Recommended Books For Writing, Self-Publishing, Book Marketing And Creative Entrepreneurship

These are some of the books I love and recommend for authors. I know there are gazillion more, but these have been the most useful to me on my own writing journey.

Books on Writing and Creativity

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen KingStephen King - On Writing. Insights about writing that will make you feel better about where you are. Even the uber-mega-stars have a difficult time! Includes timeless advice on ‘butt in chair.’

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamottbirdbybird. Includes life-changing opinions on first drafts and how bad they really are meant to be.

The Successful Novelist: A lifetime of lessons about writing and publishing – David Morrellsuccessful novelist. From the creator of Rambo, this book has some great comments on fame and money, as well as what really matters as a writer and in life. Here’s my interview with David Morrell about the book and his writing life.

Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the writer within – Natalie Goldberg.bones I love Natalie’s vulnerability and this book continues to help me when I feel like self-censoring.

STORY: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting – Robert McKeestory. Incredible for authors as well as screenwriters as the principles of storytelling are universal. I’ve learned so much from this book, and more from seeing him live. It’s also worth getting on audiobook as McKee is an incredible performer.

Story Engineering: Mastering the six core competencies of successful writing – Larry BrooksStory Engineering. This was the book that helped me write my first novel. Once the concept of ‘scene’ dropped for me, I was able to structure a story. Here’s my interview with Larry Brooks on the topic.

The War of Art: Break through the blocks and win your creative battles – Steven Pressfieldwar of art. Will make you feel better about the struggles of being an artist and will give you hope that you can make it through to a finished product. Here’s my interview with Steven Pressfield.

Turning Pro: Tap your inner power and create your life’s work – Steven Pressfield.Turning Pro Steven Pressfield Probably the book I re-read the most. I have it in ebook, print and audio format and revisit every new year. If you want to be a professional writer, this book will kick your ass!

The Pursuit of Perfection and how it harms writers – Kristine Kathryn Ruschperfection. If you struggle to write, finish a project or with doubt in general, this book will help. Something for every writer.

Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys To Creativity – Hugh McLeodignoreverybody. If you think it’s crazy to consider making money from something you love, look at how Hugh has transitioned from cartoons on the back of business cards to a huge online business. But first, you need to tap into your creativity …


Let’s Get Digital: How to self-publish and why you should – David Gaughranlets get digital. The most comprehensive book on self-publishing. David is a campaigner for indie rights, so this book is completely transparent with no hidden agenda.

Write. Publish. Repeat. The No-Luck Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success – Johnny B. Truant & Sean Plattwrite-publish-repeat. A comprehensive look at the business model of high-output fiction writers. Includes how to write fast, publish quickly and get your book to customers. They also have a video course on Udemy that goes through the aspects of the book. Here’s my interview with Sean Platt and separately with Johnny B Truant.

Choosing a Self Publishing Service – The Alliance of Independent Authorschoosing a self publishing service. Written by authors, for authors with no bias towards any service, this goes through how you can evaluate premium self-publishing companies and how to do it yourself.

Self-Publishers Legal Handbook – Helen Sedwicklegalhandbook. Contains information on using images as an indie, what to watch out for in contracts with self-publishing services, working with collaborators and much more.

Book Marketing

How to Market a Book – Joanna to market a book second edition Yes, this is my book (!) but I wrote it because I couldn’t find one single book that offered everything for authors in one. I’ve been studying marketing for years now and this is everything I have learned along the way. Updated Oct 2014.

Platform: Get noticed in a noisy world. A step-by-step guide for anyone with something to say or sell – Michael Hyattplatform. This is for any small business and does a great job of going through all the aspects of reaching an audience through a platform.

Let’s Get Visible: How to get noticed and sell more books – David Gaughranvisible300px. Focuses specifically on aspects of book selling online regarding Amazon algorithms, categories and optimizing your sales page.

Discoverability: Help readers find you in today’s world of publishing – Kristine Kathryn Ruschdiscoverability. With 30 years of experience in publishing and now a mentor for indie authors, Kris brings immense experience with all kinds of marketing to this book. Insights on what really works online and off.

1001 ways to market your books – John Kremer1001 ways. A fascinating resource with tons of offline marketing tips as well as online ones to help you get your book noticed.

Author Entrepreneur

Business for Authors: How to be an author entrepreneur – Joanna Pennbusiness for authors. Yes, it’s my book again! But after 13 years as a consultant, I bring my business head to the creative world and share how you can make a living as a writer.

Make Art, Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on fueling your creative career – Elizabeth Hyde Stevensmakeartmakemoney. Jim Henson was a puppeteer and a multi-millionaire and this book explores how he ‘played’ with both art and money, becoming incredibly successful in both.

success principlesThe Success Principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be – Jack Canfield. The book that changed my life and helped me to escape the day job and become an entrepreneur. Lesson 1: Take responsibility for 100% of everything in your life. You are where you are because of your choices. From the day I read that page, I started to make different choices.

The Compound Effect – Darren Hardycompound effect. Writing a few hundred words a day doesn’t seem like much. Saving a few hundred dollars a month doesn’t seem like much. Drinking water instead of soda doesn’t seem like much. But all these little things make a huge difference over time. This book will help you see the magic of compounding – and I have seen this in my own life. In 2007, I had no books, no website, no online audience, no podcast, no twitter – just a day job I hated. Little steps every day since then have changed my life.

The Four Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich – Tim Ferriss.four hour work week Helped me with the inspiration and education to leave my day job for the entrepreneurial life. It was the impetus to start this site and realistically consider a lifestyle change. Tim also has a brilliant podcast with some of the most interesting guests around.

$100 Startup – Chris Guillebeau: Reinvent the way you make a living, do what you love and create a new future100 startup. A more recent take on lifestyle design, opting out of traditional employment and how you can start an entrepreneurial venture for less than $100 – with LOTS of inspiring examples.

The Icarus Deception – Seth Godinicarus deception. Art isn’t a result. It’s a journey. Pick yourself and fly closer to the sun. I want everyone who has self-doubt about the creative process to read this book. It’s super inspiring – you can read some of my highlights from the book here.

Choose Yourself – James Altucherchoose yourself. A manifesto to ignore the middlemen and choose yourself in this age of opportunity. The corporate ‘work’ world is broken, the education system is a bubble waiting to burst – you need to take control of your life.

Manage your day-to-day. Build your routine, find your focus and sharpen your creative mindmanage day to day. From 99U. Creatives need time to play and dream, but also to knuckle down and sort out a production routine, a workspace and schedule. This has lots of small chapters on all things productivity related.

Just writing this list down has made me want to start reading them all over again!

What are your recommended books for writers in these categories? Please leave them in the comments below.

The Story Grid. How To Tell A Story And Edit Your Fiction With Shawn Coyne

If a reader can’t put your book down, it’s because you wrote a good story.

storygridAnd if a reader makes it to the end of the book and is satisfied, they are likely to buy your next book. And that makes for happy readers … and writers! In today’s show, I interview Shawn Coyne about his upcoming book, The Story Grid, which deconstructs the most effective way to tell stories based on the books we know and love.

In the introduction, I mention Amazon’s direct marketing tool for authors, offering pay-per-click style advertising opportunity – but it’s only for those people in KDP Select. I also talk about the new Author Earnings report, and my personal writing update.

This 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.

Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you for your support!

shawn coyneShawn Coyne is an editor, publisher, literary agent and writer. He’s one half of Black Irish Books alongside Steven Pressfield and he has a book coming soon called The Story Grid.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube here or read the notes and links below.

  • Shawn’s 25 years of publishing experience as an editor has enabled him to break down the best way to tell a story.

Writer’s need to learn how to edit themselves.

  • What do writers get wrong? Writers seem to be fearful or have contempt for ‘genre,’ even though this is core to story. Every story has a genre – it’s just a way of classifying what we’ve been telling for thousands of years. Writers need to embrace genre.
  • This will help you ask the right questions to work out if your book is working. Genre as Amazon category and how publishing has developed genre for the industry.
  • On writing as an artist, vs editing from the structural angle. Don’t edit on a first draft. The goal for your first draft is to get to the end. Shawn recommends an overview map, that gives you a highlight of what you need to hit in the story. foolscap methodHe calls this the Foolscap Method: what genre do you want to write in? Beginning hook, middle build and ending pay-off. It’s for when you want to take your story to the next level, OR/ it’s just a mess and you need to get it into shape. Change ‘hats’ to become an editor.
  • On getting better as a writer over time, with more books and stories under your belt.

On the change in story values and polarity shift in a scene

  • Story values are positive or negative things in our lives e.g. life vs death – but there’s also the fate worse than death = damnation; or justice – unfairness – injustice – tyranny. Damnation and tyranny here are the ‘negation of the negation,’ a very powerful change for a story.
  • The primary unit for a novelist or screenwriter is the scene. It has to have a value at state. It might be the overarching value of the whole story, OR/ it’s a value within the scene. When you start the scene, you are at a value – then turning point, something happens – and you end up at the polarity shift of values. A scene moves from one value to another – of a different polarity.
  • On writing screenplays to improve your storytelling, and some of the pros and cons of screenwriting.

Characteristics of breakout stories

  • Example of LA Requiem by Robert Crais, before he was a huge name. Taking the character to the negation of the negation, and going through extreme change, which means nothing will ever be the same. This is really back to story values. Understand the core value of the genre you write in and taking it to the end of the line.

On being a creative entrepreneur

  • Black Irish Books’ motto is “get in the ring.” This is to encourage authors to fight the creative fight, do those things that you know you have to push yourself into. Fight the inner war of Resistance.
  • On indie publishing and the new digital revolution. How Shawn has shifted from mainstream big publishers to choosing himself and starting Black Irish. Part of that decision is based on freedom of creative expression and the ability to try things out. On the entrepreneurial mindset and the type of person who suits the indie way of doing things. You can learn it, for sure, but there are people who are more suited to it. On launching and the long haul approach.

You can find Shawn Coyne at where you can register to be notified when the book is released in March 2015. You can also find Black Irish Books and their books and audios here.

Transcription of the interview with Shawn Coyne

Joanna: Hi, everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from, and today I’m here with Shawn Coyne. Hi, Shawn.

Shawn: Hi, Joanna, thanks for having me.

Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show. Just a little bit of an introduction: Shawn is an editor, publisher, literary agent, and writer. He’s one half of Black Irish Books, alongside Steven Pressfield, and he has a book coming out soon, called “The Story Grid,” which we’re talking about today—it’s very exciting.

So, Shawn, just to get started, you’ve been working with story and authors and books for 25 years; why this book, and why now?

Shawn: Well, the thing is, it took me a long time to learn actually how to do this, and over the years, I discovered that there wasn’t one text on how to edit a book, so I had to kind of develop my own system. Over that time, I’ve published and been part of over 300 books; I learned a little bit from each experience, and finally I started using this system, probably around 1995 or 1996, and that’s, coincidentally, when I started working with Steven Pressfield.

One of the first books that I worked with him on was “Gates of Fire.” Steve had given me the manuscript, and I went through it, and I said, “Oh, I’m going to put my grid on it,” and he was like, “What are you talking about, a grid, what do you mean?” So, over the years, I would tell him about this system, and eventually he said, “Just show me what it is that you do internally,” because I’d always sort of not use it because I thought nobody would really understand what I was talking about.

So I showed it to him one day, and he said, “You’ve got to write this book.” One of the major things that Steve always says is that writers need to learn how to edit themselves, and I couldn’t agree more. So the reason why it’s taken this long is a) it took me a long time to develop the system, and b) I was always sort of, “Well, whatever I know everybody knows anyway.” So when Steve said, “It’s really important that other people know what you’re doing,” that’s when I decided to do it now.

It’s taken me a good 15 months to actually get it all down, and I’m just at the finish line, as you know, that’s when all hell breaks loose!

Joanna: Yes, because you didn’t do cover design or any of that. We’ll come back to the business later, but you’re certainly going further than it used to. We’re going to come back to the Grid in a minute, because it’s really interesting and obviously detailed, but in your years of experience—because, of course, you mentioned self-editing, which is a skill authors need.

What do novel writers in particular get wrong with story that you wanted to highlight in the book?

Shawn: Well, one of my big things, and it’s one of the reasons why I call my literary agency Genre Management Incorporates, is that writers are just so fearful, for some reason, or have contempt for—I don’t know if that’s too strong—genre in and of itself. When somebody says, “Oh, that’s a genre book,” people immediately start to think of cheesy pulp fiction from the 1950s, and that is absolutely not the case. Every single novel, every single story: genre is just a fancy word for classifying those myths and great stories that we’ve been telling ourselves for thousands of years.

So the big mistake that writers make is they don’t embrace genre, and to understand exactly if they work within the genre structures, it will be immensely helpful whenever they hit a really bad patch of writing, or they’re just not inspired: there’s a whole series of questions that you can ask yourself that will get you going again.

Joanna: Which you go into in the book. Behind you, there’s actually the Clover, isn’t there. People can see that on the video, which is the Genre Clover. It’s interesting.

On genre, now, in my mind, because I do a lot online, genre to me is equal to an Amazon category. What would you say to that?

Shawn: Well, I think that’s a really interesting point. Just to get a little bit into the business of book publishing, years ago, when I first started, there was no Amazon, of course, so all the major publishers had to have a farm system of genre writers, who would be managed by an editor. One of the things that I did to get in was to specialize in mystery and crime fiction. So, when I started, I would bring in a lot of fresh blood and new writers, and I would work with them, and hopefully they would build up to become Michael Connolly or James Lee Burke, or Robert Crais: these are guys that I got to work with in my early years. It was wonderful to watch them move up.

So, back when the digital revolution came about, a lot of that work sort of fell by the wayside at the major publishers, so Amazon, wisely, started embracing genre again. Then they started these imprints, and they are now the farm system, in a lot of ways, for a lot of the up and coming young writers.

Genre does have connotations of crime, horror, love story, all those things, and I think that’s a great thing to remember, but it also has connotations for inner, internal plot movements, too, like the Maturation Plot, the Redemption Plot, all of those things that we think of more of literary writers: those are part of genre, too. Amazon has sort of taken the content genre business and taken advantage of the fact that the major publishers are no longer in the building game; they’re more in the breakout bestseller game.

Joanna: Which is fascinating. We’ll come back to your opinion on publishing a bit later! But let’s go into the Grid for a bit. The book is—I don’t want to say dense in a heavy way, I mean, it’s packed full of stuff. There is no way we can go into everything in this interview. I wanted to kind of tackle some higher-level bits. Let’s just even go into the concept. Some of the stuff you’re saying, you’re breaking a structure into sections, and a lot of writers resist this deconstruction of a story: “Why can’t I just write what I love to write and let it flow and blah-blah-blah?”

So, how do we manage that creative side versus your Grid and this structure?

Shawn: Well, I would literally think of yourself in two very specific ways, and I think you’re absolutely right: the writer person needs to be free. They just do. And needs to be open to being able to flow with whatever it is is coming off their subconscious, or whatever. So, when you’re writing your first draft, don’t edit. Don’t begin your day by going over what you wrote yesterday. Don’t even look at it. And one of the things that Steve Pressfield, my business partner, and I talk about is that the goal for your first draft is get to the end. Work as quickly as you can; let that brain go anyplace it wants. Don’t worry about any questions about genre or about anything of that nature. Just more forward.

Now, with that said, before you begin writing your first draft, I think it’s important to set out a map: a very, very simple form that will give you the highlights and the points where you need to hit, as if you were driving across the United States from New York to Los Angeles, you know, you’ve got to either go to Ohio or you’re going to take a detour and go through Nashville, or whatever. So, before you do begin your first draft, I created something that I called the “Foolscap Global Story Grid,” which is inspired from Steve, and it’s just a one sheet of paper that outlines some general questions.

Now, there’s only really four major questions that you have to answer before you can start working through your first draft, and that is: What genre do you want to write in? Do you want to write a thriller, do you want to write a love story, do you want to write a coming of age novel, whatever it is? Just write that down at the top of the page: “I want to write a novel about a coming of age story.”

And then what I suggest is do three things: Your beginning hook, your middle build and your ending pay-off. Literally write down what is your beginning hook? For a coming of age story, perhaps it would be “Young girl witnesses the murder of her father,” is the opening inciting incident of a story that’s coming of age. Then you would write down your middle build: What happens to that girl from the beginning of the story until the very end. Usually, I would do the inciting incident and the ending pay-off at the same time, and then fill in the middle, because the ending pay-off has to mirror the inciting incident, right?

The great thing about stories, and this is just universal: You want to hook somebody, and that hook has to pay off.

So, the ending of the story has to be inevitable but surprising. That’s generally what a story is. You hook somebody with a really—A guy walks into a bar—and then at the end, you’ve got to make it inevitable, and surprising.

So, that is how I would say to start as a writer. And then, with that one sheet of paper, go to town. Write your first draft, let it sail; don’t edit yourself. Then, after you’ve finished your draft, literally, put on a different shirt, put on a hat, put on something. Just anthropomorphize the editor self, and say, “OK, now I’m going to look at this as an editor,” and that’s the time to take out the story grid, because the story grid’s going to show you everything that you did right and everything that needs work.

If you’ve written a great first draft and you don’t have to do anything else, congratulations. The story grid is for those moments when you need to take your story to the next level—and everybody wants to do that—or if your story is just a mess, and you really enjoyed the process of letting your freak flag fly, and writing that big, winding thing, but now you’ve got to come down to terms with the reality of not only what it is you want to say, but the marketplace.

That’s how you separate it.

When you’re a writer, be a writer; when you’re an editor, be an editor.

Joanna: So many great things there. I think it’s so interesting, because I’ve got a novel here that I’ve just printed out, and I’m going into that editor mode, and it’s so funny, because often you think you’ve nailed something—well, sometimes you do—you’re like, “Yeah, I’ve finished my draft!”, and then you go back into it and you’re, “It’s just a nightmare.” I just wanted to ask you on that, considering how many people you’ve worked with, and of course Steve, who’s one of my creative idols: does it get easier.

Have you seen writers get to a point where they have internalized that grid, so that the first draft becomes easier?

For example, referring to Lee Child, who famously only writes one draft, I think it’s because he spent 30 years in television, so he kind of internalized that. When does that happen, so I can look forward to it?

Shawn: Well, it will happen, the longer you do it, and you will start to do it intuitively. Steve still does the Foolscap before a project, but he doesn’t do it nearly in the detail that I prescribe in “The Story Grid.” “The Story Grid” is really like an owner’s manual for the editorial process. There’s a ton of stuff in there that you may never need and probably shouldn’t even concern yourself with.

To answer your question, it does become internalized after a while, and I think you’re absolutely right about Lee Child; I mean, there’s a guy that had to bang out beginning hook, middle build, ending pay-off time and time again, so that he doesn’t think about it anymore. It’s a natural thing. Now the thing about Steve, there’s a very short story about Steve: Steve has written so many great novels, and even he, years ago, had reached a sticking point. He had a novel called “The Profession,” which he’d been working on for a couple of years, and he just couldn’t crack it. He had written draft after draft, and he gave it to me, and I read it, and over a few weeks, we worked through it, and we discovered he missed a major shifting point in the middle build. Once he solved that, then he could finish off the book.

So, even with the pros, there’s going to come a time, and it’s usually that book that they’re stretching; they’re trying to take it to the next level, where something internally shuts down and they forget their core principles. So that’s why the story grid and editing is such a useful tool, is that it will walk you off of the bridge; it will get you back to reality. Your story has a problem: there’s a solution. All you have to do is find those problems and eventually you’ll fix them. It just makes that much sense. The trouble is finding the problems, and that’s what editors used to do in book publishing, and they had a lot of time to do it—they don’t have that time anymore.

So you have to learn how to edit yourself.

Joanna: It’s so interesting you say that, and I’ve found as I’ve mapped out, and I use Scrivener, and I’ve been using the notes on the right-hand side to kind of ask the questions, do an overview and then see the polarity shift or the value change, and I wondered if you could talk about that, because I only learned about that recently at a Robert McKee seminar, where he talked about story values and the positive and negative charge. I was so interested that you talk about this as well. It was a real penny-dropping moment for me.

What are story values?

Shawn: Sure. Story values are very simple. They’re positive or negative things in our lives. So, for instance, life-death, and there’s a polarity shift from life to death. There’s life, there’s unconsciousness, there’s death, and then there’s the fate worse than death, which is damnation. So, there’s sort of this spectrum of the life-death value. For instance, justice has the same sort of thing. It has justice and fairness, injustice and tyranny.

These are the values, hope-despair, these are the things that we all think about in our lives, that we are constantly emotionally affected by in our everyday life. We just don’t think of them so clearly and rationally, but when you are a writer, you need to do that. The reason why you need to do that is that the primary unit of story for a novelist or screen writer is the scene. Now, the scene needs to have a value at stake. That doesn’t mean it has to be the exact value of the global value at stake for a specific genre.

For example, the global value at stake for a crime novel is justice: are they going to catch the criminal or aren’t they? So, you can have a crime novel with a scene within that novel has nothing to do with justice, but has everything to do with, say, hope-despair. The beginning of your scene, you want to be at one side of the spectrum. Hope: your detective is hopeful that this lead is going to encourage him and lead to another lead, and eventually lead to the solving of the case. So that’s how you would begin that scene. And then at your turning point, in the middle, something has to happen where his expectations are not met, and he reaches a level of despair.

So, that’s a scene that makes a lot of sense, because it’s moving from a positive at the very beginning of that scene to a negative charge at the end. The reader is, “Oh, wow, this is great, this coup is going to pay off … oh, no, it doesn’t, oh that’s terrible: I wonder what’s going to happen next.” So that’s the polarity of shift that can keep the reader engaged.

First of all, if you never shift a value in a scene, it’s not a scene.

It’s exposition, it’s fancy writing, it’s a lot of things, but it’s not a scene. A scene moves a value from one to another, from a positive to a negative, a negative to a positive: it can go negative – double negative; it can go positive – double positive—you win the lottery, and you’re getting married!

Joanna: That’s usually the start and then it gets worse!

Shawn: Anybody can take that any way they want! But it has to be moved. Robert McKee is a client of mine, so there’s a reason why: I’ve been studying Bob’s stuff for years, because I’ve known him for 15 years. My goal is to download everything that Bob knows about storytelling into books, and we’re working on a book right now together on dialogue, which is fantastic, in fact.

Joanna: Wonderful—I’m so looking forward to that! I didn’t know that you were working so closely with him. An amazing guy. What a performer!

Shawn: Oh, fantastic. Yes, that movie, Adaptation, that’s fantastic. He nails Bob perfectly.

Joanna: You mentioned screen writing there, and of course Bob teaches about screen writing. I’m fascinated by this, and I want to write a screenplay, maybe because it has different aspects to it.

Should novel writers in particular write screenplay—or at least try—because it helps you with this type of thing?

Shawn: Oh, absolutely, I think so. Beyond the fact that you can’t really bullshit in a screenplay, because you’ve got to turn a scene or it just sits there on the page and nobody understands what’s going on, the wonderful thing about writing a screenplay is you have to think visually, because exposition—meaning how somebody felt or how somebody looked—you can’t have that in a screenplay. So it makes you boil down whatever it is you’re trying to say into visual terms.

Now, some of the best writing captures visual life. For instance, if somebody says, “How was your day today?” you say, “Oh, it was good”: that doesn’t really mean anything, but if you say, “Oh, it was wonderful: I met this really, really sweet person and we went to coffee at that coffee shop that has the ferns”—if you can describe things visually, then that visual presence reaches the readers’ minds. So to practice writing visually and to think visually, writing a screenplay is going to be extraordinarily helpful.

Joanna: Just on the adapting novels, obviously Steven Pressfield started with screenplays and moved into novels. If one has novels, like I do, for example, would you recommend adapting—I mean, I’m looking at one of my novellas, because obviously the length, as well, is much shorter.

Should one adapt, give it a go, or is it best to try to write something from scratch?

Shawn: Well, it depends. I think the tricky part about adapting your own work is that—and this happens in Hollywood a lot: a lot of my clients will write a terrific thriller, and then a studio or something will want to option, and then my client will say, “Can I get a shot at writing the screenplay?” and Hollywood hates that.

Joanna: They want the writer gone, right!

Shawn: Exactly. Beyond the fact that they want the writer gone, it usually ends up where the writer has a really strong vision of what they see, and they can bring it to bear in the novel, but the screenplay becomes a little muddled, and it doesn’t seem to have as strong a point of view or strength as it does in the novel. But what I would recommend is to find a contemporary’s novel or short story and think about adapting that, or creating an original screenplay. Adapting your own can work, it really can. I mean, “Gone Girl” was adapted by the writer: terrific. Great book, great screenplay, she’s doing more and more screenplays now. But she wrote two novels before she did that, and she was a journalist before that, too, so, again, it’s like the Lee Child thing, where these people have been doing the hooks, builds and pay-offs for so long that eventually it becomes almost automatic and within themselves.

I don’t think I’m answering your question very well, but it can get tricky to adapt your own work, because you fall in love with certain things and you can’t let them go.

Joanna: No, and it’s funny, because I’ve been to a few screen writing festivals and I’ve been learning about this, and the thing that stops me, I think, and Steve Pressfield talks about this, is that you can write screenplays and if nobody buys them—even if they do get bought, they might not get made—you might never make any money out of screen writing, whereas now, because of self-publishing, if you write a novel that’s even half-way decent, and you get an editor and you get a cover, you can still make money out of a novel. A screenplay, most of them just seem to sit in drawers!

Shawn: They do; they really do. I mean, I also represent David Mamet-

Joanna: He self-publishes now, right?

Shawn: He does occasionally, but he was just recently published by Penguin, too. But he’s had 25 things produced, and he’s probably written 50 screenplays, and the other ones, they’ve been bought, and they’re sitting somewhere in some box. So that can get a little depressing, too!

Joanna: I hate that thought! So, let’s come back to the breakout idea. You’ve mentioned that you’ve worked with some of these breakout mystery writers, and one of the other things in the book is about emotion.

Does having a breakout book mean that you have tapped into some emotion? Or what are some of the things that you see amongst the books that have broken out, in terms of elements of story?

Shawn: That’s a really great question, and that’s the million dollar question in book publishing. It was one of the things that they entrusted me to do at Doubleday when I was there years ago—to varying degrees of success. But I will say this, and I’ll use an example of a breakout book that I worked on with Robert Crais, which was “LA Requiem,” this was back in 1998 or so. Bob is a number one New York Times bestseller now. But at the time, he had written this wonderful book featuring his recurring character, Elvis Cole, and it also had Joe Pike, his second sort of major character, but Joe was sort of a little bit lost in the background. And he was transitioning at the time, Bob was, from making his lead character less sort of really smart and kind of cynical to a deeper character that people would follow from book to book.

So, the thing that we needed to do was take the value in the thriller, in the crime story, to the negation of the negation.

I’ve written about this recently on Steve Pressfield’s blog, but what the negation of the negation means is to take the story to the very, very limits of human experience; to the end of the line, to the point when there’s no turning back, the lead character’s going to be forever changed, his life seems to be in a shambles, and he has to pick up the pieces and deal with it. As I write a lot, stories are about change. And none of us likes change: we all like our routines, our habits: when things are working well for us and we can just do this, that and the other, we feel OK.

But when we’re challenged, we have to move, if something terrible happens in our life and we’ve got to completely change who we are, we don’t like to do that. That’s why people love stories, is that when you can read a book, and you can attach to a protagonist who is going through the same sort of similar emotional turmoil that you do, then you feel, “Oh well, maybe I can get through this move, if Elvis Cole can get over the death of the woman that he would die for 25 times over.”

When we did work on that book, we discovered that we needed to take Cole to the end of the line, which was a level of damnation. Would an action that he makes damn himself or—and that brings in the villain, of course, too. It’s interesting that you brought up story values earlier, because that is really the answer to the riddle, is to understand the core value of the genre that you’re writing in, and taking it to the end of the line.

I could go on for hours about the negation of negation, and I know that Bob covers it very well in the story, but it’s really important, if you want to write that break-out book, that people are going- I mean, one of my all-time favorites is “Silence of the Lambs,” and that is what I analyze in “The Story Grid.” What’s so remarkable about that book is that Thomas Harris takes the book to the end of the line by the mid-point of that novel, and so you are so emotionally attached to those characters that, reading the last half of that book, you stay up all night, and can’t help yourself, and that’s the goal.

Joanna: The negation of the negation confused me quite a lot.

When we say life-death-damnation, that is a kind of obvious one, but you can’t use obvious ones every time. So in your book, “The Story Grid,” do you actually give a nice list of positive, negative and then the negation of the negation?

Shawn: Yes! The most important thing is that, when we were talking earlier about the story values, in scenes, you don’t have to go to the negation of the negation. In fact, if you do, it’s going to seem melodramatic; it’s going to seem like a soap opera. But in the core value, meaning the overall value of the genre that you’re working on, you need to, for a breakout book. You don’t always have to: in crime stories, there are wonderful mysteries—Agatha Christie never went to the negation of the negation. Damnation was never in play, because we were enthralled by her inspectors figuring out, Miss Marple or Poirot, we were dazzled by their erudition and how were they going to figure this out? They’re the master detectives. The same thing with Columbo. Those stories never go to the negation of negation.

But if you want to write a breakout thriller that Hollywood’s going to buy, you’ve got “The Silence of the Lambs,” which is the pre-eminent serial killer thriller. I mean, he wrote “Red Dragon”: he basically invented the serial killer thriller, and then he made it even better with “The Silence of the Lambs.” If you want to write that kind of story, the core value of the thriller is life-death, as it is in action or in horror. And horror and crime and action make the thriller. Anyway, I could go on.

But the thing to remember is that the negation of negation in the core value is what will give you the opportunity to write the breakout book.

So, if you’re writing a love story, a love story, like, say, Judith Guest’s book, “Ordinary People,” the negation of the negation in that love story is hate masquerading as love. If you remember that story, the mother hated her son for surviving the terrible accident and the other son that she adored died, but she would never admit that. She never admitted it to herself. So, by the end of that story, she is so unwilling to admit that she does not like one of her sons and adored the other that she’s willing to leave the family. And that rips our heart out, because we can understand that self-deception. So there’s a very confined story, set among three people, that goes through the negation of negation, that is a breakout book and rips your heart out. So you don’t have to write “The Silence of the Lambs,” if you can write “Ordinary People” or anything like that, or “Sophie’s Choice,” I mean, come on—you can go into the literary world the same way as you do the crime fiction world, and thrillers and everything like that.

Joanna: I think for people listening, this is much more complicated than one thinks it is initially. There is so much to this, and it’s fascinating, so I urge people to check out “The Story Grid,” the book, and also your website,, which has got a lot more detail about this. But before we go, I wanted to ask you just a couple of questions about the entrepreneurship side.

You and Steve Pressfield have a company called Black Irish Books, and your motto is “Get in the ring,” which I really like. Tell us, why is that the motto and what does that mean for writers?

Shawn: The motto is basically to encourage people to fight what Steve and I call the inner war. And the inner war is that thing that he talks about and writes about in “The War of Art,” which I edited and published 12 years ago, when I had an independent publishing company. So, we started Black Irish Books when “The War of Art” came free from the major publisher who was reprinting it, and we said to ourselves, “You know, let’s start with this little company,” and Steve came up with Black Irish Books, I won’t take credit for that. It’s because I’m Black Irish, and I get very passionate, and he’s been in meetings with me where I’m way too passionate! So he thought it would be very funny to call it that.

But “Get in the ring” means if you have something that you know you’re supposed to do—we all do, it might be gardening—do it. You’ve got to push yourself into places that will make you uncomfortable. So getting in the ring isn’t about beating up anybody else; it’s not about fighting with people;

it’s about fighting the inner war; fighting within yourself to beat down the voice inside your head that says, “You can’t do it, you’re a loser, forget it, nobody’s going to care.”

I mean, these are all the things that I faced when I was writing “The Story Grid”; everything that you face when you write.

Being an entrepreneur is exactly the same thing. People are going to tell you, “Oh, you’re crazy, you’re never going to make any money doing that. That’s silly, that’s a waste. What are you doing? Podcasts? Who cares?” You can hear that until you’re blue in the face, but the reality is that it’s not the gifts of being a businessperson or how many people buy your book: it’s when somebody says to you, “You know, I listened to that podcast that you did and it made me think about the things that I was doing in my own life”—that’s the stuff that we do it for.

And so, that is what you need to remember: that’s what fighting the inner war is about. It’s not about becoming a billionaire or a millionaire or whatever; it’s just trusting yourself enough to do what you know you should do.

Joanna: And how does that then relate to publishing? You’ve worked in big publishing, you’ve had your own press, you have the company with Steve—you wouldn’t call it self-publishing because you have a company and everything-

Shawn: We are self-publishing, this is it!

Joanna: You are indie.

Shawn: This is that whole black space: this is it.

Joanna: You’ve really shifted in your career.

What do you think right now in the publishing world, what is your opinion of the kind of indie space and where are things going?

Shawn: Well, I think there’s always going to be major publishers, and there should be. I mean, major publishers are terrific in certain things and not so good in other things. I left major publishing because I’m the kind of person who has a wild idea and I want to run with it. I just want to try it: let me try this marketing thing. And the thing with a major corporation is every once in a while, they go, “OK, Coyne, go ahead and try that,” but most of the time, they’re going to say no, and they have to say no, because they’ve got to manage hundreds of employees, warehousing and sales reports. So it got to a point in my life when I was there to say, “You know, this really isn’t for me. I should be on the outside, I shouldn’t be on the inside.” And there are tons of committed editors and marketing people, some of my best friends are still in major publishing, and that’s cool. There will always be a place for them, because they’ve got the ability to jam a book into the marketplace, and if it’s great, it can become a huge bestseller.

Look at “The Goldfinch.” I mean, that’s a great book and if that was independently published, it would have a difficult time finding a market. It really would. So there’s always going to be a place.

Now, independent publishing I think is really, really a wonderful opportunity for people who are just not going to get any love from the Big Five, and that’s pretty much everybody! You know, there’s probably 8% of people who write a novel are going to find an agent, and those agents are going to be able to place probably 70% of their stuff, because they are very selective. They have to be. And even of those, even say getting a $100,000 advance for your first novel sounds great, but it took you seven years to write it, and it’s going to take another two years to publish it, and if the book doesn’t perform in its first twelve months, the second novel isn’t going to excite anybody at the Big Five publishers.

But if you’re independent, you can publish your first novel in September and publish your second novel in October. Who cares? In fact, that’s a pretty good idea, because anybody who likes your first will want to have your second immediately.

So, there’s so many different marketing and fun opportunities, and you take advantage of all of them, Joanna, and it’s great to watch and to follow you, because you’re constantly doing and trying different things, and you’re having fun, and you’re doing non-fiction, you’re still doing your fiction. You think about your world in terms of projects rather than affirmations from third-party validation sources, and when I say that, I mean a lot of people need to be published by Random House: it just makes them feel like, “OK, my world’s OK, I’ve got Random House on the spine, that’s fine.” Other people don’t. I don’t need that, and Steven doesn’t need that any longer. But it’s OK to be there, too.

I think independent publishing is great, because you can build your own platform; you can talk to your peeps; they can buy your stuff directly; which means you don’t have to sell as many copies to make a living; which means that you can do your next project; and do another one; and you’re not sitting waiting around for someone else to pick you and say, “Oh, you’re worthy.”

Instead, you’re building your own tribe of people who think you’re terrific. And the more people who do that, the more people will read, the better it will become.

Eventually, I can see independent publishing being a global marketplace more than just the specifics. So translation rights, I mean, the thing about selling translation rights today, and I’m sure you know this, is that you often deal with the foreign publisher, they translate the book, they give you $500, and you never hear from them again; you never get any sales figures, you never build an audience in that country.

Now, we have the technology: it’s crazy not to be able to have your own website in the Czech Republic, being translated, and that’s only a matter of time for that to happen. So you can build multiple audiences around the world and increase the scale of your operations, independently. And you can do your own marketing, and nobody’s there to tell you know.

That’s the great thing about being independent, is nobody’s going to say no. If you have a crazy idea, you can do it: try it.

It might not work, as Seth Godin always says: this might not work—so what, try something else. It’s fun. Make it fun.

Joanna: It’s so good talking to you and Steve and people in the tribe, the Seth Godin tribe. We’re all so positive and happy! We love it! Which is awesome, because this is fun: I’m enjoying it, you’re clearly enjoying it. The people I worry about are the people who are not enjoying it.

Shawn: Right: they should be gardening.

Joanna: Maybe they should! But this is so interesting, because I used to think, probably up until about a year ago, that anyone could be an indie author, I really did. And now, I’m not so sure, because everything you’ve said is true, and you do have to have this kind of attitude and this entrepreneurial spirit of giving it a go, and if it fails, “Hey, whatever,” do something else resilience to do this.

So, do you think anyone can do it, or is there a personality type?

Shawn: I’m with you. I used to think that. I used to think that if I made the right arguments to people—speaking as a literary agent and entrepreneur myself—I sometimes have crazy visions for people, and say things like, “Well, you should do this and I’ll help you,” and it’s not for everybody, it really isn’t for everybody, and that’s alright. It’s OK. Everybody doesn’t need to be testing the waters all the time.

The one thing I would say is that you don’t have to do everything. You know, you’re a madwoman: you do everything. I mean, it’s great. But I can barely get the website posts up sometimes. Instead of not doing it, it comes to a point in your life where not doing it is more painful than doing it. That’s really where it is. You said at the very beginning of this podcast, “Why now?” Well, I got to the point where not doing the book became more painful than doing it. And so that’s why I’m downloading everything I’ve learned so that maybe the 26-year-old Shawn Coyne who’s out there now can have a resource that it took me 25 years to figure out. And that would have been immeasurably helpful to me 25 years ago.

So, it comes down to that. But it’s not for everybody, no, and could I get some major publisher to publish my book? Maybe, maybe not, but it doesn’t actually matter, because it’s important to me, and it’s what I’ve got. It’s not for everybody: if you like it, great; if you get nothing out of it, throw it away!

Joanna: I can’t imagine anyone not getting anything out of it. I’m in the queue, certainly. And actually, just on the launch, you and Steve also do audio and video, and at Black Irish, you have launches that are not necessarily based on Amazon, so I’ve bought audio books directly from your website, which I love, I think it’s amazing that you do that. So you’re really going that entrepreneurial route and cutting out the middle-man, and all the things that we talk about.

So, tell us where we can find “The Story Grid,” when it will be launched, and will there be some multimedia extras that we can look forward to?

Shawn: Absolutely, and that’s one of the things that’s taking a little extra time, because we have a wonderful artistic director who’s putting together a lot of the grids and the maps. Because I’m a visual person as well as a word person, so that’s the thing that I love about “The Story Grid,” is that you can see the novel, as opposed to having to go page by page.

In fact, I’m going to LA next week to meet with Steve and we’re going to film a whole bunch of stuff to talk about; we’re going to launch early March, we’re thinking the Ides of March would be a good time to launch this thing. And we’re going to include all kinds of goodies that we haven’t quite figures out yet, for the tribe.

What the tribe means is anyone who subscribes to or is going to get a leg up. We’re going to get a deep discount on the first batch of books, because you’ve put up for so long waiting for it! And you’ll get a whole bunch of goodies, too. So, the videos we’re going to shoot, and we’ll do a YouTube thing.

That’s the other thing that people always forget, and the major publishers always forget—you can promote any time. There’s no such thing as a pub date, a launch date. There really isn’t. There’s no national media anymore. So the Big Five publishers are all, “Ah, our pub date, it’s going to launch and we’ll have a two-week blitz in the media,” and then that’s it. That’s literally all they do. But Steve and I look at it like, “Hey, we’re in this for the long haul,” we’ve got stuff planned for books that we published two years ago that’s going to come out eventually. In fact, we’re overwhelmed with ideas and content. So, the short answer is yes, we’re going to have lots of video stuff, March 15 is the date it’s going to be on sale for probably Amazon people, and the tribe will get it a little bit earlier, at a cheaper price.

Joanna: I’m exciting. I’m in the tribe, and I hope everyone listening will now become one! It’s exciting times! OK, just tell everyone the website again, just so everyone knows.

Shawn: It’s

Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for your time, Shawn!

Shawn: Thank you, it was wonderful. Great to talk to you.

Writing The Million Dollar Outline And Resonance In Writing With David Farland

Would you like to hear the advice that Stephenie Meyer used to create Twilight, one of the bestselling books of all time? David Farland taught her and today he shares his advice on million dollar stories with you.

In the introduction, I mention Mark Coker’s fantastic post about the realities for indie authors right now, how amazing the STORY conference was and my writing update: Gates of Hell is back with my editor for final edit, and will be out in the new year. Delirium, London Psychic Book 2, is now out in audiobook format. I also mention the fantastic Author Marketing Live online conference, and you can get $50 off if you use the promo code penn.

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to:

99 Designs financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you!

david farlandDavid Farland is a multi-award winning and NY Times bestselling author of over 50 science fiction and fantasy novels, including the Runelords series, as well as screenwriting and working in the games industry. He also teaches writing workshops and has several fantastic books for authors, Writing the Million Dollar Outline, and Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcherwatch here on YouTube or read the notes and links below.

  • How David started writing in the 1980s and won a number of awards early on, as well as writing for many gaming and popular sci-fi properties plus green-lighting for Hollywood screenwriting. He started teaching and his students included Stephenie Meyer, James Dashner and Brandon Sanderson. His rules are that a project has to be fun and he has to be able to make some money at whatever he’s doing.

million dollar outlineWriting the Million Dollar Outline

  • If it is your goal to write a bestselling novel, then you do need to consider certain principles. Write what you love but then figure out how to write for a wider audience than you started with. For example, old and young, male and female. The Harry Potter books clearly appeal to many different age groups.
  • Transport your reader to another time and/or place. Generally speaking, the top 50 books and films of all time do this. We discuss the importance of length in this aspect – despite the recent move to shorter books, the biggest books of all time are doorstop size. You can use novellas over time to create ‘mega-novel’ series though, and a lot of people are using this strategy, particularly in romance.
  • It must score high on the emotional Richter scale. It needs to impact people deeply and be remarkable so you get that word of mouth
  • The word genre is really about emotions e.g. mystery = intrigue, thrillers = adventure, horror, comedy, fantasy & sci-fi = wonder, romance = love. Nostalgia is another powerful emotion.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 1.30.28 pmDrawing on the power of resonance in writing

  • Resonance arouses an expectation that you’re going to like this type of book. Genre conventions are one aspect, cover design another, mentioning other books that people like is another. This is why similar tropes and characters are reused, as they have built in resonance. A good example was the recent Lego movie which was packed with resonance.
  • This is not about plagiarism or re-using other material, but consciously choosing to riff off earlier ideas. David goes through the layers of resonance within Pirates of the Caribbean all the way back over centuries. You still have to be original, but add a twist on the past e.g. Meyer’s sparkly vampires.

Longevity and your career as a fiction writer

  • You have to be a good storyteller and be able to write well. There are a lot of skills you need to learn in order to be successful fiction author and it’s equivalent to getting a doctorate degree.
  • It takes about 7 years to become ‘publishable’ and another 7 years to become a bestselling author. To be one of the best, you have to take that onwards to the next level. [I love this because I’ve been writing fiction for 4 years, so I am halfway through the apprenticeship!] There are people who have some kind of special talent, but most great authors work really hard and practice over years.
  • On paying attention to dreams and writing them down. It’s your sub-conscious talking to you! David talks about his process, thinking about his plot before bed so he can dream about it that night and then write in the morning. Keep a notebook or computer handy at all times!
  • On fun and hard work as a writer. You have to consider your creative muse and not do the projects that don’t bring you alive. Figure out how to stay out of the ruts that the industry will try to put you in.
  • On author name and branding. Dave’s real name, Wolverton, put him on the bottom of shelves in bookstores so when he started writing, he changed to the name David Farland. That is less important in a digital market.
  • Loving the craft is critical for longevity, or why would you bother! You can always learn something new so there is a sense of a career path ahead. Understanding the markets and being aware of what people want is critical.

On self-publishing

  • my story doctorIt’s great to be able to publish in many different ways, and Dave self-publishes his books on writing. But sometimes authors are publishing too early and are slightly delusional in terms of their ability and expectations of income. It’s a great way to publish, but you need to learn the craft and get critical feedback before you can expect success.

You can find David and his books and courses at and You can also get 20% off his courses until Jan 2015 . This is a fantastic promotion, and if you want to learn more in 2015, check David’s courses out here. ** Due to technical difficulties, all workshops are discounted by 25% right now, and no code is needed**

Transcription of the interview with David Farland

Joanna: Hi everyone. I’m Joanna Penn from Today, I’m here with David Farland. Hi, Dave.

David: Hello.

Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show. So just as a little introduction, David is an award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of over 50 science fiction and fantasy novels including the Runelords series as well as screenwriting and working in the games industry. He also teaches workshops and has several fantastic books for writers.

David, so you’ve had this amazingly varied creative career. I wondered if you could maybe give us a few highlights from your background so we know a bit more about you.

David: Sure. I started writing back in the 1980s. I was a pre-medical student in college and decided that my heart was really more into writing. So I started entering writing contests when I was in school and I won a number of short story contests and went on to win, got my first novel contract based upon that. I won the International Writers of the Future contest in 1987 and was given a three novel contract about a week later. That went well. My first novel got rave reviews and won a Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award, and set a tone for my career. It became a best seller. After that, I did all sorts of things. I worked with Star Wars, doing The Courtship of Princess Leia and some fun books for kids. I did a little bit of work with the Mummy series.

I worked on a video game that was called Starcraft Broodwar, so I was a co-leader on the design team for one of the world’s largest video games. I went on and became the lead judge for the Writers of the Future contest, and I’ve also worked in screen writing. I worked as a green-lighting analyst in Hollywood for a small production company. I also started teaching at Brigham Young University. I was the science fiction/fantasy writing teacher. There, I taught Brandon Sanderson, who is now a number one New York Times bestselling author, as well as Stephenie Meyer, Brandon Mull, and also James Dashner, whose movie The Maze Runner just came out. So a number of successful students in this type of thing. I just keep doing different things.

I have a rule. It has to be fun, and I have to be able to make some money at whatever I’m doing.

Joanna: That is fantastic. So you just have this amazing career, and there are so many things I can ask you. But what I’m going to do is because I’ve read your books, I’m going to specifically talk about this. You have this amazing book called Million Dollar Outlines. Like you’ve mentioned, you’ve been a green-lighting studio.

You’ve taught Stephenie Meyer and James Dashner and all that. So I guess the question here is, and you said about having fun and making money. Should authors set out to write a million dollar best seller? If they should, how can they do that?

David: Well, some people want to do that, and that’s a goal. Stephenie Meyer came to me and she asked “How can I write the best selling young adult novel of all time?” and I told her. I’ve had a little bit of help. For example, when I worked for Scholastic, I was asked to help them decide what book to push big for the coming year, and the book that I chose was Harry Potter. So the number one and number two bestselling books of all time, I’ve had a little bit of a hand in.

But I think that what it comes down to is I think that you should write what you love, but then figure out how to write it for a wider audience than you otherwise would have. I think that’s kind of the goal that I like to set for people. Write what you love but also recognize that there is a reader behind there. Too many people just don’t do that.

Joanna: Yeah, it seems that way. So when Stephenie did say that to you, can you break down a bit further what you would say to someone coming to you. Like me, for example, I write thrillers, but supernatural thrillers.

Are there things that are in common? What makes a million best seller, basically?

David: Well, there are a number of things that do it. One of them is transport. You’ve got to take your story and transport your reader into another time and another place. Generally speaking, all top 50 novels and all top 50 movies of all time have done that. In fact, there isn’t an exception in transport. The next thing that I look for is write for a wide audience, and that means male and female, and old and young. If you can write to a wide audience, then that’s going to increase your chances of being a best seller. That was one of the first things that I saw. For example with Rowling was that in Harry Potter. Also, that we have a wonderful sense of transport, but also this is a story that is written for everyone.

Then the third thing I look for, and I’m just going to name three, is I look for something that scores high on the emotional Richter scale. So that when you look at your books that you’ve read, you want to say, “Of all the horror novels, this is the greatest supernatural thriller I’ve ever read.” You want people to say that because then your story is what I call remarkable. That means that people just talk about it. They say, “That was such a great book.”

So when they’re talking of Halloween, for example, about what are the greatest movies or the greatest books of all times in the horror genre, your name comes up year after year after year. If you can work towards doing that, the whole thing of emotional transport is a science that would take me hours to just go through and talk about that here. That’s why I have to put it in the book and of course in my classes and that type of thing.

Joanna: Yeah. I find that when you think about it, it’s obvious and you can see list of things. Obviously, Titanic was a different place and at a different time. Then a lot of these movies. Avatar, you mentioned I think. Also, Cameron, it’s a different planet and things, which is amazing. My question there would be what is your feeling around time spent in creating a word? So do you have to have a long book? A lot of these are longer books or series.

Is length important in this transfer aspect?

David: It really is. If you look at the bestselling books of all time in each genre, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, of course. When it came out, it was three times, four times longer than any fantasy novel that had ever been written. Dune, when it came out, my mentor Algus Budders talked about that in his reviews. He specifically said, “This is a good buck.” But what shocked me was just how long this was. It was rejected by 40 publishers before it got picked up. Other ones that are similar, A Tale of Two Cities was a huge novel.

When the bestselling book of all time in the romance genre came out, Gone with the Wind, it was a good four times longer than anything that was being published at that time. So that element of transport usually takes a lot of time to get us into another time and another place, and you can transfer us to your time and place. If you write about London or something like that, I would absolutely love it because I love going to London and it would give me that sense of transport. So you don’t have to do it all the time. It’s just a thing that you can do.

Joanna: Which is really interesting, that kind of longer book idea, which I appreciate in terms of a sense of value for the customer.

What do you think about the current trend for novellas and shorter books with digital. How does that fit in?

David: Well, if you write shorter books in a digital series, then it can work just fine because what you’re really doing is you’re writing a long novel that’s broken up into shorter pieces. So people who are writing, for example, a big fat fantasies and putting them in, it actually gives you the opportunity to write what we call a mega novel. A mega novel is a book that is so big that it couldn’t be published anywhere. Examples of a mega novel are Robert Jordan’s books. Brandon, when he was doing them, they said, “These have to be 400,000 words long,” which is four times as long as any other fantasy novel. Those are just huge. You could, in theory, write a book that was two million words long or something like that, and then break it down into little novellas and sell us five chapters at a time or something.

So it does work. It also works really good for romance, where generally speaking, you are just trying hard to arouse a powerful emotion. You can do that in a fairly short amount of time, so those can work really well as novellas. So it’s a philosophy that can work. A lot of people are using it as their strategy right now, serializing novels and this kind of thing. I have to admit, I’m the kind of person who still likes a fat book. I love to sit down with a book and say, “Okay. I’m going to get deep inside this and be taken to another time and another place and just really enjoy it.”

Joanna: I just read Stephen King’s It. I almost didn’t realize how long it was because I bought it digitally. It’s a very long book.

David: It is.

Joanna: I think it’s the uncut version, and my goodness. But I agree with you, there was that real sense, and then that emotional side. When we talk about emotion and romance, it’s kind of obvious. But what are the other? Love, obviously.

What are some of the other big emotions that these bestselling books, these million dollar sellers tap into?

David: Well, there’s a number of them. If you think about, we talk about genres, and we use the word genres in describing books. The truth is we are almost always describing emotions. For example, there is mystery or intrigue, there are thrillers or adventure. Roughly the same kind of emotion that we are tapping into. You can tap into drama or comedy. Science fiction and fantasy, early on back in the 1950s, there was an editor who wanted to have them called The Wonder Literatures because there is a sense of wonder being aroused there. So those are the major ones. Wonder, romance, humor, horror, adventure. There is drama, of course, and there are some other emotions that we don’t talk about. For example, nostalgia is a pretty powerful emotion.

When I was in Hollywood, we didn’t study stories with the idea of how powerful it is to draw for nostalgia, and yet we probably could have. We should have because that gets closer to that resonance that we were talking about earlier. How did people feel about this? They feel like they have been there before. Is it comfortable?

So a lot of people who start reading, for example The Lord of the Rings, and they love the elves and the dwarves, want to read more books about elves and dwarves. And all around the world, there is this market of people who are reading more for nostalgia because they want to read another elf and dwarf book than they are really reading for a sense of wonder and seeing something brand new again.

Joanna: That’s a good point. In fact, my husband who loves fantasy, I think he’s read The Lord of the Rings like 25 times or something, presumably because the nostalgia of even reading it is the point. But yeah, that’s interesting.

But just on the other thing, you mentioned resonance there and you’ve got another book which is drawing on the power of resonance in writing. So maybe you could explain what resonance is and why that’s important.

David: Well, resonance is that feeling that you get when you’ve seen something before and you’ve loved it and it arouses an expectation that you’re going to like this too. So a lot of times when we write a book, we are having a conversation with other writers. Everybody has read these kinds of stories before. So you can look at a story that has powerful resonance, that draws upon that which came before and really see where it came from and why it works. For example in music, the word resonance is used to describe if you’ve got musical notes that are being hit, that have been hit before so you can go, “Pam pam pam pam.” It’s the same notes being hit over. Then of course, you do a variation on it.

In music, that’s the way that you do it. You’ve got your little rift and then your variation, and you go through it three times, then you do it over and you change it up. Well, that’s a pattern that’s been used in music for years, and we do it in books too. So you pick up a romance novel, you’re also kind of judging it based upon all of the romance novels you’ve seen before. So we can have stories like Lord of the Rings, which drew heavily on resonance from a number of places. It drew on Walt Disney’s movies to a certain degree, but it also drew upon ancient folklore and it drew upon movies and it drew upon the Pre-Raphaelite writers and it drew upon people like William Butler Yeats for the literary allusions.

So there’s a lot of things went into this both in the imagery and in the words that really made it popular. We don’t often think about these kinds of things. That’s subconscious. But if you look at a movie from Disney for example, you look at something like the Lego movie. How many callbacks were there in the Lego movie to other movies that have been done in the past? I mean, it had Star Wars, it had Batman, it had Superman. It had just literally probably 50 or 100 different movies that had callbacks in the Lego movie, and it became the best selling Disney movie of all time. The one before that that came out Frozen had about 60 or 70 where you could listen to the music and you can see, “Oh, that’s similar to the music from this.” You could see an image and you go, “Oh, there’s the Sound of Music. There’s The Terminator,” and it will have 60 or 70 callbacks to it.

So very often when we are writing, we’re not conscious of what we’re drawing from. The goal in the book on resonance is really to teach you to draw consciously upon things that have come before so that you really know what you are resonating with and why you are doing it. Every once in a while, you’ll find a writer who wants to write a novel that has no resonance with anything popular. They’re like, “I read this obscure little book when I was eight-years-old that I really loved. It might resonate with that quite well but the truth is nobody else read it.”

You can look at some hits. For example, when the movie The Pirates of the Caribbean came out, it was named after the rides at Disneyland so that it would resonate with anyone who’d never been to the Disneyland ride. That’s part of the reason they made it. It was to repopularize, revamp the Disneyland rides of the Caribbean. The reason that that was popular though, the rides of the Caribbean, was because of the Errol Flynn movies. Errol Flynn movies came out because back in the 1880s. We had Treasure Island that became huge and popular and everybody wanted to write movies about pirates or books about pirates, so people started making movies to capture that audience.

Of course, that was popular because Swiss Family Robinson was popular back in the 1820s and ’30s was a huge hit, and that was popular because Robinson Crusoe was a huge hit. Each one of those drew upon the resonance of the previous one so that the entire thing keeps exploding over the generations. That’s what we’re talking about here. You can look at how Tolkien resonates. It’s then you can figure out how to write Tolkien, how to change it up, improve it, do it better and create something that has powerful resonance with that but also is something new.

Joanna: Yeah, it makes sense when you are saying it. I’ve read the book and it makes sense as well. But I imagine there are people listening who are saying, “What about being original?”

How does being original fit into all this resonance stuff?

David: You have to be original because you take it to the next level. When Stephenie Meyer, for example, wanted to write Twilight, she said, “How do I write the best selling young adult novel of all time?” I said, “Oh, that’s easy. You take a sixteen-year-old girl and you have her meet someone who is strange, who has unusual powers, and you basically create something that has a strong sense of romance to it but also a strong sense of wonder.” I said there are complex reasons why this works. But in any case, she said, “Okay.” She did little things to the vampires to make them different. Hers glittered in the sunlight, things like that. There are a lot of people who said, “Oh, I hate glittery vampires,” but there are a lot of people who loved it who said, “This really aroused a sense of wonder in me. The idea of falling in love with a vampire who’s been around for 180 years.” She had to go back and recreate the genre. Which is what you’re trying to do.

Joanna: Which is a total order.

David: It is. It requires you. First of all, you’ve got to be a good storyteller. So you have to understand how the bones of a story work, how you are going to put that together. Then you have to understand how the resonance works and you have to go in. Then you have to write it well on a line-by-line basis. So you’ve got a bunch of different skills literally. I have put out a little thing on how to win writing contests today. I was like, “Gosh, I’ve given them 85 different things you’ve got to do right just to win a writing contest.” That was how I started winning writing contests when I was young. I just made a list of how you could judge stories and thought about each of those items as I began writing.

Of course, the list has grown over the years. But the point here is there is still an awful lot that you have to do. It’s not something that you can just blunder into. I think that to become a skilled storyteller and skilled writer, it’s equivalent of going out and earning a doctor’s degree. The reason to that is because the average writer takes about seven years from the time they started writing to the time that they get publishable, and another seven years from the time that they start publishing to the time that they become best sellers. So you’re talking of 14 years apprenticeship in order to just gain the skills that you need to be a bestselling writer. If you want to be a monumental writer, somebody whose books are remembered as the best that there have ever been, you need to develop even more skills than that. You’ve got to take it to a level higher.

Joanna: I love hearing this, and it makes me feel better because I feel like I’ve been writing four years, I’m only halfway through a basic apprenticeship. So you know, I love learning this stuff so I really appreciate what you teach. But I know that some people feel about the pantsing and plotting thing. What you’re talking about is very much breaking things down and almost reconstructing things. What do you think about the people who do the pantsing approach? Someone like Lee Charles. He says he only writes one draft and it’s kind of perfect.

David: Well, there are people who are such skilled storytellers that they can do that. For most of us, it’s hard work that we go and we have to practice which is what the early drafts are. There are some people who can do that and there are some who have written immortal stories that they wrote by the seat of their pants. People like Stephen King is a pantser, but those are really rare. I would say there’s maybe only one in twenty people can do that.

Most people just find out that they start writing and they get themselves in blind alleys where their characters are getting their throats slit. They are like, “Wait a minute, how do I go back and fix this.” There are a lot of people who do that and who try it. It’s partly because there has, for a long time, been this myth of the creative genius who they have a dream, for example, and then go write it down. There are people who genuinely do that but they are extremely rare.

Stephenie Meyer, I believe she had a dream about what to write but we talked about it a year and a half before she wrote it. Then she said, “I’ve never thought about writing a book like that. I’ll have to think about that.” I think her subconscious thought about it, and thought about it, and basically generated the storyline. Then whenever I’m ready to write, I have a dream. It’s like my subconscious starts speaking to us that way because the subconscious can’t speak to you in words. It’s not hooked up to the word center in your brain. It sends you images, it will send emotions, it will send you little wisps of thoughts. All of the sudden, you have to concoct your story out of those.

Joanna: How do you capture those thoughts and images? What is your process as a writer?

David: Well, I think that the easy thing for me to do is to keep a computer right next to my bed. What I like to do is I’ve actually trained myself to think about my plot before I go to sleep so that I will dream about it. When I wake up in the morning, I generally can sit down and write a scene first thing in the morning without even thinking about what I’m going to write. I have pondered it and wondered how I should handle it the night before. But what happens is I have trained my subconscious mind, my right brain you might say, to say, “Okay, this is important to me. I need to resolve this when I wake up in the morning.”

So I learned how to write in my sleep, basically. It’s the way to do it. Having a notebook handy, keeping that with you is just really priceless. I think that most writers will have a notebook anywhere within their grasp. I always keep one in my car, suitcase, one by the side of the bed, so if I have a great idea, I can go write it down.

Joanna: Absolutely. I love the fact that you mention fun at the beginning. I learned a lot from Dean Wesley Smith as well. He talks about having fun as well. But I guess maybe because I’m still in my apprenticeship period, it’s hard work as well. The fun aspect, I’m starting to get slowly. How does the fun aspect balance with the hard work, and what is hard at your level of writing?

David: For me, at my level of writing, hard is when someone wants me to do a job that I just don’t like, I don’t believe in. For example, I was recently asked to write a video game. I started looking at the content of the video game and I just thought, “Oh, this is terrible. I don’t want to do this.” It’s just really anything that just doesn’t interest me. If I get excited by the idea, if it’s got some fascinating characters or an interesting world, anytime that I get asked to work on a video game, it’s just like every other video game. I just say, “No, not really interested in that.”

Joanna: That’s great. You’re in the point where you can turn down stuff that isn’t interesting, I guess.

David: Yeah. I think that that’s really great that I can do that, because I know that there are people who feel like I can’t turn it down. I would just say if you don’t turn it down, what happens is you end up getting stucked writing the kind of thing that you don’t want to write forever. When I wrote my first novel, I wrote a cyberpunk/Latin American fantasy realism crossover. My editor said, “What do you want to write next?” I said, “I want to do a big fat Tolkienesque fantasy.” She said, “But Dave, you’ve gotten farther with one book than most people have in 20 years. You’re on the bestseller list,” etc. She said, “We don’t want a big fantasy from you. We want more of this.”

So I wrote science fiction for about ten years. Every time that I’d started novel, I would feel like I still want to write that big fantasy. So I wrote one for my birthday and gave it to myself as a present, sent it to my publisher, and now they don’t want any science fiction from me. I’m a bestselling fantasy author. So I think you have to pick your rut that you want to get stuck in, and of course I kind of live without ruts. Because one of the things I do is switch a lot.

I recently wrote an award-winning historical novel. My last book, Nightingale, was a young adult fantasy science fiction thriller, won half a dozen awards. So I like to do all sorts of things. That’s my problem as a writer because people are like, “What are you going to do next?” “I think I’ll go write a screenplay.” That’s just wonky. Nobody should do that. I’d say don’t take my career path. It’s what I guess I’m saying because everybody needs their own career path and do what they enjoy. There are people who say, “I want to write romance novels day in and day out for the next 30 years.” If you do, great. You’ll probably have a wonderful career in that.

Joanna: Yeah, but that sounds boring to me as well.

David: Exactly. I like to do different things. I don’t know what I’m going to write next. I could sit down and write a comedy or something like that and have a lot of fun with it.

Joanna: That’s great. That’s being true to your creative soul or whatever you want to call it. But I’m interested. I mean, what about an author brand?

Do you think an author brand or an author name is important? Because you have used several names, haven’t you? But was that because of your publisher? Do you think things are different in this new environment?

David: No, I did it because of the name Wolverton. My real name put me on the very bottom shelf on the bookstores. I had read a survey that said Campbell’s Soup in a survey found that 92% of all people will not bend over to pick up their favorite can of soup up to the bottom shelf of the supermarket. I thought, “Wow, what am I doing to myself? Ninety-two percent of my fans don’t want to lean over to pick up my books.” So David Farland fits much more nicely on the bookshelves than Dave Wolverton ever did. So I switched my name for that reason.

But then also, there’s that whole branding thing. When you start writing, I think it is good to stick with one name. So if I were to do it over, I would stick with David Farland. But there is a big important thing that happens. When you put out a book in a genre like science fiction, one of the big problems that we have is that the book buyers have electronic mediums that go through and follow how well it sells, so book scan will give an important how well it does.

Well, if you write a book in another medium, let’s say I write a big thriller, if I sell 100,000 copies in science fiction, I’m doing great. But in the other genre, my publisher would drop me in a minute for only having 100,000 sales. So you can actually destroy your career by having only one name if you’re in the mainstream literary field. Now, if you’re self-publishing, it doesn’t matter. I think we’re going to see an era where authors can use their names, but primarily is going to happen for online sales. Because books aren’t stacked the same way, if I write a book under Wolverton now and somebody is going online to buy it, then they don’t have to bend over and pick it up of the bottom shelf. It’s right there on the computer with all the other ones. So that’s a good thing too. So a lot of the rules are changing nowadays.

Joanna: What do you think about that? What do you think of the self-publishing revolution or digital revolution?

David: Well, I make a lot of money self-publishing. I went and put out my book Million Dollar Outline. I thought, “Oh, maybe I’ll sell a few copies.” Next thing I knew, it stayed on top of the best seller list in writing books for the next nine months. I didn’t go out and sell it or put up ads or anything. It just sort of took off, and every once in a while, something like that hits and I’ve gotten enough of a fan base that I can do that. So I think it’s great. I think it empowers authors. I also think that a lot of authors are just a little bit delusional as far as where their talents are. They are young, they are new, they are eager, they are excited, and they don’t know how far away they are from being publishable. So they go out and usually try it a little bit too early.

So I would recommend, hey, it’s a great medium, it’s a great way to go. But you really need to go out, put manuscripts in front of real readers, and you get critical feedback from somebody besides your wife or your mother, because I’ve seen that too many times.

Joanna: Yeah. Of course, you judge competitions so you know what good writing is. So I think that’s definitely a good point. We are almost coming to the end now, but I did want to ask you about longevity. I mean, you’ve mentioned that people starting too early. You’ve had a long writing career.

What are the top things that authors need in order to have a long-term writing career?

David: I think there are a lot of things. I think that the first thing that I have to, I think that loving the craft is really important. Just loving the fact of sitting down and putting words onto piece of paper and doing it beautifully is important to longevity. If I didn’t love this, I would go do something else. I’ve worked as a business manager in a number of fields. In the last five year, I’ve been asked to be the head of a video game company, a movie company. I could do anything I want and this is what I want to do. So loving what you do is important. The great thing about this is that no matter how good you are, you can always get better. So there’s a sense that you’ve got a great career path in front of you. There’s always something new or different or something that you can do better that you haven’t done before. So I think that’s important.

The other thing is just understanding the markets, being aware of what it is people want. It’s so important. New writers are very often just blind to that. I think that one of the things that I’ve had going for me is I can read the future, I guess. That’s not the easiest way to say it. I can look at the book and say, “Oh, this is going to have a long life, and this is why it’s going to be an important book.” I can see that with an author too. So just being able to look into the future and see what’s going to take off and understand why it’s working and how it’s working, I think that’s really important.

Joanna: Well, which takes a lot of reading I guess as well, so you’ve got to love reading.

David: Absolutely. If you don’t love reading, don’t get in this business at all.

Joanna: I would agree with that. Luckily, I love reading. I mean, this is the problem with kindle of course, you can just download hundreds of books.

David: Yes, exactly.

Joanna: It’s amazing.

But then, just tell us a bit about the books and the courses that you have available for writers?

David: Okay. Probably the easy way to do it is to go to Okay? I have my books there and I have my writing courses. Probably my most popular course is called The Story Puzzle where I teach you how to think about and outline a bestselling novel. So if you’ve got a novel idea, then we’ll just talk about how do we turn this into a best seller? What’s the way to do that. Then I have courses on writing, the Writing Mastery courses where you actually write the book. Then after rewriting to greatness where you learn to go through and do rewrites and say, “Okay, this is how you made a good book better.”

So there’s a number of different types of courses there, and then I also have seminars. So for example, if you want to learn about how to write a little bit for young adults or something like that, they have a little one hour seminars that you can take, and you can do that. Then I also have courses that I teach live. For example, next year I’m going to do a big two-week course that is an in-depth course on writing, plotting, and characterization. Plotting and characterization is what I want to focus on, and word building too. It’s going to be the longest and biggest course I have ever taught so I’m getting excited about doing something like that.

But like I said, I do a lot of courses and you could take them at your own leisure. You don’t have travelling expenses if you do them online which works great if you are in London. I get a lot of people who fly over from Europe and stuff like that. You can take five courses online for the price of one of. I know you do all that traveling.

So that’s great. It’s a great thing to do. Of course when I do the online courses, you’re turning assignments. I go through and critique them, give them back to you. It’s me personally who does it. It’s not some secret assistant. The other thing that we do is we have online chats like what we’re doing right now. We do half a dozen times a week so that you can ask questions and get feedback live and those types of things.

Joanna: Wow, that sounds awesome. So that’s mystorydoctor?

David: I always wanted to be a doctor when I was young, and now I’m a story doctor.

Joanna: Did you want to mention the coupon?

David: Oh, yes. For this month, it’s nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month. If you use the coupon, nanowrimo: N-A-N-O-W-R-I-M-O. I’m just going to keep that up for the next month so that will probably expire around the 1st of January. But you’ll go ahead and get a 20% discount on any course you take, whether it’s live, whether it’s a seminar, whatever you want to do.

Joanna: Brilliant. Thank you so much for that. It’s very generous of you. So where can people find your other books, because you’ve got another website, haven’t you, as well of your fiction?

David: Yes. For my fiction go to That’s the name that I write under so all of my book are there.

Joanna: Fantastic. Thanks so much for you time, Dave. That was great.

David: Well, thank you so much. Have a wonderful day there.

Pitching Literary Festivals, Genre Boundaries And Crime Fiction. With Clare Mackintosh

I attend quite a few literary festivals and I always come away having learned something.

I definitely think they are worth going to for the new perspectives as well as the networking opportunities.

literary festivalToday on the blog, I interview crime author Clare Mackintosh, who also runs a literary festival in Chipping Norton in the UK.

She answers some of my burning questions about literary fiction and genre boundaries, running literary festivals and how authors can maximize their chances of being involved. You can leave Clare any questions about these topics in the comments at the bottom of the post.

Where does literary fiction cross over into crime?

The term ‘literary fiction’ makes me roll my eyes a bit! More and more it seems to be used by authors who think they’re a cut above the rest, but I think the distinction between literary and commercial fiction is becoming very blurred. Crime novels in particular often offer commentary on social or political issues: take Eva Dolan’s excellent Long Way Home, in which she tackles the issues of immigration and migrant workers.

What do you think about genre boundaries in a world where readers increasingly shop online even for print books?

In principle I really dislike the idea of genre boundaries, which trap books in pigeonholes. Readers can be very quick to say that they ‘never read chick lit’ or ‘don’t like historical fiction’, when it’s very possible they would really enjoy the very book they are dismissing as ‘not for them’.

That said, I’m not sure what the alternative is. Genre categories provide signposts for readers, and when so much of our browsing is done online, such signposts are crucial. Personally I find myself relying more on lists of ‘popular books’, than on restrictive genre lists, and I’ve discovered some real gems that way.

You also run a literary festival – why did you start that and what are some aspects about it that you love?

chip lit festI started Chipping Norton Literary Festival in 2011, and it ran for the first time in April 2012. I started it because I wanted to put authors into intimate venues in the heart of a town, instead of in enormous marquees. The experience is quite different.

ChipLitFest is a huge project, with thousands of pounds to raise every year, but its been very successful, thanks to the hard work of all the volunteers I work with.

We produce around 50 events, as well as an extensive schools’ programme, and receive fantastic feedback from our visitors. I love meeting authors, and reading outside my comfort zone (I try to read a book from every author who appears at the festival), and I like the challenge of running such a big project on a budget.

If authors want to pitch literary festivals, what are some of the things they should consider?

Don’t just send details of your book!

Literary festivals are about events, not just authors, so think about the sort of event you could provide. Craft a pitch of no more than a couple of paragraphs, telling the organiser what the event would look like, who it would appeal to, and what your credentials are for appearing in it. If you want to appear on a panel, suggest other authors you could appear with: make it easy for the organiser to say yes.

Finally, take the time to find out who to pitch to. I receive around 300 pitches, and the vast majority are addressed ‘dear festival organiser’. It’s impolite, and it’s counter-productive – I’m far more likely to read one addressed to me.

Switching your head from festival organizer back to author speaking at festivals :)

The author often has to pay to appear at these events – what are the benefits for authors in speaking at events, and when is it best to do other forms of marketing?

I don’t believe authors should pay to appear at literary festivals. Events at festivals should be programmed for the benefit of the (usually paying) audience, with carefully chosen topics that will sell well. Authors should then receive some sort of fee (ChipLitFest works on a profit-share basis, other festivals pay flat fees) and have their books made available for sale.

There are, of course, huge benefits as an author to speaking at festivals and other events, but it’s important to choose carefully.

Make sure the festival has a good online presence, and that their off-line marketing strategy is solid. Even if your own event is small – perhaps you’ve been asked to run a workshop for 20 people – find out what the total anticipated visitor numbers are, as these are the people who will see your name on the programme and your books in the festival shop.

You won’t sell lots of books at a festival.

At an event of, say, 100 people, less than 10% will buy books. But appearing at a festival helps to cement your brand and build loyalty, and you may well find that your book sales improve immediately following the event. Success tends to breed success, so a few events at small festivals can lead to speaking gigs at larger ones, where book sales may be better and promotion more wide-spread.

You’ve been wonderfully supportive to many indie authors, myself included, as well as Dan Holloway, a friend of the blog!

But most literary festivals still exclude indie authors and self-published books. How can we go about changing the culture to include indies at lit festivals?

Yes, they do, and I think that’s a really hard issue to tackle. Ultimately events have to sell, which means programming either a well known author, or a really enticing topic (or both!). We include a self-publishing event every year, but I confess I haven’t yet had a self-published author in a headline slot. Yet…

I’d like to see more indie authors pitching lit fests, but pitching well!

I’ve just glanced at the pitches I’ve had from indie authors for ChipLitFest this year and – sadly – I haven’t pursued any of them. Without exception the emails tell me how many books they’ve sold, how long they were in various online charts, and what the reviews say. That would be great: if I were a bookshop!

I let you goTell us about your book and who might enjoy it in particular.

I Let You Go is a psychological thriller about the consequences of a terrible accident. The story is split between the police investigation, and Jenna Gray’s decision to walk away from her life in Bristol. She tries to leave the past behind, but – as we all know – that’s easier said than done…

It’s an uncomfortable story, described by Elizabeth Haynes as ‘absorbing, authentic and deeply unsettling’, and I’ve been delighted by feedback from crime writers I really admire. Mark Billingham said the twist made him ‘green with envy’, which is as big a compliment as I could have hoped for!

If you liked Apple Tree Yard, Gone Girl, Into The Darkest Corner, or Close My Eyes, I think you’ll like I Let You Go. Let me know if I’m right!

How much of you is there in your characters and in the book? How much does it relate to your own background?

I was a police officer for twelve years, so in choosing to write crime I am undoubtedly writing what I know! I think it’s inevitable that a writer creeps in to their own books a little, but my characters aren’t based on me or anyone I know. DI Ray Stevens is a family man, who becomes so engrossed in a hit-and-run case that he loses sight of what is happening at home. He’s a fictional character, but the essence of his issue – that confusion of priorities – is something very common to police officers, and indeed to anyone with a demanding job.

clare mackintoshI Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh, is published by Sphere. It is available in ebook and trade paperback from 6 November 2014, and in paperback in April 2015. Follow Clare on Twitter @ClareMackint0sh or via her website

For information on Chipping Norton Literary Festival, visit or email

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Alexandre Dulaunoy

Writing Religious Thrillers And Storytelling Lessons From Commercial TV With Simon Toyne

It’s always fantastic to talk to mega bestselling authors and a few years back, Simon Toyne’s Sanctus series was one of the biggest books in the UK, as well as an international bestseller. In this interview, he explains the inspiration behind the books and how 20 years of TV experience taught him the most important elements of storytelling.

In the introduction, I talk about the launch of Business for Authors, my trip to Stockholm and the launch of 1 Fred’s Place in London, plus the audio edition of Day of the Vikings, available now.

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Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you!

simon toyneSimon Toyne is the bestselling author of the Sanctus trilogy, translated into 28 languages and published in 50 countries. Sanctus was the UK’s biggest selling debut thriller of 2011, and all three books of the trilogy were Sunday Times bestsellers in both hardback and paperback.

You can listen above or on iTunes, watch the interview on YouTube, split into two, here (for readers) and here (for authors). You can also read the transcript below.

We discuss:

  • Simon talks about the origins of the Sanctus trilogy and what inspired him to write the books. They are fast paced thrillers but they’re also about the identity of religion in the West, and the real identity of the main character.
  • sanctusSense of place: The importance of the city of Ruin with the medieval Citadel, and the mysterious Sacrament that lies within. What’s real and what is fiction.
  • On research and traveling for work – Simon worked for 20 years as a Director making travel shows, so a lot of that goes into the books.
  • How Simon took 6 months off his TV job to write his first novel. He took his family to France to take a real break.
  • On walking the line on religion on spirituality. There’s a lot of Christian ideas in the books, but also a lot of pagan mythology. It wasn’t intended to be religious in any way. On arriving in France, sleep-deprived after a storm, and seeing the spires of Rouen Cathedral, Simon found a quote resonating in his mind from Ralph Waldo Emerson “A man is a god in ruins.” That became the seed for the books. Simon mentions that The Name of the Rose was an influence (as it was for me!)
  • On the Tau cross (pictured on the cover) and how important it was to the myths in the book. What is the Sacrament and what does it really mean?
  • Simon’s now writing a new modern thriller series about a man who doesn’t know who he is, a story of redemption. It’s roughly based on the 10 Commandments.
  • On screenwriting as a way of understanding storytelling and an apprenticeship for writing novels. Lee Child and Simon both worked in commercial British TV and you learn a lot about story from that world.
  • Simon’s tips for writing worldwide bestsellers.
  • The changes in publishing and how Simon sees the industry right now

You can find Simon and his books at and on twitter @simontoyne.

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