Hugh Howey | The Knowledge Project #63

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The Knowledge Project

In this episode of the Knowledge Project podcast, Shane Parrish speaks with author Hugh Howey. They discuss making a living from writing, sailing around the world, why traveling is good for the soul, the insides of the publishing industry, and why he turned down a 7-figure book deal. For more information, including a transcript: You can find The Knowledge Project Podcast on: Apple Podcasts: Spotify: Google Podcasts: Farnam Street: Follow Shane Parrish on Twitter: Farnam Street puts together a weekly newsletter that I think you’ll love. It's called Brain Food and it comes out every Sunday. Our team scours the internet for the most mind-expanding books, articles, and resources so you can spend less time searching, and more time learning. Discover what you’re missing at If you enjoyed this video, subscribe to our channel! #TheKnowledgeProject #ShaneParrish #HughHowey

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Video Transcript:

I think the the feeling that we know we should have made these better decisions earlier for some reason instead of learning from that it actually paralyzes us it makes us feel like all the moments of my life where I could have seized the opportunities ahead of me are all gone and I guarantee in another five or ten years you're going to look back at today as the day that you had the free time the inclination the talent to change Your life [Music] hello and welcome i'm shane parish and this is the knowledge project a podcast exploring the ideas methods and mental models that hope you learn from the best of what other people have already figured out you can learn more and stay up to date with the podcast @f s dot blog slash podcast we're terrible at marketing but we have a newsletter called brain food it comes out every Sunday it's short and sweet and full of the best content we've come across all week that's worth reading and thinking about it contains quotes book recommendations articles and so much more most of the guests on the show read it so make sure to check it out you can find it @ FS blog slash newsletter that's FS . blog slash newsletter on the show today is author extraordinaire and world sailor Hugh Howey we're going to talk about wayfinding the ancient art of Navigating by paying attention to natural signs the benefits of travel and what people have in common all over the world and in the last part of the show we're gonna deep dive or decode from the publishing business Hugh has sold millions of books and he knows the ins and outs if you wondered how to go from the writing process to publishing and what some of the pitfalls are you don't want to miss this we're also gonna talk about some of the things that Hugh does Differently with his books including giving away a book like wool and what that means and what the implications are it's time to listen and learn [Music] before we get started here's a quick word from our sponsor this episode is sponsored by mud mud as masala chai based coffee alternative that improves your focus the four medicinal mushrooms that are in mud give you the benefits of coffee but avoid the dreaded caffeine Crash if you have trouble sleeping at night or can't remember the last time you dreamt try mud is your new morning ritual instead of coffee we had it here at the office and everyone loves it if you're wondering it tastes like chai and chocolate if you want to try go to mud water calm and enter Furnham at the checkout for $10 off that's mu d WT are calm and enter the code Furnham for $10 off human i'm so happy to talk to you right now hey Shay I'm happy to be on You're on a boat in Australia is that correct that's correct isn't it sort of a remarkable world we live in where you know I can be an Ottawa Canada in the middle of a snowstorm right now and you're halfway across the world literally and on a boat and we have this connection it's kind of neat yeah that's weird at home you have forgotten that snow exists but that sounds awful I wish I could forget that snow exact how did you I'm following the summer for a while Now so how did you fall in love with sailing I think I was probably I don't know 9 or 10 years old we we used to go to the beach every I grew up in near Charlotte North Carolina so a bit inland but we went to the beach every every year for a couple of weeks and one of the first things I would do is drag this little there called Sun fishes there's a little dinghy ease with tiny little sails but for a kid my age I felt like I was like launching that Titanic this Thing was like really a pain to move around by yourself it was kind of like a free Killian task where my brother and sister were running around you know choosing which bedroom they were gonna have I was dragging this thing down to the sound and launching it and trying to get the mast and myself and yeah I would just spend all day sailing around the sound and this little thing and even then was dreaming about sailing to the other side of the world Which at the time was always China least like dig holes in the sand and pretend we were digging our way to China as little kids and and so yeah it's been a dream of mine for man 30-plus years to do this and it's kind of crazy that I've made it this far on this trip because it was just a just a fantasy for so long and you're sailing around the world yeah the goal was a figure out take about five years I started in South Africa over three years ago about three and a Half years ago and sailed across the Atlantic and Pacific so far and you know of course I'm not doing it direct I'm really meandering when I went across the Atlantic I hit the Caribbean I went all the way up to Maine and then worked my way back down spent about six weeks in Cuba and then went down to the Panama Canal across the Pacific if I was trying to wrap this up I'd keep sailing north along the Australian coast and across the Indian Ocean to South Africa but I've fall in love with this part of the world so I'm gonna do a couple little loops between here in New Zealand I'm gonna try to get back to Fiji in the next month or so so didn't one of my favorite stops so far and are you on the boat alone now I've got a girlfriend on right now but I've done some long passages by myself which is pretty fun and but I have friends and family members joined me here and they're like for New Year's and Australia we had seven of us living on the boat and you know anchored out right in front of the Sydney Opera House and but the that and the foreground and the the Harbour Bridge and the background and all the fireworks it was unbelievable so yeah I've always got people who eagerly come and join it's actually more of a challenge to keep keep the boat semi empty and do you do you work better when it's empty or do you work better when people are around As far as writing or or the exercise writing I write better but the zero distractions I can write with like background noise I could sit in a cafe with a lot of clatter and and chatter and write really well and I can write in pitch black with absolute silence but if I'm in the middle of writing and someone asked me a question it like sucks me out when I'm writing I'm actually seeing the story like I'm watching a movie I'm just trying to Describe the action and and transcribe the dialogue as I'm hearing it and anything that captures my attention away from the story makes it really hard to dive back in I want to come back from writing a little bit later so I really want to do not only a deep dive on writing in your process also on publishing but before we get there I want to dive into a little bit more about sailing and I think you called it wayfinding what is wayfinding wayfinding Specifically it's the art of navigating across the oceans using natural signs so not using a GPS or even a compass but using the the Stars the direction of the setting or Rising Sun cloud patterns the temperature of the water signs of migration from wildlife and we now know that that's how all the Pacific Islands were the the general progress of migration across the Pacific was very deliberate and skill based we used to because of the terrible assumptions we Have about primitive people even though they had the same brain power that we have and a lot more free time and less distraction to employ it you know we assumed that they just drifted downwind and settled the islands accidentally but and that's even someone is set off from South America to try to prove this cameras name now but he built a raft and drifted on the currents and made it - I think the Galapagos but we now know the another guys set out from New Zealand With a boat to show that you could sail you know into the wind without any navigation equipment and find any island you wanted to find and he proved that you know these people could have done that and since then a team left from Hawaii with a traditionally built boat and used only the Stars to navigate and sail around the world and actually ran into them several times on this trip shared a couple of with them and yeah so wayfinding is Basically just relying on observing what's around you instead of a reliance on technology and for me it's always there's been some significance to that as like a self-betterment principle you know like just trying to put the technology aside every now and then and and say like okay we're don't want to be in life but what are my relationship connections right now what am I feeling what am i doing what mistakes have I made what am i proud of how do I want to Realign which direction do I want to go and be really deliberate about the choices we make in the direction that we go in life because honestly I realized for myself and I think it's quite true for a lot of people that I was just kind of drifting with the currents like the guy who left from South America all those years ago and kind of doing whatever came naturally next and did I wasn't employing a lot of freewill and I think I think most of us know if we analyze them very hard that that will is definitely not free you know we make a lot of promises to ourselves around January 1st every year and by February you know we're exhausted from trying to budge our natural inclinations and our bad habits so you know learning that that will is very expensive made me want to be a little more observant about you know what I was doing and and where I want to go and push that direction so There's no for me there's a lot of parallels between this sailing adventure and also the adventure of navigating through life what are some of the other things that you've learned about yourself through sailing and a lot of time in solitude and a lot of experience with different cultures around the world through your travels yeah the cultural experiences have been amazing I've always loved to travel but there's something about when you travel to Paris And you you know get out of the airport and you have maybe you have some friends with you or a loved one you spend a lot of time with that person and you dip into the culture and you have some of the foods and you you know have encounters with strangers and you kind of get a sense of what that culture is like but if you have to go study abroad and you you live in a dorm or an apartment and you spend months there and you start Picking up the language and your grocery shopping and cooking with whatever is available in that place instead of eating out that extra time that deep immersion gives you a much better sense of the the flavor of the culture and the crazy thing about traveling like this is that I'm taking my home with me you know I have my kitchen everywhere I go so I'm always you know buying groceries and learning local recipes and I'm having locals you know come stay with me on the Boat and like in French let's see in Fiji I had a big large family come on and do a kava ceremony like right on the boat and a lot of these what is that ceremony kava is this route that they grind up with almost like a cheese grater into a powder mixed with water and if you drink it it gives you a bit of a buzz make sure you your lips go numb and it's strange it's so the opposite of alcohol in a way that the more you drink it the more sensitive you Get to it instead of developing a tolerance you actually develop a sensitivity so yeah the people who grow up and it's actually spreading around because you can't the fda has as a like said this this is very safe like you can't OD on it and what's weird about it is if you get drunk on kava your brain is completely lucid like you do not get a mush you no mushy thoughts but your body goes completely numb so the people who are like I've met a lot of expats People have moved to Vanuatu specifically because their kava is like ten times stronger and they moved there basically because of how much they love this kama experience and if they if you live there long enough you get what the locals get which is this incredible sensitivity to it and if you drink it with an empty stomach which is like necessary if you have any kind of food in your stomach it dilutes it and you get very The effect but if you've done it for a while and you drink with an empty stomach well it takes like two little half coconuts of this milky muddy looking flow a lot of people say it tastes like mud I think it tastes fine but I guess it's one of those things that's you know very individual base but yeah basically just separates your brain from your body and leaves your brain intact as you remember these things like after like When your body sort of like comes back you there your brain is you're just completely clear the whole time there's no blacking out there's just like complete I don't know how to it's like an out-of-body experience and that your body just kind of disappears like you lose you lose motor function but your brain is the same as it is right now like you and I would have it's like force meditations best thing I can say because you you can't do anything except Be alone with your thoughts kind of cool I don't know but I've only I've only experienced it to that level a couple of times normally when you first start you're just gonna get like cottonmouth and tingly lips and your brain you're gonna feel like you had a glass of wine maybe ran that's crazy people or yet people are really getting into this another copper bars popping up in other countries I've seen them in the US as well and so how does how does that aid Your perspective on yourself and sort of like maybe our existence if we want to go up to a philosophical level oh you know yeah you started asking about what have I learned from different cultures in a rant probably the craziest thing from these deeper merchants in these cultures is like how universal human nature is and how similar we are everywhere and we really focus on very slight differences in order to try to group people or make it easy for Ourselves you know to assign labels to different groups but the things that we have in common are so numerous I think we take them for granted it's almost like if you look at the body plan of most mammals like even a human in a dog the similarities are crazy like you can spend days just making lists of all the things that are similar in the bone layout and number and structure and the way if you go down to the cellular level the way you know Mitochondria powers us like we have so much DNA in common and what we make really a big deal out of is that 2% of us that's different and I think that's what I found with these cultures is like you know you you know I was raised hearing you know Americans are overweight we have terrible diets and it turns out that's just what happens when you're wealthy enough to afford basically unhealthy foods when you have an unlimited basically budget for food You're gonna eat too much and in every country is gonna have to figure out how to deal with this as their population gets out of global poverty and so some of the biggest populations like physical size wise are like these these Islanders that used to be in great shape until they got access to our kind of diet so and then what's what's interesting is that we end up blaming the first cultures that experienced these things instead of realizing that it's a Universal challenge and that we can learn from each other instead of blaming each other for the way these things spread and so there's while there's some sadness to that like you see the same disdain for the environment you see pollution and some of the most beautiful places in the world some of the Caribbean islands have the worst and saddest levels of pollution that I've ever seen you also realize that there's this the universal of people who've Learning from their mistakes and so the younger generation and almost every culture I've been to is better than the previous generation and they're gonna correct a lot of these problems that their parents and grandparents have made and of course their kids and grandkids are gonna be even better than them so I in some ways that universal human nature makes me sad but it also gives me a lot of hope what are some of the other ways that you found that we're alike in sort Of like a counterintuitive sense things that you wouldn't have maybe anticipated or didn't realize or you know love of home is something that really struck me I'm a fan of open borders I think people should be able to live wherever they want to live in the world as long as they observe the local laws and pay the taxes you know if you if you obey all the the codes of conduct of of the place that you choose to live whatever those people choose to set as The rules you should be able to live anywhere it's no different than the freedom we have to you know if I want to live in the US and have like 20 kids that's that's legal but one person coming in is illegal it's kind of a weird a weird distinction that we make between population growth you know as long as it's not the other than we celebrate population growth if it's the other than we fear it but I think if we had open borders the amount of people That would actually move would be much lower than people realized because I've visited some places that are just life is so difficult there and the idea for most of the people that they would leave is crazy to them this is their home they feel rooted to the soil they all their memories and and their family connections are there and convincing every one of their extended family to all leave at the same time is so difficult that no and even considers it So I think that's been really surprising to me because for those of us who have wanderlust or who dream of living wherever they want to I think we forget that most people aren't like that most people are really happy to have to be more grounded and and more sedentary and honestly like I don't want other people to be like me I think that's a weird human it's part of human nature we all kind of want to be around people similar to us so we want to change people to be More like us for some reason I think maybe because we're we feel scared alone with our our thoughts or our insecurities do you think we've always felt scared alone of our thoughts and our insecurities and technology may be accelerating that or do you think this is like in part due to technology shortening our attention span and distracting us and how do you think about that I think technology is changing this Quite a bit but the insecurity thing I think comes from you know most of what our brain is is built for is theory of mind it's like the reason we had the reason our brains are so much larger compared to our body size than almost any other animal most of what that computing power is doing is trying to figure out what other people are thinking and then you know second level third level theory of mind like what are they thinking I'm thinking and what what Does Tom think Jane thinks about me kind of stuff and we're constantly computing this because we're supposed to be living and you know a small enough tribe that we know everybody if you see someone you don't know you should probably like you know run and get enough of the people you do know to help defend against this person you don't know and we can we can look at chimps and the great apes to really figure out a lot of like what are where we came from and what our natural Inclinations are so trying to figure out what everyone's thinking since you live in this tribe that's connected and you all know each other you want to know what your place is and you want to figure out what everyone else's places and what are their motivations and why are they doing that thing and what might they do next and how are you gonna plan for that and the source of so much of our anxiety comes from this constant computation of what is going on that Everyone else's heads and there's a lot of game theory involved I love studying game theory because so much of there's so much overlap between that and psychology and trying to understand like why we make really silly decisions sometimes when you peel back the game theory there's a little bit of maybe some uncomfortable logic but there's some logic behind a lot of these weird decisions that we make so most of what we're doing is this theory of mind and That anxiety of like convincing people to think more like you I think comes from that and just wanting to know for sure what people are thinking and having you know connection and trust and honesty is is so rewarding and I think the reason it is is because it it takes away some of that constant computation of what people what's going on in people's minds when you know that you can trust someone you no longer have to do the Sorts of things now you have a partner and uncovering information and that's why we you know love spreading stories and gossip and and things like that the water cooler talk would have happened around campfires and latrines back in the day and I think those things are universal technology is just allowing us to use them in a way that's probably unhelpful and it's like it's the same thing technology is for our brains what sugar Is for our gut you know our bodies have a natural craving for cheap calories and our brains of a natural craving for connection and what sugar is doing to you know fatness up because we weren't prepared for this bounty of cheap calories well we weren't prepared for this bounty of free connection and I think that's like there's an equivalent to fat for our brain that we don't really have the vocabulary to to figure out or discuss like we haven't been Doing this long enough to figure out what this mental obesity at the epidemic is like but I definitely think it's happening and it's gonna be something we're have to like figure how to doubt back from I think you're only seeing that you've seen people go on technology kind of diets because we understand that something bad is happening were you an avid user of technology before you started sailing around the world the amethyst telly I'm I'm like The biggest geek and I am like a early adopter on everything I I love gadgets and upgrading stuff I love reading manuals one of my first career is in computer repair so I was like building computers in high school out of spare parts and you know down to like the soldering level and and like chip level stuff and haunting RadioShack and building things out of like 555 timer chips and and LEDs and anything I could scrap together so but like one of my one Of my very favorite people and I've been I'm lucky now to call him a friend and and travel and spend a lot of time living with him as Kevin Kelly who was the first editor of Wired magazine and Kevin wrote a great book called what technology wants which I think everyone should read it's really a primer on what technology is or what it's trying to do if we want to add the poem or ffice eyes it Kevin is one of the he knows more about Gadgets and technology and than just about anybody and he has it's like podcast called cool tools where he's always telling people the best like three things for anything you can imagine and he's been writing about technology for decades but he's also so removed from technology like he analyzes every me piece of technology that he puts into his life and how it's going to impact him and whether or not he should adopt it and this is something I think We should pay attention to like the there's people we've had these stories come out about people in big positions and tech companies who won't let their children use the products that they make and that made them wealthy and it's very similar to like a football players not letting their kid play football because they know the brain damage and that the terrible effects that this could have on them physically and at these engineers who have come forward and said like look I realize we're trying to make this as our product as addictive as humanly possible and seeing the links that we'll go to that makes me like tell my kids you're not allowed to use it and that should give us pause and it should highlight the fact that some of the people who like Kevin who spend the most time with technology and the most time thinking about it and its impact are the people are much worried about it I think that should give more of us pause about What did they know that we don't know and what can we learn from them you know without having to spend the time that they've spent you know that's what great thing about expertise and sharing it as a shortcut to someone else's wisdom and you know I've I've listened to Kevin about this stuff like the technology's fascinating and there's primates who love inventing and exploring we should totally geek out about it but we should also be worried about what happens we're Forming with the Steve do you think that we end up in a play it like what do you think the future looks like in five years I don't want to lead you with my question but like can you give me like fast-forward in your mind five years from now and the role of technology on people does it become almost Ciccio economic does it become purvey visit increasingly like embedded in us as humans like what do you think I think five years we won't see much change will Recognize the world in five years and I think that's true a pie of 85 years in history and I'm not sure that things are changing as drastically now as they were a hundred years ago which is everyone thinks that we live in the craziest of times and things are changing the most because we're going through them but I think going from horses to to flight and you know trains in a very short period of time and the electrification of the world was even crazier than adding Internet as a layer on top of that so I think there have been crazier times but even then any five year period was recognizable because change happens it's you know incrementally and slowly I think the biggest things in five years will be we'll probably see more regulation of social media especially in Europe I don't think it'll happen in the US for a long time but we'll have countries especially the EU saying like you have to make your product safer Which it's a long time coming and I think we'll have more conversations in five years about the worth of our personal data and how we should have more ownership on how that data is used I think that what's one thing that's really scary is knowing what's real and what's not like these deep fake videos are getting really really good and impersonating people and stealing identities is getting very easy and I think proving we are who we purport to Be to strangers is something that we'll have to figure out the next five years and maybe in five years self-driving cars become a rare pervasive enough to alter the way that we interact with transportation like globally and I think we'll just try to see the first glimmers that in five years and in ten years that'll be the world will look completely different the same way that you know the iPhone is only a little over ten years And that made the world completely different I think self-driving cars will be the next thing that will just change everything like it's hard to even that like will do more reading and more listening to podcasts because of this and it's hard to appreciate that because the idea that will flip all these transportation hours to do other things like it's just gonna ripple effects in so many different directions it's gonna be incredible and car ownership is gonna Become a thing that only a minority of humans even own a car because of the way though even they'll never be part really the because every car that can drive itself is a robot basically that can get earn money by running uber routes so maybe car ownership would be 10% of what it is now which is going to decimate some industries while concentrating more wealth and power to handful of tech companies which we've already seen in retail and other places you're gonna Have every parking space in every cities basically freed up so you have more bike lanes and parks and pedestrian friendly areas lives are gonna be same just gonna be incredible but I think that might be ten years down and not five years do you mentioned just something I want to hit on there a little bit I mean it sounds like in that theory it's almost a capital intensive business model where if you own the cars you'll be able to own the fleet and if you own the fleet You'll have a lot of influence not only in this city but you'll just generally have a lot of influence how do you think that plays it like you're do you think it'll be individuals owning cars like and they contribute them to this common fleet or do you think it's like Google owns a fleet of cars I think it'll be both I think you know Google and and we probably know who's going to come out on top of this yet it's always someone you don't expect it's never the first mover It won't be you know Tesla it'll be and any we've learned enough about disruption that it could be a big player who pivots well it could be a GM which would be surprising but as possible building cars is very different from building apps that the disruption is much more difficult I think there'll be a company that will come along kind of like a Tesla that will improve self driving will learn to trust them like the way we trusted Apple's operating System over windows like imagine if in 15 years ago Apple and Microsoft were both building self-driving cars the blue screen of death would actually be a blue screen of death and no one would put their life behind a arenas product so there'll be a company that comes along and all it will take is a handful of crashes and there's already been a few with widely publicized deaths even though these cars are probably a lot safer than humans we don't know have Enough data yet to to say that because we have driven up you know billions and billions of miles as humans in these things while they've done a lot of miles they've also there's been some accidents and some deaths so the numbers right now are a little fuzzy but it looks pretty similar but the potential is for self-driving cars to be vastly safer and I think we will achieve that potential and whoever has a reputation the way you know Saab used to have a reputation for Building you know these tanks that you could like the other person and the other car would definitely die but you would you know walk out unscathed we're gonna have the self-driving equivalent of that kind of trust and that company is gonna take off but you're asking if people are so in cars I think there will be individuals who are always tinkering and offering you know bespoke kind of options or people who don't trust the big companies because if You think people are tracking your location now when we're using self driving car fleets they're gonna know exactly where you're going all the time and there's gonna be people I'm not one of these people I'm - I'm naive when it comes to data and I've been burned by it by a few a few times but I don't worry about people having access to my data but there will be enough people who have that fear that they'll want to own their own car but they're also not gonna Park It and not have it make them money there's not going to be enough people who want to you know not have that income but then there'll be people who need a car that they can leave stuff in and have it be accessible then we'll have to redesign cars around that will it'll be an owner compartment where you can't get into the trunk even though it's this car shuttling you around it'll be a compartment that you can get into and compartment you can't and we Got to redesign vehicles based on this community share mode thank you you've thought about this a lot more in terms of the future then I think I have and I appreciate you going into so much detail I'm curious as to how you think the ways in which we're gonna consume information is gonna change in the future as well from books to magazines to how does information consumption how do you see that changing I'm a little worried about that to be honest mostly for myself my Book reading has really dropped off I've been an avid reader in my whole life and there's been periods of my life where I was reading a book a day it was to like long periods of my life but I was keeping up that kind of pace and I don't understand how I was doing that now there's just so many other things to distract my time and I was doing this while I was in University and had full-time jobs and stuff so I fear that when I when I got a smartphone and Started using social media that my attention span started changing and part of what's been great about sailing is that it's gotten me completely disconnected when I take off and get out of range of a cell phone tower you know I have like no connection or access for long periods of time and I've loved that and then I you know get back I'm laying in the islands and reading a lot but when I get back into when I get plugged back in I guess you could say my ability Is sitting read for hours at a time is diminished and there's been great books on this and how our brains are being kind of rewired there's still a healthy reading population out there you know I know that just from spending time in bookstores and talking to owners and much of my own you know sales and hearing from other authors who are doing well there's always new people being born going through their own process and you know kids and younger people are Always you know more voracious readers and I think in late in life a fun time to read but yeah do you worry about our attention span then again I think over time we're going to keep freeing up more and more free time more leisure time and hopefully we'll spend a lot of that but I have a hard time separating like large trends with what I'm going through personally I'm right now finding time to read is very difficult for me and I'm not extrapolate from that that it's a Universal thing just try to look at the the actual numbers and data and see what's going on his reading time going up now because I mean in theory all this technology should be freeing up time over the last 20 years and I wouldn't that bear out in sort of the trial I don't know what the numbers said but wouldn't we already be seeing this increasing reading time yeah we are and we're filling it with Netflix so we're getting a lot more free time but we're Also getting a lot more stuff to fill it with and there's just so much you know so many sports to watch and so many things to do it you're with your kids and you know hobbies and activities there are things that we can do now that didn't exist not that long ago so we keep inventing ways like you know go to a trampoline park like when I was a kid like you were lucky if those someone in your neighborhood about a trampoline ramela's me now my cities had these Parks full of trampolines we can go you know feel like Magic Johnson and like you know fly off these trampolines and dunk basketballs and play dodgeball on trampolines and games and like you know we just keep inventing new stuff to do our time and these businesses are doing well so people are obviously engaged in it the video game industry has become bigger than I think the music industry it's crazy how much of our free time and I'm one of those people I love playing Video games and it's a different way of telling a story and you're more engaged in and have more control over the story so that's really cool but you know any hour I spend doing that's an hour I spend not reading and actually when I started writing the way I've freed up time to write was just cutting out all video game play I realized now I'm spending a couple hours a day I wasn't watching a lot of TV but I'm spending a couple hours a day playing video games I Was like what if I'd just spent that time writing how long would it take to to write a novel and it turns out if you take time consuming habit and change it into like you know a second job a lot of productivity time that we're squandering or you know one can say just enjoying but yeah we have a lot more free time but and there's a lot more we can do with that you make it sound so simple you're one of them as popular published authors in the world and what I just heard was the key to this was stop playing video games and just write that's man that's the best writing advice you could give somebody like and I and it's the writing advice that I heard that finally broke 20 years of not being able to write a novel I had and then the advice wasn't given to me but I was in the room while the advice was given you know to a larger audience to one person asking a question a particular I was at a writing conference In Virginia and I was there as a at the time I was reviewing this is one of the periods of my life where I was reading a book a day I was getting flooded my torrid stop it my stoop every day was just like a pile of books from publishers that weren't out yet advance reading copies and I was writing book reviews for a website and I would like every day read a book write a review and try to interview the author and I was going to book conferences and and Covering them as well and this is because I'd given up on ever writing a book of my own I'd tried for 20 years since I was 12 years old and wrote my first Hitchhiker's Guide to the galaxy Ripoff got two or three chapters then and realized I didn't know where this was going I didn't believe in myself and it like when I was writing I felt like an imposter writers had to be people who were much smarter than me and with university to learn how to do this or There to be born you know with a writing gene in them because their parents were writers I had no idea how any of this work I just knew that I wasn't good enough and for 20 years I thought that and then the mother half of the Charles Todd writing duo they write these historical crime fiction books and I just read one of them and I was in this in on this panel to basically get more insights into them for what I was writing for the website and someone in The audience asked like you know what's how do I write my first novel and Carol and Todd stood up and like slapped the table and like blew our hair back just kind of yelling at the room like you stop talking about writing you stop dreaming of writing you stop telling people you're gonna write and you sit down and you write and she's like you know hand-clapping between each word basically as she slapped on the table And and I realized like all the excuses that I give myself and all the the doubt and everything was right in that advice like I just needed to sit down and write and basically the only thing stopping me from being a writer was myself my insecurities and I went home from that conference and I you know finished my assignments the things I had to do but instead of picking up the next book to review it I started I sat down and started writing my first book it wasn't The first time I'd done this but it was the first time I completed it and man it was I just didn't have the the fear of of how good it was gonna be and if anyone was gonna read it if I was gonna make a career out of it none of that mattered I was just gonna sit and write until I got to the end of the story and I was able to do it I give that her writing advice all the credit in the world I give the the quality of that book which turned out much better than It should have to the fact that I was reading and writing reviews every day that was giving me in the habit of writing every day but it's also filling my head with like good story and good prose and so yeah that's that's not finished my first novel is just by someone yelling at me basically the only near me to just write and replacing a lot of other things I was doing with my day with that daily habit of writing and accumulated a lot of words and maybe a Little skill and in about a five or six year period I wrote about 15 novels and some of them did well enough that I'm now doing my other dream which is to sail around the world I think most of them did well I want to come back to to the writing in a second year it this sounds like another sort of Universal maybe chord a human nature so much of life is just living it is just doing the thing that your your wanting to do and we get in our own way so often about not Making time not being conscious maybe about where our time is going and where we're putting our effort in or being scared of sort of failure or and it gets really hard right if you're if you're in your late 20s or 30s or 40s and you've never really had a setback I mean the ability to put yourself out there and have confidence that you can overcome whatever is gonna happen is it's hard to acquire yeah it's hard to acquire and Get it gets harder with time but also we get really pot heavy with our lost time I think in my writing group in North Carolina there was a lady who published her first book when she was like 86 published her second book you know and she was you know a couple years after that it was still writing in her 90s and that really woke me up you know there's a lot of a lot of our calcification you know the inability like break our status and can get launched our lives in a Different direction is the feeling that we should have done it ten years mmm and we've lost energy and now we can't do it but ten years from now we're gonna think the same thing about this very moment today and like so whoever's listening to this right now I I think you've told me you get like over a hundred thousand listeners I bet half of them have already turned off because I don't know what you said is probably usually a lot better than this But no this is awesome I write with that same insecurity every day by the way but you know whoever is listening right now like whatever you think you could have done five or ten years ago to change the direction of your life like you can do that right now today and make that deflection point that decision like you can't get there in one day but I'm gonna start nudging it's like there's a if there was a meteor coming towards the earth you don't need to blow it up you Just need to get like a rocket up there that can just put a little bit of energy into this massive amount of momentum heading this way and if you can just maintain that consistent energy in one direction it's incredible what you could deflect over a long period of time and for me like just one hour a day of writing you'll write a novel in a year guaranteed and if you don't care about the quality of that novel it'll be better than you think and then You'll learn that an hour of editing a day to make that Marvel into something that a lot of people want to read and you don't sit down and do that in a day just like you don't sail around the world in a day you just look at the horizon and be like I'm gonna I can sell that far and even as even as a young boy in a sunfish I could sail to the horizon and sailing on the world is just doing that over and over again and writing a novel is just writing a paragraph that Is legible that tells a story it's nice and clean as in your voice which is how you write emails to your friends you do that one paragraph at a time and you will write a book and I think the the feeling that we know we should have made these better decisions earlier for some reason instead of learning from that it actually paralyzes us it makes us feel like all the moments in my life where I could have seized the opportunities ahead of me are all gone and I guarantee In another five or ten years you're gonna look back at today as the day that you had the free time the inclination the talent to change your life and of course it's not going to be writing for most people as can be learning a second language exercising getting a better relationship with your mother or brother or sister or whatever whatever the thing that you think is missing from your life learning to cook I mean it can just be something enjoyable that you've been Putting off forever you're putting it off right now in that history of putting something off just gets worse over time until we realized that hey what's the what's the me from in ten years gonna think about what I did today and that came thank you thing a lot of power think about that future self that works and a lot of things to you like relationships that are terrible for you that you you know maybe they're they're sort of like too good to leave But too bad to stay in at the same time you know you're gonna look back in five years wondering like why didn't I do anything five years ago and I think it reminded me when you were talking of the French proverb I think it's French anyway which was like the best time to have planted a tree is like ten years ago but the second best time is today love that I've never heard of that before but that totally sums up yeah a lot of my thinking about this stuff What's your writing process for a book so you get an idea walk me through all the way until that becomes something that I can read in my hands most of them most of my writing takes place away from the keyboard so it helped working in a bookstore for years while I was writing because I was you know having this walk around and dust shelves and reshelve books and and do very like quiet rote tasks and the whole time I'm doing them I can daydream about my story in the World that I'm thinking up next and often I'm building out several worlds and stories in my mind at the same time and I'll just seize on which everyone's interesting to me in my head and kind of thinking about that world and there's people and what's gonna happen next and the first time I started doing this was when I was working on yachts in my 20s I was a yacht captain for about 10 years and I would have these really long days of just staring at the horizon with the Boat on autopilot looking at sensors and the GPS to make sure nothing bad happened and gives you a lot of free time to to daydream and so it seemed uh cheesier to write when you know what's gonna happen when you've built out the world ahead of time and had all these conversations with your characters ahead of time so that's the first part of my writing process is basically daydreaming that the very thing that you should give me in trouble when I was in school when I was actually preparing for a career oh man there's so many things that used to get in trouble for in school that turn out to be like huge advantages in life totally yeah there's a really good TED talk one of my favorite TEDTalks is about a guy it's a British guy who's I'll try to send you the link in case you want to add a team to the podcast relay or whatever but he's talking about how like we need to have more freedom in schools to let people figure out what Their strengths are and if we see someone dabbling in something and we're like no you're supposed to be learning this like no they want to be learning that let's push them in that direction and see how far they can take it and how much more effective our school systems would be if we had that kind of attitude towards learning and someone if someone saw me as a kid that had been like you know give this kid implements of art let him draw and paint and and Make up stories because we need storytellers you know and someone else is just like playing on the monkey bars and never wants to leave the playground like that guy is going to be or a girl is gonna you know be an Olympic star a gymnast and let's embrace that like the idea that and some of that's the bias of teachers right like the people in charge of school or all people ended up teaching if you think about what they're trying to generate they're trying to Generate a whole classroom full of teachers they want us all have well-rounded knowledge and be really good at that school stuff and that's because the people that we've left in charge of of instruction are people who ended up valuing teaching as a career and and I say this my mom was a teacher so I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it I'm just saying this is the natural bias if you put someone around me they're gonna start picking up like a Lava board games and comics and sailing things that I'm into so I think you know having a school system that had more diversity in our expected outcomes would be a great thing and I don't know how this is this is how my brain is a flight I don't think we started talking about the writing process and daydreaming and look at where we are but this is there's also how my storytelling process works where I don't know where my story's gonna go and you'll wonder off away and Be like okay that's not leading someplace interesting where was the last place my story was fascinating to me and I'll dial back to that are you doing that as you're writing or are you doing it like as you're daydreaming like you're backtracking is you're daydreaming or you've actually like written stuff on the edge and like you'll yeah a lot of both but it probably happens more often while I'm in the daydreaming part because that's Where things are just so amorphous you have a lot of freedom to break things and change things I think the hardest part about writing and the thing that stopped me from finishing books before is that making decisions in the moment while you're writing I think part of you knows you're making the wrong decision like even if the book should be in first person or present or past tense like these are very big decisions that if you haven't thought About them ahead of time once you start writing and you make it you realize ding and I wish I could go back and change the gender my protagonist or change the person or the tents that I'm writing in making that change is very difficult later and that makes it really easy for us to abandon the project and so the more the more of the story the more the decisions that you have ahead of time for me anyway everyone everyone's writing process is different some people Can sit down and write once upon a time and then a whole novel can flow out some people have to outline really heavily and for me I like to basically have a movie that I've seen that no one else has seen and it's my favorite movie of all time and I want to describe it in such vivid detail to someone who can't watch a movie they can only read a book you know that's my writing process like I want this person to see what I've seen and enjoyed as much as I've enjoyed it And tell that story as clearly as possible and yeah that's that's worked for me but man every time I sit down with a blank piece write another book I'm like how do I do that last one and it feels daunting I'm not sure how I I would did it and how I'm gonna do it this time and am I ever gonna be able to do it again so have you published that I don't know probably close to 20 I would think and you still have that oh yeah I like each book I'm like I don't I don't I don't know how did the last you know 19 and so how am I possibly gonna do this because the last experience that I have with the previous book was like searching for typos it was done and the experience before that was just minor revisions and the experience before that was a little bit of a rewrite and so that rough draft is like so far removed and my brother Jasper much rougher than my finished product so as I'm sitting there watching myself write any rough Draft I'm like this is terrible this is like worse than anything I've ever written how's my my my mental faculties declining this rapidly and it's because I'm I'm it's been a long time since I've written a rough draft it's been like many rounds of revisions of seeing the polish work at the end with with editorial help and other kinds of beta reading and my mom giving me advice so I'm seeing the last thing I saw my writing was a basically a Team effort of her many iterations and going from that to a rough draft is difficult every single time one thing relates to that I think that's the hardest part about being an avid reader and trying to write is that we compare our writing to the great stuff we've been reading and we have to not do that we have to realize that this the books that we love also existed as rough drafts and just embrace the the mistakes and the the rough nature of our writing Don't try to polish that first page to perfection before you move on you might end up starting the story somewhere different so the first the first advice I would give someone about writing is to sit down and write every day the second advice I would give is to don't read your writing critically you that's not what the rough draft is all about the rough draft is getting to the end of the story before you start polishing it and that's the mistake that I was making for 20 or so years I would sit there and just fiddle around with my first chapters over and over and over again and not really improve them any I would just be terrified of moving forward and feel like my writing wasn't good enough but that's the point and then so you you take your rough draft you edit it and revise it and then do you send that out to your friends do you send it to your agent do you like how do you get feedback on that or do you get feedback On that or do you just go no I'd get lots of feedback I think and we can talk about the storytelling tradition and in in more in depth but writing and telling stories was really never done in a vacuum for me my first when I'm happy with my story and I can let someone read it he goes to my mom first and she would like disown me if I did anything differently she sees she bugs me more than my agent does about when am I gonna send something new for her to read hum And she'll print yeah she'll print the whole thing out get a read pen and just go through and demolish it and mail me a stack of pages and I'll get through it and incorporate these changes and trying to make the book better for my mom and then it'll go out to some beta readers and my editor and each books been a little different with how many beta readers all years or if I'll use them at all And eventually my agent will get it once it's pretty much ready to publish and she's actually gotten I think I get on her nerves some because I assume she's like too busy for me and so I don't bug her with almost anything like and she's always telling me you should bug me more like let me know and you've written something sometimes I'll publish something and forget to tell her and because I don't think it's good enough for her to shop around she'd be like why Don't you tell me like we could we can go get a film deal with this and we can get like foreign publishers to publish this and but eventually my agent will get a copy and then usually by then it's already in reader's hands I've self-published it and people are already devouring it well what sort of feedback do you seek from like beta readers are you asking them well it works but it doesn't like where they get lost to confuse like what specific questions are You asking them before yeah I don't I've been a beta reader for other people and they've sent a document that's very detail about what they want and I haven't really done that with my beta readers I kind of want them to share what but they're good at spotting you know I don't want people to I don't wanna say I'm looking for typos when someone's really good at spotting plot holes and terrible it's seeing typos so like here's here's a book as I would Publish it and like what what do you think and some people will come back and be like I think it's great and I ignore that you know advice I assume that they're too easily pleased and then I'll have people say like you know just send me a list of all the typos they find and someone say I was confused in this spot and someone say yeah I was kind of bored and for those people I might be like do you remember where you got bored or you know when you stopped reading and when You lost interest so for each beta reader I'll get something different my mom is really good at highlighting passages that she thinks I need to make a clearer she'll also highlight stuff she says I'm not allowed to change like things that she loves and and she doesn't give out she's important biggest fan she loves my writing but she doesn't hold back like she demolishes my stuff moms are the best they're the best Now it's like unconditional love but here's what I think unfiltered totally totally yeah my mom's great about that and has been since I was a kid like very permissive like the lettuce do stuff but if we messed up would make sure we knew that we messed up so a great great parenting style I think so yeah I get something different from everybody and I think that's I've learned that from being a part of a writing group which I Highly recommend any aspiring writer to join a writing group if you don't have one locally see if you can start one if not there's plenty online but you learned that everyone every other writer has something unique to contribute to your process and try to embrace that and get as many people involved as possible and then so talk to me about publishing like you are one of the actually you're the only person that I know of that keeps their electronic writes I want to Dive into this publishing world which is largely you know a black hole to everybody else and you know I probably have a toe in it now and you're fully immersed in it so I'm hoping I can learn a lot of it this conversation about the publishing industry but walk me through sort of like some of your some of what's available your decisions and why you've made those decisions um I was very very lucky that I started writing finished my first novel I think in like 2008 or 2009 And I think that Kendall came out the same year just a bit after I'd written a book I think maybe the first can will come out just before I had published my first book so the the first publishing contract I got was with a very small press and the tools that they were going to use to publish we're very different than the tools they would have used a few years before they were gonna put an e-book Edition online which they could do through the kindle direct publishing System and anybody can start up a small press you can just you know incorporate a name and publish under this publishing imprint and you're now small publisher in addition to being a writer and so I was publishing with this press and they were using not only ebooks distribution but print-on-demand technology which has really matured and used to be if you wanted to publish your own book you'd have to order this massive printing of thousands of copies And they'd sit in boxes in your basement and how are you gonna distribute them you know you gotta like either mail them out directly or go to book stores to try to get them placed it was just a nightmare and now there are several print on demand companies Amazon being I think one of the best because they're integrated with the biggest book store in the world and you there's no upfront costs you just upload a PDF which is a type of document that prints exactly as It looks on the screen there's no flowing of words and to repeat there's like every page is fixed even to the size that it's gonna print on and when someone orders your book and think about it from the perspective of the shopper they don't know any of this is happening they just go to an Amazon page here's a book with some reviews or some friend has told them about it they want a copy they click order and what happens in the background is there's a Big printing press but the biggest one is in Charleston South Carolina but a lot of the Amazon distribution centers have these printing presses inside them as well and little electronic code gets sent someone ordered of this book they all have the PDF and they're machines they print the pages bind them print the cover glue the cover on and ship that book out in the same day that it was ordered which it's just unbelievable and the quality is very similar to what you Would get if you did a massive offset print run in China and ship these books overseas and I just when I found out about this I fell in love with the process actually went and toured the printing facility in Charleston which Amazon doesn't let a lot of people do it but I'm gonna be very annoying and get my way if I persistent and I'm just fascinated with the because I was a bookseller for years and I've had a hand in pulping unsold books and just the Waste of this book was like shipped from China to the US to a distribution facility then to a retailer like me then I would send it back to a place where it would try to be sold as a discount book and then it would not sell there to be sent to another place would be pulled and and it used to be they would be burned like you boxes of unsold books that were thrown into furnaces that's how the book industry worked for a while so I'm looking at this print on demand Technology it's like oh my god this thing the only thing we move around is the ink and the paper and you get the exact book you need where you need it as fit as efficiently as possible with no upfront costs to the writers is unbelievable so learning all of this stuff through publishing my first book I realized man there's nothing my publishers doing I can't do for myself most of these services are one-time cost like editorial cover art the pagination The layout of the words on the page they do that once and then they keep more for every sale than I get as the writer and that just seemed crazy to me so when I got an offer for the sequel I said actually I think I'll publish it on my own and if I could I'd like to buy the rights back to my first book which is what I did and from that point forward just the economics of it that make any sense to me to go with a major publisher I didn't think I was gonna write a book That could blow up because I've been a bookseller for years and I saw Random House put a million dollars into the launch of a book and it'd just be a dud I knew that no publisher could guarantee me that I would have a hit no matter what they sell you when they sign you if they had that ability they'd have hits all the time and they're very rare so I knew I didn't have the hubris that I was gonna write you know the next Harry Potter which is what a lot of Writers have and why they want to get a publisher they feel like their book is gonna be that big I never believed that about any of my books and which helped me in the long run and yeah so I started publishing my own stuff because I get to keep more of the money I had more control about what I wrote next I don't have to get trapped into you know writing about this one character over and over and over again I could write any kind of genre without a publisher Saying yeah we're not sure that'll sell I never had those conversations which was the creative freedom that provided was worth of you know going on on my own alone I've been able to write in a lot of genres I started writing young adult space opera and and it did well enough that if I had been with a publisher they would have insisted that I only published that stuff when what really took off for me was an adult dystopian novel called wool And I've never would have been had the freedom to write that book even JK Rowling didn't have the freedom to write under her whole name or own name when she wanted to change genre she had to write under this Galbraith a pseudonym so it's like creatively dampening to to be with a major publisher there are advantages I'm not saying publishers aren't good at some things I'm just saying that for starting off her career and figure out who I was as a writer and Learning the ropes there was nothing better than then self-publishing what are some of the things that publishers bring to the table that maybe you wouldn't have thought of going into it yeah that's difficult discussion in reaching bookstores but that's only true because of how the relationship with publishers and bookstores has evolved over time bookstores are hesitant to order self published titles unless they see a history of sales or you know see Them on bestseller lists in the on the e-book site or the people are walking in saying why can't I find this book they'll eventually order it but they won't do it ahead of time they order from catalogues and they have sales reps who come in and say like this is the title were most excited about and the seller should have kind of pressures bookstores of the stocking certain things and then bookstores end up restocking the things that are selling Well and not taking a chance on other stuff so publishers are good at getting a book's a book a chance in a bookstore where it might not get that chance if it's not published but that doesn't really guarantee anything and that chance is a very small window usually we would leave a book on the shelf for three to six months before we would take it off send it back and put something else on the shelf so view if you spend years Writing a novel and you think like this is my one shot and you go the publisher you're only going to give it up three to six month window to make it before no one will ever touch it again and because of the lack of sales in that very brief window maybe no one ever publishes again so anytime I can come up with like a positive for a publisher I can think of the way that there's a weakness inherent in that and an advantage to self-publishing I've done deals with Publishers though like I I love the relationship that I have with a lot of my publishers one thing they do really well is handle their local markets in a way that I can't if I'm just publishing for the US market like I'm here in Australia in my bookstore my book is in bookstores here in Brisbane and Sydney and most of the places I go into I can find a copy of my book to sign for the bookstore and I would never be able to do that from a distance or translated Into German or Japanese and and that's a incredible service that publishers provide but honestly anything that can think of as a benefit like the editorial process I would much rather choose my own editor than sign with a publisher and just get stuck with whatever editor they assigned to me and I think freedom of choice is better than economies of scale I like a saying freedom of choice is better than a comment ease of scale it's gonna stick with me for a second Walk me through sort of like you you sell your books now but you don't sell your electronic rights you sell do you sell audio and physical distribution and foreign translation or do you how does that work yeah that's that's kind of the thing that got me on the radar from the publishing side the people are really geeks about publishing news when I when will took off I was working in a bookstore in this short story I wrote went up the charts and I fleshed that Into a novel by writing four more parts and combining them into a story as like serialized novel and the like the way Dickens used to publish I guess and when the novel hit the New York Times bestseller list as a self-published ebook I started getting a lot of interest from agents and and publishers and I was I was lucky in a few ways one I was living a very simple lifestyle I didn't have I was debt-free had a very small house I didn't need the money so I wasn't going to be swayed by an advance the second thing is I didn't need the validation from a publisher because I was always already getting it from readers who were writing reviews on the Amazon that I would read every day like how much they loved this story and people were contacted by email I had my email in the back of the book and I was hearing directly from readers all over the world and so having an editor tell Me I love your stuff which probably would have done that would have worked on me if I hadn't had anyone else tell me they loved it and that's just part of them the self-doubt you have as a writer you just like getting my mom to love one of my books is such a great feeling and I think a lot of new writers get trapped into publishing contracts just because like hearing from someone who's an expert in the industry how great their work is is very enticing right I was Able to avoid the money trap in the the ego trap and continue enjoying my stream of sales while publishers were always missing the boat with their advance offer so the way it works is a publisher offers you a lump sum of money to get the lifetime rights in all the rights they're going to get the print rights the digital the audio the foreign rights by offering you a typical advance might be like fifteen to twenty five thousand dollars for a book a fifty thousand Dollar advance would be a big deal six figures is like crazy and then you know the seven-figure deals that everyone dreams about are so astronomically rare it's not even worth thinking about them and by the time I was getting like $50,000 advance I was making so much from self-publishing that that was like an insult to me of my agent you know I was I would I would earn that in a month from my e-book sales and I got I was really lucky that publishers were behind On what the potential was of the digital rights and if anyone had made the offer that they made later early I would have buckled em only so strong by the time we got six-figure offers I was making six figures a month just on the e-book sales and by the time publisher finally made a seven-figure offer and offered over a million dollars for this series I had already made a million dollars of my own and I really fortunate that it happened that they Were that they were slower than readers were too cop on to the series because I I seriously would have not been strong enough had those late offers come early on in the process I never would have assumed that the book would have continued to sell the way it did so what I was able to do from all that is maintain my e-book rights as I was seeing how powerful they were and basically they got too valuable for me to ever sell and I realized that as soon As a publisher owned that ebook right they were going to jack up the price to protect their other ebooks and this is something a lot of authors don't think about your competition for them like the people that own your book your book competes with their latest greatest thing that they want to do well so they're not gonna promote it as heavily later they're not gonna discount it because they don't want a cheap book of their own to compete with an expensive Book they just released and man that's an eye-opening realization when these people that you sign your lifetime right server don't have your best interest in heart for the the entire length of breadth of your career it's only during that launch window really I just sort of discovered this whole a Kindle pricing thing where if your book is priced above $9.99 your royalty rate changes to 30% instead of 70% of is $9.99 or under you get 70% of sort of the if you're Self-published you get 70% of the price so any book basically any Kindle copy price between you know ten dollars and basically like twenty one dollars is a lot like people are losing money on that compared to pricing it at $9.99 if they're self-published the publishers have a different pricing scheme so they they'll continue to make the same royalty but what Amazon is the theme royalty they get the 70% through Amazon the whole way as though it's just Self-published the Kindle treats differently yeah but I don't know but those publishers don't get 70% they it's a completely different structure they get like a wholesale price and so yeah it's very very complicated the difference between what publishers get and what sub published authors get but they they have a fixed percentage where what Amazon what Amazon would love is for no publisher to to charge more than $9.99 for a book like They've they decided that $9.99 was the max that you should pay for an digital book and publishers was a huge fight over this this like was consumed the publishing world for a couple of years and led to an antitrust suit against Apple that Apple lost and the publishers that could colluded with Apple lost as well and had to basically yeah it changed their their policies for a while but they're back to where they wanted to be where they have control of pricing And what Amazon can't control is how they incentivize the pricing process for self-published authors because we sign a contract at them and we're not gonna we don't have enough power to collude with an apple and and and try to change that but it's logical to me so I don't I don't begrudge Amazon at all they think ebooks should be between $2.99 and $9.99 and if you price it there they'll give you 70% if you price a blow to 99 eight you're welcome to do that But they're gonna pay thirty five percent which is half if you price it over $9.99 again your royalty is gonna get cut in half and so it's just an incentive for the for from them for you to price the e-book where they want the customer experience to be and I think it makes sense for a company to have this kind of guidelines and still allow you the freedom to make the choice however you want but it does it does really compress all the self-publishing price To be in that $2.99 to $9.99 range you public oh you've sold millions of copies what have you learned about pricing on the Kindle or an electronic pricing in terms of selling ebooks I haven't learned as much as a lot of other self-published authors because there's there's so many brilliant self-published authors out there who do spreadsheets and they they price polls the experiment they don't they'll do a/b comparisons over time really some brilliant people Especially in the it's an erotic a realm where you've got some of the savviest business Minds just making a killing because they treat this as a business and they're very logical about it I use sorry about that background noise that's a pump in my boat going off um no worries I i've always devalued by work which i think has worked to my benefit because I would rather someone take a chance on one of my short stories at $0.99 or even though You know I've done novels at $0.99 before even though I'm not making much money on it I want to get people the chance to get hooked on my writing or my characters my story and I've found somewhere in the $4.99 range what I remember paying for a mass-market paperback when I was a kid and I know you know the dollar isn't what it used to be but I still felt like like five bucks isn't a big ask for someone to get a novels worth of reading so yeah I have Books all over the place but like between $2.99 and $6.99 is where I'm comfortable asking someone to take one of my novels and I think he just made Wolfe free didn't you or was that like in the last year or something the first part of Woolwich this it's the short story that that launched my career that's been free for years now probably seven years you can read the first part of the book and there's a lot of and I do it's not like I don't think about These things I I spend a lot of time thinking about the psychology of pricing and reading I would rather someone read something for free because if they don't like it they don't feel like they're not likely to write a bad review because what can they say like I'm I feel ripped off like I didn't pay anything I didn't enjoy this and so there's a bit of a sifting mechanism there if someone enjoys it they're likely to buy the next part of the story which is only 99 cents And they're inclined to write a good review and tell people about it and it convinced a friend like what you have to lose it's free you know give it a try have you noticed that major sales increase in all the other books then in this series yeah I did when I first started doing this but then I I had I think it was just one one email from a reader it was like you know I have to click five times to read this book like why don't you just put Him into one file and make it a novel and so I when I did that more people started saying just pay the $4.99 or whatever for this for this ebook and the the freemium kind of system that I'd said of them for wool initially kind of fell out of the wayside and the individual parts just fell down the charts as the novel climbed up the charts so I don't know how much effect it has now I don't look at my sales dashboard at all anymore the it's a trap You fall into it early on so publishing like watching every sale and checking your weekly and daily and monthly streams but that I found if the stream goes up a little bit you feel it puts you in a good mood but it doesn't last if the sales dip at all for whatever reason the the despondency that kicks in is just paralyzing and getting hooked on that cycle of checking your sales I think it's it's probably a process that every writer has to go through but I Encourage writers to like get off of that as quickly as possible if you needed to know for income reasons just like look at your statement at the end of the month and plan your expenses and your and everything accordingly if you're trying to do a promotion and you need to track sales just try to do it dispassionately but now I can't even tell you what how many people are downloading my free book versus individual books cuz yeah I just found It how healthy or not just to ignore all that stuff honestly are you purely an artist when it comes to this or are you also a businessman like are you you mentioned some people in the romance and sort of erotica space are a little bit more savvy about how they go about positioning the book or maybe selling or marketing it do you do any of that have you done any of that you just don't do it now yeah I would say it's a pretty even mix I'm I'm probably more the Business and marketing side I'm so fascinated by that I probably do more of that then I give myself credit for yeah I think about everything like just you know I think I know and really early on when I was just starting my career I need more about publishing than publishers who were the biggest in the world who had been doing it forever because I was questioning everything and they were very ossified in their thinking for instance when I published With Simon & Schuster they categorized my one of my books and under just science fiction on the Amazon store and I knew from experimenting that the way the categories worked as the parent categories were inherited by the child categories which and it sounds confusing but the way it works is if you put your book in you know general books - science fiction - general - dystopia then your book shows up in every one of those categories they're all inherited So if you're browsing the general books bestseller list and if your book is in the top 100 it shows up on that list it also shows up in the science-fiction list and the general science fiction list and that is dystopia list and this is a free way of making your book show up on multiple bookshelves in the bookstore which anyone would want if you could do that for free where you walk into a bookstore and and as shoppers are turning their head everywhere they look There's a copy of your book this is an unqualified great thing and I had like eight emails back and forth with Simon & Schuster trying to explain to them and I had no this is because I had done a deal with them now they have access to the metadata on the back end and they can control how this appears I cannot get them to understand that by making this one change they would make basically duplicate copies of the book on all these other virtual bookshelves Absolutely free it's good to keep doing what they want it to do but it's gonna do more stuff and there's more opportunities for people to stumble upon it and this was eye-opening for me because I realized like this was really early on in my career I realized that I couldn't get not only did I know more than them and I'm a pretty clear writer and explainer like I was really laying out why this is a good thing and I could not convince the people at this Publisher - to do this thing that like I think you understand even after me talking about a brief we this is like it'd be crazy not to do this and it took like getting my agent involved in getting kind of like if you don't do this you know we can't have a business relationship and now they understand you know now enough time has passed and they've experimented and they would do this with all of their books and then all publishers now fight with Amazon to get extra categories even but early on I realized man I'm just using logic I'm more savvy on the business side and the marketing side then these major publishers so yeah that's always been how the house the bookseller for years I was always trying to sell strangers books and when I everything I learned doing that was something I was able to employ with selling my own books what do you do with audio rights I used to sell published audiobooks and that's Been that was really lucrative it's amazing the growth curve on audio books now I'm happy to do deals with publishers and sell them off it's actually it's might be counterintuitive but now that I don't need the money I can do more deals with publishers because it's it might be more lucrative if I like put all the extra work and do it myself but I don't need the extra money and I'm happy to have publishers do the work for me even though I'm gonna Make less per sale so it's it's weird how my my success has allowed me to use publishers even though it's probably it's not the best thing to maximize my income but it maxes maximizes my free time it still gets the story available to readers so now I do lots of deals with publishers and it's mostly because I can afford to which is kind of a weird it's a weird situation like you would think it'd be the other way around is there anything weird that you like put In your contract it would be non-standard or somebody would look at and go oh man I wish I would have thought of that yeah really crazy stuff like probably the thing that I don't think many people in the publishing world realize what I did with what my agent really did with with wool that we've now done with some other books is we've put a time that the rights revert back to me and rights reversion is Really tricky thing and publishing most of its based on whether or not the book is still in print and now publishers can so what rights reversion means when publishers take your rights they get it for like your lifetime plus another certain number of years you're never gonna see your rights back unless there's a reversion clause in most publishing contracts have them but they're laughable the usually just say as long as the book is in print the Publisher retains the rights and we talked about print-on-demand earlier now publishers can just move this book from an offset print run of thousands of copies at a time just to make it available as a PDF in ton demand book and then it's still and now they yeah some print forever and you'll never get your rights back so the the change people said made was like well we want to see it actually selling so they made the clause say the book has to sell a Certain number of copies over a certain time period to show that it's still a act of product for us and we get to keep the rights well there's numbers are ridiculous it's like I've seen contracts where it's like if we sell 25 copies over six months we get to keep the rights and at some point especially now that self-publishing is a viable competitor to publishers it makes sense for them to buy 25 copies you know two uses uh tour stops around the office Or just give away to a school or burn to to keep a competitor off the market and so a lot of these reversion clauses are just terrible for the writers and writers aren't thinking about this when they're signing contracts they're just excited and they think this publisher wants to sell millions of copies the way I do so they're always going to work on my behalf instead of realizing that a in six months they're gonna be working on someone else's behalf more than yours if You didn't get lucky so one of the things we did we set up like the book reverts on this date and we were able to say no to every other offer and meanwhile we're selling lots of copies and making lots of money and publishers are being left out so eventually publishers are like okay we'll do this deal and we get the book for five years say well will is still selling really really well in print in by Simon & Schuster in bookstores and Next year I'm gonna get the rights back and it doesn't matter that the book is selling well doesn't matter that it's still in print like we have in the contract the date that I get though the rights back and when we did a print only deal with Hooton mifflin harcourt first shift and dust the sequels to this book we timed it so that we get the rights back to those books at the same about the same time we get the rights back to wall so I don't know that This has happened in publishing before but in a year I'm gonna have the rights to three books that are still selling really well and how that's gonna play out I don't we don't know because no one's really done it but like the book is gonna be on the shelf and now I own the rights and we can take it to other publishers and say like who wants these three books and I can say like I've worked with publishers that are treating me really really fairly and they're Gonna have like first crack at getting these proven perennial sellers and to another deal and maybe we do another five years but this has been a dream for a lot of writers and agents to get these kinds of like limited time deals I think as another another author who told me really early on that this is the future of publishing these kinds of deals we hadn't seen them so we fought for them and we were able to get them so that's just one example of something that is Non-standard that by having success in self-publishing and being able to say no to every contract we were able to get something that really hadn't been done before what are some of the other examples of terms or clauses that you might tweak in a contract that wouldn't be so obvious to other people price limits so I negotiate like what the e-book pricing it can be in the contract again assuming the publisher is going to do the best thing for you at all times It's just a mistake you have to be like loving and trusting on one side but very adversarial when it comes to actually setting up the contract you need to know who's gonna own that contract down the road there's so much merging and acquisition in the publishing space that saying well I really have a good feeling for this editor and I'm going to trust that person I've had three editors on wall at Simon de Shuster over the years because P We'll leave and go to something else don't think with your heart when you're making these contracts like lay out what you that's decisions that you would make if you're a self-published writer so for the price I don't want my ebooks price so high that people don't take a chance on them and there's a lot of pushback with publishers on that they want to be able to have the freedom to make it 14.99 which i think it's a crazy price for a Digital book that you can't resell or hand off to a friend or dog-ear you know it's that it's not printed there should be the e-book should cost less the physical costs are I'm like virtually nil for ebooks right so you would think the difference between the e-book and physical book the price would be a lot but it's actually you know maybe a couple of dollars but the printing and shipping and all that the most of the cost is the overhead they have for their You know stupid building in in Manhattan which is the dumbest place test set up a publishing Empire but that's what they've decided to do it and the editorial costs and the promotion and you know and marketing and all that take up a bunch of the budget but the physical cost is there and the fact that you can't train it into a bookstore or sell it or give it to a friend you know that should be priced in to the value of the e-book so in contracts I'll say like I don't want the book price over $7.99 which is a low number to publishers but it's a high number for me and that's part of the negotiation process and I think it should be for most authors I think price limits should be in every publishing contract but I think they're in bomas none of them is there anything else that comes to mind farming of things individually giving worldwide rights to uh to publishers now is crazy because the the world market is getting More more lucrative so I'll do deals just in North America basically and that lets me do separate like Bulls with Random House and the UK and here in Australia New Zealand and basically worldwide English and the book is different the it's localized for the for the four Queen's English basically instead of American and they know their mark get better and putting them in charge of it instead of having someone in America shop that out To subsidiaries it's not only makes for a better product it makes for better business sense so I had done like amazing deals in Brazil you know $60,000 advances which I would have been gaga for in the in North American with my first books and here I'm getting it from a country that is exploding with interested new readers and I had no idea that was a market and we've done we've now done deals in over 40 countries and doing them individually Has maximized the decisions we made for instance in in Taiwan we went with a very small publisher it's a one-man operation literally like one guy runs the whole business and does the translation everything who's exactly did mine yeah he's amazing when it does it's like two books a year and he he was offering the least amount of money but I had a foreign agent who just works the Asian market who said like we're really lucky to have this person involved he's Considered a poet by the publishing industry there and by readers and though people will buy the book just because he's the one who translated it and he's in my agent my Asian agent said I we've got bigger offers from other people but I would recommend we go with this person now if I was with a publisher they would've gone with the biggest offer but I was at the freedom to take a chance and sure enough my agent nailed it a year later I get invited to be like flown first class to Taiwan to go to book fairs and sign books and brif like why in the world am I going to Taiwan and we found out like wool was the number one selling book that year in Taiwan an amazing yeah it became the best-selling work of science fiction in the history of the Taiwan market so I had no idea this was happening like I landed in Taiwan and there's people like with books waiting for me to sign them my my driver like Had a copy and people at the hotel waiting I've never had this level of success comparable anywhere in the world and that never that experience and and my popularity with Taiwanese readers never would have happened had publishers been in charge of my foreign rights so again it goes back to that freedom thing and self-publishing used to be thought of as the last resort for writers now publishing contracts are The last resort because as long as you own the rights you have the freedom to make any decision you want down the road you can still sign with a publisher if you want but once you do you no longer have any choice once you've signed with the publisher they own those rights for whatever the contract stipulates and your decisions are now over so if you think about your decision tree what used to be the last resort self-publishing because no one else would take it that's Now the place of the most freedom and most choice and all you can do from there is window your decision tree down till you have no choice and and just from that reason alone forget the economic advantages the creative advantages just from the decision tree self-publishing makes the most sense for where to start your career and then there could be factors that make you decide to give up those rights like you write that first book and you're like I'm gonna self-published no matter what because I've read all these blogs about self-publishing it's the best thing and then someone reads your rough draft and says I'll give you ten million dollars to publish this if you still self publish you're crazy like you know there's always a reason to go with a publisher you know if if it makes sense but to start there is basically saying I don't want any more freedom over what happens with my artwork for the rest of My life plus years after that and that has never made sense to me thank you for being so open and honest about what it's like behind the scenes here this has been an amazing conversation I want to thank you so much for your time and I know you're sitting on a boat watching the Sun come up in Australia right now yeah yeah it's pretty cool yeah maybe come back on we'll talk about the sailing part oh yeah man how I can get gout about anything thanks for having me On man it's been awesome really appreciate it hey guys this is Shane again just a few more things before we wrap up you can find show notes at Farnam Street blog comm slash podcast that's f AR n am st AR ee t BL o g calm slash podcast you can also find information there on how to get a transcript and if you'd like to receive a weekly email from me filled with all sorts of brain food go to Furnham street blog comm slash Newsletter this is all the good stuff i'd found on the web that week that i've read and shared with close friends books I'm reading and so much more thank you for listening [Music] [Applause] [Music] [Applause] [Music]

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