You will find resources to help you write, publish and market your book by Joanna Penn - New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, voted one of The Guardian UK Top 100 Creative Professionals 2013. Also voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers and one of the Top 10 Blogs for Self-Publishers.
Writing for fun and for money is definitely possible, as I discuss with Jason Brick in today's interview. He writes flash fiction for fun and takes high-paying freelance writing jobs for income and shares tips for both.
In the intro, highlights from the Audio Publishers Association survey [Publishing Perspectives]; PublishDrive announces Abacus, a tool for co-writing payment splitting even if you don't publish through PD; Academic publisher, Pearson, goes digital for textbooks [The Guardian]; and Elon Musk's Neuralink in the futurist segment [The Guardian]. Plus, how my LASEK eye surgery went (well, obvs!)
Do you need a professional editor or book cover designer? 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
Jason Brick is a professional writer, a martial artist, a travel addict, and a professional speaker whose work has been published across multiple genres and formats.
He has over 3000 published articles and short stories and has ghost-written more than 20 books, as well as writing novels and non-fiction under his own name. Plus, he has edited and crowdfunded a number of anthologies.
Joanna: Hi everyone I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today I'm here with Jason Brick. Hi Jason.
Jason: Hello Joanna.
Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.
Jason is a professional writer, a martial artist, a travel addict like me, and a professional speaker whose work has been published across multiple genres and formats. He has over 3000 published articles and short stories and has ghost-written more than 20 books, as well as writing novels and non-fiction under his own name. Plus, he has edited and crowdfunded a number of anthologies. You are a busy man, Jason!
Jason: Yes ma'am. I love to eat and sleep indoors but I don't ever want to get a real job so that requires that I write as much as I can as often as I can to fund the lifestyle my kids like to live.
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.
Jason: Well, it's a funny story. One of my first memories is of pretending to write stories in a notebook before I knew how to write. I was scribbling lines and pretending that they meant something. I got a lot of feedback even as an elementary school student about my ability to write.
And then as a high schooler, my two best friends each had a parent who was a professional writer. One was a journalist, the other was a technical writer. In college, I got a lot of feedback from my professors and a lot of support for my skill at writing.
So, of course, I went into an entirely different field for the first 10 years of my adult life. That was when I ran a martial arts studio. And then when my first child became an elementary school student working evenings and weekends job just wasn't cutting it.
I sold my creative studio at that time and I had developed a large enough portfolio through writing ad copy for my school. I had a column in the local paper about safety and parenting and things like that that I was able to turn that portfolio into a full-time freelance career in about six months.
Joanna: Wow! So I've got to ask you: this wasn't a question I primed for but I've got to ask you about productivity because you clearly write fast.
What are your productivity tips?
Jason: One of the best tricks ever that I learned – I learned this about five years ago and I've been using it every day – is that when you're done writing for the day resist the urge to complete the sentence. Because usually that first half-hour we sit down to write, we're stared at a blank screen bleeding from our for heads trying to wonder what we're going to write next.
But if you've got an incomplete sentence on the page, you know exactly what to write. And you're in the flow and you're in your rhythm immediately.
And besides that, it’s just knowing the rhythms of how you work and not fighting them but rather designing a day that can match up. As my writing career kind of indicates, I have a lot of interests, I'm easily bored, so I work in half-hour sprints and then take a 15-minute break to clean part of the house or go do a short workout and then I come back and do another half-hour sprint.
Where some people have a better time just blocking off four hours and writing. And neither is better or worse. The only mistake is trying to do something that doesn't work for you. If that makes any sense.
Joanna: That is a really good tip. I'm definitely someone who needs a bit longer than the 30 minutes. I like to have a bit longer but that's really interesting.
We are here to talk about flash fiction, although you'll feel you've got so many things we could talk about. But we’re going to start with flash fiction.
I have a just recently discovered flash fiction and I've been to some evenings.
Let's just start with what flash fiction is. Why is it not poetry or a short story?
Jason: So it is a short story. It's just an extremely short story. The difference between flash fiction and a short story is like the difference between a novella and a novel. It's simply word lengths. Various people will argue about what that limit is.
For the anthologies that I've published of flash fiction, I put the limit at 1000 words but you hear some people saying 500 words and some people start using terms like micro-fiction and things like that. But really the conceptual difference is that when you're dealing with flash fiction you can't tell the whole story.
You're implying most of the story in old school Hitchcock fashion, where you leave most of the details to the imagination of the reader and provide just enough rope for them to hang your imaginations on.
Joanna: The ones I've read are probably more like a couple of hundred words rather than a thousand words.
My feeling with it is that it seems less serious.
Is it a more fun way to be creative than taking on a big book-sized project, for example.
Jason: It really depends. My favorite flash fiction tends to be funny but there can be horrific flash fiction. I've seen very effective horror in the genre, very stirring stories about human psychology about human relationships and, of course, there's the probably the most famous flash fiction story of all time by Hemingway, which is, “For sale. Baby shoes. Never used.” That’s just heart-wrenching.
Joanna: I thought that had become apocryphal like maybe someone wrote it. Or it's become known as his.
Jason: It might have been.
Joanna: Who knows the truth of that?
I have looked at flash because I really like it. I think it's brilliant. It works really well with things like Instagram and the modern ways of marketing. But it seems super hard to me. I write very big books. They have big scope lots of global conspiracies.
What are your tips for writing flash fiction? How do we go from writing these longer pieces to writing shorter?
Jason: What was it Oscar Wilde said about I'm writing you a long letter because I don't have time to write a short one. Getting those stories out there, and again I think it depends on some on people's different processes. Some people write very short naturally and then expand as the drafts go on. Other people write very long drafts and then narrow them down.
And again, the only mistake is doing what's not natural for you in terms of monetizing flash fiction. Don't even try to make a living just writing flash fiction unless you're already famous. It's the market just does not exist to you.
Joanna: We'll come back to markets. But just getting back to writing short. I think it has to come down to the size of the idea. Because I can't write a whole story as you said. What are your thoughts about choosing the thing to write about?
Is it a vignette that we pick from the world or how do you actually choose the right topic?
Jason: For me personally and I can't speak to other people's processes but usually, a flash fiction story that I write comes from a larger idea that's rattling around in my head and then focusing on one individual's experience of that idea.
Almost none of us have the experience that is the whole story, whether you're talking about your relationships, whether you're talking about your job, whether you're talking about your understanding of science or current events. Excellent flash fiction I think takes one person's narrow experience of a larger topic and then implies the things that they don't know. The things that aren't on screen in a way that's effective and compelling.
Joanna: It's that topic that I find so hard.
Are there specific writing prompts for people writing flash? I've seen some Twitter hashtags for example.
Jason: I'm sure they exist but I haven't really interacted with them at all. Flash fiction is just another kind of story that I write. My flash fiction thing has come from being done with a story and realizing it's in the flash range rather than being a fall short story or a novella.
Joanna: Oh that's interesting. So you write it first and then the length will determine what you do with it.
Joanna: OK right. I have never done that. At this time I kind of only think of things on a much bigger level. I'm trying to adjust my mindset to doing it like that.
Coming back to the market for it, tell us about the anthologies you do.
Why do anthologies of flash?
Jason: So the real question for me is why Kickstart anthologies of flash?
What are the issues with flash anthologies from a traditional publishing standpoint, as you have to have so many authors to fill a book that the royalties are tiny and it just doesn't work out. That's why you don't see a lot of anthologies of flash fiction from the big five or even independent publishers.
On the other hand, if you kickstart that – my flash fictions are all anthologies with one hundred authors. I have 100 people with a vested interest in the success of the campaign. And so it's very naturally suited for that particular style.
And so that's why anthologies of flash fiction work for me personally.
Joanna: How do you find those authors?
Jason: So what I do is a combination of I have a fairly extensive mailing list of aspiring authors, of professional authors from some of the services I do for people who want to succeed in the writing industry, as well as I use social media outreach. I used to use Craigslist but they recently started charging for their ads.
For the first anthology, I went to 20 different cities. Now when I put out an anthology I only advertised in New York, Chicago and L.A.
Joanna: If you have one hundred people putting money in together, I guess everyone is going to support it if they are in the bank.
What are your other tips for a successful Kickstarter? Because it seems to me that a lot of them do get funded but many don't last.
Jason: To me that's a topic for an entire show. You can teach courses on this. And in fact, I would recommend Russell Knowlety’s course on this specifically. Using some of the advice in that literally quadrupled the amount of backing I got on my third anthology as compared to the first two.
But the biggest thing is to start early. Your first day of work gathering backers for a Kickstarter project is not the first day the anthology is open. You need probably 90 days of lead time for getting people ready, for it for setting up podcast interviews, for setting up a blog tour, for setting your schedule and then why you're doing it.
This is the equivalent of a part-time or even full-time job if you can manage it. Being online every day. Harrying, harassing and chivvying people to make the donations they promised they would. Doing various shenanigans online to get attention. Reaching out to press things like that.
The biggest mistake people make with Kickstarter is having an, ‘If you build it, they will come’ approach, which just simply isn't true.
Joanna: So you have 100 people involved. I struggle with anthologies. I've had short stories in an anthology, so I get it from this marketing perspective. But in terms of making money, like you said, it's kind of a part-time job. Everyone listening wants make some money from their writing.
How does it become a viable prospect financially?
Jason: I don't know of anybody who makes a full-time living writing short fiction these days. It's important to remember that the average rate for short fiction per word hasn't changed since the pulp magazines of the 1920s. Robert Howard, Dashiell Hammett, and those guys were making a penny or two a word and most of the short fiction markets today are paying about a penny or two maybe three cents a word.
Some of the markets are open to five and six cents but making a living through short fiction is probably impossible unless you can write like three thousand words an hour. That's the short fiction to support of longer fiction habit. You can use short if you want to write short fiction and collections and self-publish it. I think that is a market that is growing where you could make a living on that. Using Amazon and Kobo when things like that.
But the idea of writing for anthologies and magazines and making a full-time living, I don't think that model is viable anymore.
Joanna: Okay so then let's talk about the market for people who read flash fiction. Are the people who read flash fiction writers?
How do you actually sell copies of these anthologies? What are some of the ways you do book marketing for these anthologies?
Jason: I use a lot of social media marketing. I work with a couple of magazines and online sites that specialize in flash fiction. And because flash fiction is a kind of niche market, the folks are pretty close and open about sharing. We’re all word nerds and so we're part of the same tribe.
So, for example, Flash Fiction Aficionado is a magazine in Washington D.C. that actually has print copies that publishes flash fiction once a month. They just reach out to as many websites and magazines as you can.
You mentioned Twitter, just popping up a flash fiction, a short flash fiction story on Twitter is not a bad idea. I've seen some of that also on Reddit.
Places like that. And you just keep throwing spaghetti against the wall and then when something sticks definitely compound that. As soon as you get positive attention from one place give them attention back like any other kind of social media engagement.
Joanna: So you really are marketing to people who were already buying anthologies.
Jason: Yes absolutely. There's no better customer than the customer who's already bought something very similar to what you have.
Joanna: I didn't read many anthologies. I much prefer a full story. And I know everyone has a different way of writing, which is really interesting. I feel the same about box sets. I feel like there are readers who buy box sets and I have box sets but I don't buy box sets. So I feel like maybe there are these different categories.
Do you get that sense?
Jason: Very much. I think that's very true that most readers read what they like to read and people have a favorite. Often they'll buy every single thing they can from that author. And often they'll be a little suspicious of an author who's very similar even until they finally read that book because it was the only book available to them at that time. Then they become a fan of that author.
There are some authors who are like that, very specialized. There's other readers who are very open with their reading and I tend to be one of those. I read anthologies mostly to meet new authors and I'll find an anthology that has one or two authors whose work I really admire and then find out what else is in there.
Joanna: It is really an interesting thing.
Would you do Amazon advertising that targets other anthologies in the genre?
Jason: Yes absolutely.
Joanna: I would think that's a good thing.
Now I wanted to ask you because when I start first started out as a writer I got stung by one of these pay to be in an anthology things where there was one big name and then you had to pay. It was considerable. It was in my first year of writing and I'm certainly not saying that that happens with most anthologies.
How can authors tell the difference between a viable anthology that actually would be good for their career and something that might not be?
Jason: If they ask for money don't do it. Period.
One of my earliest writing mentors was actually one of my martial arts instructors, a guy named Walter John Williams who is a cyberpunk and science fiction author starting in the nineties. When I first started going out on submission with stories the first thing he said to me was if anybody asks you for money you should use the other things I taught you.
Joanna: Which are?
Jason: He taught me how to kill people with my bare hands.
Joanns: There you go! Very useful in anthologies.
Jason: Yeah. But that's the thing. There's a lot of people out there, a lot of scammers, a lot of people who are using the fact that prospective authors really want to be published as a way of profiting at their expense without giving any value.
Although there are a few contests that are legitimate, that have an entry fee, when it comes to anybody who is going to print your words, if they ask for money that is a huge red flag. Just walk away.
Joanna: I didn't know that at the time. We will have our beginning days.
On your website, you do a lot of different things but you describe yourself as a working writer and say, “I don't make my living from a single bestselling series. I make my living by writing a lot of things.” I always love talking about multiple streams of income on this show.
Can you talk about your different streams of income right now?
Jason: About a third of my income comes from corporate blog work on American Express and one of my clients, healthline.com. Things like that. Those are the way I really fund the rest of the lifestyle.
Those kind of assignments pay 25 to 50 cents a word, even a dollar a word. And once you get in with a client you'll usually be doing a couple of thousand words a month for that individual client. So that's about a third of my income.
Another third of the income comes from my traditional and self-published book projects of one sort or another. And then the other third, I'm actually a huge nerd and write for the tabletop role-playing game industry which does not pay very much but is a whole lot of fun.
Joanna: That's really very different forms of writing. So let's talk about the corporate blog world because my understanding of freelance writing is that probably 90 percent of people writing freelance are not making decent money and they are struggling. But you have obviously targeted specific clients.
How do you suggest that people identify the right clients where they can write good work and get paid decently?
Jason: Start with the blogs that you're already reading and the magazines are already reading. That’s how I got my first paying gigs as a freelance writer was by going to the websites of other martial arts studio owners that I knew and telling them how I could do it better. And from there, turning that portfolio into other small business-related things.
Eventually when I was working for American Express, a small business community, and Intuit, a small business community, by capitalizing on the knowledge and the contacts I already had from my previous career.
Another really good place to start is whatever your hobby is. Walk into the store and to the right or the left of the cash register there's a rack of magazines. And go pitch all of those magazines and those magazines are mostly written by hobbyists. If you can go to one of those editors and be somebody knowledgeable about the hobby who can also write you'll get a lot of repeat work from that magazine.
For three years I was doing black-belt magazines obituaries because I was one of the few people the editor knew who could actually write on deadline and do decent research. The same thing applies to industry magazines for whatever you're doing for a living right now. There's an industry magazine, there might be a union magazine, there's probably a regional journal. Those places also are written mostly by experts not writers. So if you can come to them as an expert who can write that's another really good place to break in and some of them actually pay surprisingly well.
Joanna: How much did you do for free? Because this is what I feel like maybe you have to work your way up, as you say.
How long did you spend doing things for free or for lower rates before you kind of moved into that premium level?
There's a moment when your book goes out into the world and you realize that someone who doesn't love you will read it. What if they hate it? You will be crushed. What if they love it? You'll be ecstatic until someone else hates it This is why I (Joanna) don't read my reviews. I even have my assistant pull out the good ones for website copy. In today's article, Sam Hooker discusses why this may be a healthy attitude to have.
Once your book has made its way past the editor, the typesetter, the cover artist, and perhaps your publisher and/or publicist, it goes out into the world. Then something wonderful happens: people read it.
Then something nerve-wracking happens: people review it.
It makes sense that you would want to pay attention to your reviews. They play a crucial role in the success of your book, and they’re a quick source of anonymous feedback about your writing. But the most sensible thing may be to ignore them altogether.
1. Opinions are subjective.
When readers open your book, they read it through the lens of their world view. Everything they’ve experienced in their life has contributed to the way they see and understand what happens around them.
No two people are alike, and many people will be vastly different from you. That means readers won’t always understand your writing as you’d intended, and that can lead to some unanticipated results.
Let’s say your reader’s favorite thing in the world is cartoons about giant robots. She may give your book 2 stars because she liked it, but she thought it would have more robot fights in space (even if you don’t write science fiction). Another may give it 1 star because it wasn’t Treasure Island, and that’s the only book he’s ever really liked.
Remember: A review will often say more about the reader than the book.
Furthermore, there’s no consistency among reviewers. Even the way that people assign stars to books can have huge variations.
You may get a 5-star review that says your book was “pretty good.” The next one may be a 2-star review calling it “the best thing I’ve ever read.”
Reviewers may give 5 stars to every book they like, or swear that they’ll only bestow that honor once in their life. This inconsistency is never going to change, so save yourself the frustration of trying to make sense of it.
Remember: There’s no right or wrong way to express an opinion.
2. They aren’t your reviews.
Always keep in mind that readers are reviewing your work, not you as a person. It’s often hard to separate the two, especially when a reviewer writes something negative about the author.
Here’s the thing: reviewers don’t know you. At best, they know your book – assuming they bothered to read the whole thing, which people won’t always do if they dislike a book. Reviewers often conflate authors with their books, but authors don’t have to make the same mistake.
Remember: A review is a stranger’s opinion of your book, not the truth about you.
3. Reviews are not a good source of validation or critique.
Reading reviews may seem like the surest way to know whether people liked your work. They come with 1-5 stars, and their average gives you a number grade for your work, right?
Don’t fall for it. First of all, you didn’t take a test, you wrote a book. There is no rubric for grading a book. Reviews are opinions, not truths.
Second, readers are just people. Very few of them have formal training in expressing literary opinions. Even if they do, professionals who write reviews for industry publications are still doing what everyone else is doing: expressing an opinion.
Feedback is important to your growth as an author, but you need to get it from the right place. Author critique groups are a great source of targeted feedback, especially if you can find one that focuses on your subject or genre.
Remember: Good feedback comes from trustworthy sources, not the opinions of anonymous strangers.
4. The best reviews don’t come with 5 stars. Seriously.
It’s a great feeling when your book gets 5-star reviews. They boost your confidence and they balance out the inevitable 1-star reviews (which you would see if you were tracking your average, which you aren’t).
But to readers, 5-star reviews can seem suspicious. A review that glows too brightly may be dismissed as having been written by your parents.
Here’s a bit of good news: most readers who are suspicious of 5-star reviews will dismiss 1-star reviews as well, especially when they say nothing more than “don’t waste your time,” or “blah, it sucked.” They understand that reviews are just opinions, and not all of them matter.
Readers who seriously consider reviews when shopping for books are likely to view 2-, 3-, and 4-star reviews with more credibility. If the text of a 3-star review is genuinely complimentary, it may win you a reader – or at least a sale!
Remember: Mid-ranked reviews give your book credibility.
5. You don’t get to respond. Never, ever, ever respond.
You’ve probably heard the adage, “don’t start a fight you can’t win.” Every book review is a professional boxer on steroids with brass knuckles under their gloves.
It would feel so good to tell 1-star reviewers off, wouldn’t it? Especially the ones who “don’t usually read this sort of thing.” So, why did they pick your book to start? If it “just wasn’t their taste,” why not not review it?
Here’s the problem: you can’t stop a reviewer from posting their opinion, and you can’t prove an opinion wrong. The fact is that they didn’t like your book, and there’s no way to respond that won’t come off as petty or insecure.
Telling off a reader may even make you look like a bully, and that’s not the sort of reputation you want.
As frustrating as it is, your only option is the high road. You don’t get to defend yourself. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to complain! You just don’t get to complain to your readers. If you need to vent about bad feedback, consider asking your critique group to meet you at the bar. They’ll have their own bad reviews to share, I promise.
Remember: You won’t be tempted to respond to anonymous opinions if you haven’t read them.
The key is finding your readers.
The most important factor to your book’s success–and to your success as an author–is connecting with your audience. The people who are going to like your work are already out there. You’re not going to change the minds of anyone else because you can’t prove their opinions wrong.
The best way to ensure good reviews is to find your readers and connect with them. You don’t want to connect with all readers, just your readers. Their reviews are the ones that count, and you know that they’ll be good–so why spend time reading them?
Do you read your book reviews? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Sam Hooker is a darkly humorous fantasy novelist. Learn more about his Terribly Serious Darkness series and other works at his website or follow him on Twitter.
Established wisdom says that success in a creative career is more likely if you choose your niche and focus entirely on one thing. But what if you are someone who likes to play in all kinds of creative arenas?
What if you are interested in writing in multiple genres?
In today's interview, I discuss diversity of creative business with Tim Chizmar, who manages to achieve a great deal in a number of areas. I loved this interview as I am also a multi-passionate creative with no desire to focus just on one thing!
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I'm here with Timothy Chizmar. Hi Tim.
Tim: Hey everybody.
Joanna: It's great to have you on the show. So just a little introduction.
Tim is an award-winning horror author as well as a short story writer, screenwriter, producer, ghostwriter, and professional speaker. And previously he worked as an actor and comedian. You really are just amazing Tim.
I wanted to talk to you because you were the very definition of the multi hyphen creative idea.
Tell us a bit more about your varied career and why you're focusing on books right now.
Tim: I always wanted to be a writer. That was the thing when I was eight years old, a little kid, I really looked up to Bruce Carville and choose your own adventures. I loved writing. I always wanted to get into writing and I hear that over the course of our lives we tend to go back to that thing we wanted to do when we were around eight, even if we go off on different tangents.
That's what I've heard and it's certainly the case for me where I always put writers on a pedestal. That they had magic and they could build worlds and tell tales and it just really influenced your whole emotions and take you on this ride.
And so for me, I always wanted to go back to it even as I tried lots of different hats on over the years. I knew that ultimately I wanted to end back on telling stories.
Joanna: Stand-up comedy to me is possibly one of the scariest careers in the world and yet when I Googled you it seems like you were pretty successful. Some people say they were a standup comedian but they actually never were. You seem to actually have a fruitful career like that.
How has that career helped you with your writing?
Tim: I can tell you that yes as a standup comic and a true standup comic I've been asked to the major clubs and I went on the road of been casinos. I've worked with big stars and all that. You're writing your own material and there is a language for comedy.
There's a setup, a punch, a callback, a tag. There's the rule of three. There's always land on the funny. There's embracing pauses. There's being in the moment. So there's a whole language and in particular, the first screenplay that I ever optioned was a comedy screenplay.
Being on stage and doing standup really pushes you off the edge to embrace your instincts and to think outside the box and to think outside the box creatively. When I wrote the very first screenplay with a couple of friends from college I didn't know enough about the industry of Hollywood to know what not to do. So I was able to break some etiquette rules and it worked out for me.
I went to a comedy club because we had written this comedy script and one of the easiest ways to get a script actually made is to attach a celebrity to it. So I thought I know nobody but I have the script and it's really funny as I wrote it. So I just showed up at a comedy club with a cardboard cutout and I waited for Eddie Griffith.
Eddie Griffin is this black comedian. And I had a sign that said hey Eddie. And on the backside screenplay for you and I waited. And some of the people at the Comedy Club came out and they are like, what do you do and who is this guy. And they just thought I was a fan an anxious fan and I didn't look crazy. So they let me be.
When his limo pulled up and he got out with his entourage I held up my sign and he looked at it and I flipped it around. Screenplay for you. I'm just a guy holding a sign. And he walked over and said, So what do you got. And we started talking and I got his publicist and one thing led to another and they verified us that we had registered with the Writers Guild and all this. We were able to attach him to the screenplay and offer my very first movie.
Joanna: Wow. Now that to me takes, well it takes creativity, and some balls to go do that. We're going to come back to the screenwriting but I want to just ask you back on the stand-up comedy because you mentioned a few things that seemed like rules.
I see that a lot of writers have a problem between some of the rules of structure for example with screenplays, with stand up, with novels as such.
How do you combine the rules with your creative side, the structure you have to have with that little bit of extra?
Tim: I am a big proponent of once you know the rules and understand the rules then you can break the rules.
So in parallels with writing to standup when you're onstage doing standup a major booker will see a few things. When a comedian walks up on stage a lot of times like a comedian will be so in their head thinking about their setup and their jokes and what they want to tell that they're not present in the moment, so they don't move the mike.
They don't take the mike out and move the mike stand. An early comedian who's performed five times will take the mike out and not move the stand and perform their set in front of the mike stand because they're only thinking about what they want to say and they're not aware. That's one of the things that's a red flag to somebody that this person hasn't kicked around in the industry long enough.
Another thing is wrapping the cord around their hands. That's a sign of being nervous and not being comfortable on stage. Well, that same token if you look at somebody like Joe Rogan who's been at it for a long time I don't know who the big comedian in England is. Who’s the big English comedian?
Joanna: I didn't even do comedy.
Tim: Okay, Monty Python is on stage. If they wrap it around their hand they’re allowed because they've done this long enough they can break the rules.
So the same with in writing. I've often wanted to go into one of these writers critique groups and bring a couple of pages of writing from somebody like Stephen King and I bet you if I said this is my writing they would all break it apart and say things I needed to change and adjust.
But again once you reach a level, once you know the rules, you can break the rules. So I'm comforted by that. I like to know that there is a box and then I break out again.
Joann: Fair enough. My husband always laughs at me because he enjoys comedy. But my sense of humor is lacking. So comedy seems to me the hardest genre to write and it is well known as being difficult, as in, you don't just tell a joke. That's not how it's done.
Have you just always naturally been funny or how have you worked at the craft of comedy for both your screenplays and also for your other writing?
Tim: I keep it light. I keep people around me who are ridiculous and think outside the box and there is a lot of parallels because I tend to do a lot of things but I tend to mostly focus on horror and comedy and I know that we're going to get to that a little bit later on. But they both come from a very similar place.
There's an old saying that in order to make a normal person laugh you have a man dressed up like an old woman and pretend to fall down some steps. But to make a comedian laugh it has to be a real old woman. Comedians have a real dark side.
Comedy comes from a dark place and the happiest, jolliest guys on stage have got some darkness to them. And so it's a way for us to exercise some of those demons.
There is a power in making people laugh because even if they don't like you, you can make them laugh. I remember growing up as a poor kid in a crazy neighborhood and my mother was the crazy person then. And so there were some snooty high falutin people who would look down their noses at this little rapscallion. But when I could make them laugh they had no control over that, even if they didn't like me because of my I was able to make them laugh. And that was powerful.
Joanna: I think a lot of eyebrows are raised at comedy and horror having a lot in common because a lot of people don't see that. They feel like two different emotions. You’re not meant to laugh at a horror book or a horror film or are you?
Tell us about how horror and comedy relate.
Tim: I met the editor that I work with most often at a speech about this very, very big bopper Brent Collins and he feels a lot of the same way that I do that it's learning to accept parts of yourself.
There's a darkness there and we're working through things that's a bit of writing as therapy instead of running from. I've always felt that it's not the guy in the black hat you have to be worried about, it's the guy in the white hat. It's the person who's all smiley and pretending like life is great, you don't have to worry about a guy like me because I've seen some things and I've been in the trenches and I've worked through it. I bring that to my characters and I try to give them a full dimension of we don't get to choose what family we have. Both my parents are convicted felons. My mother served time for stabbing someone. My dad was a drug dealer and I've never gotten a parking ticket. So I looked at that and I said, Hey that's a bad thing.
And then I came over here and I just write about it because there are bad things in the world and you can work through but by surviving a horrible tragedy or by laughing at it and they're very similar. There's a lot of emotion and being able to survive is something worth smiling about.
Joanna: Your background is really interesting. Obviously, there's a lot within that.
One of the biggest issues that I think people have with their writing is bringing in as much honesty as they can without putting themselves in and making themselves too vulnerable or necessarily getting sued by the people they've actually written about, which we can get around a bit with fiction.
How do you protect yourself but also protect the people that you love while still speaking your truth?
Tim: I do a little exercise when I talk for writers’ groups and things like that where I start off by telling everyone to write down that one thing that you don't want anyone to know about you. Don’t show anyone, just write it down for yourself.
I pause I give them a moment let them write it down. And then I move on and I don't talk about it again until at the end of my session where I remind them to go back to it and then I say that thing that you wrote down is what needs to be in your writing.
So whatever it is, that's what you have the most emotion about, however you want to approach it, however you want to get to it. I've had people come up to me and cry at the end of a talk where I've never heard that before.
The first time that I heard that example it really meant something to me. So I think even if somebody else doesn't necessarily get it, but as long as you get it through your writing there are things that we all are dealing with and it's a great way to work through it by using it in your creativity.
Joanna: Fantastic. People are thinking about that now. And many of us do put that stuff into our writing.
Tim: Do we pause for intermission now?
Joanna: Pause to think of your secret thing to say.
Do you turn that one way to become horror and turn the other way to become comedy?
Tim: Sure. But I think that a really nice recipe can have both ingredients, which is what I do in a lot of my projects.
Take for example my bizarro novel Soul Traitor, is about a demon who comes to claim a girl's soul and then decides well if I instead of taking it to hell, what if I just swallow it? Now she gets what she sold her soul for. I get to stay on earth because I have a soul. And heaven and hell freaks out and insanity ensues. And so it's horror and it's comedy and I'm talking about what's good and bad and religion and it's a nice little mix of all kinds of stuff.
Joanna: I want to ask you about multiple streams of income, because on this show I talk about this all the time. I have multiple streams of income. I don't like having just the one thing and you definitely have all these things going on.
Tell us a bit about what your creative business looks like right now and where your streams of income come from, because I think you revamped your approach in 2017.
We'd love to hear about what things are like for you now.
Tim: Absolutely. I spent 13 years working in Hollywood, so I was doing mostly television and screenplays and standup and acting and stuff like that.
But the truth is I was not happy and a lot of the people that I surrounded myself with were some of the biggest names that you see in entertainment are not happy. So the guy who just did a movie with Lionsgate for three million dollars, sits in a mansion, miserable.
I was noticing that I was becoming more and more like the people around me. And I didn't like it, so I took a break and I left Hollywood.
Let me give a little example. The guy I was just talking about. We were doing the writing work, the punch up work on screenplays and stuff like that.
He would also pay me to get people together so that he could take them out for a night on the town because he couldn't relate to people. So he would pay me to get fake friends together. And that's the thing in Hollywood. They have all the money in the world but because of that, they're in this insulated little bubble and then they couldn't connect with people.
I was checking off all the boxes that I would think this should make me happy. I am working on these big projects and making money and I'm doing all this. And I was dead inside.
So I went up to the mountains of Idaho and spent a year trying to get in touch with what really matters. Why is the guy who has no money but walks his dog on Sunday happier than the millionaire in the mansion?
I spent a year just writing and I took a job working with kids who had anger issues and I got as far away from Hollywood as I could. I turned my cell phone off. At the end of it, I discovered that I love writers and I love creative people and I want to work with them but not so much the Hollywood thing.
So that's why I live in Las Vegas now because I'm four hours away from L.A. I always explain it to people that I'm close enough to the fire to feel the warmth but not get burned. And when I was in the fire I was getting burned. And so that changed everything.
I launched Spooky Ninja Kitty, my publishing house, and I started repping writer clients and doing more ghostwriting and worked to get outside of my comfort zone and focus on those interests that were more in the book world and less in film.
Joanna: I'm just the same as most writers. We all would like the film deal or the TV deal. We would like to be in that world and yet you've been in that world and you've left that world. But you still cross over into that world.
You have a little publishing house now. Do you rep your clients with Hollywood?
Are you doing screenplay’s still or how are you still tied in there?
Tim: Yes and yes. Spooky Ninja Kitty is my publishing house. And with some of my clients I help them to adapt their novels into screenplays. And I do some screenplay work. I'm doing a woman in peril screenplay right now for a client.
There is crossover and I still help out with drawing the line and helping to advise.
I like the chaos, Joanna. I like staying so busy that like I was telling you a little bit ago depending on who I'm talking to or what group I'm going to I adjust what I focus on. Because for a lot of people they're like how does this all lineup? He sold a TV show that combined pro wrestling and standup comedy and he did a movie for Full Moon about killer clowns. How does this work?
Well, that's what makes me happy right now. As I'm doing this interview with you I'm finishing up the woman in peril screenplay. I'm ghostwriting a book for a celebrity. I'm representing PR for my clients, doing client blurbs, writing for First Comics news and I'm moderating two panels at Days of the Dead right here in Las Vegas and that'll make me happy. I like being that busy.
Joanna: I'm someone like you, although I don't think I have as much energy as you do. But I think having multiple projects makes me happy as well. But it's kind of annoying as well sometimes because we do see that the most successful authors say that to be a name brand generally means you have to stick to one genre and deliver the same experience over and over again to the readers. What are your feelings about that?
Do we just double down on what makes us happy?
Tim: That's kind of what I think because I think it's personality driven. And that's OK.
What works for me doesn't have to work for everybody but I'm personality driven. So I have a name in the pro-wrestling world. We just did this big thing called Star Cast and I'm hanging out with all these pro wrestlers, doing wrestling stuff.
I also do the horror thing, so I'm able to go to horror conventions. The comedy thing, the Comic Con thing and because of who I am I can exist in all those areas.
Now if somebody isn't as giant a personality as old fathead over here, and if they hardly ever leave their house and they love writing westerns they should at least join a Western writing group. Go on some Western writing message boards.
They need to interact with people who think the same way that they do because they're a brand and that's the brand that they represent.
With me, my brand is my personality so I'm able to break it off into some different facets that wouldn't necessarily line up. I tell some of my clients who have very strict guidelines about what they write not to say that I represent them. Because some of the things that I do might not fall into their area.
I tell them that ahead of time. Some of the work that I do I literally don't say I represent so-and-so and they've got a great book about pottery coming out. Instead, I say I have a friend who has this book about pottery and would you write a blurb for them.
I work within those parameters because I understand that not everybody is as loud and outspoken as this guy.
One of my clients wanted to write a book. Are you familiar with Chelsea Handler? You know who she is? She's a big comedian here in the states she has a talk show and she wrote some risque books about her personal life.
And so this client of mine wanted to do the same thing. She wanted to write a book about her personal life and she thought it would be entertaining and all this. She told me that she was going to rent a castle in Ireland to go there and be inspired to write this great book. And I knew, and you probably know, that if she can't write it in her office she's not going to be able to write it in the castle in Ireland. But she went there spent all this money got this castle and stayed there a month and came back and she had barely forced out a chapter of the book because it's about mindset.
If you can't do it in your head, it doesn't matter what the view looks like outside the window because it's a view that's inside your mind. So anyway, I just want to point that out.
Joanna: I totally agree with that, and in fact, I say to people I did the same thing years and years ago. I quit my job in order to make a business and it didn't work. And in the end, I built this business while having a day job because you kind of need that structure at the beginning.
You mentioned there that if you do write genre then joining a genre..
Every writer gets stuck at times: stuck with a creative project, but also stuck in life. Lara Zielin shares a unique tool that she used to turn her life, and her writing, around.
As a writer, I’m always considering what my characters want. I’m always asking what their motivations are. What will make them happy? What is a satisfying story for them?
But I had never really considered the story of my own life. What was my motivation? What would make me happy?
I began asking these questions at the start of 2018 when I realized I was drowning in unhappiness. Things were fine, except they weren’t. I was the heaviest I’d been in years, and I was drinking a lot.
My work writing novels, which had once been thriving, had also dried up, leaving me questioning who in the world I was since being a novelist was the only thing I’d ever wanted to do.
My husband and I were living paycheck to paycheck. And while we liked each other a lot, our relationship wasn’t exactly thriving. I was drinking to numb all kinds of pain, though I probably couldn’t have said exactly where I was hurting at the time.
It just felt like a terrible ache all over.
Turning the Tables on Fiction
That’s when I went back to writing, but I decided to play with the fiction-writing process and the Hero’s Journey. I wanted to test whether writing about the life I wanted to have could actually help it come to pass.
I began a book I unimaginatively titled Lara’s Life. Every day I wrote about myself like a character, and I wrote about the things I wanted to have happen to this person. It wasn’t great prose by any stretch of the imagination and, some days, all I could manage to write were some basic affirmations.
But there was power in this process. Within one year, my life felt markedly different. In practical terms, I lost 20 pounds, and our finances made a U-turn for the better. I stopped drinking.
But beyond that, I went from being half numb in my life to embracing it and living it fully. I feel totally connected to my purpose and on a better path.
While I want to call this work magical, there are three very practical reasons this worked for me, and why it can work for you, too.
1. This writing process fueled pattern recognition
When you write down what you want to have happen to you, it helps you see more clearly the things that are holding you back. The tension is right there on the page for you in real life, the same as it would be for a character.
When I wrote “Lara loves herself,” I could see more clearly all the ways in which I didn’t act that way on a daily basis. That could be everything from beating myself up for not being perfect to having that third glass of wine at night.
The process of writing it highlighted the disparity between my two “characters” and made it crystal clear where I needed to change. This was especially critical when I wanted to tell myself everything was fine, because it forced me to literally see how my two stories were out of alignment (and that fueled better behavior as a result).
2. Writing ourselves in the third person gives us helpful cognitive distance
Dr. James Pennebaker from the University of Texas at Austin has studied the connections between writing and healing for years. His research shows that writing or “storifying” experiences helps people approach what’s happened to them more objectively and can ultimately provide perspective on and understanding of these experiences.
Thinking about ourselves in the third person is also useful for stressful or difficult situations, according to researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. The third-person perspective helps people think about themselves as they would others, which matters because we’re often much nicer to other people than we are to ourselves. (Raise your hand if you say things to and about yourself that you would never say to another person.)
Alternatively, if we try writing out situations like we’re a character in a book, it can fool our brain and our emotions into believing the narrative a bit more.
3. Physics tells us that behavior and observation are linked
In quantum mechanics, which is the branch of physics that studies the tiniest building blocks of the universe like atoms and quarks, scientists have tried to measure the physical characteristics of subatomic particles, such as position or momentum, but haven’t been able to pin them down. That’s because the mere act of observing the particles changes the experiment.
“A particle simply does not have a precise position before measurement, any more than the ripples of a pond do,” says David J. Griffiths in Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, Second Edition (Pearson Education, 2005).
In other words, scientists theorize that behavior can be influenced by observation.
If scientists may be able to influence how particles behave just by observing them, then it’s not a far stretch to imagine that we influence our lives when we direct energy or thought (or words!) toward specific aspects of it.
“Intention” is the popular word being used these days to describe just that. If reality is perception, then changing the story of what we’re perceiving can absolutely have an impact.
Try This at Home, Kids
If you’re eager to try this for yourself, it’s pretty simple stuff. Get a notebook and grab a pen. Title your story and write what you want to have happen to you, the same as you would a character in a story.
How does this character feel?
Where do they travel?
Who are they with?
How do they change for the better?
Don’t worry about plotting out the entire arc of the story. The arc will take care of itself. Just write every day like a chapter and put down whatever bubbles up in your heart.
This process changed my life and reignited my creativity. I believe it can do the same for you, too.
Have you considered writing your own hero's journey as a creative prompt? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Lara Zielin is a published young adult and romance author. Her nonfiction book Author Your Life is about using the power of writing to create a better story for yourself.
My company tax year runs May – April and although I keep a tight rein on my income, expenses and cash flow throughout the year, I only do management reporting annually when I break down my revenue in various ways to figure out what I need to change, stop doing or do more of.
These figures are all based on revenue, the money that has actually come into my bank account, not sales volume (i.e. number of books sold).
Because I publish through so many sources, I don't actually track book sales numbers and have definitely lost track at this point. Let's be honest – the money is more important anyway!
I've been running this business since 2008 and my revenue split has changed over the years, but it is all based on my writing.
Just to be clear, I'm an author-entrepreneur and my income comes from multiple sources – book sales, affiliate sales, course sales, sponsorship, advertising revenue, and Patreon, plus speaking fees. It's all documented in How to Make a Living with your Writing, available in ebook, print and audiobook formats.
My total business income is down by 5% this year. That's not really a significant amount but still a downward trend despite publishing more books and continuing to publish 3x a week on this site. Hence my focus on changing things up over the next 10 years (see my big AI disruption post here).
My book sales income is slightly up, and although ebook revenue is down, it is more than made up for by audiobook and print sales.
My book sales income alone is around about 2.5x the UK national average salary and 7x the average author income reported in the recent All Party Writer's Group report.
Remember, I have never had a breakout success, I've never been stocked in high street bookstores or had a supermarket deal. I've made a living with my writing since 2011 as an independent author entrepreneur and continue to subscribe to the consistent hard-working author model! You don't need to be a household name to make a decent living with your writing.
Of course, I make less than some authors I know – some indie, some traditionally published. But comparisonitis is dangerous, and instead, we should be comparing our current selves against where we were last year, and where we want to be next year. Here's my detailed breakdown.
Book Sales Revenue by Format
My audiobook revenue has almost doubled again this year (8% in 2018, now 15%) as well as print sales being slightly up (21% in 2018).
I am not in KU, so this is wide ebook income and I am thrilled that my focus on wide distribution for the other channels has resulted in a higher percentage of other format sales. Next year, I'll break it down by paperback, hardback and Large Print as well to give those formats a full year of sales.
The Creative Penn Revenue split by Format 2018 – 2019
Book Sales by Vendor
Even though I publish wide, it's not surprising that Amazon continues to be the largest share of revenue given their dominance in the English speaking markets.
The Creative Penn revenue split by vendor 2018-2019
My advertising costs are actually down on last year and that may account for book sales staying much the same even though I have more books out.
20% of my book sales income was spent on advertising, which includes BookBub, Amazon Advertising, Written Word Media and some other things like Facebook Ads, although most of my Facebook spend was for affiliate promotions. I'll be investing more in ads this year.
Revenue by Fiction / Non-Fiction
Currently, I have 10 non-fiction books (2 of which are co-written), and 20 fiction books (not including box-sets, 5 co-written). But as you can see, non-fiction brings in more income.
The Creative Penn revenue split by fiction / non-fiction 2018-2019
There are several reasons for this — and of course, this is all anecdotal based on my book sales. Every author will be different.
The rise in print sales and audiobooks are mostly for non-fiction, as per the breakdown below. Non-fiction readers are less price sensitive and may buy in multiple editions e.g. audiobook and then print for reference.
I write thrillers and dark fantasy and many genre fiction authors are doing well in KU + a lot of paid ads, which is not my business model. [See my reasons for wide publishing here.] I have not done much marketing of my fiction books on other platforms in the last year. I should be doing more BookBub and Facebook in terms of advertising for the other platforms, but I tend to focus on other things like creating more, as that is what I enjoy
Fiction sales go up and down but the books are long term earners (as long as you retain the rights). They don't go out of date, unlike non-fiction, which you often have to rewrite. Fiction is a long-term career and over the long-term, I expect those books to earn more, but short-term income is clearly easier with non-fiction.
Paid ads which are easier to target with non-fiction keywords and there is less competition for bids so the clicks are cheaper (at least at the moment!)
You can see the variability by store in the figure below. Clearly, my audio sales are primarily non-fiction, as well as my print sales through Ingram. My direct sales using Payhip are also primarily non-fiction, because of the traffic to this website and the size of my audience after 10+ years in this niche.
The Creative Penn Fiction/ NonFiction Split by Store 2018-2019
Book Sales Revenue by Country
I have sold books in 54 countries this year (in English) which I am thrilled about That doesn't include free downloads which have reached even further.
I love being an international author! Owning your global rights is a secret weapon as you can take every opportunity to reach more readers. Sometimes I feel like this is the most significant difference between me and my traditionally published author friends, who are usually only concerned with one territory e.g. UK if they are British, or US if they are American. But as indie authors, it's possible to sell in 190 countries so we can focus on international sales in multiple formats.
This country split has changed quite significantly in the last year, as I suggested it would as digital sales start to spread.
I've included last years image as a comparison so you can see how much smaller the US sales are as a percentage of the whole and how much the Rest of World segment has grown. I think this will continue to accelerate with the spread of 4G and 5G internet to another 4 billion people by 2025. If you want to reach a global market, check out my episode on publishing wide and the free ebook on Successful Self-Publishing.
The Creative Penn Comparison Sales by Country. May 2017-April 2018 next to May 2018 – April 2019
Australian sales have grown and so have German sales, even though my books are in English. Rest of the World has grown from 5% to 15% of revenue. This encourages me to focus more on my international growth as it really amplifies the multiple streams of income effect.
What am I going to focus on in the next year?
As I stated in my 2019 goals, I am focusing on being a better publisher. That means getting all my backlist into the formats that sell. More print. More audio. I am also going to investigate some of the AI-assisted translation services becoming available, although I expect that to grow further in 2020 onwards.
Me with some of my books!
I did think I would write more fiction this year, but I am too much of a polymath to focus on one genre, so I will continue to write and publish the books I want when the Muse strikes me. I have a list for the rest of the year, so will just keep on keeping on. I love my work and I don't want to put pressure on my creativity.
I will never be a high-volume writer in one targeted genre. I will never write to market. I will never be an expert in paid ads. And that's OK! We are all different and indie is a broad church with many routes to becoming an author-entrepreneur. You get to choose your path and no way is better than any other.
Many authors are introverts and prefer creation to marketing, but what if you could use your words to attract your perfect target market? In today's episode, André Chaperon gives some valuable tips for building a sustainable creative business.
In the intro, I talk about intellectual property rights and the indie path for musicians. Taylor Swift has been in the news this week as the rights to her first six albums change hand [CNN]. Compare this to indie grime rapper AJ Tracey, profiled in the Financial Times where he talks about the benefits of staying independent. There are always pros and cons of each route, but if you're educated about those, then you can make an informed choice about your creative direction.
I also mention that my next Mapwalker fantasy, Map of Plagues, is on pre-order, and I have two more audiobooks on the way.
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
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. Today I'm here with Andre Chaperon. Hi Andre. Welcome to the show. Just a little introduction.
Andre is an entrepreneur, writer, marketer, and co-founder of Tiny Little Businesses, which offers online courses for creative business and marketing.
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.
Andre: It started way back in 2003 when I lost my job and I was thrown into this world of the Internet. I figured out early on that video and audio was out of the question being a super introvert/shy person.
Early on it became very clear that writing was something that I needed to get good at. Also, I have a weird accent being from South Africa. So there isn't that accent barrier when you're writing words. In fact, the very first time I did an interview, years ago, people thought I was American because I always writing in ‘American’.
Joanna: That's really funny because I get the same thing. If you write with American spelling people just assume you're American.
In your bios and everything you say you're dyslexic.
So how does someone who is diagnosed or labeled as dyslexic manage to overcome that to get into writing?
Andre: I think it must have been shyness and introvertedness that overpowered dyslexia. Mainly the dyslexia was that I can’t spell and I read slowly. Other than those constraints I guess it’s no big deal. I read a bit slower and spelling.
You don't really need to know how to spell when you on the Internet because you've got spell checks. It hasn't been that bad and over the years I've certainly gotten better at writing. The spelling is getting better but it doesn't need to be perfect because well it does need be perfect.
Joanna: I totally agree. It's really interesting that you came into the internet so you said 2003.
What was your previous job?
Andre: I used to be a computer guy. Sort of like a system engineer. I was working at companies in London at the time just doing computer stuff really. And then I fell out of love with it. I stopped enjoying it and there was kind of a signal that hey Andre you need to figure out what to do.
So there was a mid-life crisis back then. It's like well, I can either look for another job in the same industry or figure out something else to do.
I had no idea that you could earn a living online. That was completely new to me and foreign. But I knew that I was going to lose my job at the end of 2003 because our company had been acquired by a bigger monster so we knew that the computer department was probably going to be replaced by the other one. So everybody started looking for new jobs and I was the only one that said let's figure out something else that really interesting, especially back then.
Joanna: I didn't know you were a systems engineer but I can kind of tell from going through your courses and your material because you do figure things out in words and with diagrams. You're really good at diagrams and working things out that way.
You have this great course, Sphere of Influence, which I completely love because it's how I've done my business model and it's all about attracting people to you. And as you said you’re an introvert, you're shy, you're not about the hard sell, you're not out there all the time doing webinars and this and that and the other, or speaking. You stay pretty quiet and private.
Let’s talk about Sphere of Influence.
What are some of the ways that authors can draw readers to them?
Andre: The first thing to understand is that there are some big ideas. And one of the big ideas is that you want to serve. You want to be crystal clear on who your market is and it's typically narrower than you think it is.
Most people default to want to talk to everybody. Everybody is my market. Everybody is going to read my books or buy my courses and that's not the case. As soon as you come to terms with the fact that my audience is only a tiny little thing and therefore I'm going to talk to just them and ignore everybody else.
As soon as you make that mental shift, what you say and what you do becomes very polarizing and polarizing automatically attracts certain people and it pushes other people away. And that's the whole big idea around this.
In terms of a concept if you want to just map it out in your brain, when you say something or do something that has somebody’s posture leaning in because they want to hear or learn more about this thing. The words or the story or the video or the audio isn't just about text. It’s about creating an environment that when somebody is reading that message they lean in because they want to hear more.
As opposed to it just being very wishy-washy and general and it's just meh.
One of the ideas is resonance and dissonance. As soon as somebody reads something or hears a message or they're exposed to something that causes internal dissonance and then they automatically back away. And that typically happens all the time.
So from seeing an ad, to landing on the landing page, at every single touchpoint, there's always this dissonance and resonance. That's playing out. Something's resonating or it's not right.
By creating these environments that pull people forward you have them leaning in all the time as opposed to moving backwards. But at the same time, because you have a very clear idea of who your audience is, both sides are always at play.
There needs to be resonance for the right people so they’re leaning in and there needs to be dissonance for everybody else and have them moving away. Because ultimately the goal is to build an email address for example, which is an asset that you own. You went as many people on that email list to want to be there because there's something that they feel that you've got to say that's valuable to them. Whether it's a course or it's books or it's an author.
So that's the big idea again. And then there's just little things you can do.
Joanna: There’s the idea but then there's the tactic. For example, this podcast is one of my tactics to attract people and if people feel dissonance they're going to stop listening.
What's your favorite way of creating resonance?
Andre: One of the things I like to do, which is kind of like the way that I build out all of my web pages on my sites is that if anybody goes and visits my site they'll soon figure out that it's kind of like an experience. Then they'll kick around.
There are parts of it that's very linear. There's a whole journey that they go down. But at some point, it's going to open up and they're going to make decisions. They can go here or they can go there. Or they can find something.
Many times I’ll create content where I don't make it obvious for people to find. And the benefit is, it turns into Easter eggs because when they find them and they think that's just like a surprise. I just found this thing and it's amazing. It's like then they're wondering why didn't you put this so it's obvious and then they'll email you so then you know that that is working.
So by setting up marketing funnels in such a way, it really does a great job of pulling different types of people forward. It's not just one size fits all. Here's my funnel. It's four pages or whatever and that's it.
There's stuff all around there that's interlinked and connected up and people mostly will follow that narrative. But sometimes they'll come in from different entry points or they'll just click around and I'll click your bio page and read that and that'll lead somewhere else and the next thing you know they're reading some internal page that they just happened upon, although it was on purpose but they didn't know that.
They found something amazing and all these different things create that that sense of them leaning in and say look this is different, this is something that they want more of. But it's all engineered in a good way, not engineered in a sleazy way.
Joanna: I find this very easy for nonfiction. It's really easy to do in the niche that I’m in. You know it's easy to do.
But fiction is a lot harder, especially for like someone like me. I know you read Jack Reacher. I know you like Reacher books and it's very clear what that is.
But for someone like me, I write all over the shelf and I write in different genres.
But you've just made me think if I have more of a landing page that enables different people to click different things if they're interested in different things that intersect with my fiction that might lead them through a journey to find the right book.
Is that what you're talking about?
Andre: Exactly. There’s something called hypertext narrative and hypertext narrative is much like HTML pages. You know what the whole Internet is built on. It's a web page and these links and the links go here go there right. So it's just different pages all linked up. It's just using that same experience.
When you're reading a book, you read page one and then you flip to page two. That's really like a link and you use your finger or you'll turn the page if it's a physical book but it's going from page one to page two. There's a mechanism that says two comes next and three comes after that.
On the Internet and the pages that you build you have the same dynamic at play but it's even better because then you can ask questions by essentially having a Choose Your Own Adventure.
If you're into this or that raise your hand and click the thing that's most relevant for you. And it just works so well because people don't feel pressured. At no point did I feel pressured. It's just a big choose your own adventure game.
They get to pick the thing that stands out, whether it's an image or an awesome headline or some copy or some story, that then leads them somewhere and they click and make a choice. And then obviously on the back end of that, with your technology, you can be tracking things. You can figure out that this person is going down my author book three funnel or whatever.
And then at the end of that, there's going to be something of value for them to allow them to go to the next level. The next level would be exchanging their e-mail address for something else. And that next level would then be taking that conversation to email list and then it can be more cool stuff happening there. So you can have all these different levels.
But I think one of the mistakes I see many people make is that level zero, which is on your website or that first touch point. This is very short. It's literally there's an opt-in form. There’s just a few bullet points: get my lead magnet and then we'll chat.
But it’s like a first date that's gone all wrong. That level zero needs to be big and wide and you need to allow people the freedom to move around and to pull themselves forward.
Joanna: You've given me so much work to do! I've been reading your stuff for years but you've really helped. Something clicked for me just then.
For my fiction site, that's exactly right. It needs to be in a much bigger way in rather than just here's my free book and then maybe you don't like that particular free book. Maybe there's another way I could have talked to you. So that's really interesting.
I can hear my audience. Everyone's going, great. We can work on that level zero on our website. But how do we get people to our websites because most authors are focusing on the book and then they might start an email list with a link from the back of the book.
If you enjoyed the book sign up for my list. Generally, most authors are not directing traffic to their website. They're focusing on sending traffic to Amazon or other book retailers, Kobo, that type of thing.
What would you do in terms of traffic generation and getting people to that level zero?
Andre: I think many people don't quite realize the value in this, in certain segments of people. There are certain customers – what we'll call them customers because ultimately your best superfan is a customer that's made more than one purchase right.
That's like the 80 20. When you really focus on creating an environment around serving those people and not quite ignoring everybody else but I just see so many people chasing the 20 percent but they're spending 80 percent of the energy trying to track down all these new leads and doing all these things.
I'm not saying that's wrong, because obviously, you need to be able to attract people into your business. But there are so many ways that you can do that, that will create so much leverage that once that's all working right then you can go and spend time messing about with the 20 percent that's going to require 80 percent of your time and effort.
One idea would be that if your book is really amazing and your characters are really amazing, your best readers are always going to tell their friends about it. It's something that's going to happen. But you can't engineer that other than just creating the best version of your product.
And then obviously you can engineer it in the sense that in your back matter you can have links that point back to certain places on your level zero on your website where they get to then browse around.
Because now this is the person that's been told that they should check out this book and they have and they've gone through it and they've really enjoyed it and then they're clicking the link to go to the website.
Now, this is like a whole new world for them and giving them that ability to browse around a bit and get to know you as an author and the different stuff you've got. I think that's really powerful. And if you just get that part dialed in and creating a magnet.
Think about your website and your books and your assets as a magnet and if you make those things as strong as you possibly can.
Things are going to get attracted to it. People share, they talk. They do all these things that bring people in.
We get tons of traffic that I've got no idea where it comes from but it just rocks up. And then once you've got all that stuff working then you can go around and try and fiddle with your Facebook ads and do all the other little things.
But I think just focusing on those things, which is a moving target all the time and ignoring all the other things that are very high leverage that I think are more powerful. That's one way anyway.
Joanna: I really like your focus on building that asset. That you own your website and that's what I've done as well with The Creative Penn and I want to do that from my fiction. It's something I really want to crack for fiction.
I'm interested that you said that traffic just rocks up and I know how that feels as well. But I think that is about time. You started in 2003 online and I started what 2008. So little behind you.
I'd love to hear your perspective on patience and time in the market because some people come to your website because they've just heard of you through word of mouth, as you say, like I did. I don't even know how I heard of you wherever it was a number of years ago. And I couldn't point to how that happened but it did.
How important is time and consistency?
Andre: It's a choice early on and I think that the sooner somebody can come to terms with the fact that they're in business for the long term as opposed to it being a short-term play.
Most writers don't become writers because they think they're going to make a bestseller and make millions overnight. It's a long game. If you approach all the stuff that you do with that same mindset then it frees you up to just work on it.
And that hockey stick starts off really flat and shallow and it stays like that for a while. And as you know there's no getting around that. You can do all the things that you do. You can wake up each morning and you can do your writing and you can create your content and create all the little things.
Ultimately you need to write the books that are the best version you possibly can. And that's the stuff that you’ve just got to do. And it takes time.
Then you can layer on all these other little bits along the way. But I think spending so much energy on things that are difficult and are moving targets and can be frustrating sometimes. It’s just challenging.
Joanna: Yes. And on that time thing;
I'm interested in your perspective on what has changed with Internet businesses and what has stayed the same.
Andre: I think lots has changed and lots has stayed the same.
It's not something that I really focus too much attention on. There’s something called the business fair record systems thinking, and systems thinking is saying that your business is a system and life is a system, your body's a system.
And by just having that system can be controlled by just tweaking one or two inputs. But each thing affects the next few parts and the next thing. And so it's a big thing.
If you understand that then it makes life a bit easier to understand that it does go a bit slower. Facebook ads isn't going to be the savior. It's just one component. And then you’ve got to send them somewhere. Then you get the website and things happen over there. Things change all the time.
There's this randomness and there's luck. And those are factors as well. If I just start from scratch right now today and delete everything else, maybe it'll take longer, maybe it'll be quicker because I know more. But I don't have the answer to that. I just know that I put a rock up each day and do my stuff. And over time it'll work out right.
Joanna: I love that and I feel the same way. I don't measure most things. The thing I measure is my effort, my time in doing things and I measure money but I don't measure even downloads very often on the podcast. I measure book sales once a year.
Like you, as long as it's trending in the direction that feels right and I'm happy with it then all’s good.
Andre: Totally. We haven't even got Google Analytics installed on our website. We just keep it lean and the fewer distractions the better.
Having Google Analytics, for example, isn't going to make more people show up at the website. That's just a mirror. It's just luck. Sometimes it's vanity metrics for the most part. It's not going to change anything.
Joanna: You have this fantastic example of Frank and Matt who are these two different characters that represent the difference and that long term thinking is definitely one of the differences.
Could you outline Frank and Matt and the difference in the mindset shift that you need to do this for the long term?
Andre: Frank and Matt was an experiment that I did many years ago.
Ultimately, people hire coaches because coaches can read the label that's on the outside of the bottle so to speak. When you as a creator are in the bottle it's difficult to see things.
We hire coaches and all of us have blind spots. For the most part, we don't see our icky parts or the things that are necessarily negative press right.
So Frank and Matt was basically creating two characters. Frank is the character that people are and the reason why they’re stuck and not really going anywhere. They hop from opportunity to opportunity and from thing to thing.
Authors are often challenged by the sedentary nature of our work. Dr. Brent Wells offers four questions to consider when you're wanting to make sure you take good care of your body.
Writers spend an inordinate amount of time sitting at their desks, typing away on their latest masterpiece. For those of you who use scheduling to boost your productivity, you already know how many hours you spend working at your craft. You hardly ever move from your sedentary position when the words are flowing. What could this mean for your long-term health?
A sedentary lifestyle takes a serious toll on your body and lifespan. Research is consistently showing that our creative lifestyle has far-reaching consequences that we need to address immediately.
Let’s take a closer look at how writing affects your health and what you can do to correct it.
What’s Your Chair Like?
Think about the surface that you sit on during the day. Is it hard and unforgiving or do you settle right into its plush surface? Very few writers have chairs that offer support for their lower backs and spines. Sitting on a hard surface increases the amount of compression in your spine from the lower back all the way up to your neck.
This compression has an unexpected side effect: it can actually reduce your height. According to a study cited in the Iowa Orthopaedic Journal, spine height is decreased with extended periods of sitting. You may be able to regain your height through hyperextension, but it would be best to prevent this from happening in the first place.
The ideal way to combat spine compression is to make your chair more comfortable. Purchasing a seating pad to go on your existing chair is the least expensive route. However, you may want to invest in an entirely new chair that offers more support for your spine and tailbone. You’ll feel more comfortable and your spine will ultimately thank you.
How Often Do You Stand Up?
Sitting for extended periods of time can wreak havoc on your body. Most writers could spend hours sitting in front of their computers once they hit their stride. Unfortunately, experts advise that we should be getting up and moving around every twenty minutes.
Research is now indicating that you should stand for at least two minutes after twenty minutes of desk-bound work.
Standing or walking around your office for this brief period of time has a lot of benefits:
Takes some of the pressure off your spine
Reduces the risk of diabetes
Reduces the risk of heart disease
Improved brain function
To achieve this goal, consider standing up every time you finish a page or two. Return to your kitchen to heat up another cup of coffee. Purchase a desk that allows you to stand up and type.
Joanna Penn at standing desk
When your creativity flows, stand up and write down what occurs to you during brainstorming. There are so many ways to work more physical activity into your workday.
Where is Your Computer Screen?
Do you feel a lot of tension in the back of the neck and the shoulders? You may be suffering from what experts call “tech neck.” This common condition is caused by looking down at your screen for extended periods of time each day.
During your periods of inactivity, most people unconsciously contract the muscles in their neck and shoulders. The tension causes their heads to lean forward and puts more pressure on the muscles of the neck.
One study demonstrated that this forward head posture can result in chronic neck pain. It also reduces your respiratory muscles and impacts the function of this critical body system. Fortunately, this can be corrected by adjusting your posture.
Changing your posture during your working hours is relatively simple. All you need to do is make a handful of changes to your workspace:
Move your computer screen up to eye level so you don’t have to look down
When checking emails on your smartphone, keep the phone up closer to your eye level
Sit in a chair with a headrest (and actually use it!)
Stretch your neck and upper back muscles often
Are You Sitting Up Straight?
You were likely admonished to sit up straight your entire life. Despite many reminders to correct your posture, it is still tempting to settle into a slouched position at your desk. It is far easier to focus on your writing than on your spine. Sliding further down in your chair and rounding your back has a serious impact on your overall health.
In a relatively recent study, researchers took a look at posture habits while using the computer to see if there was a correlation between slumping and low back pain. They discovered that there is a high prevalence of low back pain when posture is sacrificed.
In order to get rid your lower back pain for good, you really need to correct your posture. Sit up nice and tall in your chair with your shoulders proudly rolled back. Let your head rest on the headrest of your chair.
Allow your core muscles to help support you while you sit. You could even place a small pillow behind your low back for more support. All of these actions work together to reduce the pressure on your spine and improve your overall health.
Improve Your Health Today
Prevention is the key to addressing many of the chief complaints that writers have about their health. Sometimes, the damage is already done and you may need professional help to resolve your pain.
Consider enlisting the help of a chiropractor to help with a spinal adjustment. This can be a great way to kickstart change in your life and offer you some immediate relief.
Writing can take a serious toll on your body, so be sure to pay attention to the signals your body is giving you. With just a few simple actions, you can improve your overall wellbeing and reduce your pain. You can spend more time focusing on your latest project and less time stressing over those aches and pains.
What measures do you take to ensure you're a healthy writer? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Your author website is the one piece of internet real-estate that is entirely under your control. Amy Shojai shares how to make the most of the blog on your site to attract new readers, build your author brand, and sell more books.
Whether you publish independently or with a traditional publisher, publishing professionals routinely tell authors they must blog. Yes, a blog can be a great book marketing tool and promote your author brand.
However, most book authors refuse to blog, or worse—they do it wrong.
Why Authors Should Blog
Introvert’s Dream. How many of y’all consider yourselves introverts? That’s one reason creatives write in our office caves with a cat on our lap. A blog connects you directly with readers, with no need for makeup or shoes.
Even better, readers respond to you. A blog gives you feedback directly from your audience and allows readers a glimpse into their favorite author’s life–as little or as much as you wish to reveal.
Find Your Street Team. Building a blog creates book super-fans. These readers cheer your success and want to be part of that. Think of the blog as your front porch where friends gather over a cup of tea or a cocktail to chat about their lives.
You become a real person, and they empathize with you (and you with them) over trials and celebrations. They may even inspire you with new storylines or expert information.
Build Credibility. Authors wield authority and the blog works as an expanded business card to demonstrate your professional expertise. Agents, editors, organizations, speaker bureaus, television producers and others routinely fish the blogging waters for experts. That includes fiction authors when you becoming a go-to expert on the specific topic(s) showcased in your novels.
Note: Always include easy-to-find contact information on your blog so that booking agents can find you.
Author Control. The blog belongs to you, with no gatekeeper or social media watchdog second-guessing your content or showing it only to a select few. You can write what you want, promote or not, and even get paid for hosting guest posts.
Bogus Reasons Authors Don’t Blog
It’s expensive! Uhm, no it’s not expensive. In fact, you can set up a blog for free. I don’t recommend free because a professional blog offers more advantages, such as having your own “branded” URL. Joanna Penn has a great resource for creating an author website, and the blog can piggyback on that.
I’m not tech-savvy. Neither are most authors, or we’d build levitating cars and James Bond gizmos instead of writing about them. Tech people created free- to low-cost options for plug-and-play blogs. If you use book formatting templates, you can use blogging templates.
Takes time away from book writing. So does any book marketing. Blogging is the cheapest option in your advertising toolkit. Use content you’ve already created for blog posts, or expand blog posts into additional chapters in your book.
I rewrite blog posts for my newspaper column and use the same subject for a biweekly TV segment. Some posts end up as chapters in books. A number of successful bloggers have published successful books based on their blog content, so it blogging could inspire your next book.
I’m a pro, why give my expertise away? Nonfiction authors get paid for writing blogs for clients. Get over yourself! Learn from your fiction colleagues.
Selective free content whets the reader’s appetite for more. Fiction authors give away first-in-series books, or novellas between installments, so readers fall in love with characters and purchase the rest of the author’s work.
Nonfiction authors can easily repurpose previously published material into blog posts (see previous section).
My big-name-publisher will promote me/my book. Hahahahahaha! Oh wait, you’re serious? Only a fraction of authors receive promotional help. The lion’s share falls to the author, which is why your agent and/or editor commanded, “Go ye forth, and blog!”
Top Reasons Blogs Fail & How Yours Can Succeed
There are many reasons blogs fail, and a top problem is discoverability. Most of my traffic comes from Google search, so I pay close attention to search engine optimization (SEO).
There are free tech tools that help bloggers get more of this “google juice.” Choose your blog URL wisely and if at all possible, use your name and/or your brand. A book title limits you to one book.
Blog owners also get in trouble using images or content without permission, or not disclosing affiliate relationships. It’s vital to purchase appropriate rights. As writers, we understand copyright issues.
Most blog problems can be easily fixed.
Here are four major reasons blogs fail.
1. Unrealistic expectations: How many of y’all tried blogging, and gave up after…how long? Two weeks? Six weeks? Growing a blog following doesn’t happen overnight.
Blog audience increases at predictable intervals when readers know what to expect. Traffic and page views (PVs) increase after three months, double after six months, and double again after about a year with consistent postings and content.
If your book launches in a year, blog now so your audience grows and boosts your book release.
2. Inconsistent posting: Authors start daily blogs and burn out, or they post when “the muse” strikes. Treat blogs as seriously as your book, or your readers won’t care.
Would you come back to a TV program if the episode stayed the same or the channel never changed? Blogs are no different. Choose a schedule that works for you. It doesn’t matter if it’s weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or daily. Loyal readers notice and return when you have something to share.
3. Writing about writing: That’s great—if your audience is other writers and you have a how-to writing book to sell. Readers may be curious, but you want rabid readers.
Ask yourself, who is my audience? What do they like to read?
4. Writing at your audience. Construct posts to invite conversation, not deliver lectures. Readers find vast material from googling topics. They read blogs for your personality, and a peek inside your world.
Try posting about personal experiences and ask questions to invite reader comments. When my puppy ate my vitamins, every blog reader shared their concern and feedback when I asked, “Has this ever happened to you? What else should I have done? Are there veggies that YOU hate, too? Do tell!”
Write posts that whet readers’ appetites for the main course of your nonfiction book.
Identify your protagonist’s passions and expertise, and write posts about your fictional hero’s love of gardening, for example.
Write about your passions and what fills your heart with joy, just as you do on other social media platforms. Readers respond to that.
Share pictures, post videos, offer polls and ask questions to engage readers and prompt blog comments.
No time to post? Share a YouTube video you love.
Ask readers to post pictures of themselves reading your book, or other fun engagements.
Invite your audience to name that character in your future book. My blog audience competes to win the chance to name a cat or dog character to honor their special pet.
Do you blog on your author website? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Amy Shojai is a professional blogger and the author of 30+ pet-centric nonfiction books and thrillers. She also offers an on-demand coaching series Write Schtuff that includes further details about blogging and other publishing must-knows.
What if the future of book discovery and purchasing is mobile-first through apps like WeChat which dominates in China? I talk about AI translation, voice-first tech and more with Makoto Tokudome today.
This episode is sponsored by my Patrons, authors who are passionate about the future of publishing and help support my time in producing episodes like this. If you find this information useful, you can support the podcast at www.Patreon.com/thecreativepenn.
[Joanna] Makoto Tokudome is an author, language teacher, and coach based in China with an interest in A.I. and voice technologies for authors. His most recent book is The Thoughtful Language Learner. Welcome, Makoto.
[Makoto] Hi Joanna. Great to be here.
[Joanna] Oh it's great to have you on the show. First of all, tell us a bit more about you and your background across the US and China.
[Makoto] Sure. So you could probably guess from my name that I'm Japanese American. So I was born and raised in the U.S. I guess I would call L.A. or Los Angeles my hometown and my background. I'm happily married for the last twelve years and my wife and I have two kids and we currently live here in China. I work here in China as an English teacher at a local university. My wife is Chinese American.
[Joanna] And were your kids born in China or are they American too?
[Makoto] They are a blend. So part of our dream or our goal for them was they could have this cross-cultural experience living overseas and learn a little bit about Chinese culture, Chinese history. I think one of the greatest benefits is they get to learn Chinese as well and become bilingual.
[Joanna] I'm super jealous of your children! I don't have another language and I think what you're doing is fantastic. So let's get into China and I and everything that you and I are interested in.
How do Chinese readers find and buy books right now? What is the current state of how we might reach them when writing in English?
[Makoto] Before this chat I was actually looking online, doing a little bit of background research. A lot of people know already that China has such a huge population. It's now over 1.3 billion people, 830 million people that are online regularly and many of those people are shopping online, buying things online, including books. The book market is the largest in the world maybe surpassing the US, 50 plus billion dollars or something. So I think there's definitely scope for authors thinking about the China market. There's definitely huge potential but I think maybe there are also some challenges as well.
[Joanna] Absolutely. One of the things that I noticed when I went back to New Zealand last time is that people can now pay by WeChat or AliPay. That's not something that we see a lot in the UK.
So what's happening with apps for payments and how does that work with the book ecosystem?
[Makoto] Yes. Apps are a huge thing here in China. Just like many other countries. But maybe what's unique about China is there are some very large companies such as you mentioned WeChat which is owned by the company Tencent.
Honestly, there is no parallel even in the US or in Silicon Valley. People say it's a combination of a messaging app but also mobile payments. It's a bit like Facebook and some people even do online reading on it as well.
What's remarkable I think is there's just so many people that use it on a day to day basis whether you're buying groceries or ordering an Uber. So the WeChat model or the reach a company can have with all this data across your shopping habits, as well as maybe for readers about what kind of books they like to read. For people thinking about entering the market, there's potential for understanding where are the niche niches for your type of book, or what type of audience you're trying to reach.
[Joanna] I feel like I need to get on WeChat. I know we can here in the UK. It's just because it's not really used. I definitely want to come out to China and I don't think you can come without having that payment method.
[Makoto] I mean you can use cash, you can still use cash, but these days the majority of payments just happen. You know you scan a QR code, you pay with your phone, from young teenagers all the way to the grandmas and grandpas are all using it.
[Joanna] Which is incredible because that to me that makes digital so much more seamless than we have. I mean Amazon has seamless one-click payments but that's about the closest and the payment still goes separately.
How do people find books? For example, I might put a tweet out here in the UK and someone might see that in the UK and buy a book.
What are some of the ways that people are finding books in China?
[Makoto] There are different ways that people might find books. It could just be through social media app like WeChat. Like I mentioned, there's a messaging app but it could also be like Facebook where people are their friends, your community. They're sharing different posts and then maybe that includes books that they've been reading.
From right there they can see what people are reading and even purchase the ebook through the WeChat program.
Another I think a big one that even a lot of my students use is called Douban.com and basically, that's an app just like Goodreads. Well, it's kind of a Goodreads on steroids. It's a social network for books. It also includes music and movies and so many people go there just to see what's trending. What are the most popular books these days. You can drill down on all sorts of categories whatever you're interested in reading.
[Joanna] Fantastic. In terms of the digital bookstores that we might know, I think the Kindle China store is still open although they pulled out in a lot of ways.
But are there any ways that we can actually reach Chinese readers right now?
[Makoto] From what I understand the only way for those from overseas who want to get into the China market for self-publishing is to use PublishDrive. My understanding is they work together with a retailer called DangDang.
But it's China. My understanding it's divided into two worlds or two spheres. So the first one if you want to publish books in China all these publishing companies go through the state. So there is a censorship process that all these books go through before you can obtain its ISBN.
That's one sphere. The other sphere that really has been popular in the last couple of years is people who consume either short books or serialized fiction online. There's a lot of different apps that are also doing this. I guess it's kind of akin to Wattpad.com. There are so many authors and so many readers. Some of them eventually become a professionally published author because they become so popular.
[Joanna] Fantastic. So what about audio.
Are people listening to digital audiobooks on apps as well?
[Makoto] Yes, audio I think is another one that's really growing. It's not only audio books but the consumption of podcasts or consumption of audio lectures. There's also these online audio apps or sites that people are using to listen to. I think many of them are very similar to podcasts like we have in the US or in the West but a lot of them are also paid for content. So people are using it to learn how to maybe improve their IQ or learn how to become a better manager. And so in some of those areas, e-books or books are also being turned into audio content as well.
[Joanna] Now we connected because you did a blog post on TheCreativePenn about using Amazon Polly for audiobook creation. You also recommended Talk to Me by James Vlahos which I've listened to now and it's amazing.
So, how can authors use voice tech for creation or publishing and ebook marketing?
[Makoto] That guest post is really like a proof of concept. It's basically taking your creative work, your written text, and using this text to speech technology that Amazon has. You're paying not that much money to convert it into voice.
Actually, I use the British voice and so I took all the text of my book and converted it into voice recordings for each chapter. A lot of people maybe tried something like that a couple of years ago and they feel it's very robotic. It's hard to understand. Actually, it's quite amazing just how far technology has come. I wouldn't say you can fool someone to think it's human narration but I think I could definitely listen at length to these different recordings.
And so for authors, you know some people are actually getting into recording their own books for audio books but I would guess including myself maybe I don't have the background or maybe I don't have the time. You can use these technologies. I think in the future to create your written work into audio work.
[Joanna] The book, Talk to Me by James Vlahos, is a lot about voice assistants and Alexa or Siri or the Google Assistant or in China I guess, is it Baidu?
So how do you think this voice-first and voice search technology is going to change the way that books are found and consumed?
[Makoto] Yes. So a lot of people I think these days throw this phrase around: voice first. I think that's going to become more and more important, not just for authors, but I think it's something that authors and creatives should also be paying attention to.
James Vlahos in his book, Talk to Me, gives the history or the background of how far voice technology has come. And then he slowly starts to paint a picture of what it's going to be like in the future. That is, the way we interact with devices and technology. Maybe it won't be that we're standing or sitting in front of a computer screen typing Google searches, but that more and more the way we search for stuff, the way we interact with our computers, will be more driven by voice.
And so I think that authors and creatives need to maybe start thinking about, well, if that's the case, then how can I make my creative work, my author platform, and all those things easier to be found through either voice assistants like Alexa or Siri.
This is a huge area that Amazon is spending and investing a lot of money in. Maybe authors can explore or think about how they can slowly put their presence onto this area as well.
[Joanna] I'm currently writing a 10-year business plan around voice-first. It is a fascinating area and I feel like I'm on day one of learning about it. So thank you for recommending that book to me.
Now I want to ask you because you're a language teacher and you help people learn languages. But one of the fascinating things is A.I. language translation.
At the Beijing Book Fair last year (2018) they translated a book from English into Mandarin in a couple of seconds [The New Publishing Standard].
Translation has incredible potential with AI. But what do you think as someone who makes his living this way?
[Makoto] It's funny because I'm a language teacher but then at the same time I'm an enthusiast. I geek out and like to learn or read about the technology that's coming.
I actually realized that maybe my job as a language teacher could become replaced or obsolete maybe in the next five to 10 years.
I think there will still be a place for language teachers or cultural teachers but a lot of this A.I. translation, whether it's translation or interpretation, it's getting better and better and better. Some jobs maybe will be replaced by technology.
One of the interesting things I was looking at the other day as regards to authors is whether machines can create fiction from scratch. In parallel to NaNoWriMo, they have NaNoGenMo where they can see if they can create generate fiction from scratch. It's many years down the road to have something interesting to read, but just to know that people are working on something like this is maybe something to pay attention to.
What are the other things that we both geek out over?
The book, AI Super Powers by Kai-Fu Lee. In the UK, it just wasn't being stocked in bookstores. It's not being talked about really. I couldn't even buy a copy for a friend of mine. I was like “Where is this book?” This should be everywhere. I think it's because of the negative press around China and technology most likely.
What are some of the things that you're particularly excited about in terms of AI and how that might impact authors and writers?
[Makoto] Big question. AI Super Powers, I also thought is a fantastic book. Anyone interested in just understanding in the last five or 10 years what's been happening technology-wise in China. I think it's a great read and especially in the area of A.I. and how jobs will change as this technology continues to progress. Like I mentioned about my own job as a language teacher, and what are the other types of jobs or industries that might be at risk.
For authors or creatives, I think this is where maybe we can be a little bit encouraged. He has this I guess this pie graph or this x y axis talking about what are the jobs that will be most secure and what are the jobs that maybe are at risk being replaced by AI.
He talks about the ones that are most probably the safest or most secure are the ones that depend highly on creativity, so creatives and artists I think can be safe from these AI technologies.
Instead of seeing AI as something that you're trying to run away from, more and more I think we can think about how we can use it to compliment our creativity.
So I think already in areas like music or painting people are using A.I. to teach them. Maybe in music they're mixing jazz and classical music and they create these brand new compositions and music that gives them maybe new ideas or inspirations.
And I feel that even with this NaNoGenMo, maybe you'll never produce a bestselling book but it can be used to generate creativity and it's something that we should look forward to versus maybe be afraid of.
[Joanna] Oh yeah, I see technology more as a leverage point or a way to supercharge what we already have. So you know, without the internet I wouldn't have a business, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
There are lots of creative ideas. So instead of me writing a book on say ‘how to write a novel,' why don't I write an Alexa Skill instead. That's really an interesting idea.
[Makoto] One of the cool things I was checking out earlier this year, Alexa came out with a new skill Choose Your Own Adventure stories [TechCrunch].
I remember reading these as a young boy. I love those books. If you choose to go down this mountain, turn to page 76 or something. Now it's turned into audio form and so far I think they have maybe five or six different stories which take you to dozens of different alternative endings. And I think that's so cool that fiction writers can use technology like that.
We're just on the beginning stages of exploring voice technology together with fiction writing and maybe something especially for fiction writers to pay attention to if you can be early into this kind of market you can really do well for yourself.
[Joanna] It feels like 2009 for e-books. Like people keep saying, Why can't we have all this stuff for audio books like we do for e-books? (marketing, categorization etc). And I'm like well that's because we're still at the beginning.
I mean the audiobook stuff in the last 18 months has really taken off but things are changing. A very exciting time. Tell people where can they find you and your book online.
[Makoto] My book is called The Thoughtful Language Learner and you know Joanna I just want to say I've been listening to your podcast for a long time. I've been a big fan and many of your episodes have been instrumental or helpful and just this self-publishing process so.
I appreciate all the content you make. So my book is available on Amazon both Kindle and paperback. And if people want to connect with me they can find me on my Web site, www.mtokudome.com
[Joanna] Fantastic and I'll put all the links in the show. Thank you so much. That was brilliant.