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Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant are 2 of the 3 co-hosts of the Self-Publishing Podcast, and are the principal writers for Realm & Sands publishing. The two of them have written around a quarter of a million words together this year, and that doesn’t include other projects that fall outside of this one publishing house they’ve created!
Realm & Sands publishes books and stories with a wide range of topics from Western, Fantasy, and Erotica to Science Fiction, Humor and Political Thriller. They are constantly testing different strategies for writing, pricing and marketing their books.
Here are links to their books and sites that were mentioned:
- Self Publishing Podcast
- Realm & Sands
- Self-Publishing Podcast / WPR
- Some of their books:
(Please note that you can help support this podcast by using the links provided as I do have an affiliate relationship with some of the companies and will be forming one with the others.)
If you prefer video to audio, here’s the Google Hangout version of our interview, minus the introduction I added after the fact:
Click here to read the full transcript...
Happy Thanksgiving to everybody in the United States, and hello to everyone else around the world. Today I have an interview with Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, and as I record this, they are about a week away from the launch of their next book, Write, Publish, Repeat, which condenses a lot of the information from the Self-Publishing Podcast down into a manageable form.
If you haven’t listened to the Self-Publishing Podcast yet, then it’s worth giving a try. Just be aware that it’s relatively explicit. The three co-hosts all have rather colorful language so it’s not something that you would want to listen to while you’re in the car with your children. But the information that they provide is topnotch and it gives you a bird’s eye view of running a publishing company and making a living as a writer by watching what these guys are doing and seeing how they run everything in their businesses.
So I would recommend giving that a listen, and I’m looking forward to reading Write, Publish, Repeat, and we’ll have a link once that it’s live. You can get all of the links to the books and websites that we discuss on this episode at ModernPublishingPodcast.com/7.
Blaine Moore: Okay, welcome to another episode of the Modern Publishing Podcast, and today I have a couple of very special guests. I’ve got with me Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt from Realm & Sands, and they are also two of the three hosts of the Self-Publishing Podcast, which is well worth listening to if you are doing any kind of publishing of your own books, whether that’s physical, digital or any other format.
Now, these guys that I’ll warn you right now, their show is not safe if you have kids around. So they tend to use colorful language.
Sean Platt: Oh, we could be good. You don’t have to worry. We’ll be good. We could be good.
BM: Oh, I’m not worried about that.
Johnny B. Truant: No, don’t be bothered about that.
BM: I just mean on your Self Publishing Podcast, if there’s somebody is going to listen to that, just be aware that there is a bit of language in there that you will…
SP: Not a little, but there’s a lot. There’s a lot. Let’s be real, there’s a lot.
BM: Yeah, I’m actually a big fan. I started listening probably around the 8th or 9th episode and I caught up on what you had and I’ve listened to every episode, and you’re just one of the few podcasts that my wife actually enjoys listening to as well. Most of the time we’re in the car, it’s a little difficult to listen to now because usually our daughter is in there and she’s at that age where she’s starting to pick up language.
BM: So I haven’t been able to listen to yours together for a couple of months.
SP: Yeah, everything changes then. That’s when I stopped listening to Eminem. It was a very sad day.
SP: They’re stolen moments now.
BM: Yeah. So what you guys do is you have your own publishing company, and actually you’ve got a couple of publishing companies, but you publish in a lot of different genres. Mostly fiction these days, although there’s a little bit of nonfiction, and you’re doing this as a full time career now.
So Sean, you recently came out with a book called WriterDad, that kind of covers the last five years of your life as you went from making ends meet to getting into just the publishing of the fiction and no longer just doing articles for dollars, and Johnny has been very big in the copywriting scene, and has had some great books with the rather explicit titles that get into your face, and something that’s bound to be noticed when you see it. So what prompted the switch into writing fiction instead of continuing with what you had been doing?
JBT: Well, I guess I’ll go first. So I’ve always wanted to write fiction. So here’s what changed, the possibility. So about a year and a half ago, I would say maybe in April of 2012 or maybe a little earlier, I did an interview with Sean when he and Dave were promoting their Yesterday’s Gone serial. It was when they were first really getting into fiction.
Something about that interview sparked something in my head that it was like, “Oh wow, this is possible now, like you can publish yourself and you can build yourself a marketing funnel, the business like, the workman like ethic that they had and building a product funnel for their fiction, and that you can do it yourself.”
I was like, “This is…” something clicked like, “Wow, I can do it.” And before that, that hadn’t existed. So I wrote my first book like 13 years ago now or 14 years ago or something, and I did the traditional publishing route with the hopes of striking it big and landing a big contract and all that delusion, and you become really aware that publishing fiction is kind of like for suckers, except for the big names, like it’s not really possible in any realistic way back then.
So when I talked to Sean, it was like, “Wow, okay, so I can do it. Okay, I’m primed. I’ve been wanting to do it, so I’m going to.” And I jumped in with both feet.
SP: Yeah, and for me, I never wanted to get into copywriting like I just not. There was here and there was here and this is what I really wanted to be, and the only way I could get there was to feed my family, and I tried by turning that keyword articles, and that’s just stupid. That is literally digging dirt with a shovel, except it’s worse because you’re ruining the internet. It’s just awful.
Copywriting is it’s very lucrative, and if you’re good at it, you get paid a lot of money per word, and it’s fun because you’re learning. Basically, it’s about behavior and language and rhythm instead of like stuffing keyword articles for like crap that you don’t care about. It’s just awful. So I learned really fast, and I went into as many jobs as I could get, so I learned to write really well and really fast.
But I always wanted to write fiction like I didn’t want to write copy, so as soon as it became possible to finish the manuscript and press publish and Amazon would sell it for you, that was the game changer. It was time to play ball.
You know, well, no, I can’t. No longwinded stories, so never mind.
BM: So I have to imagine that the copywriting has helped with writing your descriptions for your books where they appear on Amazon, Kobo and other markets. Has the copywriting helped with the fiction itself, or just with the selling of the fiction?
SP: Both, but in totally different ways. Actually, I would say it helped one and hindered the other. This is weird but true. So for the actual way stories are structured, I think copywriting have helped me so much with that, with open loops and just things like that, I think I have a fundamental understanding of story that I wouldn’t had have without the copywriting background.
With product descriptions, I resent my copywriting background a little bit because I think my product descriptions would be better if I didn’t have a copywriting background. I feel like they suffer a little bit. I feel like they’re not really as for a reader as I want them to be, and it’s an area where I feel like I need to grow, and I feel like a lot of that growth is because of my copywriting background.
So as far as making up a story, I think it really helped me and I continue to get better because of it, and on the other, on product description, I have to work against it.
JBT: Right. I didn’t know if he wanted me to answer that too or not.
BM: No, I think that fills it in pretty well. Now, you guys write in a lot of different genres. You’ve got Western. You have horror, humor. You’ve got just contemporary fiction. You’ve dabbled in erotica, although I don’t believe any of your names actually appear on those ones.
JBT: We do collaborations, and for those our friend Lexi writes the naughty bits.
BM: Yeah, so what really prompted being in different genres instead of just dominating one specific niche?
JBT: It was stubbornness and preference. So Sean and I, we’re very alike in a lot of ways, and one of the ways is that we have always show what we want to do or freedom over necessarily what a lot of people would say is security. Now, I don’t think that means that we make decisions that are unsound in any way, shape or form, and as a matter of fact, we have pretty strong arguments for we believe this is the right way for us.
But honestly, the main reason is because I wanted to, like I don’t want to keep writing the same thing all the time, and maybe it will work and maybe it won’t. It was sort of my initial thought, but I’m not going to not do it, and lo and behold, it’s sort of one of those things where like you make the decision first and then you justify it later, at least for me.
So once we have started doing this, then it became obvious of like, “Oh, well, yeah, I mean, of course, there are people out there who want to read the genre of “good writing” or “good stories” or “entertaining stories,” and not necessarily be like “I read horror, or I read fantasy.”
JBT: Because we are two of them, and so we cultivate an ideal readership that appreciates that, and it has worked very, very well.
BM: Now, what are you doing to cultivate that readership? How do you make sure that people are getting what they are expecting, and get the word out about each of your new books since they may not necessarily be looking for whatever your new book happens to be?
JBT: Go on their podcast.
SP: Well, it’s about building that list, and communicating with your reader. So if you have X number of readers on a list, you want to communicate with them. You want to write your emails as well as you are speaking to your ideal reader, and be yourself. Be the writer that they enjoy, because whatever book they read, they came into your funnel. They’ve joined your list for a reason, and it was your voice that brought them there, so give them more of that voice.
You could give them more of that voice in a different context, but you could give them more of that voice, and I think that’s a really exciting thing, that we can do that. So as long as we are clear in our product descriptions what things are so that people don’t wander down the wrong rat hole where they wouldn’t really be happy.
Like our title Namaste is a very violent revenge thriller, and it’s fast and it’s violent, and a lot of people wouldn’t like that, and we need to make it clear to them in the product description that this is the most violent thing that we’ve ever written and if you don’t like that kind of thing, you totally should not buy it because you may laugh your ass off reading everyone gets divorced, and so it’s just a matter of letting them know what things are and letting them dabble.
We believe that it’s our voice that it’s our voice that people like, and so hearing our voice into written context and letting them know, there are going to be a few people who love everything, but a lot of people who try a lot of stuff.
BM: Now, has that ever been problematic? Like have you had instances where you haven’t set reader expectations well enough, or you’ve set the wrong reader expectations?
JBT: Well, it hasn’t been a problem yet, but I think that’s because we got in front of one of them. So what I’m thinking of is our title called Cursed, which you would know debuted as Chupacabra Outlaw. We got that before we got confused readers, but I think that we very easily could have, so it’s a rather gonzo title that we started with.
Because Sean does what we call the story beat, so he creates the world and comes up with the concept, and so he came up with Chupacabra Outlaw in the same family as or the same burse that he came up with like Robot Proletariat. What were some of these? Like I don’t know, Unicorn Western is the same sort of a title, and so it came title first, and then we sort of outlined it, and Sean went through, I think, several iterations before deciding on the one he’d like, and then when I wrote it because I write the rough draft, it became very dark and sparse, and horror. That could be the only thing we have that doesn’t had any humor in it at all.
SP: It’s dry, yeah, yeah. It’s is.
JBT: So it’s very, very, very sparse, very dry, very horrish, and so we realized that the title and the cover, because Dave, the third member on our podcast does a lot of the cover for us and he had, on our direction, created something for the WTF series which no longer exist, and so it had a very kind of fun look to it. We realized that it didn’t fit the story at all so we corrected it. We changed the title to Cursed. We created a sort of a title or a cover that has that feel and now I don’t think it’s going to confuse anybody at all. But we haven’t run into that, and I hope that means that we’re doing other things correct.
SP: Yeah, names, product descriptions, and covers, all communicate a very certain thing, and it’s your holy trinity, and you have to communicate those things very well, and if you do that, we’ve kind of swept our entire product line getting ready for the holiday rush and Write, Publish, Repeat is to come out, and we’re paying attention to all of those things, our product descriptions, our covers, and we massaged the names too, whether that means adding the complete full season Episodes 1 through 6 to the bean or Season 1.
For Cursed, it was really important just to give it a name. It’s a desert with a bloody sky. It really fits the new tone. Robot Proletariat is a stark white with the robot eye. It looks much more serious.
JBT: And it used to be goofy.
SP: Yeah, so our products now have more identity, and we absolutely should have put that identity into them from the beginning and they would have done better so far than they already have, but that’s okay. Johnny and I moved very fast this year and figured a lot of things out, and you have to do them to know them, and we will be better from now on. That’s awesome, but we spend a lot of time saying this, “You have to ship.” You really have to get your work out there and then you can play with it. But if it’s sitting on your hard drive, you’re not going to grow that fast.
BM: So you’ve put out a lot of products this year. Now, how has your scheduled changed since you guys started working together? I know that you used to have weekly releases, and now you’ve kind of changed that schedule around a little bit, and on top of that, you’re talking a little bit about how you have like new covers and things like that. When most people think of a budget, they think of how much money they’re spending, but I know you guys consider your budget for each book a little bit different. Could you mind getting into that a little?
JBT: Words and time. So originally, Sean and Dave had a weekly serial release model when they started with Yesterday’s Gone, and that made a lot of sense. I mean, they were, what, 15,000-word episodes or they ran long, but that’s what they were supposed to be, and that would be per week, and so it would build a habit with readers. They wanted to make it like an appointment reading, which made a lot of sense.
We blindly followed that when we started our publishing company, Realm & Sands in May of 2013, but what we didn’t really stopped to think until later was that it didn’t make nearly as much as sense with us, and Sean and Dave stopped doing true serialization too, but we never really did it.
If you’re not doing a continuing story in bite-sized pieces, then I think you become less signal and more noise. You become like it’s almost overwhelm, “Here’s Unicorn Western full saga. Here’s The Beam. Here’s Genesis.” And I think that people were like, “Okay, so which do I pay attention to,” especially when we would release a full bundle and all of the individual pieces too.
So we noticed it, we decided that it was much more sensible for us instead of thinking in terms of satisfying a weekly need, to think in terms of product funnels to the audience’s writers so this is the way the writers would look at the product funnels, and just because it made a lot of more sense to us to have an entry to a family of products and then a smart upsell to a bundle and we wanted to complete those as fast as possible and releases started to matter a lot less. It was just like get the funnel in existence, not necessarily release it at a certain given time, and the only book that we put any real strategy in the launching is Write, Publish, Repeat, which we’re doing now.
BM: Can you tell me a little bit about that? Now, this is based on your experiences with your podcast and the interactions that you’ve had with your listeners, correct?
SP: Yeah, largely. When we first mapped out the book, there were two things to consider, the things that our readers or our listeners, I guess, really wanted to know and coupled with that, the things that we always chew on the most. So editing, we talk about a lot. We talk about funnels a lot. We talk about pricing a lot. The things that also caused the most discord in our listener relationship which I think with like pricing, we took a lot of heat on the way The Beam was priced. So it was cool to articulate some of our rationale on why this may not work for you, but it does work for us, and it’s an example of experimentation and pushing things forward. Genre hopping is another one.
So it was all of those things, but our hot button stuff and the stuff readers care about most, just kind of blended with our own experience. We brought 12 funnels to market. We’re piggybacking off of the work that Dave and I did at the Inkwell, and there’s a lot of knowledge there. It’s a lot of things. I mean, we’ve got, what is it, like 86 episodes now? What? It’s more than that.
JBT: I think 83, yeah.
SP: It’s 86.
JBT: Yeah, because I think those were a lot of the impetuses, if that’s the correct plural of impetus, whatever, for the book. It was like we want to talk about the pricing thing. We want to talk about genre hopping and positioning. But as we started to write it, it just became a how to sell and publish and how to create a business, like how to take this thing that people consider to be an art, which is largely fiction publishing, but we do cover nonfiction, and turn it into a business.
So when we started to write that, we decided we wanted it to be like the guide. We wanted it to the self publishing bible, and once we made that decision, we realized how it’s like a set of nested Russian dolls, like we’d say, “Okay, well, we want to talk about building connections with your true people, your true fans.” And when we said that where we said, “Well, you’ve got to have a platform and an email list.” And so when we said, then we said, “Okay, here’s how you’ve got to set up an email list, and you’ve got to have calls to action, and what’s the product funnel.” And it just kept going and going and going, and 2-1/2 times its original size later, we had a finished book.
SP: Yeah, it’s gone from 50,000 words in concept to a 120,000 in execution, and for us, that makes them an expensive product because we could write a lot of fiction in that times, and 120,000 nonfiction words is difficult. It’s difficult to outline. It’s difficult to structure. Johnny has spent a ton of time just not even writing, but like just laying it out, like this is how it has to be put together. It was a puzzle piece, and I think what we ended up with is fantastic, like I’m just so happy with this book. But it was expensive, that’s a lot of fiction time.
BM: So now, you described a little bit about how you’ve put that together. Can you tell us how you guys actually handle your collaborations with your fiction, and how it might have been a little different for the nonfiction?
JBT: It was actually very much the same process. So typically the way that our collaboration works is this, well, as we have said, so usually there’s an idea. Sometimes it’s just Sean’s idea. Sometimes it’s something that we have come up with together, and then Sean will architect it at the biggest level, and we’ll talk about it, and we’ll say, “Well, we kind of want to make it a Chupacabra story or Robots or Downtown Abbey with Robots.
Then Sean will do what we call story beats, which is the outlining of sort of what happens in each chapter or scene, and then I go through it and I say, “Okay, well, it’s going to be a 25,000-word book. He has given me ten chapters.” Then I know it’s about 2,500 words for each of these things he’s given me, and I will then write the first draft from start to finish.
It goes back to Sean for a couple of edits, a couple of rounds of editing, and then it either goes to an editor or it comes back to me for a final polish, and the a proofread after that, and sometimes, in the case of Write, Publish, Repeat, it actually went to an editor and then to me. So it got an extra round, and what we did for Write, Publish, Repeat was exactly the same, except that instead of starting the story beats, I started with a nonfiction outline, and it’s been pretty much the exact same process.
That’s why it’s written in my voice, by the way, because I was the one who wrote the first draft, which meant Sean got to write as me.
SP: Yeah, that was both fun and weird.
BM: Yeah, that’s good. So when does the book actually come out, and where can people find it?
JBT: It’s December. Go ahead, Sean.
SP: Oh, it’s December 5th, and it will be everywhere. We’re even putting it up to Apple it looks like, which we don’t normally do, just because Apple seems like a tough nut to crack. But from what I understand, nonfiction does do a lot better there, so it should be fun.
JBT: And it’s going to have some bonuses because we’re marketers, so the 5th and 6th, it will be half priced. It’s 2.99 instead of 5.99, and we’re giving Sean’s book, Writing Online, which is like the freelancer’s companion guide as a bonus, and a link, I suppose, SelfPublishingPodcast.com/wpr for the Amazon version.
BM: Excellent, and you were saying that you will have the print version, it will be available as well. Is that going to just be a paperback?
JBT: That will be a CreateSpace paperback. We wanted to figure out the Lightning Source thing next year. They create better books. Well, as far as we’ve seen, but for right now, we will solely be on Amazon.
SP: Yeah, and one of the reasons we wrote this is because we want to speak, and there’s no doubt about it, when we speak, we want to be able to have a hardback version of this book, like that would be awesome, but we do have to…
SP: Lightning Source is another nut to crack.
JBT: As with audio, I think we’re going to do audio for this in the next month or so.
SP: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BM: Do you think that you guys will record the audio yourself, or do you think you’ll hire somebody to do it for you?
SP: No. It’s got to be a pro. It’s got to be a pro.
JBT: It’s got to be a pro, and I just plain don’t want to do it. I did that for three books, and I don’t want to do it, but it does also just need to be a professional.
BM: Yeah. Well, I’m looking forward to that. So thank you very much for your time, and as you mentioned, the SelfPublishingPodcast.com/wpr for Write, Publish, Repeat.
BM: All right, so go and check that out, and there will also be a link in the show notes for this episode, and I will talk to you next week, and thanks guys for coming on.
SP: Thank you.
JBT: All right, thanks, Blaine.
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