It’s never too late to start writing and there are many pro writers ahead of you on the path lead the way. Craig Martelle shares tips on writing, self-publishing, and book marketing, as well as how 20 Books To 50K believes in the rising tide that lifts all boats, and how helping each other is the best way for indies to prosper.
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Craig Martelle is the author of over 70 books alone and co-author of over 50 more, spanning science fiction, thrillers, and fantasy, as well as nonfiction for indie authors. He also co-hosts and runs the 20BooksTo50K Facebook group and live events.
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.
- Transitioning from the Marines, to law, to consulting, to writing
- From struggling with the first book to finding a process that works
- Quality control as an indie author
- Collaboration and building a team
- Tips for success in self-publishing
- Feeding your readership without having to write a book a month
- What happens at 20BooksVegas and can an introvert survive?
- Check out the free replays of 20Books Live events on YouTube here
Transcript of Interview with Craig Martelle
Joanna: Craig Martelle is the author of over 70 books alone and co-author of over 50 more, spanning science fiction, thrillers, and fantasy, as well as nonfiction for indie authors. He also co-hosts and runs the 20BooksTo50K Facebook group and live events. Welcome, Craig.
Craig: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Joanna: I’m really interested to talk to you. So before we get into now, let’s take a step back because you have some really interesting former careers in the Marine Corps, the Military Intelligence, law school, and business consulting.
Why, with all of these different things, did you get into writing and publishing?
Craig: I’ve always loved stories. I’ve read thousands of science fiction books. I always had a book with me wherever I was, no matter what I was doing. And I wrote my first book when I was 13 or 14, and that book languished.
Then I joined the Marine Corps and went off. And last year, my sister who had the book because my parents made her type it up, and I didn’t know that and she found it, she found my whole first manuscript that I hand wrote, and like a quarter of it is typed. And so, I got that.
So, I wrote, but whatever I’m doing at the time, I commit myself to it. I didn’t write again until after I retired from the second career, being a lawyer. And then just started writing, and I wrote full time because I already had my retirement income, and I was okay, and I needed to take some downtime.
Now, of course, I have a freak level of workload, as an author, and with the conferences and with 20BooksTo50K.
Joanna: So, reading was always part of your life.
Why did you think when you retired, ‘Oh, I know, I’ll become an author?’
Craig: Oh, well, that was very pragmatic and fairly pedestrian, in that I retired from being a business consultant, as a lawyer. So, I got into the corporate offices. And I was deployed all the time. I was up on the North Slope and inside the Arctic Circle in the oil fields. And so, I retired from that.
I came back down to my house here, outside Fairbanks, Alaska. And the yard needed cleaned up. I needed to do some of this outside work. So I went out there and I’m doing stuff, I built this big brush pile, and I tried to light it. And I lit myself on fire.
So, the pragmatic nature is me sitting here inside, vowing to not do outdoor work again because the manly stuff was beyond me. And with bandages on the second degree burns on my leg and said, ‘Hey, I think I’ll write that book that I always wanted to write.’ So, it was pragmatic. I didn’t set myself on fire a second time.
Joanna: What’s funny, though, is you say manly stuff. You were in the Marine Corps and Military Intelligence. Many people consider this quite manly, even though I’m sure there’s lots of women as well. I think you do write military sci-fi amongst other things, don’t you? How is that previous career coming to your writing now?
Craig: In the Marine Corps in a lot of extremely tense situations, that is when you hear some of the funniest things ever. I’ve worked all of those into my books since. I’ve gotten fodder from a 20-year career in the Marine Corps to include in all of my books and never duplicate things.
The dialogue and the interaction between individuals in those highest stress situations is what helps bring realism to my fiction, whether thrillers or science fiction and makes it far, far more realistic, even sci-fi well into the future, it’s still the human interaction is unique and people can relate to it.
So, that and then working as a business consultant. I tried to work in those leadership lessons. Overall, I think it has given me a good product.
Joanna: You’re, of course, incredibly prolific, both as an individual author and with co-writing.
Tell us about your writing process and your routine now.
Craig: I call myself a part-time author now. When I first started, I was willing to work 12 hours a day. I sat here at my computer 12 hours a day trying to get 1,000 words, and I didn’t always make it. But then things started clicking and I got better.
I wrote 100,000 words in 61 days, but I was working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, trying to get at least 1,000 sometimes. And then towards the end, I had a lot more as I could see the story unfold before me. And then that’s what I’ve always done.
Then I took over running 20BooksTo50K as well as we started the conferences. And so those take up probably a full time. Those are a couple of 1000 hours a year that I contribute to 20BooksTo50K because I believe in it.
I did things in the Marine Corps no one should have to do. So I’ll be making up for that for the rest of my life.
20BooksTo50K is that opportunity to give back in a way that matters because it’s helping people to establish and develop their own careers and support themselves, which is a big thing.
You can give money away. But that’s not the same as teaching someone how to fish so they can support themselves and they get that thrill and that satisfaction of supporting themselves. So, that’s my daytime job.
Now writing part-time, 2 to 3 hours a day, is all I need to get 2,000, 3,000 words. That’s enough for plenty of books because I have a huge support team. So, it’s not like I wrote one book, and then I go back and reread it and reread it again and reread it.
Now, once I type the end, I hand it over to my team. They’ll beat it up, they’ll work through it. I’ll answer questions, we’ll fix whatever needs to be fixed, the editor will take care of it, proofreaders will jump on it. And then we publish it.
Even if I finish a book, and I don’t publish it for two months because it’s going through that quality control process. In those next two months, I’m writing another book or two.
Joanna: Oh, there’s loads of things I want to come back on. First of all, you said at first it was taking you 12 hours to write around 1,000 words a day. And then you said things started clicking. Can you remember when did those things start to click?
How many words do you think you’d written by the time things started clicking, and what things started clicking?
Craig: When I first started writing, I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic book. I knew where I wanted to start. I knew some situations I wanted to put in a book, but I didn’t know how it was going to end. I think this was the big hold-up as I was starting.
Also, when I first started writing, I keep going back through trying to make sure that wording was perfect and all that and I had no idea what perfect was even though I read thousands of books. You don’t understand until after you write more. So, I just needed to write more.
Then I started free writing and trying to get through, show the situations, keep a workflow with conflict and resolution and keep that engagement. What really clicked was knowing where I wanted to end. It took until my fourth book, and my fourth book was a thriller. And that one I knew exactly where I wanted to start. I knew exactly where I wanted to end.
I wrote that book, 82,000 words in like 3 weeks. And another book later, my first military science fiction, I wrote that book 108,000 words in 17 days because I knew exactly where I was starting and where I was finishing.
That is my process now is I write the first chapter and I write the last chapter. And then I put all the stuff in between, it makes it so much easier if you know where you’re going to end up.
Joanna: Do you outline, or do you just free write once you know where it’s going?
Craig: I outline in my head, I don’t put a formal outline on paper. But I know the starting point, I know the finish point and all the stuff in between I’ll add side plots or subplots based on how long I want the book to be.
Joanna: That’s cool. You also mentioned your support team and a QA process or quality control. I also spent many years in business consulting. I come from that process-driven world as well.
But actually, one of the issues, I guess, still levelled at indie authors is a lack of quality control. Tell us your thoughts on the word quality when it comes to indie authors.
How can we banish that accusation of ‘low quality’ but also ignore it in some senses?
Craig: Everyone is responsible for their own actions. And when you first start out, you can write a great story. But if you don’t have an editor, and I didn’t, my first book I published without having any editing besides me. I did my own cover.
So, I published my first book at zero cost. And that was kind of cool. But I sold 53 copies, I think 50 were to my dad. He was proud. He still is my biggest fan.
The quality control process until you probably see, it’s chicken or the egg. But it really is the chicken has to come first. And the chicken is the book and you got to get that book out there before you start developing fans that might be willing to help you out before you can say, ‘I need an editor.’ ‘Well, what have you written?’ ‘I haven’t written anything yet.’ ‘Well, come back when you have.’
Because people want their first book. They’re notoriously late in getting it done. ‘Hey, I should have it done next month.’ And it’s like six months later, they finally hand it over. The editor isn’t just going to sit there and wait for you.
So, making sure you align things and getting your editor locked in and making sure you get them manuscript, a good manuscript to the editor on time. You and I both know project management, that you have the timelines, you have the various elements that go into it. And you’ve got to get your dates.
If you tell your editor you’re going to give it to her on 1 February, give it to her on 1 February, and that way, she’ll get it done quickly, get it back. That’s what I have thrived on is you get it to them on time, you get it back quickly.
By time I had for three years, I had an editor on retainer. So, I just paid her at the beginning of the month for 100,000 words. And that’s what I give her. If I went over, well, I paid her extra. And if I went under, she got to keep it.
The onus was on me to get it to her. But I would get my book back within a week from the editor every time. That’s my standard now is I need the book back within a week. But I’ll give it to you when I say I’m going to give it to you. And I gave my editor the schedule for the whole year.
My insider team, they were developed over time, just fans who became super fans who wanted me to do better. They didn’t want, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m helping Craig Martelle, big-name.’ No. Now, that even though they’re in every one of my books listed in the dedication, it’s still they want me to do better.
We have great conversations on an outside platform. We work out any plot issues. And usually, there aren’t any, there’s little tweaks, and they’re easy to fix. They don’t tell me how to fix stuff, they tell me, ‘Hey, here’s an issue. This took me out of the story or this isn’t technically correct.’
I have two folks with PhDs, one in industrial psychology and the other in engineering. So, they know what they’re talking about in helping me shape the approach. And then proofreaders, once I get it done, then it goes through proofreading team of more volunteers, folks willing to just read my stuff ahead of time, and that helps immensely to clean up the last of the typos.
What the editor does is provide that continuity so things are capitalized the same way. Capitalization rules are extremely fluid in my mind.
Joanna: Mine too. That’s what I rely on an editor for.
Craig: Oh, absolutely. And commas and stuff like that, I could care on commas, my editor I think charges by the comma, so I get a lot of them. And so, that stuff, continuity and make sure that the grammar is consistent.
I write third person on the past tense. So, have to have past tense, you don’t squeeze in an ‘is’ in the middle of a narrative and things like that. So, that’s clear, no typos, the technology is clean. And still a typo or two will get through. But it’s important to put that product in front of the readers in a way that they’re used to.
I indent my paragraphs, and I also space my paragraphs. I know that drives some people apoplectic but there’s some people or authors, my readers have never had a problem over it. I just checked on my very first series that I published, I have a 125,000 books sold in that one series. And I used indents, and an extra like a quarter of a space in between paragraphs. And that’s part of it is the presentation and consistency.
When you get a Craig Martelle book, you’re going to get indent and a little space in between paragraphs, as well as a small indent at the beginning of each paragraph. But that’s just what I like.
But still quality control, giving them a product that looks professional. And because it is professional, and then they can’t tell the difference whether they just got a book from Penguin, or they got a book from Craig Martelle Inc.
Joanna: Absolutely. I want to come back on the collaboration there. You talk about having your insider team, your support team, you’ve got all these people in your quality control process. And obviously, 20BooksTo50K, which we’re going to talk about more in a minute.
Do you think this ability to collaborate, which obviously is a massive part of your success, does this also come from the military in that you have to work with other people for success or whether that is just something in your personality?
Craig: A little bit of that from my past because as a business consultant, it was all about the team. It was making individuals better by helping them support their team members.
I have to tell you the greatest influence and collaborations with Michael Anderle because I’ve been working closely with him for the last five years. And showing the benefits of collaboration, especially when it comes to learning to write better because as I’m writing more and reading less, and by collaborating, I get to see different approaches to shaping a scene to wording sentences to setting things up.
I have a lot of collaborators who have fallen by the wayside over the years. I have just a couple right now that they are most excellent authors. The way they use words to shape the scenes to build the emotional engagement from the readers is exceptional. So, that’s my collaborators right now.
I don’t need to collaborate again, I’ve got enough titles, I don’t actually need to publish another book. Except that, I’ve got a lot more stories to tell.
Joanna: That’s always the trick. But then if people want to collaborate, I mean, everyone’s now listening, going, ‘Oh, but you’re Craig Martelle, it’s easy for you to collaborate.’ But obviously, you weren’t always that person in terms of the writing community.
Is there anything they should do to attract those opportunities, or tips for making it through?
What are your tips for authors who want to collaborate with other people?
Craig: I wrote a whole book on that. If you look up ‘Collaborations’ and Craig Martelle and actually it’s for free in 20BooksTo50K, you can just download it. It’s got some sample contracts, but it goes into a lot of that.
Why do you want to collaborate? Some people, it’s because they want to build their backlist. For me, it was exceptional and building those extra books. I have 23 different series now. A lot of those were through collaborations.
It’s also feeding the readership. As I built readership, they read a whole lot faster than I can write even as fast as I write. So, my being able to offer these extra books that helped get that out there, get books into their hands that hopefully helped them pass the day.
I’d like to say that I write escape fiction. But the collaboration is how do you collaborate? And how do you find a collaborator?
There’s all kinds of different relationships, there’s the junior, senior, you find somebody who’s looking for a collaborator who is already established, or you find a fellow author who writes in your genre, and you’re both trying to find your way and then you collaborate 50/50.
You could even start ghostwriting. I know people have ghostwriters, oh my God, it is a way to learn your trade. Imagine somebody gives you an outline that, ‘Hey, look at this, this is a great story.’ And then you get to add life to it. Even though your name will never be associated with it, hopefully, you’ll have that interaction with the author, and learn how they want the story to unfold, you can take that, you learn.
Jasmine Waltz is another great story of a ghostwriter who then went solo, and by the time she wrote her first book, she was extremely well established and writing great stories.
Where are you in your journey? That’s only you can answer that. In regards to, ‘Do I need to learn to write better?’ Because you’ve got to write a good book. And that’s, I think, another problem that people attribute to indies because it’s so easy to publish. A lot of books aren’t ready for primetime, but the readers are the ones who determine to move forward or not.
If you’ve got a book with 1,000 reviews, I think you can pretty much say that book’s been around even though other people will bag on it, like people bag on ’50 Shades of Grey,’ that book sold 125 million copies.
Joanna: Yeah, I don’t think she cares.
Craig: It’s a great book. I mean, it’s not one I’m going to read.
Joanna: Hey, I’ve read it.
Craig: Of course.
Joanna: You said that one of the problems of indies is it’s too easy to publish. And perhaps some people rush in. And you also mentioned earlier that it was probably the fourth book where things started to click for you.
I also feel like it was probably my fifth novel where I was like, ‘Oh, I understand some of this now.’ And so it’s interesting, or even though my earlier books, I’m sure yours too, is still have good reviews and stuff like that, I now feel like I’m a better writer. That might be one of the problems is maybe publishing too early.
What are some of the other mistakes you see fiction writers, or nonfiction writers, making that prevent them reaching more readers or making more money?
Craig: I’ll tell you, as a business consultant, again, everybody has to start somewhere. And unless you get feedback, and this is the process improvement, part of what I did as a business consultant, if you don’t publish, how do you know, how do you know if your story is good? How do you know how it’s being received by the readers?
It’s really important to publish your book, even if it’s not great because it gives you a point from which to improve. And now, you’ve got that baseline and improvement.
I think one of the problems that a lot of authors who progress through their career without progressing, They keep publishing books is that they don’t get the right feedback. And they’re not listening to it.
There’s some people who will ask for feedback, and especially we’ve seen this in 20BooksTo50K. And some folks will say, ‘Hey, that first paragraph, that first chapter is not engaging.’ And then the author will argue with them, just like, ‘Stop.’
People are trying to help here. You asked for help. They’re trying to give you help. And you’re saying, ‘No, obviously, the readers don’t understand.’
As soon as you’re blaming the readers, you’re done. Because the readers, they pay your paycheck. So, you have to get it in the right readers hands. And I think this is the biggest challenge.
Another thing we’ve seen in 20BooksTo50K is “I wrote this book, I don’t know what genre it’s in,” which is unfathomable to me. But they wrote what they wanted, and they don’t understand how because genre equals marketing. The whole reason genres exist is from publishers in the past said, ‘People who read this book will probably like this book,’ and they develop, ‘Oh, that’s a Western, that’s science fiction, that’s speculative fiction,’ and so on down the line.
Genre is nothing more than marketing.
So, these people don’t look at the marketing side of it. It’s just I wrote a book that’s this, it’s got these other elements and keep your elements under control.
I read thousands of science fiction books. So I knew I was writing science fiction. That was my target audience. I’ve always resonated well with that audience because I give them more of what I liked when I was growing up. I think that’s the biggest challenge is they don’t know what genre to go after.
Marketing isn’t hard. If you can write a book, you can market it. But you’ve got to know where you’re marketing. And that marketing element is the genre. So, you need to know what genre you wrote in for Pete’s sake. And I really like people who read the genre they write in.
Joanna: I literally can’t understand how people can try and write a book in a genre they don’t read, that just seems odd to me.
Craig: It’s really hard to sell a book like that, too. ‘I don’t know what genre this is,’ well, you’re going to have real problem selling it. I don’t know what else to tell people besides, ‘Oh, give me the book. I’ll read it.’ No, I’m not going to do that, I don’t have the time.
Joanna: That’s not an offer for everyone to send you that right now.
Craig: No. Don’t do that.
Joanna: You just said, ‘Marketing isn’t hard.’ And I know everyone’s going, ‘Ah, what do you mean marketing isn’t hard?’ What do you do for marketing?
Craig: A multi-pronged approach. Also, it really, really helps your marketing if you have a big backlist. So, if you only have three books, in order to market well, you need to give people products, okay, take off your artist hat and put on your business hat.
Your product, if you can do a series, then people come to buy, get that first book, however, you can get it into the right readers’ hands. And then it’s got to be a good book. And then book two and book three.
Writing in series is one of the biggest things you can do as a new author in order to establish your readership.
You can always do whatever the hell you want later, once you’ve established that readership. Then you’ll have a relationship with those readers and be able to give them more of what they liked in that first book or give them more of something, ‘Hey, there’s something a little different, but it’s still me.’
If you’ve got super loyal super fans, then it puts you in a good position. But starting off, I would say write a three-book series. And then you can always promote the hell out of that first book.
Knowing what genre you’re in, and then put it on sale, you can do it for free, but then you’ve got to push some big numbers. You can put it on sale, people who buy a book are more likely to read it than those who get it for free. And there’s a lot of free books out there.
I have gone away from free stuff, even though I will still put a book out for free. It’s still I have a very targeted readership, I have a great targeting list on my Facebook page to get the book in their hands when it’s free. But otherwise, put it on sale, people will buy a book are more likely to read it. And then book two and book three.
Make sure it’s a great book with the backmatter that says, ‘Hey, oh, by the way, if you like this book, here’s book two,’ and a direct link. That is one of the best things you can do to help your own success and realize where the problem is or where the success is.
People learn more from failure than they do success. Say publish your first book, you publish the second, publish the third.
First book, you have 100 people buy it. Second book, you have 5 people buy it, 5% readers rate. First book sucks. No matter what other way to look at it, it’s like they’re not buying book two.
So you have to go back and look, ‘I need to write a better book one,’ and then you murder board it. You take it before some readers and say, ‘What’s wrong with this book? Why aren’t people reading through the second book?’ And that’s a process improvement.
Then you write a new series. People are in love with their books. Also, some people say you might have 10 years invested in that first book. And if it doesn’t sell because there’s issues with it, then it’s easy for them to stop and say, ‘I’m not going to write anymore. It took me 10 years on this one. I don’t have that much life left.’
But if you’re looking to make a career out of this, or even make enough money to pay your mortgage or make your car payment each month, then that process improvement is critical for long-term viability within the industry.
Joanna: Absolutely. I also want to circle back to something else you said, you talked about feeding the readership. I think this is very interesting, especially because you have 23 series.
My experience with my series because I wrote, I do write cross-genre and in different things, and the people who read the thrillers might not necessarily read my fantasy, for example. And so, you kind of have to keep feeding readers across different genres.
I don’t write as fast as you for sure. And it’s difficult. I feel like one of the issues especially when people are not as prolific as you are, there is an issue in the community with burnout or trying to write super fast when that might not be someone’s personality or the way they choose to do things.
How do we balance feeding the readership with potential burnout?
Craig: You can be wildly successful publishing one book a year if you don’t jump genres. As you build your readers, you want those same readers reading book two, you want those same readers reading book three, and it’s just a year apart.
You build your readership, short stories, and other things you can give them, stay engaged with them, send them a newsletter each month and a huge, huge fan of newsletters. That’s your conversation with your readership.
Starting that newsletter is the best way to stay engaged. You can tell them to follow you on Amazon, that’s fine because Amazon’s deliverability, their emails is great. But still, your email is where you’re talking about, ‘Hey, here’s what’s going on. Here’s where I am. I’m on chapter four. I’m on chapter six, progressing month after month.’
And, ‘Hey, here’s book one, I’m going to put book one on sale for when book two comes out.’ So, 99 says, ‘Please, share with your friends. You’ve been with me on this journey for a year. I thank you. Book two is coming,’ and things like that.
You can do it. That’s what I mean by feed your readership. You just have to manage the reader expectations. You don’t have to be overboard and give them a book a month, unless that’s how you publish and that’s how I built my readership. However, I’ve given them enough books that they’re good with. They’re like, ‘Hey, I’m good with a book every three months or four months.’
And especially in between, I’ll recommend books. The group of science fiction authors that I hang out with, they write good books, they write books that I read. So, when they put a book on sale, I’ll share it, say, ‘Hey, here you go. Here’s a book that you might want to check out. Space Opera, sci-fi, it’s cutting edge, you’ll like it probably more than me, but please, stay with me.’ Doing that kind of approach.
Joanna: I think that’s good. And I think you’re right, there’s ways to engage with your readership that doesn’t involve another book a month. So, I think those were some great tips.
Let’s come on to 20BooksTo50K, and I still think this title is so brilliant. It’s brilliant marketing. It’s brilliant marketing in a way, but I know it also scares people.
Obviously, the premise being once you have 20 books, you should be making around $50,000 I think you meant per year.
Does that number still stand? Do you find that if people do have 20 books, they can make around 50K?
Craig: Oh, no, not at all. That’s not what it is. It’s actually a retirement plan. It’s if you have 20 books, and each book is making $7.50 a day, then you’ll make $50,000 in a year.
Cabo San Lucas, you can retire there for about 35,000 a year. But if you want to retire comfortably, then that’s 50,000. So, it’s a retirement plan. It’s just making $7.50 a day, it’s cutting it down to a bite-sized piece that people can digest.
Because if you have a book out to make $7.50, if it’s in Kindle Unlimited, you sell 1 copy, you get 1,000-page reads, there you are, Bob’s your uncle, you’re making money. And that’s all you need.
So, it’s ginning a retirement plan down to a bite-sized chunk that then you can put into action.
And what we found is that people make, if they write in a series, they get better with each book, they’ll make $50,000 a year well ahead of 20 books because it’s not a linear progression.
Joanna: I would agree with you. And as someone who didn’t write 20 books in one series, but I’ve written about 35 books but across at least 4 different series, I thought the numbers would still hold true from what I’ve seen, but equally, I totally agree with you.
If you’d written 20 books in a series that really does convert then you’re going to get there quicker. But equally, I think, I don’t know about you, well, I focus a lot more on nonfiction than you do. But nonfiction to me sells at higher prices and in different formats, so audio and print are a lot stronger for nonfiction than they necessarily offer for fiction.
I feel like there’s different models of getting to that 20 books or that money.
Craig: Oh, absolutely. You might write 1 or 2 books and make 50,000 a year, it depends on all of that other background stuff. But 20BooksTo50K was simply a retirement plan, and something to show people that you can be successful if you work hard at the right things. And that right thing is not necessarily 20 books in 1 series. But 20 books that are progressively better.
You write four books in a series, and then you start a new series, you take what you learned in those first four books, and you add it to the new series. And your first four books may never sell well, but your new series, hey, these are written really well, the story is engaging.
That’s what we hear from a lot of people as well, is, ‘I’ve got 20 books that don’t sell at all, but this new series really rocked. And it’s where all my money comes from.’
It’s the Pareto rule, 20% of your books are going to be making 80% of your money.
I think that does hold true that because your first book, I tell everybody, your first book’s going to suck, and to work up from there, but it gives you a place to depart from.
If your first book is gangbusters, and you sell 200,000 copies, how do you follow that up? Most people cannot because they don’t know what they did right. And now, if you’ve been working from, ‘Hey, I’ve done this wrong, I’ve done this wrong,’ then you’re much, much more likely to be successful later as you chip away, and you’re doing more and more right. But if you do everything right from the outset, how do you know it was right?
Joanna: Unless you hit it out of the park next time, but that doesn’t often happen. That’s great.
The 20 books model, a few years back now used to be very focused on Kindle Unlimited and exclusivity to Amazon. But now, I really think you seem a lot more open to wide authors and different options for publishing.
Why the shift away from just KU? How has the market changed so that wide publishing is more of an option?
Craig: Teaching people to fish. We have such a broad range of people who are in 20 books. And then most importantly, for 20 Books Vegas this year, we should have about 2500 people coming, 2500 authors.
We have a lot of traditionally published authors who come to see what the buzz is, especially some who are a little bit older, as they’re looking at their bank account, and they’re not getting the royalty advances that they used to get if they get any at all. And they’re looking at the retirement saying, ‘Hey, I could use some money.’
This self-publishing thing, you get 70% of your royalties? Yes, you do. And that’s a good selling point, especially ones that have the established name. How do you trade on your name to make money for you?
I don’t want any cut, 20BooksTo50K is not for profit. I make no money on 20 Books Vegas, it’s all about feeding the industry and helping people to help themselves. We get our dopamine hit off the success of the people who come to 20 Books Vegas, so people who are in the group and are trying to do better.
And then finally, they’re at a point where it’s a career for them, something that they never believed possible before joining the group and seeing that, ‘Hey, look at all these other people making it,’ and you’re still only competing against yourself. But it’s out there and it’s available. It’s only you, you can do it. Here’s the information you need.
Joanna: So, really the group has attracted such a wide variety of authors now that you are presenting all the different options. Because I think that’s the other thing that’s changed. I feel like we, the indie author community, have become such a broad church and there are so many ways forward.
Even things like that you see people doing entire book launches on Kickstarter or serializing through Substack for example, and these are things that just weren’t even possible back when I started. It’s interesting that you’re now much, much, much broader, which I really like.
I’m hoping to come to Vegas this November, COVID allowing, but I must say I’m a little bit nervous. I am an introvert and you said 2500 other authors, which is kind of crazy.
Tell us a bit about 20BooksVegas and how do authors cope with it?
Craig: We have scaled up from when we first started, we’re in Bally’s, which is soon going to be called Horseshoe, by the way, name change, but the same hotel. We have 100,000 square feet all to ourselves, and the resort tower, which is where most of the rooms are, is right over top of the convention center.
So, you can escape, go back up to your room to recharge, we have a lot of events where there’s plenty of space. We have people in wearing high-visibility vests, you can go and ask for help.
We’ll also be looking for those people who look distressed and helping move them into a private room or a quiet place. Or just telling them, ‘Hey, maybe just go back up to your room and recharge.’ We’ve had great success in that it’s one tribe.
As soon as people start talking to their fellows, they get engaged in, ‘Hey, you write urban fantasy, paranormal romance, oh, my God.’ And all of a sudden, they’re talking and they’re engaged and they go off to a restaurant or a bar. It’s Vegas, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a restaurant or a bar.
They disappear into the moment because introverts, once they connect with somebody, that’s it, the focus of the world is right here. That helps them relax and become one with the event.
One thing we push, and it starts with the badges, everybody gets the exact same badge, we don’t have these ribbons or anything to say special guests and then 25,000 bookseller, and so people have this big stack of metals, like a Soviet General. We all are peers, we all are on equal footing.
You’ll find that you might be waiting to buy a drink at the bar, and you’re talking to the person behind you. And then you find out later that person is a seven-figure author making seven figures a year. And hey, you’re just talking to him like a normal person, because they are normal, everybody in Vegas is normal.
We’re all the same. We’re all authors first.
And that’s how we treat each other. It has been perpetuated since 2017 from our first conference, and how we treat each other is about positive. We try not to let anybody be negative, some people get negative here or there. But then we go address those issues.
It’s important for people to understand that you’re not going to like everything, but we’ve got 12 sessions an hour going, one that you do like and go and listen, and then follow up with the presenter. Don’t be afraid of that. And if you don’t want to, no big deal, go back up to your room and send them an email, send them a Facebook note saying, ‘Hey, I loved your presentation. By the way, here’s a question.’ You can do it however you want because everybody’s in the same boat.
Joanna: I love the badge thing. I’ve been to some of these events where my badges had like X colors on and someone else has some other colors on and little stickers. Comparisonitis, big time. I really liked that you do that with the badges.
You said 12 sessions an hour. That is crazy. I did watch some of the YouTube sessions from last year. And for everybody listening, you can go and watch these sessions on the YouTube channel. I’ll link to it in the show notes. And they’re some just fantastic sessions.
With 12 sessions an hour, how do people navigate the learning side of things?
Craig: People usually they come to establish a goal for what they want out of the show. And to remain flexible because they may connect with somebody, they may talk with a presenter.
It is far, far more important to continue that conversation with that presenter, especially as you’re digging into a topic than to rush off to the next one because the big thing we do is we record every session. They can always go later and watch it on Facebook group or on YouTube when it comes out for free.
And that’s one thing you do. The whole world, everybody can watch every one of our sessions, not for profit. So, we’re not charging anybody, just go on YouTube, 20 Books Events, 20 Books Live Events. And we have 162 sessions up there from 20 Books Vegas 2021. And 2022, I think we’re on track for about 180 sessions.
Joanna: I think it’s really interesting. So, people can plan their schedule, but also plan to have time away and social time.
Anything else you want to tell people about 20 Books Vegas?
Craig: We have at least 15 minutes between sessions. And usually, it’s a half-hour on days Wednesday and Thursday. Last year we had a half-hour in between each session. So, you have plenty of time to go collaborate, coordinate, converse with people, go hit the bathroom and hide, or run up to your room, grab a soda, and then come back down, whatever you might want to do.
We don’t have a break for lunch because we’ve got so much material to cover. And the one thing that I do differently with 20 Books Vegas in any 20 Books event, is I look at what are the needs of the people coming. I try to have sessions for that.
I don’t just submit, ‘Hey, tell me what topic you’d like to cover?’ No, because you get really wide and varied topics that may help three people. I’d rather have sessions that each one should be able to help 100 people on a topic.
There’s so much space because it’s Vegas, even though it’s busy, and there’s lights and stuff, and it can be overwhelming, you can always escape. You can go outside, you can go someplace else, you can go to your room, you can go to a restaurant.
Like I said, no matter where you go in Vegas, you’re going to find a restaurant and a good one. Go get something nice that you’ll ever eat. So, unless you don’t want to, and then go to your room and hide. It’s still okay.
Joanna: That’s fantastic. I definitely want to be there. I think what’s so brilliant is you guys have grown this to what has to be the biggest and most comprehensive conference for indie authors in the world. That’s super impressive. It might even be bigger than some of the biggest like traditionally published author conferences now. Have you got a sense of it being the biggest?
Craig: With 2500 people it is. When RWA had their heyday, they would have more than that. But I don’t think they’re getting that nowadays. And definitely for indies, but for all authors because it’s so author-centric.
For people who have gone to author conferences over the years, we had one person who it was their job as a vendor, industry vendor for 30 years. And they said they’d never seen a conference like 20 Books Vegas because everybody was positive, people were trying to help each other.
She said every other conference, there’s always some level of competition, some level of hierarchy. And that’s one thing we destroyed that, we crushed that attitude with our first conference in that we’re all the same.
Here’s Michael Anderle, go talk to him anytime you want. He makes well more than seven figures a year. So, he’s here with you, his badge just says Mike on it. And that’s it.
There’s nothing special with flashing lights for people or anything that says, ‘Look at me.’ Because that’s not what we’re about. We’re not at look at me, we’re at look at you and what are you doing for your career?
Joanna: Brilliant. Salute.
Where can people find you and your books and also 20BooksTo50K online?
It’s a registered trademark, but it’s also the Facebook group. And as we do hang out on Facebook, we don’t have a website for it because we’re all volunteers running it. Nobody makes any money off it. And so, we don’t charge anything. The cheapest way is we do it through a Facebook group and that works for us.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Craig. That was great.
Craig: Thanks, Jo. Thanks for having me on.
The post Tips For Indie Author Success And 20 Books To 50K With Craig Martelle first appeared on The Creative Penn.
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Author: Joanna Penn