If you want to have a long-term career as an author, it's a good idea to listen to those few writers who have successfully navigated the many changes in the publishing industry over the last 30 years.
Kevin J Anderson sold his first novel in 1988 and with over 140 books under his belt, he is still enthusiastic about learning new ways to reach readers. In today's show, he gives some tips on planting lightning rods as a writer, dictation and multiple streams of income.
In the introduction, sales of audiobooks are set to overtake ebooks in the UK in 2020 [The Independent].
If you want to be more productive in 2020, check out Productivity for Authors: Find Time to Write, Organize Your Author Life, and Decide What Really Matters, out now in ebook, paperback, hardback, Large Print, audiobook (narrated by me), and workbook editions.
Plus, Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting, and Voice Technologies is now on pre-order, coming 10 Feb 2019.
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.
Kevin J. Anderson is the multi-award-winning and internationally bestselling author of over 140 books selling over 23 million copies in 30 languages. Kevin has written numerous novels in the Star Wars, X-Files and Dune universes, as well as his own sci-fi fantasy, thriller, steampunk and horror books. He runs WordFire Press with his wife and fellow author Rebecca Moesta, has ed edited numerous anthologies and written comics, games, song lyrics, and he's also a professor in Publishing at Western Colorado University.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.
- If you want lightning to strike, then plant lightning rods with your writing
- Why your writing career is like popcorn
- How to get better using dictation for first drafts – check out Kevin's book, On Being a Dictator
- Using dictation for brainstorming and character-building
- Teaching a graduate program that covers both traditional and indie publishing
- Why learning to deal with change is the one constant in publishing
You can find Kevin J. Anderson at Wordfire.com and on Twitter @TheKJA
Transcript of Interview with Kevin J. Anderson
Joanna Penn: Kevin J. Anderson is the multi-award-winning and internationally bestselling author of over 140 books selling over 23 million copies in 30 languages, and probably far more than that.
Kevin J Anderson: 31 actually, I just sold Ukrainian rights. That's one more language.
Joanna Penn: One more. Excellent.
Kevin has written numerous novels in the Star Wars, X-Files and Dune universes, as well as his own sci-fi fantasy, thriller, steampunk and horror books. He runs WordFire Press with his wife and fellow author Rebecca Moesta, has ed edited numerous anthologies and written comics, games, song lyrics, and he's also a professor at Western Colorado University.
Kevin, you make me feel tired with your busy life!
Kevin J Anderson: Well, I don't get bored, I could say that. And I don't have any patience for the people that say I've got writer's block, what am I going to do? And I'll go, well, then switch channels and do like one of the 30 other projects you can be working on.
That is one of my productivity tips is that if you work on several things at once, and then if you get stalled on whatever book you're working on, then don't whine about having writer's block, just do something different.
Joanna Penn: That's fantastic. Now, you've been on the show a couple of times before so we're not going to get into your background or anything like that. We saw each other in person just a few weeks ago, at the business masterclass in Vegas.
And you said something in one of your talks, which struck me and I wrote it down in my journal. It is a direct quote.
“If you want lightning to strike, plant a lot of lightning rods.”
I wondered if you could explain what you meant by that and give some examples in your own writing life.
Kevin J Anderson: I've always found that, to use another cliche, if you're putting all your eggs in one basket, it doesn't help if that basket, Oh, I don't know where to go with that metaphor!
Basically, here's a parable that a writer that I knew early on in my career who was the hot new thing. He was a new author and he was very great and well-respected and won some awards. And he wrote his first book and he got it published and the publisher had high hopes for it.
So he decided that he was just going to wait and see how his book did before he bothered to write the next book. Well, of course, that's a two-year process or something in traditional publishing. It took forever for the book to come out. And then it did very well.
So then he started writing his second book and by the time that the sequel was ever published everybody had moved on. He had banked everything on this one book and it didn't work well.
And, and I find that, with the way that publishing changes so much, if you're just counting on one income stream or one thing that's going on, well that might change tomorrow. Something might become hot that you never expected and something that you thought was going to pay you for a long time suddenly it goes flat.
I wrote this big thriller with Doug Beeston called Ignition, and it's basically like the movie Die Hard only it's set at the Kennedy space center with the space shuttle on the launchpad and terrorists have planted bombs on the fuel tank.
Unless they get this huge ransom, they're going to blow up the space shuttle on the launch pad with the astronauts inside. And that was very, very popular. We had five publishers bidding on it. We sold movie rights outright to Universal Studios and it looked like Bruce Willis might even star in it. It was really going to go.
And then the Challenger accident happened and nobody wants to touch anything to do with terrorists are blowing up the space shuttle. So that lightning rod, that one thing, I got a nice movie deal out of it, and I got a nice book deal out of it, but suddenly through circumstances, completely out of my control that book became a pariah.
Nobody would do anything with people threatening to blow up a space shuttle because of the Challenger accident and then a couple of years later the Columbia accident, nobody wants to read a thriller about the space shuttle under threat. So that's not something that you can ever possibly plan on.
Now on the opposite side, Rebecca and I just had a 10 day trip in China and we sold some Chinese translation rights and we were meeting with the publisher over there, and I was pitching my new novel Spine of the Dragon.
It's a big epic fantasy. And I was talking about the Dune books because some of those haven't been translated into Chinese and it didn't even occur to me that the Chinese very, very much love awards. And, one of my novels back in the nineties was a science fiction, nanotechnology thriller that I wrote with Doug Giesen, called Assemblers of Infinity was nominated for the Nebula award.
The Chinese had read my bio and I'm meeting with the publisher and they started asking me all about Assemblers of Infinity. What's this book about and why was it nominated for the Nebula award and why can't we read that one?
I've had 165 books published. That wasn't one I was planning to pitch to them because that was 15 or 20 years old. But off the cuff, I started pitching him that one, and they all went nuts over that one. And I've even got a Chinese movie studio that's now looking at it and talking about it. So that's a lightning rod that I never expected to do anything.
You have to be prepared to do different things and seize the opportunity when it comes out. And sometimes it might take 20 years before lightning strikes on that one. But if you try all kinds of different things something is sure to, go.
Another metaphor that I use for a similar thing is that your career is kind of like popcorn, that if you put all the popcorn in a pan, you never know which kernel is going to pop or when it's going to pop. But if you have enough kernels and enough heat something's going to start popping soon.
So put in a lot of kernels and then they have a lot of heat, and then you're going to start having popcorn popping all over the place. I generally do like a whole hour-long thing about that metaphor, but I know we don't want to stretch it too much,
Joanna Penn: It's a good metaphor. And I think one of the frustrations, for not necessarily younger people, but younger authors, so people who haven't been in the writing industry too long, is that they think the popcorn should start popping right away. But a lot of these things take a lot of time.
You just mentioned that one in China was something you wrote a long time ago. And some of your movie deals might have taken decades. Jack Reacher would be another obvious example that took over a decade to become a movie.
What are your thoughts on the waiting period and things you can do to not go nuts in the meantime?
Kevin J Anderson: To play upon the movie thing, it's been reported a lot that I'm involved and Brian Herbert is involved in our new big budget movie of Dune that Legendary Pictures is doing. It's got Denis Villeneuve as the director and a huge cast of all-stars. And, I can't even rattle off all of them. There's like 15 major stars in it. It’s a movie and hundreds of millions of dollars in budget.
But Brian Herbert and I have been pushing this for 21 years, trying to get the movie made, and we've had a different studio and a different director, different scripts, and then that fell apart. We’ve been pushing this for 21 years and now it's finally happening.
And of course then it's like popcorn because all sorts of other peripheral things with Dune are happening, although I've got a gag order and I can't announce them, but there are lots of other Dune things that are happening that wouldn't have happened if this one lightning bolt hadn't struck, and now sparks are going all over the place.
My own writing career, my first book was published in 1988. That's why we don't have a picture on, so you can't see how gray my hair is and all that. 1988 and I was working full-time and it took us until, I think 1993 or 1994 before I had my first New York Times bestseller, and that was an out of the blue lightning strike because I was offered to write a Star Wars books.
I didn't plan for that. That just came unexpectedly because I had worked with my editor at Bantam books. I had always turned in my books on time. I wasn't a drama queen. I was easy to work with, and so they offered my name to Lucasfilm and they chose me to write them a Star Wars book.
That certainly changed my career and turned everything around because suddenly I've got a million people reading my books and I guarantee you, I didn't have a million people reading them before that. And that led to lots more other writing projects that led to X-Files work.
It led to working for DC comics and, and Batman and Superman and, and that. I mean, everything just sort of ripples out and you try it.
And I guess to get back to your question about what do you do when it takes 20 years? Well, it may well take 20 years, so don't quit your day job. If you have a good year and a lot of money comes in, don't assume that next year is going to be the same.
Publishing is like a roller coaster.
It goes up and down and up and down and similar to the music industry. If you have one hit, don't assume that your next one is going to be a hit.
When you do have money, you need to save well and invest it. Prepare for times when it's going to be a crash. And just don't think that it's going to keep going.
I was just at the 20 Books to 50 K conference in Las Vegas where there were, literally a thousand attendees, all of them, ambitious indie authors, and they got into it and we're kind of in gold rush days and it's a big boom.
And everybody's running big ad campaigns. And, and I mean. You’ve been on your show for how many years, Joanna? Just pushing stuff, right? But think about it, the industry-wide perspective is this is still like a new and disruptive part of the business and it's changing a lot.
I talked to a bunch of the people who are at 20 Books and I said, guys, you haven't had your first huge boom and bust cycle yet. A lot of them are still kind of on this big upswing, but, and I'm not being a doom and gloom person, but that's just the way the industry works. Something's going to crash in, in some part of it, and you've got to be prepared for that.
I make the joke that my own career, I've crashed and burned and then pick myself up and then crashed and burned and then pick myself up so many times, and resurrected my career. I call myself the Doctor sometimes because I'm the 11th doctor now or something like that.
I'm still going. I'm still publishing. I just made a really huge traditional book deal, and I've got a whole bunch of indie books that we're publishing. And as you've mentioned earlier, I'm now this very, busy and happy professor at Western Colorado university where I'm teaching, a publishing master's degree, which we'll talk about a little bit later in the show.
All kinds of things are happening and these are all lightning rods that I planted. You never know when something's going to strike, but you have to be ready for it.
Joanna Penn: And keep creating. That's why I love to talk to you and Dean and Kris and people who've been around the industry for long enough to go through these booms and busts because as you say, things are going to change.
You can be sure they’ll change. Even Jeff Bezos said Amazon will be disrupted.
Kevin J Anderson: I like to say there, and I don't know if this was in the UK or not, but here are this huge chain in the US was Blockbuster Video where you could go and rent videotapes of your movies. This was a gigantic chain. You couldn't drive a mile without coming onto another Blockbuster Video. And everybody was investing in Blockbuster Video because everybody wanted to rent VHS videotapes of their movies.
And then suddenly that was completely disrupted and they managed to switch over to DVDs and then that was disrupted. And all the Blockbuster Videos just went away.
So if you banked your entire career on the money you are going to make managing a video rental store that's just not going to happen.
I'm not going to predict it with indie publishing, but look how fast it appeared and look how fast it changed. What happens when the next thing – I'm kind of wandering off here. What happens when Kindles become obsolete and there's a holographic reader that everybody has to get, and then everybody has to change things.
You yourself have talked on the show about if you're a writer and a lot of the 20 Books people that, that I just talked with, they're very rapid writers and I'm really glad to see people that make me look like I'm slow writer but they're writing huge numbers of series books, one after another after another.
There are romance writers who are doing this, and on your own show you've talked about these AI things that can digest countless formulaic books in a certain genre and start producing books that a large share of the readers won't notice that they're not written by humans.
If you're banking on being say a Harlequin romance author or doing that, as an indie author, and suddenly Hal9000 becomes a best-selling author, then what do you do? Then you have to change.
And if you don't have money saved up in the bank to carry you through that transition period, you might end up having to get a real job somewhere, which is a horror.
Joanna Penn: I think what's interesting is because you've been through the cycles and you have adapted so you have indie books, you have trad pub books, you do different rights licensing. You work with agents, you licensed books from other authors. You teach. This is the key, right?
The key is multiple streams of income. And putting money aside for when difficult times come, but creating intellectual property assets surely must be fundamental.
I want to ask you about this because you mentioned Star Wars, you've mentioned X-Files, Dune; you don't own those universes. As far as I know, your role in the intellectual property asset, and maybe you were a writer for hire for Star Wars, for example, I presume.
Given that we talked about this in Vegas at the business masterclass, what are your thoughts on rights, ownership, and licensing at this point, for authors?
Is it critical to keep control given the fast pace of change? Or should we be looking to license where appropriate or doing work for hire?
Kevin J Anderson: I do all of the above. I made my career by writing Star Wars books. If I hadn't written Star Wars books, I would not be who I am today.
I would not have the first name that says New York Times best-selling author. And that's what skyrocketed my career. And I took advantage of that and I kept going.
But the reason why I was able to survive, and of course I'm still getting small royalty checks for my Star Wars books, but they were published 25 years ago. I'm not like making my living on it, but I never only did those books.
I do know other authors that when it was the gold rush days of, of jumping into writing media tie in books because there was a time when every movie had a movie novelization and you could get paid $15,000 for like two weeks worth of work to take a movie script and turn it into a paperback novel.
That was just really good solid work that you could pay the bills with. And all the comic work that I did, all the Predator comics and Justice Society comics and I don't even remember the other ones. I did Star Wars comics and the X-Files comics. Those were great, but I don't make any money on those properties anymore.
Dune is a slightly different thing because it really is me and Brian and we're partners and things, and I do participate in the
stuff that I wrote. I don't own the IP, but I do benefit from it. But I also have constantly written my own books.
I know other writers that jumped on the media tie-in bandwagon to finish my sentence from before that spent years and years, only writing Star Trek books or only writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer or whatever book that they got, and they made a decent living, but that's a huge output that they created, and they own none of it anymore. So they're not reaping any benefit.
There are many of the superhero movies, like the Marvel superhero movies, that have taken huge storylines that somebody wrote for the comics, and that person doesn't even get acknowledged in the credits, so that's a bad thing.
And every one of your listeners is nodding about how those authors got shafted, but not really. That's the contract that they signed and they knew that. They knew what they were doing.
I've had a lot of little things that I created for Star Wars that have appeared in the Star Wars movies or in the Clone Wars TV show. And as a fanboy, I just kind of go, Oh, look at that. That's from my book, but I don't go to the mailbox to see if there's a check there.
On the other hand, when I was not a full-time writer, when I was just writing books in the evenings and try to get them published and getting them published, but not making enough money to pay all the bills. I was a technical writer. I worked for a research laboratory and I wrote safety procedures.
I wrote respirator safety manuals. I wrote the definitive handbook on chemical protective clothing. One of my biggest sellers all of. I actually have some uber-fans who have gone out to buy my chemical protective clothing book. But that was my job. I got paid to write that book and it got published and the company owns the copyright on that respirator safety manual. It's not like I expected to get royalties on it or anything. That was my job.
And even when I was writing The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie novelization or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow movie novelization that was work. It paid me money and I paid the bills with it and it was fun.
More fun than chemical protective clothing was. I was happy to do that work, but it was work that I did at the time. It's not something that I benefit from anymore.
So what I suggest is if you have a way to make money and pay the bills, if that means you're writing Spiderman comics or novels or whatever, and you like Spiderman, I say, go for it. Just use your energy. Do have fun. Build up a fan base, build up readers.
But you also need to have the energy to start planting other lightning rods with your own IP, because then the lightning might strike over there. If you are a slow writer and you can only write one book a year, you probably won't quit your day job because you probably won't be able to make a living at it in the current publishing industry.
In old traditional days, if you've got a big enough advance, you could write a book a year and live on that money. But that just isn't the universe we live in anymore.
Joanna Penn: And even then, there weren't too many people who were getting that much money. The amount of money that I like to live on, for sure!
Kevin J Anderson: We’re at the top end. Of course, we have our Bentleys and Jaguars that you drive around in.
Joanna Penn: That's why I'm car-free. I'm very green, very car-free. But anyway, about writing faster.
Obviously, you're incredibly prolific and, we talked about dictation before, so I don't want to get too far into it, but you do have a new book out, well, newish, called On Being a Dictator. And one of the things that stood out for me in there is writing by dictation is a learned skill, something that requires practice.
I feel like this is the thing that many people don't realize. They think that they should just pick up a microphone and that they'll be good at it. And I'm still not great at it. I get into the flow sometimes, but a lot of the time I don't dictate because I don't know what to say.
How can we practice dictation and how can we get better?
Kevin J Anderson: That was one of the key things. And I wrote the book, it's called On Being a Dictator. I co-authored it with Martin Shoemaker, who is one of my writing students who became a fanatical dictation writer too. So, he and I worked together with our different techniques and, and ways to do it.
I wrote the book because I got tired of people asking me questions all the time. Explain to me how you write by dictation. So now I can just point to the book and say, just read that.
But one of the things that I kept hearing from people that they would be so enthusiastic and they'd get a little digital recorder or even just the app on their smartphone or something, and they'd go I went out once for 10 minutes and tried to dictate, but it just doesn't work for me. I'm too self-conscious talking or I don't like the sound of my voice. So I gave up.
I got frustrated hearing that again and again, and I thought. Well, when you sat down at a keyboard for the first time, did you type for 10 minutes and say, I'm no good at this. I'm never going to do this anymore. I'm just going to go back to writing with a pen and paper.
The first time you sat down at a keyboard, putting your fingers on this randomly arranged keys. Back in history, remember that the keyboard was designed to make typists not tight fast, so that the mechanical typewriter keys wouldn't get all tangled up. The keys were originally arranged to make people slow down when they're typing.
So the first time you sat down, you're hunting and pecking with your fingers and trying to like, where's the letter Q and where's the letter K? But as you kept doing it, you started to learn and now you don't even think about typing anymore. I assume.
I'm looking at the screen or looking off and my fingers are all across the keyboards as I'm rattling away because I've been typing for most of my life. I know how to do it well.
I've also been dictating for most of my writing career. I've been dictating my novels, for probably 25 years, because I like to go walking and just mulling things over. And that's the place where my creative juices flow better.
And so first off, get it in your head that you need to practice at it. But the thing that might help you, because I know you're a pantser most of the time, and other writers. I love using dictation for a solo brainstorming session.
If I'm starting a book and I've got this cast of characters and I don't know anything about the villain or I don't know anything about the spunky kid, or I don't know anything about the seductress or I don't know anything about the thief with the heart of gold or whoever the character is that I'm working on, I'll just go, okay, well today I'm going to figure out the life story of Prince Aiden.
I'll go out with my recorder and I'll just walk. And I'll just kind of free-associate who Aiden was. He was the second son. And you never liked his older brother, but he had to go to training with him because they could only afford one tutor in the castle.
So both princes had to be taught at the same time. And they would fight each other and play pranks. And then I'd make up something about some prank that they did, because that's going to end up as a tiny little flashback in the book. And then I just started. I'm thinking of that character and kind of babbling into my recorder because nobody else needs to see that.
That doesn't have to be perfect prose. It doesn't have to be punctuated, doesn't have to be spelled or anything. This is just me dictating notes because I find when I'm sitting there with either typing or with notes like this, I often will just use a notepad and pen and sit on a bench somewhere out in the park or something.
I can be walking along and just basically like an actor putting on the suit of this character he's supposed to play, I can do that with my recorder and just get to know my characters. The reason that I started writing by dictation sort of, I fell into it by accident in that, I liked to go out for walks when I was having trouble with a story or with a character, or if I couldn't come up with the plot twist or something.
I would just go for a walk down the bike path or on a hiking trail. And I just think about things and I'd have a little notepad in my pocket or something and I jot down ideas as I had them, but it's kind of a pain in the butt to be jotting down complicated ideas on this little notepad, especially if it's like foggy or raining outside.
Sometimes I would come up with great ideas and then I'd run home and try to type them all up and they'd all be gone by the time I got home. So I started carrying this recorder with me, just so I could turn it on and go, Oh, don't forget to add this plot thread when you do book two or something like that. It's just was taking notes.
And as I started laying out, and I write these big complicated, multicharacter book, kind of like Game of Thrones, with all sorts of different perspectives, and I would try to choreograph the big space battle at the end. This character brings in this fleet and this person's sabotaged these weapon systems. I just sort of outlined.
I'm almost drawing a storyboard for a movie, a little scene, little scene, little scene, and I would break them up and they just got more and more detailed as I got practiced at it and I realized that this isn't an outline anymore. This is a first draft, and I just developed it from that point.
And in our book on being a dictator, my coauthor uses Dragon Naturally Speaking or some other voice-to-text software. He tested them out and gives his report on them. And that's what a lot of authors do. I still go back to the old fashioned using a human typist that I just send the audio files to and she types it and sends it back to me usually within a day or so.
There are advantages and disadvantages to using Dragon and other things. Of course, once you paid for the software, then you get it done for free. The problem is that there's so much cleanup involved because the AI doesn't understand context or punctuation or anything like that, so you have to go back and either add it when you're editing or you have to, as you're dictating, comma, close quote or something like that. To me that rips me right out of the story because I have to deepen into the story I'm telling and with the human typist I can just basically read it aloud and she'll know when to put the paragraphs in without me having to say it. And she'll know when it's two different people talking and dialogue and know to put the quote marks and all that stuff in.
And it also is kind of cool when the typist does nag me for when's the next chapter coming.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. And there's a lot more in the book, so I definitely urge people to get it if you're considering dictation. It's still something I keep circling back to and want to get it right, but you just have to keep practicing it. And as you say, I think I need to do it in a more circular manner.
As in try and write something, just notes, and then go back with a first draft type of approach.
Kevin J Anderson: Don't forget, you yourself wrote the book on being a healthy writer too. And if you're out walking and dictating, you're getting all this exercise and it's keeping you healthy too.
So that's another benefit.
Joanna Penn: There are so many benefits of dictation, which is why I keep talking about it on the show, because I am determined to crack it.
I’ve got so many things I want to talk to you about, but you've recently become a professor at Western Colorado University teaching a degree in publishing that covers both independent publishing and the traditional world.
Now, obviously most people listening are not going to do that course. But I was really interested in what has surprised you the most, because obviously you've had to put together the material for these students and you've had to revisit a lot of what's going on, I guess, in the industry.
Is there anything that has made you surprised or go, “Wow, that really is quite different.”
Kevin J Anderson: What surprised me was that in order to take the job as a professor, I had to get my own MFA, which I got a bachelor's degree in astronomy, in physics, way, way back when. And I've never needed to have an MFA.
By law, in order to teach a graduate degree, you have to have your own graduate degree. So I had to go back myself after having published 150 books and 50 some bestsellers, and then I had to go and get an MFA and take classes with grad students who are publishing their first story and stuff.
So that was an interesting perspective on going back to school. I think there was a really old Rodney Dangerfield movie called Back to School where he had to go back, but my experience was a little bit different from his.
Teaching something is really a good way to learn the details of something that you sort of know, but you never actually put it all down and codify it. And there are people who want to go through the process. And it's only a one-year program for my master's degree. It's an MA not an MFA for academics who know the difference of those.
We have a program that it's specifically two courses. One is on traditional publishing and one is on indie and new model publishing. And to my knowledge, I don't know of any other degree that's giving equal weight to both types of publishing. A lot of them are still just strictly traditional publishing focused. And obviously I didn't want to do something like that cause I'm a hybrid author and doing both.
Western has given me a lot of freedom and support in developing this. And when I first started looking at Western Colorado University, I keep saying that when I started looking at it, they have an MFA program, but they're really cool. They've got an MFA program in genre fiction.
So you can get your master's degree in genre fiction where you actually study romances and westerns and mysteries and thrillers. None of my academic classes ever did that. They all made me read stuff that no human being would ever want to read.
They would make me read free form poetic essays that were published as fiction that had no punctuation in it. And that just didn't work for me.
But Western has got a screenwriting program. They've got a genre fiction program, they've got a poetry program and a nature writing program. And it just clicked with me that I thought this was a place that I could have a program that I could really get behind.
And so I developed it and like I said, both traditional and indie publishing. And so the students on the traditional half, they are putting together their own professional anthology. We got money from Draft2Digital who was helping me pay professional rates for these stories. We solicited stories. It's called Monsters, Movies and Mayhem, and we sent out the call for stories and we got 420 submissions in. So my students got to read the slush pile.
They went through them all and they've gone through their first cut and rejected a whole bunch of them, and now we're down to, I think like the top 85 and they're going through the second cut and they will choose the stories that they want, they'll work with the authors.
Right now, the classes we're doing this week are on short story contracts and book publishing contracts. And this is on the traditional side. So they will do the proofreading. They will do the editing, they'll work with the authors they're sending out.
They're mailing out all the rejection slips, they're mailing out all the contracts when we get them ready, and then we will produce a design and produce the book next spring.
This is all an online course, so everything's online except for a two-week residency in the summertime when they have to come to the Colorado mountains for two weeks, which darn, I would hate to be in the Colorado mountains in the summertime. So we're going to release this book when they come back next summer and they'll do a book signing for this anthology that they’ve edited.
And then for the indie publishing course, each one of them is reissuing an old public domain title, like an HG Wells book or a Jules Verne book or something like that. They're finding books that have been long out of print that they want to reissue, and they're doing it hands-on, start to finish.
They’ll find the texts, they'll verify that it's out of copyright. They are proofing their own texts. They will design it – we're making them all buy Vellum so that they can lay it out. And I just wrote to the guys at Vellum saying, all my students are using Vellum because I'm not going to try to teach anything else, Vellum is great. I've been using it for everything that we do at that WordFire Press.
And so they're reissuing it. They're going to design their own covers, it's all hands-on. And then for the weekly lectures, we are talking about copyright and we'll be doing sections on Kickstarters and Patreon and Amazon ads and all kinds of marketing things and review copies and all the stuff that I learned in a blizzard fashion as it all came around at the same time. But I'm trying to do it in a more organized fashion. And you can get a degree in it.
There are people who want to get a graduate degree. Obviously I didn't need one to become a bestselling author, but there are people that want one. And like I said, I love Western’s genre fiction program. And I thought I would have taken that if I knew it was available back when I was starting out.
Having a master's degree may help you with many other things in life and you'll know a lot about publishing.
It’s 13 months. July to July, and we're in the first group of students right now. We filled up our cohort. This surprised everybody because we were hoping to get a couple of applicants and then we got five applicants, and then we got seven, and then we've got nine.
The law won't let us have more than nine because that's the most grad students I can have. We’ve also just hired our second professor to help me teach next summer. And that's Alison Longueira, who is a publisher of WMG and she's going to be helping us out. Mark Lefebvre at Draft2Digital, he's going to be our guest speaker next summer.
I would love to have taken this when I was starting out, which was kind of my goal. When I wanted to put it together, I decided that we really should have a program that is useful and hands-on. And, and, unlike the stuff that I took when I was getting my degree.
Joanna Penn: What's interesting is that many people write their book and then they start looking at publishing. And what you've described, even a 13 months course is it's going to be intensive. I haven't got a degree in writing or publishing but it's taken me a decade to learn what I know.
I think this is so important because we have to learn our craft, but we also have to learn to publish if we're going to be successful indie authors and successful hybrid authors. The more you understand about this stuff, copyright, for example. Who gets taught that stuff?
I expect there to be more of this. Even where I live in Bath, Bath Spa University is actually quite famous for its publishing degree. And as far as I know, they don't offer anything in the indie space at all.
However, people listening, you don't necessarily need an official degree — but you certainly need to invest in education around all of this stuff because it doesn't just come naturally.
Kevin J Anderson: And especially with indie stuff right now, it's not like you learn it once and you're done. For my indie publishing class, there's not a textbook. What I've required them to do is subscribe to Publishers Weekly, and they have to read it every week. They listen to podcasts, including yours, Joanna.
They've had to have your episodes assigned. They listen to podcasts, they read blogs. We have them do a Mark Dawson's podcast. I pick one every week, the Kobo Writing Life podcast, because everything changes. And they need to know how to keep up with things.
It's not so much the content of that particular episode of that particular podcast. They need to learn how to keep up with the changes in the industry because we all have to do it. I spend most of my time on the gerbil wheel, just trying to keep up. Oh, now that’s changed. And now that changed.
And, and yes, I went as a speaker to the 20 Books conference in Las Vegas and I went as a speaker to the WMG masterclass. But I also sat there and just absorb like a sponge. Because all sorts of these things are subjects that I don't know about or something new changed or there's a new technique of doing something. To be successful, you have to keep learning.
And then that ties in with the lightning rods and everything. You can't just sit there and expect nothing to change. Obviously you have to have lots of energy and lots of coffee or tea.
Joanna Penn: I've had some of your coffee. It is excellent.
Kevin J Anderson: I have made you coffee and I watched your eyeballs pop open going, wow. That’s strong.
Joanna Penn: This is what I really appreciate about you, Kevin, and also Dean and Kris. You are all giants in the field. You have these wonderful books. You are experts. You really know how to do books, but you just have this wonderful attitude to keep learning, keep adapting and keep changing.
There are some brilliant writers who are very good at the craft, who have fallen by the wayside because they have not adapted.
Even just the time I've been in this industry, most of the people I've met have disappeared.
Kevin J Anderson: I've known Kris since I was 19 years old when we were met in a creative writing class in college. And we were helping each other, pulling each other up by our bootstraps and learning this stuff.
I remember before my first book got published there were certain names in the field that, Oh, if only I can get a book published like him, or if only I can reach that level or get this mentioned on this awards ballot. And almost all of the people that were around when I broke into the business are just not there.
They’re gone, and not because they become so wealthy that they've retired. They didn't keep writing fast enough, or they didn't change with the interests of the readership. They were blindsided when the big 12 publishers became the big five publishers, and when Borders books chain went out of business, that was a heavily genre-oriented bookstore.
The loss of Borders books really hurt US genre fiction writers more so than other stuff.
The changes in all of the writing. I made a really good living writing movie B movie tie-ins, media spinoffs, Star Trek books and Star Wars books, all these things and all that work really dried up fast because paperbacks went away.
That's a whole episode that we can talk about, but all of that work that all of my friends just assumed was going to go on forever and ever and ever just plain went away. Just like the Blockbuster Video stores, like I mentioned earlier.
Unless you've got your house paid off and everything and you're independently wealthy and you don't need to make money anymore you’ve got to figure out a different way because the books that you wrote last year may not be as popular next year, and you’ve got to learn, you’ve got to adapt because I want to make my living by writing. I don't want to have to get a real job.
Joanna Penn: Brilliant. It's always wonderful to talk to you.
Where can people find you and everything you do online?
Kevin J Anderson: Look up my name on Facebook. That's kind of the obvious. Kevin J. Anderson on Facebook and Twitter.
And then my initials, TheKJA.com is my website, which sadly is in the process of being updated, but it's got some good stuff on it is wordfire.com.
Wordfirepress.com is where all of my publishing house releases are. And I think we'll put a link in the show notes, but just Google Western Colorado university publishing, and you should get all the information for the master's program.
And I do 13 to 20 shows a year, whether I'm talking or lecturing or assigning books at a ComicCon. I'm not in the witness protection program, let's just put it that way. I'm not too hard to find.
Joanna Penn: Fantastic. Kevin, that was great.