Thomas Umstattd Jr.: So in this episode, as you’ve probably figured out, we’re going to be talking to Kevin Kaiser. And for those of you who don’t know who Kevin is, Kevin is a marketing guru, one of the guys I respect the most in terms of what he has done marketing wise for Ted Dekker. Some of you know who Ted Dekker is. Kevin has been Ted’s Brand Manager and Marketing Manager for the past eight years.
I first met Kevin back in 2010 at Thriller Fest and of course two marketing guys getting together. We started talking, and it was one of those immediate friendships where you just go, “OK, I like this guy. He’s bright. We’re going to be friends for a long time.” And we have become great friends.
So Kevin, welcome to the Novel Marketing Podcast.
Kevin Kaiser: Well, thanks for having me guys. This is going to be a lot of fun. There’s no telling what kind of havoc we’re going to wreck.
Thomas: The interweaves will be broken by the time it’s this episode is done.
Kevin: It will. They’ll be burning up.
Thomas: This episode may void the warranty of your Android phone.
James Rubart: So Kevin, if you don’t mind, let’s just dive right in. You’ve had a career in marketing fiction and in creating brands, and you’ve done it extremely successfully which is not a claim a lot of marketing people can make. So talk to us about what you’ve done differently.
Kevin: Yeah. Well, I think in hindsight, I don’t know what I’ve done differently. You use the G word. You used the guru word.
Thomas: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
Kevin: It’s OK. I definitely would not call myself a guru. I would consider myself somebody who just kind of experiment and figure things out.
James: So you experiment with best-selling author brands on high stakes.
Kevin: And more importantly, with other people’s money. That’s the key. I’ve had the great opportunity to work with some high level talent, some best-selling authors. And I really – it’s a weird story of how I ended up doing it. I could not have planned out my career the way it has worked out. But it has put me in places where I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I wasn’t from inside publishing, and so I didn’t know what rules were. I didn’t know what was impossible.
And that turned out to be maybe my greatest strength so I could try a lot of different things and experiment and do it with people who had an audience because having an audience, starting with an audience kind of covers a multitude of sense because you know you’re going to have a certain number of people that are going to come anyway. And so, you just want to enable them and empower them as much as you can. That’s a different ballgame and starting from zero.
Thomas: That’s a great point. I haven’t thought about that because you had a chance probably to look at and say, “All right. This one worked. This one didn’t. We could have made this one better by doing this,” as you went along.
Kevin: Yeah, exactly. And honestly, when it comes to the marketplace, I mean things have changed in the past couple of years but I went into it when you could still at least somewhat buy eyeballs and buy attention. If you can get a book on a shelf, if you could have really good relationships with retailers or if you had a forum or an email list, you could effectively reach people even if you are on Facebook like in 2008, 2009, you could reach people without having to pay for it.
And so, I came into the game at really a good time to have some big wins and learn a lot along the way.
Thomas: OK. I got to jump in and just interrupt you, Kevin, because you’re very gracious, you’re very humble. But you were a guy that did think. You blew up the box. You didn’t think outside. You blew it up. And you did things that other people would not think of. And if I can talk you into telling a story that ended up being very successful for Ted Dekker with the – well, I’ll just call it the subway story. Do you want to tell us that?
Kevin: Yeah. So, this was where – I think it was The Priest’s Graveyard maybe, it was one of Ted Dekker’s books. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with Ted Dekker, he is best-selling thriller novelist. And so, I was his manager for several years and marketing strategist and development guy. And this was a really big book release. It was coming out.
And so, as it usually happens, we get the marketing plan from the publisher, and it includes things like subway ads, billboard ads, a beautiful page ad in USA Today. But my big question in that meeting was, “OK. Now, where are you going to send everybody?” So we want to get people to engage. How are you going to know if any of that stuff was ever even effective? Well, the answer was we don’t know.
James: Good timing is right there. That is my biggest pet peeve with old school marketing where nothing is measured. And so, they have no idea if something is working or not. And so they can keep doing the same bad idea year after year, and no one raises their hand like, “This is a total waste of money when this other thing we could be doing would be far more effective on a dollar basis.” So go ahead. I just want to say I applaud you for saying let’s stop measuring. I think what we need is more science.
Kevin: Thanks. Yeah. I mean I think anything you can do to measure your return on investment and track it, I mean it’s helpful. So my suggestion was, well, let’s come up with a landing page. Let’s have a URL where we can send all of the traffic to. That way, we know at least how many people we’ve got. We would not know where they’re coming from and how they found it, but we will at least know how many people we have and where they clicked out to buy the book, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or what have you.
And so, they thought that was an OK idea. They told me to come back with a better idea. So I went out and looked for URLs, and I found GetThisBook.com, and it was available. I was like, “What the heck? Nobody owns GetThisBook.com.” So I bought it and presented it to them with this idea of, “Hey, let’s create a landing page. Let’s use GetThisBook.com.” They thought that was a terrible idea.
James: I know how you feel my friend. I know how you feel.
Kevin: The logic escaped me. It just didn’t make any sense. And after several conversations, they finally relented. And it all came down to this conversation I had with them with the head of marketing I said, “Let me tell you a story. So I love your subway ad. But imagine a guy who gets on the subway in New York City. He is going to work. He is looking at his iPhone. He looks up, and he sees Ted Dekker with The Priest’s Graveyard. Now, before he gets off the subway and up the street level, he’s not going to remember even how to spell Ted Dekker’s name. Is it D-E-C-K-E-R? Is it D-E-K-K-E-R? I mean they’re not going to remember The Priest’s Graveyard. But they will remember this GetThisBook.com.”
And they didn’t believe me, but they said, “OK. We’re going to do this.” And about a month later, I was on the New Yorker’s website. And they ran this article. You can still see it. It’s all about marketing and fiction, and they talked about this guy that’s a reporter who gets on the subway. He looks up. He sees this ad for Ted Dekker, The Priest’s Graveyard and sees the URL and goes, “Huh! GetThisBook.com.”
So in his article, he writes about how he goes about his day. Gets back on the subway, goes home, goes to his computer at home at night and still remembers GetThisBook.com even though he couldn’t remember the author’s name or the name of the book. But he it was so sticky. I mean it stood out to him.
So that’s one of my more fun stories, one of the big wins that I had.
James: Well, I’ll just tell you – oh, go ahead, Thomas.
Thomas: I just want to underline the approach there because a lot of you are like, “Well, I can’t use that idea because you’ve already bought GetThisBook.com.” But that’s not the point. The point is that Kevin put himself in the eyes of the reader, the book reader and try to look at the advertising through the reader’s eyes, the buyer’s eyes and realized, I know how to spell Umstattd. Ted knows how to spell Dekker, but normal people don’t realize that.
And as you realize – and you learn how to walk in somebody else’s marks and you realized that a lot of the marketing you are using falls prey to the curse of knowledge where you forget what it’s like to know what you know and you’re not able to understand what it’s like to not know what you know, which is the key for effective book marketing.
James: And the other thing that comes out of the story is asking the question, and you can ask your publishers. And a lot of times frankly, they’re not going to have the answer to this question, but it’s, OK, what is the goal of this ad? What do we want to accomplish? What’s the end user going – what kind of action is the end user going to take with this ad?
And a lot of times, they don’t know. But it’s worth asking the question. Certainly, if you’re an Indie author and if you’re a traditionally published author.
Kevin: Yeah, yeah. And let me say this in defense of marketing directors everywhere in the publishing business. I have empathy for them because there were over 200,000 books published last year in North America. And so, we have a contracting business. We have companies where there are fewer people doing more work.
You just sit down and strategize for every single author. What are out of the box ways that we can move not only this book forward but this brand forward? I mean they aren’t – they’re more or less in survival mode most of the time.
James: That’s such a good point because my publisher loved my marketing people and they’re really on the cutting edge on things and developing things. But even so, it’s – and I say this jokingly to them but I’m half serious. It’s like did you get any sleep this week? Because they are working so hard. They are working so many hours. They are working with so many authors.
But that brings us, Kevin, to the question of and you and I were talking about this earlier that nowadays, you have to be a marketing person. And that’s why Thomas and I started this podcast is because it used to be non-fiction, yes, you have to be a marketing person fiction. You don’t have to worry about it.
But nowadays, you do have to worry about it. And editors and agents and publishers are going to be asking that question. So I guess the question I would throw out to you is what are two or three most critical things that you see missing from most author’s marketing be it in Indie, be it traditionally, or be it people just starting to build their platform. Maybe they’re not even ready to publish a book yet, but they’re starting to build it. What are two or three critical things you see missing?
Kevin: Sure. Well, I think the first thing is the mentality of being a marketer. And I think it has always been the responsibility of the artist to market themselves. I mean you will always be your first and greatest advocate. Nobody knows your art like you do and so nobody can communicate it and explain and win people over to the way you can.
So the first thing is, I think people need to think of themselves as marketers. I mean so many artists, not just authors, but they turned pro before somebody even writes them a check. They learn how to think like a bestseller before they sold their first book.
And so the first thing I think every author should do is educate themselves. Become a student of the industry. Become a student of business. And more importantly, become a student of human psychology because I think so much of what’s happening in marketing now is backward where people are talking about the tools. Here’s how to do Twitter better. Here’s how to do Facebook better. All of those things are going to change. They might even go away at some point.
But the strategies and the tactics are going to stay the same over time. And it’s just like what we talked about with psychology and making things sticky. So that’s the first thing is like really be a student and learn. Learn it for yourself. Don’t depend on a publisher because even if you do get a deal if you go sit down in the boardroom with them, the first question is going to be, what is your platform and what are you going to do to sell this book? And you need to have a really good answer for that. So that’s that.
And then the second thing is authors need to build their own home base. So they need to have a website. And really, the most important thing I think anybody can build is an email list.
James: Preach it, brother.
Thomas: Sorry, Kevin. We’re – you’re preaching to the choir and we love it. Keep going.
Kevin: Yeah. I mean everybody talks about how email is dead. It’s bogus. Email is not dead.
James: We have a clean rating here on this show. Careful with your language.
Kevin: Bogus. Bogus. Everybody uses email, right? I mean modern civilization is built on email.
Thomas: But it’s not just that people use email. It’s how they use email. I get all of my bills coming through email. When I make most of my purchasing decisions, it’s based on an email. When I’m in my email, I’m ready to make a purchase.
Whereas when I’m in social media, that hangs out with friends time. That’s not me ready make a purchase. I’m often on a device where hanging is more of a hassle. And that’s what people don’t realize is that it’s not just do people use but what frame of mind are they in when they’re using it? And the reality is that Twitter – people aren’t in a purchasing frame of mind when they’re on Twitter or Facebook.
Kevin: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I think beyond that, you have to provide them with the engagement, the type of content that they are looking for. And this goes back to a conversation that Jim and I just had recently about writing the kinds of things that you would want to read. And instead of trying to figure out here’s what the core demographic is that I’m trying to reach, here are the kinds of books that they buy. And trying to tailor something for them specifically rather than just being who you are and instead of being the next James Patterson, why don’t you be the first you?
Thomas: And I think this is good way to just differentiate between fiction and non-fiction because for fiction I think you’re exactly right. You got to be true to the story that you’re trying to tell whereas, with non-fiction, you can do it in a more scientific way.
I know people who sell tons of copies and are living very happily by finding a group of people and answering a question that a group of people are having and it’s a very audience-centric approach.
Whereas with fiction, it’s harder to do that because how did J. K. Rowling know that there were millions of people who wanted to read about a kid going to a boarding school where he learned the magic? It’s like there’s no real way to do your market research and see if that’s going to work. She had to be true to her story. And ultimately, being true to the story is what made a story that people wanted to buy.
Thomas: True. I do think that there are a lot of people who approach it backward though where they will say – they will look at, OK, Hunger Games, Maze Runner. They look at a specific genre and say, “Hey, they are the specific things that are common across all of these things.” At least in these most recent blockbusters.
Now, let’s take what this from Maze Runner, let’s take this from Hunger Games. Let’s put it together and pitch it as the Hunger Games meet Maze Runner. Instead of – you know what I mean?
Thomas: So they try to play that game.
James: We’re going to have young people be even sadder and even more miserable. Well, all of them died, not just most.
- So we’re running short on time. A lot of the folks who listen to the show though are independent. They are either self-publishing, or they’re planning to self-publish. What are some of your advice for somebody who is doing it all themselves? They don’t have a budget to hire somebody to be their manager or their marketing director, and they don’t have a publisher coming behind them with a marketing budget. You talked about how they need to own the business. Go a little bit deeper on that. Some quick advice for independent authors.
Kevin: Yeah. Well, I think everybody is looking for the magic bullet. I’m looking for the magic bullet. I have been for years and years. But there isn’t. One article that has been instructive and very encouraging for me is Kevin Kelley’s 1000 True Fans. And it’s a blog post that you can find at KK.org. It’s 1000 True Fans. And he talks about this idea of you doesn’t need a million people.
You don’t need ten million people to make a good living with your art. You just need 1000 people that are engaged with you and love everything you do. But those 1000 people you have to win them one at a time, one person at a time, one day at a time. And so, it’s just a matter of patiently engaging, continually showing up and being awesome. Just be awesome.
James: That is a great article, and we’ll have the link to that in the show notes. And this is not a thousand Facebook friends. The standard that he talks about in this article is a true fan, somebody who is going to go out and buy your premium product, buy your book and your autographed copy and who is really would go to your concert, not just buy your CD kind of fan.
Kevin: Right, right. Now, somebody you can get to, not somebody you have to pay Mark Zuckerberg to talk to.
Thomas: OK. So Kevin, we probably need to wrap up here. But would love to tell people how they get a hold of you. So I’ll let you handle that.
Kevin: Yeah. Well, I’m re-launching a new website, so it’s KevinKaiser.co. So KevinKaiser.co. And then I’m also – I also just launched a 30-day Novelist, which is a project that I did for National Novel Writing Month. So for those who are participating in that in November, it’s a free series that will help them survive November and be one of the 14% who complete National Novel Writing Month with a book. So those two places.
Thomas: OK. You got to talk just for a second about your dispatches because those are too good not to mention.
Kevin: Oh yeah. So, I do this weekly email. It’s called the Un-Secret Society. And I mean what’s better than a secret society? And Un-Secret Society. So it’s once a week. You can sign up at KevinKaiser.co. And it’s just things that I’m interested in. Sometimes I will include stories that I’ve written, links from around the web. I mean it’s just – it’s different from week to week but it’s all in the same DNA runs throughout the whole thing. And I’m a big sci-fi fan boy kind of fan, Lost, Fringe, all that kind of stuff. So, those types of things bleed into my writing.
Thomas: Well, Kevin is a great observer, great thinker, and he’s a great writer. So I think I’m a fan of those emails and I think you will be too.
James: So, this edition of the Novel Marketing Podcast has been brought to you MyBookTable. If you’ve got a WordPress website, you need this plugin. It will help you sell more books and make you money as an affiliate on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Real easy to get there. Just go to MyBookTable.com.
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James: This has been the Novel Marketing Podcast giving you noble ideas on how to promote yourself and your writing offline, online, and everywhere in between.