Why Authors Should Consider Graphic Novel Adaptations With Nathan Massengill

Today’s podcast episode will get you super excited about the possibilities of adapting your work into a graphic novel. It’s definitely become one of my goals after talking with Nathan.

In the intro I mention the expansion of Nook into the UK and other European countries, some of the lessons learned from hitting the NY Times & USA Today lists with the Deadly Dozen box-set, an update on my own writing, and I mention the brilliant LearnScrivenerFast training.

The podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

nathan massengillNathan Massengill is the author and artist for the Viscera graphic novel series. His comic credits include Wolverine, X-Men, Batman and other New York Times best-selling comics. He’s also collaborated with notable creatives, including Joss Whedon on Buffy and also with Christopher Nolan.

You can watch the video of the interview here on YouTube, or listen to the audio podcast above, or by subscribing here. You can read the full transcription below. Highlights of the conversation include:

  • Nathan’s background in comics and how the fans of comics really are super-fans
  • Why strong female characters are so interesting (and rare) in comics, and why Nathan chose to write one in Visceraviscera
  • Why we love superheroes and action violence
  • How Nathan actually creates comics
  • How the distribution works with comics including Amazon’s new Kindle ComicCreator tool
  • Why authors should adapt their books into graphic novels
  • How to find and work with graphic novelists
  • On crowdfunding for graphic novels

You can find Nathan at NathanMassengill.com and Viscera comic at RingRunning.com. Nathan is also on twitter @NAMartist.  You can read the full transcription below, and please leave a comment if you have experience with graphic novels or have any questions for Nathan.

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Adapting Shakespeare To Thriller Pacing And Academic Publishing With AJ Hartley

One of my favorite books of 2013 was an adaptation of Macbeth, which I recommended as part of my Christmas reading list. Today I’m thrilled to bring you an interview with one of the co-authors, A.J.Hartley.

In the intro, I mention that Deadly Dozen, the box-set I was part of, hit the USA Today list  AND the New York Times bestseller list – woohoo!

The podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
AJ Hartley

A.J. Hartley is the NY Times and USA Today  bestselling author of mystery/thriller, fantasy, historical fiction, and young adult novels. He’s also the Robinson Professor of Shakespeare studies at the University of North Carolina.

  • Andrew talks about his career, writing the kind of books he wants to read himself and he reads in many genres! It took twenty years of writing fiction and 8 books for Andrew to get published in the days before ebooks and self-publishing. He went into academia as a career and had been teaching Shakespeare for ten years before selling his first novel.

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What Is Your Definition Of Success? How Do You Measure It?

One of the inherent parts of being human is a general dissatisfaction with where we are. However much we achieve, we often want more.


This has an evolutionary benefit as it means we are always striving, always creating, always building. But it’s important to recognize your achievements, so whatever you decide you want, you also need to establish how you will measure this success.

I’ve also been thinking about it in the wake of the discussions around the Author Earnings site, which has had the industry blogs all aflutter and brought out the agent and publisher big guns to discuss the impact of self-publishing. Some have said that the report is turning the focus to money, that writing should be about creativity and the rewards are in the work themselves.

But it’s important to remember that we are not a homogenous bunch, and we all strive for different things, for different reasons.

For me, it comes down to three questions:

  • What is your definition of success – for this particular book and for your writing career?
  • How will you track and measure that success?
  • What do you want to do with that success? What is the point in your work?

It will also tend to change over time as your definition of success will be dependent on the progression of your writing career. In this article, I outline some of the more common responses to the question, as well as potential options for measurement.

(1) I want to create something I am proud of and hold my book in my hand 

This is perhaps where we all start – with the desire to finish a project and create something tangible. This is also why most first time authors want a printed book.

Arthur J Penn and Joanna Penn

Arthur J Penn with Joanna Penn, celebrating!

I helped my 9 year old niece publish her first book, which led her to win national prizes speaking publicly about the experience. I also helped my Dad with his historical thriller, Nada. Neither of these are really commercial prospects, so the focus of success is more on creativity, which is a totally brilliant reason to write a book!

If this is your goal, check out this article on how to self-publish and look at print-on-demand options. If you don’t want to DIY, I would also recommend you read ‘Choosing a self-publishing service,’ by the Alliance of Independent Authors so you can avoid the (ever-increasing) scams in this growing industry.

(2) I want to see my book on the shelves of a bookstore

We have shopped in bookstores all our lives and for many of us, the bookstore is a place of solace as well as adventure. When I was most miserable in my job, I would go to the bookstore at lunchtime and indulge in retail therapy to escape my life for a time. To see a book with our own name on it on those shelves must surely be every authors dream.

This is easy to measure but the truth is that it is extremely difficult to get into bookstores as an independent author. It’s also costly even if you can manage it because of discounting and returns.

Folio Books windowYou can definitely do it – as Dean Wesley Smith explains in this article. It’s also possible to build relationships with your local bookstore as Karen Inglis, children’s author, has done. But it’s about where you want to spend your energy, and for me, print distribution is not a major concern.

I’ll admit that this is still a dream of mine and I’m definitely open to print only deals with traditional publishing, but it is no longer a definition of my success.

(3) I want to reach readers with my words

This is fantastic but I always challenge this definition of success, because it is so intangible. If you want to reach readers, then just put your book out for free and on every platform in the world, as Seth Godin did with ‘The IdeaVirus’ a few years ago. But most people don’t mean this kind of ‘reach.’

So be more specific – does it mean 10 x 5 star reviews on Amazon? Does it mean a fan email from a reader you have never met and who isn’t your friend or family member? Or should you measure this reach in book sales?

(4) I want to sell 10,000 copies of my book/s

This is a better definition than (3) because it is measurable and you know when you get there. The number is obviously dependent on many things: the genre you write in, as a children’s picture book will sell far fewer copies than a commercial romance novel; a literary novel will generally sell less than a commercial thriller. It is also dependent on how many books you have, as you will more easily reach higher figures with more books.

This volume type of definition will also change over time. I started off with 1000 books as a goal when I only had one book. Then I moved to 10,000, and I am just about to crack 100,000 so now my goals have changed again.

(5) I want to win a literary prize and receive literary/critical acclaim

You can achieve this as an independent author. The Alliance of Independent Authors has an Open Up To Indies campaign, which will hopefully mean that more prizes and festivals are open to self-published books over time. There’s also been the recent success of A Naked Singularity by Sergio de la Pava, which started out as self-published and won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham prize and has been shortlisted for the Folio prize.

But you’re still far more likely to win a literary prize if you go through the traditional publishing route. It’s the goal of most MFA programs to produce books capable of winning prizes. As for critical acclaim, again, you’re more likely to get that through traditional publishing and reviews in literary journals.

If this is your goal, you should also be aware of recent research that shows literary prizes can make the book less popular. So this definition of success may be incompatible with making a full-time living as an author.

(6) I want to make a full-time living with my writing

Again, I challenge this because the definition of ‘full-time living‘ is different by country, even by region, as well as the huge difference between income needs from a family with kids to a professional couple or single writer. Try and be specific about the actual figure you are aiming for, and think about how that may grow over time, based on how much you are writing over the next few years, as well as your own financial requirements.

author earningsThen have a look at the Author Earnings website to see if your genre is likely to earn that kind of money. Follow authors like HM Ward, Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, CJ Lyons, Bob Mayer, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch who all make a great living writing books. Study how they write, how they run their creative businesses and their recommendations.

Making a full-time living became my goal in 2009, and in September 2011, I left my job as an IT consultant to become a full-time author-entrepreneur. I make about one third of the income I used to make back then, but downsizing, paying off debt and changing my own definition of what a ‘full-time income‘ was meant that I could leave the job I hated and start this new creative life.

An income goal is not necessary for everyone, and for many, creativity alone is the reward.

But I have been challenged on my own focus so I have been thinking about it a lot recently. My desire to earn (very) good money stems from my upbringing by a single Mum who worked long hours to provide for me and my brother. I am married, but my financial independence as a woman is incredibly important to me, and I’ve had paying work since I was 14.

My lifestyle is also important, with travel being a part of what I define as a good life rather than ownership of physical


Cycling down the Western Ghats from Ooty into the tea plantations

things. Last year I had several weeks cycling through South India, and this year I will be in Canada, Spain or Israel, as well as back in New Zealand. So the ‘why’ behind my definition of success is around my self-esteem as a financially independent woman, as well as wanting to live life on my own terms.

(7) I want to create a body of work I am proud of over my lifetime

This is the definition that will keep you honest about your creative output. You won’t rush a book to publication. You won’t put a book out without a professional edit, or a professional cover. You will strive for the best this particular project can be.

I am trying to balance this with (6) above and it can be difficult. Part of me wants to learn to write faster and produce more words, but my books are characterized by deep research and a sense of place, both of which require a longer writing process. I also want to live a life of research and travel so I want to honor that part of my process.

In the end, I want to write for the rest of my life, hopefully another 50 years, so I’m in this for the long haul. How about you?

I want to hear from you on this important topic. What is your definition of success? How has it changed as your writing has progressed? Who are your role models for success? Please leave a comment below and join the discussion.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Clouds by Jonathan Kos-Read

Die Empty. Managing Your Creative Rhythm With Todd Henry

As authors, we have to manage the production of work, but also the care of our creative souls. There’s a quote from Charles Bukowski that has been doing the rounds on social media, “Find what you love and let it kill you,” but personally, I want a long term career and I want to have a good time along the way! In today’s interview I talk to Todd Henry, author of ‘Die Empty,’ about how we can manage our creative lives.

The podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

todd henryTodd Henry is the bestselling author of Die Empty: Unleash your best work everyday, and Accidental Creative. He’s also the founder of Accidental Creative, a business that helps creative people generate ideas.

  • Todd did a degree in marketing and then spent a few years in the music business, before working with a creative team. With long hours and high pressure, Todd started to wonder how creativity could be sustained and fostered over a long term career. He started a podcast, The Accidental Creative, to start a conversation about creativity in the marketplace. This morphed into a business, and Todd writes books as well as speaking and consulting with teams on productive creativity.
  • On ‘Die Empty’ and provocative book titles. We all have a finite amount of time and resources in this life, so we have to choose how to spend them wisely. Don’t take your best work to the grave with you. Take steps every day to spend yourself on a body of work you can be proud of. Be more intentional about how you spend your limited time and resources.
  • On the balance between giving your all and refreshing the creative well. We need rhythms in our life. It’s less about work/life balance, and more about the rhythm of being effective. There are productive phases and other times when we need to recharge and relax. I mention the sign on my wall, ‘Write to live. What is living today?’ as this is something I am very aware of. Todd mentions this ability to judge rhythm is part of being a mature creative, recognizing signs of burnout and shifting energy as necessary. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • On mapping, making and meshing. Mapping is planning and strategizing, outlining stories. Making is the shipping aspect, the actual production. Meshing is the rest of life, the living that helps us bring all our creative strands together, developing your skillset, understanding what you do, finding your voice and all the things that are less measurable. You need all of this, but the focus of many creatives is often just on making. The cult of shipping seems to be prevalent right now. As the questions: what am I really trying to achieve here? what is the why behind what I am doing?
  • How do we take a long view of our body of work when we have bills to pay this month? You will be judged by the body of work you produce so you have to decide. You need to look at four aspects: Focus. Assets. Time. Energy. You need to choose where you focus and what your overall goal is. Assets are your resources, financial, relational. Time and Energy are your finite resources that you need to decide on every week. Ask yourself – why am I doing this? What is the overall goal? Be honest about it.
  • We talk about Todd’s next book which will be around finding your voice. He finds writing very difficult but it is the best way to get his ideas out in the world. A book is portable equity, turning ideas into tangible form, helping you spread your message. We talk about the difficulty of judging the quality of our own work, and the importance of editors, and time away from the text in order for it to become unfamiliar.
  • On Todd’s entrepreneurial business. We talk about the book and the audiobook (which he read), as well as his consulting and public speaking appearances. This is a common business model for non-fiction authors, when the book is more of an introduction to ideas and then the author earns more from the ‘back end’ after the book. You have to package the idea so it is easily accessible from a lot of different angles, and then you can apply that to a broad market by slightly reframing the topic every time.
  • On podcasting for marketing, and how it helps to create a connection through the personality of voice and expression in video. We both think it is a great thing to be doing to build an audience who care for the long term as it is so authentic. Here’s my tips on how to podcast.
  • Todd is traditionally published and we have a chat about the changes in the publishing industry, how we are on the cusp of great change. There are many great things about the rise of self-publishing but Todd has some concerns around how the device owners in the music industry let the quality of the content slip, because their income was more about devices. Pricing expectations have changed, which has affected authors (like Todd) who publish through traditional publishing. Discovery is also the biggest problem for everyone.

die emptyYou can find Todd at ToddHenry.com and his podcast and blog at AccidentalCreative.com as well as on twitter @toddhenry

You can find Die Empty: Unleash your best work every day here on Amazon, as well as Todd’s other book, The Accidental Creative: How to be brilliant at a moment’s notice.

Do you have any thoughts or questions? Please do leave a comment below.


Create Something Together. Artistic Collaboration In Action.

I’m fascinated by collaboration, and I think the indie community fosters it these days. 

paint potsIndie authors don’t work alone. We need editors, cover designers, graphic artists, illustrators, beta readers, translators and tech support on our team. We need author friends to support us in the difficult times, and to ask questions of when we’re lost. Authors are writing more books together, utilizing both networks of readers to spread the word and there’s even a marketing trend right now where authors are collaborating on box-sets to storm the charts.

But you can go further than collaborating with other writers and the supporting industries. You can start looking at the other artistic spheres for collaborative opportunity. For my latest print book, Desecration, I used amazing visual images, with specific permissions, from a Cabinet of Curiosities collection by Suzanne Norris of SakuraSnow. With my words, and her images, we created a gorgeous new finished product. 

In today’s article, the fantastic Dan Holloway, author, spoken word poet and polymath, talks about some more ways collaboration can be used.

As writers, we spend a lot of time with other writers. And although most of us will admit to a whole host of interests outside of our writing lives, for many of us they remain just that – outside of our writing lives.

My great passion has always been art, with music not far behind.

I guess I was naïve when I started self-publishing, not really knowing many others who were doing it at the time other than the close group of friends I had at the Year Zero collective, which 22 of us had started up in January 2009 in protest at the publishing world’s lack of opportunities for new literary fiction, and Guy Gonzalez of Digital Book World, who when he wasn’t talking digital publishing was one of the US’ leading slam poets.

So I didn’t really know that writing was writing and other stuff was, well, other stuff. What I knew was that I loved indie rock music, the musicians I’d met at gigs shared pretty much exactly the same artistic ethos as I did, that one of the writers I respected, and still do respect, most in the world, Marc Nash, used to work at the iconic Rough Trade in Brick Lane, and that one of my good friends James Rhodes was currently taking pops at the Classical music scene by making his concerts more gig-like and doing rather well out of it thank you.

hugerford bridge

(Veronika von Volkova’s photograph of the world famous skatepark situated in the Undercroft of the Southbank, with words from my poem Hungerford Bridge, which was inspired by the iconic setting. This is one of a series of postcards Veronika and I have produced together)

Which meant, when I came to organise the launch of my first book, which was to be my first ever reading, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to get in touch with my favourite acoustic musician (I had at least figured out that fully-amped and bookshop wasn’t a match made in heaven, though that would change in time…), the wonderful Jessie Grace. I borrowed a trick from James and made a minimalist and beautifully laid out set of A5 programme notes, and Jessie and I split the night between us, each with two fifteen minute sets, alternating music and reading. I should add, for those of you who only know me as a performance poet, this was a long time before I discovered poetry. This was prose at its prosaic prosiest.

amniotic city(Lucy Furlong’s Amniotic City is a brilliant example of the way that not confining yourself to the use of one medium can help you create a “book” that is not only unique but does better justice to the words you have written)

More than 60 people turned up that night, some of them to see Jessie and some of them to see me. She sold CDs, not all of them to people who had come to see her. I sold books, not all of them to people who had come to see me. Which meant I never unlearned the fact that it made perfect sense for writers to share the floor with people from other arts. My next event, held at Rough Trade, featured three writers and three music acts (including Jessie), and it went from there.

I soon learned that there is no reason why literature should be confined to bookstores – I have staged collaborative events everywhere from an art gallery in a castle turret in Oxford to the theatre on the ground floor of Manchester’s legendary Afflecks to a burlesque club in Stoke Newington. And yes, I’ve brought fully-amped electronica into bookstores.

lilith_event1(You can find full details and numerous pictures of the day long installation Lilith Burning here. Katelan and I used photography, physical collage, both of our storytelling skills, her modelling experience, and collaboration with an art gallery and a bookstore to create an event that got many of the independent retailers not to mention book lovers in Oxford talking about both of our work)

And I’ve moved beyond just collaborating with musicians.

In 2010 I worked with the amazing New York based artist, model, and photographer (as well as writer and publisher) Katelan Foisy on an installation on the streets of Oxford that morphed into a reading, and for the past two years and more, I have worked on numerous collaborations with the amazing Canadian photographer Veronika von Volkova (who is currently running a series about our collaborations on her tumblr ).

She is more than just my cover photographer (although she is that). I have used her art as the backdrop for my performances, to create exquisite postcards, and most recently I used her Grime Angels series as the artwork for my long-form poem SKINBOOK.

Creatively speaking I have found myself learning things and taking steps I could never have imagined through my collaborations.

But they have also been fabulous ways of bringing my work to new audiences. And not just random new audiences but audiences of people many of whom love what I do, just as many of the people who like my books absolutely love what the artists and musicians I work with do. Because our taste in literature isn’t just about our taste in literature. It reflects a fundamental part of us, the same part of us that also expresses itself through a love of certain music and certain art. And many people who love the same music and art as us do so because it reflects a fundamental part of them that also expresses itself in the kind of literature we write.

So working with people in other creative disciplines ticks so many boxes.

In short:

  • It widens our creative horizons and expands our creative vocabulary.
  • It expands our network of brilliant creative people.
  • It gives our existing fans something truly valuable by exposing them to other things they will love.
  • It brings our work to whole new audiences, many of whom will then become part of our fanbase.

And not to be ignored:

  • It creates all sorts of possibilities for producing interesting collaborative merchandise!

How are you collaborating as a creative right now? Or how would you like to? Please do leave a comment or question below.

spi cover draft 10dan hollowayDan Holloway’s Self-publish With Integrity: Define Success in Your Own Terms and then Achieve it is now available for Kindle.

The book, which includes chapters on community building, handling self-doubt and never being afraid to be yourself, is intended as a guide to help self-publishing writers discover, and then stay true to, their fundamental writing goals, helping them steer a path through the maze of how to guides, helpful advice, and other obstacles that beset them at every stage of their writing life so that achieve long-term happiness and success on the only terms that count: their own.

Top Image: Flickr Creative Commons Water colour paints by DGoomany