Using Kickstarter For Graphic Novels With Ben Galley

Kickstarter is a fantastic place for creatives to find funding, but you do need to use it for the right projects and understand how it works.

ben galley booksIn this interview, I talk to Ben Galley about his graphic novel adaptation Kickstarter campaign, as well as his tips for getting the funding right, attracting backers and more. Full transcription below the video, or you can watch it on YouTube here.

Ben Galley Interview Transcription

Joanna: Hi, everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from and today I’m here with Ben Galley. Welcome, Ben!

Ben: Hi there, Jo, how are you doing?

Joanna: I’m good. So, just as a little introduction, Ben is the best-selling author of the dark fantasy Emaneska Series, as well as advising indie authors through his site, Shelf Help. Now, Ben,

Start by telling us a bit more about you and your writing background, and what you’re up to these days.

Ben: In a nutshell, I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I wrote my first book aged 11, maybe 12, and to date it is still the longest book I’ve ever written! So, writing, as you can imagine, was in my blood since I was a young boy, and I’ve always been raised on a diet of fantasy, so after I wrote my first book, at that age, I went through school and college, and got distracted. So I only got back into writing about 2008, 2009, and it felt natural for me to just jump back into fantasy. I was studying music at a college called ACM and working in a number of dead-end jobs, and I wanted to get out. So books seemed the best option for me, and so I went straight back in to writing, straight back into fantasy, and five years later, here I am.

I’ve got four books out in the Emaneska Series, I’ve just launched a self-publishing guide called “Shelf Help: The Pocket Guide to Self-Publishing,” I’ve launched an e-book store Libiro, I run Shelf Help, my self-publishing consultancy, and have a graphic novel on the way, as well.

Joanna: Fantastic!

Ben: So a lot can change in five years!

Joanna: And just so everyone knows, how old are you, Ben?

Ben: I’m only 26.

Joanna: Ahh! It’s lovely!

Ben: The baby.

Joanna: I feel like such an old woman next to you!

Ben: Rubbish!

Joanna: It’s funny, because I get emails from teenagers, asking about writing and publishing and things, and it makes me really excited, and I think, “Gosh,” because I started when I was 35: if I had started … well, except that when I was 26, there wasn’t Kindle, these things didn’t happen, but we’re living in such an amazing time, aren’t we.

Ben: We are indeed.

Joanna: And the opportunities are there.

Ben: I agree. A lot of my clients are teenagers, and yeah, even for a 26-year-old, when an 18-year-old, 17-year-old gets in touch with me and says, “I’ve written a book,” and they send it over and it’s a great time to be an author, you’re absolutely right. I wish I’d started even younger.

Joanna: I know, exactly. I wanted to talk to you about Kickstarter, because I get a lot of questions about it, and I have quite a lot of barriers around Kickstarter, which we can go into. But I think there are a lot of misconceptions about it, a kind of free money misconception which I think is wrong.

So, first up, tell us what your Kickstarter project was for. Describe what it was about.

Ben: Essentially, the Kickstarter project that I ran last year was to turn my first book, “The Written,” the first book of the Emaneska Series, into a graphic novel, a 120-page graphic novel. So, it was very, very straightforward, it was a simple adaptation from a book to artwork, that’s what I did.

Joanna: And why did you want to do that particularly?

Ben: Well, it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do: I’ve always been a bit of a comic book geek. I don’t know if you can see the poster behind me with all the comic book art on it! As you can tell, graphic novels and comic books are something that I’ve always been into. That, combined with the tagline for the Emaneska Series, which is “Lord of the Rings meets Sin City,” I wanted to fulfil the Sin City aspect of it. As you said, it’s dark fantasy, it’s epic fantasy, and so the fantasy market and the fantasy genre is seeing graphic novels surge in popularity at the moment. So it’s a good bandwagon to get onto. Those two things sort of combined, and that’s why I really wanted to do it. I think it’s also just important to move into a different market, as well, and grow a different sort of fan base that would add to a pure Emaneska book series fan base as well. So it was also a business decision, as well as just something I really wanted to do.


And why did you go for Kickstarter? Why didn’t you just save up your royalties, and pay for it all outright?

Ben: Well, essentially, this was a year ago, I didn’t have that sort of cash lying around. I mean, I needed £5,000-6,000. To just dump that straight into a project, that’s the thing. I’ve got, like you, loads of different projects on the go, so that cash probably would have been repurposed elsewhere, and would have been chipped into, unfortunately. For me, it actually seemed like a good business decision to use a crowdfunding platform, mainly because it’s clever in the way that it gets people invested at the very, very start of the project, at the roots of the project. And that’s something you can’t really do with books. I know you can do crowd-reading, and you can use Wattpad, essentially, but a project like this, it gets people in at the very, very ground level, and keeps them through to completion. So, when you launch, you’ve already sort of marketed to a group of people, and you’ve already got buyers as well. So it made sense to me.


So, just explain, if people don’t know, how does Kickstarter actually work?

Ben: It’s actually very, very simple. What you do is, you basically come up with a concept, you log on to the Kickstarter platform and you set up a project. And this project consists of a time, the amount you want to raise, and also just your description, and you can basically put loads of different media into that – it’s advisable to do so – such as videos. For instance, for my graphic novel project, I had a video of myself talking about the graphic novel project and why I wanted to do it, I had an excerpt of the book, I had, some artwork that I had already produced for it, so there was a lot to get your teeth into.

Once you build your project and your pitch to your backers, essentially, what happens is, it goes live for a period of whatever you set, so it can be anything from 20 days to 60 days, that sort of thing. And then people just come along, they browse through Kickstarter, you drive them to the Kickstarter page. And they, essentially, back your project, in return for a reward. And the reward can range from 1 dollar, 1 pound, up to, I think I had a 500 and a thousand dollar reward. There are loads of different reward tiers, and backing tiers, so people can choose how they want to support, and in return they get rewards.

So, one of my rewards for 60 dollars was the chance to actually get your face into the graphic novel, which I thought was quite a novel idea. Essentially, it’s, it’s all about using the rewards to, not convince, but encourage people to invest in you, and hopefully reach your goal. And mine was 5,000 – I hit 5,600 at the end of 50 days, which I was really chuffed with.

Joanna: That is very, very good. And you mentioned there, you have to drive people to the Kickstarter page.

Ben: Absolutely, absolutely.

Joanna: Now, that is a misconception, I think.

People believe that when they just put up a Kickstarter and money appears. But what do you mean by driving traffic to the page?

Ben: Well, the idea behind Kickstarter is that it acts as a hub for your project. So, yes, Kickstarter gets a lot of traffic in general, a lot of organic traffic, and a lot of the users of Kickstarter will browse for projects that they want to back, again, because the rewards can sometimes be really, really clever, and exclusive, as well. But, it is a huge amount of work: it does take marketing, just like an actual book will, or an actual website will, if not even more work, because essentially, you’re trying to part people with their money, before something’s even been created.

So it’s a strange concept for people to get their head round. That’s why it takes a lot of marketing. So I did some paid marketing, a huge amount of social media marketing, and it’s a full-on job. I underestimated how much work it would be, or how much work it would take, and for those 50 days that the project was live, it was constant, every day, emailing people, using my mailing list, chatting on Facebook and Twitter, driving people to it.

Because otherwise you simply don’t reach your limit, and if you don’t reach your limit, the concept behind Kickstarter is, you don’t raise anything. It’s hit your limit and exceed it or nothing. So those two months of work that I put into it beforehand would have simply gone to waste.


And what about the fees? Because you don’t get all that money, do you?

Ben: You don’t, no. There are fees involved. The Kickstarter fee is 5% of the total funds raised. 5% doesn’t sound a lot, but if you raise a lot, it can be quite a large chunk for Kickstarter. So it’s wise to look into the fees and how Kickstarter works, before setting up a project. And there’s also payment fees involved. There’s 3% plus, I think it’s 20p per pledge, which is taken out of your funds, so the actual backers don’t have to pay anything. If your pledges are under ten pounds, there’s a micro-pledge fee, which is slightly less. And there is also, in the UK, VAT to pay on the payments as well. It’s not charged on the actual funds raised, but it’s charged on the fees as well, so that 5% plus VAT. So yes, you do have to learn to be aware of these, and do the math beforehand, essentially.

Joanna: Yes and that doing the math seems to be the downfall for many people. I’ve heard stories of people who’ve saved, done 5,000, then realized that they actually needed 10,000.

Ben: Absolutely.


So how did you the math for a graphic novel?

Ben: I worked it out all ahead of time. And again, that’s a very, very important thing to do. So, for instance, I worked out how much I would need to pay my artist, Mike, and then I put into that equation all of the rewards. Let’s say if, for some reason, everyone went for the most expensive reward – I don’t mean the most expensive reward in how much they give to me, but he unit costs of the reward that I would have to give to them, and then you’ve got to factor in shipping costs; you’ve got to factor in packaging costs, things like that. You have to add all of these things up and then add that to your golden amount for, basically, what you want to raise, and then factor the fees in, as well.

So you just have to do a lot of math beforehand, to make sure that you’re aware of the chunks that are going to be taken out, your costs to facilitate the rewards, and also do the project, as well. So those are the three aspects, essentially.


Did you add a contingency fee?

For example, I’ve backed a Kickstarter before, and ended up having to pay extra for the postage between the US and the UK on a very heavy physical object that the person didn’t work in. So, how did you do that, because you obviously have fans all over the world, and you’re in the UK?

Ben: Absolutely. Well, most of my fans are in the US, so what I did is factor in, if I’m going to send a couple of hardbacks out, the most expense or the most it would cost me, and then basically figured out, if loads of people go for that particular reward, how much am I likely to be paying out here? And sort of developed a worst-case scenario. Also, Kickstarter facilitates shipping fees, as well. So when you actually back, there might be a $2 or $1 extra fee, depending on your country. So I actually set an extra amount for those backers in the US or Australia, etc. So, if you are a backer in the US and you’d fund my project, you’d see an extra little charge on top. Which isn’t much, compared to most of the actual backing or reward amounts.

Joanna: That’s fantastic, because I actually had a graphic artist on the podcast recently, Nathan Massengill, who’s awesome, and we talked about this, and I’m very keen to do this graphic novel kind of Kickstarter, too, for my ARKANE books. But I’ll tell you my biggest issue is having all of those people: being an author’s great, because you can write what you want, and then see if people want to buy it. No one’s telling you what to do; no one’s saying, “Where’s my book, where’s my book?” like they do to George R. R. Martin! You know, nobody can tell me what to write. And that’s part of the reason we’re indies, right. So, with Kickstarter, what you basically do is have all these people, I mean, with £5,000, I don’t know, how many people did you have in total backing?

Ben: Off the top of my head, I think 156.

Joanna: OK, so you now have 156 people who want something from you, within a certain time frame: I’m sure they’re emailing you and asking questions.

Ben: Oh yes. Absolutely.

Joanna: Now, that’s what puts me off.

So, how are you dealing with that and what are the pros and cons of that ‘having a lot of bosses’ idea?

Ben: Well, yeah, you are right: it is a scary concept to have that many people chasing you for something that you’ve potentially never done before. I mean, this is my first graphic novel, it won’t be the last. However, what you have to be honest about is the amount of work it will entail. So, Kickstarter guides you through setting up a project, and at the end of your main project strip, there is a section, I think it’s called “Challenges.” And I recommend being completely 100% honest in that section, and saying, “This could take a year, this could take a year and a half, it’s something that my artist and I have never done, however, we are keen to do it, we have the skills, you can see that from the artwork.”

That’s exactly what I did. I said, “The project itself will take a year.” It’s taken over a year now. But also Kickstarter facilitates updates as well, so you can actually go on and update your backers privately or publicly. You can keep people updated as the project goes on, and I do that with artwork from Mike, with concept art, with updates in general, publishing news, things like that. And every time, people are very, very keen to know more, but also very happy that you are updating them. So it’s a back and forth relationship. It’s not like you suddenly get your money, and you start getting emails from people going, “Where’s my reward, where are my things, where are my signed photographs” or whatever. It’s an on-going project. People realize that Kickstarter is getting up to that start point, and then it’s the Research and Development and fundraising, and then it’s the actual creation. So they realize that they are coming in at a really early stage, and there could be one or two years until they actually get their rewards, or the project is completed.

Joanna: It’s interesting, and I’m sure you get these emails, too – people say, “Oh, I’m writing my first novel ever, and I can’t afford editing fees or cover design, so I’m going to do a Kickstarter for my very first book.”

What is your advice to those people?

Ben: I wouldn’t use Kickstarter. Nor would I use other crowdfunding platforms such as Indiegogo. The reason being is, like I said, it takes a lot of work, and it takes a lot of marketing to make a Kickstarter project successful, and to reach that target of yours. And so you do need a bit of an existing platform, i.e., you need fans, you need Facebook contacts, you need Twitter followers. And the reason being is that those are the troops that you muster to either fund you or to tell people that you can now fund my graphic novel.

So, essentially, you do need a bit of a platform before you do it. If you are a new author with a brand new book, the likelihood is that not many people will have heard of you, or your fan base will be very, very small, so actually the amount of troops that you can muster, aren’t that many. What I would recommend is doing it later on, for later books. So also, with Kickstarter, you are relying solely, as a newbie author, without a fan base, on the concept and making that as attractive as possible to the browsers, to the organic visitors to your page. And that’s a hard job. You know, you do need to drive people to it: organic browsing is not enough with Kickstarter. So, for a newbie author, it’s difficult.

Joanna: Yeah, I think so too. And I think about what I’ve funded on Kickstarter, I’ve recently helped to fund the Morbid Anatomy Museum in New York, which is an awesome project, making a museum, I love that. And I’ve funded a font based on Sigmund Freud’s handwriting, which is just a very cool idea. And then I did help with Seth Godin’s big project which he did. He produced a massive hardback book, really, really huge. I was thinking, the things that I would pay for on Kickstarter, I’m either a real fan of, or they’re kind of quirky, unusual things.

Ben: That’s it.

Joanna: So, those are some examples of mine, but in your experience and your research,

What are the types of things that do amazingly well on Kickstarter and what doesn’t?

Ben: Well, essentially, there are plenty of books on Kickstarter, as well, so it’s not just the fact that you, as a new author, might not have the fan base, or be prepared for the workload, etc., essentially the concept needs to be very, very strong, and that’s why I mentioned, if it’s a brand-new concept, a brand-new book from an unproven author, it, it might be difficult to get people to invest.

So, essentially, a concept, like you said, could be quirky, it needs to be interesting. It needs to be shareable, as well: it needs to be engaging, and something that someone feels compelled to support. So for mine, mine was an adaptation from a successful novel, so, yes, I used my fans, but the concept is pretty strong, because I’m saying to people who haven’t even heard of me before, “This novel sold very, very well. It’s now being turned into a graphic novel. If you like graphic novels, here is some artwork.” So, it’s different: it’s not a book by an unknown author, and books, essentially, are commonplace. There are books all over the place. Everyone can write a book, or everyone seems to be writing a book, at least. So, for a graphic novel, it’s something slightly different, especially as it’s a fantasy graphic novel: even though they are rising in popularity, a lot of people still haven’t seen a fantasy graphic novel. So, again, those are the quirkinesses that I had there that really, really helped me.

So I think, yes, your concept needs to be different: yes there have been successful book Kickstarters, but it needs to be slightly outside the box to really get people interested.

Joanna: Yeah, I think so. So some, some angle of originality I think is important. And not just a basic thing around editing. I just don’t know why anyone would necessarily pay for editing on a book, with a Kickstarter.

Ben: No.

Joanna: Well, I guess a graphic novel might have some editing involved, but-

Ben: It will do, yeah, absolutely. I mean, that was part of the cost, but it was mainly for the creation of the art. And Mike’s a brilliant artist, and I think his art really, really inspired people to fund it as well. And if you get a chance, if any of you have seen it on Twitter and Facebook, I know, Jo, you’ve seen a bit of it as well, the artwork is absolutely great. He’s an incredible artist. So I think if I’d perhaps had a different artist, I might not have been successful.

Joanna: That’s a very good point. And visual stuff is critical, isn’t it.

Ben: Oh, yes.


You have to have a really good video.

Ben: Yeah. Kickstarter really recommends that you use a video. It’s something that I wasn’t really keen to do, because videos can sometimes be a little bit daunting, back then I wasn’t doing as many videos as I do now. But, yes, absolutely, you do need to do a video, because you need that personal touch with a Kickstarter. Essentially, it’s the digital version of approaching someone in the street and saying, “Sorry, have you got a couple of quid for this thing I’m working on?” and you have to sort of convince them with that conversation, but it’s a very one-way conversation with a Kickstarter project: you basically put your project on the page, and you let people browse it, and the people that you drive to it have to browse it and go at the end of it, “Yes, I’ll fund it.” So it absolutely has to be as compelling as possible. And personal.


How did you find your artist, by the way?

Ben: That, again, was crowdsourced. As you can tell, I’m a bit of a fan of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in general: anything crowd. I used a site called, which is a very, very good way of finding many graphic designers, but, again, there are a lot of editors on there, a lot of freelance professionals in general. So what I did is, before I went to Kickstarter, I held a People Per Hour project, and basically used that to find a graphic artist.

And Mike is a strange character. Not personally, but his circumstances are very strange, in the fact that he was born in the West Country, but then decided to go and live in China for no apparent reason, without speaking the language, and not even in a big city, in a rural part of China. So, came to me via People Per Hour and I realized, suddenly, even though he had this West Country accent, that we wouldn’t be able to work face to face on this, that it all would be based on email. But that’s the thing: the scope of crowdfunding and sites like People Per Hour, you can find anyone across the world, so you’re not limited to your territory at all. And again, it’s another one of the beauties behind the digital revolution.

So, yes, I work with a West Country designer in China, while raising the money here in the UK. It’s great.

Joanna: That is great. And I use People Per Hour as well, for different things. I highly recommend it, especially authors like us who are entrepreneurs, doing all kinds of stuff, we do need to outsource sometimes, and, of course, you’re a writer, not a graphic artist!

Ben: Not at all. I can’t draw at all!

Joanna: So just tell us about more,

Where is the graphic novel right now? Where’s the project?

Ben: Well, there you are: those are the people chasing for it! The graphic novel will hopefully be two to three months away. Again, I’m saying two to three, just to give myself that space. But essentially the process is on-going. We are at the stage now where we’re sort of 90 to 95% finished with the artwork. It’s been a long planning process, and, of course, the actual production of the artwork from Mike takes a long time. He does a lot of work regarding actually painting the pages before digitally designing them as well. So, he’s a very true artist.

So, for us at the moment, it’s getting towards the last few pages: I think we have about six left to create. And then it’s the coloration, the tweaking, it’s the editing, like you said, and it’s also basically combining these pages into a book file, and then publishing it. That’s going to take about a month or two as well. But, essentially, we’re really, really close. It’s been a great, great process, and I can’t wait to get it finished. I can’t wait to get it out there: for me, and the backers.

Joanna: That is exciting. So, what have you actually learned from the process of doing the Kickstarter?

What would you do differently or what are any mistakes?

Ben: That’s a good question. I would allocate more time to it. As I said, I think the amount of time that it took from me, I underestimated. Mainly because, like I said, there’s a lot of marketing, there’s a lot of emailing to do. So I would allocate more time to it. I wouldn’t necessarily make the project longer, there’s a certain aspect with Kickstarter where projects with long timetables can actually sort of get lost in the mix and the interest dies away. And there’s also that sort of urgency with shorter projects with shorter timescales. So, I wouldn’t change that aspect, but I would give myself more time: more time to market. I’d do a lot of marketing ahead of time, as well, to create a bit more buzz around the project.

Essentially, I think I went into it with an open mind, which I think was good, so, for me, I think that was the main thing I learned. I think I was very lucky with Mike, as well: I was lucky that he came across my project, because he’s been great as well. After the Kickstarter project itself, once we were successfully funded, he’s been a great person to work with. So I think a lesson that I would share with you is that you do, you do need to find that right person to work with, if you aren’t a graphic artist yourself, that is. If you are working with a freelancer, a professional, you need to find the right one, someone who suited my style, someone who you can work with, worlds apart, over Skype and over email, very easily, who can understand you, understand your feedback, essentially, as well. So, that’s a key point to take away.

Joanna: That’s fantastic. And because the thing with Kickstarter is you do need to use Amazon Payments, don’t you, to actually pay the money? And some people don’t like that.

You mentioned Indiegogo. Tell us a bit more about the other options for crowdfunding.

Ben: Yeah, there are quite a few options, especially the fact that there are now some literary-focused crowdfunding sites, as well, which are really, really great. But Indiegogo is a UK-based version of Kickstarter, they are very similar, it is growing all the time. It started after Kickstarter, so it doesn’t have quite the punch that Kickstarter has. That’s not to impugn it in any way because, like I said, it is up and coming, and it is good for UK users, as well. It’s used more in the UK, whereas Kickstarter’s more of an American-based platform. They are both good. The fees are slightly different between each, so definitely go and research and have a look at what suits you better. Some of the functionality is different.

But one literary-focused crowdfunding platform is one called Pubslush, which is a newer platform on the scene. And what it does is essentially work exactly the same as Kickstarter, even the way that the projects are displayed and the rewards are very similar to Kickstarter, but it’s focused on books, so people actually pitch a book idea. It could be a completed manuscript, or it could be a manuscript, that’s basically just a scribble on the back of a packet: an idea, a concept! People who are using Pubslush understand that this is where books are funded. So, it’s actually a really good step, because it’s focused on books.

So, for newbie authors, while Kickstarter might not be the best platform, Pubslush might be. Again, your concept needs to be strong: you need to put in a lot of work, etc. So, the concept’s the same, but just focused on the books.

Joanna: Wow, fantastic. Just on other things, you’ve recently put out this “Shelf Help Pocket Book.”

Ben: I have indeed.

Joanna: And I’ve got to ask you, because so many of us have these books out on self-publishing: there seems to be a little crop of them right now.

Tell us what makes your book on self-publishing stand out, in case people are interested.

Ben: So yes, “Shelf Help: The Pocket Guide to Self-Publishing” came out just last month. What stands out about it for me is it’s designed to be a one-stop shop: it’s an end-to-end guide from, as I say, manuscript to royalty check, so it’s designed for brand-new authors primarily: designed to give you an introduction to the industry as well as the concept of self-publishing. And not just any type of self-publishing: I’m a DIY self-publisher, which means I take all control into my hands, I am an authorpreneur, and essentially it’s what I believe is the best and most beneficial way of self-publishing. Like I said, because it gives you all the power, it gives you maximum royalties, and you are free to do Kickstarter projects and basically be the master of your own destiny.

So “Shelf Help” is a guide to DIY publishing. It does have something for everyone: it covers a huge amount of aspects, from what I call the polishing process, the publishing process, and also then the promotion process as well. So, basically, polishing a manuscript into a professional product, then actually the act of publishing an e-book and paperback, and then selling it as well. So, like I said, an end-to-end solution almost.

Joanna: Fantastic. So you are a busy man.

Ben: I am indeed, yeah. It never stops!

Joanna: Tell me where they can find you and your books online.

Ben: You can find me at or you can find me on Twitter, @bengalley, or you can find me on Facebook at /bengalleyauthor – and all my books are regularly talked about on my website, Twitter and Facebook.

Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks for your time, Ben.

Ben: Thank you, Jo. Cheers.

If you have any questions about Kickstarter, or any experiences to share, please leave a comment below.

Why Indie Authors Need A Team

People often ask me about how to be a successful indie author, or what’s the best way of marketing. I seem to be replying in the same vein every time these days – it’s all about collaboration and about personal relationships.

rope weaveI have a team of people I work with in my business. I have editors, a cover designer, an interior book designer, a graphic artist, a transcriber, a book-keeper, outsourced contractors for specific projects, a creative mentor, a community of twitter & blog friends and many more. Without these, I would not be able to do what I do. This is also why I self-identify as an indie author, NOT as self-published, as I am far from doing it all myself these days.

Today, author Bruce McCabe reiterates the importance of concentrating on people. His indie-published debut novel, ‘Skinjob,’ has just been acquired in a two-book deal with Random House.

I’ve been privileged to spent most of the last twenty years hanging out with people vastly smarter than myself – inventors, mavericks, scientists and innovators. Here’s a lesson from these wonderful people that I’ve found helpful on the writing journey:

It’s always about the who.

By which they mean the most important success factor in Silicon Valley is not the earth-shattering idea, nor the technology, nor money, nor access to resources, nor a myriad of other things, it is the composition of that core group of people, often very small, who truly believe in a goal and are emotionally dedicated to bringing it to fruition. Good teams care. They roll up their sleeves and get things done, take bad ideas and remake them into something worthwhile, find resources where there are none. When good teams fail they pick up the pieces and start over. Good teams, eventually, break through.

The corollary being: put most of your time into getting the who right and the rest falls into place.

People are your best investment.

Obvious? Maybe. We all know the world’s most dedicated and talented people can only get so far on their own. But it’s also true that our natural human inclination in any entrepreneurial activity is to spend more time on the what: the designing, planning, building, selling and marketing.

We sometimes have to remind ourselves to invest more in the who.

Here’s a question for Indie-authors: on your long to-do list of activities and plans and pathways to getting your next book to market (What PR should I do? What e-book platforms do I target first? What cover styles stand out? What price should I set? Etc) Does a question like “Who do I get to do X?” go automatically to the top of the list? Does it carry the importance of a multi-year investment? Or is it just another line item?

Here are some of the benefits, to my mind, of making who the priority:

Writing is no longer ‘solitary’

The objective is to write the very best novel you can. No one can write it for you, so at this stage at least, it’s all down to you. Right? Wrong. For most writers, a novel requires years of dedication to complete. The friends, family members, fellow writers and trusted test readers who understand, support and encourage you are critical to sustaining your energy. The who helps remind us that even at this stage there’s a team, and if you want to make the finish line, nurturing these relationships has to be the best investment you can make.

The publishing world simplifies

Value-judgements between self-publishing and Indie publishing and traditional publishing disappear. You stop worrying about which model is ‘right’ or ‘best’ or ‘will win’ when the goal changes to working with the most wonderful editors, cover artists, typesetters, etc available to you who believe in your books, and you expect your team to grow and evolve. So much simpler! So much less angst! In an industry re-inventing itself amidst the complexities of digital disruption and opportunity, that helps!

The economics become less critical

Effective teams share risks and rewards and are committed to the same goals, which means it’s good to share and you want others making money from your books. The focus settles firmly on who is on the team, not what dollars they may or may not earn. With terrific people, you win. By extension, you stop spending time calculating the finer economics of different distribution channels. If one does a better job reaching your readers, that’s what matters.

Recognizing your team is unique

Every book is different, when means every team is different, which means we all have the job of differentiating pretenders from our loyal allies. My mistakes illustrate!

I started marketing by reaching out to hundreds of reviewers and journalists and bloggers, but spun my wheels for weeks achieving precisely nothing. Then, after a few surprise successes, I followed up to establish where each one came from, and discovered every mention – every interview, review or recommendation – came via a loyal reader. A sharp reminder to stop chasing journalists and put the time into book groups! I also discovered my most powerful reader-advocates were bookstore managers. Ouch! Hadn’t I followed advice to the contrary? Leave bookstores alone? Too much effort, too little money? Put ’em last on the list? Now I did the opposite. These wonderful people cared. They were passionate. I hand delivered to as many as I could manage. In my case at least, they became critical members of the team.

It’s only a way of thinking, of course, but it’s nice to share it. In a rapidly changing and sometimes very confusing industry, I feel that focusing on the who has given me clear signposts at every junction on the writing journey so far.

What types of people make up your team? How did you find them? How do you work with them? Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.

skinjobBruce McCabe is an an incorrigible explorer, entrepreneur, writer and speaker who is passionate about people and the future.

Read more or buy Skinjob on Amazon here

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Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Rope weave by Seldom Scene Photography

Lessons Learned From A Game Changing London Book Fair 2014

The last few days at London Book Fair have been mind-blowing for me.

I feel this is a tipping point in my own author journey, and in this post I share with you what I have learned.

LBF Indie Millionaires(1) Ambitious authors can achieve 7 figure success as indies

This week I experienced the Indie Bestseller group of authors, made up of Bella Andre, Hugh Howey, Jasinda Wilder, Barbara Freethy, Liliana Hart, Candice Hern and Stephanie Bond, all of whom are incredibly successful as indie authors, both in terms of hitting the big lists, satisfying readers, and making a very good living.

I say ‘experienced’ because they are all forces of nature, working incredibly hard to express their creative selves, please readers and run international businesses. I met most of them personally and was able to chat and ask questions because they are not so well known in the UK so they weren’t mobbed all the time. I was basically a fan-girl for several days, hanging on every word!

I love to write and to create for its own sake, but I am also unashamedly a business-woman and entrepreneur.

We all have different definitions of success, but I would not have given up my day job in 2011 if I hadn’t seen that being an author could be a viable business. After 2.5 years, I’m currently earning about one third of what I was making as a business consultant, but in meeting the US Indies, I am even more confident that I can reach and surpass that. The penny has really dropped for me this time and I can see the path ahead.

Of course, Hugh Howey makes the point often that the outliers are not the success story of self-publishing, that we should be talking about the thousands of indies making good money, decent money, reaching readers and loving their lives as authors. Absolutely. But I am one of those already, and for me, the outliers are also the inspiration.

So let’s get a little deeper … There were a few over-arching things that seem to go into their success:

  • Focus on creating great books, for a specific audience. There was a lot of focus on brand, through cover design, through the author’s name, through the genre or related genres. Write in one name and one genre and do 5-6 books in that in order to grow a fan base, before trying something new, if you want to be successful fast.
  • Write a lot of books and produce them on a consistent schedule. To be a successful author, you need more than one book, for sure. But it seems you need more than 10 to make a very good living. Train your readers with what to expect and then deliver to that e.g. LBF14 Stands whether that is four books a year, or one a month.
  • Grow an email list and use at least one form of social media for connection with the readers
  • Allow time in the market – which enables development of craft and story, a slow build of readership and back-list creation which continues to grow the income every month.
  • Work incredibly hard. As many small business owners know, owning a business is not about balance. If you are an ambitious author who wants to earn the big money, you have to work your butt off. If you want to be treated more like an employee, and clock off at 5pm, then get a publishing deal, or continue in the day job.
  • Connect with other authors. Learn from each other. Connect with retailers as well, and play around with working together on different things. Be generous in helping others as much as you can, but always focus on the next book.

I am crazily encouraged by these things, because I am doing all of this already at a smaller scale. There is no magic bullet, it’s just this list, which should be nothing new if you’ve been reading this blog for a while.

This year’s LBF has been a game-changer for me as I caught a glimpse of my possible future in these wonderful, entrepreneurial indie authors. I feel like I am about three years behind them – so watch out for J.F.Penn in spring 2017!

Check out the video below or here on YouTube from Barbara Freethy, author of 37 books which have sold over 4 million copies. Barbara talks about going from author to CEO of a creative business, as well as branding, writing in a series, connecting with readers and what’s coming next in the indie world.

bella andre books(2) “We don’t do marketing … But everything we do is marketing” – Bella Andre

I love this quote, as I totally agree with it. At this point, I feel like my whole life is marketing in that all I do is share what I love with people who want to hear about it!

Bella and Hugh Howey particularly talked about the book itself as marketing – the brilliant story, delivering on the promise to the reader, a consistent production schedule, covers that evoke the emotion of the story, the author’s name, the title and sub-title, the sales description and keywords, email and newsletters. All this is ‘marketing’ but it is also just the job of an author.

Bella stressed the importance of the author name on covers, as well as a recognizable cover branding – although changing this up over time was also encouraged if your covers look dated. Readers will likely forget the title of your books, but they shouldn’t forget you as the author.

(3) Stay confident in your brand, and keep writing

Don’t jump on trends, as they come around again. Barbara Freethy mentioned that she has seen the vampire craze at least three times in her career as an author, and she has just stuck to what she writes. The readers will stick around and then the author will find that the circle turns and their genre is trendy again. So keep delivering on your promise to the reader.

JF Penn with Steena Holmes at LBF 14

JF Penn with Steena Holmes at LBF 14

I also talked about this with USA Today bestselling author Steena Holmes, who said:

“It’s not actually about writing what you want as an indie. If you want success, you have to focus on your readers, and if you want faster success, you should keep satisfying that core group of readers as that will bring you organic growth through word of mouth.”

Basically, keep writing in one genre, or at least related genres so you get crossover between customers. Deepen that one vertical.

(4) Expanding into audio rights can be a lucrative business move

one day in opened up to UK authors this week, and excitingly, my book ‘One Day In Budapest,‘ is one of the first to be available through the new system. I’ve also got Desecration coming in the next month or so, and I already have Pentecost, Prophecy and Exodus up through a small press in the US.

Most of the Indie Bestseller group discussed how they were earning a great deal from audio now, and some even said that they could live off the audio proceeds alone. ACX is the only site available for royalty split deals right now, which makes it a great deal for indies. The biggest tip from Bella Andre was that ‘you live and die’ on the professionalism and skill of the narrator, so choose carefully.

In terms of advertising audiobooks, check out Bella’s audiobook page and consider it as a template for your own.

(5) How to go from being an author to being the CEO of a global business

This is something I think about a lot right now, as there are huge benefits to being an indie, but one of the drawbacks is that you do have to do everything yourself … or do you?

That seems to be the crux point for the Indie Bestsellers – how much can you outsource? and to who?

Bella Andre Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn with Bella Andre, LBF 2014

Bella Andre still does her own cover design, but most other authors outsource that. Other outsourced tasks are editing (of course), proof-reading, audio narration quality control, file formatting, some PR activities through launch period, rights negotiation, website design and technical things, accounting and reporting as well as data analysis.

The main thing that everyone agreed on was that the author remains the creator of content and is also in charge of connection with fans. Those two are non-negotiable. I’ll be getting into this topic more as I work on a new non-fiction book about the business of being an author, hopefully out in the autumn 2014.

In the video below, Bella talks about her tipping point, the importance of community amongst authors and readers. You can also watch it here on YouTube.

For brilliant tweets that minute the main author events and a different perspective from mine, check out Paris Marx’s round-up of day 1 and day 2 of London Book Fair, and his twitter stream for #LBF14.

Finally, it seems to me that indie authors exist in a different dimension, a world of infinite possibility

I started my week at Digital Minds, the pre-conference day run as part of London Book Fair at a separate conference centre. The opening speech was by Anthony Horowitz, who I think is a brilliant author, but his words made me think that I am living in a completely different world to him and many of those in the established publishing industry.

Most of the sessions of the day seemed to be two years out of date, rather than future focused. The questions asked of Hugh Howey, Orna Ross and Jon Fine indicated that many people still don’t understand what indie authors are about, or are even interested in working with us or learning things together. I see this new world of publishing as infinite possibility in an ever-expanding world of opportunity, but the atmosphere was sombre.

open up to indiesCompare that to how I ended my LBF, at the second birthday party of the Alliance of Independent Authors, where, alongside the brilliant Orna Ross, I hosted a line up of amazing indie authors performing and reading their work.

The picture left has some of the characters involved, from the left and clockwise: Debbie Young, Hugh Howey, Diego Marano, Dan Holloway, Orna Ross, and Jessica Bell. The picture was taken at the launch of Open Up To Indie Authors, a campaign to get the establishment to let indies be part of festivals, bookstores, prizes and more.

Amazon ACX and Audible sponsored the party along with KDP and Createspace, and the pub was packed with talented writers, and business people working in the new industry that the indie world is made up of, many of whom make a significant income reaching readers directly.

acx nookpressIt was an electrifying night, and it’s pretty amazing to think how far this new world has come in such a short time. Three years ago, when I moved back to the UK, self-publishing was still a dirty word, and now we are a strong and growing creative and entrepreneurial force in the industry.

But we are really just getting started in this new world.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen NookPress finally open up to authors outside the US, as well as the launch of ACX for UK authors. Indies have got ebooks and print-on-demand in English pretty much nailed, and audio in English about to boom … but the next wave of expansion is global penetration and international translations and rights deals, and this has segment of the market has barely even started yet.

In the last two weeks, I have published my own books on Nook, and worked with two audiobook narrators on ACX. I have two books in German coming out in the next few months, as well as Italian and Spanish in the works. I also have a right agent working on other deals, so of course, I’ll report on my experiences more in coming months. By this time next year, at LBF 2015, I expect things to have changed all over again.

My author friends, we live in interesting times and I am ridiculously excited! I hope you are too!

What are you excited about? Please leave a comment below and join the conversation.

No More Excuses About Writing. Fire The Muse And Go To Work.

At Harrogate Crime Festival last year, I heard Lee Child being interviewed on his incredibly successful Jack Reacher series.

hard hat area

When asked about his writing process, Lee mentioned being like a trucker. A trucker doesn’t get up in the morning and wonder whether or not to get in the truck and do his job. He just does, and off he drives. So, Lee said, he just gets in his version of the truck and writes. It’s a job, just do it.

This workman attitude also resonates through Steven Pressfield’s book ‘Turning Pro,’ which sits on my desk and which I re-read every new year.

In today’s guest post, author Anthony St Clair expounds on this theme, opening with a casual chat that sparked the idea.

“So, you what, sit down and wait for the muse?”

My father-in-law’s question made sense. A master electrician and project manager, he heads up the installation of massive industrial electrical systems. But when he asked me about how I write and work, something clicked.

“No,” I replied. “When you get down to it, my job actually has a lot more in common with yours.”

“What do you mean?”

“I view writing as less of an art and more of a craft or trade,” I said. “The ‘electrician muse’ doesn’t need to show up so you can do your job. You get up every day, put on your hard hat, and get it done.”

“I always thought writers need to be inspired.”

“Not anymore than you do, really,” I replied. “You plan out big projects and work on them piece by piece, day by day, until the larger whole is done. It’s the same for me. I plan out a project in advance. Then in the moment I deal with what’s happening on the page in a scene. I don’t wait for the muse. I don’t need a muse. I know what I need to do, so I work at it every day until the book is done.

This small chat between me and my father-in-law evolved my understanding of my writing and of my role as an author entrepreneur. Over the past year I’ve published 2 books and have a third coming out later this year. All my stories are based in an ongoing, non-sequential series that already has more material than I could write in one lifetime. And 5-6 days a week I get up, put on my metaphorical hard hat, and go to work.

It’s easy to think of fields like electrical work or plumbing as being inferior to writing. They’re not.

As John W. Gardner, former president of the Carnegie Corporation, once said:

“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

The same holds for writing. So today I’m going to share four things that help me get my writing done. My goal here is to help you kick the habit of the muse and inspiration, and to motivate you to show up, write, and get it done, every day, in the manner that works best for you.

Put on your hard hat and go to work

Authors have an ongoing destructive love affair with the idea of the solitary, spontaneous creative binge. Our media love it too. You know how it goes:

OMG. Jane McWriterpants had this brilliant idea, locked herself in her room, drank 4 bottles of scotch and 20 pots of coffee, didn’t eat for 3 days, and came out Monday morning with a finished book. And did you see how many zeroes were on the check a publisher had sent her as an advance by lunchtime?

Isn’t that a great story? It’s something else: nonsense.

Architects don’t design buildings overnight. New houses aren’t built over a long weekend because the carpenter had a brilliant dream about lumber. Writers are no different.

At best, the spontaneous creative binge is an outlier. Mostly it’s just a lie.

It’s like the muse, which trips up many writers. The muse is counterproductive. You don’t need one. If the muse doesn’t show up to work every day, then fire the muse and keep showing up yourself.

Getting your book done means making it happen every day. Just like a building, there’s a lot to do. Part of your job is breaking down a massive project like a book into smaller pieces that you can work on every day, according to your needs and schedule, until you arrive at the end of the story.


Another lie of the spontaneous creative binge is that no planning is required. Some authors can pull this off. One of the best modern examples is Tom Robbins, who famously writes with no plan, but word by word follows the story until he’s done. You can just about typeset his first draft.

You are not him.

At least, I know I’m not. I’ve tried to just sit down and write. I fail. Most writers fail. Then they think they can’t write at all.

All that matters in writing is understanding—and applying—what works for you. What works for me is meticulous planning, but it’s also the planning that helps me be creative, find insights, and take new directions.

Planning a book does not mean an inflexible, unwieldy outline. Nor does it mean you have to know every minor character’s first job and second cousin. Planning a book means you have enough of an idea of what your book is about, who is part of the story, and why the story needs to be told, so that you can get up every day and keep making the book happen.

Believe it or not, planning also means being flexible.

Deal with what comes up on the job

Planning is important, but things don’t always go according to plan.

This is similar to working through problems on a construction site. You can have all the blueprints and meetings in creation, but until you’re actually working on the site with the real materials, you don’t know how things are going to go. You have a plan to rely on, but you also have to expect changes, be flexible, and adapt.

Each of my three books had points in the manuscript where what the story needed to do was not what I originally planned. I had to make changes not only to what I was working on, but sometimes to parts already written and parts I hadn’t written yet

Changes make me grateful for all the planning I’ve done. When I get to something that needs to change from what I originally planned, I can roll with it, adjust other parts of the story as needed, and keep going. By knowing in advance where I think the story will go, I can adapt when the story turns in a different direction.

Get it done

As Apple’s Steve Jobs once said, “Real artists ship.” Here’s what he meant: you can tweak and rework forever unless you stop yourself and decide you have reached a point where the book is good enough to release.

Or to put it another way, popular in American culture, “Get it done.”

We can wring our hands forever about a piece having flaws. Then an old journalism adage reminds us: “Done is better than perfect.”

It’s true.

Our job is to tell our stories truly and wholly, and to the best of our ability. If we can say confidently that we’ve done that, then it’s time to write “THE END” and celebrate.

Then it’s time to go through the next steps of getting the story into the world—beta readers, editors, designers, you name it. But for now, fire the muse.

Make your book part of your every day. Get it done.

Do this, and you stand a far greater chance of getting your flawed but finished story out into the world.

You can always do a better job on the next book.

And you will.

How do you get your writing work done when inspiration doesn’t strike? Please share your thoughts below in the comments and join the conversation.

home sweet roadGlobetrotter, homebrewer and writer Anthony St. Clair has walked with hairy coos in the Scottish Highlands, choked on seafood in Australia, and watched the full moon rise over Mt. Everest in Tibet. Anthony’s travels have also taken him around the sights and beers of Thailand, Japan, India, Canada, Ireland, the USA, Cambodia, China and Nepal. He and his wife live in Oregon and gave their son a passport for his first birthday. His latest book is Home Sweet Road, out now on Amazon and other ebook stores.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons hard hat area by Jason Eppink

Writing Fiction: 5 Lessons From Game Of Thrones

Game of Thrones fever is at its peak as Season 4 finally hits the screens.

game of thronesWe haven’t had a TV for years now, but in the last few months, we’ve watched the whole series, glued to the drama of Westeros and the battle for the Iron Throne.

As a viewer, I have been addicted to the story, and as a writer, I bow my head to a master story creator and world builder. It must be the ambition of every creative to see their work loved as widely as Game of Thrones now is. The adaptation to screen is fantastic, creating new fans outside the realms of the fantasy genre and drawing more into the books.

Even if you haven’t watched it, here are my lessons learned from the fantastic books and TV series.

(1) High stakes = excitement, anticipation and addiction in your audience

The stakes can’t get much higher than those fought over in this saga, and it keeps viewers hooked as the plot ratchets up all men must dieeach episode. The stakes include:

  • Control of the Iron Throne which guides all the battles. Who will rule the Seven Kingdoms?
  • Life and death. The body count is truly incredible, with no character safe from the executioner’s axe. Each character is fighting for survival – against the other families, against the cold and the supernatural forces of the north, against their own kind. Favorite characters are killed off all the time, and the shock of their deaths makes the uncertainty of existence ever more real.
  • Family honor. What use is your life if you haven’t upheld the honor of the family?
  • Religion. As the Lord of Light seems nascent, the followers of the Seven, as well as the Old Gods still fight for their believers.

(2) Take the audience out of their lives for a time

Life is hard, and in Westeros, life is even harder. To watch, or to read, is to live vicariously in a world where most die by the sword, or by the hand of famine, or war. To be immersed in this story is to leave behind a mundane commute, a row with a partner or child, a hated job and financial worries, even for just an hour.

Adding a supernatural element enhances this ‘other-worldliness.’ Who doesn’t like dragons? and particularly cute baby ones daeneryswho emerge from the flames on the beautiful naked body of Daenerys?

How about a demon shadow assassin born from the body of the Red Woman? Or the White Walkers, the undead?

(3) Give everyone a character to root for

There’s a character for everyone in Game of Thrones, whatever your gender, age or sexual appetite.

I write about kick-ass women in my own fiction, so I was thrilled to find lots of strong women in the saga. Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons, is much more than a pretty blonde. ‘Drakarys,’ she says, and men are burned to dust. Arya Stark and Brianne of Tarth, feisty women who fight. I even find Ceisei Lannister, the evil Queen, fascinating, unflinching from murder, incest and lust.

There are interesting characters like Tyrion Lannister, the Imp, a dwarf whose arc moves from being a lecherous drunk into running the kingdom, loving and being hurt. I’ve read more of the books, so I won’t say where he ends up …

(4) Create humorous breaks in the carnage

The audience needs time to breathe, a moment of calm and a smile in between the bloodshed. Shakespeare did this so well in his tragedies, and George RR Martin does the same, creating funny interludes when things are getting too dark. The jokes often come out of Tyrion’s mouth in the TV adaptation, with Bron as a sidekick, although I have noted in the book tyrion lannisterthat there are fewer quips. One such moment is the squire Poderick’s sexual prowess, despite his innocence in bed.

 (5) Evoke emotion

Game of Thrones has it all.

The loving father murdered in front of his daughters; the girl who loses her beloved pet; the beaten and abused wife; the mother whose sons are murdered; the fighter who loses his sword hand and his whole reason to be; the mocked outsider.

The emotional roller-coaster of the series hooks you in – and the TV show more than the book because it tightens the action and enhances it, cutting out the long lists of tourneys and the conquest of knights. The theme music even evokes a Pavlovian response in devotees. At least it certainly does for me now! I heard it played recently in the London Underground by a busker with an electric guitar, and I gave him some money because my heart swelled and I wanted more!

Are you a Game of Thrones fan? What have you learned from either the books or the TV series? Please join the conversation in the comments below.