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Rank #97 in Books category

Arts
Education
Books
Self-Improvement

The Creative Penn Podcast For Writers

Updated 9 days ago

Rank #97 in Books category

Arts
Education
Books
Self-Improvement
Read more

Writing, Publishing, Book Marketing, Creative Entrepreneurship

Read more

Writing, Publishing, Book Marketing, Creative Entrepreneurship

iTunes Ratings

352 Ratings
Average Ratings
331
11
6
1
3

Highly recommend

By Jenny Lisk - Dec 02 2019
Read more
One of my new favorite podcasts. Interesting/useful interviews. Lots of food for thought for writers. Love how the host keeps us in the loop on trends in publishing, including tech trends that will affect writers. Highly recommend!

Wonderful Podcast For Authors

By pk-DC - Jan 24 2019
Read more
Wonderful podcast for any podcast for any author both on craft and business!!! 🙂

iTunes Ratings

352 Ratings
Average Ratings
331
11
6
1
3

Highly recommend

By Jenny Lisk - Dec 02 2019
Read more
One of my new favorite podcasts. Interesting/useful interviews. Lots of food for thought for writers. Love how the host keeps us in the loop on trends in publishing, including tech trends that will affect writers. Highly recommend!

Wonderful Podcast For Authors

By pk-DC - Jan 24 2019
Read more
Wonderful podcast for any podcast for any author both on craft and business!!! 🙂

Listen to:

Cover image of The Creative Penn Podcast For Writers

The Creative Penn Podcast For Writers

Updated 9 days ago

Read more

Writing, Publishing, Book Marketing, Creative Entrepreneurship

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From Indie Author To Creative Empire With Michael Anderle

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When we start out as authors, it's all about that first book … but after book one, the sky's the limit in terms of what you can build in terms of a creative business. In today's show, I talk to Michael Anderle, well-known from the 20BooksTo50K group, about how he turned his book series into a co-writing empire and now has hundreds of books in multiple languages, and why he's going wide with his new series.

In the introduction, I mention Jane Friedman's round-up of traditional publishing book trends, and the HotSheet newsletter, plus Google's new voice recorder app that transcribes in real-time, even when offline [TechCrunch]

I also give a little report on my experiences at Frankfurt Book Fair, in particular, talking about the audio summit, the emergence of indie collectives, and the possibilities of BookChain. Thanks to everyone I met and talked to, and special thanks to Marion Hill, author of the Kammbia fantasy series who has a featured snippet in the show. I also thanked APub for the great Amazon Crossing session which was the most author-focused seminar I saw at the Fair, and they mentioned you can submit books for consideration for translation here. Other resources mentioned: Streetlib's new free international email newsletter for those interested in keeping up with international markets.

Today's show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at www.draft2digital.com/penn

Michael Anderle is the award-nominated, internationally-bestselling author of more than 40 urban fantasy and science fiction novels. He’s also the co-author of many more with other authors under his company, LMBPN Publishing, which has now sold over 3 million books. Michael is also the co-founder of the popular 20BooksTo50K Facebook group and events with Craig Martelle.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Where the idea of 20 Books to 50K came from
  • Starting to think of writing as a business
  • Looking at author earnings as daily income rather than lump-sum advances
  • How Michael oversees the production of so many creative works each month and how he works with co-writers
  • Using a just-in-time model for editing books as they are written
  • Thoughts around licensing and shared Intellectual Property
  • Opinions on KU vs wide

You can find Michael Anderle at LMBPN.com and on Twitter @lmbpn. You can find Michael's books on Amazon here, and OpusX here.

Transcript of Interview with Michael Anderle

Joanna Penn: Michael Anderle is the award-nominated, internationally-bestselling author of more than 40 urban fantasy and science fiction novels. He’s also the co-author of many more with other authors under his company, LMBPN Publishing, which has now sold over 3 million books. Michael is also the co-founder of the popular 20BooksTo50K Facebook group and events with Craig Martelle.

Michael Anderle: How are you doing? Pleasure to be here Joanna.

Joanna Penn: It's great to have you on the show, obviously after so long. We met several years ago and several times since so lovely to have you on the podcast.

Michael Anderle: Likewise. It is always fun to come onto the podcast that I listen to as a newbie. And The Creative Penn was always there from the beginning.

Joanna Penn: Thank you. I want to wind back time because you have an extraordinary business now.

I want to know what did you do before 2015 when you started self-publishing and why get into books in the first place?

Michael Anderle: I had an online and offline sales marketing consulting company where I would integrate offline sales and I could provide salespeople that needed to work with companies and then the online components that were necessary, so I might do websites. But then I might do a website that was relevant to explaining some things like frequently asked questions when you have a large enterprise company where their salespeople are two hundred dollars an hour. You don't want someone asking them these simple things, you want them asking questions that are going to close the job. So that was kind of what my company supported back at that time.

And then why come into indie publishing? I've been a lifelong reader. So, reading has always been my hobby and my getaway to trying to keep my head on straight when you have kids all screaming and you finally get them to bed. You just need to relax and readings always been there for me.

Joanna Penn: I love that and I know you are very reader-focused, which is fantastic. So let's talk about that.

And obviously then you talked about your business background and I think that is very pertinent to where you are now and we both come from consulting. I think that background does help the business of books. Let's come to the idea of 20 Books to 50K because the term is bandied around now as a group but it has a genesis in an actual business model.

Can you explain how that idea came to you and why it is so different from the traditional publishing model?

Michael Anderle: One thing to understand is that I had no understanding of the Indie publishing model when I started releasing my books because I didn't pay attention to anybody. I didn't even stop to consider that there would be an infrastructure for it.

I had released two books in November of 2015 and was in Cabo, San Lucas, Mexico. I was realizing that I was starting to make 12 to 15 dollars a day from these two books and so from my consulting background, of course, I pull up Microsoft Excel and then I start figuring out what's going on.

Down in Mexico, you can have an incredible life even in Cabo, which is more expensive, for $50,000 a year. Now you only have to make $36,000 in order to stay in the country and I looked at it and said okay if I can get 20 books all making this seven and a half dollars a day I could make $50,000 a year and retire my wife, who was the main breadwinner in the household.

And so that's kind of where the genesis was: 20 books to make 50k. I had written two books. I was in the middle of my third. I figured I could finish it by the end of next year. So 2016 is approximately 14 months and that was my goal. Try to get 20 books all making seven and a half dollars and making it income for us.

Joanna Penn: It’s so it's so funny because it's so simple and yet many people sort of go 20 books? How do I even write twenty books? There are many traditionally published authors who will never write 20 books. So I'm interested in whether it even ever came up for you that 20 books was a lot. And obviously you've gone way beyond that now.

For people listening who might consider that to be so far away from where they are. How do you take it piece by piece?

Michael Anderle: It's interesting. I've never really considered why I didn't consider it a big deal but partly it's because I was a programmer for a lot of years in my life. And as a programmer, you have to write a lot of code every day. So typing a lot is not a big deal.

I've written half a million lines of code probably in my life and so writing the books just wasn't there. Now, I had come off of like four or five months of not having many creative issues in my life. So my company pre-billed my clients so that at that time it was like if you want me for January I'm already billing you in the beginning of January. If you don't use me, I'm going to bill you for February.

So at that moment some of my clients were going through a huge internal, so for two or three months, they didn't need my services and so I just used that creative juice, that energy that I would have been using on their projects into my own and wrote really fast.

I figured I only had a couple of months that they weren't going to need me. So why not try to put it all in there?

As a whale reader, something that I kind of coined that based on whale gamblers, I knew that I wanted at least three books before I did any advertising, which I knew how to do because I had the sales and consulting company.

So from that perspective, I wrote really hard. I didn't have much time. I needed to get these books out. It didn't seem like a big deal to me at the time and some people need to realize I write pulp fiction. I write space operas. I don't write really convoluted complex stories that I have to go research a lot for. They just come out of my mind. I think sometimes people miss that facet of what's going on.

Joanna Penn: I love this. I mean the term pulp fiction I think is now being used with pride in the indie community. But I still hear from traditionally published authors and or many indie authors who choose to write different types of books and every way is valid.

We are in no way saying that any way is more valid than another.

When you inevitably come up against the issues of quality, what's your response?

Michael Anderle: I tend to be very Texan and for us in America, Texan means that I'm willing to stand up to anything and say what's going on here because at the end of the day, I don't care about awards. I don't care about best-selling lists. I care if my readers want to reread my stories and am I making money. If I'm doing those two things the quality of my books are far superior than perhaps something else in my opinion.

Once again, this is a subjective opinion. There may be a book that has garnered awards and never sold even 2,000 copies.

Joanna Penn: Which is true.

Maybe you could explain the whale readers as well and who they are.

Michael Anderle: I coined whale readers to try to explain to some of the early people I was talking to as this is a person who reads at least one book a week. Here in America, they have this statistic that says so many people don't read even one book a year or four books a year and I never understood who those people were but that's fine. I was always reading if I had a weekend to myself.

Which at the time, we had high school kids in the house and I could get four or five books going. I was happy. I would just sit there and go through four or five books in a weekend and I realized that was slow now because their romance readers who read two or three books a day all week long.

In our family, we enjoy going to Las Vegas. It's a gambling place and there's the term called a whale gambler, which is someone who can drop a whole bunch of money in a weekend. And so I just kind of said, okay, whale readers, it’s that same concept. It's a person who can sit down and just read a bunch of books.

Joanna Penn: I'm a whale reader for sure. I buy books all the time. I always find books to buy. I love them. I love that you come from that reader perspective. I think it's so important because I know how it is when you start to make money and become known for someone who's making money and has a business but you come out of the creative side, which I love.

You basically started this as a side hustle next to your sales and marketing job.

When did things change in your head to think, “Oh, this is a business.”?

Michael Anderle: I guess I always went at it as a business because that was just my mindset. I guess perhaps to clarify, it was a viable business at the end of the second month when I went from 380 dollars. Let's call it in my first month where I'd released three books and the second month, December, I released a fourth and instead of doing like 50 or 60 dollars a day all of a sudden I was at a hundred, hundred and fifty.

And then of course in January we went over five figures and all of a sudden it's like hey, this is a six-figure business. This is doing better in 90 days than my consulting business was doing after a couple of years. And of course, I love the idea of making money while I'm sleeping.

Joanna Penn: We all do but again, I think we do have a lot of traditionally published authors who listen to the show and people who still consider the traditional publishing model when people hear $7.50 a day, which is where you started or 12 to 15 dollars a day even $100 a day.

When people think that if they sign with a traditional publisher, they might get a lump sum. Maybe that's two grand. Maybe that's five grand. Maybe if they're lucky it's more than that, 10, 20 or whatever.

So the model of traditional publishing is more like a spike income. And indie is, as you say, making money while you sleep. You can log on and see that money's come in. But you’re used to a business and in your own old business where money was different.

How can people shift that mindset to looking at smaller amounts per day being even more effective than a big lump sums?

Michael Anderle: I like to use the term $27.50. If I can get someone to just look at that number and say okay, you can make twenty-seven dollars and fifty cents a day. What is that over a year? And the answer is $10,000.

A lot of people will bandy about that the typical average author now doesn't make five thousand dollars a year, but if you can make $27.50 a day, you've just doubled the average.

Now, let's take it one step further. Let's go to $275 dollars a day, which can be one book or it can be half a dozen books. But if you can do that, you've just now become a six-figure author. And of course, $2,750 is a seven-figure author.

And so if I can just get people to look at that one number – $27.50 – and go that's your goal. That's your first goal.

It can be $2.75 for all it matters, right? That’s a thousand a year.

Joanna Penn: I often say to people over similar thing and I say ten dollars. It doesn't matter. If you can make $10 from someone who doesn't know you by selling your book or selling something online it changes your mindset.

I think the empowerment of doing that you have to do it to realize it. If you don't hit the button. You have to self-publish something and make just a couple of dollars to understand the model. So that's a big encouragement for people listening, but let's fast forward to now.

It’s September 2019 as we talk and now LMBPN publishing you did retire your wife as you said or actually you broke your wife out – Judith. She’s incredible. I'm jealous. I want a Judith.

Tell us what does the company look like now? And how has your role changed?

Michael Anderle: Oh my goodness. I will try to shorten this question. I have now become the chief executive, so CEO, but also the chief creative officer where almost all creative concepts and stories and titles that we're going to do going through me. Anything that's not English, so if it's German, if it's Spanish that tends to go through Judith.

She has a background in law. She has the PhD, speaks four languages and has traveled the world many times. So it seemed like an appropriate way to do things.

But the long story, which we can do some other time, is I thought she would want to come into the company. I had no idea that when she retired that was like, “Maybe.”

There were situations when she first stepped out of the other company when she was considering someone else, like staying in the industry she had been in for 20 years. I didn't think about the fact that she would have an affinity for staying there where she had people she knew for decades, right? It seems obvious in hindsight.

So all of a sudden I'm doing a song and dance and tapping going no, no, no, no don't go do that. That's just the glitter. Come over here. You want to come to a small little group that you've never done before that didn't sound that good. So it took a while for me to get her to come over and consider working with LNBPN but I'm really glad that she did we should all have a Judith.

Joanna Penn: Oh, yeah, as I said, I'm super jealous. It's so funny because I did the same thing with my husband. He left his job in 2015 and I just thought oh, he'll just take on all the stuff that I don't want to do. Unsurprisingly, he wasn't really into a lot of that stuff. So over the years, his role has changed as well, but it is interesting working with your spouse for sure. But as you say that is another discussion,

To give us a sense of the size of LMBPN how many books have you got out and how many authors are you working with?

Michael Anderle: We have in excess of 600 titles that we've produced. We have over 200 audio productions that LMBPN have produced and we've licensed another hundred in the last hundred and twenty days.

So we're rapidly both putting that IP of the audio out with other companies such as Podium or Dreamscape is probably our major and then Tantor and then we are now taking IP and publishing other people. Whereas before for the first three years we had only ever produced our own IP. And so now we're actually bringing authors in republishing their backlists and going forward with their front lists. So that's pretty significant.

Stephen Campbell is the VP of operations and audio. He handles a lot of the infrastructure Lynn Stigler's on our editing side. We have probably three to four artists that we keep busy all of the time producing 15 to 25 titles per month.

Joanna Penn: Wow, it is incredible how you grow like that and it's funny because over the years I've tried to decide what to do and I made a big decision. It's funny because I feel like we have a lot in common, but I also think I'm much more of a control freak than you because I find co-writing incredibly difficult and you co-write with so many people.

How have you gone about all of that co-writing?

As you say, you're more of a creative producer like James Patterson. There's no way you could possibly oversee so many books personally in detail.

How have you done the co-writing or is that just your natural personality?

Michael Anderle: A great question. So in 2016, I started doing collaborations because the fans wanted stories in the Kutherian Gambit Universe that I wasn't going to write, not only because I didn't have the time, which was partially true, but they wanted stories in areas I had no interest in writing. I had no interest in writing something about post-apocalypse.

So I had reached out to Craig Martelle in brought him in. Justin Sloan reached out to me and so we spoke about what was going on. So we had like three or four authors for collaborations and I had done some collaborations with some of my fans to get them started. So we had this infrastructure.

But from the business background, it was obvious that if I wanted to grow the publishing side, which is what interests me more than the writing side, that I needed to have people that could then take what I taught them and then they could oversee the generation, if you will, of the collaborations. and that so in Kutherian Gambit, we call them age runners, The Age of Expansion, as an example, which is the Sci-Fi side of things Craig Martell took over and so he herded and received a piece of the action for those series that were within his milieu.

Does that make sense?

Joanna Penn: Yes, so it's like you have these showrunners like Craig and his universe and other people in his universe and he directs that and you sit above all of them and make sure it all works. Although your story bibles must be huge at this point.

Michael Anderle: You know what? The fans are the ones who help keep those early story things together. It's fascinating that the fans can read the stories and get more detail out of it than us as authors can possibly remember. They are the ones who actually helped keep us on track for the first two years.

We built a second universe Oriceren with Martha Carr. And so, we had Kurtherian Gambit going and then we had Oriceren going and because of the success of Kurtherian people wanted to join us on the Oriceren side, even though we had no sales history to show anything about it.

And so from there, it was the constant keeping what's going on. So getting our editing and making sure it's on track. I don't accept what everybody tells me cannot be done.

So, editing; in the beginning, people are saying hey, you need to sign up. You’ve got to wait six weeks, then it's going to take me two weeks to edit this. And I'm like no, this book is done on a Tuesday so it's going down on Friday. Let's figure out how to make this happen.

And so from that consulting that manufacturing concept it was like, okay, how can I do this? Well, if I write the book with 25 chapters, then I'm going to release those chapters to the just-in-time “jit” which with my background in IT it's a very understood concept that they would actually be editing as I'm writing.

So if I wrote chapters 6 through 10, I would give it to them. I'd go on through 11 to 15 by the time I finished chapter 25 the first 15 to 20 chapters were done. So we just had the last few chapters to finish and get it out.

That concept has moved forward into our company to where now we do million-plus words of editing a month.

Joanna Penn: Wow. It's interesting because you've mentioned intellectual property (IP) and I've sat with Judith at the London Book Fair, and we're going to meet at Frankfurt. We go to these Book Fairs in order to license intellectual property.

One of the things that concerned me very much with co-writing and for example, I've been pitched around using characters in games and stuff like that and I've been very concerned about the idea of co-mingling IP, which is where a universe can cross over and the IP owner or owners may be in dispute potentially.

So I'm really interested in how your ideas around IP work when you've got a universe, which you may have created and lots of other people who've written in there who have slices of IP given how fast you guys are growing.

What are your thoughts around licensing and co-mingling intellectual property?

Michael Anderle: So let's take it as you’re the universe owner. People and other authors are coming to you for an opportunity. That opportunity doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to take my piece of the IP and go. No, when they came into Kurtherian Gambit I was very upfront. This is my universe. Let's be very clear about that. I own it. I'm going to run it.

Now because I'm “a nice guy” if you're not in the universe and you're not writing in it -anymore because my thought was always people would come into the universe they would write and they would leave. The benefit for them, of course, is they would understand how we do things better, which was very obvious for a few of my collaborators. They were writing the stories not because they were engaged with the universe, but because they wanted the opportunity to learn. So no different than a blacksmith, a trade.

The rules at that time were hey, I'll ask you, but if you're not getting with me or anything, I have the ultimate ability to say we're using that character you created in this other story. I don't think I've ever done it in the last three years, but there's one time I needed to ask them and say hey we need to use this character, are you good with that? And they were off doing something else. So that's one where you own the universe.

Then you have co-owned universes. You have to be understanding and where's the bifurcation of responsibility. In Oriceren, I set up Martha as the one who is running that Universe. However, I'm the one with the higher level of skill, an understanding of what's going on.

Martha came at it with, yes, I'm running this but Mike's the one who understands how to make this part successfully. So that is a relationship issue, if we're looking at something brand-new, which we do now and people are asking me to be a part of it then we're like, okay, how are we going to do x y z? And we set the collaboration up in such a way that no matter what we sell, whether it be ebooks, paperback, audio rights, if it should go to TV or movies the percentage is the same.

So in one universe, for example, we sell audio rights. Sometimes the collaborators are aware of it when I'm saying we just sold this you're going to get a check for x. And they might not have been a part of it for a year or two. That's happened.

When it comes to your personal stuff, you own it. That's it. They don't have to work with you if they don't like that understanding that's okay. You part friends and maybe you do something else. If you go to the one where someone wants to come work with you because they understand your mystery-thriller capabilities they need to make it worth your while. You're Joanna Penn in this case or you are Fred Smith or whoever you are. They're coming to you for a reason. Understand what that is. And just be good with it.

Joanna Penn: I like how serious this topic is because it is serious what you're creating here.

As we speak Disney is launching their streaming service. And Apple TV has just launched. There's obviously Netflix. Obviously, everyone else doing this. Everyone's looking for a big universe. This is why this is important.

I want to encourage authors, whether they're working with you or another publisher, we have to be aware of the value of what we create and make sure our contracts portray that. I love that you're very serious about contracts and IP. I saw the documentation Judith was taking around the London Book Fair, and it was super impressive. I was like, okay, I can't even sit next to you with my tiny one-pager!

Michael Anderle: Well the thing about it is I don't suggest this as a business strategy, but I married a JD, a Juris Doctorate, so she basically is a lawyer.

When she first saw the contracts I had done for Kutherian Gambit let's just say that she was duly unimpressed. And so she's been working for the last 4 to 6 months with Stephen Campbell to move our contracts into the future, so to speak. One person said, “I work with a publisher who has a one-page contract.” And Judith's response is, “Every single piece that's in there is there because somebody needed it.”

So if you have a question, let's talk about it. And she's very straightforward. Recently we had to put in something we had never considered, which was a moral turpitude clause and so why did you do?

Joanna Penn: Why did you include that?

Michael Anderle: I can only go into some vague stuff, but somebody got in trouble with the law and we didn't have any way for us to be able to step out of that contract.

Joanna Penn: Okay. That’s interesting because the moral standard thing has come up with a lot of traditional publishers, which essentially you are now.

Are you saying now that you are a traditional publishing company?

Michael Anderle: We were talking with Publishers Weekly yesterday and I was asking Kevin over there what would he call us? What would he call a company such as ours because we were always indie. That's what I grew up on. And he goes well we might call you an independent publisher.

But since we still create our own IP, we still build our own universes. We've just now started because we built such an infrastructure.

It's kind of like Amazon when they had warehouses and they're like, hey, you know, we could just rent out some of this capability. So we looked at it we said, okay, why don't we use some of our infrastructure to help bring other IP. It doesn't always have to be something we do in-house.

Joanna Penn: At the moment with that backlist, what do you say, six hundred titles, 200 audio? This is bigger than a lot of independent publishers in the UK and possibly in the USA as well.

LMBPN is actually a big independent publishing house and the fact that some of those books, you know you personally wrote. It’s fascinating to me that you're growing so fast.

I do you want to come on to something I'm excited about. One of my issues that has been around the 20 Book to 50K group, as you know, has been very focused and quite vocal around KU ebooks, so Kindle unlimited for those who don't know or exclusivity to Amazon, which I have a lot of issues with. And also the focus on just the US market.

But earlier in 2019, and I did talk about this on the show, you went wide with audio and now you're launching a new series wide with ebooks as well. So I would love to know what has changed.

Why are you going wide with some books and what are your thoughts on KU?

Michael Anderle: I don't know that my thoughts ever have necessarily changed but here's my argument. In 2015, which you will remember that as being a big moment in time, my point was I was making at that time fifty thousand dollars a month on Kindle Unlimited.

Does somebody who is mostly going to say it's going to take six to nine months to go wide. I'm like, okay, so you want me to stop with three hundred to four hundred fifty thousand dollars to test going wide. That doesn't make good business sense.

They might say it could go down. But then I'll have three hundred or four hundred fifty thousand dollars in the bank. I think I can weather it. That was my business thought and to a large degree it still is but now we come to the but part right?

So in looking at wide the question or often, you hear when people talk about it that hey I tried KU it didn't work for me, but I went wide in it did work. I think both of us can say that. We've seen that happen.

Joanna Penn: It works for some books. Not for others.

Michael Anderle: Exactly. So imagine if you will that even though I have all the success I could want on KU, I'm now taking on additional authors who will not fit the KU model. I know that it's obvious from just watching the history that is going to happen.

The other part of it is in Frankfurt last year, I will say this, Judith dragged me to a meeting. I met a lady who is part of the audiobooks association, and she threw out a figure that I didn't believe. He comment was that at the time Audible was 42% of the audio market. I said that can't be. I just knew that Audible was 80% of the market. So I went and researched it and she was right.

Joanna Penn: Was that because your mindset was so US focused?

Michael Anderle: No, it's more from the fact that everybody called Audible the gorilla. And so, I guess I associated ‘gorilla’ with 80% of the market. I never really tried to go look at the numbers.

For instance, we're actually not as focused on the US market as perhaps perceived. We get 12 percent of our income from the UK market, which for us is still five figures a month. We get a weird and growing a large percentage of our income from the German translation market.

And to some degree the German Market, you know, so we've tried or we have German translations that are very successful. We've tried Spanish six translations not so successful. That was a good way to learn that sci-fi doesn't necessarily do well in the Spanish market.

Joanna Penn: Good tip, but that's at the moment. I'm sure so sure it will change at some point.

Michael Anderle: Well, it's fascinating. I had a this is completely off-topic. So I'll try to do it quickly just to put a bug in your ear. America is big in sci-fi. UK is big in sci-fi. Russia is big in sci-fi. China is just growing amazingly in sci-fi. But you don't see it much in other places.

It wasn't until we went over to China again this year to the Beijing Book Fair as we were doing this that I started to realize because we were meeting some other people at Worldcon. The countries that seem to be really heavy into Sci-Fi are also the countries that seem to be heavy into space. For the most part in Latin America, those countries are not space going countries that I'm aware of so they don't have the excitement, if you will, of the sci-fi or the scientific. So that’s just a thought.

Joanna Penn: I love that you guys travel and obviously I'm a big traveler too. I think you can learn so much just from being in another country. Frankfurt Book Fair versus London versus New York versus Beijing. Even just the Book Fairs are so different.

Let’s come back to KU. I don't want to leave that topic. You said some of those authors are not going to work in the KU model.

Michael Anderle: There’s a couple of things I want. I have what I consider a passion project and that passion project is open. I knew at the time I started it I was going to spend a lot of money, too much money, on the doing because I wanted some amazing graphics. Now the other part of it is, if I'm going to learn wide, do I want to learn it on some of my collaborators' time and money effort? Or am I going to learn it on the back of my effort?

So I'd rather learn it on the back of my effort because I'm very aware this is going to cost me more than a quarter of a million dollars in lost income to figure out how to do this. I'm not going to put that burden on somebody else.

Joanna Penn: Because you're not going to put it in KU.

Michael Anderle: Correct. You're talking 12 books, over million words. I know what I would make in KU so I know I'm not going to make it wide. KU by the way is around 60 to 70 percent of the typical income of our series.

Joanna Penn: Although I would challenge you on this. You don't know yet what you're going to make wide.

Michael Anderle: That is true. But I know what I'm not going to make

Joanna Penn: Yes, that's true, but you can't see it that much lost income because you haven't put them on KU. This is what's so difficult. You can never split test this. I know as an IT guy wouldn't it be great if we could just do it twice?

And the thing is I would love to put some books in KU because I want to reach that market, but I hate exclusivity and I think it means there's a whole world, — most of the world — who you're not reaching with your books.

I also think that you gain a much bigger audience than just KU because of course KU is not available in every country.

I don't read KU books. I am not in a KU reader. So there are lots of people who are not being reached. So that's why I'm excited about you doing this.

Michael Anderle: I can understand that — but I think the question can be also turned the other way and go okay, let's talk about India. India does have KU. India is a horrifically hard market to try to capture because of the cheapness of the paperbacks. And the fact their distribution models in India are so radically different than what we would typically be used to because you would have a person in India in a small town who might ‘buy’ a book from a person on a bicycle and then next week they'll sell that same book back, kind of like a half-price bookstore model. How are you going to compete in that situation? It's very difficult.

Joanna Penn: But to me that is a technical thing because you can't upload the same book twice on Amazon. That's against their terms of service.

I'm not arguing about a territory like India at all, talking about the bigger markets or the libraries for example, but let's come back to you again, not me.

So what are your plans? You've got these 12 books that you're going to drop.

Are you dropping them all at once and what are you going to do with marketing?

Michael Anderle: LMBPN understands that we don't understand wide. It's not been our thing. So we reached out to a lot of the industry people. Dreamscape Audio and Kobo and PublishDrive and Draft2Digital and said hey, can you help us with this?

Because we'd like to understand better how to do wide. We'd like to do it right and we'd like to do a white paper and share it at 20Books to 50k to understand how to do this. At least, here are our learnings to date and then we'll do it again.

I like to say that I have one story broken up in the 12 books. They're going to be released over 18 months. Every six weeks we are releasing a new book and it will be an e-book, paperback, and audio simultaneously. The rights have all been sold. Some of the partners have already produced concepts. We’re not all that familiar with doing a bunch of pre-orders a year ahead of time.

Apple is like, hey, we really think you should be doing this. They're giving us a lot of their insights on how to do these and these are all people that are advising us every three weeks. And this is something that Judith is doing.

Every three weeks we do a 30-minute and it's timed, it is 30 minutes, where we tell everyone what we're doing and if they have any advice, please give it to us and we'll modify what we're doing. And then we're testing what we're trying so that if we're trying something new they'll get insights into it. Maybe they can proliferate that information up to other people.

We’re starting with Clarke's World, which is a science fiction online website, and we're going to be advertising there. I don't know that I've heard of people using it, but you know what, we're going to try so we'll let everybody know how good it is for us. We've met Neil and so I think that's going to be good.

It's going to be good for us to understand how to get that message out to a much bigger audience. I have great hopes. I have great expectations. The partners are helping us and it very well can be that it is what's needed to take Michael Anderle to the next level.

Joanna Penn: And that's what I was talking about with opportunity.

There are just ways that other companies look at KU and that's literally how I think it happens in some of the industry and as soon as you do this in a more – I won't say more serious financially because obviously, KU is very serious financially – but it's almost like playing on the playing field that some of the other companies globally play on. It wouldn't surprise me if that then leads to a lot more foreign deals.

For example, I got a deal in South Korea just because they found my books on an Ingram Spark list because I'm wide with print, for example. So there are things that I think will happen. Obviously, I'm not going to make a bet with you at all. But I think that's to me the biggest mindset shift is KU is much quicker money, but wide can bring opportunities that might make you much more money over the long term.

For example, maybe this will lead to getting picked up by Disney.

Michael Anderle: That was actually to some degree an aspect of my thinking as well. Have you seen the video that Judith sent you by chance?

Joanna Penn: Yes, I had a quick look.

Michael Anderle: Okay. So you saw the quality of the graphics. If you see the covers and everything else we spent a large amount of money to make this look like a Hollywood style or quality production.

Hollywood itself doesn't turn my head. It's not like I've watched movies my whole life and I'd love to be in a movie. That's not true. I love books. But I'm not ignorant of watching when Margaret Atwood or George RR Martin when their stories are either at the movies or on HBO. They rise above me because you get all of that marketing from it. So that's not lost on me.

Joanna Penn: Lee Child says that about Jack Reacher, and people say oh, why did why did they cast Tom Cruise? He's too short and Lee Child always says, yeah, and they spent 300 million or whatever on promoting my brand and I sold a lot of books and a lot more people have heard of Jack Reacher because of the movie. So I think this is super interesting.

Neither of us are suggesting that people should be writing 12 books and launching them or spending all this money. This is not what we're talking about. Even though you have been doing this that many years, you've moved super, super fast.

I did want to ask you, do you think that KU has changed? When you went into that in 2015-2016 things were different and because of the over-abundance of ads now, things have really changed.

Do you still believe in the KU model exactly as it was for other authors, or do you think things are a bit different now?

Michael Anderle: I would have to ask the person specifically what their time frame is. I have one author who's coming on that we’re signing and her expectation is to put out a book once every six months. She has one in the can, one that she's mostly done, and one that's going to take nine months plus.

I said look, we're going to effectively make you a wide author. That's the plan from the get-go, but since you have one and two will put those in KU and then we're going to roll them out and by the time we get two three, it's out. It's wide. Because we understand what your timing is and what your intent is.

She has a 5 to 10 year plan. I don't know the rest of what's in her life. That's her intent. What’s the way that's going to make you the best opportunity here? Because unless you're going to release relatively quickly I don't think KU is going to be the right choice for you long-term.

And someone else who I know can write two hundred thousand words a month. So she can either do two hundred thousand word books or three 70 thousand word books. I'd be like, you know what KU is going to pay you well. So you understand the dichotomy between what's going on for them.

Now others, what is their mountain? If they want literary success, I'd probably go wide. I don't think KU’s going to benefit you much at all. If you want awards.

When we looked in Spain or we look in France we understand that the e-book market is different there for different reasons. France is very paper focused. That's what their intent is in the country. So they're almost holding out obstinately. Spain's a little bit different.

If I was going to do it again, once again, I'm going to write fast, KU’s probably still the right market to get income fast. But then what is your long-term plan?

I'm not a big worrier that KU is going to change anytime soon, but I know that it's a possibility. And I want to be a part of Apple. I want to be a part of Google Play to some degree. It's interesting to see what changes they're going to make and I see the other countries in 10 years will be somewhere they're not. Yeah,

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. I agree with you.

Michael Anderle: So what are we going to do? Let's be there because I don't know that the effort to be wide is ever going to be like, hey go wide and in three weeks they're going to know who you are without a lot of effort.

Joanna Penn: It's a long-term plan. I think that is very cool. And of course, as you said, you've got 600 plus titles more every month. And so even if KU folded, you just go wide with all of those. You’ve built a hell of a back-list.

Michael Anderle: Question for you though, since I have you on the line. When you talk to a lot of people that go from KU into wide and I see little snippets of conversations where people say, yeah, but when I went from KU to wide what I found is I still received more income from my Amazon sales that made up for some of that KU because the people were willing to do it anyway.

Joanna Penn: My own sales are still predominantly Amazon only. But this is a huge conversation and you're not interviewing me! But again, I think publishing wide reaches a very different reader. That's the other thing.

For example, I'm part of Audible as a subscriber, but I'm not a KU reader because to buy my books I will pay 12 pounds, 15 pounds for an ebook that I want.

Apple readers and to some extent Google Play readers and different countries their readers on the other platforms are less price sensitive. So often if you're wide, you will have a higher price than you would do in KU and I think pricing is a huge deal.

But even something like you mentioned with those Apple pre-orders, if you have 12 books on pre-orders then you get the double ranking on Apple and it's some extent you get this temperature rising on Kobo and stuff like that. But even on Apple just doing that you could get sell-through to pre-orders on all of those books, which is super exciting.

So I think what you're doing which is a kind of rapid release wide is really interesting and I will be fascinated to hear what you learn along the way. I'm very excited.

We are almost out of time. So tell people where can they find you and your books and LMBPN online?

Michael Anderle: You can now find LMBPN Opus projects wide, I’m happy to announce that. I suppose on all the different ones a lot of our books are obviously still on Amazon and you can find us at LMBPN.com is where our main website is and then, of course, you can find us pretty much all over Facebook – 20BooksTo50K.

Joanna Penn: Thank you for your time Michael, that was great.

Michael Anderle: Thank you very much, too, and it was a pleasure and honor to be here.

Oct 21 2019

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Most authors would love a film or TV deal but the route to success can often take years. In today's show, Vikram Chandra explains how his book, Sacred Games, made it to Netflix after many years of failed development, and how his cross-cultural writing enabled a truly multi-cultural experience.

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Vikram Chandra is the multi-award-winning author of Red Earth and Pouring Rain, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book as well as Sacred Games, which has been adapted into a successful Netflix series set in Mumbai. Vikram teaches creative writing at the University of California and is also the CEO of Granthika, a software startup that is reinventing writing and reading for the digital age.

You can listen above or your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • How a bicultural life affects creativity and writing
  • On the growing English book market in India
  • Cultural differences in storytelling
  • The long journey from book to Netflix series
  • Getting readers in India interested in our books
  • How Vikram’s software Granthika helps writers keep track of timelines, plot details and more

You can find Vikram Chandra at VikramChandra.com.

Transcript of interview with Vikram Chandra

Joanna Penn: Vikram Chandra is the multi-award-winning author of Red Earth and Pouring Rain, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book as well as Sacred Games, which has been adapted into a successful Netflix series set in Mumbai. Vikram teaches creative writing at the University of California and is also the CEO of Granthika, a software startup that is reinventing writing and reading for the digital age.

Welcome to the show Vikram.

Vikram Chandra: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

Joanna Penn: It's so great to have you on the show.

First up tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.

Vikram Chandra: I was a spectacularly nerdy little kid. I had a life inside my head that was very active. I used to make up these stories and some of them were quite epic that would go on for weeks and months.

And then of course once I could read I started I became an obsessive reader. I was always trying to get money from my mother and father to buy books. I should say also that my mother is a writer and so some of my earliest memories are of seeing her at the kitchen table writing plays for radio and television and then later films. She's had a very successful career in the film industry in India.

So writing stuff stories down was something that seemed just ordinary. I got my first story published when I was 12 in the student-run school magazine, and that was the thing that really put the bug in place because I suddenly had a larger audience than my friends and family and people seem to like what I was doing.

But it was also very clear to me, because I'd seen the paychecks that my mother got for her work, that making a living from writing was next to impossible. Quite often now I wake up and I think it's miraculous that I have actually done this and managed to still keep doing it.

Joanna Penn: Now obviously you're teaching creative writing and you've got these award-winning novels.

Give us an update from your childhood stories to winning the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, which is an incredible achievement.

Vikram Chandra: Thank you. I kept writing and I finally became the editor of my school magazine and my college magazine and the same time especially during my teens I really found this love for American literature. So everything from Melville to Edith Wharton, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston, and it had this far away glamour also of being a place where I wanted to go.

So I finally made it over to the States as an undergrad and I majored in English with a minor in creative writing in fiction. And then after I got my BA I suddenly realized more than ever that I had to make a living. I had a moment of panic. Am I going to get by? And so since my mother was already involved in the film industry and I was like, I love movies. I incessantly watch films and television. I thought well, here's an industry where I can at least get a job as an assistant to an assistant director or something, so I went to film school at Columbia.

And there were two things I discovered there. One is that I'm not exactly built well for hugely collaborative work.

Joanna Penn: I know the feeling!

Vikram Chandra: And also in the library there just by chance, I happened upon this the autobiography of an the British-Indian soldier named Colonel James Skinner – Sikander Skinner he was called in India – who was part of that first clash of cultures in the 18th and 19th centuries in India, and I started to get obsessed with his life.

I knew I couldn't make a movie out of it. What I had in my head was way too big and epic. So I dropped out of film school and went off to the university to a couple of writing programs and got my MFA and an MA. And wrote my novel there, which I was very grateful for, especially for a couple of amazing teachers.

I had John Barth and Donnell Barthelemy were incredibly generous to me. And so that's how I managed to get my first book written and then incredibly enough it found an agent and the publisher and that was it.

Joanna Penn: It's a brilliant start. We're going to come to Sacred Games soon, but I did want to ask you and it's so funny because you said America had this far away glamour and I think certainly when many people think of India and Mumbai, Bollywood, I mean talk about faraway glamour. Most people think that is more glamorous.

It's always the other side of the fence, isn't it? ‘Oh, that's more glamorous than my country.'

Vikram Chandra: Right? Absolutely and I also had the arrogance of the young person that I thought I actually knew the United States before I got here. And when you get to this place that we've always dreamed of, you find that it's more unknown and complex than you could have ever imagined.

Joanna Penn: The same is true of India for sure. I've been a couple of times and it's like just dipping a toe in but this is interesting to me because you do seem truly bicultural, in that you live between the US and India and you see your families across both countries.

How has this bicultural life impacted your writing and what do you see as some of the differences between the two markets particularly?

Vikram Chandra: I talked about Colonel Skinner whose father was a British soldier. His mother was an Indian princess who was captured during a war apparently and so I think right from the beginning I've been in really interested in these coming together of cultures and nations and people and both the creativity and also the destruction that comes out of all of that.

And then I think in relation to India, particularly what fascinates me also is language and how language travels across worlds and changes. India right now, by most estimates, has a hundred and twenty and five million people who speak English and that number is expected to quadruple over the next decade, which means that that at some point fairly soon India will have the largest number of English speakers in the world.

And the English we speak there is not American English or the Queen's English, it’s Indian English. Or actually many Indian Englishes is because there are local variations. So there's a Mumbai English and there's a Tamil English and so forth. So one of the efforts while writing Sacred Games was to use a language that I would use in Bombay if I were telling a story to a friend of mine. Which means that I would be switching in and out of three languages maybe at the same time.

So to replicate that on the page while you're trying to tell a story about cultural seepage, if you want to call it that, globalization, is one of the things that I've tried really hard to get close to and have had a lot of fun doing over the course of all the books.

Joanna Penn: That's very interesting and I want to come back on that English-speaking idea because I've said this many times on the podcast but the English speakers, many of them will be educated and potentially middle class and book buyers.

I've always been impressed by how Indians love books. There's a flourishing pirate book market with print books on the streets, you'll find lots of people selling books on the street. It's lovely because people want to buy books.

Would it be true about the English-speaking market that it is more the middle-class with some money to spend?

Vikram Chandra: Yes. I should also note that it is depending on which year you look at it, it is the fastest-growing economy in the world, which is why publishers from all over the world have set up offices in Delhi over the last couple of decades.

And so I think though that as the middle class grows as more and more people move into the living class, English is moving in all directions and down the social ladder, as it were, so that everyone, even at the very bottom of the economic scale, everyone understands that this language is what gives you leverage and moving yourself up.

I've been to some of the most remote parts of the country where there are hardly any roads. There's no electricity and yet every four or five miles you'd see a little classroom or school that says, ‘Learn English here’ in the local language.

So there's a great impetus for the language to spread. And also, as you said, the pirate industry is enormous I've had kids at traffic lights sell me my own books.

Joanna Penn: Which I love. You’ve got to encourage that kind of thing.

Vikram Chandra: Absolutely. Not to encourage piracy, I should take that back, but right it's at least a sign, like you said, that people want to read and there's a demand for these things.

Joanna Penn: Exactly, which is what I meant as well. You can't stop it. It's good that it's your book.

But let's come to Sacred Games now because I haven't read the book although it's on my list, but I've been watching the series on Netflix.

We started watching it in English but then found that I just didn't want to watch it in English. So we watched it in Hindi with English subtitles, which I think a lot of people are now doing with Netflix. It worked well that way.

I just found it very interesting that you have a protagonist who is a Sikh policeman and I wanted to ask you about that.

Is it unusual to have a Sikh as the main character? You might have to explain the religious melting pot of India.

Vikram Chandra: I should say about the subtitle issue. Yes, I would encourage anyone who does watch the show to is to watch it with subtitles and the original soundtrack. You'll get much more of the actors’ performance also that way and on some people's machines for reasons that remain too mysterious to me it defaults to the English dub, which I would not recommend.

Joanna Penn: That's what we got. And I was like, I'm not listening to this. It’s weird.

Vikram Chandra: Exactly. And as you'll see in the original soundtrack, you'll see people speaking different languages. Sometimes even one sentence will have words from three different languages in it.

And as for the issue of Sartaj Singh, the lead, being a part of the Sikh religion, Bombay in the police force, that would be very much a minority. If you went up to Punjab or the North that would not be the case at all. So in retrospect I can say that in making one of the protagonists of the book of this religion served me very usefully because he was an outsider in this police force for those reasons.

Having a protagonist who is in some ways an outsider is fictively often very useful and you can see this technique deployed over a large bunch of fictions. But I can say this one being the kind of post-game analysis because when I started writing the character just came to me as he or she often does. He first showed up in a book of short stories called Love and Longing in Bombay, which was the book before Sacred Games in which I thought I would try to write a police procedural because I love them so much.

And as soon as I started thinking that, I had this policeman in my head who had a turban and I have no idea why but once that happens, once you get that initial spark of inspiration, you can find ways to use whatever you start with.

And again I can say that looking back I could try and unravel this a bit and think of all the friends that I had growing up who were Sikh. The name of this character came comes from a boy who was I think three or four more years senior to me in school. Especially in that short story he's very handsome and he's a bit of a dandy and I can think of characters in my life who were like that. I guess that's the fun and mysterious thing about writing is that all you experience is mixed together in this strange chemistry and then it suddenly pops up.

Joanna Penn: I think we all have that same thing. Of course, they're never recognizable completely. We just weave them together.

You started off by talking about when you were a child and you have these epic stories in your head and I think this is something that is very characteristic of Indian stories is that there are some very famous, very long epics that are in the religious literature but also in modern fiction.

I've heard people are writing serialized fiction that can go on for a long time and so Sacred Games, I think also has this aspect of obviously the policeman and then the big criminal, their past lives weave together into the story into the present, which again feels quite epic to me.

I wonder if you would comment on the differences in storytelling between the cultures.

Vikram Chandra: I think you're absolutely right. We’ve always had this love for length. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which are the two epics at the core of the culture and have been immensely influential across all of South and Southeast Asia over the centuries, are immensely long and I don't know if I can work up a good analysis of why that is.

But it's always been there and those of you who have seen movies or any movies and other languages from India, some of them are three hours long by default. Although they've started to become a little shorter over the last decade or so.

When I first started writing my first book, Red Earth and Pouring Rain, that turned out to be 600 pages. So I think it's always been my natural lens and I'm immensely jealous of people who can construct little miracles of storytelling. And what poets do is completely crazy to me. I read a lot of very short fiction and poetry but I can't do it.

And so one of the other significant markers of fiction in the subcontinent is this circular shape to them. The Mahabharat starts with somebody sitting down and starting to tell a story to another person and then the entire immensity of it happens and then you end up in exactly the same place. There's actually quite a bit of scholarship devoted to this obsession of circular shapes, circles within circles, and that's something that I found particularly useful in writing Sacred Games.

A few hundred pages into the writing of the book and I was despairing of finding a structure for it and then suddenly one morning I had this idea that this is a mandala. So you might have seen the mandala. It's a in Buddhist and Hindu and other iconographies of the subcontinent and the Far East. The life of the Buddha is represented in several panels that fit together to make a kind of circle often with the central panel at the core showing you the most important bit of that story.

Once I knew that, then I could construct the entire novel in that way. It winds its way around to the beginning. The things that seem mysterious at the beginning also then make sense at the end.

And I should say that in the Netflix series, the writers and the showrunners have done an incredible job of replicating or recreating that structure.

The other major part, which certainly has had an influence on me, is stories within stories, so you can have a character start to tell a story like in the Mahabharata and then a character within that story that he's telling will start to tell another story and then you can keep sliding down with stories within stories within stories and it's dizzying and great fun.

So after Red Earth and Pouring Rain was published, a Spanish scholar who was doing some work on the book told me that at the deepest I had gone down 16 levels. I did not remember doing that. And if I tried to do that consciously, I would have gone crazy.

So these two features, I think the entire culture is permeated by these structures. One really interesting thing about the Mahabharata is this belief about it that you can start reading it anywhere and then wind your way around to where you started and it will have the same effect. The circular nature of it is kind of built into its reception.

Joanna Penn: That’s fascinating stuff. I think every writer out there now wants a Netflix series. It used to be, “Get the Hollywood film deal.” But now I feel like people almost would rather have a TV series on Netflix or Amazon Prime or soon to be Disney or Apple or many of these new places.

Tell us a bit about how Sacred Games became a Netflix series and any tips, although of course, no one can replicate anyone else's journey. But anything that really helped.

Vikram Chandra: The book was published in India in 2006 and came out in the United States in 2007 and even before it was published there was interest in getting an option on the book. Option meaning that whoever gets an option has the ability to then try and get it produced within a certain length of time.

One of the parties that wanted to option the book was a renowned film production company from Los Angeles. I was in LA and I had a meeting with one of their principles and he was really eager to do a movie.

I wondered how are you going to make movie out of a 900-page book, especially this one because it has at least dual timelines with many other narratives running between so unless you're going to make three films, I don't understand how you're going to do this. But I really admired the work they were doing and so I signed on the dotted line.

They hired this very prominent screenwriter in England who then worked on it for a couple of years and finally gave up because there's no way to reduce this into even a three-hour film and I felt for him. He had been set up for this craziness.

And so then I stopped thinking about it and then in one of these sort of happy moments, there was a producer in my agent’s office in New York and she was talking to him about some other books. And then she said well, I'm not that interested in any one of these what else you got? So then he said how about Sacred Games? So he went off and read it and he wanted to do it. So then that person and I and a writer worked together on the project and then we did the rounds of the studios in Los Angeles and we spent two years in development hell with AMC.

For those of you don't know what development hell is, it is where you end this sort of limbo state where you haven't gone gotten a green light for a production and you get notes from executives and you keep doing versions of episodes and sending them back.

So finally anyway that didn't work out and then it by that time it became clear to me that trying to do this particular project with an American base wouldn't actually work. The impetus had to come out of India and the people who were going to do it needed to be Indian and familiar with the culture and the landscapes that the story was actually set in. So then I split up with my former partners.

And during all this, these tours of LA, I had met with some people at Netflix and then they came back and through a triangular discussion with them and a company in Bombay the final agreement was made. That turned out to be an extremely happy event.

It’s obvious but I should say that this happened for me because I already had two books behind me, and because Sacred Games got a fairly prominent publication in India, in the UK, and in the United States, so there were people who are already interested. I didn't have to do too much to actually make it happen until we started doing the LA journey.

I think for somebody who's not in that position the problem as always and even in publishing is one of how are you going to get your story, your novel, or your screenplay on the desk of somebody who can actually make a decision about it. And like in publishing studios get hundreds, I wouldn't be surprised if it's thousands, of pitches a month, things being directed at them.

So in terms of access, the way to do it is of course the old fashioned network of contacts and nepotism. If you have a cousin who knows somebody in LA, who knows an executive in the studio or in Bombay, that's one way to get your work in the door, at least. And then if you have an agent, usually that's the most useful and most productive, because the agent will know people who are in this network, who are the right readers for your work.

In publishing, this happens all the time. If you send in a manuscript, part of the agent's job and value is to know who's the right reader for this. Which editor has taken books like this over the last 10 years and made big successes out of them? That's the person I should send this to with a recommendation and they will be likely to read it.

As always, it's much harder if you're on the outside. You’ve got to engineer your way in somehow and a lot of that depends on happenstance and luck as well and being in the right place at the right time with the right book. And suddenly the finger of the Goddess reaches down and touches you on the head and you're in and that's what it has felt like to me at times.

Joanna Penn: Certainly an emotional roller coaster because of course you thought it was going to happen but it didn't happen and then you did all this work and then it didn't happen. And you mentioned timing. You got Netflix at a point when they were looking outside America. They knew that their subscribers were starting to slow down in the US and they were looking to grow the market around the world.

Now there are a lot more foreign language films set outside the US but probably five years ago there were very few.

Vikram Chandra: Absolutely. That's so true and just that the presence of this golden age of series television is amazing because you get the time now over one or two or three or four seasons to really expand a story out into the land that it deserves.

The other thing I should say about Netflix and their incredible model is that they don't care what language you make a story in. I won't name them but I had meetings with people in LA where it was clear that the idea of a story not just set in another part of the world peopled by mostly brown people, but also the idea of making a series, and expensive series, in a language other than English, was really frightening for them. The brilliant thing about Netflix for us is that they let us reproduce the multilingual landscape of India in all its glory.

If you're not an Indian, you probably won't experience this but there are entire scenes between two characters who were speaking a language other than Hindi or English also, so it's multilingual also in the Indian sets. And so then some Indian viewers have to switch to subtitles just for the scenes, but that's the way we exist and it's been such a great experience being able to do that.

Joanna Penn: That is great for creative purposes. And that's funny because we noticed, “Oh, look, there's suddenly saying English words.” I know that in some languages English words are used because there aren't other words for those words. They might be a new technological word or something, but that's very cool.

I'm glad you explained that because I didn't realize that they were these multiple languages.

One question: you keep saying Bombay, which I thought we now should say Mumbai. For people who don't understand the difference or why, can you explain that?

Vikram Chandra: Bombay was the old English name. When I was growing up, depending on which language you are using, you would use different terms. So in English, you would say Bombay, in Hindi you would say Bombay, in the local language, Marathi, you would say Mumbai. There's always been a kind of controversy about what the “original” name of the place was.

One historical argument goes that there was a goddess named Mumba Devi who was worshipped by the fisher people who lived there from time immemorial and that's why it's called Mumbai.

The other story is that the Portuguese came and saw this huge, very good natural harbor and they called it Bom Bhai, Good Harbor, and that's where the name comes from.

So the name, as is often the case in India, has been returned, as it were, to its origins in an effort to get rid of colonial-era names. And so what happens now again, especially for people like me who grew up in the pre official Mumbai phase that when we are talking in English Bombay sort of springs automatically from the lips. If I'm speaking in Hindi I say Bombay and if I'm talking to a local Marathi person, I might say Mumbai.

So it's again this great richness of language and layers of history right over each other.

Joanna Penn: I love it. And you know, I make no secret on the show, I'm such a fan of India and in fact, I've always said to my husband I would move there in a flash. Because I think as an English person obviously, there's some cultural difficulties with our history because of the British Raj. But I think also there's a lot of positive aspects that Indian people feel about Britain as well. I've always felt very welcomed. I've never felt that there's an issue.

So you saw on that a lot of people would love to sell more books in India. I have a book, Destroyer of Worlds, which is set almost entirely in India, based on my travels. I did actually work with an agent at one point to do potentially a film, which didn't happen.

Obviously, we can publish on Amazon.in but I think ebooks are still quite small. So what would you recommend?

What do you think are the best ways for people to reach readers in India?

Vikram Chandra: It's that age-old access question. I think the best way is to get an Indian publisher interested so that they actually republish it in India.

I think the publishing and self-publishing is always an option but even self-publishing within the United States, for instance, the trouble is how do you get the word out there that you've got this book?

The trick would be to get an Indian publisher committing to actually putting out the book locally and then sending out review copies. Do the newspaper and magazine approach, that kind of thing. But the Indian publishers like every other publisher, all of the publishers in the world, have this overwhelming flood of submissions coming their way. So again, it's the gatekeepers who make the difference.

So again, the agents come into play again if you have a sideways connection to somebody in the business there you can use that. I know this sounds depressing and extremely cynical to say but it's just the way things are structured right and not just in publishing or movies, but I think in other Industries as well.

Finding your way to people who can make decisions, I've realized as I get older, is half the struggle in life.

Joanna Penn: Which is why I love self-publishing so much. Because you basically waited 13 years from publication in India to having Sacred Games out there. A lot of people think I'll publish a book, get a movie deal and it will be out next year but it takes years. Lee Child had 20 years for Jack Reacher. These things take time.

Maybe the tip is, if you decide you want to do something, then you have to work out who to get to know, and it might take a long time.

Vikram Chandra: Indeed. I should say, I haven't done it myself but I'm fascinated by the difference that self-publishing is making just in terms of the numbers that one can squeeze out of Amazon on how many self-published books they sell and so forth is amazing. But I guess the other half of that story is, how do you get then get an audience to actually notice that you're doing this.

And then for the writer at least and for the reclusive writer like me is you have to maintain a public presence through social media and all of this stuff that you have to do to maintain a dialogue and get people to know who you are, which traditionally has been done by through other means by the traditional Publishers.

So I'm fascinated by that, but I think also that. It also requires an enormous amount of hard work and really strategic thinking.

Joanna Penn: Yes, you basically have to run a business to be successful in self-publishing. You have to be a writer and a publisher and the marketer: all of the above.

Let’s get into the writing because you have this background in software engineering when you were, you know, get it working so that you could fund your writing habit, and now you've actually founded a start-up designing writing software, which is Granthika.

Tell us about Granthika. Why did you decide to do this? And why might authors consider it?

Vikram Chandra: This actually began when I was just starting to write Sacred Games. That was my third work of fiction and I knew fairly early on that it was going to be my largest book. It has a 60-year timeline, many speaking characters, and many narrative threads.

I'd already experienced in those other two books the amazing amount of work and cognitive effort it takes to keep all your facts straight. Who was born when, how old would they be in a scene in 1984 and then in 1993, when did that person travel from this place to the other?

So it's this enormous amount of detail and then your background notes. Maybe you keep your notes in note-taking program. You have a timeline to manage all that other stuff and it just feels like manual double-entry bookkeeping right every time you make a change in your manuscript. I've got to go and change that in my timeline, but then what other scenes depend on that change all the way through the next 400 pages?

If you're using a traditional word processor, the only way you have figuring this out is by doing a search and that doesn't always find the references. It used to drive me crazy and I kept thinking I'm spending all this time on this detail chasing, when I should be worrying about my story and my language that's what I want to do.

I thought surely somebody has written software to manage all this. I looked around and nobody had and then I got absorbed in the writing of the book but it kept annoying me. So after the book was finished in that downtime, I started to think about how could you do this in a better way than having four programs and five fat notebooks in which you're keeping notes and the hand-drawn timeline on the wall.

It turns out to be a really hard problem attaching knowledge to text, as I discovered. Much harder than one would think it is. And I have, as you can probably tell already from what I've said, an obsessive nature and usually that's turned out to be a blessing. So I obsessed and research this problem for I think the next 10 years more.

Then one night just before I fell asleep I thought I think I might know how to do this and then woke up in the morning and it didn't seem crazy. So I actually started. I wrote it down and I was encouraged by a friend to write down a software proposal, but I had the idea at a sort of 30,000-foot level. And my software programming skills are pretty workman-like and this was way above my pay grade.

But through a happy coincidence I ended up meeting my co-founder Boris Jordana, who's one of these tech geniuses. And so then we founded this company to try and create this program where it's obviously an editor you write your manuscript in. But your character notes, for instance, are one keystroke away. If you put your cursor within the character's name you press one key it jumps to all your notes about him or her and then you press one more keystroke to come right back to where you're writing and the same applies to things like events and locations and so forth.

The entire structure of your fictional world is contained in a way that you can actually understand it. And for things like if you are looking at an event, you can see every place in your manuscript where you refer to that event so that if you're trying to look for dependencies between things you can easily find them.

And then the really exciting part of it for us is that we built it from the ground up to be amenable to reasoning. What that means is that you can say that the inquest must follow the murder by eight days and that you can also apply the concept constraint that the inquest must follow the murder, so that if in some later stage of you know tiredness, you try and move the inquest up before the murder it will warn you. Do you really want to do this?

Joanna Penn: That’s amazing.

Vikram Chandra: Right now the intelligent part of it is mainly confined to two events, but we're going to extend it further in a future version. If you say Pamela marries Tom the system will be able to work out that now John is Pamela’s brother-in-law.

It will be able to show you relationships and then reason along these branches of deductions. So it's very very ambitious. But I shouldn't make it sound complex. That's been my worry right from the start is that I don't want to struggle with a tool while I'm trying to concentrate on the story and the language.

We've spent a lot of effort in trying to make it supple and easy to use and immediately make sense, without putting an additional burden on the part of the writer as she tries to write her story.

Joanna Penn: One question because I'm always doing this: if I write that my character has blue eyes will it warn me if I try and make them have brown eyes at another point?

Vikram Chandra: Yes. That's not quite yet, but that's something that we really thinking about hard and we are going to implement it shortly.

Joanna Penn: That's great. Because that always happens or I've got a character with a scar on the left arm and then later on it ends up being on the right arm.

Vikram Chandra: Indeed. Tolstoy did it to Anna Karenina if I'm remembering correctly.

Joanna Penn: There we go. All the greats do it.

Vikram Chandra: The thing that we're trying to do is think in intelligent ways about problems like this because if you're in a Sci-Fi Universe, the person get can get new eyes, which go to gold or silver even.

My favorite sci-fi writer is Iain M Banks. He's amazing and in his books people can change species. Some current story writing programs have this ability, you can say the character is 6 feet tall and he has blue eyes, but I was thinking wait, he hasn't been six feet tall since he was two years old. What if you write a childhood flashback scene, how am I going to manage that?

So what we're trying to do is make it make the system flexible enough to accommodate changing characteristics as well.

Joanna Penn: I've been writing in Scrivener for 10 years and I love Scrivener, but it definitely doesn't have that timeline aspect and it doesn't have those dependencies or any kind of intelligence level that you're adding.

The other software I’m thinking of is StoryShop, which I know is still in a developmental process. But again that doesn't have those aspects so it's really interesting where you've taken it and it sounds like you've come to that because you write such epic books.

I struggle. I write a lot shorter than you, but I struggle to hold a 70,000-word story in my head at once. And long-running series also very important.

If listeners want to have a look at Granthika where do they go?

Vikram Chandra: The details are at Granthika.co.

Joanna Penn: Maybe just explain the name because it's quite an unusual name.

Vikram Chandra: Grantha in Sanskrit means narrator, one who holds and understands the knots of time. And it's got an interesting etymological base in that grunt is book which comes from another root, which means knot or tie. So the idea is that what narrators do is that they set up these narratives through time which are tied together by events.

Joanna Penn: I love that. So beautiful. I'm glad you explained it.

Where can people find you and your books online?

Vikram Chandra: My personal website is just my name VikramChandra.com and it's got a bunch of stuff up there.

Joanna Penn: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time Vikram. That was great.

Vikram Chandra: Thank you so much. It was wonderful. Thanks.

Nov 04 2019

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The Key To Long Term Success As A Writer With Kevin J Anderson

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If you want to have a long-term career as an author, it's a good idea to listen to those few writers who have successfully navigated the many changes in the publishing industry over the last 30 years.

Kevin J Anderson sold his first novel in 1988 and with over 140 books under his belt, he is still enthusiastic about learning new ways to reach readers. In today's show, he gives some tips on planting lightning rods as a writer, dictation and multiple streams of income.

In the introduction, sales of audiobooks are set to overtake ebooks in the UK in 2020 [The Independent].

If you want to be more productive in 2020, check out Productivity for Authors: Find Time to Write, Organize Your Author Life, and Decide What Really Matters, out now in ebook, paperback, hardback, Large Print, audiobook (narrated by me), and workbook editions.

Plus, Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting, and Voice Technologies is now on pre-order, coming 10 Feb 2019.


This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Kevin J. Anderson is the multi-award-winning and internationally bestselling author of over 140 books selling over 23 million copies in 30 languages. Kevin has written numerous novels in the Star Wars, X-Files and Dune universes, as well as his own sci-fi fantasy, thriller, steampunk and horror books. He runs WordFire Press with his wife and fellow author Rebecca Moesta, has ed edited numerous anthologies and written comics, games, song lyrics, and he's also a professor in Publishing at Western Colorado University.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • If you want lightning to strike, then plant lightning rods with your writing
  • Why your writing career is like popcorn
  • How to get better using dictation for first drafts – check out Kevin's book, On Being a Dictator
  • Using dictation for brainstorming and character-building
  • Teaching a graduate program that covers both traditional and indie publishing
  • Why learning to deal with change is the one constant in publishing

You can find Kevin J. Anderson at Wordfire.com and on Twitter @TheKJA

Transcript of Interview with Kevin J. Anderson

Joanna Penn: Kevin J. Anderson is the multi-award-winning and internationally bestselling author of over 140 books selling over 23 million copies in 30 languages, and probably far more than that.

Kevin J Anderson: 31 actually, I just sold Ukrainian rights. That's one more language.

Joanna Penn: One more. Excellent.

Kevin has written numerous novels in the Star Wars, X-Files and Dune universes, as well as his own sci-fi fantasy, thriller, steampunk and horror books. He runs WordFire Press with his wife and fellow author Rebecca Moesta, has ed edited numerous anthologies and written comics, games, song lyrics, and he's also a professor at Western Colorado University.

Kevin, you make me feel tired with your busy life!

Kevin J Anderson: Well, I don't get bored, I could say that. And I don't have any patience for the people that say I've got writer's block, what am I going to do? And I'll go, well, then switch channels and do like one of the 30 other projects you can be working on.

That is one of my productivity tips is that if you work on several things at once, and then if you get stalled on whatever book you're working on, then don't whine about having writer's block, just do something different.

Joanna Penn: That's fantastic. Now, you've been on the show a couple of times before so we're not going to get into your background or anything like that. We saw each other in person just a few weeks ago, at the business masterclass in Vegas.

And you said something in one of your talks, which struck me and I wrote it down in my journal. It is a direct quote.

“If you want lightning to strike, plant a lot of lightning rods.”

I wondered if you could explain what you meant by that and give some examples in your own writing life.

Kevin J Anderson: I've always found that, to use another cliche, if you're putting all your eggs in one basket, it doesn't help if that basket, Oh, I don't know where to go with that metaphor!

Basically, here's a parable that a writer that I knew early on in my career who was the hot new thing. He was a new author and he was very great and well-respected and won some awards. And he wrote his first book and he got it published and the publisher had high hopes for it.

So he decided that he was just going to wait and see how his book did before he bothered to write the next book. Well, of course, that's a two-year process or something in traditional publishing. It took forever for the book to come out. And then it did very well.

So then he started writing his second book and by the time that the sequel was ever published everybody had moved on. He had banked everything on this one book and it didn't work well.

And, and I find that, with the way that publishing changes so much, if you're just counting on one income stream or one thing that's going on, well that might change tomorrow. Something might become hot that you never expected and something that you thought was going to pay you for a long time suddenly it goes flat.

I wrote this big thriller with Doug Beeston called Ignition, and it's basically like the movie Die Hard only it's set at the Kennedy space center with the space shuttle on the launchpad and terrorists have planted bombs on the fuel tank.

Unless they get this huge ransom, they're going to blow up the space shuttle on the launch pad with the astronauts inside. And that was very, very popular. We had five publishers bidding on it. We sold movie rights outright to Universal Studios and it looked like Bruce Willis might even star in it. It was really going to go.

And then the Challenger accident happened and nobody wants to touch anything to do with terrorists are blowing up the space shuttle. So that lightning rod, that one thing, I got a nice movie deal out of it, and I got a nice book deal out of it, but suddenly through circumstances, completely out of my control that book became a pariah.

Nobody would do anything with people threatening to blow up a space shuttle because of the Challenger accident and then a couple of years later the Columbia accident, nobody wants to read a thriller about the space shuttle under threat. So that's not something that you can ever possibly plan on.

Now on the opposite side, Rebecca and I just had a 10 day trip in China and we sold some Chinese translation rights and we were meeting with the publisher over there, and I was pitching my new novel Spine of the Dragon.

It's a big epic fantasy. And I was talking about the Dune books because some of those haven't been translated into Chinese and it didn't even occur to me that the Chinese very, very much love awards. And, one of my novels back in the nineties was a science fiction, nanotechnology thriller that I wrote with Doug Giesen, called Assemblers of Infinity was nominated for the Nebula award.

The Chinese had read my bio and I'm meeting with the publisher and they started asking me all about Assemblers of Infinity. What's this book about and why was it nominated for the Nebula award and why can't we read that one?

I've had 165 books published. That wasn't one I was planning to pitch to them because that was 15 or 20 years old. But off the cuff, I started pitching him that one, and they all went nuts over that one. And I've even got a Chinese movie studio that's now looking at it and talking about it. So that's a lightning rod that I never expected to do anything.

You have to be prepared to do different things and seize the opportunity when it comes out. And sometimes it might take 20 years before lightning strikes on that one. But if you try all kinds of different things something is sure to, go.

Another metaphor that I use for a similar thing is that your career is kind of like popcorn, that if you put all the popcorn in a pan, you never know which kernel is going to pop or when it's going to pop. But if you have enough kernels and enough heat something's going to start popping soon.

So put in a lot of kernels and then they have a lot of heat, and then you're going to start having popcorn popping all over the place. I generally do like a whole hour-long thing about that metaphor, but I know we don't want to stretch it too much,

Joanna Penn: It's a good metaphor. And I think one of the frustrations, for not necessarily younger people, but younger authors, so people who haven't been in the writing industry too long, is that they think the popcorn should start popping right away. But a lot of these things take a lot of time.

You just mentioned that one in China was something you wrote a long time ago. And some of your movie deals might have taken decades. Jack Reacher would be another obvious example that took over a decade to become a movie.

What are your thoughts on the waiting period and things you can do to not go nuts in the meantime?

Kevin J Anderson: To play upon the movie thing, it's been reported a lot that I'm involved and Brian Herbert is involved in our new big budget movie of Dune that Legendary Pictures is doing. It's got Denis Villeneuve as the director and a huge cast of all-stars. And, I can't even rattle off all of them. There's like 15 major stars in it. It’s a movie and hundreds of millions of dollars in budget.

But Brian Herbert and I have been pushing this for 21 years, trying to get the movie made, and we've had a different studio and a different director, different scripts, and then that fell apart. We’ve been pushing this for 21 years and now it's finally happening.

And of course then it's like popcorn because all sorts of other peripheral things with Dune are happening, although I've got a gag order and I can't announce them, but there are lots of other Dune things that are happening that wouldn't have happened if this one lightning bolt hadn't struck, and now sparks are going all over the place.

My own writing career, my first book was published in 1988. That's why we don't have a picture on, so you can't see how gray my hair is and all that. 1988 and I was working full-time and it took us until, I think 1993 or 1994 before I had my first New York Times bestseller, and that was an out of the blue lightning strike because I was offered to write a Star Wars books.

I didn't plan for that. That just came unexpectedly because I had worked with my editor at Bantam books. I had always turned in my books on time. I wasn't a drama queen. I was easy to work with, and so they offered my name to Lucasfilm and they chose me to write them a Star Wars book.

That certainly changed my career and turned everything around because suddenly I've got a million people reading my books and I guarantee you, I didn't have a million people reading them before that. And that led to lots more other writing projects that led to X-Files work.

It led to working for DC comics and, and Batman and Superman and, and that. I mean, everything just sort of ripples out and you try it.

And I guess to get back to your question about what do you do when it takes 20 years? Well, it may well take 20 years, so don't quit your day job. If you have a good year and a lot of money comes in, don't assume that next year is going to be the same.

Publishing is like a roller coaster.

It goes up and down and up and down and similar to the music industry. If you have one hit, don't assume that your next one is going to be a hit.

When you do have money, you need to save well and invest it. Prepare for times when it's going to be a crash. And just don't think that it's going to keep going.

I was just at the 20 Books to 50 K conference in Las Vegas where there were, literally a thousand attendees, all of them, ambitious indie authors, and they got into it and we're kind of in gold rush days and it's a big boom.

And everybody's running big ad campaigns. And, and I mean. You’ve been on your show for how many years, Joanna? Just pushing stuff, right? But think about it, the industry-wide perspective is this is still like a new and disruptive part of the business and it's changing a lot.

I talked to a bunch of the people who are at 20 Books and I said, guys, you haven't had your first huge boom and bust cycle yet. A lot of them are still kind of on this big upswing, but, and I'm not being a doom and gloom person, but that's just the way the industry works. Something's going to crash in, in some part of it, and you've got to be prepared for that.

I make the joke that my own career, I've crashed and burned and then pick myself up and then crashed and burned and then pick myself up so many times, and resurrected my career. I call myself the Doctor sometimes because I'm the 11th doctor now or something like that.

I'm still going. I'm still publishing. I just made a really huge traditional book deal, and I've got a whole bunch of indie books that we're publishing. And as you've mentioned earlier, I'm now this very, busy and happy professor at Western Colorado university where I'm teaching, a publishing master's degree, which we'll talk about a little bit later in the show.

All kinds of things are happening and these are all lightning rods that I planted. You never know when something's going to strike, but you have to be ready for it.

Joanna Penn: And keep creating. That's why I love to talk to you and Dean and Kris and people who've been around the industry for long enough to go through these booms and busts because as you say, things are going to change.

You can be sure they’ll change. Even Jeff Bezos said Amazon will be disrupted.

[Business Insider on how many times Jeff Bezos has talked about Amazon's inevitable demise.]

Kevin J Anderson: I like to say there, and I don't know if this was in the UK or not, but here are this huge chain in the US was Blockbuster Video where you could go and rent videotapes of your movies. This was a gigantic chain. You couldn't drive a mile without coming onto another Blockbuster Video. And everybody was investing in Blockbuster Video because everybody wanted to rent VHS videotapes of their movies.

And then suddenly that was completely disrupted and they managed to switch over to DVDs and then that was disrupted. And all the Blockbuster Videos just went away.

So if you banked your entire career on the money you are going to make managing a video rental store that's just not going to happen.

I'm not going to predict it with indie publishing, but look how fast it appeared and look how fast it changed. What happens when the next thing – I'm kind of wandering off here. What happens when Kindles become obsolete and there's a holographic reader that everybody has to get, and then everybody has to change things.

You yourself have talked on the show about if you're a writer and a lot of the 20 Books people that, that I just talked with, they're very rapid writers and I'm really glad to see people that make me look like I'm slow writer but they're writing huge numbers of series books, one after another after another.

There are romance writers who are doing this, and on your own show you've talked about these AI things that can digest countless formulaic books in a certain genre and start producing books that a large share of the readers won't notice that they're not written by humans.

If you're banking on being say a Harlequin romance author or doing that, as an indie author, and suddenly Hal9000 becomes a best-selling author, then what do you do? Then you have to change.

And if you don't have money saved up in the bank to carry you through that transition period, you might end up having to get a real job somewhere, which is a horror.

Joanna Penn: I think what's interesting is because you've been through the cycles and you have adapted so you have indie books, you have trad pub books, you do different rights licensing. You work with agents, you licensed books from other authors. You teach. This is the key, right?

The key is multiple streams of income. And putting money aside for when difficult times come, but creating intellectual property assets surely must be fundamental.

I want to ask you about this because you mentioned Star Wars, you've mentioned X-Files, Dune; you don't own those universes. As far as I know, your role in the intellectual property asset, and maybe you were a writer for hire for Star Wars, for example, I presume.

Given that we talked about this in Vegas at the business masterclass, what are your thoughts on rights, ownership, and licensing at this point, for authors?

Is it critical to keep control given the fast pace of change? Or should we be looking to license where appropriate or doing work for hire?

Kevin J Anderson: I do all of the above. I made my career by writing Star Wars books. If I hadn't written Star Wars books, I would not be who I am today.

I would not have the first name that says New York Times best-selling author. And that's what skyrocketed my career. And I took advantage of that and I kept going.

But the reason why I was able to survive, and of course I'm still getting small royalty checks for my Star Wars books, but they were published 25 years ago. I'm not like making my living on it, but I never only did those books.

I do know other authors that when it was the gold rush days of, of jumping into writing media tie in books because there was a time when every movie had a movie novelization and you could get paid $15,000 for like two weeks worth of work to take a movie script and turn it into a paperback novel.

That was just really good solid work that you could pay the bills with. And all the comic work that I did, all the Predator comics and Justice Society comics and I don't even remember the other ones. I did Star Wars comics and the X-Files comics. Those were great, but I don't make any money on those properties anymore.

Dune is a slightly different thing because it really is me and Brian and we're partners and things, and I do participate in the
stuff that I wrote. I don't own the IP, but I do benefit from it. But I also have constantly written my own books.

I know other writers that jumped on the media tie-in bandwagon to finish my sentence from before that spent years and years, only writing Star Trek books or only writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer or whatever book that they got, and they made a decent living, but that's a huge output that they created, and they own none of it anymore. So they're not reaping any benefit.

There are many of the superhero movies, like the Marvel superhero movies, that have taken huge storylines that somebody wrote for the comics, and that person doesn't even get acknowledged in the credits, so that's a bad thing.

And every one of your listeners is nodding about how those authors got shafted, but not really. That's the contract that they signed and they knew that. They knew what they were doing.

I've had a lot of little things that I created for Star Wars that have appeared in the Star Wars movies or in the Clone Wars TV show. And as a fanboy, I just kind of go, Oh, look at that. That's from my book, but I don't go to the mailbox to see if there's a check there.

On the other hand, when I was not a full-time writer, when I was just writing books in the evenings and try to get them published and getting them published, but not making enough money to pay all the bills. I was a technical writer. I worked for a research laboratory and I wrote safety procedures.

I wrote respirator safety manuals. I wrote the definitive handbook on chemical protective clothing. One of my biggest sellers all of. I actually have some uber-fans who have gone out to buy my chemical protective clothing book. But that was my job. I got paid to write that book and it got published and the company owns the copyright on that respirator safety manual. It's not like I expected to get royalties on it or anything. That was my job.

And even when I was writing The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie novelization or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow movie novelization that was work. It paid me money and I paid the bills with it and it was fun.

More fun than chemical protective clothing was. I was happy to do that work, but it was work that I did at the time. It's not something that I benefit from anymore.

So what I suggest is if you have a way to make money and pay the bills, if that means you're writing Spiderman comics or novels or whatever, and you like Spiderman, I say, go for it. Just use your energy. Do have fun. Build up a fan base, build up readers.

But you also need to have the energy to start planting other lightning rods with your own IP, because then the lightning might strike over there. If you are a slow writer and you can only write one book a year, you probably won't quit your day job because you probably won't be able to make a living at it in the current publishing industry.

In old traditional days, if you've got a big enough advance, you could write a book a year and live on that money. But that just isn't the universe we live in anymore.

Joanna Penn: And even then, there weren't too many people who were getting that much money. The amount of money that I like to live on, for sure!

Kevin J Anderson: We’re at the top end. Of course, we have our Bentleys and Jaguars that you drive around in.

Joanna Penn: That's why I'm car-free. I'm very green, very car-free. But anyway, about writing faster.

Obviously, you're incredibly prolific and, we talked about dictation before, so I don't want to get too far into it, but you do have a new book out, well, newish, called On Being a Dictator. And one of the things that stood out for me in there is writing by dictation is a learned skill, something that requires practice.

I feel like this is the thing that many people don't realize. They think that they should just pick up a microphone and that they'll be good at it. And I'm still not great at it. I get into the flow sometimes, but a lot of the time I don't dictate because I don't know what to say.

How can we practice dictation and how can we get better?

Kevin J Anderson: That was one of the key things. And I wrote the book, it's called On Being a Dictator. I co-authored it with Martin Shoemaker, who is one of my writing students who became a fanatical dictation writer too. So, he and I worked together with our different techniques and, and ways to do it.

I wrote the book because I got tired of people asking me questions all the time. Explain to me how you write by dictation. So now I can just point to the book and say, just read that.

But one of the things that I kept hearing from people that they would be so enthusiastic and they'd get a little digital recorder or even just the app on their smartphone or something, and they'd go I went out once for 10 minutes and tried to dictate, but it just doesn't work for me. I'm too self-conscious talking or I don't like the sound of my voice. So I gave up.

I got frustrated hearing that again and again, and I thought. Well, when you sat down at a keyboard for the first time, did you type for 10 minutes and say, I'm no good at this. I'm never going to do this anymore. I'm just going to go back to writing with a pen and paper.

The first time you sat down at a keyboard, putting your fingers on this randomly arranged keys. Back in history, remember that the keyboard was designed to make typists not tight fast, so that the mechanical typewriter keys wouldn't get all tangled up. The keys were originally arranged to make people slow down when they're typing.

So the first time you sat down, you're hunting and pecking with your fingers and trying to like, where's the letter Q and where's the letter K? But as you kept doing it, you started to learn and now you don't even think about typing anymore. I assume.

I'm looking at the screen or looking off and my fingers are all across the keyboards as I'm rattling away because I've been typing for most of my life. I know how to do it well.

I've also been dictating for most of my writing career. I've been dictating my novels, for probably 25 years, because I like to go walking and just mulling things over. And that's the place where my creative juices flow better.

And so first off, get it in your head that you need to practice at it. But the thing that might help you, because I know you're a pantser most of the time, and other writers. I love using dictation for a solo brainstorming session.

If I'm starting a book and I've got this cast of characters and I don't know anything about the villain or I don't know anything about the spunky kid, or I don't know anything about the seductress or I don't know anything about the thief with the heart of gold or whoever the character is that I'm working on, I'll just go, okay, well today I'm going to figure out the life story of Prince Aiden.

I'll go out with my recorder and I'll just walk. And I'll just kind of free-associate who Aiden was. He was the second son. And you never liked his older brother, but he had to go to training with him because they could only afford one tutor in the castle.

So both princes had to be taught at the same time. And they would fight each other and play pranks. And then I'd make up something about some prank that they did, because that's going to end up as a tiny little flashback in the book. And then I just started. I'm thinking of that character and kind of babbling into my recorder because nobody else needs to see that.

That doesn't have to be perfect prose. It doesn't have to be punctuated, doesn't have to be spelled or anything. This is just me dictating notes because I find when I'm sitting there with either typing or with notes like this, I often will just use a notepad and pen and sit on a bench somewhere out in the park or something.

I can be walking along and just basically like an actor putting on the suit of this character he's supposed to play, I can do that with my recorder and just get to know my characters. The reason that I started writing by dictation sort of, I fell into it by accident in that, I liked to go out for walks when I was having trouble with a story or with a character, or if I couldn't come up with the plot twist or something.

I would just go for a walk down the bike path or on a hiking trail. And I just think about things and I'd have a little notepad in my pocket or something and I jot down ideas as I had them, but it's kind of a pain in the butt to be jotting down complicated ideas on this little notepad, especially if it's like foggy or raining outside.

Sometimes I would come up with great ideas and then I'd run home and try to type them all up and they'd all be gone by the time I got home. So I started carrying this recorder with me, just so I could turn it on and go, Oh, don't forget to add this plot thread when you do book two or something like that. It's just was taking notes.

And as I started laying out, and I write these big complicated, multicharacter book, kind of like Game of Thrones, with all sorts of different perspectives, and I would try to choreograph the big space battle at the end. This character brings in this fleet and this person's sabotaged these weapon systems. I just sort of outlined.

I'm almost drawing a storyboard for a movie, a little scene, little scene, little scene, and I would break them up and they just got more and more detailed as I got practiced at it and I realized that this isn't an outline anymore. This is a first draft, and I just developed it from that point.

And in our book on being a dictator, my coauthor uses Dragon Naturally Speaking or some other voice-to-text software. He tested them out and gives his report on them. And that's what a lot of authors do. I still go back to the old fashioned using a human typist that I just send the audio files to and she types it and sends it back to me usually within a day or so.

There are advantages and disadvantages to using Dragon and other things. Of course, once you paid for the software, then you get it done for free. The problem is that there's so much cleanup involved because the AI doesn't understand context or punctuation or anything like that, so you have to go back and either add it when you're editing or you have to, as you're dictating, comma, close quote or something like that. To me that rips me right out of the story because I have to deepen into the story I'm telling and with the human typist I can just basically read it aloud and she'll know when to put the paragraphs in without me having to say it. And she'll know when it's two different people talking and dialogue and know to put the quote marks and all that stuff in.

And it also is kind of cool when the typist does nag me for when's the next chapter coming.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. And there's a lot more in the book, so I definitely urge people to get it if you're considering dictation. It's still something I keep circling back to and want to get it right, but you just have to keep practicing it. And as you say, I think I need to do it in a more circular manner.

As in try and write something, just notes, and then go back with a first draft type of approach.

Kevin J Anderson: Don't forget, you yourself wrote the book on being a healthy writer too. And if you're out walking and dictating, you're getting all this exercise and it's keeping you healthy too.

So that's another benefit.

Joanna Penn: There are so many benefits of dictation, which is why I keep talking about it on the show, because I am determined to crack it.

I’ve got so many things I want to talk to you about, but you've recently become a professor at Western Colorado University teaching a degree in publishing that covers both independent publishing and the traditional world.

Now, obviously most people listening are not going to do that course. But I was really interested in what has surprised you the most, because obviously you've had to put together the material for these students and you've had to revisit a lot of what's going on, I guess, in the industry.

Is there anything that has made you surprised or go, “Wow, that really is quite different.”

Kevin J Anderson: What surprised me was that in order to take the job as a professor, I had to get my own MFA, which I got a bachelor's degree in astronomy, in physics, way, way back when. And I've never needed to have an MFA.

By law, in order to teach a graduate degree, you have to have your own graduate degree. So I had to go back myself after having published 150 books and 50 some bestsellers, and then I had to go and get an MFA and take classes with grad students who are publishing their first story and stuff.

So that was an interesting perspective on going back to school. I think there was a really old Rodney Dangerfield movie called Back to School where he had to go back, but my experience was a little bit different from his.

Teaching something is really a good way to learn the details of something that you sort of know, but you never actually put it all down and codify it. And there are people who want to go through the process. And it's only a one-year program for my master's degree. It's an MA not an MFA for academics who know the difference of those.

We have a program that it's specifically two courses. One is on traditional publishing and one is on indie and new model publishing. And to my knowledge, I don't know of any other degree that's giving equal weight to both types of publishing. A lot of them are still just strictly traditional publishing focused. And obviously I didn't want to do something like that cause I'm a hybrid author and doing both.

Western has given me a lot of freedom and support in developing this. And when I first started looking at Western Colorado University, I keep saying that when I started looking at it, they have an MFA program, but they're really cool. They've got an MFA program in genre fiction.

So you can get your master's degree in genre fiction where you actually study romances and westerns and mysteries and thrillers. None of my academic classes ever did that. They all made me read stuff that no human being would ever want to read.

They would make me read free form poetic essays that were published as fiction that had no punctuation in it. And that just didn't work for me.

But Western has got a screenwriting program. They've got a genre fiction program, they've got a poetry program and a nature writing program. And it just clicked with me that I thought this was a place that I could have a program that I could really get behind.

And so I developed it and like I said, both traditional and indie publishing. And so the students on the traditional half, they are putting together their own professional anthology. We got money from Draft2Digital who was helping me pay professional rates for these stories. We solicited stories. It's called Monsters, Movies and Mayhem, and we sent out the call for stories and we got 420 submissions in. So my students got to read the slush pile.

They went through them all and they've gone through their first cut and rejected a whole bunch of them, and now we're down to, I think like the top 85 and they're going through the second cut and they will choose the stories that they want, they'll work with the authors.

Right now, the classes we're doing this week are on short story contracts and book publishing contracts. And this is on the traditional side. So they will do the proofreading. They will do the editing, they'll work with the authors they're sending out.

They're mailing out all the rejection slips, they're mailing out all the contracts when we get them ready, and then we will produce a design and produce the book next spring.

This is all an online course, so everything's online except for a two-week residency in the summertime when they have to come to the Colorado mountains for two weeks, which darn, I would hate to be in the Colorado mountains in the summertime. So we're going to release this book when they come back next summer and they'll do a book signing for this anthology that they’ve edited.

And then for the indie publishing course, each one of them is reissuing an old public domain title, like an HG Wells book or a Jules Verne book or something like that. They're finding books that have been long out of print that they want to reissue, and they're doing it hands-on, start to finish.

They’ll find the texts, they'll verify that it's out of copyright. They are proofing their own texts. They will design it – we're making them all buy Vellum so that they can lay it out. And I just wrote to the guys at Vellum saying, all my students are using Vellum because I'm not going to try to teach anything else, Vellum is great. I've been using it for everything that we do at that WordFire Press.

And so they're reissuing it. They're going to design their own covers, it's all hands-on. And then for the weekly lectures, we are talking about copyright and we'll be doing sections on Kickstarters and Patreon and Amazon ads and all kinds of marketing things and review copies and all the stuff that I learned in a blizzard fashion as it all came around at the same time. But I'm trying to do it in a more organized fashion. And you can get a degree in it.

There are people who want to get a graduate degree. Obviously I didn't need one to become a bestselling author, but there are people that want one. And like I said, I love Western’s genre fiction program. And I thought I would have taken that if I knew it was available back when I was starting out.

Having a master's degree may help you with many other things in life and you'll know a lot about publishing.

It’s 13 months. July to July, and we're in the first group of students right now. We filled up our cohort. This surprised everybody because we were hoping to get a couple of applicants and then we got five applicants, and then we got seven, and then we've got nine.

The law won't let us have more than nine because that's the most grad students I can have. We’ve also just hired our second professor to help me teach next summer. And that's Alison Longueira, who is a publisher of WMG and she's going to be helping us out. Mark Lefebvre at Draft2Digital, he's going to be our guest speaker next summer.

I would love to have taken this when I was starting out, which was kind of my goal. When I wanted to put it together, I decided that we really should have a program that is useful and hands-on. And, and, unlike the stuff that I took when I was getting my degree.

Joanna Penn: What's interesting is that many people write their book and then they start looking at publishing. And what you've described, even a 13 months course is it's going to be intensive. I haven't got a degree in writing or publishing but it's taken me a decade to learn what I know.

I think this is so important because we have to learn our craft, but we also have to learn to publish if we're going to be successful indie authors and successful hybrid authors. The more you understand about this stuff, copyright, for example. Who gets taught that stuff?

I expect there to be more of this. Even where I live in Bath, Bath Spa University is actually quite famous for its publishing degree. And as far as I know, they don't offer anything in the indie space at all.

However, people listening, you don't necessarily need an official degree — but you certainly need to invest in education around all of this stuff because it doesn't just come naturally.

Kevin J Anderson: And especially with indie stuff right now, it's not like you learn it once and you're done. For my indie publishing class, there's not a textbook. What I've required them to do is subscribe to Publishers Weekly, and they have to read it every week. They listen to podcasts, including yours, Joanna.

They've had to have your episodes assigned. They listen to podcasts, they read blogs. We have them do a Mark Dawson's podcast. I pick one every week, the Kobo Writing Life podcast, because everything changes. And they need to know how to keep up with things.

It's not so much the content of that particular episode of that particular podcast. They need to learn how to keep up with the changes in the industry because we all have to do it. I spend most of my time on the gerbil wheel, just trying to keep up. Oh, now that’s changed. And now that changed.

And, and yes, I went as a speaker to the 20 Books conference in Las Vegas and I went as a speaker to the WMG masterclass. But I also sat there and just absorb like a sponge. Because all sorts of these things are subjects that I don't know about or something new changed or there's a new technique of doing something. To be successful, you have to keep learning.

And then that ties in with the lightning rods and everything. You can't just sit there and expect nothing to change. Obviously you have to have lots of energy and lots of coffee or tea.

Joanna Penn: I've had some of your coffee. It is excellent.

Kevin J Anderson: I have made you coffee and I watched your eyeballs pop open going, wow. That’s strong.

Joanna Penn: This is what I really appreciate about you, Kevin, and also Dean and Kris. You are all giants in the field. You have these wonderful books. You are experts. You really know how to do books, but you just have this wonderful attitude to keep learning, keep adapting and keep changing.

There are some brilliant writers who are very good at the craft, who have fallen by the wayside because they have not adapted.

Even just the time I've been in this industry, most of the people I've met have disappeared.

Kevin J Anderson: I've known Kris since I was 19 years old when we were met in a creative writing class in college. And we were helping each other, pulling each other up by our bootstraps and learning this stuff.

I remember before my first book got published there were certain names in the field that, Oh, if only I can get a book published like him, or if only I can reach that level or get this mentioned on this awards ballot. And almost all of the people that were around when I broke into the business are just not there.

They’re gone, and not because they become so wealthy that they've retired. They didn't keep writing fast enough, or they didn't change with the interests of the readership. They were blindsided when the big 12 publishers became the big five publishers, and when Borders books chain went out of business, that was a heavily genre-oriented bookstore.

The loss of Borders books really hurt US genre fiction writers more so than other stuff.

The changes in all of the writing. I made a really good living writing movie B movie tie-ins, media spinoffs, Star Trek books and Star Wars books, all these things and all that work really dried up fast because paperbacks went away.

That's a whole episode that we can talk about, but all of that work that all of my friends just assumed was going to go on forever and ever and ever just plain went away. Just like the Blockbuster Video stores, like I mentioned earlier.

Unless you've got your house paid off and everything and you're independently wealthy and you don't need to make money anymore you’ve got to figure out a different way because the books that you wrote last year may not be as popular next year, and you’ve got to learn, you’ve got to adapt because I want to make my living by writing. I don't want to have to get a real job.

Joanna Penn: Brilliant. It's always wonderful to talk to you.

Where can people find you and everything you do online?

Kevin J Anderson: Look up my name on Facebook. That's kind of the obvious. Kevin J. Anderson on Facebook and Twitter.

And then my initials, TheKJA.com is my website, which sadly is in the process of being updated, but it's got some good stuff on it is wordfire.com.

Wordfirepress.com is where all of my publishing house releases are. And I think we'll put a link in the show notes, but just Google Western Colorado university publishing, and you should get all the information for the master's program.

And I do 13 to 20 shows a year, whether I'm talking or lecturing or assigning books at a ComicCon. I'm not in the witness protection program, let's just put it that way. I'm not too hard to find.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Kevin, that was great.

Dec 09 2019

1hr 2mins

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How To Effectively Work From Home With Amanda Brown, The Homepreneur

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Working from home has great benefits — flexibility in working hours, more time with family, no stressful commute amongst other things; but it also has its challenges and many writers underestimate the adjustment needed in order to have a happy and healthy work-from-home life. In today's interview, I discuss the pros and cons with Amanda Brown, The Homepreneur, and we both give some tips from years of our own experience.


In the intro, The HotSheet reports on cashflow issues with some traditional publishers and the IBPA notes that publishers should be diversifying their sales channels, echoing my soapbox of multiple streams of income The ALLi blog shares data from The FutureBook conference including, “There are big differences between the UK and US markets. US price points are higher. Book sales sustain over a longer period in the UK. And the big 5 have only half the market share in the US they do in the UK.' Plus, James Daunt says Barnes & Noble must “rip out the boring.” [Publishing Perspectives]. 

In my personal update, I give an update on Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting and Voice Technologies, now available for pre-order, coming 10 Feb 2020.


Today's podcast sponsor is Findaway Voices, which gives you access to the world's largest network of audiobook sellers and everything you need to create and sell professional audiobooks. Take back your freedom. Choose your price, choose how you sell, choose how you distribute audio. Check it out at FindawayVoices.com.

Amanda Brown is the author of Homepreneur: How to Overcome the Challenges of Running a Home-Based Business for Optimal Work-Life Balance. She has worked from home for over 20 years as a small business strategist, having previously worked in accountancy and banking.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Advantages and disadvantages of working from home
  • Tips for finding community on and off line
  • Creating a healthy working space at home
  • Making exercise a priority to stay healthy working from home
  • Tips on accounting software and practices

You can find Amanda Brown at Homepreneur.co and on Twitter @Amanda_Brown

Transcript of Interview with Amanda Brown

Joanna Penn: Amanda Brown is the author of Homepreneur: How to Overcome the Challenges of Running a Home-Based Business for Optimal Work-Life Balance. She has worked from home for over 20 years as a small business strategist, having previously worked in accountancy and banking.

Welcome, Amanda.

Amanda Brown: Hi Joanna. Thank you so much for inviting me on your wonderful show. It's a real honor to be here.

Joanna Penn: We've got a lot to learn from you.

Let's just start out by telling us a bit more about your background and how you got into being a homepreneur.

Amanda Brown: Well, as you so rightly said, I had like you had, a corporate career.

I spent 14 years in the city of London in the finance field, and I really enjoyed it. I had a great time. It was very sociable. I learned an awful lot. I put the knowledge that I’d acquired from my degrees into practice, and I was one of the first women investment managers in the city of London. So you can tell it was quite a long time ago, which it was great.

And actually, I know this is slightly off-topic, but, in fact, I was treated really well. Lots of women hit that glass ceiling, but I don't think they’d invented the glass ceiling back then. So, I really enjoyed my time there.

But I decided in my mid-thirties, quite late then, to have children, to start a family. And in those days when you were in a corporate career, particularly in the city, it was very hard to find childcare. There wasn't the availability of nursery. Certainly there were no workplace nurseries and childminding was in its early infancy.

So, because I'd worked for quite a long time, I was really intentional about having these children, and I was in a position where I wanted to stay at home and look after them.

Leaving my corporate career was a really difficult decision because I wasn't giving it up because I didn't enjoy it. I was giving it up because as somebody told me the other week, you can have everything, but you can't always have everything all the time. And I took that on board and I thought, actually, that's really good advice because I really wanted to spend time with my children.

Unfortunately, later on, while I was working from home, I became a single parent and that was another issue. So it was quite a change being at home. But then I decided that I wanted to do some work. And in the last 10 years, I have been a business consultant to many businesses, mainly looking at strategy, in particular, online marketing strategy.

I do lots of training, I do lots of consultancy, and I manage people's social media accounts and write their website copy for them. And the longest standing client I have is nine and a half years. It’s been a long time, which is great.

The development of the Homepreneur brand came about as a result of my love for writing. Like so many of your listeners, either fiction or nonfiction writers, I joined a writing group, I suppose about five or six years ago, and really enjoyed it because I wanted to start a blog. My corporate writing was obviously quite formal, and I needed to find a style that was much more conversational, was much more engaging.

I went to a writing evening class, which folded and five of us decided we'd write together. So we have been meeting up for the last five years, every two weeks in each other's homes to write fiction. We love that. It's great.

Homepreneur is a blog with advice and tips and tricks on how to run a home-based business. 18 months ago I decided to write a book and that came out back in July, and I'm in the process of writing another book, The Homepreneur Marketing Guide.

Joanna Penn: So what's interesting, I think is, I had exactly the same thing, a similar sort of corporate thing. When I started blogging, my voice was, as you were saying, businessy. It didn't have any conversational tone. Blogging is fantastic for getting into a less formal way of writing, of course. So I totally agree with you on that.

Let's talk about the pros and cons of working from home, because I know many people listening might already work from home. But working from home is often something that people want to do because it gives you more choices, for example, childcare.
I am happily child-free. I just get to go to my yoga classes or go for a walk and working when you are ready to work as opposed to being stuck on someone else's schedule.

What are some of the benefits that you have seen from working from home?

Obviously, you could've gone back because your children I presume are now older.

Amanda Brown: I think because when I became a single parent, my children were only ten and eight. And so actually working from home was really important for me because it meant for the next ten years while they were still in education, I could drop them off at school, pick them up afterward.

They were old enough that if I needed to do work when they were at home, they understood, Mummy has to go off and do an hour of work. They were quite happy to play with one another. So actually it worked out really well.

I think being in a couple is obviously much easier when you can share those childcare responsibilities. But I think the main benefits of working from home are about really choosing the profitable work that you love. It's about being in control. It's about being intentional and positive about the level of control that you have, being confident about it.

You can design your working day and you can design your environment. And I know from having done a survey that people think that they need to have loads of space to work from home when actually most of us are working behind a computer on a laptop. We can pick that up and go and work anywhere in our home.

It means you can have a dedicated corner of your sitting room or your bedroom. I don't advise working in bed very bad for you that.

Joanna Penn: I know a lot of writers who do work in bed though.

Amanda Brown: Do they? Beds are for sleeping and for other things, and not for work. It's much better if you work at your kitchen table. Loads of people in my survey wanted to build a shed. The economics of building a shed. I think the thing was more about, you know, nesting in a shed.

Joanna Penn: I have to mention there travel writer Alastair Humphreys, who's been on the show a number of times, has a shed in his garden, which is his writing shed.

And there's the shed porn website, which I know many writers enjoy.

[Note from Joanna: It's actually Cabin Porn!]

Amanda Brown: Sheds are a big thing, aren't they? I have to stop myself doing things like that. I just work out the economics of it and I decide that actually, I'm very fortunate. I do have a nice office down here with a view of the countryside outside.

So the one thing is about deciding how to connect and how to control your working day as well.

A writer is very much on their own schedule, unless they've got a deadline to hit. But for a lot of people who work from home, they are working office hours because their clients are working office hours.

If you're thinking that working from home is going to allow you to maybe work in the evenings, I have a feeling that a lot of people stick to the office hour day and there's sense in that really, because actually the rhythm of the day is very important to the way our minds and our bodies work.

Joanna Penn: I definitely agree with the rhythm of a day. And I think we all have a rhythm. We're both in the UK but for those with clients in America they might, in the morning, that may be where they go to the gym or do other things, and then they start work when America is up. A lot of people who work from home might be location independent.

I think in this global world, you can have clients at different time zones.

Amanda Brown: Absolutely. Yes, definitely.

But play to your chronotype, that time of day when you work best. Most people are typically bears; they like to get up when the sun rises. Well, probably after the sun rises in the middle of summer in the Northern hemisphere and are usually better in the morning. And then you get these people who are a true night owls, but they make up a very small percentage of the population, and that do work to the time that you feel best. And that is one of the advantages of working from home.

Joanna Penn: Definitely.

What are some of the drawbacks? Because it's not all roses, is it?

Amanda Brown: Definitely not. I think the first thing to consider, and I've pulled out five things here, but the first one is the fact that you are head of all departments when you work from home.

Now, writing is a quite a simple business model, but if you're doing something else where maybe you've developed an online course or you're doing consulting, or you're combining your writing, maybe with some tutoring, you're going to have to do some marketing. You have to do the finances, you're maybe going to have to get to grips with technology.

You have to wear lots of different hats. I think that is one of the shocks. When I first left the corporate world, I was really surprised at how many different things I had to learn. It wasn't just being a business consultant. I also had to learn an awful lot of other things. And learning can be seductive, but it can also be terrifying.

Some people will avoid learning things and employ other people to do that difficult task. And then other people, a bit like me, get seduced by learning everything and spending far too much time learning and not enough time getting on with things. So learning is a double edge sword. That would be number one is having to be all heads of all departments.

There are solutions to that. The other thing is about decision making. I think decision making is very difficult when you work from home. As human beings, we have to make something an enormous number, something like 35,000, decisions a day. We're choosing all the time. Are we hot, are we cold? Are we hungry? Are we thirsty? So all these things are going on.

Joanna Penn: This is actually much harder for fiction writers. I get very tired when I write fiction, because you have to make decisions for your characters and you might be making decisions for lots of characters, so people listening, if you get tired writing fiction, this is part of it.

The best thing there is to have systems around your working from home. I just wanted to point out that doing it for characters just compounds the whole thing.

These decisions take up part of your brain, don't they?

Amanda Brown: It is amazing how tiring writing is, and any type of work where you think, well, actually, what have I done? And you feel really physically tired. I think that's the thing. Not only do you feel mentally tired, but you actually feel quite drained. So decision making is very, very difficult on your own.

Because in fact that that is one thing you do leave behind is the benefit of having a team around you when you work in the corporate world.

Joanna Penn: Many of us now have virtual teams, so you can have lots of team members in your publishing team or your online business at home. It's just that they might not be physically there.

Amanda Brown: Exactly. And when I come onto the solutions, I'll talk a little bit about that. And I think you're so right, having those people around you to help you when you find it difficult to make decisions.

If you're making big decisions, again, start them early in the day. Our willpower is much better first thing in the morning. It's like a battery. It drains as the day goes on. The biggest drawback is if you are a workaholic because you will try to work all hours and life gets in the way of that.

It's one thing being a workaholic when you are in the corporate world. You physically have to go home at some point and that can be a difficulty.

And also at the other end of the scale is the procrastinator. So if you are easily seduced by the social media rabbit hole, you'll know what it's like to get onto social media and find an hour's gone by and you've spent all that time commenting on other people's Facebook posts, or you're on LinkedIn searching for people to connect with.

Procrastinators who don't get down to things will find it's worse when there's nobody there to keep you on track or no peer pressure, if you like, that you have in the corporate world.

And then finally, I'd say the fifth one is loneliness, which I think we all suffer from time to time.

Joanna Penn: I think that loneliness was something I was quite surprised about because I am an introvert and many writers are introverts. We naturally think, Oh, well, you're at home alone all day, it's going to be brilliant, but actually, it can make you quite insular and you might lose perspective.

As we talk, earlier this morning, I was at my cafe at 7:00 AM doing my writing and I didn't need to talk to anyone, but just to be surrounded by other people makes a huge difference. I've been writing in libraries and cafes since I started working from home in 2011.

Any tips for getting out of the house and dealing with loneliness, in particular?

Amanda Brown: Yes, definitely. For a lot of people, networking not only provides them with company, and that can be weekly or monthly, and it can be informal or formal.

I write a whole chapter about how to network effectively in the homepreneur book. Networking has become very, very popular. Business networking started with Business Networking International in America, and that has hundreds of thousands of members. But then there are local groups that are set up, which are relatively informal.

If you're looking for networking, just type networking plus your location into Google and up will come local groups that you can go and visit.

Now, networking's not about you being right for the group. It might be that the group is not right for you. So go to a few and see how you get on. We don't always find the right group the first-time round.

The other thing is to search on Meetup. That's the platform, meetup.com. You can find lots of events to go to, both in the day and out of the day. They might not be business-related. You might find a badminton group at 12 o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon. That might be a great way of getting out of the office and meeting people.

There's Eventbrite. That's a good search engine for finding events to go to. We have locally a great way of working as coworking called a jelly. Have you heard of a jelly?

Joanna Penn: No. But I think coworking spaces are pretty common now around the world. I go to one as well sometimes, but it can be quite expensive for many people starting out in working from home. That's why I recommend libraries and cafes for writers.

Amanda Brown: Jellies are free. They’re usually set up by local businesspersons. So we have a jelly, in fact, we've got one tomorrow at a local research institute. We meet in the canteen. It's a combination of work and networking, so that's quite good. That costs nothing at all. And on occasions we meet in the local pub and that's proved very popular.

The other thing is to work from home with someone else. I run a thing called Hoffice, which is a contraction of home and office where once a month people come and work in my kitchen and that's proved very popular. We get much more work done than when we go out because in fact, I run the Pomodoro technique where we work for 50 minutes and I'll have 10 minutes off to chat.

Joanna Penn: actually, that's a good tip because you need procrastination time, you need social media just for fun. And so I think doing the idea that to kind of, right, I need to do this. We'll do this interview and then I can check Instagram.

Amanda Brown: Absolutely. So that Hoffice has been going for about 18 months. Sometimes it might be me and one other person. Sometimes I will have a kitchen of six or seven people and we all work together.

It's a Swedish idea originally, and I was interviewed by the FT and got my picture of my kitchen in the FT. There was an article about working from home and running a Hoffice.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. For people listening elsewhere, that's the Financial Times. It's a big newspaper in the UK. So that's fantastic.

Another issue that I found, and it's a classic one, is that, because I did work in a corridor in my old flat, I didn't even have another room. But because I was at home all the time, I ended up putting on weight and I also got RSI, repetitive strain injury, within a year of working outside an office. I didn't have the commute. I didn't have people around me.

Years on, I've got healthier physical working practices.

More tips in The Healthy Writer

What are some of the ways that people can deal with the physical working space so that so they can maintain good health?

Amanda Brown: I read The Healthy Writer that you co-wrote. I thought it was a really interesting read. The one about the healthy writer.

I have actually bad legs, so I'm probably not always the best person to ask. I have given myself permission, and this is about giving yourself permission, to go to an exercise class during the day.

This is very hard if you’re trying to squeeze a whole working day into school hours. It's very hard to give yourself permission to take that hour, hour and a half off. And maybe also walking in town is not such a joyous thing. So, if like me, you live in a village and you can walk in the countryside, but it's really important to schedule that all that into your week.

Take your children swimming maybe one afternoon after school and that will help you with your fitness. But it is about being very disciplined and working from home does require discipline. I think it requires more discipline as a writer. Because there's nobody there.

There's no clients at the end of the phone or there's no deadline necessarily to meet and it's difficult to be disciplined both with your work and your personal life. So I commiserate.

I like the idea that you mentioned once, which is to drink lots of water, because then you have to get up and stretch and visit the bathroom.

Joanna Penn: That is a good one. And also, I wear an Apple watch now, and it's great because it buzzes. If you've been sitting down, you have to get up and walk around at least once an hour. When you first start wearing it you think I won't ever buzz because I'll obviously be getting up and down, but goodness me sometimes I'm just in the zone and I'm like, what? It's just buzzed again! And it's really, really good.

I agree with you. You have to have schedule exercise. I now use two hours almost every day for physical exercise because it's a huge priority for me. And most of that is in the morning, as you say.

I go and write for a couple of hours and then I go to the gym or yoga or something like that, or go for a walk. It's super important. Otherwise you're just going to burn out.

Amanda Brown: I think burning out is a real issue. I garden because I need sometimes low-level exercise. I need some vitamin D. Obviously in the winter that's a bit of a challenge, but actually you just have to put your coat on your boots on and go and do it. The tendency is to say I'll just do another bit, but sticking to that schedule, write down your schedule.

Write it down on a piece of paper where you can see it. Sometimes putting everything digital, doesn't quite work because you don't have your phone with your schedule on it right in front of you.

Joanna Penn: Funny, this is a generational thing. I think I have my phone with me all times. Plus the Apple watch has my schedule on.

You can be as techy as you like, or you can be as analog as you like. It doesn't matter. We're both saying the same thing, right?

Amanda Brown: Well, it's that, and I'm pretty techie but I've gone back to, for my daily routine, I write it out the night before. I write it out first thing in the morning, and I do have a pretty strict morning routine. I think if you can do that, it sets you up for the rest of the day. So if you flag because you're tired in the afternoon, then at least your morning has been productive.

We don't all get it right all the time, that's for sure.

Joanna Penn: Oh, no, absolutely. But this is also one of the benefits of working from home, I think, is that I often don't know what day is again, because we don't have children and we just never remember what day is what or when the school holidays are or whatever.

But sometimes I might not work on a Tuesday because I want to go do something else, or it's a lovely day and you want to go for a walk. But then I'll end up working on a Sunday, for example.

Or maybe you get sick and, in the past, you might have just forced yourself to go to work because it's not that bad. But now it's like, okay, do you know what? I'm just going to sleep today or rest or read or whatever. So definitely one of the benefits is managing your schedule, but as you say, you have to manage your schedule.

Amanda Brown: Definitely. And I know that procrastination – I don't struggle with it, but I do know a lot of the people who are in my business focus academy, that is what they struggle with. Even if something's going to take five minutes, they will put that particular task off.

Joanna Penn: Definitely. Well, then there's another thing I think around boundaries and this boundaries kind of goes into the same thing.

When I started working from home, my husband was going to a day job. He was leaving the house and commuting so I started doing all the shopping, all the cleaning, all the washing. All the household chores because I was the one at home.

It took a while until I was like, do you know what? I'm also working, why am I doing all of these things? So we got a cleaner and that kind of thing. And I know that people working from home, maybe especially women, that might be too gendered, but there are issues there around boundaries.

How do we deal with boundaries with loved ones if they’re going out to work and we are at home and set expectations around this type of thing?

Amanda Brown: I think that's a very, very difficult one. And I think that definitely I'm feeling guilty about getting a cleaner. It's a false economy not to have somebody to help you around the house because actually you're making the world go around by sharing your income with somebody else.

So I would definitely, particularly if you are not used to having a cleaner, just give yourself permission once again to get somebody to do those chores because it really takes the pressure off. You're not worrying about the fact that the house looks untidy or maybe needs a Hoover or maybe needs a dust.

So that would be number one. And it saves you so much time cause they're going to do it. They do it for a job, they do it quickly.

The other thing is to do online food shopping.

Joanna Penn: Yes!

Amanda Brown: If you're not doing it at the weekend when you might have children in tow. It means that when you do cook, you double up and use the freezer. So do online shopping. That can save you another couple of hours a week.

These things definitely add up. And I think that having that difficult conversation with your partner is really important. Whether it's the man or the woman taking on, the roles, I think.

My children, who are in their late twenties, if they are in permanent relationships, they definitely wouldn't let their partner get away with not pulling their weight when it came to either the household duties or even when they have children, the childcare.

I think this is evolving, Joanna, and I think that the future looks rosy for women who maybe have taken on too many domestic duties and maybe were acting more like their mothers. So these things take a long time to change.

Joanna Penn: We have many listeners in a same-sex relationship, and this isn't just about male and female gender roles. This is also about who leaves the house. To me, that's what it was. It was about the person leaving the house assumes that the person staying in the house is the one that gets to do all of that stuff. And the conversation is more about, look, just because I'm in the house I'm still working.

And also, I know in the early stages, that person in the house, as you say, feels guilty because they might not be earning a lot. But the point is you will continue not to earn a lot if you don't get your work done.

You have to set boundaries before you get successful.

Amanda Brown: You do. And I think this is even harder with writing, because there may be quite a long lead time before that gets finished. Whereas if you're in my field, you can maybe do something slightly different to boost your income and that that's important that you maybe earn your 10 pounds or $10 an hour, that you then give to somebody else to go and do some of those chores.

I think also with being at home is that if you've been on your own all day when your partner comes in, you're going to want to share your day, what's happened in your story or where you've got to in your nonfiction writing. You're going to want to gabble away to a person who's probably just done an hour’s commute or spent all day in meetings, has been bombarded with emails.

And they actually don't really want to listen to what you've got to say. They want to go and sit in a dark room with a gin and tonic or a cup of tea and just zone out. So maybe picking your time when you talk about any issues you might have around how you divide up these chores, is a good idea.

Pick your time wisely when they are definitely chilled out.

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. And also, I say this is another really important reason to have a network of friends and yes, it takes time, but that chatting away is important. Oh my goodness, I just want to talk to a human. You need to do that with someone else generally, during the day. So definitely well-worth trying to build that network.

You did mention money there and you obviously come from a background in finance. And one of the other problems for about working from home is cashflow.

I often feel like one of the reasons why many businesses fall apart is cashflow. Most people listening do not have a full-time business as an author, but they might be in the early stages of thinking about it, or maybe transitioning.

What are your thoughts around money management?

Amanda Brown: I think that there's a lot of advice out there which suggests that you need to have a cushion. And the advice sort of says you need three month's worth of expenses. I think that is over-optimistic. I think that if you're considering transitioning away from the corporate world or leaving a job, you really do need to think about maybe having six months put away somewhere.

Planning the transition from full-time work, maybe to part-time work and then to full-time writing or working from home in some other creative field. It does take consideration unless of course, you can rely on maybe your partner's income.

And actually one thing I heard, one piece of advice I rather liked, was to go around your house or your flat or look for all the things you no longer use. Are there things in your cupboards that you could possibly sell either online or maybe offline or put it up on a Facebook marketplace? Maybe try and go through your precious belongings and build up a fund that way. And I thought that was quite a good piece of advice. I've got a violin sitting here in the corner that I could actually make a few pounds out of if I went to the trouble of getting rid of it. A lot of us have got a lot of stuff that we could maybe offload.

The other thing is to be frugal. Obviously not making your life miserable, but just thinking about what you spend your money on. How many pairs of black trousers does a girl need?

Joanna Penn: I always recommend that people have a different bank account, even if they haven't set up a business as such, having a different bank account for the writing or whatever it is that’s important to you.

I now use Xero.com for my accounting software.

What do you recommend for accounting software?

Amanda Brown: I use Xero too and I love it. I think that is worth every penny. I also use, because I have lots of expenditure as well, I use a piece of software called receipt bank, which you can find, just search receipt bank.

And what receipt bank does is it saves you all that time of finding and extracting all your receipts and then uploading them or sending them to your bookkeeper or your accountant. It automatically takes the contents of an attachment, which has an invoice on it or a receipt on it and it talks to Xero.

Joanna Penn: You can just email receipts to zero. That's all I do. If you just email PDFs into zero.

Amanda Brown: This extracts photographs and all sorts of other things. It's just a little bit more, because sometimes people will have paper receipts, so it does the whole bang shooting match. So that's how that works, and it is very good.

You can put things like your petrol and all those sorts of things. Your fuel on there as well. So there's, I think Xero or QuickBooks or there's all sorts. FreshBooks. There's lots of different apps. There are lots of different options.

If people are getting paid in multiple currencies and they're all sorts of bank accounts, which are not real bank accounts. They're like their bank account like that can take receipts in multiple currencies without it charging you lots of money. So those so many different financial solutions to your problems nowadays.

Joanna Penn: In fact, that was one of the reasons I moved to Xero because I have multiple currency PayPal accounts, and I can just deal with all of those in Xero. I highly recommend that.

Just on the other thing that I think a lot of people, transitioning from full-time employment to kind of self-employed is tax.

When you get paid, you have to put money aside for tax.

Amanda Brown: Definitely. And the other thing that you should also think about our insurances and pensions, and I would say that this is a very worrying situation, particularly, I don't know about the evidence in the US but certainly in the UK there is an organization called Ipse, which is, for independent professionals and self-employed.

There's a very, very good website if you want financial information, financial guidance. And they have done research to show that of the 4.3 million people [in the UK] who are self-employed — and they will be mainly working from home — do not have adequate, pension provision.

So when you give up your corporate life where you may have had pension contributions taken out of your salary at source and also topped up by your employer, that's something you should consider when you obviously have an income from your homepreneur exploits.

Joanna Penn: I'm so glad you mentioned that, and it's so funny because I hesitate in talking about stuff like this because I know people are at different levels, and when I left my job in 2011 of course I had some pension accounts, pension pots in the various past, but between 2011 and 2015, I did not pay into a pension because I just didn't feel like I was making enough money.

And then, my husband, when he left his job to join the business, the first thing he asked was why do you not have pension accounts? We need to do this. And I think you often feel like, well, I can't do that because I don't have enough money to live on. But even if you open an account and just start putting 10 pounds in, or $10 at least you have it open and then you put a percentage in over time.

Now we put in a lot because I'm aware that I missed a few years and I want to make that up, which is obviously harder. So definitely something to really think about.

Of course everyone listening, it might be in a different country, so we can't say what you should put that in, but every country has some kind of self-managed pension options.

Amanda Brown: Definitely. Most of the websites, like the HMRC website or the websites in the US and also the banks will give you lots of information about where you can find out the most tax-efficient way of saving money.

I'm not a financial advisor. I come from a finance background, but there’s a lot of information out there and it is worthwhile spending a bit of time not burying your head in the sand about it, because it's not going to go away. That's one thing for sure.

Joanna Penn: Unless you die, so you don't want that.

Amanda Brown: And then, then there are other issues that actually it's really important to just tackle it upfront. Saving is just like spending. It's a habit. And if you can put that habit into practice, and as you so rightly say, Joanna at the beginning, start with a small amount. You do not need a financial advisor, although you may wish to get one in order to be able to do this.

There are ways, certainly, in the UK, I guess it's the same in the US where you can do this in a safe way just by doing some research yourself.

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. This has been fantastic.

Where can people find you and everything you do online?

Amanda Brown: You can find the website with lots of advice and tips and tricks. www.homepreneur.co.

You can find the Homepreneur book on Amazon.

You can find me on Twitter, @Amanda_Brown.

Joanna Penn: Indeed, everything in the show notes. Well, thanks so much for your time, Amanda. That was great.

Amanda Brown: Thank you. Lovely to speak to you, Joanna.

Dec 02 2019

1hr 9mins

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Writing With A Family. Productivity Tips With Andrea Pearson

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How do you find the time to write when you have a busy family life? How do you stay creative while still managing to run a successful business? Andrea Pearson shares her productivity tips in today's show.

In the introduction, I share my Voice Double from Descript‘s beta. Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Plus, my NaNoSloMo progress and why I might just write another book instead. Google Earth storytelling tools [Google blog].

Plus, join me and Mark Dawson for tips on how to sell more books through Reader Funnels. Thurs 5 Dec at 3 pm US Eastern / 8 pm UK. Click here to register for your free place.


Today's show is sponsored by IngramSpark, who I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 39,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries and more.

It's your content – do more with it through IngramSpark.com.

Andrea Pearson has published 60 books under 3 pen-names including four books on marketing for authors. She is the co-host of the Self-Publish Strong Podcast with her husband, Nolan, and also the co-host of the Six-Figure Author Podcast with Lindsay Buroker and Joe Lallo — and she has 3 young children who she home-schools.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • How Andrea juggles home-schooling children, writing, a new baby, and life
  • The advantages of dictation when writing first drafts
  • Outlining and using visual aids to help with dictation
  • Practical tools for managing a family’s schedule
  • What drew Andrea to podcasting and how she co-hosts three shows
  • Working with family members, including spouses
  • Going beyond books to licensing ideas

You can find Andrea Pearson at SelfPublishStrong.com and on Twitter @andreapearson2

Transcript of Interview with Andrea Pearson

Joanna Penn: Welcome to the show, Andrea.

Andrea Pearson: Thank you. It's nice to be here.

Joanna Penn: We only saw each other last week in Vegas.

Andrea Pearson: Do you miss me yet?

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. I wanted to get started because you've done incredible things since you started writing, but I'm interested in your background.

How did you get into writing and indie publishing?

Andrea Pearson: I didn't grow up wanting to be an author. That's one thing I like to tell people just because I've met a whole bunch of people that did, and they're like, am I screwed? I'm like, no, you're not.

Growing up, I actually focused on art and medical things. My degree is in the medical field, and I'm not like a doctor, but I focused on art and medical things, which actually ended up helping quite a bit with my books.

I started writing when I was in college. I wrote my first book while I was working three jobs, including a full time one, and taking the maximum number of credits at my university. And I was absolutely stressed to the max, but it was my outlet. It was the only outlet I had at the time. I wasn't dating anybody.

I focused on writing any time I wasn't doing anything else. And luckily, my full-time job allowed me to do side projects when there wasn't anything going on, and so I was able to write here and there while at work and I ended up dedicating that first book to my boss because they were so involved.

When I finished it, I was determined. But I was dismayed to find out that once you finish writing, it doesn't mean that’s the end. You actually have to go and work on revising.
I had a lot of people tell me that that first book would never get published. And I was like, that's inconceivable. I will not accept that. And so, I rewrote it multiple times just because I wanted to make sure it was okay for readers, I ended up putting up on Authonomy. Do you remember Authonomy?

Joanna Penn: Yes. It was kind of like WattPad.

Andrea Pearson: Pretty much. So, they're run by Harper Collins. And my book moved up really quickly and I found an agent that way, and that agent got me contracts and they had an auction for a movie between a couple of the bigger studios, but nothing felt right.

I was a paralegal in one of my former lives. I ended up turning down all the contracts, including one with the publishers of Twilight. And a lot of people thought I was insane. But when I read those contracts, I was like, this is asinine. Who would sign this? I had no idea that that was the way it was. But I was a paralegal and I did not grow up wanting to be an author, and so I didn't know anything about what the contracts were like, you know?

And so, I ended up signing with a small press publisher and that was a good idea. It was a good and a bad idea. It was good because it gave me some footing. I found my editor through them and a typesetter and I was introduced to the local publishing community.

But I left them a year later, 10 days after my husband and I got married. And I've been self-publishing ever since and I've absolutely loved it.

I still use that same editor from that publisher. She left them around the same time I did. The publisher actually folded three months later. They never published any of my books, but like I said, they got me into the traditional publishing world. So, I made a lot of contacts in the traditional publishing world, and I'm still friends with a bunch of those authors now.

Anyway, so now I'm an indie author. I teach other people how to do this, and I absolutely love it. It's a lot of fun.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. And it's interesting because of course, you always seem to have juggled a lot of things in all of your jobs. This is why I really wanted to talk to you because as we have discussed, I am very happily child-free, and people ask me how I get stuff done.

You have 60 books of various different lengths, and you have three children who you homeschool, you have a new baby, who as we talk is sick.

How do you juggle all of these things practically, but also without damaging your mindset as well? How is your mental health?

Andrea Pearson: How is my mental health? I don't know. You saw me last week.

Joanna Penn: You were fine. Are you just paddling like crazy under the surface? How do you do it?

Andrea Pearson: I’ve found that because I'm such a schedule-oriented person, I work better when I'm busy.

There’s that saying, if you want something done, give it to a busy person. I've actually become more productive since having kids. I think I wrote one or two, maybe three books before I had my first. I look back at that former self and I shake my head. What the heck? You had so much time.

I treat my time like the valuable resource that it is. And so, it's actually helped me be more productive since having kids. But I found that systems, schedules, those kinds of things really helped me. And since we've been homeschooling since the beginning, so it's not like I'm used to having my kids go to school. I'm not used to having that free time. And so that hasn't had been something that we had to adjust to.

I don't run a tight ship. I do like having things set in place that I follow in the same order pretty much every day. I'll just talk about that really quickly.

The baby isn't sleeping through the night right now. And so, I don't wake up before the kids get up. When he's sleeping through the night again, and when I do have a baby that sleeps in the night, I usually get up an hour and a half before the kids get up, so I can get in some extra work time, but that's not happening now cause I don't do well without sleep.

And so, I get up, we get dressed, we do food, we do homeschool. The baby takes a nap, and then I work for an hour to two hours, depending on how long he naps. And, because I do dictate, I have found that I'm able to plow through books pretty quickly. When I'm in the revision stage it usually takes a little bit more time.

But, dinner, cleaning, things like that, I do throughout the day. My husband's working right now, and we do have people come and help with cleaning about once a week, sometimes just once a month, depending on how insane life is. And my husband does a whole ton. I can't ever thank him enough; he helps with cooking and cleaning and things like that and just taking care of the kids.

If I don't have a good system set in place, if I don't have a good schedule, if I don't get a lot of sleep the night before, like last night I only got about two hours of sleep. And so, I just take that day at my pace, whatever pace I'm most comfortable at, and I make sure I'm doing something productive.

And I know authors, I mean everybody's going to know that there are certain levels of brain activity that you need to have in order to do certain projects and certain things. And so, I just focus on those lower-level things that aren't as stressful because I know that once I'm back to my mental peak, I can actually be much, much faster and more productive when it comes to writing and revision.

I'm not a daily maintenance person. I can't write every single day. I've never been able to do that. I would love to be able to do it, but I can't. I do things in projects, and in stages here and there.

We also have a local store that has this really nice lounge with chairs and things like that. I'll go there and work for a couple of hours. And then about two times a week I have an assistant. I work after the kids go to bed. But again, I try to get to bed by nine o'clock at night because my baby is waking up. And like I said, my husband does take over quite a bit. So, it's not just me.

Joanna Penn: One of the biggest questions of course, is how do I find the time to write? And with your life, you're still finding time. So just on the schedule, you mentioned there are few hours.

How do you manage actually that schedule? I use Google calendar for example and things like Calendly. We booked this on Calendly an app for booking time.

Do you actually do it like that? Do you have a calendar on the wall? To manage you and your husband and three children as well with their various play dates and other things…

How do you manage your schedule on a practical level?

Andrea Pearson: I have several systems depending on which phase of the child I'm working with. So right now, the kids are younger, so we don't spend a lot of time in my office.

My kids generally will play around me and they're very content. I've raised them to be super independent. And so, I don't play with them. I play with them once a day, and then I'm like, nope, this is how my mom raised me. You're going to be independent.

Joanna Penn: Mine too.

Andrea Pearson: They don't rely on me for their entertainment and so they'll play around me. But in my office, I've got a dry erase board and I go by weekly schedules.

I don't go daily because daily is too hard to predict with kids. But if I go weekly, there's almost always a day or two where I can knock out pretty much all of my To Do list. And so, I keep on my dry erase board.

I'm looking at it right now. I've got writing and publishing and a list of stuff I want under there. I've got business. And so, business would be if I need to buy stock photos or email and things like that. And then I've got personal and so, and then I just move them along to the, down to the section where I'm currently working on them or the done part of my dry erase board.

If I'm down in the living area, I've got a calendar set up on my fridge. It's not a month to month and a day to day calendar. It's just a list of the current books I'm working on and what days I need to actually have started the revision process or the outlining process or the dictating process.

I do that a lot. I also keep those kinds of things on my phone. I use a Galaxy Note 8 and I know it's not the latest version of the notes, but it works, and I use that stylus pen quite a bit. I'll like screenshot the calendar and then I know later versions you can actually write on the calendar, but I'll sit and outline on my phone what times I need to do things and when I need to have them done.

I'm a huge fan of To Do lists. I love the process of actually physically writing. I've found that using it on the computer takes away that part of the brain that it gets engaged for me. And so, I've found that writing on the dry erase board or writing on pieces of paper or writing on my phone or whatever, that helps cement it into my brain.

Occasionally I'll buy those big calendars, the really massive ones and I'll keep that by my desk and then I'll work ahead and then I'll put down again the same things. Like when do I need to start dictating to get the book done in time?

When do I need to start revisions and things like that. When is it due to my editor?

I think a lot of authors are the same. We're obsessed with papers and pen. And so, if I have multicolor paper and pens available, then I'm able to be more productive for some reason. I don't know why, but it's just that creative side of my brain in the outlining and working the more tedious part of the process.

Joanna Penn: A couple of points there. Obviously, you get a lot done, but you are spending some time shuttling and planning to get stuff done as opposed to you're not just going maybe I'll get up tomorrow and have a bit of time to write and maybe I'll do something. I might make it up at the time.

You’re planning your time in a pretty hardcore way.

Andrea Pearson: Yes. Like I said, it's the week-to-week. My baby has the flu right now, so I can't say on this date I have to do this because I'm not going to make it.

But I am pretty strict when it comes to the weeks. And my husband is 100%, a bajillion percent on board. And so, he's very supportive of this. He'll frequently come home from work and say, Hey, what do you need done and what do you need me to do? And things like that. And so that helps a lot.

But if I don't schedule, if I'm not at least a little bit of a schedule Nazi, if I don't value my business time, then nothing gets done because know what, it's like you run a house. There's so much that can be done all the time in our house.

We built this house. It's only a year and a half old, but still, there's so many projects that need to be done. And so, if I'm not careful, if I don't schedule it, if I don't have things written down where I can see them visually as a reminder, like I said on the fridge, or on my office wall, then things just don't happen.

Joanna Penn: I get it. I'm a scheduler. I like to do lists. I do all these things too. I think you have to have these things. This is really important, people. You cannot keep everything in your brain. You just can't.

Andrea Pearson: You’re not in junior high anymore. Your brain does not have that elasticity any longer.

Joanna Penn: I think we expand our life, and especially as independent authors, it's not just the writing, there's the publishing tasks, the marketing tasks, the business stuff, everything. And each book is in a different stage of what's happening.

I was writing this morning, going to the cafe and doing novels. This afternoon, I've got three German books coming out tomorrow and I did some audiobook publishing for another book. So, it's like three projects at the same time at different phases of project management.

And that's what we are, isn't it?

We have to be creative, but also a project manager.

Andrea Pearson: Yes. Definitely.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Let's talk about dictation because you seem to have cracked the code on dictation. I listen to you and think I want to be like Andrea.

How does the dictation and writing process work for you? Explain that first because your speed is incredible.

Andrea Pearson: I'm pretty fast at dictating, but if I don't have things set up first, then I'm very slow at dictating.

What I have to do is I brainstorm for a while the series, and sometimes that'll be like five hours, and sometimes that's five minutes. Because if you're on contract, you can't just not brainstorm a series. You actually have to produce something.

If I have lots of time, I just let it germinate in the background while I'm working on other things. But if I don't have a lot of time, I actually have to force myself.

And the way I do that is I go for walks; movement equals productivity for me and a lot of people. I chew on sugar-free gum, if that helps. I outline. I'm not huge into outlining anymore. In the beginning I used to do 50,000-word outlines.

Joanna Penn: That's a novella.

Andrea Pearson: It is it pretty much is.

I know there's other authors who do it that way, and that's kind of how I used to have to do it because I didn't trust myself when I actually started writing that I would know how to do it. When I was outlining, I would write down things that occurred to me, now that I'm dictating, and now that I've written, 60 whatever books, I trust myself.

I know that once I get into the dictating process, I'll still have the same brain and the same creativity. And so, my outlines aren't very extensive anymore. I usually just do a bullet point for a scene and I try to aim for between 25 and 50 bullet points that'll make up about a 50 to 60,000-word book.

I'm not huge into description. My books are pretty fast-moving and they're very plot-heavy, but not a lot of description. And so, I have to make sure that my outline has enough scenes under each bullet point. Otherwise I get stuck in the dictating process when I realize I'm not going to make my goals.

After I do all of that, and it usually takes me about a day, sometimes two days, to outline a full novel. Now I dictate it. The reason I started dictating was because I was forced to, I broke a finger and it tore ligaments. And I still have a hard time typing. It's been three or four years now, and it still hurts to type if I do it for a long time. And so, I had to dictate.

I was one of those forced to dictate type people. And now that I do what, I absolutely love it.

The revisions when you're dictating, depending on how good your setup is, they can be pretty difficult to get through. In the beginning, that was the case with me. My dictations are usually 90 to 95% correct. But there's that 5 to 10% that really throws me sometimes. And so, it takes me a long time to revise.

What I ended up doing, and this is how I have it worked up now, I emailed my list and I asked for volunteers and I said, Hey, I'm willing to pay somebody $50 per manuscript to go through what I've dictated and make it sound like English.

Because one of the things about me is I stutter a bit when I'm thinking, and if I don't know where I'm going ahead of time, I'll, I'll, I'll do this, I'll do this, I'll do this, like that. And so, I tried to figure out exactly what I'm saying, but when I'm dictating, I don't always have that luxury.

I had 200 people respond back saying they wanted to do it, and I ended up going with somebody who has read every single book I've written and she's paid for every single book I've written, and she knows my universe inside and out, and so she goes through and she makes them sound like English.

She removes those little bits of stuttering. I know some people who dictate fantasy, they'll put in a substitute word. This reader, she knows my worlds well enough where she knows when I'm trying to say.

She usually gets those back to me within 24 hours, which is phenomenal because it would take me longer. I get stuck in the plot rather than just English-izing it.

That first round of revisions is still the hardest, but that's okay because at this point, my first round of revisions when I was typing was still difficult, but they're manageable now.

I do five pages a day, takes me about 20 days and I can get through a novel that way. And I do my second revision. I do an outline revision. I don't read my books out loud because I dictate so much. I try to save my voice.

I use a program called Natural Reader. It's free. You can upgrade for like 80 bucks, but the free version is fine and just reads it out loud to me. And then when I'm done with that, I don't use beta readers anymore. I used to, but I found that it just got to the point where I wasn't using their suggestions anymore.

I edit on the side. I don't anymore, but I did in the past. And so, I understand grammar enough not to need people to tell me how to write. They just catch little typos here and there. I don't use a beta reader anymore.

Instead, I send straight to my editor. And by the way, she didn't even notice when I stopped using beta readers. I didn't tell her. I just started sending to her and she didn't even notice.

Joanna Penn: Just on that, I think that's a confidence thing. I think when you are a new writer, you need people to almost tell you that things are okay. And then as you write more books, you're like, I know how to do this.

Andrea Pearson: Exactly.

Joanna Penn: You need a professional to do the thing that professionals do.

Andrea Pearson: Exactly. And you know what your weaknesses are. You know what your strengths are. And a lot of the time because you've been doing it long enough, you recognize where there's going to be holes in the plot.

And so, if you need that you can ask your editor to look through it. Or you can have one or two readers and just say, Hey, is this a problem?

Joanna Penn: Or you can read it through and fix it yourself. Which I think is where we get to. Like I know there is a problem and I know how to fix it.

Andrea Pearson: So, my editor gets through it. She usually takes about four days. She gets it back to me, and this is the same editor from the publishing company. She's an author. And she writes two novels a month. And so, she doesn't take on clients. She's fantastic.

And then after she's done, I send it to my review crew, which is like a street team. And they look for typos and I've got some really good eagle-eye readers on there, and they'll find spare typos. And I usually tell them, please get it back before the book is published.

And sometimes I'll do an incentive, like if you read it before the day it comes out and get those typos to me, then I enter them into a giveaway. And that's not based on reviews. That's based on whether they read the book. So, it's not illegal.

Joanna Penn: I think that's fantastic.

So, I think the key, because I am sporadic for dictation. Right now, I'm doing the beginning stages of NaNoWriMo. I don't know what this book is. I could turn on my dictation, my little recorder, and I don't know what to say.

For me, discovery writing and research is a much bigger part of my process and part of what I love about being a writer.

I think for people listening that that is the key. You've put down even just a few bullet points or 50 bullet points or whatever, but you have an outline. So, when you turn it on, you know what to say.

That's the problem with dictation. You have to know what to say.

Andrea Pearson: I struggled with that quite a bit in the beginning. And something I found that helped for me was if I knew I had to describe a house, I would find a house that looked like what I wanted the house to look like. And then I would describe that. I found that seeing something visual helped give me the grounding that I needed to go off to actually start the dictating process. I don't need to do that anymore. But that's something that really helped me in the beginning.

Joanna Penn: Once I know kind of what's going on, I do the same thing. I'll look for a scene where I'm going to set the scene and bring up pictures on the computer and stuff. So good tips there.

You have two podcasts for authors; the new, as we record this Six Figure Authors podcast with Lindsay Buroker and Joe Lallo, which is great. Highly recommend that one.

And also Self-Publish Strong podcast, which is you and also sometimes your husband and you have another one for your readers as well, which is kind of crazy. I have two podcasts, but I don’t write as much and I feel like a slacker next to you!

What part does podcasting play in your author life? It can't just be for book sales because I know it's a long game. Is it for community? Why do so much audio?

Andrea Pearson: It's mostly for community. I'm home with my kids all day, so I like my podcasts. They allow me to reach people, even if it's sometimes one way, one-sided, like with my fiction podcasts, which by the way, I record in spurts and stages. I don't do it every week. I'll do like batches, which I think is what you do, isn't it? You do batches, right?

Joanna Penn: Pretty much.

Andrea Pearson: The Self-Publish Strong podcast I do with my husband. That one is based off of our passions. We're both movie people. We watch movies and we give writing tips based off of great and awful movies. And that's just a lot of fun.

We make fun of movies all the time anyways, so we decided to just turn it into a podcast. And then it talks about marketing and publishing, which are things that I'm passionate about. I haven't been doing them as long as you, Joanna. I mean, for crying out loud.

My Self-Publish Strong podcast has been going for almost two years now, but I haven't yet reached that point where I feel like it's taking a whole ton of time yet. I did hire my brother. He's a sound engineer and he does all of the edits for me on both podcasts Actually, this one and the Six Figure Authors one.

I do it to connect with people. The Six Figure Author podcast I get to hang out with Joe and Lindsay on a weekly basis. And then the one with my husband, it's kind of like a date. We actually have this set aside time where we get to talk to each other.

I make money off of my one podcast when I'm running a discount or coupon on my courses. But that's not the reason I started it. And it doesn't pay for itself yet. And so, it's just mostly for community. It's just something I absolutely love doing.

And you're the reason I started podcasting, so I have you to blame that.

Joanna Penn: Well then, I’m really glad because obviously writing books is amazing, but podcasting changed my life in so many ways. And like you say, it's community. I started podcasting back in 2009 because I didn't have any friends in the author space. I didn't know anyone. And the only way to do it is by like, Oh, Hey, how about I interview you?

Andrea Pearson: Yeah, that's cool.

Joanna Penn: You meet people and it's a network.

I'm so glad you said that because so many people start podcasting because they think it's going to make money, but it's not, is it?

Andrea Pearson: No, not yet. Not for most people. But it's like a roundabout thing. One of the things I get most from listeners is the pay it forward thing. They're willing to help out with something because they feel like I'm helping them out with something.

That’s networking. It’s very roundabout and it takes a long time. It's not something you should start off thinking that you're going to be making money because it's free. Nobody's buying the podcast unless you have an audience and you do the Patreon thing.

Joanna Penn: Like my wonderful patrons. Thank you, Patrons! [www.patreon.com/thecreativepenn]

But also, I did it for six years before I monetized. So, things are different, but I'm really glad you talked about that.

I also want to ask about your husband, Nolan. You do, like you said, The Self-Published Strong podcast. And this is something interesting. You said he has a day job but also helps you with lots of things and obviously he's into all of this stuff.

I've been husband-wrangling since 2015 when my husband left his job to join the business. I call it wrangling because realistically there are things that you might expect your husband/partner to do. Usually, you want to get rid of the things you don't want to do and sometimes the husband doesn't want to do the things that you want him to do. Speaking from personal experience, of course!

Any tips for working with loved ones? A lot of people work with their children as well, for example.

Andrea Pearson: I think in our case, especially with a spouse, there's respect. We can't treat our husbands like employees because that's not what they are. They are partners.

I tell him, I'm like, do whatever you want to do. He does all my Amazon ads and he's also started writing in the last year or so. So, he's actually a phenomenal writer, but I didn't actually expect him to write.

We actually talked about this a week ago. When you said my husband doesn't want to write. I'm like, I didn't know my husband wanted to write. He's a creative, though. And so, I don't treat him like an employee. And I know you're the same. We talked about this two years ago at the first business master class we were at together.

We work with their strengths. He's a really smart guy. I know your husband does a lot of data science stuff as well, doesn't he? My husband does a lot of data science, and so I take him, I hand off problems. I'm like this is a problem I'm having. How can I fix it?

And he's got a brain. He can see things from the outside and tell people where their problems are and how to fix it. And that's been a huge benefit for me. I just give him free rein. Our goal is for him to quit in May and he's writing now, but he's doing a whole bunch of other stuff too. He has illustration clients and things like that that he's doing work for. And I just let him go where his own creative brain takes him.

Like he doesn't tell me what to do. I mean, he's like, well, if you wrote in this genre, we'd probably make more money, but he doesn't tell me I have to do that.

And so, it's pretty much the same with him, things that he enjoys doing. I just let him take the reins on. The boring stuff, the things that I was like really hopeful that he would take over in the beginning, I have my assistant do now and she lives across the country for me and I can tell her what to do without having any problems.

Joanna Penn: I think you've hit the nail on the head. Basically, respecting what they want to do with their life as opposed to, Oh, great, you're joining the business. Here's all the things I don't want to do. I totally agree with you.

And then sometimes it's surprising. My husband was the one who really put our investment strategy into place. I know how to make money, but I had not learned to keep money. And investments.

Andrea Pearson: Yeah. My husband too.

Joanna Penn: So now we're in a much better position than we would've been because of a high-level decision-making process that I am too in the day-to-day weeds to come up with. And that was surprising.

So, I think that it is a real tip to have the freedom to roam and not expect them to be a carbon copy of who we are.

Andrea Pearson: We marry people who compliment us in a lot of ways. He's going to be able to take over, or she, whoever, can take over things that maybe you might be weak at and don't recognize.

I was saying that he sees things that I can't see. And like you said, the day to day, I'm stuck in where the rubber meets the road, the daily grind stuff. And he's separate from that. And so, he's able to be more impartial.

One thing they hit on at the masterclass was eliminating time and money leaks. He's great at doing that. He's like, okay, so how much time are you spending on this? How much money are you spending on this? Can we adjust that? Can we fix that?

My husband's a natural saver. I'm a natural saver, but I didn't learn how to be a natural saver until I married him. He’s fantastic with managing the finances of things. And so that's been huge for us.

Joanna Penn: You’ve mentioned the masterclass a couple of times and we were there last weekend. I'm going to point people to the Six Figure Authors podcast because I just listened to the first half of your double show about it.

People have been asking me to do a whole show on it and I was going to, but I have so much going on in my brain. I just can't do it. I look at my 40 pages of and kind of go, I just know I’m not ready to tackle it.

Since you have managed to put a podcast together on there, so you've actually been able to process things. Were there any sort of aha moments or things that were surprising? Like not, you know, cause lots of things are covered at NINC at 20Books to 50 K. Lots of stuff is covered elsewhere. But I find the business master class to be challenging. I kind of different levels.

Any aha moments or things that you particularly thought were worth going to the Masterclass for?

Andrea Pearson: This year they focused completely on licensing. And one of the things they said right off the bat was, don't think of your products as books. Think of them as ideas, which have multiple things, including books that you can license.

Just looking at the broader picture, can you do audiobooks? Can you do merchandise? Can you do escape rooms? Games and all. There's just so many different things that you can license from that. One specific idea of streaming videos and things like that. YouTube videos.

That was one of those aha moments for me. And then again, eliminating leaks, time leaks and money leaks and all of that, that was hugely beneficial to me.

Joanna Penn: There was so much. So just to comment on these few things.

The licensing thing I thought was interesting because it was very much about consumer product licensing. So, the show in Vegas is consumer products, whereas I was at Frankfurt book fair, which is all about foreign rights licensing and things like audio and other stuff like that.

So, this was a step beyond just the licensing that many indies do. For example, when I was chatting with someone and said, Oh, I'm not necessarily going to do products. And they were like, why have you not done a creative pen? Why do you not work with a pen manufacturer? I could do that.

Like you said, it's not just necessarily a book. It's ideas or brands that you own and control and The Creative Penn brand, which I have books, but it has other things that could be associated with it.

Or pretty much all my characters have tattoos. I don't have tattoos personally because I couldn't possibly decide on one. But pretty much all my characters have different tattoos. I could do t-shirts with tattoo designs from of my books or actual tattoos that you can get from these, um, printable tattoo sites, not ones that you actually get done.

These are just some ideas, but it was beyond books, wasn't it?

Andrea Pearson: Yes. And one thing that I really liked that they talked about was don't merchandise things like your series name or the name of a book. Merchandise, things that your characters would want to wear, because those are things that your readers are going to want to wear. The tattoo idea is fantastic because of your character wears it, which they do, then readers would be more likely to as well.

Joanna Penn: The other thing that hit me was this power differential that the person who owns the intellectual property has in the relationship.

In publishing, we're so used to being the ones going cap in hand to publishers, whereas this was very much the other way around. It was, no, you are in the power position as the IP controller, the intellectual property holder and people who want your brand and your ideas will come to you.

Andrea Pearson: Yes. You have all the cards. You're the one that's in charge.

And that's another thing that they talked about was how when you go to like licensing expos, it's different from Hollywood. Hollywood's out there to grab everything and they take advantage and exploit and everything.

But when you go to these licensing conventions, people who do games and all of these different things, they actually want to have it be mutually beneficial. They want to make you happy. They want to work with you, they want you to get what you want. And so, it's not, I mean, of course they want to get the most out of it as possible, but it's not something where they're trying to take advantage.

I absolutely love that. I think that's a fantastic way to look at it because authors are nervous. It's the way we've been browbeaten, we're nervous when it comes to our licenses and our IP and things like that. And we don't need to be.

Joanna Penn: And then the time and money leak. I agree. I think that was interesting and I think we're quite similar characters who get stuff done. And sometimes I look back, especially because my husband makes these strategic statements every now and then and then goes back to what I sometimes perceive is doing nothing.

And I'm like, okay, that was a big strategic statement, and you're completely right, and I have just spent a whole month doing something probably I shouldn't have done. I get that.

Andrea Pearson: I'm a really loyal person. And so, once I sign up for a service, I have a really hard time cutting it, especially if I know the owners of the service. I ended up canceling my subscription to a service where I know the owner because I haven't used it in two years. And what's the point? Our relationship does not have to be money based, and so I don't need to continue providing money to a service that I don't use anymore, just because I like the owner.

Joanna Penn: Ooh, that's a good one. And that, to me, is a money leak.

Money leaks, especially now with software as a service. So, these monthly recurring payments that maybe when you signed up, you were like, Oh, it's only five bucks a month, or 10 bucks a month. And then, as you say, a year later, that's $120 and I haven't used it. So, there's a direct tip for people like go through what you're signed up to and cull stuff.

Anything that came up for you around time leaks?

Andrea Pearson: Time leaks would be little things that I do that I could hand off to my assistant, you know? There's things, and again, does she need to even be doing them?

Are there are things that don't matter, they don't produce results and you do them because it's either fun? There's certain projects that I like to do that are a waste of time that I could enjoy doing something else even more. I actually like data and gathering things like that, and I hand that off to my assistant now because there's no reason why I should be doing those things.

And then again, if it's something that's not going to be beneficial, then she shouldn't even be doing them. My newsletter list, just little random things here and there that I know I need to do, but that are difficult for me to do. So, I have my assistant set up my weekly newsletter.

She'll upload pictures of my kids. I share pictures of my kids. I share funny things that my kids say with my readers, and she uploads those every single week. She's the one who uploads. If I'm doing newsletter swaps, I have her do those things because those are technically time leaks for me when I could be having somebody else do them instead.

And then specifically from the conference, just researching things that I know I'll never do. There's certain things in marketing that I know would probably be beneficial, but I know I will never have time to do it. So why even research it, other than to help other people?

Joanna Penn: Well, here's a question then. This year was a year of learning for me, and I didn't speak at conferences. I went to conferences, and this Vegas conference was very expensive for me financially. Healthwise, it was very expensive. I was sick and I got home and I was sicker, and I had a lot of sickness and it costs me in time.

But it was well worth it. And many of those ideas, I think for me, the reason I can't do a show on it is because there's such big ideas that I need time to really consider the impact on my business. And how I want to go forward now. So, this idea of how we spend our time and how we spend our money.

You went to Vegas, you have children. How do you justify spending time on conferences, which also costs you money, because you could have been writing more books or whatever.

For people listening who worry about going to conferences like this, is it worth it?

Andrea Pearson: I used to participate in a local conference. They would have me come and present and I did it every single year. We would pay for my mother-in-law to fly down and stay with the kids. And it was a little time leak because the people who attended the conference were authors who are just starting out and they would want to hire me for consulting and things like that, but the kinds of things they needed my help with were things that they could get pretty much anywhere just by doing a simple Google search.

I looked at it and I was like, this is not a benefit for me timewise. And so, I stopped doing those. The only conference I do right now, and I generally only do one a year just because, again, it is time. And would I be better off writing? The only conference I do now is for now is the Business Masterclass that Dean and Kris put on.

The reason it's worth it to me is that there's such a heavy emphasis on networking. That first year I met you, I met Mark Lefevbre. Damon Courtney was not there that year. I met him last year. I met Lindsay Buroker and Joe Lallo.

The value that has come from that first conference is huge. I've made a lot of really good connections because of that, but then I've gone every year since, because it's not just who I can meet, it's also who I can help.

I find a great deal of pleasure in being able to help other people. And because this conference is geared more towards advanced writers, I can go and teach marketing and know that they're going to better implement what I'm teaching and that they're in a better position to implement it.

It's satisfying the itch that I have to teach people and to help people further their businesses while also satisfying as social itch. I get out of the house for a week at a time. And I get to go and hang out with like-minded people. And it's also good for me because I'm networking with, again, like-minded people.

This conference definitely has been worth it. I do say people should be attending it, but they are limited. So not everybody listening can go.

Joanna Penn: And again, it's about where you are. There are different conferences for different people in different places, and it's more about what you consider, and you definitely went above and beyond.

I came at the end of one of your evening marketing sessions and boy, you were giving a lot of advice and working very hard. Kudos to you.

We're pretty much out of time, but I did want to mention, because you do have fantastic advice on marketing.

Talk about what's at Self-Publish Strong in terms of resources and courses.

Andrea Pearson: SelfPublishStrong.com is the umbrella website and it has my podcast and things like that there. If listeners want to go to selfpublishstrongcourses.com that's where all my marketing courses are.

I've got, I don't know how many, I've got one on finding reviews and subscribers and my automation sequence one which gives examples of every location pretty much where you can find readers and the sorts of automation sequences that they should go through before you start sending them weekly things.

And again, this is subjective. It's stuff that I recommend. It's not what everybody should do. They can go to selfpublishstrongcourses.com to learn more about my courses.

I've got a, a coupon code for listeners that's 30% off on all of my marketing courses, the price, they're not huge. They're $5 to $50 and so it's not a huge money investment anyway, but that coupon code is YELLOW because yellow is a color everybody knows.

Joanna Penn: Capital letters or lower case?

Andrea Pearson: I don't know if it matters. I always tell people to just do capital. It's teachable. I don't know. Do you know if teachable cares?

Joanna Penn: Haven't got a clue. So yellow and certainly given what we've been talking about, automation sequences, anything that will speed up systems and processes and help us get more done, that is just fantastic.

So where else can people find you and everything you do, since you do so much?

Andrea Pearson: I don't really like social media. I hop on there every now and then. People can follow me on Facebook. My group is called BookBub Promotions and More. I don't update it regularly. It is mostly there as a resource for people who want help with marketing and things like that.

They can just go and ask the group, but my regular places are my podcast. The Six Figure Authors podcast, if you like money and publishing stuff in general and Self-Publish Strong podcast, if you like movies and marketing and learning about publishing and marketing tips and things like that.

Those are the guaranteed, the regular ones. People can always email me.

Joanna Penn: What about your fiction?

Andrea Pearson: Are your listeners going to care about my fiction?

Joanna Penn: They might want to have a look that you know what you're talking about.

Andrea Pearson: That's true.

I'm so not used to talking about my fiction books to authors. You can find me on Amazon. My website is AndreaPearsonbooks.com. One of my courses teaches how to get reviews with autoresponders. A set it and forget it tactic for the sleep-deprived,

The book that I've been focusing mostly on is Shade Amulet, and if listeners want to go and see 'em there are about 40 of the reviews on Shade Amulet that came from my review crew and the rest have come from my autoresponder methods. I don't even have to think about it. It's constantly getting me a steady stream of reviews coming through.

You can check me out on Amazon. That's where most of my reviews are because that's where most everybody's reviews are, because that's where a lot of downloads are.

My marketing books, I do have books for authors available. I don't focus on them. I don't have very many reviews on them because I generally forget that I do nonfiction stuff as well. But if you look at my fiction stuff, you can see where I've put into practice what I teach.

Joanna Penn: I think you're a force of nature, Andrea, and you definitely teach me things, so I highly recommend Self-Publish Strong and the Six Figure Authors podcast.

Thanks so much for your time, Andrea. That was great.

Andrea Pearson: No problem. It was a lot of fun hanging out with you again. We should do this more often. Like yearly at the business masterclass.

Nov 25 2019

1hr 9mins

Play

Tips For Self-Publishing In Translation: Adventures With AI and German

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Once you have a book in the world, translation is one of the ways that you can expand your readership, and potentially your income, through licensing foreign rights. 

Of course, as indie authors, we can reach a global audience through self-publishing our books and many indie authors are moving into publishing in different languages. Some are successful, others not so much.

In this episode, I explain my first experiences with translation in 2014, why I withdrew my books in 2017 and why I have now published 3 books in German in the hope it will help you make some decisions about your own creative work.

My first attempt at translation in 2014 … and why I pulled out of the market

As ever, I am often early with my independent author experiments!

Back in 2014, I got excited about the possibility of translations. I did two novels in German, Spanish, and Italian. I did royalty share deals with translators and did a digital-only deal with Ullstein-Midnight in Germany. I put the books out on Amazon in ebook and print with much excitement …

I did some Facebook ads and tried some email blasts with early services in those markets but … tumbleweed. Very few sales, even for the book with a traditional publisher.

One of my German novels published in 2014

Several things were wrong with this approach:

  • You really need at least 3 books in a niche or series to make investment worthwhile and so that you can make more money per customer. It's very hard to market anything without at least 3 books — which is what I would say to any author in English as well.
  • Readers in those language markets are still primarily physical bookstore based, and online sales had not taken off in 2014. They still aren't mainstream even now!
  • I spread myself too thin and was not able to market effectively in any language, plus there were no easy options for reaching readers in those markets.

In 2017, I gave up and pulled my books out of the market. I paid off the translators, so I lost money, plus I was disappointed and burned from spending too much time on a project that ultimately failed. After 3 years, I asked for my rights back from the German publisher as they also weren't selling enough to make it worthwhile.

Click here for interviews with my translators and thoughts on my original translation experiences.

Why I decided to try again with German translations in 2019

Every year, I do a report on my book sales and this year, I was surprised to find at 7% of my book sales income came from Germany — for non-fiction books in English!

So I decided there was clearly a market I could serve.

7% of my book sales income was from Germany May 2018 – April 2019, up from less than 1% in the year previously. These are mostly non-fiction book sales.

Self-publishing in Germany has started to really take off in the last couple of years, and readers have also begun to buy more books online. At Frankfurt Book Fair, I saw booths of empowered indie authors in the romance and fantasy niches talking to excited fans — and those genre writers are usually the forefront of things to come.

I looked at my top-selling non-fiction books in Germany and then picked the three shortest ones since that would give me marketing ability and cost the least in terms of translation. Basically, this is the lowest risk option for me at this time given my experience last time around.

This addresses the 3 main issues I had last time as this time around:

  • I published 3 books in a niche giving me more potential for cross-selling and more income per customer
  • Online sales have taken off in the country and I have proven sales in the English language for self-publishing authors
  • KDP Select + Amazon ads allow me to market even without knowing the language

Why and how I used AI translation tool, Deepl, to create the first draft

Back in July, I did a whole podcast episode on 9 Ways That Artificial Intelligence (AI) will Disrupt Authors and the Publishing Industry in the Next 10 Years. The advances in AI translation were one of those ways and as part of my research, I looked at a number of companies.

Some of the most advanced were only taking on big accounts, but Deepl came highly recommended from a German bi-lingual friend. It is only EUR7.99 (around US$9) a month with a free 30-day trial and importantly, the copyright for the translation belongs to the owner of the document.

This is super important for German, in particular, because in Germany, the translator can have the copyright to the translation. But if the first draft belongs to you, then any further translation is editing of an initial draft so the copyright remains with the author. Since control of intellectual property is a critical part of the author business, this was attractive!

I recommend at least trying Deepl.com with one of your books, just to see how it works, and particularly if you are bi-lingual in one of the languages they support.

Upload the book and within 1 minute — yes, 1 minute! — it is translated into German, or whatever language you choose. You can do 5 documents (books) per month for EUR7.99 (around US$9), so less than a coffee for a whole translated book.

Most people I asked about the various language translations said it was 70-80% reasonable, and certainly understandable.

[NOTE: This is non-fiction only! I have not tried it for fiction because there are many more ramifications of language in fiction.] 

If you are a translator, this tool could help with your workflow. It's like a first draft so it should save you time. I believe that AI translation will GROW work for translators, not replace it. Many more authors and publishers will do translations if it becomes cheaper and quicker to do so, but they will still need localization and editing to produce a finished manuscript.

Turning the first draft into a finished manuscript … in another language!

Of course, a first draft is not a finished work that you can publish and expect to get good reviews. I engaged several different editors who were also translators as well as a team of German-speaking beta readers from The Creative Penn community, and this stage took much longer than I expected.

The first hurdle was the use of ‘Sie' and ‘du.' In English, we have ‘you' but in German, and many other languages, there are different words for ‘you.' In this case, ‘Sie' is for a more formal occasion when you don't know someone, and ‘Du' is for informal friendship usage. The associated words in a sentence also change form based on the choice so it is not a find and replace job.

Deepl didn't translate every occurrence in the same way, so we had to make a decision. We did the first book with ‘Sie' but my beta readers said it just didn't sound like me, so we went with ‘du,' and I'm happy with the result because my beta readers are happy! Apparently ‘du' is more common in the self-help niche and used by bloggers.

In terms of the editor-translators, they still need experience with the non-fiction niche in order to translate specific words and also to ‘localize' the content.

For example, Erfolgreich als Self-Publisher (Successful Self-Publishing) has a whole load of resources that are different for the German market. I couldn't have done that without my wonderful German editor (whose info I am deliberately not sharing as she is on maternity leave. If she returns to work, I will update this article!)

Why I am starting out with KDP Select and Amazon exclusivity for German ebooks

I am a vocal supporter of wide publishing — when authors have at least 3 books in a series (fiction or non-fiction) and they have the time and knowledge to market more widely. It takes a few books before an author is ready to think about different kinds of publishing and book marketing, so it makes sense to start with Amazon. Plus, we also have the most extensive opportunities for English language books, and many of those opportunities are not available in other countries and languages.

My wide publishing for English language is based on the fact that I do global marketing for an English language audience. My podcast has been downloaded in 218 countries, and this site has a global reach, as well as social media being available everywhere. I want readers in all those countries to be able to buy my books, or borrow them from libraries, so wide publishing is best for what I want to achieve as an author and business-woman with a long-term mindset.

BUT/ I do not have a platform in German, I don't speak German, I don't actively market in German (other than on Amazon), and the opportunities for German language publishing and book marketing are not as extensive as in English.

So, I am starting out with Amazon KDP Select for ebooks in order to take advantage of some of the marketing opportunities that do not require language to use. I will also start with Audible exclusivity once I can get an audiobook done for Mindset. ACX is not available in Germany at the time of writing this, so the pool of narrators is much smaller. Hopefully, this will change in 2020.

I may revisit this over time, but the other ebook retailer, Tolino (which you can reach through the aggregators Draft2Digital and PublishDrive) does not have the type of promotional capability as Amazon. Some indies I met at Frankfurt said that it was harder for them to market on Tolino, which means it would be even more difficult for me!

Ingram does have print partnerships in Germany, so I will look at that next.

Book marketing in German — when you don't speak the language!

In October 2019, Amazon KDP added amazon.de to the KDP Dashboard so we can now use Amazon Advertising for books in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and anyone else who shops on the DE store. Go into the KDP Dashboard and click Promote and Advertise. Then choose the store you want to advertise to.

You can use auto-ads based on a budget, which is brilliant if you don't speak the language. You can also use Publisher Rocket which will soon be releasing a German version to pick keywords. (Thanks to Dave Chesson for delivering a much-needed service!)

I have around 400 subscribers to my email list in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, so I emailed them on launch and I made advanced review copies available. I will also be doing some Facebook Ads targeted to authors in those countries who have an interest in self-publishing.

I have a few interviews booked on German podcasts, but of course, I will be speaking English!

My thoughts on translation and rights licensing, AI and the future

So, was it worth doing?

I'll give these books a year in order to make a financial return. It was cheaper to get the initial translation done with Deepl, but it still cost for the editing, extra formatting help, marketing and mostly, my time in managing the whole process. It was more ‘expensive' than expected and took a lot more time than I had planned.

I was frustrated by the lack of control because I couldn't even fix a stray typo or get the formatting right on Vellum because I don't speak the language. I also can't do much in the way of marketing, so it's not like going indie in English anyway.

I think it's worth doing translation projects if you have evergreen books that you want to invest in for the long term — and if you can invest the time, and have a marketing angle. But it's best done if you are bi-lingual or can partner with other authors/self-publishers to help do the parts of the process that need language + niche knowledge.

I also think we are in a period of 5-10 years where rights licensing is going to continue as-is for foreign languages, but I do believe that in the 2030s, we will be using wearables that translate automatically.

Neural Machine Translation (NMT) is an expanding area, with Google recently introducing a model with 103 languages trained on 25 billion examples [Synced Review] AI translation earbuds have been released by a number of companies [Today Online].

Many of us already use Google Lens to translate signs, menus and other written text while traveling [TechCrunch]. AI translation is developing at great speed and it's inevitable that disruption will come to the translation industry because of this.

In a similar way to AI audio and voice synth technology, I think translation will split into different segments for rights licensing. People will want to consume cheaper books and won't mind AI-translation for a more affordable product, but there will always be a market for artisanal, human-translated, artistic works.

Of course, that doesn't solve the marketing problem! As we all know, just because you have a book available, doesn't mean you can sell any copies. 

All of this makes me want to continue to pursue licensing deals for translation rather than doing it myself. I have non-fiction books in French, licensed through Club Positif, and also in Korean, and will pursue more of these deals through Curl Up Press.

If you are interested in licensing any of my books, please contact me here.

Other resources for translation and rights licensing

If you're interested in translation for your books, check out the resources below:

Bücher in Deutscher Sprache

Do you have experience in translation as an independent author?
Are you a translator with thoughts on what we could improve or what could work for indies?
Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Nov 22 2019

36mins

Play

How To Sell More Books With Reader Funnels With Mark Dawson

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We all want to sell more books — but it's time we started to treat readers differently at the various stages of the marketing process. In this interview, Mark Dawson explains the reader funnel, as well as how he developed confidence in his writing craft and indie business skills.

In the introduction, I give an update on my NaNoWriMo writing and mention my Creative merch, now available on Society6.

Limited Time webinar: Mark Dawson will be going into much more detail on reader funnels and how you can use ads at all stages of the book marketing process, plus doing a demo. Join us on Thurs 5 Dec at 3pm US Eastern / 8pm UK and of course, you can register and get the replay, but if you join us live, you’ll also get to chat with me behind the scenes and also be part of the live Q&A. Join us: www.TheCreativePenn.com/dec19


Today's show is sponsored by PublishDrive, a global self-publishing platform distributing to 400+ stores and 240,000 libraries, with innovative marketing tools like integrated Amazon Ads. The writing process is hard enough, so the publishing and marketing process should be easier. PublishDrive helps authors write more, publish more, sell more and worry less. Go to www.PublishDrive.com to learn more.

Mark Dawson is the award-winning, internationally bestselling author of the John Milton thriller series with over a million books sold. He runs training courses for authors at Self-Publishing Formula, and he's also the co-host of the Self-Publishing Show.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • On selling a print-only deal to a traditional publisher
  • Why splitting intellectual property rights is important for every author
  • The importance of stepping out of our comfort zone
  • Creative practices that keep the writing going even in a busy life
  • The challenges and opportunities of publishing in another language
  • Using different levels of engagement for different types of readers in a sales funnel
  • What does the future of publishing hold?
  • Why not needing permission is so liberating and democratizing for writers

You can find Mark Dawson at MarkJDawson.com and SelfPublishingFormula.com and on Twitter @SelfPubForm and @pbackwriter

Transcript of Interview with Mark Dawson

Joanna Penn: Mark Dawson is the award-nominated, internationally bestselling author of the John Milton thriller series with over a million books sold. He runs training courses for authors at Self-Publishing Formula, and he's also the co-host of the Self-Publishing Show. Welcome back, Mark.

Mark Dawson: Hello Jo. I should correct, and I should've done this much earlier, I'm actually an award-winning author, if you don't mind!

Joanna Penn: You need to fix your bio on your website.

Mark Dawson: I won the Wiltshire Life Creative of the Year in the very small, small part of the world where I live. So it's not a very prestigious award. So I can actually say, damn it, I am an award-winning author.

Joanna Penn: That's great. And actually, two tips there for people listening. One is it doesn't matter what award you win. I am the same. I am an award-winning creative entrepreneur and it wasn't that big a deal, but it's still an award and I have it on a shelf.

And also, update your bio on your website. Tip for everyone, including me.

Okay, well, of course, you've been on the show a number of times. And of course, you have your own show with James Blatch and people should probably know you by now.

What I want to ask is something that has just happened. I saw on your Facebook feed, quite a rare thing for indie authors to achieve. There's probably a handful of indie authors who've done this.

Tell us about your print-only deal for the Milton books that you've just announced.

Mark Dawson: It's really cool. And I think I posted it in the SPF group and not everyone, I think, realized that it's a reasonably big development.

I'm not saying this because I want to bring myself up. Objectively, it's quite a big deal.

I remember back five, six years ago, Hugh Howey managed to do this. He was able to negotiate with a big fire publisher to take the print rights.

It basically decouples the print right from all the other rights from his Wool series. And he was able to do a deal with them, so he was able to get print into bookstores and airport bookstores and all those kinds of places where you can sell your books in the largest numbers.

And of course, remember, 70% of the market still buys print. That’s something that we can forget.

So he managed to do that. I think Bella Andre may have done it too, and a few other Indies have managed to do that.

But since then, and I don't really know why, there haven't been that many instances of it. So in other words, keep all the rights that they want to exploit themselves, chief with the digital rights, and then sell print to someone who might be able to do that better than they can.

So I've been looking at this for ages. I'm trying to work out a way to get it done. I even got my brother to join the business and we were in the process of getting quotes from Clay's, a printer from the traditional houses, to run a bigger printing for one of the first Milton books.

We had some contacts with Waterstones in the UK, so we thought we could get them into stores and we were quite close to doing that.

But then, I had a contact from my agent and she said she'd been out to a wedding in Marrakesh, and she was sitting next to someone that she knew who set up Zaphora books. He also set up Quercus books, and published things like Stieg Larsson.

He then moved on to the Bonnier Books, which is just below the top five trad houses, where he snagged Wilbur Smith for eight figures and all of these kinds of amazing deals. And she basically got him onto the Milton books.

He chewed all of them super fast. And wanted to publish me. So we started chatting and he asked me what deals I'd be prepared to do. I think originally he wanted to take all rights and the traditional deal, and I said I wasn't interested. But we kept talking and in the end, it turned out he was prepared to take a chance and do a print-only deal.

So that's what we announced. And in the meantime, he moved from Bonnier. He’s just set up a new publisher, bought Carleton books in the UK. They've rebranded and I think I'm going to be the first fiction author published by their new fiction imprint sometime next year.

So very, very excited about that.

Joanna Penn: That is fantastic. I've been around and seen only a few people do this. I think Gerry Riddle was another one. And of course, LJ Ross in the UK is doing her own print runs. So you mentioned thinking about that.

This is really interesting. We're going to come on to talking about advertising, which you are the king at. But what this turned out was someone who read your books, obviously it was introduced by someone with a vested interest to be fair, but still was introduced to your writing, and read your books, and that's why they decided they were interested in you.

I think this is a really good craft point for people because we are going to get into ads, but at the end of the day, if your books weren't any good, then this guy just wouldn't have been interested. Right?

So it's still about the story. As much as we love marketing.

Mark Dawson: Absolutely. I could probably sell the first book in a series. I don't think the quality matters. I can make a sale of the first book in the series. I could write absolutely turgid rubbish provided the first few pages that are good, I can probably sell those.

But if I write turgid rubbish, there's no way I'll be able to sell the second book. The read-through and reviews would be awful. Eventually, even those sales will dry up.

When we think about advertising and something that I would say to anyone thinking about spending money on ads is to make sure your product is as good as you can.

From the first page the story needs to hold together. It needs to be well written and to well-edited. The cover has to be great. That blurb needs to be great. All of those, the packaging and then the product itself, they need to be absolutely pristine. Because otherwise, you might set a few, but you won't sell many, and that's a pretty good way to lose money.

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. And we should just say, if people don't know much about traditional publishing, that the reason these deals are so rare is that traditional publishers want all of the intellectual property rights, all of the different types of copyright that there are.

Another good example is audio rights. Most authors now can't seem to split out audio rights from a traditional deal, because publishers now know how much money that's worth. So it's always in our interest to split out the rights. It's great that you've done that.

So I want to move on because, when I met you years ago and I actually found the picture – it was soon after we met you and you and me and Nick Stephenson in a pub somewhere in London, the year Audible launched, you remember that?

Mark Dawson: ACX? Yes.

Joanna Penn: ACX, yes. They had just launched it. Was it like 2015 or something? 2014.

Mark Dawson: Maybe earlier. Did I have red wine all over my shirt?

British indie authors Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn, and Nick Stephenson. London 2014

Joanna Penn: You were wearing a lovely beanie. You know the picture. And I remember it because everyone now knows you but they didn't back then.

You make seven-figure sales with your books. You've got these deals, like this print-only deal. You've got traditional deals with Amazon publishing. You do very well with your book sales. And it seems like you are incredibly confident, but when I met you, I remember that at the time you'd been burned by traditional publishing.

You had three, let's call them ‘failed,' noir novels that you were just like, I am done with all that, and you weren't the Mark Dawson that people see today. I want to remind people of that because it's so hard to see your journey at this point.

How did you get from that previous incarnation, which many authors still feel like, to where you are today?

I know it a big question, but I guess it's the mindset that makes a difference. How has your mindset changed?

Mark Dawson: I didn't used to be very confident. I remember when I was ringing around to find a university to go to after taking my A levels, I hated making phone calls. I used to hate picking up the phone because it just made me nervous. I didn't like it because I couldn’t control the other side of the conversation, I suppose.

I didn't used to like public speaking. I used to be very, very afraid of doing it.

As we record this, next Tuesday, I'm speaking to a thousand people in Vegas. I'm keynoting the 20Books to 50K conference. The thought of doing that would have had me in hives not that long ago. So, that's a part of it, is just being prepared to push yourself out of your comfort zone and do things that you might not be that pleased about or happy about the prospect of doing.

For public speaking, for example, maybe I started to speak to 50 people and 60 people, then a couple of hundred people, and then I found I quite enjoyed it. I liked the buzz of being on stage. I actually quite like being nervous because that's a good energy that you can feed off.

I know this particular subject, I know it very, very well now. I've been doing it for a long time, so I know that I can't think of a question that I would struggle to answer. So that's the public-facing side of things.

But then, then with regards to books, you're right, I did have a bad experience with traditional publishing and, and my first indie books didn't do all that great. I was looking at the numbers the other day and I didn't make much money to start with, but it's looking at the first good review that I got from someone who wasn't a member of my own family.

And then the first check that I got from Amazon and the first email from a reader or the first reader to join my mailing list. I built on all of those things.

And then before you know it, you've got a hundred people on your mailing list and they’re telling you that they enjoy your books. You've got 10 reviews on Amazon. If you let it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and it can feed on itself. I'm fairly confident now that I can write a good book. They sell very well. I'm as calm as I can be. I'm a pretty decent writer.

All of that experience and exposure over the years has made me much more confident about this kind of stuff than I was when we first met and I had red wine poured over me by Nick Stephenson!

Joanna Penn: Happy days. That's great about the mindset about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. That's so important.

I was at Frankfurt Book Fair a couple of weeks ago now, and that's always a big issue with my comfort zone because that is the traditional publishers' den. It is filled with trad pub and it just brings up all my ego issues. I would love to be as big as that picture of JK Rowling. It's definitely out of my comfort zone.

But it's important to go face the edge so that you know which way you want to go.

What are some of the creative practices that you have kept in place because again, I think sometimes people see SPF (Self Publishing Formula) and they think that that is your main thing.

What are your creative practices around writing?

Mark Dawson: Well, that's the thing. I'm freshest in the morning. So my writing always comes first. Everything else from SPF to the podcast, to marketing, to advertising, to speaking to readers, all of that is subsidiary.

I'll usually bracket my day. If I'm writing new stuff, I'll write in the morning, I'll take a break around lunchtime and go for a walk, walk the dog.

I just got back from walking the dog now so that I'm a little bit more recharged and able to do the other things that need to be done. So the main thing is always to get the words in.

I feel uncomfortable if I haven't written. If you put a gun to my head and said, you can choose one of your businesses, you can either run SPF or you can write, I’d choose my books.

Much as James and John and everyone else might not want to hear this, I would choose writing every single day of the week. That's my thing.

Joanna Penn: I think that's so important. Of course, you have a family, you have kids and you work from home.

How do you fit your words in? Do you write at home and how many words do you do in a day?

Mark Dawson: It depends. I've been at home today cause we just got back from Disney on Saturday. So I've had all kinds of bitty things to do there. Some household stuff as well. The internet stopped working, so I need to get that fixed.

This morning has been a bit of a disaster, but I knew it would be, so I'm not bothered about it.

In terms of the actual production, if I'm writing new stuff, I would want to have words down, 2000 words a day. I'm usually okay with that. If I can do 3000, I'm pleased.

Again, it will depend on how I actually choose to write it. I still prefer to type, but I have found more success than I expected with dictating recently. I really enjoy it; it's exciting and it's something that I can see myself doing that more often.

And when I dictate, I can do 3000 words in an hour. 9,000, 10,000, whatever days suddenly become more of a realistic proposition than they might've been if I was just typing away on my keyboard.

Joanna Penn: That’s really good to hear. I do think that's important because our businesses grow and I'm the same. I've now got two podcasts and I'm doing all these other things and it's really important to get back to the book. I've just started the first draft of a new book this morning as we speak.

So, we have these creative cycles, but they need to go next to our business and they need to keep going. Otherwise, the business will fall over basically.

Mark Dawson: My role in SPF is to be a best-selling author because if people don't think I can sell books, why would they bother to listen to me? It doesn't make any sense.

So that's why my main goal is to keep selling as many books as I can.

Joanna Penn: Let’s talk about some publishing things.

Just last week as this goes out, I put out three books in German. So in German and obviously worldwide, but presumably to sell mostly in Germany, Austria, Switzerland.

And also, I have noticed in the last few weeks that Amazon KDP has added Ads in Germany into the dashboard.

Ads on the KDP Dashboard

Now you have books in German, too, but we don't speak the language.

What are some of the things that you are doing to market your books in Germany?

Mark Dawson: That's a good question. One of the problems I've had with teaching other people or persuading people that I know how to teach them is that often people will say ads don't work anymore, and the ad platforms are swamped. It's too expensive if people are ad blind on Facebook, all this kind of stuff.

And it's very difficult for me to say that that's not true because people can look at me and say, well, he's got a big mailing list. I've been doing this for a while, I’ve got lots of books. Why should I believe that he knows what he's talking about? I think that's a reasonable point.

The solution to that for me was to look at what I was doing in Germany because in Germany, as, as you say, I don't speak a word of German. I don't have anyone on my mailing list. I'm effectively a new author.

I have three books translated, so I put those into the market and effectively started from scratch. And what that has enabled me to do is to, is to take very careful note of the effect of the ads that I've started running have on the sales that I have.

I've been able to show from February of this year when I started, when I put those books live, and then I gradually switched on the Facebook ads, gradually switched on the Amazon ads. I've been able to show how much I'm spending and how much I'm making.

The only reason for the increase in revenues because I've been advertising. There isn't any other explanation. Amazon hasn't magically picked me out to make me a seller in Germany. It's because I've actually turned those taps on myself and I can demonstrate with figures as to how effective those ads and have been in how much they've generated for me.

Joanna Penn: And so with the Amazon ads on the dashboard, because obviously I'm planning to use those, is it enough to use the auto ads, for example? Because, of course, finding keywords is difficult. Although I know PublisherRocket is releasing a German version.

But what about auto ads?

Many people listening will be doing this in English, but does it work in German / English for auto ads?

Mark Dawson: Definitely. Auto ads are always the best place to start. You're basically tapping Amazon to pick out keywords that it thinks are relevant to your books and you're bidding on those keywords just as you would in the other markets.

Those ads will show to German readers on Amazon.de, who will then, if your ads are good enough to be tempted to go over and look at your product page and hopefully buy your book. So all of that is exactly the same.

Beyond that, the principles are the same, but you do have to get over the translation issue.

A good tip I would suggest is to look at your category and looking at the best-selling books and start to use those as the keywords. Find out who is the top 20 best-selling romance authors in Germany, and look at their names, look at the titles of their books. Some of the themes that they include, maybe look at their blurbs and start picking those words out. And putting those into your ads.

Also, it's increasingly easy to get decent translation now from the internet. You love futurist stuff. I saw something the other day about the new Google phone, which will translate offline. So you don't even need to be online. It's basically a universal translator. So you can go up to someone in France and speak into your phone and it will playback in French.

Google Translate is amazing now. So the tools are there now for us to be able to navigate different languages that we might otherwise have struggled with.

Joanna Penn: It just takes a little bit longer. I did that with the keywords. I was like, okay, these are some of the keywords. And when I was doing it manually and then I was like what do those actually mean? And then translated them to see if they fit.

We're going to circle back to Germany in a minute. One thing I did want to say on pricing for ads. What I've noticed is when the UK and Germany opened up to everyone on the dashboard – previously it was just the US. I think a lot of American authors are now advertising in the UK and Germany, but they might not realize that the currency is different.

This is important. Don't price in dollars because GDP and Euro are more expensive.

Mark Dawson: Exactly. And things like VAT can be an issue sometimes depending on what your market is as well. So all of that stuff is relevant also.

It's easy now for us to advertise in those markets, let's say in Germany for example. But that doesn't mean that you should. There’s a fairly large English-speaking readership in Germany, but they prefer to read books in German, obviously.

I've had my books available in Germany, in English, for years, and in the same way that everyone who publishes UK and doesn't geographically select the markets they want to sell in, their books will be available in those places. You may well sell a few, you will have sold a few over time, but you're not going to sell enough, I don't think, in English to the German market to justify advertising. It's very unlikely you really need to get a translation done.

And at the moment that is a significant income bar to entry because it's expensive to do it. So that would be my advice. If you're thinking about getting into it, it makes sense to maybe look at getting a translation done first of all, and then using that to advertise.

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. I'm mainly doing it because 7% of my book sales last year were in Germany, in English. And this was for non-fiction. So basically I was like, okay, well what if I had these books in German? So we picked the top three that were selling in English, and I've done them in German.

I only did it in response to the market. And these are non-fiction, which again, are easier to market because people actually searching for a keyword and finding a book that matches.

Mark Dawson: Definitely easier. For sure.

Joanna Penn: Let’s take it up a level on ads because you have got this new thing that you're talking about called reader funnels. I think that this sounds more like a philosophy of advertising.

Give us a bit of an idea as to what reader funnels are and how they can help authors.

Mark Dawson: I've been doing ads for a long time now, and I think as is often the case with me, I drift into a pattern where I just do the steps along the way. I'll keep repeating without necessarily thinking about what the underlying philosophy of the process is.

I've been thinking about what I've done is take a funnel, which is unquestionably a word that comes from marketing.

A funnel is something that you put a prospect down, let's call them a prospect. So a potential new reader, you put them into the funnel and the funnel narrows as it goes down. So you're gradually refining are the characteristics of the readers that are progressing down through the funnel to when they get to the bottom, they know who you are, they know about your books.

At the bottom, they become your super fans. And you want as many of those as we can at the top.

For me, for example, it could be someone who I know through Facebook advertising is interested in the books of David Baldacci. So books that are reasonably similar to mine, they probably don't know who I am at that point. They probably have never heard of my characters or seem like covers or any of that stuff.

What I'm gradually trying to do as they progress through that funnel is introduce them to me, and to my books and my characters.

By the time they get to the bottom, they would have seen different ads on different platforms. Facebook ads and Amazon ads. They would have seen some organic advertising that maybe Amazon has done for me or BookBub, all of this kind of stuff. So by the time they get down to the bottom, they have either bought the book or they are absolutely ready to buy the book.

The next time I send them an ad with a chance for them to buy.

Joanna Penn: Okay. So that describes the funnel. I get that, but I feel like the missing link there is how we treat people at the different levels, because at the moment, and I put my hand up as guilty, you taught me advertising and, but I am absolutely guilty of only using about 10% of what I should be doing.

For example, I've got a book coming out. I will just run some Facebook ads to my list and the lookalike list and I'll stick some Amazon ads on and that will be my campaign. Boom. Done. Send an email out to my list. So that is a hot and a warm level.

What are the different ads that we might use at the different levels of the funnel?

Mark Dawson: Alright. So let's look at Facebook, for example.

At the top level of the funnel, you're looking for people who might like your kind of book, so you could use interest targeting. So it could be similar authors. You might want to target Dan Brown as a similar author, because you know that people who like Dan Brown will probably like your ARKANE books, for example.

We'll be targeting them and then unfortunately as the platform becomes more mature, it gets more difficult to get those easy wins. When I started doing this, it would be enough just to serve ads to Dan Brown fans saying, buy my new book. And they often would do that. It's more difficult to do that now.

My new thinking and what I'm doing a lot now is to basically serve what I call engagement ads up at the top of the funnel. So I'm not necessarily, at that point, looking to get them to buy at that time. Some of them will. You'll still sell a good amount, hopefully enough to cover the cost of the ad.

But what you're trying to do is to build up what you call an engagement audience. Anyone who clicks on the ad, anyone who watches a certain length of the video, if it's a video ad, anyone who likes it, comments on it, anything like that, what you're then doing at Facebook will remember those people.

Then we'll build a new audience for you of people who have engaged with your ad. So the next level down, what you know about them is that they like the books of Dan Brown, and they liked your ad enough to have done something positive. In that regard. What you then do is you serve a slightly different ad to them. I'm persuading them at this point that if this is a book they will enjoy, you have a much warmer audience. You know more about them. You can craft your ads more particularly because you've just got more knowledge.

And so that middle portion of the funnel where you have a fairly warm audience, that's when you start to sell. And then as you get down to the hot level, so people who are on your mailing list, people who follow you on BookBub. People who follow you on Amazon and your Facebook page or all of that kind of thing, are a much more engaged area of the funnel, that will always be your bread and butter.

So as you do right now, you're right, is sending those emails and making those ads, that is where you will convert and get the most sales in return for the investment that you make with your ads.

But you're constantly funneling people down there and you're always trying to drive them to the bottom of the funnel.

Joanna Penn: That makes sense. At the moment, a lot of people have the cold ones, which is trying to get new people in and then they have the hot ones, people on their email list, for example.

But that warm level is really interesting and those engagement ads would presumably be cheaper than the cold ads. At the moment my Facebook ads to my list are really cheap, which is fantastic.

But obviously, if you're just doing a broader reach, Dan Brown + Amazon Kindle, it might be super expensive.

Mark Dawson: Although I still see many people doing very well with that fairly basic targeting.

We've had over 10,000 people take the Ads Course now, something, I think something along those lines. I see quite a lot of people saying, maybe I've done very well on these ads into an audience that hasn't heard of me before.

What do I do when they have heard of me now, what's the next step? And I've been thinking quite a lot about different tactics and slightly more advanced strategies to use. And that kind of philosophical switch is what I'm looking at right now.

I'm probably going to be doing a new module for the Ads Course, which we give everything away. People buy a course from us and in the past, you'd get it all for free. I'm going to have a new, slightly more advanced module that goes with the basic course and when the course goes live at the end of this month into December, some of the new students and old all students will get it as well.

Joanna Penn: I think that's fantastic. You are amazing about this stuff as you keep rerecording things, whenever they changed these systems, which they change all the time. That's why you only open up the courses twice a year because you have to change things and update them.

Thank you for continuing to do that because the changes don't stop, do they?

Mark Dawson: No. You already mentioned that Amazon, you don't need to have an Advantage account now to advertise in German and the UK. That does mean I have to redo quite a lot of the Amazon course. That's on my slate for later this month when I get back from Vegas. It's never-ending. It never stops changing.

Joanna Penn: Very exciting to me because this is new material.

We are doing a webinar together on the 5th of December, 2019 and this is time-limited.

People can find that at TheCreativePenn.com/dec19.

Tell people what they will discover in that webinar.

Mark Dawson: I'll go through my German experience. I want to demonstrate to people that advertising works. And I can do that with very definite figures because that was a new market for me. People didn't know who I was, so I can show you that ads have worked for me in Germany.

And as you said to me before we started recording, you don't need to be selling in German. The principles are the same if you're a new author anywhere.

So that will be useful. I've got some nice little animations that make it really, really easy to understand, and I'll try and do some practical stuff as well. So maybe we'll look at the Amazon dashboard and we'll look at just how easy is this to serve an Amazon ad now.

We've done some live stuff before with Facebook ads, and I think it'd be quite good to do a demo with some Amazon ads, some simple domestic Amazon ads that people can start learning immediately after the webinar, so they don't even need to buy anything. They can actually start testing them straight away.

Joanna Penn: That will be fantastic. I continue to learn more about ads, myself. As we just said, it's ever-changing.

People can join us, www.thecreativepenn.com/dec19.

Before we finish up, I didn't want to also ask about what you think might be happening.

SPF has courses, you've got a podcast and now you're moving into events. I'm going to be at the SPF London event in March 2020. You're off to the 20Books 50K Vegas, which is now like a thousand people. And these events are selling out. You didn't even have to do anything but put something in a Facebook group to sell out London.

It feels like there is a hunger for indie author events that I have never seen before.

And when I was at Frankfurt, I looked around at Frankfurt and went, ‘Oh my goodness, it's like 2012 in the USA because the romance authors and the fantasy authors are getting booths at Frankfurt and it's just beginning in Germany.'

And as we know, Germany really is the next cab off the rank in terms of things taking off.

What is going on? Are we suddenly at day one again, as Jeff Bezos says?

Mark Dawson: I think we were day one everywhere. I've been thinking of this quite a lot recently.

We are an unusual position in that we are very well connected both with people at the start of their careers and people who have been going for a little while.

I look around now and I think that we are very much in the early days still of self-publishing. And, and the reason is, it's kind of counterintuitive to say that because we surround ourselves with other writers who are self-publishing, it becomes a little bit of an echo chamber.

It's quite easy to persuade yourself that what's possible with even the most basic stuff, like it's possible to put a book up on Amazon and so around the world within like 30 seconds. We know that's possible because we've been doing this for a long time and everyone listening to this podcast will know that that is the case.

But most people don't know that. I've done a lot of speaking this year. One in particular Shaftesbury, which isn't too far away from Salisbury. I only did that because they put me up in a nice hotel and I went with my wife.

I asked before I started speaking there, who knows what's possible with independent publishing? No one put their hands up or maybe one did, one person did because she was a course member. I went to my daughter's school and they had the sixth form there, and I asked them who knew what was possible with publishing to Kindle. None of them put their hands up.

Most people have no idea what's possible. And I think that's incredibly exciting. It's exciting for me as someone who teaches people how to self-publish. But also, it's exciting for me as an author, because most people still read in print.

So you have this fast accelerating market. I'm always learning what's possible. We aren’t at an inflection point yet. I don't think we were close to it. Which is fantastic.

And as you say, when it comes to the live event, I was staggered by that. We originally booked a venue that held 280 people and we sold that in 90 seconds. I just basically posted it into the Facebook group. We actually crashed the PayPal page.

And then we then moved to the Southbank Centre, which has 950 capacity, and we sold that in just under a day. That's a pretty good indication that there is a very, very big appetite in Europe and also in the U S you know, with 20Books and NINC and all those conferences.

There's a massive interest in Australasia. I've been asked to go to New Zealand and Australia to talk, and I know you've done that before. People want to learn how to do this. I think that’s very exciting. It's a great time to be writing right now.

Joanna Penn: It is, and it's so strange, isn't it? I actually loved going to Frankfurt for that reason. I've been doing this podcast over a decade, and some days I'm like, is this useful any longer? Sometimes I feel like I'm talking about the same stuff. Or, people ask the same questions, but it is day one for many people.

Some people listening, this may be their first introduction. It was quite an advanced introduction. Sorry if this is your first one! It's really the beginning.

Anything else you see on the horizon or anything else you're excited about?

Mark Dawson: I'm quite excited about one thing we might do at the conference. We're thinking very seriously thinking about getting everyone a free t-shirt. The conference is on Monday the 9th or 10th of March. Tuesday is the London Book Fair.

And so what we've said is everyone should go to the book fair. It's not expensive. If you're in London you should definitely go. So what we’re thinking about doing is getting everyone a bright red t-shirt with something on it that is a polite two fingers up at the industry that will dominate Earl’s Court when we're there.

And then just imagine if we got to say 700 people and they all turn up in these branded t-shirts saying something like, “Ask me about my royalties”. I think that'd be hilarious. So I'm quite excited about that.

But we know, apart from that, I'm excited about things like print only, I think, and we will see more of that. I'm excited about the rapid growth in audio. I had my first Audible Original production go live last week, actually on my birthday, and that has a cast of 10 or 15 actors performing my story with sound effects and music and everything.

I listened to it and it's just amazing. It was really such a cool moment to listen to that.

Even for the people who are just getting involved in self-publishing, it is a very, very exciting time to be writing because you don't need anyone's permission to get your words out into the world now.

And that held me back for a long time. And I know it holds lots of people back and those restraints are not really relevant anymore. That's liberating, democratizing, and very exciting.

Joanna Penn: That's so funny you mentioned that because one of my very first blog posts on The Creative Penn was you do not need permission. And that permission is so pervasive. [You have permission to write.]

For example, we both have friends who are traditionally published and you might say to them, Hey, do you want to be in this promotion? Or even, do you want to run some ads? And they can't because they don't have permission to use their own work in these ways, and don't have access to change their prices or any of this type of stuff.

So that permission aspect is still really important in the community.

Mark Dawson: It is. We actually see the students who are coming on board with us over at the 101 course or Ads for Authors – I won't say who they are, but I've had a good number of quite well-known author signing up now because they are either getting very close to deciding that they want to publish themselves, or they are doing already. Maybe they're not getting great advances anymore. And they say what the hell, why don't they just to do it themselves? We're starting to see more and more of those kinds of authors coming across.

And then on the other end of the scale, you've got Amazon publishing with Patricia Cornwell and Dean Koontz and people like that who are now not quite self-publishing but edging more in that direction.

I'm very encouraged for the health of the industry that we're writing in. And, I think in the next five to 10 years is going to be really exciting.

Joanna Penn: Hopefully we'll still be doing this in another decade.

Where can people find you and everything you do online?

Mark Dawson: For authors, the best place is SelfPublishingFormula.com. We have a podcast on Friday. The Self-Publishing Show and there’s a YouTube channel as well for that, if you want to watch it in video.

And then if you're interested in my books, it's markjdawson.com and I'm easy to find on the social channels and all of that kind of stuff.

Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Mark. That was great.

Mark Dawson: Thanks, Jo.

Nov 18 2019

56mins

Play

How To Write Your Darkness With David Wright

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We write to share our stories and sometimes our darker sides come to the fore. How can we stop self-censoring and deal with the fear of judgment? How do we write our truth without drowning in what arises from within? I discuss this and more with David Wright in today's interview.

In the intro, I talk about Findaway Voices adding keywords for audiobooks; the next level GPT-2 AI text generator has been released, check it out at TalkToTransformer.com and I also discuss why we need to face our discomfort at this kind of tech; plus Kris Rusch on the paradigm shift from powerless writer to powerful owner of IP; and my personal update on NaNoWriMo and more.

Today's show is sponsored by my course, How to Write a Novel: From Idea to Finished Manuscript. Is it your dream to write a novel but you just don’t know where to start?
Have you started writing only to run out of ideas?
Are you suffering from self-doubt about whether you’re good enough to write a novel?
Do you feel overwhelmed by all the information and craft books out there?
Do you want to strip everything back to basics and learn a step by step process to writing your novel?
If yes, this course might be for you. Check out my courses at www.TheCreativePenn.com/learn

David Wright is the co-author of 30+ novels spanning horror, thriller, and sci-fi. He's also a podcaster at the Story Studio podcast and one of the three co-founders of Sterling and Stone Story Studio with Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. both of whom have been on this show several times. Dave has a nonfiction book out: Into the Darkness: Hook Your Readers Without Getting Lost in the Dark, which I am super excited about.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Teaching by sharing personal experiences
  • Why writing matters, especially as an outlet for our feelings
  • What is the definition of horror and darkness?
  • Writing about dark subjects without glamorizing them
  • How the fears of a culture or a generation come up out in horror
  • Researching dark subjects without getting pulled into the darkness
  • Leaving the darkness behind after finishing writing a book
  • Making sure there are rays of hope in dark books
  • On the current environment for mature indie authors

You can find David Wright at DavidWWright.com as well as at SterlingAndStone.net.

Transcript of Interview with David Wright

Joanna Penn: David Wright is the co-author of 30 plus novels spanning horror, thriller, and sci-fi. He's also a podcaster at the Story Studio podcast and one of the three co-founders of Sterling and Stone Story Studio with Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. both of whom have been on this show several times. Dave has a nonfiction book out: Into the Darkness: Hook Your Readers Without Getting Lost in the Dark, which I am super excited about.

Welcome back to the show, Dave.

David Wright: Thank you for having me back. I'm shocked that anybody ever asked me to return.

Joanna Penn: I think this is your third appearance on The Creative Penn in the last decade!

David Wright: That's about as often as my wife wants to see me.

Joanna Penn: We have met in person once at the Smarter Artist Summit a few years ago, which was great. And we've talked about writing dark things before but I think you have managed to avoid writing nonfiction up to this point.

Why this book and why now?

David Wright: Basically, Sean and Johnny like teaching. I don't particularly like it and they both said people want to hear stuff from you.

I'm like Nah. I think of ‘real writers’ in quotation marks like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker other people I grew up reading. I want to hear what they have to say about writing but not what I have to say, particularly.

Two things changed that. One was the Smarter Artist Summit that we did last year. I spoke on stage and told a rather depressing story about how there were two times in my life where I was going in the wrong direction.

Back in 1996, I was pretty much stagnating. I was working the midnight shift at a gas station. I lived in an apartment with another friend of mine and my best friend at the time, Todd, had moved on. He was out of the Navy. He was working at a bar making a ton of money and we were like best friends growing up, and he kept telling me, come on, come move with me, get out of your room. Do something with your life.

He was the one person that actually believed in me becoming a writer before anybody. He's like, ‘you're going to be the next Stephen King.' So he kept asking me to come. I always had excuses not to. I was stuck in a rut, like I said.

The thing about it is when I met Todd he was like this nerdy, dorky kid, and he got picked on and I sort of stuck up for him. We had this dynamic where I was kind of cool and he was kind of the dorky one. And when he came back to visit me in February of ‘96, he had totally changed.

First of all, he looked like a male model now rather than a skinny geek. And also he just had confidence and charisma and he wanted to go to clubs and meet women and stuff. Just a completely different person to me. We were both like these geeky dorks playing Dungeons and Dragons and now he's this cool dude.

When he was criticizing me, he was trying to bring me up, but I saw it as him putting me down, like he was looking down on me and it really annoyed the crap out of me. He left to go back home in February. We had this argument and he was like, “What if you want to waste your life?”

I was just so mad at him. I didn't even walk him downstairs to go home and I didn't think much about it because we would go months without talking especially when he was in the Navy. And it never really meant anything. When we saw each other was just reuniting old friends and we picked up right where we left off. Not a big deal and I figured okay, this should go away. We’ll forget about it, not a big deal.

I never called to apologize and never really thought much of it and then on April 2nd I got a call from his aunt who I never even met, I don't even know how she got my number, and she told me that he had died in a car accident.

And that pretty much destroyed me for quite a while and I was just full of regret for all the things that wouldn't happen now. We had so many plans, we're going to rule the world. And then everything just changed.

I became depressed and I just fell into this darkness and if he thought I was in a bad place before, I was really in a bad place then, and it took me a long time to come out of it.

And what happened was two years ago, I went to the Smarter Artists Summit that we were doing every year for a while and Sean and Johnny and after every conference or summit, we would have a dinner we talked about how it went, where we are and what we want to do the next year.

Sean likes to think about these things. I'm just kind of this chaotic mess and I just go wherever you point me. So we were talking and Sean's like, ‘you're really not keeping up your end of the things.' It was kind of the conversation I had with Todd.

And he's like, ‘you're worse than when we met. You're missing deadlines. It took a year to write this one book.' Just a lot of the things that needed to be pointed out to me that I wasn't picking up on.

It reminded me a lot of the moment with Todd. I have a choice here. There's two paths I can go. One of them is to stay myself, live with my fear and anxiety and just let it rule me or I can take a chance on myself.

This time I made a different choice.

I already saw the other choice. I didn’t think Sean was going to die if I get rejected him, but it just reminded me of where I was and where I needed to be and it was a wake-up call. And a year later was this year, at the summit February, and I went on stage and told that story and since then I've done really well. I'm writing a lot more. I lost a bunch of weight. I’m down under 300 for the first time in forever. For comparison sake, I topped out at almost 400 at one point and for a long time I've been hovering around 340. And right now I'm down to 272.

Joanna Penn: Congratulations. I know that's a big thing.

David Wright: So I told the story on stage in and talked about this. I talked a little bit about bullying and the stuff I dealt with and I don’t remember why I was talking about it. It just kind of came up.

Afterward, all these people came up to me and they thanked me for sharing. They found me. I was off to the side, and when other people were speaking they would come up to me and tell me how much it meant that I shared and how they had similar situations. They had a similar point in their life or they were bullied.

One guy was this really alpha-male sort of guy. The kind of guy you think never had a problem in his life that he couldn't kick its ass and he came up and he told me he went through the same stuff.

I was like, wow. I was just shocked by how many people had similar experiences to me.

Sean basically said, yeah, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, all those people, they can write a nonfiction book, but they can't write your story and connect with the people that you connect with in your life.

Joanna Penn: It's a really good illustration because you started off by saying ‘I don't like teaching' but what you've done in the book, there are some writing tips. But your point is that you're sharing your experience.

There's a lot of what I would call memoir in this book, which I think is the only way now, to write nonfiction. You can't just say ‘do this, do that.' I think your idea of what teaching is was probably wrong.

What Sean knows about you, and what I have recognized in you, is that you teach people by sharing your stories.

David Wright: Yes, but there's a negative voice inside of me. The kid that was picked on who sat in the back of the class and that kid that nobody wants to hear what you have to say. Nobody cares, just move on. That’s hard to get over.

Joanna Penn: Of course and many people don't get over it.

One of the quotes from the book, which I've read and it is fantastic. You say, “It might very well be necessary for my well-being to right dark books.” You’ve hinted at Todd's death and you've mentioned bullying.

How has writing actually helped you through this? How has it helped you make those changes or helped you deal with life?

David Wright: I think it offers a catharsis and a way to deal with feelings that are beyond my power beyond my control. The world is an interesting place and horrible things happen all the time and it's really hard to wrap your head around how it can make any sense at all. And it doesn't. Really, it's random chaos and it's hard.

I also deal with OCD and anxiety and that's a big part of my headspace that makes life even more hard because I tend to ruminate on horrible things and I need some outlet. When I was younger reading stories transported me. They were like an escape out of the real world and into this other world where things made a little more sense. Sometimes the good people won in the end, and I needed that. Even if it's fiction, I needed it.

I needed it to get through and now writing is about dealing with dark things, but also trying to find hope. Trying to find the light in the darkness to hold onto. For me, I just find writing about it helps me to see the good things in the world as well.

Joanna Penn: I know what you mean. Let's come back to a definition of ‘dark,' because I read horror, but I don't watch horror movies. I find that they do affect me in ways. Whereas I devour horror novels, but only specific types of horror novels.
You mentioned Dean Koontz. Have you read his latest Jane Hawk series?

David Wright: No, I’ve heard of it. I haven't read him in a while. It’s hard for me to read horror stuff while also writing it.

Joanna Penn: Fair enough, but my point I guess is Jane Hawk could be called thrillers or sci-fi/horror.

To me, horror is fighting darkness with a ray of hope.

But a lot of people seem to think that horror is torture porn and lots of gore, which is not what I like at all. I know there's a lot of death, to be fair, but, torture porn to me is not the definition of horror.

Maybe you could talk about what writing darkness means to you? What does the genre ‘horror' mean?

David Wright: First of all, I never really cared for a lot of horror movies that do fall into that torture porn category. They're titillating for shock value and that doesn't really do anything for me. There are no real characters you can root for so I don't really enjoy that stuff. It's just too bleak and dismal.

I tend to write about the things that scared me and when I was younger, I would write about monsters and supernatural threats, but when I had a kid that changed me. You get new fears when you have a child. You worry about your kid for one and you see the world a little bit differently. You also see things you never really thought about as dangerous.

So I tend to write about things that scare the hell out of me; bullying is something from my own youth but kidnapping and all the horrible things that you see in the news. You think about a little bit differently when you're a parent.

I write a bunch of different stuff. I mean pretty much anything that it's ever terrified me, the thrillers are more straight up in that area, somebody being kidnapped there’s murder, obviously.

But the sci-fi supernatural stuff, we have monsters creeping in and stuff like that. But typically anything that affects me in some way that I don't want to think about, I force myself to think about.

Joanna Penn: It’s interesting because I really came up against that when I wrote my novel Desecration, which I call a crime thriller, but it has some aspects of horror in and it does have dark stuff in and I came up against my own fear. I'm quite a happy little soul! I know you were quite surprised when I told you about some of the things I write.

David Wright: Our dinner conversation was with one of my favorites ever actually.

Joanna Penn: I do have a dark side even though I'm quite this sunny happy person, so the fear of judgment, I still come up against it all the time.

How do we not self-censor? Is there a line we shouldn't cross or should we just let it all go?

David Wright: I think the line is different for everybody. I get what you're saying about not wanting to be judged because I’ve met people, and they say, ‘you write horror? Wow, okay, something wrong with you.' They think the absolute worst, like you enjoy watching bodies being ripped apart or something like that, and I'm actually pretty damn squeamish with stuff like that.

I think the line is, we're not celebrating. For instance, we have a series called No Justice, which is like a vigilante thriller series and there are some pretty dark subjects in there. There's a child abduction, rape and stuff like that and we tell it from the hero and the villains POV because we want you to be in their heads. It's a fine line where you want to write about a child abductor in a way that someone can be in their head but also not like you’re glamorizing it like yes, I'm pro child murderer.

For me, I always want to write the villain in a way that you can almost see why they are the good guy in their own story or the good girl. You don't agree with what they're doing, but you know why.

You see what happened in their life that led them to that way. That, to me, is important for really good fiction. And books and movies and TV are doing that a lot more these days where the villain is more shades of grey and you know what they what and what they are versus how their life could have been different. But you know something really bad happened and it turned them into the monster that they are.

I like to do that but not in a way that glamorizes it. I think that's a tough one because right now that movie The Joker's coming out and the news is currently worried about well, is that going to cause other incel guys that idolize The Joker to go out and shoot up places and stuff because that happens a lot way too often.

It's tricky to make art in this day where you want to write about something and bring it to light but not in a way that glamorizes it and gives people something to aspire to or motivates them to do something horrible.

I don't know if I've explained it well at all but it is a fine line. I think it's don't glamorize it. I don't know that that's my feeling on it.

Joanna Penn: Maybe it does come from the sense of what we want to explore as authors and we're all different people, right?

All of my dark stuff is all about coping with death and what's on the other side of death and beating monsters and I quite like monsters and demons and banishing demons and stuff. It's weird because we all come back to the same themes over and over again.

There's a joke on your Story Studio podcast that children in jeopardy are the dark trope that you just can't avoid.

David Wright: That comes very much from when I had a kid. It's something I never really thought about before and then suddenly I was terrified about all the horrible things that can happen.

Joanna Penn: Right now as we as we talk, there’s climate change and extinction rebellion is a fear amongst young people and for all of us, but there is a lot of anxiety amongst young people, of course, because we’ll probably be dead and they'll be dealing with a lot of this stuff.

I almost think there's then there is going to be a resurgence in the environmental horror genre, which we saw around the millennium. Do you remember we had a lot of extinction movies and climate change things coming up then?

I feel like that's going to come back and as generations deal with what is in their culture right now that comes up in horror.

David Wright: That's interesting to me because in America anyway, things are so polarized between right-wing and left-wing and while I see what you're saying, I think half the people would see that as some kind of liberal agenda. ‘Oh, you're putting climate change in my horror movie. Well, no, it's not real and I refuse to see it.' And they are one-starring movies before they even come out.

Everything is so polarized that I don't know that these things have the power, at least here, to become a huge thing anymore without half the country just decrying it is nonsense and ridiculing it and destroying it before it can even do well in a movie theater.

Joanna Penn: What about something like AI? AI is artificial intelligence, in case anyone doesn't know, and it has come up in what could be called sci-fi, but actually, a lot of those movies do swing into horror. I know you guys have written these out of Sterling and Stone as well.

So, I mean maybe that's a fear that is a kind of collective worry.

David Wright: That's something everybody can be afraid of. Our robot overlords.

Joanna Penn: We write about dark things in order to understand how you're going to deal with them or facing your fear without really facing it. That kind of catharsis.

David Wright: I talk a bit about this in the book, my obsession with things like slavery and the Holocaust. When I first learned about those when I was young, I was a very happy-go-lucky naive child a lot like Sean is today and when I first heard about slavery, in the TV miniseries Roots, it horrified me. And I had to know everything I could because I wanted to know how can people be so awful. What triggers them to do that?

For some of my stuff, it is trying to understand why people do the things they do. Monsters aren't born in a vacuum, they’re created. What happened to turn someone into a monster? Society overlooks things that are happening right beneath our noses.

The Holocaust went on and there were a lot of willing accomplices to that and how does that happen? What the hell happens? I've always tried to understand these things and for me, horror is part of that and not just horror, but writing dark fiction thrillers. Even in our sci-fi I'm always dealing with some dark subject matter trying to understand either outside forces or internal ones in motivating people to become what they are.

And also the other side, like how does a person overcome the darkness either within or outside of them. How do they extinguish that? How do they protect the people in their lives? So it's all kind of related.

Joanna Penn: I'm similar in that way and many of my books have a lot of religious history and Inquisition stuff or dark things. It's interesting because I have to research these things and learn how could that have happened? And why, to a point.

I am a total research nut and we actually just were in Lisbon, Portugal, and I stood in the square where they burnt all the Jews and it was horrific to stand there in modern Lisbon and this is something I'll be writing about so I'm researching it.

How do we research things or try and write authentic characters and authentic villains, but also stop ourselves from getting really depressed or falling down into darkness?

David Wright: That can be difficult. I think one of the things that depressed me most I was writing a book called Crash. It's the story about a man that lost his child in a car crash but he can't remember it and he's obsessed with trying to recover his memory. He drives around taking photos of car crashes trying to trigger his own memories and there's like a supernatural sort of element to it where he sees something in the photos and that's like the cool part of the story.

But when I was researching it I lost my best friend in a car accident. I've been on the scene in enough car accidents. I was skipping school in high school and I was walking and this girl was driving really fast and failed to turn and she smashed into a pole and I was the first person there. Luckily she was okay. Another time, me and my friend were first on the scene where this guy's truck was obliterated by these giant cement sewage pipes he was carrying and he was crushed. I went to the door to see if I could help him and all I saw was blood coming out of it.

But I didn't take note of the things you would need to remember to write the book. So I went online and I went to some website where there was a video of this car crash somewhere in Europe. It was like 40 cars and it was just somebody walking around with a camera walking up to the people that were dying in their cars and they weren't helping them or anything.

I was just so horrified by it and it still is that thing that stays in your head and you wish you had never seen it. It was just that I was trying to make my story authentic and I just saw this, and there's a person dying and they're just looking down at them and then they walk onto the next one.

Who is filming this? Are they a journalist? Why aren't they helping? I didn't get it and it disturbed the hell out of me.

But to answer your question, I have to take a walk. I can't do anything with that other than put it in my story and try to process it and try to find some ray of hope somewhere in the story. But the real-world stuff, the real world bad stuff that you come up with in your research and you see in the news and all of that, it's hard. I have to take a walk and clear my mind. Otherwise, it really weighs me down.

Joanna Penn: It’s very hard for Americans because you have TV news everywhere, but I haven't watched TV in news and years. We don't have it in our bars and things like you do in America.

David Wright: It's not a sport?!

Joanna Penn: No, it does seem like that over there.

David Wright: It’s Gladiator.

Joanna Penn: It's kind of crazy but I was wondering because I find that if there's something I want to tackle and I tackle it and then I finished the book and I do feel like okay, I finished that book and although the themes might come up again, I feel like part of it is left in the pages of that book.

Does that happen to you?

David Wright: Yes, usually. What you said if you write about it, you're getting it down on the page. A lot of times when I write something, I'm getting it out and it's out of my head. Sometimes it's a joke, and I don't remember my own story.

That does help me and I've heard from readers that stuff I've written has helped them get through tough times and that means a lot to me. I would hate to write a book that was just so dark it stuck in someone's head and made them miserable and depressed. So I try not to do really bleak endings. Short stories are a little different, you can do whatever.

Joanna Penn: Yes.

David Wright: But with a novel or a series you don't want it to end with everybody dying and like why did I waste my time on this?

Joanna Penn: I agree with you and I’m very much focused on that ray of hope and I think Jonathan Maberry whose books I love, horror writer, thriller writer. He said his books are not about the monsters, they're about the people who fight the monsters, whether that's a human or whatever.

In the book, you write, “There should always be a flower pushing through the cracked sidewalk.”

How do we make sure there are rays of hope in our books?

David Wright: You look for the things that survived the darkness, the things that bring us together. A lot of times, when horrible things happen in people's lives they rally around each other and they help each other or maybe they find some connection they didn't have before, estranged friends, lovers, siblings or whatever.

I think darkness in the world can bring us together if we allow it and that has to mean something.

Joanna Penn: I agree. I think we have to have that ray of hope and I feel like by winning in the book it almost acts like a talisman in the real world to say look my character or whatever. The character has won in the way that winning is in this particular book, whatever that means and that's the triumph. You can go through this but you can survive or hopefully, someone does.

David Wright: When I said when I was younger and was dealing with bullying and just a miserable existence as a child and teenager that the books did show me, even if they were fiction, that someone wrote this book and they probably had a bad time too. Or the characters in them are maybe based on some people somehow in their own life or whatever.

It just gave me a sense of hope that other people out there have been through similar things and they found a way through. To me that that means a lot because we tend to get isolated but the more connected we are, the more isolated we feel and sometimes it just helps to know that somebody else has been through this and they got through this somehow and that maybe you can get through it too.

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. And I did just want to mention reading your book and I know a bit about your story and you have gone through some really awful things and I was thinking about my life and I've been through some stuff, but I haven't been through what you have.

I wanted to say to anyone who's listening and they're like my life is great, but I still like horror, that's fine too!

My mum always says to me, ‘what did I do to you?' And I'm like Mum, it's not you. I've been called an old soul. There are pictures of me as a very young child looking really old because as long as I can remember from my earliest memories, I thought about death and dying and the veil being thin and being on the other side of it. I was just obsessed with this.

David Wright: You were a blast at children's birthday parties!

Joanna Penn: I never went. I'm an introvert. I don't want to go to parties!

I just say that to my mum like, ‘Mom, it's not you.' It's just the thing in my head. It's fine. So she doesn't like to read some of my darker books.

I do want to switch gears because we're almost out of time. I want to switch to you as a writer at this point in time. You've obviously been co-writing now for pretty much a decade. And you and Sean and Johnny are still podcasting at the Story Studio Podcast, and we've known each other online now for 10 years.

I wondered if you could talk about your thoughts right now as a mature indie in a space that has seen crazy change in the last ten years.

David Wright: It's ever-shifting. I hate to put a pin on anything. It's changes tomorrow. I think all of us indies, we've stepped up our game. We're becoming more professional.

Audiobooks are really taking off and TV rights, movie rights, all of that stuff. That is where the future is. People always read obviously. But finding other places to put your stories and connect with people, that's a big thing personally for us.

We focused on the Smarter Artist thing and doing the seminars and teaching and all that stuff and that was never really my thing. Sean and Johnny, they love that. They like sharing their knowledge with the world.

Now we’ve shifted gears. We want to focus more on fiction. That's what we've been doing. Most of our income comes from fiction. Now, we invite other people into our studio and instead of doing courses and seminars and stuff like that we're just releasing our stuff as Stone Table books. Stone Tablet books are the smaller ones.

That's what the Into the Darkness one is. It's one of them. So we're still sharing the information we have, but I think before we let it take over more of our space than we wanted to. We want to focus more on fiction and we course-corrected in did that because I certainly don't like to spend all of my time teaching. I would way more like to just write my stories and the other stuff do it in smaller increments.

That's why I did this one book and maybe I'll do another book in another 10 years.

Joanna Penn: We mentioned screenwriting and it's something I know you've been interested in for a long time and you love movies.

Are you turning your own books into scripts?

David Wright: We sold Crash a couple of years ago and I think it's being made into a movie. I don't know. If it happens it does. If not, then I don't know, I guess we get the rights back after however many years.

In-house we are producing a lot of scripts. We've got different people that we’re in talks with and different stuff in either in production pre-production. I don't know how much it's out there and how much I can say so but that is a huge focus for us because we have so many stories.

We're storytellers, all of us, and we want to take that to the next level. I've always wanted to write TV. Movies will be fine. But I wanted to write for TV. That's where my heart space is. And I don't think I will feel like content until I have a TV show that is out there.

We've got several lines in the water.

Joanna Penn: Did you write the adaptation of Crash as a screenplay?

David Wright: No, I was involved in it. Sean and somebody else wrote that and I was involved and I went over it afterward because I’m not well versed in scriptwriting. I've worked on a few with Sean but he's way better at that than I am. So if I need to I will but mostly I focus on the story and in writing the books.

Joanna Penn: I think that's fantastic and I agree with you. I think it's so funny because I did some screenwriting courses and I wrote a script that was for my Map of Shadows book, which is dark fantasy, but it's actually a split world and it's got this massive universe and I pitched it to an agent and he said it's really great, but it'll cost about a hundred and twenty million to get made. So no one's going to make that. His number one suggestion was can you please write just a small horror movie? Because that's where everyone starts

So it's interesting because what you've said about Crash, I haven't read that one but it doesn't sound like big-budget. It sounds like it could be quite small budget.

We never think about budget with books, but you have to think about it if you want TV/film.

David Wright: Actually I did. The first series we did… well, we actually did Available Darkness first that doesn't kind of count. Yesterday's Gone was our first serial that we did and that's a huge budget. Whoever makes it it's going to spend a billion dollars. It's our hottest series but it's like our Game of Thrones. Whoever buys it is probably going to have to spend a lot of money on it.

So after that Sean and I both started thinking, let's think about location. Let's think about what the budget actually would be in most of our books and since then have been with the thought of this could be done for less money.

Our WhiteSpace series all takes place on a small island off of Washington state so that has very much been in my mind. A lot of our writing, that's one of the only forward-thinking things I think that I've done.

Joanna Penn: It’s funny because I've got a list of things I want to write next year and everything's big budget. I’m like, stop it! What is wrong with you? But then we watched a movie on Friday night, I just love big movies with lots of explosions.

David Wright: I think for me though part of it is I like those movies every now and then but there's so many. If you take a movie like Independence Day, a big alien invasion movie or you take the movie Signs by M Night Shyamalan, a much smaller movie about alien invasion and I cared a hell of a lot more about those characters. I don't remember anybody in Independence Day.

Joanna Penn: Will Smith, surely.

David Wright: I don't remember his character. I don't remember anything about him, but I remember everything about that character in Signs. Everyone's got different likes. I like a smaller cast of characters that I can care more deeply about and that's the stuff I write. Some of it’s big popcorn movie, definitely, but I prefer the smaller set, the more in-depth of the characters' stories and I think those translate to TV better than movies, at least, you know from a production standpoint.

Joanna Penn: I think that’s a great place to stop because it is about who you are as a writer and what you want to create in your lifetime. I'm glad that you decided to create Into the Darkness. I think it's a really useful book.

So tell people where they can find you and your books and your podcast and everything you do online.

David Wright: DavidWWright.com. That's my blog.

For Into the Darkness, SterlingAndStone.net/Darkness

And for everything else for like our podcast and everything, SterlingAndStone.net/stonetable.

Joanna Penn: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time Dave. That was great.

David Wright: Thank you for having me. I hope to see you again in another few years!

Nov 11 2019

1hr 13mins

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From Bestselling Book To Netflix Series With Vikram Chandra, Author Of Sacred Games

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Most authors would love a film or TV deal but the route to success can often take years. In today's show, Vikram Chandra explains how his book, Sacred Games, made it to Netflix after many years of failed development, and how his cross-cultural writing enabled a truly multi-cultural experience.

In the introduction, you can now pitch to Audible directly for original works crafted for the listening experience; Written Word Media release the results of a survey on how to make a living with your writing; Draft2Digital add audio to their Universal Book Links; Findaway Voices adds 5 more distribution partners giving them 43 wide channels for audio; I'm talking about AI and creativity on Yaro Starak's podcast.

Do you need help with marketing, publicity or advertising? Find a curated list of vetted professionals at the Reedsy marketplace, along with free training on writing, self-publishing and book marketing. Check it out at: www.TheCreativePenn.com/reedsy

Vikram Chandra is the multi-award-winning author of Red Earth and Pouring Rain, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book as well as Sacred Games, which has been adapted into a successful Netflix series set in Mumbai. Vikram teaches creative writing at the University of California and is also the CEO of Granthika, a software startup that is reinventing writing and reading for the digital age.

You can listen above or your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • How a bicultural life affects creativity and writing
  • On the growing English book market in India
  • Cultural differences in storytelling
  • The long journey from book to Netflix series
  • Getting readers in India interested in our books
  • How Vikram’s software Granthika helps writers keep track of timelines, plot details and more

You can find Vikram Chandra at VikramChandra.com.

Transcript of interview with Vikram Chandra

Joanna Penn: Vikram Chandra is the multi-award-winning author of Red Earth and Pouring Rain, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book as well as Sacred Games, which has been adapted into a successful Netflix series set in Mumbai. Vikram teaches creative writing at the University of California and is also the CEO of Granthika, a software startup that is reinventing writing and reading for the digital age.

Welcome to the show Vikram.

Vikram Chandra: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

Joanna Penn: It's so great to have you on the show.

First up tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.

Vikram Chandra: I was a spectacularly nerdy little kid. I had a life inside my head that was very active. I used to make up these stories and some of them were quite epic that would go on for weeks and months.

And then of course once I could read I started I became an obsessive reader. I was always trying to get money from my mother and father to buy books. I should say also that my mother is a writer and so some of my earliest memories are of seeing her at the kitchen table writing plays for radio and television and then later films. She's had a very successful career in the film industry in India.

So writing stuff stories down was something that seemed just ordinary. I got my first story published when I was 12 in the student-run school magazine, and that was the thing that really put the bug in place because I suddenly had a larger audience than my friends and family and people seem to like what I was doing.

But it was also very clear to me, because I'd seen the paychecks that my mother got for her work, that making a living from writing was next to impossible. Quite often now I wake up and I think it's miraculous that I have actually done this and managed to still keep doing it.

Joanna Penn: Now obviously you're teaching creative writing and you've got these award-winning novels.

Give us an update from your childhood stories to winning the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, which is an incredible achievement.

Vikram Chandra: Thank you. I kept writing and I finally became the editor of my school magazine and my college magazine and the same time especially during my teens I really found this love for American literature. So everything from Melville to Edith Wharton, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Zora Neale Hurston, and it had this far away glamour also of being a place where I wanted to go.

So I finally made it over to the States as an undergrad and I majored in English with a minor in creative writing in fiction. And then after I got my BA I suddenly realized more than ever that I had to make a living. I had a moment of panic. Am I going to get by? And so since my mother was already involved in the film industry and I was like, I love movies. I incessantly watch films and television. I thought well, here's an industry where I can at least get a job as an assistant to an assistant director or something, so I went to film school at Columbia.

And there were two things I discovered there. One is that I'm not exactly built well for hugely collaborative work.

Joanna Penn: I know the feeling!

Vikram Chandra: And also in the library there just by chance, I happened upon this the autobiography of an the British-Indian soldier named Colonel James Skinner – Sikander Skinner he was called in India – who was part of that first clash of cultures in the 18th and 19th centuries in India, and I started to get obsessed with his life.

I knew I couldn't make a movie out of it. What I had in my head was way too big and epic. So I dropped out of film school and went off to the university to a couple of writing programs and got my MFA and an MA. And wrote my novel there, which I was very grateful for, especially for a couple of amazing teachers.

I had John Barth and Donnell Barthelemy were incredibly generous to me. And so that's how I managed to get my first book written and then incredibly enough it found an agent and the publisher and that was it.

Joanna Penn: It's a brilliant start. We're going to come to Sacred Games soon, but I did want to ask you and it's so funny because you said America had this far away glamour and I think certainly when many people think of India and Mumbai, Bollywood, I mean talk about faraway glamour. Most people think that is more glamorous.

It's always the other side of the fence, isn't it? ‘Oh, that's more glamorous than my country.'

Vikram Chandra: Right? Absolutely and I also had the arrogance of the young person that I thought I actually knew the United States before I got here. And when you get to this place that we've always dreamed of, you find that it's more unknown and complex than you could have ever imagined.

Joanna Penn: The same is true of India for sure. I've been a couple of times and it's like just dipping a toe in but this is interesting to me because you do seem truly bicultural, in that you live between the US and India and you see your families across both countries.

How has this bicultural life impacted your writing and what do you see as some of the differences between the two markets particularly?

Vikram Chandra: I talked about Colonel Skinner whose father was a British soldier. His mother was an Indian princess who was captured during a war apparently and so I think right from the beginning I've been in really interested in these coming together of cultures and nations and people and both the creativity and also the destruction that comes out of all of that.

And then I think in relation to India, particularly what fascinates me also is language and how language travels across worlds and changes. India right now, by most estimates, has a hundred and twenty and five million people who speak English and that number is expected to quadruple over the next decade, which means that that at some point fairly soon India will have the largest number of English speakers in the world.

And the English we speak there is not American English or the Queen's English, it’s Indian English. Or actually many Indian Englishes is because there are local variations. So there's a Mumbai English and there's a Tamil English and so forth. So one of the efforts while writing Sacred Games was to use a language that I would use in Bombay if I were telling a story to a friend of mine. Which means that I would be switching in and out of three languages maybe at the same time.

So to replicate that on the page while you're trying to tell a story about cultural seepage, if you want to call it that, globalization, is one of the things that I've tried really hard to get close to and have had a lot of fun doing over the course of all the books.

Joanna Penn: That's very interesting and I want to come back on that English-speaking idea because I've said this many times on the podcast but the English speakers, many of them will be educated and potentially middle class and book buyers.

I've always been impressed by how Indians love books. There's a flourishing pirate book market with print books on the streets, you'll find lots of people selling books on the street. It's lovely because people want to buy books.

Would it be true about the English-speaking market that it is more the middle-class with some money to spend?

Vikram Chandra: Yes. I should also note that it is depending on which year you look at it, it is the fastest-growing economy in the world, which is why publishers from all over the world have set up offices in Delhi over the last couple of decades.

And so I think though that as the middle class grows as more and more people move into the living class, English is moving in all directions and down the social ladder, as it were, so that everyone, even at the very bottom of the economic scale, everyone understands that this language is what gives you leverage and moving yourself up.

I've been to some of the most remote parts of the country where there are hardly any roads. There's no electricity and yet every four or five miles you'd see a little classroom or school that says, ‘Learn English here’ in the local language.

So there's a great impetus for the language to spread. And also, as you said, the pirate industry is enormous I've had kids at traffic lights sell me my own books.

Joanna Penn: Which I love. You’ve got to encourage that kind of thing.

Vikram Chandra: Absolutely. Not to encourage piracy, I should take that back, but right it's at least a sign, like you said, that people want to read and there's a demand for these things.

Joanna Penn: Exactly, which is what I meant as well. You can't stop it. It's good that it's your book.

But let's come to Sacred Games now because I haven't read the book although it's on my list, but I've been watching the series on Netflix.

We started watching it in English but then found that I just didn't want to watch it in English. So we watched it in Hindi with English subtitles, which I think a lot of people are now doing with Netflix. It worked well that way.

I just found it very interesting that you have a protagonist who is a Sikh policeman and I wanted to ask you about that.

Is it unusual to have a Sikh as the main character? You might have to explain the religious melting pot of India.

Vikram Chandra: I should say about the subtitle issue. Yes, I would encourage anyone who does watch the show to is to watch it with subtitles and the original soundtrack. You'll get much more of the actors’ performance also that way and on some people's machines for reasons that remain too mysterious to me it defaults to the English dub, which I would not recommend.

Joanna Penn: That's what we got. And I was like, I'm not listening to this. It’s weird.

Vikram Chandra: Exactly. And as you'll see in the original soundtrack, you'll see people speaking different languages. Sometimes even one sentence will have words from three different languages in it.

And as for the issue of Sartaj Singh, the lead, being a part of the Sikh religion, Bombay in the police force, that would be very much a minority. If you went up to Punjab or the North that would not be the case at all. So in retrospect I can say that in making one of the protagonists of the book of this religion served me very usefully because he was an outsider in this police force for those reasons.

Having a protagonist who is in some ways an outsider is fictively often very useful and you can see this technique deployed over a large bunch of fictions. But I can say this one being the kind of post-game analysis because when I started writing the character just came to me as he or she often does. He first showed up in a book of short stories called Love and Longing in Bombay, which was the book before Sacred Games in which I thought I would try to write a police procedural because I love them so much.

And as soon as I started thinking that, I had this policeman in my head who had a turban and I have no idea why but once that happens, once you get that initial spark of inspiration, you can find ways to use whatever you start with.

And again I can say that looking back I could try and unravel this a bit and think of all the friends that I had growing up who were Sikh. The name of this character came comes from a boy who was I think three or four more years senior to me in school. Especially in that short story he's very handsome and he's a bit of a dandy and I can think of characters in my life who were like that. I guess that's the fun and mysterious thing about writing is that all you experience is mixed together in this strange chemistry and then it suddenly pops up.

Joanna Penn: I think we all have that same thing. Of course, they're never recognizable completely. We just weave them together.

You started off by talking about when you were a child and you have these epic stories in your head and I think this is something that is very characteristic of Indian stories is that there are some very famous, very long epics that are in the religious literature but also in modern fiction.

I've heard people are writing serialized fiction that can go on for a long time and so Sacred Games, I think also has this aspect of obviously the policeman and then the big criminal, their past lives weave together into the story into the present, which again feels quite epic to me.

I wonder if you would comment on the differences in storytelling between the cultures.

Vikram Chandra: I think you're absolutely right. We’ve always had this love for length. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which are the two epics at the core of the culture and have been immensely influential across all of South and Southeast Asia over the centuries, are immensely long and I don't know if I can work up a good analysis of why that is.

But it's always been there and those of you who have seen movies or any movies and other languages from India, some of them are three hours long by default. Although they've started to become a little shorter over the last decade or so.

When I first started writing my first book, Red Earth and Pouring Rain, that turned out to be 600 pages. So I think it's always been my natural lens and I'm immensely jealous of people who can construct little miracles of storytelling. And what poets do is completely crazy to me. I read a lot of very short fiction and poetry but I can't do it.

And so one of the other significant markers of fiction in the subcontinent is this circular shape to them. The Mahabharat starts with somebody sitting down and starting to tell a story to another person and then the entire immensity of it happens and then you end up in exactly the same place. There's actually quite a bit of scholarship devoted to this obsession of circular shapes, circles within circles, and that's something that I found particularly useful in writing Sacred Games.

A few hundred pages into the writing of the book and I was despairing of finding a structure for it and then suddenly one morning I had this idea that this is a mandala. So you might have seen the mandala. It's a in Buddhist and Hindu and other iconographies of the subcontinent and the Far East. The life of the Buddha is represented in several panels that fit together to make a kind of circle often with the central panel at the core showing you the most important bit of that story.

Once I knew that, then I could construct the entire novel in that way. It winds its way around to the beginning. The things that seem mysterious at the beginning also then make sense at the end.

And I should say that in the Netflix series, the writers and the showrunners have done an incredible job of replicating or recreating that structure.

The other major part, which certainly has had an influence on me, is stories within stories, so you can have a character start to tell a story like in the Mahabharata and then a character within that story that he's telling will start to tell another story and then you can keep sliding down with stories within stories within stories and it's dizzying and great fun.

So after Red Earth and Pouring Rain was published, a Spanish scholar who was doing some work on the book told me that at the deepest I had gone down 16 levels. I did not remember doing that. And if I tried to do that consciously, I would have gone crazy.

So these two features, I think the entire culture is permeated by these structures. One really interesting thing about the Mahabharata is this belief about it that you can start reading it anywhere and then wind your way around to where you started and it will have the same effect. The circular nature of it is kind of built into its reception.

Joanna Penn: That’s fascinating stuff. I think every writer out there now wants a Netflix series. It used to be, “Get the Hollywood film deal.” But now I feel like people almost would rather have a TV series on Netflix or Amazon Prime or soon to be Disney or Apple or many of these new places.

Tell us a bit about how Sacred Games became a Netflix series and any tips, although of course, no one can replicate anyone else's journey. But anything that really helped.

Vikram Chandra: The book was published in India in 2006 and came out in the United States in 2007 and even before it was published there was interest in getting an option on the book. Option meaning that whoever gets an option has the ability to then try and get it produced within a certain length of time.

One of the parties that wanted to option the book was a renowned film production company from Los Angeles. I was in LA and I had a meeting with one of their principles and he was really eager to do a movie.

I wondered how are you going to make movie out of a 900-page book, especially this one because it has at least dual timelines with many other narratives running between so unless you're going to make three films, I don't understand how you're going to do this. But I really admired the work they were doing and so I signed on the dotted line.

They hired this very prominent screenwriter in England who then worked on it for a couple of years and finally gave up because there's no way to reduce this into even a three-hour film and I felt for him. He had been set up for this craziness.

And so then I stopped thinking about it and then in one of these sort of happy moments, there was a producer in my agent’s office in New York and she was talking to him about some other books. And then she said well, I'm not that interested in any one of these what else you got? So then he said how about Sacred Games? So he went off and read it and he wanted to do it. So then that person and I and a writer worked together on the project and then we did the rounds of the studios in Los Angeles and we spent two years in development hell with AMC.

For those of you don't know what development hell is, it is where you end this sort of limbo state where you haven't gone gotten a green light for a production and you get notes from executives and you keep doing versions of episodes and sending them back.

So finally anyway that didn't work out and then it by that time it became clear to me that trying to do this particular project with an American base wouldn't actually work. The impetus had to come out of India and the people who were going to do it needed to be Indian and familiar with the culture and the landscapes that the story was actually set in. So then I split up with my former partners.

And during all this, these tours of LA, I had met with some people at Netflix and then they came back and through a triangular discussion with them and a company in Bombay the final agreement was made. That turned out to be an extremely happy event.

It’s obvious but I should say that this happened for me because I already had two books behind me, and because Sacred Games got a fairly prominent publication in India, in the UK, and in the United States, so there were people who are already interested. I didn't have to do too much to actually make it happen until we started doing the LA journey.

I think for somebody who's not in that position the problem as always and even in publishing is one of how are you going to get your story, your novel, or your screenplay on the desk of somebody who can actually make a decision about it. And like in publishing studios get hundreds, I wouldn't be surprised if it's thousands, of pitches a month, things being directed at them.

So in terms of access, the way to do it is of course the old fashioned network of contacts and nepotism. If you have a cousin who knows somebody in LA, who knows an executive in the studio or in Bombay, that's one way to get your work in the door, at least. And then if you have an agent, usually that's the most useful and most productive, because the agent will know people who are in this network, who are the right readers for your work.

In publishing, this happens all the time. If you send in a manuscript, part of the agent's job and value is to know who's the right reader for this. Which editor has taken books like this over the last 10 years and made big successes out of them? That's the person I should send this to with a recommendation and they will be likely to read it.

As always, it's much harder if you're on the outside. You’ve got to engineer your way in somehow and a lot of that depends on happenstance and luck as well and being in the right place at the right time with the right book. And suddenly the finger of the Goddess reaches down and touches you on the head and you're in and that's what it has felt like to me at times.

Joanna Penn: Certainly an emotional roller coaster because of course you thought it was going to happen but it didn't happen and then you did all this work and then it didn't happen. And you mentioned timing. You got Netflix at a point when they were looking outside America. They knew that their subscribers were starting to slow down in the US and they were looking to grow the market around the world.

Now there are a lot more foreign language films set outside the US but probably five years ago there were very few.

Vikram Chandra: Absolutely. That's so true and just that the presence of this golden age of series television is amazing because you get the time now over one or two or three or four seasons to really expand a story out into the land that it deserves.

The other thing I should say about Netflix and their incredible model is that they don't care what language you make a story in. I won't name them but I had meetings with people in LA where it was clear that the idea of a story not just set in another part of the world peopled by mostly brown people, but also the idea of making a series, and expensive series, in a language other than English, was really frightening for them. The brilliant thing about Netflix for us is that they let us reproduce the multilingual landscape of India in all its glory.

If you're not an Indian, you probably won't experience this but there are entire scenes between two characters who were speaking a language other than Hindi or English also, so it's multilingual also in the Indian sets. And so then some Indian viewers have to switch to subtitles just for the scenes, but that's the way we exist and it's been such a great experience being able to do that.

Joanna Penn: That is great for creative purposes. And that's funny because we noticed, “Oh, look, there's suddenly saying English words.” I know that in some languages English words are used because there aren't other words for those words. They might be a new technological word or something, but that's very cool.

I'm glad you explained that because I didn't realize that they were these multiple languages.

One question: you keep saying Bombay, which I thought we now should say Mumbai. For people who don't understand the difference or why, can you explain that?

Vikram Chandra: Bombay was the old English name. When I was growing up, depending on which language you are using, you would use different terms. So in English, you would say Bombay, in Hindi you would say Bombay, in the local language, Marathi, you would say Mumbai. There's always been a kind of controversy about what the “original” name of the place was.

One historical argument goes that there was a goddess named Mumba Devi who was worshipped by the fisher people who lived there from time immemorial and that's why it's called Mumbai.

The other story is that the Portuguese came and saw this huge, very good natural harbor and they called it Bom Bhai, Good Harbor, and that's where the name comes from.

So the name, as is often the case in India, has been returned, as it were, to its origins in an effort to get rid of colonial-era names. And so what happens now again, especially for people like me who grew up in the pre official Mumbai phase that when we are talking in English Bombay sort of springs automatically from the lips. If I'm speaking in Hindi I say Bombay and if I'm talking to a local Marathi person, I might say Mumbai.

So it's again this great richness of language and layers of history right over each other.

Joanna Penn: I love it. And you know, I make no secret on the show, I'm such a fan of India and in fact, I've always said to my husband I would move there in a flash. Because I think as an English person obviously, there's some cultural difficulties with our history because of the British Raj. But I think also there's a lot of positive aspects that Indian people feel about Britain as well. I've always felt very welcomed. I've never felt that there's an issue.

So you saw on that a lot of people would love to sell more books in India. I have a book, Destroyer of Worlds, which is set almost entirely in India, based on my travels. I did actually work with an agent at one point to do potentially a film, which didn't happen.

Obviously, we can publish on Amazon.in but I think ebooks are still quite small. So what would you recommend?

What do you think are the best ways for people to reach readers in India?

Vikram Chandra: It's that age-old access question. I think the best way is to get an Indian publisher interested so that they actually republish it in India.

I think the publishing and self-publishing is always an option but even self-publishing within the United States, for instance, the trouble is how do you get the word out there that you've got this book?

The trick would be to get an Indian publisher committing to actually putting out the book locally and then sending out review copies. Do the newspaper and magazine approach, that kind of thing. But the Indian publishers like every other publisher, all of the publishers in the world, have this overwhelming flood of submissions coming their way. So again, it's the gatekeepers who make the difference.

So again, the agents come into play again if you have a sideways connection to somebody in the business there you can use that. I know this sounds depressing and extremely cynical to say but it's just the way things are structured right and not just in publishing or movies, but I think in other Industries as well.

Finding your way to people who can make decisions, I've realized as I get older, is half the struggle in life.

Joanna Penn: Which is why I love self-publishing so much. Because you basically waited 13 years from publication in India to having Sacred Games out there. A lot of people think I'll publish a book, get a movie deal and it will be out next year but it takes years. Lee Child had 20 years for Jack Reacher. These things take time.

Maybe the tip is, if you decide you want to do something, then you have to work out who to get to know, and it might take a long time.

Vikram Chandra: Indeed. I should say, I haven't done it myself but I'm fascinated by the difference that self-publishing is making just in terms of the numbers that one can squeeze out of Amazon on how many self-published books they sell and so forth is amazing. But I guess the other half of that story is, how do you get then get an audience to actually notice that you're doing this.

And then for the writer at least and for the reclusive writer like me is you have to maintain a public presence through social media and all of this stuff that you have to do to maintain a dialogue and get people to know who you are, which traditionally has been done by through other means by the traditional Publishers.

So I'm fascinated by that, but I think also that. It also requires an enormous amount of hard work and really strategic thinking.

Joanna Penn: Yes, you basically have to run a business to be successful in self-publishing. You have to be a writer and a publisher and the marketer: all of the above.

Let’s get into the writing because you have this background in software engineering when you were, you know, get it working so that you could fund your writing habit, and now you've actually founded a start-up designing writing software, which is Granthika.

Tell us about Granthika. Why did you decide to do this? And why might authors consider it?

Vikram Chandra: This actually began when I was just starting to write Sacred Games. That was my third work of fiction and I knew fairly early on that it was going to be my largest book. It has a 60-year timeline, many speaking characters, and many narrative threads.

I'd already experienced in those other two books the amazing amount of work and cognitive effort it takes to keep all your facts straight. Who was born when, how old would they be in a scene in 1984 and then in 1993, when did that person travel from this place to the other?

So it's this enormous amount of detail and then your background notes. Maybe you keep your notes in note-taking program. You have a timeline to manage all that other stuff and it just feels like manual double-entry bookkeeping right every time you make a change in your manuscript. I've got to go and change that in my timeline, but then what other scenes depend on that change all the way through the next 400 pages?

If you're using a traditional word processor, the only way you have figuring this out is by doing a search and that doesn't always find the references. It used to drive me crazy and I kept thinking I'm spending all this time on this detail chasing, when I should be worrying about my story and my language that's what I want to do.

I thought surely somebody has written software to manage all this. I looked around and nobody had and then I got absorbed in the writing of the book but it kept annoying me. So after the book was finished in that downtime, I started to think about how could you do this in a better way than having four programs and five fat notebooks in which you're keeping notes and the hand-drawn timeline on the wall.

It turns out to be a really hard problem attaching knowledge to text, as I discovered. Much harder than one would think it is. And I have, as you can probably tell already from what I've said, an obsessive nature and usually that's turned out to be a blessing. So I obsessed and research this problem for I think the next 10 years more.

Then one night just before I fell asleep I thought I think I might know how to do this and then woke up in the morning and it didn't seem crazy. So I actually started. I wrote it down and I was encouraged by a friend to write down a software proposal, but I had the idea at a sort of 30,000-foot level. And my software programming skills are pretty workman-like and this was way above my pay grade.

But through a happy coincidence I ended up meeting my co-founder Boris Jordana, who's one of these tech geniuses. And so then we founded this company to try and create this program where it's obviously an editor you write your manuscript in. But your character notes, for instance, are one keystroke away. If you put your cursor within the character's name you press one key it jumps to all your notes about him or her and then you press one more keystroke to come right back to where you're writing and the same applies to things like events and locations and so forth.

The entire structure of your fictional world is contained in a way that you can actually understand it. And for things like if you are looking at an event, you can see every place in your manuscript where you refer to that event so that if you're trying to look for dependencies between things you can easily find them.

And then the really exciting part of it for us is that we built it from the ground up to be amenable to reasoning. What that means is that you can say that the inquest must follow the murder by eight days and that you can also apply the concept constraint that the inquest must follow the murder, so that if in some later stage of you know tiredness, you try and move the inquest up before the murder it will warn you. Do you really want to do this?

Joanna Penn: That’s amazing.

Vikram Chandra: Right now the intelligent part of it is mainly confined to two events, but we're going to extend it further in a future version. If you say Pamela marries Tom the system will be able to work out that now John is Pamela’s brother-in-law.

It will be able to show you relationships and then reason along these branches of deductions. So it's very very ambitious. But I shouldn't make it sound complex. That's been my worry right from the start is that I don't want to struggle with a tool while I'm trying to concentrate on the story and the language.

We've spent a lot of effort in trying to make it supple and easy to use and immediately make sense, without putting an additional burden on the part of the writer as she tries to write her story.

Joanna Penn: One question because I'm always doing this: if I write that my character has blue eyes will it warn me if I try and make them have brown eyes at another point?

Vikram Chandra: Yes. That's not quite yet, but that's something that we really thinking about hard and we are going to implement it shortly.

Joanna Penn: That's great. Because that always happens or I've got a character with a scar on the left arm and then later on it ends up being on the right arm.

Vikram Chandra: Indeed. Tolstoy did it to Anna Karenina if I'm remembering correctly.

Joanna Penn: There we go. All the greats do it.

Vikram Chandra: The thing that we're trying to do is think in intelligent ways about problems like this because if you're in a Sci-Fi Universe, the person get can get new eyes, which go to gold or silver even.

My favorite sci-fi writer is Iain M Banks. He's amazing and in his books people can change species. Some current story writing programs have this ability, you can say the character is 6 feet tall and he has blue eyes, but I was thinking wait, he hasn't been six feet tall since he was two years old. What if you write a childhood flashback scene, how am I going to manage that?

So what we're trying to do is make it make the system flexible enough to accommodate changing characteristics as well.

Joanna Penn: I've been writing in Scrivener for 10 years and I love Scrivener, but it definitely doesn't have that timeline aspect and it doesn't have those dependencies or any kind of intelligence level that you're adding.

The other software I’m thinking of is StoryShop, which I know is still in a developmental process. But again that doesn't have those aspects so it's really interesting where you've taken it and it sounds like you've come to that because you write such epic books.

I struggle. I write a lot shorter than you, but I struggle to hold a 70,000-word story in my head at once. And long-running series also very important.

If listeners want to have a look at Granthika where do they go?

Vikram Chandra: The details are at Granthika.co.

Joanna Penn: Maybe just explain the name because it's quite an unusual name.

Vikram Chandra: Grantha in Sanskrit means narrator, one who holds and understands the knots of time. And it's got an interesting etymological base in that grunt is book which comes from another root, which means knot or tie. So the idea is that what narrators do is that they set up these narratives through time which are tied together by events.

Joanna Penn: I love that. So beautiful. I'm glad you explained it.

Where can people find you and your books online?

Vikram Chandra: My personal website is just my name VikramChandra.com and it's got a bunch of stuff up there.

Joanna Penn: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time Vikram. That was great.

Vikram Chandra: Thank you so much. It was wonderful. Thanks.

Nov 04 2019

1hr 9mins

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How To Be A Free Range Human With Marianne Cantwell

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There are many ways to build a creative business, but how do you make sure you also create a life that works for your health and happiness? In today's show, Marianne Cantwell talks about how to be a free-range human and also gives some tips on updating a non-fiction book for a Second Edition.

In the intro, I mention the difficulty of finding keywords in German when you don't speak the language and how Publisher Rocket will soon have a new edition to solve this problem. Plus the 6 Figure Author Podcast talks about lessons learned and book marketing tips from NINC 2019. Plus the super useful limited edition NaNoWriMo Bundle with lots of books for writers: storybundle.com/nano


This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Special NaNoWriMo promotion 50% off my books for authors on Kobo: You can get my Writer's Toolbox which includes The Successful Author Mindset, How to Market a Book, and How to Make a Living with your Writing or/ you can also get The Successful Author Mindset in audio format. Get 50% off at checkout with discount code: KWLPODPENN [Available 25 Oct – 30 Nov 2019]

Marianne Cantwell is the author of Be a Free Range Human: Escape the 9 to 5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills. She's also a speaker and an online entrepreneur.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Marianne was first on the show in 2013 when we discussed how to get a book deal and launch a bestselling non-fiction book
  • Why create a second edition of a book that’s already selling well?
  • What makes a non-fiction book evergreen?
  • What is a free-range human and how is that different from being a digital nomad?
  • Marianne's TED talk: The hidden power of not (always) fitting in
  • On scalable income and the types of work that are a good fit for that
  • The advantages of being a Highly Sensitive Person
  • What’s working in book marketing?
  • How voice connects with potential readers and is a transparent method of marketing

You can find Marianne Cantwell at BeaFreeRangeHuman.com and at Free-Range-Humans.com and on Twitter @FreeRangeHumans

Transcript of Interview with Marianne Cantwell

Joanna Penn: Marianne Cantwell is the author of Be a Free Range Human: Escape the 9 to 5, Create a Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills. She's also a speaker and online entrepreneur. Welcome, Marianne.

Marianne Cantwell: Hey, Joanna, I’m excited to be here.

Joanna Penn: It's great to have you back on the show. Now you were on the show, it's incredible really, but it was 2013 when the first iteration of the book came out. I want to start with this question:

Why a new version of the book and why now?

And I say this as someone who was just also done a second edition, and I know how hard it is. So tell us about why now.

Marianne Cantwell: Absolutely, it's definitely, as you know, not generally the advice to spend many months of your life rewriting a book that has already been released and is already done well, for the simple reason that you can obviously make more sales, so the common wisdom goes, with a new title. So why spend time doing it?

For me, it was a mix of a personal decision and a practical decision.

On the personal side, I had a fairly nice to have problem, which is that this book wouldn't stop selling. Without me doing that much over the last few years it had got enough word-of-mouth enough traction, enough links all over the Internet, that meant that people kept buying it. Which would have been great except I didn't agree with some of the advice in there anymore.

And so I had this book that people kept picking up, finding for the first time, getting excited about and I was like, that's really great for most of it but there are some pieces that I think are a bit outdated and also not in line with the advice that I would give now. When my publisher approached me and said hey, you've got a book that's a consistent seller. Have you considered doing a second edition?

The real reason I jumped on it was, to me, this was an opportunity to create something that was more evergreen. I got to the point where I'd remove the links from my website to the book because I was like, please don't buy this book.

I don't want to do that. I want to stand up be proud is now and be proud of it in 10 years' time. So I got to fix that.

And on top of that the final reason I was happy to talk about this, as you know, the book trade is a bit risk-averse. And when you have proven your stripes on a first edition, it turns out they're very keen to support you on the second edition in terms of placement, in terms of press. So there was this perfect storm of reasons to come back.

Joanna Penn: I find this so interesting and I didn't expect it to be such hard work doing a second edition.

You mentioned making it evergreen and this is a great point. So what are your tips? For people who are writing nonfiction what are some things that will help make it evergreen or at least let's say a decade because I just don't think it's going to go forever.

Right? Nothing can go forever. But you know, let's say a decade-long.

What would be some things you can do to make a book more evergreen?

Marianne Cantwell: This is the fine line between making it resonate right now right and making it resonate with a future that we can't even predict. So little examples of things that dated my first edition were things like I talked about listening to music on your iPod. How was I to know that in the opening page I would have dated my book by page one?! I couldn't have known that. So we changed it to listening to music on your phone.

Now, I don't know if in 10 years time we're going to be listening to music on our phones. So there are some decisions that I think you have to make in the best faith.

However, the places where I changed it so that they weren't just updated but they were a bit more evergreen were where I had gone into some more specific how to's and I'd really gone granular on strategy around things.

But this is not a strategic book in the sense of you know, how to do XYZ in business. That's not really what it's about. But there were a few chapters where I kind of hopped on some bandwagons and talked about how to do Twitter. Such a tangential point to this book, but that tangential point suddenly started dating the books. I talked about things that just weren't as relevant anymore.

So what I did for those that's was I took things that I thought this is interesting to readers and probably relevant to them but is likely to change and I moved them into a bonus. So we link out in places in the book two things that might be a little bit more tactical. I don't go into tactics in the book.

I say, “For more information and whatever go to this link…” and they go to a page on my website. So if I am recommending a resource, for example, if that resources appears, I can replace it without having to a third edition.

Joanna Penn: It's funny because I'm probably on the fifth edition of my Successful Self-Publishing book. I've only done one edition in audio and two in print but five ebook editions and it is the technical stuff that potentially ages it, so with going evergreen, I think you're right to link out to things.

I did want to ask you about that because I know a lot of the listeners are doing second editions. So let's get into the book itself.

What is a free-range human? And how is it different from a digital nomad, which I know many people don't want to be?

Marianne Cantwell: To me a free-range human is quite different from a digital nomad because a digital nomad can be a free-range human but a free-range human doesn't have to be a digital nomad.

People who think that it's just like alien language let me explain. To me, a free-range human is the opposite to someone who feels really confined in how they're showing up and who they have to be in order to get paid.

A free-range human is someone who has created a work-life – be it a business, be it a portfolio career, be it life as an author – that fits number one who they actually are. So their personality, if they're more of an introvert, they don't have to pretend every day to go out and be an extrovert who loves networking, for example. They are someone who has created a work life that fits their personality and strengths.

And number two, you've created a work life that actually fits the life that you want. So be that you're traveling the world, be that staying close to home and having more time with people you love, all of which are represented in the book.

It's about the way that you make decisions about the change that you're making or about the business or the career that you're building. It is very internally referenced, starting with you and starting with the life you want and that is the starting point of being a free-range human.

Joanna Penn: I think it resonates with me, being an independent author. I know you chose for many business reasons that we talked about before to go with a publisher but this idea of choosing what you want to do and not having to fit into any box.

And it's interesting, again you mentioned that publishers are risk-averse and this is a problem for traditionally published authors who, if you have a best-selling business book like you do, you have to write another best-selling business book. If you came out with a romance, they may not be interested in publishing it.

In fact your publisher is Kogan Page, right? They're not going to publish a romance, so they have their boxes. The word on the author street is writing in the same genre is the way to be successful. But you talked about this portfolio career, which is much bigger than just authors, obviously.

What are the benefits of a portfolio career and not just focusing on one thing?

Marianne Cantwell: Something that really impacted my thinking around this, and I talked about this in my TED Talk, of the hidden power of not always fitting in. I talk about this idea of being liminal, and liminal means being someone who has a foot in one world and a foot in who you are, a foot in your difference.

So you could be someone who writes about wellness but you come from a corporate background. So you're not like the classic hippie.

That difference becomes your power point because then you're able to reach people who might be more traditional with these ideas. Your difference is your edge in whatever you do and if you extrapolate from that idea and go into how you handle your career.

When you look at people who end up becoming real leaders in what they do it's very easy to draw a linear line and say well obviously they started X, they did Y and now they're doing Z. But when you look at people really thriving, really killing it out there, following their creativity, but doing it a very grounded, sensible way that doesn't always seem to be the case.

My favorite example is Elizabeth Gilbert, who obviously has written across genres and had a successful career even before Eat Pray Love. She was doing pretty well by author standards and then did Eat Pray Love but didn't then go down the track of going on the speaker circuit of going down that self-help route.

Instead, she writes a novel about 19th-century plant collections and botany. And then she comes back around to write about creativity and now she's written City of Girls, which by the way is mind-blowing, an amazing and wondrous novel.

And yes, the platform she had let her do that but the way she got on that platform was to write that book. She was a novelist before she wrote Eat Pray Love. So when you look at stories like that, you can go well they were the lucky ones they broke out but. I think that it's all about what is your through-line in whatever you do.

So if you want to be more of a portfolioist, what's the thing that you bring that's consistent? Is it a way of bringing people alive and making them can feel more normal within themselves? That can be a theme throughout different types of books.

While I think that if you write a different book every year that are completely all over the place that's going to be difficult because you won't be honing your craft as much, not because the industry won't see you in a certain way. I really think there's a huge power to owning your own course.

I’ll give you a personal example. People look at someone like me who's written a book, has done well, done a second edition. I had several approaches about a different book off the back of my TED Talk and I decided not to do that yet because I didn't feel like I was ready to move on and do that until I had done things that were a little bit different first.

And so I think that it's very important not to be led by the publishing industry to do the next obvious thing because we all know we've seen the examples time and time again when someone writes the book they're meant to write and they knew they didn't want to write that book, but they thought they had to write it and that never is the one that takes off.

So it's really important to have that internal referencing in what can be a very risk-averse business.

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. And your book Be a Free Range Human is not about being an author. I’ve got to just tell everyone that we're talking about because you're obviously an author and I can see my own career in much of what you're talking about. But you do have this really interesting chapter on the different free-range business types that people might consider.

And I certainly am always talking about multiple streams of income. I have multiple streams myself, similar to you.

What are some of the different free-range business types that people might consider?

Marianne Cantwell: There are so many that we had to choose. I think we chose five or six in this edition. They go from services, which are the easiest ones.

I’ll stick within the author world. A service might be editing, book editing, proofreading, author coaching, all of those things. Are you doing something for someone else? They're the easiest way to start. I think that’s the easiest way to actually make money because it's so direct. You don’t have to create a thing, you do the thing.

The next one that I'm a huge fan of is online products. So that's education. We might be talking about packaging up and having a three-week boot camp. For example, if someone who runs a writers boot camp as one of the things that she does in her portfolio. So that's where you suddenly come up with a package or a course or an experience like a boot camp.

Then you have physical products which I admit, in the first edition, I really poo-pooed that idea. I was like, oh, yeah, you can't make any money from that. I completely revised my view on it in this edition. I felt a bit bad about that after I realized it was just my lack of knowledge. I give some examples of, for example, a friend of mine who is a photographer who has a sideline and I talked about in the book in these beautiful glass boxes that wedding photographers now are using around the world to gift photos to their clients and present them beautifully, rather than just handing them an envelope full of pictures. That's a nice example.

That's someone who was in a creative industry and could equally have been an author, for example, who thought of something physical for his industry.

Is there something you can think of that would be really useful for example to other writers?

Speaking could be part of that. I think that would fall into we could fall into a service because you're showing up and doing it. But as you know, the question with speaking is are you making your money from speaking or are you getting your money from the opportunities that speaking opened up?

If you're making your own money from the opportunity that speaking opens up, then it's very likely you're then selling services. So you might be selling consulting, for example.

What I love is there so many ways and what I talk about in the book is that you don't just have to do one of them at any point in time. You can be someone who has a main thing and you bring in this little sideline that's related to what you do, but that opens up so many more doors than most people in your industry might be thinking about.

For example for me with the Free Range Humans book, as you know, we have links throughout the book that lead to these bonuses and I don’t know if you've looked at them, but they are so extensive.

One of them is almost three hours on one bonus and there are things I couldn't fit in the book, but they take you to the website and you're free to access the bonuses. When people are on the website, they then have the opportunity to put their name down on my email list.

They have the opportunity then hear about I'm announcing some free-range coaches who are my official coaches, which is one way that we make money. We run a course once a year, a pretty big course, we used to have loads of passive products, which I've taken down but we could put them back up.

So for me, I'm not relying on books as an income stream at all.

I'm using a book as a way of putting something in the world that I really believe in. Getting people in this way of thinking, giving them really good quality and some of those people are going to choose to sign up to other things other products other services delivered by people close to me. So I think there are just some creative ways of doing things.

Joanna Penn: There were two more income streams. I think you do affiliate income, which would be promoting other people's services.

Marianne Cantwell: Yeah, we do talk about advertising.

Joanna Penn: I do a lot of affiliate income.

Also you mentioned licensing, other people doing Free Range coaching under your brand, your license.

Marianne Cantwell: Yes, we're putting up actually in the next week or so is sort of licensing for me. These are people who have worked with me very very closely over a number of years and who've already been involved in co-running events and courses for me and who have coaching practices in there.

What I have, because of the book, is a huge pent-up demand for high-end good coaches. You can actually work with these materials with people go through the process. And so I've done deals with it with them as official coaches who use the process that we do to deliver that so it's kind of licensing, you could call it outsourcing, but the way of using the name of what you do to show people who are the trusted suppliers.

Joanna Penn: I'm totally obsessed with scalable income versus money for time. You said with services if you personally were going to do all that coaching you wouldn't be able to help people. You'd get burnt out. It just wouldn't be scalable.

Whereas, what you're doing there is making it so you can make revenue from work. You don't have to physically be there for but you've done all the work in advance so that to me is scalable income in the same way that book sales are.

You do all of this work and then the book goes out there. It's bringing you money. I love scalable income.

Marianne Cantwell: I'm just going to say something on that. And in this edition, I said exactly what you said. I actually don't fully subscribe to that anymore. I'll tell you why.

I think for some of us, you and me were specifically, that's a really great model because we're people who are very good attractors. We are people who are good at putting something out there, be it a book or a brand or a podcast and attracting people to it. It's just how we show up and how we work.

Not everyone is like that and that's one huge reason I rewrote huge chunks of this book. Through working with so many people I found that some people scalability is, in terms of being a stronger attractor and therefore you're getting people in, not having to do the work, isn't their best way of making a good freedom-giving amount of money and having time for other people.

It would be actually better for them if they're people who form deep trust, close, one-to-one with people and are better with a smaller number of people rather than loads of people, for them it would be a lot smarter to look at how can they raise their prices significantly.

For example to do coaching or consulting, how much would you have to charge to only have to have ten clients a year? How would that look? What would your hours be like? What if you only want to work nine months of the year and have three months off, but only with five or ten clients, how could you put your charging model together so that that worked for you that you still had a ton of time freedom, but your time wasn't spent attracting a thousand people, it was spent deep diving with 5 or 10.

The reason I say that is that I think that all of us have different strengths and not everyone's a good attractor. And so if you know someone's listening in and going almost I love the idea of scalable income, but actually that means I have to create all this stuff and put it all out there, but actually what I'm really good at is sitting with someone and they trust me and look me in the eye.

Well, you need to revise how you're charging at that point because if it does make sense. It's a slight distinction between the two it but both of them are scalable in the sense of you're not working all hours. You're not having to show up every weekend. You're not letting how other people do things dictate how your year looks. But they're different ways of getting to that goal.

Joanna Penn: It's a lot to do with your personality and how you want to live.

You're a very big advocate of you know deciding on your lifestyle before your income. We’ve both been in situations where we've earned great money, but have been really miserable.

Marianne Cantwell: Been there.

Joanna Penn: Hence why we now do what we do. I do want to come back on personality because you mentioned being a highly sensitive person on your website and also in the book.

How does that affect how you do business?

Marianne Cantwell: Completely. Let me explain what that is.

Joanna Penn: Yes, in case people don't know.

Marianne Cantwell: Highly Sensitive Person is not my term and I wish it was. It was coined by Elaine Aaron who wrote a great book around it and it means it's someone who has a more sensitized nervous system. So if other people feel things on a 6 out of 10 you feel things on a 10 out of 10.

That could be noise. You hear that. You're bothered by noise when other people don't notice it. Bright lights really get to you, could be an example. It's different for everyone. But you feel things more strongly and you also feel your emotions more strongly. Maybe you're very impacted by how someone else might be feeling or the mood in the room. That’s a highly sensitive person.

Obviously, a lot of people see that as a disadvantage and it can be if you're in an environment that isn't great for that. But I also think it's one of the biggest strengths that we can have especially as authors because the level of empathy that an HSP, as we call it, is really high. We feel everything and therefore we can write everything.

For me the way it's impacted my business has, number one, I wouldn't have my business without it. I would never have quit my job because I would have pushed through. Everyone who comes to my work says it's like you can read my mind. Of course, I can because I feel everything. So I write it and I speak it because I feel it and therefore people feel heard and all of that. It means that I've said no to a lot of opportunities and had to learn to be very judicious in who I spend time with and where I allow my work to be placed.

I’ll give you an example. It's actually a really recent one. Last week we were approached by the Sun to run a piece on my book. And that's the biggest newspaper in the UK and I said no.

Joanna Penn: That’s so funny because I've said no to the Mirror as well. Just explain to people who don't know UK papers.

Marianne Cantwell: I'm actually in New York. I live in the US these days but a lot of my readership is in the UK. In the UK, the biggest newspaper is the Sun.

Joanna Penn: We call it a tabloid. It’s a very very popular tabloid.

Marianne Cantwell: I describe it to my American partner as it's like Fox News, but lower quality. If Fox News lost the classiness that's what it would be. To be entirely fair, it was a friendly piece. It was in the employment pages. It wouldn't have been a hatchet job. I actually would have got to write the piece so it was like this dream thing and I was signed off already. I didn’t even to write it. My PR people from the publishing house were going to repurpose a piece I'd written for another paper. It was guaranteed to run. I had no work to do.

And I was like pull it. Say no. We're out. I'm not doing it and the reasons were it was back to the HSP thing. As soon as I got that email I felt this tight knot in my chest. I was like absolutely not. I spent a day on it and it was this sensitivity because all everyone I asked about said why wouldn't you run it? It's a friendly piece. It's in the right pages. It's the biggest paper in a country where you've just launched your book, because my US publication date isn't until the end of September. This is for mid-September.

I just knew from previous experience that the impact on me of the.

While there are plenty of readers who I am sure would be a really great fit for the book and people who just pick it up who read it for the sports section who happened to pick it up and have a little browse. So I'm sure there's plenty who would be, there is also a number of them that certainly wouldn't be, that would end up trolling me.

My book is not a how-to guide. It's a very sensitive piece. It's about understanding yourself before you build something and I know what would happen online because I've had tastes of it before. What happens is that I then go into a cave and I don't come out of that cave. And so this is why I share about being HSP because knowing that that is who I am, I no longer beat myself up about it. I no longer say, oh well, maybe I should take the good with the bad and I'll deal with it.

I know I won't deal with it. I know how this is going to go. And so being realistic about who I am it is a no. The difference was I used to be like, oh I should do it and I have made that mistake before.

Joanna Penn: It comes back to Derek Sivers. I'm sure you've read Derek Sivers. He's got a great blog post called, “Either HELL YEAH or no.” And it's been in some of his books.
I come back to that and if I don't just go hell, yeah, that is a great opportunity, then it has to be a no.

I realize for some people listening there is a point in your career when you do say yes to everything because you're not as confident in who you are. And maybe that's the difference between your first edition and your second edition.

I think I think you did the right thing there.

I really am interested because of book marketing. You're talking classic PR, getting into a newspaper, get an article, but a lot has changed in book marketing since 2013.

How you did book marketing back then? What's changed and what is effective now?

Marianne Cantwell: First thing was having a second edition, I have been through this before on this exact title. So I knew number one, get started earlier than anyone tells you to.

So I think you may have noticed. I think you may have seen my Facebook post or however, we connected around this which was months before the start date of my publisher’s push on the marketing of this. And so number one, I think we need to start earlier these days because there's a lot of noise out there.

Number two what hasn't changed is this: Press is a wonderful way to get status and not such an effective way to get book sales and I'm very aware of that. So my publisher kindly has given me a really lovely, great PR team. I wish I could remember who they were and they actually look them up as I talk to you so I can give them a plug.

They've actually been really great for me. However, I also know that I'm not relying on that team who's got me in the Telegraph. We're going to be in City AM. I think in Stylist, in some in-flight mags. I’m doing a BBC interview soon, going to London for that. That's all really nice. But I'm not expecting to sell any books from those things. I'm expecting to sell a few hundred maybe.

What really sells books is number one, in my experience of promoting this book has been anything where you can get a press piece that is also published online where you have a direct link out to the book purchasing page. That has been something that on the first edition worked really well and I'm already suspecting it's going to happen again.

We’ve got a piece coming up soon in Red Magazine online, which I know is going to do well for the book.

But the thing that works most importantly now that didn't happen in 2013, is podcasting.

It’s our access to people like you, people who are in your niche area and this opportunity to have more in-depth conversations that aren’t necessarily a plug for a book.

This is to me where I've seen I can see – obviously I don't have sales data because it's actually traditionally published – but I can see Amazon sales spiking after every podcast interview gets released. I can see a surge up in the ranking. So something is working and having these honest, open conversations with podcasters.

My aim at the start of my book tour was to do a podcast tour and to get on a hundred different podcasts over the first few months and I think we have 250 bookings now or something like that. So very intentional, very much a long-term play because I want to have conversations that would last over time with people I really trusted.

It's a lot of work on the ground, but honestly, that's made such a difference. That and my own following as well have been where the sales came from.

Joanna Penn: I'm sure you know Google's now indexing podcasts and that's only just happened August 2019. So this is a huge change that certainly wasn't around back in 2013. So I'm totally with you. I think podcasting sells books.

Marianne Cantwell: I hope so. This is an experiment.

Joanna Penn: I think it does because I get most of my book recommendations from podcasts and I listen mainly to audiobooks.

Marianne Cantwell: One thing I'll add to that is I have had people over the last few years who have never released books and they approached me, self-published usually, and say, can I send you a free copy so that if you like it you can promote it to your following and I'd always say no.

I'll be very direct. I can't say yes to that because I don't promote things to my following from being asked. I don't actually know how much I love this book. I'm now going to be nervous reading your book because what if I don't like it, but there were so many reasons I feel like no.

I don't have a podcast and if I had one it probably won't be an interview show. If I did have a podcast and someone approached me and with a very carefully crafted message that showed they knew who I was and what this was about said here are some reasons I think this will be a fit, here's an episode we could talk about, here are some topics.

I've got an actual podcast page I send out to podcasters that has suggested episode topics that aren't just ‘plug my book'. Now suddenly we have a relationship and it's a lot easier.

What I'm noticing that I did not expect naively was that podcasters, if they liked the episode we've done, they're promoting it all over their social media channels. They're saying this is one of my favorite episodes. Marianne’s the author of this book and all their comments are people saying I need to buy the book and I didn't think of that.

I was just thinking people would listen to it. So, instead of saying, how do I get someone to promote the book, asking how can I create meaningful conversations with someone who has some space for content and if that conversation goes well odds are well, maybe some of them will decide that they want to promote this more because it's interesting for their readers and listeners and I need that is what's changed in 2019.

It's not as direct anymore. You have to be thinking of the conversation. Where do you fit in a wider conversation?

Joanna Penn: I agree and also people listening to our voices, obviously we have met in person. We are colleagues from way back, but we haven't spoken in years. It's really nice to catch up and people can tell whether people are transparent and authentic by their voice.

So I feel like if I invite someone on this show, people listening can tell whether or not this is there's some BS, basically, and so there's nowhere to hide I think with voice.

If you're writing an article for a magazine, we all know how to fake voice with writing. That's what we do. We're writers. You can't do it in person.

Marianne Cantwell: That's actually really true. I think it's nice as well. Getting to hear someone, getting to know someone, that's just all-around nice and I really think it has a feeling to it that I really enjoy. remember that some of the messages I got from people who really want me to promote their stuff and I was like, I literally don’t even know who you are or what this is going to be like.

I go into some conversation where I really want to help them. I was like here’s some advice for you about how you might want to go about this. One suggestion I would make is to find people who have podcasts and work out where you might fit and work out how you can help them.

And what I go back was, Oh my God, I'm so relieved because I've been hitting a wall with this. That's why I kept saying I just don't know how to get anyone to help me. It feels like I'm doing it all by myself and just twisting it, saying how can you help others in this way? It actually gave people something to do, which I think is such a relief. We're not about pushing and plugging. It's too self-promoting can feel very difficult.

But I think that promoting a topic, even if it is about yourself or about something you've created that you were really passionate about you like. You know, what? People would really benefit from this and that makes such a huge difference, definitely.

Joanna Penn: We're almost out of time but just one more thing in the book and I'm quoting from the book.

“I don't make my living by being paid to write. However, I've been writing every week as part of my business for years.”

I wonder if you could comment on this because so many people think that being a writer means everything you write, you get paid for that.

How are you a writer when you don't get paid to write in that way?

Marianne Cantwell: When I started Free Range Humans I'd already had a few other businesses so when I started Free Range Humans it started out as a blog, back in the day. And we’ve just relaunched the Free Range Humans website and got some of the old original free-range 1.0 blog posts up there in this little classic archives.

And so first it was a blog so that was back in the blogging day. That was what started to draw people into what I did. That was how I got opportunities to guest blog back when that was what one did. I was writing and that was what first got people to know about me back when I ran really simple group coaching programs to help people figure out what they want to do and all that.

Then I started a weekly newsletter called the Friday Love Letters that ran for five years every Friday no matter what. I would write several thousand words to what was then a tiny following. I hand-gathered this following from these workshops I'd run for other brands, where I would go in, I'd run a workshop for them and I’d pass a piece of paper around the room and people would write their emails down and I would go home and get put them in the system and then we grew from there from 1,00 to 10,000 to 20,000 and that was the Friday love letters.

They grew everything. They were what led to me getting a book deal. They led to me having a book that did really well and what led to me going from running group coaching to running courses, then having other people run courses.

Every piece of that was me showing up and writing every week for five years and that's what that meant.

These days my focus full time isn't as much Free Range Humans. I have a lot of other side projects. I do a lot more creative projects. I'm definitely not in that sort of hyped up online space anymore. However, whenever I want to do something I write an email.

I spent three days crafting the email that led to the book spiking to I think it was in the top three in the entrepreneurship category for several weeks. And I spent three days running what seemed like a really off-the-cuff special circular, a random email that really got people involved in buying it and that's what I mean.

I write but I'm not getting paid for the words.

People didn't pay me to send that email.

I’m writing a piece for Red Magazine. They don't pay their writers to write things, it's often people like me who are writing things that link out to our books. So I think that's what I mean. We don't get paid directly, but you get paid through other things.

Joanna Penn: I think that's so important and I hope everyone listening takes that advice because so much of the writing we do I think when you're building a business is not as you say it's not freelance writing, which is when you get paid for those exact words, it is brand building.

Growing assets. It's email marketing. It's all that and it's so much more.

Where can people find you and the book and everything you do online?

Marianne Cantwell: If you want to check out the book, go to BeAFreeRangeHuman.com. And the reason I suggest going to that site rather than just Googling it is that you'll definitely get the new second edition links from that site.

So you won't accidentally pick up an old Edition. The links go to Amazon UK Amazon US and you can choose your preferred booksellers from that point once you know what it looks like. If you're on Instagram can follow me at Free Range Marianne, and you can check out the brand new free-range humans website at free-range-humans.com

Joanna Penn: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time Marianne. That was great.

Marianne Cantwell: Thank you so much.

Oct 28 2019

56mins

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From Indie Author To Creative Empire With Michael Anderle

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When we start out as authors, it's all about that first book … but after book one, the sky's the limit in terms of what you can build in terms of a creative business. In today's show, I talk to Michael Anderle, well-known from the 20BooksTo50K group, about how he turned his book series into a co-writing empire and now has hundreds of books in multiple languages, and why he's going wide with his new series.

In the introduction, I mention Jane Friedman's round-up of traditional publishing book trends, and the HotSheet newsletter, plus Google's new voice recorder app that transcribes in real-time, even when offline [TechCrunch]

I also give a little report on my experiences at Frankfurt Book Fair, in particular, talking about the audio summit, the emergence of indie collectives, and the possibilities of BookChain. Thanks to everyone I met and talked to, and special thanks to Marion Hill, author of the Kammbia fantasy series who has a featured snippet in the show. I also thanked APub for the great Amazon Crossing session which was the most author-focused seminar I saw at the Fair, and they mentioned you can submit books for consideration for translation here. Other resources mentioned: Streetlib's new free international email newsletter for those interested in keeping up with international markets.

Today's show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at www.draft2digital.com/penn

Michael Anderle is the award-nominated, internationally-bestselling author of more than 40 urban fantasy and science fiction novels. He’s also the co-author of many more with other authors under his company, LMBPN Publishing, which has now sold over 3 million books. Michael is also the co-founder of the popular 20BooksTo50K Facebook group and events with Craig Martelle.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • Where the idea of 20 Books to 50K came from
  • Starting to think of writing as a business
  • Looking at author earnings as daily income rather than lump-sum advances
  • How Michael oversees the production of so many creative works each month and how he works with co-writers
  • Using a just-in-time model for editing books as they are written
  • Thoughts around licensing and shared Intellectual Property
  • Opinions on KU vs wide

You can find Michael Anderle at LMBPN.com and on Twitter @lmbpn. You can find Michael's books on Amazon here, and OpusX here.

Transcript of Interview with Michael Anderle

Joanna Penn: Michael Anderle is the award-nominated, internationally-bestselling author of more than 40 urban fantasy and science fiction novels. He’s also the co-author of many more with other authors under his company, LMBPN Publishing, which has now sold over 3 million books. Michael is also the co-founder of the popular 20BooksTo50K Facebook group and events with Craig Martelle.

Michael Anderle: How are you doing? Pleasure to be here Joanna.

Joanna Penn: It's great to have you on the show, obviously after so long. We met several years ago and several times since so lovely to have you on the podcast.

Michael Anderle: Likewise. It is always fun to come onto the podcast that I listen to as a newbie. And The Creative Penn was always there from the beginning.

Joanna Penn: Thank you. I want to wind back time because you have an extraordinary business now.

I want to know what did you do before 2015 when you started self-publishing and why get into books in the first place?

Michael Anderle: I had an online and offline sales marketing consulting company where I would integrate offline sales and I could provide salespeople that needed to work with companies and then the online components that were necessary, so I might do websites. But then I might do a website that was relevant to explaining some things like frequently asked questions when you have a large enterprise company where their salespeople are two hundred dollars an hour. You don't want someone asking them these simple things, you want them asking questions that are going to close the job. So that was kind of what my company supported back at that time.

And then why come into indie publishing? I've been a lifelong reader. So, reading has always been my hobby and my getaway to trying to keep my head on straight when you have kids all screaming and you finally get them to bed. You just need to relax and readings always been there for me.

Joanna Penn: I love that and I know you are very reader-focused, which is fantastic. So let's talk about that.

And obviously then you talked about your business background and I think that is very pertinent to where you are now and we both come from consulting. I think that background does help the business of books. Let's come to the idea of 20 Books to 50K because the term is bandied around now as a group but it has a genesis in an actual business model.

Can you explain how that idea came to you and why it is so different from the traditional publishing model?

Michael Anderle: One thing to understand is that I had no understanding of the Indie publishing model when I started releasing my books because I didn't pay attention to anybody. I didn't even stop to consider that there would be an infrastructure for it.

I had released two books in November of 2015 and was in Cabo, San Lucas, Mexico. I was realizing that I was starting to make 12 to 15 dollars a day from these two books and so from my consulting background, of course, I pull up Microsoft Excel and then I start figuring out what's going on.

Down in Mexico, you can have an incredible life even in Cabo, which is more expensive, for $50,000 a year. Now you only have to make $36,000 in order to stay in the country and I looked at it and said okay if I can get 20 books all making this seven and a half dollars a day I could make $50,000 a year and retire my wife, who was the main breadwinner in the household.

And so that's kind of where the genesis was: 20 books to make 50k. I had written two books. I was in the middle of my third. I figured I could finish it by the end of next year. So 2016 is approximately 14 months and that was my goal. Try to get 20 books all making seven and a half dollars and making it income for us.

Joanna Penn: It’s so it's so funny because it's so simple and yet many people sort of go 20 books? How do I even write twenty books? There are many traditionally published authors who will never write 20 books. So I'm interested in whether it even ever came up for you that 20 books was a lot. And obviously you've gone way beyond that now.

For people listening who might consider that to be so far away from where they are. How do you take it piece by piece?

Michael Anderle: It's interesting. I've never really considered why I didn't consider it a big deal but partly it's because I was a programmer for a lot of years in my life. And as a programmer, you have to write a lot of code every day. So typing a lot is not a big deal.

I've written half a million lines of code probably in my life and so writing the books just wasn't there. Now, I had come off of like four or five months of not having many creative issues in my life. So my company pre-billed my clients so that at that time it was like if you want me for January I'm already billing you in the beginning of January. If you don't use me, I'm going to bill you for February.

So at that moment some of my clients were going through a huge internal, so for two or three months, they didn't need my services and so I just used that creative juice, that energy that I would have been using on their projects into my own and wrote really fast.

I figured I only had a couple of months that they weren't going to need me. So why not try to put it all in there?

As a whale reader, something that I kind of coined that based on whale gamblers, I knew that I wanted at least three books before I did any advertising, which I knew how to do because I had the sales and consulting company.

So from that perspective, I wrote really hard. I didn't have much time. I needed to get these books out. It didn't seem like a big deal to me at the time and some people need to realize I write pulp fiction. I write space operas. I don't write really convoluted complex stories that I have to go research a lot for. They just come out of my mind. I think sometimes people miss that facet of what's going on.

Joanna Penn: I love this. I mean the term pulp fiction I think is now being used with pride in the indie community. But I still hear from traditionally published authors and or many indie authors who choose to write different types of books and every way is valid.

We are in no way saying that any way is more valid than another.

When you inevitably come up against the issues of quality, what's your response?

Michael Anderle: I tend to be very Texan and for us in America, Texan means that I'm willing to stand up to anything and say what's going on here because at the end of the day, I don't care about awards. I don't care about best-selling lists. I care if my readers want to reread my stories and am I making money. If I'm doing those two things the quality of my books are far superior than perhaps something else in my opinion.

Once again, this is a subjective opinion. There may be a book that has garnered awards and never sold even 2,000 copies.

Joanna Penn: Which is true.

Maybe you could explain the whale readers as well and who they are.

Michael Anderle: I coined whale readers to try to explain to some of the early people I was talking to as this is a person who reads at least one book a week. Here in America, they have this statistic that says so many people don't read even one book a year or four books a year and I never understood who those people were but that's fine. I was always reading if I had a weekend to myself.

Which at the time, we had high school kids in the house and I could get four or five books going. I was happy. I would just sit there and go through four or five books in a weekend and I realized that was slow now because their romance readers who read two or three books a day all week long.

In our family, we enjoy going to Las Vegas. It's a gambling place and there's the term called a whale gambler, which is someone who can drop a whole bunch of money in a weekend. And so I just kind of said, okay, whale readers, it’s that same concept. It's a person who can sit down and just read a bunch of books.

Joanna Penn: I'm a whale reader for sure. I buy books all the time. I always find books to buy. I love them. I love that you come from that reader perspective. I think it's so important because I know how it is when you start to make money and become known for someone who's making money and has a business but you come out of the creative side, which I love.

You basically started this as a side hustle next to your sales and marketing job.

When did things change in your head to think, “Oh, this is a business.”?

Michael Anderle: I guess I always went at it as a business because that was just my mindset. I guess perhaps to clarify, it was a viable business at the end of the second month when I went from 380 dollars. Let's call it in my first month where I'd released three books and the second month, December, I released a fourth and instead of doing like 50 or 60 dollars a day all of a sudden I was at a hundred, hundred and fifty.

And then of course in January we went over five figures and all of a sudden it's like hey, this is a six-figure business. This is doing better in 90 days than my consulting business was doing after a couple of years. And of course, I love the idea of making money while I'm sleeping.

Joanna Penn: We all do but again, I think we do have a lot of traditionally published authors who listen to the show and people who still consider the traditional publishing model when people hear $7.50 a day, which is where you started or 12 to 15 dollars a day even $100 a day.

When people think that if they sign with a traditional publisher, they might get a lump sum. Maybe that's two grand. Maybe that's five grand. Maybe if they're lucky it's more than that, 10, 20 or whatever.

So the model of traditional publishing is more like a spike income. And indie is, as you say, making money while you sleep. You can log on and see that money's come in. But you’re used to a business and in your own old business where money was different.

How can people shift that mindset to looking at smaller amounts per day being even more effective than a big lump sums?

Michael Anderle: I like to use the term $27.50. If I can get someone to just look at that number and say okay, you can make twenty-seven dollars and fifty cents a day. What is that over a year? And the answer is $10,000.

A lot of people will bandy about that the typical average author now doesn't make five thousand dollars a year, but if you can make $27.50 a day, you've just doubled the average.

Now, let's take it one step further. Let's go to $275 dollars a day, which can be one book or it can be half a dozen books. But if you can do that, you've just now become a six-figure author. And of course, $2,750 is a seven-figure author.

And so if I can just get people to look at that one number – $27.50 – and go that's your goal. That's your first goal.

It can be $2.75 for all it matters, right? That’s a thousand a year.

Joanna Penn: I often say to people over similar thing and I say ten dollars. It doesn't matter. If you can make $10 from someone who doesn't know you by selling your book or selling something online it changes your mindset.

I think the empowerment of doing that you have to do it to realize it. If you don't hit the button. You have to self-publish something and make just a couple of dollars to understand the model. So that's a big encouragement for people listening, but let's fast forward to now.

It’s September 2019 as we talk and now LMBPN publishing you did retire your wife as you said or actually you broke your wife out – Judith. She’s incredible. I'm jealous. I want a Judith.

Tell us what does the company look like now? And how has your role changed?

Michael Anderle: Oh my goodness. I will try to shorten this question. I have now become the chief executive, so CEO, but also the chief creative officer where almost all creative concepts and stories and titles that we're going to do going through me. Anything that's not English, so if it's German, if it's Spanish that tends to go through Judith.

She has a background in law. She has the PhD, speaks four languages and has traveled the world many times. So it seemed like an appropriate way to do things.

But the long story, which we can do some other time, is I thought she would want to come into the company. I had no idea that when she retired that was like, “Maybe.”

There were situations when she first stepped out of the other company when she was considering someone else, like staying in the industry she had been in for 20 years. I didn't think about the fact that she would have an affinity for staying there where she had people she knew for decades, right? It seems obvious in hindsight.

So all of a sudden I'm doing a song and dance and tapping going no, no, no, no don't go do that. That's just the glitter. Come over here. You want to come to a small little group that you've never done before that didn't sound that good. So it took a while for me to get her to come over and consider working with LNBPN but I'm really glad that she did we should all have a Judith.

Joanna Penn: Oh, yeah, as I said, I'm super jealous. It's so funny because I did the same thing with my husband. He left his job in 2015 and I just thought oh, he'll just take on all the stuff that I don't want to do. Unsurprisingly, he wasn't really into a lot of that stuff. So over the years, his role has changed as well, but it is interesting working with your spouse for sure. But as you say that is another discussion,

To give us a sense of the size of LMBPN how many books have you got out and how many authors are you working with?

Michael Anderle: We have in excess of 600 titles that we've produced. We have over 200 audio productions that LMBPN have produced and we've licensed another hundred in the last hundred and twenty days.

So we're rapidly both putting that IP of the audio out with other companies such as Podium or Dreamscape is probably our major and then Tantor and then we are now taking IP and publishing other people. Whereas before for the first three years we had only ever produced our own IP. And so now we're actually bringing authors in republishing their backlists and going forward with their front lists. So that's pretty significant.

Stephen Campbell is the VP of operations and audio. He handles a lot of the infrastructure Lynn Stigler's on our editing side. We have probably three to four artists that we keep busy all of the time producing 15 to 25 titles per month.

Joanna Penn: Wow, it is incredible how you grow like that and it's funny because over the years I've tried to decide what to do and I made a big decision. It's funny because I feel like we have a lot in common, but I also think I'm much more of a control freak than you because I find co-writing incredibly difficult and you co-write with so many people.

How have you gone about all of that co-writing?

As you say, you're more of a creative producer like James Patterson. There's no way you could possibly oversee so many books personally in detail.

How have you done the co-writing or is that just your natural personality?

Michael Anderle: A great question. So in 2016, I started doing collaborations because the fans wanted stories in the Kutherian Gambit Universe that I wasn't going to write, not only because I didn't have the time, which was partially true, but they wanted stories in areas I had no interest in writing. I had no interest in writing something about post-apocalypse.

So I had reached out to Craig Martelle in brought him in. Justin Sloan reached out to me and so we spoke about what was going on. So we had like three or four authors for collaborations and I had done some collaborations with some of my fans to get them started. So we had this infrastructure.

But from the business background, it was obvious that if I wanted to grow the publishing side, which is what interests me more than the writing side, that I needed to have people that could then take what I taught them and then they could oversee the generation, if you will, of the collaborations. and that so in Kutherian Gambit, we call them age runners, The Age of Expansion, as an example, which is the Sci-Fi side of things Craig Martell took over and so he herded and received a piece of the action for those series that were within his milieu.

Does that make sense?

Joanna Penn: Yes, so it's like you have these showrunners like Craig and his universe and other people in his universe and he directs that and you sit above all of them and make sure it all works. Although your story bibles must be huge at this point.

Michael Anderle: You know what? The fans are the ones who help keep those early story things together. It's fascinating that the fans can read the stories and get more detail out of it than us as authors can possibly remember. They are the ones who actually helped keep us on track for the first two years.

We built a second universe Oriceren with Martha Carr. And so, we had Kurtherian Gambit going and then we had Oriceren going and because of the success of Kurtherian people wanted to join us on the Oriceren side, even though we had no sales history to show anything about it.

And so from there, it was the constant keeping what's going on. So getting our editing and making sure it's on track. I don't accept what everybody tells me cannot be done.

So, editing; in the beginning, people are saying hey, you need to sign up. You’ve got to wait six weeks, then it's going to take me two weeks to edit this. And I'm like no, this book is done on a Tuesday so it's going down on Friday. Let's figure out how to make this happen.

And so from that consulting that manufacturing concept it was like, okay, how can I do this? Well, if I write the book with 25 chapters, then I'm going to release those chapters to the just-in-time “jit” which with my background in IT it's a very understood concept that they would actually be editing as I'm writing.

So if I wrote chapters 6 through 10, I would give it to them. I'd go on through 11 to 15 by the time I finished chapter 25 the first 15 to 20 chapters were done. So we just had the last few chapters to finish and get it out.

That concept has moved forward into our company to where now we do million-plus words of editing a month.

Joanna Penn: Wow. It's interesting because you've mentioned intellectual property (IP) and I've sat with Judith at the London Book Fair, and we're going to meet at Frankfurt. We go to these Book Fairs in order to license intellectual property.

One of the things that concerned me very much with co-writing and for example, I've been pitched around using characters in games and stuff like that and I've been very concerned about the idea of co-mingling IP, which is where a universe can cross over and the IP owner or owners may be in dispute potentially.

So I'm really interested in how your ideas around IP work when you've got a universe, which you may have created and lots of other people who've written in there who have slices of IP given how fast you guys are growing.

What are your thoughts around licensing and co-mingling intellectual property?

Michael Anderle: So let's take it as you’re the universe owner. People and other authors are coming to you for an opportunity. That opportunity doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to take my piece of the IP and go. No, when they came into Kurtherian Gambit I was very upfront. This is my universe. Let's be very clear about that. I own it. I'm going to run it.

Now because I'm “a nice guy” if you're not in the universe and you're not writing in it -anymore because my thought was always people would come into the universe they would write and they would leave. The benefit for them, of course, is they would understand how we do things better, which was very obvious for a few of my collaborators. They were writing the stories not because they were engaged with the universe, but because they wanted the opportunity to learn. So no different than a blacksmith, a trade.

The rules at that time were hey, I'll ask you, but if you're not getting with me or anything, I have the ultimate ability to say we're using that character you created in this other story. I don't think I've ever done it in the last three years, but there's one time I needed to ask them and say hey we need to use this character, are you good with that? And they were off doing something else. So that's one where you own the universe.

Then you have co-owned universes. You have to be understanding and where's the bifurcation of responsibility. In Oriceren, I set up Martha as the one who is running that Universe. However, I'm the one with the higher level of skill, an understanding of what's going on.

Martha came at it with, yes, I'm running this but Mike's the one who understands how to make this part successfully. So that is a relationship issue, if we're looking at something brand-new, which we do now and people are asking me to be a part of it then we're like, okay, how are we going to do x y z? And we set the collaboration up in such a way that no matter what we sell, whether it be ebooks, paperback, audio rights, if it should go to TV or movies the percentage is the same.

So in one universe, for example, we sell audio rights. Sometimes the collaborators are aware of it when I'm saying we just sold this you're going to get a check for x. And they might not have been a part of it for a year or two. That's happened.

When it comes to your personal stuff, you own it. That's it. They don't have to work with you if they don't like that understanding that's okay. You part friends and maybe you do something else. If you go to the one where someone wants to come work with you because they understand your mystery-thriller capabilities they need to make it worth your while. You're Joanna Penn in this case or you are Fred Smith or whoever you are. They're coming to you for a reason. Understand what that is. And just be good with it.

Joanna Penn: I like how serious this topic is because it is serious what you're creating here.

As we speak Disney is launching their streaming service. And Apple TV has just launched. There's obviously Netflix. Obviously, everyone else doing this. Everyone's looking for a big universe. This is why this is important.

I want to encourage authors, whether they're working with you or another publisher, we have to be aware of the value of what we create and make sure our contracts portray that. I love that you're very serious about contracts and IP. I saw the documentation Judith was taking around the London Book Fair, and it was super impressive. I was like, okay, I can't even sit next to you with my tiny one-pager!

Michael Anderle: Well the thing about it is I don't suggest this as a business strategy, but I married a JD, a Juris Doctorate, so she basically is a lawyer.

When she first saw the contracts I had done for Kutherian Gambit let's just say that she was duly unimpressed. And so she's been working for the last 4 to 6 months with Stephen Campbell to move our contracts into the future, so to speak. One person said, “I work with a publisher who has a one-page contract.” And Judith's response is, “Every single piece that's in there is there because somebody needed it.”

So if you have a question, let's talk about it. And she's very straightforward. Recently we had to put in something we had never considered, which was a moral turpitude clause and so why did you do?

Joanna Penn: Why did you include that?

Michael Anderle: I can only go into some vague stuff, but somebody got in trouble with the law and we didn't have any way for us to be able to step out of that contract.

Joanna Penn: Okay. That’s interesting because the moral standard thing has come up with a lot of traditional publishers, which essentially you are now.

Are you saying now that you are a traditional publishing company?

Michael Anderle: We were talking with Publishers Weekly yesterday and I was asking Kevin over there what would he call us? What would he call a company such as ours because we were always indie. That's what I grew up on. And he goes well we might call you an independent publisher.

But since we still create our own IP, we still build our own universes. We've just now started because we built such an infrastructure.

It's kind of like Amazon when they had warehouses and they're like, hey, you know, we could just rent out some of this capability. So we looked at it we said, okay, why don't we use some of our infrastructure to help bring other IP. It doesn't always have to be something we do in-house.

Joanna Penn: At the moment with that backlist, what do you say, six hundred titles, 200 audio? This is bigger than a lot of independent publishers in the UK and possibly in the USA as well.

LMBPN is actually a big independent publishing house and the fact that some of those books, you know you personally wrote. It’s fascinating to me that you're growing so fast.

I do you want to come on to something I'm excited about. One of my issues that has been around the 20 Book to 50K group, as you know, has been very focused and quite vocal around KU ebooks, so Kindle unlimited for those who don't know or exclusivity to Amazon, which I have a lot of issues with. And also the focus on just the US market.

But earlier in 2019, and I did talk about this on the show, you went wide with audio and now you're launching a new series wide with ebooks as well. So I would love to know what has changed.

Why are you going wide with some books and what are your thoughts on KU?

Michael Anderle: I don't know that my thoughts ever have necessarily changed but here's my argument. In 2015, which you will remember that as being a big moment in time, my point was I was making at that time fifty thousand dollars a month on Kindle Unlimited.

Does somebody who is mostly going to say it's going to take six to nine months to go wide. I'm like, okay, so you want me to stop with three hundred to four hundred fifty thousand dollars to test going wide. That doesn't make good business sense.

They might say it could go down. But then I'll have three hundred or four hundred fifty thousand dollars in the bank. I think I can weather it. That was my business thought and to a large degree it still is but now we come to the but part right?

So in looking at wide the question or often, you hear when people talk about it that hey I tried KU it didn't work for me, but I went wide in it did work. I think both of us can say that. We've seen that happen.

Joanna Penn: It works for some books. Not for others.

Michael Anderle: Exactly. So imagine if you will that even though I have all the success I could want on KU, I'm now taking on additional authors who will not fit the KU model. I know that it's obvious from just watching the history that is going to happen.

The other part of it is in Frankfurt last year, I will say this, Judith dragged me to a meeting. I met a lady who is part of the audiobooks association, and she threw out a figure that I didn't believe. He comment was that at the time Audible was 42% of the audio market. I said that can't be. I just knew that Audible was 80% of the market. So I went and researched it and she was right.

Joanna Penn: Was that because your mindset was so US focused?

Michael Anderle: No, it's more from the fact that everybody called Audible the gorilla. And so, I guess I associated ‘gorilla’ with 80% of the market. I never really tried to go look at the numbers.

For instance, we're actually not as focused on the US market as perhaps perceived. We get 12 percent of our income from the UK market, which for us is still five figures a month. We get a weird and growing a large percentage of our income from the German translation market.

And to some degree the German Market, you know, so we've tried or we have German translations that are very successful. We've tried Spanish six translations not so successful. That was a good way to learn that sci-fi doesn't necessarily do well in the Spanish market.

Joanna Penn: Good tip, but that's at the moment. I'm sure so sure it will change at some point.

Michael Anderle: Well, it's fascinating. I had a this is completely off-topic. So I'll try to do it quickly just to put a bug in your ear. America is big in sci-fi. UK is big in sci-fi. Russia is big in sci-fi. China is just growing amazingly in sci-fi. But you don't see it much in other places.

It wasn't until we went over to China again this year to the Beijing Book Fair as we were doing this that I started to realize because we were meeting some other people at Worldcon. The countries that seem to be really heavy into Sci-Fi are also the countries that seem to be heavy into space. For the most part in Latin America, those countries are not space going countries that I'm aware of so they don't have the excitement, if you will, of the sci-fi or the scientific. So that’s just a thought.

Joanna Penn: I love that you guys travel and obviously I'm a big traveler too. I think you can learn so much just from being in another country. Frankfurt Book Fair versus London versus New York versus Beijing. Even just the Book Fairs are so different.

Let’s come back to KU. I don't want to leave that topic. You said some of those authors are not going to work in the KU model.

Michael Anderle: There’s a couple of things I want. I have what I consider a passion project and that passion project is open. I knew at the time I started it I was going to spend a lot of money, too much money, on the doing because I wanted some amazing graphics. Now the other part of it is, if I'm going to learn wide, do I want to learn it on some of my collaborators' time and money effort? Or am I going to learn it on the back of my effort?

So I'd rather learn it on the back of my effort because I'm very aware this is going to cost me more than a quarter of a million dollars in lost income to figure out how to do this. I'm not going to put that burden on somebody else.

Joanna Penn: Because you're not going to put it in KU.

Michael Anderle: Correct. You're talking 12 books, over million words. I know what I would make in KU so I know I'm not going to make it wide. KU by the way is around 60 to 70 percent of the typical income of our series.

Joanna Penn: Although I would challenge you on this. You don't know yet what you're going to make wide.

Michael Anderle: That is true. But I know what I'm not going to make

Joanna Penn: Yes, that's true, but you can't see it that much lost income because you haven't put them on KU. This is what's so difficult. You can never split test this. I know as an IT guy wouldn't it be great if we could just do it twice?

And the thing is I would love to put some books in KU because I want to reach that market, but I hate exclusivity and I think it means there's a whole world, — most of the world — who you're not reaching with your books.

I also think that you gain a much bigger audience than just KU because of course KU is not available in every country.

I don't read KU books. I am not in a KU reader. So there are lots of people who are not being reached. So that's why I'm excited about you doing this.

Michael Anderle: I can understand that — but I think the question can be also turned the other way and go okay, let's talk about India. India does have KU. India is a horrifically hard market to try to capture because of the cheapness of the paperbacks. And the fact their distribution models in India are so radically different than what we would typically be used to because you would have a person in India in a small town who might ‘buy’ a book from a person on a bicycle and then next week they'll sell that same book back, kind of like a half-price bookstore model. How are you going to compete in that situation? It's very difficult.

Joanna Penn: But to me that is a technical thing because you can't upload the same book twice on Amazon. That's against their terms of service.

I'm not arguing about a territory like India at all, talking about the bigger markets or the libraries for example, but let's come back to you again, not me.

So what are your plans? You've got these 12 books that you're going to drop.

Are you dropping them all at once and what are you going to do with marketing?

Michael Anderle: LMBPN understands that we don't understand wide. It's not been our thing. So we reached out to a lot of the industry people. Dreamscape Audio and Kobo and PublishDrive and Draft2Digital and said hey, can you help us with this?

Because we'd like to understand better how to do wide. We'd like to do it right and we'd like to do a white paper and share it at 20Books to 50k to understand how to do this. At least, here are our learnings to date and then we'll do it again.

I like to say that I have one story broken up in the 12 books. They're going to be released over 18 months. Every six weeks we are releasing a new book and it will be an e-book, paperback, and audio simultaneously. The rights have all been sold. Some of the partners have already produced concepts. We’re not all that familiar with doing a bunch of pre-orders a year ahead of time.

Apple is like, hey, we really think you should be doing this. They're giving us a lot of their insights on how to do these and these are all people that are advising us every three weeks. And this is something that Judith is doing.

Every three weeks we do a 30-minute and it's timed, it is 30 minutes, where we tell everyone what we're doing and if they have any advice, please give it to us and we'll modify what we're doing. And then we're testing what we're trying so that if we're trying something new they'll get insights into it. Maybe they can proliferate that information up to other people.

We’re starting with Clarke's World, which is a science fiction online website, and we're going to be advertising there. I don't know that I've heard of people using it, but you know what, we're going to try so we'll let everybody know how good it is for us. We've met Neil and so I think that's going to be good.

It's going to be good for us to understand how to get that message out to a much bigger audience. I have great hopes. I have great expectations. The partners are helping us and it very well can be that it is what's needed to take Michael Anderle to the next level.

Joanna Penn: And that's what I was talking about with opportunity.

There are just ways that other companies look at KU and that's literally how I think it happens in some of the industry and as soon as you do this in a more – I won't say more serious financially because obviously, KU is very serious financially – but it's almost like playing on the playing field that some of the other companies globally play on. It wouldn't surprise me if that then leads to a lot more foreign deals.

For example, I got a deal in South Korea just because they found my books on an Ingram Spark list because I'm wide with print, for example. So there are things that I think will happen. Obviously, I'm not going to make a bet with you at all. But I think that's to me the biggest mindset shift is KU is much quicker money, but wide can bring opportunities that might make you much more money over the long term.

For example, maybe this will lead to getting picked up by Disney.

Michael Anderle: That was actually to some degree an aspect of my thinking as well. Have you seen the video that Judith sent you by chance?

Joanna Penn: Yes, I had a quick look.

Michael Anderle: Okay. So you saw the quality of the graphics. If you see the covers and everything else we spent a large amount of money to make this look like a Hollywood style or quality production.

Hollywood itself doesn't turn my head. It's not like I've watched movies my whole life and I'd love to be in a movie. That's not true. I love books. But I'm not ignorant of watching when Margaret Atwood or George RR Martin when their stories are either at the movies or on HBO. They rise above me because you get all of that marketing from it. So that's not lost on me.

Joanna Penn: Lee Child says that about Jack Reacher, and people say oh, why did why did they cast Tom Cruise? He's too short and Lee Child always says, yeah, and they spent 300 million or whatever on promoting my brand and I sold a lot of books and a lot more people have heard of Jack Reacher because of the movie. So I think this is super interesting.

Neither of us are suggesting that people should be writing 12 books and launching them or spending all this money. This is not what we're talking about. Even though you have been doing this that many years, you've moved super, super fast.

I did want to ask you, do you think that KU has changed? When you went into that in 2015-2016 things were different and because of the over-abundance of ads now, things have really changed.

Do you still believe in the KU model exactly as it was for other authors, or do you think things are a bit different now?

Michael Anderle: I would have to ask the person specifically what their time frame is. I have one author who's coming on that we’re signing and her expectation is to put out a book once every six months. She has one in the can, one that she's mostly done, and one that's going to take nine months plus.

I said look, we're going to effectively make you a wide author. That's the plan from the get-go, but since you have one and two will put those in KU and then we're going to roll them out and by the time we get two three, it's out. It's wide. Because we understand what your timing is and what your intent is.

She has a 5 to 10 year plan. I don't know the rest of what's in her life. That's her intent. What’s the way that's going to make you the best opportunity here? Because unless you're going to release relatively quickly I don't think KU is going to be the right choice for you long-term.

And someone else who I know can write two hundred thousand words a month. So she can either do two hundred thousand word books or three 70 thousand word books. I'd be like, you know what KU is going to pay you well. So you understand the dichotomy between what's going on for them.

Now others, what is their mountain? If they want literary success, I'd probably go wide. I don't think KU’s going to benefit you much at all. If you want awards.

When we looked in Spain or we look in France we understand that the e-book market is different there for different reasons. France is very paper focused. That's what their intent is in the country. So they're almost holding out obstinately. Spain's a little bit different.

If I was going to do it again, once again, I'm going to write fast, KU’s probably still the right market to get income fast. But then what is your long-term plan?

I'm not a big worrier that KU is going to change anytime soon, but I know that it's a possibility. And I want to be a part of Apple. I want to be a part of Google Play to some degree. It's interesting to see what changes they're going to make and I see the other countries in 10 years will be somewhere they're not. Yeah,

Joanna Penn: Absolutely. I agree with you.

Michael Anderle: So what are we going to do? Let's be there because I don't know that the effort to be wide is ever going to be like, hey go wide and in three weeks they're going to know who you are without a lot of effort.

Joanna Penn: It's a long-term plan. I think that is very cool. And of course, as you said, you've got 600 plus titles more every month. And so even if KU folded, you just go wide with all of those. You’ve built a hell of a back-list.

Michael Anderle: Question for you though, since I have you on the line. When you talk to a lot of people that go from KU into wide and I see little snippets of conversations where people say, yeah, but when I went from KU to wide what I found is I still received more income from my Amazon sales that made up for some of that KU because the people were willing to do it anyway.

Joanna Penn: My own sales are still predominantly Amazon only. But this is a huge conversation and you're not interviewing me! But again, I think publishing wide reaches a very different reader. That's the other thing.

For example, I'm part of Audible as a subscriber, but I'm not a KU reader because to buy my books I will pay 12 pounds, 15 pounds for an ebook that I want.

Apple readers and to some extent Google Play readers and different countries their readers on the other platforms are less price sensitive. So often if you're wide, you will have a higher price than you would do in KU and I think pricing is a huge deal.

But even something like you mentioned with those Apple pre-orders, if you have 12 books on pre-orders then you get the double ranking on Apple and it's some extent you get this temperature rising on Kobo and stuff like that. But even on Apple just doing that you could get sell-through to pre-orders on all of those books, which is super exciting.

So I think what you're doing which is a kind of rapid release wide is really interesting and I will be fascinated to hear what you learn along the way. I'm very excited.

We are almost out of time. So tell people where can they find you and your books and LMBPN online?

Michael Anderle: You can now find LMBPN Opus projects wide, I’m happy to announce that. I suppose on all the different ones a lot of our books are obviously still on Amazon and you can find us at LMBPN.com is where our main website is and then, of course, you can find us pretty much all over Facebook – 20BooksTo50K.

Joanna Penn: Thank you for your time Michael, that was great.

Michael Anderle: Thank you very much, too, and it was a pleasure and honor to be here.

Oct 21 2019

1hr 22mins

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Why Authors Should Learn To Speak In Public With Joanna Penn

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All successful creatives have to speak and present in public, whether that's at a festival, on a podcast or radio show, or as part of earning multiple streams of income.

But you don’t have to be like Tony Robbins, bouncing around on stage with a booming voice and larger than life personality. You just have to be you and tell your story in your own way. This is an excerpt from Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts, Second Edition by Joanna Penn. The book is available in ebook, paperback, hardback, large print, and audiobook narrated by the author.

Here are some possible reasons why you might want to include speaking as part of your author career.

(1) Help and inspire people

One of the most rewarding things about speaking is sharing your message and changing people’s lives. If you’re passionate about your topic and you communicate well, you will touch individuals, sometimes in unexpected ways. Watching the light dawn in someone’s eyes as they suddenly understand that their life can change is fantastic, and I think many of us speak to help others. This is an intrinsic reward and the reason why some people speak for free to groups that might not be able to afford professional speakers otherwise.

Whenever I am exhausted from speaking and traveling and think that perhaps I want to give it all up, this is the anchor I hold on to. I made a commitment when I started my blog, TheCreativePenn.com, in 2008, that I wanted to help release a million books into the world. Every person that I empower to write, publish and market their book adds to the tally, and whenever I speak, I add a few more to the list.

Whatever you speak about, consider how you might change people’s lives.

(2) Personal development

Speaking can be personally transformative. When you craft a talk, you have to organize your thoughts into a coherent structure and lead people through a story. This helps to order your own thoughts and can change the way in which you think about a topic. Writing this book has helped me to clarify further what I want from my own speaking career, and we often teach what we need to learn the most.

Going outside your comfort zone is also valuable for personal development, and speaking in front of a crowd is one of those skills that can transform you and give you more confidence.

It can also enable you to face your fears and help yourself by helping others. You will share your own stories and personal experience, and in sharing from your heart, you might be able to work through your own issues.

Joanna Penn speaking at NINC, Florida in 2018

(3) Market your creative work and harness word-of-mouth

Speaking enables you to connect directly with people, and they are more likely to become fans of your creative work through seeing your face and hearing your voice. If people listen to you and see you in action, they get to know you better. They can ask you questions, and you can demonstrate your knowledge. You connect with individuals this way, and great marketing is best done with a personal connection.

If you give a fantastic talk or seminar, if you are memorable for all the right reasons, people may well talk about you to their friends. This generates word-of-mouth publicity for you — the very best kind. People may buy your books or creative products, or attend your next workshop.

(4) Stand out in a crowded market

Thousands of books and millions of creative products are put on sale each week, so how do you stand out?

Being a professional speaker can help, because most people would rather do practically anything else than speak in public. You have an advantage if you speak because you can say yes to new opportunities which many other authors will turn down.

Joanna Penn speaking at Youpreneur Summit, QE2 centre, London, UK in Nov 2017

(5) Successful creatives have to speak eventually

Best-selling authors and creatives speak at festivals, conventions, and events and also appear on the radio, TV, podcasts, and other media. Therefore, if you want to plan for success, you need to prepare for these events and make sure that you fulfill the audience’s expectations when you get there.

I’ve been at plenty of literary festivals where authors have given a poor performance, and it has affected the way in which they are perceived by the audience. In comparison, those authors who can entertain and inspire in person will draw more readers to their written work — and sell more books!

(6) Multiple streams of income

Speakers can earn a good speaking fee for a keynote speech, but can also run workshops or other events that may generate significant income.

Many speakers sell books and products at events, but you can also include the price of a piece of your work in the cover charge so that all attendees get one as part of the event. ‘Back of the room’ sales are almost guaranteed if you give a great talk or workshop or seminar because people want to take something of you home as a reminder of a great event.

You can even start by speaking on a topic and then turn that into a book later, repurposing your material in several ways. For more detail, check out my book, How to Write Non-Fiction: Turn Your Knowledge into Words.

(7) Expenses-paid travel

This may be more of a personal reason, but I’m a travel junkie, and one of my goals around professional speaking is to use it as a vehicle for travel experiences. I may even say ‘yes’ to speaking at an event because I want to visit the location or say ‘no’ because I’ve been there before.

When I speak in different cities or even a different country, I generally stay on for a day or two after the event and experience a new place. This might offset the income goal in many instances, but I often get ideas for my novels when I travel. It is a life priority for me, and it nourishes my creative soul.

Joanna Penn speaking in Ubud, Bali, 2009

(8) Serendipity

You never know who is in the audience when you speak, or what will come from your appearance on a particular day. It may be that someone talks to someone else, and suddenly you get a call that changes everything. You’ll never know unless you put yourself out there.

So, what might be your reasons for speaking? How could public speaking help your author career?

If you want to learn more, check out Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts, Second Edition by Joanna Penn. The book is available in ebook, paperback, hardback, large print, and audiobook narrated by the author.

Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts by Joanna Penn. Second Edition. Audiobook narrated by the author.

Oct 18 2019

10mins

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How To Write a Novel In A Month #NaNoWriMo With Grant Faulkner

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Is it your dream to write a novel but you just don’t know where to start? Have you written lots of non-fiction but secretly, you'd love to write fiction? In today's interview, I talk to Grant Faulkner about tips for writing a novel in a month, whether that's part of #nanowrimo, or whenever you decide […]

Oct 14 2019

1hr 2mins

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Writing For Audio First With Jules Horne

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Audiobooks are the fastest-growing segment in publishing, but how do you make sure your books sound good in audio? How can you improve your writing so listeners come back for more of your books? In this interview, Jules Horne gives some tips for audio-first writing. In the intro, I mention Underland: A Deep Time Journey […]

Oct 07 2019

1hr 7mins

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Book Marketing: Publicity Tips For Your Book With Dana Kaye

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Is it worth pitching traditional media for PR in an era of paid ads? Can PR build your author brand and attract opportunities you might not have had otherwise? What are the best ways to pitch your book? Dana Kaye answers these questions and more in today's show. In the intro, Kobo Writing Life announces […]

Sep 30 2019

1hr 12mins

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Trust Your Creativity And Choose Yourself With Jen Louden

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How can you continue to create when you're plagued with self-doubt? How can you let go of your fears and trust your creativity in order to move forward as a writer? In today's show, Jen Louden shares her lessons learned about writing and self-care.   In the intro, I talk about Publish Drive's new move […]

Sep 23 2019

1hr 5mins

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Writing Tips: Unforgettable Endings With James Scott Bell

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The last pages of your book are critical because they determine how the reader will feel when they leave your world — and whether they will buy your next book. As readers, we've all been disappointed by weak story endings, so how can we make sure that we leave our readers satisfied? James Scott Bell […]

Sep 16 2019

57mins

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Audiobook Narration And Performance Tips For Authors With Sean Pratt

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Successful authors have to perform their work — whether that's reading at a book launch or literary festival, on a podcast or radio show, or even with audiobook narration. In today's show, Sean Pratt gives some tips for giving your best performance at every stage of your author journey. In the introduction, I talk about […]

Sep 09 2019

55mins

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Happiness, Anxiety And Writing As A Second Career With Lisa Lilly

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Anxiety is an aspect of many writer's lives, so how can you write and publish while still balancing your physical and mental health? Plus, how writing can be a fulfilling second career. These topics and more in discussion with Lisa M Lilly today. In the intro, big publishers sue Audible over the new Captions feature […]

Sep 02 2019

1hr 7mins

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Podcasting Goes Mainstream. How Can Authors Benefit? Lessons Learned From Podcast Movement 2019

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Audiobooks are the fastest-growing segment in publishing — and podcasts sell audiobooks because you’re reaching people who are already listening. Those who consume media in audio (like me) want everything in this format, and whether it’s conversational interviews, industry news, serial fiction, or a full-cast, multi-voice production, podcasts are on the rise. In this episode, […]

Aug 28 2019

54mins

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Navigating Changes In The Publishing Industry With Mike Shatzkin

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Will Barnes and Noble survive the takeover by a hedge fund company? Will Amazon Publishing continue to take market share? Will audio-first become more dominant for readers? How will AI impact the publishing industry? I discuss these things and more with Mike Shatzkin on today's episode. In the intro, Open AI releases an updated version […]

Aug 26 2019

1hr 3mins

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The Creative Introvert With Cat Rose.

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You can be a successful creative entrepreneur and an introvert. It's all about finding the best way of working for your personality and your business goals, as I discuss today with Cat Rose. In the intro, I talk about the importance of thinking long-term, both about your creative projects, but also about building assets and […]

Aug 19 2019

47mins

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