How can you turn one idea into a short story or expand it into a novel? How can you find a writing process that brings you joy for the long term? Jessie Kwak talks about writing craft tips in this interview.
In the intro, I comment on Andy Jassy’s letter to shareholders and the importance of long-term thinking.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Jessie Kwak is the author of gangster sci-fi supernatural thrillers and nonfiction for creatives. She’s also a ghostwriter and freelance marketing copywriter. Her latest book is From Big Idea to Book: Create a Writing Practice That Brings You Joy.
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.
- Planning, plotting, and discovery writing
- Finding ideas, and turning them into short stories, or expanding them into novels
- Tips for dealing with critical voice
- Developing theme
- The pros and cons of working with small press
- Using Kickstarter as a pre-order
- How to put the joy back into writing
- Jessie was also on the show previously, talking about From Chaos to Creativity: Productivity for Writers.
You can find Jessie Kwak at JessieKwak.com and on Twitter @jkwak
Transcript of Interview with Jessie Kwak
Joanna: Jessie Kwak is the author of gangster sci-fi supernatural thrillers and nonfiction for creatives. She’s also a ghostwriter and freelance marketing copywriter. Her latest book is From Big Idea to Book: Create a Writing Practice That Brings You Joy. Welcome back to the show, Jessie.
Jessie: Thank you for having me. This is super fun.
Joanna: Always good to talk to you. You’ve been on the show before. We talked a bit about your journey and how you manage everything. So we’re just going to get straight into the topic today.
Now, I should say upfront, this is a really great book, there’s so much in it and I found it very hard to choose the questions.
I want to start with the plotting versus discovery writing because there’s this tension for both fiction and nonfiction. You say in the book that “every author plans, but the extent to which they plan differs.”
Talk about planning, and how we can find the best way for our writing style.
Jessie: I think there tends to be a lot of emphasis on what’s the right way to write, should I outline, am I supposed to be doing this or that or the other thing. My very first piece of advice, as we get into talking about writing advice, is, don’t really worry about what’s right.
Start with what your strengths are. Start with what you enjoy about the process, and start experimenting from there. Definitely don’t throw out the things that you enjoy just because you’re like, ‘Oh, I read in a book that I’m supposed to do it a different way.’
When I talk about planning, I really came to writing as a pantser. And I didn’t do a lot of outlining. I would try it and then I would just immediately go in a weird direction as soon as I started writing. I’m very much a discovery writer.
Unless I am literally typing or putting pencil to paper and writing out a scene, I don’t know what is going to come out of that scene. Doesn’t matter how much I outline. But I have tried to incorporate a lot more planning into my discovery process.
For example, you don’t have to plot out the whole book, but maybe you could plot out this act that you’re working on, or the first half of a book. My mind was blown at a conference a few years back when another author was like, ‘I only ever plot out the first half of any book, because my outline always goes off the rails.’ It’s like, ‘Oh, you can do that?’
Or you can try planning at the scene level. That’s something that I find really helps me. Taking five minutes to jot out, this is what I want to do with the scene, some sensory details, basic scene blocking of who goes where and does what.
If you are a heavy planner, maybe experiment with giving yourself a little bit more flexibility. Experiment with how you are coming up with that outline. Are you going into a spreadsheet and plotting out every detail?
Or try being maybe a little bit more freeform and see if that helps at all. And if it doesn’t, that’s fine, you don’t have to, you can be the spreadsheet outline, or you can be the complete pantser. But playing with what other people do, I think can really help.
Joanna: And it’s interesting because you’ve been on the show talking about productivity, and I know how much work you get done. Knowing that you’re incredibly organized in your nonfiction side. I feel like we’ve got a lot in common in our nonfiction.
But I feel like, with my fiction, I am a discovery writer, but I am so different with my fiction than I am with my nonfiction. So I wondered if that’s the same with you?
Are you a completely different Jessie when you write fiction to nonfiction?
Jessie: Yes, I am. I definitely am more relaxed and letting the words flow and not being so detailed in the very first draft when I’m writing fiction.
Whereas with nonfiction, it tends to be a lot more outline-y. I write a lot of blog posts and articles. And so in that case, we do really want to say, ‘Okay, here’s the three points I’m going to make. And then I’m going to flesh out each section.’ But with fiction, I will let myself wander a lot more.
Joanna: I feel like the word plan can be a difficult word. I certainly find it difficult with fiction, because I feel like my muse wants to do what it does. But equally, it’s funny you mentioned that person who plots the first half of the book.
I plan I guess in my head, I know the opening scene, which is always something… I like a prologue in action-adventure thriller. I like a prologue where something bad happens and then, Chapter 1, we see the protagonist. So I always have that prologue, that set-piece in some awesome location.
And then I often will have or pretty much always have my climax, which is another set-piece and another awesome location. And then the middle bit, it’s everything in between just kind of wanders around.
So even the whole idea of planning, it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s whatever works for us.
Jessie: Yeah, and for me, I’m using a five-act structure for my books, the series that I’m working on right now. So I have the thing that happens at the end of each act for all five acts like where are we going to commercial break here? I kind of what’s happening there.
Beyond that, I do plot out an act level and I say, ‘Okay, in this act, we’re going to do this.’ I know some things that are happening ahead of here. But the thing that I find is I can’t keep going, unless I have a good strong foundation of what I’ve written before.
I tend to cycle through a book like, I will write Act I, I give to my husband, he reads it, he gives me some feedback, I rewrite it, then I write Act II and do the same thing.
I was at a writing retreat this weekend and there was a word count competition among everybody. And so I had to write Acts IV and V and I was like, ‘You know what, I’m at the end of the book, I know what’s going to happen, I will just write as fast as I can, and I’m going to win this competition.’
But I got to the end of Act IV, and I got stuck and I couldn’t write anymore in Act V. And I was like, ‘Oh, you just have to do your process, Jessie. You can’t force it.’ That’s an example of experimentation. Start with your strengths and don’t throw your strength out, which for me, is this cyclic process.
Joanna: That is a really good point. I would hate that word count contest. I always feel that’s what happens in NaNoWriMo, as well; there’s some people who always do like 50,000 words in one day or something.
Jessie: Oh, my, gosh.
Joanna: I’ve only done NaNoWriMo once back in originally, when I started Stone of Fire. I only ‘wrote’ 20,000 words in a month and only about 5,000 words of those ended up in the book. My strength is not hardcore words done.
It’s interesting you were on a writer’s retreat, and they were presumably assuming that you could just write a lot of words.
Isn’t this one of the issues in the writing community? We compete on things that aren’t necessarily our strengths?
Jessie: Yes, absolutely. There was the word count board that was going up every day. One woman wrote 40,000 words in the four days that we were there, and I was just like, well, as soon as I saw her numbers going up I was like, ‘Well, there’s no competition here.’
Joanna: I’m just going to give up now. I guess word count might kind of come into my next question. You have a great section on ideas. I know some people struggle with ideas.
Let’s assume people have lots of ideas. How can we flesh an idea into a story? And also, how do we know what that story is? Is it a short story? Or is it a series or standalone? We’ve got an idea.
Did you see the wreck of a Shackleton’s ship just got discovered? [BBC]
Jessie: Oh, yeah.
Joanna: Obviously, I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s cool. What kind of story could that be?’
How do we take a seed of an idea and flesh that out?
Jessie: One thing that works really well, for me is freewriting about it or journaling on it. Just getting away from the computer and playing with the idea on paper, until it starts expanding and unfolding.
Another thing that I’ve been experimenting with lately is using tarot cards. That was partly inspired by your podcast with Caroline Donahue on tarot, I think it was from a few years back. It gives you the sort of interesting imagery that will combine with maybe the idea you had, and spark or your brain going in a bunch of different directions. So those are two tools that I tend to use when it comes to fleshing out an idea.
Another really good thing to try is keeping a collection file, whether that’s on your computer, or whether that’s articles you might physically cut out of a newspaper. Or images you might print out, and collecting all this imagery and words and ideas in one place and watching that accrete and grow over time.
That can be a really interesting way of building on a single story idea that you might have and being inspired by the world around you.
Joanna: I use the Things app and I’m always, always finding stuff. It might be links to an article or it might be a quote or it might be just what about this or. So I keep lots and lots of notes and that’s just on my phone.
I have journals and things but they’re almost fragments, aren’t they? Snippets that you find in the world.
Jessie: Yes. I think it’s really fun to see how those start to combine and grow with each other. It’s almost like throwing a bunch of seeds in a garden and then seeing what starts to pop up. Except that with writing, the seeds will join with each other and come up with a weird hybrid.
Joanna: Yes, and that’s what originality really is, isn’t it? Because, of course, it’s not original, like romance. Somebody meets somebody or more than one somebody and there’s trouble and then they all get together or whatever. That’s not original.
What’s original is all the little things we add to make it our work.
Joanna: Let’s just come back to the Shackleton idea, because I want us to try and give an example. I’ll put a link in the show notes. But essentially, Shackleton’s lost ship was found last week in the Antarctic, and this is an undiscovered shipwreck 107 years after it disappeared. This is very cool, right?
So this is I’m sure it’s an idea for lots of people that’s why I’m going to put it out there. If we had that seed of an idea, so underwater wreck rediscovered, how would we know? Or how would we turn that into, let’s say, a short story?
Or how would we turn that idea into something much bigger?
Jessie: One of the skills that you start to acquire as an author is knowing how much story can fit in a container. And this is something that I had to learn and it took me forever to figure out.
I tried to write a short story and I would try to include, okay, here’s this big geopolitical event, and then here’s this international scandal. And then here’s this person also has a conflict with like their father, and then their boyfriend’s breaking up with them or whatever.
I’m trying to write a 2,000-word short story with all of that, that’s not going to work.
If you were going to take the Shackleton’s ship idea, and asking yourself if you wanted to write a short story, what is one of the smallest problems that could come that my protagonist could have about this?
If you were writing a scientist who’s discovering it, you could write a novel about the office politics and the international concern over who found the ship and who should own the ship. This huge history and you could have this backstory of involving flashbacks to Shackleton’s journey and things like that.
Or you could say, ‘Okay, my protagonist, this is their very first expedition, and they really need to prove themselves because of X, Y, or Z. And how does this event help them either accomplish that goal or change their goal into something else?’
Narrowing your focus into that, the biggest problem you’re trying to solve in a single-story, I think can really help scale your idea up or down.
Joanna: And also the number of characters that you have.
Joanna: Yes, so like you said, let’s take a deep-sea scuba diver, or some submariner. I’m not quite sure how deep it is. But let’s say a submariner and they’re piloting the ship and it’s going to go down.
The short story is potentially there was an emergency and they have to overcome their fear or something like that. I like quest action-adventure thrillers, so in my head, the longer novel idea is the submariner goes down, and they find a box in the wreck. And they get the box back up, and they open the box, and they find a map. And thus begins an adventure through Antarctica.
But then there’s more people, there’s more plot points, and immediately, you get something much bigger than 2,000 words. So as you say, what’s the smallest story unit that you can make with this idea?
I personally think the Shackleton thing is probably going to be novel size. What do you reckon?
Jessie: Probably. Especially if we were working on this book together, I would say the map is actually leading to some sort of alien artifact and I’m going to throw the sci-fi element in there. And now we’re going to have this like a big intergalactic thing that happens, so definitely a novel.
Joanna: Okay, that’s good. Obviously, coming back to your book, it is From Big Idea to Book. I do think that we’ve come up with what is possibly a big idea. Anyone listening, you’re welcome to turn it into a book.
I think this is another thing, isn’t it, about attitude? You and I’ve been doing this long enough. We met years ago now in Oregon, and I feel like when you’ve been doing this long enough, you don’t mind. Or are you happy to throw out ideas? Because even if you and I both wrote those books that we just talked about, they’d be completely different.
Ideas are abundant.
Jessie: I really think so. There are definitely ideas that I have stolen from other people or borrowed or whatever the polite artistic term would be. I don’t have time to write everything that I might possibly have an idea for. So if I read a book where somebody found this alien artifact in the Shackleton ship and ran with it. And they were like, ‘Oh, I listened to your podcast,’ I’d be like, ‘Awesome, because I wanted to read that story, but I don’t have time to write it.’
Joanna: Exactly. Although, even if six thriller writers took it and had the box and opened the box, I bet we’d all put different things in the box. It’s actually a good writing prompt for everyone listening, what is in the box?
Jessie: Yeah. That can be a fun anthology.
Joanna: Actually that’s a good point. When you do a Shackleton anthology, but this is what’s so fun about story ideas. And this is what I think I want people to consider, anything you look at could turn into a story, and you get to decide the angle, right?
You picked an alien. And I’m never going to write about aliens. I say never but who knows, but I’m not into sci-fi. But you went that way, I went to the thriller side. That’s the personal choice of ideas, too, isn’t it?
Jessie: Right, it’s the interest that you bring to it. But then it’s also your past experience, and the things that you see in the world are going to be different than the things that I see in the world.
The details that you’re going to notice, the emotional response you’re going to bring to it.
That’s what I think is so fascinating about writing. There’s everyone’s retelling fairytale stories. There’s so many fairytale retellings, and all of them are so different.
Joanna: That’s a really good point. I don’t read those, to be honest. But I know what you mean. Even take something that’s at the cinema right now, ‘The Batman.’ Seriously, how come they are just rebooting this again?
You could say it’s a nightmare, they’re still doing the same idea over and over again. But on the other hand, they are all different, they are different characters, they are different sort of themes and all of that.
So yes, we can take these ideas and do different things. But you also have a great section on mindset. We’ve touched on mindset. But let’s say we’ve got this brilliant Shackleton story, and we write it down. And inevitably, our words just don’t come out the way we want, especially on the first pass, they’re like, ‘Oh, this is terrible.
How can we deal with that critical voice that says, ‘Everything you do is terrible,’ at the same time is also balancing that with improving our craft?
Jessie: On occasion, throw out questions to other writers as I was working on this book. This was one that I threw out on Twitter and said, ‘How does everyone deal with critical voice?’
I got the most responses to this question because it’s something everyone deals with. One of my favorite things people would do was just put a sticky note on their laptop that said, ‘This is a discovery draft,’ or, ‘This is my bad writing.’ So you see it and you’re like, ‘Okay, right, this doesn’t have to be good.’
Or practicing bad writing was another thing that I kept hearing from people; the idea of doing morning pages. Letting yourself write badly, and doing it in a cheap journal or something where it’s not your beautiful leather-bound journal where all the words have to be preserved for posterity. Giving yourself that mental cue that, it’s okay to write badly here.
One thing that I like is using a different tool like, I mentioned, the cheap notebook. If you give me a beautiful notebook, I am just instant writer’s block, but give me a little spiral-bound notebook and I can write forever.
Or the AlphaSmart Neo, one of those little word processors that they used to use in school that doesn’t have a screen and it just has a few lines of text. Gets you away from where you write your finished product. And puts you in a space where you are just going to the word mines and pulling out the words that you can use to build the finished product later.
That’s how I like to look at it. I’m putting sand in the sandbox, and then I will build a sandcastle, but you can’t build the sandcastle without the sand first.
Joanna: I use Scrivener to write and I feel like it’s about trust in the process.
Once you’ve been through this creative cycle enough times, you know that critical voice is just part of the process.
It’s almost like you have to learn to write alongside it as opposed to try and banish it. So we don’t say go away forever. We say, ‘Okay, trust the process.’ And critical voice comes in when we edit. So that’s fine.
Also, I personally, I don’t use beta readers. I use professional editors. So I feel like as part of my process, I will always have someone who will stop it being terrible, you know what I mean?
Jessie: I agree with that.
Joanna: It’s finding a process that saves you from thinking that that awfulness will go out in the world.
Jessie: I find myself very often when I’m at a place where I’m like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t feel like it’s sparkly and amazing prose.’ And I’m like, ‘You know what, this is still going to my editor. Kiera’s going to look at it, she’s going to fix things. And then I will have one more chance to do a pass and make it like, beautiful and gleaming.’ And I’m just like, ‘Okay, this is where I stop and send it off.’
Having a professional editor who you trust is amazing.
Joanna: I totally agree. Let’s stick with editing because you talk about rediscovering and developing the core idea in your draft during this editing and revision. I find this interesting, because, in fact, I think Stephen King talks about this in On Writing, the book everyone needs to read, which is that theme that emerges later.
Some authors obviously decide on a theme and then write something to a theme. But I’m definitely one of those who’s like, I don’t even know what’s happening until later as a discovery writer.
What do you mean by rediscovering and developing the core idea?
Jessie: I definitely agree with Stephen King about the theme emerging later as you’re either in the revision process or maybe near the end of the book. That’s often where I’m like, ‘Well, I’ve used this getting swept away by the sea metaphor, a lot of times, maybe my theme is about your life destabilizing, and how do you fix that? Interesting.’
One thing I find helps is getting some distance from the book, and from the actual words that are on the page and start thinking about the story more as a whole. One way you can do that is printing out your first draft and then reading through it with a cup of tea and a journal.
Not a red pen, you’re not editing, you’re just you’re writing down what you’re noticing, as you’re reading through. Or telling a story to a friend can be another really helpful way to do that.
One thing that I really love is writing your back cover copy, and just saying, ‘This is what the story is about.’ It also helps you focus in on what readers you’re going after, as well.
Again, at this writing retreat I was at this weekend, one woman said that she always writes a review of her book, just like a professional reviewer would. And she used to work as a professional reviewer. So that’s kind of her method anyways.
She writes about, here’s the strengths of the book, here’s why you’re going to love it. It was a little lackluster over here. But this author is really more drawn to these sorts of things.
I love that because she includes those highlights, and the like, ‘Eh, this is maybe where the book fell down a little bit.’ Because you can’t do everything perfectly all the time and you’re not trying to write for everyone.
To be able to say, ‘This book isn’t necessarily for readers of Iain Banks who want these big weird sci-fi ideas. But if you love like great characters, and fast-paced, twisty plots, you’re really going to love these books.’
It helps me at least, because speaking specifically with my books. ‘I don’t have to be Iain Banks. My reviewers love my characters. They don’t care about did I invent this crazy new alien species?’
Joanna: That’s really important is focusing in and again, like we said,
It’s about your curiosity, and what you enjoy as a reader, and the experience you like to deliver in your books.
I picked Shackleton there because I just read an undersea thriller, I love undersea thrillers. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got an idea for an under…’ I’ve written a number of short stories underwater, and it’s like, ‘Okay, that’s really cool.’ We have to keep tapping into that, what we love.
I like that you say develop the core idea because it’s in that editing process that you can go and layer in some more symbols, or some more backstory. Or foreshadowing anything that helps layer on that core idea, not so it’s really obvious and on the nose. But it just is adding things in to make it richer and deepen it.
Jessie: Yes, you’re just adding in more little layers of notes and color, and things that just create richer, deeper experiences people are reading through.
Joanna: Have you seen ‘The Crown’ on Netflix?
Jessie: No, I haven’t.
Joanna: Oh, okay. It was a big series on Netflix, but we just watched their fourth series right now, I’ve watched it for the second time. What we noticed on the second way through is how much metaphor they layer in the background of the scenes.
I’m learning a lot about storytelling from it, because of the way they’re using visuals in the background. They might have a discussion about Princess Diana while someone is slaughtering a beast. And you’re like, ‘Okay, I can see the metaphor.’
When you can see it, it feels heavy, but we didn’t see it the first time around. I feel like in our books it’s good to layer in things that perhaps people don’t notice as they read through. But it comes through in the visual effects we’re using and the dialogue we’re using.
We’re talking about real craft here, I know.
That’s the kind of thing I’m thinking about now trying to deepen my books in that way.
Jessie: I interviewed Rachael Herron for this book. I talked specifically about editing with her because she’s so good at it, and has spoken quite a bit about it.
One of the things that she said was if she is writing a book where the theme is, say, mother-daughter relationships and she has a scene where the characters are walking through a mall, and talking about something, she might have in the original draft written a couple teenagers goofing off in the background.
Instead, why not have it be a mom with a little girl toddler who’s pulling away from her hand and racing away while the mom’s calling after her? That’s the thematic element that she’s trying to get at. So even this little scene in the background, ‘Oh, wait, here’s the place where I can layer that in a little bit better.’
Joanna: That is exactly right. And Rachael is a genius.
Jessie: She is.
Joanna: Everyone should go listen to her podcast.
Your book is fantastic. I also wanted to talk about how you published it, because you’re a hybrid author with indie and traditionally published books. This book is out with Microcosm Publishing.
I noticed because, of course, I have a copy. And I was like, ‘Wow, this is really nice art in here from this publishing house, which I’ve not seen before.’ It’s out of Portland in Oregon. So presumably, it’s quite funky.
You did a Kickstarter for it, which we’re going to talk about.
Tell us about the pros and cons of working with a small press and why you decided to go that way.
Jessie: I have nothing but amazing things to say about Microcosm Publishing, they are like you said, they’re very funky. They have this DIY punk aesthetic.
They originally started, I think, almost about 30 years ago. The founder, Joe Biel, he would create scenes and then bike with them on the back of his bike to a punk bar, and then sell them off the counter of the punk bar.
From there, he built this incredible, tiny little publishing empire. And he and his partner, Elly Blue, they’re both incredibly business-savvy people.
They obviously, as you mentioned, do fantastic design work, really cool little artwork inside all the books. They run their own distribution. They’ve got a dedicated sales team that’s working to get books into obviously bookstores, but also unique places like gift shops, because they have a lot of books that would be a good gift sort of thing. A store that might sell plants, they also will have Microcosm’s books on how to garden, things like that.
One of the reasons that I started working with them, A, I was friends with Elly. And so when I brought up the idea for this book, I’d been thinking about self-publishing it, and she was like, ‘That sounds like something that would be perfect for Microcosm. We’d love to take this book if you want to publish it.’ Or as…sorry, actually speaking of From Chaos to Creativity, which was the first book, I published with them.
I immediately said, ‘Yes,’ because I am a freelancer, as my half-day job, and a fiction writer is my other half-day job. I’m already split between these two worlds, and I’m spending all this time trying to build up my fiction audience.
I knew realistically, I don’t have time to try to build a nonfiction audience as well in this creative productivity space. And I certainly don’t have time to try to get call bookshops, and gift shops all around the world and try to get my books in there. So I just knew, working with Microcosm, they were going to be able to promote this book way better than I ever could. So it was kind of a no-brainer, in that case with them.
Joanna: That’s so interesting, because basically, what you’ve said is, I’ve got these two brands, your freelance brand, and your fiction brand, and you just could not do another brand, essentially.
Joanna: A lot of people do ask me about how many pen names should you have? I often say I struggle enough with two with J.F. Penn for my fiction and Joanna Penn for my nonfiction.
It sounds like a similar issue, in a sense, and you’re kind of thinking, ‘Well, I just can’t do more under almost another brand, even if it’s the same name.’ But I think that’s so fascinating because that’s not a reason I’ve heard although, I guess you could say it’s, I don’t want to do the marketing.
Does that mean they’re doing all the marketing? Obviously you’re doing this interview. Are you doing other marketing for them?
Jessie: Essentially, all the marketing that I’m doing is this kind of publicity stuff. Podcasts or writing articles for different places. I still do a really small amount of content marketing to build this creative productivity brand.
But they’re doing any sort of advertising; they’ve got a big newsletter there at events, pushing my books in person. They’re doing all the marketing in that aspect.
Joanna: Would you ever consider a small press or a big publisher for your fiction?
Jessie: I think for my fiction, at this point, I would consider a big publisher. I think a small press, I don’t know that they could do it better than what I’m doing for myself, because I am doing that for myself.
Whereas I feel like I could do a decent job with the content marketing and stuff for the nonfiction if I was really focused on it. But again, with the distribution Microcosm, just they have me beat completely, there’s no way that I could get that level of distribution for at least for physical books.
For fiction, I think the place that I would look for a hybrid publishing opportunity in fiction would be a larger publisher who would have a bigger audience and be able to promote my books in ways that I can’t get to at this point. But I think a small press with fiction, I don’t know if that would be the right fit.
Joanna: That idea of fit is really interesting because essentially, you’ve assessed what you can do and what your strengths are. And then you’ve looked for a partner who can do things that you can’t.
I really feel this is what we need to be doing as indies now, I’ve come to this realization, I keep coming to it, but we cannot do everything ourselves. We want to be independent, but that doesn’t mean working alone. Does it?
We work with other people to achieve our goals.
Jessie: Absolutely. Working with somebody who was on the same page as you, I think is really important. That I feel very aligned from a philosophical standpoint, and from an indie writer sort of standpoint with the team at Microcosm.
Joanna: Yeah, they do look, as I said, super funky.
Jessie: They’re fantastic. They have so many fun books. They’re doing a bunch of queer werewolf erotica right now. It’s awesome. Everything they do is so fun.
Joanna: That is, and also the Kickstarter. So you did or they did a Kickstarter, and you did a little video for it. What’s so funny is we talk right now, Brandon Sanderson’s epic, Kickstarter is still running and it’s like over 25 million or something.
I feel like a lot of authors now want to do Kickstarter. But also I feel it might be easier with nonfiction to get some traction because it’s kind of obvious what you’re going to get. Whereas fiction, you really need to be a fan.
I’ve got a book right here that I supported on Kickstarter that I don’t know the author at all, have no connection with the author, it’s just I like the title. And it’s a nonfiction business book. So I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to try that.’
Tell us about the Kickstarter and any tips for that.
Jessie: As you mentioned, it was really Microcosm that did the Kickstarter. So I don’t want my first tip to be, have somebody who can do it for you.
Joanna: That’s a good tip though.
Jessie: They do. They kickstart all of their new books and it’s their way of getting pre-orders out for the books, and building their audience. So they’ve been doing this forever.
Essentially, all I needed to do, I went down to their office and recorded a little video and they were like, ‘Why don’t you just like go dance and twirl in among the books.’ I’m like, ‘Sweet, let’s do it.’ So it was a really, really fun silly video. And then I was also promoting it to my own audience. So that’s kind of the aspect that I did.
One of the things with Kickstarter, because we did this for both From Big Idea to Book and then From Chaos to Creativity, having the stretch goals that can get people excited.
For example, with From Chaos to Creativity we added on a workbook halfway through because we were brainstorming ideas for a stretch goal. And that workbook I think was super, super popular. We didn’t end up doing that with From Big Idea to Book. I don’t know if it would have worked out in the same way.
The stretch goal that we did for that one was, I think it was like if we got to 300 backers, then people could be eligible to have a Zoom call with me and I do a little presentation. We didn’t quite make it there. I think it just wasn’t as exciting to people. We’re all on Zoom all day long. So maybe that was part of it. Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, Zoom.’
But coming up with something that adds more value in maybe a more tangible way than say the hangout obviously wasn’t as valuable. That’s one tip.
Joanna: I’ve just looked it up on Kickstarter. There were 281 backers pledging over 9,000 US dollars to bring that to life. I think that’s brilliant because we hear the Brandon Sanderson 25 million or whatever and we think that’s what you have to do.
But what this is essentially, as you said, these are pre-orders on a nonfiction book. And okay, so it exceeded the goal of 7,000. Do you know how they put those numbers on it? Do they normally do that kind of $7,000?
Or is the idea to set it low enough that it will fund regardless?
Jessie: I think the idea is to set it low enough that funds regardless, because as we said there, it’s more of a preorder. And the book’s coming out, it’s not we won’t but they also tried to make it a little bit of a challenge.
I’m not sure exactly what goes into how they set the numbers. But we did with From Chaos to Creativity, I believe the original number was 4,000 and we more than doubled that. So I think they were like, ‘Well, if we more than doubled it, let’s almost more than double the next book, because she’s already got an audience, there’s already a little bit of buzz around it.’
They make sure that they’re covering their production costs and all of that sort of thing. But they are trying to make it a bit of a challenge and not just, ‘Oh, it’s $400. Let’s see if we can fund that.’
Joanna: Exactly. And in just looking at it, what’s interesting is they’ve used the page for your book to also include links to loads of other books that they’ve got on different things.
That’s how I feel about Kickstarter. It’s almost like this ecosystem, that if you start building an audience there, and then you put out multiple projects, then it does compound over time.
You’ve got the benefit with this latest one, you’ve got the benefit of all the ones that have come before in terms of picking up people every time. I always think that when we think about Kickstarter, which I am, that it can’t just be a one-off, that you almost have to have a plan to do others in the future.
Jessie: Yes, and the idea of working with other people on this, whether that’s getting people to donate maybe an eBook that you can use as part of the Kickstarter reward.
Or in one case, a friend of mine did a Kickstarter recently, where each week, he had a different subscriber bonus. If you signed up in the first week, then you got all four of these extra eBooks that friends of his had donated. And if you signed up in week two, you got the three of them and so one of them went away every week. So it increased this, like, ‘Oh, I got to get in early. So I can get all of these little rewards.’
Joanna: That is a good tip. We’re almost out of time.
I want to come back to the book because the subtitle is ‘Create a Writing Practice That Brings You Joy.’ I feel like the word joy can be difficult for some people to associate with writing because it can feel like it’s difficult, or it’s a struggle, or it has to be really important. So having joy might be difficult.
What are your final tips around finding joy in writing?
Jessie: I think it goes back to letting go of what you think you should be doing, how you think you should be writing, and what the outcome of your writing is going to be.
I think most of us got into writing because we liked telling stories, or we wrote stories as kids. I certainly did when I was a kid and I was writing stories. It wasn’t so I could make a bestseller list or pay my mortgage.
I find the times when I’m so frustrated with writing are when I’m looking at a book and being like, ‘Okay, is this going to sell? Is this going to pay the mortgage?’
If you can let that outcome go and just focus on, ‘What do we love about this? Oh, I love dialogue. I love when the characters come alive and that sparkles, how can I get more of that?’
In the end, you can’t control outcomes, you can certainly do your best to market your book and sell your book. But the only thing you can control is your daily process and that’s where you’re going to be spending your most time.
I really, really encourage you to think, how are you spending your days writing? Do you want to still be that happy or that miserable five years from now as you’re still working on your writing career because it takes a while?
Joanna: It absolutely does. Brilliant.
Where can people find you and your books and everything you do online?
Jessie: You can find everything at jessiekwak.com. So everything’s there. I’m on Instagram and Twitter. And basically, if you Google me I’m the only Jessie Kwak you’ll find in like 10 pages of Google results. So I’m easily findable.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Jessie. That was great.
Jessie: Awesome. Thank you so much, Joanna.
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Author: Joanna Penn