's great! Who's your favorite author to read?”
What you respond back with is what's important.
For example, when I first interviewed you [Evan] for something, I was like, “Dude, you're the guy. You used to email me back directly. I got your personal response. I use your platform and your software, and then I get responses from you.”
Lowering the barrier to entry is the important part, because you want them to respond, and if they feel like you just gave them homework, they're probably not going to do it.
One was an older lady. She was like, “I love reading these kinds of books. And like I picked up your book, it looked really interesting. I can't wait to read it. I'm gonna let you know.”
After she read it, she asked me about 10 questions.
That was really cool, because some answers she knew, and I think she just wanted to see what the author of the book would say about her question.
Then, some of the questions were because she was really curious, which: 1) I know she read the book because she wouldn't have known those questions otherwise, and 2), I made me think, “Man, this person's my biggest fan besides my wife. This is awesome!”
I stumbled into this method, and the first time I thought “maybe it's a happy accident.”
So I went back and did the exact same thing, and the second time I got similar results.
Here's what I did (note, this isn't free): I paid a cheap fee for a promotional site for my genre and paired that with newsletter swaps and group promos on StoryOrigin, and then went into my KDP account and made my book free for those days of the promotions.
I'm talking skyrocket downloads, which I have seen on the back end of that weeks later reviews trickling in.
I think it's why I've been able to get almost 200+ reviews across Goodreads and Amazon.
I don't think it would have been as successful if I didn't also pair it with newsletter swaps and group promos on StoryOrigin.
The idea here is to “promo stack” these things to make it as hard of a hit as I could.
It worked twice, which was awesome.
I hit number one across multiple categories in both the Amazon US store and the Amazon UK store, and even landed in the top 25 of the entire Kindle store for free books.
From doing that twice, my total downloads probably came in just shy of 8,000 (total from both of them).
Some days I'd get on there and I'd see 2,500 downloads on my book. And like a day I was like, “what is happening?”
Then, I screenshot those things to use for promotional material later on.
I shared those screenshots with my list and got a huge number of responses saying things like “That's so cool.” or “We're so happy for you.” or “We're so proud of you.”
I don't do stuff like that often, because it makes you seem like you're bragging, but it's a great way to engage with your audience.
When you're on StoryOrigin, you join somebody else's group promotion, but I always tell people “That's great, but you can also organize your own group promotion.”
The cool thing about organizing your own group promo is that you get to decide where your book lands on that group promotion page.
I've seen this happen multiple times. I've done it.
When I run my own group promotion vs. joining somebody else's group promotion: my downloads are always higher for my books, because they're at the top.
I could go get a drink of water from the fridge and come sit back down, and I could have a group promotion done.
Even if you're not like a tech genius.
I've taught myself some things, but I'm not a sit-down-on-the-computer-and-just-figure everything-out-kind-of-guy.
And another thing I really like about StoryOrigin is how willing and open authors are to accepting new authors.
I think this next part is important to say.
I remember getting started out and thinking “My application to this group promos shows how many people are on my email list, and you see this big goose egg. What's the point of even asking somebody to take me in because nobody is because I got zero people.”
They do it every time.
StoryOrigin to me is unique in that aspect because it's such an open community, especially for people just getting started, which is so helpful when you feel so overwhelmed and so defeated really early on.
I actually love when people apply and I see their list is super small or non-existence.
I think back to when I was starting out and I would be sending texting my buddy, “Dude, I've got 10 people on my list. This is crazy.”
Then, next week I'd text him, “Dude, I got 75. This doesn't make any sense.”
You look at it now and it seems funny, but getting started like can be so difficult.
It feels like you're never going to get the momentum to keep going or even get your feet off the ground.
Now, I'm probably nearing 2,000 subscribers, but it wasn't that long ago that I had 0 subscribers.
I haven't been doing this for 10 years. It was not that long ago.
There are things that you need to do behind the scenes that feel like it's going to take forever, but it's like building the foundation for your house.
You're not always going to be working on the foundation.
Eventually you're going to start adding cool things like the bathroom that you want, the bedroom that you want, the kitchen with the island, etc.
For example, email sequences, writing a reader magnet (or if you've got a first book, you just do what I didn't just use that as your reader magnet), and figuring things out like StoryOrigin (where I got my first people onto my email list).
You do hours of work to get one person on your list, but each incremental subscriber is easier.
Then you get to the point where I am now.
Within the next couple of weeks, I'll have dozens of dozens, if not over a hundred more emails onto my list, just from knowing how to do certain things: creating your own group, arranging newsletter swaps, joining group promos.
Especially for starting out, just focus on StoryOrigin.
Figure things out - all the different features that it has.
It's not that hard to figure out, but once you figure it out, getting it set up and doing it each time is easier.
You have a blueprint and it's just plug and play.
I will at the minimum send at least one email a month.
I try to make it like bi-weekly, as long as I feel like the email I'm sending isn't completely pointless.
How do you expect to have a relationship with your audience if you only email them once every three months?
You're not. It's just not going to happen.
I might share something my daughter did that was cute, or something my son did that I thought was hilarious.
Or, I might say “I just went and saw top gun Maverick. I thought it was great. Anybody else see a movie lately?”
Sometimes I share personal stories that are also related to my books: things that have happened to me, locations, different relationships.
A lot of the stuff that's happened actually works for my genre.
For example, I'll share: “Hey, this one time at summer camp, this thing happened to me… and I used that camp as a setting for one of my books.” And then, I'll get responses like, “Oh, that's super cool!”
Not only do they hear a story about me in real life with something happening, but I actually use that same location and scenery in my book as well.
When you're getting started in something like this, there are so many different things to do and get set in place.
I recommend you do not wait until your book is published to get started on the other stuff.
You can work on your email list. You can build your sequence out. You can start getting people on your list with your reader magnet.
You're just building the foundation of your house and it's going to take a lot of work early on, but then you don't really have to go back and touch these things again.
What you're getting from something like StoryOrigin versus having to go and try and figure out 10 different places, it's going to be way easier, especially getting started out.
You have to find somewhere like this.
And for me, I don't recommend anything else but StoryOrigin.
It's like this community of authors that they're coming together online.
You never really meet these people, but they're all willing to help.
When somebody comes to me, this is the first thing I tell them.
If you're going to build your house, StoryOrigin is part of that foundation of your house or should be, and it'll make it way easier.
About the author: Evan Gow is the indie developer of StoryOrigin