In this jam-packed 65th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, Kira and Rob talk with author and ghostwriter Laura Hanly about book writing and publishing. We met Laura a few months ago and after grilling her over breakfast, knew she’d be a great addition to the show. In this discussion we cover:
• how she became a book writer and publishing consultant
• what you need to think about before you write your book
• Laura’s thoughts on who exactly needs to have a book—if you are in a commodified service business, the answer is “yes”
• who needs to be on your book writing team and who should be your early readers
• what a realistic timeline for writing a book looks like
• price ranges and what she does to charge $40,000 per book project
• what you need to do to promote your book
• common mistakes writers make when they write their book
• the differences between self publishing and traditional publishing
• how to publish with Amazon Create Space and KDP
• the design options to consider when you’re ready to publish your book
• how to find clients as a ghost writer of books
• whether you should get a byline with the books you ghost write
• the mistakes she sees over and over on book projects
We also asked about the rates she charged when she first started out (they were way too low), the mistakes businesses make when they “do” content marketing, who is doing content well today, and what to keep in mind when promoting your content. Ready for this? Click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
Telling Your Brand Story (Rob’s book)
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Mark Manson’s rudely titled book)
The Martian (Andy Weir’s book)
Content that Converts
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at Airstory.co/club.
Kira: What if you could hang out with seriously copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea to inspire your own work? That’s what Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Rob: You’re invited to join the club for episode 65 as we chat with author and book consultant Laura Hanly about the process of writing a good book, how to choose between self-publishing and a formal publisher, what it takes to write a bestseller, and the tactics, strategies, and systems for promoting your content.
Kira: Welcome, Laura!
Laura: Thank you so much! Very exciting to chat with you guys.
Rob: I want to jump in and just say that we met at a mastermind event, and you and I, I think, had the opportunity to sit down at breakfast and for about 45 minutes or so, you sort of walked me through a lot of the process of writing a book and as we were chatting, it was one of those things where like, “Laura, we got to have you on the podcast!” Because there are a lot of people who listen to us that need to know the things that you know! So we are really excited to have you here.
Laura: Yeah, I think it’s a big opportunity for a lot of people at the moment so I’m excited to talk about it.
Rob: Cool! Well, why don’t we start with your story? Where did you come from; how did you start doing what you’re doing?
Laura: So, I grew up in Sydney in Australia. I studied writing and publishing at university and worked at a big publishing house there in Australia for a few years. And I think about 2011, the industry really started downsizing and they weren’t kind of learning the lessons that we had all seen go down in the music industry in terms of, you know, adapting to the new technologies that were becoming available, and I thought, mmmm, I really need to get myself organized and become a bit more independent.
So I moved online, sort of started learning copywriting and internet marketing and direct response and all that kind of thing, which was great for a couple of years, and basically started offering content marketing services to ecommerce companies and B2B consultants. And one day, somebody asked if I would be willing to try and write a book with him. Having come out of the publishing industry, I thought, you know, I’ve got a fairly good handle on that process, so we’ll give it a go, and over the last couple of years, that’s become the main thing that I’m doing so at this point, I advise on content strategy for some people, but my main thing is helping people write books about their businesses.
Kira: So let’s talk about what that actually looks like when you work with a client. Because to me, it sounds so daunting and huge! Where do you start with your client when they’ve hired you to write a book with them?
Laura: So a lot of people really feel overwhelmed by this process of writing a book and I completely understand that because it is a big undertaking, especially if you’re still running a business day to day, or you know, if you’ve got a lot of demands on your time. Or even if you’re in that stage where you’re really hustling to get more clients and you know that a book would help you do it but you just don’t know how to find the time to get it done.
So the first thing to kind of cut through that sense of overwhelm is to identify what function the book is going to serve in the business, how you’re going to use it as part of your marketing, and how customers are going to be more interested in working with you as a result of reading this book, and then, start developing a structure. So we’ll go through and talk about this sort of 10-12 key points that you want to touch on throughout the books, the main lessons that you want people to go away with, and then break those down into sub-categories and those will become the chapters and the themes for each of those chapters.
So once we’ve got all of that mapped out, the next step is to start doing a series of interviews. So normally the interview process is sort of 10-15 hours worth of calls between me and the client, and I will ask them everything I can possibly think of about all of those things that we’ve outlined together. My role at that point is to be an advocate for the reader, so to find out all of the information that business owner knows, all of the experience they’ve gained over the last few years working in their business, what differentiates them from their competitors, the things that make them really unique and worthwhile for their customers to know.
Once we’ve sort of gone through all of those interviews and I’ve asked them a million questions to the point where they’re just absolutely sick of talking to me, I will go off and write, separating all of that material into written formats. I kind of go through all of that with them and then I do the actual technical work of putting it together.
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Rob: So let’s say I had an idea for a book that I wanted to write. You mentioned identifying 10-12 sub-categories that become the chapters. Is there a formula for that kind of a thing? Like, you start out with the first couple are origin-oriented and then the next couple are maybe more informational and then the next couple start to be more teaching; is there any kind of formula like that or is it just sort of what you know and getting it down?
Laura: It varies, but I think that model is kind of a good rule of thumb, so having an origin story, then having a theoretical stuff, more sort of information driven, and then moving onto actionable teaching material is great. Or you can do that sort of within each chapter, so introduce a concept, give some backstory about where that lesson came from, and then be actionable toward the end of each section. It sort of depends on the actual material of the book as to how it will end up being structured, but if the client is looking to have a book that’s more of a teaching tool, then certainly, I try to have lessons in each section, whereas if it’s more say, a life’s work, or they’re trying to write the definitive piece of content on a particular subject, then it’s going to have that longer arc in the teaching material will be more towards the end.
Kira: So Laura, I’m wondering if you think everyone should have a book? Every business owner should have a book under their name at a certain point? You know, maybe within five years of their business; should I have a book as a copywriter to help grow my business? Is it a staple that is really critical after a certain point?
Laura: I think it’s critical for people in some categories. I wouldn’t say that every business owner needs to have one, and certainly if you’re in the B2C space, I think it’s less important just because consumers say if you have, you know, a clothing brand, the consumer is unlikely to read the story of how the business got started in book format from the founder, because the founder is not having a direct impact on that customer’s experience of buying from the company. So if you have a B2B business then I think it’s definitely much more important because you are probably having interactions personally with the clients. You’re probably charging a lot more, which is a factor in—books are a great authority piece, which make people much more comfortable paying higher price points because they can see that you’re an authority and that you’re an expert, so it’s a way to build a bit more rapport and a bit more trust with a client than you would normally be able to just in your general interactions.
I think, if you have a service business, and you work with other businesses, particularly if you are in a slightly commoditized market, which content and copywriting are sort of becoming, I think it’s a really powerful way to differentiate yourself and take your service from being a commodity to being a specialty again. But as I said, you want to be fairly well established, you don’t want to be selling necessarily like low price-point B2C products. It’s a way to establish a connection with people at a much higher level.
Rob: Yeah, I like that. So all of us have been on Amazon and we’ve seen books with terrible covers, or we’ve seen books that are terribly written. Or maybe they’re decently written, but they’ve got errors and spelling errors or grammar errors. So obviously, writing a book, you could probably get all of that stuff right, but in most cases it takes a team. Who are the people that we should be thinking about helping us when we’re ready to write a book?
Laura: So ideally, you would have one person that you work with directly that’s going to oversee the entire project. Sort of as a project manager, I guess, in a way. So that’s my role, is to get all of the information from them, synthesize that into the material, and then oversee the production of the actual book. But within that process, you’ve got cover designers, formatters, you know, if you’re going to work directly with a printer, then you’re going to have the printing team. If you have a team that you work with in your own business, then your marketing and sales people are going to be involved in that process. So it does become quite a collaborative process for sure.
Rob: So, just as a quick follow-up to that, when you’re working with a client, you’re acting sort of as a structural editor and as a proofreader and as a writer as well. Is that correct?
Laura: Yeah, so, I do the writing, and a lot of the time they’ll have material written already so part of what I would do to synthesize that existing material into the material that we’ve talked about on the recording calls and sort of create fresh material from all of that, then together, we go through and do a couple of rounds of edits, and if they’ve got early readers that they’re looking to give insight and advice, maybe people who understand their field, or people who really understand their business and can maybe bring fresh eyes to the material before it goes out just to make sure that nothing is missing or there’s areas where they could be more detailed, just to make sure that that goes in, so early readers are another important element in the production stage. But I do all of that initial production, we go through the editing together, I have another proofreader who will help me just go over the final edits to make sure that nothing is missed and then that goes off to formatting and design.
Kira: You basically have sold me. (laughs) I haven’t really considered writing a book. Rob has written a couple of books, but now I’m sold on it so I’m like, okay! I should have a book help me stand out in the marketplace. So how much time should I expect if I’m basically doing the bulk of the work, as a writer, what is realistic? Because I don’t want to be naive jumping into it thinking I can just whip up a book in a couple of months. What should I expect?
Laura: So I do four books a year. So that’s writing, you know, three thousand words a day, and that’s kind of all I’m doing. So I’m not trying to run any kind of customer support, I’m not working with other clients, that’s just focused writing time. Realistically, most people are going to be doing pretty well if they get 500-1,000 words down per day. If you’re doing it every day and you’re aiming to get say, 60,000 words, which is a pretty standard book length, then you can expect you know, anywhere from two to six months, depending on what your schedule is like. And that’s just to write the original material, so then you’ve got to factor in time to edit, time to get all of the production done, all of the design and everything, and then you go into the marketing as well. So, realistically, 6 months to a year.
Rob: And if somebody were to hire you, Laura, what is the expected price point for the services that you offer?
Laura: That kind of depends on the length of the book and what kind of project they’re looking to do. I’m charging at the higher end of the spectrum just because when I work with somebody I go to see them, and spend a couple of days sort of with them, running their business, so that I can see the very intricate workings of it. We do a lot of in-person interviews, I’ll talk to their customers, talk to their staff. I spend a day with their marketing and sales team so that they have an integrated plan where I’m able to tell them what I’ve seen work before in promoting books and then kind of coordinate the publication process for them as well, so I’m certainly at the higher end. So for me, it’s $40,000 per project at this stage, and I’ve also got a publishing and print, so it’s officially published rather than being self-published under, say, CreateSpace or Amazon’s branding.
Rob: And what would the lower end be, if people are maybe not doing the in-person meet-n-greet, or maybe they’re not doing quite the same level of hand-holding, is it fair to say somebody could be charging $10,000 or is that way too low for this kind of work?
Laura: I mean there are definitely people charging those rates. I think that it depends what the purpose of the book is going to be. Like, if this is your magnum opus and it’s your life’s work and it’s a really important part of your ongoing career, then I think you’re going to want to lean more towards those higher price points, just because the people who are charging that much are very experienced and are very committed to getting it right. People at the $10,000 range, for a project this size, that to me seems risky.
Laura: And at that point, I would say you’re probably better off doing it yourself because you are going to be very invested in the project and very committed to making sure that it all goes right. Whereas, someone charging that rate, and you see this in copywriting as well, if people are charging very low rates it’s usually because they’re just getting started or they’re not confident in what they’re going to deliver.
Kira: So, if I decided to start writing my book tomorrow, what should I start doing, beyond actually writing the book? What should I start doing? Should I start talking about it or promoting it from day one, or just hold off on the promotion piece?
Laura: I think the sooner you start promoting it, the better. So particularly if you’re going to self-publish it, and even if you’re going to traditionally publish, which maybe we can talk about a little later on… but if you’re going to self publish, you really have to responsible for all of the promotion yourself. So if you’re able to build some momentum in the marketing so that when it comes around to the launch date you’ve already got an audience ready, you know, a list of buyers ready, people who are excited and willing to share it; it’s going to create a lot more momentum, a lot more sales, and a lot more visibility for the project, than if you sort of come on cold.
If you are starting to write, I would say set up a Facebook group or if you’re in a forum, you know, start talking in that about it. Start talking with the people who you will want to have promote it when it comes out, start getting on podcasts, and make it a collaborative process with your audience. So you can you know, share draft chapters with your Facebook group and get people’s feedback and hear what people are looking to get out of the book. Maybe you can share your outline and say, you know, is there anything I’m missing here that you really want to hear about from me?
Who are the people you’d love to hear interviewed about this? Because if you can interview experts in the field, that’s another great way of publicizing it, because everybody loves being acknowledged and so if you’ve got those people you can sort of reach out to them and say hey, I’d love to interview, or hey, I’ve quoted you saying this. Is there anything you’d like to add? And it gives you a way to have them promote it as well. So I’d say the most important thing besides actually producing it is start marketing it BEFORE you’re ready to release it.
Rob: Yeah, I think I made that mistake with my book. I just wanted to write a book and go through the publishing process and so, you know, finally I had a book, but I didn’t really have an audience to sell it to. And so I’m curious like, how far in advance should that start? Is that a year out, is it three months out? What’s the right timeline for promoting before you actually release the book?
Laura: That probably depends on how long you’re likely to take to write it. So if you are used to producing a lot of content—you write a lot—then, maybe as soon as you start writing. So whatever that timeline is going to be. But if you’re a slow writer and you know it’s going to take you a while to have stuff together for people to look at, I would say start working on it maybe three months before release date. So you’ve got most of the content locked away, you’re pretty well complete, you’ve just got to go through those last few tasks, that way you’re not sort of dragging something out a really, really long time and risking burning your audience out on the material a little bit before they’ve even seen the finished product.
Kira: So I’m wondering if you probably have seem common mistakes, when people are writing and publishing their own book, but I’m interested in any mistakes, common mistakes you’ve seen writers make over and over again.
Laura: A big one that I see in this field is people being scared to give away their secret sauce. So if the whole point of a book is to differentiate you from your market, you really have to give away your secrets. And a lot of people are really, really scared about that, that their competitors are going to see what they’re doing, or they’re going to give away the thing that makes them unique, but in reality, those are the things that make clients really want to work with you because one, it makes you very transparent and trustworthy that you’re sharing this, but it also immediately sets you apart and makes them feel like, wow, you must really believe in what you’re doing to be able to give this away.
But on the other hand, most of your competitors are A) not going to read your book, B) not going to have the resources to change their strategy if they’re doing something really different, and C) even if they do have the resources and inclination to change their strategy, it’s going to take them a long time to catch up to you. At which point, the momentum you’ve gotten from writing the book has taken you to a new level anyway. So that would be the big thing, I’d say, just give it all away! Don’t try and hide anything. If you’re going to do this process, do it right and just lay it all out there.
Rob: I love that advice. So, okay, let’s say that I’ve got a book, I’m ready to launch or ready to start promoting, but I don’t know if I should choose whether to self-publish or to publish with a traditional publisher. What kinds of things should I be considering to make that decision?
Laura: Okay, so traditional publishing is quite a long process. You can expect it to take at least a year from the book being acquired or signed on by a publishing house to actually being published, and that’s actually a fairly fast turnaround. So if it’s acquired by a publisher, they’ll want to put it through their own editing process, which usually takes two to three months; the cover design takes a while, then the sales team will sell it into bookstores; they usually sell, I think, nine months in advance to bookstores? So if it’s say, December now, your book would be being sold for the September catalogs, so it’s a long process, is the main thing to think about. Publishers also are stretched very thin. Their resources are slim, they’ve got a lot of titles they have to promote, so some books will get a huge amount of attention and will be—I don’t know if you’ve seen Mark Manson’s book—it’s got a slightly rude title, so I won’t say it but…
Rob: Yeah, yes!
Laura: Look that book up, because he’s an amazing example of a traditional publishing deal that has just gone absolutely gangbusters, but I can guarantee that all of the books that were published by that publishing house in the same month got nowhere near the attention, in probably even that same quarter. And so probably, it’s great to have a deal but it’s very competitive and the resources allocated to the book are low. So, the better option, I think, at this point, is to self-publish. Get a sales record, then approach a traditional publisher if you do want to go down the traditional route.
So you know, write your book, launch it, get six months worth of sales data, then go to a publishing house and say, I’ve written this book, here’s how it’s performed, here’s what I think it could do if we went to these new markets, are you interested? And this is what Andy Weir did when he wrote The Martian, and that book has gone on to do a huge amount of sales, got made into a movie, so you know. There’s a lot of opportunity there if you’re willing to do a bit of the heavy lifting yourself. And the great thing as well about self publishing is that you have total autonomy. You can promote it wherever you want, you can set the price point at whatever you want, you can do even some- whatever kind of marketing! You have complete control over the project and you don’t have to factor in any other parties when you’re deciding how you’re going to use it.
Rob: Yeah, I’m still waiting for Matt Damon to option my book and make it into a movie.
Laura: I mean, I’m sure it’s coming!
Rob: Yeah, I’m sure it is too. So let’s step through that self-publishing process. What’s involved in that? Is it just Amazon; are there other things we should be doing differently if we can? Let’s go step by step through what we need to know about that.
Laura: So, Amazon has made it really, really easy, and there are other platforms, but I would say Amazon is you know, where you’re going to get the most bang for your buck. When you’re ready to publish, you have to set up an account with Amazon’s publishing arm, so CreateSpace is their self-publishing physical—where you can print on demand… then there is Kindle Direct Publishing, which is where you publish the e-book, so you set up your accounts on those. You go through and put in all of the actual publication details, so you upload your cover, you say how many pages it is, what kind of layout you’ve got, you know. Sort of basic stuff.
They’ll walk you through that in a pretty detailed way, so don’t worry if that is foreign to you at this stage. You select which categories you want your book to be listed in, and that’s important, because if you can select categories that are lower competition, then you have a higher chance of becoming a bestseller in that category and that also is impacted by the keywords that you choose to associate with the listing, but once you’ve listed all of that stuff then you can select an ISBN if you want to have it officially listed in sales data.
Once you’re ready to publish, you just select a publication date and you can either do a pre-launch, where you make it available for people to buy before it’s available—I’m sure you’ve all seen this, where you can order a book in advance and on the day that it’s released, it just gets automatically sent to your Kindle—or you can do, you know, just publish it at that time, or you don’t even have to do a pre-launch campaign if you don’t want to, but you can set the availability date for some point in the future. So it’s pretty flexible, very easy to change things, if you want to go in and change things about the way you’re running the campaign. People feel quite overwhelmed by this process, but really, you can get the whole thing done in an hour, if you’ve got all of your bits ready.
Kira: So what do we need to think about or remember if we are self-publishing and we really want it to look pro and we don’t want those minor mistakes to make it feel like we just kind of haphazardly threw it together. What are some of those details that matter the most that we may not think about?
Laura: So the keys would be to have it professionally formatted so that it looks like a traditionally published book, so you’ve got the right gutters and margins, which are the spaces around the text on the page, so that the first line of each paragraph is indented, just, you know, little things like this that kind of give it away, make a really big difference. So have it professionally formatted, you can go on Fiverr—there are plenty of people who do formatting and they have some really good people doing that. Have a really amazing cover designed. So I would say beyond having great material, the cover is the most important factor, so obviously, you want a great title that encapsulates what the message is going to be and it calls out to the right people, but the cover design itself is critical because it’s going to be the thing that catches somebody’s eye and says hey, you should read me! So I always recommend clients going through 99Designs, because that way you just write a brief for what you want on the cover and you’ll get anywhere from fifteen to fifty cover submissions and then you can go and shortlist the ones that like, you can have the designers tweak you know, whatever elements you think could be better, and then you pick a winner. So you get a lot of variety and you get some very high standards. Those would be the main things. Get the formatting right and get the cover right.
Rob: Okay, so let’s say that we’ve done all of that stuff with our book, we’re ready to hit publish; what does it take at this point to turn it into a bestseller?
Laura: So a lot of that comes from having done a lot of the marketing, heavy-lifting, before that point, which is why I always say you know, get started as soon as you start writing. You want to have lined up promotional partners, so whether that’s affiliates or people to mail for you, you know, line up podcast interviews to be published the week of the publication, guest posts, you know, to events, do mailings, you know, make sure that all of your promotional material is ready to go the day that the book is live. If you can, line up people to buy the book as soon as it’s available and leave reviews. So the faster you can get reviews up on Amazon, the faster Amazon sales algorithm will start pushing the book up the charts and that kind of creates its own momentum. But certainly, building a community before publication, having them really excited to read it and share it, maybe you can do—I mean, you see this in affiliate marketing that, you know, if people buy X amount of copies they get some sort of prize, and they then give it out to their list, or give it out to their communities or whatever.
The more people that can get involved in selling it for you, the more likely it’s going to get that self-sustaining momentum, which is what creates bestsellers.
Kira: Do you do any type of book tour with your books?
Laura: So, I would love more people to do book tours, but there’s a lot of resistance to it just because it’s a big undertaking and the logistics of arranging book tours can be a little bit daunting. Particularly if you do have a lot of clients or you’re servicing a big customer base.
I think it’s really worthwhile doing, particularly if you have the scope to serve a lot of customers. For example, I always think of places like Austin and Denver, you know, places where there are maybe a million to three million people in the population are usually the best options because there’s interest in doing events and there’s always you know, a good scope of demographics but it’s not like New York or LA where there’s so much going on that people kind of can’t mentally commit to a particular event. So meet and greets are honestly so powerful—people love putting a face to a name, they want to be able to have you sign their book and answer their personal questions even though you’ve probably answered those questions in the book, you know, people love the opportunity to you know, make those connections. And if you make yourself available to people, and you’re generous with your time, then certainly when they are ready to make a move on hiring you, there’s going to be no doubt. There’s going to be that trust and rapport there, established and ready to go.
Rob: So, another question. Let’s say that I want to start ghosting as part of my job, you know, I want to start writing books for other people. How have you found clients in order to be able to do that and, maybe a second part of the question is, do you get a byline or there things you should be doing if we are ghosting or working with somebody to negotiate, you know, that kind of credit for ourselves?
Laura: So, in terms of the first question, just start producing a lot of good quality content. I was writing a lot of long-form content marketing material so I had plenty of evidence to show that I was good at what I was doing and I had a clear grasp on the type of material that I was writing about. The second part of that would be choosing a particular category to work with so I like working with direct response marketers to write their books, so you know, there are direct response people in every category that you can imagine. There’s a lot of variety there. But it helps me niche down who I’m approaching. And I’ve been fortunate to be able to get a lot of word of mouth referrals and you know, I’ve been in the marketing space for a while now, so that’s been a useful tool but going to events where my demographic is spending their time is also really key, so I go to a lot of marketing conferences.
I go to masterminds and meet-ups. And just generally talk to people. Again, giving away the whole process, talking to people about what I’m doing is typically the best way. Usually, for me, the turnaround from having a conversation where they think yeah, I’d really love to do that, to, okay, let’s actually start, is generally about 3 months. So it’s a long lead time because it’s a big project and people feel like they need to get their ducks in a row.
But as long as you can understand that there is a lead time and that you are best placed to succeed if you choose a particular demographic, that’s going to hold you in good stead. And this is kind of a question of personal preference, so I’m not particularly fussed if my name is not on the front of the book, but I do want to be credited for having been involved in the project, so usually, I will, in the acknowledgements or in the forward material, I will just have a line saying that it was developed with Laura Hanly of Hanly Creative and you can go to her website here. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be the front of the book, but that’s kind of a good compromise for me.
What I’ve found is, it sort of depends on what you’re looking to get out of it in terms of compensation. If you want to charge a lot, you’re probably going to be able to do that a bit more easily if you don’t have a byline. If you want a byline, you might have to settle for a lower fee, and you know, maybe you can negotiate some sort of royalty agreement. I don’t take any royalties myself but I know people who do and they charge lower up front fees. So it really just depends on the model that you’re comfortable working with and what your primary motivation in working with that particular client is.
Kira: And Laura, I know you shared roughly how much you’re charging per project. It sounded like four projects per year at 40k per project and that is on the high end. What did it take for you to get there? I imagine you didn’t start at that price point-
Kira: What did that path or that ladder look like? Especially for someone who wants to move in this direction and what can they expect, at least from your perspective.
Laura: So I started out… the very first project, the very first book project I did, I charged $7,500. And I cringe and kick myself a little bit… (laughs) when I think about that now. But that was several years ago and…
Kira: How many years ago?
Laura: …I think it was three years ago. So I was sort of stuck in this you know, charging quite low for what I was doing just because I wasn’t confident in myself. So a big part of the process I think, is just doing it enough that you know that you are constantly improving and you know, working consistently on honing your craft, is really important for your self confidence. So you know. I practice a lot! I still read a lot of books on the mechanics of language, you know, the best way to edit. I read voraciously about other authors and how they write, and so I’m constantly searching for this new and better way of doing what I do. I know I’ve been consistent in improving my abilities so that has helped me become more confident in charging more.
For a while, I was just you know, gradually adding an amount to each proposal that I would put out, and you know, it’s true in copywriting and most kinds of marketing, where, if you know that you can deliver a great product and you’re choosing the right people to work with, most people are not going to balk at the number that you’ve put out. Because they’re confident that they’re going to make at least that much back, and you know, hopefully much, much more from working with you. You just have to be able to position yourself as likely to provide sufficient value for this initial outlay.
Rob: So in addition to ghosting books for clients, you’ve also written your own book, and I know you’re working on a second book as well. Maybe you’ve got more than that, I don’t know. But Content That Converts is one of the books I’ve got sitting in front of me—I think you gave this to us at the mastermind where we met, and you’ve written a bit about using content you know, in a strategic way, you know, in a business and I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind just taking a minute and talking a little bit about the content marketing ecosystem that you write about there and why it’s important for businesses and as writers, how we can help businesses use something like the strategies you lay out.
Laura: So, a big mistake I see a lot of businesses making when they start using content marketing is that they don’t have a sales system attached to the content they’re producing. So they’ll write blog posts or they’ll post up videos on Instagram or whatever, but they have no mechanism for capturing the traffic that is coming to their site or their channels through that material. So there’s always got to be a way for the customer to progress through a series of interactions with the business.
The goal of any marketing is to get a customer to know, like, and trust you and then be able to move them through a conversion process, whatever that might look like for your business. So content is very much the forefront of that process, you know, it is the know, like, trust tool; it’s the way to get people to feel familiar with you and to feel comfortable that you’re an expert and that they can confidently do business with you, but you’re really doing them a disservice by building all of this rapport if you don’t then give them an opportunity to go to the next level with you.
So, whether that’s an opt-in on email, or you know, book a free call, or join a webinar; whatever it is, you’ve got to have a clear next step. And once they’ve opted in for whatever it is, then you’ve got to have another next step for them. So whether that’s another very small purchase, a low-front end purchase or you know, whatever your offer is, starting to ascend them through those levels with you, constantly moving them through the process so that they become more and more involved in your business and so that you are basically providing them with everything that they could possibly need from you. This is what the ecosystem is. It’s front end, then there’s kind of that middle, interactive conversion moment, and then you get into that backend. So you’ve got to have all three stages mapped out very clearly, and not just think that, oh well, I’m producing content, therefore I’m going to get customers.
Content marketing only works when there’s a sales system attached to it.
Kira: Laura, who’s doing this well right now? As far as this ecosystem and converting their content… anyone that we should be watching especially if we are thinking about writing a book on our own over the next year or two? I know Gary Vee is publishing a book or promoting it right now and he does a great job of promoting it, but who else should we watch?
Laura: I think a lot of the people who have been in this space a long time have got it really dialed in. People like… Ramit Sethi is amazing in I Will Teach You To Be Rich. They’ve got a lot of front end content, they’ve got a lot of entry points into their ecosystem where people can convert, they’ve got a lot of different offers that are very targeted to their audience, segments, and there’s always a process that people are moving through, so Ramit’s a great one. Digital Marketer has literally made the cost on marketing, you know, every different type of marketing and they’ve got very clear ecosystems set up as well. So there’s the blog and their social media on the front end, there are low price-point conversion opportunities, and then they send you to higher price points through webinars, that kind of thing. Digital Marketer’s another one. There are heaps of people out there that are doing this, but people with a direct response background typically seem to have it dialed in the most.
Rob: Yeah, that’s interesting. So, as I looked through your book and listened to you talking about marketing books, it feels like there’s a lot of similarity between promoting and marketing content, versus promoting and marketing books. Are there significant differences that we ought to be aware of that we should be doing differently with content, versus what we would do with a book?
Laura: So content is usually produced on a much more frequent timeline than a book, and so there’s almost got to be more consistent distribution habits with content. A book you can kind of do like a huge push up front and then do sporadic things down the line. You can, of course, be consistent with it and you’re going to get a better result if you do that, but you know, a lot of people just do a big up front promotion and then kind of let it do its thing. With content, you’ve really got to be consistent about promoting it. So every new piece has to be distributed across content networks, got to be shared to all of your social media and emailed to your list and re-emailed to your list if they don’t open and having you know, consistent partners to share it for you.
There’s got to be a really ongoing and structured system for distributing content, otherwise it’s just kind of going out into the void that is the internet. So if you’re producing, you have to be really away that there’s millions and millions of pieces going live every day and you’ve got to be diligent about making yours get seen. So I would say content has to be very structured about how you approach the promotion, whereas with a book, you can be a bit more spontaneous and a little bit more, it doesn’t have to be quite as structured.
Kira: And Laura, we’ve been talking recently in The Copywriter Club about creating boundaries with clients and managing client work and I imagine, with such large projects, that it’s just something that’s critical to your process, because I could again see, with the wrong client or a client who’s never been through the process before, how they could get anxious or want to take over and I could see how that could go horribly wrong! So how do you maintain that control of the project and create boundaries so you can do your best work?
Laura: A lot of that is about setting expectations up front. I think all creative types should be extremely careful about the people they choose to work with. You really want to make sure you have good rapport with the person, good trust, and a good sense that they know and respect what you are going to be able to do for them but that they also have a sense that you’re the right person to do the job for them and that YOU feel like you’re the right person to do the job for them.
If you have that kind of gut feeling, like, oh I really don’t like this person, or you know, I don’t agree with this project or there’s something that just feels really off here, or you’ve heard some anecdotal evidence that maybe they’re not the best person to work with, listen to that. There are so many times that I have ignored that and really wished that I hadn’t. Fortunately, those lessons were very early in my career and so at this stage, I have a fairly robust sense of the kind of people I want to work with, but certainly setting expectations at the beginning of the process is critical, so setting out a timeline, giving them milestones that they can look forward to and that they feel like are going to hold you accountable and give them some confidence that the project is going to be visible to them and moving forward consistently.
Helping them understand like, if you only check email three times a week, tell them. And that’s fine, you know; I don’t spend a lot of time in my email because the more time I’m in there, the less time I’m writing, but you know, setting those expectations up front, letting them know they aren’t going to get an immediate answer but it’s not because you’re ignoring them or because I’m trying to shirk what I’m doing, but because I’m neck-deep in chapter 7.
You know. It’s just about making sure they understand how you work, why you work that way, and letting them have their doubts and questions and everything put to you, and make sure that you address those doubts and questions. Ultimately, I think the best way is to be super transparent, do everything that you can to establish that trust. That’s why I like going to see people, because when you have had face to face interactions, it’s much easier to be—to have a really clear sense of trust and rapport and it just makes it easier on everybody to go through the process.
Rob: Laura, are there any big mistakes that you see happening over and over as people work on these large type projects, like a book, that we should be thinking about so we don’t make them ourselves?
Laura: I would say that the main one is not sticking to the timelines. So it’s very easy to get stuck in the weeds with projects like this, not sticking to your outline is where a lot of people come undone because a lot of people come undone because the outline is there to give you firm boundaries on what you are and are not going to talk about. If you start changing those and sort of moving those goalposts, then the floodgates can open and you can end up talking about all kinds of things, and then your word counts run over, your timelines run over, the book becomes kind of this mess that’s just not differentiated at all, so I think like, a lot of people get scared that they’re being too specific or that they’re not addressing a broad enough audience, but the solution to that is usually to delve deeper, into the subjects, rather than to go wider. So, deviating from the outline and from the timelines are the most common problems I see.
Kira: I’m curious to hear about your day, and especially, you’re writing a lot of content. How do you manage your day and kind of even just take care of yourself so that every day you can sit down and create great work and stay on track and all of those things?
Laura: So my best time for working is in the morning, so usually I get up fairly early, go for a walk, have coffee, breakfast, and then try and get to my office, get started working pretty early. I usually work through then till one or two, so I’ll get 5 or 6 hours of good output, go and have lunch, go to the gym in the afternoon, maybe do some editing and admin in the afternoon, but really, the key thing is getting those 5 or 6 hours done in the morning. That’s kind of my golden time. I can push that to 8 or 9 hours of output, but I’m definitely drained the next day and I feel like I lose the momentum that I would’ve gained otherwise, so I always like to finish the day with just a little bit of energy left in the tank so that I’m not running on fumes the next day.
Rob: So, this question is totally not book-related, something entirely different: you mentioned you were raised in Sydney, but I believe now, you’re living in Portugal. You know, again, being a writer, we can work from anywhere, but tell us a little bit about why you’ve chosen to be in Portugal and have the freedom to be wherever you want to be.
Laura: So my husband and I left Sydney in 2013 and traveled around for about four years. We kind of moved every 3 to 6 months, looking at new cities and just generally exploring, which was amazing, but after that long on the road, you really get tired. And we were really ready for a home, so a couple of our friends had come to Portugal and we’d traveled with them quite a lot, so when they said we think you guys would love it here, we thought great! You know us, so we’re just going to trust you and just go! So we applied for a residency visa before we’d even been here and that got approved and it’s been amazing.
We’ve been here for a year and a half now, and we just renewed for another two years of residency. So the lifestyle here is amazing, the weather is great, the food is beautiful, the wine’s great, the people are lovely, and it’s really close to you know, the US. It’s very easy to get to New York—I think it’s a 6 hour flight, so if I want to go and see people it’s super easy for me to just hop over. Yeah! There’s a lot of upside to it, for sure.
Rob: I love that.
Kira: So we always like to ask what you think are some opportunities for copywriters today, especially from your unique lens in the content space and crafting books with clients. What would you say are some opportunities for us in 2018?
Laura: I would say more than ever, there’s a need for really high quality content. Going back to what I was saying before, the industry can feel a little bit commoditized because so many people are billing themselves as writers when really, what they’re able to do is write words on a keyboard and speak the correct language.
Which is not the same as being a writer. So what I would say is the big opportunity is there’s so much information available that will make you a better copywriter. All of the resources you could possibly need are online, so there’s no excuse not to be the best in your field. So pick your field and become the best in it is what I would say. Always aim to be delivering better work than you’ve ever delivered, better than anyone else in the field is delivering; you know, there’s no excuse not to be the best at what you’re doing. And to pick a field to dominate, so that would be my main focus.
Rob: That feels like a really good note to end on. If people want to reach out to you, find out more about what you’re doing, or even work with you on a book project, Laura, where would they go to find you?
Laura: Probably the easiest is through my website, which is just laurahanly.com. You can send me an email, which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rob: Excellent, thank you so much! This has been really enlightening and eye-opening in a lot of ways.
Laura: Great, thank you so much for having me!
Kira: I want to write a book now, so thanks for adding that to my to-do list!
Rob: Just write a check and Laura will write it for you. (laughs)
Kira: I know! I wish I could. (laughs) Thank Laura!
Laura: Thank you!
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