Co-Writing The Relaxed Author with Mark Leslie Lefebvre

How can you be a more relaxed author when there is always so much more to do? How can you co-write a book and retain different voices in written text as well as audio? Mark Leslie Lefebvre and I discuss how we co-wrote The Relaxed Author and how we’re publishing and marketing it.

In the intro, Netflix buys the Roald Dahl catalog [The Verge]; Chuck Palahniuk launches a Substack [LitReactor]; Gillian Flynn launches her own imprint [New York Times]; Tomb of Relics in edits; ProWritingAid tutorial; Selling direct tutorial.

The Relaxed Author

Do you want to be a more relaxed author? The Relaxed Author: Take The Pressure Off Your Art and Enjoy The Creative Journey, out now in all the usual formats in all the usual places. You can also buy the ebook and audiobook direct from us at

Mark Leslie Lefebvre is a horror writer, publishing consultant, speaker, author of books for writers, and my co-writer for The Relaxed Author.

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

Show Notes

  • What matters when choosing a co-writing partner
  • Why a legal agreement is so important — even if you’re friends
  • Sharing the various roles while writing and publishing
  • How royalty splitting works with Draft2Digital
  • Different styles of working
  • The benefits of recording conversations to use as a first draft — and the resulting challenges
  • Sharing launch duties and marketing tasks
  • Principles for the long-game

You can find Mark Leslie Lefebvre at and on Twitter @MarkLeslie

Transcript of Interview with Mark Leslie Lefebvre

Joanna: I’m here with Mark Leslie Lefebvre, horror writer, publishing consultant, speaker, author of books for writers and my co-writer for The Relaxed Author. Welcome back to the show, Mark.

Mark: Hey, Joanna. It’s great to be here.

Joanna: So here we are finally. We both have the book The Relaxed Author and it’s actually very pretty. I’m quite pleased with it.

Are you happy with it?

Mark: Oh, you know what? When Liz saw it, she…because she hadn’t seen anything. She just heard me talk, ‘You know what? I’m working on this book with Jo.’ And when she saw it she went, ‘Oh, my god. That is so gorgeous.’ Your cover designer did such a brilliant job. Just absolutely gorgeous.

Joanna: Oh, good. I’m glad you like it because I feel like it’s difficult with co-writing…well, lots of difficulties. We’ll get into that. But let’s go back to the beginning.

How did we even come up with the idea for this book? It’s not like we had other things going on and we were like, ‘Oh, here’s a surprise book.’

When did we come up with the idea and why did we go forward with it?

Mark: Was it back in March that I was being interviewed on your podcast? Maybe the episode aired in March, or was it April? I’m trying to remember how far back it was.

Joanna: It was the ‘Wide for the Win.’ You came on to talk about ‘Wide for the Win’ basically. And I think we said, ‘Yes, going wide makes us more relaxed.’ And we started to laugh about how we were relaxed authors. And then we got so many emails about it.

I emailed you and said, ‘Hey, should we do The Relaxed Author?’ So when I did email you and asked you, you already had a lot of books planned for this year.

What were your feelings when I asked you that?

When we’re offered a project or we come up with a project, when should we say no? When should we go for it?

Mark: Honestly, that’s one of our chapters in the book. We talk about the importance of saying no because there are so many great ideas you have to say no to and so many opportunities.

For example, you are very selective in not just going and speaking anywhere. It has to be something. Maybe you can tie in…well, post or pre-pandemic, travel to a place because you want to research it for a novel or something like that.

But I think I remember saying, ‘We can have some easy listening music and smoking jackets and just go chill and relax.’ But your listeners responded in a big way saying, ‘Oh, my, I need that book.’

I had a lot of projects already. I had four other book projects between then and the end of the year that I had on my plate. And I’ll always get all of them done. Some of them are up for pre-order already, which causes stress but also causes me to work better at it, which is part of how I work.

I think what happened is when that came and you emailed me, I had already been chewing on it because I saw those comments on Twitter and went, ‘Yeah, you know what? I think a book like that would be needed. Wouldn’t that be helpful?’

But here’s the thing, and I want to throw this question back at you, Jo, because I think we agreed on it actually. So I immediately thought, ‘This is a brilliant idea. We have to do this book.’ So I was in 100%. Let’s do this. How about you? How did you reply to that?

Joanna: It was funny because I was also feeling this is a necessary topic before we even came up with it. And we should say that as well, there’s a lot of stress in the author community. It’s not just about the pandemic.

It’s also about almost what we don’t want the indie movement to become. We don’t want people to be burned out writing a book a month. And, of course, if you do write a book a month, brilliant. Go for it if you love it and that’s the way you work. And there are a small percentage of people for whom that does work.

But for a lot of people, authors are losing sight of the love of why they do this and are getting stressed around publishing, around marketing, around business and it’s just a lot of angst.

We did a survey as part of this and we asked, ‘What are you stressed about?’ And it was literally everything.

Mark: And then there were things that I forgot that I was stressed about. There was, ‘Oh yeah, that stresses me, too,’ when I saw the survey.

Joanna: And then it’s funny because, actually, I had almost said I’m never going to co-write a book again because I do find it quite difficult, and we’ll come to the challenges in a minute.

The other thing we should say about our relationship is that we’ve known each other for over a decade now online, and we’re going to have some photos in the show notes. There’ll be some photos of us basically when we first met in person.

Joanna Penn and Mark Leslie Lefebvre at london book fair, 2013

I think it was 2013 at London Book Fair. And then there was Toronto, we hung out. Charleston and Florida and all these different places over the years. Our karaoke shall remain forever without a photo! But we sang together.

Mark: I wonder if anyone did take photos of that, or hopefully no video.

Joanna: I think we sang Bon Jovi, ‘Living on a Prayer’ together.

Mark: We did. That was very fun. That was just remarkable creativity from the two of us right there with a little bit of alcohol.

Joanna: Exactly. But I guess the point is that because we’ve known each other personally but also professionally now for so long that I felt like, ‘Well, we know each other well enough,’ or I thought we did before, and we’ll get into some of the things that surprised us both, but I felt like, yes, I can trust you.

This is a tip for co-writing, isn’t it? Trust is so important. If you don’t actually trust the person you’re working with, both creatively and financially, you’re going to struggle to co-write.

I don’t know how anyone could co-write with a complete stranger. I’ve co-written now with a number of people. You do a lot more collaboration than me, actually.

What do you think are some tips for making sure it’s the right partnership to even agree with at the beginning?

Mark: Trust is a major factor. You get this a lot I’m sure. This is a common thing for writers. ‘Hey, you’re a writer. I have an idea. Why don’t I give you my idea and we’ll collaborate?’ Meaning, you do all the writing because that’s what you do, and I have ideas. That’s so cute.

I have co-written with a number of people. And you’re right. It was a thing I never even thought about but it was, do I trust this person to actually uphold their end?

And, obviously, there was no question about you because we’ve had such a long-standing relationship, professional, personal relationship. We know each other. It’s just been playing catch up and our chats about the industry.

We’re so aligned in so many other ways that we think and feel about the industry in terms of long term, wanting to support authors, and wanting to help people become better at what they do and feel better about what they do.

And yet, and you alluded to this earlier, and yet we did discover that we have differences in the way we approach work. It was intriguing that we fell into this really interesting set of roles that we both felt really comfortable in.

So had, for example, I taken over the project management of this, that would have stressed you out remarkably, right? It would have stressed me out, too. So can we talk a little bit about how we ended up approaching this and then realizing, ‘Oh, yeah, we are actually different in our approach?’ Not just in our responses to the various questions that came up, too.

Joanna: I’m partly an independent author because I’m a control freak. And we all are, to an extent, but I think possibly because I spent 13 years in consulting, possibly because it’s just my personality type, but I do like to be in control.

You were very good because you essentially let me be in control and I have been telling you what to do. But, luckily, we both know what to do, so it’s not like I needed to explain what these things are.

We should say upfront, we do have a contract between us even though we’re friends. We have a contract because this is joint copyright. You’re with Liz. I’m with Jonathan. But our marriages don’t last as long as copyright.

Actually, we should say that in our document, we talked about what would happen if either of us died. We even went that far. And I think that’s important, too. Even if you’re friends, you need to have an agreement. So that was important.

[You can find an example agreement and more tips on co-writing in Co-Writing A Book: Collaboration and Co-Creation For Authors, co-written with J. Thorn.]

And then I took this primary organizational role and took the publisher role. So the book is published under Curl Up Press. It’s my cover design and my branding rather than yours.

Let’s just be brutally honest, how did you find my project management? You’re welcome to say whatever you like!

Mark: As you know, I work to deadline. When I have a deadline, when I have a commitment, when I know I need to get something done by a certain date, that is what motivates me. That’s what kicks the muse into gear.

It’s like, ‘Listen, there’s no wishy-washiness here. You gotta get it done.’ And so having you take that role relieved a bit of stress that I have. When I’m publishing independently, I have certain projects that have been on the back burners for years because like, ‘Yeah, I’ll get to it one day.’

But knowing that somebody that I respect and admire and trust trusts me in the same way, is relying on me, that motivates me to get the job done. To make sure I’m not just doing it because I need to get it done. I’m doing it because I don’t want to let Joanna down. So that was an important element of it.

And the fact that you did that, it made sense for you to do it under Curl Up Press. Curl Up Press, for example, is…well, let’s be honest. There’s no surprise here. Joanna Penn is a much larger, more significant brand, and so is Curl Up Press in terms of what you’ve done in the author community. Is this the 13th book or the 15th non-fiction book?

Joanna: Goodness knows at this point.

Mark: As of the time when we started to write on this, I only had four books in my Stark Publishing Solutions series, books for writers, similar kind of feel. And then, of course, I had this other book in the works on the side that I was already planning when we discussed this. And I’m like, ‘Okay. I guess I’m doing two books for writers this year.’

I think having you in charge of that took a lot of the stress off of me. I actually felt bad that you were doing the extra work. You know what I mean? The onus is on you. But I think you fell into that role and felt it more comfortable. Like, ‘Okay, now I know what’s going on.’

And the way that you structured things, the way that we shared things was great because we still had to figure out, okay, so we had the contract.

We had to figure out who’s publishing and what were the logistics, how are we going to deal with the expenses, how are we going to deal when the money comes in?

Now, obviously, you’re using Draft2Digital for a significant chunk of it in terms of the automatic royalty split, which means some of the payments are just going to come straight to me and straight to you and we don’t have to worry about it.

But then, I remember a discussion we had. I’ve always defaulted to my personal use of eBooks, with the small e and a capital B. And so we when we’re going through each other’s notes in the proofreading, I was like, ‘Well, we need to discuss these things.’

Again, it’s Curl Up Press, so it gave us a very clear answer. It wasn’t just us butting heads. It was a clear answer, ‘No, this is the style guide for Curl Up Press.’ And that’s important.

One of the editors I work with, she does an amazing job and provides a style guide that you can use in your series, which is just absolutely phenomenal. I was like, ‘No, no. This is the style guide for Curl Up Press so I’m going to stick with it.’

I work with traditional publishers, too, it was no different. This is the way they want it done so this is the way I’m going to do it. It’s professional.

Joanna: I think, just coming back, you mentioned that we’re using Draft2Digital. We’re using that for the eBooks, so we’re using the payment splitting for the eBook. But we’re still selling the ebook and audiobook directly through my

And then we’re doing the print books separately through Amazon KDP print and through IngramSpark. And with the audiobook, we’re wide with the audio as well. So we’re basically selling in every format on every platform, as is our principle, but, as you said, Draft2Digital does offer the payment splitting so we are using that.

But it’s so funny because on the one hand, I really appreciate it because, yes, you get money that is directly split and it’s great for co-writing. Equally, I do feel that lack of control because I can’t see that book on my other platforms like when I log into Amazon or Kobo.

Mark: Oh, that’s right. The sales are all coming through one platform.

Joanna: Yes, and that’s the first time this has happened to me because I’ve only ever used Draft2Digital for smaller platforms.

Mark: It caused stress for you.

Joanna: Yes, it has caused stress for me, but equally, I’m really glad we did it because I wanted to try it. And I do think one of the biggest overheads of co-writing is paying people. Not the first couple of months because there’s decent money, but realistically, I basically will pay monthly for the first couple of months and then move to a sort of three-month or even six-month, depending on how long it’s been because it’s not worth the time to…especially when you’re wide because…

Mark: Eighteen cents, Amazon Mexico, right? Or whatever.

Joanna: Yeah. I just don’t want to deal with that. So, yes, so we did that.

Let’s go back to the actual writing process because what I discovered, what it surprised me so much is that you use Microsoft Word. You don’t use Scrivener. And I was like, ‘What? Sorry, you don’t use Scrivener? What is going on with you?’

I found that really weird that you didn’t use Scrivener and I use Scrivener and I use it to organize. So this was another thing. Right upfront you were like, ‘Here’s a spreadsheet with a table of contents.’

Mark: What?

Joanna: ‘I don’t do that. My table of contents emerges from the writing.’ I don’t outline at first.

How was the writing process for you, because we’re quite different in that way?

Mark: Yes, it’s funny. I don’t outline either, especially in fiction. But non-fiction’s a little bit different. But, see, I thought you would have been so excited to have a spreadsheet because I’m like, ‘Oh, cool. Because she’s organized and I’m disorganized.’

So the fact that I have a spreadsheet, it’s like, ‘Mark actually does spreadsheets?’ So that’s how I’ve done all of my other collaborations. Google Sheets is probably the easiest way where we just need to decide how we’re going to [divide the work] because typically, we would divide out the chapters.

And so I’m going to do research and write this chapter. You’re going to do this one. Maybe we co-write some of them but most of the time we just go off and do our things and then edit each other’s work.

That’s how we start before sending it to the publisher because I think almost all of my other collaborations, the majority of them were with a traditional publisher. So we each had to sign a contract with the publisher. I led it because I was the one who had been experienced with that publisher and had other books with them.

What I often do is I’ll create a spreadsheet and what I think is the outline, I think we’re going to do this. And as I’m writing chapters, I go in and go, ‘No, I need to do another.’ I use that and I know you use Scrivener in that way where you organize.

Now I tried Scrivener and I had some challenges with once it gets from Scrivener to Word because a lot of the books I had been working on, either the editors I worked with independently or the editors of the publishing houses required a manuscript in Microsoft Word with the tracked changes.

And so for me, it was less stressful to go and use a different platform and then have to translate it and then just go to Word. And so, for the most part, I just use Word and Excel, if it’s on my own, like on my own desktop, or a Google Doc if it’s a collaboration.

But I think what I like about that is you were able to do the same thing. You just translated Scrivener to a format in a Dropbox folder that I could go in and see where we were.

Joanna: Yes. Well, let’s say this was a big decision because, again, in the books we’ve co-written before, the two authors meld, like mind meld, and the edits become…or as you say, either write separate chapters or collaborate within a chapter.

What we’ve done, and we went back and forwards on this, but what we’ve done is every chapter has you writing a section and me writing a section. I’m really happy we did that now.

One of the reasons was for the audiobook. The audiobook is brilliant. I’ve really enjoyed listening to it. I don’t listen to my bits, I’ve listened to your bits. Well, obviously, I’ve proofed mine, but it was like having your voice and my voice.

For example, we have a chapter called ‘Write What You Love.’ I put my thoughts and you put your thoughts in the same chapter. And we do think similarly in many areas but not all of them, but our separate voices come through both in the written word and the audio. I think it’s quite unusual but I actually love it. I think it’s great.

How do you feel this has turned out?

Mark: In most of the other collaborations I did, and I imagine it’s the same. I remember having this discussion with Shana on Macabre Montreal. We took out any reference to ‘I’ wherever possible and tried to blend it so you couldn’t tell who wrote it.

Now, there were obviously distinctions in voices, but we removed any personal stuff and we talked about ‘us’ anytime you had to refer to stuff like that.

So when we made that decision, I thought, well, that’s different. It’s interesting. I’m curious to see how it goes. And there was some confusion, especially because of the way…and I think we’re going to talk about the way we wrote this I thought was also fascinating and interesting.

It reminded me, when I think back to it and I was looking at the book visually, because I was like, ‘How are we going to represent that this is my voice?’ And while you just put ‘Joanna:’ or ‘Mark:’ the audiobook is absolutely brilliant because, especially with the people who know us.

Oftentimes, I’m usually recognized when someone hears my voice and they go, ‘You’re Mark Lefebvre. I heard you on Joanna Penn’s podcast.’ That’s usually the reference most people have.

We’ve had this experience where we’ve sat together on a panel and a question comes out and we each answer it and they’re somewhat complementary and somewhat diverse or different in terms of the way we approach things.

I love the fact that what we’re illustrating, which I think is an important message from this book, is that there is no single way to be relaxed. That we all have our own way and it’s kind of like you’ve got to get into your groove. And so we’re going to show you that even though Jo and I agree and have a similar approach, we do have different ways of doing those things or finding relaxation because, again, we’re not relaxed authors.

Let’s be honest. We stress out like anyone else. It’s human. So it’s like pretending that we don’t have imposter syndrome. It exists. And so do stress and anxiety. But how do you deal with that? How do you curb it?

So, yeah, the voice thing is just absolutely brilliant. Every time I look back at the book, I’m just so proud and so excited that we decided because it wasn’t easy to do that.

Joanna: You mentioned there the way we did. So what we did was we did brainstorm a list of topics that we thought. Obviously, there are sections on relaxed writing, relaxed publishing, relaxed marketing, relaxed business.

And then what we did is, we got on Zoom and we talked about it. We did, I think, four separate sessions where we recorded a discussion like this basically, and then we got the transcript and then we divided it into you and me.

Because I think when I learned that you worked in Microsoft Word, I realized it was going to be very hard for us to co-write in the way that I’m used to doing it. And also, because of our different schedules and how busy things are, and also, as you say, the way you write to deadline.

I don’t think it’s time zone because J. Thorn and I’ve done different time zones. It’s more that I am far more…I think I was way ahead of you in terms of…I get things done earlier whereas you work more to deadline. And I was like, I can’t deal.

Mark: You’re like the Flash and I’m just kind of wandering down the street.

Joanna: You’re very relaxed in your timelines. And I’m like, ‘No, I want to get it all done.’ And, actually, because I got COVID in the middle of this and, luckily, I had already finished. I’d basically finished.

Mark: And that’s, I think, evidence why that works for you really, really well because what if something happens? ‘No, I’ve got it done now.’ So, ‘Oh, I got COVID. So I can just be in bed for a week and not do anything.’

Joanna: Several weeks.

Mark: Had that happened to me, it would have been, ‘Uh-oh.’

Joanna: Yes, and it’s interesting because I am much more relaxed by scheduling everything in advance and I work way out from my deadlines. Whereas you like to work to, right up to a deadline. So that’s interesting.

But, yes, the dictation, there were pros and cons, right? Because we paid for quite a lot of transcription. It was just easier to get a human to do that, but then it was quite a lot of editing. I go back and forwards on it. I feel like it did keep our voices quite well, but equally, I did have to rewrite quite a lot.

When you were editing the stuff, did you rewrite a lot of it? Did it help?

Mark: When I did An Author’s Guide to Working with Bookstores and Libraries, it was based on two separate episodes of my podcast, almost an hour each. I did take the transcription and I started from there and then I broke things down and then moved them around. So I’d done something like that already.

I didn’t realize that that’s what I had done until we started doing it and I realized, ‘This guy talks too much.’ It was the first thing, so I had to, ‘Get to the point.’ And so that was an important element.

But then also I realized I completely missed things in that first pass, like that first draft. I thought of that dialogue in the first draft. For example, when you talked about writing tools and you use Scrivener and you use ProWritingAid and you use this and you use that, I was like, ‘Well, I don’t use any tools I don’t think.’

But then when I was editing that chapter, it was like, ‘You moron. Are you kidding? You use tools like crazy.’ That was one of the other ones was ScribeCount. When you talked about being stressed that you can’t see your sales, I love that because I can go there and I can see.

I don’t have to log in to Amazon and then Kobo and then Draft2Digital and any of the other platforms. I can just go to one place and go, ‘There it is. Took me five seconds. I can see where I am,’ because it’s pulling it right from each dashboard automatically.

So that was kind of cool. When I realized, that was one of the chapters that I think I had one paragraph. And then when I sent it back to you, it was like six pages for some reason.

Joanna: It was super long. That’s what’s so funny. Some chapters you do go on and I’m really short. And other chapters I go on and you’re really short. So that was good.

Mark: Yes. It was interesting to see that.

How did you find that process? Had you ever done that original draft in audio first?

Joanna: I have done some stuff like that like with J. Thorn, for example. And I’ve also done my own non-fiction with dictation first with the courses.

For example, How to Write Non-Fiction, I did the book and the course at the same time. And what’s interesting, because we had a discussion, and when you’re having a discussion you interrupt each other and you’re going back and forwards.

The transcription was quite funny because it was full of asides and private jokes and we just got off-topic, which we do.

Mark: Which is fun to do.

Joanna: Yes, but what was good was that then what happened, so just to explain to people, you then got your bit. I got my bit. And I said, ‘By this date, send me your relaxed writing chapters.’

And then what I did was copy and paste your sections into Scrivener, which was the master document, and then it emerged to me, the table of contents emerged, and then we realized we had missing things.

So we actually ended up writing quite a lot of stuff we hadn’t even talked about because it came up in the writing process, which is completely normal.

And then, as you say, what happened when Scrivener was full of both of our first drafts, then I exported it to Word and then we used Dropbox. We’ve got a shared Dropbox folder where I put the whole thing and said, ‘This is now yours, Mark. You have the master MS Word document. Knock yourself out.’

Let’s talk about the editing process. How did you go through that?

Mark: That was an intriguing process. I think there were moments where I got to a part that looked like it was attributed to me and I said, ‘There’s no way I said something that brilliant. That had to have been you.’ It was funny because this does happen in co-writing is you sometimes can’t remember if that’s something you wrote or your co-author wrote.

Joanna: But you did write it, by the way. You often did write it.

Mark: Yeah, but it was like, ‘No, no. That sounds like Jo. That was really smart.’ But I think there are elements because of the way, when we were interacting, I was talking about something and then you reminded me, interjected and said, ‘What about this?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah.’

The benefit of that dialogue I think helped us bring more things to the table. In terms of that process, it was a little bit stressful. I was still worried about the logistics of what it was going to look like and flow and how we were going to divide this up. I was worried about all those elements.

But then once I got into it, once I sat down, and once I started working on it, it started to feel better. And then I was worried about, ‘Our voices are very different even though we have a similar perspective.’ And then I was worried about that, and comparison.

I just said something like, ‘I’m nowhere near as smart as Jo and not as eloquent.’ So I worried about that and then just realized, they can skip my parts if they don’t like it.

Joanna: Or skip mine.

Mark: Then I realized that’s just part of being our authentic selves. What I found was intriguing was just how much that comes out. And now, obviously, because I’ve again gone back and proof-listened to the audiobook, it is so cool to hear both of our voices and go, ‘Yeah, that’s neat.’

It’s interesting how we have a different take on the same topic. So, what a fascinating process.

Did you have any challenges with any of that as we were working through?

Joanna: I think the editing, obviously, what’s difficult with editing with a co-writer is we have to go backwards and forwards. I did the first main draft but I didn’t touch your work. Well, I did a little bit of organizing or whatever but I didn’t really touch it. And then it came to you.

You did your big edit, gave it back to me. But then what I was basically doing was copying and pasting each chapter back in because, again, we both did an edit as we did the audiobook narration. But because you were behind, again, behind me because you were busy with other things, you were still on time according to our original plan.

But this is very much me. I’ll be like, ‘There’s my deadline.’ But I will still do it much, much earlier to the dates.

Mark: Earlier. Okay.

Joanna: So I was a little bit frustrated that you were still sending me changes when I’d basically sent for print design because I work with my designer to do a print design. And I did have to give you a final deadline and be like, ‘I’m not taking anymore…print. We are done.’

The audiobook and the print are exactly the same. But the ebook, obviously, you can make some changes later because it’s much easier to upload another file. But it was like 99.99999% the same. It was funny because I was like, ‘I can’t change that now. Enough. Stop it already.’

Mark: Because I was going on a different deadline. I think the challenge was I know we did have a proofreader look at it, and we had a proof-listener as well, which is fantastic.

Joanna: Yes. But there’s always more. There’s always more stuff.

Mark: Yeah. But it was the reading of the chapters. I’d noticed that before that, oftentimes, with my fiction, my final proofreaders caught over…the audiobook narrator, because he finds stuff that everyone missed, which is kind of cool. So I thought, okay, so that’s where I found it. And I did. I think I had about 20 or 30 changes of little things like, ‘Oh, that just sounds dumb when I say it out loud.’

Joanna: And it was completely right. It was right. It was just the timeline, I guess, I was on.

In terms of how we did the audiobook, just so people know, so we basically both recorded our sections.

And this is where you did some of the heavy lifting is that I did my section, edited mine. We put all the audio files in the folder and then you did all the audio editing and mastering. You were comfortable to do that. But that is some work.

Mark: Yeah. Although the great thing about that process, so I could only do the narration, the audiobooks in certain windows, and Liz was home. So that was one of my challenges. She’s at school now, so at work. So that’d be fine.

I get the most of the day so long as I don’t have other meetings, whatever. I can just block off time. She’s home doing construction right below me. The garage is right below the office so I had to negotiate with her on when I could do the recordings.

The mastering, I could do that at any time, sitting down, headphones in. It doesn’t require a quiet space where I have to hang curtains and stuff around my space. I think what I liked was, so I took them and then I copied them together and then tried to negotiate the number of seconds between your voice and my voice, the number of seconds between the title.

And then we even had to negotiate who reads part 1, who reads the chapter title, who reads the quotes, because we have so many quotes from brilliant submissions from the authors. Was it 200 authors who did the survey?

Joanna: About 230 authors. And we should say then, yes, we got permission for some people to have their quotes. But we read them and we had said, ‘Well, maybe you read the male quotes and I will…’ And then we were like, ‘No, we’re just going to divide it. Whoever hits that does that.’

Mark: If you’re at the end of the chapter, then you read that. If you’re at the beginning of the chapter, then you read the quote if there’s a quote that opens the chapter as well. So it was interesting.

And then also you read the introduction and conclusion. It made the most sense. It’s also, you’ve got to remember, this is Curl Up Press. So this is a Joanna Penn book with Mark Leslie Lefebvre.

Joanna: Although, I think you had more airtime because, as you said, you tend to be more wordy. So I think you actually had more of the number of minutes in total.

Mark: I’m sure I do.

Joanna: People are listening to this so we would like to recommend the audiobook because we really like it. And what I think is interesting about it is the main reason, in the end, we decided to do it this way because we both have voice brands. We both have podcast audiences. And it was like, ‘Well, how do we retain that?’

Working backwards, if we want to do this audio product, how do we put that into the writing product, the written product that reflects how we would do the audio?

Because neither of us wanted to just do, you read a chapter, I read a chapter, because that doesn’t reflect our thoughts. I’m actually really pleased with it and I think, to me, this is how I would be happy co-writing again in the future.

I actually feel that I can say, it’s very obvious which bits are mine and which bits are yours, and therefore it was easier to write that way than it is to try and mind-meld or word-meld.

Mark: For sure. Neither of us have traveled. I think the last time we saw each other was probably in Vegas, probably just a few months before the pandemic, right?

With Dean and Kris at the WMG Workshop. I remember going out for coffee with you and sitting on panels together. And I think I have a selfie, I gotta throw that into the mix for the images or the selfies. You were talking on stage and I was trying to take a selfie and then you looked over and smiled while you were in the middle of talking.

Joanna Penn and Mark Leslie Lefebvre speaking in las vegas, 2019. Photo by Mark Leslie Lefebvre

Joanna: I want to see that one.

Mark: It was brilliant. I love that. But I think that’s one of the things I love so much about this book is because I am an introvert like you. I’m fine on stage but I do need that time. I’ve had more than enough time to decompress by myself.

So it was so good because it almost felt like we were hanging out together. And when I listened to the audiobook, it felt like it could have been the two of us sitting on stage answering questions on a panel and smiling at one another and listening and nodding while the other one’s speaking or sometimes going, ‘Huh? Really? You use Word?’

I thought that was fascinating, that whole process. I am so pleased. As a matter of fact, realizing just how much fun I had doing the audiobook with you has inspired me to go back because I only have one of the audiobooks for my ‘Non-Fiction for Writers,’ and I realized, ‘Well, that’s dumb.’

Joanna: Yeah.

Mark: Actually, a mastermind group that I’m part of, and they said, ‘Really? Why don’t you have the other audiobooks? Because if people like this, then maybe they’re going to want to check them out. And if they’re not available in audio, guess what? They’re not going to get.’ So it’s inspired me to put more work on my plate but I’m not stressed out about it.

Joanna: That’s good. I think that’s really good.

Let’s talk about the publishing and marketing.

Obviously, we’ve mentioned how we’re doing the publishing, and it’s under my name. So most of the money is coming into my bank account. Yay! And then I’m obviously going to run away and just spend it all. No. I will be paying you as we go through.

But the marketing, we’ve already started marketing. Obviously, we’ve talked about it on our shows and we’ve started doing things. And we’ve basically decided that the marketing costs we will just pay for ourselves, so giving books away, ads, that kind of thing. It just becomes too hard to manage.

We’ve essentially settled up with production costs and then going forwards, we’ll just do what we do and split it 50%. And, again, that’s part of trust, part of the writing and publishing. It’s like, ‘Sure, but that’s up to when it goes out,’ and then it’s the marketing. We just both have to trust that we will both market this book.

But let’s talk about our relaxed approach to launch because I feel like it’s really funny. I’m going away. I’m going to be away on the day it all goes live. What will you be doing at launch?

Mark: I’m going to be away, too, actually. I was supposed to be in Nashville for The Career Author Summit with J, and Zach.

Joanna: So was I originally.

Mark: I’m so verklempt that I can’t be there because I love those guys and I really wanted to be at The Career Author Summit. It’s a more intimate group of really fine people I really enjoy hanging out with. Obviously, travel is just too challenging right now to get there in terms of being isolated and having to quarantine when you get back and stuff. I’m still trying to work that out, so it was a really tough call.

I was supposed to be there anyways, which would have been cool, hey, because we were both supposed to be there at one point in time. But then you can’t leave. You can’t even fly into North America. I’m going up to my mom’s to help her get things ready for the fall. She doesn’t even have Wi-Fi.

The only way I can get on Wi-Fi is if I jump on a borrowed Wi-Fi from the neighborhood of someone who hasn’t locked their Wi-Fi down, which thank goodness for the last 10 years has been fine. Until that neighbor moves away, I’m not going to have Wi-Fi when I go up there.

I’ll have to pre-schedule some things. I have a publicist as well, so Mickey is working on a press release. He’ll be doing some of that where he sends it out to a bunch of different media. Fortunately, you’re going to be away. I’m going to be traveling as well so we can schedule.

We can schedule social media. We can schedule email blasts. We can schedule things.

The book launch is on September 18th. It’s not like we’re going to be sitting there glued to our dashboards going, ‘Oh, how’s it selling? How’s it selling?’

Joanna: Not at all. And I think that’s why I wanted to mention, essentially, what we’re both going to do is there will be an email that we send to our email lists. We’ll put this version of this out on our podcast feeds. We will put the video up on our YouTube channels and we will schedule some social media links. And that is about it.

You said you were going to do a press release.

Mark: It’s just one of those things you do that may get some things to pick it up.

Joanna: Yes. Might get something, but I never do that. And I think, again, part of this, and one of our tips is to think long-term and never to be obsessed, actually, about the launch.

The launch is a very traditional publishing thing, when the books go into a physical bookstore and then they leave again. Whereas for us, this is an evergreen book actually. This is very much more of a mindset book. Yes, it’s got practical tips, but we’re not obsessing about September the 18th, 2021.

Hopefully, people are listening to this in the years to come and find it useful in years to come. And that is a relaxed approach to launch and marketing.

All of our books link to the other books. So part of it is having a similar brand for non-fiction that will just keep help selling each other’s other books as well. So it becomes part of the ecosystem. But this, again, I don’t think either of us has stressed about launch.

Mark: It’s really funny when you talk about traditional publishing. It’s the launch, it’s the first month or two in bookstores. And then that’s it. Ironically, you would think the indie author community would say, ‘No, I reject that.’ But the indie author community, in many ways, is all stressed about the launch.

And, okay, on launch day you gotta do this and you gotta do that and you gotta do that. And it’s like, ‘Ah. That scares me. I got too much other things to worry about and do.’ It’s like, ‘I’m just going to do it. I’m going to write it. It’s going to be the best book I can. I’m going to get it out there and we’ll see what happens.’

And, again, not see what happens. Obviously, we strategize and we plan things out but I love the fact that neither one of us is obsessed and freaking out. This is like, ‘Okay, it’s out. I’ve emailed my people. I let people know I’m going to share it. I’m going to probably share…’ I think even some outtakes from this video would be hilarious.

I think maybe having fun with it, too. I even think highlighting how there were moments where we weren’t relaxed would be an intriguing way of marketing The Relaxed Author. It’s like admitting, ‘Yes, we’re going to help you, but we’re going to admit that we’re human too’.

Joanna: Absolutely. And we do say that in the book. It’s not like we’re all zen and never stressed. That’s not true, obviously. But I think this has become even more clear to me because of having COVID, and I really was in bed for two weeks and then after the two weeks, I was able to do a little more each day. But it was at least a month, five weeks of just being well below my capacity.

What I realized is, okay, I can only do one thing a day with the amount of energy I have. And when I thought about the principles that we’ve included…and, in fact, I made probably more money that month than I have other months of the year because I was able to pull some levers within my business that meant I could essentially…well, it wasn’t really relaxing but I didn’t have to work.

I haven’t done that ever. I’m hardly ever sick. Really not very sick. Yes, I take some breaks and holiday, occasionally.

But it felt like, oh, my goodness, I actually can be more relaxed about my author business at this point because of the principles that we’ve gone through.

So we’ve talked about some. We both said the long-term mindset is very important, both for the business but also the writing. And to come back and say, ‘I still want to be doing this, I don’t want to burn out, I don’t want to give up writing, I want to have the long-term view,’ that is one of the principles that is important to both of us.

And, partly, we wrote this because you’ve been doing this 20-plus years and I’ve been doing this full-time for over a decade. I’ve been writing for 15 years. So we’ve seen people crash out because they’re so stressed, they can’t do it anymore, whereas we’re still here.

Mark: Yay. Look at us go.

Joanna: We’re still here. But I think the practices that we talked about help us stay. We’re still here because we have these practices rather than the sort of super, super stressed way.

You can be stressed for a short amount of time as you hit a deadline, but you cannot be stressed all the time or you will give up and just get a normal job, right?

Mark: Yeah, that’s like a mental breakdown. That’s not good. Even good stress, even happy stress. Even like, ‘Hey, it’s number one,’ or, ‘Hey, we’re two,’ or whatever.’ I know it sounds silly but it’s like having that high all the time is not necessarily a good thing.

I think one of the things I loved about this process is there were so many things that we pulled out of ourselves for this book that I didn’t realize until we had the conversation and started thinking about it. And it’s only after thinking about it that I reminded myself some of the things I’d forgotten along the way.

Books, in many ways, fiction or non-fiction, are therapeutic for me. It’s a story I have to tell and I’m not going to feel good until I tell the story. Or I need to exorcise these demons or I need to express this feeling I have.

This book, in a very significant way, was therapeutic for me. I’m so glad we did it. When we got stuff back from the proofreader and I went back and I was listening in again with the proofreader’s notes, which was fantastic, by the way, great guy, and that just really brought it home to me in a way that I don’t think I’ve had that experience on previous either collaborations or even previous books that I’ve written because of the multi-layered way we had to go back and forth.

For example, I couldn’t just make a decision. I had to make the decision with my co-author because of the structure or whatever. So, yeah, long-term thinking and just remembering the things you learn along the way, like pausing to actually acknowledge some of those things because we forget about those things. And we don’t take the time to appreciate those experiences we’ve had.

Joanna: We should say that both of us, obviously, have other books for authors and you could say that all of the things we said are in all of our books in some way. I feel like the difference here is that we have bought it all together under this relaxed angle.

For example, under relaxed marketing, we’re not going to tell you how to do anything. We’re talking more about the attitude towards it, and some of the decisions we’ve made.

I also do want to say that we have acknowledged for example, we’ve said publish wide — or don’t. Because sometimes it is more relaxing to be exclusive. We absolutely know that. So I want people to realize that we’re quite inclusive in the way that we’re doing. Or, for example, social media, choose social media that works for you or don’t do it at all.

Mark: Exactly. Because if it doesn’t work for you, then why would you?

Joanna: Why would you?

Mark: I love that inclusivity. And it’s funny you mentioned that because when I was looking at this book, there’s so many elements of things I’ve already said on my podcast, that you said on your podcast, shared in books, said when you’re being interviewed anywhere.

Ironically, none of the stuff that I put in the books is not stuff that I don’t already give to the community anyway. The whole idea is like we’re collecting it and outlining it in a very packaged way that’s concise so you don’t have to scramble to go find all these bits and pieces.

Joanna: Exactly.

Mark: Which should be more relaxed.

Joanna: Exactly. So I guess, as we come to the end of this, we really hope this helps because this isn’t about the pandemic but the pandemic has added a lot of stress for people.

Your author life should not be the stressful bit. Your writing should be where you go for comfort and solace and working things out, and your writing should be where you run to when you are stressed.

And it shouldn’t be the thing that stresses you out. And any stress you do have should be short-term.

So we really hope that The Relaxed Author is going to help you. You can find it on all your favorite platforms, in all your favorite formats. And if you don’t, then you should just email one of us and we will make sure it gets there. You can also buy the eBook and audiobook direct at And, of course, we make more money if you buy direct from us. So go ahead and do that. But is there anything else you wanted to say as we wind up, Mark?

Mark: I just want to remind authors of the reason what probably drew them in to writing in the first place was passion and the enthusiasm and excitement. I’m hoping that they can find, like we have found, and rediscover, they can rediscover, rekindle that passion, that enthusiasm for what drew them to storytelling and writing in the first place. And hopefully, this book will help them. So thank you, Joanna, for this amazing experience of getting to write this book with you.

Joanna: And thanks so much for your time today, Mark. That was great.

The post Co-Writing The Relaxed Author with Mark Leslie Lefebvre first appeared on The Creative Penn.

Go to Source

Author: Joanna Penn

  • If you’re an artist, up to a creative challenge, and love this story, enter your email here. Click here for more info.

  • September 26, 2021