7 Tips for Creating An Online Course For Writers

Online courses are one great way for authors to create multiple streams of income while also helping those writers who want to learn a new skill. Sara Rosett shares seven tips for building a course, and even creating other scalable assets from that course!

creating a course for writers

Writers have a long history of sharing their knowledge and supplementing their income through teaching. In the past, this was often done in a school setting like a community college, or on a one-to-one basis through coaching or consulting.

But with the rise of online teaching platforms, writers can reach a wider audience and have their content continually available.

[Note from Joanna: I use Teachable to host my courses as they take care of the technical and tax side so I can just focus on the content!]

In 2016, I had an idea for a course but I’m an introvert and was reluctant to do video. However, I had information I knew could help writers.

I also knew the course would be evergreen content, so it would be a smart use of my time. It was a big project—much bigger than I realized—but I’m glad I took the time to do it. The course gives me a way to share what I’ve learned with other writers and provides a steady sideline income, which has brought in between 6 and 10% of my income since 2017. If you’re interested in creating an online course, here are my top tips.

1. Pick a small niche

Instead of going broad with a topic like How to Write a Novel, go narrow and focus on a specific genre, sub-genre, or aspect of writing. If you’re having trouble picking a topic look at what you’re good at.

What do your reviews mention? Deep characterization? Evocative settings? Satisfying endings?

Those are all great topics for a course that will appeal to writers. Or think about what you help other writers with. It might be editing, humor, or world-building.
funny clown kid
I knew my course would focus on cozy mysteries, but then I narrowed my topic even more to the outlining/planning stage of writing. I’d written over 20 cozies at that point and my intricate plots were often mentioned in reviews.

2. If you want your course to be low-maintenance, choose an evergreen topic

Writing fiction is my main focus. I wanted my course to help authors and bring in a sideline income. I didn’t want to always be re-recording content. Creating Great Characters or Compelling Settings are evergreen topics that writers will always be interested in.

How to Use ConvertKit or Selling More Books with Ads are non-evergreen topics. Courses based on author services and ad platforms will change, and you’ll have to re-record to keep your course relevant.

3. Break the project into smaller tasks

I created a list of topics I wanted to cover and detailed the supporting points I wanted to hit under each topic, which gave me an outline for the course.

For instance, I knew I wanted to explore the flexible nature of cozies, so I included a module about creativity, which included lessons on innovative ways to approach story structure, the discovery of the body, suspects and motives, clues, and bending and breaking the rules.

Next, I created all the slides, then I wrote a script to help me remember the major points I wanted to touch on. I jotted down phrases and ideas to keep the style more conversational and less like a lecture.

4. Invest in equipment and up-skill as needed

I purchased a light kit, a lapel microphone, and a pop-up background in a solid color as well as ScreenFlow, a screencasting and video editing software.

I also took a How to Create a Course course. (It was very meta!) I learned the skills I needed to record and edit video as well as tips on how to organize my material.

5. Re-record the first episodes after finishing all the videos

By the time I finished recording the course I was more comfortable in front of the camera. I went back and re-recorded the first lessons because I wanted students to have a good experience from the beginning.

6. Create a workbook

This is a tip I got from Joanna, and it’s an excellent one! At the end of each lesson, I listed questions to help students put the information from the lesson into practice. I used those questions to create a print workbook. It’s my most consistent selling print book year in and year out.

[Note from Joanna: You’ll find tips on how to create a workbook in this tutorial.]

7. Revise according to feedback

I opened the course to writer friends for feedback then launched at a “low” price (for an online course) of $79. I played around with pricing and coupons and ads.

After a year, I added more content based on feedback I’d received—one-on-one interviews with authors in various cozy sub-genres as well as a private Facebook group option.

Creating an online course is a big project. I estimated it would take me a month. Three months later it was done! Even though it took longer than I thought, I’m glad I carved out time to create it. It’s a way to share my knowledge and also diversify my income.

Have you thought of creating an online course? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Sara RosettUSA Today and Audible bestselling author Sara Rosett writes lighthearted mysteries for readers who enjoy atmospheric settings, fun characters, and puzzling whodunits. Publishers Weekly called Sara’s books, “satisfying,” “well-executed,” and “sparkling.” Sara loves to get new stamps in her passport and considers dark chocolate a daily requirement. Find out more at SaraRosett.com or How to Outline a Cozy Mystery.

Co-Writing Across Distance: Improve Your Non-Fiction Ideas, Clarity, and Writing Speed

My own experiences with collaborative writing have resulted in books that might otherwise not have been written, new friendships, and unique experiences (including writing on a train!). In this post, Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby share the unique approach to collaborative writing that led to their co-written book.

pair writing co-writing

You’ve got a writer friend and you want to collaborate. Or, you’ve got a project that needs a special other writer. You know how to write yourself, but can you write with another person? You can, and it’s called pairing.

Pair-writing (or co-writing) can make the overall writing more fun, faster, and produce a better product.

We (Johanna Rothman and Mark Kilby) recently published our book, From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver. We wrote it as a distributed agile team. We lived the principles of distributed agile teams to create the best book possible.

Here’s our story.

Pair-Writing Is Similar to Pair-Programming

You might have seen pictures or video of pair-programming: one person sits at the keyboard. The other person looks at the screen, reviewing the work. When we integrate product development with product review we gain several advantages:

  • We catch errors fast.
  • We might see an alternate structure. (For code, this is called refactoring.)
  • We might research in real-time, to verify our assumptions.

Writing simply and having someone review while writing allowed us to write quickly and clearly. Pair programmers often say the same thing.

two women working computer

In the world of agile software development, pairing is a familiar, but too-infrequently used practice.

Pairing can feel awkward at first.

It seems unnatural to have someone staring over your shoulder. However, as your “copilot” assists you moment to moment, you get a sense of confidence that allows the work to flow. Also, many developers find that it can be a highly collaborative and enjoyable experience.

We wondered if we could adapt our understanding of pair-programming for pair-writing. We both had a passion and experience in helping distributed teams collaborate effectively. We also knew that few people even thought this was feasible and we had many stories we wished to share. This passion and experience fueled our drive to experiment with pair-writing and make it successful.

We had some questions as writers:

  • Could we make the book sound like one voice, not two of us?
  • Would we have to edit more, not less?
  • Was pairing even possible for our book?

We decided to experiment with everything to collaborate.

Experiments Drove Our Collaboration

We knew we were going to use leanpub.com as a way to write and publish the ebook first, especially for early drafts. We always planned to publish widely in ebook and print.

With fiction, we get to create our worlds, decide what works and how, and decide how characters will interact in the world. For fiction, we often do not want to review until we finish the entire story.

Non-fiction does require interim review—if we want to get it right. In our book, we wanted to explain concepts but also show how these principles could drive many new practices to help distributed teams succeed. So we needed early feedback to make sure we explained the concepts clearly or we would lose readers in our examples and stories of practical applications.

Leanpub allows writers to publish whenever they want to. And, because the service offers all ebook formats—epub, mobi, pdf—we didn’t have to worry about people being able to download or read the book.
mobile phones

When we started, Leanpub didn’t offer a real collaboration between two writers. (They now support writing in google docs.) We had to experiment to determine how to collaborate.

Leanpub supports Markdown for writing. Markdown is primarily text-based with very little formatting. That means the writer focuses on the words, not the format. We both liked that idea.

We tried writing in a markdown tool, something Johanna had used for most of her previous books. Mark was game to try, but we couldn’t easily collaborate writing in a Markdown tool. It was still a ping-pong writing experience.

We settled on Google Docs, because it allows real-time collaboration between the people who work in one file. As one writer typed, the other immediately could see the words on their screen and act upon them. We wrote in Markdown in the documents. Google didn’t care, and we could sweep the entire document into the files for Leanpub.

Pairing to Find a Blended Voice

When writers ping-pong, they each write something and hand it off to the other. Ping-pong is great as a game. It’s often not so good for writing (or any knowledge work). Too often, the voice differs between the sections. he writers may not align on the concepts. And, writers can find it difficult to agree on how to write that one area, because it’s not real-time collaboration.

With pair-writing, if you can manage the “invasion of privacy” feelings, the writers create a mind-meld. (No apologies to Star Trek and Spock!). Because we used Google Docs, we always worked in the same document at the same time. Pairing felt natural, as opposed to invasive.

We still had to get accustomed to each other’s approach and ideas. We did the typical team formation of forming and storming first. However, the pairing allowed us to work through norming to become performing fast.

Here’s an example. One of us typed this actual sentence: Misspellings were fixed and minor grammar changes could be made immediately. As we wrote, the other person updated that sentence to: We could fix misspellings and minor grammar changes on the fly.
As a pair, we fixed the passive voice, the misspellings, and clarified the intent. Because we pair, the person typing continues to type forward. The other person supports the getting-the-words-down part. We both agree that getting the words down first and editing later works for us as a pair.

To keep our blended voice, we often swapped the positions of typist and “sweeper”. This not only happened in getting-the-words-down, but also in editing. One of us would have an idea when reviewing to clarify the writing and jump into the typist role with the other one quickly taking the sweeper role. We did this naturally without much discussion as we both found ways to clarify the writing.

Working Agreements Drove Our Success

Successful teams create formal or informal working agreements. To support our paired writing, we had several working agreements that helped us work fast:

  • Write first, edit later: get-the-words-down first and edit in another pass
  • Unpack dense ideas or sentences
  • Audio and video to enhance collaboration and see what the other was thinking
  • Check-ins at the start of each session
  • Writing every day, or as close to it, for up to an hour a day
  • Build agreement on what we said, how we said it for the writing
  • Build agreement on how to publish and market the book

Sometimes one of us would write down a complex sentence or one that requires more explanation for the reader. The person not typing recognized that need for more explanation. In our collaboration, we called this “unpacking.”

We waited for the writer to first finish writing to completely capture the thought. The other might ask a few quick questions and then offer to rewrite the sentence or unpack it if concepts needed more explanation. All of this occurred in moments.

We also used Zoom for audio and video. We wanted to be able to see each other and read each other’s body language. Johanna tends to be sarcastic and an eye-roller. Mark is easygoing but had his own visual language for feedback. Often Johanna would compose a beautifully condensed statement and Mark would then tilt his head as he read it, like the RCA dog logo.

To connect with each other before we connected on the day’s work, we would often have a brief check-in to discuss what might be on our minds, how was the weather (and how it affected our mood), and whether we could be flexible with our writing session.

We needed flexibility to make decisions:

  • Were we writing the blurbs?
  • Were we writing a chapter?
  • Were we writing a conference abstract?
  • Did we need to create images?
  • Did we need to write an article?
  • Did we need to develop workshop material?

We knew that to effectively market our book, we would need to speak at conferences, on podcasts, and write supporting articles. We could choose—in the moment—the kind of deliverable we needed for that day.

Our first choice was always to get new words done for the book. Then, images. Then, anything around the book, such as workshops or conference abstracts.

Create a Consistent Pattern for Writing

We chose to use the power of a streak or consistency to help us finish the book. We chose to be consistent in our collaboration days, and the amount of time we used to collaborate.

We tried to meet at the same time every day, but that didn’t quite work for our schedules. We discovered we could meet at the same time—9 a. m., on Mondays, Wednesday, and Thursdays. We also chose to meet on Tuesdays and Fridays, at a different time, 3 p. m.

We maintained that schedule through all of our travel when we wrote together.
high speed train
In addition to a consistent schedule, we chose to be consistent with our writing time. We planned to meet each of those days for at least 30 minutes. More often, we could manage a one-hour timebox. We found that once we learned how to write with each other, we could write a lot in one hour. (Our one-hour speed was often close to 1500 words, more than either of us wrote alone.)

Pairing Powers Momentum and Consistency

We made commitments to each other: We would pair on all the writing. We would also work to build a consistent momentum, despite any changes in our working conditions.

When we work from our home offices, we are in the same timezone, US Eastern. And, we don’t always work from our home offices.

Johanna travels every few weeks. Mark travels every couple of months. So we are not always in the same time zone. However, we wanted to keep our writing momentum, even when our working conditions changed.

In some cases, one of us would stay with our regular writing time and the traveler would adjust. Other times, we both adjusted just to keep our writing session for the day.

Early in the book, we decided to use video and audio to see each other as we wrote. We happened to use Zoom as our tool. And, some of our hotel internet connection speed challenged our “normal” writing process.

Johanna traveled to Israel in November of 2017, early in our collaboration. Her hotel was supposed to have “speedy” wifi. Everyone has a different interpretation of “speedy.”

We found a time during the day to write and hopped on a Zoom session. We quickly realized the internet speed would not support video. Audio mostly worked. When audio didn’t work, we collaborated only by typing into the current document in Google Docs.

Even with travel, we were able to maintain our momentum and consistency because we paired. We didn’t let the other person down.

Lessons Learned from Pairing

We learned a ton by writing together. One big learning was that we were not able to judge our work in the moment.

During our collaboration, one of us was tired, or one couldn’t type (“the typist didn’t show up today”), or we struggled to articulate the ideas. We wrote anyway and left a note for us to review the work the next day. (XX marked the spot)

We learned the next day that what we wrote was fine. When we reviewed it together, we looked at each other and said, “Guess that’s okay!” When we didn’t feel good about ourselves, we didn’t feel good about the product. Many writers, fiction and non-fiction feel that way. Our pairing helped us overcome that problem.

Another thing we learned is that we could review an entire chapter in a few minutes. That’s because we wrote clean, left markers (XX) where we thought we might need to edit, and had already had partial review from the pairing.

The biggest thing we learned is that pair-writing is fun. We had a blast. We laughed with each other. Mark reminded Johanna to have empathy. Johanna reminded Mark that some people didn’t deserve any more empathy. Having an outer voice—through a pairing partner—also helped quiet our inner voice that might otherwise slow down or stop our writing at times. This helped add to the productivity and joy of our writing.

We can recommend pair-writing for non-fiction. We don’t know about fiction, but we all need to write blurbs and ad copy and bios. Consider pairing on those writing pieces for speed, clarity, and momentum.

Have you ever tried pair writing (or co-writing)? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Mark KilbyMark Kilby has coached leaders, teams and organizations for over two decades on how to work more effectively, whether they are distributed or collocated. His easy-going style helps teams learn to collaborate and discover their path to success and sustainability.

Sometimes known as a “community (re)builder”, Mark has also co-founded a number of professional learning organizations such as Agile Orlando, Agile Florida, Virtual Team Talk, and the Agile Alliance Community Group Support Initiative among others.

Mark shares his insights on community building, change navigation, and coaching distributed and agile teams in dozens of articles in multiple publications. His first book, From Chaos to Successfully Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver, was co-authored with Johanna Rothman and is available in paperback and ebook formats. Most of his latest ideas and developments can be found on his website. You can tweet him at @mkilby or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Johanna RothmanJohanna Rothman coaches, consults, and writes on all aspects of managing product development. She specializes in agile and lean approaches. Known as the Pragmatic Manager, she offers frank advice, often with a little humor. She’s a professional speaker and author of 14 non-fiction books, as well as short stories and romance. (Her heroines are quirky smart women.)

Read more of her blogs and articles at www.jrothman.com and www.createadaptablelife.com. Tweet her @johannarothman and connect with her on LinkedIn.

How To Build Your Own Home Sound Booth For Audiobooks And Podcasting

Audiobooks are the fastest-growing segment in publishing and podcasting is one of the best ways to market audiobooks, since you are already in people’s ears, but both require good quality sound recording. In this article, I’ll outline how I (finally) built my own audio sound booth.

I’ve been podcasting since 2009 and recorded my first audiobook in 2015, when I hired a professional studio and audio producer.

I found the process exhausting and decided to work with pro narrators for my books, but of course, you have to find a good ‘voice’ match for your work, and I believe voice brand is going to become even more important as time passes.

[Here’s why you should consider narrating your own audiobooks.]

In late 2018, after voice coaching for improvement, I started recording more audiobooks — The Dark Queen, and A Thousand Fiendish Angels, both in my walk-in closet at my old flat. [Links to all my audiobooks here.]

Then I decided to double down on audio and make it a significant part of my author business, so when we moved house in May 2019, I wanted a proper audio booth so I could record better quality sound. Of course, it can be cleaned up later, but the base level sound quality takes the files a long way towards the finished product.

There are options for your home studio, including a full-on professional self-contained booth with ventilation and fan installed (basic starts at US$5000 on VocalBooth.com), all the way to putting an audio blanket over your head in a closet.

I thought I was going to go for the expensive pro setup, but then my wonderful audio producer, Dan Van Werkhoven, sent me this article on the best DIY vocal booth from Musician on a Mission, which includes some basic options as well as some more developed ideas. We decided to build a variation of the blanket booth, option 4.

Once in my new house, I called a local carpenter who measured up the available space and built a simple timber frame for £320 (around US$400). It’s sturdy but I can still lift it, and it can be disassembled if we move house again.

Wooden audio booth frame

I covered the frame with 4 audio blankets (£250, around $310) and linked them together with shower curtain rings so they hang down either side of the booth as well as around both ends.

Sound blankets with shower rings to hold them together over the frame

[Specifically VB72G Sound Absorption Panels Producers Choice – White- Black. Size 200 x 243 cm, with Grommets from Vocal Booth To Go, who also have other options.]

It’s perfect 🙂 I can go inside and seal the door behind me with a bulldog clip and the sound is brilliant. It’s incredible how much difference the blankets make.

Joanna Penn’s home audio sound booth

I’ve been using this new booth for my podcast introductions for the past month and have also recorded Successful Self-Publishing as an audiobook, with 3 more audiobooks on the way.

The process is much easier as I just move my laptop into the booth, plug in the microphone, close the door and start recording. Since my energy is variable during the day, I can do a couple of hours and then work on something else.

Here’s a list of all the equipment for the whole booth with prices in USD:

  • Wooden frame – $400
  • Sound blankets – $310
  • Curtain rings – $6
  • Bulldog clips to hold the door shut – $5
  • Microphone stand – $45
  • Blue Yeti microphone – $90
  • Pop filter – $10
  • Light – $20
  • Small fan (although obviously, you can’t have that running when you are in the booth, only in between sessions) – $5
  • Music stand – $9
  • Barstool to put my laptop on – $30

TOTAL: $930

I have had different setups over the years in rental property but now I have my own office in my own house, I am really happy with this booth and it will last a while.

Considering my audiobook sales have doubled twice in the last 2 years, I am anticipating doing a lot more audio, so the investment is already paid for.

Do you have a home audio setup? Any recommendations or tips? Please do leave a comment and join the conversation.

Book Marketing: Content Marketing Strategy With Pamela Wilson

Paid advertising may spike your book sales for the short term, but if you stop paying, you stop selling. With content marketing, you can create value for the long term, attract your target market and sell sustainably for years. 

content marketing strategyI know this to be true because my business is built on content marketing through my blog and podcast. In today’s show, Pamela Wilson shares some tips on your book marketing strategy.

In the intro, I talk about the launch (or lack of!) for Map of Plagues, and why I need to release a Second Edition of Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts, rather than just an update. The challenges of keeping your intellectual property updated!

kobo writing lifeThis 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.

pamela wilsonPamela Wilson is an author, professional speaker, and consultant at Big Brand System where she helps businesses with content marketing and branding. Her latest book is Master Content Strategy: How to Maximize Your Reach and Boost Your Bottom Line Every Time You Hit Publish.

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

Show Notes

  • Marketing that is based on delivering value

master content strategy

  • Why it matters now to focus on the quality of content used to market our work
  • Looking at content as a creative body of work
  • What to use as content and what to use as products to sell
  • Tips for creating content that stands out
  • Advice about posting on sites like Medium or Facebook
  • The importance of focusing on what you enjoy

You can find Pamela Wilson at BigBrandSystem.com and on Twitter @pamelaiwilson

Transcript of Interview with Pamela Wilson

Joanna: Pamela Wilson is an author, professional speaker, and consultant at Big Brands System where she helps businesses with content marketing and branding. Her latest book is Master Content Strategy: How to Maximize Your Reach and Boost Your Bottom Line Every Time You Hit Publish. Welcome back to the show, Pamela.

Pamela: I’m so happy to be here.

Joanna: It’s great to have you back.

Can you start by defining content marketing?

Pamela: One of the most beautiful things that content marketing does is – it is marketing that’s why that word marketing is in there – but it’s marketing in a way where you are actually delivering value to someone in front of everything else. So before everything else you’re delivering value.

And what this ends up doing when you share your expertise in this way and when you share valuable information is it ends up building trust in people. And it makes them more open and more receptive to doing business with you. So I think that’s one of the most amazing things that really strong content marketing can do.

Joanna: So just to be clear, it is free content that is meant to drive sales in some way.

Pamela: It is. It absolutely is. It’s free. It’s freely available and for the most part, it’s just out there for the taking. And it’s a little more difficult than in the past to stand out. But we can talk about that.

Joanna: What are some specific examples of content marketing and some of the ways we can do that?

Pamela: The way that I define it is a little bit like a medium agnostic in a way. So I believe that content marketing can be delivered in words. This would be something like a blog post. But it can also be delivered by audio which is what we’re doing right now. And also by video. So the format used is not as important as the value of the information that’s delivered.

Joanna: Fantastic. And yes, of course, I’ve been podcasting for 10 years. So I am a strong believer in content marketing. But one of the questions that comes up a lot is: does content marketing still work, especially in the author community right now. People are pouring all the energy into paid ads and Amazon ads for example.

Does content marketing still work?

Pamela: I do think that paid ads are a great way to drive awareness and a great way to drive attention. But I think there is such an important role for content. I have heard a lot of evidence of people who have run ads to pieces of content that end up doing better than just ads directly to a product.

It’s for that same reason that when you run an ad to a piece of content you’re delivering some value. In the case of authors, they may be delivering a taste of their book and people get a chance to read a bit of it and then they’re ready to go ahead and invest and buy.

So I think that there is a really strong argument to be made for creating content, really great content though, and that’s the difference between maybe five or 10 years ago. The Internet was this blank space and we could fill it up with content and the quality of the content wasn’t quite as important.

Because there’s so much more content now we do really have to focus on quality and that’s one of the reasons I wrote the book. I wrote to help people to create more consistent and high-quality content over time.

Joanna: I think that’s so true. The other thing on ads, and this is content marketing for me, it feels like say you run an Amazon ad which can’t go to content, it goes directly to a book. That is one click. It might be one sale.

Whereas content is a longer-term thing. Paid ads are immediate and short-term, whereas content is long term.

Would you say that would also be a difference?

Pamela: Yes, I love it. And I have an analogy actually. You know me well enough to know that I love my analogy.

My analogy is that an ad is like a dating app. So you’re swiping right on a book that you want and you go directly to that book and like you said you might buy that book.

Content marketing is actually like dating. You’re investing time to get to know the author, you’re getting to understand the world that their books exist in and it’s more of an investment. And like you said, there’s a better chance that it will be a long term relationship because there’s an investment.

Joanna: I’ve talked about it on my show that I started another podcast, Books and Travel, around my fiction because I found after 10 years of this podcast that it does build that trust, as you say.

Sometimes people just aren’t ready to buy on that first view or that first hearing about you.

Pamela: Yes, absolutely. People are particular about how they’re going to spend their time these days. There’s a lot of content to consume out there, a lot of books to read, a lot on the internet, lots of podcasts to listen to and videos to watch and people are particular.

If you can create some kind of trust-based relationship with them they’re more likely to invest in you. And honestly, you’re doing people a favor because I know that my life gets less crazy when I just decide to focus on a small number of topics or people at the same time. And I kind of ignore the rest. It’s so much easier.

Joanna: I think you’re right. You choose your own influencers and tune out everyone else, which is really cool.

One of the things I love from the book, you say, “Think about your content as a body of work.” This is probably unusual for a lot of people but I completely agree. Because again, I’ve had this podcast ten years, over 430 episodes, this is part of my body of creative work but it’s also content marketing.

How can authors reframe content creation as creative?

Pamela: What I love to think about when I think about authors, because at this point now I have done both. I’ve done online content marketing and I’ve written books. And what I find with books is that it is a wonderful way to express your ideas and express your creativity in this format. That’s very tangible. And it’s pretty permanent. I know books can be updated but it’s a fairly permanent final product.

When you look at content, there is this impermanence to it that can be very refreshing. You publish a podcast and then next week you published another and the next week you publish another and the new ones almost replace the older ones. It’s like a moving stream and the older pieces of content move down the stream.

And I think that’s wonderful because honestly, it takes some of the pressure off. We may feel a lot of pressure that every word and every chapter in our books needs to be perfectly polished and a piece of content doesn’t have that same kind of pressure. Obviously, you want to try to hit the highest standards, but you get another chance next week to get it right.

So if this week’s piece of content wasn’t this epic world-shaking piece of information you have another chance to get it right next week. No single piece of content needs to do all the work of communicating your view of the world. Does that make sense?

Joanna: Yes. And it definitely begs the question then because, for example, I feel that sometimes I have a certain amount of woods in me per day or per week and I should use those words for my books. And the more books I write potentially the more money I can make. And you’ve obviously written books as well.

How do you decide which words are content marketing and which go into a book?

Pamela: That is such a good question.

I think a traditional marketer would say your content marketing should talk about why and what, and your book should talk about how. This is a concept that goes way back in marketing and digital information, in general.

People say tease why it’s important and what people should be doing in your piece of content. And then in the paid content, like a book or a course, you show them how, step-by-step. And I believe that to a certain extent. I think that’s probably helpful.

But I also think that there are ways that you can create content that is very useful that allows people to put something into practice immediately. So I think if you see a concept that you can explain in, let’s say, 1500 words and it has a beginning and an end, and in and of itself it’s useful, that can be a wonderful piece of content.

And then, of course, you can give people an expanded version of it and you can send them to your book to get that. But I do believe content marketing needs to be more than just a glossing over of the basic concepts. It needs to be useful.

Joanna: And actually I would always go the other way now especially in this fast-moving world. If you are mentioning anything at all that will go out of date then don’t put that in a book. Because, as you say, it’s definitely a pain to update.

You and I both know people who have a book about Facebook advertising, whereas as soon as that comes out it’s going to be out of date. It’s how to stuff. Now technically at least should be on a website.

The higher up stuff, the strategy, can go in a book because it’s more evergreen.

Pamela: Right. I think it depends a lot on the topic. I write a lot about evergreen topics on my blog and I do have some how-to information there. But I think if you’re writing about something, for example, a social media platform that changes all the time and whose changes are out of your control really. It’s just that it’s their business and they’re going to do what they want. So I think if you’re writing about that then yes you need to put it in a place so you can easily update and put a date on it. You know this was accurate as of this writing on this date.

But I talk a lot about business topics that are somewhat evergreen so I feel comfortable putting those into books as well.

Joanna: I’ve found over time I want to focus more and more on evergreen topics.

One of the things you mentioned a bit earlier was standing out because it is a crowded market. And authors have this problem and we all have this problem on the Kindle store now because there are so many millions of books, but it’s kind of even worse online where there are so many you know blogs and even now so many podcasts.

How do you create content that is remarkable enough to be good enough to stand out?

Pamela: I think having some kind of underlying structure can be really helpful and that was what I covered in my first book, which you and I have already talked about, Master Content Marketing. That book is really more about constructing your piece of content and giving it a structure so that it’s always going to be useful.

The first parts of the content, the headline and the first line are basically just to keep people on the page and reading. But then there’s this underlying structure where you’re moving people from an introduction into a set of subheads and the main copy you’re adding some kind of summary at the end.

And then some kind of call to action because this is a piece of content marketing and you want them to take some sort of action even if it’s just leaving a comment.

So it is having that underlying structure that I think can really help to remind you of the basic elements that need to be in every piece of content you create.

And then after that, it’s things that most of us already know. Do your research support your claims with research. Make sure that everything is written in a way that’s grammatically correct. Use the second person, make it seem very personal. As much as possible avoid standing at an altar and making pronouncements but rather make it seem very very personal.

If you have a long piece of content adding images every so often to break up that content. Making sure you go back and add things like bulleted lists, block quotes, create some subheads within your content so that people can skim down the page.

All of those things add value and make for a more pleasant reading experience, which is part of it as well. If you want people to be on your page consuming your content you have to make it easy to read and pleasant.

Joanna: I definitely think you’re right and those things you’re talking about, and this is an important distinction between writing a book and writing copy. As you say, the copy you might have the word ‘you’ a lot, which we don’t often necessarily do in our books.

And also that layout with images designed almost for scanning and looking better. So these are some really great tips. As you said, we did another interview with more detail so let’s get back into the strategy.

You’ve split the book in two life cycles, which I think is brilliant for people at different levels of the journey.

If someone is just starting out what should they focus on?

Pamela: I did this out of complete necessity because I had coached so many people who were looking at these web sites that had 8,9 and 10 years worth of content and they were just starting out and they were looking at this content management system. There was a complete blank.

It’s so daunting and so what I wanted to address was this concept that at every stage of the journey your goals are going to change and you need to focus on the goals for the stage you’re in and then move on to the next. Don’t compare your brand new site to somebody else’s site that’s been online for a very long time because they started out exactly where you are.

In that first year, I call it the birth through Year 1. This is the first year of a brand new website and what I recommend that people do is to get into the habit and the rhythm of writing a new piece of content every week.

The reason for that is twofold. The main reason is that at the end of the year if you take a couple of weeks of vacation you’ll have about 50 pieces of content. This is a fantastic way to tell the search engines what your site is about. Because if you’ve written 50 pieces of content on related topics the search engines will know what it is that your website is about and in your case, in the case of authors, they’ll know what your books are covering because you’ve got content that supports your book topics.

Then I recommend that people do this also to build your skills as content creators because after you’ve gotten to this rhythm of creating a new piece of content every week you’re going to have a very high skill level by the time you go into the second year of your website. So it’s as much for for the ability to populate your website as it is for your ability to grow as a content creator.

Joanna: I completely agree with that and it’s funny because I’m kind of in two places. Books and Travel – I only started that as we are recording this. I started a couple of months ago, three months ago. It’s a new domain, it’s unknown.

All the things you’re talking about a true even though I’ve got 10 years experience so I know what I’m doing. But I still have to build up this new site from scratch.

The other thing I’d add is that I have some plans for monetization but I am not expecting to turn any of them on until at least a year in.

A lot of people seem to expect that they’ll make money from a website straight away.

Pamela: If they figure out how to do that I hope that they’ll share it with me! That’s why it’s so wonderful if you have a way to do it as almost a side gig.

During this first year, you’re not depending on your website to print cash for you. You have something else that is bringing an income. And then you’re just developing and investing in the site for the first year and investing in yourself as a content creator if you don’t know how to write content and you haven’t created it in the past.

Joanna: So then the next level is and I know many authors listening will have this at some point they were told, “You should have a blog” and maybe a couple of years ago they did some blog posts and that didn’t go so well or they just didn’t get into it. They didn’t learn about copywriting.

Maybe they just put some personal stuff with no real headline on. I’ve seen that over and over again. “My Day” as the headline, for example. If an author has a site that might be a couple of years old with maybe 10 posts on it, so they know a bit about how WordPress might work for example but they just have something that needs work and help, what do they do to get going again?

Do they blow it all away and start again or do they leave them?

Pamela: I think that it’s never too late to revamp. They can build on the skills and the things that they figured out when they tried the first time. Like you said, they may know how to use their content management system so they feel comfortable with that and they can build on those skills.

You can start your year one whenever you’d like. So if you feel like the first time you gave it a go it didn’t really happen for you, you can always start over and start with your year one schedule whenever you want. You can make a brand new year whenever you want to start.

Joanna: And another question then that I have heard from people: back in the day when you and I first were aware of each other, the Copyblogger days, it was very much ‘no digital sharecropping.’ As in, always build your own website.

But then we’ve seen the rise of sites like Medium, where even quite famous people are writing articles or other people building brands on Facebook or Instagram and blogging on these sites.

Should we build on our own site or should we build somewhere else? And how do we use those different sites?

Pamela: It’s funny, at the time that you and I are recording this Medium is having a moment because I have a membership community of people who are building online businesses and I’m getting that question a lot in that community. Should I be posting on Medium?

So let me tell you my overall approach to this and then I’ll tell you why. My overall approach is that you should always use your website as your home base and use these other networks to amplify your reach.

You can post on Medium for example or you can have long posts on Instagram or you can post on Facebook. I don’t think they should be your primary presence online. And the main reason is that it’s not 100 percent in your control.

And here’s why I know that because I’ve been around online long enough, and I know you have too, that I see these sites surge in popularity. Medium is having a moment right now. I think last year it was Instagram and maybe before that it was Facebook. There are these waves of popularity where it seems like everyone is recommending that you build a presence on platform x.

But the very fact that that the identity of platform X changes from year to year tells me that it is not in your control and you are at the whims of those business owners basically, who decide to do things differently because it’s good for their business. They own the platform and they have every right to do that. So I really hesitate.

I think social media and Medium and platforms like that are a wonderful place to amplify your reach. They’re like a bullhorn. You pick up a bullhorn and it carries your message further.

But the place where your message needs to live, the home base needs to be your own site because you are 100 percent in control of your own Web site.

Joanna: I’m the same as you. I believe that and that’s how we built our businesses. But it’s very hard to see at the beginning of your journey. So everyone listening. Take it from us.

Pamela: And that’s the thing. This is the long game and it’s not sexy to talk about it that way. Probably I could sell a course about how to get all these readers on Medium and I’d probably have all these people signing up for it and for a while what I advised would probably work.

But in the long run, it’s not a good approach. It’s better to just put your head down and invest the time in making your own site, have a presence on the web because you own it 100 percent. So when it starts taking off when people start finding it, you are the person who’s going to benefit from that. You’re not handing over content to somebody else’s platform that’s going to help them build their business.

Joanna: And of course we can give an example specifically of Facebook, where people built all of these massive audiences for free and were able to talk to these audiences for free and then they changed the rules. In order for you your message to reach people, even on your page or within your group, you then have to start paying for that.

Whereas if, for example, you build your own email list from your own website you can talk to these people and, obviously, you have to pay your email host, but you have something that is is almost future proof. Obviously backing things up is important. So I’m with you. We totally agree on that.

Now what I wanted to ask you about, because like we said, you and I’ve been doing this for a long time and keyword research is still really important. But when I look at my business – I have a multi six-figure income, of which a huge chunk of my income is based on organic search because I have 10 years of content.

But what is really interesting is the stats coming out around voice search. They’re saying that by 2020, which is next year, 50 percent of searches will be voice-enabled, whether that’s on the mobile through say Siri or smart speakers like Alexa.

So I am obsessed with discovering how can we do keyword research and search engine optimization for content in a voice-first environment?

Pamela: I don’t know much about that topic to be honest and I hope that you will write about what you’re discovering. I do know that when it comes to keyword research it’s smart to use your keyword phrase and then think about natural language variations of that phrase or even questions that people might ask about that phrase or around that phrase.

And then incorporate those questions into the content. Because people have gotten smart about literally just typing their exact question into a search engine. And if you have that exact question within your content there is a good chance that the search engine will surface it and serve it up to the person looking for it.

Joanna: That’s why I think that podcasts are going to be a really good thing in terms of content because obviously, you and I, the way we’re talking is not the way we write.

People use different language when they speak than when they write.

Pamela: Absolutely. And I think the more and we can incorporate that more natural feeling language into our online published content the better we’ll do in that environment.

Joanna: And actually now it makes me think because, of course, I edit the transcripts too, or my assistant does, in order to make us sound more intelligent because people who read the transcripts are reading.

But what I’m now thinking about as I’m talking to you is oh my goodness. But then I’m changing the words so they are not natural language. I’m changing them for people to read.

Whereas, will the search engines look for different natural language?

Pamela: That it’s a really good question and again, Joanna, when you write that piece of content I want to see it.

Joanna: I’m definitely obsessed with this at the moment but also, as you say, I know that I have my website. For example, I know that there are plugins for snippets that can be used for that type of thing. And I know I can go back to my cornerstone content and update those, whereas I may not be able to do that on some of these other platforms.

So again, control helps you pivot for the longer term.

Pamela: Yes, absolutely. Again it’s this idea that you’re building your own asset and not somebody else’s. So and it may take longer but you will own it 100 percent and you can do things like that. Like, install plugins or change.

You can go back to an older piece of content and update it or edit it so that it kind of meets the best practices of what people are looking for and how they’re looking right now.

For example, as we’re recording this, the thing that I keep hearing is video. Everybody is going to be consuming content and video. Well, it’s fantastic to go back to some of your highest trafficked pieces of content and add a video.

Just put a couple of minutes of video at the top where you’re welcoming people to the piece of content. Maybe you’re highlighting some of the main points and that’s a wonderful way to just repurpose content that’s already on your site and that you own.

Try to go back and do that on an old Facebook post that you wrote a year and a half ago. You can’t do it. So that’s where we come back to this idea that you have an asset you are building and you can benefit from it for years to come.

Joanna: I do want to bring up there something that I’ve also been thinking about. Like you, I’ve done everything. I’ve had a YouTube channel for 10 years, longer than I have had a podcast. And obviously I podcast, I blog, I write books, I do all this stuff.

What I have come to the sort of realization right now is I can’t do everything well.

With video, for example, it used to be that the quality was less important than the content but we’ve seen again a real rise in hardcore video creation. So because of my interest in voice, I’ve decided to double down on voice, which is why this interview is audio-only and I’m changing my focus. I haven’t seen as much engagement with video because it’s not my medium. [However, I have decided to keep my YouTube channel as audio-only after feedback from my audience there.]

What are your thoughts on doing everything vs. focusing on what you actually enjoy?

Pamela: I think that last phrase that you just said is probably the most important one. ‘What you actually enjoy.’

Because if you leverage your own strengths and you leverage that style of content that you find feels natural to create and feels relatively easy to put together, you’ll just create it more consistently and you’ll probably enjoy it more and that feeling is going to come through in your content.

And you are always great on video, so let’s just go ahead and put that on the table your eyes. Great video but let’s say somebody like me who feels somewhat uncomfortable on video but I feel very comfortable writing a piece of content and adding images to it and formatting it so it’s easy to read. I am in my element doing that. I choose to create the majority of my content as written content because I want to leverage my own strengths and leverage what just feels good to me and what feels right.

If you really want it to have an impact, you are going to create a consistently for a long period of time, so it is really important to build on your own strengths.

Now that said, I do a lot of thinking with my content. I don’t know if you do this as well but I use my content to test ideas out. If I see an idea that people seem to really respond to, if I see people sharing it on social platforms, if I get a lot of comments on it and people seem to really respond to it, then oftentimes I’ll take that the concept in the piece of content and I’ll move it into a core paid course that I have. So I’ll build on it and build it into something that I put inside of a course.

Joanna: That’s fantastic and that’s repurposing content for income, which is definitely something really good.

You said about the voice search, I’m going to do a course on audio and podcasting and audiobooks and voice tech for authors because I’m really interested in it. And, as you say, I keep asking people and not many people know about this stuff right now but it’s coming.

We know it’s coming. It’s already here but it’s not something that a lot of people are talking about. I’ve seen a gap there. Super interesting times.

Just before we finish, we’re almost out of time, but one of the things that you’ve done over the years is you’ve worked with a lot of online business owners. Obviously, you’ve started your own business. And one of the things I see with authors is they might be an author – they’ve written a book – but that’s not the same as running a business as an author.

What are your thoughts on that transition and what people need to do to move into running a business?

Pamela: I took the opposite road because I ran a business and then wrote a book. I don’t know if I’m the best person to help with that but to or to speak to that journey. Because that wasn’t my journey and that’s not how I did it.

But when it comes to building a business the one thing that I teach, and I’m obsessed with, is this idea that businesses are built in stages. And so what I find is that online where we’re drowning in this information about how to build an online business and courses about it and content, videos, podcasts, all these different things.

What can happen is people end up swimming around in this information for months and sometimes for years and they never actually get anything done. And what I am passionate about is explaining the stages of business growth.

I believe there are four and helping people to understand where they are right now so that they can focus only on that stage and they can eliminate 75 percent of the information online because it doesn’t really apply to their stage.

Joanna: That’s fantastic. I agree. That’s the thing.

You do have this free online business roadmap that I thought was pretty cool. I wonder if you talk a bit about that.

Pamela: I can give you the URL where people can find it. Do you want me to give you that?

Joanna: Yes.

Pamela: It’s bigbrand.info/roadmap.

It’s a very short, very compact document but it starts out with a quiz so that people can identify what stage they’re in right now and then I have this checklist. A road map that’s in the form of a checklist that shows people the main things they need to focus on and each stage.

The idea here is that each stage has some important milestones that you really need to hit. And if you know what those are, you can ignore everything else and just focus on getting those things right before you move on to the next stage of growth.

Now what I love about approaching things like this is that it takes away a lot of that feeling of overwhelm that people have when they’re thinking about building a business. It’s like we talked about earlier. People are comparing their early stage with somebody else’s advance stage and you don’t want to do that. You really just want to focus on the stage you’re in and try to get it done right so that you’re building a foundation that you can build on as you move into the next stage.

Joanna: That’s great. At the end of the day running an author business is exactly the same as any other business.

We have a product. We have customers. We have to look after finances. We have to do marketing. We have to pay people and get paid.

All businesses in that way have the same structure. It’s just the product is different books are different to widgets.

Pamela: Absolutely. But you’re right I think the stages are very similar and approaching it as stages and really focusing on what needs to happen in the stage you’re in can be very freeing.

I have talked to people about this concept on video calls and I literally see their shoulders drop and they just kind of go Oh OK. Because it’s a relief. It’s a relief. It’s like somebody has finally said you can ignore all that. That’s not for you right now.

It’s kind of like the books on the library shelves that are two shelves above. You don’t need to read those yet. Just read the books that are right in front of you right now.

Joanna: That’s funny because it reminds me the last time I was speaking and someone came up to me and asked how should I do this type of advertising. And this type of blogging and podcasting and blah and they went off. So I asked how many books do you have? And this guy was like oh I’m still writing the first draft of my book. I was like OK, hold up. If you have not even finished the first draft of your book then hold still. Everything else just stops.

Pamela: Right. Exactly. And that happens so often online. It’s nothing against the people who it happens to. It happens to the best of us. I’ve seen a lot of really smart people just get stuck because they don’t even know what first step to take because they don’t know what they should be focusing on.

So this information that’s in the roadmap is something that came to me a couple of years ago. It was one of those moments where the heavens opened and I went Oh OK. Now there are stages and that this is what’s going to help people. It’s called Plan and grow big. And it’s this approach to online business building that I think makes things so much easier. I’ve really enjoyed sharing it because it just seems to have really made a difference in people’s approaches to their business.

Pamela: I love the way you think. I love your books. They are very well organized, which is so important with nonfiction. I really feel you take people through that step-by-step journey.

You’ve given one link but where can people find you and your books online?

Pamela: The best place to find me is at my web site, my home base as we’ve talked about on this podcast; it’s BigBrandSystem.com. They can find all sorts of resources there.

And then my books are at MasterContentMarketing.com and MasterContentStrategy.com. And those are both just you URLs that will send people back to a page on BigBrandSystem.

Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time Pamela. That was great.

Pamela: Thank you. It’s been so fun to speak with you again.

Author Mindset: How To Thrive As A Creative In A Society That’s Always Hustling

Every successful author is both a creative and a business owner. Creative coach Margaret Olat shares tips for how to not lose sight of your creative side while working hard for your author brand.

creative hustleRaise your hands if you’ve seen an ad for a new webinar promising you a financial breakthrough by doing three things differently in your creative business.

With the meteoric rise of social media and digital marketing, artists and writers alike have been able to make bold predictions about business growth, study past successes and failures, understand consumer behavior, and market themselves accordingly.

Life became seemingly easier because everything we need to do to “make it” has been simplified and numbered in steps.

But somewhere along the way in modern marketing, we’ve have been conditioned to think about success only in terms of metrics and funnels. Instead of the warmth we’re used to feeling when interacting with our audience, this feeling has been replaced with uncertainty, insecurity, and anxiety. As a result of this, our creativity is stifled and what previously felt like joy now brings judgment.

This isn’t a post to crucify writers who use social media platforms or ads to drive revenue. Rather, this post serves to highlight the conundrum that has resulted from digital marketing and ways to redeem our craft.

To thrive as a creative in a society that’s always hustling, here are 5 important questions you need to answer while evaluating your marketing efforts.

  1. Am I resistant to sharing my message?
  2. Do I have an evergreen brand?
  3. If I’m doing the right things, why am I not seeing any results?
  4. How will I get better at my craft?
  5. What can I do to make an impact today?

1. Am I resistant to sharing my message?

Call it anxiety, resistance, or writer’s block.

confused boyIf you constantly feel restless regarding your writing and have developed an aversion to what you feel called to do, your resistance might be telling you something about yourself rather than your marketing. But until you identify that part of you that doesn’t want to move, and why, you can’t make decisions that matter.

Yes, you need to be honest with yourself about whether you want to reinvent yourself and how. But before you do that, you need to:

Step away from identities you don’t want to create under.

In my work with other creatives, I’ve discovered that the thing that keeps us stuck is not that we don’t know what we’re meant to do. It’s actually that we do know but we disqualify ourselves or despise our own gifts.

What do I mean by this?

While trying to market ourselves, we tend to force ourselves to appeal to mainstream online marketing. We borrow labels and titles that give us credibility and authority because we’re afraid that the vocation of being a writer might not be enough to shoulder our ambition.

But there is no way your craft will thrive from selfish desires that come from creative misalignment.

You have to, first and foremost, be a creative to succeed in the creative industry. For you, it may mean you need to embrace being called a writer.

It could mean you need to stop letting the lack of status others associate with being an indie writer pull you away from the path that you’re being called to walk on. For some, it could mean the need to drop the act and quit serving in the niche they’re currently hacking at.

The best way to fall in love with the art of writing (again) is to fully embrace the identity of being a writer. It is to understand that you need to have a relationship with writing to fully immerse yourself in it. When you hide your gifts under identities you don’t intend to create for in the pursuit of fame, you dry up your well of creativity.

2. Do I have an evergreen brand?

One of the biggest challenges writers face is the idea that our ideas will go stale, therefore, our presence won’t be needed anymore.


Large Evergreen TreesAs a creative, your work in this world has to be based on an unshakeable belief that you have a BIG idea that only you can articulate, that there is a dedicated audience for your idea, and that you can make money by sharing your idea for years to come.

It has nothing to do with your writing. Yet.

I call this idea branding your craft with an evergreen brand. It borrows from the principles of personal branding and my observation that consumers respond better to businesses that are personal, relatable, and people they share an unselfish, common universal truth with.

Here’s why every writer needs an evergreen brand.

I have spent several months trying to understand writers who thrive in online marketing, have large audiences, and appear to make a lot of money at the same time.

Some of these writers do not have any books on the New York Times bestseller lists or similar listings but their influence extends far beyond what they sell in the creative space.

The reason is that they have chosen to brand themselves as something larger than what they create. As a result, they make more money from branding themselves than from their writing.

Having an evergreen brand that is separate from what you create gives you the wiggle room to pivot and change according to seasons without having to risk losing the audience you have built. It means you can satisfy your curiosity without being pigeonholed into one genre for life.

Don’t just be a writer. Build a brand that stands for something larger than life.

It is no longer enough to be a writer or a creative who creates. Your truest source of inspiration needs to come from the fact that you stand for something bigger than what you create. In other words, success in this hustle economy is attainable when you brand yourself and not just your business.

3. If I’m doing the right things, why am I not seeing any results?

You have embraced being called a writer and have created an evergreen brand. But why are you still struggling to make ends meet? Is hustling ever going to stop?

sapling growthSeveral years ago, you could call yourself an artist, write one or two books, go viral, and call it a good year. But recently, with the explosion of self-publishing, the rise to the top has taken a slow and more organic approach for some writers.

Understand that the rules of marketing have changed.

The real reason writers struggle with being creative and profitable isn’t a lack of profitable ideas.

Rather, it’s one (or all) of these things:

You aren’t listening to the market. It’s no longer enough to just write a book and want to get paid. Books don’t sell themselves. You need to create something that the right people have a burning desire for and are willing to pay for.

Yes, as creatives, we must write for ourselves––for the love of the craft. But once you demand payment for your services, you must write for your audience.

You aren’t speaking with the right people. Sometimes we’re afraid to alienate those we think we have to stick with. Don’t waste your time nurturing and selling to the wrong person.

If you write thrillers that make people stay glued to their seats, you will find better luck marketing to people who enjoy this work. If you want to make money with your writing, you need to attract and engage with the RIGHT people from the very beginning.

Your prices don’t reflect the value of your work. Many writers eventually move on to accept consulting offers, coaching clients, and license their craft. A common trap we all fall into is the idea that we can only demand “premium” payment for what we consider to be very difficult, even for us.

The idea of asking others to pay for a skill we’ve mastered seems unethical. But when you price yourself out of profitability, you start to resent your work and will find every excuse in the world to resist showing up as a writer or a consultant.

Believe that you have a right to be passionate and profitable. But you need to understand the market before you ask it to pay you.

4. How will I get better at my craft?

I’ve experienced it and I know you have. The sensation of finishing something, receiving great reviews, and suddenly feeling crushed by the thought that we have nothing left to offer. The feeling that our creativity is limited, and that if we continue to show up, people will eventually see us as frauds.

home-office-writingBut know this: if you’re creating meaningful and impactful work, there is always going to be an uphill battle at some point. You can’t escape this. But most importantly, your best work isn’t always at the surface level.

The secret to creating work that you are proud of despite fear and uncertainty is finishing what you start.

In the book You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) author Jeff Goins shared something powerful about the myth of “good” and effective writing. According to him, effective writing covers the basics rules of grammar and composition (except when it doesn’t) and gets the job done. But beyond that, he urged writers to stop trying to be good.

Success comes from finishing what you start.

Your bestselling work is never your first draft. No matter how much you spend on marketing, it is incomplete without a creative process. It is from this creative process, which enables you to finish what you start, that you build the confidence to write without fear and satisfy your curiosity.

Joanna has credited her success to having a creative process that she adheres to every single day. It is this creative process that has allowed her to finish writing several novels and enabled her to quit her IT consulting job to go full-time as a writer.

5. What can I do to make an impact today?

There are several ideas on how to market yourself as a writer, how many times to do it, and if it needs to be a daily practice. Again, as well-intentioned as these ideas are, you can fall into the trap of comparison and imposter syndrome if you are not careful.

My favorite way for writers to market quickly and effectively is to make quick decisions that don’t take away from the need to be creative.

And it starts by asking the question: what can I do to make an impact today?

The right answer to this takes away the question of what content to create (if you hate that kind of pressure). You can be inspirational, educational, or promotional. Your content can be either be in short form or long format. You could highlight someone else’s work or share your conversation with other writers.

You have the creative freedom to define what your marketing practices look like. Hustling, however, is a choice you alone get to make.

Has ‘hustling’ ever hurt your writing? Do you need to fall in love with being creative again? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Margaret OlatMargaret Olat is a writer, creative coach, and a rebel against society’s prescription of a dream job. She shows you how to thrive at the intersection of creativity, passion, and profit so your career becomes the greatest expression of your creative interests.

Her thoughts on career and entrepreneurship have been featured on Lifehack, Elephant Journal, TEDxLincolnSquare, Thought Catalog, Addicted2Success, Thrive Global, The Huffington Post, Career Contessa, and she’s been mentioned by the likes of ProBlogger, Brit + Co, and Minnesota State University Moorhead. She has also been featured as a career expert on Albert’s List, a community of 15,000+ members that connects recruiters and job seekers with the power of referrals.

She can be found online on her website where you can download her FREE manifesto for rule-breaking creatives, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Amazon Advertising Insights With Russell Blake And Michael Beverly

Book marketing through organic reach on Amazon is over, but there’s no point lamenting the end of an indie era.

Surf the changes and get to grips with Amazon Ads — or outsource them if you’re ready to. Some hard talking — and encouragement — with Russell Blake today, as well as tips from Michael Beverly.

In the intro, I talk about the Audible Captions rights discussion [The Verge], Dean Koontz signs with Amazon Publishing [Publishing Perspectives], and Mike Shatzkin outlines how things have changed over the last 10 years in publishing.

Plus, my personal update around recovery from laser eye surgery — what grooves are you stuck in? Plus, Map of Plagues is out this week!

How to write a novel course bannerToday’s show is sponsored by my own courses for authors. If you need help with the writing craft, check out How to Write a Novel and How to Write Non-Fiction. Do you want to take your author journey to the next level? Check out Productivity for Authors and Content Marketing for Fiction, with more to come at: www.TheCreativePenn.com/courses

russellblakeRussell Blake is the bestselling author of 60+ novels. He’s a happy customer and investor in AMS AdWerks.Michael Beverley runs AMS AdWerks which manages Amazon advertising for established authors.

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

Show Notes

  • On the maturation in the Amazon retail landscape
  • Why Russell was converted to using ads and how it’s affected his writing pace
  • Which types of books are most effective with ads
  • Why writing in series continues to matter
  • How to calculate read through, which is an important stat when advertising
  • On the eternal KU vs. Wide dilemma
  • Why reader satisfaction matters to Amazon’s algorithms
  • On how AI will affect advertising

You can find Russell Blake at RussellBlake.com. You can find AMSAdWerks at AMSAdWerks.com

Transcript of Interview with Michael Beverly and Russell Blake

Joanna: Michael Beverley runs AMS AdWerks which manages Amazon advertising for established authors. Russell Blake is the bestselling author of 60 plus novels. A happy customer and investor in AMS AdWerks.

Welcome, Michael and Russell.

Michael: Good morning. Thank you for having us on.

Russell: Hi Joanna, always lovely to talk to you.

Joanna: Oh indeed. And for listeners of the show, Russell has been on the show before talking about writing fast and that was a couple of years ago. Now you’ve got a ton more novels.

Russell: I do. And by the way you see, I’m trying to shame you and you’re having me on more.

Joanna: Well it’s working really!

Russell, I do want to start with you because you’ve been successfully self-publishing for eight years and you recently talked about that on your blog.

Why get into doing more advertising at this point? Is having a large backlist not enough anymore?

Russell: Would that it were enough! The problem is that at least as far as I can tell and Michael is the expert. I’m not. But the problem I ran into about two years ago was that I noticed that my organic visibility was fading and I couldn’t understand exactly why.

And then speaking to a bunch of other authors and doing research I learned that Amazon was giving preferable visibility via advertising. So really the landscape had transitioned from one whereas authors we got free visibility via also boughts and by via recommendations etc. from Amazon to one where it became a pay-to-play game.

Which, by the way, that’s the history of all retail markets as they mature. So this market has matured and now if you want visibility, if you want the end cap in the store, as an example, you need to pay for that position.

It occurred to me that was what was going on but I’m lazy and also a Luddite. So I did not know anything about advertising and I had no interest in learning so I started looking around for somebody that could execute and after success.

And I ultimately wound up with Michael and he gave it the old college try and it worked spectacularly. So from that point on we developed a relationship. I saw first-hand my sales I want to say doubled to tripled over the course of the last year that he’s been managing my ads. So that was a win.

My net has increased, my grosses are through the roof. I’m back to where I was in 2015, which was a pretty good year. So I became a convert and then as I learned more and more about how Amazon changes its algorithms constantly and how whatever worked last week doesn’t work this week I became convinced that there would be a market for a company that was an expert in doing just that for people like myself who have no interest and no ability and no time to do it themselves.

And if you just run a straight line calculation on what my per hour rate would be based on what I make off of novels and my other businesses I’d be the most expensive ad guy on the planet. It’s not something good for me to do it’s not a wise investment of my time.

I came to the conclusion that other authors who are struggling with the same thing would need the services the types and services the AMS AdWerks provides. And I’ve twisted Michael’s arm and convinced him to take some of my money and begin scaling it up, hiring people and expanding his offering. So that’s the long version.

Joanna: Which is fantastic. Just a follow-up question before I ask Michael something.

I know you love writing, but are you relaxing more and using the ads to kind of boost that as you say and get your income back up?

Are you still producing books at the rate that you used to? Or are you able to relax more?

Russell: It’s an interesting question because the operating paradigm I advanced for years and followed was you need to release a book about every six weeks or you’re going to fall off of the charts and your career is going to stall.

Since I began advertising I haven’t put out a book in four months, five months and my sales are now up from where they were four or five months ago.

So to answer your question I don’t feel like I really need to write more than one or two books a year now. In other words, I was averaging eight books a year for eight years. What that means to me is I have a large chunk of my life back and I can devote more time to quality and to thinking through more engaging and involved plots, which I think most of my critics will agree is probably a good thing.

And it’s been very freeing. It’s like when you get a maid and you discover you don’t need to scrub toilets anymore. It’s a revelation.

Nora Roberts scrubs her own toilet. Some people enjoy scrubbing their own toilets and I recommend that. It’s super duper.

I don’t. So for me, this has been a godsend and that’s why I put my money where my mouth was. If I like it this much, I bet you there are other people that do too.

Joanna: Absolutely, and I am someone who also pays for a cleaner. I love him.

So, Michael, we’re not calling you the maid. We are bringing you in as a very valued person.

Let’s talk about Ads because hopefully, we’re all at a point now where we accept that it’s necessary. And as Russell has said the organic reach has pretty much gone.

When are Amazon Ads most effective, because it’s not just a case of just slapping them on, is it?

Michael: No, not at all and that’s a mistake. A lot of people think that they can do this. The most effective is a deep series with full length and full price books for the genre and enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. That gives the most effective bang for the buck.

And it’s one of the reasons why for instance Jet did so well. The deep series is really required for the read-through and to generate the ROI required for how competitive the market is right now.

My ads will also be more effective in the sense they’ll serve more and you’ll get more impressions in the big popular genres.

However, there’s also more competition and higher prices and at the end of the day it just comes down to quality writing, which leads a reader through your series.

And a quality product meaning covers, blurbs, the product page that makes ads effective. The ad itself is is only going to be effective as what it’s advertising because the ad itself doesn’t sell the product, the product sells the product.

Joanna: Fantastic. What is a deep series?

Michael: Well from the advertising perspective I generally recommend somebody have more than five books. If you have two, three, a trilogy or you have multiple standalones, it’s very difficult to get traction with ads.

Now that doesn’t mean you can’t advertise some of these things but the scale that you can do it is much lower.

Readers love series. This is true in trad publishing, it’s been true all the way back to the pulp fiction days. You just get higher conversion rates, you get higher click through and you get more interest the deeper your series is.

It’s very similar to when you see something you like come out on Netflix but you don’t watch it until it gets to season three or four because you don’t want to get invested emotionally if it’s not going to continue.

So the deeper series obviously if you have 25 or 30 books highly rated with thousands of reviews in a popular genre like romance or vampire series that’s going to be easier to monetize than for books and you’re a new author.

This is just a reality that hasn’t changed with or without advertising, it’s just advertising now means you’re spending money, you’re investing your hard-earned dollars and trying to recoup that profit. And if your series isn’t deep enough and the quality is not there, that money generally ends up being wasted or your return is going to be very low.

Joanna: Fantastic. So also with read through. Obviously, I’ve had Mark Dawson on the show and readthrough is a something that I struggle with.

Now Russell also mentioned there about not being interested in leaving it to someone else. I do feel the same way.

And as you know, because you’ve been doing some ads for me, I don’t know my readthrough. I don’t know how to calculate it. Many authors listening will be in the same boat.

Without getting too messy and too techie, is there any way for authors to figure out read through so that they can decide on whether ads are working?

Michael: The simplest way is just to look at the money for book 1 and then compare it to the money for Book 2 and there’s just a simple division problem.

If you’re making ten dollars a day on book 1 and you’re making 8 dollars a day on book two that’s 80 percent. And as you follow that through your series you can see.

Now generally speaking what happens is from Book 1 to Book 2 you’ll have a bigger drop off because not everybody that tries your book likes it but as they go through book three, four or five you’ll see the read-through rate be very high.

So the money that you’re making on say book seven, eight or nine shouldn’t decrease too much in books nine and ten. If somebody is that invested in your series and in your writing style they tend to continue to read it.

Now on the ad side of it, to make the calculations real simple, the most basic way is just to look at what am I spending and what is the whole series returning to me? And then you can do a simple calculation of “Hey I’m making more money and what’s the percentage?”

Generally speaking, it’s pretty binary if you’re going to advertise. Binary meaning, Am I making money? If the answer is yes, continue. If I’m not making money stop and figure out what’s wrong and fix it or make adjustments so that I am making money.

Russell: And if I can jump in here from the author perspective, I can use Jet as an example. I think that’s got 17 books including the two prequels. It’s easy for me to go 65 or 70 percent of all readers who read book 1 then go on to book 2, because I can see that.

But it can take six months to clearly understand what your read-through is when you start an advertising campaign. It’s the difference between being able to say a reader of Jet 1 is worth twenty-eight dollars to me because 80 percent will read book two and of that 80 percent that moves that book two 65 to 70 percent will read books three through seven and then there’s a drop-off.

But you add all the money together and that reader of book one on average is worth whatever number it is.

I don’t think most authors think in those terms and they certainly aren’t patient enough to consider it a long tail over 3, 6, 9 months. But when you look at it that way, it changes the entire ROI of your advertising.

Now I’m a simple man, so I don’t spend a lot of time on that equation. I just look at it as in any six-month period am I making more than I was six months prior and after deducting Michael’s fee and deducting the cost of the ad. It’s real simple.

I don’t even go into the long tail and all of the rest of it. I just look at it in terms of what am I making now versus what was I making six months ago. Net of fees and advertising.

Joanna: Which I like because I’m pretty similar. I don’t know how many books I have sold volume-wise, I just look at my money every month.

Just keep creating because it’s fun and make some money.

But I do want to ask Russell, because as Michael just said books in KU do better. And obviously, everyone knows from this podcast I’m an advocate of wide publishing.

So you’re obviously in KU for your e-books.

What are your thoughts on KU? And do you do wide for print and/or audio?

Russell: I make six figures off of audio so I love audio. Not all of my books are in KU. I don’t know what the number is that are wide but you know it’s probably maybe 20 percent of my books are wide just to keep a presence there.

But when I went to KU, I’m not a fan. I look at it like the dollar. It’s terrible but it’s the least terrible of all currencies. So it’s kind of like the devil you know, you don’t want to dance with that devil because really it’s somewhat destructive.

I’ve written blogs about how I believe Kindle Unlimited devalues literature. Not that I produce literature but it devalues content because it trains the reader, it conditions them to believe that content is free because to them it appears to be free. And over time I think that’s a corrosive effect.

From an author perspective, having said that, I can’t ignore the economics. So when I look at what my overall earnings before I put everything into Kindle Unlimited and after it’s significantly higher I don’t blame Amazon so much for doing what they’re doing and I blame their competitors for not being better. I think that’s the way I would frame the pipeline.

Apple who had I don’t know how many opportunities to bury Amazon. They’ve got the scale, they’ve got the money, they’ve got the platforms so they could have really rendered Amazon to be a second rate player in this but they didn’t. I blame Barnes and Noble.

Joanna: Don’t blame them. Blame Google.

Russell: Well, I blame Amazon’s competitors for not being better. I guess that’s the way I look at it because I read all the usual message boards etc. and I see a lot of authors blaming Amazon. Evil Amazon is doing this and that, the other thing and I just look at that because I’ve got a background in business. That’s just business.

Anybody that expects their channel or their distributor to be a cuddly teddy bear that’s working on their side just doesn’t understand the inherently adversarial nature of business. So I don’t blame Amazon for coming up with a program that devalues content and uses it as a loss leader to drag eyes to their site. So people become conditioned to buying widgets and toilet paper and headphones through it.

Overall they make more money, especially if authors are willing to throw their content in there and participate. I don’t blame them for doing that because it’s a brilliant move. And it was inevitable.

I don’t blame them for removing the organic visibility and replacing it with a pay for play system by advertising. It’s a smart business move. Now what it does do is it effectively slashes an author’s margin by at least half or more. And you’ve probably seen that I’ve seen that if you calculated on a per unit basis if you sell one hundred thousand books before maybe you saw three hundred thousand dollars. Now you can make one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars.

You have to sell the same number of books. Because you have to spend the rest of it on advertising. So it’s been a very effective way of reducing our margin to more like 30 percent from the peak. The purported 70 percent that nobody ever saw was more like 60 percent that the blended average isn’t everything from international etc. and download fees. But let’s say from 60 it took it to 30 because you would have to put the other money into advertising or you’re just not going to sell any books.

Joanna: Yes, as you say, we’re in a different time. But also, as you say, this is entirely normal retail practice.

I do want to come back to Michael. In terms of some interesting things that people might find useful, have you noticed any differences between genres or stores like the U.S. vs. U.K. or storefronts?

What are some of the interesting things you’ve discovered through doing big-name authors like Russell?

Michael: One of the things that’s both obvious and but also has a lot of subtlety is the difference in the genres. They’re vastly different in the quantity demanded by the readership.

So your big genres are romance and thrillers which obviously have many many subgenres. You just have a bigger audience so there’s more. The ads will move more product.

Now the methodology for success stays the same. So that’s probably the one thing that I can tell people with confidence that whatever genre you’re working in, the methodology, the ads and the methodology of creating a good product don’t change. So it doesn’t matter if you’re writing contemporary romance or a children’s book or a cozy Oxford mystery with a cat as the lead character. The audience will be different but the methodology is the same.

It reminds me of a Hugh Howey quote in a really well-received blog. He wrote about how to become a writer and one of the things he said is look around in the genre and you must be the best, hardest worker in this group. Everyone that’s fighting for the readers in that genre — work harder than them. That’s the number one rule.

So with the advertising coming into it, it magnifies this in the past. You could have a subpar cover and still get traction. You were getting organic visibility and the supply side was less.

Now the supply side, meaning the writers, there are more of them, they’re more professional, they’re more seasoned so the competition’s more. And when you’re advertising you’re not just putting in your sweat equity. Before when you wrote a book most of your investment was your time. You pay a little for a cover and maybe editing and a few things. But now there’s a big cost in the ads. And that is money you’re risky.

So if the product quality isn’t up to par it’s going to be very, very difficult. And so now if you’re already in a genre and you’re writing what you love the thing is to do to be the best you can be in that.

If you’re coming at this like you’re planning and you’re not sure what to write then this is an entirely different question going back to write to market or what should I pick. That’s a whole other subtopic.

Russell: Yes, that’s not an advertising question. That’s right. That’s a what should I write and why question.

Michael: Exactly. So what I’ve noticed in the advertising is that in the big, giant genres the number of impressions that you can get is astronomical.

In the smaller genres, if you’re trying to advertise into a smaller genre, it’s much more difficult to get the same volume. There’s just not as many searches on that.

So to reiterate, it’s all about the quality of the product you’re offering regardless of the genre you’re in. This is true whether you’re fighting in the biggest thriller markets against a Lee Child, Jack Reacher type series or you’re in contemporary or you are trying to go for the 50 Shades of Grey crowd or the fantasy Harry Potter group.

It’s always going to be going back to the quality. This is the fascinating thing about the algorithms. I believe Amazon tracks very carefully how many readers go through it. This is especially true with how many readers finish your book one? That matters. How many readers go to and buy book two? That matters. And the reason it matters in the ads is because Amazon is monetizing the space.

If they can sell ad space to you for a dollar a click or Author B for a dollar a click, they don’t just look at that dollar. It’s not like you can bid another penny and beat the other author out. If that other author has 20 books and their read through is fantastic they can actually get that click for 80 cents on the dollar.

And in order to overcome that you’ve got to bid really high, which now becomes a losing proposition because you don’t have the deep series in the long run.

Russell: So you’re saying, and I think we’ve seen this, you’re saying that Amazon looks at the entire net effect of a series. My series Jet, as an example, that you advertise, that they’ll go OK, X number will go to Book 2 and X will go to Book 3 and X will finish the series.

And therefore that impression that turns into a click that then turns into a sale is worth twenty-nine or thirty-five or whatever dollars to us versus Joe Schmo who’s got a five-book series and has not so great read through is maybe worth seven dollars to them, they’re obviously going to favor that 30 dollar profit every single time, which is smart.

Joanna: That’s a very, very good point. One of the things I’ve heard from people who don’t like paid ads is that they think paid ads mean that crap books will sell more.

But what you’re basically saying is you could throw lots of money at a crap book but the algorithm will eventually work out that readers are not enjoying that and that they’re not going to make money that way. And so they are more likely over time to surface the ones that people are buying.

Does that mean there is – let’s not call it quality, let’s just call it readers are enjoying this book. That does mean that, doesn’t it, over time?

Michael: Yes, absolutely. When I say quality that’s exactly what I mean. I’m not making a comment.

Russell: Popularity.

Joanna: Yes popularity.

Michael: In other words, it’s meeting the expectation of the readers in that subgenre.

And this might surprise you, Joanna, but I actually had a client in which I tried to dissuade from starting. I said you need to work on stuff more and he really really wanted to try it.

And so we did of course. I’m not going to refuse something that really wants to try. We couldn’t get Amazon to take his money, his ad spend. We were lucky to be able to spend two dollars a day and we were trying very hard.

And the reason is because the algos recognize that even if he’s bidding two dollars a click the net profit from letting him have that space loses Amazon money. They’re going to give that space to somebody that has read through and a higher reader satisfaction.

So that’s an important thing to keep in mind. You cannot bully a poor product into visibility for very long. Now people may comment on ‘hey, that’s not my style.’ I don’t like the writing but if the readers of that genre are buying that book it will continue to get visibility and those ads will get better relevance and they’ll actually serve at cheaper prices.

Joanna: Can you comment on fiction versus nonfiction? Because you’ve also been doing my ads for nonfiction, but we’ve had a lot more success, in inverted commas, with nonfiction because it’s so much easier to target nonfiction readers.

Any thoughts on fiction vs. nonfiction.

Michael: Well yes, if you have a good nonfiction catalog some of the same rules apply. Series do better than stand-alones, and you want to have read through.

It also helps tremendously if you are nonfiction is leading to something outside of an Amazon that you’re monetizing. Now all that to be said the general rules apply – good covers, good blurbs, good reviews; the product still matters.

Now the reason that nonfiction in the right genres does well with ads right now is just because the competition is a lot less. You’re not bidding against a thousand people like if you’re in a hot genre, whatever people think is hot, whether it’s lit RPG, military sci-fi or whatever is hottest in the romance genre at that time, whether it’s billionaires or shapeshifter bears.

Whatever’s hot is always going to be more expensive and harder.

Nonfiction doesn’t tend to have the same sort of up and down trends. Next weekend in romance maybe a certain thing we’ll start becoming hot. That doesn’t change as fast in the nonfiction and nonfiction books sell like that.

This has been true in trad pub for many, many years. People buy non-fiction books. A lot of nonfiction books especially in the information stuff also sell in paperback and you end up with a lot of a lot more customer loyalty.

Russell: If I can interject an important point, I haven’t heard Michael talk about but that I discovered early on just as a breakthrough. And remember, I’m not that smart so it takes me awhile.

Advertising cannot sell in your book.

It can’t. That’s not the purpose of an ad. An ad’s purpose on Amazon is solely to get the potential reader to the product page. The product page then sells in the book. So you have to look at it as a stage.

The purpose of advertising is to create a funnel and get as many people as humanly possible to your product page. If the product page is interesting, if the blurb is good, if the cover is exciting, if you’ve got good reviews if you looked inside is literate etc then those impressions and clicks to your product page will translate into sales.

So I think it’s really important because it took me a while to get that. But the purpose of the ad is not to sell my frigging book. It cannot do that. The purpose of the ad is to generate traffic to your product page and get you visibility. And at that point, it’s up to the product to sell itself.

Michael: Yes, absolutely. With the way Amazon is set up right now, the number one thing is the cover. That’s what people see first. So your emotional trigger. The cover itself will generate a click.

Now one thing, I would make a slight correction to what you just said. You said you want to get as many people clicking as possible. I would I put a slight caveat on that. You don’t want a lot of people clicking that aren’t the right target because you’ll just spend money on clicks and they won’t buy.

I’ve seen this happen sometimes with very interesting covers that they tend to be sexual covers. People click on it, they’re interested, but they don’t read in that genre necessarily, then that becomes the kiss of death because you spend a lot of money on clicks but you don’t convert. So mostly what you said is mostly right.

It’s part of our job on the advertising side is make sure that we’re targeting properly so you’re not generating interest to people that are just curious. You’re generating interest to people that actually read the genre you’re advertising. Qualified prospects only.

Joanna: This does come back to write to market because this is something I’ve been thinking about. In the last year, I have met people who are writing in what in previous years have been described as “terrible genres for sales”. For example, literary fiction or children’s picture books, which are very difficult to sell in the old model because they don’t write 8 per year. The high volume model doesn’t necessarily work.

But they are now doing incredibly well with advertising because there’s hardly anyone else advertising in these markets.

Are we at a point where write to market has changed to write to advertise and people will be looking for niches that are under-advertised in order to make ROI?

Michael: Yes, people are going to be doing this. The next question to follow up that is is it wise?

It’s very similar to the write to market problem. If you jump into a romance category or a sci-fi category that’s hot at the time only because of that you have to remember that this hotness is not only potentially going to end but that hot genre is going to really, really drive up supply.

One thing, going back to the children’s books and say the literary fiction, one thing that I don’t see a lot now is the trad advertising and fighting for space on the S.P. carousel and in other places. That could change tomorrow. We don’t know. We don’t know the inner workings of everybody else that could enter the market.

So if you were to come into the market only because you saw hey this is a good advertising niche, you have the same inherent risk that you do if you decide you’re going to write a shapeshifter dragon romance AMC club because that’s hot right now.

And romance can be very, very profitable if you’re on the front end but it has an inherent risk that it could end quickly and it also has the problem. If you’re writing in a genre that you don’t read and don’t care about your quality is likely to suffer and you might also drive yourself crazy because you’re writing something that you don’t want to do.

Russell: Thanks for giving away my next series concept there with the Dragon shapeshifter romance. Thanks tough guy. Thank you.

Michael: Yes well you should shelve that right now.

Russell: There goes that market opportunity. Another million-dollar idea down the drain.

Joanna: Any thoughts on that, Russell?

Russell: I’m probably the worst guy in the world to talk to you about write to market because I just look at it from a very commonsensical way that most of my readers in the thriller genre, for instance, have probably read a thousand books by the time they get to mine. So they’ve got a lot of depth. They’ve read for decades in that genre.

So if somebody comes in and they don’t have that 10,000 hours, if you will, of expertise for the genre norms and all of that in the genre, they’re probably going to fail because they simply don’t understand at a basic level or seminal level, instinctive level what works and what doesn’t.

I’m not sure that being the write to market guy is all that smart unless you really really really have depth in that market. So that’s one thing I would say on the write to market or to advertise.

It makes great sense. Companies do focus groups all the time to say hey what do you think of this versus that. The problem being that this is content. So if you’re going to try to cherry-pick genres based upon your competitors advertising budgets boy, how do you write compelling content in that genre. I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Joanna: No. I think I’m saying two things. In the last five years of indie, the established wisdom has been to write in a popular genre where there are a lot of readers and write a lot of books. But as you’ve said things have changed.

So now what I’m saying is I’m encouraging these people who write already write in genres they’ve might have felt in the past that they were not able to make money as an indie in specific genres. But now I think there’s more opportunity than ever. So that’s one thing it’s a very positive thing. If you already write and maybe you have a backlist in another genre.

But secondly, this is what I see coming in terms of we’ve seen scammers with KU flooding niches with crap books.

It may be that we’re going to see the next round of scams or people flooding KU in under-advertised markets.

Russell: That could be, but I’m a great believer that at the end of the day my grandmother used to love to say that at the end of the day price is forgotten, but quality isn’t.

That’s my philosophy when it comes to the pulp mill approach which is, get a bunch of ghostwriters and just cram a bunch of technical porn onto KU and see what happens at the end of the day. Those are fads and fad curves tend to drop off like a cliff.

I understand what you’re saying and I think yes there will be opportunities there to cherry-pick genres that are underserved from an advertising standpoint. And if you already have depth then to capitalize on your competitor’s not being particularly smart or fast to move. But I wouldn’t recommend that as a career because what are you going to do in nine months in when everybody else is doing the same thing and the fad curve collapses and suddenly your can’t fail business model that you’re pouring a ton of money into because you’re advertising, what happens when that stops? Because they always do.

I have yet to see a pulp mill approach actually be sustainable over a period. As long as I’ve been writing, let me put it that way, eight years now.

I will qualify that with there are some people who employ ghostwriters who write to specific markets. I can think of one who’s dominated the number one and number two position on Amazon for at least four or five years. Who does a reasonable job of delivering on expectations. And is a brilliant marketer.

So can it be done? Sure but that’s no different than James Patterson putting out 14 books a year which are all “co-written”. He’s just very good at delivering to the genre he’s in. I’m not sure most people were all that good at that. I think there’s a reason there’s only one James Patterson.

Russell: Yes I agree and I think what we’re coming back to is the positive stance as you said at the beginning and as I have as well.

As someone who’s been self-publishing for 10 years is to write what you love. Put some ads on it, because you need to nowadays. Don’t try to scam things.

What’s nice is that advertising has changed things a little bit but it doesn’t change the fundamentals which are: write a good book, have a good cover, treat your readers nicely. These things haven’t changed.

But we’re almost out of time. So I do have one more question, Michael.

I’m pretty obsessed with A.I. at the moment. And I was reading one of the Amazon marketing pages around the auto-targeting and one of their sales pages basically said you do not need to speak the language to advertise in these other markets. You can use all auto-targeting.

If I have a book in French, because I do have books in French, I could just put the auto-targeting aunts on these books without having to know French.

What do you think about the auto-targeting aspect of ads? And will it put you out of a job in the next couple of years?

Michael: The easy answer to that is no. And here’s why.

What’s happening right now on the sponsored product manual ads, which they call manual only because you target those towards a subgenre. I think the last count there was over 8000 on Amazon that you can.

The way their algos look right now, and this could change tomorrow, but right now those category ads we use for testing and research but not for profit. The bid prices on those is through the roof and the AI is gladly taking people’s money in just there but it’s not mature yet. So I’m not sure what Amazon’s plan is right now.

It’s very similar to back in January when lock screens first came out and everybody went mad over them and basically, almost everybody was losing money except for a few people. That’s toned down a little bit.

The problem with AI is who’s AI is it? In this case, it’s Amazon’s A.I. So if you give over your decision making to Amazon’s algorithms, guess who Amazon is trying to make rich? It’s not like they don’t mind if you come along for the ride, but their primary objective is to monetize for them.

So what we’re seeing in the category ads is way way way over bids and you can do that. When I look through some of the sponsored ads sometimes I’ll see really really misplaced ads. I wonder, why is somebody on the front? I know they’re paying a really high premium for this ad only it’s a completely wrong target.

The answer is somebody has decided to let the automatic stuff do it.

To end the question, in the future, yes, maybe AI will be writing the novels themselves and marketing them and we’ll all be out jobs. But for the very foreseeable future, it takes a human to adjust the spin and modify the target so that you’re optimizing your profitability. And right now, the automated part is a helpful tool. But if you just rely on it by itself you’ll tend to waste a lot of money.

Joanna: I agree. In that we’ve in the past used the auto-targeting to get a whole layout of keywords that might have pinged but then moving that into other things. So it is a really interesting prospect now.

Final question then. Obviously many people listening are going to be interested, as Russell and I said upfront, at using an outsource service like yours.

Give us a sense of what AMS AdWerks does and what type of clients are right for the service.

Michael: What we do is we manage the things on Amazon that many people don’t want to touch and free up the time for the authors to get more product to market, which is paramount to success: quality and quantity.

If you don’t have good quality and you also don’t have a big catalog the advertising is very very difficult.

So our value proposition is we take the time and we do the time at a rate and a price in which your time, as Russell had explained earlier, you know you’re going to make more money getting more books to market. So that’s where you should be spending your time.

Now the ideal client for us is going to have somewhat of an established backlist and they’re going to have somewhat of a predictable income coming in for new releases. It’s not perfect, but if you release it into this series you’re going to make more money because you’ve done it already.

So getting that next book out is a way more valuable use of your time than spending it on this. Another type of client is just somebody that hates the data. They hate the monotony of it. They don’t want to track anything. And so what we do is we just take that off your hands.

I think I’m pretty good at communicating to people whatever questions they ask of me. So I like to be as transparent or I have some clients that don’t want to talk to me ever. They just want to know what goes in the machine and what comes out.

Russell: That would be me by the way. That’s me, Joanna. I don’t really care about excuses and reasons and rationalizations. I just care about do this. That’s it. That’s all I care about.

Joanna: I guess what I want to make clear is I know a lot of people will be keen but I want to also put off the people that this doesn’t necessarily suit.

Russell: One of the things that Michael’s good at is basically – and I’m not b*s you – he’s not going to take on clients he doesn’t really think that he can do anything for because he’s got a waiting list. So it’s not like Oh let’s get a bunch more clients and just grind through them and then disappoint everybody.

If you’ve only got a few books and if the books aren’t professionally written and edited and covered etc., you probably just aren’t a good candidate for AMS AdWerks and you may not be a good candidate to be an author. I would frame it that way. It’s just very simple.

So the larger your backlist and the more readable it is, all advertising does is increase your visibility to it. So more if more visibility on a poorly generated product or poorly crafted product is not going to increase your sales necessarily because it still sucks.

Going back to your foreign language thing, instinctively I would go yeah there’s probably some segment of Germans for instance who will buy English language books based upon your advertising in Germany. But to throw any serious money at that I’d have to really believe that that’s a viable market because otherwise the product simply doesn’t fit the market. So I don’t know the answer to that but that’s just instinctively my reaction.

Joanna: Just on that, 7% percent of my book sales revenue this year comes from Germany for books in English. So that was very surprising to me. I don’t do any Amazon ads or anything. That’s purely through this podcast and my blog.

I also want to be really clear I am a happy client of AMS AdWerks. I’m not an affiliate. So I wanted Michael and Russell to come on the show because I think they have interesting stuff to share with you guys, my audience. I’m not receiving any kickbacks so this is not just an advertorial. This is meant to be useful. So I hope you found this really useful.

Michael, if people do want to talk to you about whether they’re a potential client how do they get in touch with you?

Michael: They can jump over to the AMSAdWerks.com website. We have email there. It’s the info email and they can just send me a query introduce themselves. Give me a link to their Author Central. Maybe explain a little bit about their catalog and then I’ll be happy to take them to the next step. Give them some information about whether I could be helpful or whether I think they need some more work to do, as Russell said.

I don’t like to work with clients that I know we’re going to have no chance to succeed. Now I have had some people come to me when they were at say book four or five and I said to them look call me or write me in four or five months when you’re at seven or eight. And those people did end up becoming clients in that situation. So I’m happy to answer those questions like hey you need to get to here.

Joanna: That’s fantastic. And I have found you incredibly good at answering my, let’s face it, stupid questions. So you’ve been just great at helping someone who is not very data-minded.

Russell, just tell everyone where they can find you and your book is online.

Russell: I am everywhere now. If you want to read my blog, it’s RussellBlake.com. If you want to find me on Facebook where I post rants and pretty much anything I’m thinking about, I think it’s Russell.Blake.books.

But you can just search my name, Russell Blake. I’m trying to think if there is anything else. some of my books are available wide on all platforms. Many of them are exclusive to Amazon and Kindle Unlimited right. So you can just go to the Amazon page and then check out my author page and see how many I’ve written. I forgot. I don’t even know I know it’s more than 60 but it maybe 65, maybe sixty-three. I don’t even know how many books I’ve got out there anymore.

Joanna: It’s fantastic and I do enjoy your blog and it’s great to have you back on the show. So thank you both for your time. This has been great.

Michael: Thank you so much, Joanna.

Russell: Thanks for having me, Joanna and Michael.

Flash Fiction And Making A Living As A Writer With Jason Brick

Writing for fun and for money is definitely possible, as I discuss with Jason Brick in today’s interview. He writes flash fiction for fun and takes high-paying freelance writing jobs for income and shares tips for both.

jason brick flash fictionIn the intro, highlights from the Audio Publishers Association survey [Publishing Perspectives]; PublishDrive announces Abacus, a tool for co-writing payment splitting even if you don’t publish through PD; Academic publisher, Pearson, goes digital for textbooks [The Guardian]; and Elon Musk’s Neuralink in the futurist segment [The Guardian]. Plus, how my LASEK eye surgery went (well, obvs!)

reedsyDo you need a professional editor or book cover designer? Do you need help with marketing, publicity or advertising? Find a curated list of vetted professionals at the Reedsy marketplace, along with free training on writing, self-publishing and book marketing. Check it out at: www.TheCreativePenn.com/reedsy

Jason BrickJason Brick is a professional writer, a martial artist, a travel addict, and a professional speaker whose work has been published across multiple genres and formats.

He has over 3000 published articles and short stories and has ghost-written more than 20 books, as well as writing novels and non-fiction under his own name. Plus, he has edited and crowdfunded a number of anthologies.

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

Show Notes

  • What is flash fiction anyway?
  • How do you know what a good subject for a flash fiction story could be
  • Types of flash fiction anthologies
  • How to make money freelance writing and blogging
  • Tips for pitching for freelance work
  • Dealing with rejection
  • Tips for writing for the gaming industry
  • And tips for getting into ghostwriting

You can find Jason Brick at BrickCommaJason.com and on Twitter @brickcommajason

Transcript of Interview with Jason Brick

Joanna: Hi everyone I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today I’m here with Jason Brick. Hi Jason.

Jason: Hello Joanna.

Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.

Jason is a professional writer, a martial artist, a travel addict like me, and a professional speaker whose work has been published across multiple genres and formats. He has over 3000 published articles and short stories and has ghost-written more than 20 books, as well as writing novels and non-fiction under his own name. Plus, he has edited and crowdfunded a number of anthologies. You are a busy man, Jason!

Jason: Yes ma’am. I love to eat and sleep indoors but I don’t ever want to get a real job so that requires that I write as much as I can as often as I can to fund the lifestyle my kids like to live.

Joanna: Absolutely.

Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.

Jason: Well, it’s a funny story. One of my first memories is of pretending to write stories in a notebook before I knew how to write. I was scribbling lines and pretending that they meant something. I got a lot of feedback even as an elementary school student about my ability to write.

And then as a high schooler, my two best friends each had a parent who was a professional writer. One was a journalist, the other was a technical writer. In college, I got a lot of feedback from my professors and a lot of support for my skill at writing.

So, of course, I went into an entirely different field for the first 10 years of my adult life. That was when I ran a martial arts studio. And then when my first child became an elementary school student working evenings and weekends job just wasn’t cutting it.

I sold my creative studio at that time and I had developed a large enough portfolio through writing ad copy for my school. I had a column in the local paper about safety and parenting and things like that that I was able to turn that portfolio into a full-time freelance career in about six months.

Joanna: Wow! So I’ve got to ask you: this wasn’t a question I primed for but I’ve got to ask you about productivity because you clearly write fast.

What are your productivity tips?

Jason: One of the best tricks ever that I learned – I learned this about five years ago and I’ve been using it every day – is that when you’re done writing for the day resist the urge to complete the sentence. Because usually that first half-hour we sit down to write, we’re stared at a blank screen bleeding from our for heads trying to wonder what we’re going to write next.

But if you’ve got an incomplete sentence on the page, you know exactly what to write. And you’re in the flow and you’re in your rhythm immediately.

And besides that, it’s just knowing the rhythms of how you work and not fighting them but rather designing a day that can match up. As my writing career kind of indicates, I have a lot of interests, I’m easily bored, so I work in half-hour sprints and then take a 15-minute break to clean part of the house or go do a short workout and then I come back and do another half-hour sprint.

Where some people have a better time just blocking off four hours and writing. And neither is better or worse. The only mistake is trying to do something that doesn’t work for you. If that makes any sense.

Joanna: That is a really good tip. I’m definitely someone who needs a bit longer than the 30 minutes. I like to have a bit longer but that’s really interesting.

We are here to talk about flash fiction, although you’ll feel you’ve got so many things we could talk about. But we’re going to start with flash fiction.

I have a just recently discovered flash fiction and I’ve been to some evenings.

Let’s just start with what flash fiction is. Why is it not poetry or a short story?

Jason: So it is a short story. It’s just an extremely short story. The difference between flash fiction and a short story is like the difference between a novella and a novel. It’s simply word lengths. Various people will argue about what that limit is.

For the anthologies that I’ve published of flash fiction, I put the limit at 1000 words but you hear some people saying 500 words and some people start using terms like micro-fiction and things like that. But really the conceptual difference is that when you’re dealing with flash fiction you can’t tell the whole story.

You’re implying most of the story in old school Hitchcock fashion, where you leave most of the details to the imagination of the reader and provide just enough rope for them to hang your imaginations on.

Joanna: The ones I’ve read are probably more like a couple of hundred words rather than a thousand words.

My feeling with it is that it seems less serious.

Is it a more fun way to be creative than taking on a big book-sized project, for example.

Jason: It really depends. My favorite flash fiction tends to be funny but there can be horrific flash fiction. I’ve seen very effective horror in the genre, very stirring stories about human psychology about human relationships and, of course, there’s the probably the most famous flash fiction story of all time by Hemingway, which is, “For sale. Baby shoes. Never used.” That’s just heart-wrenching.

Joanna: I thought that had become apocryphal like maybe someone wrote it. Or it’s become known as his.

Jason: It might have been.

Joanna: Who knows the truth of that?

I have looked at flash because I really like it. I think it’s brilliant. It works really well with things like Instagram and the modern ways of marketing. But it seems super hard to me. I write very big books. They have big scope lots of global conspiracies.

What are your tips for writing flash fiction? How do we go from writing these longer pieces to writing shorter?

Jason: What was it Oscar Wilde said about I’m writing you a long letter because I don’t have time to write a short one. Getting those stories out there, and again I think it depends on some on people’s different processes. Some people write very short naturally and then expand as the drafts go on. Other people write very long drafts and then narrow them down.

And again, the only mistake is doing what’s not natural for you in terms of monetizing flash fiction. Don’t even try to make a living just writing flash fiction unless you’re already famous. It’s the market just does not exist to you.

Joanna: We’ll come back to markets. But just getting back to writing short. I think it has to come down to the size of the idea. Because I can’t write a whole story as you said. What are your thoughts about choosing the thing to write about?

Is it a vignette that we pick from the world or how do you actually choose the right topic?

Jason: For me personally and I can’t speak to other people’s processes but usually, a flash fiction story that I write comes from a larger idea that’s rattling around in my head and then focusing on one individual’s experience of that idea.

Almost none of us have the experience that is the whole story, whether you’re talking about your relationships, whether you’re talking about your job, whether you’re talking about your understanding of science or current events. Excellent flash fiction I think takes one person’s narrow experience of a larger topic and then implies the things that they don’t know. The things that aren’t on screen in a way that’s effective and compelling.

Joanna: It’s that topic that I find so hard.

Are there specific writing prompts for people writing flash? I’ve seen some Twitter hashtags for example.

Jason: I’m sure they exist but I haven’t really interacted with them at all. Flash fiction is just another kind of story that I write. My flash fiction thing has come from being done with a story and realizing it’s in the flash range rather than being a fall short story or a novella.

Joanna: Oh that’s interesting. So you write it first and then the length will determine what you do with it.

Jason: Yes.

Joanna: OK right. I have never done that. At this time I kind of only think of things on a much bigger level. I’m trying to adjust my mindset to doing it like that.

Coming back to the market for it, tell us about the anthologies you do.

Why do anthologies of flash?

Jason: So the real question for me is why Kickstart anthologies of flash?

What are the issues with flash anthologies from a traditional publishing standpoint, as you have to have so many authors to fill a book that the royalties are tiny and it just doesn’t work out. That’s why you don’t see a lot of anthologies of flash fiction from the big five or even independent publishers.

On the other hand, if you kickstart that – my flash fictions are all anthologies with one hundred authors. I have 100 people with a vested interest in the success of the campaign. And so it’s very naturally suited for that particular style.

And so that’s why anthologies of flash fiction work for me personally.

Joanna: How do you find those authors?

Jason: So what I do is a combination of I have a fairly extensive mailing list of aspiring authors, of professional authors from some of the services I do for people who want to succeed in the writing industry, as well as I use social media outreach. I used to use Craigslist but they recently started charging for their ads.

For the first anthology, I went to 20 different cities. Now when I put out an anthology I only advertised in New York, Chicago and L.A.

Joanna: If you have one hundred people putting money in together, I guess everyone is going to support it if they are in the bank.

What are your other tips for a successful Kickstarter? Because it seems to me that a lot of them do get funded but many don’t last.

Jason: To me that’s a topic for an entire show. You can teach courses on this. And in fact, I would recommend Russell Knowlety’s course on this specifically. Using some of the advice in that literally quadrupled the amount of backing I got on my third anthology as compared to the first two.

But the biggest thing is to start early. Your first day of work gathering backers for a Kickstarter project is not the first day the anthology is open. You need probably 90 days of lead time for getting people ready, for it for setting up podcast interviews, for setting up a blog tour, for setting your schedule and then why you’re doing it.

This is the equivalent of a part-time or even full-time job if you can manage it. Being online every day. Harrying, harassing and chivvying people to make the donations they promised they would. Doing various shenanigans online to get attention. Reaching out to press things like that.

The biggest mistake people make with Kickstarter is having an, ‘If you build it, they will come’ approach, which just simply isn’t true.

Joanna: So you have 100 people involved. I struggle with anthologies. I’ve had short stories in an anthology, so I get it from this marketing perspective. But in terms of making money, like you said, it’s kind of a part-time job. Everyone listening wants make some money from their writing.

How does it become a viable prospect financially?

Jason: I don’t know of anybody who makes a full-time living writing short fiction these days. It’s important to remember that the average rate for short fiction per word hasn’t changed since the pulp magazines of the 1920s. Robert Howard, Dashiell Hammett, and those guys were making a penny or two a word and most of the short fiction markets today are paying about a penny or two maybe three cents a word.

Some of the markets are open to five and six cents but making a living through short fiction is probably impossible unless you can write like three thousand words an hour. That’s the short fiction to support of longer fiction habit. You can use short if you want to write short fiction and collections and self-publish it. I think that is a market that is growing where you could make a living on that. Using Amazon and Kobo when things like that.

But the idea of writing for anthologies and magazines and making a full-time living, I don’t think that model is viable anymore.

Joanna: Okay so then let’s talk about the market for people who read flash fiction. Are the people who read flash fiction writers?

How do you actually sell copies of these anthologies? What are some of the ways you do book marketing for these anthologies?

Jason: I use a lot of social media marketing. I work with a couple of magazines and online sites that specialize in flash fiction. And because flash fiction is a kind of niche market, the folks are pretty close and open about sharing. We’re all word nerds and so we’re part of the same tribe.

So, for example, Flash Fiction Aficionado is a magazine in Washington D.C. that actually has print copies that publishes flash fiction once a month. They just reach out to as many websites and magazines as you can.

You mentioned Twitter, just popping up a flash fiction, a short flash fiction story on Twitter is not a bad idea. I’ve seen some of that also on Reddit.

Places like that. And you just keep throwing spaghetti against the wall and then when something sticks definitely compound that. As soon as you get positive attention from one place give them attention back like any other kind of social media engagement.

Joanna: So you really are marketing to people who were already buying anthologies.

Jason: Yes absolutely. There’s no better customer than the customer who’s already bought something very similar to what you have.

Joanna: I didn’t read many anthologies. I much prefer a full story. And I know everyone has a different way of writing, which is really interesting. I feel the same about box sets. I feel like there are readers who buy box sets and I have box sets but I don’t buy box sets. So I feel like maybe there are these different categories.

Do you get that sense?

Jason: Very much. I think that’s very true that most readers read what they like to read and people have a favorite. Often they’ll buy every single thing they can from that author. And often they’ll be a little suspicious of an author who’s very similar even until they finally read that book because it was the only book available to them at that time. Then they become a fan of that author.

There are some authors who are like that, very specialized. There’s other readers who are very open with their reading and I tend to be one of those. I read anthologies mostly to meet new authors and I’ll find an anthology that has one or two authors whose work I really admire and then find out what else is in there.

Joanna: It is really an interesting thing.

Would you do Amazon advertising that targets other anthologies in the genre?

Jason: Yes absolutely.

Joanna: I would think that’s a good thing.

Now I wanted to ask you because when I start first started out as a writer I got stung by one of these pay to be in an anthology things where there was one big name and then you had to pay. It was considerable. It was in my first year of writing and I’m certainly not saying that that happens with most anthologies.

How can authors tell the difference between a viable anthology that actually would be good for their career and something that might not be?

Jason: If they ask for money don’t do it. Period.

One of my earliest writing mentors was actually one of my martial arts instructors, a guy named Walter John Williams who is a cyberpunk and science fiction author starting in the nineties. When I first started going out on submission with stories the first thing he said to me was if anybody asks you for money you should use the other things I taught you.

Joanna: Which are?

Jason: He taught me how to kill people with my bare hands.

Joanns: There you go! Very useful in anthologies.

Jason: Yeah. But that’s the thing. There’s a lot of people out there, a lot of scammers, a lot of people who are using the fact that prospective authors really want to be published as a way of profiting at their expense without giving any value.

Although there are a few contests that are legitimate, that have an entry fee, when it comes to anybody who is going to print your words, if they ask for money that is a huge red flag. Just walk away.

Joanna: I didn’t know that at the time. We will have our beginning days.

On your website, you do a lot of different things but you describe yourself as a working writer and say, “I don’t make my living from a single bestselling series. I make my living by writing a lot of things.” I always love talking about multiple streams of income on this show.

Can you talk about your different streams of income right now?

Jason: About a third of my income comes from corporate blog work on American Express and one of my clients, healthline.com. Things like that. Those are the way I really fund the rest of the lifestyle.

Those kind of assignments pay 25 to 50 cents a word, even a dollar a word. And once you get in with a client you’ll usually be doing a couple of thousand words a month for that individual client. So that’s about a third of my income.

Another third of the income comes from my traditional and self-published book projects of one sort or another. And then the other third, I’m actually a huge nerd and write for the tabletop role-playing game industry which does not pay very much but is a whole lot of fun.

Joanna: That’s really very different forms of writing. So let’s talk about the corporate blog world because my understanding of freelance writing is that probably 90 percent of people writing freelance are not making decent money and they are struggling. But you have obviously targeted specific clients.

How do you suggest that people identify the right clients where they can write good work and get paid decently?

Jason: Start with the blogs that you’re already reading and the magazines are already reading. That’s how I got my first paying gigs as a freelance writer was by going to the websites of other martial arts studio owners that I knew and telling them how I could do it better. And from there, turning that portfolio into other small business-related things.

Eventually when I was working for American Express, a small business community, and Intuit, a small business community, by capitalizing on the knowledge and the contacts I already had from my previous career.

Another really good place to start is whatever your hobby is. Walk into the store and to the right or the left of the cash register there’s a rack of magazines. And go pitch all of those magazines and those magazines are mostly written by hobbyists. If you can go to one of those editors and be somebody knowledgeable about the hobby who can also write you’ll get a lot of repeat work from that magazine.

For three years I was doing black-belt magazines obituaries because I was one of the few people the editor knew who could actually write on deadline and do decent research. The same thing applies to industry magazines for whatever you’re doing for a living right now. There’s an industry magazine, there might be a union magazine, there’s probably a regional journal. Those places also are written mostly by experts not writers. So if you can come to them as an expert who can write that’s another really good place to break in and some of them actually pay surprisingly well.

Joanna: How much did you do for free? Because this is what I feel like maybe you have to work your way up, as you say.

How long did you spend doing things for free or for lower rates before you kind of moved into that premium level?

Jason: Never write for free. Never ever ever ever ever ever write for free. At the beginning, not for free could mean writing a menu for a restaurant where you know the owner in exchange for a couple of free meals. Writing for barter is OK but never write for free.

The idea that we should write for exposure is a lie foisted upon us by people who don’t want to pay for our words.

Joanna: Which makes me laugh because I allow guest bloggers on my blog and I don’t pay for that. They are actually people who pitch me to be on my blog for the exposure and incoming links.

What are your feelings about that?

Jason: So that is a bit of a different thing. I will write a free blog for a friend as a favor. I will write my advertising copy for free. And if your career is at a point where you are writing a blog post for a major publication or somebody is a bit of a celebrity in the community you’re wanting to write for that can be an exception.

But even then, you’re not writing for free. You’re writing for established exposure in a very specific niche. That to me is writing your own publicity as opposed to writing something not associated with your career really doing your first blog for somebody’s web site for free because they don’t want to pay you. Those are two very different things in my mind.

Joanna: OK good. I’m glad you said that.

So let’s talk about pitching a little bit because let’s say if you’re writing flash fiction for example as a creative way of writing but when you’re pitching for work what are some of your tips? I get pitched all the time and some are very clearly good and some are clearly bad.

What are your tips for a good pitch to get paying work?

Jason: This is something I deliver in many presentations and I think it might be in my book Nine Habits of Highly Profitable Writing, which is available on Amazon. I have what I call the four paragraph perfect pitch letter and it’s three paragraphs plus one.

The first paragraph is you’re awesome. The second paragraph is I have this awesome idea. And the third paragraph is I’m awesome.

The sad truth is that nobody cares about you. They care about them and how you can help them. So your first paragraph needs to be telling of the person you’re pitching about why you like the publication and why you want to be in that publication. What’s great about that publication.

It also just is polite that if you get to ask someone to give you money to show that you’ve done a little bit of research. So a paragraph real quick about I like this magazine. I like this web site and I usually will use one sentence describing something I read in that magazine a website recently that I particularly liked, even if I read it 10 minutes before writing the pitch letter, because that gets their interest. People are interested in themselves and not interested in you and that piques their interest.

Second paragraph is you just describe the idea briefly. You can use bullet points if you want. And the third one you need to describe very quickly why you are the only person in the world who is appropriate to write this story.

Just one, two, three paragraphs. Then you sign off and then there’s the bonus paragraph at the bottom which is probably made me more money as an idea than anything else I’ve done. Which is just. P.S. If this idea doesn’t suit you but you like my writing. Here are a couple other ideas that might be appropriate.

Joanna: And it’s good to say that because I think the biggest issue.

There were issues in each of these levels actually but it’s interesting. So you’re right. Most people will email me, for example, and pitch for this podcast with “I’ve written a book, I want to come on your podcast.” That’s not very useful.

So when it comes to ideas, how do you make sure you craft an idea that is interesting to the person you’re pitching?

Jason: So there are two ways to go about it. And I use them about 50/50. Sometimes you have your idea first. And then you go find publications that might carry that idea.

The other one is you target a publication and you come up with a cool idea. The first major national magazine to carry my work was Black Belt Magazine and I decided I wanted to be a black belt. So I read a few issues of Black Belt and looked at the blog and. Came up with an idea that was similar to but unique enough to get attention.

In that case, I did an article on the non-combative non-self-defense benefits of martial arts training. Things like cardiovascular endurance. I’m a middle-aged man in his 40s. What’s going to kill me is a heart attack. Self-defense for me is jogging every day. And applying that was something they hadn’t seen but was clearly relevant and interesting to their people. And so they bought it.

So that’s what you do if you have focus on a publication or a website. You want to look at what they’ve already published. Find the themes and then brainstorm unique takes on those things.

And then the other way is you brainstorm your ideas and then you just hop online, grab your copy of Writers’ Digest and find out who is publishing what you want to write.

Joanna: And then when you’re pitching that idea, do you actually pitch a headline that is SEO, Search Engine optimized, already or are you pitching something more nebulous?

Jason: Again it depends on the publisher. You can kind of tell often in the submission guidelines which they’d like to see. And my Achilles heel is titles. I’m terrible at them. So I try to avoid that if I can.

Joanna: When people pitch me with a blog post I do like to see some kind of idea of the headline.

And then the other thing you were saying about what’s great about you, the person pitching. I’ve had pitches which are brilliant, which are all saying nice things about me. They come up with a nice idea and then they’re from a credit card company and I’m like well, I don’t want you to write for my blog. I only let authors and writers and people who are like me, small business people, on the blog. So that’s really interesting to say.

Another tip I think is important is saying only pitch people you actually care about. You are a martial arts guy.

So you weren’t just BSing about that article.

Jason: Exactly. I’m actually married to a literary agent and one of the things that keeps me humble is that I’m married to a literary agent but currently unrepresented.

She gets more than one hundred e-mails a week in her slush pile and easily 50 percent of them are for genres she doesn’t represent. Having the common courtesy of only pitching people who are appropriate for your idea and for your interests just seems to me to be common courtesy and it seems to be lacking.

Joanna: Absolutely. I totally agree with you.

How do you deal with the inevitable rejections? You’ve spent your time, you’ve done your pitches. What do you do with the nos?

Jason: I ignore them and move on. If I have any information in there that can help me be more successful with the next pitch I’ll put it in my database.

I use an Excel spreadsheet but my superpower for my writing career is the fact that it came to it from the martial arts industry. Feedback that doesn’t involve a bloody nose I consider a win.

I’m just told no over and over again. In fact, there’s an interesting story related to that: I was speaking at a conference in southern Oregon and I was sitting with the other presenters there.

There were about 12 of us for a conference of about 300 people and there were three men nine women and all three of the men had wrestled in high school and college and we found that interesting. We reached out and it turned out almost everybody who was speaking at that conference was either an athlete in high school or a musician or in drama.

The people who were successful in the field had, from their teens on, had experiences where they were told no, that’s wrong, try it again, in ways that weren’t emotionally fraught.

Whereas if your experience is only in academics you get a ninety-nine percent on your math test. Number one you feel kind of bad about that 1 percent and number two you can never go back and fix it.

And that paradigm of just being used to being told No you did it wrong. Do it right and just internalizing that as quickly as you can and getting used to it I think is very helpful and powerful in the life of a writer. Which is why, when people ask me “What’s the biggest piece of advice I would give for beginning a career in writing” is submit early, submit often, get used to it.

Joanna: It’s so funny because you say that and I’m the opposite. I love the indie way because I don’t need to ask anyone’s permission. I don’t need to get rejected.

The people who reject me are the people who try my stuff and don’t like it or who try this podcast and don’t like it. And that’s fine because I didn’t feel their rejection. They can just turn off. Some people will have just stopped listening to us that’s fine, that’s their choice, but I don’t feel that.

And it makes me think maybe that’s why I never pitch. I love having a podcast because people pitch me. I don’t have to pitch. I need to learn. Which is great.

So I see you’ve mentioned speaking a couple of times.

How does speaking fit into your business your multiple streams of income?

Jason: I speak at writer’s conferences both for the paycheck from the conference itself and as a way of bringing people into my writer’s community and my Write Like Hell community, which are ways I do some coaching for writers and get people who are interested in writing interested in and knowledgeable about my work.

And I also go to business conferences and talk to them about writing. One of the things I really recommend for anybody who writes, especially nonfiction but fiction as well, is you’ve got to go to a writing conference once a year just to hang out with your tribe.

But the trouble is writing conferences in terms of your career if you’re in a room full of writers. But if for example you write about coding in Ruby and you go to a convention about Ruby you’re the only writer in that room surrounded by people, some of whom need a writer. So going to a business conference about whatever it is you write about can be a really great source of exactly the kind of clients you need.

Joanna: And presumably maybe find some people to pitch later on who might remember you.

Jason: Exactly. If you do your job right you’ll walk out with a job offer.

Joanna: I think that’s fantastic. I wanted to come back on your role-playing game writing because I think this is so interesting because I can’t remember the numbers but the gaming industry now is far bigger than Hollywood. It’s huge. It is massive.

There’s a whole ecosystem of gaming that go on and a lot of money in that industry. So if people were interested in getting into writing for games and I know writers who write for games it’s fascinating.

What are some of your tips for getting into that niche?

Jason: So to be clear there is video games, which is a huge multi-billion dollar industry. And then there’s tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, which is a much smaller industry and much harder to break into the pay is much worse. And unfortunately, I chose that smaller one.

But breaking into both of those is very much a social game because the number of people who want to write for those industries as compared to the number of slots for writers it’s the ratio is very large.

The best thing you can do is go to conferences, go to conventions, stalk people on Twitter, forge some kind of relationship with one editor or one director of Human Resources, one person who can make the decision to pay you. And then just do that assignment extremely well.

Because that market is glutted with prospective authors. And editors who know somebody who will get the job done on time, they will use you again and again and again and again and again.

My assignments in that industry include some self-published posts called random encounters, which people can find on Amazon, where I just share ideas about the game. But also 90 percent of it came from two editors that I happened to write for. I heard about a project on a podcast and was so enamored by it I wanted to write for it. So I hassled the owner of that company until he gave me a chance. And then those two editors kept recommending me to other editors and to other editors and to other editors until my career’s at the point it is. But breaking in cold I think would have been very very very difficult.

Joanna: Relationships make such a difference. There’s so much I could ask you but I do want to ask you about the ghostwriting because there’s been in the author community some controversy about ghostwriting.

I’m sure you know about the #copypastecris thing in romance where supposedly a ghostwriter plagiarized or she plagiarized and the whole thing is very difficult.

But I think a lot of people don’t understand ghostwriters mainly because you’re ghosts. You’re not meant to be out there, fessing up to things.

Why make ghostwriting part of your writing portfolio as such, when you write your own stuff as well?

Jason: There’s a couple of reasons. I fell into ghostwriting because one of my mentors was a professional ghostwriter and had some overflow. It wasn’t something I got into on purpose. Some of the reasons to do ghostwriting is the highest end ghostwriting pays extraordinarily well.

You can charge 50 cents to a dollar a word for an 80 thousand word book. And that’s not even the folks who are writing for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Trump’s going to come out there and pay some ghostwriter a ridiculous sum of money.

But just work-a-day ghostwriting usually is you’ve got some expert who’s too busy coaching, too busy working but wants to be the guy who wrote the book on this thing or wants to be the woman who wrote the book on this topic but just doesn’t have the time or the skills to write the book themselves so they find a professional writer to do that.

And because these are people who are highly successful in their careers and see the potential for profit from their book, they will pay you very well to do the thing.

Joanna: And again it’s the same question about the other writing; how do you find these high paying clients?

Jason: So again for me it was mostly connections and I was fortunate enough to be mentored by somebody who had an established career as a professional ghostwriter.

One of my favorite projects that I’m just finishing up was from a woman I knew in high school who encountered this person in the course of her job was actually a really fascinating one. This one didn’t pay as well because it wasn’t that kind of corporate ghostwriting. It was a C1 quadriplegic who was told he had an hour to live in 1984 and is still alive and involved in activism and advocacy for people with disabilities. And he wanted his book out to support his speaking career.

But again it’s the whole thing about it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, especially for ghostwriting because it’s going to be a close relationship and they’re going to spend a lot of money so they’re going to want the recommendation is somebody they trust.

Joanna: In your book, the one you’ve got on making money with writing, do you talk about ghostwriting?

Jason: I don’t think so. I wrote that before I really broke into ghostwriting.

Joanna: Maybe it’s time to update it.

Jason: I think so. That’s all my list of things to do. Absolutely.

Joanna: It’s probably a big list, like the rest of us.

Well, this has been so interesting. Tell people where they can find you and your books and everything you do online.

Jason: Absolutely. BrickCommaJason.com is my core web site. I am very active on Facebook as well. My iron writer’s challenge community is a place where writers get together, talk shop, dare each other to accomplish some degree of productivity on Monday and then start hassling each other on Thursday to see if it got done.

Those are the best places to find me. You can find me an on Amazon.com look for Jason Brick. You can find my books on writing my books on tabletop role-playing games in a couple of other little things.

Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time Jason. That was great.

Jason: Well, thank you, Joanna. Appreciate it a lot.

Author Mindset: Stop Reading Your Book Reviews

There’s a moment when your book goes out into the world and you realize that someone who doesn’t love you will read it. What if they hate it? You will be crushed. What if they love it? You’ll be ecstatic until someone else hates it 🙂 This is why I (Joanna) don’t read my reviews. I even have my assistant pull out the good ones for website copy. In today’s article, Sam Hooker discusses why this may be a healthy attitude to have.

stop reading reviewsOnce your book has made its way past the editor, the typesetter, the cover artist, and perhaps your publisher and/or publicist, it goes out into the world. Then something wonderful happens: people read it.

Then something nerve-wracking happens: people review it.

It makes sense that you would want to pay attention to your reviews. They play a crucial role in the success of your book, and they’re a quick source of anonymous feedback about your writing. But the most sensible thing may be to ignore them altogether.

1. Opinions are subjective.

When readers open your book, they read it through the lens of their world view. Everything they’ve experienced in their life has contributed to the way they see and understand what happens around them.

No two people are alike, and many people will be vastly different from you. That means readers won’t always understand your writing as you’d intended, and that can lead to some unanticipated results.

Assorted ice creamLet’s say your reader’s favorite thing in the world is cartoons about giant robots. She may give your book 2 stars because she liked it, but she thought it would have more robot fights in space (even if you don’t write science fiction). Another may give it 1 star because it wasn’t Treasure Island, and that’s the only book he’s ever really liked.

Remember: A review will often say more about the reader than the book.

Furthermore, there’s no consistency among reviewers. Even the way that people assign stars to books can have huge variations.

You may get a 5-star review that says your book was “pretty good.” The next one may be a 2-star review calling it “the best thing I’ve ever read.”

Reviewers may give 5 stars to every book they like, or swear that they’ll only bestow that honor once in their life. This inconsistency is never going to change, so save yourself the frustration of trying to make sense of it.

Remember: There’s no right or wrong way to express an opinion.

2. They aren’t your reviews.

Always keep in mind that readers are reviewing your work, not you as a person. It’s often hard to separate the two, especially when a reviewer writes something negative about the author.

Here’s the thing: reviewers don’t know you. At best, they know your book – assuming they bothered to read the whole thing, which people won’t always do if they dislike a book. Reviewers often conflate authors with their books, but authors don’t have to make the same mistake.

Remember: A review is a stranger’s opinion of your book, not the truth about you.

3. Reviews are not a good source of validation or critique.

Reading reviews may seem like the surest way to know whether people liked your work. They come with 1-5 stars, and their average gives you a number grade for your work, right?

Man Using Tablet Don’t fall for it. First of all, you didn’t take a test, you wrote a book. There is no rubric for grading a book. Reviews are opinions, not truths.

Second, readers are just people. Very few of them have formal training in expressing literary opinions. Even if they do, professionals who write reviews for industry publications are still doing what everyone else is doing: expressing an opinion.

Feedback is important to your growth as an author, but you need to get it from the right place. Author critique groups are a great source of targeted feedback, especially if you can find one that focuses on your subject or genre.

Remember: Good feedback comes from trustworthy sources, not the opinions of anonymous strangers.

4. The best reviews don’t come with 5 stars. Seriously.

It’s a great feeling when your book gets 5-star reviews. They boost your confidence and they balance out the inevitable 1-star reviews (which you would see if you were tracking your average, which you aren’t).

But to readers, 5-star reviews can seem suspicious. A review that glows too brightly may be dismissed as having been written by your parents.

Here’s a bit of good news: most readers who are suspicious of 5-star reviews will dismiss 1-star reviews as well, especially when they say nothing more than “don’t waste your time,” or “blah, it sucked.” They understand that reviews are just opinions, and not all of them matter.

Readers who seriously consider reviews when shopping for books are likely to view 2-, 3-, and 4-star reviews with more credibility. If the text of a 3-star review is genuinely complimentary, it may win you a reader – or at least a sale!

Remember: Mid-ranked reviews give your book credibility.

5. You don’t get to respond. Never, ever, ever respond.

You’ve probably heard the adage, “don’t start a fight you can’t win.” Every book review is a professional boxer on steroids with brass knuckles under their gloves.

Man with Stop SignIt would feel so good to tell 1-star reviewers off, wouldn’t it? Especially the ones who “don’t usually read this sort of thing.” So, why did they pick your book to start? If it “just wasn’t their taste,” why not not review it?

Here’s the problem: you can’t stop a reviewer from posting their opinion, and you can’t prove an opinion wrong. The fact is that they didn’t like your book, and there’s no way to respond that won’t come off as petty or insecure.

Telling off a reader may even make you look like a bully, and that’s not the sort of reputation you want.

As frustrating as it is, your only option is the high road. You don’t get to defend yourself. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to complain! You just don’t get to complain to your readers. If you need to vent about bad feedback, consider asking your critique group to meet you at the bar. They’ll have their own bad reviews to share, I promise.

Remember: You won’t be tempted to respond to anonymous opinions if you haven’t read them.

The key is finding your readers.

The most important factor to your book’s success–and to your success as an author–is connecting with your audience. The people who are going to like your work are already out there. You’re not going to change the minds of anyone else because you can’t prove their opinions wrong.

The best way to ensure good reviews is to find your readers and connect with them. You don’t want to connect with all readers, just your readers. Their reviews are the ones that count, and you know that they’ll be good–so why spend time reading them?

Do you read your book reviews? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Sam HookerSam Hooker is a darkly humorous fantasy novelist. Learn more about his Terribly Serious Darkness series and other works at his website or follow him on Twitter.

Managing A Diverse Creative Career With Tim Chizmar

Established wisdom says that success in a creative career is more likely if you choose your niche and focus entirely on one thing. But what if you are someone who likes to play in all kinds of creative arenas? 

What if you are interested in writing in multiple genres?

In today’s interview, I discuss diversity of creative business with Tim Chizmar, who manages to achieve a great deal in a number of areas. I loved this interview as I am also a multi-passionate creative with no desire to focus just on one thing!

In the intro, I mention my 2018-2019 book sales income breakdown with exciting developments in global sales, with books sold in 54 countries this year! You can see previous posts at www.TheCreativePenn.com/timeline.

Want to automate your author marketing and find your first 10,000 readers? Come and join me and Nick Stephenson for a live webinar on Tues 23 July at 3pm US Eastern / 8pm UK. Click here to sign up for your free place or to register for the replay.

TCPaudiobooksToday’s show is sponsored by my own audiobooks for authors, and if you want to supercharge your creative business, check out How to Make a Living with your Writing, Business for Authors, How to Market a Book, or The Successful Author Mindset. Click here for the links to your favorite audiobook stores.

tim ChizmarTim Chizmar is an award-winning horror author as well as a short story writer, screenwriter, producer, ghostwriter, and professional speaker. Previously he worked as an actor and comedian. He has an interview with Clive Barker in It’s Alive: Bringing your Nightmares to Life.

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

Show Notes

  • How being onstage as a stand-up comic affected Tim’s writing
  • Taking chances to meet the right people
  • On the parallels between comedy and horror
  • Working with Hollywood while also keeping a safe distance
  • Job satisfaction with having multiple projects on the go
  • Why interacting with peers is important, even if it’s online
  • Connecting on a personal level with our literary heroes

You can find Tim Chizmar at TimChizmar.com and on Twitter @TimChizmar

Transcript of Interview with Tim Chizmar

Joanna: Hi everyone. I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I’m here with Timothy Chizmar. Hi Tim.

Tim: Hey everybody.

Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show. So just a little introduction.

Tim is an award-winning horror author as well as a short story writer, screenwriter, producer, ghostwriter, and professional speaker. And previously he worked as an actor and comedian. You really are just amazing Tim.

I wanted to talk to you because you were the very definition of the multi hyphen creative idea.

Tell us a bit more about your varied career and why you’re focusing on books right now.

Tim: I always wanted to be a writer. That was the thing when I was eight years old, a little kid, I really looked up to Bruce Carville and choose your own adventures. I loved writing. I always wanted to get into writing and I hear that over the course of our lives we tend to go back to that thing we wanted to do when we were around eight, even if we go off on different tangents.

That’s what I’ve heard and it’s certainly the case for me where I always put writers on a pedestal. That they had magic and they could build worlds and tell tales and it just really influenced your whole emotions and take you on this ride.

And so for me, I always wanted to go back to it even as I tried lots of different hats on over the years. I knew that ultimately I wanted to end back on telling stories.

Joanna: Stand-up comedy to me is possibly one of the scariest careers in the world and yet when I Googled you it seems like you were pretty successful. Some people say they were a standup comedian but they actually never were. You seem to actually have a fruitful career like that.

How has that career helped you with your writing?

Tim: I can tell you that yes as a standup comic and a true standup comic I’ve been asked to the major clubs and I went on the road of been casinos. I’ve worked with big stars and all that. You’re writing your own material and there is a language for comedy.

There’s a setup, a punch, a callback, a tag. There’s the rule of three. There’s always land on the funny. There’s embracing pauses. There’s being in the moment. So there’s a whole language and in particular, the first screenplay that I ever optioned was a comedy screenplay.

Being on stage and doing standup really pushes you off the edge to embrace your instincts and to think outside the box and to think outside the box creatively. When I wrote the very first screenplay with a couple of friends from college I didn’t know enough about the industry of Hollywood to know what not to do. So I was able to break some etiquette rules and it worked out for me.

I went to a comedy club because we had written this comedy script and one of the easiest ways to get a script actually made is to attach a celebrity to it. So I thought I know nobody but I have the script and it’s really funny as I wrote it. So I just showed up at a comedy club with a cardboard cutout and I waited for Eddie Griffith.

Eddie Griffin is this black comedian. And I had a sign that said hey Eddie. And on the backside screenplay for you and I waited. And some of the people at the Comedy Club came out and they are like, what do you do and who is this guy. And they just thought I was a fan an anxious fan and I didn’t look crazy. So they let me be.

When his limo pulled up and he got out with his entourage I held up my sign and he looked at it and I flipped it around. Screenplay for you. I’m just a guy holding a sign. And he walked over and said, So what do you got. And we started talking and I got his publicist and one thing led to another and they verified us that we had registered with the Writers Guild and all this. We were able to attach him to the screenplay and offer my very first movie.

Joanna: Wow. Now that to me takes, well it takes creativity, and some balls to go do that. We’re going to come back to the screenwriting but I want to just ask you back on the stand-up comedy because you mentioned a few things that seemed like rules.

I see that a lot of writers have a problem between some of the rules of structure for example with screenplays, with stand up, with novels as such.

How do you combine the rules with your creative side, the structure you have to have with that little bit of extra?

Tim: I am a big proponent of once you know the rules and understand the rules then you can break the rules.

So in parallels with writing to standup when you’re onstage doing standup a major booker will see a few things. When a comedian walks up on stage a lot of times like a comedian will be so in their head thinking about their setup and their jokes and what they want to tell that they’re not present in the moment, so they don’t move the mike.

They don’t take the mike out and move the mike stand. An early comedian who’s performed five times will take the mike out and not move the stand and perform their set in front of the mike stand because they’re only thinking about what they want to say and they’re not aware. That’s one of the things that’s a red flag to somebody that this person hasn’t kicked around in the industry long enough.

Another thing is wrapping the cord around their hands. That’s a sign of being nervous and not being comfortable on stage. Well, that same token if you look at somebody like Joe Rogan who’s been at it for a long time I don’t know who the big comedian in England is. Who’s the big English comedian?

Joanna: I didn’t even do comedy.

Tim: Okay, Monty Python is on stage. If they wrap it around their hand they’re allowed because they’ve done this long enough they can break the rules.

So the same with in writing. I’ve often wanted to go into one of these writers critique groups and bring a couple of pages of writing from somebody like Stephen King and I bet you if I said this is my writing they would all break it apart and say things I needed to change and adjust.

But again once you reach a level, once you know the rules, you can break the rules. So I’m comforted by that. I like to know that there is a box and then I break out again.

Joann: Fair enough. My husband always laughs at me because he enjoys comedy. But my sense of humor is lacking. So comedy seems to me the hardest genre to write and it is well known as being difficult, as in, you don’t just tell a joke. That’s not how it’s done.

Have you just always naturally been funny or how have you worked at the craft of comedy for both your screenplays and also for your other writing?

Tim: I keep it light. I keep people around me who are ridiculous and think outside the box and there is a lot of parallels because I tend to do a lot of things but I tend to mostly focus on horror and comedy and I know that we’re going to get to that a little bit later on. But they both come from a very similar place.

There’s an old saying that in order to make a normal person laugh you have a man dressed up like an old woman and pretend to fall down some steps. But to make a comedian laugh it has to be a real old woman. Comedians have a real dark side.

Comedy comes from a dark place and the happiest, jolliest guys on stage have got some darkness to them. And so it’s a way for us to exercise some of those demons.

There is a power in making people laugh because even if they don’t like you, you can make them laugh. I remember growing up as a poor kid in a crazy neighborhood and my mother was the crazy person then. And so there were some snooty high falutin people who would look down their noses at this little rapscallion. But when I could make them laugh they had no control over that, even if they didn’t like me because of my I was able to make them laugh. And that was powerful.

Joanna: I think a lot of eyebrows are raised at comedy and horror having a lot in common because a lot of people don’t see that. They feel like two different emotions. You’re not meant to laugh at a horror book or a horror film or are you?

Tell us about how horror and comedy relate.

Tim: I met the editor that I work with most often at a speech about this very, very big bopper Brent Collins and he feels a lot of the same way that I do that it’s learning to accept parts of yourself.

There’s a darkness there and we’re working through things that’s a bit of writing as therapy instead of running from. I’ve always felt that it’s not the guy in the black hat you have to be worried about, it’s the guy in the white hat. It’s the person who’s all smiley and pretending like life is great, you don’t have to worry about a guy like me because I’ve seen some things and I’ve been in the trenches and I’ve worked through it. I bring that to my characters and I try to give them a full dimension of we don’t get to choose what family we have. Both my parents are convicted felons. My mother served time for stabbing someone. My dad was a drug dealer and I’ve never gotten a parking ticket. So I looked at that and I said, Hey that’s a bad thing.

And then I came over here and I just write about it because there are bad things in the world and you can work through but by surviving a horrible tragedy or by laughing at it and they’re very similar. There’s a lot of emotion and being able to survive is something worth smiling about.

Joanna: Your background is really interesting. Obviously, there’s a lot within that.

One of the biggest issues that I think people have with their writing is bringing in as much honesty as they can without putting themselves in and making themselves too vulnerable or necessarily getting sued by the people they’ve actually written about, which we can get around a bit with fiction.

How do you protect yourself but also protect the people that you love while still speaking your truth?

Tim: I do a little exercise when I talk for writers’ groups and things like that where I start off by telling everyone to write down that one thing that you don’t want anyone to know about you. Don’t show anyone, just write it down for yourself.

I pause I give them a moment let them write it down. And then I move on and I don’t talk about it again until at the end of my session where I remind them to go back to it and then I say that thing that you wrote down is what needs to be in your writing.

So whatever it is, that’s what you have the most emotion about, however you want to approach it, however you want to get to it. I’ve had people come up to me and cry at the end of a talk where I’ve never heard that before.

The first time that I heard that example it really meant something to me. So I think even if somebody else doesn’t necessarily get it, but as long as you get it through your writing there are things that we all are dealing with and it’s a great way to work through it by using it in your creativity.

Joanna: Fantastic. People are thinking about that now. And many of us do put that stuff into our writing.

Tim: Do we pause for intermission now?

Joanna: Pause to think of your secret thing to say.

Do you turn that one way to become horror and turn the other way to become comedy?

Tim: Sure. But I think that a really nice recipe can have both ingredients, which is what I do in a lot of my projects.

Take for example my bizarro novel Soul Traitor, is about a demon who comes to claim a girl’s soul and then decides well if I instead of taking it to hell, what if I just swallow it? Now she gets what she sold her soul for. I get to stay on earth because I have a soul. And heaven and hell freaks out and insanity ensues. And so it’s horror and it’s comedy and I’m talking about what’s good and bad and religion and it’s a nice little mix of all kinds of stuff.

Joanna: I want to ask you about multiple streams of income, because on this show I talk about this all the time. I have multiple streams of income. I don’t like having just the one thing and you definitely have all these things going on.

Tell us a bit about what your creative business looks like right now and where your streams of income come from, because I think you revamped your approach in 2017.

We’d love to hear about what things are like for you now.

Tim: Absolutely. I spent 13 years working in Hollywood, so I was doing mostly television and screenplays and standup and acting and stuff like that.

But the truth is I was not happy and a lot of the people that I surrounded myself with were some of the biggest names that you see in entertainment are not happy. So the guy who just did a movie with Lionsgate for three million dollars, sits in a mansion, miserable.

I was noticing that I was becoming more and more like the people around me. And I didn’t like it, so I took a break and I left Hollywood.

Let me give a little example. The guy I was just talking about. We were doing the writing work, the punch up work on screenplays and stuff like that.

He would also pay me to get people together so that he could take them out for a night on the town because he couldn’t relate to people. So he would pay me to get fake friends together. And that’s the thing in Hollywood. They have all the money in the world but because of that, they’re in this insulated little bubble and then they couldn’t connect with people.

I was checking off all the boxes that I would think this should make me happy. I am working on these big projects and making money and I’m doing all this. And I was dead inside.

So I went up to the mountains of Idaho and spent a year trying to get in touch with what really matters. Why is the guy who has no money but walks his dog on Sunday happier than the millionaire in the mansion?

I spent a year just writing and I took a job working with kids who had anger issues and I got as far away from Hollywood as I could. I turned my cell phone off. At the end of it, I discovered that I love writers and I love creative people and I want to work with them but not so much the Hollywood thing.

So that’s why I live in Las Vegas now because I’m four hours away from L.A. I always explain it to people that I’m close enough to the fire to feel the warmth but not get burned. And when I was in the fire I was getting burned. And so that changed everything.

I launched Spooky Ninja Kitty, my publishing house, and I started repping writer clients and doing more ghostwriting and worked to get outside of my comfort zone and focus on those interests that were more in the book world and less in film.

Joanna: I’m just the same as most writers. We all would like the film deal or the TV deal. We would like to be in that world and yet you’ve been in that world and you’ve left that world. But you still cross over into that world.

You have a little publishing house now. Do you rep your clients with Hollywood?

Are you doing screenplay’s still or how are you still tied in there?

Tim: Yes and yes. Spooky Ninja Kitty is my publishing house. And with some of my clients I help them to adapt their novels into screenplays. And I do some screenplay work. I’m doing a woman in peril screenplay right now for a client.

There is crossover and I still help out with drawing the line and helping to advise.

I like the chaos, Joanna. I like staying so busy that like I was telling you a little bit ago depending on who I’m talking to or what group I’m going to I adjust what I focus on. Because for a lot of people they’re like how does this all lineup? He sold a TV show that combined pro wrestling and standup comedy and he did a movie for Full Moon about killer clowns. How does this work?

Well, that’s what makes me happy right now. As I’m doing this interview with you I’m finishing up the woman in peril screenplay. I’m ghostwriting a book for a celebrity. I’m representing PR for my clients, doing client blurbs, writing for First Comics news and I’m moderating two panels at Days of the Dead right here in Las Vegas and that’ll make me happy. I like being that busy.

Joanna: I’m someone like you, although I don’t think I have as much energy as you do. But I think having multiple projects makes me happy as well. But it’s kind of annoying as well sometimes because we do see that the most successful authors say that to be a name brand generally means you have to stick to one genre and deliver the same experience over and over again to the readers. What are your feelings about that?

Do we just double down on what makes us happy?

Tim: That’s kind of what I think because I think it’s personality driven. And that’s OK.

What works for me doesn’t have to work for everybody but I’m personality driven. So I have a name in the pro-wrestling world. We just did this big thing called Star Cast and I’m hanging out with all these pro wrestlers, doing wrestling stuff.

I also do the horror thing, so I’m able to go to horror conventions. The comedy thing, the Comic Con thing and because of who I am I can exist in all those areas.

Now if somebody isn’t as giant a personality as old fathead over here, and if they hardly ever leave their house and they love writing westerns they should at least join a Western writing group. Go on some Western writing message boards.

They need to interact with people who think the same way that they do because they’re a brand and that’s the brand that they represent.

With me, my brand is my personality so I’m able to break it off into some different facets that wouldn’t necessarily line up. I tell some of my clients who have very strict guidelines about what they write not to say that I represent them. Because some of the things that I do might not fall into their area.

I tell them that ahead of time. Some of the work that I do I literally don’t say I represent so-and-so and they’ve got a great book about pottery coming out. Instead, I say I have a friend who has this book about pottery and would you write a blurb for them.

I work within those parameters because I understand that not everybody is as loud and outspoken as this guy.

One of my clients wanted to write a book. Are you familiar with Chelsea Handler? You know who she is? She’s a big comedian here in the states she has a talk show and she wrote some risque books about her personal life.

And so this client of mine wanted to do the same thing. She wanted to write a book about her personal life and she thought it would be entertaining and all this. She told me that she was going to rent a castle in Ireland to go there and be inspired to write this great book. And I knew, and you probably know, that if she can’t write it in her office she’s not going to be able to write it in the castle in Ireland. But she went there spent all this money got this castle and stayed there a month and came back and she had barely forced out a chapter of the book because it’s about mindset.

If you can’t do it in your head, it doesn’t matter what the view looks like outside the window because it’s a view that’s inside your mind. So anyway, I just want to point that out.

Joanna: I totally agree with that, and in fact, I say to people I did the same thing years and years ago. I quit my job in order to make a business and it didn’t work. And in the end, I built this business while having a day job because you kind of need that structure at the beginning.

You mentioned there that if you do write genre then joining a genre organization is a really good idea. You co-founded the Las Vegas chapter of the horror writers association, which I’m also in and sometimes indie authors feel that literary organizations are not that welcoming.

Why is the horror writers association important to you and why should authors get involved in your organizations?

Tim: I think it’s important to build your brand with people who are alike and I can use myself as a perfect example. I had a comfort zone that I was comfortable with. It was screenplays. It was punch up work. It was writing jokes. It was eventually short stories and magazines.

What I was not comfortable with was writing a full-length novel. I was just terrified of that. It was too much. Because when it’s done it’s done. And I was afraid of that moment where it’s like OK because it’s easier to talk about how great it will be. Oh, I’m working on this thing it’ll be so great. You won’t believe how great it is. But when it’s done and it’s a novel you’re really standing on your own. That was tough for me.

I say that because when I went to the HWA (Hollywood Writers’ Association) I was worried. The first group I went to was in Los Angeles and I was worried that they were going to be snooty that they were all going to be pompous librarian types where they looked down their nose and they all write with quill pens or something.

So I went and they were very welcoming very nice. Some of the greatest people I’ve ever met and most important when it comes to business, I sold my first short stories to people at HWA groups. They ran traditional publishing houses. They were putting together collections.

And I was spoiled. I actually got some really nice deals and I got into really some good publications and it was amazing and I got to share this one. This just sums everything up why everyone should run, don’t walk to join a genre meeting group for writing.

I went to the HWA in L.A. and I had sold a couple of short stories. Well I was talking about my crazy demon novel and there was a woman who ran a traditional press at the meeting and at the end of it she came up to me and she gave me her card and she said that sounds great. My small press would be interested in possibly putting out your book. And so she gave me her card and I said OK. And I put it in my pocket.

Now between you and me, because it’s just you and me there’s nobody else listening right? I was terrified to put a novel out. I wasn’t ready for it. So I took the card. Oh thank you very much. And I blew it off. I did not follow up on it.

A couple of months later I was at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, this giant book convention in L.A., and she approached me again and I had made some friends and people knew me and so she asked if she could talk to me again. She took me aside and she goes Tim, I just want to let you know that I spoke to the people at our press and we understand that the first time when we offered you that book deal we insulted you by only offer you a one book deal so we would now like to offer you a three book deal if you would please consider going with our publishing house.

But the truth is I wasn’t comfortable with one book, let alone three. But that kind of thing that can happen if you’re just friendly and smiley at these publishing places because you are who you say you are. If you say I am a professional, established writer and this is what I do and here’s my idea, people will treat you as such.

Joanna: Circling back to your cardboard cutout as well at the beginning is just actually sometimes physically being in places with other people is important. I’m an introvert as much as anyone listening is an introvert and it is hard for some personality types to do that.

I agree with you and it doesn’t matter if your personality is not like yours. You have a very welcoming and wonderful smile and I think I could come up to you at a convention and talk to you, whereas I’m scared of other things.

But your experience shows that you just have to be a person with other people.

Tim: Absolutely. Because you never know what they’re going through and the grass is always greener. People are nervous and they have things that they’re worked them through as well and you can connect just by being yourself, just by being honest and open. And that’s important.

It’s very hard for you to connect by staying in your living room because that owner of a traditional publishing house isn’t going to come walking through. So you kind of have to go to them.

Joanna: I agree. Unless you have a podcast and you get on Skype, which is how I do it.

You have a chapter in a fantastic book: It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life, which just won a Bram Stoker award, which is very cool and it’s great. And if you want to write horror, for anyone listening, it has lots of great interviews about writing darker stuff.

You interviewed Clive Barker, master of horror, which firstly incredible that you’ve got to interview him. I wonder, was there anything that really stood out from that interview? Obviously, people can read the whole thing in the book.

Was there anything that really stood out for you? And how did you get that interview?

Tim: Sure. Thanks for asking.

I met him years before that. And I hadn’t thought about this, but it’s a cool thing to share because we’ve been talking about stepping outside your comfort level. I was in line to get an autograph, like all the other fans, and I wanted desperately to make a connection with him because I had read his books as a child.

And as a writer and I just wanted to make a true connection with the man.

When I got my opportunity to get the book signed, I had three things to say, prepared in my head, that I was going to say that would separate me from everybody else. And it worked and he asked me to come around to his side of the table and I sat down next to him and talked to him like a friend while he signed everybody else’s books. And that absolutely happened.

At the end of it, he gave me a big hug and gave me his manager’s contact information. And it was amazing and we became friends and we emailed after that and we kept in touch and he gave me some advice on writing and we kept in touch over the years.

We just had that connection and again that’s a cardboard cutout moment. I didn’t know the man. I literally was like all the other fans online.

But there’s a big difference between being a fan who’s just like oh god thank you sir and walking away versus being a peer. I wanted to let him know that I respected what he did and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

One of the things I said to him was that I appreciated the fact that he never turned his back on horror. Dean Koontz started the horror writers association and then went to thrillers and Anne Rice went to erotica stuff and Stephen King does things like the Green Mile and Clive’s never done that Clive’s a horror guy. I told him that I appreciated that he stuck with it and that was just one of it but I had a few things.

I want to separate myself and anybody can do that. You can meet somebody that you admire and as long as you talk to them like a human being like a peer. So anyway I had that connection.

Years later Crystal Lake Press was putting out the second in a trilogy of books about advice for writers. The first one was about the ideas. The second one was about the actual process. And the third one was to be about promoting the works.

So they reached out to me because they knew that we were friends and asked do you think he would be interested in it because I hadn’t worked with him on anything so I just reached out and it worked out. I was able to spend three days at his home in Beverly Hills and we just went through the process and I recorded a lot more audio than I used. I probably have enough for three more interviews with the guy and he is just amazing.

The friendship, the encouragement, it meant the world to me. The blurb on my writing. And I’ll tell you the biggest thing I got from being able to work with Clive was that we are all human. We all bleed. We all cry. We all get scared. We all laugh.

When I was walking through his room of paintings, these giant huge paintings, there was a pile of dusty old awards and some of them were falling apart and they were some of the biggest awards in the industry that we all hope to achieve. And here they are. Dusty and an old table in the back row and it was just it was kind of cool because we all think about that moment when you accept it on stage and then the years roll on and so it was just it was really cool to see that.

I’ll tell you what, and I don’t mean this disrespectfully in any way, I felt like in the movie Ed Wood when Ed was spending time with Bela Lugosi that’s how I felt like. There was this guy who had been this giant industry for years. And here he is, later in life and he’s human just like we are. And it was just it was really amazing to be at the feet of the master.

Joanna: That just ties in as well. I think we have the theme of this podcast, which really is making an effort and I think that’s what you’ve shown in this is that you haven’t just gone, Oh I’m going to go and meet Clive or that comedian or whoever.

You’ve actually thought about how you’re going to approach things in a way that makes you stand out and that is the key.

I’ve learned a lot from you today about that and I’m going to try and be more brave in that way. So tell people where they can find out more about you.

Tim: All right. Well, you’ve got this and you said you’re a member of the horror writers association.

Joanna: I am and I’ll be at Stoker Con 2020, because it’s in the UK right?

Tim: OK. I was going to say I want to see you a Stoker Con

Joanna: I will be there. So tell people where they can find you and all your books and everything you do online.

Tim: Definitely. You can find me for the repping clients and that side of it the happy, smiling stuff at TimChizmar.com.

And then for the doom and gloom dark stuff that that’s SpookyNinjaKitty.com.

You could find me on social media at Tim Chizmar. I’m pretty easy to find. You can find me on Amazon.

This is great. I get to mark this off my bucket list. I love the podcast. I’m a huge fan. Thank you so much for letting me have you on the show.

I do have a bit of advice for writing suspense. A really great tip for writing suspense, if you’d like to hear it.

Joanna: Okay, give us that.

Tim: I’ll tell you another time.

Joanna: Very good. You’ve been great. Thanks.

Author Earnings: My 2019 Breakdown Of Book Sales By Format, Genre, Vendor And Country

It’s the time of year when I report on my book sales and reflect on what I could do better! I hope you find this article useful for your own author business, whatever stage you’re at.

Remember, it’s not about comparisons, it’s about your definition of success.

My company tax year runs May – April and although I keep a tight rein on my income, expenses and cash flow throughout the year, I only do management reporting annually when I break down my revenue in various ways to figure out what I need to change, stop doing or do more of.

These figures are all based on revenue, the money that has actually come into my bank account, not sales volume (i.e. number of books sold).

Because I publish through so many sources, I don’t actually track book sales numbers and have definitely lost track at this point. Let’s be honest – the money is more important anyway!

You can always see my previous years’ breakdown at TheCreativePenn.com/timeline along with other significant articles from my author-entrepreneur journey. Click here for 2018 book sales income breakdown specifically.

[Thanks to Russell Philips, Virtual Assistant at Author Help who collated all my figures from all the various platforms.]

Total Income Breakdown

I’ve been running this business since 2008 and my revenue split has changed over the years, but it is all based on my writing.

How to Make a Living from your Writing 3DJust to be clear, I’m an author-entrepreneur and my income comes from multiple sources – book sales, affiliate sales, course sales, sponsorship, advertising revenue, and Patreon, plus speaking fees. It’s all documented in How to Make a Living with your Writing, available in ebook, print and audiobook formats.

My total business income is down by 5% this year. That’s not really a significant amount but still a downward trend despite publishing more books and continuing to publish 3x a week on this site. Hence my focus on changing things up over the next 10 years (see my big AI disruption post here).

My book sales income is slightly up, and although ebook revenue is down, it is more than made up for by audiobook and print sales.

My book sales income alone is around about 2.5x the UK national average salary and 7x the average author income reported in the recent All Party Writer’s Group report.

Remember, I have never had a breakout success, I’ve never been stocked in high street bookstores or had a supermarket deal. I’ve made a living with my writing since 2011 as an independent author entrepreneur and continue to subscribe to the consistent hard-working author model! You don’t need to be a household name to make a decent living with your writing.

Of course, I make less than some authors I know – some indie, some traditionally published. But comparisonitis is dangerous, and instead, we should be comparing our current selves against where we were last year, and where we want to be next year. Here’s my detailed breakdown.

Book Sales Revenue by Format

My audiobook revenue has almost doubled again this year (8% in 2018, now 15%) as well as print sales being slightly up (21% in 2018).

I am not in KU, so this is wide ebook income and I am thrilled that my focus on wide distribution for the other channels has resulted in a higher percentage of other format sales. Next year, I’ll break it down by paperback, hardback and Large Print as well to give those formats a full year of sales.

The Creative Penn Revenue split by Format 2018 – 2019

Book Sales by Vendor

Even though I publish wide, it’s not surprising that Amazon continues to be the largest share of revenue given their dominance in the English speaking markets.

The Creative Penn revenue split by vendor 2018-2019

My advertising costs are actually down on last year and that may account for book sales staying much the same even though I have more books out.

20% of my book sales income was spent on advertising, which includes BookBub, Amazon Advertising, Written Word Media and some other things like Facebook Ads, although most of my Facebook spend was for affiliate promotions. I’ll be investing more in ads this year.

Revenue by Fiction / Non-Fiction

Currently, I have 10 non-fiction books (2 of which are co-written), and 20 fiction books (not including box-sets, 5 co-written). But as you can see, non-fiction brings in more income.

The Creative Penn revenue split by fiction / non-fiction 2018-2019

There are several reasons for this — and of course, this is all anecdotal based on my book sales. Every author will be different.

  • I have a much more developed marketing platform for my non-fiction with this site and my podcast. I hope to replicate this with Books And Travel over the next few years but Content Marketing for Fiction is a long game.
  • The rise in print sales and audiobooks are mostly for non-fiction, as per the breakdown below. Non-fiction readers are less price sensitive and may buy in multiple editions e.g. audiobook and then print for reference.
  • I write thrillers and dark fantasy and many genre fiction authors are doing well in KU + a lot of paid ads, which is not my business model. [See my reasons for wide publishing here.] I have not done much marketing of my fiction books on other platforms in the last year. I should be doing more BookBub and Facebook in terms of advertising for the other platforms, but I tend to focus on other things like creating more, as that is what I enjoy 🙂
  • Fiction sales go up and down but the books are long term earners (as long as you retain the rights). They don’t go out of date, unlike non-fiction, which you often have to rewrite. Fiction is a long-term career and over the long-term, I expect those books to earn more, but short-term income is clearly easier with non-fiction.
  • Paid ads which are easier to target with non-fiction keywords and there is less competition for bids so the clicks are cheaper (at least at the moment!)

You can see the variability by store in the figure below. Clearly, my audio sales are primarily non-fiction, as well as my print sales through Ingram. My direct sales using Payhip are also primarily non-fiction, because of the traffic to this website and the size of my audience after 10+ years in this niche.

The Creative Penn Fiction/ NonFiction Split by Store 2018-2019

Book Sales Revenue by Country

I have sold books in 54 countries this year (in English) which I am thrilled about 🙂 That doesn’t include free downloads which have reached even further.

I love being an international author! Owning your global rights is a secret weapon as you can take every opportunity to reach more readers.  Sometimes I feel like this is the most significant difference between me and my traditionally published author friends, who are usually only concerned with one territory e.g. UK if they are British, or US if they are American. But as indie authors, it’s possible to sell in 190 countries so we can focus on international sales in multiple formats.

This country split has changed quite significantly in the last year, as I suggested it would as digital sales start to spread.

I’ve included last years image as a comparison so you can see how much smaller the US sales are as a percentage of the whole and how much the Rest of World segment has grown. I think this will continue to accelerate with the spread of 4G and 5G internet to another 4 billion people by 2025. If you want to reach a global market, check out my episode on publishing wide and the free ebook on Successful Self-Publishing.

The Creative Penn Comparison Sales by Country. May 2017-April 2018 next to May 2018 – April 2019

Australian sales have grown and so have German sales, even though my books are in English. Rest of the World has grown from 5% to 15% of revenue. This encourages me to focus more on my international growth as it really amplifies the multiple streams of income effect.

What am I going to focus on in the next year?

As I stated in my 2019 goals, I am focusing on being a better publisher. That means getting all my backlist into the formats that sell. More print. More audio. I am also going to investigate some of the AI-assisted translation services becoming available, although I expect that to grow further in 2020 onwards.

Joanna Penn 2018

Me with some of my books!

I did think I would write more fiction this year, but I am too much of a polymath to focus on one genre, so I will continue to write and publish the books I want when the Muse strikes me. I have a list for the rest of the year, so will just keep on keeping on. I love my work and I don’t want to put pressure on my creativity.

I will never be a high-volume writer in one targeted genre. I will never write to market. I will never be an expert in paid ads. And that’s OK! We are all different and indie is a broad church with many routes to becoming an author-entrepreneur. You get to choose your path and no way is better than any other.

I will continue to focus on global sales, and I’m excited about Google adding a Podcast app and also putting podcasts into search since my podcast has been downloaded in 215 countries, and has definitely driven book sales across the globe. I hope the same will happen with my fiction now I have started the Books and Travel Podcast as well. Exciting times!

So that’s my round-up. Have you reported on your annual sales revenue and broken it down this way? Please do share in the comments if you have anything, or ask any questions you’d like answered.

Are You A Healthy Writer? 4 Questions You Need To Answer To Improve Your Writing Health

Authors are often challenged by the sedentary nature of our work. Dr. Brent Wells offers four questions to consider when you’re wanting to make sure you take good care of your body.

healthy writer 4 questionsWriters spend an inordinate amount of time sitting at their desks, typing away on their latest masterpiece. For those of you who use scheduling to boost your productivity, you already know how many hours you spend working at your craft. You hardly ever move from your sedentary position when the words are flowing. What could this mean for your long-term health?

A sedentary lifestyle takes a serious toll on your body and lifespan. Research is consistently showing that our creative lifestyle has far-reaching consequences that we need to address immediately.

Let’s take a closer look at how writing affects your health and what you can do to correct it.

What’s Your Chair Like?

Think about the surface that you sit on during the day. Is it hard and unforgiving or do you settle right into its plush surface? Very few writers have chairs that offer support for their lower backs and spines. Sitting on a hard surface increases the amount of compression in your spine from the lower back all the way up to your neck.

This compression has an unexpected side effect: it can actually reduce your height. According to a study cited in the Iowa Orthopaedic Journal, spine height is decreased with extended periods of sitting. You may be able to regain your height through hyperextension, but it would be best to prevent this from happening in the first place.

The Healthy Writer Cover LARGE EBOOKThe ideal way to combat spine compression is to make your chair more comfortable. Purchasing a seating pad to go on your existing chair is the least expensive route. However, you may want to invest in an entirely new chair that offers more support for your spine and tailbone. You’ll feel more comfortable and your spine will ultimately thank you.

How Often Do You Stand Up?

Sitting for extended periods of time can wreak havoc on your body. Most writers could spend hours sitting in front of their computers once they hit their stride. Unfortunately, experts advise that we should be getting up and moving around every twenty minutes.

Research is now indicating that you should stand for at least two minutes after twenty minutes of desk-bound work.

Standing or walking around your office for this brief period of time has a lot of benefits:

  • Takes some of the pressure off your spine
  • Reduces the risk of diabetes
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease
  • Weight loss
  • Improved brain function

To achieve this goal, consider standing up every time you finish a page or two. Return to your kitchen to heat up another cup of coffee. Purchase a desk that allows you to stand up and type.

Joanna Penn standing desk

Joanna Penn at standing desk

When your creativity flows, stand up and write down what occurs to you during brainstorming. There are so many ways to work more physical activity into your workday.

Where is Your Computer Screen?

Do you feel a lot of tension in the back of the neck and the shoulders? You may be suffering from what experts call “tech neck.” This common condition is caused by looking down at your screen for extended periods of time each day.

During your periods of inactivity, most people unconsciously contract the muscles in their neck and shoulders. The tension causes their heads to lean forward and puts more pressure on the muscles of the neck.

One study demonstrated that this forward head posture can result in chronic neck pain. It also reduces your respiratory muscles and impacts the function of this critical body system. Fortunately, this can be corrected by adjusting your posture.

Changing your posture during your working hours is relatively simple. All you need to do is make a handful of changes to your workspace:

  • Move your computer screen up to eye level so you don’t have to look down
  • When checking emails on your smartphone, keep the phone up closer to your eye level
  • Sit in a chair with a headrest (and actually use it!)
  • Stretch your neck and upper back muscles often
  • Stay hydrated

Are You Sitting Up Straight?

You were likely admonished to sit up straight your entire life. Despite many reminders to correct your posture, it is still tempting to settle into a slouched position at your desk. It is far easier to focus on your writing than on your spine. Sliding further down in your chair and rounding your back has a serious impact on your overall health.

woman laptop sore neckIn a relatively recent study, researchers took a look at posture habits while using the computer to see if there was a correlation between slumping and low back pain. They discovered that there is a high prevalence of low back pain when posture is sacrificed.

In order to get rid your lower back pain for good, you really need to correct your posture. Sit up nice and tall in your chair with your shoulders proudly rolled back. Let your head rest on the headrest of your chair.

Allow your core muscles to help support you while you sit. You could even place a small pillow behind your low back for more support. All of these actions work together to reduce the pressure on your spine and improve your overall health.

Improve Your Health Today

Prevention is the key to addressing many of the chief complaints that writers have about their health. Sometimes, the damage is already done and you may need professional help to resolve your pain.

Consider enlisting the help of a chiropractor to help with a spinal adjustment. This can be a great way to kickstart change in your life and offer you some immediate relief.

Writing can take a serious toll on your body, so be sure to pay attention to the signals your body is giving you. With just a few simple actions, you can improve your overall wellbeing and reduce your pain. You can spend more time focusing on your latest project and less time stressing over those aches and pains.

What measures do you take to ensure you’re a healthy writer? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Dr. Brent WellsDr. Brent Wells is a graduate of the University of Nevada where he earned his bachelor’s of science degree before moving on to complete his doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College. Currently a chiropractor in Alaska, he founded Better Health Chiropractor Wasilla AK.

He became passionate about being in the chiropractic field after his own experiences with hurried, unprofessional healthcare providers. The goal for Dr. Wells is to treat his patients with care and compassion while providing them with a better quality of life through his professional treatment.

Dr. Wells is a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. He continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.

Book Marketing: How To Make Your Blog Work For Books And Author Brand

Your author website is the one piece of internet real-estate that is entirely under your control. Amy Shojai shares how to make the most of the blog on your site to attract new readers, build your author brand, and sell more books.

Make Blog Work For Books And Author BrandWhether you publish independently or with a traditional publisher, publishing professionals routinely tell authors they must blog. Yes, a blog can be a great book marketing tool and promote your author brand.

However, most book authors refuse to blog, or worse—they do it wrong.

Why Authors Should Blog

Introvert’s Dream. How many of y’all consider yourselves introverts? That’s one reason creatives write in our office caves with a cat on our lap. A blog connects you directly with readers, with no need for makeup or shoes.

Even better, readers respond to you. A blog gives you feedback directly from your audience and allows readers a glimpse into their favorite author’s life–as little or as much as you wish to reveal.

Find Your Street Team. Building a blog creates book super-fans. These readers cheer your success and want to be part of that. Think of the blog as your front porch where friends gather over a cup of tea or a cocktail to chat about their lives.

Diverse Group of PeopleYou become a real person, and they empathize with you (and you with them) over trials and celebrations. They may even inspire you with new storylines or expert information.

Build Credibility. Authors wield authority and the blog works as an expanded business card to demonstrate your professional expertise. Agents, editors, organizations, speaker bureaus, television producers and others routinely fish the blogging waters for experts. That includes fiction authors when you becoming a go-to expert on the specific topic(s) showcased in your novels.

Note: Always include easy-to-find contact information on your blog so that booking agents can find you.

Author Control. The blog belongs to you, with no gatekeeper or social media watchdog second-guessing your content or showing it only to a select few. You can write what you want, promote or not, and even get paid for hosting guest posts.

Bogus Reasons Authors Don’t Blog

It’s expensive! Uhm, no it’s not expensive. In fact, you can set up a blog for free. I don’t recommend free because a professional blog offers more advantages, such as having your own “branded” URL. Joanna Penn has a great resource for creating an author website, and the blog can piggyback on that.

[Note from Joanna: You’ll find that website tutorial here.]

I’m not tech-savvy. Neither are most authors, or we’d build levitating cars and James Bond gizmos instead of writing about them. Tech people created free- to low-cost options for plug-and-play blogs. If you use book formatting templates, you can use blogging templates.

Woman writing on a laptopTakes time away from book writing. So does any book marketing. Blogging is the cheapest option in your advertising toolkit. Use content you’ve already created for blog posts, or expand blog posts into additional chapters in your book.

I rewrite blog posts for my newspaper column and use the same subject for a biweekly TV segment. Some posts end up as chapters in books. A number of successful bloggers have published successful books based on their blog content, so it blogging could inspire your next book.

I’m a pro, why give my expertise away? Nonfiction authors get paid for writing blogs for clients. Get over yourself! Learn from your fiction colleagues.

Selective free content whets the reader’s appetite for more. Fiction authors give away first-in-series books, or novellas between installments, so readers fall in love with characters and purchase the rest of the author’s work.

Nonfiction authors can easily repurpose previously published material into blog posts (see previous section).

My big-name-publisher will promote me/my book. Hahahahahaha! Oh wait, you’re serious? Only a fraction of authors receive promotional help. The lion’s share falls to the author, which is why your agent and/or editor commanded, “Go ye forth, and blog!”

Top Reasons Blogs Fail & How Yours Can Succeed

There are many reasons blogs fail, and a top problem is discoverability. Most of my traffic comes from Google search, so I pay close attention to search engine optimization (SEO).

rocketThere are free tech tools that help bloggers get more of this “google juice.” Choose your blog URL wisely and if at all possible, use your name and/or your brand. A book title limits you to one book.

Blog owners also get in trouble using images or content without permission, or not disclosing affiliate relationships. It’s vital to purchase appropriate rights. As writers, we understand copyright issues.

Most blog problems can be easily fixed.

Here are four major reasons blogs fail.

1. Unrealistic expectations: How many of y’all tried blogging, and gave up after…how long? Two weeks? Six weeks? Growing a blog following doesn’t happen overnight.

Blog audience increases at predictable intervals when readers know what to expect. Traffic and page views (PVs) increase after three months, double after six months, and double again after about a year with consistent postings and content.

If your book launches in a year, blog now so your audience grows and boosts your book release.

2. Inconsistent posting: Authors start daily blogs and burn out, or they post when “the muse” strikes. Treat blogs as seriously as your book, or your readers won’t care.

Would you come back to a TV program if the episode stayed the same or the channel never changed? Blogs are no different. Choose a schedule that works for you. It doesn’t matter if it’s weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or daily. Loyal readers notice and return when you have something to share.

3. Writing about writing: That’s great—if your audience is other writers and you have a how-to writing book to sell. Readers may be curious, but you want rabid readers.

Ask yourself, who is my audience? What do they like to read?

4. Writing at your audience. Construct posts to invite conversation, not deliver lectures. Readers find vast material from googling topics. They read blogs for your personality, and a peek inside your world.

Try posting about personal experiences and ask questions to invite reader comments. When my puppy ate my vitamins, every blog reader shared their concern and feedback when I asked, “Has this ever happened to you? What else should I have done? Are there veggies that YOU hate, too? Do tell!”

[Note from Joanna: For more on using a blog as part of an author marketing strategy, check out my course, Content Marketing for Fiction.]

7 Prompts for Blog Posts

Write posts that whet readers’ appetites for the main course of your nonfiction book.

Identify your protagonist’s passions and expertise, and write posts about your fictional hero’s love of gardening, for example.

Write about your passions and what fills your heart with joy, just as you do on other social media platforms. Readers respond to that.

Share pictures, post videos, offer polls and ask questions to engage readers and prompt blog comments.

No time to post? Share a YouTube video you love.

Ask readers to post pictures of themselves reading your book, or other fun engagements.

Invite your audience to name that character in your future book. My blog audience competes to win the chance to name a cat or dog character to honor their special pet.

Do you blog on your author website? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Amy ShojaiAmy Shojai is a professional blogger and the author of 30+ pet-centric nonfiction books and thrillers. She also offers an on-demand coaching series Write Schtuff that includes further details about blogging and other publishing must-knows.