I love to talk about the business side of being an author, and helping creatives move into the entrepreneurial sphere is a key focus on the blog these days.
Today I talk to Jen Talty, COO of Cool Gus Publishing, and she gives us an insight into how she helps run the lives of a dozen bestselling authors.
In the intro, I mention Business for Authors on pre-order at Amazon, Kobo and iBooks, Amazon KDP for kids, Kobo Aura H20, the arrival of IOS8 and what it means for authors. Plus, join me for a free webinar on using Scrivener for NaNoWriMo, or in Stockholm, Frankfurt or London for one of my upcoming speaking events.
This 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.
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!
Jen Talty is an award winning author, professional speaker and COO, Chief Operating Officer for Cool Gus, a publishing business she co-created with Bob Mayer.
- Jen's background as an author and how she started writing while sitting by the side of the ice rink as her sons played ice hockey. After a difficult experience in traditional publishing, Jen was looking to the future of digital, and as a technophile, she was excited about the possibilities with ebooks.
- How Jen helped Bob Mayer with his ebook backlist, and how together, they set up Cool Gus, which now has a dozen authors within it. Jen's role in the business is basically doing everything except the writing! And yes, we all want a Jen clone!
- The daily functions of the COO role – the kind of things that all authors do, like getting editing and covers organized as well as marketing campaigns. Jen runs double screens and lots of spreadsheets!
- Productivity tips for authors and how to be more organized when running this all on your own. Making lists and focusing on one thing at a time. Using different locations to do different things.
- Tips for book cover design. Using social media. On SlideShares and book trailers and trying different things over time.
- How to build your author strategy for a long term business. On ambition and goal setting.
- Talking techy. Ebook formatting and looking into the next few years of publishing.
You can find Jen and her books at CoolGus.com or on twitter @JenTalty . The latest releases from CoolGus are Shit Doesn't Just Happen by Bob Mayer, Dante's Fire by Jennifer Probst and Lucky Catch by Deborah Coonts.
Transcription of interview with Jen Talty
Joanna: Hi, everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com, and today I’m here with Jen Talty. Hi, Jen!
Jen: Hi, Joanna, how are you?
Joanna: I’m good, and it’s so good to have you on the show. So, just a little introduction: Jen is an award-winning author, a professional speaker, and COO—Chief Operating Officer—at Cool Gus Publishing, a publishing business she co-created with Bob Mayer, who’s been on the show. So, Jen, that’s fantastic.
Tell us a bit more about yourself and your writing and publishing journey so far.
Jen: I didn’t actually start writing until I think 2003, maybe. I’m a hockey mom (although this is my last year as a hockey mom! my youngest one’s graduating from high school), but I spent a lot of time in hockey rinks, sitting around, wrapped in a blanket, with my laptop, trying to figure out something to do while I had four hours to waste while my three kids did various hockey practices. And I would read a lot, and one day I just thought, “Well, I could do that, why not?” I mean, I worked part time, I was pretty much a stay-at-home mom, and I just started writing, and after about a year, I joined RWA, and started doing all that, and querying, and everything that all of us authors do, and getting rejected and rejected and rejected.
I was first published in 2007: unfortunately that company went bankrupt, the same week my book was supposed to come out!
Joanna: That happens so often, it seems really common!
Jen: Yes, but I had already also published with a digital publisher before the Kindle even came out, and I’m a technology nut, I am an early adopter of all technology. You can’t see it, because you’re looking this way, but I am sitting in front of two 27-inch screens, I have my little laptop over here, I have my little iPad over there, a new thing comes out and it’s like, “I want it”.
So I was already looking at what the future of publishing was going to be, and I knew it was going to be in digital.
I had a Sony eReader, so I knew somebody was going to create something, and Amazon did that. And at about the same time that the Kindle came out, maybe right before, I had met Bob, and I was a fan of his work, and I had taken his workshops before, and he’s a great teacher. And I started talking to him about the digital process, and I finally asked him, “You’ve got this extensive backlist that I know you have the rights to; what are you going to do with them?” He just kind of went, “Nothing,” and I’m, “Really?”
So I started explaining to him the process. Of course, the eyes rolling in the back of his head, and then we just started talking about it, and he was still focused on a career in traditional publishing, he was working on, I think at the time it was “Duty, Honor, Country,” getting it to his agent and selling it to a traditional. And I said, “Well, you can do that, you can have that world, too, why not the Atlantis series,” I don’t think it had ever been an ebook, and so I kind of talked him into letting me do that for him. And then it just snowballed, and that was in 2009, and 2010 I think he just said, “You know what, this is working, let’s just keep doing it.” So we started taking on other authors.
So, meanwhile, I’ve had four books and two short stories published, I’ve kind of for the last few years, put that on hold to do this, because I really found out how much of a passion I have for it. I mean, for me, the writing was a creative thing, and I’m doing book covers and creating ebooks, and I’m working with some really talented authors on branding and different things: it’s a creative process for me, so whether it’s writing or doing this, it serves the same need that I have to be creative.
Joanna: I think business is one of the most creative things anyone can do.
You’re creating so much when you create a business, it’s just fantastic. So I think what you’ve done is amazing, and I’m obviously jealous, and everybody wants a Jen now!
Jen: Everybody. If I had a dollar for every time somebody said, “Where can I find my own Jen?” OK, well, one of the books that I’m working on now, because I’ve moved from romance to straight suspense, will have, human cloning in it, so we’ll find a way to clone me, I guess.
Joanna: That would be great! So, just for anyone who’s not really aware,
Tell us what is Cool Gus and how’s it set up and what is your role?
Jen: My role is pretty much the tech side, and the marketing side, we call me the COO because I’m pretty much running our daily functions, freeing up a lot of time for our authors, especially the prolific ones, like Bob and Colin, who have, I think, Bob’s got over 60 books, I want to say Colin’s got close to 30 now, so that they just don’t have to worry about the little details of running their author business. I can take care of a lot of different things.
It’s really hard to describe what we are. We consider ourselves not really a publisher, more of a publishing partnership, I forget the term that Bob used.
But really, we’re there to support the author, and our goal is never to be this big, huge publisher and publish hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books, and just hoping one sticks: our goal is to work with an author in their career, like with Jennifer Probst, we just actually, two days ago, released “Dante’s Fire,” which is a short paranormal romance, in between her very busy schedule with writing for Pocket, and it’s given her the opportunity to dive into self-publishing without having to do the work, or without having to deal with “I’ve got to contract someone to do the book cover, I’ve got to contract someone to do the editing, I’ve got to contract somebody to do this”—I take care of all of that for them.
We do have a couple of different editors that we contract out that we use. I do most of our book design; occasionally we will hire that out. But then putting it all together, because of the relationships we have with other platforms, talking to all of them, trying to get merchandising for them, or just letting them know, “Look, we just are releasing this book on this day, here’s the information,” and hope for the best.
So, really, our goal is to build an author’s career …
both in what they publish with us, whether that be backlist or frontlist or a combination of both, and what they do with traditional publishing or other stuff that they’re working on. So really, we want to keep it small. Our vision has never changed: a team of ten, maybe twenty, authors, all working together with the same purpose, to reach readership. That old business model of you have to go through the bookstores, all of that distance between the author and the reader, , our goal is to just keep that distance very short, so that there’s this huge connection between the author and their readership.
Joanna: It’s so amazing, and it’s on my mind a lot, because I’ve just written this book called “Business for Authors,” because, I’ve been trying to write down all that stuff, and actually, when you write down all that stuff, you said ‘daily functions,’ it’s actually quite a lot, isn’t it.
What are daily functions of the COO role?
Jen: It is!
Joanna: You mentioned big stuff like cover design and editing, but you probably do things like price promotions, and price promotions on that many books, do you run everything on spreadsheets?
Jen: Oh, I love spreadsheets! The only one I know that can do a spreadsheet better than me is Bob!
Joanna: Oh, really, that’s a surprise!
Jen: Yes, although the way he does them makes me crazy. Mine have to be color-coded, he just puts information in there. Yes, I do, and I do everything by spreadsheet, and I do everything by author, so I have different spreadsheets for different authors, and sometimes some of my spreadsheets kind of overlap each other, and it really is hard, which is why we can’t get bigger, we can’t have a zillion authors, because there’s no way I could professionally manage all of these different things.
For example, another release we just had two days ago: Deborah Coonts has the “Lucky” series, the fifth book in the series just came out, while we were publishing the backlist. So, I was able to take one book and do a freebie, it was a novella, “Lucky Bag,” and we did a freebie for a few days, as we were leading up into the release, and I did a LibraryThing giveaway, an Early Review giveaway, I did a Goodreads giveaway, just mailed out all those books, and then we’re setting up a Bookbub ad for the first book in the series, which is in early September.
So that’s just one author, and it’s nice, because on Bookbub you can only do it once a month, so each author I’m doing each month, or trying to do each month, but that way, she can focus on her blog tour and then not have to worry about going in and changing price, I’ll go to the platforms and do all that, or, or scheduling things. I make sure all of that stuff happens: she can go out and promote the books the way she needs to promote them. And I’m there to support or, or whatever. And any changes that can be made, she can just say, “I need to change this, can you do that?” and that’s what I do.
So, it gets tricky. I mean, you have to be a very detail-oriented person, which us creative types aren’t always, so I have all sorts of little lists going on, and it’s why I have two screens, because I’ll have my spreadsheets and I can look at two or three different of them at the same time, making sure that I’m getting everything done for them, for the right author at the right time.
It used to be like when I took my kids to hockey, I was always afraid I was going to drop the wrong kid off at the wrong rink at the wrong time. Same worry here!
Joanna: I guess what I’d like from you is some way or some productivity tips, for authors who are doing this themselves, who don’t have two split screens; do you have any tips for how authors can be more organized about that type of thing, and try and almost compartmentalize their head, so that they can do that, too. Because I bet people are listening and going, “Oh my goodness, how does she do that?”
What are your productivity tips for authors?
Jen: It’s a mind-set, and I think I’m lucky in the sense that I’m a very organized person to begin with. Bob always says, “You’re going to organize your book the way you organize your day.” So, if you’re one of those people who flies by the seat of your pants when you write a book, you’ll probably fly by the seat of your pants/ I can’t do that. I make lists every night before I go to bed, of what needs to be done; I make lists, I go over that list in the morning, add, change, move around, depending on what showed up in email that’s, “Oh, that’s a red flag, got to take care of that right now.”
The biggest thing that actually I’ve learned in the last five years, which I learned from Bob, is to do one thing at a time. It’s really hard for me not to go, “OK, I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to do this,” and if I looked at my list over here right now, I looked at the whole thing, my head would explode. So, just take one thing and do it. Do the next thing, and then do it. Then take the next thing, and then do it.
Nut also realizing that if you’re a writer and you’re also doing all the other stuff on your own, and you don’t have a Jen, focus on the writing, really more than anything else. I mean, that’s the most important thing. You can’t market nothing. You’ve got to have the book. And having just one book, you get to three or four books, that’s when it starts getting a little bit more difficult to manage.
Don’t be afraid to hire a personal assistant, ten hours a week: that’s what a lot of authors do now. They have these virtual assistants. They can help you, just updating your website, keeping track of things for you. If you’re not good with spreadsheets, they can help you set that up. But really, for me, the key is just to stay focused on one thing and have my lists, and just go through my lists and try not to worry about what I have to do in five hours: worry about what I have to do now.
Joanna: Just getting more specific: I use a Things app for my lists.
Do you have an app, or do you just use paper?
Jen: Yes, I’m a very tactile person, so my lists are written. I’ll show you.
Joanna: We want to see!
Jen: I have my little notebook, and it has all sorts of different things in different days scheduled, and I have to write it out. My handwriting is atrocious, but I have to handwrite it out, because for me, it just is something that it does to my brain, I’m looking at it and my brain’s saying it, and I don’t know why, I have to write it out. And then I keep track of things in the spreadsheets. And I also always cross things off when I do it, so it makes me feel good. I’ve got something accomplished, and I did it, it’s done, and I can move on to the next thing. But it also helps me stay focused on that one task.
Joanna: And that focus thing, do you make sure social media is turned off, so you can, say, design a cover, or do you manage your Internet stuff in that way?
Jen: Ah, my Internet’s never turned off! I always say I’m going to do that. Bob will do that: Bob has to do that. Sometimes I think he’s just turning ME off! I will move things down, so that I’m not seeing them, I will turn the volume off on my screen, so I’m not hearing the ding from Facebook or the ding from, Twitter. But for me, it’s a little treat to take a break in an hour for ten minutes and go through that and do something, and then go back.
I will give myself credit for being very able to multi task. I can do more than one thing at once, as long as it’s not something that does require a lot of focus. So when I’m doing editing or I’m working on formatting, I don’t shut it down, but I tend to just put it all off to the side and I just focus on that, and if I need to get up and stretch my legs for ten minutes …
That’s another trick that I do. I have two different chairs.
I have this little ball chair that I sit on for posture, and I have a regular chair, and I have this other thing over here where I stand, so I will move around when I’m doing different tasks. I will be known to stand and edit, and it’s just like, “OK, now I’m editing,” and then I won’t even look at social media. So just different things to trick my mind into staying focused.
Joanna: That’s a common one, people moving physically and doing different tasks: that’s a really good thing. I wanted to ask about your book cover design, because you said you do that. And generally, I always say to authors, “Never do your own book design, because it can be a nightmare!”
But what do you enjoy about that, and what are your best tips for cover design?
Jen: I’m not as good doing it for myself as I am for the other authors! Bob and I always go back to this idea that simple is always better. Basically you want the book cover to invite the reader in. It’s an invitation to come look at me and see what I have. So, you want to make sure it fits your genre. If it’s straight romance, you don’t want to have some bloody knife on it. The title needs to be readable. Everything needs to be readable in thumbnail so, when somebody’s looking at it on Amazon, they can see what type of book it is, whether it’s a thriller, or sci fi, romance, whatever it is, and the title, and the author’s name, are very important and big.
We’re always looking to try and do different things, 3D, ones that move, but platforms aren’t prepared for that. They will be some day. But you also don’t want to go too crazy with it, because cover’s only one marketing tool. It’s only one aspect of your promotional tools. It’s a very important one, because it’s often the first thing that people see, but title’s just as important. So you want to make sure the title fits with what you’re talking about. We went back and forth and back and forth, Bob’s got a book coming up on September 9th, called—pardon my language—“Shit Doesn’t Just Happen,” and we went back and forth on title, and I actually was kind of, “Mm, I’m not sure we should,” but that’s the other thing: try different things with covers and titles. So when we did the one cover with “Seven by Seven,” and then we did the other cover with “Shit Doesn’t Happen,” that cover was, “Yeah, that’s it.”
So, sometimes you have to be willing to try different things, and the way I do covers is I work a lot with the authors, try and listen to them and what they vision, what types of images they see. I always read parts of the book and look deeper for hidden meanings inside of that. And then, it could take 70 cover designs before an author and I will get to one. That’s the nice thing about working with our authors, it isn’t, “This is your cover.” “Here are four or five ideas: tell me your thoughts.” And we did the “Lucky O’Toole” series, Deb and I went back and forth and back and forth on the branding that we wanted for the series, that little poker chip on each book, so you look at those five books, and even the novellas that go with it, you know they’re in a series, they’re a part of a family.
I did the same thing with the “Atlantis” books for Bob, so that you knew that they were a series, that they all looked like they belonged together. And then, come down to, if they say, “Well, I really don’t like that, I like this,” and if I really don’t like that, it’s still their cover, and my name goes on them, so I’m still proud, even if it wasn’t my first pick, it’s still a good cover!
It’s very important. But so is title, so is pricing, so is metadata, so is all that other stuff, and then they all come as a package deal.
Joanna: You’ve got so much experience, like you said, Bob’s got 60, and Colin’s got 30 plus, and that’s just two of your authors. So, you see all these books, and I know writing another book is the most important thing, but
What are the other things that you see that make books pop or things that just kind of break out, that were unexpected, or things like that: you know the question everybody wants!
Jen: If I had the answer to that question, things would have gone by a long time ago! You don’t know: that’s the hard part. You really don't know. I always say, you can’t make lightning strike, but you can be ready for when it does. Nobody knows why “Twilight” broke out, nobody knows why “Fifty Shades of Grey” broke out. Nobody knows why anything goes viral.
I do have one philosophy, and actually Bob mentioned it in one of his blog posts: when we were talking about the title, “Shit Doesn’t Just Happen,” somebody was like, “Oh, that’s terrible, that’s offensive,” and my point is that you can’t go viral if you don’t have haters, you don’t have pagans. There’s a thing called “Primal Branding,” it’s a book by Patrick Hanlon, some people were like, “Oh, it’s too dry” or “It doesn’t really fit into publishing”; it really does fit into publishing, because if you look at anything that goes viral on the Internet, whether it be a book, a YouTube video, or a news story, it goes viral for two reasons: people passionately loved it, and the same number of people passionately hated it.
Bob always says, and I agree with him, you’d rather have somebody hate something or love something than just be “Eh.” Apathy, “Eh, whatever, who cares?”
So don’t be afraid to push the limits.
I mean, that’s the wonderful thing about self-publishing, is what New York would have been not able to sell to a bookstore or maybe not quite sure that they could do anything with, or be able to market it, or it was too controversial, or it was a topic that they don’t cover, or whatever, you can do that now. You can make that happen. Don’t be afraid of your own writing.
Joanna: In that case, what is your playbook for what you definitely do for every book. Just the baseline. Obviously the cover and the editing, but I know like you guys do Slideshares, for example, not usually a core activity for authors.
Jen: Again, every book is different, every author is different, every genre is a little bit different.
But there are things like that. We do Slideshares, and we do book trailers. And we don’t do them because we think they sell books; we do them for a variety of reasons. One, they might sell books. It’s like Twitter, Facebook, you really don’t know. Some people swear by it, others are, “It doesn’t work for me.” My thing is getting that metadata, that information about you as an author, who you are, what you’re writing, and your books, out there in so many different places that it affects the SEO, it affects search engines, it affects people searching for you, and it’s just another way that somebody that might not have seen it will see it.
The Slideshares, really they’re a storyboard. They’re basically an overview, and it’s the same thing with the book trailer. And again, simple is best. I see a lot of people doing these really extravagant book trailers, or spending a lot of money on it, and it’s kind of hard, because it’s a different medium, you have to be really careful. I’ve seen a lot of people say, “I didn’t want to see, I don’t picture the hero in that book to look like that,” and so it kind of throws them off. You kind of want to be really careful about what you do.
I know when we were doing the ones for “Lucky Catch,” we couldn’t come up with the right kind of image, so we just kind of did silhouette, so the reader can think. But it’s just a way to get all of that same information that you’re putting on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, all those different places, and other places on the Internet, to make it easier for people to find you. Because discoverability is-
Jen: Yes! Very.
Joanna: What is your opinion on social media, on Twitter and Facebook? Is it just fun?
Jen: I love Twitter, I think Twitter’s a lot of fun.
Joanna: Me, too!
Jen: Twitter is like my playground. I’m not a huge fan of Facebook, because I don’t know how you use it properly, and I go out there and I push stuff out there, and I think there’s a real art to social media. I think the real key to social media is engaging. To be conversational, post pictures of your dogs. I used to post pictures of my boys hitting people on the ice! You know you’re a hockey mom when you tell your son, “Go hit somebody,” when he leaves the house! Something that’s personal, follow hashtags.
One of the things that we did when we first put, “Atlantis” out there was it was the last season of Lost, and there were so many similarities between Bob’s “Atlantis” books and that, that it was like, “If you loved Lost, you’ll love ‘Atlantis’,” and I do believe that that really affected the awareness of those books. And awareness is key, because it’s really hard to see how much that translates into sales, but awareness is huge. More people are talking to it.
So, I think with social media, I always say, like-minded people hang out with like-minded people, which is what makes all of that hard, because writers hang out with writers. Readers hang out with readers! I always go “Where are the readers,” because you go over to Goodreads, and readers are like, “Authors go away,” not like that, but it’s an interesting dynamic. I love the show Dance Moms, so I’ll sometimes get on that hashtag. If someone happens to see I’m an author, they like my book– but it’s an organic thing.
And I also think Twitter is wonderful—so is Facebook—for pushing people information. I find out a lot about what’s going on in the world of publishing from Twitter, following other industry professionals and taking the time to click on links. You put something out there, I’m more apt to click on it, and see what’s going on. So I think it’s a really good place for push and pulling information.
What’s hard is it’s overwhelming. And I love Tweetdeck because I can put it in columns and I can put people in columns, but it takes a while to set up. All of this stuff is overwhelming, which is why the lists, and I say, “OK, I’m only going to do this for an hour.” That is the one thing that a lot of people will do. They’ll set timers: “I’ll only do it for half an hour in the morning and half an hour at night.” How important is it? I really don’t know. Am I going to give it up? No!
Joanna: Nor me!
I wouldn’t have a life without Twitter, I really wouldn’t. As an introvert, it’s been the way to meet people.
There’s no way I could have ever approached first Colin and then Bob and then you, without paving the way with something like Twitter. But anyway.
You and Bob wrote a great book, “How we Made our First Million on Kindle,” I presume it was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek title, because you guys are not Kindle millionaire goldrushy type people, , but it’s a great book, and it’s, what’s very valuable in it is you talk about strategy, goal-setting, planning and executing on a plan. Now, that higher-level strategy, we’ve talked about like the minutiae …
Can you tell us how you do that strategy; how can authors think bigger and think maybe five years ahead, or think about their business?
Jen: Well, it, it starts with goal-setting, actually. It, it took a while for me to get, I mean, Bob has such an interesting background, and you take his background and mix it with my business background, it’s interesting. And it took a while for me to get, because he would send me these emails going, “I want x, y, z to happen by x, y, z,” and I’d be, “OK, that sounds great, good luck with that,” but he would put, “I want to make whatever amount of money by this amount of time,” and I’d be, “OK, that sounds great, I’m on board,” but what I failed to understand at first was, is that he’s putting that goal out there, so now what do we have to do in order to achieve that goal?
And he teaches this in Write It Forward, which is a great program: “OK, so what in your writing do you want to be,” “I want to be a New York Times bestseller in five years.” “Well, what can you do to get that?” “Well, I’m going to write three books, I’m going to query these agents, I’m going to self-publish,” so you actually have to write it down.
So with our business, we do the same thing. We wanted to have so many authors by this year, and we have that. We wanted to work with some New York Times bestsellers, we have Jennifer Probst. We wanted to get an author, because Bob also publishes with them, with 47North, which is an Amazon imprint, and we’ve been working with Colin, and it looks like that’s going to go through, so we helped facilitate get him a book deal with Amazon. It’s all about writing down what those goals are. We wanted to get Colin this, so what did we need to do? We needed to increase his numbers. How do you do that? It’s not easy, and it took us three years to get where we are, but we just kept plugging away, every day, trying the Bookbub ads, trying different marketing techniques, not being afraid to change covers, not being afraid to rebrand, break books apart, pull books together.
And I think it really comes down to saying, “OK, this is what I want, and these are the steps that I’m going to get there.”
So, as a business, we wanted to have, right now, our goal is we want to get some of these books on bestseller lists. So then these are the things we need to do, and these are the things the authors need to do with us.
The other thing you have to look at when you’re going to look at it, it’s not so much where is all of this going to be in five years: where are you going to be in five years?
Where do you see yourself and what is it that you want to achieve, and again, it’s really that simple: what are the steps you’re going to do to achieve that goal?
And, then, what Bob and I will do is, sometimes we both get sidetracked, especially me: “Ooh, shiny new product over there.” I beta test everything, I think any time anything new has come out, the platforms are, “Hey, Jen, you want to try this out?” “Sure! Why not?” You've got to really kind of focus on not what everybody else is doing, that’s the other thing: we’re not focusing on what everybody else is doing, because what works for Bob and I is not going to work for somebody else. I mean, we’ve got a different business model here. So we have to focus on what we’re doing and what our goals are, and not worry about what everybody else is doing.
Joanna: That’s really key.
Jen: That’s huge for us.
Joanna: What I like very much about what you and Bob are doing and that attitude, is not being scared of ambition, and I find, because I come from the business world, where the stuff I was dealing with, there would be multi-million-dollar invoices flying around and everyone was paid a lot of money, and money was never something scary to talk about, or ambition, or becoming a partner of a firm. But I find with authors there’s almost like, in Australia they call it ‘tall poppy syndrome,’ where if anyone starts to be ambitious, they get knocked down.
Do you feel that, and what do you feel that authors should change in their heads around ambition?
Jen: That’s a loaded question! I think what’s hard is that we’re a really nice group of people, we really are, and we’re a bunch of introverts, we all understand each other. But I think sometimes we fail to understand, and a lot of people don't like to hear this, we are in competition with each other. It used to be we were in competition to get the agent, to get the editor, to get the publishing deal, to get your book in the co-op, in the bookstore, and all of that. Now, there’s only so many spots in the top 100 list on Amazon; there’s only so many promotions that anyone can get. And I think it’s very difficult, because sometimes, perseverance trumps talent, every day of the week, I mean, most people, after a while they’ll just pack up and go home. SoI think that’s a hard thing, and people say that these people are overnight successes, when they’ve really been at it for 20, 30 years. Before they even got their first deal or whatever.
But I think it’s also, when you look at traditional publishing, I think some of the same stuff’s happening in self-publishing, where there’s that top 1%, and they’re getting all the promotion, they’re getting all the marketing dollars, and with kind of good reason; I mean, they’re selling a lot of books. But that’s the same thing that happens in self-publishing, we see the same names, over and over again, because they’re selling a lot of books, and I think that’s great; that doesn’t mean that somebody isn’t going to come up behind them and also sell a lot of books.
But I think with authors, it’s just a weird dynamic that we are very nice people, we don’t want to admit we are in competition with each other. Not in the same way somebody might be in competition for a job or a promotion or something like that, but that space on the Internet: the Internet is not as vast as everybody thinks it is. As wide as the Internet is, our approach needs to be very narrow. I don’t agree that there’s this infinite number of readers out there. There’s only so many readers that are going to be interested in my books, and that has to be my focus. I don’t know how to answer that question!
Joanna: No, you’ve answered it really well.
Jen: It’s a tough question. I mean, I don’t want to upset or offend anybody: it’s a tough question because there is competition, but nobody wants to say that there is.
Joanna: No, and the reason I wanted you on, Jen, was because you’re a businesswoman and you’re running a business, and I wanted that other side of things, and I think it’s true to a point, and also we’re in competition, I saw an advert for this latest game, and I’m just, “I need to write games,” I mean, there’s just so many people who play games for 24 hours a day! And I actually wanted to ask you about that. Because you’re a techy and you enjoy the new things, I have three techy things that are on my mind: Kindle 8, the Kindle 8 format; the 3D printing; and Oculus Rift virtual reality.
Jen: Well, the last one, you lost me!
Joanna: Yay! I’m more techy!
Jen: Gaming and that kind of stuff, as far as I go with that is my sister-in-law works in that industry, and she’s always telling me, “You’ve got to get Bob to get somebody to do his Area 51 series, he needs to,” and she’s into this. I can’t, no.
Joanna: What about the other two? Kindle 8, if people don’t know, this is this new format, it looks to me like pretty ebooks are actually on the way.
Jen: Pretty ebooks are actually here. It’s just that the capability of it, we have the capability, it’s kind of like with the Internet, making it accessible: it was there long before we had it in our home. Part of it is bringing down price and all that other stuff. We can make pretty ebooks: the problem is the devices. I can make a gorgeous ePub file with ePub3, and do all sorts of things with video and moving in and out of stuff, and on the iPad, the negative is, when you go move, you can only work on one application at a time. So you hit the YouTube and you go to Safari, and then you have to go back to the ebook and it’s kind of a pain in the butt. But you have this pretty color, where if you’re working on just a Kindle, a Kindle Paperwhite, you don’t have those capabilities, if they don’t have 3G and they have to hook to wireless or like when I was traveling in Spain, I couldn’t do any of that, all my books had to be on my device. They can’t tap in and get there, you don’t have color.
So, the issue then becomes, I can do all sorts of great things for iBooks, but I can’t put those on Kindle. But then you could look at them on Kindle Fire, so if they’re downloading the same Kindle book on a Fire, or their Kindle app on, say, a Galaxy or tablet or notebook or whatever—if you don’t account for every single technological glitch in a pretty ebook, you’re going to have really upset readers.
And I think that’s more the issue with any of the technology than the actual program. I mean, there’s ePub and there’s Mobi. And anybody in the tech industry will tell you, ePub3 files are a much more stable file than the Mobi file, but Mobi is Kindle. And ePub is everything else. EPub is really a much more stable file, and for me, it’s an easier file to add it. But, I’m writing fiction, and most of the books produced in fiction-
Joanna: It’s not an issue.
Jen: It’s an issue with images. I mean, the book that I’m working on right now, I’m waiting for Bob to get back to me so I can format it again and upload it, “Shit Doesn’t Just Happen,” we have images from the disasters, from the catastrophes, and I used some icons, but I’m very sensitive about how I format that, so that I only have to have one file for Kindle. Because they can’t account for, if I wanted to have a Kindle version. Now, Amazon is very smart, so I can see it coming, where you have, “You download this file for basic anything, but here’s an enhanced version.”
Joanna: That would be good, two different uploads. Because I feel , I feel like what’s going to happen is, at some point, the tipping point will happen, and then readers will suddenly be used to—because they’ve just announced that ereader purchasing is falling, and people are reading on tablets and phones.
So, there might come this tipping point where people expect this enhanced format, and we might have to redo everything.
And I’m thinking probably a couple of years ahead, and I tend to do that, but forget formatting for a minute, what else do you see in the next couple of years. Do you see any big changes or things that authors should be thinking about in the next couple of years?
Jen: I think authors should always be thinking about what their career means to them and what their goals are and where they want to go, and not worry. I mean, you have to be aware of it, but you can’t worry about it.
As far as where I see things, it’s really hard, because the technology’s there, and enhanced ebooks I could have done three years ago. I mean, really, the moment iBooks opened, I could have done enhanced ebooks. And we have done them. The bigger problem with that, though, is with fiction, it’s a different medium. People want to read the book; they don’t want to stop and watch a video. So, it’s great for gaming, but I think for non-fiction, I think for schools, there’s a great opportunity here. I mean, there are times when I’m looking at some of the non-fiction work that Bob and I have done, especially his work with teaching writing or whatever; I want to take some of those clips of him teaching. Because you can read the words, but to watch him, to hear him say it, whatever he’s got up on the screen, to put that in an ebook and have that pop out at you …
So I think that’s really more the place for it.
I think some of the bigger changes you’re going to see is in the academic area, and even that’s already changed.
My son just went back to school, he’s a junior at Potsdam, they don’t really have a bookstore. He gets all his books from Amazon, and then he re-sells them on Amazon, and it doesn’t really cost him much. My younger son goes to a private school, they do a lot of stuff on their iPad, they do a lot of stuff with ebooks. So I think that’s going to be your bigger change.
But also, when people say the ereader is declining: it’s really not. It’s maybe the product itself is declining. But more people are reading on devices, ebooks are not declining.
They say, “Oh, it’s plateaued, it’s gone-“ it’s still increasing, it’s just you can only have so much growth that fast. So I think we will see some changes in technology. I think we’ll see some changes in the way people read: we’ve already seen that. I think people are looking at reading shorter books; they want to be able to read an episode or a book on the train ride in. I think audio’s going to, I did that with Whispersync. I’ve got my Kindle and my iPad, and I’m reading a book, and I’ve got to go drive to fricking Detroit to take my kid to a hockey game, and he’s sitting in the back, watching movies, or actually we bring the PlayStation in the car and he sits back there, he plays his game while I’m driving, listening to an audio book that I plugged into my car, off my Kindle, with Whispersync, or whatever.
So, I think we’re going to see people adapt to the changing technology to fit their needs.
Because we’re so much busier. I remember, Bob totally skipped the ereader: he reads on his phone, it’s always there, you’re standing in line, waiting to go through security, whatever, and you read on your phone. My daughter swore she’d never read on a Kindle, and then she went to Europe, and she stole my Kindle!
Joanna: Because of the practicality, and also, in Europe, I live in a one-bedroom flat: I, I used to have a four-bedroom house in Australia. I got rid of everything, and now I’m entirely digital, and your daughter will be the same. You can’t have thousands of books in a tiny place!
Jen: No, and actually, I used to have bookcases all back here: I got rid of all the bookcases and, oh, I tell you, I actually was shaking, giving away the books, because I’m, “I still love my books,” I mean, I love books, but my Kindle goes wherever I go. Actually, Bob laughs at me, because I travel with my phone, my Kindle, my iPad and my laptop! He looks at me, “Do you need all of that?” “Like, yeah.”
Joanna: They all do different things! But, it’s so good to talk to you. I We’re actually quite similar in a lot of ways. I work in a similar way to you, I think, and I’m quite a techno-lover as well. It’s been so good to talk to you, but we’re out of time, so where can people find you and Cool Gus and everything you guys do?
Jen: The best place would be our website, which is coolgus.com, and also we have a great blog called Write on the River, but the url is writeitforward.wordpress.com, but if you Google search Cool Gus or Bob, you’ll probably find more on Cool Gus than you would from Bob.
Joanna: Fantastic! Thanks for your time, Jen, that was great.