Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt Talk About Writing
Every time I send an email to a writer requesting an interview, I get a little jangle of nerves. It was more than a little jangle when I realized today’s post was going to happen. I’ve been reading what Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt have been writing since before Smiling Tree Writing existed, and since before either of them were selling their fiction.
In the world of online writing, both of these guys are experts. They each built successful businesses and have helped countless others build their own businesses. If you are interested in learning from them, be sure to check out Johnny’s current project Everyday Legendary, and Sean’s Digital Writer. You can hear (and see) them, along with Dave Wright, on the weekly Self Publishing Podcast, or if you’re into the undead, on the podcast Better Off Undead, also with Dave. Both podcasts are live-streamed on YouTube so you can watch all three of these guys and their guests sitting in front of their computers.
Johnny and Sean were unbelievably generous with their time, and also with their knowledge. We talked for about 35 minutes, and transcribed that equals the longest post to ever appear here on Smiling Tree Writing. It is well worth your time, though, especially if you are a writer who hopes to someday make a living mostly from writing what you enjoy. There is much to learn from two people who have done exactly that!
(Note: Johnny, Sean, and I chatted via Skype, and what you see here is a very condensed version of our conversation. We all three said “um,” “like,” and “you know” far more often than I’m willing to type.)
Sean was a few minutes late (which made me feel better since I’m almost always the one who is late to everything!), so Johnny answered the first question.
Smiling Tree Writing:
There are many authors who are quite successful publishing independently. You recently had Joanna Penn as a guest on the Self Publishing Podcast, and she has made the decision to hire an agent and take a more traditional route for at least some of her work. Can you imagine ever making a similar decision?
Joanna hasn’t sold anything yet, she is doing things sort of piecemeal. She may sell some of her work and is anticipating what offers she may get. She has said that she wants to be a hybrid author.
I don’t have a huge portfolio, so right now it’s hard for me to imagine. I tried going traditional initially and it’s just so…banging your head against the wall. There’s a lot of sort of kneeling before the altar of the almighty agents and publishers and it’s just kind of a humiliating experience.
But then, let’s just assume I was offered a contract. It would just depend on the situation, I think, because right now with the stuff that you self publish on Amazon you get a 70% royalty on anything priced $2.99 and above, or a 35% royalty on anything under. I can’t remember what traditional royalties are, but I think around 15% or less. Supposedly your advance would make up for the difference, but an advance is not a blanket payment – it’s an advance on your royalties. So you would be assuming that they would do stuff for you that you can’t do yourself, like get your book in stores at the airport.
But right now there are just so few traditionally published authors who get that – who win the lottery and are the ones that get promoted and put into airports. So, for me, right now, it’s hard to imagine that it’s anything other than giving them a larger share for things like editing, but not much in the way of additional promotion.
Around this time, Sean joined the conversation, and his timing was perfect because the next question was about serialization, and Sean, along with Dave Wright, write really unusual serials. Check them out at Collective Inkwell.
Smiling Tree Writing:
We were just talking about how some successful self published writers, like Joanna Penn, decide to hire agents. Hugh Howey has also hired an agent to handle his overseas stuff. I once read that Hugh decided not to keep writing serials because he felt like he was always selling the first book. Do you ever feel that way?
Yes, I do feel that way, except, I’m like “YEAH! This is the first in a series!” It’s a totally different way of approaching it, and I love that. One of my favorite things to do is to write pilots. And that’s how I think of them, like shows, and I think, “Maybe this one will never get made, maybe it will.” Last week, Dave and I had a reason to come up with a few concepts, and we came up with four concepts in a very short period of time. Since then, I’m constantly thinking, “Oh, this would ba a great concept.” It was really hard to get four in one day, but I’ve had four more since then. And they are just going in a bucket.
I just love the idea of writing pilots. Our series Dark Crossings is good for that. Each episode is about 10,000 words each so they are like short stories. They almost serve as pilots, as a testing ground. We have one that’s about a guy named Frank Graham, and we’ll probably eventually turn that into a series even though it’s just a short story. It’s kind of a Dexter-type-thing, about a guy who was a cop and he lost his wife and he’s just pissed at these criminals, and he’s very Charles Bronson, you know, he has this death wish.
But, I love the idea of doing pilots and I have a few that are like unproduced pilots. We’ve written them and they are out there, but we haven’t actually turned them into series.
The difference between the way we do it and the way authors have traditionally done it is that they usually write a book, then break it into serialized pieces, and that’s not what we do at the Inkwell. We really model it after television. We have the bang up opening, and the big cliffhanger at the end. The story stands on its own for one episode, it’s not dependent on everything else. If you catch just one episode of Dexter you can enjoy that one on its own terms. With a broken-up novel it’s not like that so much, and that’s why we try to stay away from that sort of serialization and make sure everything is an experience on its own.
It seems like self publication lends itself to serialization. The last writer featured on this blog is publishing a piece her most recent work every 30 days. Would you say self publication and serialization work well together?
It definitely does, and there’s no way that we could have done Yesterday’s Gone with a traditional house. There’s no way. They would have laughed at us and said no way. Everybody did laugh at us. But the fact that you can just get it up to Kindle from your edited doc is fantastic. It means you really can set your schedule and you really can set your rules and it means that you can question what’s been done before.
I watched an interview with Hugh Howey just a couple of days ago that I loved, and one of my favorite things that he said was that when he is hanging out in writers’ forums, like the Writer’s Cafe, if someone comes on there and says, “I have 40 years of publishing experience,” anything else that person says is irrelevant. He’s way more interested in the guy that says, “Yeah, I got my first book up last week and I’m doing this and this and this,” because that guy is scrappy and is thinking of 10 new ways to promote his stuff, while the other guy is stuck on using the same, old one. And I totally agree with that. I think that people who are in self publishing are making a lot of the rules right now.
Are there blogs, or forums, or new sites, or other places – in addition to your podcast – that you think writers should be participating and paying attention?
No. Just ours.
(laughter from everyone)
Johnny: I would say Joe Konrath’s site. That’s the only one I’ve really paid attention to.
Yeah, I’d agree with Johnny on that. Not that there aren’t other good ones out there. Duolit is another really good one.
My problem is that I don’t have time to read. I’m not reading for pleasure and I’m not even really reading for information. If I’m reading I’m looking for a specific answer instead of really browsing.
I try to write for six hours a day, and that leaves very little time for much else. Anything I do impedes my writing, so there is very reading happening. I’m mid-way through Johnny’s book and I started it 3 weeks ago. I love what I’ve read and it’s embarrassing, and the only reason I can write at the speed I write now is that I spent a large part of my life reading 2-3 books a week. I just don’t have time now. Once I slow down I would like to read more, and I would like to read as much non-fiction as fiction because that’s how you get smarketer.
I forgot about Joanna. Hers is really good too.
Do either of you ever read thepassivevoice? I think that it is mainly curation.
Joanna says very good things about it. I’ve never read it.
Yeah, it’s good. It is curation though, but good curation. They do a good job.
Joanna is probably the better choice if you are narrowing who you focus on because if someone in the industry says something important, Joanna is going to talk about it. She’s going to link to it on Twitter. Konrath is not active on social media; he’s very active on his blog. Joanna is active and she’s a good curator. You know if you look at her Twitter feed and just check ou the stuff she links to you’re going to get a wide variety of information.
Finally, it seems like you are both just insanely busy. From what I understand you are doing two, weekly, hour-long podcasts with Dave, you’re all three writing fiction, Sean is doing Google Hangouts and running Digital Writer, Johnny is doing business consulting, and running Everyday Legendary?
I’m not still consulting, I’m actually doing less and less of that kind of thing. Sean has his “think tank” where he thinks about things, and gets ideas, right, Sean?
In the bathtub. So I get mine while walking. I was just taking a walk and thinking about this and I’m doing less and less consulting and other business sorts of things to do more things like Everyday Legendary and How To Be Legendary which is the manifesto that that came from, and more writing. I’m sorry. I’ll let you finish the question before answering it. Go ahead.
No that was it. Well, the end was, how much can you do before you just collapse?
Oh, the answer is, a TON if it’s stuff that you love to do. A couple of weeks ago on our podcast Better Off Undead, I started laughing and wondering, “Why are there no fat vampires?” I got inspired and thought it was so funny that I wrote a novella called Fat Vampire. I wrote it in 11 days.
(Note: Johnny had previously refused to discuss this project on the Self Publishing Podcast, and this was technically the first time he talked about it publicly. Since this interview, though, he has announced it elsewhere.)
Wait. Is this the big public unveiling right now?
Yeah, because I’m going to finish it as soon as we’re done with this interview. The first draft is done. So I will mention it on the Self Publishing podcast today, so don’t worry about it, Sean. Anyway, because I was on fire about it, I wrote it in 11 days, and it’s about 30-35,000 words long. That kind of productivity, especially on top of Everyday Legendary and the two podcasts, and everything else I am working on, only comes when you’re sooo driven.
I woke up at 5am the past two days, and earlier than that a couple of days before, and I worked through the weekend, which I never do. I never work on the weekends, but I wrote about eight or nine thousand words this weekend, if not more, because I’m just dying to do it. I think that comes from the things we’re able to do now. We don’t just write in a vacuum. We write and we ship.
And that’s what we do. Between getting my idea and it being on Amazon, is going to be less than a month, and that’s just INSANE.
That’s awesome. It really, really does drive you. It makes you go faster.
In addition to everything you mentioned, I have one client left that I take, and that’s it. But, besides all the stuff that I’m doing publicly, I’m also working on some stuff behind the scenes on some children’s work, that I’m kind of putting in the bank right now. It probably won’t come out until next year, but when it comes out I’ll have a year’s worth of product. So, right now, I’m just in constant production. But I love that! I’m actually doing more now than ever, but I have more energy. It’s like Johnny said, it really is, if you’re working on stuff that you really want to work on, it drives you.
It’s totally ridiculous that I would be adding another project to my plate at this point, but in two weeks, Johnny and I are starting a project, and I’m so excited about it.
I wondered when you guys would do a project together; it just makes sense.
Yeah, it makes perfect sense, I mean we’re doing two podcasts, we should be writing together. But it doesn’t mathematically make sense at all. It’s like, “You’re already out of time and overscheduled, why not add a whole other several-season project to your plate?”
(Note: This is not the end of the interview. Stay tuned for the second part, next week. And, in the meantime, please, take a moment to click on the links in this post, listen to the Self Publishing podcast, Better Off Undead, and read up on Everyday Legendary and Digital Writer. Johnny and Sean are generous and offer a lot of value for your time.)