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Many authors think the only reason to build an author platform is to attract a traditional publisher. Some indie authors see the need for a platform to launch their independent book.
But did you know that you can make money from your platform before you publish a book?
To learn how authors can make money from their platform, I interviewed the OG of podcasting. He started his podcast in 2005, he’s in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and he has a new book. Profit from Your Podcast: Proven Strategies to Turn Listeners into a Livelihood (affiliate link) by Dave Jackson.
In our interview, Dave answered important questions about earning money online from the audience you serve.
Where should a beginner start to find an audience?
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: The first step to making money from your audience is to get an audience.
Dave Jackson: It all starts with knowing who your audience is and what they want.
To find out what my audience wants, I sometimes go to Amazon and type in a topic that I’m going to be talking about on the podcast. I read the two and three-star reviews. Those reviews tell me what the reviewer liked about the book and the topic, but they also tell me what aspects of the topic the reviewer wished it would have covered.
That’s how I find out what interested people want to know about a topic. And it’s where I get my angle for covering the topic on my podcast.
Once you do that, you’ll start getting feedback from people saying, “Thank you so much for doing this episode. This really helped me. I didn’t know about that. That was really funny.” When you start getting feedback, then you know you’re connecting with your audience, and that’s when you can start promoting it.
The next step is not to tell them about your podcast, but to actually make friends with people. If the first thing out of your mouth is, “I have a podcast,” the person will be thinking, “Great. Who are you?”
It’s kind of spammy when you lead with the fact that you have a podcast. But if you have real conversations with people, they’ll discover that you’re cool and that you know what you’re talking about.
After you’ve established a friendly conversation around the topic, then you say, “I talked about this once on my podcast.” And at that point, they’re interested and delighted, and they’ll want to know more.
When you’re starting, you need to know who your audience is, go where they are, and listen to what they’re talking about. That will foster ideas for future episodes. Then tell them about your podcast, and then don’t quit.
Thomas: I see many authors make that mistake when they’re getting started. They have a passion for a book, they write the book, and then they try to find readers. Often, they don’t even start the process of finding readers until the book is published.
If it’s independently published, they’ll notice it’s not getting sales, and that’s when they go looking for readers. It’s a backward approach, and it’s not what we recommend.
The Novel Marketing approach is to start with your reader. I recommend finding a real-life representation of your target reader. Start writing books, creating podcasts, and writing blog posts for that specific reader. Everything will be easier if you start there. That’s the top button of the shirt. If you button the first one correctly, all the other buttons line up after it.
Dave: Also, that person should not share your last name. In other words, that target reader is not your mom or your spouse. It cannot be a relative.
Podcasters often write to me and say their listenership isn’t growing. They’re promoting it on all the social platforms and not getting traction. I always ask, “Did you get feedback from someone who doesn’t share your last name?” Most times, they haven’t.
I get it. You spend four hours creating a one-hour podcast, and it’s art. You’ve poured yourself into it, and the last thing you want to hear is, “It doesn’t work for me.”
If you do a focus group from the beginning, it will keep you from wasting a lot of time and money.
Thomas: The need for feedback never goes away. It’s just as important to listen to your people when you have one million followers as it was when you were trying to get your first ten.
It’s crazy, but if you want to be a leader, you have to be a servant. It means knowing who you’re trying to serve.
One key to growing your audience is to give them something to talk about. Get them buzzing about your podcast or your book.
What are some strategies to get people talking?
Dave: Sometimes, people do an interview show because they think the interviewee will share it with their large audience. The problem is, the interviewee’s audience has already heart that person’s story a million times.
My friend, Pat Flynn, has a great story. He got fired from his job, he wrote an ebook, and it sold a gazillion copies. If I interview Pat and he tells that story, he’s not going to share my podcast episode with his audience because they already know that story.
Tip 1: Connect interview content to your specific audience.
You must find a way to connect your guest’s expertise to the topic your audience wants to learn about. Then they’re going to tell their friends and family about your podcast.
It always comes back to your audience and what they want.
Tip 2: Be yourself.
Someone recently wrote and said, “I’m starting a podcast, but I have a really deep voice. Is that OK?”
If we can understand you, it’s great. We overthink everything.
Tip 3: Be certain you have a passion for the podcast.
I once did an episode about how podcasters must have a passion for podcasting about their topic, especially when you’re first starting.
When you start your podcast, all your cousins might listen, and you might get 32 downloads for that first episode when you were expecting 300. It will be discouraging if you don’t have a passion for it.
When I was married, I had a 16-year-old old stepson who was trying to get his driver’s license. And every time I got within 50 feet of that kid, he would turn around and say, “Can we go driving? Can we go driving? Can we go driving?”
When you begin, you must have the passion of a 16-year-old who is trying to get their license. Passion will push you through lean beginnings to the time when you actually have an audience.
Tip 4: Be vulnerable.
If you’re going to share yourself a little bit, you don’t always have to be perfect.
A while back, I was recording an episode, and for some reason, my mouth was just done. I kept flubbing up the wording and pronunciation. So, I started saving these mistakes, and I put them at the end of the episode like a bloopers reel.
I was so surprised by the response. People said, “Wow, that was so funny. I’m so glad you did that. I thought you were perfect.”
I ended up being glad I did it too because people can relate to a guy who messes up and goes in and fixes the audio later.
You don’t have to be perfect.
Thomas: Another aspect of giving people something to talk about is being willing to take a stand on something and not back down. Obviously, this depends on your topic and brand. You don’t want to throw bombs at people or topics just for the sake of it unless that’s your brand, and that’s who you want to be.
We recently did an episode on cancel culture, and I received a lot of feedback. I do read every email I get, but I don’t respond to every email.
If you’re shouting at me in all caps about how I’m a terrible person for not supporting cancel culture, I’m not going to respond. If you are really mean, I might even click unsubscribe to get you off my list.
Dave: In the old Spiderman cartoons, he would say, “My spider senses are tingling.” There are times I have this little voice in my head saying, “Are you sure you want to put that out?” It’s usually when I’m getting close to a line or being a little controversial.
For years people would contact me and say, “I want to start a podcast and make enough money to quit my day job in six weeks, but I don’t have any money to start it.”
I finally recorded an episode to explain that if you’re going to have a podcast, it’s going to cost you around $15 per month just for your media host.
If $15 is going to break your bank, you don’t need a podcast. You need a job.
I pictured people saying, “You’re poor shaming!”
But I decided, I can absolutely say this. There’s a difference between being poor and being broke. I’ve been broke before. I know that if $15 will ruin your budget, you need a job. You don’t need a podcast.
So that’s an example where I stood up for what I believed. I wish I would have done that episode about ten years ago because those kinds of people stopped contacting me after that. They heard that episode, and they knew I wasn’t the guy for them.
Thomas: You can’t dig a well while you’re thirsty. If you’re dying of thirst, you will die of thirst before you hit water. You need a reliable source of water while you’re digging.
That’s true for podcasting and even more true for making money from your book. It takes a long time to excel at the craft of writing, endure the publishing process, and write enough books to finally strike financial water.
It takes work, and building your audience is essential for monetization.
One of the easiest methods for making money from your audience is affiliate marketing.
What is affiliate marketing?
Dave: Affiliate marketing is where you apply to be an affiliate for a company. They give you a special link that shows which of their website visitors came from Dave Jackson’s affiliate link.
If that visitor buys something on their website, you, as an affiliate, get a percentage of that sale.
If you’re just starting, walk around your house and look for things you use all the time that your audience would love.
I started a weight-loss show years ago. I thought if I talked about my weight, it would hold me accountable. It turns out that it doesn’t work, but I still do it.
When Fitbit first came out, Fitbit had an affiliate program. I signed up as an affiliate, and every time somebody signed up with my Fitbit affiliate link, I made $9.
On my podcast, I just said, “Hey, I got this thing to stick in my pocket, and it keeps track of my steps. I’m finding that it’s almost like a game. I want to walk more, and I’m trying to beat my record.” And every time somebody bought a Fitbit, I earned another $9.
At the same time, I was promoting the Total Gym. In marketing, they always say people have to hear something seven times before they buy. Christie Brinkley and Chuck Norris were doing an infomercial every time I turned on the TV, so I thought I’d hop on their coattails.
I promoted Total Gym for a year, and when somebody finally bought one, I made $75. But when I looked at how long I promoted it, I didn’t earn anything for the time I put in it.
Then I found this product called FitDecks. Whenever I promote a product, I always try to get one in my hands and use it first. I got my FitDeck and dealt myself a little workout and talked about it on my show. I said, “I didn’t think the workout would be hard, and it was easy. But I’m waking up today and, my arms hurt, my chest hurts. And this is this FitDeck is a really cool workout.”
And then I said the phrase that pays. I didn’t know it at the time because I didn’t know my audience as well as I thought I did. I said, “I could see, playing this as a game with your kids.”
That’s when I found out that my audience was more women than men. And they all had kids. I had my phone set up to ding every time someone ordered a FitDeck.
I was teaching a corporate training at the time, and my phone was dinging so much I had to turn off the ringer. I made $1.50 on every deck of cards. Some people would buy three different sets of cards. I made so much more money selling a lower-cost item because I had the right product for the right audience.
That Total Gym was a beast to ship. Because my audience was primarily women, they associate weightlifting with bulking up, and they don’t want to bulk up. If you get the right product for the right audience, you can make some decent money with affiliate marketing.
Thomas: One of the best places for authors to start with affiliate marketing is by writing book reviews. Amazon has the biggest affiliate program in the world. There are pros and cons, but it’s easy to use.
If you write YA, do a book review of another YA book on your blog. If it’s good content for your readers, they’ll be interested in what you are reading and what you like.
That book review is great content for your blog, email, or podcast. If 100 people buy the book for $10, you’ll make $40. If you do four review posts per month, suddenly you’re making $120 each month, which covers all of your expenses for producing your blog or podcast.
As you grow your audience, that number increases.
You probably won’t make millions from affiliate marketing, but it’s a really great way for authors to move from losing money to making money.
Dave: It’s a nice test drive of your audience because if you want to get into advertising later, you need to know how engaged your audience is and what interests them. Affiliate marketing allows you to see that of your 500 listeners, 12 people clicked your affiliate link, and two bought it.
The other great thing about Amazon is that when a person clicks your affiliate link, they might buy the book you recommended, or they might not. But if they buy anything else, whether it’s a different book or a flat screen TV, you will receive an affiliate commission on those things as well.
One time someone clicked one of my affiliate links for something, but then they ended up buying a flat screen TV. That was a pretty nice affiliate commission, and I didn’t even link to a flat screen TV.
Thomas: You can also be an affiliate for your own book. When someone buys your book from Amazon, you’ll get paid from your publisher, but you also get paid a second time from Amazon’s affiliate program.
If you’re traditionally published, and you haven’t sold through your advance yet, the affiliate commission is the only money that’s going to be coming in.
If you don’t use an affiliate link, you’re leaving money on the table. You don’t need to leave money on the table for Jeff Bezos. He’s the wealthiest man in the world. You might as well get that for yourself.
Authors can get into trouble with affiliate marketing, though. You don’t want to recommend books or products that are bad, because you can ruin your reputation. It’s just as helpful to know what your audience isn’t buying. You don’t want to give the wrong impression that you have bad taste.
What mistakes do people make with affiliate marketing?
Dave: Many times, people want to go for the big fish. They want to promote a flat screen TV on a podcast episode about Jolly Old England because they think that even if only a couple of people click the link, they’ll make some money.
But there’s no tie-in, and it doesn’t work.
Walk around your house to see what you are using. What can you personally talk about?
Podcasters also need to read all the terms of an agreement. The whole thing. When you get done, you’re going to be confused. Just about the time you think you understand, they will change their terms.
For instance, I was banned once from Amazon because I wrote, “Shop here and support the show.” I thought that would be an incentive for people to say, “Hey, if I shop here, I can help Dave.” But, for whatever reason, that I do not understand, that is against Amazon’s policy. So I cannot put, “click here to support the show” or anything like that.
Outside of Amazon, if I find a product I like, I’ll go to their website and look for a link for “affiliates” or “partners.” I click on it to learn how to become an affiliate.
The first thing I want to do is see how easy it is to order the product from their website. If their website is from 1992 and it’s difficult to use, no one is going to buy.
The whole point of affiliate marketing is that is you get paid when your people buy something. If it’s super hard for them to make a purchase, you’re never going to get paid.
You also need to read their terms to find out when you get paid. If you only get paid after you have $100 in affiliate commissions and you’re making $1.50 per sale, then you have to make 66 sales. Check out the terms because if you need 4000 sales before you get paid, it’s probably not worth it.
Thomas: In the United States, you’re required to disclose your affiliate connection.
Some people hide the disclosure in their website’s legalese so that they’re technically abiding by the letter of that law.
I’ve started implementing Joanna Penn’s strategy. I put “affiliate link” in parenthesis right beside the affiliate link. I want it to be a way for people to consciously support the show.
My goal is to provide enough value that people will want to go and look for the affiliate link as a way of saying, “Thanks. I found this show helpful.”
I don’t ever want to be accused of hiding my affiliate connection. You should feel confident about the things you’re recommending. If you feel bad about disclosing your affiliate connection, that’s a bad sign that you may be recommending the wrong product.
Dave: Today, I needed to buy something from Amazon, and I thought about who I wanted to support. I went over to a friend’s website and clicked on his affiliate link for a camera, which I was not buying. But that link sent me to Amazon, and then I ordered a drill bit thing, and he’ll get a commission on that. It’s a way for your audience to support you.
Thomas: I did the same thing. For years, I went to Dan Carlin’s website before I made any big Amazon purchase. He’s a history podcaster, and I love him to pieces.
Crowdfunding is the other method popular with authors. One of the authors who went through our Book Launch Blueprint just posted yesterday that she put her book on Kickstarter intending to raise $2,500 dollars. She’s already raised $5,000.
How can authors and podcasters use crowdfunding?
Dave: Make sure the bonuses for the audience are an actual bonus. I’ve seen people start up a Patreon account and say, “If we raise X amount of money, I’m going to buy a bunch of new podcasting gear.”
Is that really a benefit for your audience? If you’re using two cans and some string to record your podcast, maybe it is. But if your audio is OK, and nobody’s complaining about the audio quality, do you really need the new microphone? That’s not truly a bonus or a benefit for your audience.
It boils down to the fact that people want more of you.
The people who are making the most right now, at least publicly, on Patreon is Chapo Trap House. They do four episodes and have two that are free. They charge $5 per month, they have 35,000 patrons, and they’re making $158,000 a month.
Thomas: Shows like that employ a certain strategy. Most people think the best strategy is to mention Patreon on every show, which is actually what we do on Novel Marketing.
The better strategy is to have a fundraising season, kind of like PBS, where you push memberships for a short period.
You offer a special bonus for people who become a member during that month or that week.
We do that on Novel Marketing when we offer a new course. Patrons will receive a discount on the course. We’ll have a lot of people sign up to become patrons so they can get the discount on that course. But it’s better to have a pledge drive season or a time where everybody who becomes a patron gets this free bonus.
Dave: In some cases, your listeners want to help control the show.Jonathan Oakes, who does Trivia Warfare, hosts a huge meeting once a quarter. If you pledge a certain level, you get to choose ideas that they could talk about on the show. If you pledge a higher level, you get to participate in the discussion.
His strategy is about getting people involved with the show. His audience kept asking how they could come on the show and play. He realized he had something they wanted, and so he started to charge for it. That’s how he started on Patreon.
Thomas: At Novel Marketing we have a patrons-only episode every month. It’s a Q&A episode where the patrons send in the questions, and we answer the questions. Sometimes, one of the questions is so good that whoever sent that question gets their answer in a whole episode.
Our patrons can control the direction of the podcast somewhat. I like it because I know that one patron represents many others who are asking that same question. Hopefully, it keeps me from talking about esoteric topics that no one cares about.
It’s important to note that crowdfunding is a technology of raising money from a crowd.
You have to get the crowd first.
There are two main approaches to crowdfunding. There’s the Patreon approach, which we’ve been talking about, and it’s a monthly membership model.
The other is the Kickstarter model. In a Kickstarter campaign, people donate all at once. People used to fund their podcasts with a Kickstarter campaign by raising enough money for an entire season or the podcast didn’t happen. But now, Patreon is much better for podcasting.
Kickstarter is better if you’re trying to create a book. If you try to raise $5,000 for the book expenses, you put your book on Kickstarter to see if people even want your book in the first place. Maybe your book is a runaway hit.
Brandon Sanderson put one of his older books on Kickstarter last month. He had a goal of raising $150,000 to create the special limited edition, and he accidentally raised $6 million.
He had to do another round of printing. Since it was a limited edition, he let his Kickstarter backers decide how limited it would be. It’s not going to be very limited, but it ended up being very lucrative for him.
Which platform you choose depends a lot on what you’re creating. As an author, you can use both. Some authors are on Patreon, and they give away an essay or short story every month. It’s great for ongoing, recurring revenue, and it’s great accountability. People are paying for that short story, so you’d better write it.
Kickstarter is better for launching that big project, album, or book.
Dave: It’s a great way to test an idea. Before you spend time writing a book, you might want to see if people actually want it. A Kickstarter campaign helps you figure out if you can explain it, and then it helps you shape your idea in a way that your supporters know what they’ll get and want it.
If you happen to raise $6 million, well, then you have to write the book. But I think you’ll be in good enough spirits to be able to get through the project.
Thomas: Poor Sanderson will have to sign thousands and thousands of copies of his book for that $6 million, but I’m sure he’ll find the strength somewhere to sign all those books.
How can authors earn money from live events?
For authors, this is the third strategy that can work. In some ways, it’s the highest reward because it’s the ultimate tribe-building activity. You bring all your fans together, they get to interact with each other, and it makes them more excited about you.
But it’s also the riskiest strategy. You can lose massive amounts of money with a live event. You generally don’t lose money with crowdfunding or affiliate marketing. The worst thing that can happen is that nothing happens.
But if you spend a lot of money throwing a party and no one comes, that can be painful.
What are some tips for hosting live events?
Dave: Podcast Movement is one of the largest live events, and it was started with a Kickstarter campaign. Give people an idea of where, when, and what, and if they back your campaign, you get to have the fun of planning the details.
If you’re going to have other speakers, you must be clear about what they can and can’t do or say on stage. It’s your event and brand. If the guest speakers stand up there pitching, your people won’t want to come back to your event.
Thomas: Another tip is to choose a venue that’s too small. You’ll have a much more exciting venue if the room is full and bursting at the seams. If the same number of people is milling around a colossal room where your voice is lost in the echo, it will seem like your event wasn’t well attended. The ratio of room-size to attendance is key.
We both spoke at the Spark Podcast Conference, and one reason that conference was so fun was that the room was full. It’s easier to tell a joke from the stage. People are more likely to laugh when the room is full.
Obviously, you don’t want it so full that people are uncomfortable, but it’s better to pick a smaller venue and sell all the tickets. The next year, people will buy tickets as soon as possible because they remember it was well attended. That way, you won’t be left with unsold tickets.
Thomas: Many listeners have asked me to create a course on podcasting. But I have not done it because there is already an excellent course called the School of Podcasting by Dave Jackson. Tell us about it.
Dave: The School of Podcasting comes with three things.
- Step-by-step tutorials. The biggest course is called “Planning Your Podcast.” We cover everything you need to think about before you jump in. We have a course on how to build a website and how to get into Apple and Google. We have a lot of tutorials there.
- Access to our private Facebook group. The School of Podcasting Facebook group is filled with brilliant podcasting minds. If you want feedback on your podcast artwork, you’ll get it. If you wonder if anyone else has tried something before, you can ask. You can bounce ideas off of people in the group.
- Office hours. Twice a month, I host office hours where you can come to an online meeting and ask a question. You can stay for five minutes and leave, or you can hang out for the whole time. Sometimes no one has questions, and the group members start talking about what they’re doing and asking questions to each other.
- Lunch with Dave. Every Friday at 12:30 Eastern, I host a little session. I host a coaching session on Saturday morning so people in Europe can participate. I also have one around 9:30 that is great for the West Coast in the U.S. Lunch with Dave is shorter, but it’s every week, and it’s is great for my one friend in Egypt.
- You get me via email to get you going on your podcast.
So if you’re looking to start, improve, or monetize your podcast, be sure to check out Dave’s School of Podcasting.
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