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As authors, we have to manage the production of work, but also the care of our creative souls. There's a quote from Charles Bukowski that has been doing the rounds on social media, “Find what you love and let it kill you,” but personally, I want a long term career and I want to have a good time along the way! In today's interview I talk to Todd Henry, author of ‘Die Empty,' about how we can manage our creative lives.
The podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Todd Henry is the bestselling author of Die Empty: Unleash your best work everyday, and Accidental Creative. He's also the founder of Accidental Creative, a business that helps creative people generate ideas.
- Todd did a degree in marketing and then spent a few years in the music business, before working with a creative team. With long hours and high pressure, Todd started to wonder how creativity could be sustained and fostered over a long term career. He started a podcast, The Accidental Creative, to start a conversation about creativity in the marketplace. This morphed into a business, and Todd writes books as well as speaking and consulting with teams on productive creativity.
- On ‘Die Empty' and provocative book titles. We all have a finite amount of time and resources in this life, so we have to choose how to spend them wisely. Don't take your best work to the grave with you. Take steps every day to spend yourself on a body of work you can be proud of. Be more intentional about how you spend your limited time and resources.
- On the balance between giving your all and refreshing the creative well. We need rhythms in our life. It's less about work/life balance, and more about the rhythm of being effective. There are productive phases and other times when we need to recharge and relax. I mention the sign on my wall, ‘Write to live. What is living today?' as this is something I am very aware of. Todd mentions this ability to judge rhythm is part of being a mature creative, recognizing signs of burnout and shifting energy as necessary. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
- On mapping, making and meshing. Mapping is planning and strategizing, outlining stories. Making is the shipping aspect, the actual production. Meshing is the rest of life, the living that helps us bring all our creative strands together, developing your skillset, understanding what you do, finding your voice and all the things that are less measurable. You need all of this, but the focus of many creatives is often just on making. The cult of shipping seems to be prevalent right now. As the questions: what am I really trying to achieve here? what is the why behind what I am doing?
- How do we take a long view of our body of work when we have bills to pay this month? You will be judged by the body of work you produce so you have to decide. You need to look at four aspects: Focus. Assets. Time. Energy. You need to choose where you focus and what your overall goal is. Assets are your resources, financial, relational. Time and Energy are your finite resources that you need to decide on every week. Ask yourself – why am I doing this? What is the overall goal? Be honest about it.
- We talk about Todd's next book which will be around finding your voice. He finds writing very difficult but it is the best way to get his ideas out in the world. A book is portable equity, turning ideas into tangible form, helping you spread your message. We talk about the difficulty of judging the quality of our own work, and the importance of editors, and time away from the text in order for it to become unfamiliar.
- On Todd's entrepreneurial business. We talk about the book and the audiobook (which he read), as well as his consulting and public speaking appearances. This is a common business model for non-fiction authors, when the book is more of an introduction to ideas and then the author earns more from the ‘back end' after the book. You have to package the idea so it is easily accessible from a lot of different angles, and then you can apply that to a broad market by slightly reframing the topic every time.
- On podcasting for marketing, and how it helps to create a connection through the personality of voice and expression in video. We both think it is a great thing to be doing to build an audience who care for the long term as it is so authentic. Here's my tips on how to podcast.
- Todd is traditionally published and we have a chat about the changes in the publishing industry, how we are on the cusp of great change. There are many great things about the rise of self-publishing but Todd has some concerns around how the device owners in the music industry let the quality of the content slip, because their income was more about devices. Pricing expectations have changed, which has affected authors (like Todd) who publish through traditional publishing. Discovery is also the biggest problem for everyone.
You can find Todd at ToddHenry.com and his podcast and blog at AccidentalCreative.com as well as on twitter @toddhenry
You can find Die Empty: Unleash your best work every day here on Amazon, as well as Todd's other book, The Accidental Creative: How to be brilliant at a moment's notice.
Full Transcript of Interview with Todd Henry
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And, today, I'm here with Todd Henry. Welcome, Todd.
Todd: Thanks, Joanna. It's great to be here.
Joanna: Super to have you on the show!
Todd is the bestselling author of Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, one of Amazon's Best Books of 2013, and also, Accidental Creative. He is also the founder of AccidentalCreative.com, a business that helps creative people generate ideas.
Todd, you're everywhere on the Internet, and it's all amazing, but tell us a bit more about you and your background in writing and business.
Todd: Sure, absolutely. So, I studied marketing in school. And, after marketing, I did a tour of duty in the music business for a while. I think it's sort of a rite of passage for marketing majors that you have to spend some time in the music business at some point.
And then, through a long series of events, ended up leading a creative team, a group of creatives, designers, writers, and was trying to figure out how to help them be more effective in what they do every day. And we were working very long hours, working, you know, 60-hour weeks and longer. And I started asking some of my creative-director friends at agencies around town, “Hey, how do you keep you teams engaged? How do you keep fresh? How do you keep them charged up and excited about the work?”
And they looked at me like I had two heads. I mean, they were saying “What do you mean? We don't worry about that. We just, you know, burn through people and bring fresh crop of creatives.”
I thought, “Well, that doesn't seem right. That doesn't seem like the way to really invest in people as a leader. It doesn't seem like how you could help them, you know, do their best work.” So, I started doing some research about how effective creative professionals, people who produce value over the long term, seem to be able to do that.
Are there some commonalities there? And, as a leader, what are some things I can do to begin helping my team do that, as well, and begin implementing some of these practices?
And then, you know, because I was having difficulties finding any kind of conversation about this, any kind of resources to help me do that, I created a podcast in 2005 called “The Accidental Creative,” and the idea was to start a conversation about creating in the marketplace.
What does it look like for people who have to go to work and write and every day? They have to design, they have to lead teams or build products. How can they be more effective? Started this podcast, kind of forgot about it, frankly. I mean, it was just, I wanted to kind-of vent and get some ideas out there.
Came back about a month later looking for podcasts to listen to, some business podcasts, and I discovered this podcast called “The Accidental Creative” that was one of the top business podcasts on iTunes. And my first thought was, “Oh no, I stole someone else's name! I can't believe I didn't check first!” right?
But it was my podcast, and there were apparently thousands of people listening to it. I'll sort-of short circuit the story a little bit. That pretty quickly turned into me being invited to come and spend time with teams, helping them generate ideas, which then really became my business several years ago, and then spent several years doing that.
The books came along shortly thereafter. And that's pretty much what I'm doing now, is helping creatives and teams generate ideas more effectively and be more productive in what they do on a day-to-day basis. So, that's kind of the short version of it.
Joanna: Which is fantastic. And, I mean, most of my listeners write books, fiction and some nonfiction.
But in general, we're book authors and less business people. Although I'm trying to educate people on that whole entrepreneurship side of things. But let's get straight into “Die Empty”.
Give us a high-level pitch about the book, because the phrase could probably be quite scary for some people.
Todd: I think it's a bit of a hurdle, for some people. And that was an intentional choice. I talked with the publisher about the book. We were really trying to decide “Are we going to call it ‘Die Empty'?” That was kind of the going title, you know?
And then, we're trying to figure out “Is this what we're going to do or not?” And, you know, we really felt like it was provocative, it was something that would cause people to think. But it also, obviously, there's some negative psychology going on there, especially with the big-box retailers, book retailers and whatnot. You know, are they going to really buy into a book called “Die Empty”?
But the general idea of the book is this: We all have a finite amount of time on Earth. And we all have a finite amount of resources to spend in the pursuit of whatever it is we want to do. If we're writing books, we have a finite amount of time to get those books out of us, get them into the world, and provide value to those around us.
Several years ago, a friend of mine was leading a meeting and he asked this out-of-the-blue question in the meeting. He said, “What do you think is the most valuable land in the world?” We're all thinking, “That's a weird question. I don't know.”
He said, “Well, I think the most valuable land in the world is the graveyard, at least the cemetery. Because, in the graveyard are buried all of the unwritten novels, all of the unlaunched businesses, all of the unexecuted ideas, all of the things that people carried around with them their entire life, and they thought ‘Well, I'll get around to that tomorrow. I'll start that tomorrow.'
And they pushed it, and they pushed it into the future until, one day, they reached the end of their life. And all of that value is buried with them, dead in the ground, never to be seen by human eyes.”
That day I wrote down two words. I put them on the wall of my office and put them in my notebook. And those two words were “die empty,” because I want to know, at the end of my life, when I reach that bookend of my life, I'm not taking my best work to the grave with me.
I've done everything I can on a daily basis to empty myself of whatever's in me, to provide value to people around me. If it's something I need to write, something I need to say to someone, a loop I need to close, I want to make sure I'm doing whatever I can on a daily basis to get that out of me, so that when I reach the end of my life, I can die empty of regret about where I put my focus, my assets, my time and my energy. I've spent myself in the pursuit of something worthy. I built a body of work that I can be proud of.
That's really what “Die Empty” means. It's not “collapse exhausted across the finish line.” You want to be able to die empty of regret about where you put your most valuable resources.
Unfortunately for a lot of people they're not as intentional as they should be about how they spend those finite resources, and they look back on their life and they realize they made decisions out of fear, they made decisions out of comfort, they made decisions that weren't really in the pursuit of something they knew was the right thing.
Instead, they chose a different path, and they end up regretting that deeply. And so, what I wanted to do was articulate some of the ways that we can be intentional about spending our resources in the pursuit of what matters most to us.
Joanna: And I completely agree. But it's interesting, right now, there's bit of a meme going 'round, I don't know if you've seen it, you know, saying the Charles Bukovski quote, “Find what you love and let it kill you.”
Todd: Yes, yeah.
Joanna: Yeah, the quote's going 'round. And it made me think of your book.
What do you think the balance is between that giving-of-your-all every day, and also needing to recharge and refresh our kind-of creative well?
Todd: There's definitely a rhythm there. The first book, The Accidental Creative, was really about the idea that we need to have rhythm in our life. We can't be going 24/7. We have to have rhythms, like you said, of filling the well, of recharging our self, sharpening our mind, developing our skills, sometimes just kicking up our legs and watching television for a while.
Whatever it is that we need to do to recharge ourselves, to position ourselves to be effective when we need to be, we have to take all of that into account. So, I think there's unquestionably a balance there.
I prefer the word “rhythm” over “balance,” because, I think “we strive for balance,” I think that tends to mean, “Oh, we want a little bit of everything.”
When we talk about rhythm that means, sometimes, there are going to be seasons. Like right now, I'm writing a new book. There are seasons in my life where I am intensely focused. And this is really everything else in my life is subservient to this thing I'm doing, because it is the main thing right now.
And then, there are seasons in my life where that is subservient to whatever else is more important during that season. And I think, as artists, as writers, as those who are producing value on a daily basis, we have to strike a rhythm with our life that allows us to bring us fully to the work we do, but also recognize, we work best out of that time that we spend filling ourselves, sharpening ourselves.
It's easy to neglect those elements of filling our well and recharging ourselves, when we're deeply passionate about the work that we're doing, when we find something that is worth spending our life on. But that's exactly when we need to be disciplined enough to say, “Okay, well, yes, I can work on this until 11 o'clock this evening, and get up at 4 in the morning and start working again. But I also recognize, I care enough about the work that I'm going to take the time to step back, recharge my well, reframe my perspective and then re-engage again once I'm charged up.”
I think that's an element of learning to be a mature creative is knowing when to step back and to say, “I could kill myself doing this, but I'm not going to do my best work that way. Instead, I'm going to recognize, this is really more of a marathon than a sprint.”
Joanna: No, that's a really good point. And it's interesting: right now, especially in the fiction world, there's a lot of emphasis on a lot of production.
One of the stories is, “22 Books Written in 30 Months” by a guy called Russell Blake. You haven't heard of that. And that really is putting a lot of pressure on fiction authors, who are going “Well, how can I be successful unless I write that much?” And, it's interesting, you say about being a “mature creative.” I think that's a really good phrase.
You talk about work being split into ‘mapping, making, and meshing', which I liked. Creatives are normally quite good at making, but not necessarily the other bits. I wondered if you could talk about those other two.
Todd: Yeah. This topic is really close to what we were just discussing before, the idea of filling your well, because we tend to think of work as this giant mesh, this giant melting pot of tasks and plans and activities and strategies.
But, really, we can kind of parse it out into three separate forms. The first form is mapping, and this is, really, it's planning. You know, if you're writing fiction, you probably have some sort of story outline, you kind of have this sense of what it is you're going to do, you know about how many words a day you need to write if you want to stay on track with what you're writing.
If you going to write 22 books in 30 months or whatever it is, you have to have some sort of plan there, right, to be able to do that. Mapping is important. It's strategizing. It's the work-before-the-work.
And then there's making. And this is what typically is being referred to now, thanks to Seth Godin, as “shipping,” right? This is actually doing the stuff that you planned. It's executing the task. It's actually making the clickety-clack on the keyboard and cranking out words. And it's the most measurable form of work that we do. I can look at something at the end of the day and say “I did that. Great.”
And so, we tend to think of work as those two things, mapping and making. So, I plan and I do. I plan and I do. And, you know, if you just do that, you're gonna make progress, but, over time, you're gonna see diminishing returns on your efforts, because you're ignoring the third kind of work. The third kind of work is what I call “meshing.”
Meshing is the work that's between the work. It's all of the things that hold your mapping and your making together. It's things like developing your skill set, getting a sense of why it is you do what you do, defining your battles, understanding the space that you uniquely play in, finding your voice, discovering the unique expression that you have creatively.
All of these things are part of this “meshing” element of work. And the problem is that meshing often seems very inefficient. If you tell someone “Look here, you need to take a couple of hours and go develop your skills. You need to go read another writer that you admire and get inside her head and understand how she thinks about language…” Something of that nature.
It seems very inefficient in the moment, because I have a word count to hit today, or I have other things that I need to do. This doesn't fit my strategic plans. But, over the long term, it's the meshing that allows us to continue to grow and to continue to be increasingly effective against our objectives.
We have to have all three of those. If you just map and make, I call that person the “driver.” I work with a lot of organizations. I encounter a lot of drivers in organizations, people who say “Give me a task. Give me an objective. I will knock it out of the park! I will run through you in order to accomplish this objective.” Right?
They're very nose-down. They're driven. It's the kind of person who says “I'm gonna crank out a book a week for the next…” you know. But they're not really stepping back to ask the question, “Why am I doing this? Now, what are my real objectives here? And what am I really trying to accomplish? Am I just doing it because somebody told me, ‘Hey, I wrote 40, so you have to write 41'?” “But what is the reason I'm doing this?”
And that's really what meshing is. And we have to be careful to make sure we don't neglect that in our pursuit of doing the work. The cult of shipping is really something I'm concerned about. I think that creatives tend to err on the side of ideas and getting excited.
Scott Belsky talks about the “project plateau” and this thing of, you jump from shiny object to shiny object, because “Oh, I've got the ping of a new idea.”
And I think, traditionally, that has kind of been the way the pendulum has swung for creatives. We're very distractible, we easily bounce from idea to idea, and we leave a wake of half-finished projects behind us. I think that's traditionally been the case. I'm concerned that we're moving to the other side of the spectrum now, where we have the cult of shipping, where it's “We just put out something really terrible, and then you can always redirect it later.” Or it's about quantity over quality.
And I think the truth is in the middle, like with anything. I think the truth is in the grey zone. It's in the middle, in-between that. And I think that's a very uncertain place to be, but that's what we have to parse if we really want to do meaningful work. We have to parse the balance between quantity and quality, and recognize that that answer's not gonna be the same for everybody.
Joanna: I think that's the point. It's not the same for everybody. And, it's funny you talk about that. I've actually got on my wall. I've got a load of stuff on my wall, as you probably do, too. But it says, “Write to live, and what is living today?” I think that living fits into your meshing. Because I'm very much a doer, and I need that to remind me, like, “Is living today just going out with my husband, or, like, you know, cooking some food, or traveling?” That's a big thing for me.
You're absolutely right. And that's really good for people to think about. I'm also interested in the longer-term stuff around the body of work, which you talk about. Pam Slim's got a new book out as well, called “Body of Work.” Fiction authors, we get obsessed with our sales figures. Well, you have books, too. You know this feels.
Joanna: Like, what's our ranking today? You know, how many dollars did we make today?
Joanna: How do we take a long view of this body of work, when we've got bills to pay this month?
Todd: That is a tremendous question. I think that's the real challenge for anyone who is producing work on a regular basis. Or, really, you're going to be judged by the work that you produce.
The body of work is the most physical manifestation of what you care about, the physical manifestation where you chose to spend yourself. Those finite resources we talked about earlier. I tell people, “Your fate determines your fate.” Not to be too cutesy, but your fate determines your fate. Your focus, your assets, your time and your energy: those are really the four levers that you can pull in the pursuit of building a body of work.
So, focus. How do you define the problems you're trying to solve? For fiction writers, specifically, I think you have to ask the question, “What do I feel is being called out of me? What is it that I am uniquely trying to do here? What problem am I trying to solve?”
For some, it might be just, at the beginning, “I need to form a basis income so I can start asking some of those deeper questions about ‘Where do I want to play? What kind of work do I want to do? Am I just trying to make a living as a writer, or am I trying to contribute something meaningful and valuable to the collective body of work that is culture?'”
I think that that's a question that we all have to ask. At some point, am I writing to just make a living? Is that what I'm trying to do? Or is there something more that I'm trying to do? And, again, that's a question everybody has to answer for themselves. But your focus, how you define that problem, and I think that's important.
I will be really thoroughly frank. Having written two books now, and I'm working on my third book, writing is not a pleasurable activity for me. I don't enjoy writing. It's kind of funny, because I'm now working on my third traditionally-published book.
But what I've discovered is that writing is the best way to communicate, to articulate, to get my ideas out there in the world. And my friend Ricardo calls it “portable equity.” It's a way to take those ideas out of the abstract and put them in some tangible form, get people to interact with them.
And so, for me, that's how I define the problem I'm trying to solve: trying to free up creatives to be more of who they are. The best way to solve that problem is to get something in their hands that they can interact with.
So, your assets, your physical resources: those are your relational resources, your financial resources. Those are finite, and how you spend them contributes to that body of work. Your time, 168 hours a week.
Say I'm going to write so that I can make a living, which is fine, that's great. Am I also going to dedicate an amount of time to writing things that just charge me up, that are more exploratory, that may never be seen by the world, but they're allowing me to shape my voice, and find a new way of expressing myself. So, that way, my writing doesn't become all about making a living; my writing can also be something I do on the side as way to kind of shape and refine and experiment. And then that may find form in my writing that I share with the world at some point, or not.
But then, finally, my energy: how am I positioning myself to bring more of who I am to what I do? Which often means being very selective about the projects I choose to take on.
Each of those four elements are what build our body of work, ultimately. Those are the four levers that we have to pull. And that body of work is any place we add value in our lives. So, it's not just our job, you know, in this case, writing.
But for me, it's working with companies or working with individuals or speaking at conferences or whatever it is. That's certainly one element of my body of work. But it's also how I lead my family, how I treat my family, how I treat my wife, how I treat the barista at Starbucks, where I choose to spend money. All of those things are a part of that body of work, or that delta, that change that exists because I sucked air on this earth.
And so, again, the answer is different for everyone, but I think there is tremendous value, Joanna, in simply stopping on a daily basis asking… As you look at what's on your calendar today or you look at your task list or you look at the things you're trying to do, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”
First of all. “What is the deeper objective I'm trying to achieve with this?” Don't just get carried along by your work, but ask “Why am I writing this project?” And if you can be honest with yourself and say, “I'm writing this project because I know this project is going to sell, and that's going to provide me with greater assets to be able to spend in the pursuit of building a different body of work.” But it's okay to be honest with yourself about that and say that.
I think it's important to understand the “why” behind the “what.” And that is, I believe, the first step toward building a body of work you can ultimately be proud of, is just being intentional, recognizing the reason why you're doing what you're doing, and making sure that that is aligning with where you want to be long-term.
For me, you know, the most important thing I work on with creatives is just helping them understand how not to be carried along by their work, but, instead, to to define their work on a daily basis, and make sure that that work reflects what they care about.
And if it doesn't reflect what they care about, at least make sure that it, in some way, contributes one brick in the wall of their body of work that's helping them get to where they ultimately want to be.
Joanna: No, fantastic. And I was reminded there, because you said you find the writing really difficult and a great quote by Dorothy Parker is “I hate writing. I love having written.” That we're proud. I hate the first draft, as well. I love editing, I don't know about you.
Todd: Yeah, I will say editing is a much easier process. Because, very often, and this happened with the new book, with “Die Empty,” to be completely frank, when I finished the first draft, I turned it into my editor at Portfolio Penguin, and I said “Yeah? What do you think?”
I don't know, because you're so close to the work. And, one thing I've discovered is that we are profoundly terrible judges of the quality of our own work because we're so close to the work. And we need objective voices in our lives. Like, I need an objective voice to tell me, “Hey, you need to stop feeling bad about this, because this is actually really good, and I think we can make it better.”
And then, it's funny, when I went back to do the audiobook version, to record the audiobook for “Die Empty,” as I was reading it, it almost felt like someone else's book because I hadn't read it in a few months. As I was reading, there were unfamiliar sentences and things I'd forgotten that I've written.
I had this thought of “Oh, this is actually pretty good,” right? Because I was distanced from it, and I realized, “Wow, this is a book I would want to read.” Which, I think, for any author, I think, is the ultimate compliment you can pay yourself, is when you're reading yourself and you're thinking, “Wow, I actually would like to read this.”
Or when you find yourself getting lost in your book, and I don't know if this has happened with you, but your find yourself reading along and you can't stop and, all of a sudden, you've been reading for twenty minutes, and you're thinking “Why am I spending my time reading my book? I wrote it, for crying out loud!” But I think that, when that happens, it's kind of the ultimate compliment that you can pay yourself.
I wanted to also ask you about your creative-entrepreneur kind of business, because this is one thing we talk about as authors as well. It's not just about writing one manuscript, and that's kind of one product.
How have you turned “Die Empty” into multiple streams of income?
Todd: I'm a little bit unique in that, I think, for non-fiction writers, the biggest market for what I do is with companies and associations, organizations. I spend a lot of my time out with companies, with teams or speaking at conferences for a thousand people, or whatever, who want me to come in and share kind-of the top level of principles from the book “Die Empty” with their crowd to inspire them, to challenge them to think differently about their work… So that really has been the primary market for me.
In many ways, the book is kind of way of me introducing ideas into the marketplace, and then letting those ideas find their way into the right hands. And then, hopefully, those people who are are the right hands then invite me to come and spend time with their company. And so, it's been a little bit unique in that sense.
And it's funny, I was just talking with another nonfiction writer yesterday, who was asking me advice, because I'll probably do 50 to 70 speaking events this year. He was asking me, “How can I do more of that?” And I said, “Listen, you have to package the idea in a way that it is easily accessible from a lot of different angles.”
You could have a core idea at the heart of your work, but if you just come in and say “This is what I do. This is what I talk about,” you're not likely to find as broad of a market for what you do.
But, and this works for a fiction writers, I believer, as well, if you can find different elements or different entry points into that topic that slightly reframe the topic, but makes it little bit more palatable to different kinds of markets for what you do, then I think you'll be a lot more successful at, again, diversifying your income and finding different kinds of audiences for your work.
As a fiction writer, don't think that you have to just go in and maybe do book readings, or talk about your book, but is there a way you could talk about your process? Is there anything that you learned about yourself through the course of writing a book that you could then maybe use as a way to communicate with others?
I'm seeing the emergence of a lot of people who want to talk about the process of writing. Which is great, and you do this brilliantly. And you're one of the leading voices in that, which is great, and I think is a very necessary thing for writers.
But my concern is that I think people now think “That's the only way I can package what I do as a fiction writer outside of the work itself.” And I would love to see people start to ask questions about “How could I think of myself not just as a writer, but think of myself as someone who uses writing as a way to get my ideas out into the world?”
There are a lot of other ways that I can do that, whether that's through speaking or whether it's through working one-on-one with people, helping teams figure out how to utilize story in what they do, you know. I think that there are a lot of different ways that you can package your work to make that work.
Joanna: Fantastic. And yet we do talk a lot about consulting and speaking being other forms of income. When you have a book, it's a kind of logical next step. You come from a marketing background, and most of us authors haven't, and we learn this stuff as we go along.
I think there's a bit of renaissance in podcasting and I love my show. If you were starting from scratch, say, from a nonfiction book or a fiction book, is podcasting a great marketing tool?
What would be your tips around podcasting in particular?
Todd: I believe podcasting is a fantastic tool. And it's funny, because I started my first podcast back in 2005. My thought was only “I'm so late to the game on this podcasting thing.” You know, “I'm so past the curve. Am I already too late?” which is hilarious to look at now.
It's almost a decade later, and now we're really starting to hit the stride, right? The technology hadn't caught up, yet, I think… common technology hadn't caught up with, like, the technical crowd on this podcasting thing. And I think that, now, we're seeing it's a lot easier to subscribe, and audio is experiencing kind of a resurgence.
Personally, I feel like is maybe the best medium for getting yourself and your personality and your message out there, because it allows people to form a personal connection with you. It allows people to not feel like they're just interacting with your work, but to actually get to know you, and to get to know the person behind the work itself.
And sometimes it's easy to hide behind your writing, to hide behind clever turns of phrases. But there's something just genuine and authentic about audio, about video, that takes some of that away.
The listeners to the Accidental Creative Podcast are a fiercely loyal group of people. And, you know, we don't have an audience like, you know, This American Life, or Radiolab where we have hundreds of thousands of people listening, but we have tens-of-thousands of people listening, and those tens-of-thousands of people are very fiercely loyal.
And so, when I have a book that comes out, they respond. Or, you know, when I tell them, “Hey, I really love this person. You should go check out their work,” they respond to that, and they go and they check it out, because they feel like they have a connection with me. And, in some ways, I'm just revealing myself. “Here's what I'm seeing and noticing.”
I would encourage any author to establish that kind of a platform where you're not just writing at people and sending out stuff and hoping they interact with it, but you're actually giving them more of a part of yourself by interacting through audio, through video.
I've never really done a lot of video. I'm mostly audio for a lot of reasons, I think, just because I'm more comfortable with that than I am with video. You can choose your medium, and I think any author should be doing that, because it allows the audience to feel that personal connection.
Joanna: I think reading your own audiobook, like you've done, which, again, is probably easier for nonfiction, because you don't have to do accents and different voices and stuff.
I think it is a very good way for the listener to get the sense of your book.
Todd: Right. Absolutely. And it's funny, because there's been kind of a polarized response to that. People who are used to the podcast and go out and they buy the audiobook because they're used to the podcast, they love it because I'm reading it.
And people who maybe aren't as familiar with the podcast, they say “Well, why is he reading his own book?” And “this is kind of we…” And they're used to the more “professional” audio person.
Todd: So I know that's kind of a mixed bag. It just depends. But I feel like authenticity is such a critical part of your voice, you know. And contextual authenticity, not just “Oh, I'm gonna be real all the time. I'm gonna say whatever I think,” but putting that authenticity in context is important.
For me, reading the audiobook itself was important to me, because that's a part of the connection I want to have. It's an authentic expression of the kind of connection I want to have with the audience.
I wanted to ask you, as well, about the music business. Because, I mean, you're in traditional publishing right now but you also do a lot online. And you know a lot of the people who are going into self-publishing, you know, professional self-publishing these days.
Do you see any parallels with the change in the music business and the publishing business?
Todd: I have some pretty strong opinions of those. And we just signed a third book deal; I'm working on the third book. Being a traditionally-published author, I will say my experience may be a little different in some ways than…
So, let me think of how to say this. I am concerned in that I think that we are sort of at the peak of, think of like a roof, right? We're standing right on the peak of a house. And I feel like it's an egg balanced on the top, and it can go this way, or it can go this way.
The reason for my concern is, you look at what happened to the music business when Apple, who created the devices, had the distribution power to be able to dictate terms to the music industry said “Well, a single is 99 cents. I mean, that's what it is. That's the price. Regardless of what it costs you to produce, the market will only bear a 99-cent single, if that's what you want to sell. And an album is $9.99.”
And the people who are selling the devices, who really, frankly, didn't have any skin in the game as it relates to the content and the quality of the content, really, the just wanted to sell devices. They want to sell iPods or, you know, eventually iPhones.
My concern is that we're seeing a similar thing with Amazon, in that, while Amazon is opening up the market to anyone… Hey, anyone can participate, and I think that's a beautiful, wonderful, necessary thing, and that's only going to result in good in the long run.
My concern is that the content producers are not being taken into account when pricing is concerned. And so, setting the expectation that “Hey, an ebook is nine bucks or ten bucks, and that's what it is,” or maybe even cheaper, regardless of how many people were involved, or how many years it took to produce that content. They don't care about the content. They're just trying to sell Kindles, or they're just trying to get you into the ecosystem.
So that's my only concern, is that I feel like, in some ways, you have people dictating the terms of engagement who really have no skin in the game as it relates to the content production.
There's no question that traditional publishing needs to change in response to that. But there's kind of only so much you can do in traditional publishing to change the architecture and the infrastructure to make it align better with those expectations.
When the audiobook for “The Accidental Creative” was… I think it was priced at $11.99, I want to say the Kindle ebook. And the hardcover at the time was on discount from Amazon. It was like $15.98, so it was right after it came out. So there was some discounting going on. And I had several people email me, irate that we were basically pillaging them by charging $11.99 for the ebook, and saying “Hey! Why is it only $3 cheaper than the hardcover? It costs nothing to produce an ebook!” Right? “Why? There's no distribution cost, there's no…”
I tried very lovingly to respond to them and say “Listen, the cost to produce and distribute a hardcover book and distribute it is just a small fraction of the actual cost of producing the book. The biggest part of it is the one, two, three, four years it takes the author to write the book, all of the editors involved, the designers involved…” I mean, that whole process of trying to get the book to market is really the biggest part of the cost.
And so, again, you know, I don't want to live in a world where it's okay to just “Well, we're just going to scrimp on editorial. We're going scrimp on design. We're just gonna crank something out and put it out there, because that's really all the market will bear.” I don't think the market will bear that for very long, because it's going to affect the quality.
At the same time, I am super, super excited about the opportunities being opened up to authors to say “Hey, I don't have to go through some gatekeeper in order to get my work out in the world.” The problem at that point is discovery, and I think that's the thing Amazon hasn't really completely cracked the nut on, specifically Amazon, is “How do authors get their work discovered if they're not traditionally-published, sitting in a bookstore somewhere on a… you know, or whatever. Like, “How do we get discovered in that way when there are hundreds of thousands of books coming out every year sitting right beside each other on Amazon?”
So, the promise of this new world is “Hey, anybody can do it, you know? And that's great. That's a wonderful thing. But the downside of that is, because anybody can do it, everybody is doing it. And so, how then do you compete and get discovered in that world? So, I think it's an exciting time, but I'm just waiting to see which way the egg falls.
Joanna: All right.
Todd: I don't know any of that makes sense, but that's…it's like the whole process….
Joanna: Yeah, I know it does. I think the egg will kind-of split and go both ways. I think there's room for everything in this market. I really do.
Todd: Thank you.
Joanna: But anyway, I'm really respectful of your time. I wonder, can you share anything about the new book? When can people expect that?
Todd: This is, again, sort of a the traditional publishing process. It comes out in summer of 2015. So, it's gonna be a little while. I'm actually still writing it now. But, yeah, it's going to be primarily about the process of uncovering your voice.
So, what does it look like? How do you find your voice? How do you discover sort-of that resonant thing that causes the inflection point in, whether your life or your career or your business, your writing, what does that look like? So that's what I'm working on now, and it'll be, again, about a year-and-a-half before it comes out.
Joanna: Well, we'll wait with bated breath for that one. That's important to everybody. So, where can people find you and your books and the podcast online?
Todd: Yeah, the best way to find me is just to go to toddhenry.com, T-O-D-D-H-E-N-R-Y dot com. And then, from there, you can get to everything else.
Joanna: Thanks so much for your time, Todd. That was great.
Todd: Thank you.
Do you have any thoughts or questions? Please do leave a comment below.
Cliff Gibson says
As a one-time Bukowski fan and fanatic (still a fan, but not a fanatic), I find the quote, out of context, misrepresents what writing meant for Bukowski. He also said,
“Writing keeps you alive because it eases the monsters in the brain by moving them to paper. The listing of horrors seems regenerative, and often comes out in the writing as a form of joy or humor. The typewriter often sings soothing songs to the sadness in the heart. It’s wondrous.” [Interview by Jay Dougherty]
‘Writing keeps you from slitting your throat.’ [that one in scare quotes because it’s from memory. I have it on tape and will have to dig for it to make sure I’ve gotten it right.]
Cliff, I absolutely love those quotes! I actually was thinking recently about why I write and both of those really resonate with me.
Ugh, sorry to leave a second comment in a row like this, but I found the second quote you referenced. The original quote was: “Somehow when you get it on paper, tell it, it gets it out of your mind. It keeps you from jumping out a window or slitting your throat.” I found it here: http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/12/26/specials/bukowski-hollywood.html
I really appreciate your comments about the person who wrote 22 books in however many months. I have a career I love but also fiction ideas that I think are very valid, and I’m glad you’re offering a realistic opinion on the notion that people can’t sustain the amount of publishing that readers want in a year. At least not with any degree of quality.
Previewing your books on my Kobo reader now. Great podcast!
Jamie Beckett says
From where I sit, I’ll take quality over quantity. There have been some outstanding books published in my lifetime by authors who never published another one. Whether that’s because they had no more to say, didn’t have the time or the interest to push themselves through the process of writing and editing a book again, or for some other reason – the lack of a follow-up does nothing to take away from the book they did publish.
My choice is to write fiction when I have something to say. Fiction offers much more opportunity to share ideas of real importance, and so that’s my preference. Non-fiction pays more of the bills for me, but fiction is where my heart lives. So I write as often as I can, produce the best story I can, and spend not one minute beating myself up for not producing more pages, more titles, or more sales. That’s not my problem. I just have a story to tell. As long as I stick with that single mission, I’m okay. At least I feel okay. And that’s enough for me.
Thanks for the link to that interview, which I enjoyed reading. I got my quote from a different interview. I received a cassette and raw transcript of the interview from someone involved with the project. The interviewer was Japanese and writing for a publication in Japan, but I’m afraid I don’t have her name or the publication she wrote for. The interview took place at the time Bukowski was working on *Pulp*, so not long before he passed away.
On this tape he says:
“Writing means not to be famous, not to be rich. Writing means getting the stuff out so you don’t cut your throat while you are shaving in the morning, or jump off the bridge or lay down on the railroad tracks. Writing saves your goddamn ass, that’s what it does. It’s nothing to do with frame or immortality. It just has to do with your own survival. ”
And in answer to whether he likes writing he says:
“I don’t know if I ‘d say I like it. It’s not painful. Once I start writing, I’m in a different world, like, I ‘ll be at the computer writing something and Linda will the open the door and walk in and say something; you know what I will do? I will scream. I’ll go, “Hah!” because I’m in completely different place. I ‘m not in that room, I’m gone. So it’s a very strange thing. But you know, many writers say, “Oh, it’s painful to write.” To me, it’s not painful; it’s painful not to write. It’s the easiest thing. It’s everything.”
… oops… ‘fame’, not ‘frame’
Graham Ride says
Thanks Joanna and Todd that was a very interesting podcast and thanks for the pointer that podcasts are making a come-back.
I was also pleased to hear Todd’s remarks and the comments about quality – I was beginning to feel that it was going down the plughole.
However, young Todd, much as I agree with everything you said and your very helpful ideas, as someone who is over seventy, I can assure you that I want to die ‘full’. Full of ideas, full of plots and full of characters. Keep up the good work, both of you.
Todd Henry says
Graham, I agree with you! I hope that I die with more ideas, hopes, and active projects than the day before. I want to die empty of regret about how I spent my life, and full of satisfaction for a life well lived.
Graham Ride says
Beautifully put, Todd – nothing to add!
Sherry Marshall says
What a great blog and discussion. Dying empty or full for me is also about living empty or full! My new book calls to me every day to write and I never feel that ‘I’ am writing it. ‘The book’ writes itself. Only once did I get stuck and that’s when I started thinking about what I was writing!
However, working with people specializing in Process Psychology and learning how to ‘market’ my already published book amongst the general busyness of life means that often I do not find the time to write. So as you say, focus, assets, time and energy are the key and also not marginalizing my love for writing and paying attention to my creative flow and rhythms.
Michael Cairns says
Great podcast, thanks. I found Todd very inspiring and very clear about his concepts.
I also loved his definition, or reasoning behind his book title. That alone was worth the whole podcast!
I thought his points about finding different ways into your offering, so ways of repackaging or finding a different slant on what you do very interesting as well. As authors it’s easy to go down certain routes, often because they work, but in a marketplace filled with excellent ‘how to write’ blogs and ‘marketing’ blogs and so on, finding those unique angles and how they can benefit others could have a real impact on us as entrepreneurs (Just had to check the spelling of that. Not sure that’s a good sign 🙂
So, lots of food for thought, thanks
Cas Blomberg says
I loved this podcast and just wanted to say thanks to both Joanna and Todd. I’ve blogged about it here: http://casblomberg.com/2014/06/30/dying-empty/. Thanks again!
Cas Blomberg says
Oh, and now I have to run out and get this book!