How can you use video to attract readers to your books — and create multiple streams of income? Meg La Torre gives some tips for video marketing.
In the intro, ACX emails the community apologizing for an incredibly slow production process; but doesn’t address the serious issue of returns [Susan May Writer]; ALLi revokes ACX as a recommended self-publishing service; Level up your author business [ALLi]; and Tree of Life, ARKANE 11, is in the final stages of production. Out 9 Dec 2020.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Meg LaTorre is a bestselling science fiction and fantasy author, YouTuber at iWriterly, speaker, and a blogger. She previously worked at a literary agency and has a background in magazine publishing, medical and technical writing, and journalism. Her latest book is The Cyborg Tinkerer.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.
- Thoughts on publishing options and what authors get wrong when pitching agents
- The difference between AuthorTubers and BookTubers
- What works, and doesn’t work, when selling books on YouTube
- What kind of personality suits video marketing
- Tips for YouTube video titles and graphics
- Why consistency matters for feeding the YouTube algorithms
- How YouTube can add to an author’s multiple streams of income
Transcript of Interview with Meg LaTorre
Joanna: Meg LaTorre is a bestselling science fiction and fantasy author, YouTuber at iWriterly, speaker, and a blogger. She previously worked at a literary agency and has a background in magazine publishing, medical and technical writing, and journalism. Her latest book is The Cyborg Tinkerer. Welcome, Meg.
Meg: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show.
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing and publishing?
Meg: Like a lot of people, I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I always knew I wanted to write books, but I didn’t actively start writing books until probably about 10 years ago. After I’d been working in corporate for a few years as a journalist and technical writer and eventually as a magazine editor, I applied for an internship at a literary agency.
I worked there for a few years and was eventually promoted from intern to literary agent apprentice, which at other agencies, is basically the equivalent of an associate agent in that you take on clients, you go on a submission, you negotiate contracts and so forth.
While I was working at the agency, I was writing my own novels on the side and I started a YouTube channel. I actually started my YouTube channel because I saw so many writers making the same mistakes when querying. And I wanted to find a way to help educate writers so they had a quicker learning curve.
Eventually, I left the agency due to personal reasons, and I kept on doing YouTube and writing my own books, which I leads to where I am today.
Joanna: That is great. And you said something I know everyone’s ears have picked up. You said you saw writers making the same mistakes when querying.
Joanna: I know people want to know what those query mistakes are!
Meg: When you’re querying, usually, you send a query letter, your opening pages, and a synopsis to a literary agent. Every single agent is different.
I think the biggest mistake that I saw writers making when they were trying to get a literary agent is that they did not read the submission guidelines. So maybe they would send a query letter and the first four chapters when the agent asked for a query letter, first five pages, and a synopsis.
So they’d be missing materials that the agent asked for. They’d be sending the wrong materials. I saw tons of people would just, like, “Here is my manuscript,” and they’d attach a document. And when you’re opening a lot of documents and getting a lot of emails, after a while, you’re like, “Does this have a virus in it?” You don’t necessarily want to open those big documents.
So not following the submission guidelines was a massive, massive thing. Because if you can’t follow instructions, that probably means you’re not going to be a great person to work with generally speaking. I think that was one of the biggest mistakes.
A lot of people weren’t starting their stories in the right place. That was something that I saw a ton. There were other things too, but I would say not following submission guidelines was interestingly the biggest issue.
Joanna: Which is kind of crazy because it’s there on the website. Generally, most agencies will say, ‘This is what we want.’ And you’re failing before you’ve even gone through a hurdle, right?
Joanna: It’s kind of crazy that people do that. So that is a great tip for people is just read it. I get this is as a podcaster. I get a lot of people pitching for the podcast who have nothing to do with what this channel is about. So, I guess that’s the same wherever.
So, you’re working in this agency, worked in different sides of publishing.
How did what you learned there come over into your own writing life?
Meg: That is a good question. I would say that when I was working at the agency, I was seeing a lot of issues and things arise. Maybe people weren’t starting their stories in the right place. I got to see firsthand what authors struggled in and how they struggle to stand out to agents, to readers in general because if you think about it, agents or readers, and they’re a gatekeeper, if you will.
And so for my own stories, I basically was like, ‘All right. Here are the mistakes that authors are making. I need to navigate those better.’ I need to address where to start my story in the most gripping way possible because if an agent’s reading your first page, first five pages, you have paragraphs to catch them. So, I was like, ‘Okay, I can’t meander. I gotta get right to the thing.’ I would say that really educated me.
I would also say that I saw a lot of, like, in certain genres things sell really well. There are certain tropes. There are certain story types that sell really well in traditional publishing. And then I was noticing there were certain stories that didn’t sell well.
Steampunk didn’t sell well in traditional publishing and that’s something that I love and that I write. And so the indie space became much more appealing for me because of that reason.
But I would say that basically learning the insides of traditional publishing made the brightest stars in self-publishing seem even brighter. But there’s pros and cons to each side if that makes sense. I hope that answers your question.
Joanna: I think that’s great. And it’s so interesting that you say that about steampunk. I saw a lot of steampunk authors a few years back. It’s not a genre I read anymore. But I was in New Zealand and New Zealand is a huge steampunk loving nation.
Meg: Cool. I didn’t know that.
Joanna: They have a massive steampunk festival down there in the South Island.
You saw what was going on in indie, but you were very much embedded in traditional publishing.
What do you feel is the attitude towards independent authors and have things changed?
Meg: When I started, it was in 2016. And essentially, since 2016 to now it’s about…it’s 2020. I’ve seen the rise, for lack of a better word, in the legitimacy of self-publishing.
I would say more indie authors are publishing professional, high-quality books that if you didn’t know what to look for on the copyright page or whatever, they really look no different than traditionally-published books. The books are edited, the covers are gorgeous, the stories are well written, and so forth.
I think things have changed a ton since that time because there has also been a big rise in online book sales. More and more people are moving toward purchasing books online versus a brick and mortar bookstore, which is what traditional publishing relies heavily on.
I think self-publishing has always been a valid path for authors. But there have been trailblazers like yourself who have proven that you can find success and financial freedom by going the indie route. Traditional publishing is no longer the one and only option.
And then there are certain genres, so getting back to steampunk, and types of stories that perform better in the indie space than in traditional publishing, at least, so far that I’ve found. And I’m sure you know this, but I guess for listeners, that the marketplace is constantly shifting. So what might be out of favor right now will come back in favor at some point.
For a while, after ‘The Twilight Saga,’ and ‘The Vampire Diaries,’ and all that sort of stuff, vampires were massively out of favor for a few years and they’re coming back now. So everything cycles in and cycles out. But right now in 2020, steampunk is a little bit of a tough sell in traditional publishing. So that’s one of the reasons why I thought my debut novel, The Cyborg Tinkerer, would do better in the indie space.
I just think that with the indie space and traditional publishing, authors have so many options. So if you really access your author goals, what you want to accomplish out of each book, and then where you think your skill set kind of meshes really well, you have a lot of great options in front of you.
Joanna: I wondered what do you think in terms of personalities? Because I feel like some authors are better suited to being traditionally published and some authors might be better suited to being independent. You obviously have done a lot yourself and made very active choices.
Given the people that you would have seen within the literary agency, what are some of the personality aspects of people who thrive in traditional publishing or people who thrive in indie?
Meg: I think it’s a really interesting question and there are tons of different reasons why someone might thrive in traditional publishing versus indie.
I’ll start with the misconception before we get into the things that might be a reason you might succeed in one path over another. But the biggest misconception is that you do not have to do any marketing if you’re going to be traditionally published. If you’re going to be traditionally published, you have to market.
So you don’t have to do as much marketing because if you’re an indie, you are the one and only person marketing your book unless you hire a PR company. But if you’re in traditional publishing, of course, your publisher is going to do some stuff. But they are going to expect you to also pull your weight.
A lot of authors usually think, “Traditional publishing is the best route for me because I don’t want to market.” Virtually, you have to do it either way. But if you’d like the help and you don’t want to do 100% of the marketing, that might be an appeal, traditional publishing.
Another big appeal or rather I think an author who is wanting to be involved in every part of the process. Maybe they’re a little bit of a control freak. I totally am, so it’s totally cool if you are if you’re listening to this. But I would say if you are, you’re probably going to struggle in traditional publishing because the publisher has the final say for everything.
They might get your input during various parts of the process. They may ask you questions, but push comes to shove, you sold your rights to them, they get the final say. Unless you revert the contract and terminate that relationship, then that can be tough and a long process.
So I would say if you are really wanting to be in creative control, indie might be the best route for you. If you are pretty chill and you’re like, “I don’t really care what the cover looks like. Sure, I’d like to be involved. But the publisher knows best. Let’s just let them handle it,” then maybe, traditional publishing might be better for you.
Then there are genre and age category considerations. What are you writing? If you are writing a dystopian story in the flavor of, Divergent, The Hunger Games, etc., those books are out of favor right now. So maybe the indie market is best for you.
There are other examples, age categories and genres that tend to perform better in one avenue versus another. I think if you really want to get in bookstores, it is absolutely possible to do that as an indie. However, that’s really part of the business model in traditional publishing.
So if your goal is to get your books into bookstores, maybe traditional publishing, but keep in mind, there’s a shelf life. So if your book does get into a bookstore, it’s 6 to 12 months and then your book is out of there and then new books are coming in. So lots of things, pros and cons, for each side to consider.
Joanna: I think that’s the most important thing is that there are pros and cons and those are pros and cons both for the author as a person, but also for the book that you’re selling, and the project.
As you say, this steampunk novel for you might not be the right thing to pitch. But in the future, you might decide there is a project you want to pitch. And I think that’s the way we need to look at it is think about it per book as well as across your career.
You can do lots of different things, right?
Meg: Exactly. My steampunk is a series. Theoretically, I should be working on book two. The creative muse can be a fickle lady. I’m working on something totally unrelated, but it’s like a fantasy romance, and those are performing well. I might query that book in the future.
I think it’s really important to look at it as a per-book, per-project basis, and then study the marketplace before you make your decision.
Joanna: Let’s talk about YouTube because your iWriterly YouTube channel has nearly 70,000 subscribers and that’s super impressive. I’ve had a YouTube channel for, whoa, 11 years and I have less than half of that at YouTube.com/thecreativepenn.
I go backwards and forwards on video. I struggle with it. I don’t particularly enjoy it. I find it very tiring. Many people say, ‘If you’re an author or you’re aiming at readers, readers are reading. So why would they watch video and then pick up a book?’
Why do you focus on video to convince authors that video might be a good idea?
Meg: So just a quick thing, I’ve been watching your YouTube channel for years and I absolutely love it. So don’t discount yourself. You’re doing great.
Joanna: Thank you.
Meg: Of course. Okay. Enough of fangirling. Let me get to the question.
So as far as how YouTube sells books for me, before I get into the how, you can sell books through YouTube or why to YouTube and how I’ve sold books specifically, I just want to offer a quick foundation for using YouTube for authors.
I’m in the AuthorTube space which is essentially a niche on YouTube where creators make videos about writing and publishing books. So this is different from BookTube which is a niche where creators talk about the books they are reading. Those people aren’t necessarily writers, but they can be.
BookTubers make an audience of readers. I think that is one big advantage of a platform like that. AuthorTube, on the other hand, is an audience of writers. So, in my opinion, writers should also be avid readers to improve their craft.
So, therefore, in a way, I’ve created an audience of readers and writers, which in my experience so far, has translated into book sales. But we’ll tackle that in a second.
The difference I think is that writers are far more critical of writing than your regular reader. So that’s often reflected in the reviews you see of books by AuthorTubers.
But let’s talk about how you can market your books on YouTube. The most obvious and, in my opinion, least effective way to market your books on YouTube are through things like book trailers. Other examples are meet-the-cast videos where you usually reveal character art or maybe even something like a writing update video.
I have made some of these videos. They are not my bread and butter. They might move some copies of books, but not nearly as much as you think. Instead, I focus on creating videos that are essentially content marketing and that’s what I highly recommend because that’s what’s worked for me.
But I answer a question about writing or publishing for my audience. And then in the intro or outro of the video, I give a quick shout-out to my books, my courses, my Patreon, or whatever else I have going on at that time. So basically, every single video a viewer watches, you’re bringing them through the marketing funnel and introducing them to your products or services.
And then the difference between soft content marketing and harder marketing like a book trailer is that you’re bringing your audience in by providing value. So typically, if you’re just talking about your books, your YouTube viewers, they don’t care. They’ve never heard of you before.
An audience needs to first be given value before they’re interested in the person who is giving them value.
And then I would say one downside of AuthorTube is that I did not make myself an audience of sci-fi or romance readers. I created an audience of readers of many different age categories and genres. In this niche, you’re not guaranteed to have an audience that reads the age category and genre that you write.
But at the same time, I’ve already had a few Amazon bestselling lists for steampunk, one in the U.S. and one in Canada, less than a month into my preorder. We’re a couple of months into my preorder at this point. And I’ve remained on those lists ever since.
I also know other AuthorTubers who make a full-time income off of their books, YouTube, and other revenue streams. So it has been proven and not just by myself, but by others that YouTube does and can sell books.
Joanna: It is. I love that you say book trailers don’t work because I feel like when authors think of videos, they think, ‘Oh, must do a book trailer.’
I’ve done them on and off over the years and had people do them for me and I’ve never paid for them. I did do one myself back in 2011 which seems like a long time ago now. But I think you’re right.
At the end of the day, it’s just one video. And the success with a YouTube channel, it’s got to be regular content.
If you put one video on a YouTube channel people might go once if you send some traffic there but that’s it, right?
Meg: Exactly. So most YouTube experts recommend that you publish at least one video per week on to your YouTube channel. If you publish a one-off video, it probably is not going to be discovered in YouTube’s algorithm because you have to feed the beast.
You make one video and hopefully get people watching. You make another video, more people watch that. And then the more people that click on your video, engage with it, you have a higher CTM. I always forget the acronym, but you have higher click through rates and then maybe a longer watch time.
Then all of a sudden, your YouTube channel takes off and then you get many, many more views, subscribers, etc. You can’t just do one book trailer ever and never go back to the channel because people are not going to find it. They’re not going to watch it.
Joanna: And what about people just not wanting to put themselves out there. I’ve watched some of your videos. You present yourself very well. You’re very engaging. Obviously, you’re editing videos as well.
But for people who might not be shy and/or introvert, although many writers are, but equally, they might not want to put their face in front of the public.
What can you say about that personality side and who video might suit?
Meg: This is just my opinion. I personally don’t think there is a certain type of person that should or should not be making videos on the internet. I think everyone has something great that they can contribute online. And I think it is very scary to get in front of the camera. Talking and putting your opinions out there does open you to a lot of criticism and I have received a lot of criticism.
But I have received lots of questions from authors and folks who want to start a YouTube channel. And they’re like, ‘Oh, but I am a middle-aged man and blah, blah, blah,’ whatever the example is. And I’m like, ‘So? Just go on and make videos. I don’t know, take a shower and put a light on in front.’
If you have a lamp, a ring light, whatever, put it on, use a microphone, and I think anyone can make videos if they want to. But if you hate being in front of the camera, then don’t do it. If you hate it, I don’t see the point of doing it. But I don’t think that you have to be in front of the camera in order to make videos and be successful on YouTube.
There are tons of people that maybe they do a slide presentation and they’re just like a floating voice in the background talking people through a how-to. They’re talking people through whatever. You’d have to financially be able to afford that or do it yourself where there’s pictures that appear on the screen. Maybe there’s a talking cartoon. So you don’t have to physically appear on the screen.
But I would say as long as you provide value, that’s really what matters. It makes me sad when I hear people that they don’t want to make videos because of their appearance or maybe because they’re nervous. Whenever you’re starting YouTube, you’re starting camera, it’s uncomfortable. You’re going to be awkward at first, but then like anything else, you build the muscle over time and you get better at it.
Joanna: That’s true. And I was really surprised when I looked at my demographics on YouTube because my demographic obviously, I’m mid-forties, my demographic is generally mid-forties or forties, fifties, and older.
Joanna: Yes, that’s the majority of my audience. As we discussed, you’re younger than me and so it’s possible that your audience is younger. My husband is in his late forties and he listens to people of all different ages and all different cultures even.
And I think what is great about YouTube is you’re right. You can find a niche anywhere and there’s no point in trying to be somebody else. You have to be yourself. My husband watches these videos on coding and a lot of them are technical tutorials.
For example, I have tutorials on my channel. There are lots of different ways to video. So I appreciate that you’re talking about these different things that people can do. Because I feel like the assumption is, “Oh, you have to have just the camera on your face,” which is possibly the most scary thing ever.
Meg: Oh, yeah. It’s definitely scary the first couple of videos. My first couple of videos, it was scary and it was very awkward. And it’s going to be scary and awkward at first. So I do think there’s like a learning curve.
Joanna: You mentioned a ring light. I have a ring light here. I have a microphone. Then I personally use ScreenFlow to edit my videos.
What’s your technical setup?
Meg: I have them in my YouTube video description. So I’m trying to remember what they are. I usually use a ring light for the prerecorded videos, not the live stream.
For prerecorded videos, I use the Canon EOS M50. And for lights, I use a ring light. And I think it’s a Neewer ring light, 18-inch, N-E-E-W-E-R. And then I use a lapel microphone. I know there’s fancier setups and stuff but that’s just what I use and I love it.
I also have the sound panels on the wall that absorb the sound so it’s not bouncing back and forth. And then it for live streams, I use the same ring light. I use my computer’s webcam. I tried a ton of different webcams and none of them were as good as my computer’s webcam that was built-in. I have a MacBook Air, I think it’s 2018.
And then I have a little laptop stand. I also use a streaming headset for gaming. I forget what the brand is, but that’s my setup. I don’t think that you have to have this fancy of a setup. If you are just starting out, I think the only thing that you really need is a microphone when you first start out.
You can use your smartphone. You can use natural lighting. Sit in front of a window. The only thing you really need in the beginning is a good microphone because if people can’t hear you, they’re not going to want to watch your videos.
Joanna: That is a good point. And, in fact, there are people listening to this on YouTube and we’re audio-only. So I thought I was going to end my YouTube channel and then I went to Podcast Movement last year. And they said the number of people listening to YouTube audio-only is growing and growing. So I continued doing my podcast as audio-only.
I know it is a smaller group of people, but I think with the whatever the premium YouTube, which you can put it in your pocket and just listen, you don’t actually have to watch the video.
Do you have any thoughts on audio-only for YouTube?
Meg: Oh, my gosh. I have so many feelings. As a consumer, I love audio-only YouTube video. So I don’t know, Joanna, how you consume your content, but I have a three-year-old child and I’m a stay-at-home mom. So I’m with him all the time and everything I do with YouTube and my books is during naptime.
When I’m in the middle of doing stuff, I will be listening to YouTube audio only stuff and that’s how I consume a lot of my content. I rarely ever sit down and watch a YouTube video. I’m always listening to it.
Then I think with the rise in audiobooks, with the rise in podcasts, I think there is tons of people who just open YouTube and they listen to it and they don’t necessarily watch it. But I think there’s going to be a certain topic that’s going to lend better to that.
So maybe an interview or a how-to that doesn’t involve some type of screen sharing because if you’re teaching someone how to use something like video editing software, you have to sit down and watch that. But if it’s a how-to principles and sort of a thing, I think that’s definitely growing on YouTube and it can perform really well.
I would say that from what I have seen, when you’re doing YouTube videos, if you’re doing a podcast…I have a lot of friends that do podcasts and then kind of translate that podcast into a YouTube episode. It does seem to perform better if you have a video to go along with it. But I don’t think that’s a make-or-break for the success of that video or YouTube channel.
Joanna: That’s great you said that. Because I just listen on podcast stats but, of course, there’s an audience who, just like my husband, who use YouTube so much that that’s just the default app. And my sister-in-law also, she listens to Audiobooks on YouTube. It’s incredible.
We have these assumptions around how people consume whatever they consume and so often they’re wrong. They’re just based on what we do.
Any more thoughts on what are authors doing wrong with YouTube or any tips to make it better?
Meg: Absolutely. I think many authors post videos about their books or about themselves without thinking about creating content for an audience. In other words, they’re making content for themselves rather than for an intended audience.
So this could be things like day-in-the-life vlogs, tags, books trailers, and so forth. As I said before, if the audience doesn’t know who you are, they probably are not going to care about your books, what your daily life looks like, and so forth.
I think that you need to provide value to an audience first and foremost. Answer a question, entertain them, educate, inspire, whatever. And then only once you’ve provided value and built up an audience should you then start sharing more about yourself, in my opinion.
Joanna: Interesting. And I’ll tell you one of the things that I really noticed about your videos and a lot of…let’s face it, younger YouTubers than me, is your thumbnail image. I know I have this wrong but because I have literally thousands of videos at this point, I just cannot be bothered updating it.
What are your thoughts on thumbnail images and how to do good ones?
Meg: Absolutely. I think one, the thing that a lot of people also get wrong when it comes to thumbnails is they pick the ones that are auto-generated by YouTube. Let’s be frank. None of those are cute. No one looks good in those.
It’s always like you’re halfway talking through something. And the thing with thumbnails is you have basically two chances to catch a reader’s attention. And I think it’s CTM… Darn skippy. I can never remember the exact acronym. But on YouTube, it is a very highly valued thing where essentially is if your thumbnail or your video appears in front of a viewer on YouTube, if they click it, then that goes towards that percentage.
The higher the percentage, the more YouTube is going to recommend your video. So it’s really, really, really important that you have an awesome thumbnail and video title.
A lot of times your video title should have a bunch of keywords, key phrases in it, as far as discoverability. And then your thumbnail should have a more, in my opinion, personal appeal. So if your video is like, ‘How to Write a Book,’ or ‘Things to Avoid when Starting your Novel,’ and then your thumbnail can be, like, ‘How to Make your Novel Opening not Suck.’
It’s a really bad example but hopefully, you get the idea. Something on a human level that humans will be like, ‘Oh, yeah. I’d like my novel opening not to suck. Let me click on that video.’
I think there needs to be some type of text and it has to be easy to read and it has to be big. You can’t do 20 words on there. Five words if you can help it, as few words as possible. And then you also maybe have a picture of yourself, your face, so then people start getting brand recognition, author recognition. They’re like, ‘Oh, that person. I’ve watched her stuff before or his stuff before.’
I would say a trend that you might see on thumbnails is when people do that little white outline around themselves. I’ve seen that in a lot of things. Or maybe they cut out the background and they have bright colors. And then you just see maybe a PNG file of their face, a bright background, and then bright text. Whatever it is, it needs to be easy to read and eye-catching.
Joanna: I redid my thumbnails probably about three or four years ago now. And, of course, the trends change as you say. And so the more regular YouTubers obviously now update things as they go and everything.
I think it’s important to be clear that YouTube is its own ecosystem. And if you want to do well on YouTube, you have to focus on it as your primary thing, right? Because it can be all-encompassing is well. Obviously you’re writing and you’ve got your child and you’ve got your life.
If you want to do well on YouTube, you do have to focus on it.
Meg: Absolutely. I think YouTube is a marathon and not a sprint. If you want to be on YouTube, you’ve got to be on YouTube. Post a video every single week. Show up.
Even if you’re exhausted, even if you know that you’re going on vacation next week, record two videos the week before. Have that ready and set to go. Or for three weeks or whatever it is.
Plan ahead so then that way, you have to teach YouTube’s algorithm to start picking up your video. If you don’t show up every week, then it’s going to be a lot harder to get discovered.
I think I was making videos for about two-and-half years. Every single week I was posting videos for two-and-half years before YouTube picked me up and then my channel grew from 3,000 subscribers to 33,000 subscribers in one year. That was 2019. 2020, I’m already at 70,000 subscribers.
You have to show up every single week, make content and then hope that, yeah, YouTube’s algorithm picks you up. You have to learn the rules in order to be discovered.
Joanna: And that’s no different with our books, of course. We all understand the things we have to do with our metadata and our content and it’s the same if you have a podcast. I think this is just true of anything.
And to build a brand, as you mentioned brand recognition, it is not an overnight thing. It does take time. So what is great though, about YouTube, and like this podcast as well, is that you are doing content marketing that can sell books. But you can also bring in income in other ways.
When I was looking at your channel, I noticed you have ads, you have all kinds of different things. You have Patreon. You have lots of things.
Tell us how do your streams of income work for your business and your YouTube channel?
Meg: I will run through a couple of the different streams of income. And personally, I want as many passive streams of income as possible versus active streams.
I have what’s called AdSense on YouTube videos. And that’s where companies will put advertisements at the beginning, middle, or end of the video. It’s usually the skippable or non-skippable ads that you see at the very beginning of the video and that you make money on every single month. YouTube pays you directly. Once you get bigger, it’s usually a much smaller portion of your income and it takes a long time to make any money.
I think when I had 2,000 subscribers, I probably made, I don’t know, $100 a month, $200 a month. It’s not much, but then once you get bigger, you make more and so forth.
I also work directly with sponsors. So that’s when you will hear in a video itself, I’ll say something like “This video is sponsored by…insert sponsor here.” And then there’s usually like a 30-second shot out about a sponsor and then an offer at the end of the video.
And then I also have merchandise. I use a company called Teespring. And I chose them for a couple of reasons. I really wanted to work with a print-on-demand company. I did not want to make the products myself. I didn’t want to store them in my house. I didn’t want to ship them. I hate going to the post office.
Joanna: Me too.
Meg: Right? I hate it so much. I wanted someone else to do that for me. So I just have to create designs, upload them to Teespring. I set the individual products for sale on the website where I have to make those listings and then I obviously market it.
I think one big appeal for Teespring is that they have a partnership with YouTube. So if you go to my YouTube channel, youtube.com/iwriterly, there is a bunch of tabs that will appear there and one of them is called Store. So you’ll see a bunch of individual listings from Teespring.
Then if you click on one of my videos, below each and every video, you’ll see my listings there too. So it’s kind of like passive marketing for that. And you can go with Redbubble. You can go with other places to do your merchandise but I think that’s one big appeal for Teespring for YouTubers. And they do have good quality stuff, I will say.
Other streams of income, I have affiliate marketing. So if I mention a product or service that I use and love, I will usually include an affiliate link in the YouTube video description or on my website. And then, of course, I disclose that it’s an affiliate link.
I have Patreon. There are six tiers with a bunch of different perks. I have noticed over time, people love early access to my videos and they also love to Discord server. Personally, I had never been on Discord before creating my own server. So I didn’t get the appeal, but I found that a lot of people love Discord server.
Joanna: Explain what that is.
Meg: On Patreon, one of the things that you can hook up is this website called Discord. It’s usually used for gamers and stuff to talk amongst each other and play video games at the same time. At least, historically, that’s what I found. But you kind of create…it’s kinda like a Facebook group but on Discord. And then you have a bunch of channels where you can talk about different things. It’s also kinda like Slack, if you guys have ever heard of Slack before.
And there are different channels for different topics. For mine, I have a bunch of different channels for writing. So one might be, I don’t know, querying, writing books, critique partners, beta readers, whatever, and then people can talk under those various threads about whatever question that they have.
Maybe they’re looking for beta readers and they want to connect with someone there. It’s like a little mini-community of people that like iWriterly can go on this Discord server, and then obviously, for whoever else makes a Discord server. So it’s like a chat room. I hope that answers that question.
Joanna: I didn’t know about that. I have a Patreon. Do they just chat amongst themselves or are you going in there and sort of managing that? Because I don’t even have a Facebook group for the patrons or anything because it’s too much time. How much time does that Discord stuff take?
Meg: I 1000% agree with you which is why I didn’t include a Discord server in my Patreon tiers for the longest time because I was like, ‘I barely have time to do what I’m currently doing.’ I don’t have time to get on a server every single day and chat with people.
But I would say patrons love it when you’re on there, but they’re going to talk amongst themselves. So you have to nominate moderators. So you maybe could hire them. Or maybe if you have diehard fans in the groups that have proven themselves to be good humans, you can ask them if they want to be a moderator.
And then if there’s any kind of bad language, people are being abusive towards other people online, the moderators would kick them out of the server, that sort of a thing. But no, you don’t have to be on there. People love it when you do.
I would say I do monthly writing sprints in my group and that is when I get to chat with everyone and we do writing stuff together. But you do not have to be on there every day.
Joanna: I’m going to think about that. It’s really interesting. In fact, by the time this goes out, I might already have done it! But you’ve just given me that idea. So thank you for that.
Coming back on your streams of income, what else did you have?
Meg: Besides all the ones I’ve mentioned, I have a thing called Ko-fi. I have no idea how to say that one. This is where people have the option to buy you a cup of coffee or several cups of coffee if they’re feeling generous. And this is usually for folks who might love your content but they aren’t able or interested in a monthly model to support you like Patreon, because Patreon, is a monthly payment sort of a thing.
I also have courses. I’m new to this one. I’ve recently launched a Skillshare course about how to write a query letter that hooks a literary agent. I have not been pleased with Skillshare, the model and platform so far. But once you post a class, they have it indefinitely. So it’s a downside, I think, of Skillshare.
I’ll probably go with another service for hosting courses in the future.
[From Joanna: I use and recommend Teachable – affiliate link.]
But I think courses are a great stream of passive income, especially if your audience keeps asking you the same questions over and over and over again. And then you have that way to be like, ‘I’m here. I’m answering your question.’
And then once my book comes out in November 2020, I will have the revenue streams from the e-book, the paperback, the hardcover, and the audiobook. I haven’t done a ton of paid in-person speaking gigs. I had some lined up for summer of 2020 but with the pandemic, that’s not going to be happening.
I also used to do freelance editing as well. But over time, I found myself needing to transition from active streams of income to more passive streams of income. So I did step back from doing that.
Joanna: That is great. I thought I was the queen of multiple streams of income, but you are doing incredibly well with these things!
And just to encourage you and people listening, I started setting up passive streams of income back in 2008 when I started my blog. I, from day one, included things like Amazon affiliate links and over the years, I’ve just added more and more and everything. And over time, as it grows, it’s like that snowball.
I think my first affiliate payment was about 20 cents or something or a dollar, and you think, ‘Why am I bothering?’ And then over time as your audience grows, they grow. So I’m just thrilled with what you’re doing. It’s fantastic.
Meg: Thank you. I’m super curious if I’m allowed to ask a question.
What are some streams of income that you would recommend for all authors?
Joanna: I think you’re doing exactly what I’ve done. I think the affiliate model is something that people forget a lot. So anything where if you link to a book even, and I know it’s cents. It really is just a few cents linking a book with an Amazon link.
Kobo has an affiliate. So does Apple. Google also has affiliate links. So all of my books on my sites are linked through affiliate links so that basically, there’s just an extra few cents on every single click.
And then as you’ve done, I noticed ProWritingAid has sponsored one of your shows and I love that software or Scrivener software, other software that you can get that you actively use and love. And if you’re building great content like you are, then you can generally get affiliate relationships with things.
And obviously, over time, you build up relationships and you can get better opportunities. But you have to start somewhere. So that’s all I’ve done basically is if I like something, the first thing I go and do is see if I can apply for an affiliate link.
Meg: It’s so smart because I personally am a believer that affiliate links should be products that you love and use, not just any product to make money.
Joanna: Oh, yes. They have to be. They have to be something you love and use and companies that you love and use. The sponsors on this podcast, they’re all companies I use and work with and have done for years. So I think it’s really important to be ethical.
Affiliate marketing has a bad name in some niches, but if you’re authentic about it as you are and I am, then it’s a great stream of income.
How did you shift your mindset or were you always this way in that you’re a creative and an artist but you’re also a businesswoman?
Meg: I started writing books 10 years ago and I remember feeling like when I first started that I was just shouting into the void, that there was just a lot of things going on and it’s really hard to stand out if you’re just an author.
I remember at some point being, ‘I need to do something else in order to kind of make a brand or make a name for myself,’ and I kind of stumbled into YouTube. It wasn’t an on-purpose thing.
I wanted to help people. That was always one of my biggest goals and motivators, was I wanted to help and to educate people. But I also wanted to, obviously, make a home for myself on the internet.
So I think if you’re an author and you want to find a way to stand out, I think branding is really important. I think you need to make a home base for yourself on the internet. Yes, you should have a website, but maybe it needs to be something else too in order to kind of grow your platform, essentially.
Joanna: I think that’s what you recognize there is, ‘If I just have a book then how do I stand out in that way?’ and that is the author platform thing is the perennial question, isn’t it? It’s sort of, ‘What can I do and how can I reach people?’
A lot of people now are using more paid ads, I think, to stand out specifically with fiction, I think.
How are you going to incorporate book marketing alongside everything else you do?
Meg: I need to get better at it, is the short answer of it. I think so far, I’ve relied pretty heavily on my content marketing. I do have a sizeable audience at this point. But at the same time, I do want to more actively use things like Amazon ads, Instagram ads, BookBub newsletters, and target readers in my age category and genre.
I do want to use those sorts of things in the future. I think personally, I’ve debated on whether it’s worth it at this point. I have one book coming out and I’ve heard that a lot of times, the advertising works best when you have a backlist so I’m like, ‘Do I just write a bunch of books and then kind of pursue some of those things?’
So it’s something that I want to get better at. But I think advertising or reaching out to platforms where they have an audience of built-in readers, so reaching out to BookTubers that have an audience, your target audience. So for me it’s sci-fi readers, space opera readers, steampunk readers, so reaching out to them, asking if I can guest-speak. I think that’s something that I need to work on going forward.
Joanna: Oh, that’s great. And you’ve got such a great channel that you have a platform to do that from like this show. If I had been pitched by someone whose first book was just coming out and that was the only thing about them, then clearly, I’m not going to talk to that person.
Meg: Yes. It’s a tough truth.
Joanna: That’s everyone. I get pitches about that every single day. ‘My new book is coming out,’ and it’s like, ‘Well, like the rest of us, that’s not newsworthy,’ but it’s your ability on YouTube, that I wanted to talk to you about. And you’ve given me some great ideas. So I’m thrilled about that.
Where can we find you and your books and your YouTube channel and everything you do online?
I’m also at Patreon over at patreon.com/iwriterly. And then for more information about my newsletters, books, and other things I’m up to, you can visit iwriterly.com.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Meg. That was great.
Meg: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. This has been an absolute pleasure.
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Author: Joanna Penn