The Bestseller Experiment with Mark Stay And Mark Desvaux

Can you really decide to write and publish a bestseller?

In today's show, I discuss how Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux did just that in one year as well as talking about it in public on their podcast, The Bestseller Experiment.

In the introduction, I talk about what I'm thankful for as well as giving an update on my writing progress for The Healthy Writer and the third in the sweet romance series that I co-write with my Mum – and still remains a secret!

Today's show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at www.draft2digital.com/penn

Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux are the co-authors of Back to Reality, a best selling humorous fantasy novel. They launched their book off the back of The Bestseller Experiment podcast where they shared the journey of writing and publishing a bestseller in a year.

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.

Show Notes

  • The motivation for running a bestseller experiment
  • How the two Marks defined ‘bestseller' and how they got there
  • Tweeting with Neil Gaiman – and besting him in the charts
  • The conundrum of pre-orders
  • Comparisons to the indie music industry
  • Dealing with the let down after a big successful launch

You can find Mark and Mark at BestsellerExperiment.com and on Twitter @bestsellerxp

Transcript of Interview with Mark Stay and Mark DesVaux

Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com and today I'm here with Mark Desvaux and Mark Stay. Hi, Marks.

Mark: Hello.

Mark: Hey Joanna, how are you doing?

Joanna Penn: I rarely do these three-way conversations but today there's a reason.

The two Marks are the co-authors of “Back to Reality,” a best selling humorous fantasy novel that they launched. Now, there's the lovely cover if you're on the video. It's beautiful. They launched off the back of The Bestseller Experiment which is a podcast that enables them to write and publish a bestseller in a year and many of you, I know listen to The Bestseller Experiment. It is a genius book title. Not a book title, podcast title and book title alike. I said to you guys, you should do one. But, let's get started by, first up, explain the genesis of The Bestseller Experiment.

Why did each one of you want to do it and how did that weave into your previous experience?

Mark: Well, “want” is a very strong word, Joanna. I was minding my own business when this guy contacts me out of the blue. Now, we've kind of known each other since were teenagers. We have mutual friends.

A couple of years ago I co-wrote a movie called “Robot Overlords” which premiered at the London Film Festival, stars Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson and it was shot Pinewood. It was an amazing experience and Mr. Desvaux here dropped me a line on Facebook that says, “This is amazing, you're living the dream, what an amazing thing,” blah, blah blah. And we got talking.

Growing up all my friends were, “Have you heard Desvaux is doing this? Desvaux is doing that, Desvaux is doing this, Desvaux is doing that.” And, he was just one of these guys I know that do well. I'm not a big fan of time-wasters.

We were chatting and we were saying we both love podcasts, and we both love books, and it turns out Mr. Desvaux was something of a writer. Weren't you Mr. D?

Mark: Oh yes. I think I was at heart a half writer. I've been writing books for the last 20 years but I never finished one. I think I had written about 20 books. I got to about 20,000 words on some of them. I got a squirrel effect – I got interested in something else and started writing.

I was so impressed with what Mark had done with his movie and he ends up having to write a book of the film which is really interesting. Almost the reverse of what usually works out. I thought I want to find out more about how he did this. Because this is incredible.

At the time I actually just designed a course called “Ignite Your Dreams” because when I am, really, by trade is a coach. I came from the music industry and played Glastonbury. I have to say that because it always makes Mark's eyes roll.

Mark: Oh, look at that. We're not even ten minutes in.

Mark: But that was my dream. My dream as a musician was to play Glastonbury and I somehow wangled it very early on in my career. And I thought, “Wow, it was possible.”

Eventually wrote a course called “Ignite Your Dreams” that was all about getting people to really focus on something huge they want to accomplish in their life. And I was looking at what Mark had done and I thought, “Wow, here's a guy who's actually done everything I'm basically coaching people in.”

One of these things in this course until which I look back over with hilarity is that there's three Ds in the course and the second D is declaring your dream. And I thought what better idea to actually get to finish a book than declaring a dream to the world.

Mark and I are actually going to write not just a book but we were going to try and write a bestseller. And that's how the whole thing started. We called it an experiment because we thought we are kind of like crash test authors. We're going to get in the car without our seatbelts on and try and bring with us other authors wanted to try and achieve the same thing.

Mark: That was essential to me. Because I have worked in bookselling and publishing; this December is going to be 25 years actually. I only meant to stay for Christmas.

I've seen the best books in the world that that everyone in the office, I work for Ryan Publishing, everyone gets excited but sometimes they don't work. They can be the best-written book ever, and for whatever reason, the public just not interested. Other times it all clicks into place. So, there is no guarantee that this is ever going to work.

So, I said to him, “Look, we could completely crash and burn on this. Just be warned. You can be as positive as you like but if the public doesn't show up on the day, then we're doomed.” I knew that there'd be someone out there with a half-written book in their drawer who would listen to the people we've had on the show be inspired to finish their book and maybe beat us to it.

And the great thing is, loads of our listeners have got those little orange bestseller flags on the Kindle chart, and have sold some quite serious quantities of their book. So that was for me one of the best things about the whole experiment. Just, buzzing with people online and hearing their stories and hearing how they've been inspired to carry on where they might have given up at that 20,000-word point.

Joanna: That does bring off an important point and actually one that is quite contentious in the author community, which is the definition of a best seller.

I came on the podcast with you guys and said, “It's easy enough to get the orange best seller flag.” You just choose the right category. I think this is actually something that's really being discussed and Amazon have actually now cracked down on ads. Amazon ads that used the words, “Bestseller”.

You actually have to say the month that in which you hit a specific list. And that is you know, the big lists, “USA Today,” whatever. People who don't listen to your show would love to hear how you hit your goal.

How did you define “Bestseller” and how did it go?

Mark: It was always going to be that category of “Orange Flag” on Kindle for me, you know. I deal with Amazon on a daily basis in my job. So, I know that books that get to number one in the top 100 on Kindle, in the UK at least are selling tens of thousands of copies a day.

I knew there's no way on God's green earth we're going to do that book one. The authors who do that are authors who have a series, or they're a brand name, or they're on a Kindle daily deal, or they've got a book about mailing. So that for us is the next stage.

But, in that first year with the debut book on day one you know, getting to one of those would have been mission accomplished. Just to get into one of them I would've been really really happy with that.

We did a bit better. didn't we, Mr. D?

Mark: Yeah, we did it all right. Well, it's all so funny. When we first started this experiment, Joanna, Mark was definitely the pessimist and I'm just an eternal optimist.

I think anything is possible. Go for your dreams, go big and you know, if you failed big then great, you learned something from the process. And so, part of my journey with Mark was trying to convince him that actually part of succeeding in whatever it is that you're trying to do in life is actually believing you can succeed.

Because, if there's a block right from the outset, that in itself could be that the biggest thing that prevents you from doing it. I was this eternal optimist with no background in the publishing experience and of course, Mark has been working in the publishing industry for 25 years.

You can imagine he was slightly worn down by my enthusiasm, he kept saying, “This is gonna be a car crash,” and what was really interesting is, as we progressed through the first 52 weeks of the podcast I started to see this little change happening.

Mark: Oh, don't start that.

Mark: You didn't believe that it could actually happen. I thought, I'm getting on board with this.

And, it was really interesting because on the day itself we got such an incredible group of followers on the podcast and we did a lot of things leading up to it. Again everything is an experiment.

We got a launch team. We had about 150 people beta-read the book for us. And, we were trying everything that we'd learned from all these incredible authors including yourself that came on our show.

On the day itself, we hit number one in 10 of the bestseller charts on Amazon. We've only released that book so far on Kindle so it's just on eBook right now and exclusively on Amazon because again, as part of the experiment we wanted to understand how that works so that we could then feed everything we had learned back to our listeners.

And we hit. That was across the UK, Canada, and the U.S. on those different lists. But the biggest thing that happened on the launch date was, Mark, tell them about what happened in the comedy fantasy category. That was fun.

Mark: Well, we were earlier on in the day we were sandwiched between two of our heroes. Number one in comedy fantasy was Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman with “Good Omens” which is one of my favorite books of all time. And number three was “The Color of Magic” by Terry Pratchett which again, fantastic book which I love dearly.

Joanna: Did you get between the two?

Mark: Oh, yeah.

Mark: And again, you used the word “Pessimist” Mr. D. I think a realist is perhaps the better description.

Mark: Yeah. Because we've recorded our launch day and it's on our podcast this week. I say very firmly, “There's no way we're going to get above ‘Good Omens' because they're filming it at the moment. Neil Gaiman's tweeting about it every day on set. Forget about it. But what a lovely place to be.”

Then, I miss my train home which is just as well because then it all starts to kickoff because we actually got to number one. Mark here goes ahead and tweets Neil Gaiman. And Neil replies and… what was it that you said, “We're not worthy.” Or, oh, “We're gonna faint.”

Mark: So, I said, “We're a bit embarrassed. We're not worthy. We're only hanging around for a few hours and we'll be gone.” And I said, “Unless you retweet this of course, in which case we'll probably faint.” And then he retweeted the screenshot of us above him on the chart.

Joanna: Isn't that the pinned tweet on your Twitter profile now?

Mark: It is. Yes. 2.6 million followers.

Joanna: How many of them bought the book? That's the important thing.

Mark: I was looking at the Twitter engagement statistics. They went ballistic. I mean, like 10,000 engagements in seconds literally. But then, he put another post which said, “of course, I need video evidence of you fainting.” So, Mark's in…was it Waterloo, somewhere?

Mark: I was in St. Pancras. I was in the pret a manger in Saint Pancras and had I just had one of me doing…collapsing. And then, you did one of you collapsing on your keyboard.

Mark: On my keyboard, yes.

Joanna: That's brilliant. Now, I want to stop you guys because that's a really important point. Because what you did there is, you know, they called it “Newsjacking” a few years ago. Getting above your heroes.

But then you also took it a step further and sometimes we don't have the confidence to do that. People have said to me, “Why don't I ask Stephen King on the podcast?” And I'm like, “Because he's a god.” And then I would just be like,”Hi. Hi.” I'm waiting until I am someone before I ask him.

Mark: You are someone, Joanna. You are someone.

Mark: She's definitely someone.

Joanna: But what's good is that you guys went ahead and did that. And then, you did those videos. That was brilliant.

You took advantage of the moment and actually what you guys did also is set aside that time for the launch which I'm terrible at now. I think it's different when it's your first book. But, I have put everything on pre-order and then I forget about it. Whatever, next book. What you did there was great. Fantastic.

Is there anything else about what you achieved that you think it's important to share with the listeners?

Mark: I think one of the most important things is that pre-launch phase.

Obviously this is our first book together, we tried to get as much time as possible to plan the pre-launch. But I must admit, the biggest thing, and I think every author listening to this knows this, is that you spend so much time on the craft of writing trying to get everything ready, what gets squished is that pre-launch phase and the marketing phase of the book.

I wish now in hindsight that we'd had 52 weeks to do the marketing of the book as well as 52 weeks to write, because it felt so incredibly rushed. But at the same time, we know that a deadline is so essential with this.

One of the tips we've often talked about on our podcast is that if Indie authors need to create a deadline and so, we worked towards that but we recognize as well that, this is as you as you rightly tell that, this is just the beginning of the process.

There were people laughing when we were putting up tweets and Facebook posts about, “We finished the book. We there, we've done it.” And then people were like, “You haven't gotten a clue. You're just getting started.”

Mark: I would also say that a tipping point for me and this goes back to when Mark said he saw a change in me. That was when I realized we actually had a good book. We had a really good book. It was around about sort of second or third draft and we were working through it. And, I was thinking actually, “This is one of the best things I've written. And it's got great characters, prose is good, really good pace of a story.”

I thought, “Actually I'll be very proud to put this out my name on it.” This is because of the car crash part and we thought, “Well, we could end up just putting out some piece of tart out there, which has been rushed, not properly edited, a classic hero's journey and so, hero into a story slot B kind of thing.” Which it isn't. It really is a story that's told from the heart.

I remember we had John Connolly, the best selling author on the show. And he was kind of like, “Is this some cynical ploy to get to number one?” Ben Aaronovitch said the same thing as well. And you know, Ben Aaronovitch, I've worked with him at Ryan and Gallant. You know, I know him.

I want to be able to look him in the eye and say, “This is a good book.” Something that I'm proud of. And when we got to the point where I was happy with what we were writing, I thought, “Actually, yeah. Let's put the foot on the gas here, let's actually make this happen.”

Joanna: Well, it's interesting. Because obviously, you worked in traditional publishing and actually, I listened to some of the early shows of yours and I got the impression that you were looking at traditional publishing.

At that point, “This is not a show I'm going to listen to.” And then I saw that you had some Indies on there and things started to change. So, particularly for Mark Stay, you mentioned that “A piece of tart.” You were worried that you would publish that. I think, with the implication that there are many pieces of tart self-published.

Mark: There are pieces of tart published across the spectrum, Joanna. This happens all the time.

Joanna: How did you change your mind about Indie or did you? And how do your colleagues in traditional publishing feel about you going Indie?

Mark: Oh, they love it. They absolutely love it. And, the big change in the last two years really has been that rather than looking at it as a vanity publishing thing, they are looking at the bestseller charts for Indie that they can probably poach and acquire but do it successfully.

They've been burnt quite a few times. They have all these where that category on the Kindle is very granular and the fact is that author is only going to appeal to that readership and they've found the readership and they're doing very well, thank you very much. And when a publisher says, “Oh, we're going mainstream with this,” doesn't always work.

I think they've been burnt by that a few times. However, we were out to write something that is very mainstream, is very popular. And there are authors like yourself, and people like Mark Dawson, and Mark Edwards, and Shannon Mayer who we've had on the show who've had huge success with Indie Publishing.

It was talking to Shannon on that show that was a real eye-opener. It was the fact that she had so much control over what she was writing. She was writing to a very high standard, she had an editor. I mean, there is a lot of tart Indie Publishing. Let's be fair. It's been referred to as the “Gushing Sewer” and there is a lot of crap in there.

I remember having a meeting … I probably shouldn't say, with who, but you know a film company and I said to them, “Why aren't you looking at Indie authors to you know, buy the rights and make movies.” He said, “We've looked. They're all crap.” This was a couple years ago.

Joanna: It is hard. It's hard to find what many would call quality work and that is I think, more and more an issue.

It will continue to be an issue until discoverability is better.

Mark: Yeah. And I think authors like yourself, and Mark Edwards, Mark Dawson, and Shannon Mayer, they worked so hard to ensure that they have a quality book out there and they deliver on a regular basis and have good serious characters, they have fantastic cover art. They deserve all the success that they get.

One of the questions we asked Mark Dawson on our show because he was published by a major publisher and didn't have a great experience. And I said, “If publishing knocked on your door again, would you go back?” And he said, “Well, I'd have the meeting.
I now know the value of what I have.”

And that was a big turning point for me as well. Because I think he's right. If you're willing to put the hours in. It's changed me because I have got several projects on the go. The one of which I'm probably going to do as a crowdfunding thing next year.

There's another one which is a children's book which Indie publishing doesn't really work for children's books. I'd love that to go to a mainstream publisher and there's a series that I'm writing which is definitely going to be self-publish. Because I can do three of them a year, I can do it completely on my own terms.

They could be novellas, they'll be a series, and from speaking to authors like yourself and Shannon, I'm thinking that it could actually be a really good source of income of the next few years. It's been a huge eye-opener for me as well as a lot of our listeners as well.

Joanna: Especially because many of your listeners are traditionally published authors. Because you've had so many traditionally published authors on. And in fact, I've got new listeners to this show from your show who came from traditional publishing. It's really interesting how that shift is.

Mark D., you've obviously worked in the music industry where Indie is actually much more trendy and accepted.

Was there even a journey or had you already accepted it?

Mark: Part of my whole interest in becoming a professional author was because of the years I've been in the music industry. I've always seen the music industry as being a few years ahead of the book publishing industry. So, in some ways, you can often see what's coming around the corner.

If an author really wants to be on the ball right now, they should be saying, “What's happening in the music industry right now?” And I think I've been very heavily involved. I was releasing Indie albums in 2004, 2006, MP3s, direct relationships with iTunes before we had all these distribution deals out there.

I'm also signed to Warner as a songwriter as well. So, I've got experience in that and it was very interesting coming into the publishing world and taking what I'd learned and what I'm seeing in the music world and seeing the differences.

What we saw in the music world is that when it became very easy to create music, people wouldn't have to go into a £100,000 studio. They could fire up a piece of £50 or $50 software at home and create great music. We then had this huge raft of people creating stuff out of their bedroom and what actually changed is not how great the music was. It's just that there was more of it.

And the challenge then became, it was more about how well you marketed yourself, and you actually cut through literally the noise in the music industry and to get noticed. So, in some ways, it became much more important to be incredibly good at marketing what you do.

When I coach people, whether it's writers or musicians, I talk about, “You can either go down Main Street where everyone is. Oxford Street in England or wherever. And you can try and get noticed with 99% of other people. Or you can go down the road less traveled.”

The road less traveled is where the 1% hang out. It's where, me and Mark, the crazy nutters. I'd probably include you in that. You're not crazy nutter, Joanna but, you're doing it differently. You're doing podcasts, you're writing fiction. You're doing things differently and in the 1%, it's not a shortcut.

I say to people, it's never a quick route to get success. It's just as hard work to go that route. But, there's less competition and there's more creativity. I always like to think of myself living in that riderless travel of the 1%. And, if you stay on the Main Street basically, if you follow the herd you always end up stepping in poo.

Mark: Where do you live?

Mark: The rural side.

Joanna: What century are you in?

Mark: Exactly. So, it's very important and I think, as an author who wants to succeed in today's incredible opportunity that we have, to think about what is everyone doing and let's do the opposite.

Joanna: To be fair though, you did a lot of standard things for a launch. Just before we wrap up on the launch, I agree with the bigger picture there. But, in terms of just before I wrap up on the launch because I have a ton of other questions.

Mark Stay, was there anything that you learned from the launch? Because you're in traditional publishing, was there anything that you did for the launch which is stuff that traditional publishing isn't doing now? Around advertising and those things?

Mark: Actually, the preorder thing is interesting because traditional publishing deals have so many titles. That the software they have to feed the metadata -as soon as the deal is done, it's out there.

And, it's not just to Amazon, it's all over the internet. It has an effect on how someone on Amazon perceives you. So, you might do a cover reveal say six months before publication and you'll see a little spike in preorders but if you're a debut author, it comes straight back down again. And you start losing visibility on Kindle.

One of the things I remember, seeing a talk by Harry Bingham who is traditionally published in the UK but self-published in the States. And he's experimented with all sorts of things. One of the things he said that really jumped out for me which was, “Don't have a preorder period if you're an unknown quantity.”

If you're Michael Connolly, or Ian Rankin or whatever, you're going to have that constant drip, drip, drip of preorders that keeps you visible. And that feeds the Amazon algorithms. We were very determined to, day one, the book is there and then everyone has been following us on the podcast or whatever, they buy the book and we get this massive spike which wakes the Amazon algorithms up and they start going, “Whoa, this is special.”

That made a huge difference. I think strategically, that really, really helped us. Well, that did cost us some very late nights a couple of nights before, didn't it Mr. D?

Mark: Yes, actually on that note, one of the interesting things we did see as a spike, we actually were number two in the Movers & Shakers Chart in the UK and we were we were hitting the top 100 in the UK Kindle Charts.

And then at about, I think three or four days later Amazon sent out what we thought was a kind of customized email but it turned out to be one of the standard emails where they were just promoting big, big things were happening.

And it had quite a big book and I thought, “This is just based on my behavior.”

Mark: You've been to the page 3 million times this Monday.

Joanna: Yeah. You get a lot of your own book.

Mark: But then I started getting emails from all around the office saying, “Have you seen this? Have you seen this? Have you seen this?” So I was like, this has gone quite wide actually, I don't know how wide it went.

Joanna: Cool. I just want to circle back on the preorder thing because people listening, that is a good strategy for Amazon but if you publish wide as I do, preorders are very, very, very important for iBooks, for Kobo and no one knows about Nook, so whatever.

But iBooks and Kobo, you can do up to a year in advance. And you get double ranking on iBooks and you get a higher temperature they call it at Kobo. So, the preorder strategy is very different when you're wide.

But I agree with Amazon that you do it later on if you were aiming for that type of launch.

I want to circle back to Mark D. on the coach thing and the psychology. Because, I know a lot of authors these days and a lot of traditionally published authors, and a lot of authors who get a book deal and they think this is the best thing ever, or they have a book launch for their first book and there is a sense of creative disappointment and you talked about hitting your goals.

You wanted to play Glastonbury, you played Glastonbury, you wanted to get a best selling book, but you got a best selling book. And, there is a sense when you achieve a goal of some kind of downer afterwards.

Was there any sense of that disappointment or is that something that you've come across with creatives or do you just now see your future stretching ahead?

Mark: It's a really great question because I always think back to school productions, that massive buildup to that school production. And there's always that morning you wake up after the final big final night. And there's always an anticlimax.

I rejoice in the anticlimax because if you've had that anticlimax, it means something huge has happened. It's when you never experience anticlimax, it means that your life is like flatlining literally. You're not living. You're just existing.

It's a very common thing. There's no way around it. But the way I tend to deal with it is that I've learned to try and celebrate the moment because I think we're all really bad at actually just stopping.

Mark and I, we were having a cake on our launch day podcast. We had a big party afterward. So, I'm getting better at celebrating those moments in life. Life is all about the events that we experience, the emotions we experience when we have those events. And if we just let that event of a number one book or even just finishing a book or launching a book or getting a great review for the first time or…whatever it is, if we don't stop and actually acknowledge that that is a moment that's worth celebrating and we go through whole of our life not really realizing the things we're working towards.

The 24 hours after we put the book out, I slept because I was up at 2:00 AM in the morning having had two hours sleep and then we ran right away through to like 10:00 PM my time because I'm actually based in Vancouver. I moved to Vancouver island about six years ago and so we were doing an around-the-clock show, if you like, on the day.

So, there was an anticlimax and…but once I get past that I then just think, “Wow, now that we've done this what can we achieve?” And I call it “The dream of the dream.” It's like you have a big dream and people forget that if you achieve that dream then you get to have the dream of the dream. It's like the child of that dream which is usually gonna be something even bigger.

So, that's where I'm in right now. I'm in this space of what's possible.

Mark: I think, Joanna, it's a fascinating observation because I've definitely had it. We had the premier of “Robot Overlords” in Leicester Square, in London as part of the London Film Festival. My family were there. This is an incredible day.

Joanna: For all the people outside the UK, this is where the big film premiers are. This is big deal, right?

Mark: This is really big.

Joanna: It's like Glastonbury for musicians.

Mark: Yeah. But you know, afterwards, I'm on the tube and you start coming down. No one knows who I am. No one cares. But there's a little part of me, a little part of my brain going, “I know. I know what I did.”

As Mark says, it is important to acknowledge that you've achieved something but also, don't start drinking your own kool-aid as well. Don't start believing your own hype. Because you've got to work for the next thing.

We worked hard to achieve this. We put in a lot of work to make this happen. So, I think rightly, the launch day was a kind of pat on the shoulder moment but now on to the next stage.

Mark: Mark and I all the way through this journey, we've always been saying we want to inspire other people through our journey. And I think the fact that we did hit the bestseller charts means that all the people that have followed us, they can now listen from episode one of our podcast and listen to the whole thing and see exactly how it unfolded.

That's a great educational resource for anyone who has ever dreamt of being a best-selling author. It would've been a very anticlimax had we not achieved it.

Mark: Yeah, and actually on the day, I realized just how stressful it was. I actually broke down. I broke down in tears when I saw our first review go on and the person actually liked it.

I didn't realize just how much pressure we put under ourselves because of the fact that we went public with this for 52 weeks. Every week saying, “So, we're going to try and write a bestseller.”

It's a very important thing to set big goals. But also more importantly, to celebrate that when you do achieve and then celebrate the failure because when you fail at something it means at least you've given a go and you've learned a lot through that process.

Joanna: Yeah, and to be fair, you could have done a podcast episode on what you learned and how you're going to relaunch in like three months time or something. Because as you say, it's only a beginning.

This is why I never do two people. Because there's always so much I could go into with one person. I have questions for both of you and we haven't got much time left. So I'm going to try like, let's do just some rapid fire.

Together: Right.

Mark: Bring it.

Joanna: You co-wrote this book and you've both have experience in music and film, done co-production and that type of thing before.

Do you have one big tip for the listeners on co-writing?

Mark: Find someone with the same first name. I can bring guests to your podcast called Mark as well just to confuse everyone.

I think, one of the most important things, it actually took us and I'll be totally honest about this. It took Mark and I about a year to learn how to write together. We now have a format and a process that works and we had to work through that. It was a struggle at times.

If you can sit down and I know you've written a book about co-authoring Joanna which is brilliant. But I think one the most important tips I learned is that before Mark and I started writing we create a spreadsheet, we put down everything that we love and we looked for the crossover.

We basically found those common areas and we have written a book that we both love. I mean, everything in it is stuff that we both love communally. And I think that's how it worked. If you get two people trying to write different things, that doesn't work. So, the subject matter is very important from the outset.

Mark: I would say find what your skill sets are and apply it to those strengths. Mr. D has a terrific story mind, a good editorial mind, he's very good at spotting all my bad habits.

Find those strengths and play to them. It's like anything that's teamwork and it's like anything else.

Joanna: Teamwork is really hard.

I think authors particularly are very bad because they work alone a lot.

Mark: Authors are a complete bloody control…as Mr. D. will tell you. I usually write on the train, I have a long commute and if he's still on Scrivener when I'm going, “Get off bloody Scrivener. It's my writing time.”

If you're used to being the sole author. In screenplays I co-write but the screenwriter's way down the pecking order on a movie whereas author is up here. And when I'm in author mode, I'm lord and god of everything in my domain. And it's like, “Who is this other person treading on my story?” So, it was a learning curve for me as well.

Mark: It's all about give-and-take and you find a compromise and the fact that we're still speaking to each other speaks volumes about the way that we've actually found a great way to work with each other. But I've really enjoyed working with Mark. Mark is so much fun to work with. We chat for hours off microphone because it's just fascinating listening to all his stories.

Joanna: You've been friends for a long time, right, as well?

Mark: Yeah. But we weren't really direct friends. We knew each other through common friends.

Mark: I'd see him at gigs and stuff like that.

Joanna: I think that's a real key. I think you have to have a relationship before you start writing, whatever that relationship is. You have to kind of know that you have something in common before you jump in otherwise it's really hard.

We're going to move on because I want to talk about the podcast. I would say to people now, “Look, I'm thinking of starting another podcast around the topic.”

Mark: You must be mad.

Mark: Go and put a cold towel on you, Joanna, go and sit down.

Joanna: But I have a production team now. So, I feel like maybe I have more time. And thank you production team, who are listening. They are a team, literally. When I think about a podcast that I would do to sell my fiction, it is nothing like this. It is more like the law podcast which became a TV show on Netflix, about myths and supernatural stuff.

Mark: And a book.

Joanna: Yeah, and a book. Exactly. That's what I'm thinking. It would be more like that.

Why did you choose to do a podcast that basically is aimed at writers to sell fiction? And what have you learned about podcasting that you think everyone should know?

Mark: Honestly I'm a huge, huge fan of podcasts now. I've always loved them to listen to but producing them I love them. I did quite a lot of radio in my previous life in BBC and the like.

But we didn't realize that making a podcast is a bit like producing an hour radio show every week. It's a huge amount of work. But like you, I've got ideas for podcasts coming out of my ear and I'm like, “Oh, I could do one on that.”

For us, it was more about documenting and time capsuling what it was that we'd be doing and bringing writers into the fold. We wanted writers to come on the journey with us. Halfway through I turned around to Mark and said, “Actually, we're trying to sell the books to readers and we're building an audience of writers. Are we not doing this the wrong way around?”

But of course, writers are readers. And they're a great nucleus to start and launch a book as well. But I'm a big fan I think, don't underestimate the amount of work it takes. Honestly, it's a huge, huge amount of work. You have to really be in it for the long term as well.

Mark: I love the Scriptnotes podcast, the UK Screenwriters podcast, the Honest Authors podcast. I've got a lot myself out of those as a writer and I just thought that it would be great, because the thing is I work in publishing and I know a lot of people in publishing.

I thought I've not heard that many editors in podcasts, I've ever heard a publicist in a podcast so you know, we've got lawyers, we've got all these fascinating people on it.

But it's like desert island disks. You listen to the ones with famous people and they're great. But it's those people that you've never heard of that sometimes turn out to be the best episodes. And I thought it would be great to get people a peek behind the curtain because there are so many misconceptions about publishing and writing that it would be great just to involve people in on that. And I love the sound of my own voice. So why not have 60 hours of it forever.

Joanna: Oh, wait, interesting point. You just said “60 hours of it forever”.

Does that mean you're stopping the Bestseller Experiment?

Mark: Oh, it's a good question. We're actually running at the moment a Patreon campaign.

A lot of people have asked us to carry on. And we've realized that there is a whole other season to this which is the post-launch and what we call the long tail. It keeps coming in our reviews, they keep saying, “This book has to be made into a movie.” And so, well somebody said, “A blockbuster!”

Mark: Well, I see we have someone that's got some experience in that.

Mark: I could write a movie. I can't make a movie.

Mark: So, they're looking for someone. There are already people interested in the book and I already see people in Hollywood sniffing around already which is really amazing. Somebody said, “Why don't you do the blockbuster experiment?” And I thought, “Ugh,” and Mark's like…

Joanna: No, no, no, Blockbuster died. Blockbuster's dead.

Mark: That's true. Yes, yes. The movie blockbuster is dead.

Season 2, we're gonna be starting in a few weeks. We're going to be looking at all kinds of interesting things that are coming out.

We've only launched the e-book so far. Do we take the print version and sell that into traditional publishing. Is that an option?

Joanna: What about the IP rights? Maybe you do that in the UK because you both have UK contacts but why would you do that in Namibia? No publisher is working in Namibia but I sell books in Namibia.

If you're going to do that, don't sell World English guys.

Mark: No, don't worry. My agents already told us that.

Joanna Penn: Excellent. But these are actually interesting questions.

I think carrying it on is a good idea.

Mark: We've been running a Patreon campaign right now, which could be a model for authors to look into as well and so we're actually being really amazed at how many people are signing up and subscribing to that. So, we're going to be doing all kinds of extra giveaways and bonus material for people who can help us basically cover the costs for podcasts.

And we're doing it as part of the experiment because we think this could be a model for the future. Authors might look at a model where they get subscribers because it's happening in music. It's happening in music.

Joanna: It's happening in writing. There are a lot of traditionally published authors who are not making a living from their publishing deals.

I support N. K. Jemisin who's a multi-award-winning author who basically just said, “I need money to give up my day job so I can write.” I think she's making about ten grand a month and some very big name authors doing Patreon. I'm one who isn't a big name, but I'm doing Patreon, and there's lots of people doing writing as well as podcasting.

I think it is already a model for writers and a very sustainable one. It's awesome, really.

Mark: Yeah, we're really excited about that and we're seeing what's happening with Netflix and Spotify. This idea was all about content. So, podcasts I think it's a great model for the future.

Joanna: So, Mark Stay is that a yes, you're going to do the podcast ongoing or you're staying quiet for a reason?

Mark: Well, I think by the time this airs, season 2 will have kicked off. We've already got a couple of episodes in the bag, so we're always banking stuff.

Joanna: Then, I did actually have one more question for Mark D. around the name.

Because of course, Mark Desvaux is your name. And, show us the cover again Mark S. because that's not the name on the front of the book, is it?

Mark: It's not, is it? Let's have a look…

Mark: I had quite a journey with this, to be honest, Joanna. The whole name thing.

Joanna: It's Mark Oliver. So Mark Stay and Mark Oliver wrote “Back to Reality.”

Why use a pseudonym?

Mark: I used a pseudonym because I'm also a nonfiction author. Most of the books that I've half-written are nonfiction books and I'm really looking at inspirational fiction about … I've got one written for writers around how to get inspired and motivated to write.

I want to keep my name for that. And I decided on Mark Oliver for fiction. Oliver is my middle name, so, it's kind of the first half of my name but I must admit, we went through a huge journey with this on the podcast, you can hear all about it.

There was one point where Mark and I were thinking of actually going out as a female pseudonym, just a single female pseudonym. And we're thinking, what would be the implications? Because the fact that the book definitely appeals to the kind of largest group of readers, which are kind of, I guess contemporary women's fiction, I guess you'd call it on Amazon. And we had a huge debate over this and I went through about three or four different pseudonyms and they didn't fit.

Mark: And it did not go down well with the listeners either, did it?

Mark: Yeah, it was interesting…

Mark: There was a big sense of betrayal. They were like, “No, put your names on.”

Joanna: Or to be a woman.

Mark: Yeah, because they had learned about. And we've also got this moniker now of the two Marks, it's kind of what we're known as, it's like the two Ronnies but not quite as funny.

So we've got that as a tag that we're using in our promotion but it was a really, really tough call and I must admit I struggled with it for a good month, but actually having gone through it I'm really happy that I made that decision.

Mark: I'm lucky enough to have a very easy name to pronounce so I'm never changing it. and again I said to him, “I've worked so hard on this, my blooming name is going on the cover. Don't you worry.”

Mark: And I spent a lifetime, I'd order, say, takeaway and I'd say “Mark Desvaux,” and then they'd… “How's that spelled? D-E-V-O? Des-vox?” And, you know, I just thought actually I'll just make it easier on people. Everyone knows how to spell Oliver.

Joanna: Although I guess now you're in Canada with French Canadian now on your side.

Mark: You'd think, but no, the world over. No one can spell Desvaux, that silent S.

Joanna: Well that's why I say “Penn with a double N,” because people can't spell Penn either, I mean, come on. So we are out of time. So where can people find… I know, we could chat for hours. This happened on your show, right? We went on long on your show. And people can listen to that if they want to hear us chew the fat on other things.

Mark S., where can people find you and the books and everything online, and the podcast?

Mark: Well I'm @MarkStay on Twitter, Mark Stay Writes is my blog and newsletter. We are @BestSellerXP on Twitter and bestsellerexperiment.com on the website and we're on Facebook, facebook.com/bestsellerexperiment, and we are on Instagram too.

Mark: And for me, it's Mark…I actually have a coaching company called 4000 Saturdays, so that's basically me on the web. 4000 Saturdays, by the way, if anyone's interested in what that is, that is the average number of Saturdays that we live in our lifetime, so use them wisely.

Mark: Whenever I tell someone that, you should see their face.

Mark: I know, they get very depressed, I know.

Mark: “Do you know why he called it that? Do you know?” And I tell them.

Mark: Yeah, but it's about being motivated, right? It's about living life.

Joanna: Don't worry, my audience is well used to it with my obsession with death and cemeteries and everything. In fact, the show I think either before or after you is all about writing your last will and your letter to your inheritance, your inheritors and IP trusts and what happens after you die to all your intellectual property. And it's like the third show I've done on this, so yeah, my audience is used to it. So 4000saturdays.com?

Mark: Dot com, yeah, and I'm on Twitter on 4000 Saturdays, Facebook and all the usual suspects.

Joanna: Well, thanks Marks, and everyone go check out the Best Seller Experiment.

Together: Thank you so much, Joanna.

Joanna Penn:

View Comments (2)

  • Hi Joanna! A bit late to the party, but I wanted to say thank you so much for this podcast episode in particular and your podcast in general.

    This episode put me onto the Bestseller Experiment, which I ended up binge-listening to the whole first year of episodes in just a few weeks. I picked up so many great writing tips and tricks from that.

    I've been following your podcast for well over a year too - slow-bingeing through your past couple of years of episodes. There's so much great content and so many good lessons and insights for budding writers.

    Thanks for all you're doing! :)

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