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Writing books is not a get rich quick scheme … but it can be a get rich slowly scheme, and provide a rewarding, creative life. In today's show, I discuss writing, publishing and book marketing with Dean Crawford.
In the introduction, I talk about the ‘fake news' from the Publishers Association as reported on the Guardian about the downfall of ebooks and ‘screen fatigue.' I quote from The Hotsheet, a great resource for authors, but you can also see a similar riposte on The Digital Reader. Whenever you see these stories, remember they only report books with ISBNs – so most indie ebook sales are not included, and neither are Kindle Unlimited page reads.
Forbes reported 66.1% of adults in China used their phones to read in 2016. I read on my phone a lot, so this is no surprise, but it does give some indication of how digital is growing. I also talked about my 2016-2017 financial year and I'll blog those results in the coming weeks.
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.
Dean Crawford is the international bestselling author of the “Warner and Lopez” action adventure thriller series as well as the sci-fi “Atlantia” series and other standalone novels. He has a non-fiction book out, Blockbuster: How to write $1million from an author who has actually done it.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- On Dean's long publishing journey and the split between his trad author income and indie author income
- Whether Dean is happier being indie
- How to recognize the genre you're writing in
- On whether Dean writes to market
- Ways to come up with a compelling hook line for your book
- Keeping the creative well filled
- What marketing is working for Dean and what he plans to do next
- On resilience and dealing with change in politically turbulent times
You can find Dean at DeanCrawfordBooks.com and on Twitter @DCrawfordBooks
Transcript of Interview with Dean Crawford
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com. And today I'm here with Dean Crawford. Hi, Dean.
Joanna: Hello. It's good to have you back on the show. Just a little introduction.
Dean is the international bestselling author of the “Warner and Lopez” action adventure thriller series as well as the sci-fi “Atlantia” series and other standalone novels. Dean has been on the show before, back in October 2015, when he talked about his move from traditional publishing to indie.
Today we're talking about his new nonfiction book called “Blockbuster: How to write $1Million, by an author who's actually done it!” which I think is awesome. So I just had to talk to you about this, Dean. Congratulations. That's awesome.
Dean: Thanks very much. Yeah, it's a hell of a milestone.
Joanna: Before we talk a bit more in detail about the money, for people who didn't hear our last interview, tell us a bit more about your emotional journey, your emotional arc, which you do have in the book, which is awesome. Obviously the money is not everything.
Give a quick overview of wanting to write a book to traditional to indie.
Dean: Yeah. It's 15 years from me sitting down wanting to perhaps start trying to make a career for myself as an author to actually getting my first deal. I started in 1994, I think it was, my first deal was September 2010 and that was with Simon & Schuster, which ultimately became five books, and ran pretty well.
And then during that process, independent publishing became a thing. And I sort of realized about the same time that publishing is a business. Writing a book is the art, publishing a book and selling it is a business.
I saw indie as an opportunity to give myself more than one avenue for revenue for my books, and make sure that I wasn't utterly dependent on a publisher. I followed that unusually for most people at my stage of a career at that time, and it paid off. I'm now more indie than I am traditionally published, and enjoying it more as well. It's a lot of fun.
Joanna: Yeah. That's awesome, and I wanted to just point that out to people. Yeah, it took you 15 years to go from wanting to write to getting that first deal. And obviously, that was in 2010. We're now in 2017. So your arc from getting that first deal to now being very successful indie is quite short actually. There's a lot of people who have been going a lot longer.
Let's just talk about that million because a lot people have like, “Oh, a million dollars,” like is that from one of those movies, “Austin Powers”?
Dean: “Austin Powers,” yeah.
Joanna: Yeah, a million. But that is a number that is kind of sexy to a lot of people. I get why you put it in the title. But obviously, if it was a million since 1994, that's actually not such a…
Dean: Not great.
Joanna: It's not great at all, is it? So can we just break that down?
How many books do you have? How much time did that take? What's the split between traditional publishing and indie publishing? Just kind of break that down a bit more.
Dean: The million dollars is everything I've earned between September 2010, which was the start of the traditional publishing deals all the way to November 2016, which was when I was actually writing “Blockbuster.”
And it's broken down…I did do the math. It was two-thirds with traditional, and since July 2013 the other third is my indie books. So about $650,000 with the American publishers and the other $350,000 all from my indie books under my Fictum label.
Joanna: Which is awesome, and I really appreciate you breaking that down. And two-thirds of that traditional is really interesting.
How many books were there in total?
Dean: With Simon & Schuster, it was 5 books traditionally published, and the other 15 are on my label. They're the indie books. There are 20 in total at the moment.
Joanna: We need to point out that back in 2010, people were getting big advances, right?
Do you think you hit a zeitgeist with your action-adventure thrillers that is not really available anymore to new debut authors?
Dean: Yeah, absolutely. My agent actually once said I was the last of the big signings for that kind of genre at that time. There's been a couple since, I think some elements of action-adventure, the Dan Brown kind of thing pick up every time…pretty much every time Dan Brown releases a novel in some cases.
But as a genre, it's a lot lower now than it was 5-10 years ago when it was at its height. If you're looking at writing an action-adventure novel now, you're almost certainly better off going indie with it.
Joanna: Yeah, which is really interesting. So talk a bit more then about the…so the one-third indie has been since 2013.
You said that you're happier now, you're enjoying it. But some people are going to go, “But it's only a third of the money, Dean.”
In a financial and emotional sense why are you happier being indie?
Dean: Well, with traditional publishers, you've got to write what the market or they perceive the market wants. It's not enough anymore to just write a good novel.
They're becoming increasingly polarized, really, and dependent on what people are buying in bookshops. And what people are buying in bookshops doesn't reflect what readers are buying in general.
With indie publishing, you can just write what you want and also what you're good at. The big stuff selling for traditional publishers now is very much the “Gone Girl” mode, still is, has been for some years now. “Girl on a Train,” “Girl Goes Up,” “Girl Goes Down,” “Girl Goes Round and Round.”
It's all the same. It's very much linear, and they're waiting probably, the publishers, for the next new thing to come along, which might be Amazonian warrior, ninja, wars in Brazil or something. Who knows?
I'm not particularly good at the “Gone Girl” type stuff. It's just not what I do. I did try writing one for my agent. He liked it, but I have no passion for it.
Whereas with indie, I could just focus on what I want, I can write what I'm good at, and there is always an audience for it. Whereas traditional publishers, it's very much a gatekeeper model, “We're looking for X. We're only interested in authors that are gonna deliver X.” And they would just follow each other's lead.
And the same thing happened many years ago with J. K. Rowling, the children's books. She did “Harry Potter” and had a hell of a time trying to sell it. It took over a year. Eventually sold it to a small American publisher called Bloomsbury, I think they were called. Was it?
Joanna: It was Little, Brown, who were part of Bloomsbury.
Dean: Yeah. It took off in America and suddenly everybody wanted children's books. And that's very much the model they follow. Most traditional authors are kind of waiting for their genre to come around all the time, you know, come back to them with things going out of fashion.
Joanna: Yeah, and I think you know this, but I target you with my Amazon ads.
Dean: I kept seeing them, yeah.
Joanna: Yeah, as well as Dan Brown. And it's funny because, of course, this is a Dan Brown year, right? I presume you're excited about his new book coming out.
Dean: Is it “Origin”?
Joanna: Yeah, “Origin” in October. Yeah.
Dean: I've seen it. I've not heard much about it, but it's a good thing we can always ride on the back of a Dan Brown. It's very generous of him to release a book for us this year. I appreciate it.
Joanna: Yeah. I wish he'd hurry up and do more and build a bigger market.
Dean: Get on with it. Yeah, he does about one every four years now.
Joanna: Exactly. You talked about the “Gone Girl” phenomenon. What was interesting at London Book Fair this year is that a lot of the talk was they want something new, like the psychological thriller is gone.
And I've been hearing in the Facebook groups and stuff that authors are scared because they've built their careers on the psychological thriller.
Once this has dipped, this psychological thriller genre, do you think that there's going to be a number of traditionally published authors looking indie to write the same stuff? Or do you think there's such an entrenched opinion of self-publishing that they won't do that?
Dean: I think it's changed a lot since we last spoke in 2015. I think the authors are now aware that indie publishing is not this second best alternative that you take because you couldn't get a deal.
I think a lot more of now actually looking at it as a first move. And if I get emails and Facebook messages all the time from authors launching a first book or a third book, “What do you think I should do with it?” Well, I'm not a lawyer publishing something often. I'll say, “Well, based on your genre, if you're an action-adventure author, go indie.”
These guys and girls that have been writing the “Gone Girl” vein type of book for so many years now, they're going to get dropped like hotcakes. That's just what happens. Publishers move on.
You're their favorite when you're selling well and they've forgotten your number by the time you're not selling well again.
So yeah, there could be a pretty big influx, but the trouble is, what'll they do with it? Authors who have been used to being published by publishers don't have the skills. They can write the book but they can't make it move. They're going to have to start learning pretty much from the bottom and work their way up. I think it will affect that genre, but it will take them a couple of years to catch up.
Joanna: Right. And that's interesting. You mentioned about genre there, and you have a lot about it in the book. A lot of new authors don't even know what their genre is. It's often one of the first things that people have to sort out is, “What the hell am I actually writing?” So what do you say to people? Like you say people e-mail you and things.
How do you get people to recognize the genre they're writing in?
Dean: Look at your own bookshelves. Look at what excites you when you walk into a bookshop and you're looking for your next read. You know what you like and you look at the bookshelves, and then probably hopefully you'll find one and think, “That's it. I've got to read it. I've got to read it. I can't walk out of this bookstore without buying that book.”
That's probably the books that you're going to want to write the most. That's probably going to be your genre. It does vary, people find, as I did.
I started writing action-adventure more in the historical side, and then found I kind of more liked thrillers. I have both on my bookshelves, and it sometimes, as I think you once said recently, it takes you two or three books to kinda really find your voice and what you really love.
Tthe good starting point is what you read the most, very definitely. And then you're going to want to try and emulate that, and through emulation, you develop your own voice. So it's a good place to start as your very own bookshelf.
Joanna: Why did you move into writing science fiction?
Dean: Because I loved it. I always loved “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” but I didn't think I had the imagination to do it. So I I stayed with more real world stuff mixed with a bit of what we think about. Some of the books I wrote actually they've got a paranormal edge to them sometimes. It's kind of science fiction-y. I had elements in there, and as I grew more confident of my own ideas and things that I wanted to do, then I thought, “Now is the time. Now I can go and do something on that front.”
And it's also the market thinking business that have suffered when indie publishing came along for traditional publishers. The sci-fi market just dropped to the bottom out of it.
Whereas indie authors are doing great, looking to publish through my own label, what genres I wanna go for. Oh, science fiction is doing really great. So it was always a business decision as well as a creative one.
Joanna: Oh, that's good. I think what's important is actually looking at the combination of the writing into a market that works but also writing something that you love.
You're not writing anything just to market, are you? You're writing what you love first.
Dean: Yeah. The only time I tried to write to market was that one book, the “Gone Girl” type style thing for my agent because he said that's what they were pushing. That's what they were looking for. And it was a perfectly competent book, and I've since self-published it.
And it's done really incredible. It's done all right. But the publishers were like, “No, it's just not quite right. It's not this, it's not that.” And I looked and I thought it is. It's all right, you know. I went ahead and self-published it in the end, and it did just fine.
So you know, “Oh, you can't.” They have their own idea, their PR departments and they pretty much decide what gets a voice, not even down to an editor anymore.
“What are we selling best? Oh, that's what we want. There's this new guys or girls book fit what we're selling.”
Authors often get rejected and they think the book's no good. And it has nothing to do with it. It's just often the market and what these PR departments feel the publishers should spend their money on all the time. It's just trying to see what will stick. They have no idea what's going to work.
Joanna: What's so interesting of course is no one has any idea and even just this podcast, I now just interview people I'm interested in and stuff. I talk about things I'm interested in, and I don't even try to like hit any kind of zeitgeist.
I'm always surprised at what people enjoy about the show. And you just never know what people will like, do you? And also, things change over time.
If everyone could predict a blockbuster, there would be a lot more blockbusters.
Dean: That's exactly right. The first three pages in my book tells people who are gonna buy “Blockbuster,” what it might do. It will not go into blockbuster. It will not write the book for them. It won't do this or that, and that's what a lot of these kind of books promise. “Do this. It'll work.”
I tell them, “It won't do that, but what it can do is show you 14 of the 15 years it took me to get it right”. It's what all it's about; how to write a book competently. You can't copy how to write a good book because everyone's idea is different, but yeah, it says this is how we go about it. If you copy this, you will come up hopefully with a competent book. And this is how you can then sell it to a publisher if you want to go that route, or independently.
Joanna: And for those of you on the audio, he was shaking his head at the traditional publishing option. Okay, so let's talk about writing that competent book, which I think is a good way of putting it.
One of the things that you talk about is writing a hook that will grab the reader. And I think this is something that is pretty difficult, again, especially when you're first starting out writing.
You often have ideas that are not the hook at the beginning, and you have to think about the hook later.
What are some good ways for people to come up with hooks and also what's the line between originality and genre expectation for a hook?
Dean: The way I started was really just to look at things that have all been done. You're not copying, you're just looking for inspiration.
So a strong hook for an idea, one author that has recently made a name for himself, Adam Croft, and he's actually quoting a book — you're welcome, Adam — was “Her Last Tomorrow.” The hook line was, it's every parent's worst nightmare. So-and-so's daughter has been kidnapped, and he can have the daughter back as long as he murders his wife. That is the hook. In as many words, so I was sort of paraphrasing it from memory. [“Could you murder your wife to save your daughter?]
That's the hook because you instantly think, “Oh, how is he gonna pull that off?” You know, obviously, he's not gonna murder his wife, but how is he gonna do it?
You're trying to look for things that are like that, that instantly grab attention and make you think how, and really post as a great place to look.
They often only have a couple of lines in order to hook an audience, and they'll come up with great things that you can look at and say, “Well, that's a hook.” That's high concept idea, they call it in Hollywood.
Many films, many books are all built around a question or something like that. And the best place to look for it is in the news. Like I say, look at things that have already been done. Look at movie posters and think, “Well, what can I come up with that is similar to that but that obviously is my own idea?”
And then if you weren't writing in a similar genre, then in many ways, genre is the fuel for the idea, if you're writing as Joe and I are doing, in action-adventure. So it's the “Indiana Jones” model. What are they chasing, The Ark of the Covenant, The Holy Grail, Atlantis, whatever it might be? And they found it, and that's your cover, and that's your hook line. Of course, you're not going to tell the reader how they've done it. You're going to write that and that's the story is how they got to that point.
It's not easy to come up with a new hook, something completely new. And there probably are no new hooks under the sun. It's more of a spin on a thing, but they are essential. If you haven't got the reader by the cover and the first page, you haven't got the reader. That's the rule I've set for myself.
Joanna: Yeah, and I think that's important, but it also has to be something that we're interested in. So you mentioned The Ark of the Covenant, which is great.
I wrote “Ark of Blood,” and it's like if you're writing an action-adventure thriller in the Dan Brown kind of niche, you have to write your Ark of the Covenant book at some point. And at the time, I thought, “Oh, no. I can't do this because it's been done before,” and then it's like, “Yeah, there's a point that it's been done before,” because it's a mystery because we don't have The Ark of the Covenant.
So we will never be able to come up with an answer to that, until one of us finds it, obviously. But I think that those genre conventions are so important like obviously romance. If you're going to have a happy ending, a happily ever after, an HEA, well, we know the ending.
Joanna: It's, “How do you get there?” I think that's really important.
How do you know that a hook is good enough? Do you come up with a whole load of them and then choose one, or how do you do that?
Dean: I'm writing them down all the time. Hardly a day goes by when I don't dream something up. And most of them are rubbish, but every five or six of them, I write down, I'm looking at it, and I'm thinking, “There's something there.” You just know.
In the same way, going to the bookshelves in that when you see that book you've got to read or you see the poster of the film you've got to see, when you think up one of your own, you just get a tingle, like a really good song you haven't heard before.
You see the first bars and the hairs go up in your neck and think, “I'm gonna like this one.” That's your idea. That's the one that's gonna work. So if it excites you, it's probably gonna excite your readers because we all read as well.
There's just a feeling you get. And when I come up with it, I mean sometimes I can't stop making notes for hours. It just fires the imagination, bang them off, you know? And it annoys the hell out of my family. I'm busy, but some of the best ideas come from those things. So it's just a case of working at it all the time.
Write everything down. I say that a lot in the book. You know, buy a paper, buy a pen. Keep it on you at all times because you'll be amazed that when these ideas arrive, you see something and it just clicks.
Joanna: You write a lot about science and scientific things and that sort of thing.
Do you read a lot of journals, or go to exhibitions? How do you feed your brain full ideas?
Dean: Everything, really, the internet, I'm a subscriber to “Focus Magazine” which is a British science magazine. All the fun bits of science, none of the boring stuff, you know. And that's monthly that comes out, and invariably, every edition of that has got something in there that I look at and go, “Wow,” you know, jot that down for a future “Warner and Lopez” book or something like that. And I've discovered probably a third of my ideas just from that one magazine.
It's not like you have to read science journals or anything like that or go into in-depth research. That tends to come later when you've already found that hook in that story you want to write, and then you start digging into it and then it starts getting a little bit heavy sometimes on the research.
And then of course you can't waffle about it. You've got to filter out the interesting bits because you don't want to write a physics manual. You want to write an action-adventure novel. So yeah, it's everywhere.
What's the news? What's in the news every night? Read a book a month. Set yourself goals that put you in inspiration's way rather than waiting for inspiration to come to you. That's probably the best way to describe it. You just got to keep looking all the time.
Joanna: I found myself using physical magazines more and more. If you go into WHSmith which is one of our British high street shops for Americans, you can see like maybe 200 magazines. So if you wanted to write a character about a knitter, and I'm not a knitter, you can find knitting magazines or like a fisherman.
I think you're saying, you can shortcut research by finding them out through someone who's already curated and then you can go deeper.
I think that's awesome because the internet can be a bit big sometimes, can't it?
Dean: And untrustworthy, yeah. I do use the internet it a lot. I think everyone does. And Wikipedia especially is good, but I've got the habit now of looking for a second source to verify the first one and things like that because, yeah, you can go down the wrong road and find information that's not true.
I love that meme that was doing the rounds on Facebook a while ago. It said not everything on the internet is true. William Franklin or something like that, from 1846, you know, and stuff like that. Well, it's obviously a lie in itself. Always check your sources, basically.
Joanna: Yeah. Okay, so obviously, writing a competent book. Good is in the eye of the reader, in the brain of the reader, whatever.
What is working for you right now in terms of marketing? What are the things that you say have to happen in order to market the book?
Dean: It's a big subject really. Everything.
I would say the most important thing in terms of marketing isn't something that you buy, or you know, it's not AMS adverts or Facebook. It's brand, especially in terms of series, making the books look very clearly that they are part of the same family all the time.
Even myself, I write in two different genres. They still have an appearance. You can look at it and say, “That's a Dean Crawford book.” You just know by the way I lay them out on the covers. And that's the most important bit of marketing, I think, you can do.
Backing it up, Amazon ads, the business, I like Amazon. They get it right. They always do. It maybe takes some time sometimes, but they get there, and I'm finding them to be the most useful. But they're only in America.
So Facebook ads or something more direct to the UK only and Australia and places like that. There's still BookBub. Well, I know for a fact now that the publishers are buying BookBub slots way, way in advance. We don't have to do that. There's something going on there. It's getting harder to get a BookBub placement unless it's a box set or something like that.
Really the Facebook model that Mark Dawson or others have done their courses for, which are very, very good, well worth taking if you got a few books behind you. Not so much if you've only done your first book because it's very difficult to market a first book without a lead on for the audience to carry onto.
And Amazon ads for anything and everything almost are pretty damn good at the moment. So that's what's working for me. Amazon ads is top of the draw at the moment.
Joanna: Do you still do your own covers?
Dean: All of them.
Joanna: Which is just crazy.
Why do you still do your own covers?
Dean: Because I can. I see some great covers out there by dedicated artists, and they're probably better than mine. They are better than mine in some cases. But I can do it. I have the skills. Why would I bother paying somebody $400 for a cover that I can do myself anyway?
Joanna: And do you enjoy that?
Dean: Yeah. I love it. It's a break from writing.
I've just finished doing a touch-typing course. My wife says I'm like a robot sitting there, but the fingers are moving, nothing else. And after a while, because it's new to me at the moment, it changes which muscles are you using. And so it's great just getting the mouse out and do the next cover. I've just done my next book cover. I've spent a couple of hours last night.
I enjoy it. It's a break. It's different. I always ask my readers, “Are these any good?” I'll go on my Facebook page, a fan page, and so I'll put it out there and say, “What do you think?” And they all come back and say, “Yeah, I love it, love it.” So I guess I'm doing it right.
Joanna: Yeah. I just find that interesting because…well, I did my own cover years and years ago and it was terrible. So it's great if you enjoy it and they're good enough. But it's interesting that you talked about learning to touch-type. That's awesome.
Have you been hunting and pecking for years?
Dean: Yeah. Well, yes and no. I kind of just put in this keyboard underneath. I did touch-type in a sense but I kept looking at the keys and I'm moving my hands all over the keyboard. And I got up to about 2,000 words an hour quite reliably doing that, which is why I can release books so quickly. It's mostly just the speed of typing.
But typos slip in, things like that. It's better to look at the screen. So basically what I did is an online course. It's free. You can find them anywhere on Google. And I did that so that I could sit in a more relaxed position. I'm doing this moving my arms kinda like that, and build up the speed.
It's taken about a month, but I'm now about 1,500 words an hour and it's much better because you can just watch the screen and every time you see a typo, you just quickly backtrack and get rid of it. So you're getting a much cleaner draft with each chapter, and it doesn't hurt the shoulders as much. It's one of the best things I've ever done. It's well worth doing.
Joanna: How interesting.
Dean: You have to be strict though. I've got the pillow covers and put it over my hands so I can't see the keyboard or even type with my eyes closed, because it's so easy to look down and you can't do it. I've been doing that for about a month now. I don't use the cover anymore because I've stopped looking at the keyboard.
Joanna: Did you consider dictation?
Dean: I've tried.
Joanna: You've tried. Didn't work?
Dean: It worked brilliantly, but the trouble is…it's very good. You have to train Dragon, most people use. And I've got Dragon 13 or whatever it is. And I wrote a whole novel with it. And I'm sitting there chatting away to myself. It's very weird to start with, but I was getting like 8,000 words a day which is a real good turn. But the computer program couldn't differentiate between “they're,” “there,” and “their.”
Joanna: So you had to do a lot of editing.
Dean: A lot of editing. And I found that it cost as much time as it gained in the long run. And there were more mistakes slipping through afterward as well, you know. Readers come back saying, “You've done this wrong,” or whatever, especially when you got strange names, Russian names or the enemy as it were and everything in there. So I abandoned that.
And the other reason that I've done this is because I'm starting to move into the age of marketing where I'm not going to release as many books as quickly as I have done up to now and really start focusing on getting those books in front of the right people. But I want to maintain the pace.
And so yeah, the touch-typing course enables me to type faster and more accurately in the long run, meaning I can spend more time selling my books to people.
Joanna: I think that's awesome. I hope people listening are noting this because you started writing in 1994 and obviously, you've learned some skills along the way about writing craft and now you're doing a touch-typing course, which I think is so awesome.
Do you think this constant learning is one of the most important things about being an indie or just making a living this way?
Dean: It's vital on all fronts. It's why I didn't have a definitive answer for what was working for marketing, really, because everything counts. You can't not be constantly with your ear to the ground. You've got to be aware of what marketing works, what other authors are doing. What kind of books are selling the best? What cover designs are working?
Because even things like that change over time, and the kind of things that readers automatically sort of drift towards…you look at some of these “Gone Girl” covers we were talking about before, and the books like it, they all look the same.
Joanna: Oh, they do. Yeah.
Dean: But there's a reason for it. They all look the same because people want to see that. They read those sort of books. And so you've got to be in touch with everything, and it is a full-time job.
It doesn't matter how successful you get. It's probably very easy with people coming in now to start with looking at the guys and girls at the top and saying, “Oh, it must be wonderful. I bet they've got one book a year.”
And you look at them, people like A.G. Riddle, Russell Blake, Hugh Howey, all these people, and they're always advertising. You can always see their books being advertised. They're always doing something. They're running book tours. They're never sitting still, basically. And that applies to all, I think, genres and authors, but especially indies because we built it all ourselves. You can't afford to be kind of taking it easy, I don't think.
Joanna: You said that you're going to write at potentially a slower pace, but move into this age of marketing. What else are you looking at? So you've got Amazon ads and Facebook ads.
What else are you going to be focusing on that might be interesting to the listeners?
Dean: It's more a case of just getting the books I've got already out there. I've sort of become an outlier now myself. Again, you know, I've done it with traditional publishing. Now, I've done it with indie publishing, but I haven't even touched one-hundredth of a percent of the market that's out there.
I very much look up to authors, some of the ones that I mentioned like Gerry Riddle who have written books and kept them consistently in the top 100 for years. And that shows how big that market is out there because all these people are just discovering these authors. People like Lee Child, the “Jack Reacher” author who has done very well over his career. And he himself said he's probably completely a stranger to 70% of all readers out there.
And so it's more a case of taking what I've already got and using Facebook, AMS adverts, trying to run more promotions. I'm so useless at running promotions. I hardly ever do it because I'm so busy all the time. There's always something else to be doing, and really just making an effort to market the lead titles in each of my series, the first in series of each one and just going mental on the marketing.
I was supposed to be doing this last year. That was when I was going to start, this time last year, and then I had a massive hit out of my first ever top 100 at full price and I suddenly realized, “Oh, I've got to focus on that series for a bit,” you know. I've got to keep that moving.
And so now, it's like, “Okay. Now, I'm in a position I've got whatever it is, 20 indie books behind me.” Really start getting these out in front of readers. And there's nothing special about it.
I can't sit here and say I'm going to be doing some unique and amazing things to do it. It's just most of the same things like every other author out there, running more promotions, doing a BookBub if I can get them, if the sun is in the right position and the winds follow in.
Just doing everything. Just like we're saying, doing everything all the time, all the time. Building my mailing list, all the usual, you know, and just more of it.
Joanna: So that doesn't give anyone a silver bullet, so everyone is like, “Yeah, we've heard all that before.”
What is interesting then? How do you prevent burnout from all the things that you're doing? Like you said, you're so busy.
What do you love about this? What are you excited about? And what is kind of a bit of a grind as an indie?
Dean: I generally stop burnout using valium. The hardest thing for me is sitting still. I'm not a sit-still person. I'm an up-and-about person, so that's the toughest thing about writing books.
Burnout, yeah. I've started to feel like I'm getting a bit fed up of writing so many books. I can say that honestly. There's only so many…even though I'm a quick writer and I don't find it hard to bring out a book every 12 weeks or so, I just want to do new things. So it's not a silver bullet.
I'm starting a new series as of the release of my next book.. And I'm actually doing novellas. I've got about a dozen standalone ideas that I can't shoehorn into a series and don't warrant a series of their own.
I'm seeing all these ideas, and I don't know what to do with them and I couldn't find a way of turning them into revenue except to target the commuting reader who wants a shorter read. They read them on the phone, stuff like that. And I thought, “Well, what about doing shorter reads?” Making all these ideas into new books and releasing a book a month. Bang, bang, bang.
So I've got them already lined up by the way. I've already done this so that's great. It's all lined up for the summer, and I'm just going to be releasing one month after month, very low price, but not the 99-cent price. That's been my idea, to try and reach a new audience and broaden my reach, and also keep the books linked so I can still write at high pace.
But the rest of it you say about silver bullet. There isn't one.
Dean: There just isn't. Those people who were doing serials back in the day, Hugh Howey, who just took off with his Wool serial. You can't do that anymore, really.
There's no silver bullet. Things come along. Facebook advertising made Mark Dawson's career. You know, he was doing all right before, but that really set him sky high. He's gonna monetize that. Now, everyone's doing it, so it's not a silver bullet anymore.
I think the only silver bullet is to realize something is going to be a winner very early on. So anybody who took on Amazon ads really early has probably found it to be a winner. But for most of us, there is no silver bullet except effort and hard work all time.
I probably sound a bit like a stuck record, really, myself. You know, it's hard work, it's hard work, but that's just what it is. You just got to keep doing that. There is nothing I can say in a podcast or an interview that is, “Do this, and it'll work.” There isn't.
Joanna: I hope people realize you're quite a chilled-out type of guy. As in, you know, you're not gonna be like, “Rah-rah American,” about things. But what are you still enjoying? I mean obviously, what's nice though is you're talking about writing as the marketing. You're writing novellas as the marketing.
What are you enjoying that best about being an indie, like you said at the beginning, the being able to write what you want? Is that still what is keeping you in this game?
Dean: The two true things are the fact that I can write what I want and maybe some decisions and decide I'm going to change tacks for a few months.
And the second thing is that it's so much fairer in terms of what an author can earn. Traditional publishing, I'm the outlier there as well. I've got the big advantage. Most authors get maybe, you know, a few thousand pounds if you're lucky, you do three books spread over three years. You know, it's nothing.
They can't give up their day jobs, and then they get nothing in terms of royalties from it. A book that's published through a traditional publisher now has about two weeks' shelf life. It doesn't run, it's gone. And apparently, so I hear, I think it's 75% of all published books.
Joanna: It's…print books, yeah.
Dean: Yeah. So obviously, those 75% of published books, nobody's going to be earning any money from them, publishers or authors.
Whereas independent publishing, you don't need to sell a lot of books to make a really great living. I know I've said this before on the podcast and other places, and that's really what keeps me in. That's what keeps me going because it's so much fairer.
The author has a chance of making a living and doing quite well out of it. People think I sell a lot of books, but really on the grand scheme of things, it's not a lot.
I've got a lot of books all selling moderately. You've only got to go and look at my ranks on Amazon. I've got nothing in the top 5,000, I don't think, at the moment.
But doing very, very well out of it. Last year was a six-figure year for me in pounds as well. So I mean it's an incredible position to be in. That is probably above everything else, the one thing. Even folks who are just coming into the game, that is the one advantage. You don't need to sell a lot of books to make a lot of money.
Dean: Whereas with a publisher, you've got to sell a lot of books before you can get anywhere. It's so much harder.
Joanna: I agree with you. I mean I say this to people, too. It's like you know I have 23 books or something now as well. And my ranking, same as yours…well, you're higher with your fiction, but you know, across the board, you don't have to make loads of money per book if you have lots of books.
So probably the biggest piece of advice is get to 20 books. And I think once you have 20 books…which may sound really big to some people, but hey, what else do you want to do with your spare time? But once you get to 20 books, I think this is pretty reliable. Once you have 20 books, I know a lot of people who have six figures at 20 books. We don't need to make a million in a year, right?
Joanna: Like you've done. It's making it over a number of years and having a sustainable income for you and your family.
You've got a daughter, haven't you? It's not just you in one room.
Dean: No, that's right. You've hit the nail on the head, really. It's about people who are paying the mortgage that couldn't before from their writing, or you know, sending their kids to college or whatever it might be.
There are so many authors out there that are able to do that, whereas before, they either weren't selling anything because they didn't have a publisher or whatever or they were selling very little with the publishing contracts they did have. And that's the big message, you know.
I've been that person doing that now for three years. I mean the last payment I had from my publisher, Simon & Schuster was November 2013. Everything since has been indie, and it works.
I've now become an outlier again, so it's not as easy to blow that horn for people. But yeah, they're the real story. People like me are kind of a little bit unusual, a bit lucky maybe in a lot of respects. But there are so many authors…and of course you don't see them in interviews, you don't see them on the bookshelves, they're not household names, and yet they're all going, “Yeah, I'm a full-time writer and I'm doing really great.”
You see them on the forums more often, not on KBoards and things like that where you say these names and they're saying, “Yeah, I quit my job. You know, I've gone full-time as an author.” And yet we go out and you find out the authors are going back to their day jobs because they can't make any money out of it anymore. And that's why the indie game is as good as it is.
For someone like me, to be in the position that I was in, doing so well it took me 15 years to get into it. I was there for two years and I'm out, you know, because this is better. So it says a lot.
Joanna: Yeah. And also, the industry changed.
I want to ask you about resilience in terms of mindset and keeping going because that big shift in 2012 as traditional publishing changed, the global financial crisis, you know, there were mergers and acquisitions. And that was a time of instability.
We're entering into another period of instability. It certainly feels like it. We're in the UK. We've just triggered Brexit. The American political situation is interesting. The news is full of saber rattling and things. And it feels like things are unstable. One can see that in the publishing industry, too.
What is your advice for people in terms of resilience and dealing with change, and how should they go about that?
Dean: Well, yeah, sticking with it is the main piece of advice. There's not much you can do about these changes we're seeing in the world. I mean Brexit, a big fuss over nothing, really. It's fine. We'll be okay.
We've gone through two world wars, so did America, you know. Brexit, people worry about the security situation. The EU has nothing to do with security. That's called NATO. We'll be fine. America, God help you all.
Joanna: Well, this is not a political podcast.
Dean: No, it's not. What can you say? It is what it is, I think Americans like to say out there.
As far as writing goes, you've just got to stick with it. I like to put some occasional recent political events into my books to give them more realism and give them the grounding in current events. You just have to ride out these storms especially with digital publishing.
It's the fastest changing industry I've ever witnessed. Every year is different, whether it be with Amazon and things like that. Now, the introduction of VAT into EU sales for books…one of the biggest things there is that the consumer, unfortunately, always has to absorb the cost and it's the same for us as authors.
When the VAT was introduced in the EU for digital book sales, we all put our prices up. I did. I didn't want to, but you have to do it. We just have to adapt, but that's one of the strengths of indies. You know, we can turn on a dime. Political stuff, as you say, not a political blog.
Publishing isn't a political realm either as a rule. It survives great things, great upheavals all the time. You know, writing didn't stop because World War II was on. It still carried on. I would not spend too much time worrying as an author about the great political situation anyway because we're authors. We've just go to carry ourselves through that and just carry on, and it will settle down. It always does.
Joanna: And use your anxiety in your writing. And as you say, if you keep your rights, you have a chance to take advantage of any new position as well, whereas if you are in traditional publishing you may get dropped for what I think will be a resurgence in cozy mystery knitting romance and lots of safe and happy things.
Dean: Happy stuff. Happy pictures on the cover. Yeah.
Joanna: Cozy sci-fi.
Dean: Cozy sci-fi, yeah. It's such a difficult thing to have an opinion on, really. It will be fine. It's the only way you can carry on. We'll be fine. We'll all be okay.
I think there's a lot of worry, a genuine worry. And it's understandable as well, but we've been in worse places. I mean everyone has heard of…I don't know, think of a crisis, Bay of Pigs. Everyone was pointing nuclear missiles at each other. You know, we've been in worse spots before.
Don't worry about it. Just keep writing your books and keep it moving forward, and we'll all come out the other side of it.
The digital publishing age hasn't even got started yet, you know. We're at the early part of it. It'll ride through, and it'll probably get better and we'll move on to other technologies as well, I hope, and we'll expand into other things. So yeah, don't worry about it too much would be my advice. Keep going.
Joanna: Awesome, awesome. So tell everyone where they can find you and your books online.
Dean: My books, you can find at deancrawfordbooks.com and I'm also on Amazon. Very easy, just type my name in. I'm there, I'm everywhere. I'm exclusive to Amazon as well, so yeah. That's the only place I'm on at the moment, or I may possibly start to expand out from Amazon.
Dean: Depending on how nice they are.
Joanna: All right, well, thanks so much for your time, Dean. That was great.
Dean: Thanks very much.
A. D. Davies says
Love discovering new authors like this (new to me, anyway). Especially in genres I enjoy. Picked up both Warner and Lopez #1 and the non-fic book.
Travis Chapman says
Thank you so much Joanna. Just listened to a binge of episodes this weekend, but this one resonated deeply with the place I’m at right now. Appreciate the deep dive into this particular set of experiences! Dean, thank you and keep up the great work! On to $2M!
christopher wills says
Great interview Jo. I love his laid back attitude because it’s so like me.
I suspect his new book ‘Blockbuster…’ will be in the bestseller lists as a result of this podcast, I have just bought it. The title reminded me of one of my favourite writing books, ‘Writing the Blockbuster Novel’ by Albert Zuckerman.
Cheers Jo and look forward to your report on Venice. Wifey and I are off to a spa hotel in Lake Garda in June and I am looking forward to that.
Cheryl Edwards says
Hooks are an area that I know I need to improve on with my writing. I struggle with trying to reduce my story to a thought or a question because I’m too busy trying to unpack it. I truly appreciate a well-written hook when I see one. In fact, I find myself sitting back in my chair, wanting to thrust a fist in the air in silent celebration of the author’s ability to write a hook.
I should spend more time studying those hooks that catch my attention and do a continual exercise of writing hooks to find the one the works. If Dean has to write five or six of them until he finds a hook he likes, I can’t expect to write the perfect hook in the first round.
Great interview. Thank you.
Annette Drake says
I have never left a comment before, but I just loved this interview. I listened to it twice, and I will probably listen a third time. As an indie author who bought her rights back to her first book and then re-released it via my small press, I found Dean’s comments very inspiring. Thank you! Great interview.
Joanna Penn says
I’m so glad it was helpful 🙂