James Blatch is a former BBC defense reporter. He reported on the UK military from Kuwait, the Arctic Circle, and during the Kosovo conflict in 1999, among many other crazy war zones and places.
James took the lazy way into journalism. He did nothing to build a professional career until about the age of 25. He started by going into computers. In the late 80s, you didn’t need any qualifications to go into computers. But James realized quickly that he hated the field.
Pursuing His Dream
At some point in his 20s, he had a moment where he realized he wanted to achieve different things in life—he wanted to achieve his childhood dreams. One of those dreams was to work for the BBC.
He started knocking on doors and eventually convinced someone to let him make tea for the sports coverage team on the weekends. Then he started reading the cricket results. From there he started covering other sports, like soccer and ice hockey.
He got a staff job at the BBC after a year and a half of hard work. His regular BBC job started as a radio production job along with some on-air time. He slowly but surely wormed his way into the newsroom because the newsroom was a more exciting place to be.
It’s always good in a newsroom to have a specialty, and having the defense beat made sense for James because he was always an aviation geek and he came from a military family. So he had some idea of how the military operated, which wasn’t the case for most of the people in the newsroom.
James’s favorite part about being a reporter was being out in the field and doing stories. A lot of his colleagues wanted to be behind the desk reading news copy, and he never understood why that was more appealing to them.
James got to do a lot of cool stuff as a reporter: He got to fly in fast jets. He got to travel to the Arctic Circle. He got to ride in Formula One race cars. As a member of the press, you are given unparalleled access because being covered is very valuable to people.
James mostly covered the Royal Air Force.
“The RAF generally fought their wars from four-star hotels about 1,000 miles away from the danger.”
– James Blatch
During the Kosovo conflict in 1998, James was with the RAF in Italy eating gourmet cuisine while friends of his were with the relief convoy on the ground near the border, set to go in after the violence ended.
The most excitement James had as a military correspondent were the two times he was embedded on an aircraft carrier.
James also enjoyed the travel associated with his journalism career, for the most part. Because he started his career 10 years later than everyone else, he was traveling quite a lot when he had little children at home. That’s when he decided to shift careers again.
The moment in James’s 20s when he decided to be an action-taker has led him to change careers every 10 years or so. He worked for the BBC for about 10 years. In his mid-30s, he decided he wanted to be around his family more. He could’ve continued with the BBC at a desk job, but he decided he wanted to pursue another childhood obsession and become a film classifier.
James was 10 when his father took him to see Star Wars in 1977. That was a real turning point in his life because it was the first time he was exposed to the idea that an ordinary person can be the hero of the story.
From that point on, James always wanted to work for the BBFC. The entire job of the BBFC is to sit around and watch films and TV shows and give them ratings like PG-13, like the MPAA does in the United States.
James began to target the BBFC in the same way he targeted the BBC 10 years before. The BBFC was a much harder organization to break his way into because of the limited number of slots available and the number of people who want to do that job.
When James worked at the BBFC, he would go to work and watch 350 minutes of video a day. If he was unlucky, he would get something he wasn’t particularly interested in, like wrestling. Quite often, he would get to watch a series that he really liked. One of the problems he ran into with that job is he would often watch episodes of TV shows he was watching at home, before they were broadcast to the general public. Quite often, those shows would be spoiled for him.
James worked at the BBFC from 2007 to 2013. It was during those six years that he met John Dyer and Mark Dawson, who were also working there.
At the end of his tenure at the BBFC, James decided to join forces with John and start a video production business.
James enjoyed video production. He enjoyed traveling the world again. The problem with his video production business is that it wasn’t scalable.
That’s when John and James decided to start looking at other opportunities to make videos that they could sell multiple copies of, on an ongoing basis. They figured out that online courses were a scalable product.
It was around this time that Mark Dawson called James and told him about the tremendous opportunities available in self-publishing, and they began to discuss the possibility of creating a course together to help teach new authors how to succeed in the indie publishing marketplace.
How the Self-Publishing Formula Helps Authors
Currently, the Self-Publishing Formula has two major courses for authors.
Author 101 is for people who haven’t published their first book and want a foundation in self-publishing.
Author 101 talks about the nuts and bolts of self-publishing, and the importance of cultivating the right attitude. It’s important that you treat your self-publishing business like any other business. You have to put out the best product you possibly can in order to compete in the self-publishing marketplace.
Advertising for Authors is for authors who have written two or three books and are working on a series. The course teaches you how to find your readers on various social media advertising platforms.
Advertising for Authors started out as Facebook Ads for Authors and has expanded to include Amazon ads and YouTube ads. It now has more than 40 hours of video content for students.
The Biggest Challenges New Authors Face
One of the biggest problems new authors face is being organized about how they approach advertising platforms. Implementing your marketing plan will require as much, if not more, attention than you put into writing your book.
“If you’re going to be a self-published author, the word published is in there. You are effectively a one-person publishing house. And publishers market books.”
– James Blatch
Successful indie authors spend a significant amount of their time marketing their books, especially in the beginning of their careers. You should plan to spend at least half of your time marketing your books if you want to build an audience quickly.
The Biggest Mistakes New Authors Make
One of the biggest mistakes new indie authors make is not putting enough time and attention into their cover.
Books are judged by their covers. Your cover needs to look like it belongs in the category you placed it in. If your cover doesn’t look professional, it’s very unlikely new readers will give your book a try.
It’s also important to spend the money you need to spend to get your book properly edited. At the end of the day, this product represents you in the marketplace. You want to put your best foot forward, and have the best book possible represent you.
The Importance of Having an Email List
The email list is the heart of every indie author’s business today. Having an email list of interested customers is vital for discoverability and success in the online marketplace.
Things to Consider when Setting up a Facebook Ad Campaign
- Start small. If you spend $5 a day for two days, you should be able to get enough data to know if an ad campaign will be profitable for you.
- Split test everything you can.
- Try different images for your ad.
- Try different ad copy.
- Try targeting different audiences.
- Target other authors in your genre.
- Be sure to target yourself. Even if you are starting out small, some people will know who you are.
- It will help you build your audience to have people who know you realize you’re a self-published author.
- When you’re in the early stages of your career, target your ads at building your mailing list. It’s a mistake to target direct sales at the beginning of your author career.
Facebook will take your money whether an ad is good or not. So it’s important to start small and only scale up when you see that an ad is performing well.
How Facebook Ads Can Help Build an Author Business
There are two things that determine your success as an indie author. They are:
- The size of your email list
- The number of books you have available for sale.
In the beginning of your author career, your Facebook ads should point to a squeeze page. Once people sign up for your email list, you should have four or five automated emails that tell people who you are and what they can expect from you.
That “onboarding” email sequence should get people excited for whatever book you are promoting. It can be used to help build your advance review team.
Don’t be afraid to show people who you really are in your emails. This will help separate out the people who will like your work from those who won’t.
How to Build an Advance Review Team
James built his advance review team by asking people on his email list if they’d be interested in getting an advance review copy of his book. He specifically asked for people who knew or worked on the type of plane that is at the center of his first novel.
Beyond simply asking people to join your advance review team, it’s important that you develop and maintain a relationship with the people on your email list. You do this by:
- Emailing them regularly.
- Having contests or sweepstakes.
- Being honest and genuine in your emails.
- Replying to everyone who contacts you.
- Being as accessible as possible.
Links and Resources Mentioned in This Interview
https://selfpublishingformula.com/ – an online course for self-publishing authors that teaches how to write, publish, and sell your self-published book.
SPF podcast – a weekly podcast with Mark Dawson. James and Mark interview successful self-published authors so their audience can learn how to be successful.
http://jamesblatch.com – go here to learn more about James and the book he’s writing. You can join his email list and study his “onboarding sequence.”
https://selfpublishingformula.com/courses/ – you can get Mark Dawson’s list building tips for authors free on this page by simply giving Mark your email address.
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.