How can you intensify the conflict in your books to hook readers? How can you introduce different types and layers of conflict to improve your story? Becca Puglisi explains why and how to write conflict.
In the intro, thoughts on the DOJ vs PRH trial [Twitter @JohnHMaher] and Publishers Weekly round-up; my thoughts on subscription models; D2D and Humble Bundle; Apple Books Promotions page; How to Write a Novel is now available in all formats on all stores; My non-fiction books in Italian; Digital nomad [Books and Travel].
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.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach and bestselling author of the “Thesaurus Series for Writers,” including the latest volume of The Conflict Thesaurus. Becca also writes YA and historical fiction, and can be found at writershelpingwriters.net, along with her co-author Angela Ackerman.
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.
- What is story conflict and why do we need it?
- Examples of different kinds of conflicts, from large to small
- How conflict creates reader interest and empathy
- The importance of internal conflict as well as external
- Mistakes to watch out for when writing conflict
- Tips for co-writing a book
- Intellectual property licensing and foreign rights
You can find Becca Puglisi at WritersHelpingWriters.net and on Twitter @beccapuglisi
The Conflict Thesaurus Vol 2 is out on 6 September 2022.
Transcript of Interview with Becca Puglisi
Joanna: Welcome back to the show, Becca.
Becca: Thank you so much. I’m so glad to be back.
Joanna: An exciting topic today. Now, you’ve been on the show twice before, and I will mention those episodes in the introduction. So, we’re just going to jump into conflict today. Let’s start off with a definition.
What is conflict, anyway, and why do we need it in our stories?
Becca: I think that conflict is anything that causes difficulty for your character.
We tend to think of conflict at the story level; they have this goal and they’re trying to achieve this objective, and there’s conflict that is standing in the way. Usually, it’s a villain, or it’s some kind of an antagonist.
But conflict happens throughout the story.
It happens at the scene level. It happens as they’re going about their day. And conflict can be big and really explosive, but it also can be small, and minor. It’s anything that causes them difficulty, that makes things more difficult for them as they are trying to get to that end goal.
Joanna: You mentioned there that there are big and small ideas of what conflict is. Let’s get into some specifics.
What are the big, story-level examples of conflict?
Becca: We had to figure this out when we were writing The Conflict Thesaurus because there were so many different kinds of conflict, and we thought, ‘How can we make it manageable for people?’ So we came up with some categories.
So, you have dangers and threats. These are things that are causing a serious, physical threat to your character.
Maybe it’s a weather event, or somebody who is stalking the character, or a physical attack. Those kinds of things are kind of big and explosive. I call them macro. They’re big problems that the character is going to have to face and deal with.
You also have increased pressure, and ticking clocks. This is when, of course, you add something that creates a deadline for the character. They have this goal, and they have certain things that they have to achieve, and it’s already very difficult if you’ve set your story up properly. But then you add a conflict that creates a deadline, so now their timeline is shortened.
They have to work quickly. They have to work without a lot of planning, maybe without the resources that they have. Those are very often good for the overall story-level kind of conflicts.
And then you have relationship friction. This is something that happens in every single story, regardless of the genre.
You could have a thriller, a dystopian, a romance. There’s going to be relationship problems. There should be relationship problems, because we’re all about relationships, right?
Our characters are going to have relationships with different members of the cast. They’re going to be interacting with people all throughout the story, and so that’s really where the meat and potatoes is, in my opinion, for conflict, because it’s so natural, and it’s something that the reader is totally going to relate to because they have these kind of conflicts. It could be, think big, with a romantic partner, it could be a really annoying barista at the coffee shop.
All different levels of conflict can happen at the relationship level.
And it’s so organic, and common to the human experience, that it can happen all throughout the story, for any kind of story.
So, the different kinds of conflict can happen at different levels of the story, whether it’s an overarching conflict that’s going to be kind of big and seemingly important.
The smaller level conflicts are really important, too, because they really offer the setup for those bigger moments, by creating choices for the character, by creating consequences that are then going to have to be dealt with.
Joanna: So much to unpack there. And it’s funny, because I think the word conflict, I feel like a lot of people think, ‘Oh, well, that’s just for big disaster movies. It’s Armageddon. It’s the big meteor, or it’s Jaws, is the big shark.’
But you’ve mentioned relationship friction, other people. Can you give some other examples? For people who aren’t writing these thriller books like me, I know conflict, but many people are writing a sort of, I guess, ‘smaller’ in inverted commas books. I feel like that’s where a lot of people struggle.
Can you give a few more examples of smaller conflicts?
Becca: Yes — Losing an advantage. There are a lot of conflicts that can come up that remove something advantageous for the character, something as simple as losing your keys. This is a problem because now the character has to look for their keys. Now they’re going to be late for the important meeting that they’re having with the important person in their life, or that step that they’re taking towards achieving that goal.
It’s now going to be more difficult because they lost their keys. It seems like something so small, or a phone breaking, or just these little things that shouldn’t really be a big deal. They have the butterfly effect, that causes the ripples that create these bigger problems in a story. So, things like losing an advantage.
Ego-related conflict. Things where the character makes a mistake, maybe, or they are slighted in some way. It could be a very small situation at the grocery store, or at work, but it becomes a thing for the character because their ego has been attacked, and now they are compromised, really, and are very likely to react in a way that is not the best way to respond.
A car accident, a fender bender, something that’s not a major deal, with life-threatening impacts, but all of these things, they can cause financial difficulties, they can cause relationship problems, they can cause problems in the character being able to get to that overall goal.
They can be so small and seemingly inconsequential, but they do have big effects for the story.
Joanna: Right. We’ll come back to some more of those, but let’s just come back to the bigger questions. Why do we even need conflict in our books? If we’re writing a heartwarming romance, or just a happy story in general, why do we even need this type of thing?
Why do we need conflict? Why can’t everyone just have a happy time in a nice story?
Becca: That’s something Angela and I had a lot of conversations about when we were writing the latest book. Some questions kept coming up for us about that. And really, the answer is tension.
Conflict creates tension.
If you have a character who, they have a goal, there’s something that they really want, they’re going to go after it. If nothing ever stands in their way, if they don’t ever have any challenges or any difficulties, then there’s no tension, because there’s no doubt in the reader’s mind as to the character’s ability to succeed.
They know that they’re going to get there because every step of the way, it’s clear sailing.
Conflict creates barriers, and it creates difficult situations that cast doubt in the reader’s mind as to are they going to be able to get there?
Are they going to be able to get there intact and whole? Is this going to be a really difficult, horrible situation for them, trying to go along this journey to get where they’re going?
Conflict creates that tension because the reader doesn’t know. And they then become invested in the character, because when the reader is worried about the character, they care about the character and what’s happening with them. And so then they want to keep reading, because they want to make sure that the character’s going to be okay.
It creates this interest, because they’re not sure. They want to keep reading, to get answers to their questions, and to just see what’s going to happen. So, it’s really multifaceted.
It creates the tension that you need, which is good for garnering reader interest, but it also garners reader empathy, because they start caring about the character and they want to know that they’re going to be okay and that everything’s going to work out.
Joanna: And again, from the reader perspective or thinking of TV shows and the viewer perspective, it’s like I don’t really want to watch or just read about somebody whose life is all perfect and it’s all going to stay perfect.
If I watch something or read something, and it starts off where everything is good, then the rules of story dictate that if it starts high, it’s going to go low. It might come back to high, but there are kind of things that we expect as readers and viewers, right?
We don’t expect ‘happy people in happy land.’
Becca: Right. And that’s the irony for me is that that’s what we want in real life. We don’t want conflict.
We want everything to be great and easy and simple. But if we use that in our stories, it’s the kiss of death. This is the way that we want to be in real life, but we can’t make it that way for our characters.
Joanna: Let’s talk about internal conflict, because again, I’m a thriller writer. I find it very easy to come up with external conflict. But I feel like internal conflict, it can layer over that, it can be completely different.
What is internal conflict? Tell us a bit more about that.
Becca: It’s so, so important. I think that this is something that a lot of people underestimate when we talk about conflict, because like you said the obvious conflicts are easier to go with.
They’re easier to come up with, and we have this idea that big conflict is going to be more engaging, the car crash, the explosion, the unexpected pregnancy in the romance.
Lots of these things we think that’s what’s going to pull people in because it’s really traumatic. But really, I think what pulls people in is the journey of a character, and their struggle, and the struggle, for a character, very often the most impactful struggles, are the internal ones. Basically, those are the conflicts that live within the character. They’re those character versus self difficulties.
A lot of times, they have an element of cognitive dissonance, with the character wanting things that are at odds with each other, like the character might want two things. They can’t have both things. They can actually only have one of them, but they really want both of them.
Or they may be wanting something that is bad for them. It’s going to cause a problem with their human needs. It’s going to cause a void in that area if they pursue something that’s actually not good for them.
Another example is feelings. Situations that are going to cause feelings for the character that they don’t necessarily want to experience; indecision, guilt, self-doubt. These kinds of feelings are uncomfortable. They’re going to want to avoid that.
But what if it’s something that they need to do or they need to address, that is going to naturally bring about those feelings?
Conflicting duties and responsibilities. We’ve all been in that situation in real life, where we have things that we need to do and we can’t do all of them.
Or we have two things that are equally important, and it’s that internal struggle of where do I focus my time? How do I prioritize? Lots and lots of different ways that we can create situations for characters that are going to cause that internal conflict, that struggle on the inside.
And it’s super necessary for any character that is working a change arc. Any character that is going on a journey of internal change throughout the course of the story, they have to have many, many internal conflict opportunities, because that’s the only way that they’re going to be able to really look at themselves, look past the habits and the personality traits and all the things that they thought were fine and they thought were actually good.
They’ll realize, ‘Hold on. What is holding me back? Why do I keep tripping over this one thing? It keeps causing me problems over and over again. I don’t want to do this thing but I keep doing it. Why is that?’
And they start to make changes, in order to embrace more healthy habits, more healthy responses and coping mechanisms.
Internal conflict is the only way that the character is going to actually be able to go through that change.
It’s the only way that they’re going to have the opportunity to look at themselves honestly, and start seeing the changes that need to be made, and then be able to take the steps toward making that change. So it’s hugely important, I think, in any genre, for any story where the character is on a change arc.
Joanna: I feel like these are the things that can be, in a way, harder to do, because, as you say, they’re less obvious but can be much more powerful.
Coming back to that, the change arc, because, of course, your and Angela’s ‘Thesaurus’ series, you’ve got wounds, you’ve got The Emotion Thesaurus. Obviously, there are character flaws. There are all kinds of different things that we can have in our characters, and this internal conflict, I feel, maybe ties all of those together.
But, in one way, it feels very, very complicated, especially if you’re not a plotter. I’m not a plotter. I’m a discovery writer.
And when we talk about all these things, it just feels overwhelming that I need some kind of checklist for, make sure a character has this and that and the other, and all these different things in order to make the change arc work, as you talk about there.
What are your thoughts and your tips for authors who want to incorporate all these rich levels for character, but are discovery writers like me, and don’t want to overcomplicate it?
Becca: That’s tricky, because I do believe that a certain amount of planning really is helpful. I’m not saying that you have to go to the extent that hardcore plotters go to. And that’s I think a problem that a lot of writers have is that they kind of see that as a black-and-white thing, that I’m either a plotter or a pantser.
But there are so many levels in between, where you can be a discovery writer, but you can have a general idea of the outer journey, what the character’s outer goal is, that story objective, and how they’re going to get there, and what the main conflict is going to be for them, how they’re going to overcome that.
You can have the same picture for their inner journey. You can recognize, okay, what are the things that are going to get in the way of my character achieving that story goal? Where might that have come from? What is something that they might have to deal with or change in order to find success, and achieve that story goal?
It doesn’t have to be this huge amount of planning. It’s just, in my mind, a matter of considering it beforehand, so that you can see what the outer journey is, and what the inner journey is. And then, as you go along, you have it in your mind.
It’s not easy. We know that we have to plot the outer journey and that we have to keep that in mind as we go along, to make sure that we’re headed the right direction. But the inner journey is something that we don’t think a whole lot about.
It’s very important, in my mind, to have the vision of that before you start, how it dovetails into the outer journey, because then it’s a lot easier to keep it in mind and to remember as you go along. The character is doing this, this, and this, and this, but they also need to be working on internally taking that journey and making the changes that they need to make.
Conflict, really, is a really great way of tying the two together, because your character’s on this journey, and they have this goal that they’re trying to achieve, but things keep getting in their way.
While the conflict is going to provide difficulties for them externally, it also can provide, at the same time, opportunities for internal growth.
Conflict comes, most of the time, with a choice.
There’s a choice that the character has to make. They’re going to react this way or that way. They’re going to face the conflict or they’re going to run away from it. And those choices are what really provide the opportunity for internal reflection or growth.
The character can recognize the problems that they’re having internally, and they can take steps toward them, or they can choose to deny what is really there, and they can fall back on their old dysfunctional habits and stay where they are, and not grow.
So, the conflict is what ties the two journeys together, in my opinion. It’s really a beautiful, one-stop-fits-all with conflict because you’re doing what needs to be done with the external journey, but it also provides the opportunity for internal growth at the same time.
Joanna: I’ll add that, as a discovery writer, you can also do this stuff in the edit, because I want people to feel like they don’t have to have any plan beforehand, because that’s how I go about it.
As you say, when something happens, so some conflict happens, I’m writing a scene and something happens, and as you say, it’s the choice and how the character reacts. And it actually can be at that point when you investigate this stuff. You don’t need to go into it, I don’t feel, you don’t need to go into it with a plan.
I feel like the intuitive angle can be just as interesting, actually, and based on how your character might act in the moment, and then, of course, in the edit. I find your books, the ‘Thesaurus’, useful for going back later. I never, ever, ever use this stuff in the actual writing process, in the first draft. Only in the editing process.
[Note from Joanna: I cover my discovery writing process in How to Write a Novel: From Idea to Book.]
Becca: Yes. I agree 100%. And again, everybody’s process is different. I know a lot of people who use our resources, some of them use them in the planning stage, before they write, and then many of them use them for editing. And, like you said, it’s not necessary for everybody to have a plan.
I know that a lot of people do use the editing stage, or the drafting stage, as they’re writing and the words are flowing, and they realize, ‘This is a good opportunity to explore X.’ They’ll make notes, and then that way, when they are editing, they can come back and look at it that way, and that’s a great way to do it.
Joanna: Absolutely. I think that’s important.
Your ‘Thesaurus’ books are super useful, and again, they’re pretty jam-packed full of ideas. So, let’s role-play a little bit. Either say I’m looking at my edits or I’m writing my first draft, and I’m going, ‘Do you know what? This is a little bit boring. My writing seems quite flat. Is anything actually happening here?’
How would someone go and use The Conflict Thesaurus? How would they go and find the right idea to fit their book?
Becca: There’s I think a couple of different things to consider when you’re looking at problems with your story and you suspect that conflict might be the problem.
First of all, a common mistake is that people don’t vary the kinds of conflict.
It’s always the same kind of conflict over and over. It’s always relationship friction, or it’s always conflict that’s happening at work, and after a while, it starts to fall flat.
So, one way that the books can be useful is that they give you an abundance of conflict options, where you can look through the categories, look through the table of contents, and just see what kind of options do I have? What have I used and what have I not used, and what makes sense for my character in this scene?
Varying the kinds of conflict is important, but also the intensity, the level. We’ve talked about this, about how everything can’t be explosive and really monumental. Sometimes you have to have a variety of intensities. That’s where I think the book really comes in helpful because each conflict entry, it has some information on minor complications that can come about from that conflict.
It also has options for potentially disastrous results. So, you’re looking at different conflict ideas and you think, ‘I really like this particular conflict scenario for this scene, but it’s maybe the beginning of the scene, I just want a smaller level.’ Well, then you can go with a minor complication coming up out of that conflict. Or if you do need something really bad, then you have those options, too.
That’s the other thing that writers should keep in mind, is that we want to vary the kinds of conflict that we use, but we also want to vary the intensity of the conflict. And that’s where I think the book can help on a number of levels with that.
I look at our tools, again, like you said, they can be used at different points in the process. For me, the brainstorming aspect of our books is really a big part of the benefit for them, because they give people ideas when they don’t know where to go, or when they have so many options that they’re overwhelmed and they don’t know how to narrow it down. So, that’s, in my opinion, one of the biggest ways that it can help.
Joanna: How do you research these Thesaurus books?
Because they are, seriously, they’re huge. Is it that you start somewhere but then you have to mine the existing world of story?
Becca: It’s interesting. Some of them are a lot more research-heavy than others. The Wound Thesaurus scared the poo out of us, just because it’s real. These are things that people are really struggling with. And so the pressure to get the details right, and not misrepresent anything, was enormous. There was a lot of research for that.
The Occupation Thesaurus, the same thing, just because you had to get the facts right, or else you have people coming and saying, ‘Hello? I do this for a living, and that is not the way it works.’
Some of them are really research-heavy, and then some of them, we find that researching the concept itself kind of clarifies things.
The Conflict Thesaurus, we didn’t have to do a ton of research for the entries themselves. It was more a matter of, okay, here’s the scenario. How does it impact the story? How can we get creative with this conflict, and apply it in a storytelling context, as well as keeping it real life?
Some of the times, there’s a lot of research, and then sometimes it’s more creative license. And that, to me, is a little more fun, when you take something and then apply it to a story and think, ‘Okay, how can I make this different? How can I keep it from being same old, same old? How can I add interest to this complex scenario for writers, and really make this something that they never really considered from that angle before?’ So it really depends on the subject matter.
Joanna: I know many people are interested in co-writing, and I’ve co-written a few books, but you and Angela have done a lot now together. So, what are your tips on co-writing? When does it work? How do you get through your own interpersonal conflicts?
What are your tips on co-writing?
Becca: I always joke with her. It’s like Forrest Gump. We’re like peas and carrots. We just have always been on the same page.
We used to say that we were the Borg when we first started, because we are very, very similar. We’re similar in our personality and our values, and in the way that we approach writing. And that has made it very easy for us to work together.
I think the biggest thing is mutual respect. That’s the biggest thing that we have found, because we do have differences, and there are things that we don’t agree on, and you have to just have mutual respect for each other. You have to recognize I am not always right. I have weaknesses.
She complements me in certain ways. And when it comes to those kinds of areas, like marketing, she’s really, really good at marketing. I have zero idea really what to do there. So, when it comes to marketing, I defer to Angela. We can flip that around in areas where I am strong and she is not as much so.
So, that’s, I think, the biggest thing when you want to co-write, is recognizing that this is a team effort. You have to set your ego aside, and have mutual respect for the other person.
I think it’s super important to find people who fill your gaps. If you are working with someone who is exactly like you and who has the same strengths as you, then there’s no one to handle the areas where you’re weak. So, that has been incredibly beneficial for us.
It’s a beautiful pairing, where we do get along really well, but also, we have strengths and weaknesses in different areas, so we can complement each other.
Joanna: Do you use Google Docs, or Scrivener, or what are you using so you don’t overwrite each other’s stuff? Because I know that’s an issue with many co-writers.
What tools do you use for doing the writing?
Becca: We do it a little bit differently. When we’re writing a new book, we come up with an outline, when we figure out what the content is going to be, and then we split it. Okay, you’re going to write these sections, and I’m going to write these sections. It’s completely separate in the beginning. So there is no overlap there.
Then, when we put it together, we swap, and we edit each other’s half. In doing that, we’re each able to see, oh, I really touched on this aspect already in my section, so we’re going to have to pare some of that down so that we don’t have too much echo. And then, also, it helps us to create a blended style. And then we edit it again. We switch again.
By the second round of edits, it all pretty much sounds like one person instead of Angela clearly wrote this section and this sounds more like Becca. I think that that’s something that we have done pretty well over the years, because I don’t think that in reading a book, it’s easy to read through it and say, ‘Oh, this was Becca’s and this was Angela’s.’ It all sounds like one person.
We just use Word. We each write our stuff ourselves, and when we’re finished, we send it to each other. I put it together, and then we swap it back and forth. It’s really kind of old school, but it works for us.
Joanna: Everyone has their own method, but yeah, your voice does set your voice. I say singularly. It does sound like a voice, because it does sound like one writer, which I think is really interesting.
[Note from Joanna: I talk about my co-writing process in Co-Writing a Book, co-written with J. Thorn.]
Tell us also about your business model, and your multiple streams of income, because many listeners want to write non-fiction books, and I feel like you guys have really created this business around non-fiction.
Tell us about your multiple streams of income and the various businesses you have.
Becca: We actually have two businesses. We have Writers Helping Writers. That started when we decided to publish The Emotion Thesaurus. That’s where we have our blog. It’s where we sell our books, and it’s really how we do all of our speaking engagements through that business. That started first.
Then we had somebody come to us a couple years later and said, ‘Hey, I really would love to see all of your Thesauruses in one spot, one digital online situation, where we can hyperlink everything, and it’ll be searchable, and people can jump back and forth between the Thesauruses.’ And we thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. That would be so great.’
So we started One Stop for Writers, which has turned into a much bigger offering than what we had originally planned. And that’s a separate business, because we were in business with someone from Australia, with Lee Powell, who was the one who did all of the engineering for it. He wrote all the code and set everything up, and worked with us to maintain the site in the beginning.
So, we have two different businesses. I like to think of it as Writers Helping Writers is the instructive, informational. This is where you learn.
The books tell you all the different aspects of storytelling and how to incorporate them, and how to really write those areas of storytelling well.
And then One Stop for Writers is where we are able to apply it a little more easily, because we’ve created tools and resources containing the content from our books. So that helps you with actually applying information that you’ve learned. They’re very similar, but they really accomplish two different things. And it’s been a real journey.
We knew nothing about business when we first started.
Angela and I were just really good together, and it was very easy. Our partnership agreement that we had, it was one page. I don’t know that it would hold up in court. It’s crazy simple. Because that’s all that we needed.
Then we got into business with someone else and we had to educate ourselves on everything about business, about equity, partnerships, and how to make that work, and IP licensing, to protect the content that we had written.
That’s one of the biggest things that I think writers struggle with once they start… Once they get a little bit farther down the track and they start doing well. There are so many things that you don’t know how to do, and as you start succeeding, then you really have to educate yourself.
You have to learn how to do things that you’re not good at, or that you have never done before. And that’s been a huge part of the journey for each of us.
I know when I got married, I was engaged to my husband, I said to him, ‘Listen, when we have kids, you basically have two jobs, okay? That’s all on you, because I can’t do either one of those things.’
Well, 25 years later, I’m the person in charge of the books for both of our companies, because we didn’t have anybody to do that, and neither one of us had experience with that. And so I said, ‘Okay, I’ll take that on.’
I figured it out and I’m doing something now in that regard that I never thought that I would be able to do years and years ago.
So, part of having a successful business, I think this is true for fiction and non-fiction writers, is that you have to be able to grow and step out of your comfort zone, and educate yourself on the things that you don’t know how to do.
Some things, you just have to learn enough to get by. You don’t have to invest a lot of time, but some things you really have to know what you’re doing until you get to the point where you can hire people.
That’s the second thing that it took us so long to learn, was that we should have hired people a lot sooner. We had the resources to do it, but we didn’t have time. We were so busy doing everything. And that’s the weird kind of catch-22, is that we don’t have time, so we need to hire someone, but, oh, we don’t have time to hire someone.
Eventually got to the place where we were turning down perfectly good opportunities that would have been really great for the business because we didn’t have time, and we said, ‘Okay, stop. We have to do something about this. We have to bring people on.’
I think that would be a bit of advice for people who are headed down that track and they’re achieving a measure of success and their business is growing, is that you have to be willing to step out and educate yourself about the things that you’re not good at.
And then the things that you don’t want to do or that you can’t do, if you’re able to hire someone, do it. I mean, that’s part of, I think, being a good business person, and that’s what you are as a writer. You have a business.
My husband, who’s been an entrepreneur for years, always said, ‘As the business leader, you should be doing what only you can do.‘ I could do everything. I can do all the little stuff, but really, there are certain things that only Angela and I can do, and we need to outsource as much of the other stuff as we can so that we can focus on the things that make our business great and that make our books really helpful. So, lessons learned.
Joanna: I think that’s really important, but it’s interesting because, of course, there’s two of you, and I can hear people going, ‘But there’s two of them, so why can’t they do everything?’
The first person I ever hired was a bookkeeper, and, of course, we need accountants and we need some legal freelance help and things like that.
What have you felt were the most important things that you did hire out, or get freelance people for?
Becca: The accountant was the first person. My husband, again, he’s super great at math, and had his own businesses and was doing his own accounting. And so he did our accounting for the first couple of years, but then when we started working with One Stop for Writers, and we’ve got three partners, basically, all in different countries, he was like, ‘You know what? It’s getting a little too complicated for me.’ And I said, ‘Okay, this is silly. We should just hire somebody to do our taxes.’
So, that was something that I want to smack myself for not doing earlier. But then we also hired Mindy, who is our blog wizard. She basically does everything at the blog. She schedules all the guest posts. She collects the ideas and vets them. She puts all the posts up at the blog. She handles a lot of the comments, and interacting with people.
That created a lot of free time for me and Angela from stuff that we were doing, that now someone else is doing, and so we can dedicate our time somewhere else. The next person is absolutely a marketing person for Angela. She’s been doing all of it, and she needs somebody to help her with that, so we’re excited to be able to do that pretty soon.
Joanna: So, basically, it’s the dealing with the finances, and it’s interesting. I do think it’s important for people. If you are getting to that point, you definitely need professionals to help with your finances. I was out of control even just with my books, which are just the sort of monthly thing.
And then, as you say, marketing. I think those are probably, still, for everyone, the two biggest things that we do hire out.
That’s fantastic, and it’s lovely to hear about your business model as well. I did want, actually, just before we finish, we’re almost out of time, but one of the things that I noticed, because I think we both got approached by the same company for licensing, maybe it was South Korean or… There was something where I was like, ‘Oh, look. You know, that agency deals with your foreign rights somewhere else.’
Tell us about intellectual property licensing, and how foreign rights play into the business now.
Becca: That was something that we dismissed for the longest time. Just, again, no time. We had done all of the self-publishing for everything, and so we assumed that that’s how eventually when we moved into foreign markets that we would just do it ourselves, because that’s what we did.
But we had no idea how to do it, didn’t have the time, so we just kind of kept putting it off. And then a Korean publisher approached us and said, ‘Hey, are the Korean rights for The Emotion Thesaurus available?’ And we thought, ‘Okay, we’re just leaving money on the table at this point. This is silly.’
We realized we don’t have to do it ourselves. This is something that we can outsource. So we found an agent that specializes only in foreign rights deals, which was perfect, because we didn’t really need anything domestically.
We went to her and said, ‘Here’s what we’re looking for. Here’s this offer that we have,’ and she’s like, ‘Here’s the paperwork,’ and 9 years later, our books are in 10 languages. We have contracts coming in seemingly every two or three months for our new books, from the existing publishers that we’re working with, or from new markets.
We just signed a contract with Greece, and we’re working on something with France. So, that was something that really came out of nowhere, seemingly. We haven’t done a whole lot of work in terms of we’re not marketing in Greece, in Turkey, and all of those things.
It’s something that we didn’t realize how beneficial it was until we got into it. Our foreign rights sales account for a quarter of our sales at this point. It’s crazy.
Joanna: That’s amazing. I’m really glad you said that. I’m glad I asked that at the end because I know that’s important, but I didn’t realize how big a deal it was. So that is fantastic.
Where can people find you and the various Thesauruses and everything you do online?
Becca: Our blog is writershelpingwriters.net. That’s where the blog is and all of the books. Information on the books can be found there.
And then, onestopforwriters.com is our subscription-based website that has a character builder, story mapping tool. It has all of our Thesauruses, the entry portions, in digital form, a huge collection of all of our ‘Thesaurus’ information there.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Becca. That was great.
Becca: Thank you so much for having me. You’re the best.
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Author: Joanna Penn