Confessions From The BubbleCow: How It All Started

Filed under Get Published.

[Note #1: So I’m thinking about giving away a free product for you . . . IF you’re potentially interested in learning how to promote and sell your book online. It’s going to take some significant time to put together. But before I go crazy making this thing, I want to make sure you actually want it (so I don't feel like an idiot). More details near the bottom of the article.]

[Note #2: In case you’re wondering, this post is a FOLLOW UP TO THIS POST which received more than 100 comments from all around the world! I try my best to respond to as many comments as possible, BTW].

As most of you know I am not only the co-founder of BubbleCow, but also a published writer.

I actually write history books for children, well to be more precise I write the books I wanted to read when I was an 11-year-old boy.

But I digress . . .

How This Whole BubbleCow Thing Started

I remember the EXACT moment it all started.

Caroline (Mrs BubbleCow) and myself are both writers.

In 2006 we were both struggling to build our reputations as writers (Caroline is now a bestselling novelist BTW).

Money was tight as we fought to juggle writing and ‘real’ work. Though advances were bigger than they are today, they were still barely enough to live off.

To make ends meet we were both working as freelancers. Caroline as an editor and me as an editor, but also a researcher for the horribly successful Horrible Histories series.

Each month we would fight to find clients, constantly tapping into our ever dwindling list of contacts.

One Friday, after a frustrating week of searching for work, Caroline suddenly announced, “We should make this into a business. You know with a real website, name and business model.”

We mulled it over and realised that a business would give us the platform we needed to help writers to get published. After all, we were in the unique position of having insight into two worlds. On one hand we were writers, but on the other we had worked closely with publishers, agents and big writers for years.

Over the next two days we drew up a rough business plan, hacked together a website and debated endlessly over a name.

Now a question we get asked on a weekly basis is, ‘Were did the BubbleCow name come from?’ I always try to answer this honestly, but I have never told this story on the blog before, so here goes…

We wanted a name that did two things:

  • 1. Had no competition on Google.
  • 2. A domain name that was not already taken.

We also wanted to show that we were not the run-of-the-mill editors. We wanted to show we knew the internet and could help the new breed of internet savvy writers that were beginning to emerge. After all this was in the days before the Kindle. How did we survive?

We went through loads of names.. and I mean loads.

We tried traditional names, wacky names and downright stupid names. But we liked the idea of combining two words to make a new name (I know, very web 2.0).

We really liked the idea of bubble-something, and after rejecting rat, bull and cat we provisionally settled on cow.

The decision didn’t go firm at first. In fact, it was not until we found the logo (not the one at the top of this page) that the choice was made. This cute cow picture made up our minds and the name was decided (you can see that photo if you look at the avatar on our @bubblecow twitter account).

So come the following Monday morning BubbleCow was born. The website was up (thanks to WordPress!) and we were eager to change the world but…

No one knew about us!

Caroline was already running a blog and had a Twitter presence and this seemed to attract a few writers.

However, it was all pretty scary.

Days passed and writers didn’t flock to BubbleCow.

Now I would like to say that the next step was to spend loads on traditional advertising, but we didn’t for two very good reasons:

  • 1. I knew magazine advertising was an expensive and unmeasurable way of attracting attention.
  • 2. BubbleCow was skint! All the money BubbleCow was earning was going to pay bills.


Two things happened that changed BubbleCow (and me) forever.

The first was that I was lucky enough to stumble across of book called Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. Well, it was a review copy sent from Wiley (and the well thumbed copy is still sitting on my desk BTW).

I am trying to keep this short, but this is important.

This book set out a blueprint on how to attract customers using the Internet. In essence it develops the idea that if you build a web platform, and then produce valuable, sharable content targeted at potential customers, they will come to you.

The second huge revelation was an interview I heard with Internet superstar Guy Kawasaki (NOT Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc. as Caroline insists on calling him!) At the time Mike, sorry Guy Kawasaki was one of the key early adopters of Twitter, and he had built a huge following.

Anyway… in this interview he laid out his strategy for attracting followers. He explained that his approach was to send out 5 or 6 tweets each day with links to interesting articles.

A huge light went off in my head and I suddenly realised that I could use social media to build a business.

So I did…

The blog was born and I launched headlong into Twitter.

From that day to this, each working day morning I have sat down and found 5 or 6 links I can send out via Twitter. (No joke, I do this everyday!)

15,000 tweets later we have over 11,000 Twitter followers (the majority of which are writers) and a platform on which we can build a business and, most importantly, help writers.

In The End, And After Some Work…All My Passion and Drive Has Worked…And in a BIG Way.

Back then, when we were where arguing over names such as BubbleRat, StickHamster and JollyCat, I would never have believed that:

  • We would have helped thousands of writers to take one step closer to their dreams.
  • Had famous clients (that we had to keep secret).
  • Had publishers and agents asking us for advice!
  • We would be employing and training our own editors and proofreaders.

But In Addition To Being Humbled By The Impact I’ve had, I’ve Also Been Blessed to Have A Very Gratifying Lifestyle (My Friends Call It Amazing . . . I Just Enjoy Having Flexibility).

For example, I get to work FROM HOME with writers all over the world (thanks Skype), and know that I’m making real and meaningful connections with people (and that those connections and my advice can create dramatic changes for the better).

I never would have dreamed that I’d get to make my own schedule (so I can be more available for my children and family).

And I never would have imagined that I would NOT have to do ANY traditional marketing . . .

So Here’s What I’m Coming To . . . Here’s What’s Being Demanded Of Me . . . And Here’s What I Feel Compelled To Do . . .

Here’s the deal.

The demand for detailed, practical and most importantly WORKING training for writers to market and sell their books is overwhelming.

I have considered offering a consulting service where I help writers to build their own platform and market their books on a one-to-one basis.

But there is only one of me… I would never be able to help enough people. I’m finding over and over again that the need for training is so much bigger than I could ever fill in a thousand life times.

So I feel that our community is being compelled to step up to the plate. As one commenter in the last blog post wrote, “I would absolutely love to see this sort of advice coming from a successful business such as yours. I’m looking at putting my work out there in the professional world, and it would be invaluable to me to be armed with any knowledge that can help me along the way.”

In my heart of hearts, I want excellent marketing training to be readily available for all writers. I’ve wanted this for a long long time. And this is way overdue.

But the huge task of reaching the thousands that need to be reached CAN NOT be done alone.

But by providing down-in-the-trenches proven (over and over again) techniques that actually work. We can spread the knowledge and give all writers a head start.

I’m Thinking About Making A Free Resource Kit For You

I’ve been really humbled by the buzz surrounding my last blog post. There has been A LOT of interest in the training program that I’m POTENTIALLY developing.

But to test the waters . . . I’m thinking about making a value packed, 100% free “Blueprint To Promoting And Selling Your Books Online” for you.

IF you’re serious about learning to promote and market your book.

Here is what the free “Blueprint To Promoting And Selling Your Books Online” will include:

  • Three recorded interviews one with a high level book publisher (the current MD and former Marketing Director of the Osprey Publishing Group), one with a successful self-published writer (this is a secret, I really can’t spill the beans), and one with myself. In these interviews we talk about the individual steps you can take to promote and sell your book online. This not only contains the blueprint we have used to promote BubbleCow, but also the systems used by self-published (and professional writers) to get their books noticed.
  • A set of quick start videos and written guides. This set of videos (and ebooks) outlines set out the key principles behind selling your books online. These not only explain the principles behind building a online platform, but also outline a set of tips and tactics that you can immediately apply to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and your blog.
  • A ebook called 101 Blog Titles That Will Get Shared. This ebook shows you how to construct blog titles that will entice people to click and visit when seen on social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook.

But Here’s The Catch

Because I’m a helpless perfectionist and will inevitably blog this thing way out of proportion and make it into a much bigger package than it needs to be (or you even want) . . .

. . . I want to get a list of everyone who is interested in having this free “Blueprint To Promoting And Selling Your Books Online”.

So Here’s What I Want You To Do

I’m making a list of everyone potentially interested in getting my free resource kit AND getting in at the start of all this.

Anyway, if you’re interested, then: (1) enter your email address below, and if I end up making it I’ll send it to you at the email address you list below (leaving a comment with any suggestions on what you’d like get from the kit would also help).

If enough people get on this “interest list” (I’m thinking 500 or more) then I’ll make this free thing and send it to EVERYONE on the interest list.

If no one wants the free “Blueprint To Promoting And Selling Your Books Online” then no worries.


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  • VDGriesdoorn

    Oh, your e-mail signup thingy showed a ‘connection has timed-out’ message. Do I need to resubmit it, or did you still get it? You can take this e-mail address I’m posting with now.


    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      Can you email me your address ([email protected]) and I will add you?

  • Jamieson Villeneuve

    I think this is a fantastic idea and I would totally love to get a copy. Book promotion takes up so much time when we’d all rather be writing. It would be lovely to know how to do it and do it well. :)

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      Watch this space. 

  • Elaine

    If it all this advice is going for a song, let me know the address of your local karaoke I’ll provide payment, in full  

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

       You haven’t heard me sing yet… not pretty. :-) (The reason I used ‘going for a song’ is because a lot of spam filters are looking for the word free!).

  • Connie Anderson

    Gary, as an editor and member of the Literary Council planning our 9th Writers Festival and Book Fair — where we offer almost 20 workshops, a keynoter and a free book fair- I KNOW that educated writers make better authors, and certainly save themselves time and money-and have a better product. So I vote a giant YES, do it.  Save us all…………

  • Ren Thompson


    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

  • Helen Devries

    I must have missed the first post…have a ‘tidy minded husband….but it would be a tremendous help to me in trying to publish.
    I don’t have much money but i’d be happy to pay something.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

       All free for now…

  • Michela

    I’m really rubbish when it comes to marketing and promotion, so any help is welcome! Great idea, Gary. I’m in!

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]


  • Rachel Green

    I’d dreadful at promotion. Not one of my books has sold over 500 sopies.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      If I can double your sales do i get a cut :-)

  • LisaHC

    Dear BananaOctopus, yes please. 

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      Stay tuned. 

  • Darlene Steelman

    nice!  I am loving this concept. :)  

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      The feedback has been all postive (well one comment saying not to do it, but you can’t win them all).

  • laurie brunson altieri

    Count me in.  I am not a marketer and am dismayed by so much of what I observe-you are shedding some much-needed (!) light.  Thank you  :)

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]


  • Susan Russo Anderson

    Thanks, I want to know how to market my book effectively and do that marketing quickly, at least quick enough that it will leave me enough time left over in the day to write my quota of words.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      I think it is always a balancing act. Any tips?

  • Robert Graham

    I am currently working on my first book.  Could someone like me, not half way finished, benefit from such a valuable treasure? 

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      You should really be building a platform before you have a book. If you can attract followers when you don’t need them, they will be there when you do - if that makes sense. 

  • Pauline

    Gary, you’ve already given out a lot of good advice for free. So I’d be delighted to receive this resource as well, if it doesn’t sound too greedy.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      You can never be too greedy for knowledge!

  • Otterbs7

    Can’t wait, Gary You’ve been of great help to me so far, and what you are suggesting matches what I need.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]


  • Yvonne Hertzberger

    Since I came to writing - and even computers -late in the game I find anything related to on-line promotion baffling. I would love to have something that will help me navigate that mine field.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      Let’s see what we can do!

  • clovetum

    As any internet marketer will tell you, traffic is king. If no-one knows you’re there no-one will know to buy your book. Any help with generating traffic will be invaluable to everyone trying to market their book

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      Here’s a quickie - set up a Stumble Upon account. Friend ten other power uses. Give them permission to send you shares. Then, when you post, share your post with them and let them stumble your posts. I have had posts get 10s thousands of hits using stumble. The quality of this traffic is another ball game!

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to know how to market without putting people off or making them think that that’s all I’m interested in - I want to be able to connect to people first. Anything else is a blessing.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      I think the key to all good marketing is connection, so we should get on just fine!

  • Anonymous

    I can’t believe anyone would turn down your generous offer. I’m looking forward to receiving it. Meanwhile, thanks a million. I’m glad you told us how you and your wife started Bubblecow. thanks for sharing.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      Lilian - BubbleCow has grown significantly since then. Maybe I should share that story as well. 

      • Anonymous

        I know you’ve grown considerably since you started your Internet adventure because I read a former post about your Twitter and other web presence and I’m aghast at all you’ve acchieved. If you have time, I’d love to hear the rest.

        I do appreciate your newsletter and all info you send out. Cheers to you for the free downloads.


  • Anonymous

    I know that finding a reputable online publisher that is not going to break the bank can be difficult, so what about some tips on what to look for in a decent online publisher.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      Do you mean self-publishing company? If so I would suggest you try Matador or York Publishing Services in the UK. 

  • Anonymous

    BTW I’m looking forward to this blueprint and I don’t think there will be any difficulty in finding 500 of us!

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      The response has been amazing so far.

  • Robert

    Gary, would like to see the marketing basics in point form followed by additional details and examples of how those points work. And perhaps a list of idea that don’t work so writers like myself can avoid time wasters.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      I really like the idea of tactics that don’t work… I will add it to the list.

  • Glynis Smy

    Any information from the BubbleCow team (or is that JollyCat) :) is always gratefully received! 

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      I really wanted a rube name, but Caroline overruled me.

  • Maya Hanley

    I think you’re completely marvelous!

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      You are too kind.

  • Dar2drm4ever

    Really looking forward to your information.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]


  • Jack Barrow

    I’ve been reserving judgement-being the old and cynical type-but, you’ve won even me over.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

  • Goldenwordsmith

    I love this story of how Bubble Cow got started, and feel inspired, already. 

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

       wow thanks - I left all the boring bits out.

  • Den of all Trades

    Er yes? No Brainer. The quality of your work stands out a mile to me. I am a long term gatherer of ideas who has been seriously getting on with the business of writing for only a year or so. I have much much much to learn. Interested in anything that breaks down the process of transitioning a piece of writing from home study to market place. That feels like a big step and I have tried to break it down but because I can’t see the whole picture it’s hard to know what is relevant to me and what I am writing.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      Thanks for this. To be honest this series of posts has triggered a number of ‘real life’ conversations with colleagues over the best way to deliver information that is truly helpful.

      I think the next step is to find out what people don’t know and where the real pain points are located.

      I also collect ideas - I use Evernote to keep them all snug and warm.

  • Suzie Grogan

    Gosh go for it! I would love to know more. I have two books in the pipeline for this year and would love to know more. Your tips are endlessly useful :-)

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

       Too kind

  • Brian

    YES, without doubt a great idea - as so many comments say - but also a BRILLIANT idea cos you do all this so well :)

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

       Brian - I made the mistake yesterday of not checking the blog post for an hour or so. I returned to over 50 comments. Amazing.

  • Anonymous

    Awesome! I think without money, which to me is synonymous with traditional publishing marketing, indie pubbers need a different strategy, a different way of thinking than if they published with a big company. I’m all for learning the best way to do that. Right now I’m watching and taking notes on what other authors do. 

    Of course, nothing beats having great product. 

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

       Laura - I think you have hit the nail on the head. Indie writers need do it differently. I have also seen a large number of writers selling a decent number of books using a set of techniques that are pretty simple to grasp and apply.

  • Helen

    A wonderful idea :)

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]


  • Ucheri N

    Seriously? You are going to be swamped! It’s a marvelous idea

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      To be honest, I am overwhelmed by the number of people that have added their email to the list.

  • Jenn

    This is all new for me, since I’m working on my first book.  I’ve enjoyed BubbleCow, your start up story and the helpful tips.  Would appreciate anything you put out….HEAPS!:)
    Thanks so much for sharing.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]


  • Rosemary Dun

    I would love some tips/ advice on getting short stories, poetry, novels etc. onto Kindle e-publishing tips re. photograph sites for covers, step by step guides, tips re. blogs and websites. Cheers and good luck with it all )

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

       Thanks - I have added your thought to my list.

  • Sandra Hill91

    This is such a fab idea ….. love the website and the Twitter posts.  Currently working on a novel that I really think might be worthwhile trying to get out there and any help would be more than gratefully received.  Loved the story behind Bubble Cow too.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      Thanks for the comment.

  • Paula Broderick

    I can’t believe you are really going to do this, you will be inundated. How generous!

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      Paula - We have a chance to make a difference. I don’t think I can turn my back on this chance. 

  • Sarah Tanburn

    This would be so generous and exciting.

    Something on how to choose and commission those skills around editing, design etc might be really useful.

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      Lots of people have suggested we stay away from the ‘how to write’ section. This said I think there is room for a ‘how to edit and published guide’ - perhaps.

  • robyn

    It’s hard to believe that someone as busy as we know you are - would be willing to put something like this together for the rest of us. Very generous, I’d say - and so appreciated! THANKS!

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]


  • Annie Campbell

    I started to respond and all of a sudden the page changed, so I’ll start again, I’m intimidated by all the work I have to do to self-publish my book. To have simple step by step explanations would be absolutely wonderful. If you have the time, and really want to give us the knowledge we need, to publish successfully, I am mighty grateful and would love to have it. Thank you and big cheers to you! Annie

    • BubbleCow [Gary Smailes]

      Annie - thanks for the comment. The feedback so far is that writers would like guidance on selling and promoting. It seems that the writing and publication aspects are well covered elsewhere. 

  • David O’Connor Thompson

    I’d love to benefit from all your hard work. It is amazing how quickly BubbleCow has taken off - probably seems like years to you but it seems like only yesterday to me, (perhaps it’s an age thing). Congrats.

    • Gary Smailes


  • cp wren

    Sounds like a generous offer. Including commentary on potential pitfalls while pursuing publishing/self-marketing would also be very helpful.

  • Jim

    Sounds great. If you put something together that’s clear and concise it will be very helpful to a lot of people. That said, your comments over the past few posts about this information being scarce and unavailable are incorrect. All this information is already available online. There are websites and workshops available on how to put together an online writers platform. There are blogs and books available on how writer should be using social networks to promote their work. Your “101 Blog Titles That Will Get Shared” could come right off I’m not saying don’t do this. Just don’t think you are doing something revolutionary. Your trick will be to do it better than what is already being offered.

  • Pingback: (For Folks Interested In Learning To Promote And Sell Books Online) The Free Blueprint To Promoting And Selling Your Books Online Resource Kit + The Pains of Being a Perfectionist « ProActive Writer

  • Gio Clairval

    Impossible to subscribe. I got the message “Your submission has taken too long.”