What does it take to build a full-time career from your writing? In today's show, I talk to J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon about some of their lessons learned from the first two years of full-time author entrepreneur life, plus co-writing, in-person experiences, and more.
In the intro, London Book Fair cancellation [BBC] and why the coronavirus might accelerate trends towards remote working, AI and robotics. Plus, Simon & Schuster might be sold [Publishing Perspectives]; DeepZen are releasing the first AI-narrated audiobooks with Findaway [press release], Descript.com releases a new version of Overdub with editing for generated intonation; Deepl.com released a new AI translation model, ‘a quantum leap in translation quality' [Deepl blog]. I recommend A World With Work by Daniel Susskind.
Do you need help with marketing, publicity or advertising? Find a curated list of vetted professionals at the Reedsy marketplace, along with free training on writing, self-publishing and book marketing. Check it out at: www.TheCreativePenn.com/reedsy
J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon co-write post-apocalyptic and dystopian sci-fi novels under Molten Universe Media as well as separately writing horror and dark fantasy. They also run The Career Author together with the weekly podcast and events like Authors on a Train, Rock Apoc, and the Career Author Summits. Their latest non-fiction book is The Three Story Method.
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.
- Tips for finding a good fit in a collaboration partner
- Why an ongoing writing collaboration needs systems
- Sharing a simple story construction method with authors
- Why plotting and organizing is so important for co-writing, and how difficult it was to co-write a book with 4 authors on the original, authors on a train, with Joanna and Lindsay Buroker [Listen to the episode here]
- Why introverts J. and Zach make time for hosting live events
- Small in-person events as a way of connecting and supporting authors
- Lessons learned from leaving the day job
- How non-fiction books can also create additional streams of income
- On communicating to a spouse about wanting to quit the day job
- Approaching the traditionally published world with help from mentor JD Barker
- The future of author-publishing businesses
Transcript of Interview with J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon
Joanna: J. Thorn and Zach Bohannon co-write post-apocalyptic and dystopian sci-fi novels under Molten Universe Media as well as separately writing horror and dark fantasy. They also run the Career Author together with the weekly podcast and events like Authors on a Train, Rock Apoc, and the Career Author Summits. Their latest nonfiction book is The Three Story Method.
Welcome, J. and Zach.
J: Hey, how are you doing, Joanna?
Joanna: Zach, I'm going to start with you, because I've had J on several times talking about co-writing over the years.
Tell us how you and J connected and why you decided to co-write together and how that has evolved?
Zach: I was a huge fan of J. Thorn. In all seriousness, when I first started realizing you could make a career out of being an author and there was this whole new path with being independent and stuff.
One of the first things I did was like, ‘I'm going to go look up some podcasts about it.' I knew I wanted to write horror, so I went on the podcast app and I was like, I wrote in ‘horror writing' and this podcast came up called ‘The Horror Writers Podcast' which, of course, J did at the time. And I started listening.
I actually bought some of his books and read them. And then I did the one thing that no author should ever do, which is I sent him my first draft and said, ‘Hey, will you read this?'
Joanna: It's a good job he's a nice guy!
J: I don't know why I did it.
Zach: For some reason, he actually read it. And he tells me to this day he actually read it. He gave me some feedback and we just kind of started communicating from there. Like I said, I continue to be a fan of the podcast. Eventually, he and I revived that podcast together because we realized we had a ton in common. We like a lot of the same music, we read the same stuff. We're just very, very, very much in sync with each other as far as what we're into.
But it was over a year before we actually even really gotten the discussion of writing something together, you had so many other co-writing projects going on. And then we started writing stuff together and just realized, ‘Man, this is a really good partnership.'
It's evolved to what it is now with all the stuff you just mentioned.
Joanna: J, I'm going to ask you, because, of course, you and I have co-written one or two books, just you and I, and then Sacrifice with Zach as well and Lindsay. But I know that there were things that fail with partners and things where you get red lights or green lights. What made you take a chance on Zach?
If people listening want to co-write or collaborate with other people, what are the things that make you go, ‘Yes, this might be worth taking a chance on?'
J: Thank you for the compliment. It's something that Zach and I talk about when we discuss collaboration at events or conferences. And one of the things that's overlooked so much is having your alignment of life goals or aspirations, and where you are in life stage.
For example, Zach and I are both heavy metal guys, that we're in bands and we like some of the same music, and we wear the same color black t-shirts and all that kind of stuff. Even though there's a slight, very, very slight age difference, we have a lot of the same values.
We both are family men. We are down to earth regular Joes. We have a mortgage and we have car payments and bills. And what we want out of this life is very similar.
I think that is an alignment that a lot of authors miss when they look at collaboration. They're thinking more about the parts of the puzzle in the process. Am I a good revisor? And if so, do I need a good first drafter?
Or, am I a really savvy marketer, and I need someone who's really good with craft? Those are all important too, but having that alignment in what you want out of life and what you want out of this project is just as important.
Joanna: I have been listening to your podcast, The Career Author, and you guys did a review of 2019, which I listened to. It seems like 2019 you actually both came up with different things that you wanted.
So, I wanted to ask about that, because I think this is the reality of working together and yes, you may want the same thing some of the time, but other times you want different things.
Zach, what happened for you in 2019 and what has changed?
Zach: It's funny. Not every co-writing or collaborative situation is going to be like ours. I would say that most aren't going to be, be it in businesses on as many levels as we are.
I think for me, I've just come to a place, especially on the fiction side; I love everything that we're doing with our podcast, with our nonfiction and with our events and everything. But, I've kind of come to a place where it's like, ‘I want to write some fiction on my own for a little bit.' Because I'm very much a one-project-at-a-time person, whereas J. can juggle. He could write probably 10 books at one time and have no problem. That's very hard for me.
So, I was in a position where I kept having to push my own stuff back that I've been really wanting to do. And just to be honest, and I've told him this, like without having to hear another person's opinion on of the ideas we should roll with or not.
I want to just be able to put my ideas into a book and not have anyone else to bounce them off of. And I kept having to push that back, and it really was starting to hinder me creatively.
And so, we just had the conversation that we're going to put the fiction side of co-writing. We're still working on stuff. We have a book that we're going to put out and stuff and a series we're going to work on.
But that's going to take a little bit of a back burner for a while so that I can do this. J. is pursuing some different things in fiction, which he's been talking about publicly. Pursuing a traditional path.
So, we're not making the co-writing part of our business as the top priority as far as our fiction goes right now. And it's really working out pretty well for both of us, I think right now so.
Joanna: I think that's really important because nothing stays the same.
Everything changes and things come and go.
You even mentioned ‘The Horror Writers Podcast.' That doesn't even happen anymore, right?
Zach: Yes, that disappeared a while back.
Joanna: That's what I love. I think you guys are pretty fluid with the understanding. But, J., coming back to you, one of the things you guys are doing is this new nonfiction book, The Three Story Method.
Why this book on story now? And give us a bit of an overview.
J: I just now feel like I'm to the point where I have enough experience to put something like this together. And really what had happened was, Zach and I, out of necessity had to develop a methodology for co-writing multiple stories.
When you do a one-off collaboration, you don't need to put a ton of time into a system or a process because you just need to survive. You just need to cross the finish line once.
But if it's something you want to do over and over again, you have to build a system around it. Joanna, you know that from all of your business ventures too, that systems are the way that you sustain long-term, either growth or productivity.
After going through Story Grid certification and spending 10 years as an indie, and I'm a bookworm. I've always been a bookworm. I've read just about every book on craft that you could possibly imagine from Joseph Campbell to Kim Hudson's Virgin's Promise and everything in between.
As Zach and I moved through our process, we realized that we were leaning heavily on a lot of Aristotle's ideas about storytelling, which even Aristotle at the time didn't invent. He just labeled these things that are intuitive to us.
We got to a point where we were like, ‘Okay, let's codify this. Let's pull the best of all of these different methodologies. And let's focus on the planning of the book.'
The Three Story Method is not necessarily a tool for revision. It's really for trying to be as efficient as possible with your project upfront so that you don't waste a lot of time.
The other big thing about Three Story Method that we firmly believe is that story isn't that complicated. And as writers, we like to overcomplicate stuff and make things more confusing than they have to be.
The whole title Three Story Method, a kindergartener can tell you that a story is a beginning, and a middle, and an end. And I think if you keep that element, and that's your takeaway, then you're going to be in a much better place to tell compelling stories.
Joanna: Zach, how have you guys used the Three Story Method to work together but also to help the writers at your events?
Zach: The Three Story Method has really evolved and this is something we've been iterating on forever.
It wasn't until not that long ago that we were like, ‘Man, we really need to turn this into something.' A lot of that came out of the events because we were teaching people how we work together and how we plan our books and we're on the same page.
We produce pretty clean drafts because of how much pre-production we do and because of the way we do it. And we really saw how people, in our different events, were taking on to it.
We were in a hotel room in New Orleans, ironically, and I told J., ‘Man, we really need to think about this and really put this system down on paper and develop it out a lot more. This could be a book and we could really teach more people than just people coming to our events.'
We've really seen, especially in the most recent event we did with ‘Authors on a Train,' the biggest thing we hear is that it simplifies everything. And it makes everything so simple.
We're putting these anthologies together and we're working with all these people. It really gives us a really good baseline and template to work off of.
It puts everyone on the same page and it helps us on the backend too when we're doing all the revisions for these anthologies and stuff, because everyone's working from the same place, if that makes sense.
We just keep hearing just how simple and how good this process is. And we're already seeing, the books aren't even out, we're already seeing how it's helping people that we've taught it to so.
Joanna: Tell us about this book that's coming out and what event that came out of.
Zach: That was ‘Authors on a Train,' and just like with all our events like that, we have anthologies that come out. Everyone who was at that event, we're all going to work on short stories and put an anthology out together. So, that's kind of what I was talking about, what I'm saying. We use Three Story Method for everyone to write those stories.
J: I'll clarify. What we've been doing over the past four to five events that we've run is we have a Three Story Method worksheet that you can get in the book.
Instead of trying to like teach people this methodology, we've said, ‘Okay, here's the worksheet. Let's work through this together. Use this as your planning document.' And we keep improving it. Every time we do it, we improve it. We've tested it with dozens and dozens of people, and everyone comes…
Zach: One-one-one feedback, yeah.
J: Everyone comes back and says, ‘It's so accessible.' It makes identifying storytelling easy even though it takes a lifetime to master. That's the process that Three Story Method has come out of and that we used to build this worksheet. It was just a Word document, and we just kept improving it every time based on feedback.
Joanna: I love that. Because, do you remember the problems we had trying to write one story with four of us together in New Orleans?
I would say it's one of the hardest things that I have ever done creatively.
J: And you got to edit it.
Joanna: That's because I'm a control freak! I was like, if I edit it at least I have some control all over this process!
But, I totally get it because one of the most frustrating things that I have found, and I have done very little co-writing, although I've done some with my mom (as Penny Appleton) since I worked with you guys, which was seriously hard work, but having a plan like that is great …
And like you said, it's not rigid, like a spreadsheet or something. It's enough to guide people. Also, you've got a shorter amount of time with the events. It's not like people have three years to work on it.
J: No. And we've also scaled down the process at these events so that people are testing this out on a short story. So, it doesn't require a huge commitment in learning or resources or time. It's like, okay, if you're going to write a three or four or 5,000-word short story, everyone is pretty willing to give it a chance because it's a short small scale project.
Joanna: That's good. J., also, I've been listening to a few of your podcasts. Obviously, I listen to The Writer's Well. I can never remember which one you say stuff on.
You have been talking, I think it was with Rachel and Zach. That's why it's confusing. It was when the three of you were in California and talking about the importance of community. And, of course, you've just mentioned that you've been doing, what, five, six events in the last couple of years. I know you're both introverts, we're all introverts here.
Why are you focusing on live events?
J: I'm assuming you're talking to me because I think I'm more of an introvert than Zach.
Zach: I was going to say my role in them is because I'm way more extroverted than him, so I'm the one who will hang out with our attendees till midnight playing video games while he gets to bed.
J: It's a really legitimate question. I'm a big believer in experiencing life. I think we often get too caught up in reading books and taking courses and not doing things.
So, I had to force myself pretty early on, after the four of us did the original ‘Authors on a Train,' Zack and I decided to host events and take other people.
Knowing my introverted tendencies and what a challenge that was going to be. I have to say over the few years we've been doing it, as social media becomes more of a political cesspool as we approach another election year here in the States, I think there's been pushback on online living and digital life. And people are craving more authentic real experiences.
Zach and I really love putting on these small scale workshops, intimate type events. We're well suited to satisfy that need. And we enjoy it.
As an introvert, I'm much more comfortable in a group of 12 than I am a conference hall of 500. That's just the reality of it. It's not a judgment on that. And that's what we do really well. Zach and I do those type of events really well.
We are offering events that aren't being offered by anybody else of that type, and I've really grown to love them. And I told Zach, the ‘Authors on a Train' California that we finished not too long ago, it was a turning point for me because I finished instead of being completely drained like I have historically been, I was energized. I felt just as good at the end of that event than I did at the beginning of it.
I think it also is a reminder to us that we like to label ourselves. I'm just as guilty. But you're not an introvert all the time. I think you can be an introvert in some situations and an extrovert in others.
I've grown that muscle. I'm much more confident. It's still great to have Zach in the car to talk to the Uber driver, but, otherwise, I do think the in-person events have really become our thing, the small intimate ones, and I really enjoy them now. That's the honest truth.
Joanna: What part do the live events play in your business? Because, obviously, Molten Universe Media, it's a business like the Creative Penn Limited. I have multiple streams of income, and book sales are only one part of that.
What part do the events play in your business?
J: I'll take that because I think it applies probably more to me than it does to Zach. Just because Zach doesn't have a developed client business, it's not where he's going. But I'll speak for myself.
I've done client work for years now. I'm moving into the mastermind model. I'm relying on my 24 years of teaching experience and degrees and certifications to deliver a great experience for people who are learning how to become an author and how to run a business.
For me, the podcasts and the events are great ways for me to introduce myself to people who then eventually want to hire me for other things.
And what's really great, Joanna, you have this experience all the time, is people come up to you and after listening to The Creative Penn for 10 years, and they know you or they act like they know you. And you're so much more accessible to them, and I think I see that in a lot of client work.
Zach and I see this, too. We have some of the same people coming to every event. I see some of the same people in all of my different circles and I take that as a compliment. They're Kevin Kelly's idea of ‘true fans.' Those are the people who we're looking for and who I love to serve.
Zach: I think for me, just really quick, I'll just add that I'm not doing all the client work and stuff like J. does but I still do love teaching and I love those interactions. I just love helping people.
I want to give back as much as I can. And I found, and this goes back to what J. said earlier, like for me, I feel like I get the most out of it doing it in these in-person events as opposed to doing one-on-one coaching over Skype with people or whatever.
I get way more out of it by doing it a few times a year in these in-person interactions than making it into like a whole business and stuff. I do enjoy the teaching part just a little bit different level than J. does.
Joanna: And also you go in and out of it. I started out teaching more when I first got into the indie space, I was doing my own workshops and then I stopped doing them and then I did speaking. And it's exactly what you're saying.
I've been really thinking also, as I focus on talking a lot about AI and more and more digital and online and just going, ‘Do you know what? We can't beat the robots. Just can't do it. So, what can we do?' And the only thing really is to be more human. And so, in-person events are one way to be more human.
You'll be proud of me, J. I actually have booked to go and see a local hotel about doing an event, because I think that doing something locally will mean…I get a lot of the stress from the jet lag in America, for example. And then I get sick like I did in Vegas.
Things happen when you are out of your control. But I could really conserve my energy by being in Bath. So, that's a little heads up for people. I will be doing events in Bath, weekend trips and maybe with a walk and things like that so people can see my area of the world. Of course, I'm coming to your area of the world, Zach, to Nashville.
Zach: I can't wait.
Joanna: For the ‘Career Author Summit.' Now that's a bit of a bigger event, obviously.
Zach, I did want to ask you, because when we were together in New Orleans, and I'd have a few glasses of wine, and you asked me… Well, I don't even know, I don't even know if you asked me, but I gave you my opinion.
Zach: You surrendered it up without being asked.
Joanna: I was like, ‘Why don't you just leave your job and just do this?' And you both did leave your job shortly afterward. We've heard a bit from J. there, but, Zach, I want to hear from you.
What have your experiences been of these first few years out of the day job? Any lessons learned or anything surprising?
Zach: It's been amazing. I won't quote what exactly you said to me, but I remember you specifically looked at me and you were like, ‘You're living in fear. You just need to go home and quit your job.'
And I was like, ‘Okay.' And then when I got home, my wife was like, ‘It's about time.'
I did quit as soon as I got home. But, it's been amazing, and I think for me, just the freedom, and I know you both will agree, the freedom that living this life has given me is just amazing.
Especially having a young child. I have a five-year-old and I don't miss any of her school events. I've talked about this on our podcast about how she'll have like a morning event on a Friday and I'm one of the only dads who shows up. And it's just amazing, and I think for me that's been the most fulfilling part.
I think the biggest lesson I've learned is that I just don't want to go back to that. There's been a lot of ups and downs. We talked about it with last year and stuff. And iterating and learning how to run this business and work for yourself and everything.
It's definitely got ups and downs as both of you know, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. That's for sure.
Joanna: If anyone's thinking about it, though, any like specific things you learned. For me in that first year, I just didn't know what to do with myself.
I ended up commuting to a library because I couldn't deal with just being at home all the time.
Zach: I do that a lot, too. It's really hard for me. I work really good from home some days and some days I definitely have to get out. So I'm totally in the same boat there.
I think it's one of those things too where a lot of people make the assumption that just because they have all this time, they're going to get a lot more done. And that's not necessarily the case.
There's a lot of times where those constraints of having a day job you have to get to will keep you from procrastinating that you have to make a little more of your time. And that was a little bit of a weird adjustment. But I definitely come around on that, but that was a little surprise and not something I totally expected, so.
Joanna: J., what about you? What have you learned? I know you have shared a lot openly on your various podcasts, but for anyone who might not be listening to those.
What are the things that you've discovered in the last couple of years?
J: I think for me, the biggest thing I've discovered is that it's never going to play out the way you think it is, for better and worse. I think you can have a vision for what you think your life is going to look like. And yet what happens is different than that, and that's okay.
You mentioned our discussion about our 2019 in review and how we've changed. Zach and I are not the same guys we were in the spring of 2017 when we left our day jobs.
I'm really starting to step into my passion and my gift of teaching and being an educator in a different realm, which means that some of the fiction has to take a secondary position.
In 2017, I thought, ‘Well, I'm going to be Lindsay Buroker. I'm just going to crank out like 18 books a month,' which is what she does. And I'll be a six-figure author in like three months. And that's just not my path.
Even though I had that vision, I can't hold on to that. I have to be more realistic. I'm a stubborn guy and I dig my heels in and I think I held on to this vision of what I thought my life was going to be for far longer than I should have.
That's not wrong. That was just the process I had to go through. I would tell people to have a vision.
Try to figure out what you want, but then also be kind to yourself.
And as things change and morph, don't be afraid to go with it and change direction a little bit. It's okay.
Joanna: I think that's the reality. I'm the same. I'm not a fast writer. And I love producing content in other ways as do you, Mr. How Many Podcasts Do I Have.
I said to someone the other day, I can never remember who I say things to, but it's like, ‘Don't be romantic about where your money comes from.' It was great that Zach hasn't gone back. This is the number one goal.
The number one goal is to be in charge of your time and to have the freedom to do the things you want to do.
And at the end of the day, I also discovered the freedom to do the things I want to do, like go to Spain at the weekend, which is what we're doing. Or, to go walk on the canal on a Tuesday, which I did earlier, or Monday, whatever day it is.
That's what freedom is. It's not actually about necessarily how many books you're writing. Would that be right?
J: I would agree with that. And I would also say that you could be really modern stoic about it and take it out to like the worst-case scenario, which is, I would go back and get a day job, which isn't the end of the world.
I'm not going to end up under a bridge in a shopping cart. At least I don't think I am! So like, even the worst-case scenario means I would just go get a job again.
I feel so differently about that now than I did when I was in a job. I don't have that same fear, I think because I've been flying without a safety net for a few years now. If that's what it would take, then that's what I would do.
Joanna: I think I'm literally unemployable! I really actually do. We were having this discussion recently, and I'm like, ‘Yeah, it's not going to happen.'
I think what's good about the nonfiction. a lot of people ask is it a good idea to write nonfiction as well as fiction? And I said, ‘Yes,' because one of the good things you can do is all these other streams of income.
You can do teaching with fiction, as you guys are, but having these events is a much bigger way forward that you can do. And you can do online courses. You can do coaching. You can do editing, all these types of things. So I think having that stronger base is good.
If you were only writing your post-apocalyptic one series, that would be a very unstable base for you both to leave a job on, right?
Zach: It sure would and Joanna, you've been a mentor of mine since before we even met. I was listening to your podcast a long, long time ago. And I was looking at my spreadsheet. I'm getting my documents ready for my tax guy.
I think in 2019, I had something like 23 or 24 individual revenue streams. And some of those were $2, some were $2,000. But you're so right.
I think a lot of times we talk about the diversity of a portfolio strictly based on our intellectual property such as books. So we talk a lot about ‘why' versus ‘can you?' But I think we have to take a step back and look at diversity across all revenue streams.
I think the more revenue streams you have, the more stability you have. And that's what you've been preaching for years.
Joanna: Yes, still preaching it and still here, still going and still not back at the day job.
Zach, I didn't prep you for this question, but because you mentioned your wife, you went back and said to your wife, ‘I'm leaving my job.' And, you know, J. and I are older than you and in different places.
And you have a little kid. For many people, their biggest issue is talking to their loved one about this type of thing when they're not a writer. And let's face it, most of our partners are not writers.
Any tips for people in broaching this type of topic with your partner, especially in America, with health insurance and stuff?
Zach: That was actually the biggest deterrent for us because my wife is a massage therapist, and she's an independent contractor so she doesn't get health insurance through her job. So that was like the biggest deterrent for us, for me, because I had our health insurance.
It is not fun getting health insurance in the U.S. if you are both self-employed. But I'm in the fortunate position where my wife is awesome. From the beginning, she was letting me sneak off into my office and write books when our baby was a newborn and before I even was really making any money off of it. And she was always very encouraging. And like I said, when I told her I was ready to go, she's like, ‘It's totally time.'
I think the biggest thing is I think you just have to communicate. I think that that's the biggest thing. You need to really have an open dialogue, let your partner understand how important this is.
And at the same time, make sure that you're fulfilling their needs as well. My wife has her own creative endeavors and stuff. She has a local group she goes and sings with and stuff and it's not something she makes money off of, but it's something she's very passionate about, and it's something that I totally help her make time for because I know it's important to her. So it's all about communication and maybe getting a little lucky like I did in having person like I have.
Joanna: I think we're all lucky. J., any comment on that?
Zach: His wife didn't even know you were writing.
J: That's the running gag there. My wife doesn't know what I'm doing. No. My situation was completely different. I did something I don't ever advise people. I took a huge risk. I did not have savings like you did, Jo. I just jumped. I had about a three-month severance package and that was all I had.
I think the key is communication. If you are in constant communication with your spouse or significant other, then whatever happens happens. But I think you get into trouble when you're trying to hide things or distort things in a certain way. That's where you run into problems.
Joanna: And also over-promising. Like, ‘I'm just going to make a million dollars next month from my books.'
I think also you like swings and roundabouts. I can tell you from experience, the first five years is tough. It really is tough. It took me five years to get back to the money I was earning before I resigned so, if you hit it before, then good on you.
I said to my husband, ‘Well, once I'm back up then it's your turn to do something you want to do.' So that swings and roundabouts can really work as well, for anyone listening.
I want to switch gears a little bit because, and Zach alluded to it earlier, J., you have been indie. But in 2019, you went to ‘ThrillerFest', pitched some agents, and then started another show, the ‘Writers, Ink' podcast with hybrid published author, J.D. Barker.
J: He is a hybrid.
Joanna: You aren't doing a mix of trad pub and indie, but the vibe is a lot more trad pub in your world right now.
Where's your head at with this right now? How does this fit into everything?
J: I'm so glad you asked that, because on the surface, it doesn't appear to fit. I'd love the opportunity to explain that for a minute. I told you this privately before I was heading in that direction.
As I said, I want to see if I can do it. This is an ego play for me. I want to see if I can get past the traditional gatekeepers. I want to see if I'm good enough.
I recognize all of the limitations of traditional publishing. I understand what I'm sacrificing. I'm not going into this blindly, but I think where it fits in is… I had a great experience at ThrillerFest where I did PitchFest.
I learned very quickly how to distill the essence of my book into about a 15-second summary. Any author who's tried to write their product description knows how challenging that is. So that alone was a great experience for me.
I happened to meet J.D. Barker. We really hit it off. I pitched him on a podcast idea. For some crazy reason, he said yes. And, we've developed a wonderful relationship so far, and he's been shepherding me through this process.
He has sold millions of dollars' worth of books. He's incredibly successful on both the traditional and the hybrid side, and he's helping me along.
One of the things I realized is that he's teaching me as we're going through this. And we're doing some of it on the podcast. Every so often we're talking about the project on the podcast. And I'm then, in turn, teaching my audience what I'm learning from him.
It's a wonderful circle of life type thing where you can always turn around and put a hand out to the person who's slightly behind you on the path and pull them up. And that's what J.D. is doing for me, and that's what I'm doing.
So there's some personal selfish satisfaction for me in chasing this particular path, and at the same time, I think I can use it as a learning experience and help other people the way J.D. is helping me.
Joanna: I've got to say, I've been to ThrillerFest four times now. I love it. And whenever I go, I feel so conflicted. And I feel like, ‘Yeah, I want to be like them.' Steve Berry and Lee Child and all up there.
It's very interesting. And, as you say it, it's ego. It really is vanity. And at this point, vanity is what traditional publishing is. Indie is not vanity anymore. It's damn hard work really. But I totally get why you'd want that.
And what I would say is what we've been talking about are these, you know, the ‘Career Author' is also about multiple streams of income. One of those can be traditional publishing.
In fact, the most successful authors now are hybrid. So this is definitely something I want. It's just that I have real struggles with patience and also writing a book that's more than 60,000 words. What about you, Zach? Anything you're flirting with in this area or are you just still in the hardcore indie space?
Zach: It's definitely in the back of my mind. I think it's interesting to me because I think a lot of indies…like being traditionally published can completely be a by book decision. It doesn't have to be a career decision.
You're going to write more books. So I think that so many indies are like, ‘I don't want to be traditionally published because I'd rather…' It's like, ‘Well, you can do it for like one or two books.'
Or you can, as J. would say, you can pursue it. You can't choose it.
I'm paying attention. I'm watching what J. is going through. He and I are having private conversations. I'm asking him questions because I'm definitely curious, because it's definitely something that I want to pursue. It's definitely on my radar.
It's not something I'm necessarily looking at right now, but it's definitely something that I want to pursue for a lot of the same reasons.
I want to see if I can get through. I want to see if I can do it. I also feel like it's a way you can expand your audience. There's a lot of people that still walk into bookstores that you are not going to reach if you're not in the bookstore.
And so, yeah, it's definitely something I'm looking at and interested in, maybe a little bit further in the future. Maybe, I'll go to ThrillerFest in 2022 or something.
Joanna: I'm definitely coming back. I do, I love it. For those people listening, whatever the big genre convention is in your niche, it's worth going to them and you learn tons anyway. And you get great networking.
It's funny because I also think in the expanding future of lots more content is that the curation aspect of traditional publishing is going to play more of a role. I have been, since Amazon started doing ads, such a big ad play, I have shopped less on my device and on the Amazon store, and more by going into physical bookstores and having a look and then ordering things on my device.
That behavior has changed because I don't want to wade through a lot of the stuff that's being served to me through ads.
Amazon themselves is driving my change in behavior back to the gatekeepers, which has been quite a shock to me.
J: I think the other thing, too, and I think, Joanna, you're in this camp as well, Zach and I were never flag bearers of the indie movement. We were never throwing mud at traditionally published authors.
We have our criticisms of the Big Five and the way the traditional industry works, but we also have criticisms at the indie platform as well. So I think we've always been more opportunists and said, why would we rule out another possible publication channel or another revenue stream just because to say, ‘No, we're indie?' That's just not how we've been. We've been more opportunistic.
Whether all three of us are flirting with traditional publishing path or not, that's not contrary to what we've been saying. We haven't been the indie author podcasts. I don't know if there is such one. I'm not making fun of it. I'm just saying that's not the name we've had. We haven't been those guys in the space.
Joanna: I agree with you, and we were talking about what do you really want? For me, that freedom. Like you say, per book, you can say, ‘Okay, I'll sign this contract with the understanding that I know exactly what I'm signing, because I'm educated around contracts, but I know why I'm signing it.'
That's fine because that's one book.
For me, independence is not tied up in one book.
And, of course, we're all interested in the financial independence movement, which to me just brings on more multiple streams. It doesn't really matter.
Zach, I do want to ask you about podcasting. Because you and J. do podcasts weekly at the Career Author, and you cover lots of really interesting topics and also important topics. Like I saw, accounting came up this week. I was like, ‘Yay, good on you guys,' covering accounting.
Zach, what do you get out of podcasting, and do you think it's worthwhile for authors?
Zach: I don't know, J. Is it worthwhile for authors?
Joanna: That's why I'm asking you because, clearly, J. thinks it's worthwhile.
Zach: I really enjoy helping people and I enjoy giving back. For me, podcasting is the reason that I'm doing this because that was the way I learned so much at the beginning.
I'm a very auditory listener or learner so early on, I mentioned the ‘Horror Writers' podcast. Of course, The Creative Penn. These were all the ways I learned and the way I got here.
For me, I just I really enjoy giving back and helping people in any way we can. We've built a really great community over at the Career Author. We've got just so many awesome people that listen and talk in our comments every week and our patrons and all this great stuff.
Whether or not it's worthwhile for authors, I think that kind of comes back to what your why is. A lot of people look at podcasting, and it's got this really cool lore to it. It's like, ‘I can have a podcast.'
But it's hard work. Joanna, you've done how many of these? 500 or something? And I know J. has put in tens and thousands of hours into podcasting.
So, for us, obviously, we love it, but it's also a part of our business. It's an avenue to help us do these events and get the word out there for it. And it helps J. with a lot of the stuff he's doing. So it's definitely a part of our business, and it's an income stream.
And it leads to other things that we're doing. I think if you're an author just trying to sell fiction and you want to do a podcast talking to writers, I don't know if that's the best path necessarily.
Yes, writers read, but it doesn't necessarily mean they're going to want to read what you write.
It really just comes back to what your why is, like, why you would want to get into podcasting more than just because it looks cool that you're a podcaster.
Joanna: Oh, yes, that is completely pointless. Because it doesn't look cool, really.
I thought I was the podcaster extraordinaire, but now I think you wear the crown for Mr. Podcast. You've let a few shows go by the wayside over the years and you've started new ones, whereas I have just doggedly continued for years, and years, and years. Giving something up is something I haven't done yet on a podcast. I've thought about it a lot and haven't.
What has made you give something up, and what has made you start something, in terms of podcasting?
J: I think you have a better track record than me that's why you haven't had to give it up. I think two of my biggest ‘failures' in podcasting were me trying to podcast around my fiction writing, and it just didn't work.
I'm not saying it won't work for other people, but Zach mentioned it as well. I had the ‘Horror Writers Podcast,' we were really targeting horror readers and I had one called ‘Dark Arts Theater.'
The behaviors of listening to a podcast versus reading post-apocalyptic fiction, those are not necessarily the same people. And I didn't discover that until much later.
I think for me now, if you take a look at the podcasts I'm doing now, like the ‘Career Author' and the ‘Writer's Well' and ‘Writers, Ink,' and even ‘The Author Life,' like my little blog one, what it's really about for me is an extension of that educational process.
Me, embracing my role as an educator and utilizing the skill set that I've spent decades refining, and podcasting for writers is just a natural extension of that. And I think it's a great way for people to get to know me, know what I value, and know if I'm a good fit for them without making any type of commitment.
So, for me, podcasting is really at the core of my business model because I do have services and education. But as I said, if I were simply writing fiction, I don't necessarily know if starting a podcast for writers would be something that would get you a great ROI.
Joanna: Although, because I've got this book coming out and I emailed a few people and you're in it, J., and I emailed Lindsay Buroker who we mentioned, wonderful friend, wonderful fantasy author, who makes a very good living from writing fiction, now also has another podcast called ‘Six Figure Authors' podcast.
She said she does it for networking. Because she's an introvert, by podcasting, she has broken the ice at conferences because people know her from the podcast. So that is a win for her that is completely different for other people. She certainly doesn't need to do it for the fiction money as such.
J: Oh, yes.
Zach: I was going to bring that up, too.
J: I was just going to add, I feel so fortunate in partnering with J.D. because for the ‘Writers, Ink,' he has so many industry connections. I've been able to talk to people who I would never have gotten access to, and learn from them.
I've heard you say this too, Joanna, that interviewing people on your podcast, you get to ask them what you want to know. So I think as long as you can do that and provide value to the listener as well, then, yes, in that case, a podcast for fiction writers would be appropriate.
Joanna: Okay. So what is happening? It's January 2020 as we record this. It'll go up a bit later.
Zach, what are you looking forward to in the 2020s? What is the decade ahead looking like and anything exciting in terms of the ‘Career Author?'
Zach: I think that I really look forward to a lot of stuff we have planned with these events. We've got some really cool stuff that we're planning. We're already looking at 2021 because we're going to announce all those events at the ‘Career Author Summit' here coming up in May, which you will be at, of course.
We were even thinking ahead to 2022 and stuff already. For me, just keeping the momentum on that stuff. And then we've got some, and I'll let J. kind of talk about this in a minute, but we have a lot of really cool stuff planned around The Three Story Method. With that book coming out and stuff, I'm really, really excited to kind of see where things go with that as well. And watching J. get a traditional publishing deal, that's going to be awesome, too.
Joanna: Oh, wait, and you're going to have a teenager so I'm just going to laugh at you.
Zach: Oh gosh, yeah. No kidding.
Joanna: It's a big decade, dude!
J: I didn't even think about that. My daughter will almost be driving by the end of this. Oh, my gosh.
Joanna: J., your kids have left home so it'll be a good decade.
J: I'm really excited about, as Zach said, the events. As we record this, I was all smiles this morning, Joanna, as I was listening to you talk about doing more speaking and more events because of AI, especially around fiction.
If a big publisher has 1,000 books in a genre and is able to feed those into an algorithm and create a novel what does that mean for the future of fiction writing?
And so related to that, I love this idea of doubling down on what is uniquely me or what is uniquely us. And even as Zach and I talked about The Three Story Method, I hope it's okay, Zach, I'm going to mention just a little teaser here, but we're not launching an online course.
We're not launching all these parallel asynchronous methods of delivering that content. We're saying like, what if it's just the book and then a workshop with us? And, for most people, the book will be enough and for those who it isn't, they'll get to come along with us and 11 other people and get the experience of a lifetime.
We're not going to become millionaires doing that. That doesn't scale. But what it allows us to do is to help people in a real meaningful way and that's what really gets me up in the morning.
So I'm really excited about the 2020s for me being an opportunity to leverage emerging technologies in a way that makes sense, but also coming back to what it means to be human and developing these real connections with real people.
Joanna: I'll just say, I think it might be the end of scale.
Joanna: Maybe we're hitting that long tail, the really long tail now. Because I have a decade of a scalable business, and now I'm thinking scale might be gone.
Joanna: Maybe the hyper-local, hyper-experience, hyper-personal, all of that might just be the way that people want. Like you say, people want connection.
I love your events, and it's really helped me to think about what I want to do as well. We've mentioned ‘Authors on a Train,' but perhaps people don't know about the events you do.
Tell us, what are the events you've got this year and maybe next, anything that's open for booking.
J: Sure. We're in a weird place because all of our events for 2020 are sold out and we haven't announced our 2021 events yet. But so far, we've been offering two varieties.
We've done ‘Authors on a Train,' and for two years we did Chicago and New Orleans. The ‘Authors on a Train' experience is about co-writing, writing a short story together with a co-writer and then publishing in an anthology. And this past year, we just did ‘Authors on a Train California' where we went from LA to the Bay Area.
So that's one. Those trips are a little bit longer.
And then we've been doing these world-building weekends that are commercial genre specific. So we started with ‘Night of the Writing Dead' in Pittsburgh to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Romero's film.
We've done ‘Sci-Fi Seattle.' We've done ‘Rock Apoc' in Cleveland. We're doing ‘Vampires of New Orleans' this year.
Joanna: I saw that and I was like, ‘Oh, I'd really like to go to that.'
J: Those are quite different. There are full immersive weekend retreats where we go to a destination location. We build a world together that's genre-specific, and then everyone writes a short story for an anthology. Those are also deeply satisfying in a different kind of way. So those are the two varieties that we've offered.
And what's on our horizon that we're playing with is a ‘Three Story Method' style workshop. And other than labeling it, that's as far as we've gotten with that, that might emerge later this year, 2021. But what we're looking to do is provide really unique, almost one-off experiences.
Zach: I was going to say the world-building weekends, we only do those once.
J: You do them once, that's it.
Zach: There is not going to be another ‘Rock Apoc.' There's not going to be another ‘Vampires in New Orleans.' They're one-time things because we have a lot of different ones we want to do.
J: Jo, if you want to come to New Orleans with us again, you have a seat.
Joanna: Well, thank you. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in Bath. So everyone's like, ‘Oh, Bath. That's Jane Austen.' I'm like, ‘Uh-uh. This is Mary Shelley country right here.'
Zach: Oh, I love it.
Joanna: For people listening, I think this is both a shift in the way that business models are going and it's not just our business model.
I've been seeing a lot of stuff in ‘The Future is Faster Than You Think‘ by Peter Diamandis. He actually has a whole section on the experience economy. This is not just us deciding we're going to do this. This is something that's coming.
And I think VR/AR will be things we can use to enhance stuff in the future. Very exciting times, and as ever, we've all been friends for years now and I hope to keep having you on the show.
Zach, tell us where to find you and your books online.
Zach: I guess really the easiest place is just you can go to moltenuniversemedia.com. That's for fiction. And both our fiction books are on there.
More importantly for this audience though, J., you want to talk really quick just about the ‘Career Author' website and other stuff going on over these?
J: TheCareerAuthor.com is where our podcast is and that's where you can look at any of our events, get on the wait-list, find out any information about that.
And then I have a separate website for sort of author services and editing and coaching, and that's at TheAuthorLife.com. And at theauthorlife.com, there's a free how to self-publish guide for anyone who's interested.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time. That was great.
J: Thanks, Jo. Always a pleasure being on the show.