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Shaun Loftus Explores The Book Whisperer’s Tailored Publishing Support And The ‘Unconference’ In Florence: Creating Better Books Podcast With Howard Lovy

Shaun Loftus Explores The Book Whisperer’s Tailored Publishing Support and the ‘Unconference’ in Florence: Creating Better Books Podcast with Howard Lovy

In the latest episode of the Creating Better Books podcast, ALLi News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy interviews Shaun Loftus, founder of The Book Whisperer, which offers complete publishing services for indie authors. Shaun shares her journey from a tech-savvy marketing director to a leader in indie publishing, emphasizing the educational approach of The Book Whisperer in guiding authors through the complexities of self-publishing. The discussion also touches on the upcoming “unconference” in Florence, a unique event designed for authors to collaboratively set the agenda and share insights in a peer-to-peer learning environment.

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Listen to the Podcast: The Book Whisperer

On the Creating Better Books podcast, ALLi News and Podcast Producer @howard_lovy interviews Shaun Loftus, founder of The Book Whisperer. Click To Tweet

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About the Host

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn, and X.

Read the Transcripts to the Podcast: The Book Whisperer

Howard Lovy: My guest is Shaun Loftus, founder of The Book Whisperer, which offers complete publishing services for indie authors, and is sponsoring something called an un-conference this fall.

Hello, Shaun, and welcome to the show.

Shaun Loftus: Hello, and thank you for having me.

Howard Lovy: Before we get into your company, tell me more about you, Shaun. Where did you grow up, and how did you get into this line of work?

Shaun Loftus: I grew up in the Midwest, but landed in California. I went to university to become a theatre director, and because theatre doesn't pay, I learned how to code, and I became an early tech adapter.

So, I was doing technology. I was marketing director for several start-ups in California, and it supported me doing art.

I landed in Italy about 20 years ago and was working as a marketing director, and somebody came to me and said, can you help me with my book?

The first book I published was, The Mystery of Julia Episcopa, and I did everything on the book from developmental editing, because it was strangely in my bailiwick of first century historical and set in Italy, and I learned to code books. This was back before we had wonderful products like Vellum, so it had to be all done in Calibre. I applied what I knew about online marketing to the book, and it took off, and I found a new career.

Howard Lovy: Wow, so that started with just that one first client. How did you build that into a company?

Shaun Loftus: Authors are often not very technical. Some are, but word got around that I knew technically how to do stuff, like building websites and building eBooks, and because I had a background in Google and AdWords and SEO, and that sort of marketing, I took to it like a fish in water, and really quickly I was having a lot of requests, and so it just took off.

Howard Lovy: Wow, that's great. So, it started with a lot of writers, it's not so much that they're not tech savvy, but they're tech fearful. So, you're there to say, I've got that covered.

Shaun Loftus: I've got that covered. Plus, because I had a background in theatre and dramaturgy and directing, I've always worked with artists and creatives. So, it was just a strange kismet right skill set at the right time, working with artists who I've always loved, whether they're playwrights or authors, and then I went and married an author.

So, I was in the right place at the right time with the right skills.

Howard Lovy: It's a crowded, or getting to be, a crowded marketplace with publishing services, so what sets The Book Whisperer apart, particularly for indie authors?

Shaun Loftus: I don't know necessarily what sets us apart because we're very much focused on the authors that we work with. We have a strong hand in historical fiction. We work really hard to guide authors through these things step by step. We're a very white glove service, we don't take a lot of clients at one time. We're super selective about which projects we'll work on. We make sure that the authors we work with have really defined objectives, because it's so hard out there, and there's so much competition in the space now, and so we really want the authors we work with to understand the sort of broad strokes of publishing of the industry, we work really hard to educate them along the way, because we don't expect that we will be with them forever.

So, when they leave us, we want them to know how to run their own Amazon ads dashboards. We want them to know how to set up their own Facebook ads. How to use Facebook advertising effectively. What promotional sites work best for their genre, because it varies widely.

So, we work really hard on the educational aspect. I don't know what other companies do, but we've got a real mission in educating our authors so that they can go forward without us.

Howard Lovy: I see. Is that what you mean by a holistic approach?

Shaun Loftus: Yes, when an author comes to us, for example, if they've got a backlist, we don't just look at their new release. We look also at their history, their backlist. We see what's worth reviving, what needs recovering. We check their metadata on their backlist. So, we're looking at the authors holistically and not just moving from release to release.

Howard Lovy: So, what are some of the tailored services that you provide that specifically cater to the unique needs of indie authors?

Shaun Loftus: Okay, for example, say someone comes to us with Regency mystery, we will educate ourselves as to what the competition in that field is, what book covers are working in that. We will advise as how to best cover the book to look competitive with the top hundred in that particular genre. We will check and make sure that the editing is properly done. We'll refer it back out to a developmental editor, if need be. We will do the final line and proof edits for our authors. We will help them write the blurbs. We will help them, for example, if they need a website or a website refresh. We will go into their Facebook and make sure that they are doing what they need to do for organic reach to make sure that they have the organic reach and organic interaction to support their Facebook advertising. We will create their graphics, their banners, we will make sure that their BookBub ads, their pay per click ads, are within their branding. We will set up their Amazon ads to make sure those Amazon ads are targeting properly, and we really believe in ARC campaigns.

I think that's one of our strengths. We lean heavily into the advanced reader campaigns because we can tell how well a book will perform from its ARC campaign. If we can't give it away on NetGalley, there might be a problem with the book, and we will go and try and save the money in the long term by getting them set up for success from the point we receive a manuscript.

Howard Lovy: So, it sounds like you do a lot more than just editing. I know that everything you mentioned is necessary. I'm a book editor when I'm not a podcaster, and after I'm done editing the books, they all want to know, what do I do next? And I don't have an answer for them because I'm just one person, but it sounds like you take really a holistic approach.

Shaun Loftus: My advice to what to do next would be get some beta readers that you really trust who will be tough on you, who will absolutely tell you the truth. Unfortunately, that's usually not friends and family. So, go out, find beta readers. Invest in an advanced reader campaign to get early feedback well before you're ready to release your book.

Howard Lovy: So, tell me about this, it's called an un-conference in Florence this fall. Tell me what you mean by that and what's that all about.

Shaun Loftus: Okay, an un-conference is kind of like a conference, but there's no speakers or experts that are talking to you from a podium.

An un-conference is very much a peer-to-peer educational event where the participants set the agenda. At an un-conference, you'll have 30 to 40 fellow authors, and the participants set the agenda.

So, after introductions, for example, you'll find that half of the authors are romance, because they always are, and then there's a spattering of sci-fi or paranormal or historical fiction.

Together the authors will set the agenda for what they want to talk about. So, hot topics of conversation will be Facebook or Instagram or TikTok.

Last year's event, AI was a very big topic of conversation, how to use it, whether to use it, what the ethics behind it were. Another area of learning last year was about direct sales, and one of the authors in attendance is doing really well on direct sales. So, she was able to tell everyone in the room how she had set up her sales, how she fulfils shipping and delivery, how she advertises it, and how that worked for her. So, that ended up taking a full morning where authors really wanted to know how they could start doing direct sales instead of relying so much on Amazon and Kobo.

Other topics of conversation will be email marketing. In the past, KDP and Amazon advertising were a sponsor, and they came and sat in on sessions and listened to the pain that authors were in about getting these ads to work or how to best navigate KDP, and so one of those experts were there.

Reedsy is also an ongoing sponsor and Ricardo has been in attendance at the last several un-cons giving advice, best practices, how to put together a team for indie authors. Draft2Digital is often an ongoing sponsor as well, and Dan is there telling people how to best market towards Kobo and other platforms, including OverDrive and libraries, and how to use those resources that Draft2Digital offers.

So, it's a great event. It's very different than, say, 20 Books or the London event, in that it's much more peer to peer, and it's smaller and more intimate.

It's been a great event so far, and it was in Matera, which is this beautiful little mountain town, but we moved it to Florence this year for a change of pace, because who doesn't love Florence?

Howard Lovy: I was going to say, that sounds like a beautiful place, a great excuse to go to Florence anyway.

You mentioned AI, and I guess this is a question that I ask everybody now, no matter what the topic of the podcast is. What do you make of AI in terms of doing what you're doing? Is it your friend or potential rival?

Shaun Loftus: Right now, AI actually doesn't write very well. We use AI to make suggestions. We sometimes use it for research purposes. The great thing about AI is that you can upload spreadsheets and you can ask it to break down spreadsheets for you. So, we use it that way. We sometimes use it to say, give me a suggestion on this sentence. This grammar sounds wrong. Lay or lie.

What we found is that AI is, it's been oversold. At this point, it's still stupid. It can't replace writers. It doesn't have lived experience, and it always sounds super imitative. So, I would advise writers not to use it for writing purposes, but it can be a great resource for give me an idea, or give me five other suggestions for this sentence, or generate a list of 20 subtitles.

It's a tool very much like Grammar Check is a tool, like Grammarly is a tool. It doesn't yet have the ability to replace people. It can be useful for some aspects of what we do, but it can't replace human creativity.

Howard Lovy: Yeah, I've noticed that too. It's really a lousy writer, but it does help me organize my notes.

I'm working on a non-fiction book right now where I've interviewed a lot of sources, and it helps me sort through all these interviews and come up with, what did so and so say on this subject. But yeah, I think you're right, the writing itself is really bad.

Shaun Loftus: Oh, it's terrible. It is beyond terrible. Now, sometimes if I'm having to come up with brief copy for something, I will ask it to do a brief piece of copy, but then I find that I'm still spending an hour or two rewriting the copy.

I don't know that it's that much more powerful than talking with a friend or working with somebody as far as giving you prompts. It might get better over time, but I had one of my authors who actually worked on large language models, and he said that if it seems to you that ChatGPT is getting stupider, it's because it is, because we're all asking it the same questions and it's just regurgitating all of the feedback we're giving it, and it's not actually able to get that much smarter at this point.

Howard Lovy: At this point. Maybe we'll talk again in a year and then things will be different.

Shaun Loftus: It was comforting to hear they can't replace us yet.

Howard Lovy: Going back to your services, our listeners are members of the Alliance of Independent Authors. How specifically can they take advantage of your services and what advice would you give them to make the most out of these resources?

Shaun Loftus: To take advantage of our services, we would ask that you reach out to us well in advance of your release. We are not solely a marketing service, and we really want to work with authors throughout their cycle of release and their library.

If you're a debut author and want to work with us, go to our website at bookwhisperer.ink, or you can find me on Reedsy. Tell me about your project, and I will be utterly and completely honest as to whether I think I'm the right person that you should work with right now.

We're very busy, we're booked really far in advance, so we're very careful about really trying to work with authors who we think we can help. We're very small, there's six of us with different specialties, although we're cross competent, and we're looking for longer term relationships.

If you think that we're the right fit for you, reach out to us on email, our website, or Reedsy, and we always start with an interview, because your book is a very intimate thing. It's so important to you, and I want you to make sure that you really want to work with us on your book, because it's your baby.

We want to make sure that we match with our authors, and our authors match with us, and we want to make sure that we meet expectations for the authors we work with. Now, that's not always possible, but we always really do our best on that to make sure that our authors end up really happy and proud, and pleased with the entire process. We want to make it as enjoyable as it possibly can be.

People who want to work with me, look for me on my website, look for me on Reedsy, and let's start a conversation.

Howard Lovy: Are there specific genres that you specialize in, or is it across the board?

Shaun Loftus: No, our strong hand really is in historical fiction.

We do work with some cross genres like Regency romance. We have a lot of World War II fiction authors. We're starting to delve into some Irish historical fiction. We've got one author who works in military sci-fi, and that's a new adventure for us. But really our deep well of knowledge is in the historical fiction arena.

It's what I love the best. We also have a few non-fiction titles, and that's been a new adventure. We tend, though, I would say, my strength is historical.

Howard Lovy: That's a fun genre, too, to read and to edit. Is there anything else you want to say about The Book Whisperers, that I didn't ask?

Shaun Loftus: Let's see. We work out of a big villa. We have cats, birds, goats, chickens. We have a four-day work week, and we're really great people to work with. So, I think that's about it, unless you have any other specific questions.

Howard Lovy: No, sounds wonderful. Thank you very much, Shaun. I appreciate you appearing on the show, and I will have in the show notes that accompany this podcast how to get in touch with you and links to your website and social media.

Meanwhile, thank you very much and I appreciate your time.

Shaun Loftus: If I can put in one more plug for the Indie Uncon, it is a fantastic event, and we welcome anybody who comes. It is an opportunity that is different than any of the other shows that are out there, and we would love to see people there.

Howard Lovy: Great. Let's all meet in Florence in the fall. That'd be wonderful.

Shaun Loftus: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Howard. I really appreciated your time.

Howard Lovy: Thank you, Shaun.

Shaun Loftus: Okay. Bye.

Howard Lovy: Bye.


Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/


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