In this episode, Bret Ridgeway, shares his insights as an author and book-fulfillment business owner into what helps authors sells more books and how having a great fulfillment partner can help.
3 Key Points
When you use a fulfillment house you can add a flyer inside promoting your other books, courses, services, and/or upcoming events
If you’re writing a business book, you need to know why you are writing it and what your back-end offer is going to be as well as bonus offers to capture email addresses.
Keep your chapters short to get people to read more of your book.
[0:51] Ellen: Hi, and welcome to Episode 94. Today, my guest is Bret Ridgeway. Bret is founder of Speaker Fulfillment Services and its author-focused brand, Ship Your Books. His company handles the behind-the-scenes order fulfillments for authors, speakers and information marketers. He is author or co-author of six books himself related to authors and speaking, including Mistakes Authors Make, ABCs of Speaking, 50 Biggest Mistakes I See Information Marketers Make, which I just read recently again, and more. So, welcome to the call, Bret.
Bret: Oh, I’m excited to be here, Ellen. You’re doing such a great thing for authors and I’m just happy to be able to possibly share a few tidbits that might help some of them out.
Ellen: Oh, cool. Well, I have to say, I have known Bret for a very long time. One of the very first events I went to probably was the Big Seminar. Were you at the Big Seminar, I would imagine?
Bret: Yes, the old Big Seminar days. I remember all of them.
Ellen: Yeah. And in those days, we were doing everything physical, nothing was really digital in terms of sending out programs and also even promotional materials. I still have boxes and boxes of The 7 Biggest Mistakes Authors Make, and you did that for me. You created that. Oh God, it’s been a very long time, very long time.
[2:24] Bret: It has been. I mean, probably goes back to the early 2000’s, 2003, 2005, somewhere around there probably.
Ellen: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I went to the Big Seminar and it was 2006. Yeah. It might’ve been 2005 and 2006 because I went a couple of times, but yeah, but we just recently moved, and so I’m going through all the boxes, and I found that notebook or book, whatever you want to call it, it was on The Biggest Mistakes that Information Marketers Make. And I was looking through it. Anyway, so tell us, how did you get into this?
[2:59] Bret: It’s an interesting story. It’s one of those things where you can definitely trace a specific history. But back in the early 1990’s, I went to an event down in Florida called The Hurricane Andrew Seminar, put on by a great copywriter Gary Halbert. And I got to meet a lot of people. There are one of those people I met. There was a guy named Carl Galletti and other copywriter who you may know, Ellen. And that led to a joint venture with Carl where in 1995 or thereabouts, I took over his old hard-to-find marketing-book catalog. Now about that same time, I actually put up the first portal website in the plant engineering and maintenance industry. It’s called maintenanceresources.com. And we were selling books. And back in those days, VHS tapes and audio cassettes and aimed at that particular niche.
Bret: So, we were doing product fulfillment for our websites in the mid ’90s. And then in 1999, Carl Galletti called me up and asked me if I would handle his back- sales table at his first Internet marketing super conference in Vegas. Well, I hadn’t been to Vegas before, so it sounded good to me. So, I went out there and handled the sales table and met people like Alex Mandossian for the first time and met some of these speakers at these events started to hire us to handle their back of the room. And then they found out we were doing product fulfillment for our own sites and they cornered me at an event and said, “Hey, will you do some of this for us?” And so, Speaker Fulfillment Services was born out of those backroom events, internet marketing, super conference, big seminar, et cetera. And that just led to other brands such as Ship Your Books and all that time over the years.
Ellen: Right. So, there was a need and you filled it.
Bret: There was a need and we filled it. And here it is almost twenty years later and we’re still going at it.
[4:43] Ellen: Yeah. So, tell me about Ship Your Books. I didn’t know about that.
Bret: So, our company name was born out of speakers because I was a speaker, I got to know at the various internet and information-marketing conferences, but more and more, we found out that those speakers were authors in their own right. So about five, six, seven years ago. I don’t remember exactly when we decided we needed a separate brand to focus just on speakers because-
Ellen: You mean, authors?
Bret: Authors, I’m sorry. Yes. And I mean, they weren’t doing products beyond their book. So, we decided Ship Your Books is what we would go with. And again, it just focuses specific and authors in their fulfillment needs. Obviously, we can do a lot of other things for them, but that seemed to fit that particular niche better. And so. that’s where it came from.
[5:32] Ellen: Okay. So why should people hire you to do that for them?
Bret: Well, I mean, obviously there’s a lot of fulfillment companies out there. I think what we bring to the table, Ellen, is a unique perspective. Being an author myself. I mean, I know what works, what doesn’t work. Having been behind the scenes for almost twenty years with some of the biggest names in the information-marketing industry, seeing what they do and handling their products, et cetera, we can offer insights to potential authors who maybe are writing that first book or whatever, or need help with a website, et cetera. It’s just behind-the-scenes view that most people can’t give them to help them down that path to success.
[6:13] Ellen: So, is there anything that you would tell authors when they’re getting ready or when they’re writing their books that they may not know that will help them to get their books printed better and faster and easier with you?
Bret: Sure. Well, I mean the first thing that I think is vastly overlooked, Ellen, is that you’ve really got to figure out concretely, why am I writing this book? I mean, if you want to write a memoir to share with your family and all that, great go for it. But if you’re writing a book as a business tool, then you’ve got to figure out what the back end to that book is going to be. And a big mistake I see people make is that they don’t have that back end in place before they released their book.
So that book is designed to bring you coaching clients or go to a membership site or sell a home study course or whatever. My gosh, make sure those things are done and in place before you release that book, You’ve got to be crystal clear on why you’re writing that book. If you want to have a bestseller, that’s great; bestsellers don’t happen very frequently as we all know. So, your best use of a book, frankly, as a marketing tool for your business, but make sure the business aspects of that book is driving people to are fully ready to go before that book hits the stores.
[7:30] Ellen: Yes. When I do publishing packages with people one of the things that’s included is called a Call-to-Action coaching call for that exact reason. So many authors don’t even have a next step for people to do when they get to the end of the book. And if you don’t tell people what to do they’re not going to do anything.
Bret: And you’ve got a scatter throughout that book, various calls to action ideally. We know that very few people end up reading a book from start to end. So even on the cover, maybe you need some kind of bribe to drive them to your website to capture their information. I mean, let’s face it, if Amazon sells your book or a Barnes and Noble store or a Books-A-Million or whatever, they don’t pick up the phone and call you and say, “Hey, so-and-so bought your book. Add them to your email list.”
Ellen: Yeah, right.
Bret: So ideally, you need to come up with some way bounce backs, calls to action, whatever you want to call it within your book, maybe it’s a bonus audio, or a video, or whatever it may be so that you can get them to your website and capture their information so that then you can market other products and services to them.
Ellen: Right. I think it also depends on how the book is set up. I had one book where there were more lessons and things at the end of each chapter that then they would opt in to get those, so that made more sense that way. And then I’ve had other ones where, it just didn’t even make sense to take that big next step until the end of the book. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t other things within the book. Sometimes, it’s just additional information or materials or whatever.
[9:08] Bret: Exactly. You got to figure out how that book could be a name capture mechanism for you. Ideally, it’s a great marketing tool. And if you don’t use it as asset, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table.
Ellen: Yeah. Yeah. Well, so many people using Amazon or using Ingram Spark, they’re getting books on demand, right? POD. So, when they order from you, it’s not like that, right? I mean, this is ordering in bulk or are you doing POD too now?
[9:38] Bret: Well, let’s be upfront thereby that we have various pretty partners that we’ve worked with for the printing part of the process. So, we’re not printing the books internally. So, we have printers that we’ve worked with that can-do small runs at 100, 250, 500 at a time, but we’re not doing a print-on-demand service. So, what you’ve got to look at when you’re deciding how you’re going to fulfill your book orders is number one, are you just driving all your topic, Amazon? which may be the best bet for you in some cases. There are disadvantages out, of course. And you’ve got to look at both sides of the coin to figure out what’s going to work best for you.
As Amazon doesn’t call you up and tell you who bought your book, then you don’t have the ability, if you’re not fulfilling orders yourself or having somebody fulfill them for you other than Amazon, you don’t have the ability to insert additional marketing material in there. You’re not adding them to your list. So, you’re just hoping that if you’ve done the job right, in terms of bounce back to your book, that you’ll get them to you somehow. I mean, Amazon, doesn’t let you stick additional nurturing (inaudible) shipments. If you have other books or a homestead-
[10:46] Ellen: Right. Say that again. People do understand it? Yeah. Bret can put like flyers and things inside the book.
Bret: Right. Yeah. So, you have a postcard, or a bookmark, or a sale flyer, or other things that you have to offer. You can insert those in outgoing shipments for no additional fulfillment costs. It’s just obviously your printing costs. So, there’s a big opportunity being lost if you’re not shipping your orders yourself or having somebody get them for you, such as Ship Your Books.
[11:20] Ellen: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay. So, are you drop shipping for people then or you’re selling?
Bret: No, the way that we….
Ellen:… a bulk order?
Bret: No. There’s three scenarios, basically when we’re doing fulfillment, Ellen. One is we directly integrate with people’s websites, so that orders automatically kick over to our system. And then we’re direct shipping that book to their end customer. The second is Amazon. I mean, we have a lot of Amazon clients who are using Amazon Advantage Program. And when Amazon places a purchase order for more books, it comes to us. We ship the books for them to the Amazon warehouse, so that it’s all hands-off for them. And then the third scenario is-
[11:54] Ellen: What is Amazon’s advantage? Tell people that. Do you know?
Bret: All right. So, Amazon Advantage is one of their seller programs where they order books for their warehouses. They stock them, they sell them, they ship them to the end customer, so no inserts or anything. But because you are on Amazon, and it’s in their essence, filled by Amazon, you might get higher in the Amazon rankings, and have more chances to sell more books. So, there are certainly advantages to being on Amazon. The disadvantage, they take 55% of the sales price. So, you’re making a lot less money on a book sale than if you’re able to drive them to your own website to make that sale.
Ellen: You’re talking about print books?
[12:35] Bret: Correct. Print books. Yeah. So, Amazon is one scenario. Direct to the end customer via your own website is the second scenario, then the third scenario is we still work with a lot of speakers. Obviously, due to COVID, it’s gone away somewhat over the last year. It’s starting to come back and that’s people who speak at live events who don’t want to log books around with them, so they just email us a couple weeks in advance and say, “Hey, Bret, I need 100 books at this location on this date.” And then we ship them out to the event and print for them.
Ellen: Okay. Yeah. That makes sense. Okay. I think that it’s important for people to know that they do have different options.
[13:21] So, let’s talk more about putting something in the book. So, what are really great things for people to put inside that book?
Bret: Well, I always like bookmarks, number one, because people tend to not throw away bookmarks. It’s something that even they’ve read your book, it’s always sticking up and there was a reminder. Certainly, you want to, if you have other books that you offer, do a one-page sale sheet or a postcard or something that falls out of the book, letting them know where to go buy your other books if they like what they have. Another thing that people do is a simple, thank-you note. And those can be personalized if you so desire. “Thanks for buying my book. Here’s how to get started.” I mean, you got to remember a book is all about readability and consumability. You can’t get them to read your book, the chances of them coming back to you for other books or other products and services goes way, way down.
[14:16] Bret: So, what are you going to do as part of your delivery process to encourage them to start reading that book and a thank-you letter, tell them how to get started is great. Another thing that you can do is if you know who bought your book, you had their email address, do a follow-up auto responder series, driving them back to that book, remind them what’s in chapter six, remind them the lesson they learned in chapter nine or whatever, but you got to continue to reinforce to help them consume that book.
Another thing you need to think about is the actual structure of your book, Ellen. If I go to a bookstore, I love to browse in marketing-book section. But if I pick up book and I open it up, and that first chapter is twenty-five pages long, it’s like, “Ah, too much effort, even read one chapter. I’m not even going to buy this book.” So, break your book up into bite-sized chunks. Who’s the master of the short chapter? James Patterson. I mean, three-, four-page chapters. So, you read a chapter. It was like, “I can read another one. I can read another one.” Next thing you know, you’ve read those thirty or forty pages, but you’re doing it in bite-sized chunks, so your book is consumable. So, think about the structure of that book in advance to make it more consumable for your readers.
[15:23] Ellen: That’s a great tip. That is a great tip. Do you have any tips about back-cover copy? Do you get into any of that?
Bret: Yeah. I certainly think it’s very important, obviously. Let me share a little story. It’s related to the back-cover copy.
Bret: But a few years ago, I co-authored a book called ABCs of Speaking, and I thought I had a great cover concept for this book. And I had somebody to rough it out, lay it out and stuff. And I sent it to my publisher and they said, “Ain’t no way that’s going to work or whatever. We’re going to design the cover ourselves.” So, I let them design it and they came up with a much better cover than I had. But the point is I spent $850 on a cover designer for something that was rejected by the publisher. So, if you work with a publisher, make sure that… who’s going to design that cover and how it’s going to get dusted? You wasted a bunch of money on a cover that you can’t use.
Ellen: That is a great tip. Yeah.
Bret: Back on the back-cover copy, I think testimonials are very important. I think a brief one-paragraph synopsis of the major thing or things that they’ll learn on your book is very important. And if you have space, a little author bio is okay, but I almost think that fits better inside the back cover or whatever works on the back.
Bret: I mean, you got to think about what’s in it for the reader and what are you going to put on that back-copy cover?
Ellen: Well to me, the reason to have that is credibility, so they know what your credentials are. Some of them I’ve seen, they’re even just like one or two sentences, but at least it tells them if you’ve got-
[16:59] Bret: I don’t disagree with that. And then the other thing again, space permitting, if you can have some kind of enticement or bounce-back offer on the cover itself. So even if they pick up your book at the bookstore and they don’t buy it, maybe they see, they can go get a free report at “X domain”. Maybe they’ll go there and opt into your list even if they didn’t buy your books. So, you take another shot at grabbing their information on the book cover even if they don’t buy your book in the bookstore.
[17:23] Ellen: Oh, that’s a great idea. Yeah. I was just looking at some back cover copy today because I’m working with a client and she was showing me some books and all they had were testimonials, but it was somebody who was well-known. And I was saying, “That’s kind of hard if you’re not known to then just not have anything on the cover that makes you an authority in some way. That’s my opinion.” So anyway, we were talking about that. And then the same thing about the description. It’s like, “What’s in the book?” So, I think you need more than that. But yeah, there are so many different ways to do it. So, since you work with a lot of authors, I was just curious kind of what you see.
[18:04] Bret: Your book title, in my opinion should be no more than three to five words. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. And you need to have a good subtitle on the cover that explains a little bit more about what the book’s about or whatever to grab them. But don’t do what I did and wasted $850 on a book designer on a cover that you can’t use.
Ellen: Yeah, unfortunately I think that people, they start, and then they try to get a publisher and then you’ve got to do what they say. And then especially if you’ve already kind of got in your mind what you want, it can be kind of difficult because you really don’t have control.
Bret: That’s a great point, Ellen. You got to decide how much control you want to exert over the process.
Bret: Obviously, there’s advantages to going to publishers. There’re different types of publishers, traditional, hybrid, self-publishing, et cetera. And you need to do your homework in advance to figure out what’s really going to fit with you, your lifestyle, your mindset, et cetera, because there’s no right and wrong answer per se. It’s a matter of-
Ellen: No, there isn’t.
Bret: It depends on your situation.
[19:17] Ellen: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve just found that when I sometimes work with publishers, I’m scratching my head because I don’t agree with them at all, the titles that they’ll use. I actually, do you know Terry Whalen? You know Terry Whalen.
Bret: I do know Terry very well, yeah.
Ellen: Yeah. I interviewed Terry one time on the podcast, and I’ve known him also for years. And he was saying how publishers don’t even do title research. They don’t even look to see what’s already out there. And one of the things that I always tell my clients is don’t use a title that’s already been used. I don’t care how much you like it because then you start marketing, and then there’s confusion and you can be marketing and sending them to somebody else’s book.
Ellen: So, to me, that’s really important. And then I’ve also seen it where I’ve stepped in to help authors who have worked with a publisher and then the publisher has gotten very territorial and didn’t want to give us any credit. So, that’s always kind of interesting.
Bret: Yeah. There’s pros and cons to every approach. Invariably, whichever one you choose, something will bite you in the butt somewhere along the way that you have got to keep moving forward.
[20:28] Ellen: Right. Right. So, you’ve written all these books. Let me ask you, how has that impacted your business or has it?
Bret: Oh yeah. I mean, it’s definitely a credibility factor as we discussed at the beginning. When somebody contacts us about possibly using our services, when they can see that I’ve been where they’ve been, I understand the process that they’ve gone through, there’s a kinship there so to speak as a fellow author, and they realize that the hurdles that they were planning to overcome, it’s something that I’ve had to deal with in the past already. And so, we can give them, again, some insights that they can’t get otherwise. So, it’s been a tremendous credibility builder for our business, certainly.
[21:06] Ellen: Well, that’s awesome. So, do you have any final tips before we go?
Bret: Final tips. Sure. Let’s branch out a little bit. So, if you’re an author, who’s also a speaker, make sure that you have an extra speech always in your back pocket. You know what I mean by that is, if you go to an event, I’ve seen it happen more than once, Ellen. A speaker gets sick or somebody doesn’t show or whatever. And the host is scrambling around somehow to fill a time slot.
If you can step in there with an extra time slot and deliver an additional presentation that fits the audience, then you’re the hero in the eyes of the event promoter. And obviously, the more stage time you get with that audience, the more credibility you build, and the greater chances you have for additional success with that audience. And a lot of people are speakers and authors. It’s one of those things where, most people are of the mindset, they’re a speaker or they’re an author and they claim one or the other, but they don’t claim both necessarily.
Ellen: Mm-hmm (affirmative). We need a new word, author. A spauthor. We need a new word, a speaker, an author, a spauthor.
[22:18] Bret: There you go. I mean, this isn’t a new tip. I just going to hammer this home again, I think. It is real clear why you’re writing that book in advance. You should have back-end products and services. The book should be a marketing tool for you. Think about that upfront. Don’t, as you say, wait until the end and say, “All right. Now I’ve written this book. What am I going to do with it?” Whatever. Know what you’re doing with it ahead of time and make it a key tool in your arsenal. But man, there’s a lot of little things you got to watch out for, but that’s probably the biggest thing I can hammer on and the whole thing, know why you’re writing that book.
[22:56] Ellen: Yeah. And I would say, you said before about most books aren’t a bestseller. It depends what kind of bestseller we’re talking about. So what we’re talking about is selling thousands of thousands of books and ending up on the New York Times bestseller, right? Isn’t that-
Bret: Yes. Yes, we are. I mean, I’ve been an Amazon bestseller and they know they had a way that you could work… I don’t want to say gain their system, but work their system. And if you get a lot of people to promote you at the same time, then you can move up the bestseller list. They’ve changed that model somewhat. Now, it’s more based on sales over time versus a real spike or whatever in your book sales. And it’s nice to be able to say you’re an Amazon Bestselling Author. And if you have a way to do it, to add that credibility linked to your book cover, your back cover or whatever may be, then you should do it. But unless you had-
Ellen: Well, it also does help you sell books. And what I found is too many authors haven’t done any marketing before they’re ready to release their book. And so, doing a launch can help them to jumpstart it.
[22:55] Bret: Yeah. And you’ve got to start marketing your book six months or more in advance of when the book comes out. I mean, you need to get that website up and start building the list and sharing content, blogging and doing all those things to hopefully build an audience so that you have ready buyers when that book comes out and it hits the shelf. I mean, ideally you have a bunch of pre-orders already sitting on Amazon or whatever that you’re ready to fulfill when the book is finally printed.
[24:21] Ellen: Absolutely. So, how can people reach you?
Bret: Well, the best way, I encourage people to… I’m happy to jump on the phone and talk with them. And the phone is 812-877-7100. Again, 812-877-7100. We’re on Eastern time. I’m in Terre Haute, Indiana, so three hours ahead of you, Ellen. But Monday through Friday, anytime between basically [9:00] and [4:00] I’m in the office there. Or, they can email me. And the best email for me is Bret B-R-E-T, one T in Bret, @ S as in Sam, F as in Frank, S as in Sam, M-A-I-L .com. So B-R-E-T@sfsmail.com. Or, go to shipyourbooks.com or speakerfulfillmentservices.com if you just want an overview of various things
.Ellen: Well, thank you so much for coming on. That’s very enlightening. I didn’t know how you were shipping books to people. I didn’t know there were three different ways you were doing it.
Bret: Well, I appreciate the opportunity to get here and share. And hopefully again, there was a few nuggets there that might help some of your colleagues out.
Ellen: Oh, definitely.
Bret: My pleasure.
Ellen: Definitely were. So, that’s it for today. We have started moving over to BooksOpenDoors.com/podcast so bear with us as we make the move as there is a lot to move! But that is where you’ll find the most recent episodes.
And I want to invite you to pick up out new bundle of goodies for you our brand-new Rockstar Authors Tool Kit on our website at www.booksopendoors.com
-Rapid Book Creation Secrets Checklist
-Secret Title Formula Checklist
-The Kindle Planner on how to position your book to become a #1 bestseller
-And 21 Simple Strategies to Jumpstart Your Book Marketing Online Checklist
So, be sure to grab that.
Till next time, Bye-bye
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