As I’m out for the holidays, this article is a remixed reprint of one of my first Creator Logic interviews. I didn’t really have the same structure back then, so I’ve redone it for the current format. Enjoy, and happy holidays!
Maya Lê is a teacher by training, with a Masters in Education and 3 years in the classroom, but found her calling online. As MaiStoryBook on social, she educates in bite-sized snippets, brings the joy of reading to parents and kids, and produces fun book crafts that the teachers in her audience eagerly snap up to augment their own curriculum.
Maya is a wonderful example of how a Creator in well-understood niches - bookfluencer, kids, education - can have a completely unique business model.
Maya doesn’t have a manager or agent, but brand deals still make up 40% of her revenue!
Influencer networks / marketplaces.
So I don't have a manager…I guess I am kind of in a couple - what did you call them? Networks. They'll reach out initially with a brand deal and then I'll kind of be in their network and then I do get repeat ones from certain companies.
Does business with a network,
Delivers on the asks, and
Is easy to work with
They’ll likely get repeat business. It’s in the network’s best interest to bring business to Creators they know will deliver.
For Creators who don’t have (or want) representation, and who are happy doing lots of <$10k deals instead of a few very large deals, this strategy can be very effective.
There's one called Acorn Influence. There's Big Honcho Media, and also Aspire will send things my way sometimes. And so some of them are like “we invite you to apply” and some of them just say Hey we're interested, and if you say yes, then we can go through with it.”
If a Creator is willing to jump through a few hoops, they can get enough business to make up 40% of their entire revenue base!
You might be wondering - who negotiates her deals?
I do. So that has been interesting, trying to figure out price points, because I don't know. I do feel like sometimes I'm undercharging because then I'll go to work with some company and they'll set their rates way higher than I ever charged, and I’m like “Wow, should I be charging this much?” But it’s interesting because different companies will have different price points, and so some will offer way less, maybe even less than what I would typically ask for, but I might still do it depending on how long I think it would take me to do.
Navigating negotiating brand deals is tricky for any Creators, and one of the appeals of having representation.
There are two ways to increase revenue - increase price, or increase volume. The challenge is that, all other things equal, higher pricing can reduce volume. Maya prices based on audience size, but doesn’t turn down work based on it - instead, she is willing to take smaller deals if the effort is low. This way, she can increase her volume and thus her overall revenue.
When asked about her pricing approach:
So what I did is, I went on Google and I said “how do you set your rate?” There’s this calculator thing where if you can enter your profile, they'll tell you how much you should charge. So I have my standard right? But then I've worked with other companies on brand deals before, and they will set the fee. Interestingly enough, depending on who reaches out to me, I do have various media kit levels. So if it's a big company, then I send my premium one. But if it's someone like the individual book seller, then I have a different one with them.
This brought up an interesting trend in the bookfluencer space:
I do a lot of deals with publishers, and this is actually something that's just recent, because publishers usually would only do content in exchange for free books right? Just recently, there's been a big push in the Bookstagram community to be paid more for a deal. So they won't pay for every deal, but they will occasionally offer a paid sponsored posting, and their rates are low. Their rates aren't what I would normally ask for, but with them, it's kind of like “Okay, they're finally starting to actually pay.”
Let’s talk about this for a second. Book publishers are in the middle of a huge renaissance thanks to BookTok and Bookstagrammers and other bookfluencers making reading cool again (and helping people discover more unique and interesting books than ever). There’s been plenty of writing on this, but check out these articles from Elle and Business Insider for more.
Given that publishing sales are at a 20-year high, publishers should damn well be paying Creators they’re asking to promote their products.
Brand Deals - Acorn Influence + Big Honcho Media + Aspire + other influencer networks / marketplaces
Digital Product Sales - Teachers Pay Teachers
What I like about Teachers Pay Teachers is that it already kind of has a built-in audience. Teachers are already going there, like it's very well-known in the educational field. So it's almost like you don't have to get people to get to the site. They're already going there and so I guess it just matters what they search, and if your stuff comes up.
Maya sells digital products - her “book crafts”, which are reading lessons for kids couched in crafting exercises designed for specific books - through a teacher-to-teacher marketplace called Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT). Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either.
The platform is owned by a private equity company and is estimated by Zippia to do $84M in annual revenue.
Aside - it’s kind of sad and telling about our education system that this exists and does so well.
Teachers Pay Teachers is the marketplace for her book craft digital products.
25% of her overall revenue comes through discovery on the marketplace itself.
This is a good data point supporting Creators joining marketplaces: if a Creator’s product is good, it can find a significant customer-base.
To link to books, I use my Amazon Shop just mostly like a book list, to categorize book lists, and then for their affiliate marketing. There is an alternative to that, Bookshop, which I know some other bookstagrammers also use, or they offer both alternatives because some people don't like Amazon. Bookshop I think takes a cut and donates it to small bookshops or small businesses.
I haven’t gotten into that yet. I just don't have time at the moment to reupload all the lists onto Bookshop, but that could be another alternative. I don't know if it would double that revenue or just kind of send people to somewhere else to pay. To me, there's no huge incentive to go do it right now.
Blog / Website Ad Monetization - Google AdSense
[AdSense is] the beginner basic ad revenue source for blogs. If you want really nice ones, you have to hit certain thresholds. I’m working on that. Those ones that I just recently learned about were AdThrive and MediaVine. Their thresholds are maybe 100,000 views a month.
Editing - iMovie + InShot
I am very like “Oh this works at the moment. Okay, I'm gonna use it.” My phone camera is super easy for me. It's like - press a button and then stop and then airdrop it to my computer. I have Macbook and using an iPhone, I just airdrop the footage back and forth. It’s super easy for me, and I think that camera quality is high enough for video.
I use like a ring light, so the lighting is fine and I try to use our stage in front of a window, so lighting and everything works out for the camera.
Design - Canva + iPhoto + Powerpoint
I do take photos with the camera versus the iPhone, I think just because the iPhone camera has more of that HDR kind of look, very clear. The [Nikon] camera does better blurring the background and does have nicer effects.
I also just upload those and edit on iPhoto a little bit and then upload those to Instagram.
…as for Canva, it was something I was introduced to in college that we used as undergrads, so I was already kind of familiar with how the graphics and everything work, and how to upload and use the platform.
Interestingly, she doesn’t use Canva to create her actual book craft digital products; instead, she uses Powerpoint for that, likely because it’s faster and easier to combine text and images while Canva is better for design.
I don't think what I do now requires Photoshop. For my crafts, I just make them on Powerpoint, then download them as a PDF, and then upload the digital files.
…the craft is created on Powerpoint for the digital file, and then I’ll use Canva to create the graphic for the listing.
I can’t really use a business card because I don’t have to buy anything for my business.
You read that right. She uses the notes app to track her various invoices and tax documents. Not Quickbooks. Notes. I love that!
Representation - Unrepresented
Content Production - Husband + Mom
I am someone who kind of likes having control of all the pieces, and if I feel like if I can do it myself, I don't really want to pay and outsource if I don't have to. So really, it is me and then my mom does photography occasionally, my husband will help film something if I need someone to hold the camera. If I need to be moving around in the shot then he'll come with me and help film with the camera. But otherwise, I do all my own editing and listing and bookkeeping and recording and stuff right now. If it ever gets unmanageable then I would need help, but as of right now, yeah, it's keeping it in the family.
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