Lessons in Poker Book Self Publishing: What I Would Have Done Differentely

Jared and myself are now well under way with The Mental Game of Poker 2, the sequel to our well received first book. It may have a similar name, but it is completely new material and I think it has the potential to be better than the original.

The first book concentrated on mental game leaks - tilt, fear, motivation and confidence problems. This new book is all about playing your absolute best - the zone, A game, focus, learning etc. 

The book was the most gratifying thing I've ever done and we have both been blown away by the reviews, the response, and the sales. As this blog is now very focussed on the poker media side of things, I thought I might look back in hindsight at what publishing mistakes we made and how we will do things differently this time around. 

Amazon from the start
The biggest error we both made as fledgling authors was waiting a long time before we put the book on Amazon. We had our own standalone site with a shopping cart to take orders, and we both thought it would be a mistake to pay a cut to Amazon to do what we were doing ourselves. 

This time the book will be on there from day 1. Amazon want you to succeed and they have so many in-built algorithms to get your book out there to the right people, whether it is their top ten search listings or the "people who bought this also bought this" prompts, it really is the only place you really need to sell your book.

Amazon is to books what google is to every other business. It is where people wanting to buy books go, and you have to be there from day one. 

Kindle from the start too
We really dragged our heels with Kindle for a number of reasons, but mainly because I (Not Jared, me) was scared to death of piracy. The reality is that digital sales are reinvigorating, rather than cannabalising, the book industry. 

Yes we might get some people finding illegal copies of it, but we have found that figure is dwarfed by the number of people buying it who probably would never have done pre-kindle, especially as you can also buy it for iPads, mobile phones, and your PC too. 

Our kindle sales outnumber softcover sales by about 2-1 at the moment, I only expect that gap to widen by the time we release the new book. 

I alluded to this in my previous blog about the poker book industry. In the early stages we would get quite anxious about why our book wasn't seeing big spikes in sales when it would get mentioned on big poker sites. We assumed that a sheer mention on a site like PokerNews should = x sales. 

What we found was that by putting some hard work in early, the book started to market itself later. Around 7 or 8 months in we saw a massive spike in sales which never decreased, all of which has to be put down to word of mouth. 

This time we are hoping that because we have built up a ready made audience for the first book, we should expect to see some strong early sales, but if we don't we will not fret too much about it. 

All books ready for shipping on day 1
We were in such a rush to get the books out last time we didn't have all our softcover books ready for the day people were supposed to get them (Not entirely our fault, as there was an error at the printers end). This led us to have to send a grovelling apology to many of them, which hurt double as they were the guys who took the time out to pre-order the book. 

This time we have planned much farther ahead to make sure we have the book ready hopefully a full three months before our projected publication date. This is particularly important to me, as an avid book worm myself I know how quickly your enthusiasm for a book cane wane if you have to wait a long time for it. 
Hire a good editor
We actually did hire an editor, but unfortunately the document seemed to have more errors after than before, so we had to get another who did a great job, but it really delayed things. 
No matter how great you are at proof reading, I think it is near impossible to proof read an entire book you wrote yourself. You have too much involvement and your mind automatically fills in gaps and overlooks spelling mistakes because you are reading it on a different level to your audience. 
One big criticism self published authors get is that they are poorly edited, and this is a mistake we wont make again. 

The Lederer Files from a Poker Media Perspective

The PokerNews interview of Howard Lederer is understandably the only thing anyone is talking about right now. I don't think I can add anything of extra substance to the unraveling story of Full Tilt's demise, but the manner in which it was reported does fall under my niche.

PokerNews and interviewer Matt Parvis have come in for some criticism for how the interview was conducted. In particular some of the feedback includes not asking some important follow up questions, not asking questions such as why Howard Lederer did not return some of his own FTP distributions when the company needed them and generally letting Howard control the pace of the interview.

I think industry expert Bill Rini explains why this happened perfectly:

First off, I’ve mentioned Ray and the board being in over their heads so I should mention that Matthew Parvis is also in way over his head in this interview. I don’t mean that as an insult to Parvis but what this interview needed was someone who had more intimate knowledge of the people and the business.

There were just too many opportunities for him to ask follow up questions that he missed because he just didn’t know Howard was making a factually incorrect statement. For instance, as I mentioned in the previous comments on the interview, everyone in the industry did a spit-take when they heard Howard say that player money segregation was not something anybody was thinking about.

If you were in the business on the operator side or had a solid knowledge of how online poker rooms work, you would have really nailed him down on that.

In the end, it became just a fluff, PR piece for Howard and his allies. Howard outplayed Parvis and was able to avoid lines of questioning that would have forced him to admit wrongdoings.

There are so many moments where I’m shouting at the computer for Parvis to hit him with this or that fact or to force Lederer to address a logical inconsistency but it just flies right by with Parvis moving right on to the next question.

Like I said, I don’t blame Parvis per se. This is the biggest interview in the entire poker world. I don’t know if any current poker media journalist would have been better prepared for it. It’s a tough gig and you have to know going in that nobody is going to be 100% satisfied with what you end up getting out of Howard.

Would a 60 Minutes reporter be better prepared? I think so. A lot of investigative journalists would have had the money and resources to do all of the background checking before they sat down. But, our industry hasn’t matured to that point yet so Howard had a bit of an edge since he already knew what he was going to say and Parvis had to try and keep up. Howard had a year and a half to anticipate the most burning questions while Parvis had no idea what Howard’s responses would be.

Lederer is a smart guy. It was never going to be easy to pin him down. 
I mean, what color would Howard have turned if Parvis had known Howard had intended on throwing Juanda, Perry, and Ivey under the bus and interviewed them first so he could counter Howard’s one-sided view of events? 

What’s that one rule they teach to trial lawyers, “don’t ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.” That seems like a pretty good rule of thumb for journalists as well.

I'd like to expand on what Bill said here. Plenty was missing from the Lederer Files but I'm not sure many of Matt's peers could have done much a better job (Other than asking the distributions question, which I'll get to),  I know I couldn't have. The poker media is too immature to do a job this big justice. Back when Matt and I started the only thing we reported on was "man wins poker tournament" and "wow look at that PartyPoker bonus". All of us were suddenly thrust into grown-up news reporting when Black Friday happened. 

This is the first time a 60 minutes style interview has happened in poker. It was never going to please everyone. I'm glad PokerNews did not go too far down the other road of going in all guns blazing, calling Lederer a prick, and screaming at him asking for our money back. At least the way it was reported this way around allowed Lederer to be himself (Or at least the Lederer he wanted to portray).

Earlier this month I blogged about how poker media sites make money, and this is also a telling factor into how something like the Lederer Files was reported. There is no budget for investigative journalism and little opportunity to make much money from such a big exclusive. PokerNews probably made a loss on the interview as a whole, the traffic it brought in was unlikely to have compensated the expenses and man hours needed to produce it, so it was unlikely they had much time or resource to research ahead of time. 

Back to the subject of missing out one of the most important questions; why didn't Howard give back some of his personal FTP distributions to help the site? I actually assumed that Howard had some editorial control over part of the interview and what was asked (In exchange for giving the interview in the first place). I was surprised to hear in a blog post just released by Matt Parvis that this was not the case, they had full control and it was just a sheer oversight by him. 

If I had been charged with the task of interviewing Howard the first thing I would have done is give the job to someone else and helped out behind the scenes instead. Matt is one of the bosses at PokerNews, he doesn't actually produce the content day to day, and this is perhaps the reason why he should have delegated it elsewhere. But hats off to him for taking on the toughest job in poker journalism and no doubt protecting his own staff in the process.

I personally would have invited a real expert in this story to do this job, possibly bringing in a partner from outside the company. A Diamond Flush, a Noah SD, the guys at PokerFuse, or my PokerStrategy colleague Matt Kaufman. If that wasn't possible I would have at least crowd sourced my questions and research with industry experts outside of my company (which I am sure is what happened to some extent). 

If Howard does do his proposed follow up interview with 2+2 we might get the interview we wanted (I have a feeling that won't happen, hope I'm wrong). Even though it was flawed we still got something from PokerNews here. We know a lot more about Howard and the FTP story than we did a week ago and other than the one key question (at least for me) that was missing, I'm not sure many of my peers would have done a significantly better job. 

Guest Post from Matthew Pitt: Do You Know Your SEO From Your Elbow?

Matthew Pitt (With PokerNews buddies)
I must be doing something right, because I finally have a guest post on this blog (There is actually another one in the pipeline too). The man who took over from me at UK PokerNews, Matthew Pitt. He has had a lot of interesting writing gigs in poker, and he knows a boat load more about SEO than I do.

You can learn more about Matthew Pitt at his blog. (Did I link to it correctly? SEO donk here).

Thanks to Matt, and here he is:

As someone who has worked in the poker industry for several years now I thought it would be a good idea to write a guest post for Barry Carter that fits in with his series on poker media industry articles.

Barry recently wrote an article entitled “How Do Poker MediaWebsites Make Money?” and within this article he mentioned terms such as pay-per-click and touched on the subject that a writer's employer may not care much for the quality of the content a writer produces because he is looking purely at how many customers click a specific link within the content provided. One way you can help your articles become more useful to your employer is to employ some basic SEO, that is Search Engine Optimisation, to your content.

The first thing you need to realise is that, in the poker industry especially, Google rules the world. Forget all the rubbish Bing and other search engines try to push on you about them being the best search engine or the most accurate etc Google is the daddy, the head honcho. You are at the mercy of Google and its unknown search algorithms. You are Google's bitch. You no longer search for something on the internet, you Google it; so does your mum and possibly your gran. Google makes the world spin around and being ranked number 1 in Google for a specific term is like holding the Holy Grail in your hands. Think about it. How often do you Google something and simply click the first answer without even looking or thinking about it? Exactly.

The way Google works is down to a number of secret algorithms that work in unison to create an extremely powerful search engine. Regardless if you think it is the best, the most accurate, the fastest or whatever, Google is the industry standard search engine. Although these algorithms are top secret, there are a few assumptions you can make about how Google works and how it ranks content it finds on the world wide web.

  • Google loves new, fresh content
  • Google knows how to read bold and italicised text.
  • Google likes it when content links to other highly ranked content
  • Google is happy when your article has some relevant keywords naturally occurring in your content
  • Google smiles when your headline is related to your content
  • Google gets mad when you blatantly copy other articles
  • Google starts to cry when you link to poor ranking content
  • Google does not like you trying to force readers to click links
  •  Google gets royally pissed off when you try to force keywords down readers throats
There are scores of others but those mentioned above are probably the most common and the ones you have the most control over. As you can see Google is almost like a living, breathing entity that adapts and evolves to bring what it determines is the best content for a person to read, watch etc. It is up to you (and your editor) to keep Google happy.

One of my first jobs in the poker media was to provide copy based on keywords. For months on end I used to churn out articles for some major sites based on keywords I had been given. For example, I would be asked to write a 400-word article about anything I wished as long as it mentioned “poker bankroll management” at least five times somewhere within those 400 words. Sometimes the keywords were perfectly reasonable but then they started to become a little obscure. I distinctly remember having to write a 400-word article that said “poker play online free” at least eight times. You try and fit that non-English rubbish into an article once never mind eight times. I bet Google hated those articles!

After writing between 500-750 of these I now automatically think of keywords whenever I am writing articles, whether the articles are news related or promotional material. A large percentage of the articles I write are poker-related and I know dozens of keywords and phrases that people use to search for other poker related material. In recent weeks I have described someone being dealt pocket aces as “Player A was dealt the best starting hand in Hold'em, pocket aces, and three-bet all-in” or something similar. That small sentence will rank in Google for terms such as:

·         What is the best starting hand in Hold'em?
·         Are aces the best Hold'em hand?
·         How to play pocket aces
·         How often will you get dealt pocket aces?
·         What is a three-bet?

Those five bullet points are all valid questions Joe Bloggs could type into Google and find my article with. Hopefully he will then read the rest of it, click a link to an online poker site and keep my bosses happy!

Emphasising your text by making it bold is another way to ensure Google picks up your content. At PokerNews I always write a player's full name in bold in news articles and keywords in bold in promotional articles. For example, “Get involved in this value-added promotion where we have six freerolls each with a $5,000 prize pool.” Google will read the bold text, think it is important and if someone searches for keywords such as “value-added freeroll” or “freerolls with large prize pools” guess which article it is going to bring up or at least consider bringing up for searchers.

By now you have probably cottoned on that SEO is mainly common sense and that continues when you want to link to other content. When you link to a specific article, particularly one that is not hosted on your site, Google goes all warm and fuzzy inside because you are essentially vouching for that site and spreading the love. If that site has linked to other “good” sites and they are themselves linked to then Google gives you some extra points (in secret of course) and ranks you higher.  This is why I get frustrated when sites copy my work or use it to create articles of their own and do not credit me. I have written articles in the past that were exclusive to me yet they have ended up on a rival site a few hours later and complete with spelling mistakes! Had they copied it and said, “according to UK PokerNews” with a link to the original article Google would have been over the moon and given them a hug. Instead Google will have marked them down for being plagiarisers and possibly future articles they write by themselves will be marked down too. I give credit all of the time whenever I use a site such as Blonde Poker or the PokerStars Blog for tournament reports and live updates. Give credit where it is due.

Last but not least, and following in the same link-related vein, is linking to content naturally. Whenever you link to something you want downloading, reading etc you have to try and make Google you are just suggesting your reader should click. Terms with links in such as “click here” or “read more here” do not impress Google because you are essentially forcing your readers to click a link. What if they didn't want to click a link and they just wanted to carry on reading your article? You are now dictating to your reader what they have to do. Not good.

Imagine you are writing an article about Jake Cody going deep in yet another tournament and whilst talking about him you happy to mention he is a Triple Crown winner. “Jake Cody, one of only four Triple Crown winners, has once against gone deep in a PokerStars.com European Poker Tour event.” I happen to know that I wrote an article when Cody completed his Triple Crown so I can link to that article by using the keywords “Triple Crown.” This merely suggests to the reader that if they click that link on the words “Triple Crown” they are going to be directed to another article about the said Triple Crown. Doing so makes Google so happy that it does a little dance. You should see what Google does if you provide a natural link on a certain keyword that has bold text; I think when this happens a fairy gets its wings.

The ins and outs of SEO can be quite complicated and much of SEO is theory. Nobody knows the algorithms Google uses so it is all trial and error but by following the hints and tips above you should be able to keep Google happy for the time being and if Google is happy with you then your boss usually is too.

How Do Poker Media Websites Make Money?


How a poker media website gets paid, just like any blog or news site, has a direct impact on the content they produce. If you are looking to get into poker writing, you need to know how your potential employers are paying the bills and create your content to fit that model.

I know a lot of great writers, much better ones than I could hope to be, who were unable to make a go of poker writing because they didn't understand this simple fact. Often the thing they don’t understand is how what they write could upset a potential advertiser; which is unfortunately the biggest tightrope walk we face in this industry.

I learned the hard way how important understanding the advertiser is in poker. When the Absolute Poker scandal first materialised I proudly was one of the first people to get the story onto a news site, reporting on it when I was a staff writer for PokerNews. Because I hadn't been paying attention to the site I worked for, I didn't notice that Absolute Poker were, at the time, one of our biggest affiliate partners. The management team were not happy with me, they pulled the article, and I almost got fired.

Luckily for me the story got huge pretty quickly anyway, PokerNews dropped Absolute Poker from their affiliate partners soon after and republished my original article quite quickly. I think all that was enough for me to keep my job, but an important lesson was learned. 

Now a lot of people might say that I was right and the management team at PokerNews (It was a completely different management team to the one in place at the moment btw) was wrong. But in hindsight I would side with PokerNews on this one - don't bite the hand that feeds. People who cry about journalistic integrity are the exact people I mentioned before do not make it very far in this industry. I too strive to to write honest unbiased work, but I also appreciate that without advertisers, none of these sites, and jobs, would exist. 

That doesn't mean that everything you read is bullshit on these sites, far from it. There has been a significant move towards transparency in the poker media, particularly after Black Friday. But you need to understand how these sites make money if you want to work for them. Likewise if you are just a reader of these sites, I hope the following will help you understand why certain things are reported on and others are omitted from front pages:

Pay per click/pay per impression - Websites which are paid by the number of page views they receive are a staple part of the online news industry. They tend to get paid a small amount by advertisers for every user that clicks a link, or for every thousand page views.

I mention this advertising model first, because this is precisely what 99% of poker sites DON'T rely on, but many people assume they do. As a result, this has a profound effect on the content.

Blogs that rely on page views are much more sensationalist and prolific. It is in their interest to be the first to break news, expose scandals, and produce a lot of new content every day. Even the biggest news blogs only get something like $4-$12 per 1000 page views. So as you can imagine, they need big controversial stories every day to get millions of hits in order to make it worth their while and employ staff.

This model is good in one sense, because scandals would not get swept under the carpet. It is very bad in another sense because it encourages sloppy work, that is rushed out quickly, not fact checked, and sometimes is straight up lies. If poker went this way, even more cheating scandals would be exposed, but we would also see some really slimy gutter reporting, personal attacks, and unsubstantiated rumours being presented as facts.

The poker market is simply not big enough to attract the type of page views needed to make good money, which is why most poker sites rely on the affiliate model.

Affiliates - The poker media is built on the poker affiliate model. All the big media sites you see today have got where they are from poker players signing up to online poker rooms via their affiliate links. They usually get either a one off fee for each new player who signs up, which is called a CPA (Cost Per Acquisition), or a regular percentage of the rake they pay to that poker room called MGR (Monthly Gross Revenue). CPAs are much rarer these days, although PokerStars exclusively still do it this way. Most of the big poker media websites have hybrids of both models.

The nature of the commission model may give a slight insight into what to expect from the content. In that those on primarily MGR models are more likely to have content that retains readers - so community based stuff, forums, interactive content etc, as well as regular strategy content and other stuff designed at keeping players at the table. With CPAs it is slightly more about attracting a reader and converting them; so possibly more of a standard news blog model could be expected. 

Because sign ups, instead of page views, are the fundamental criteria for making money, the nature of the news reporting changes. You don't need to be as attention grabbing or prolific, but you do need to be constantly directing readers back to your download pages. So although you don't have to worry about printing garbage to rely on hits to your website, you do run the risk of being too spammy with the content you do produce.

This causes two potential problems for a poker writer. First of all, no matter how good the content you write is, your employer might be looking at it in ROI terms, rather than how well written it is. Most poker content like tournament reports, strategy articles and interviews are in theory non profit exercises for the site. In the long term, this of course not true, it is the quality content which gets people on your site in the first place and coming back for more. But you will often find yourself in conflict with the affiliate part of the site over what content is important. Likewise, a lot of poker content, although presented as genuine news, is actually glorified ad copy for your partners. 

The other big problems for poker writers with the affiliate model is exactly what I described with my Absolute Poker story, and that's you have to walk a tightrope of producing good content while also keeping an affiliate partner happy. Writing a story that puts an online partner or one of their sponsored players in a bad light is a big no no. Another problem can come in the form of writing about a poker room which isn’t one of your affiliate partners, positive or not, because it can essentially give them free advertising. The same goes for linking to a direct business rival, ie. another affiliate site. 

These days the biggest sites are less biased as I might make it sound, I am simply outlining what some of the barriers can be. Today there is a much better culture of covering the important stories no matter what potential conflicts could arise, as well as giving proper citations to potential rivals, among the biggest sites.  

There are some other variations of the standard affiliate model worthy of a mention:

Super affiliate - Some poker media sites choose to advertise one poker room rather than a selection. This is usually because they have an enhanced deal with that room, and an agreement to provide some exclusive content. Usually the media site will have an exclusive bonus, freeroll, or other promotion that will encourage players to sign up, as well as an increased commission; both of which is enough to justify them not advertising other partners.

Super affiliate deals usually involve some heavy restrictions on what content the site can produce, and even involves the poker room having some editorial control over the content. As you can imagine, this leads to some heavy biases in the reporting. A PartyPoker super affiliate is obviously not going to be allowed to cover PokerStars news, and might even restrict coverage of the something like the EPT (as Party have the WPT) and vice versa.

In many cases, some big affiliates have a hybrid of a super affiliate deal, in that they can still advertise other rooms, but give priority and editorial exclusives to one major partner room.

Rakeback sites - Rakeback sites understandably operate on an MGR basis, since they give most of what they receive straight back to their players. The only reason I mention them at all is to point out that the nature of these sites means that their profit margins are very small, and as such, you rarely ever see a massive editorial presence on them.

Sub affiliates - Some poker affiliates are so big that they actually give smaller websites the opportunity to advertise their poker rooms for a split of the profits. Although this means smaller profits for the lesser site, it can work out better sometimes because it means they can offer some of the same exclusive promotions, bonuses, and freerolls that the bigger affiliate can boast. PokerStrategy actually have a superb sub affiliate programme btw.

Non poker room options - There are of course other potential ways to get affiliate revenue from poker other than by signing up to a room. Books and software like Hold'em Manager being probably the main two. I doubt anyone makes significant revenues from these because they would take a lot of volume to do so. Online poker room CPAs can be several hundred dollars each and, if you get lucky with the player, a single MGR could land you thousands a month.  So poker room affiliates are the bread and butter of the poker media and the other potential affiliate options are just supplements to their revenue.

Paid advertisements - It is still not uncommon for some advertisers to simply pay to have banners and other advertisements on the site for just an upfront fee. This will often happen when the advertiser has no affiliate plan in place, ie. things like live poker events, live casinos etc. You will also see certain aspects of the website get unique sponsors, for example some podcasts have seperate sponsors, as do some live tournament reporting ventures, forums etc.

Editorial placement - Now on to stuff that perhaps isn't as obvious. Since most of us have in-built mechanisms to mentally filter out adverts these days, media and advertisers get together creatively to make adverts more widely seen. Instead of posting a banner somewhere, they will actually place an article that appears to be genuine news on the site, which is in fact a sponsored post. In some instances these will be highlighted as such, being called "sponsored posts" or some such, but most of the time they are not, and essentially disguised as real news. 

Now, more often than not, you don't need a particularly sophisticated spam radar to recognise which ones are the "advertorial" pieces. Usually editorial placement is for a one off fee, or part of an enhanced media package/affiliate deal agreed with the website. 

Poker room blogs - A lot of the poker media we see today are actually blogs created and run by a poker room, so their revenue comes directly from getting the readers back onto their site. PokerStars and PartyPoker both come to mind as having pretty good content (Especially live tournament related content), and of course Sky Poker have a fully fledged TV channel to support their room. I would advise any fledgling poker writers to keep an eye out on poker room blogs, as they are fast becoming a great new place to find work.  

Training Sites - One of the more recognisable commercial ventures in poker is the training site. A lot of media sites are now producing paid subscription training content, and likewise, a lot of training sites are now producing their own editorial. 

B2B Services - Established poker media sites tend to have their fingers in a lot of pies, and as such, they now tend to offer a lot of Business to Business type services. It is becoming more common, for example, for them to outsource staff for things like editorial, live reporting, video production to other poker organisations.

It is also very common for them to have their own wing specalising in PR services, which can involve press releases, social media, consulting, and utilising their vast reader databases for email marketing. Most of the time, they can offer a bespoke PR package which can involve lots of the things I have mentioned in these blogs for one up front fee.

Copyright © Barry Carter Poker