Mental Models For Writers And The Empowered Indie Author With Michael LaRonn

Writing is absolutely about the practical step of getting words on the page — but your mindset can make the difference between success and failure, as well as how much you enjoy the author journey.

In this interview, Michael La Ronn outlines mental models for writers, facing our fears to break through to creative success, as well as practical tips about writing on mobile and self-publishing effectively.

In the intro, insights into subscription models [ALLi blog]; how my process for Tree of Life differed from my other novels, and JD Barker’s episode on How to Develop Bestselling Story Ideas; Self-Publishing Online Conference on Tools and Tech for Indie Authors; and my interview about the state of the self-publishing industry on the Story Studio Podcast.


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

Michael La Ronn is the author of 45 books, spanning science fiction, fantasy, poetry, and nonfiction. He’s a YouTuber, podcaster, and professional speaker, and is also the U.S. ambassador and outreach manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors where he co-hosts a show with Orna Ross on self-publishing advice. His books for authors include Be a Writing Machine, Mental Models for Writers, and 150 Self-Publishing Questions Answered.

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

Show Notes

  • Reclaiming writing time by writing on a phone
  • The different mental models that serve writers
  • How to take steps to self-publishing that are empowering
  • How YouTube can work for introverted authors. Check out Michael’s channel, Author Level Up. You can also listen to the original interview we did on video marketing for authors here.
  • What the indie author community can do to support authors of color. Watch Michael’s powerful video, Some Thoughts on the Color of my Skin
  • What might the future of publishing look like? Michael’s 6-year-old daughter uses voice search like a pro.

You can find Michael La Ronn at and on Twitter @MichaelLaRonn. He’s also on YouTube at Author Level Up.

Transcript of Interview with Michael La Ronn

Joanna: Michael La Ronn is the author of 45 books, spanning science fiction, fantasy, poetry, and nonfiction. He’s a YouTuber, podcaster and professional speaker, and is also the U.S. ambassador and outreach manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors where he co-hosts a show with Orna Ross on self-publishing advice. His books for authors include Be a Writing Machine, Mental Models for Writers, and 150 Self-Publishing Questions Answered. Welcome, Michael.

Michael: Hi, Joanna. It’s great to be back.

Joanna: I’m so thrilled to have you back on the show. Now, you were on the podcast back in 2016. I can’t believe it’s been so long.

Michael: Time has flown.

Joanna: We talked back then around video marketing for authors. So tell us, give us an update.

How have things changed for you since 2016 and what does your author career look like right now?

Michael: My author career looks completely different than the last time I talked to you. It’s really quite remarkable.

When I talked to you in 2016, I think I had maybe 15, 16 books. Now I’ve got nearly 50, and my YouTube channel has grown exponentially. I have a YouTube channel, it’s called Author Level Up, and every Friday I publish a video on how to help writers master the craft of writing.

Now, I don’t hold myself out as an expert. I’m still learning, but I try to share, transparently, my journeys and what I’m learning to be a better writer. I do writing craft videos, writing advice videos, writing app review videos. And we have a lot of fun doing that. YouTube has just been a amazing Swiss army knife for me in my career.

When I first started in 2014, I thought it was going to be an utter failure. I didn’t really think anyone would watch it. And it was one of those things where you look back on it, it’s like, wow, it completely changed the course of my career.

YouTube is the reason I was on your show for the first time, because I had some videos that you saw for the first time. Just recently, this past month, I got invited to speak at the Annual Writer’s Digest Conference because the editor in chief happened to be on YouTube one day and she saw one of my videos. It has ensured that I am always in demand with public speaking events, which helps with my book sales, and I’ve released some books since the last time we talked, and it’s just been a really, really fun ride for me.

Joanna: Wow. That’s so interesting because, of course, this podcast I credit for being part of my business and bringing in multiple streams of income.

Are you a full-time writer at the moment, and what are your streams of income?

Michael: I’m not a full-time writer yet, but my biggest streams of income are from eBooks and audio. Audio is my big bright spot right now, also YouTube and affiliate income. Those are my big streams right now. I’ve got some other ones like courses and things like that, but those are my big streams.

Joanna: Can I ask what your day job is?

Michael: Yes. I am a consultant at a Fortune 100 insurance company here in the United States. So it has nothing to do with writing at all. When I go to work, I do not have my writing hat on. So it’s interesting how I have to switch constantly between both of those.

Joanna: Wow. But also you have written that many books while also having a demanding day job. I used to be a consultant as well, so I know that you have to work decent hours. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I just clock off.’ So that’s incredible that you’ve managed to achieve so much while still working a day job.

I want to get into it then because your book Be a Writing Machine is a bit about this.

I’m fascinated by an early line in the book, which says, “30% to 40% of my writing is done on my phone.” What does that mean?

Michael: A lot of people ask me about this because I say that I write on my phone, and I usually say ‘casually,’ because I think that people know what I mean. It’s amazing how people still don’t know what that means. So I had to do it because of necessity.

As you said, I work a lot of hours in my day job. I have a young family. I’m married. I have a six-year-old daughter. I’ve got a puppy, a pet rabbit, and I’m also in law school right now, believe it or not. I’m taking law school classes in the evenings.

Joanna: Oh, my goodness.

Michael: I’m just a glutton for punishment, I guess. I started writing on my phone because I had to do it out of necessity. I realized one morning that if I didn’t do something, my word counts were just going to keep dropping and dropping and dropping.

I had to figure out a way to continue writing at the pace that I like to write at. I found out about Scrivener iOS. So I downloaded Scrivener iOS and Ulysses iOS. And I’ve used those to write in the cracks of life. I had a friend that said that once.

I’ve learned how to write on my phone and write novels, like actual novels on my phone while I’m in the backseat of an Uber car, while I’m in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, while I’m standing in line at the grocery store. And all those little writing sessions, it might be two or three minutes at a time, they add up in a really, really big way over the day.

I’ve done the math that about 30% to 40% of my time, writing comes from my phone. And that’s because I’ve reclaimed time during the day that I would not normally have been able to write.

Joanna: I’ve got to ask you more about this. Scrivener on iOS. I now have Scrivener on my phone as well, but what I am concerned about is the syncing between the phone version and the one I use on my desktop. Have you had any issues with syncing?

Michael: Every once in a while, there will be an issue with syncing. It usually goes away. Scrivener, on their forums, they’ve got a lot of robust resources to help you with that if that ever becomes an issue. But I found that the syncing on Scrivener isn’t as much of a problem for me as it might be for other people, but that’s just my personal experience.

Joanna: I have a copy of Scrivener on my phone that I use on Dropbox. This is my phone version, and then I copy and paste anything I did on my phone, but I’m really using mine for writing prompts for dictation while I’m out walking. You’re actually typing with your fingers and thumbs into the Scrivener file?

Michael: Yes, all fingers and thumbs. I usually will start in the very early morning because I like to wake up about 5:00, 5:30 in the morning and write while my daughter is asleep. And I’ll write on my desktop. And then when I go to work, on breaks, I’ll just sync and then I can pick up where I left off.

Joanna: You write fiction and nonfiction. You write novels on it.

Do you find that particular things are easier to write on your phone?

Michael: When I first started, it was really hard because I felt like I have to have a keyboard when I’m writing a novel. I feel like I just have to have a computer in front of me when I’m writing my books for writers. But I learned really quickly to just adjust my mindset just a little bit.

You can learn to exercise in 5 to 10 minutes a day. I’ve just learned that when I pull out my phone, I just get into that mindset of writing. And it’s almost like a seamless transition, but it took me a few weeks to really get used to it, though.

Joanna: I think that really is a super power, especially when you’re as busy as you are. But also, I agree in terms of these little moments. I think I certainly feel now, I’m like, ‘Oh, well I need at least an hour to sink down into whatever frame of mind I need to write fiction.’

That may be an excuse, but also that doesn’t stop me doing nonfiction, for example, or other things that I might want to write about. So I think that’s a really good tip. Anything else in Be a Writing Machine that you particularly find is helpful for people?

Michael: The big thing with Be a Writing Machine is all about mindset. That’s your biggest enemy when you’re writing a book, 9 times out of 10, is going to be yourself. And if you can learn to get a handle on your fear, you can get a handle on your writing career, because, I forget who said it, it’s everything you want in life is on the other side of fear.

If you can tame that critical voice, as Dean Wesley Smith likes to say, then you can pretty much control your own destiny, and you can become prolific. And you can do just about anything you want to do, if you can silence that voice in your head.

Joanna: What are the types of fears that you have had to face personally, and how have you overcome them?

Michael: Fears of self-doubt is the big one. When you write your first book, your first book really encompasses your hopes and your fears in many ways. And my first book didn’t do very well. And so I thought, ‘Oh, you know, should I keep doing this or should I not keep doing it?’

I just had to learn that at the end of the day, this is what makes me whole. I love writing. Writing for me, when I sit down every day, I’m just having so much fun when I do it, and when I’m not doing it, I’m miserable. And so even if I do publish a book that doesn’t do as well as I want it to do, that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to do well forever.

It could just be that it’s not the right book for the readers at this time. And when you think about it like that, then it just inspires you to just keep stepping up to the plate and just keep swinging the bat. And, eventually, you’re going to hit something, and it’s going to be a good thing for your mental health as well.

Joanna: So your books, are they generally short? Because you have so many books now. Are they shorter books? I definitely found Be a Writing Machine is concise but is packed full of value so is a fantastic short book for writers.

What kind of length are you writing?

Michael: My nonfiction books usually end up between 20,000 and 50,000 words. Mental Models for Writers is closer to around 50,000 to 60,000. My novels are usually in the ballpark of 40,000 to 60,000. I tend to write on the short side. That’s just kind of how my brain is wired.

Joanna: Me too. My full-length novels are around 60,000. I like reading books at that length as well. So you mentioned the mental models for writers there.

What are some of these mental models?

Michael: A mental model is, very simply put, a framework of thinking that you can use. You can almost put it on like a hat. So whenever you have a problem that you’re facing, whether it be in your writing life or in your marketing or in your business, you can take this idea, put it on and see the world through the lens of this concept.

A great example of a mental model is the model of Hanlon’s razor, which basically says that ‘never ascribe to malice what could be ascribed to incompetence.’ So maybe you get an email from somebody or you’re coming across a situation where maybe you think someone is sabotaging you. You think that that’s the case, but if you put that model on, you think about that, maybe it has nothing to do with malice. Maybe it’s just incompetence.

And if you operate from that assumption, then it changes how you deal with the problem, and it prevents further issues from becoming bigger.

For example, I have another model in the book. It’s one I’ve experienced myself, which is the model of micro-focus. The United States Navy SEALs, they go through some of the most intense, rigorous training you can think of. And the dropout rate in the basic training is pretty high, but the ones who succeed are the ones who adopt this focus of micro-focus.

Instead of focusing on getting through the boot camp, instead, when you’re crawling through the mud with barbed wire fences over you, and there’s a thunderstorm and it’s raining like cats and dogs, don’t focus on getting out of boot camp, focus on moving your arm and then move your arm again. And if you apply that to a manuscript, when you’re stuck in a murky middle of your book, that can help you power through.

Joanna: I like the idea of the mental models. I also think another way of thinking about it is, like you say, putting on a hat, and one of our hats is the creative hat, and another hat needs to be the publisher hat.

And the other one might need to be, for example, the marketing hat, which many authors obviously resist.

Challenging yourself to shift into a different mental model can change your perspective on the situation.

Michael: Absolutely. I work in insurance so I have to deal with a lot of problems in a very right-brained and analytical way every day. I’ve found that when I’m dealing with marketing and business issues, that a lot of those lessons that I learned in the corporate world, they’re easily transferable.

And there’s this idea that James Clear writes. James Clear is someone who’s written a lot about mental models. It’s this concept of liquid knowledge that you can take the knowledge that you learn from other areas of your life, liquefy it and bring it over into the writing life.

So you could do the same thing with ideas from science, and ideas from mathematics, and ideas from biology and psychology, with persuasion and influence. And you can take ideas that researchers and people who have been famous and made lots of breakthroughs and super successful, you can take their concepts and apply it to your writing and apply it to your writing life.

Joanna: And also having a fundamental belief that you can change your mindset and you can change things about your life. Sure, there are things that are difficult to change or impossible to change, but if you change your mindset, you can focus on a different angle of the way it is, I guess.

Michael: Yes. Like I said, your mind is the biggest obstacle. People get stuck in a theater of their own minds. They think that they can’t do something or they think that maybe they’re not good enough or maybe they’re feeling inadequate. And if you can just silence that, you can write your own ticket in life.

Joanna: And if you can’t silence it, sometimes you just have to live with it, running next to you and just to ignore it a bit.

I think another one of these mental models is, for me, I’ve always been someone who likes to be independent. And I feel like the model of self-publishing. Obviously, we’re both in the Alliance of Independent Authors and we both do podcasts there.

The Alliance of Independent Authors is all about empowering authors as creatives to run their own business, to take charge of their author career. And the word ‘self-publishing’ or ‘independent author’ is an empowering word that means you’re in charge of your author career.

I feel like some people have a mental model, which is self-publishing is second-rate, self-publishing is what you do if you can’t get a publisher, self-publishing is full of terrible books. And even those two views on the self-publishing world are still prevalent.

And, of course, you and I live in the empowered version of that, but is that what you found coming onto the book about 150 self-publishing questions?

What do you see as the mindset issues around even the idea of self-publishing?

Michael: That’s such a great point when you said that people have negative mental models. Because that’s so true. There are so many negative roadblocks that we tell ourselves.

I wrote a book with ALLi, and the book is called 150 Self-Publishing Questions. And I co-host the member Q&A podcast with Orna. We tend to get a lot of the same questions over and over again. What I suggested to Orna one day is, ‘We have all these questions that come in and they’re kind of all the same, why don’t we take these questions and put them into a book? And let’s take this book and let’s use it as a marketing vehicle for ALLi.’

We did that. And we tried to make the book as comprehensive as we could.

One of the things that I was experiencing as I was writing, it did keep coming back to mindset, because as you said, self-publishing is empowering. Everything that you do, every decision that you make is up to you. And for you and I, that’s empowering, that’s freeing, but for some people, that can be really scary.

How do you take the path of self-publishing and make it structured so that a writer that maybe isn’t familiar with all the terms or familiar with all of the things that they need to be thinking about, how do we get them the information that they need so that they can start to adopt that model of empowerment?

Joanna: Definitely, that first step is taking a leap, and sometimes you will have really technical questions, and it’s just because they’re afraid of even clicking a link and reading how to do it, or even just trying it.

I feel that people who are tech-phobic, but particularly, probably struggle a lot with self-publishing. But I did want to ask you…I mean, we’re not going to answer all the basic questions here. They can read the book, they can listen to your show with Orna.

Is there anything that you were like, ‘Wow, that is a surprising question. I did not expect that,’ or anything that challenged you personally in the book?

Michael: The biggest challenge for me was whittling down the number of questions that we had. I think I maybe started off with like 500 questions, and I was like, ‘No, I can’t do this. This is too much. I’ll pull my hair out. I’ll get gray hair. I’ll be 60 years old by the time this book comes out. It’s too much to manage.’

What surprised me that there were a lot of around cover design. That is actually one of the largest sections in the book. So we go through from the start of, ‘I need a book cover’ all the way until you get to the final piece where the designer delivers you a finished copy.

There are questions around, ‘Do I need to get a contract signed with my cover designer?’ Or ‘Does the cover designer own the copyright, or do I own the copyright?’ And so it was a lot of fun for me, just really digging deep into that particular topic, because there were a lot of questions around that.

ALLi sits on so much data. It’s really remarkable. If you look at all of the podcasts that they do, all of the blog posts that they do, there’s just a goldmine of data there. And it was a lot of fun for me to be able to figure out what the greatest hits were and incorporate those into the book.

Joanna: My little tip here is don’t use Papyrus fonts.

Michael: Please, no. No Papyrus, no Comic Sans, no Wingdings. Readers will come to your house with pitchforks and mobs, and that is a fact.

Joanna: It is. And you can really spot a self-published DIY cover from a mile off when you see some of those fonts. But the great thing is that we learn over the journey. I was actually going to ask you this, because I do have on my wall, I have ‘Create a body of work I’m proud of, 100 books by age 50.’ Now, I’m 45 and I’m only at book 30, so I might struggle to reach that goal.

But as someone with nearly 50 books at this point, do you find that your fear around releasing a book is dramatically reduced because you have so many books?

If one doesn’t quite hit when you release it, does it matter when you have such a big backlist?

Michael: No, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care anymore. I write the books that inspire me, and if they do well, great. If they don’t, it’s okay. We talked about Be a Writing Machine, I wrote that book purely because of therapy.

I had some issues with my biological father. I talk about this in the book, and he abandoned me when I was young, and I tried to reconnect with him, and he didn’t want anything to do with me. And so when I wrote that book, it was because I was hurting. I never thought in a million years that book would be one of my bestselling books in my catalog. And so I learned after Be a Writing Machine, I don’t care what happens when I publish a book, because who knows what could happen?

And so, right now, for example, I love to live on the line of ‘This book idea is either going to be really awesome, or it’s going to be ridiculous and it’s going to be a complete failure.’ That’s where I love to live.

I’m writing a book right now called the Indie Author Atlas, and it takes all of the things that an author needs to know and it turns them into fictional locations, like a travel guide. It’s inspired by ‘The Lonely Planet Travel Guides.’ And if the book succeeds, cool. If it doesn’t, that’s okay. I had a lot of fun writing it, and that’s what it’s all about for me.

Joanna: It is. I’m someone who buys any book with the word ‘Atlas’ in the title. So I’ll be getting that one. And, of course, I have my ‘Books and Travel’ podcast. I love travel. So that is a great idea.

I do think that your authenticity in your book and also on your YouTube channel…because let’s face it, YouTube, it’s very hard to not be authentic when you’re on video. Like people, humans can tell if there’s some BS. They can tell if you’re not being real or not.

I’ve also obviously had a YouTube channel for a long time. And I think you get more and more real, the more videos you do, because any sort of stiltedness disappears, doesn’t it, over time.

On book marketing in particular, do you recommend YouTube for authors or what are the types of authors that YouTube suits?

Michael: No, it’s not for everyone. I’ve taken a really weird stance. I’ve told people that if you are an introvert, YouTube is probably something you should consider. And people ask me, ‘Why would you say that? You’re putting yourself on camera. You’re putting yourself out there.’

I respond by saying, ‘Yes, I recognize that you’ve gotta put yourself on camera. You’re introverted. It’s a challenge.’ Look at me, I’m a textbook INTJ on the Myers-Briggs scale. I’m usually not somebody who’s going to mingle in a crowd. I’m usually standing by the wall drinking a soda or something at a party.

But the great thing about video is that each video you make is almost like a little employee for you. And it goes out and it advocates on your behalf while you’re sleeping. So you’re engaging with people, but you’re doing it through video. So you make a video once and people are interacting with it. And that’s like the best tool for an introvert, in my opinion.

[Watch Michae’s video here on How to Start a YouTube channel]

Now, in terms of genres, I think nonfiction is perfectly suited for YouTube. If you write anything that is educational, and if you can make it entertaining, I think with YouTube the world is your oyster there. And I think fiction writers can succeed there too.

You have to be a little careful with fiction because you don’t want to spam your books too much. But I do think that there’s something to be said about documenting your writing journey on YouTube and doing it in video, because most people don’t do it. And so if you do do it, by virtue of doing it, you’re going to stand out.

Joanna: Do you have tips on Author Level Up about how to do YouTube for authors?

Michael: Yes. I do have a video on that. The big thing is don’t be too afraid of what you look like on camera. Just make sure that the background behind you looks pleasant. It’s not too cluttered. Make sure that you’ve got adequate lighting.

If you can, record by a window, and just make sure your sound is good because the sound will make or break the video. And you can get started by shooting videos on your phone. That’s how I started.

Joanna: And the phone has got so much better. I started out way back then with a flip cam back when they were the thing. And over the years, I now just use my MacBook Pro camera. You can get as technical as you like, but I agree with you, just start with what you have.

It’s funny you mentioned James Clear. I have so many things on my wall, but one of them is a quote from him about habits. And he says, ‘the results of our efforts are often delayed.’ I have that there because we often want immediate results.

I feel like with YouTube people are like, ‘I put up a video and nobody came.’ And like you said, your channel has grown over time.

What are your thoughts on how long does it take to build up an audience as an author, as a YouTuber?

Michael: For YouTube, it just depends on how hard you’re willing to work. Honestly, with YouTube, in order to really start accelerating your audience, you really want to have at least 1,000 subscribers and…I think it’s 4,000 watch hours per year.

That’s when you can start monetizing your channel. That’s when you start getting a little bit better visibility. So if you did a weekly YouTube video and you looked at all of the ways to maximize your reach, maximize your visibility, get good thumbnails, that’s really important on YouTube, you probably could get there in a year if you wanted to get to 1,000 subscribers.

It’s not always that easy. If you’re an author trying to build a community on YouTube, the number one key is what’s going to make you different compared to everyone else out there. And particularly if you do it on writing or if you do it on travel or if you do it on health and nutrition, there are a thousand other channels out there.

Understanding your ‘why’ on why you’re doing it and having a crystal clear message on what it is that you’re going to offer your audience. That’s going to help you.

It’s not always easy. You don’t always find out what it is that your audience wants when you start. So you’ve gotta be willing to start and then be willing to pivot when your audience starts giving you feedback on what they like and don’t like about your content.

Joanna: That is true. I went to audio-only, or mostly audio only earlier this year. I lose track of the years. But, essentially, that was very interesting because I had thought I would pull off YouTube altogether.

But what I’ve discovered is a lot of people will listen to an audio-only YouTube video because a lot of people that is how they consume content is just on YouTube. So even if you’re doing audio-only, I think it’s still worth doing.

Michael: That’s a great point. And there’s a lot of people that listen to YouTube while they’re working. Maybe they don’t listen to a podcast app. Maybe they have YouTube on the background while they’re at work. I’ve got a lot of people who tell me that that’s how they listen to a lot of my videos too.

Joanna: Exactly. So you are not your market, is the thing. I don’t even go on YouTube much at all. However, talking of your videos, you made a really incredible video talking about your personal thoughts as a black author.

Now, we’re recording this in the summer of 2020, towards the end of August, 2020 as we record this. We’re still in the pandemic, and we’ve also had global marches for Black Lives Matter over recent months. And, obviously, I want people to watch your video on your thoughts in full.

[Watch Michael’s video here: Some Thoughts on the Color of my Skin]

We’re not going to get into it in entirety. It’s a very powerful video, and I thank you for posting it.

How can we, as the independent author community, empower and support authors of color?

Michael: Thank you for asking me about that video. I really appreciate it. I felt like I had to say something right around the time where things were getting pretty bad after George Floyd’s murder.

The best thing that the community can do is if you write in a sub-genre that doesn’t have a whole lot of representation, maybe there is representation, and just look for those authors. And when you see them, try to promote them and try to bring them along because the hardest challenge that authors of color and minority authors have is that they sometimes struggle to get visibility because there’s not as many people in the genre or sub-genre that look like them.

Anything you can do to amplify their voice and make your readers aware of them is a win because when readers have more diverse choices, we all win.

Joanna: Absolutely. I agree on that. I know a lot of authors have questions, but they feel like it would be difficult to ask or embarrassing to ask, or they don’t want to be a bother. Maybe it comes to a character of color that they’re writing in their book, or maybe they want to be more proactive, but they just don’t know how to do it.

If people do have these questions, can they approach authors of color and ask without worrying about being offensive? How do we cross that boundary?

Michael: It’s a tricky question. Because I can’t speak for every person of color. Some of us don’t mind it. Me personally, I don’t mind when someone approaches me and says, ‘Hey, would a black person say this or that?’ Because to me, it’s always coming from a good place. And I think we all benefit when we have books that portray people of color in a positive light.

What I tell people is it doesn’t hurt to ask. If they say no, then you can find someone else. There’s always someone in the community that’s willing to help you get your story right. The worst thing you can do is write a book with a person of color, a person with a different skin color that’s not you, and then get it wrong. So absolutely ask. And ask, and you should receive.

Joanna: My sister-in-law, who’s Nigerian, I’ve seen her talk to people and they’ve said things, and I’ve just thought, ‘Oh my goodness, how can you say that?’ But she talks about intent. So you can tell if the intent of someone is really seeking and being supportive and just trying to be better. And you can tell when someone’s intent is negative. And I would say that to people listening, as well, what is behind your intent in asking, and is it helpful? Basically.

Michael: Exactly. People that have the bad intent are not going to generally be the people that ask the questions. That’s my experience.

Joanna: Very good point. That’s fantastic. I wanted to ask you as we come towards the end. So you said you have a six-year-old daughter.

Michael: Yes.

Joanna: I often think about the future. I self-published 12 years ago. So your daughter will be 18 in 12 years’ time, which is probably really scary.

Michael: Oh, I’m having the beginning of a heart attack here, Joanna!

Joanna: Okay, let’s not go that far! Obviously, so much has changed. Your daughter was probably not even a glimmer in your eye 12 years ago! And now you have your child, you’ve got your multiple careers.

What are you excited about in terms of what’s coming next for indies? What is going to change and what are you excited about?

Michael: My daughter’s best friend is the Amazon device in our house that begins with an ‘A,’ so it’s unbelievable. She knows how to use it better than I do. And I consider myself pretty tech-savvy.

I think there’s so much untapped potential in audio. And you know this, I think that authors that have their books in audio and have good, high-quality audio products, I think are going to have a lot of opportunities. I read the other day, Amazon and Audible are now starting to get into the podcast business.

Spotify, I think, is trying to get into the audiobook business, I heard. And so you think about AI now with Voice Doubles, the episode you did with Mark with the voice doubles. There’s just so many opportunities that are going to be coming down the pike for audio. And I think that’s how my daughter and her generation and generations to come are going to start thinking about audio and consuming content. So I’m really excited about that in particular.

Joanna: Wow. So what does she ask the device? Is it ‘Play my favorite song,’ or is it ‘Read me a story’?

Michael: It’s ‘Play my favorite song.’ She asks it to do math. She loves to ask it the weather. If her and I are talking about something and she doesn’t believe me, she’ll ask the device to verify. ‘Is it true that there are lions in Iowa?’

I was teasing her the other day. And then she’s like…I won’t say the name because I don’t want to trigger people’s devices, but, ‘Annie are there lions in Iowa?’ and they’re like, ‘According to my records, there are no lions in Iowa.’ And then she pointed at me and said, ‘Ha ha, you’re wrong.’ So technology, right?

Joanna: Yes. But it’s interesting because, so if we’re watching TV and I’m like, ‘Oh, I want to check that. I’ll check on my phone.’ So we were watching the series, ‘The Crown’ and I was like, ‘Who was Princess Alice?’ who was Prince Phillip’s mother. And I didn’t know about her, and so I asked Google on my phone.

If your daughter’s watching something, will she check that with the voice device?

Michael: She will. It’s crazy. It’s almost like an extension of her hands. Really it’s the only way I can think about it. She knows how to use Siri on my phone. She knows how to use the Google Assistant on my wife’s phone. She’s just a digital native and she’s not even in kindergarten yet.

Joanna: That is incredible. You’re at least a decade younger than me, but what will she be doing in her 30s? It surely won’t be YouTube. Will it be virtual reality, some kind of virtual reality side of things?

Michael: It’s hard to know. My crystal ball is broken. When the pandemic started, the governor shut down my crystal ball repair shop. I just don’t know!

I think virtual reality is really early, but there’s only one thing I know for sure. And it’s that no matter what it is that my daughter ends up doing to consume her content, I think that the authors of today, we’ve gotta stay nimble, and we have to continuously be thinking about ways that we can get our stories into other people’s hands.

I think you said it on one of your shows recently, that might be that the book is not our primary vehicle of creation in the future. We might have to start thinking of audio first or a virtual reality first or writing stories for games or apps. And I think if we can stay nimble and focus on that and learn how to adapt, even when we don’t have to right now, even when it’s slightly uncomfortable, that’s going to be the key to a long, sustainable writing career.

Joanna: That is a great way to end because I am totally with you on that.

Where can people find you and everything you do online?

Michael: If you’re interested in my writing advice, you can find everything I do at It’s got links to all my YouTube videos, all my writing books, all my podcasts on writing. And if you’re interested in my fiction, you can find that at

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

Michael: Thank you so much, Joanna. It’s been my pleasure.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • October 11, 2020