Welcome to AskALLi, the self-publishing advice podcast from the Alliance of Independent Authors. This week, it’s “The Writing and Self-Publishing Life Salon”, with creative coach Dan Blank and ALLi Director Orna Ross. This week, Orna and Dan talk about managing all of a writer’s assets.
As writers, we think about the work we need to do to create our books but perhaps not enough about the writing we do to build other assets that are very important to our author business.
In this salon Orna chats with Dan about the value of websites, branding, processes, teams, and other intellectual property. How to evaluate these assets, and our book projects, through the lens of profit and pleasure. And how, in a busy creative life, we need to look after our most important asset: ourselves.
Also, on Inspirational Indie Authors
On today's Inspirational Indie Authors interview, journalist Howard Lovy talks to Steff Green. She's a paranormal romance author, teaches self-publishing courses, and is also a children's author who just Kickstarted a Gothic Picture Book. It's a book about bullying called Only Freaks Turn Things Into Bones.
Steff talks about how she was bullied as a child due to her blindness, which gave her a deep understanding of how a bullying victim feels. And, like the main character in the book, she was a Goth kid. Howard and Steff also discuss how she successfully launched a Kickstarter drive to fund the book.
If you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.
Now, go write and publish!
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About the Hosts
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers and artists share their stories and grow their audience. He is the author of the book “Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience.”
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last five years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a “book doctor” to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance business and technology writer. Find Howard on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript
Orna: I'm here this evening for our Ask ALLi Writing Life Salon as we are now calling it with Mr. Dan Blank. Hello, Dan.
Dan: Hello. How are you today?
Orna: I'm very well and hello to everybody. Today we're going to be talking about creative assets for authors and this is something that's changed a lot for authors in recent years. Thinking about this has changed in the Alliance of Independent Authors and my own personal thinking in my own writing has changed a lot as well. And one of the reasons we talk about creative assets is that it gives us a very good lens through which to enter all of the various challenges that we have as indie authors. So Dan, you were talking before we came on air, just to kind of kick this conversation off a little bit about how the book gets that sort of attention from authors and they understand clearly that the book itself is a creative asset but maybe that's where it begins and ends for too many people.
Dan: Yeah. So and you made a similar point where if you're publishing, you're entering into a business and I think that a lot of people, they want that book cause they know why they want to write what they want to write and everything else is they create this narrative that they're forced into, you know, which is like “Fine, I'll do the marketing but only because I have to.” And they say, “Well, I need a website so I'm going to have my nephew create that for me and I'm told I've got to do this. I'm going to try something that I read about.” And they sort of begrudgingly do it in a non-strategic way and they don't really own it. And I think that if you want to build a career as an author, however you define that, whether it's big career, a little career or something in between, sort of that point of really treating this like it's not a business, you know, it doesn't have to be a full business, but treating it professionally, I guess is the proper way to say it.
Orna: Yeah. The way, the way I like to think about it is that it's a creative business and creative businesses are different. So while, you know, a lot of us, including me, when I started are a bit scared of the business word and I come from a business-minded family and my brother's in accountancy and another one in insurance and one was an engineer and my parents ran a business and I was the kind of creative in the middle of all that. And I grew up totally being defined as different, both by them and by myself.
Orna: So, and I don't think that's unusual. So when business reared its head for me at first it was something that I kind of really bristled against and thought, “No, you know, that's not why I do this. I do this go get away from all of that, to go beyond all that” in my head. But the more I kind of, and this happened very much as an indie author, I mean, in previous lives I kept the two separate. That was my business, it earned my money and over here was my creative work and that was all the fun stuff. But becoming an indie author really kind of challenged me in terms of bringing those two together and it has been fantastic. And what I've come to understand is the creative business is different, digital tools lighten up a lot of the stuff that we naturally perhaps are not good at or resist or don't want to do, leaving a lot of what has to be done in terms of creating assets outside of the book to be creative activities in themselves. Is that your experience?
Dan: Yeah. So something I talk to writers about a lot too is, like, you're always pulling from the same well. So if you're creating a brand, creating a website, creating a newsletter, you've got to be careful. You don't want that to pull from the same place that is writing your novel. So we won't get to it on this call. But just that idea of time management and defining tasks and what's business, what's marketing, which I know you've talked about the kind of three different hats. But I agree there is that way of thinking about how are you investing in the process of your career beyond the book itself and how do you define these things in a, I guess, a strategic manner. And I guess for me it's like maybe one way I think about it is public facing, things that could be a business asset that people see and then even internal.
Dan: And one thing I was thinking, like, an internal asset is something like a brand book. And I've hired people to help me create that. I've created it where we say, “Well, who are you as a writer?” And you're like, “Well,” and you just, some long thing flows out and we don't really know. The idea of a brand book is saying, you know, “I write this for this audience, this is how I describe it. This is how I get it out there,” and really defined that. And that brand book, even though it's internal, it's an asset, it's an asset that you can hone in and evolve over time. And it's something that, it's like a foundation for your life, you go to any company, they have a mission statement, they have company values, they have codes of conduct, and that stuff does become the thing that pulls it all together. And that's a very soft thing, but it's just a very clear example.
Orna: Yeah, absolutely it is, or it appears to be soft, but actually it's core and it is an asset. And I think these are some of the things where we haven't been trained to think about or encouraged to think about. It doesn't turn up a lot in the books for writers and I think it's absolutely essential. So you know that brand, your brand is an asset that is distinct from your marketing assets which are something else your brand falls in into that category of marketing, but it is something that is very distinct and of itself. Similarly, the process you use to put your books together and to get your books made and to get your books to market and to get the rights from those books sold to rights buyers, each of those processes is in itself an asset that is deserving of your attention and sometimes we fall into those processes and those assets but an asset, the definition of it is an asset is something that puts money into your pocket, essentially, without you having to be in the room.
Orna: So those processes, once they are up and running, you can often hand parts of them to a team member who can do them more easily than you, not all of it., obviously but those parts, if you don't understand the process, if you haven't identified that this process of getting my stuff to market, it takes time. It takes energy, it takes investment. It is an asset and how do I ensure that I kind of make the most of this asset? And that's why thinking about creative assets is so useful because it makes us think about what we do. It makes us look, in a spirit of inquiry, at what we are doing and experimenting a bit to see what actually works better, what we can do, what we can drop, what we can delegate and what we can maybe put off for a while or maybe defer forever. Yeah, so-
Dan: Just to add onto that, I was thinking of what you were saying there in terms of like, I'll create, like, a book launch plan for someone or with an author. And what it helps us figure out is where do you invest money? What are you going to do? Like one thing we'll define is all the things you could do. And it's like a process document. It's an asset. We pick from that and then we identify what's the publicists going to do? Or should you hire a publicist? If you do, we want these four things. This is what you're gonna do. You've got to hire a social media manager for that. This is what the publisher's going to do. Should you invest in ad dollars? Okay, this is where it goes and how you want to think about that. And the nice thing about it being an asset as well as now this becomes a template to use for the next book launch or even a related launch doesn't always have to be a book.
Dan: So you're not always recreating the wheel or feeling like, how many authors that you talked to are like, “Tell me about your book launch.” They're like, “Oh my gosh, what a mess.” And it's this long story that's like, it just sort of unfolds. And the problem I have with that is that they don't feel good about it. They don't feel they walked away with a process that they're now making better, a sense of how they want to collaborate with people where they would or wouldn't invest next time. And you're right, a really great way of judging this is money on the table. Is this investing in your career as a writer or is it sapping energy and resources from it?
Orna: Yeah, and another useful thing is to think about it in terms of the commercial profit and the creative satisfaction, the creative pleasure, sense of purpose, mission, passion, all of that aside, look at it, examine it through that lens and then also examine it through the lens of profits. You know, which way of approaching this will actually yield a better, commercially and creatively. And you find that sort of place in the middle where those two things meet, like, a sort of Venn Diagram. That middle place is very often the most valuable place for you to be and it helps you to kind of concentrate the mind because there are so many different ways we can approach, for example, a book launch or a book production or any of the things that we can do as authors. We're not that lacking in choice, we're absolutely spoiled for choice and overwhelmed by choice. And so thinking about each of these processes as assets, thinking about them through the commercial lens, through the creative lens of where those two come together can be a way to cut through a lot of the noise and for you to find your own individual place in that.
Dan: Yeah, it's funny, something I think a lot about is this idea of choosing what to write, and this is different for everyone, but you know, I've talked to so many authors, like, in my podcast where we'll talk about the journey to their first or second or third book publication and there's that tough thing. A lot of writers you talk to and they say, “I wrote this book because it had to be written. It came from here” and I love that. I think we all love that. The book has to be written. Yet I talk to so many authors is to talk about, “Well this was the first book and I spent three years working on it. Then I spent another two years working on it. Then it's in a drawer because my agents and I realized this book is never going to sell. So we came up with an idea. I came up with an idea that was more commercial and that became the book that launched me. It did really well.”
Dan: And I feel like we maybe have to step a little lightly here because we don't want to offend people. But there is that idea of, even at times, what you write and is your expectation being sold in the marketplace? Does that define what you write or do you get to write what you want but you change your expectations? Cause I'm sure you might've talked to a lot of people like I have where they're excited about their book and they just assume they just, it's going to catch fire. And if it doesn't catch fire, they're not a little disappointed. They're massively disappointed. And I hate when writers are disappointed. It makes me so sad.
Orna: It's so true. It seems to be, especially on that first book. And I think this, another thing that we have to think about is the length of the journey. And that each step on the way is improving, not just the content of the work, but all the processes around it and therefore is building and deepening and growing these assets that we have as authors. And the sooner we can get beyond first book syndrome, the better and it, to my mind, you know, I don't think anybody could have told me this when I was going through my own first book syndrome. So you know, this is probably a waste of breath, but I'm going to say it anyway. People seem to come into this business either wearing a mindset that says “I'm going to make a fortune. You know, I'm going to give the market what it wants and I'm going to be a kindle millionaire” or else they come in as the type of writer that you're talking about with the book that needs to be done, it's risen up through me. I have to write it and I have to write it this way. I have to, there is no other way. And each of those, the further you are to the edge of either of those positions, probably the harder time you're going to have.
Dan: Love that.
Orna: Are you laughing because you agree?
Dan: Yeah, I'm laughing. Yeah. And this is what I look for. Like I'll follow someone like John Green or Emily Giffin, you know, who are novelists and they will talk, I remember Emily, last year, was finishing up her book and it was the year before and she was sharing the edits how they happened. Then she shared screenshots of how our editor came in and challenged her on the whole ending and Emily changed the ending and just the thread of it. And she's like, “Thank goodness my editor saved this book.” And it always jumps out at me because it shows she's, you know, bestselling author and the whole thing, you know, where we, sometimes, for our own work, feel like that is hampering, that's selling out. That's not honoring my muse. And you look at a professional writer who we want to be and we realize they have collaborators and they rely on those collaborators. And those collaboratives don't just send a tweet, they can change a whole scope of a book. They are partners in the process. And maybe you don't want that, which is totally fine, but it might change how you think about the business of publishing. And to your point, the asset that you're creating here, which is what are your expectations with that and what is your process for creating it?
Orna: And the thing is if you run the businesses as an author and you rely on that, then you have to actually begin to think a bit about other people. If you're writing the book for pure personal, creative pleasure, that's fine. But that's not generally the people that we're talking to here. We're talking to people who want to, who are already selling well, and reaching readers but maybe overwhelmed, over tired, overstretched, and you know, not really sure of what they're doing and how they're doing it. And I guess that's what we're offering this as a way to begin to think about what you're doing that can stop the busy work and all the running around and can help you to get core about what it is you do. Because that kind of passion and mission that you bring to that first book that can be expressed in a thousand different ways.
Orna: It won't just be expressed in one book. If you're going to build a business as an author, if you're going to actually live the writing life and become an independent author in that way, it can't happen with one book. No one book is powerful enough to do that almost. So, you know, it's such an outlier that we don't aim for that in any way. So a really useful way to think about the assets that you are creating is to look under three different kind of headings and one is the craft assets. And so that's the stuff you make. It's the producer hat that you wear when you're working on that. It's the maker. So that is the book, the stuff that goes around the book, like the social media pictures and the cover and all that kind of stuff.
Orna: Anything that is you as the maker, then there is the you as the manager. And that is where we get into the process stuff. That's where you look at your financial arrangements, you know, how do you pay yourself, how do you set up your money so that it flows the way you need it to flow in order to put yourself out there again the next time, the kinds of processes that we were talking about earlier, producing the book and the tech that you use, the tools that you're going to use. These are the sorts of of assets that the, sorry, the process manager thinks about it. And then there are the promotional assets and they are the kinds of things that we were talking about under marketing and branding and anything you use that takes your book. It's the channels also that you will use to take your book out to a wider audience.
Orna: So we constantly keep referring back to those three hats and examining what we're doing in terms of, you know, which hat am I wearing right now and what is the optimal kind of mind mode that this hat needs me to have because they are slightly different? We want to bring our creativity into all of them because this is creative business. It doesn't have to be business as usual. It doesn't have to be mechanistic. It doesn't have to be horrible and boring. But at the same time, it's not the same if you're kind of doing your banking and doing your book. No matter how creative and nice you make your bank statements.
Dan: It's funny, we're recording this just after tax day here in the US and it's the day when you see a lot of updates about people who are freaking out or surprised by if they did prepare well enough, didn't prepare well enough. I was in conversation with some writers in my mastermind group about that, where they'll even have financial professionals that they hire and those professionals gave them advice, but they didn't really follow the advice. And I think because a lot of us, were scared of processes, we're scared of anything having to do with finance or business. We're scared of even simple things. I mean how many writers have I talked to who will do a newsletter and it's like always, “Well, I write it on deadline. I use a system that someone set up for me nine years ago and I just crossed my fingers that it keeps working.”
Dan: It's almost a sense of are they taking enough ownership and I think a big point to make here is the value of having collaborators. It doesn't mean you have to hire a marketer, hire an accountant, hire all these people, you can, but it's almost this idea of are you talking to other people about how do they manage their business? How do they create a marketing budget? How do they develop the process for their content strategy that fills in their website, their blog, their podcasts, their Twitter. I find that even having conversations with other professionals is a massive step forward, mostly because you're admitting to yourself and to the world, “Oh, this is a business and as you're saying, I need to treat these as assets and I don't know what's going to work just by reading a lot of blog posts. I actually have to talk to people who are in it and like you and me, I mean, I'll speak for myself, like the work I do, this is it, this is my full time job. It is the only thing that supports my family.
Dan: And what's great about that is, like, I have to figure it out. But it also means I'm in a lot of conversations with people about, “Gosh, what's the right way to do this?” And I find that those conversations are kind of magical because it opens up hearing stories about what works. I admit where my own fears are I learn and it's not just in this idea of I read a book about how you manage an author career. You've talked to people about it and that reality, it just adds such a richness to how you actually develop that for yourself.
Orna: Absolutely. By the way, if anybody has any questions about any of this, we can take questions now, between now and the end of the show, but it's so interesting that you raised the topic of fear because I think that is so central here when it comes to doing a lot of this stuff. I mean I spoke there about my own fear of business. Anything that wore a business hat and I ran out of the room for years, you know, but I think wherever we're feeding that kind of discomfort, something golden lies buried there. And we do, as you rightly say, if we're not managing it ourselves, we kind of know we should be because we get that feeling that tells us we should and then we don't act on it and we feel guilty. And then we ignore it and feel more guilty, it's a huge creative suck.
Orna: It just drains so much creative energy, all of that, that whole thing. And the key is other people and be it the people that you're working for and their feedback. I think we often don't ask enough what they look for from us and what they need and want from us or somebody else who's done it extraordinarily well. And I'm really interested that you talked about magic as well because I do think when we talk about this stuff with our logical minds, and even as I'm talking now, I'm kind of frightening myself because it does all sound like too much. How can any one person be expected to do it? Yet it is done all the time. You know the lines of independent authors is crammed with people who are successfully managing to do this. You know, loads of people who are successfully managing to do that is how, because of magic. Creative magic comes in somewhere along the line when we show up and when we show up for the stuff that scares also makes us deeply uncomfortable but we know we need to go there and we show up in the proper way, you know, with a really open heart and an open mind in those kinds of conversations that you're talking about magic definitely does come in the door and carries us along. I've seen it again and again.
Dan: Yeah. I mean there's two things I'm thinking about that and one is uncovering, well, how do you, if you're someone who wants to find success as an author, especially financial success, which you're alluding to. I love the idea of actually figuring out, “Well, how do authors actually earn money?” And a lot of times there's a perception and the reality is really different than the perception and we have a lot of people in your community who are uncovering that, which is amazing. The other thing too is having a relationship or a connection with someone who will kind of really show you how it's done. And I always think back, I think I've told this story before where when I was first starting my business, I think I was trying to figure out how to price a service that's related to what I do.
Dan: And I remember really specific thing and I reached out to people who were in my network and we sat down across and I was like, “Look, I could really use your help your experienced like this is what I'm trying to figure out. This is where I'm pricing it. Like I dunno where I'm at with it, any advice?” And I sat across from people who wouldn't help me. They would give me like a phrase, like an -ism. Like you know, “Whatever you're thinking, double it.” Like weird things like that where I'm like, “Okay, but I, this is literally what I have to send out tomorrow and I'm not sure, I don't want to lose it.” And I remember the moment when someone just showed me their rate sheet. They really said, “Look, I'm going to share this with you. It's what I actually charge. It's how I discount whatever.”
Dan: And that was like, that was magical because it was like this thing that was kept from me was opened up and it was just someone not sharing the world's greatest rate sheet. It was just showing me a rate sheet that they're using in the real world and that type of a thing was magical because it got me to think about how do I actually do this and how does someone else actually do it in real life. And I think it's where we start confronting a lot of things that we read online. Like one thing I read a lot is this idea of you know, never do anything for free, always charge for your work. And I've seen talks and read blog posts and articles that are so moving and true with that yet all the time I interview people who will talk about how they have not charged for something to get an opportunity. And it led to a major insight and a major thing and their whole career took off because they didn't charge and they were happy they didn't charge. And I think that knowing that sometimes realizes that it's not just one or the other, it's not just something that sounds good. It's there's a practical reality to how we manage these assets.
Orna: Absolutely. And creators have always operated within a gift economy. And in a sense we offer out our gifts and yes, of course we charge for a certain aspects of it. But gifting I think comes naturally to the creative. And as you say, it opens many doors. And so, you know, how we think about this and how we approach it, how we create that individual, you know, person shaped or you-shaped business that just reflects exactly who you are. So, of course if you need to put food on the table you can't afford to be going around giving everything away in any way, I would argue that even if you, you know, are doing really, really well, giving everything away is not a good idea for all sorts of reasons. Not least because it devalues things for everybody else. And there is so much smoke and mirrors around publishing and book writing and we're sharing so much and yet so much that is key to our progress is not, is not always being shared or people want to put their best foot forward.
Orna: And that's very understandable. But there are certainly times for hearing the truth. So you, for example, were talking there about how authors make money. Very, very, very few authors make money from book sales alone. And almost all of them who do are in a very popular genre like romance or some of the, you know, the highest selling nonfiction genre. It is very on your one book, yes, certainly but over a lifetime, over a career, almost every author has something else going on. And traditionally that was the day jobs that kind of funded the writing, but now that can be brought into your business in a way that takes the passion and mission that's going into the book and create something that is a bit of a more premium product to use the business people's language for a minute than a book, because books are very low margin.
Orna: Again, to use another business term. I mean is there another product that takes so long to do well that costs so little and even into, even if we compare it to other forms of entertainment, it's very, very cheap for the amount of hours entertainment that it gives us or the information, the inspiration. It can be life changing and of course we can't put a price on all of that, but we can certainly, I see authors becoming successful in their businesses when they get three key assets in place. One is a good product for prospects, again to use a business term, so the magnet that will draw people towards the work. The second is the core product, the books, and getting those right. And then this premium product, when that comes into the ecosystem, be it a course or some teaching arising out of your work or whatever it might be, when that comes in that's when people begin to become financially comfortable. But something also happens is that they, their mission is deepened. Their passion is expanded. This premium product is much more than just a way to make money. It is actually a way to do things in a different way that maybe involves more of that magic connection with people that you're talking about than sitting for years on end in the study with your imaginary friends.
Dan: It's funny, there's an illustrator and author who I've interviewed and followed for a while, Jacob Parker, and he's very much in the illustration world even though he's an author as well, and he has this video, in the illustration community there was a big thing of saying, “I'm gonna create a project. I'm going to do, you know, 30 days of cartooning or 30 days of this or a hundred days of that, I'm going to create a project” and his video was you need a product, not a project. And some of the points he made, I'm not gonna remember every one of them, but was this idea that when you put value on it, when you assign a price, when you create it with this idea of saying, “I'm going to sell this,” you learn so much more about the life cycle of a creative business. You start thinking of, “Well, gee, so I've got my novel. What else could I sell?”
Dan: It doesn't have to be big. It could be smaller, could be another mini book, a novella, a short story. It could be a how to book, it could be something silly. You start thinking of what could have product be and you go through the whole life cycle of how do I create that, how do I upload it, how do I price it, and you learn so much along the way about your branding and the marketing and if you're uploading it to a different type of, if you've used Amazon before, but now this is something that's on another downloadable site or if it's a service, you sort of really dig into this idea. And the process you're creating, as you say, it's like an asset that could earn money, it could expand your brand and you're learning all these other phases to it.
Dan: I always love that idea of challenging someone where there's so much there about the gift economy, this idea of sharing online. But the idea of creating a product and thinking of how you create more products I think is intriguing. And just one other riff on that where a podcast I follow #Amwriting, they interviewed Grammar Girl who I heard a lot about before but never really knew much about, and I just went to her Twitter. And right up top was all of these guides, all of these assets and, and products that she has created around what I think might have started as a podcast. And I just saw that and in an instant I said, “Look at that. She has created a company, a brand. She has created all these assets that you can buy around just this concept of good grammar.” And I thought it was such a wonderful example, really what embodies what I, you know, I think we're talking about today
Orna: And next week , Dan, or next month Dan and I will be back with another Writing Life topic. So if you have any questions arising out today's, just leave them in the questions and comments and we will get to them. Yes, we have a question as to whether as the replay will be available. And the answer is yes, that it will, so before we leave, Dan, can you just tell people if they want to find out more about you and what you do and how you do it?
Dan: Sure. You can always find me at Wegrowmedia.com where, you know, I run different programs and I have a weekly blog and newsletter, really helping writers. A lot of topics like this, the idea of connecting with your audience and kind of the creative process behind it and on all the social media I'm @DanBlank.
Orna: Lovely. And we are the Alliance of Independent Authors. We are a nonprofit association for self publishing writers. If you haven't joined yet, you might want to think about and take a look at our site on allianceindependentauthors.org. So that's it from us for this month. Thank you for being here. Thank you Dan.
Dan: Thank you.
Howard: You're listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. There's so many ways I can introduce my guests today. I don't know where to start. She's a paranormal romance author. She teaches self publishing courses. She is also a children's author who just kickstarted a gothic picture book. Oh. And she's also from New Zealand. And joining me from New Zealand where it's already tomorrow is Steff Green. Hi Steph and thank you for talking to me today.
Steff: Hi Howard and hi everyone. Good morning from the future.
Howard: First, before we begin, I should also mention something else that is a part of who you are and I'll let you describe that.
Steff: Yes. So it kind of comes into sort of how I wrote this children's pocket, but I'm actually legally blind, so I'm not completely blind, but I don't have any, I have no color vision and I'm extremely light sensitive and I'm short sighted to the point where I kind of can't see my own shoes and yeah, considered legally blind. Yeah.
Howard: Well, first, tell me what a gothic picture book is. And by that do you mean at least what we here in America call Goth?
Steff: Yeah, yeah, I do. So I definitely kind of that's sort of how I would probably identify myself a little bit like, oh, kind of a little bit, a little bit of the dark side and you know, my, the kind of books that I read are sort of in the gothic subgenre that, you know, those kind of haunted houses and, you know, a woman in big Victorian dresses running through the fields and things like that. Yeah.
Howard: Yeah. That sounds like a lot of fun. So tell me a little bit about the genesis of your book, Only Freaks Turn Things Into Bones. And I understand there was a, you have found a publisher after a successful Kickstarter program.
Steff: Yes. So I had the idea for this book for quite a long time, but I, because I'm not really, I can draw okay but I'm not a super great artist, never really kind of got off the ground. And then I was talking to an illustrator friend of mine one day, and she'd never done a children's book before. And we were kind of talking about this idea and she was like, “Oh, I love it so much.” So we decided to give it a go and the book is about a little grim reaper who has his first day of school and all the other kids are mean to him and they bully him because he is different because every time he touches something it turns into bone. So he touches a tree that they're building a fort on in the tree kind of withers away.
Steff: And then he touches a little girl's pet bunny rabbit and it turns into a skeleton rabbit. So he's not, he's not running around and being *inaudible*.
Howard: Poor little grim reaper.
Steff: Yeah, yeah. But he's all the skeletons and so everyone's really mean to him. And the whole point of the book is about kind of celebrating what makes you different and not trying to change yourself to fit in with other people's idea of what's normal.
Steff: And yeah. And so when I was little, I was bullied because I was different. And so that's why this book has kind of, it's a real personal connection to me and the illustrator I worked with also went through similar things. So, you know, it was kind of our way of trying to help future kids like us.
Howard: Now what is the secret to successful Kickstarter program? Did you already have a sort of a network built in or did you build it from scratch?
Steff: So I, you know, I do have, like, I do have a lot of followers, but they're all, you know, people who are fans of my paranormal romance work. So trying to get them to buy this kind of quirky picture book's a bit, you know, it was never going to be as big as if it was a paranormal romance book. So, what we kind of did was we looked at it a lot of other, what a lot of other book Kickstarter campaigns had done. And the thing about Kickstarter is that people, the people who are on it aren't really book buyers. But they, what they are is they are always looking for kind of gifts to give to people and things like that, which is why children's books, children's books with kind of a quirky, unusual concept tend to do quite well. So we fit into that category so, you know, that was kind of our initial research.
Steff: So we were like, “Okay, this, we think this is going to work.” So we kind of identified some different audiences that might be interested in this picture book. Like kind of looking at approaching the kind of the Goth community but also, you know, looking at it for the people who are looking for gifts for children and things like that. So we kind of identified these different communities and looked at marketing to them and also I back a lot of children's books on Kickstarter because I have nieces and nephews and I need to buy gifts for them. So, um, I already had all these projects that I'd backed and what I did was I approached all those people and said, “Hey, you know, I'm a backer. I loved your project. I wondered if you would consider sending out, you know, a little link to our project in your next update to backers.”
Steff: And surprisingly, I was really surprised every single person that I approached said, you know, because I had already backed their projects, every single person I approached said, “Absolutely. We would love to do that.” And that, probably a quarter of all our backers came from other people's projects who had, done that for us. It was just amazing. So that kind of being involved in the Kickstarter community was really good. We sort of engaged our backers and we were always doing updates and showing them new art work and really encouraging them to share the project with their friends. And I was noticing on Facebook, you know, every time someone would share it, there would be people underneath commenting on it saying, “Oh that's really cool, I'm going to go back that.” So you know, kind of engaging the backers-
Howard: Makes them feel like they're part of the project.
Steff: Yeah, exactly. And also one thing we did right near the end, which I just suddenly thought, “Hey, that might be a good idea” is I said to people, “Hey, you've only got 3 days left. So if you, maybe you only backed up like a $5 level, but maybe you decided, actually I'd like a copy of the book at the $20 level, so if you want you can change your, change your pledge.” And so many people did that on the last few days. And they've never would have done that, if I hadn't mentioned, just casually mentioned it.
Howard: Now ordinarily I don't like to talk business on this show, I let the business experts handle those questions. I talk about writing, but on your site, you say, “I'm a six figure author, mainly by writing in a niche and publishing fast.” Now I want to know where do I sign up for that deal? What is the secret for writing so quickly?
Steff: That pretty much is the secret. Yeah, it's to write really quickly. And I didn't start off writing quickly. I worked up to it. So I use a timer and I sit down for 20 minutes. I have the timer on and I tried to shut out Facebook, and my husband and you know, all the distractions and I just write for 20 minutes. Timer goes off. I take a five minute break. I come back, write for another 20 minutes. And I just kept doing that and I found that, you know, I can write sort of 600 to 750 words in those 20 minutes. So if you keep coming back and you keep being disciplined in doing that over and over, you can do that kind of what I do, sort of 4 to 5,000 words a day, which adds up quite quickly.
Howard: Oh, and here are two more things that you are a former archeologist and museum curator and I'm sure you've heard all the Indiana Jones comparisons before. Is that what it's like, adventures and searching for the Ark of the Covenant?
Steff: Oh, totally, absolutely. No, a lot of the time it's literally just staring at dirt. But yeah, but sometimes it's used to be so much fun. It was a really exciting thing to be able to study but there's just, it's just very hard to find work as an archeologist, especially if you are legally blind. So no one wants a blind archaeologist looking after their artifacts. So yeah. So I became a writer instead, which is equally fun.
Howard: Do you use some of that knowledge of history in your books?
Steff: All the time. All the time. Anyone who reads reads my books will see a lot of archeologists as main characters. A lot of history kind of references, a lot of that kind of thing.
Howard: Wonderful. Well, can you read us a passage from your children's book?
Steff: I certainly can.
Howard: We'd love to hear it.
Steff: So I'll just read this one. Little Grim sat down next to a girl. She was hugging her pet rabbit. “His name is Fluffy,” she said. “He's so soft and cuddly. Can I hold him?” Little Grim asked. He loved animals. The little girl handed over her rabbit. As soon as Little Grim touched Fluffy's fur the rabbit skin shrunk away and he was nothing but moving bones. “Look at what you've done. Now he's not cuddly anymore,” The girl said. “He's a freak. He's weird. Don't play with him or he'll turn you to bones.” All through class the other kids whispered about Little Grim. They moved their desks far away. Little Grim's heart sank to his knees. He only wanted to have friends. He didn't want to cause anyone pain but he couldn't help who he was. He sat down on the front steps of the school, a single tear fell from his eye socket. “I'll run far away,” he thought, “that way I can't possibly hurt anyone ever again.” So that's kind of the sad bit of the story.
Howard: That's so sad.
Steff: It gets a lot better.
Howard: I'm sure it does. Yes. Well we all know that the freaks usually grow up to be very successful people, creative people because they know how to think differently.
Howard: Yeah. Well, thank you so much Steph. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us and you have a good rest of the day in New Zealand and I am going to bed here in Michigan.
Steff: Thank you so much for having me.
Howard: Thank you. Goodbye.