Your personal story can change other people's lives, but only if you get your words into the world.
In this episode, Gin Stephens shares how she self-published her first book on intermittent fasting and went on to get a traditional deal for more books, and lead a community of people into a healthier way of life. [For more on my IF journey, listen to Intermittent Fasting Stories episode 155.]
Today's show is sponsored by Draft2Digital, where you can get free ebook formatting, free distribution to multiple stores, and a host of other benefits. Get your free Author Marketing Guide at www.draft2digital.com/penn
Gin Stephens is the New York Times bestselling author of Fast. Feast. Repeat., Delay, Don't Deny, and Feast Without Fear. She's also a podcaster with three shows, including Intermittent Fasting Stories, which is one of my favorites.
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 is below.
- Getting over fear of judgment when writing a personal story
- Writing with the aim to teach and help others
- The pros and cons of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing
- How podcasting sells books
- Don't depend on one platform! The importance of owning the tools you use to reach your community and followers. Why Gin gave up Facebook.
Transcript of Interview with Gin Stephens
Joanna: Gin Stephens is the New York Times bestselling author of Fast. Feast. Repeat., Delay, Don't Deny, and Feast Without Fear. She's also a podcaster with three shows, including Intermittent Fasting Stories, which is one of my favorites. Welcome to the show, Gin.
Gin: Thank you for having me. And I'm so glad that's one of your favorites.
Joanna: Oh, it is.
Gin: I love doing it.
Joanna: I love to hear all the stories about everyone's different pathway, but today we're talking about you.
Gin: Yay. It's odd to be on this side of the microphone, right?
Joanna: Oh, absolutely.
I want to start with why did you decide to write a book in the first place and how did you actually get through to the end?
Because so many people say, ‘Oh, I'm going to write a book,' and never actually finish it. How did you do that and why did you decide to do it?
Gin: That's a very interesting question. I actually have had ideas for books as far back as I can remember. I wrote as a child. I think every writer probably has stories like that.
But getting published is so tricky, especially now it's even harder than ever, because just because you have something good to say doesn't mean that a publishing house is going to take a chance on you. Because unless you have a big audience, a big following, they're like, ‘Sorry, I'm not interested.'
So, really, all that has changed with the advent of self-publishing and the ability for anyone just to get their message out there. But I didn't really know what would happen with self-publishing.
I had a couple of Facebook groups that were really small, although they didn't feel small to me back at the time, it was 2016, and I was supporting people who were doing intermittent fasting. Actually, at that time, before I wrote the book, I only had one Facebook group and we were probably right around 3000 members when I started writing Delay, Don't Deny, my first book and the one that I self-published first.
It all started because people would join the group and they would be like, ‘How do I get started?' Or my friends, people that I knew. I lost 80 pounds with intermittent fasting and have kept it off since 2015, and so people wanted to know what to do, what did I do. And there weren't any books that I could send them to.
Dr. Jason Fung had just released The Obesity Code in 2016, but he didn't really say, ‘Here's what you do.' It wasn't a plan for how to get started. At the end, he had a little bit of alternate daily fasting with a 36-hour fast, but I was like, not everybody wants to do 36-hour fast.
I prefer a daily eating window approach where I eat every day. I like to eat every day. And there were several books that were good, but they missed some of the important information like fast and clean, which is something I realized over time was so very important. So I would tell people, ‘Well, you can read this book over here, but ignore what he says about drinking diet soda. Don't do that. And let me tell you why.'
I really need a book that I can send people to, so I'm going to write it myself.
And maybe nobody will buy it, but I'm just going to put it up on Amazon. That was back in the days of CreateSpace when, if you wanted to publish on Amazon, you did CreateSpace for the paperback, and then you did KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing, for the electronic version, and now they have since merged, so it's all through KDP now.
But I didn't know what I was doing. I did a lot of reading on the internet about how to format a book for publishing, things like gutters, I didn't know what that was, but it said that when they bind your book, it doesn't look weird on the page. But I basically taught myself how to do it.
I'm a teacher. I taught elementary school for 28 years and I have a doctorate in gifted education. I could figure things out. So that's just what I did. Writing it was the easy part for me. It really just flowed out of me. I write very much like I'm talking to you. And even though I included some research in Delay, Don't Deny, it's a pretty short book.
There are links to a few studies and ideas here and there, but it's mostly like I'm giving my friend advice about how to start intermittent fasting. And that was really my goal, was, here's how you do it, here's what you do. Just giving you the information that you need to get started and be successful.
So it came out December 31st of 2016, really, was the first day. But like January of 2017 is when it really hit the market. And I was so excited that first day, I think I sold like 100 books. That's a lot for day one. I just had my little group of 3000 people.
I had started a second group because I knew I was writing the book and I intended it to be the Delay, Don't Deny support group. So we had maybe 1500 members by that point in that group. I remember mid-March of 2017, like I was selling an average of 18 copies a day and I felt like I'd conquered the world.
Joanna: It's just a fantastic start. I want to come back on the writing process, because you said there that writing the easy part, and I can hear my audience like some of them are going…
Gin: I'm sorry audience!
Joanna: …'Oh my goodness.' Now, I think that's because, so, a couple of things. So, one, you said you're writing as you're speaking, and I've read all your books so I know that's true and that's fantastic.
But I think one of the mistakes of many self-help books and health books is that there's not enough personal story. I was attracted to your book because let's face it, we're middle-aged women. And I'm like, well, here's Dr. Jason Fung, some doctor guy, or Tim Ferris talking about hardcore fasting, and here's Gin, who's this intelligent, educated, middle-aged woman. And I'm like, ‘Oh, yeah, hers is the story I feel like I get.' But that's so difficult.
How were you able to share things? Let's face it, weight and your body image, these are very personal things.
How did you get over any fear of judgment in order to write your personal story?
Gin: Well, thanks to Facebook, people had seen me. People that I went to high school with and college, they had seen my pictures getting bigger and bigger over the years. I weighed 210 pounds at my highest recorded that I saw on the scale, could have been higher, but I wasn't weighing much at that point.
They knew I was obese, they could see it. I'm what Malcolm Gladwell refers to in one of his books as a Maven: I tell people things that I like. I always have. I try to convince people, ‘Look what I'm doing. I love it. This is fabulous.'
Even before I had books. That's why I started my first group. I'm like, I want a place where I can help my friends be successful with intermittent fasting. So I already had put it out there. There was nobody that didn't know that I had gained a lot of weight and then lost the weight.
I have these groups, I'm just being real and authentic and telling the story of my struggles. So if I can tell the people that really know me, I can certainly tell strangers.
Joanna: It's interesting because I think a lot of people don't do that. They write a self-help book or they write a health book and they don't put personal information in because they want to be like an ‘expert.'
So I also wanted to ask you about this, because as you said, you were a teacher for 28 years, you have a Ph.D., but you're not a medical doctor, and yet you've written books with medical research in them.
Talk about your research process and how you learn about all these different things.
Gin: Well, I'm a teacher and that's what teachers do. I can teach math without being a mathematician, I can teach history without being a historian. So I'm not afraid to find content and redeliver it to people. That's literally what I was trained to do.
In fact, one of my friends, when I wrote Fast. Feast. Repeat. it had a lot more science in it because I wanted it to be everything that Delay, Don't Deny. wasn't. And I still love Delay, Don't Deny but it didn't have a deep dive. I wanted Fast. Feast. Repeat. to have more scientific support. So, as I was writing it, I know how to read the literature.
When you get a doctorate, you have to be able to read what's in the journals. My doctorate's gifted education, but still, people write in wordy ways and you have to figure it all out in these journals, all these professional journals. And so I have to read, make sense of it, and redeliver it.
One of my friends was reading, as I would finish a chapter I'd be like, ‘Tell me what you think about this,' because I didn't want it to be over people's heads. I wanted to strike that balance between a chat with Gin and giving you the science background that you want.
She said, ‘I think every book should be written by a teacher.' And I'm like, that's really interesting to hear. I never really thought about that.
But I really think that writing as a teacher is just a different perspective. Because again, it's just like teaching a lesson or delivering the content.
If I want to teach a class of third graders about rocks and minerals, I have to learn about rocks and minerals and then redeliver it in a way that they understand it. So, that's really what I'm doing just in the health and wellness world.
I'm writing a new book right now. My deadline is May 7th, so it's coming up fast, but you do have to be a lot more careful with your sources. It takes a lot longer. When I said Delay, Don't Deny was easy because I was lighter on the science. Now, I'm not saying I didn't have any, but as I'm writing now, with a traditional publisher, I really want to make sure that I am supporting everything that I'm saying.
And, of course, writing a dissertation trained me to do that. You don't make a statement like the sky is blue without finding the support for that somewhere and having a footnote or an endnote or something.
Joanna: I think that's really true. But it's interesting, as you said, with a traditional publisher, you do have to be a lot more careful with your sources because it's I guess more ‘official' in some way. They, hopefully, will have a fact-checker as well who will help with that.
Gin: Oh, they do, which is so much fun because when I was writing Fast. Feast. Repeat. I made a comment about the town where I went to college and they were like, ‘Actually that's backwards,' so I'm like, ‘Oh, I always thought it was the other way,' but it's nice just to have that.
Joanna: And just so people know, you can actually hire people to do that for you if you want to self-publish books. Obviously you can hire professional freelancers to check that.
Coming back on the science and talking about fasting in particular, because, of course, I found your book and I've been intermittent fasting since July last year, 2020, and so I've really learned a lot from you, but I feel like a lot of people get it wrong.
Before we carry on with your publishing process, maybe you could give us the highlights of what your intermittent fasting lifestyle is and how it's about health as well as your weight management.
Gin: I think the big differentiator for me versus really every book I've ever read on intermittent fasting is the idea of the clean fast. The more I read, the more I learned.
After I read The Obesity Code, for example, in 2016, I realized the mistakes I had been making with fasting. Back when I first started, I started dabbling in it in 2009 and it never really stuck until 2014 and that's when I went on to lose the first 75 and then 80 pounds over time.
I was a dabbler. I didn't understand the science behind it all back then. And we also really thought it was just a way of cutting calories, you're eating less food. But after I read The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung, I realized, oh, our bodies are a lot more complicated than calories in, calories out.
Of course, that doesn't mean you can overeat and still lose weight, you can't. You can't eat more than your body needs, but it's not as simple as just count the calories, you will lose the weight. We've all had that fail for us over and over and over again. And so I realized that when you're fasting, you want to really be fasting.
Dr. Jason Fung taught me about insulin and how important it is to keep your insulin low if you want to tap into your fat stores because insulin is antilipolytic, meaning that it prevents fat burning.
So, for all of us who have tried those low-calorie diets where you eat frequently throughout the day, little tiny, small meals, all those food signals coming into your body keeps your body releasing insulin all day long and your insulin stays up, up, up, and you never really tap into your fat stores for fuel and that's why you're hungry and you feel awful.
But fasting is completely the opposite. Once you train your body to fast clean, you're keeping your insulin low during the fast, and then you're able to tap into your fat stores for fuel, you don't have those slumps.
You're running on your stored fat for fuel, you have great energy, you have great mental clarity. It's a completely different experience. So keeping the fast clean is really the number one thing. And I think it's a non-negotiable.
I have all this in Fast. Feast. Repeat. but there are three goals to the clean fast, one is, keep your insulin low, like I just said, so you can tap into your fat stores. And we do that by making sure we don't send any food signals to the brain.
We have something called the cephalic insulin response, where our brain, from our taste buds, we get the message, ‘Oh, something with calories is coming in.' And then our body releases insulin in response to that. It can be something like a diet soda, which has no calories, but your brain doesn't understand, because in all of the history of food and human life, if you had something sweet, it was because it was sugar, or honey, or fruit, and your body knew a glucose load was coming in. So it doesn't understand diet sodas.
Also that would happen if you're drinking like a fruity herbal tea, like apple cinnamon delight or something. Your brain's like, ‘Aha, we're having an Apple dessert.' It doesn't understand.
So, in order to keep our insulin low, we stick to plain water. We don't add fruit slices or make it delicious. We stick to black coffee with nothing added, plain tea. Coffee and tea both have a bitter flavor profile and that does not tell your brain we're going to need some insulin. That's why coffee and tea black are okay.
Stay away from the flavors. You don't want like hazelnut flavor, or vanilla delight. Stay away from all of those. Just keep it plain and black so your brain doesn't think food's coming in.
The second fasting goal is, of course, that we want to burn our stored fat for fuel, so, that is why we don't follow the fun trend of Bulletproof coffee with butter and MCT oil and all that stuff in your coffee cup. Because when I'm doing intermittent fasting, I'd rather burn the fat from my body than fat from my coffee cup.
People say, ‘I love this Bulletproof coffee, it gives me great energy.' Well, of course, it gives you great energy. It's a lot of energy in your coffee cup. We don't want to take in sources of fuel, we want to use our own stored body fat for fuel. So, don't put any fat, don't put cream, even a drop, don't put almond milk, all of that, keep it out of your coffee. You just want it to be black and plain.
And then the third fasting goal is we want to experience increased autophagy. Autophagy is our body's cellular recycling system, where it goes in and cleans up all the old junky parts. And to do that, we want to keep from taking in protein during the fast.
So you don't want to have bone broth or something. There's a popular bone broth fast, but bone broth is food for the body. It has plenty of protein, so it's not technically fasting. So, avoid that. Just stick to plain water, plain sparkling water, unflavored coffee, black, the same with tea, don't add anything to it, and that's what you do during the fast.
And really almost every other book you go read, in fact, I don't know of any that really insists that you stick to the clean fast other than me. But with all of my years of experience with real people, at one time we had a combined membership of almost 500,000 members in my Facebook groups. The number of people who have said, ‘Gosh, I used to do such and such because I heard it was okay. I saw a YouTube about it, it said it was fine if I put Stevia in, but then I read your book and I didn't want to believe you, but I tried it anyway. And oh my gosh, you were right.'
So the number of people that have said, ‘Well, I thought putting butter in my coffee was okay and then I stopped doing it, and, oh my gosh, you were right.' So that's why I came up with the clean fast challenge in Fast. Feast. Repeat. for anybody who doesn't think that I'm right.
And it's okay to not think I'm right because you can find scientific articles that say there is no insulin response from diet soda, but you can also find scientific articles that say that there is. So if we're trying to keep our insulin low, you want to err on the side of caution. I challenge everyone to try it my way, give it a month, six weeks, and you will not go back.
Joanna: Absolutely. For me, it was the final piece of the puzzle of why have I tried everything and nothing works? And I think, for people listening, and I'm going to do a bit more of an introduction before this goes out, but the realization that you have the freedom not to eat during the day and then obviously both you and I do a eating window and your whole point with Delay, Don't Deny is you delay your food, don't deny yourself your meal in the evening, your delicious food. You love food, right? I think that's important.
Gin: I love food. And, some people are like, I couldn't do intermittent fasting, I love to eat so much. I'm like, ‘That's why I do it.'
Joanna: Exactly. It's so I can have my delicious food in my window.
Gin: I don't have to deny myself from butter, or a cookie, or delicious food.
Joanna: Coming back to your writing and publishing, the reason you wrote Delay, Don't Deny was to help other people, but also to share your own experience and to talk about that.
Your life was changed and you wanted to change other people's lives. I think that's a really good reason to write.
Let's come back to the self-publishing. Obviously you mentioned that that's the way you went the first time. You mentioned some of the technical stuff you had to learn, but what happened after it went out there, and then
What happened with your publishing journey and how did you get that next deal?
What were the benefits of doing that and what were some of the issues?
Gin: The beauty of self-publishing is that I could write something now and have it for sale on Amazon this afternoon. Of course that's also the downfall. Because someone could write something now and have it on Amazon in the afternoon and it could be garbage.
All the books that people write where they try to steal the title of another book. Like right now, there's one, I have to get taken down because they used my title in theirs and I have a trademark. But all the things I've learned along the way. But it frees you up to get it out quickly.
The traditional publishing process is very long. And it has to go through so many hands. And honestly, things going through a lot of hands, it can actually create problems.
With Fast. Feast. Repeat which I published through St. Martins Press, they're delightful, I love my editor, I love everybody there. But somehow along the way, from when I turned in my first draft till I was reading it for Audible, a whole paragraph got changed and it made no sense.
I'm like, ‘Where'd this come from?' I didn't notice it was there until I was reading it for Audible and I was making notes of things that needed to be fixed before it went to print. And then I sent it to my editor, she's like, ‘Too late. It's already in line for printing.'
And I'm like, ‘Wait a minute. We still have, you know, like…' What was this, like April? We still had over two months before it was going to be officially for sale. She's like, ‘Yes, but we're in line at the printer and you can't make a change while you're in line at the printer.'
So the first 10,000 copies had a few mistakes in there that I knew were there and we knew were there. They were minimal, they weren't huge. And everybody listening, don't worry, if you buy a copy now, those first 10,000…
Joanna: It's a first edition. It's precious.
Gin: Yeah. Those first ones are long gone. And it wasn't anything that was going to make your fasting ruined, it was just like a sentence got changed and it didn't make sense. It wasn't the way I had originally written it. And they left out flavored coffee in the chart, but they have added it in since. So you'll get a copy that has the right information.
But the amount of time. I could pull Delay, Don't Deny right now, make a change to anything and it would be seamless and be correctly out there this afternoon. It's just so quick. I do remember the very first day, January 1, 2017, within a couple of hours after people buying it, somebody said, ‘I found a typo in the introduction.' I was able to correct it, and boom, it was fixed. That's one of the perks of self-publishing.
You also make a lot more per copy with self-publishing than you do from a traditional publisher, like a lot. But the flip side is, with a traditional publisher, you get it out into more hands, and it's widely available.
You can be on the New York Times bestseller list because they have sales data. There's so many pros and cons.
But I think you asked about how did I make the transition to traditional publishing, and I don't know if I told you that. I don't think you know this story at all, but I had some trouble in 2018 with book pirating.
Delay, Don't Deny was selling very, very well, and turns out that makes you a really big mark for pirates who copy the whole book and then they sell it through third-party sellers, but they're counterfeit. And so, all of a sudden, my paperback sales went down dramatically and I didn't know why.
I reached out to Amazon. I'm like, ‘I know people are still buying it, but it says in my report that zero people bought the paperback between this day and this day, and yet I see people in the groups every day. They're like, ‘Here's my book. I just got it. What's happening?'
To make a long story short, we found there was a counterfeit version. It had typos on the back cover. It had a different font. The book was in a different font. It had italics in places I didn't have them. The spacing was different. And Amazon worked with me, but I still I lost thousands of dollars over the course of those months before I figured out what was happening.
And so, it made me think, you know what, I have all my eggs in this one basket of Amazon because I'm self-published through Amazon and I had to really push for them taking my case seriously and prove it and buy multiple copies of my books.
Sometimes the counterfeiters still roll them out through third-party sellers, but the third-party sellers themselves don't always realize they've bought a bunch of counterfeits. So they've been great to work with me. I keep my eye on the listing.
It was because Amazon changed the rules in 2018 where third-party sellers could get the buy box. And so, whoever has it for cheapest gets the buy box. That's how the pirates were able to pop in there and sell it to so many people before I realized what was happening.
I really needed support. I don't want to do this all by myself. This is my whole livelihood. If something happens with my book, I'm done. So I found a great literary agent. I went to the publishers marketplace and asked, ‘Who are the top non-fiction agents in the diet category?'
Because I had sold so many copies of Delay, Don't Deny that was self-published, the top three all wanted to work with me, which was so exciting.
But again, it goes back to what I said at the beginning, in order to find an agent and a publisher, you have to have a track record. So you have to make your own track record these days. You can't just start off. No one would have looked at Delay, Don't Deny if I'd been like, ‘I have a great idea for a book and I have a group of 3000 people in it,' they'd have been like, ‘Thank you. But no.'
Joanna: They wouldn't have replied.
Gin: That's true.
No agent would have taken me on. No publishing house would have been willing to take a chance on this book. But when suddenly I had all these sales and they're like, ‘Oh, you're interesting to us now.'
You have to build your own platform and then people want to take a chance on you. I found a literary agent, and then the first idea was to shop Delay, Don't Deny around and try to get it taken over by a traditional publishing house. But because of how much I was selling, nobody had an offer that was high enough for me to say yes to.
So I was like, yeah, I'm just going to keep it. I think really the best thing to do is to write a new book. And that's where Fast. Feast. Repeat. was born.
I'm glad that I did it that way because Delay, Don't Deny continues to sell even after Fast. Feast. Repeat. came out. Yesterday Fast. Feast. Repeat. was number two in the weight loss category on Amazon, which is still very exciting because it came out last June. It's still doing very, very well.
Delay, Don't Deny was number 25 in the weight loss category on Amazon. So it's still selling well. So I have my income stream from Delay, Don't Deny that never went away and then I have Fast. Feast. Repeat. as well.
I was able to find a great publishing house, St Martin's. And when we were negotiating for the advance, I was like, ‘I don't even care if you give me an advance, I'm going to sell so many of these books that you're going to be sending me royalty checks.' And they're like, ‘Well, okay.' And that actually is what happened.
Joanna: I think that is more common with non-fiction anyway, is that you don't necessarily get a big advance, but you get really better royalties.
Just to come back on the piracy, we should say that, obviously, traditionally, published books get pirated all the time.
Gin: Oh, absolutely. But you've got a legal department protecting you not just you going, ‘This book is counterfeit.' Amazon doesn't want to talk to me. They're like, ‘No, it's not.'
For months they told me nothing was wrong. They're like, ‘Sorry, nothing's wrong. It's not a problem. No one's buying paperbacks anymore.' I swear to God, someone said that to me. ‘People just aren't buying as many paperbacks.'
And the part that made me so angry is Amazon knew exactly how many they were selling. If the departments had talked to each other, they knew how many they sold and they know how many they paid me royalties for. And those numbers did not match. And they could have very easily crosschecked, especially with their own in-house people.
Joanna: Definitely. I know a lot of authors, and there are always pros and cons of every approach. We have to deal with the cards we choose, but you've definitely got the best of both worlds. Because, as you say, you still have control of one, you can do sales easily and all of that and giveaways, and also you get more sales with cross-promotion.
Gin: I don't do any sales or giveaways.
Joanna: Fair enough. There's no need because they sell each other.
I wondered about book marketing, because this is something that many authors struggle with. There's writing a book and there's publishing it, but then there's marketing.
What does the publishing house do for you and what are you doing yourself in terms of marketing? What drives the sales of the books do you think?
Gin: I'm going to be honest with you, they may talk a good game about what they're going to do for you, and again, I love my publisher, I love my editor, she's fabulous, they have, you know, a publicity department that's gotten me into a few publications. But honestly, the publisher expects you to market your book these days.
They don't send you on tour, maybe they might for some people, but I asked about it. I had someone who wanted to put on an event for me in a town I was going to have to travel I'm like, ‘If this event is organized, will you pay?' They were like, ‘No, that's all on you.' So you've got to do it yourself.
And, of course, in this day and age, with social media and podcasts, the barrier to entry is zero. Just learning how to do it.
You have to build your audience. So there is no substitute for building your audience. That is where the magic lies. You can write the best book in the world, but if nobody finds it and nobody reads it, it's not going to be a success. And I think that's what happens.
If it is good and it gets out there like Delay, Don't Deny I wrote a book that people enjoy reading and it helped a lot of people. So, word of mouth, it just got bigger and bigger and bigger.
I think that I read, I don't know if this is true, but I read a blog post or saw it in a podcast somewhere, maybe I read the transcript, 10,000 is the magic number. If you can sell 10,000 copies of your book, it's out there enough that it's going to keep selling steadily over time. So, you want to get that first 10,000 out there and get people to buy it. But you really have to build your audience.
I did that through Facebook groups and providing the support there on Facebook and then my first podcast in 2017, and then a second podcast in 2018, that was when ‘Intermittent Fasting Stories' came out. And you have to tell the story that make people want to listen to you.
With ‘Intermittent Fasting Stories,' you enjoy hearing it. It's me and a guest and we talk and people like to hear it. And so it keeps them coming back to listen again. But people like to hear real stories. You could read all the science in the world, but if there's no real story connected to it, it's not going to feel like something you really care about.
Joanna: I listened to the ‘Intermittent Fasting Stories' podcast before I bought any of your books. And I know sometimes you sound surprised on the show when people say that they found you through the podcast and then they read the book.
Gin: Well, I'm no longer surprised by it, but it actually for a while. I'm used to it now, but it's taken me a while to get there.
Joanna: I think there's a trust. I'm introducing you to my audience and I'm coming on your show, so it's the same thing. People get to trust the host. And if I say that I want to talk to you because I trust you, then that just gives a lot more, I guess, clout to the audience and they go, ‘Okay, well, I trust this person because I've been listening to them for years, and therefore I'm open to the guest.'
And, in the same way, I feel like when I was listening to you on your show, then I was like, ‘Oh, okay. I really like her. I'm going to check out her book.'
I think this is how podcasting can sell books, but it's not necessarily a one-click thing.
Gin: Correct. I agree with you completely. People have to first connect with you and then they want to read what you've got. And there's some people, I'll read everything they write, no matter what they write, I'm going to read it. I think that's true for, but that's your small fan base.
You've got your small fan base of people that will read anything you write, but then it's got to be good to keep selling. You've got to write a good book that people will recommend to other people because if only my fan base for ‘Intermittent Fasting Stories' had read my book, then it would have been… You know, you see it happen a lot.
I watched the Amazon bestseller list and the weight loss category, and a new book pops up every time it comes out, it pops up, it will be number one, number two, the number one will be like the paperback, number two will be the Kindle version, number three might be the Audible version.
So it holds that position for a while and then you see it goes away. It falls away. Becoming a New York Times bestseller or having a best seller is one thing, but continuing to sell your books to people over time is more of a challenge. And that's where the book, like I said, it has to be good. The book has to be one that can stand the test of time and have people recommend it to other people.
Joanna: Well then, let me ask you about the challenge of a niche. So you have a niche which is Intermittent Fasting and you've got the three books and the workbooks, I think, at the moment. And, as you said, you're working on another one.
It must be very challenging to come up with more books on the same topics.
Gin: Well, I'm not doing that.
Joanna: Oh, okay. Tell us about it.
Gin: I'm not writing another book on the same topic. And see, that's the thing where I'm a little bit contrarian and breaking the mold because my editor, of course, and the whole publishing house is very interested in, okay, so you've written this great book. New York Times bestseller, what's your next fasting book going to be?
And I'm like, ‘No, there isn't going to be a next fasting book,' because I wrote the book about intermittent fasting that said everything I need to say. I don't need to write a book about one meal a day intermittent fasting. I don't need to write a book. It's all in Fast. Feast. Repeat. I put it all there and that's it.
I don't want to be one of those authors that writes the same book over and over and over and then just you're on that cycle of book, book, book, and then I don't need people to read another intermittent fasting book that I wrote.
Now, Delay, Don't Deny stands the test of time because it is always going to appeal. Some people will prefer Delay, Don't Deny and some people will prefer Fast. Feast. Repeat. It just all depends on how deep you want to go.
Some people will want to read both because there is, you know, a difference to the two. You'll get different things out of ‘Delay, Don't Deny than you got out of Fast. Feast. Repeat. So I didn't rewrite Delay, Don't Deny and release it as Fast. Feast. Repeat‘ it's a completely updated book with a lot more detail and a section on food and the feast section. It's a great book.
Feast Without Fear, my second book, was also self-published, but it is not an intermittent fasting book. It's a book about choosing foods that work well for your body, the idea of personalized nutrition, your gut microbiome, all of that, eating according to your DNA. So, it's a completely different book.
The book I'm working on now is not an intermittent fasting book. And it's about what you eat, and how you live. I don't want to get into too many details about it.
Joanna: It's more like a lifestyle book?
Gin: Not necessarily. It's about cleaning up where it counts, let me put it that way. Cleaning up your life with food and with how you live.
Joanna: But it's still a self-help/health book?
Gin: Oh yes, it absolutely is a self-help/health book. That's a tongue twister, self-help/health. Yes, it very much is.
[We recorded this before the pre-order came out, but Gin's next book is Clean(ish): Eat (Mostly) Clean, Live (Mainly) Clean, and Unlock Your Body's Natural Ability to Self Clean.]
And then I actually have a two-book deal, so I'm going to write another one the next year and we haven't decided on what that one will be yet, but I have a very strong idea about what I want it to be and I've just gotta talk them into it.
That's the other difference about being with a traditional publisher. You're like, ‘I know that people will love this, and I know they will want it.' And they're like, ‘No, I don't like that one.' I'm like, ‘I promise you, this one's going to be the best seller. I promise you. Let me write it. Let me write it, let me write it.' And they're like, ‘Uh-uh, no.'
Joanna: We know you always have another choice.
Gin: I really want to keep working with them and with my editor. But they do have first right of refusal. But if they refuse, then I'm not locked to them. I can still do what I want to do. But anyway, I do have an idea for my next one that's coming in a year.
Joanna: Oh, well, that's great. I like that. It's kind of tangential. I think that's exactly the right way to do it.
And, of course, I write books for authors as Joanna Penn. And they all cover smaller areas of the author life, so, that completely makes sense to me.
I do also want to come back on Facebook because, of course, at the beginning, you talked about, in 2016, you started out with Facebook groups and you built up your audience to over 500,000 people.
In March 2021, you wrote a blog post about why you quit Facebook. Tell us about that decision.
Gin: It is huge. Here's what's funny, back in the fall of 2020, my agent said, again, like all my eggs in the Amazon basket, she said, ‘You've got all your eggs in the Facebook basket. If something were to ever happen on Facebook, you would lose your whole audience. You need to start collecting their email addresses.'
I'm like, ‘Oh no, nothing's ever going to happen. This is how it works for me. This is my group. This is what I do. I don't need to worry.'
Well then in the fall I read an article about how Facebook was ‘cracking down' on health groups and no longer recommending them. And because a lot of people would find my groups because it would show up in the groups you might like category.
That struck fear in my heart. I'm like, wait, Facebook could literally decide, ‘We don't support intermittent fasting, we think it's wacky. No more intermittent fasting.' And then we'd all go dark. I started really thinking about that.
They actually did that in the essential oil community. A lot of people in the essential oil community found their groups just were closed. Of course, once you make this decision, stories come out of the woodwork.
A friend of mine shared a story of another friend who had a cooking group. It was just a cooking group with 10,000 members. And she went to bed one night with a cooking group and woke up the next morning and not only was the cooking group removed, but she was blocked from Facebook because something that happened overnight while she was sleeping went against something or other, and Facebook shut it down.
She wasn't even awake, didn't even know what happened. But it just lets you know that you're very much guests on Facebook's platform.
I started thinking about that and I'm like, I need to have a platform that's just for me and my audience that I control and I'm not really at the whim of artificial intelligence flagging what you're writing.
For example, one of our moderators wrote a very great skilled reply to somebody about becoming fat-adapted, which is part of the lingo. You become fat-adapted, that means your body can tap into your fat stores. And she said something like once you're fat-adapted, the fast becomes much easier.
The artificial intelligence on Facebook flagged that as hate speech and bullying because of the words, you're fat. But in context, when you're fat-adapted, it makes perfect sense. It's totally not hate speech or bullying.
But she got flagged and we got dinged because she's a moderator and Facebook said, ‘If you're a moderators or admin are going against community standards, we can shut your group down.' We're getting these notices behind the scenes and that's scary.
So we're trying to figure out, once you're lipid adapted. You're having to be really careful because you'd get in Facebook jail. She wasn't able to post on Facebook for seven days.
Joanna: Yes. Facebook jail is a term now.
Gin: It's a thing. She was in Facebook jail. And so, all that fear, like I said, led me to start my own platform, the DDD Social Network at dddsocialnetwork.com. It's a membership site and people can pay to join.
Once I started setting that up, it made me take a hard look at what I was doing and how I was spending my day.I had been thinking about this for years because when I wrote Fast. Feast. Repeat. it came out in 2020, but I was writing it in 2019 and I purposefully did not say the word Facebook on Fast. Feast. Repeat. one time.
In fact, my editor was like, ‘Do you want to add your Facebook groups to your bio?' I'm like, ‘No.' Because I knew that it was unsustainable. I could not personally manage 500,000 people in Facebook groups. I woke up in the morning and it was the first thing I did.
It was affecting the quality of my life to the point that it was all I had time to do.
I just spent the weekend away with my sister and it's the first time we'd been anywhere since I left Facebook. And she's like, ‘This is night and day, you're present. You're here. You're able to sit at the dinner table,' and I just cannot express how intrusive Facebook had become in my life.
And so, making the shift, I would say 99% of the response has been positive. Although this morning I woke up to a message. The moderators are still running the main Delay, Don't Deny Intermittent Fasting Support Group. We ask a moderator post every day, members can't post, but they can ask questions and the moderators will still support them, even though I'm not there.
So we have a chat that we talk about group business and I'm still there providing administrative advice. But she said, ‘If someone is in a spinoff group and they're slamming Gin and talking really bad about Gin, can we remove them from this group?'
So people are still out there they're mad. They're mad that I closed down two of my groups, the advanced group that had just over 30,000 members, and the one-meal-a-day group that had just about 100,000 members. The regular group, we didn't change how that functions at all, except that I'm not there, like I said. But the advanced group is closed and the one-meal-a-day group.
But those were the ones where I was spending so much time because the members were posting. And so you had to be there moderating. People really enjoyed being in the groups. But the reason they enjoyed them is because of how heavily moderated they were and how much time we spent behind the scenes, making sure everyone was kind and not bullying, and giving good advice and not saying, ‘Oh, I drink Bulletproof coffee and it's fine.' We didn't want to have conflicting advice. And it took so much time to manage it.
When I wrote that blog post, my husband said, ‘You're going to regret it.' I'm like, ‘Well, if I regret it, I regret it, but I will not regret living my life on my terms.' When it dropped, I woke up that morning and archived the two groups and waited to see what would happen.
When I write a blog post, I don't get very many comments. The first two days, 80 people submitted comments for my blog post, and they were overwhelmingly positive. And it just made me feel so relieved that people understood. They were like, ‘I can't believe you did it as long as you did. I often saw, I was like, she's up at 5:15 in the morning responding and here she is at 10:00 at night responding. When does Gin sleep?'
People get it. They understood that I couldn't continue to provide free intermittent fasting support for the world forever. But on the flip side of that, the people who were angry somehow felt that buying my book for $14.95 entitled them to me forever for free.
$14.95 for a book entitles you to a book, not support from the author.
Joanna: Yes. Absolutely.
Gin: I was happy to do it. I was really happy to do it. I loved building that community, but it just became unsustainable for me.
Joanna: I love that. And I think it comes out, and also, this pandemic time has really helped us all consider, what do I really want in my life?
Gin: That's true.
Joanna: Do I want to spend my time doing that? And you said no, and that's not what you want to do. And I completely agree with you. Like, you wrote the book with all the answers, separate books with lots of answers.
Gin: Lots of answers.
Joanna: So people can go there. And I think it's very empowering that you've done that. One of the things you've talked about in this is how empowering the choice is, the choice to self-publish, the choice to traditionally publish, the choice to build the groups and to shut them down. That's the important thing, which is brilliant.
Where can people find you and your books and your podcasts online?
Gin: If you go to ginstephens.com, Gin is G-I-N, Stephens with a P-H, I have links to everything there. You can still join the Delay Don't Deny Intermittent Fasting Support Facebook Group, and the moderators will answer your questions in the ask-a-moderator thread. But then we want you to join the Delay, Don't Deny Social Network if you want to make posts and have a higher level of support.
I'm having so much fun there because it's so different. I don't have to approve posts. And because people are paying. I mean, it's not expensive. It's $59 a year to join, which is like $4.99 a month. It's not expensive. It's like one latte a month to join.
But that tiny barrier of entry of $4.99 a month is enough of a barrier to entry that the people who are there really want to be there. So I am enjoying. It's refreshing. We haven't had a single reported post or problem yet. It's amazing.
Gin: Well, I'd say yet because eventually, there'll be someday, people are people. But it's an amazing supportive community. And we have all these groups within it that people can join. I have a 28-day fast start group for new intermittent fasters.
I am personally responding to every post there. Someone posts about they're on day nine and I'm able to go in. And it's not from 5:15 in the morning until 10:15 at night, because it's smaller.
I can go in one time in the morning, then I can go about my day, then I can go back in the evening and still provide support, but not have to micromanage behind the scenes every little thing that's happening. So, I'm loving it.
And also, my podcasts, Intermittent Fasting Stories, you can find that anywhere you can find podcasts. If you join the Delay, Don't Deny Social Network however, you can stream all episodes of ‘Intermittent Fasting Stories,' ad-free.
Gin: No ads at all, you just stream. They come out on Thursday, but I'm putting them up on Monday so people can get them a few days early, and no ads. So we're completely ad-free on the DDD Social Network.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Gin. That was great.
Gin: Well, thank you.