How might thinking differently help you create clarity in our noisy world? How can you produce a high-quality print book — and successfully fund it on Kickstarter? Holger Nils Pohl discusses these things and more.
In the intro, Copyright in an age of AI [Self Publishing Advice, Monica Leonelle, Ars Technica, The Verge, The Atlantic; Insider; Kathryn Goldman; US Government Copyright Office AI Submission]; Writing the Shadow Kickstarter; Lesbians Who Write; Pretty Links;
Today's show is sponsored by Ingram Spark, which I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 40,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries, and more. It's your content—do more with it through IngramSpark.com.
Holger Nils Pohl is a visual strategist, professional speaker, trainer, and coach. He's also the author of multiple books, from business to children's books, as well as the co-creator of an award-winning business board game.
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.
- Breaking out of the traditional publishing mindset
- The creative process — distilling ideas into visual images versus words
- Neurodiversity as a creative
- Living authentically and breaking out of ‘masking'
- Challenges of creating a high-quality book
- Return on investment for nonfiction authors on Kickstarter
- Six tips for a successful Kickstarter
- How creatives can create clarity and choose the right direction
You can find Holger at HolgerNilsPohl.com. You can also go to HolgerNilsPohl.com/penn, and you will find examples of the visuals we discussed, as well as the process of how you can find clarity to cut through the noise in the author world, as much as the rest of your life.
Transcript of Interview with Holger Nils Pohl
Joanna: Holger Nils Pohl is a visual strategist, professional speaker, trainer, and coach. He's also the author of multiple books, from business to children's books, as well as the co-creator of an award-winning business board game. So welcome to the show, Holger.
Holger: Thank you for having me, Jo.
Joanna: I'm excited to talk to you. Before we get into it—
Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing and publishing.
Holger: So while we're talking here in 2023, I'm 43 years old. I was a late reader of books, I would say. So until the age of 14, I'd only read comics and magazines, but nothing that was kind of like a book.
I didn't like German or English in school, and I'm coming from Germany, by the way, you might already know from my accent.
I found my passion for reading crime and science fiction, as well as fantasy, a bit later. At the age of 14/15, I started to read, and then I never stopped.
I'm kind of a whale reader, I read very fast and very much. I always have trouble to find more new books that I can read because somehow I read faster than the market can provide me with books sometimes. I love the pen and pen roleplay and, as well, developed new worlds and systems with my friends to play that, but I never had the urge to write anything but always to create. I love to create.
I got distracted from all of this by university because I had to find something that is worthwhile spending your working life.
Everybody told me you need to be an engineer or do something proper, and not be just creative.
By now we know that this was stupid advice, but back then I didn't know.
I tried architecture, I broke up from university after one and a half years, I became a carpenter then, I did an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and afterwards became a designer. And luckily enough, that was a good fit for me. In 2009, I started my self-employment right after the university.
I work with visuals. I teach, as well, people to draw. But at some point, people were begging me to write about my knowledge about business, as well as how we can communicate better with visual tools, and everything I have done in the past.
People asked me for so long, basically for three or four years, that I started writing, and then I never get out of that again.
I started writing, and I couldn't stop, and somehow the nonfiction opened up an avenue for my fiction writing.
So I wanted to write fiction, and now I'm all over the place with writing, while still being a consultant and coach full time.
Joanna: Well, can I also ask you about the self-publishing side? Because you and I have been connected now for many years, and I feel like, I don't even know, do you know how many years?
Holger: I mean, I've been following you for, I guess, seven years now. So yeah, quite a while.
Joanna: So seven years, so maybe 2016-ish. And it's interesting because, of course, Germany I feel is even more traditional around literature, and proper books, and proper publishing.
How did you break out of that mindset that traditional publishing is the only valid path in Germany, in particular?
Or is that just part of you being more of a designer?
Because it's a strong feeling in Germany, I think, not to be self-published. Although I know some Germans listening will be like, “No, no, we're a very big indie community.” But it has been a slower trend, I think.
Holger: Oh, yeah, definitely. And I would still say, it's predominantly traditional publishing here in Germany.
I actually had my first book traditionally published, and it was a huge failure in terms of sales. I still get my check, which is basically 12 euros per year or something. So we sell like 10 to 20 books per year with our publisher. That was from year one, so it was not that we had a high peak or something.
I was super disappointed with that first book, especially with the process with the traditional publisher, and that was basically the thing that pushed me into self-publishing, because I said, I can do that better.
If I could decide the things myself that the publisher decided for me, in that case, this could have been a better book. That drove me to self-publishing and actually to your podcast in the first place.
I think the first book I published in 2015, and I listened to you and thought I can do that myself. But saying that, it's still super difficult to do that in Germany, especially. It's way easier for me to publish in the US, the UK, everywhere around the world, not in the German-speaking countries.
Joanna: Yes, and I've heard that from other German indie authors. These things emerge at different times in different countries. People listening, we've got listeners from over 220 countries, and I think it's probably still much easier in Germany than it is in a lot of countries in the world. We appreciate you listeners in other places!
Let's get back to your books and what you do because you are, as you mentioned, you're a designer, you're a creator, and you use a lot of visual images. It's very hard because this is an audio medium, but tell us—
How does your creative process work differently in terms of distilling ideas into visual images versus words?
Because they're just so different.
Holger: Yeah, that's true.
Let me just back up for a second and give a short definition of what we say when we mean visuals. And again, that is difficult to explain with only audio, but I think we will manage. So I don't mean paintings or photographs or generated pictures when I say visuals.
NOTE: Speedboat for character development shown below is by Holger Nils Pohl, used with permission. You can download this and other useful images at http://holgernilspohl.com/penn
So when I say visuals, I mainly mean drawings that are quickly done, more like icons, I would say. If you imagine a picture in your head right now, it could be like a hand drawn icon, I would say, and perhaps emojis to express ideas and concepts. I think that's what I say when I say visuals,
Joanna: On your style, I almost think of it as professional cartooning.
Holger: Okay. If you see like that, we can say that too. Okay, I agree with that.
Joanna: Is that okay? It's got more of that vibe, as you say, it's kind of hand drawn, but it looks more professional than I would hand draw something.
Holger: Okay, I can agree on that. A lot of people when they see my work, they think that I think as well in visuals, and I distill ideas right into visuals.
But the funny thing is that I always need the words first, before I can put them into visuals. Because still, my brain works based on words, and I think all the brains we have work based on words. Of course, we have visuals in our head, but most of the time we think in logical structures step by step in words, and I translate those words into visuals.
So what I do is, first of all, and I think your question brought me two new insights, actually. I think the first most important thing is intention. So compared to other people —
When I am in a creative process, I have the intention to make something visual, compared to just writing words down.
So everything I listen to, I always translate them in parallel to: how could I express that in visuals? How would that look like in a structure? How would things be connected to each other? Would that be a Venn diagram? Would that be like a pie chart? Would there be a timeline? Which kind of visuals would I use?
I'm always reflecting on when I hear something, like how would that look like? It makes it easier for me to see my ideas as well because if I only have words, sometimes it's difficult to read through them. It takes a long time. When I see a visual that I have drawn, everything becomes super clear very fast to me.
Joanna: I'm just writing some notes down there because you said there that you have words first and you make them into images. I wasn't expecting that because for me, as a creative, I see images first, and then I have to put them into words.
I mean, well, for my fiction anyway. For fiction, my latest, my novella Catacomb, I had such a clear idea. It was like a movie in my head. I can see the characters running down into the earth, into the catacomb, and I could see it all.
Then I had to just get it into words. Like there's this tropical underground jungle and I had to describe that. I could see it, I just have to find the words. So that's so interesting. I just didn't expect you to say that. I thought that you had the little people doing the things in your mind and then you just drew them and then you wrote up the words later.
Holger: No, I mean, you can't even go so far. If you would put me into a dark room, close the door, shut down the windows, it's pitch black in the room, I don't see anything.
Joanna: I think there's a name for that. There's some kind of name for it. I've heard someone else talk about that too. [Note: I referred to Aphantasia, but that's not necessarily what Holger experiences.]
Holger: Yeah, for me, it's words. Sometimes I might see kind of a movie scene or something, but basically, I think about a story first in words and those words would trigger a scene for me.
Joanna: Wow. Do you hear it? Because some people I know they say they take dictation, almost as if they hear it. My mum, when she wrote books, she was like, I hear these things. I never hear anything.
How do you experience those words?
Holger: I don't hear them either. I would say it's like I would talk to myself in my head, let's say it like that.
So you could say I hear them. Sometimes I have a scent, so that I smell something. Sometimes it's a color that I see. Sometimes it's a touch, like a feeling or so. But very seldomly there is a picture first, very seldomly.
Joanna: I love that.
It's so interesting. I mean, just sort of coming to—you talk openly about being autistic, and I don't think this is part of it.
I think it's a completely different spectrum of how we create, but maybe talk a bit about that. I think this is so important. I mean, neurodiversity, even just talking to anyone and asking like this question, like how do you see visual images or words?
I mean, we all think so differently, and yet, I think sometimes we assume that things are the same for other people. So tell us a bit more about your experience of being autistic?
How does neurodiversity help you as a creative?
Holger: So first of all, I think it's important that I didn't know I'm autistic for 40 years of my life. So I only know that for three years now, so I'm kind of a freshling, a newbie in that field of knowing myself as an autistic person.
It came as a bit of a surprise because I can do masking very well. So masking is the activity of pretending that you are neurotypical, not neurodiverse, but you are as everybody else, while you're not as everybody else.
So just pretending you're understanding a joke and laughing like everybody else, and nobody recognizes you didn't find the joke funny or even understood the joke.
I masked so properly that I didn't even notice myself that I am different to other people. So I masked for myself too.
For three years now, I know I'm autistic, and that helped a lot. I mean, that created a lot of challenges and problems to be very fair, but as well as opened up a whole new world for me understanding how I work, and how everything in my life functions, basically.
So I had to understand, first of all, that I have a lot of strengths that are related to my autistic being. For example, seeing patterns everywhere due to the need of understanding everybody through my cognition.
So as an autistic person, I don't feel what you feel, but I see what you feel. But I don't really feel your emotions because I don't feel my emotions very well, either. But I can understand by how you clenched your eyes and how you move your mouth, I can very precisely forecast what are your emotions right now, and therefore react accordingly.
So I'm pretty good in finding patterns, which helps me with my nonfiction writing, because everybody asked me like, how can you know what we're talking about so fast?
That's only because I listen very carefully and very intentionally for every single clue in a conversation, and then very quickly can forecast what will happen in the next 10-15 minutes.
As well, I can see through the surface because I don't care for emotions too much. So if everybody is raging about whatever it is, let's take AI, and everybody is emotional about that topic, I don't care for that too much.
I just want to know the facts and figures, how it works, why it works, what's the problem, what's not the problem, how can it help, and I don't get emotional about it. So that helps me my creative process because I can stay clear of all those emotions.
Joanna: When you talked about masking, for myself, I don't think this is just an autistic thing.
Holger: No, that's an introvert thing too, and a neurotypical thing, too.
Joanna: Well, I mean, obviously, there's a spectrum of everything. But when you say that, I mean, I remember when I discovered Susan Cain's book, Quiet.
It made a huge difference in my life and a lot of people's life because I feel like introverts, we have had to—I mean, I'm a bit older than you at 48—but I almost had to pretend to be an extrovert for 35 years because that's how we're expected to behave.
I mean, you talk about humor there and laughing—oh, my goodness, I literally don't have a sense of humor. I feel like I'm always fake-laughing at things. I'm laughing now because I'm laughing at myself. It's so interesting, isn't it?
So for people listening, masking for yourself is a really challenging statement, that wherever you are on neurodiverse scale, it's something that we should all be questioning.
Where do we mask and why are we doing that?
I mean, you're one of my patrons, you know about my upcoming book, Writing the Shadow. This is something I've been thinking about a lot, and it's very damaging to do that. So I mean—
How did you break out of expectations in order to live more authentically, be more you, and get rid of some of that masking?
Holger: Yeah, I think I'm still on the journey.
I didn't really completely break out of that. So one thing is, I'm under chronic pain as well. I have headaches like basically every day since like 15 years or something. And this demands a change, right?
So if you are under pressure, change is a bit easier. I started telling people about it, so it enables me to act more as myself without stepping on toes. Like, if somebody is questioning why I behave differently right now, at least they know and they can decide for themselves That helped me, instead of just behaving differently, and everybody's asking, like what's happening to Holger?
The other thing is that I understood, for example, dealing with energy loss when I am with other people. I know you talked about that on events. For me, it's kind of the same on a very high scale, I would say.
I'm losing a lot of energy, and I have a job, I am a coach and trainer and consultant. So basically what I do is stand in front of people, and helping them get through their complexity.
I had to understand that I need to rest afterwards. I can't go for example, for a dinner with the clients because after a full day of workshop, I have to rest because otherwise I can't do the next day properly.
So it's more small things often enough, or bigger things when I have more private contact, like with you or with family and friends. People who I know, I can be a bit more open and speak about it, and perhaps not smile all the time because I can just relax sometimes.
Joanna: I love that. Really, it is hard. It's funny, because we're recording this in August, I am almost preparing now to go to 20Books Vegas in November. I've talked about backing out of it last year, I had a ticket and didn't go because I was so worried about the whole energy thing. I'm trying to incorporate all these practices, like you say, you just have to go and be somewhere else. I think that's how we have to manage it.
It is interesting because, of course, and I used to have headaches every day when I was a consultant and worked in an office. I was popping pills every day, and I got very sick.
So how do you manage that then as a consultant, doing the work you do? Because like you say, so much of your work is giving to other people. How do you manage that? Is part of your writing, and doing these books, and building your store and everything—Is that trying to offset that people-time?
Holger: Yeah, pretty much.
So definitely publishing is one way to reduce the onside time with people into products that I can sell without spending time.
And there is another advantage of being autistic, which is hyperfocus. I can click on hyperfocus anytime. I can do that for eight hours straight, and I can do that for three days straight, basically. Nobody will ever get a slightest clue that it's hard for me because I can step into that hyperfocus and be the so-called showman, and help people with what they have to go through.
Afterwards, I'm pretty destroyed, to be honest, but for a certain time I can do that.
Changing my mindset, as well as the intention, and stepping on stage as a different person.
Joanna: Yes, and I can do this too. I would say this is partly extroverting. I mean, I don't have that hyperfocus that you do. I think that is one of the—do we still call it Asperger's?
Holger: I would say you can, some people say you don't. I don't care, like that's another thing where I don't care too much about the label.
Joanna: But people who have been characterized with those words, are people who do have that hyperfocus, kind of high functioning, extreme high functioning. I certainly don't have that, but I do have that exhaustion afterwards. I feel like it's an extroversion.
I think the other thing is how important it is. So we're not saying to people listening that we don't want to do this.
We're saying that it's incredibly important to do this work for both of us, but it takes something out of us.
I think many people listening probably feel the same, and yet it is so important, isn't it? You must love a part of it.
Holger: Oh, yeah, definitely. That's the difficult thing to explain, right?
I really enjoy being with people and talking about the things that I am interested in, or they are interested in, and I can help with that. I grow when I meet people, and I learn something new.
I love being with people because it inspires me. So it gives me something and it gives me energy as well.
But on another level, I lose a lot of energy as well. It's kind of this the same thing at the same time kind of thing. It's difficult, it's a catch 22, and we need to acknowledge that because that makes it more difficult. We want to meet people, and it's really enjoyable, but we need some rest afterwards or have to deal with that in another way.
Joanna: Absolutely. I feel like it's even more important, becoming more important, to do this kind of thing in a world where a lot more is AI-generated. Of course, you know, I'm positive about AI, but I also want to connect with people. So I think that's important.
Let's come back to your books because I want to talk about Creating Clarity. I have a copy here, it is incredibly high quality. It's a heavy book. It's got a lot of color. It's got, of course, the illustrations, your drawings. As well as, it's basically a business book.
You published it through Kickstarter, you raised over 30,000 euros, which is fantastic. Now, you obviously sell it on your online store, you sell it in different ways. So first of all, tell us a bit about the book itself. Why did you want to do such a really sort of magnum opus book? It's a hell of a book.
Why did you want to do this project in the first place?
Holger: First of all, this is the book that everybody was begging me to write. So people were nudging me right, left and center to put what I know into a book.
And I honestly didn't find a way to do two books out of this, even though I thought it could be two books, but I didn't find a proper way to do it. So I decided to make it one book. So that's why it's so big. It's 1.1 kilograms. So it's pretty heavy.
Joanna: Yes, it's a ‘proper' book!
Holger: And it's not even hardcover. It's paperback.
Joanna: It's lovely quality. I think that's really important. I mean, partly, books are heavier when you use high-quality paper. So that's probably why it's so heavy.
Holger: So what I found is, when I have books that are really important to me, like from other authors, I really enjoy if they have a version of the book that is higher quality than the trade paperback because I want to read it more often than one time.
I want to put notes into it, I want to put posts into it, I want to have it on my desk for a time and put it back to the storage, and then get it back to the table again and work with it. So I enjoy high-quality books that I can work with. So that's why I wanted to create that.
I knew, as per my topic, visual tools, I needed to have visuals in it because I can't write about leveraging that side of our brain, the visual part, without having a proper example in terms of a book.
And the whole book should be an example of how to work with visuals and how to create clarity. That's a thing that's even more important because I promised that you can create clarity when you read that book, but then the book needs to be super clear, as well.
That demanded of me a good design, working with a lot of whitespace, which costs, again, in terms of the page numbers, and a lot of visuals. So that's why I decided to make it the way you have it now in your hands.
Joanna: Tell us, I mean, it's interesting, I think partly you doing this, and also when I look at the books I have.
I wrote in my journal the other day, “I want to make beautiful books.” That's how I want my next 15 years to be.
It's not just that I want to put my words into beautiful books, I want to create beautiful objects.
And again, I feel like we're moving from a time where digital is going to be much easier to make. Well it is, one click. But to make a hard copy of a beautiful book, this is gonna be hard work.
Tell us about the challenges of creating such a beautiful book.
Holger: So the first challenge is that most of the advice that you get online is for textbooks. So if you're learning on your own, like I do most of the time, it's very hard to find good advice for these types of books because most people who are talking about book publishing, they're talking about textbooks.
Even though you have some people talking about children's books, but then in terms of how to really do it, you don't get so much advice.
I think I have an advantage because I am a trained designer, so I could do everything on my own. So I think that needs to be clear, it's an unfair advantage, I guess. I wrote the book, I created the sketches, and I laid out everything myself up until the physical print production. So I could do all of that on my own. I think that helps, but it costs me like hours and days and weeks of my time as well.
The challenge, I think, with such a physical product is, as well, the timing because you need to order paper to see how the paper looks like, how the print on the paper would look like.
You need to have a test book where the printer creates the whole book without the content, but just an empty book to see how would it feel like, how heavy is it, how big. You're doing all those test prints all the time.
I just spoke today to my printer because I'm working on a children's book around the topic of autism. This should be a super nice book as well, and a very high quality book. So I'm talking to them, if they'll produce another test print, and if they'll produce another binding test, and all these kinds of things. That takes time, and as well, I have to pay for those. So it costs extra money too.
Joanna: Yes, I mean, this is the thing, and of course, there are levels of printing. So I mean, you know about my Pilgrimage hardback, and I still think it's a beautiful book, it is still print-on-demand, the hardback is still print-on-demand. It's much higher quality than what we've been able to do before, but yes, your paper definitely feels different.
This is interesting, then, because obviously, you had to do all of that work before the Kickstarter. So you raised over 30,000 EUR, but it was a very expensive process, and then also the shipping is on top of that, isn't it? So yeah, it's expensive to ship and all of that kind of thing.
Talk about the return on investment for nonfiction authors like yourself.
Because it wasn't just the Kickstarter, was it? This is the basis of your consulting as well.
Holger: Yeah, true. So just in terms of the numbers, I mean, just the book itself, I ordered a print run, so meaning I paid for printed copies, not print-on-demand. I ordered 1500 books, and I still had to pay over eight euros per book.
Holger: Right. So it comes at a price. So I had to order a lot of books to have at least a somewhat feasible price for the book, and that is a challenge.
So that's actually why I used Kickstarter because I said, I can't invest that much money into a book before I am sure that somebody will really buy it. It was a bit unclear if that would be really a success, I was happy that it was. So basically, at the end of the whole campaign, I get out of a profit of 4000 euros. That's my profit after raising 30,000 euros.
So it's not a feasible business model.
It's not a get-rich-quick scheme on Kickstarter with such an expensive book. But it created a lot of buzz.
So as you know, it's kind of a high buzz project, these kind of Kickstarter campaigns.
It's a good marketing tool. I got a lot of new followers online, I got a lot of new people on my newsletter due to the buzz that people created around my Kickstarter campaign. That in itself was worthwhile without me investing money because at least I got out with 5000 extra. So it didn't cost me in terms of the marketing.
So that was one part, the marketing piece. As well a bit of money, the 5000. As well as having a few people very engaged, those Kickstarter people I could use as well and leverage when I republished it basically afterward on my own store.
I'm a wide author, so I'm publishing on Amazon, and Apple, and Kobo and whatever in bookstores. So when I launched the book, officially to the market, all those Kickstarter backers helped me, or a few of them at least, helped me to spread the word and told their people, look, I got this book, now you can get it too. I got quite a few orders again when I published the book to the market. So that helped too.
Of course, last but not least, it's basically a credibility product. So people know that I know what I talk about. I can give that to my clients. I do workshops around that. People pay me a lot of money to come to their events and talk about the topic of creating clarity and how they could use that for the business.
So it's not the Kickstarter, the Kickstarter just helped me having that clearness that people want to have that book because the campaign is successful, as well having the money to print enough books that they can give away for free, basically, now.
Joanna: Yes, I think it's so important.
You've spent a lot of time and money to make the best product you could possibly make. It really is very high quality. So you have an asset that is now the basis of a business
—which is about, as you say, the visuals. But also, you as a designer, I think from the beginning you talked about how that's part of your brand. If you didn't have such a high-quality book, it would affect your brand.
Joanna: So it's evidence for what you're offering to bring to a business or a client, isn't it?
Holger: Yeah, it is. It's my brand promise, basically. I will spend that eye for the detail, and for the best thing that we can create with my clients too, that I spent on the book.
Joanna: I think this is something I want people to think about, and what I'm thinking about now, which is I want people to have a book on their shelf that represents my brand that stands out in a different way, you know, that is some incredible book.
So you helped me with my first Kickstarter. I really appreciated your help with that. But just—
What lessons have you learned about Kickstarter?
Because you've done another campaign, haven't you? So yeah, give us some advice or lessons learned.
Holger: Yeah, exactly. So I did actually three campaigns, and all were in that range of 30,000 to 50,000 euros.
And yeah, I have put together six kind of learnings or insights. Let's go through them quickly. Let's see, I hope they help, and they're not too negative here.
It's important that it's not a get-rich-quick scheme.
I want to repeat that. There are some outliers out there that paint basically the wrong picture, I would say. Even though there are high numbers sometimes, the profit is not that high, and we need to be prepared for that.
You can earn a living by doing a lot of Kickstarter campaigns, yes, but it is a lot of effort as well. It's not that you get the money for free. I think that's important. That will be my first one.
Then the second very important one —
Don't underestimate the time investment.
And I mean, Jo, I told you how much time it will take and you didn't believe me.
Joanna: I thought I had accounted for it, and then I realized I hadn't. Yeah, it definitely is a lot of work. Although, I feel like there are different ways to do Kickstarters, and possibly the people who do four or six a year are doing it differently to how you and I have done it.
Holger: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, if you get into a routine, it might be easier. But if it's not your routine, it doesn't matter if you do a 12-day or 30-day campaign, you should plan like around two months that you spend and do nothing more than the Kickstarter, actually, from my experience, at least.
Overcommunication is important.
You should communicate more than you think you should.
You have to keep talking about your Kickstarter, especially before the campaign, but then during the campaign, to your backers and to possible new backers. And as well, after the campaign, what is your process looking like.
You have to communicate more often than you would normally do with a newsletter or when you launch a book or something because you need to create that trust to your people who were paying you on Kickstarter, basically, and like pre-trusting you with their money.
I found it's very important that you answer fast and you update very often to keep everybody happy. I think that will be the third point.
The fourth is —
Make it about you. People trust you, they buy from you.
You don't use marketing slang or like copy pasting something. You have to make it personal so people will then come and buy from you.
I think that counts not only for Kickstarter, but for everything else we do nowadays. But especially on Kickstarter, I think it's less about the product that you sell, in terms of the book, because there are many books on Kickstarter too.
It's about you, your story, why did you write the book, why do you want to sell it on Kickstarter. It's about you. I think that's important.
Then yeah, the two others were —
Don't plan your campaign and then not tell anybody.
But perhaps two to three months early, you launch the preview website on Kickstarter, and then tell people about it a few months early so you can build the buzz. So do not think that you just start from nothing, you should communicate before.
The last one is —
I think you did that as well, in a good way, having the book finished when you do your Kickstarter campaign, not still writing the book.
Joanna: Yeah, and I think that's a recommendation that I've heard from others like Monica Leonelle and Russell Nohelty and people like that — finish the book first because you just have a whole load of other stuff to do.
There's enough to do with fulfilling a Kickstarter. It's so funny, so we're recording this in August, and when this goes out on the show, I should have my pre-launch page up for what is still “The Shadow Book,” but by the time this goes out, I will probably in my introduction have directed people there.
So exactly what you say, having a pre-launch page up really as early as possible, right, because the campaign is much shorter. I feel like as independent authors, we've been so used to running longer marketing, you know, we're used to just ongoing marketing for years, whereas this really is sort of a couple of weeks.
Holger: Yeah, true. It's very fast, very fast-paced.
Joanna: It is. So just a couple more questions.
First of all, I wanted to just ask you about creating clarity, as a topic, because it does feel like there is so much noise.
For authors listening, there are so many things to know. And I mean, I'm just as responsible as anyone else for having another podcast that offers people more tips every week, or whatever.
There's so much noise with publishing options, marketing options, we mentioned AI, I mean, there's a lot of noise.
How can people create clarity for themselves around their creative choices and cut through the noise?
Holger: Yeah, that's a very good question. I'll try to answer it like briefly and see how we can help here.
The first thing, I think the most important thing is to do things with intention, not just doing things because somebody says something, or there is a new trend, or like this is the holy grail of publishing, but doing everything with intention.
This means not doing anything right away when you see it, but just pause, take a deep breath, and think about, is that something for me?
That will be the first step. If you get to that step, I would say, understanding that the only thing that you can really influence is yourself.
Around us, everything else changes all the time. As you said, there is technology, there might be AI, then there is Scrivener, there's Word for you to write in, you could write in longhand. There is as well your business model. Do you go exclusive with some of the companies? Or do you choose subscription or Kickstarter or wide or direct? Then there are all the channels of like Instagram and TikTok and Facebook and email and whatnot.
Everything around us is changing all the time, and we have close to no influence on it.
I think that's important to notice because if you notice that, you could think of yourself and say, what are my goals and values and preferences to work? And sit down and write that.
Perhaps you take a piece of paper and write that in the center of the paper. You ask yourself, what are your goals, your values and your preferences.
Then when you have done that, you can write all the technologies and the business models and the channels down on that paper as well.
You write, for example, technology on the right upper corner and say: there is AI, there's Scrivener, there's longhand, there's Vellum, there's whatever you use for writing, for example, or publishing.
Then on the right bottom corner, you could use your business model, which could be exclusive or direct or wide or Kickstarter, whatever comes to your mind, subscription. And on the left, you could put all the channels: social media, and email, and what you have there, events, for example, fairs or something.
If you look at all these things around you, you could do a quick emotional check. I learned that from my coach. I know you know him well, Mark McGuinness, he's like a long-term business coach. He taught me the emotional scale.
[Note: Mark McGuinness has been on the podcast multiple times, including talking about How to Stay Creative in Difficult Times.]
So everything that's coming up out there, and let's take, for example, the subscription model that a lot of people talk about nowadays, to not take AI here, so let's take subscription.
If you take subscription, place yourself on a scale from 0-10. Zero would mean you would be really unhappy and feeling unwell doing subscription, and 10 means you would be super happy about it, and it will be easy for you. You do that scale for everything that comes up.
And just to take you, Jo, as an example. We heard about TikTok and that you decided to not use it, I would say on the scale, you would be rather close to the zero somewhere.
Joanna: I am a zero at TikTok!
Holger: Which means you don't embrace that direction. It's not for you. If you do that exercise of knowing what your values and preferences are, and then checking just from your gut feeling—and saying that as an autistic individual, but we have gut feeling too.
Is that creating resistance in myself or would that feel easy to embrace? And if so, then should I do it or not?
And you just think about that.
Just putting that on a piece of paper might create a lot more clarity than just getting all the insights all the time and only thinking about them, because that creates most often the fear of missing out and then not knowing what to do next.
Joanna: I love that. I also think that as writers writing these things can help us because this is a way that we do work things out.
I think also repeating that kind of exercise over time, so if you're someone listening who has gone certain routes, and then you do this exercise again on what you have already built, that might be when you decide to stop doing things.
Holger: Yeah, yeah. You could use that as a dashboard kind of thing that you revisit every quarter, every year, whatever you want to.
Or depending on your practice, so I write fiction, nonfiction, children's books, and all that kind of stuff. So for example, for my fiction and writing fantasy, I decided on longhand writing because that feels just better for fiction for me.
Whereas I use artificial intelligence to co-write with Chat GPT about a very personal artistic topic because I need to talk to somebody who can't run away from me when I talk about it. So I choose AI for that topic. So it doesn't have to always be the same.
Joanna: That's interesting, a lot of people using it as a kind of therapist or acting as a therapist. I mean, I've been talking a lot—we say talking, I mean typing or whatever—about different things that, yeah, you don't want to necessarily share with a human, which is quite interesting. But we're straying into AI.
So let's come back, we're almost out of time. I did want to just come back on your children's book about autism or for children with autism.
Can you talk a bit more about that because I feel like that we are in a point in history when this is far more acceptable to talk about. Like you said, this wasn't something we talked about when we were children. So we obviously need these kinds of resources.
Tell us about your children's book around autism and when people might be able to get that.
Holger: Yeah, so if you're English-speaking, it will be called The Wrong Planet. And in German, it will be called Falsche Planet.
It's a children's book about an alien that is a shapeshifter and lands mistakenly on Earth, on this wrong planet. That's how a lot of autistic individuals feel here on earth, as being on the wrong planet.
And its shapeshifting when it's meeting different kinds of animals, but never fits in completely. So it always stays kind of a strange thing. It's still green, it still has only one eye, but it looks like a duck, somehow. It tries to interact and never succeeds.
Throughout the story, it meets like five different animals and learns that somehow it didn't manage to properly communicate with them until it meets another last animal, that's the platypus, which is a strange animal in itself. They become friends and talk about being just different, and that it's okay to be different.
It's a highly professional illustrated book. I didn't illustrate that myself, but my illustrator did that in a very classical kid style. So it will be a very high-quality book again. And it has the first part of the story in rhymes, so completely rhymed.
Then there's a second part that explains basically different situations that our main protagonist, the alien, experienced throughout the book. So if somebody is asking, how specifically is that about autism, they can look up at the end of the book and say, okay, this is about special interests, this is about masking, this is about loud noises, this is about understanding jokes and how it is difficult for autistic individuals.
So my aim for that will be, and that came from knowing that two of my three children are autistic as well —
My aim is that parents could read that with their kids, or teachers could read that with their classes to just speak about autism, and have people understand it.
We explained to the class of our son how our son feels in the class, just with the draft of the book. So you can relate to that in a different way than just having another nonfiction book about autism, but having a story that guides you through a very emotional journey. So I had a lot of people cry when I read the draft to them.
Joanna: I'm almost crying now! I feel like we all need this book. I think maybe it's a parable book, you know, like some kids books are also for adults. Is that kind of what it is?
Holger: Yeah, it is. I will publish that in November in English and German. So I wrote the German myself, with a German editor of course, and I had somebody professionally edit and translate in English because translating rhymes from one language into the other is another art form.
Joanna: It will be available November 2023—
Tell people where they can find your books and everything else you do online.
Holger: Yes, so best you go to my website, which is HolgerNilsPohl.com.
There will be everything, my services as well as my books. And Joanna, we talked about visuals here, so I will prepare something for your listeners on my website.
So you go to HolgerNilsPohl.com/penn, and you will find some examples of the visuals we talked about, as well as the process of how they could get clarity to cut through the noise that we spoke about here in our chat.
Joanna: That would be fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time, Holger. That was great.
Holger: Thank you, Joanna, for having me. It was a blast.