Donald Trump’s recent ascent to the White House caused shock waves of disbelief around the world. Over in New Zealand, another unlikely aspiring politician also caused a stir — albeit on a much smaller scale – by placing third in the race to replace Len Brown as mayor of Auckland.

The politician in question is Chloe Swarbrick. If the name is unfamiliar, you may be curious about her background. Well, she’s not a seasoned local-body politician, a well-known businesswoman, or a celebrity.

Chloe Swarbrick is, in fact, a precocious 22-year-old who, up until October’s elections, no one had heard of.

Now, to you, third place may not sound all that impressive. However, consider this: Chloe collected around 5,000 more votes than the previous election’s main contender and one-time reality-TV personality John Palino. The two who finished ahead of her were ex-Labour Party leader Phil Goff (he won the mayoralty) and ex-Xero managing director Vic Crone.

She’s got to be rich

Perhaps surprisingly, Chloe didn’t have a bottomless ‘war chest’ to draw from – she had about NZ$9,000. As a result, her face was absent from the thousands of billboards that littered Auckland’s streets – billboards that were much too expensive. And, predictably, mainstream media showed little interest in her.

So, how did she do it?

While everyone else used the dusty old strategy of putting up billboards and posting pamphlets – which most of us never read – Chloe took a 21st century approach.

You see, by day, Chloe is a social media strategist. So, knowing too well that traditional media would gobble up her funds before she had a chance to say ‘down with Len Brown’, Chloe stuck to what she knows.

Social media lets me, as it does with all candidates, create my own content. What social media and the internet did was democratise informationpeople can ask questions and get answers in real time,” Chloe told the New Zealand Herald.

Five social media tips

Of course, just being on social media isn’t enough. To be successful, you must:

  1. Add value – don’t create content for the sake of it. Make sure what you produce is informative and answers your audiences’ questions.
  2. Be relevant – stay on message. Being an expert baker doesn’t mean that talking about chocolate cakes will help your cause.
  3. Choose the right medium – what type of content does your audience prefer? Chloe made a lot of videos; however, you could write blogs, create memes or run competitions.
  4. Be consistent – set a publishing schedule and stick to it. This shows you are active and keeps audiences engaged.
  5. Be responsive – one wonderful thing about social media is that it enables you to engage with your audience in real time. So, be around for the conversation; when people comment, make sure you respond.

What can we learn from Chloe?

Most of us hold no political ambition. However, if you are reading this post, you probably run a business or a not-for-profit organisation. To achieve your goals, you need to reach out to your target customers or donors.

Before social media, ‘reaching out’ usually meant buying expensive advertising – something that is much easier for big organisations.

Incidentally, during the recent US election, as of late October, Hillary Clinton spent US$141.7 million on advertising; Donald Trump, on the other hand, spent just US$58.8 million.

What Chloe’s campaign demonstrates is that social media evens out the odds – ‘David really can challenge Goliath.’

Smartphones are changing the way we do activism. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have given voice to the masses and a means to publicise messages quickly. But not all online tools are equal. Some social media sites are not safe for those living in fear for their lives or at risk of torture. Others are not available if you live in a country that restricts access to the internet and suppresses freedom of expression.

Here’s a list of some of the best tools to help you mobilise, organise and stay safe online.

  1. A little bit of information can be a powerful thing

CrowdVoice is an open source tool that ‘tracks and contextualises information on social justice movements worldwide’. Get lost for hours in the amazing infographics, video content and insightful articles. If you see a new protest taking shape, book yourself a front row seat by hopping onto one of the live streaming apps mentioned below.

  1. The revolution will not be televised, but it will be recorded

The ability to record and instantly upload footage to the internet has been instrumental in drawing global attention to police brutality and injustice around the world. From the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong to the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, the humble smartphone is being used to bear witness and speak truth to power.

Other popular live streaming apps include Ustream and Bambuser.

  1. Burn after reading, best apps to protect your privacy and personal data

Sites such as Facebook and Twitter are great for gaining global attention to a cause but not suitable for those who are concerned about governments spying on us, or corporations stealing your personal data. Encrypted messaging apps such as Telegram, Wickr and Signal allow users to communicate without fear of eavesdropping.  Telegram also includes a ‘Secret Chats’ service where you can send self-destructing messages, photos and videos.

  1. Search the internet in stealth mode

If you’re concerned your activist search history could be made public when you stand for Prime Minister one day, consider using a search engine that does not store your personal data or cookies such as DuckDuckGo. Alternatively, use a proxy or VPN service such as Orbot which uses TOR to encrypt your internet use and hides it by bouncing it through a series of computers around the world (this could also be useful if you’re in a country where the Government limits access to the internet, such as China, Iran or Vietnam).

  1. Alert the ones you love when you are in danger

Amnesty International’s Panic Button app turns your smartphone into a secret alarm and helps those at risk of being kidnapped, arrested or disappeared, tell people they’re in trouble. By rapidly pressing the power button the app will send an SMS and your GPS location to a preselected list of contacts. I’m Getting Arrested is similar and enables anyone, with one click, to broadcast a custom message to SMS numbers in the event they are arrested. It was inspired by a real Occupy Wall Street incident.

Be the change you want to see in the world

If you’re feeling inspired after reading this post, turn your anger into activism by signing an online petition today. Personally I love change.org and New Zealand’s ActionStation, which allows users to create and share petitions based on the idea ‘that many people together performing small actions can lead to big change’.


Thank you customer. You have been charming, friendly, clear in your brief, demanding, unreasonable, confused and ignorant.  Sometimes you are the good fairy of those things; sometimes the other and sometimes all in turn. Sometimes you pay your bills on time; most often you need a friendly reminder.

But, together, with the help of some amazing writers, editors, interviewers, transcribers, designers and project managers, we’ve produced great things.

We’ve progressed international trade, we’ve made information available to millions of people about putting a roof over their heads, food on their tables, wine to gladden their hearts and religion to save their souls. We’ve helped save dying children, pursued better treatments for cancer, blindness, deafness and spinal injury. We’ve helped save the planet – including the whales, wallaroos and wombats. We’ve educated and entertained.  We’ve celebrated growth and development and grieved over destruction. Our words, through you, have become heralds of hope, iterations of innocence and cornerstones of creativity.

Together, we’ve created miracles, one of which is a million dollar business. Over the years, we’ve paid writers more than $3 million dollars, we’ve paid our share of taxes and kept the energy industry afloat (often burning the midnight oil on your behalf).

Thank you. Thank you for the brief, for the opportunity, for the growth, for the employment and for the sense of satisfaction. Thank you for choosing us.


Who is the audience? Write for your primary audience. Ensure the design and copy are aimed at the same audience. Work with the designer to achieve this.

Do you want the user to feel that they’ve found the right website? If so, reflect them in the visual and textual elements of the site. Don’t write copy that needs most people to visit Urban Dictionary to understand it and then show images of grey-haired individuals. Similarly, don’t depict Millennials on sites aimed at older users.

Bridge the gap

Copy cannot stand alone, so be prepared to bridge the gap between designers and copywriters. As a writer you may know that “Join Now!” is more impactful than “Register here” but does the designer know that? Can you explain why you need descriptive URLs, unique call-to-action buttons plus sub-heads and bulleted lists?

Create user personas

By creating user personas, you can keep the reader/user at the forefront of design and copy. The US Government has an excellent site on usability and a simple guide on persona development.

Design for copy

Does the design leave any space for copy? How many words are needed to describe the product/service/event? Copy should enhance the design. Consider:

  • audience appeal
  • style, and
  • tone of voice

Beware the concrete pour (a thick slab of text that is so dense that no one can – or wants to – penetrate it). Ensure that your designer understands why you need text treated like graphical elements (see bridge the gap).

Embed labels in descriptive language

Labels – links should tell you what they do and not just “learn more” or “read more” or “sign up”. Also, make links longer – so people with limited hand control can click on them.


Be prepared to talk x-heights and readability. There’s little point in writing peerless prose if the font is unreadable for your 60-years-plus audience.

If the designer really wants Proxima Nova, explain why it’s unreadable on cheap monitors by old people (and lots of old people have cheap monitors). Proxima Nova does look gorgeous on a 27-inch Mac but the subscribers of the local library probably bought a $400 laptop from Officeworks that has Arial and Times New Roman installed.


Sometimes clients have brand guidelines, user guidelines, and style guides – if they do; great. Otherwise, you will need to write a style guide for the site. Base it on materials provided, their existing site and/or stakeholder meetings plus user research.

Ask the client what dictionary they use – the Macquarie (Australia), the Oxford (UK), Merriam Webster (US). If they neither know nor care, research similar sites and see what spelling they use. Stick to the one spelling (users and readers like consistency – they may not know it but their behaviour tells us that they do). Make sure the designer knows the guidelines – create a design cheat sheet if necessary.


There’s no place like home and no page like the home page. Make it accessible and relevant. So many sites make users work to find information – click this, open that, swat that pop up. Collaborate with the designer to ensure the home page copy gives the user what they want – easily, immediately and relevantly.

Just because the designer loves the infinite scroll, ensure the user is remembered and write the copy for them. See how we rank digital copy at The Copy Collective.

Information Architecture

Use information architecture hierarchy to let users know what’s important. Write copy accordingly – longer copy is not better copy (as you know). You need to strike a balance between copy for the user/reader and copy for Google.

Just do it

It’s a great tagline for Nike but doesn’t work for copy. It’s important that copy is considered as part of the design from the beginning. Giving copy to a junior or a designer juggling multiple roles isn’t going to get to the heart of things.

A designer who’s written copy has penned a useful blog on the subject. It should be noted this designer uses US spelling and confuses complimentary and complementary and past and last – apart from that it is v helpful for designers and copywriters.


Focus on personas – who uses the content, what are they looking for.

Content needs to be readable, scannable and informative and the keywords should stand out. The reader is the main user not Google but Google is our secondary user.

What questions are our readers/users seeking to answer? Google will reward you if you know.


Have the copy follow an internal logic. For example, if you use bulleted lists or other hierarchies ensure they follow an easily identifiable schema.

Alphabetic order is the simplest schema and everyone recognises it instantly. You could also consider geographical schemas or topic or theme related (females/males, fairies/elves, Northern Hemisphere/Southern Hemisphere, city/country, modern/historical). By ordering content in a way that users recognise, you make it easier for them to absorb and find the information they want. Remember, users aren’t heroes and they don’t want to be taken on a monomythic journey where they overcome obstacles. They want information presented to them in a logical manner and they want the stuff they are looking for found easily.


How many of your visitors are on mobile devices? By using a mobile-first strategy you can ensure that you keep content simple. It also means shorter navigation titles (join, search, home, login).


Part two will be published next week – stay tuned for N to Z 

There is no doubt that blog writing done properly can be great for business. However, it’s pointless putting in the time and effort if you are bereft of readers. In this post, The Copy Collective’s Andrew Healey explains three simple steps for building your blog audience.

1. Know your audience

Blogging is an integral part of content marketing. And like any marketing, it pays to know whom you are marketing to.

The founder of Copyblogger, Brian Clark, says this about blogging:

“Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.”

He’s right on the money, so be clear about who your audience is.

  • What do they want to know about your products/services?
  • What problems do they face?
  • What kind of language do they use?
  • How well-educated are they?

This kind of information will guide the content and style of your blog writing.

2. Call to action

Blog posts shouldn’t be ‘salesy’. However, there’s no harm in including a call to action. What do you want your readers to do?

Types of calls to action

  • Subscribe — ask readers to subscribe to your blog. This way they’ll receive an email notification every time you publish a post. Another way to gain subscribers is by offering free giveaways, like e-books and white papers.
  • Share — ask readers to share on social media if they like your post. There are plenty of plugins available. A personal favourite is Social Warfare, which enables you to include social icons throughout your post.
  • Comments — asking for comments encourages engagement and demonstrates to visitors that you have a real audience. Social media maven Mark Schaefer says comments let you know what people think within your community, rather than other places on the internet. Make sure comments add to the conversation. There are still lots of spammers out there.

3. Promote on social media

Creating a post tailored to your audience is just the beginning. The next step for building your blog audience is the promotion.

Social media

For most bloggers, social media is highly effective for promoting their posts. Be sure to use the right sites. There are a multitude to choose from, so you can waste a lot of time. Does your audience use LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook? Do they avoid social media altogether? If you know your audience, this should be easy to figure out.

How to use social media

Social media is not a forum to ‘blow your trumpet’. Rather, it’s about sharing and adding value. Don’t be that person at a party who talks only about themselves and never listens. Social media is about a conversation.

Simple steps

  • Promote your blog post — on LinkedIn, for example – you can do this by copying your post’s URL and pasting it in ‘update status’. LinkedIn, and Google+ also enable you to publish on their platforms. However, to build your blog audience and your website’s search engine authority, I recommend publishing on your website and using social media as a tool to drive people there. When you get to managing several social media assets to promote your blog, you may need to use a tool like HootSuite or Buffer.
  • Read, share and comment — read posts by your connections that are relevant to your business. Then, share and comment. This enables you to start a conversation and encourages your connections to reciprocate with your posts.
  • Reply to comments — as I’ve already said, social media is about a conversation. If someone posts a comment or question on something you’ve posted, make sure you reply.
  • Make connections — this could be with potential clients. However, connecting with businesses that deal with the same people you are targeting is an effective way to generate referrals.

Keep it up

Neil Patel, co-founder of KISSmetrics, says this about blog writing:

“If you want to continually grow your blog, you need to learn to blog on a consistent basis.”

So, on a final note, remember that building a blog audience takes time and determination. Keep it up.


Viral videos

The internet is a place of communication, creativity, and cats. Not only does it allow you to talk to friends and family from across the globe, the internet acts as a limitless forum for users to share anything from their latest personal opinion, project or favorite video of a cat being terrified by a cucumber.

Watch the clip that started the latest viral craze
A 14-year-old boy named Daniel is a big, although possibly fleeting, star. For those still unaware of the ‘Damn Daniel’ craze, the video is a series of clips of Daniel strutting his outfits around school, whilst his friend comments: “Damn Daniel, back at it again with those white Vans”.
Simple subject: huge reaction. The Damn Danial clip has had more than 40 million views, Daniel and his friend Josh have ended up on Ellen, and Danial now has a lifetime supply of white Vans and Jake a surfboard that says “Damn Daniel, I’ve been on Ellen”.
What is all the fuss is about? The Damn Daniel video incorporates

All the elements of viral marketing

• The actors (Daniel and Josh – via voice over) are pretty cool looking kids from California. They are attractive and have a natural following.
• The subject matter – fashion – is popular with their target group.
• The treatment – short clips, catchy music and a signature slogan (Daamn, Daniel) results in a catchy video that is completely authentic.
• And, because they test marketed it with their peer group on SnapChat before going to YouTube, they were able to tailor it based on user feedback.

1) You can’t bottle lightning but you can study it

Whilst you never quite know what is going to go viral, you can make an estimate based on an audience’s response and customise media content to be more ‘viral friendly’.
The two teens behind the clip never quite realised what they were getting themselves into when it first started. Originally, the Damn Daniel videos were sent by Josh (the person filming) as Snapchats. Due to the popular responses the clips were receiving, the two teens collaborated to film the clips daily for a week. From there on the clips spread.

2) Make people laugh

When you can make someone laugh, you create a positive emotional connection with your target audience. Creating a positive emotional connection with your viewer is perhaps the most important element in making a viral video.
Think about the most recent viral videos that have been shared with you. Do you think you would be inclined to share it if it didn’t make you laugh? You wouldn’t!
Viral videos need to give people a reason to want to share the content with others, and the most effective way to do this is though laughter.
In the instance of the Damn Daniel Video, It’s funny, it makes people laugh. The video works to almost all audiences, allowing practically anyone with an Internet connection to watch the video, and enjoy a laugh.

3) Know your audience

It is very rare that the advertisement campaign you are publicising will be suitable for the entire population. To get the best response rate on your video, you need to identify a target market.
The Damn Daniel videos were no exception to this rule. When first publicised, the clips were shared over social media to a relatively selective circle of friends who the video was of interest to. Then, due to popular response, the clips were shared further on social media platforms and gained traction with teenagers of a similar demographic around the world.

4) Clarify your aim in #goingviral

Regardless of what the topic of your video is, you are going to have some kind of aim in #goingviral. Whether it is to promote a business, social justice issue, or just to lighten up someone’s day similar to the Damn Daniel clip, having a purpose in mind is useful before publicising a potentially viral video.

5) Satisfying your Audiences needs

It’s not all about the money, trying to give something of value to your viewers is always beneficial. You want your audience’s mood to improve after watching seeing your content, by doing this it is more likely they are going to share your message.
If your video is trying to advocate a business, a hard sales approach is generally less likely to draw on viewers emotions and encourage them to share your message. Today the most effective advertisement campaigns are those that are entertaining and make your audiences laugh.
Be sure to know your audience, what are their interests? Will this video make them feel better after watching it? Will it inspire a changed perspective? What need do they have that your video can satisfy?

The Damn Daniel trend is being used all over the internet. The craze has inspired copies and remixes of the video to emerge. The video has been so popular that Vans gave Daniel with a lifetime supply of their sneakers. White Vans are being offered on eBay for over $300k.

If you go to the Australian government’s website for the National Transition Strategy you will be greeted with pages of boring government-speak about:

“improved web services”
“the provision of information and services online”
“an important milestone for government”
and “whole-of-government”.

Continue reading

Federal Government departments are required to make their websites comply with standards that make them accessible to people with disabilities. Here we introduce our new e-Accessibility training videos Part 1 and Part 2… and it’s on us.

“At The Copy Collective, we’ve noticed that many government websites don’t comply, as yet, with the guidelines in regards to copy,” CEO Dominique Antarakis said.

“We thought we’d help out by making free training available to everyone, so that the government didn’t have any excuses not to comply with its own policy. We also think that accessible websites are great for all businesses, not just government.”

The Copy Collective is a 5-person business based in Sydney. As part of the company’s Disability Discrimination Act Action Plan, they wanted a practical way to show that small changes could help everyone. The team thought they would start by helping the Federal Government comply with its own Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy.

Today, The Copy Collective announced the release of two training videos designed to assist copywriters and government departments to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). Federal government agencies are encouraged to meet the guidelines for their website content by December 2014.

“We’re not doing this because we want jobs rewriting Federal Government websites; although that would be nice,” Ms Antarakis said. “We’re doing it because we want to show that simple changes to copy can make a big difference to access.”

“The training we offer is in-depth and detailed. The presenter, Monica Seeber, is one of our freelancers from Perth. She is our resident accessibility expert. Having experience with disability in her own family, Monica is very committed to access and so are we.

“We’ve provided 2-hours of training, free of charge. We’d like the Government to make the videos compulsory viewing for all their comms and web teams.

“Making website copy accessible for all just makes good business sense,” Ms Antarakis said.
In two hours, the online e-accessibility training takes users through the principles of WCAG 2.0, how these principles will affect websites, and how to create content that meets WCAG 2.0 standards. The YouTube videos are fully captioned and there are downloadable PowerPoint and Text versions of the presentation slides available on Scribd.

Comply by December 2014
The Copy Collective supports governments, NFPs and businesses to comply with the WCAG 2.0. While the compliance imperative is important and it is great to ensure content is available and accessible for all, the steps to make sites accessible have the side benefit of also helping organisations with their search engine optimisation (SEO).
Providing this complimentary training is part of The Copy Collective’s commitment to an inclusive society under its Disability Discrimination Act Action Plan.
The Copy Collective encourages people to set aside the time to watch the training videos and understand how the WCAG 2.0 applies to organisations. Trainees will also get the resources and tools they need to make changes to their web copy .
The Copy Collective can be contacted for further support to make website copy accessible. Please note: you don’t need to book any work with The Copy Collective to enjoy the complimentary training!

About the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0)
The WCAG 2.0 guidelines were released in 2008 to implement user-friendly web content for people of all abilities.
The guidelines cover the full range of Web content that a user is likely to access — from images and graphs, to videos and podcasts, to the structure and design of each page. Each guideline has three levels of accessibility: A, AA and AAA. Level AAA is the highest level of accessibility.
Compliance with WCAG 2.0 is part of the digital inclusion framework referenced in the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy.

eAccessibility webinar part1
eAccessibility webinar part2
eAccessibility slides part1
eAccessibility slides part2

Here at The Copy Collective, we’re big fans of accessibility – in the ‘real’ world and the virtual. In this three-part series, Perth-based contributor Monica (@thebigmeeow) will introduce you to the basics of e-accessibility and how you can make your content user-friendly for all abilities. Here we introduce our new e-Accessibility training videos Part 1 and Part 2… and it’s on us.

First there was the word.

Then there was the Internet.

And when the word and the Internet got together, they made the World Wide Web.

The Internet is the physical network made up of computers and routers and phone lines and server farms and deep-sea cables. The World Wide Web is all the information that we access using the Internet. And the “word”? Well, that’s “01110111 01101111 01110010 01100100”.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is responsible for developing Web standards. Their mission “is to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the Web” (W3C Mission).

If the Web is an “information super-highway” then W3C is like the Department for Infrastructure: they write the guidelines and technical specifications for designing and building new roads and regional developments.

The Web standards cover all aspects of the Web:

  • Web design and applications
  • Web architecture
  • Semantic Web
  • XML technology
  • Web of services
  • Web of devices
  • Browsers and authoring tools.

For most of us, we don’t know what any of that means – and we don’t really need to (if you would like to know more, the W3C Standards page covers each topic in greater detail). Web developers and graphic designers mediate most of our interaction with the Web; and all we have to worry about is the speed of our Internet connection.

The power of the Web is in its universality.
Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect”.
Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

Unfortunately, not all Web content is created equal – and not all content is available to everybody. For some people (especially people with a disability) they’re not just worrying about the speed of their Internet connection, they’re also thinking:

“Will this webpage trigger a seizure?”
“Can my screen-reader make sense of the text?”
“Does this video have captions or a transcript?”
“Is this information written in a language I can read?”

Within the Standards for Web design and applications, the W3C created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (WCAG10) were released in 1999, and were then revised and succeeded by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) in 2008.

There’s a lot of information in those guidelines. If you print them out, there’s about 34 pages of information. You can access the full WCAG 2.0 for free on the W3C webpage.

WCAG 2.0 covers the full range of Web content that a user is likely to access on Web pages, from images and graphs, to videos and podcasts, to the structure and design of the pages themselves.

WCAG 2.0 structure

WCAG 2.0 is structured around four broad principles (also known as pillars):

  • Perceivable: Web pages and content must be presented to users in ways they can perceive.
  • Operable: Web pages and navigation must be operable.
  • Understandable: Web content and the operation of Web pages much be understandable.
  • Robust: Web content and pages much be interpreted reliably by a range of users, hardware, and software – including assistive technologies.

These four principles are then broken down into 12 guidelines:

  • Perceivable
  1. Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
  2. Provide alternatives for time-based media.
  3. Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
  4. Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
  • Operable
  1. Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
  2. Provide users enough time to read and use content.
  3. Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures.
  4. Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
  • Understandable
  1. Make text content readable and understandable.
  2. Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
  3. Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
  • Robust
  1. Maximise compatibility with current and future user agents, including assistive technologies.

Those 12 guidelines are broken down further into 61 “success criteria”. That’s a lot of criteria!

Now before you all panic…

Luckily for you, we’ve already done the hard work of figuring out which guidelines are relevant to copywriters. We’ve even put together a couple of videos — so we can talk you though them when you’re ready:
eAccessibility webinar Part1
eAccessibility webinar Part2

You can even download the Powerpoint presentation from the videos.

Join me for my next Blog – Part 2 of Accessibility is Everywhere – where I introduce the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy and share useful things for making your web content accessible.

You’re almost there! You’ve written the work, laid it out and now you need to get it out. But how? Maureen Shelley shares her research on publishing platforms in part 8 of Blog series “10 Simple Steps to becoming a successful published author.”

Print, digital or POD?
Once, it used to be easy. You could print or you could go digital. Now, you can print, go digital, go a bit each way with short print runs and print on demand (POD). Do it yourself, contract it all out, contract out a bit or contract a lot. It is up to you. Never have so many people been publishing books and never have there been more choices available to the would-be author to get their manuscript before a reading public.

Printing in Australia

We use and recommend Griffin Press in South Australia. They are a traditional printer with some extras for small publishers (like us), self-publishers and big publishers. People always want to know what it will cost to print their book and the answer is “it depends”. It depends on book length, size, paper chosen, cover stock chosen – even the size of your margins can make a difference (larger margins equals more pages).

A screen capture of the "Request a Quote" page at griffinpress.com.au
Self-print options available at Griffin Press. Source: www.griffinpress.com.au

So let’s say you have

  1. 316 pages
  2. in a Trade B format paperback
  3. with gloss cover (matte is more fashionable but it scratches more easily)
  4. with book cream pages

For 1000 books that will cost you around $5 a book.

Now, you can get a quote out of China for about $2 a book for the same format manuscript, however it will cost you $3 a book to ship it to Australia. That will still cost you around $5 a book.
It will cost you more if you want proofs rather than just checking a PDF file and it will cost you more if you ship stock to more than one “drop” (address).
You then have to store your books where they won’t absorb damp, smells (cigarettes, open fires, factories etc), or be attacked by insects or rodents (so maybe not the attic, basement or garage – unless they are clean, dry, airy vermin-proof areas).
If you must store your books in the garage, put your cartons on a plastic pallet – they at least won’t absorb damp from the ground. You can buy plastic pallets from eBay or Gumtree.
Our recommendation is to print in Australia if you have a ready-made audience. If you are well known – even if it’s in your own niche – you have an audience already. If you then market to that audience, you should get sales and hopefully can move 1000 books inside of a year.
The books that sell the most in Australia are children’s books (however, they tend to have a lower cover price so the authors may earn less than writers for the general market with a higher price) and tie-ins to movies and TV programs (good luck with that).
Female authors tend to do better with cookbooks and diet books, unless you are Mem Fox or writing romance novels. Andy Griffiths probably sells more books in Australia than any other Australian author but they’re cheaper so Andy may not earn quite as much as Matthew Reilly (I don’t actually know, this is a guesstimate based on reported sales).
If you write a book that can be used in schools, you will have a much better chance at success. Around half of Australia’s reported $2 billion+ publishing industry is for publications in the education sector.
You can view monthly top seller lists at Nielsen BookScan to get an idea of what is selling locally, who is writing them, and the retail price at local book shops.

A screen capture of the "Hot 10" page at nielsenbookscan.com.au
Top 10 selling books in Australia, retrieved 1 August 2014. Source: www.nielsenbookscan.com.au/

So, if Andy, Mem and Matthew are selling (say) 40,000 books each, you can expect to sell 400. If you have an audience or have created an audience, you may sell a print run of 1000. A best seller in Australia is 3000 sales or better.
Let’s say your book will cost between $5000 and $10,000 to produce 1000 copies:

  • $5 to print the book
  • plus up to another $5 per book in editing, proofing, design, typesetting, and other expenses

Of those 1000 copies you may sell 400 for $19.95. So your $5,000 to $10,000 investment will net you $7,980.

However, you could be the author that sells 990 of your 1,000 print run (10 copies for deposit at the National Library of Australia, some sold through marketing, and the copies your mum buys for Christmas presents) and you’ve made between $9750 and $14,750 profit. Start to do that twice a year and you have the beginnings of a new career.

In addition to sales, your book may also be purchased by public libraries and the Public Lending Rights (PLR) scheme may apply. If you strike gold and your education-related book is picked up and used as part of the National Curriculum, then the Education Lending Rights (ELR) may also kick in. These schemes are administered by the Ministry for the Arts, a part of the Australian Attorney General’s Department. Guidelines can be found at the Ministry for the Arts webpage.
Your decision to print should be carefully weighed. On the one hand, you are taking a risk. However, you will control your sales and distribution and, if you are a self-published author all of the money from sales (less your costs) is yours to keep. If you do want to print in Australia, then Griffin Digital can do short runs if you don’t want to commit to more than 500 books.


Using a digital format to produce your books is a no-brainer. There really isn’t a good reason to not produce a digital version of your book. The difficult part is to decide what formats to publish in and whether you will do it yourself or contract out part or all of the effort. I discussed preparing your digital file in Part 7 of this series.


A PDF is the easiest, simplest and cheapest form of digital publishing available to you. You can write the book yourself, use an online program to undertake editing or proofing (some are even free to use) and you can then convert your manuscript by printing to PDF in your word processing program.
You then have an ebook that you can give away, send to people who subscribe to your blog or sign up on your website (assuming you are marketing some other product), or upload to a platform such as Scribd. If you give away your book, you can upload to Scribd immediately. If you want to sell it, you will need to go through one of their digital publishing partners:
SmashWordsINscribe DigitalBookBabyDraft2Digial
If you have ecommerce on your website, you can take payment for your book and provide the PDF as a down-loadable file once payment is made.
You can also sell your PDF ebook through platforms such as those used by Scribd or through Vook or IngramSpark.
Conversion and distribution platforms
If you don’t want to convert your Word doc to an ebook version yourself, there are platforms that will do it for you. This is a small selection but they offer some of the largest distribution networks with up to 39,000 outlets around the world.

Popular conversion/distribution platforms

Platform Your share Fees
BookBaby 60% of list = 85% net royalties $0 to $249+, cover design $149 – $279
Booktango 100% of net royalties Free basic package, premium packages from $49 to $349. Booktango is part of AuthorServices, which is a division of Penguin Books.
Draft2Digital 60% of list = 85% net royalties No fees but retain 30% for US tax if not from US unless a signed W8-BEN form is lodged (Australia & NZ have tax agreement with US), free ISBN
INscribe Digital ?? “flat fees per title distributed & a small revenue share per title sold”
IngramSpark 40% of list/agency price $25-$49 per eBook plus $12 per title per year – dearest but also can be paired with POD (print on demand); it also distributes to the most outlets
Smashwords 60% of list = 85% net royalties No fees, free ISBN
Vook 60% of list = 85% net royalties No fees

Free conversion tools
There are tools that allow you to convert your word processing file to the popular formats for free. They tend to be a bit fiddly but if you have the time and are prepared to be patient, then you can convert your files yourself and upload to the popular stores yourself:

  • Amazon, for Kindle – still the category killer
  • iTunes – Apple’s iBooks are getting more popular
  • Google Play – PDF, ePub or .ASCM (Adobe’s format with DRM)

You will want – as a minimum – a version for Kindle AZW, iTunes (ePub) and Google Play. You may also want versions for Sony LRF, eBook FB2, Microsoft LIT, and TCR (Symbian platforms).

The Calibre open source program can be used for DRM-free (digital rights management-free) books and you can use the free converter at Online Convert to produce most popular formats. Both these sites request donations. Online Convert has a paid premium service as well. Zamzar also converts one ebook format to most others and is a free service.


Direct digital services

Amazon – Kindle Direct Services
Amazon really created the ebook market. The Kindle (love it or hate it) is still the best-selling e-reader and some authors make a living through just listing with Amazon. If you choose to publish exclusively with Amazon you will earn higher royalties (70% net instead of 60% or less). Publishing in the Kindle format is complicated (I’ve done it) but Amazon have excellent resources for self publishers.
Apple – iBook Author
If you just want to publish in iTunes and your books need colour images, then I would recommend using iBook Author. It is free but you will need a Macintosh computer. Apple provides excellent resources for the self-publishing author but if you publish directly with Apple you can’t sell your book anywhere else. You can give it away, though. Authoring with the iBook Author is a “drag and drop” experience, particularly if you have multimedia that you want to include.
Apple – Book Creator (for iPad) ($6.49)
If you don’t have a Macintosh computer but still want to publish directly to iTunes, you can use an app on an iPad called Book Creator. It will produce a reasonable book that can be published to the iTunes store and will be available for sale or distribution. It is better for short books such as picture books for children or self-help books (not so much for 52,000 word novels) and you can incorporate both video and audio into your book. More than 5 million books have been published with Book Creator, so it is well worth trying.
Google Play
To publish directly with Google Play you need to create a Google Partner Account. Google accepts PDF and ePub formats and provides a step-by-step process for authors and self-publishers. After establishing your account and sorting how you’d like to be paid and where you’d like to sell your book, you can list your book in Google’s book catalogue, set your price and distribution and then upload the book.

Print On Demand (POD)

Print on demand services enable your books to be listed as “in stock” or “available now” in online stores. There are a lot of POD services out there. I’d recommend you look at three: Lulu, Blurb and IngramSpark.
Lulu has been in operation since 2002, which is a long time in the POD space. Lulu lets you set up your account for free. It has a slightly different take on fees. Lulu takes a “base price” deduction from your RRP (the cost of producing the book), as well as a “share”. However, it claims that authors receive more net than if they print with Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Ingram. These three publishers all charge less to produce the book but they have higher distribution fees. While the POD prices for Lulu are reasonable (about $10 a book), in the past shipping was a killer and often left a book costing as much or more than it would cost to print in Australia. However, Lulu now have print facilities in Australia and this is less of a problem.
While the Blurb POD book costs more (about $11 to $12 for a 200-page book printing 1000) it allows for much more flexibility than the usual self-publishing service. You create one file and Blurb converts it to PDF, fixed format ebook and POD book. You can sell through Blurb, your own site or Amazon. This is a great platform for photo books, coffee table books, art books or similar. If you want a straight black print on book cream paper, there are cheaper options but perhaps not those that are as easy to use or as flexible.
While IngramSpark is probably one of the most expensive options it also has the greatest reach. You can produce an ebook and a POD book through Ingram. If you produce your eBook and POD book at the same time, the set up fee is $49, however, if you order 50 books for your first print run the $49 fee is refunded. If you print 50 books of the one title and ship to a single address, the $49 is recredited to your credit card. If you choose IngramSpark, your book (eBook and POD) will be available in 39,000 outlets. That is as good as it gets. What you need to decide is whether you are prepared to put all the “publishing” in the hands of one partner and collect a lower net revenue or whether you want to do more of the leg work and receive a bigger share of your list price.

Personally, I think that it is better to put more of your time into marketing your book than distributing it so my recommendation is to go with IngramSpark.
If you work with a company such as ours, we would put it through the publishers’ equivalent Lightning Source (also owned by Ingram, which is a big US publisher).

Red Raven Books is the publishing and imprint arm of The Copy Collective. Find out how we can help you today.

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