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This week we get the chance to know Mary Nhin, entrepreneur and author.
Mary Nhin released 21 books in 7 months!
She enjoys helping other authors and sharing her knowledge.
Come listen to what she’s learned so far!
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Laurie: Hello Writers. Welcome back to the Writer’s Way podcast. I’m here today with Mary Nhin. Thank you for joining me, Mary.
Laurie: How you doing?
Mary: Good, how are you?
Laurie: I’m good. We’re in a thaw. We were in a deep freeze last week, and now we’re in a bit of a thaw.
Mary: Oh, good. Well, it’s not the most extreme.
Laurie: Yeah, yeah. The kids that were inside all week last week, indoor recesses and like you froze the second you go outside anyway.
That’s my life here in Canada. Mary, I know that you might not have done it on purpose. But you did something with your second series of books that I wanted to talk to you about, because when it comes to marketing, a lot of us sort of model our stuff on the novelists that have been doing it for longer.
A lot of us children’s authors and some of their techniques and strategies work and some don’ts. So, I hope soon to get a group together and talk about some BookBub strategies and whether or not those are worthwhile for children’s authors. But what you did was, you released a ton of books in a really short period of time from what I saw.
And so, whether you meant or not, you did a rapid release. And I feel like people might watch novelists do it, and they usually plan it. You know, but I don’t think a lot of children’s authors have done it. So I’m curious if you can, and even your first series really came out pretty close together, right?
Mary: Yeah, you know, now that you mention it. I have had some questions about it in my inbox. Whether like, do I intentionally hold my stories and my books for a certain date of release? And/or do I plan my releases in succession like I’ve done?
And honestly, I wish I could sit here and tell you that, you know, I was this master planner and I had September, October, November, December, planned like this. But no, almost everything went. Just kind of, as you know, as I went. I just went with the flow of things. So, really I think 80% of it was not planned. 20% of it was planned. Like, I knew the titles that I wanted to release. I knew. Well once I had the idea for the series down, because I have three now. And I did release 21 books within a seven month period.
Laurie: I’m just going to write that down. What was the third series? So you have your like “How to Win” series or,
Mary: Yeah, that’s the “Go Grit” that Kobe and I co-wrote together and the “UnicornPreneur” series . And then now the “Ninja Life Hacks”.
So once I had the idea down of the main theme for all of the books. And then I formulated kind of like the subjects, the main categories of the books in the series. And then I wrote those down. And then I also wrote down the subtitles for the books. And I do this with every series. I do do some planning. So it’s not all on the whim. But and then I will start to write the stories. A lot of times I can write four or five stories in a row in one sitting, but sometimes I can’t. I mean, sometimes I can just create one or write one story.
But then I will plan to. And then for, like for the “Ninja life” series, for example, I did plan a release of two at a time, to help me release certain titles before Christmas. And also to help alleviate some of my marketing time spent on each book. And I think that doing that, it really didn’t affect sales. But I think that it hurt me, when I released within two weeks of Christmas.
That was a little bit probably something I wouldn’t repeat again. Any of the titles that I’ve released in January has been a little slow to be received. And so I think if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t release any titles in January.
I wouldn’t recommend anybody else to do that
Laurie: They’re tough marketing months.
Mary: But I didn’t see any negative effects releasing in November or early December. But I think ideally it would be October, right before the shopping hits.
Laurie: Yeah. Okay. So how many books are in the first series, the “Grow Grit”?
Mary: So there are three in the “Grow Grit” series. Kobe’s is working on one right now. He’s planning to release it this year.
Laurie: Oh, that’s so cool. How old is Kobe for anybody who maybe isn’t familiar with your story?
Mary: It’ll be exciting. Okay, so Kobe wrote “How to Win Wimbledon in Pajamas” when he was 14 and I helped him edit it and fine tune his ideas and story. And then he wrote “How to Win the World Cup in Pajamas”. Which you’re right, that is actually the best selling one in the series
Mary: Soccers, like the world’s sports. And then he wrote “How to Win the Gold Medal in Pajamas”. And it’s been, they’ve been doing well. Very well. They,’re doing better than expected. Cause when your expectations are down here. Then you know, you can only rise up, right?
Laurie: Yeah. And then how many in the “UnicornPreneurs” series?
Mary: There are seven books in the “UnicornPreneurs” series.
Laurie: And how well does it do?
Mary: It does good. Better than expected.
Laurie: I love it. This is the main takeaway. Expect nothing, and you will be happy.
Mary: That’s kind of like one of my mottos in life, like I don’t expect anything from anybody or any results.
Laurie: And then you’re happy. Always pleasantly surprised.
Mary: And that way you don’t feel disappointed.
Laurie: Yeah, I like that. If you can do it. So, you have seven of the “UnicornPreneur”, which is a brilliant idea. And then, what was the release schedule for that?
Mary: So let’s see, the “Grow Grit” series released between May of 2019 to August of 2019. So that was about one a month. And then the “UnicornPreneurs” series started July 2019 to about October 2019 so that was maybe two a month
Laurie: Two a month. And how many ninjas?
Mary: And now there are 11 “Ninja Life Hacks” books released so far.
Laurie: In two months?
Mary: Yeah, I think so because I started the first one released in early December. No, late November so maybe a little bit.
Laurie: Wow. First of all kudos to you, because you’re also a restaurant owner. Four restaurants and 21 books in 7 months. So everybody’s going to be writing, like how does she sleep? Clearly she does not watch TV. So that’s amazing.
So I’m trying to think of the questions that people would have. Like you needed some money up front for your illustrators. I’m trying to think of barriers that other people might have.
Laurie: So if you’re releasing that many books. Where did you find your illustrators? Are they all different illustrators?
Mary: Yeah. That is a very common question, Laurie. You’re right. You can get into like the author’s mind really well, because I have received that question in my inbox.
So illustrators, yeah, that’s a difficult subject because there’s such a range, right? The most important thing is to find an illustrator that matches your work ethic.
I work at a very fast pace because I love what I do. So obviously like I was very attracted to illustrators that had a passion for like creating and illustrating. I do have a separate illustrator for each series. The one that is working on my “Ninja Life Hack” series. She is amazing. And she has a really hard work ethic and she’s super talented.
And you just know she loves what she does. Because if you sent, ask her, you know, a question or send her a request. She’s just all over it. She’ll give options. She gives you options and she’s just amazing.
Laurie: And where did you find her?
Mary: I found her. There’s several platforms I use. I use Behance.net, Upwork and 99designs.com. And I know a lot of people have access to Fiverr, and I know you’ve used them before. So I usually recommend people just look through and browse. Do the portfolios. And message people and message artists and ask them. I was even willing to pay $100 to see their portrayal of my main character
Laurie: I think that’s smart to get a sample and see what they can do.
Mary: That’s what I did for the “UnicornPreneur” and then the “Ninja Life Hacks”. But the “Ninja Life Hacks” series was a lot easier for me because the main character is actually based upon our restaurant mascot.
Mary: The logo was patented and trademarked with the USPTO.gov.
Laurie: So you had an idea already. So it was clear if she was hitting it or not.
Okay. So I’m just gonna assume that you’re paying her as you go per book. So anybody looking into this. That might be an obstacle for doing this rapidly. And because you had such a short amount of time, you weren’t stocking the books. So you just had a really fast. So you had a budget for it, which is nice. So anybody watching, you know that you need to take that into consideration. And then what type of marketing did you do pre-release? Like did you have a launch plan or was it. It’s ready. I’m pushing the button onto the next one.
Mary: No, you’ve got to do some marketing. It’s not. You can’t just write and release.
So, there’s a lot of work that is involved pre, post, and during a launch. And there’s just so much that I don’t know if I could cover it all here.
Laurie: Can you identify like one really important one for each phase? It’s like what would be your most important prelaunch activity?
Mary: The most important prelaunch activity. That’s a good question. I would say building your email lists has been really beneficial for me. I think because with my email list. I send out advanced reader copies. I gain a lot of reviews that way. But also a lot of people send me feedback on what they did or didn’t like. And then a lot of them will end up buying the book and/or the series. So that’s really important for pre-marketing.
Post-marketing, I think. And there’s a lot.
Laurie: And it goes on forever.
Mary: Yeah. So I think Facebook and Amazon ads are really important. It has to be part of your strategy for marketing. There’s a lot of different marketing that you could categorize as far as like doing one single time. And then also just like for long term. So Amazon and Facebook would be for your long term marketing strategy.
And I’m learning that Facebook is playing a bigger part of my marketing strategy then Amazon ads is.
Laurie: Okay. So that’s something that a lot of novelists do, is use Facebook ads. But I don’t know if many children’s authors who say that it’s been effective for them. So is there any tips about like, are you directing people? This is my book. Go buy my book. Are you directing them to your email list?
Mary: There’s several strategies that you can use with Facebook, but I’m doing both of those things.
Laurie: Okay, and how big is your email list right now?
Mary: I have about 12,000 in my email list.
Laurie: Holy! Bleep! Okay, so is that just for your books? Or was that from something else? Because we need to talk about that!
Mary: Well. So I have a MailChimp account. And I’m the marketing director for all our restaurants. And so yeah, I have a list for each restaurant concept. And then I have a list for just authors. And then have a list for Grow Grit press.
Laurie: Okay. And so how did you grow it?
Mary: There’s a lot of growth strategies you can use to build your list. But one really easy one that everyone can implement, and I’ve mentioned it before in several of our children’s groups, is that adding the optin landing page link onto your email. As kind of a passive email signature link. That’s very effective.
Laurie: Just to your everyday emails to like anybody? Or to the email specifically to your reader list?
Mary: No, just anybody you come in to contact with.
Laurie: Okay. Just as part of like your signature. Cool I haven’t heard that one.
Mary: Yeah. And then I release quite a bit of articles too, on Medium and my website and the different blog posts. And so I always put a content upgrade link. So people can get that. People can sign up that way. I’ve used a lot of that. There’s also been Facebook ads. That’s very effective. So when you use the opt in form for your Facebook. You can retarget that in your ads, but you’re also collecting emails that are very targeted to your specific market.
Laurie: So you had some knowledge about Facebook ads prior to writing, I’m guessing, and publishing.
Mary: No, I didn’t. I was trying to, okay, so we’ve had our restaurant concept since 2005, right? I was trying to avoid Facebook marketing until 2019. That’s when I started learning. When I released my second series “UnicornPreneur” I was like, okay, well I guess I got to learn.
Laurie: Are you self taught? Did you take your course? Did you find someone to follow?
Mary: A lot of the way I learn is through trial and error. I didn’t have a coach for Facebook advertising.
Laurie: You really are like the embodiment of your publisher name, like growing and grit. Like you just get in the trenches and you figure it out.
And I love that because as you talk about Facebook ads. To me, you sound like somebody who’s been running ads for years. You know, and you really have a good sense of where to direct people and how to do it. So kudos to you because you know, you’ve clearly put in a lot of time and effort.
I feel like people might listen to you. And think oh she’s got an agency behind her. Or she had a coach. Or she’s done it for a long time. So really you put the time and effort in and you can figure it out.
Mary: Thank you, Laurie. Yes. I think it starts with the really solid foundation, like what you want to build. And so in my mind, I always knew that I wanted to build a big business no matter what industry I was in.
And I think if you commit yourself to the long term vision, then you’re willing to do what it takes to learn. And sometimes people. You can spend money and people can talk your ear off about how to do this and that. But for whatever reason, like human nature, we just don’t listen.
And so the only way we will listen is if we lose money. And so I was like, okay. Well, I guess I gotta lose money. Or I gotta fail. And that’s how we learn the best. The fastest. And that’s how we succeed.
Laurie: That’s a good motivator, to not lose money, for sure. So you’re saying you lost a little bit of money when you were starting out with the Facebook ads?
Mary: Not as much as I did with Amazon.
I think that now I have a better grasp on Facebook ads. My paper click is down than what it was initially. And so, yeah, I probably lost a little bit of money, but I don’t dwell on that. It’s part of the learning curve. Just like with Amazon ads, you know, everybody starts somewhere and you come to find out that you can get better if you don’t quit.
So that’s the whole premise of our company is Grow Grit press. Just keep on. You never know when success is coming. It may be just around the corner. It may be the day after you quit. And so, that’s why I push people. Just don’t quit. Just keep going. Whether it’s if you’re pushing $5 a day on Amazon ads or Facebook ads. You’re learning every day. As long as you take that information and absorb it. And then process it. And you know, produce better the next time.
Laurie: So how much time would you say you spend on your book business? A day or a week?
Mary: Too much. If you ask Kang, he would say, Oh my wife is literally on social media all day, but I’m not on social media. It’s just that on my laptop a lot. That’s the thing. I do not recommend rapid release to anyone because I literally worked 14 hour days for like the last seven months.
Laurie: Just on your books? Or because you have the other business?
Mary: Well, I wasn’t just working on my books. I was working on marketing for all of my businesses. But I would say that I would say about 60 to 70% of the time I was working on my books.
Laurie: So too much time. And you felt like maybe it wasn’t worth it in the end. Like, I think the premise of the rapid release is to extend that 30 day cliff, so that when you first launched your book with Amazon, you have a natural sort of organic boost for 30 days.
And then at the end of that, if you do another one and then another one, you can almost accept the cliff for the whole series. And really make a sticky rank and you know, have better sales that way. But I always questioned it because novelists really depend on the ebook sort of income. Whereas as children’s authors, usually the bulk of our sales are our physical books.
So you put in a ton of time and effort and did it pay off as far as sales book ranking, that sticky factor?
Mary: I don’t know. I don’t know about that question. I’d have to go back and evaluate. I’m still in the launching phase, so I haven’t really looked at all of that information yet. But I think that you have to really love what you do.
And I think that I got into the zone for a really long time, and that’s why I was rapid releasing. And that’s why when you asked me. Did I plan that? And I have to honestly say I didn’t plan the rapid release, but it was all just my passion. Producing for my passion. That’s it.
Laurie: Yeah. And it really shows, it really comes through. Are you done for now or is there more coming?
Mary: So, I think one of the things about a series and rapid release is that people do start to look forward to the rest in the series. And because I’ve been advertising or passively marketing it on the back cover I have had a lot of people ask about the last four titles. But because January hasn’t been a very receptive month, I’m not planning to release any more this month. But, I’m planning a release between now and October. The final four. But I don’t have a date yet.
Laurie: Okay and they’re in production? Are you sitting on a finished book?
Mary: And yeah. I do think that people try like they anticipate your books coming out. The release. So that is one advantage of a series rapid releasing.
Laurie: Cool. Well, it’s so impressive. And I know I’m all of your marketing and your business sort of expertise you share on a Patreon account. So do you want to share what that is?
Mary: Yeah. So the Patreon account is just an area where I give back to the author community. And, we’ve built a little family in our Patreon account. In our Gritty community. So that’s where I just share any tips that I have and all of my tools. And how I’ve done. I share my numbers in there too. So I think it’s a great resource, but I think that I will be converting it into a course on Udemy really soon. So I don’t know how much longer the Patrion account, or at least one of the tiers will exist.
Laurie: Oh, okay. So we’ll wrap up. Is there any last words of wisdom or advice or powerful lessons that you’ve learned in the past year that you’d like to share with people?
Mary: I don’t know. I don’t know about just one, Laurie.
Laurie: You want your marriage to last maybe 14 hours a day…. Or maybe that’s a good thing. I guess it depends on your marriage.
Mary: Well, Kang, I think it’s very… Oh, I know. Here’s one last tip. Make sure you marry a guy that cooks for you, because I don’t cook at all.
Laurie: I love that. Since my husband really cut back at work, he does the cooking and you know, I’m so lucky. So I hear that one.
Mary: Yeah I see all your healthy dishes, or I did see them before I stopped seeing all your posts.
Laurie: My, what?
Mary: Your healthy salads? And dishes?
Laurie: Yeah, he did that for awhile. Today, they were joking and my five year olds home three mornings a week with him and I was up really late working last night. So today, I was cranky. And so my son kept joking and knocking on the door and then running away. My work door.
So I opened it, I said, next time bring food. Anyway. 5 minutes later, there was a little knock and there’s a little plate of food at my door. It’s less healthy now. I don’t know. He doesn’t spend as much time. It’s leftovers from dinner, but it was super funny. So I’m happy to have food plates of food left.
Mary: You need one of those homeless signs that says, need food
Laurie: Please, and coffee. Think coffee. Bring me the coffee. Well, thank you so much for talking to me today. I have your link, so I’ll put them in the description and all that. And I think people will find this really useful. So thank you so much.
Mary: Thank you for having me on.
Laurie: You’re welcome. Bye bye.
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