Welcome to the Books, Brands, and Business podcast with your host, Chris O’Byrne, from JETLAUNCH.net.
My guest today is Charlie Gilkey, the founder of Productive Flourishing, a company that helps professional creatives, leaders, and changemakers take meaningful action on work that matters. He is internationally recognized as a thought leader on productivity, planning, strategy, and leadership for creative people.
Charlie is the author of Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done (published by Sounds True) and The Small Business Life Cycle (designed and published by my company, JETLAUNCH). He is widely cited in media outlets including Inc., Time, Forbes, the Guardian, Lifehacker, and more. He’s also an Army veteran and near-PhD in philosophy.
I especially love this interview because we talk quite a bit about his experience working with a traditional publisher and some of the reasons why you might want to consider taking that route, even though I’m a strong advocate for self-publishing.
Charlie also goes into a lot of detail about his launch process, which I think you’ll find invaluable.
Chris: Hi, Charlie. Welcome to the podcast.
Charlie: Chris, thanks so much for having me on. We’ve had a lot of conversations about books over the last few years, so I’m happy to be having it in this format, too.
Chris: Yeah, I’m super excited. I know we did a work book for you before. This book, you went through more of the traditional publisher, Sounds True, which I think we’ll talk about sometime during this process as well. Most of my authors typically do self-published. It’s always fun to talk to somebody that’s… especially you, who’s done it both ways, so I’m looking forward to that.
Chris: Why don’t you go ahead and tell us what your latest published book is, what it’s about, who it’s for especially.
Charlie: Great. My new book is Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done. It was published on September the 24th, 2019. It’s a book about a lot of things, but most books are. What this book really helps you do is bridge the gap between your current self and that best version that you have of yourself. Of your work, of your life. It helps you bridge those gaps with finished projects. It’s nominally a productivity book, but I think it’s actually a book about changing your life, because we become by doing. If you’re not doing the projects that are helping you doing the becoming, then you’re not becoming who you want to be. I know that sounds obvious, but that’s where it gets done.
Charlie: It walks through a process for taking all of those ideas that sometimes are just rolling around back there. Those ideas that you’ve hidden in the closet of your soul, for that someday to get to it. It show you how to work through those types of projects.
Charlie: It’s really well suited for creative people, because I think we get infected by ideas a lot faster than other people who may not identify by… excuse me, they may not identify as creative people. To be human, is to be creative. In that sense, it’s got a broader appeal for people.
Charlie: If you have a lot of ideas, you don’t know how to shape them, you don’t know how to get them done, you don’t know how to get them unstuck, that’s what this book is about.
Chris: Yeah. When I first read the description, even, I knew that this was a book I had to read, because I’m one of those people, probably a typical entrepreneur, 1000 different ideas running around in my head, never quite get to them, never quite get them finished. Just the ones that are enough to keep me going. I was pretty excited to see this. I have already dug into, about halfway through the book.
Chris: Why did you decide to write this book?
Charlie: Part of it was because I’ve been doing this work for about 12 years. I put a stake in the ground, I think it was in 2014, in a post on Productive Flourishing, which is the blog I’ve been writing at for that long, called “Foundations Are Meant to Be Built Upon, not Flown Over.” I had been talking to so many entrepreneurs and so many executives, and so many people who get really excited about the visionary stuff. Get real excited about the big ideas. Get real excited about the possibilities. Where they keep stumbling is on these foundational pieces. They just keep trying to fly over them, like, well, we’ll get to them. Someday they’ll be important, but every time it comes back to, they’re just not finishing the ideas, they’re not pushing them forward. There are different reasons why. It was one of those where it was there are these other conversations that I love as well, but until we have this foundational conversation, we’re largely just playing social Sodoku at this point. There’s this game that we’re playing, but we know when we leave, the world’s not going to be any better. You have those conversations long enough, you want to start instigating a different conversation. So, that’s one.
Charlie: Two is, I’m a writer, so it’s really natural for me to want to write books. Again, you mentioned this is my second book. It was about time for me to write another book.
Charlie: I think third, on my business side, there is a book shaped hole in my business, around this sort of stuff. With the thousands of articles and posts that we have on Productive Flourishing, excuse me, on Productive Flourishing, I didn’t have one book that I could emphatically send people to. To say, “Go read that book.” It was more like, “Well, go read Getting Things Done, but don’t pay attention to that, and don’t read this chapter, but then you need to add this other piece from this other book. Oh, and then go read this other book, but add this, subtract that.” I was like, I probably should just write the book that I don’t have to say add this, subtract that so much from. It was really this reciprocal thing where the business needed it for its own strategic reasons but I also needed it as a teacher, to be able to give people, when they show up at Productive Flourishing, as a coherent beginning, middle, and end of this stage of the conversation about foundations.
Chris: Got you. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. I guess you’d say that this encapsulates a lot of your teaching. A lot of what you teach and write about in your blog, and probably share with people in the coaching that you do as well. Is that a fair statement?
Charlie: Yeah, there are a lot of the hits in this book. By the hits I mean, the things you end up saying over and over again. The things that I’ve been saying for the last decade. There’s a lot of new stuff in there, too. Some of that new stuff, clients have heard, and friends have heard. There’s no… you can’t find all of the content on the blog. Some of the content in the book, yeah, it just has those different likes to it. I’ll end there. There’s a lot I could say about that.
Chris: Well, I know that you have a military background and you have a philosophy background, having worked on your PhD there. How do north your military and philosophy backgrounds show up in the book, and what you teach?
Charlie: Yeah. One of the more challenging things about being me, I guess, is that when it comes to writing, sometimes Philosopher Charlie sits down, and clearly has the will and wants to do the writing. Sometimes, it’s the Commander Charlie grabs the wheel and wants to do it. Sometimes it’s Entrepreneurial Charlie. Sometimes I could get all three of those different writers to basically agree on what we’re writing about for a given day. You can see that throughout the book, because the great thing about a book, and as long as it took me to finish it, and how it was woven together, is how do I get all of those three chiefs to sit down and be consistent? It’s not like you read one chapter and it feels completely different.
Charlie: What I could say on that one is, when it comes to a lot of the meaning making aspect of things, and the parts of the book that really get people into thinking about the change they want to make in the world, the meaning they want to make in the world, what’s keeping them back, so on and so forth, that is largely the philosopher side of things showing up.
Charlie: Whenever it’s that kick in the pants, here’s the next step, when you’ve got an obstacle go over, under, around, or through. Some of that language, that’s more the soldier part coming out.
Charlie: I think they ended up blending better than I… not better than I had hoped, but that was one of the fears going into the book is can I work this long, have a consistent cadence, and consistent style and consistent feel that doesn’t feel schizophrenic for readers.
Chris: How did you go about writing the book? What did that process look like?
Charlie: How technical do you want me to be on this particular question? There’s a lot of ways we can take the how question.
Chris: Be as technical as you want to be. A lot of my listeners are authors and they love to find out how other people are doing it, how they go about it. In your case, especially, how did the material in the book start finishing. How did that affect your writing process?
Charlie: From a process perspective, what I will say is in retrospect I don’t know that I want to say that fear was doing a lot of driving, or just recognition. I want to start there, because there was someone, and I’m not going to name names because I don’t want to shame them, but there was someone that was really important in my field. They got a book deal, and they weren’t able to finish their book. There’s this long drawn out thing where they had a bunch of stories and then finally they were like, “I quit.” at the end. While they still have some things, while there’s still a personality within the industry, I looked at him and I was like, I’m not going to be that person. In that case, that person lost a lot of credibility for me. You’re writing about getting things done, you’re writing about productivity, you’re writing about how to take these ideas and move them forward, but then when it came time for you to ride the bull, you couldn’t. Again, I’m not trying to say that from a shamey space, but I was like, I know that can happen because I’ve seen that happen. I’m not going to let that happen to me.
Charlie: A lot of it was how do I backwards engineer this. You might find that funny, because this isn’t my first book, it’s not my first rodeo. I had a lot of my own head trash, which is something I’ll talk about in the book, to deal with that. I was like, okay, what are all the ways that I could build checks so that I don’t end up, a month before deadline, telling my editor I haven’t started, or don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve seen that happen, not just with that other person I was just mentioning, but I’ve heard that tale enough and I was like, I’m also not going to be them. Smarter people have gotten book deals and have ended up on the clothesline side of things.
Charlie: What I will say, and I know this is a longer preamble, but you mentioned earlier about the difference between self-published book, and the having a traditional published book. I will say that the motivator of having an editor on the other end, with a deadline, was hugely beneficial for me. That’s the trick I found working with a lot of authors, especially those who choose to self-publish for all the right reasons, is those deadlines can creep on you really, really… you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to launch in October.” You’re saying that in March, and then it seems like every time you inch forward a month there’s another reason to add a month to that deadline. You know what I’m talking about, Chris.
Charlie: Where in this case, I was able to really think, the reality is, with the size of the advance that I got, that’s like two years of salary of being a philosopher and working at a university. Two years. I wouldn’t take a paycheck, I wouldn’t take a job and then just not show up. I wouldn’t be like, “You paid me, but today I didn’t really feel like doing the work, so I was on Facebook and I had a computer I needed to fix. Then I needed to get some doors.” I just wouldn’t. That’s not being in integrity, in a way. That same thing is true of writing at this point. Now, in this weird way, it made me feel like a professional writer, in a way that… even though, again, I had written one book and so much of my work is built upon writing, it just felt different. It felt like I had a job now.
Charlie: Looking at that backwards, a few things. One, I’ve got to put in the work. Every week. Again, I wouldn’t take a job and be like, “I’m not doing the work.”
Charlie: So, two. That’s one. Two, how do I avoid those bits of the writing to where you’ve written so much that you actually don’t know if it makes sense anymore, and how it ties in. You just can’t see your own work. What I did is I worked with my editor, so I’m high level here. I worked with my editor and I was like, okay, what I want to do is on the second Tuesday is what it started out at, I bopped it to Wednesday, but on the second Tuesday of every month, I’m going to send you whatever I have written the month prior. If it’s three words, you’re going to get three words. If it’s 12,000 words, you’re going to get 12,000 words. That’s my date, I have to ship you some work. Because of the way that I think, what that meant to me, was I would ship a draft and also send some editorial commentary about my writing, to my editor. I’m like, “Oh, I’m not sure how this peeking in.” Or, “Oh, I think that landed really well.” Or, “Oh, I think…”
Charlie: I’ve been an editor in a past version of my life, and I’ve been a writing assistant, a writing tutor, also teaching people how to write through teaching philosophy. I’ve been doing this sort of writing and thinking about writing, and evaluating writing for quite a while.
Charlie: I was just like, okay, every month my wonderful editor, Haven, she’s going to get whatever I’ve written. I knew damn well, setting it up, that I’m not going to send her three words. I’m not going to be like, “This is all I wrote this month.” It just feels crappy. What this ended up doing was setting a cadence for my writing, because I knew that you take a full length work, and… let’s see how, yeah, I’ll go nitty gritty with it. I knew about how many words I needed to write, because again, the contract. I knew about how long I had, because again, the contract. Basically, every month, I need to send eight to 10,000 good words. That’s what it is. Eight to 10,000 good words to meet my goal.
Charlie: My job was, in between those writing sessions, is what am I doing today to get me closer to those eight K words? Or however many words I wrote. It just broke it down for me so well. I also, because it’s just the way my mind thinks, I created a writing log for myself. I would sit down, I had a spreadsheet, I printed out the spreadsheet after I made it. It was date, starting words, ending words, start time, end time, what I was writing. That was each row. What I was able to see over time is that in a typical writing session I write about 1200 words. A writing session being 90 to 120 minutes long, so about two hours.
Charlie: When it came down to all of the head trash and stuff around writing, and whether I was going to make it, and all the stuff that I think it’s either natural, or it’s enough, it’s common enough from my friends who are also writers to just know that it’s a thing. It wasn’t, how do I finish this book? It was, okay, how do I finish this 8000 words? Then, okay, how do I get… if it’s 8000 words, I write about 1200 words, I can scrap some, so I need about, let’s call it eight writing sessions to just let myself have some crap that shows up in the writing. Where do I find eight writing sessions in here and put it on the schedule?
Charlie: To go one click lower, I wrote the book on an Alphasmart Neo2, which is a late 90s’ word processor.
Chris: No distractions.
Charlie: No distractions. None. I wrote six lines at a time. It was all drafting. It was perfectly capable. What did I need? A keyboard and a screen that showed me what I was writing. I didn’t need anything else during the drafting stage. I pause there, because I think while we’re writing, we’re trying to do too many things at once. We’re trying to do the ideating, we’re trying to do the drafting, we’re trying to do the editing all at once. That’s a really hard way to write. I just knew that there was a part where I needed to do some of the ideating, some of figuring out what I was writing, and how it fit in with things. Then there’s a button seat time of just drafting. Then there was the editing time. Because I knew of that process, I didn’t do any of the editing and major editing of the work until about a week before I needed to send it to Haven. Why? Because I had done all the drafting, and I didn’t need to do the drafting as I was doing the writing. Excuse me, I didn’t need to do the editing as I was doing the drafting. It just made everything super smooth.
Charlie: Whenever anything came up, I was like, okay, secret to getting the book done, go to coffee shop. Oh, I didn’t say, I created a cold start checklist for myself. Which is what I would do if I hadn’t been writing every three or four days, because I have other things that I’m doing. If I hadn’t been writing because I was out traveling, or facilitating, or coaching, or something else, then I would open up the folder, I would read my cold start checklist, I would start working through the checklist. It was super granular. I realize how granular this call is going, but there you go, Chris. You told me to go there.
Charlie: It was step one, order coffee. Step two is, get the wi-fi password before you sit down. Step three is, open the writing log to see what you wrote last. If it’s a writing day, if it’s a book day, then start the last thing you wrote on the book. If it’s a business writing day, then start on the last thing. Four, I think this is four, I can almost remember it, but I didn’t need to because I had this actually printed out. Four was write for 15 minutes as a warm up. Then write whatever else that I just said that I was going to write. Anyways, it was just follow that checklist.
Charlie: What this enabled for me is this cadence. After I sent a couple of, I call them show your work drops, it’s a bit of a hat tip to Austin Kleon on that one. After I sent a few of these show your work drops to Haven, she was like, “This is great. This is exactly what we’re looking for, keep going.” What it did is it built a confidence where if ever I was sitting there in a coffee shop, hating life as a writer, wondering what… regretting all of my life choices, and wondering what the hell I was doing, I was like, you know what? This process has reliably gotten me the outcome that I wanted, which is Haven, who’s actually an ideal reader for the book, saying this is great, this is exactly what I want. All the evidence that I have suggests that if I just keep doing that, I’m going to keep getting the result that I want. We did that until the book was done.
Charlie: That’s basically how the book got written. Then you hand over the book, you do all the editing. That’s it, Chris. That’s how the book got done.
Chris: That’s actually super awesome, and it would be extremely valuable to any of the authors, or the people who are wanting to write a book, that are listening to this. I’m assuming you have watched the movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper.
Charlie: Yeah, I have watched that one, yeah.
Chris: I’m going to say to people that your book, Start Finishing, is like NZT.
Chris: You got that. He was a writer, and wrote… didn’t have a cadence, couldn’t get things finished, and then he took NZT/your book and was able to finish it in no time. This is super helpful.
Let’s go into the launch part of what you did. What did your launch look like? Was it a specific launch week, a launch day? Were you pushing to get on any of the charts? Just anything you want to share about that whole process, from preparation to finish.
Charlie: The style of launch was the first week business best seller launch, which is… there’s a specific way that you have to make it now. What I’ll say is, we did really well in our first week, but we did not hit The Wall Street Journal, or we did not hit The New York Times. We can talk about why, but that was the goal.
Charlie: With a first week business best seller book launch, it tells you a lot about what you need to do. You pre-sales… if you haven’t been in the business of books, what you’ve got to know is that all the pre-sales that you have, before your book actually publishes, gets added together and counted during your first week. If you, over the three months prior to your book launch, get say, 500 sales, those all show up on the first week of your book launch. Did I explain that well enough, Chris?
Chris: Yeah, you did. Yup. That’s exactly what I’ve learned as well.
Charlie: Okay. Knowing that, and knowing that I wanted to hit one of the best seller lists, and knowing about what those numbers were for this book, in this category, I started thinking about, okay, how do we get this involved. We did a friends and family campaign, way early. The book launched… I’m trying to think of how much detail to go in this. The book launched 9/24. For books in the personal development and productivity space, that’s a weird timeline, because prior to that back to school, back to work ramp up, people disappear for the summer.
Charlie: What I had to orchestrate, or maneuver around, was the fact that up until mid-May, people were paying attention. Late May, June, July, in my industry, that’s when we go on vacations. Maybe getting stuff done isn’t the top of our brain. Maybe we’re not in a binding season. Maybe we’re in an RV, or maybe we’re in France, or wherever. We’re doing different things in the summer. Then we crash back in, in August. We’re like, oh crap, I’ve got to get back to work, I’ve got to get my kids back to school. Then the book launched. I didn’t have enough time, I thought, because of some parameters that my publisher gave me, I thought that August to September time frame was not enough to build the momentum that I wanted.
Charlie: We had a friends and family campaign that started way back in April. The job of that campaign was to get some initial early buyers, and also start training Amazon’s algorithms to see this book and start placing it, and start getting trickles of sales coming in. Again, that starts the presale ramp up.
Charlie: Late May we had a community launch, where I reached out to our community at Productive Flourishing, and gave some pre-sale bonuses, so on and so forth, and said hey, go buy then, which again, ramped up the launch again. I knew it was basically ramp it up by the end of May, or pick it back up in August. We did all that, closed it off in May… I’ll come back to that. Then around the second, third week in August is when we started picking back up the full launch, full internet launch, where we started seeding it out to external podcasts, we started seeding it out to external websites and venues, and things like that, to build up that. Then we went full bore, full bore the week before launch, and the week of launch, which means everything we had left in the chamber went the week before launch. Especially podcasts.
Charlie: A lot of my strategy was to reach out to the relationships that I had formed over the last decade, especially with podcasters. My gamble, on podcasts, were just looking at trends. It takes people five to seven days to listen to a podcast, when they listen to a lot of podcasts. I wanted most of my podcast episodes to hit the week before launch, so that if they were going to buy, they would buy before launch or during launch week, as opposed to during the second week. If you split, let’s say that to hit one of the lists, you have to have 3,000 copies sold in a week. Let’s just assume that. Okay, of you orchestrate your launch such that you get 1,800 the first week, and 1,800 the second week, you don’t hit that list either week. You do well. You still get your goal, but you don’t get it for that particular launch.
Charlie: There’s a lot of timing orchestration that you’ve got to get right. That’s why I wanted to stack so much of those podcasts prior to the launch, so that it gave people enough time to listen to the episode and buy it. It also gave me the opportunity that if podcasts were being published the week before, I can replay, meaning I could roll it out… so for media blast, I can do that the week of the book launch and get double duty on those book, excuse, me, on all of that visibility, and make that pop where it feels like the book is everywhere all at once.
Charlie: That was the strategy. We’re almost two months, let’s see, September, September, October. We’re not quite two months in, and we still have, I don’t know, I was telling Chris earlier, I’m still doing three to four podcasts a week, book interviews a week, and I’m still placing two or three articles a week, depending on where it is and what it looks like.
Charlie: I would say I’m still well in the middle of the launch. I’m not at the end, not at the beginning. I need to roll back, because one thing that happened in our community launch in May is… what’s the best way to say this? Not nearly tight enough coordination between my publisher and I. We ended up with that launch basically being a dud.
Charlie: The second I sent out the email for pre-sale orders, well not the second, five minutes after I sent out that, I had people start writing in like, “Hey, can we get the e-book? Did you record the audio book? We really want to buy those versions.” Those assets were supposed to be available that day, and they weren’t. For one reason or another, it actually took my publisher about six weeks to get all of them fixed, and at the right price. It flat lined that launch. It was actually super hard to recover, especially with some other health challenges behind the scene that happened in August and September. We didn’t do nearly as well on that side of things as we had hoped, just because that fizzled when people realized that they couldn’t get the version of the book that they wanted, at the right price, and in all the places. It really made it hard for us to keep concerted marketing push going. It basically became a, “We’ll let you know when you can buy, but we’re not sure when that’s going to be.” By the way, that’s not how you want to run a launch.
Chris: Absolutely not.
Charlie: It was a bit of a cluster at that point. Again, it was hard to recover in that time frame. And, and, and, and a lot of the things we were going to do, we can still do. We’ve still got so much room to maneuver. It’s just figuring out how we come back to it. That’s the thing about books, I think a lot of time, and maybe for people who are trying to do a best seller run, like myself, is you think it all comes down to that week. It’s really, a lot of the books that we know and love now, they weren’t popular when they first came out. Or it took them awhile to gather steam. Start Finishing, in a lot of ways, is still gathering a lot of steam.
Chris: That is actually super good for a lot of authors to know, is that maybe you’ve had a rough launch week, it doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the show, that you messed up your one and only chance to do well with book sales. Do you want to talk a little bit about numbers? Numbers of books sold during your launch. Maybe the total numbers sold. I know people are always fascinated by that.
Charlie: Yeah. Before I go there, I want to say something real quick. We talk a lot of times about, well I don’t know what the conversation necessarily is here, but I’ll say this. A huge advantage to self-publishing, is how easy it is to self-correct.
Charlie: Because, Chris, you remember when we launched The Small Business Lifecycle, way back in the day. Because you have so much process control, you could self-correct super quickly. Yeah, it didn’t come out on day one or two, or it didn’t happen on day one or two, you can fix it, and it’s there on day three.
Charlie: What I had to learn the hard way, and this is not… Sounds True is a great publisher, so I’m not trying to whip them on this one, but any time I wanted to change a major strategy with my publisher, it might take six to eight weeks to get everyone on board and to turn that ship. That was one of those things, and again, it’s the curse of knowledge having run a self-published book first, because I saw, man, if that whole community launch thing, if we had screwed that up, we could have fixed it in two or three days. That’s all it would have taken. Oops, another fat finger dumb thing that I did, and fixed it and moved on, as opposed to the telephone game that we ended up in. That’s the nature of the beast there.
Charlie: Again, not to disparage my publisher, they’re a great publisher. It’s just you’ve got to realize that you’ve become part of a different process. It’s not you being able to call up Chris and be like, “Yo, we’ve got to get this fixed now, man.” And Chris being like, “Yeah, we can do that.” That’s not the way it works. At all. I think that’s one of the best things about self-publishing that we don’t talk about enough.
Charlie: Right now, if I wanted to, I can go… actually, I might pester Chris about it, because he was involved in that project, but if I wanted to, I could go change the copy and the price, I can go sign up for BookBub. I can give a bunch of copies away for free. I could do whatever I wanted, right now, with my book. With my first book. Any one of those things would be six, eight weeks of conversation with my publisher to do now.
Charlie: That’s an ace in the hole, guys. Embrace the fact that you will make mistakes, because we can’t but help doing that. There’s that grace of being able to do it quick, to fix it quickly when you’re self-published. I just can’t impress upon you how cool, important, and valuable that is, being on this side of things.
Chris: That really begs the question, your next book, would you go traditional or self-published?
Charlie: I don’t know yet.
Chris: What were the advantages of going traditional? For you.
Charlie: Okay. Advantages. Circa 2019, there’s still, and I’m just going to be frank on this one, there’s still some additional status and cred for having a traditional publisher, as opposed to self-publishing. That’s just real.
Charlie: Two is, I got a nice book deal. Part of the book deal is they funded the writing of the book, and the amount of time that I would need to be out to launch the book. They also funded a lot of the production of the book as an asset, and the editors, and all the things that it takes to make a good book, they fronted. We made a really great book. I say that not because I’m cocky, but just because looking at external reviews and looking at how pretty it is, looking at people’s reaction, I think we made a better book in this process than I would have made on my own. Just straight up.
Charlie: Three, I would say access to bookstores, and retailers, and indies. Super huge. I know we can do that through Greenleaf, and we can do that through all sorts of other ways, but my thing about this book is for this time, I wanted to pretend to not be in the book logistics business. I just wanted to be in the book making and marketing business. When you turn over all that logistics and all that admin, that’s what they do and that’s what they do really, really well.
Charlie: For me, it was… I wouldn’t say it was a bucket list item, but it was just one of those things where it felt like the right move in my career, at the right time. Obviously if I would have written some version of this book two or three years ago, perhaps it would have been better. Small Business Life Cycle, in a weird way, still has legs. I still have people, four or five years after writing it that will still want to call me up and interview me about it, and reference is, and say that it’s great, which is great. Books have a super long life span.
Charlie: With this particular run, Sounds True came to the party with their own list of… I think it was 1.3 million people on their readership list. That’s a market that I don’t necessarily have direct access to, so that’s great. They came with their own publicity team. There are some questions around that in the sense where their internal publisher got a better, excuse me, their internal publicist got a better job and left three weeks before launch prime time. There’s a lot of scramble to get my now great publisher, Cathy Lewis, in case you’re curious, to get on board and get going.
Charlie: I think when I looked at things, and looked at size of communities, size of opportunities, what I wanted this book to do, it just made sense to write… to go traditional publishing. For instance, the Korean rights have already been sold, which is fantastic. The simplified Chinese rights are in negotiation right now, which is fantastic. I think Japan is coming online. International rights, just all that stuff.
Charlie: The other thing about my publisher is they do fantastic with audio assets. They have their roots in audio, spiritual tele-classes, or audio seminars I should say. Having them fly me in to record the audio book, and it turned out to be such a great product, that was a huge reason to do it. Quite frankly, if I would have gone with another publisher, my agent and I may have talked about getting audio rights out of the negotiations so that I could retain those for my own. That’s a huge source of revenue for a lot of authors. Many publishing houses don’t know how to use those well.
Charlie: I guess I gave six or seven reasons why I went traditional publishing this time. I think for me, that is absolutely the right choice. I do not regret doing it. Next time around, some of those may be operative, some of them may not. That’s why I have to see… there’s another book that’s already started working on me. It’s starting to get ever louder and tug at me ever more, so I don’t know if Sounds True is going to want this book, and I don’t know if this book is going to want Sounds True. If that’s not the case, some of those factors change, and I might follow Michael Bungay Stanier’s route here. If you haven’t read his post, I think it’s “How I Sold 150,000 Books, Doubled My Revenue,” so on so forth. Just type Michael Bungay Stanier in and book publishing, you’ll probably get his article. He’s done really, really well for himself. I think he’s doing the same thing for a forthcoming book that I’m delighted to be an early reader for. That might be the right move for me at that time.
Charlie: I’m not a… I’ve come to peace with, I’m not a book every year guy. I think I’m a book every three years guy. At this particular influx of time, three years is a long time when it comes to the book publishing industry, and what’s available to us authors. I think if I go forward, and it seems like partnering with a traditional publisher is a good call, because they’re putting the right things on the table, then I’ll do it. If not, then I won’t.
Chris: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Boy, do I appreciate that list that you gave us, because especially in my world, and especially because I do provide self-publishing services, I tend to focus on that. Whereas, we would be doing a disservice to my audience to not cover the reasons why they might want to consider traditional publishing. These are very valid points that you brought up. Even just the audio book alone, and all the costs that go into doing an audio book, doing the design and the editing, and all of those pieces. Plus having that accountability along the way as well. It sounds like that really worked out well for you.
Chris: Now, when you approached Sounds True, or… what was that process like? Did you have an agent that pushed your book and promoted it to various publishers?
Charlie: Yeah. I have a great agent. David Fugate is the bomb. I can’t sing highly enough. I want to pause real quick.
Charlie: You mentioned that last piece about the editorial support. Again, I want to stress how important that was for me in this process, in the sense where Haven was just an excellent book midwife. I don’t know that I could have picked a better editor. So much about my experience, especially you’ve heard other authors, especially when we get to complaining about a lot of things, which we will do, you get a bunch of verbose people who also write books, we complain a lot.
Charlie: What I would say is that my experience with some of these key players, my publicist Cathy Lewis, with my agent David Fugate, with my acquisitions editor Haven, Lindsey was a publicist at Sounds True before she left, she was fantastic, so many of those individual relationships made this book happen. I want to be right up clear with that where I realize I could have assembled a team, I’ve done that before, I’ve assembled a team of a great editor, and then I’ve had a great book packager, Chris O’Byrne. I’ve had all those things before, but I just looked at how much work that was. That wasn’t the business I wanted to be in this time. I wanted to try not to be in the business. So, yes, that editorial support, huge.
Charlie: Chris, you’re going to have to remind me of the question here in a second.
Charlie: When I talk to my clients about self-publishing, part of it is setting, hey, what are your goals? I work with business leaders, and business thought leaders. I think our calculus may be a little bit different. Going into it, most of the time I’m telling them we need to be prepared to spend at least five grand, maybe closer to 10 grand, just to do a straight forward, giving it my best shot, want to actually tell my list and have a list to tell, and all those stupid types of things, let’s put at least five, maybe closer to 10K, just down on the production, on the marketing, on building the website, on the assets, on any marketing support you may need, if you’re going to put your book in for awards, it gets… oh, and then the editors, it can get, depending upon whether you seeing it as expensive or not, but those things add up.
Charlie: I think, unfortunately, I would want to shift the narrative for people around self-publishing, that it’s not necessarily the cheap option. Unfortunately, I think that’s the stigma that it gets. It’s cheap, it’s free, it’s so on so forth. I want people to be thinking about the strategic options that they’re taking in play. Again, there’s a lot of process to control on self-editing, or self-publishing. There’s just time to market that’s really huge. There’s the fact that you have 100% creative control of what the book sounds like. You’re not trying to convince someone who doesn’t know your people about what your people want to read. You get into a lot of that, that I think is important.
Charlie: I would say, hold lightly on the budgeting side of things, or the costive side of things, because unfortunately, I’ve also seen so many self-published authors beat themselves up because they’re not able to compete on the lists. They’re not able to sell as many books and the numbers are different that they’re traditionally published counterparts. You’ve got to look at it like those traditionally published counterparts have 10 to 30 X the amount of marketing behind their book than you do. In this market space, in this attention economy that we live in, they’re going to win. I can’t beat Rachel Hollis. Rachel Hollis has Girl, Wash Your Face, or Girl, Stop Apologizing, or Girl something. I don’t know what it is right now. She’s coming in with so much money after being a New York Times best seller. I look at her number and look at her results, and look at what happened. It’s a completely different thing because of the amount of money and support that’s behind that.
Charlie: I don’t know. I don’t mean to be a little rambly here, Chris, but I just want to make sure that we’re putting that conversation on board, because sometimes what you invest is what you get back out, and if you’re coming in and trying to do it on the cheap, on the backside, that might also be predicative of the results that you get.
Chris: Yeah. I don’t think you’re rambling at all. This is just a lot of extremely valuable advice for people. I’m super grateful that you shared all of this, as much as you have. As we get ready to wrap things up here, are there any last thoughts, or tips, or advice that you want to give to people?
Charlie: Yeah. If you’re self-publishing, and you know that’s the route for you, publish sooner. Get your team, figure out what you need to do. I talk about it in the book, building your success pack and things like that. I think we self-published authors hold on to our books way too long. By publish sooner, I don’t mean publish crap. I don’t mean rush the process. I just mean, if you’re got a book in you, and you know that you’re self-publishing it, then the only thing that’s keeping you from publishing that book is you. Get after it.
Charlie: If you’re traditionally publishing-
Chris: Start finishing.
Charlie: Start finishing. Someone should write a book about that. I’m serious, because it’s so hard to convey to people the difference maker a book can make for your life, and for your business, and for your thing. I don’t know.
Charlie: One of the reasons… and I know we’re supposed to be wrapping up here, but I send The Small Business Life Cycle to all of my clients, once they hire me. It just talks about the predictable routes of growth and things like that. It also has turned out that people now, when they want to work with me, they will start talking to me in Small Business Life Cycle Language. They’ve read the book, and they’re like, “I’m in stage three, and I’m dealing with this thing that you talked about, so on so forth.” For a consultant and coach, you realize how… one, that’s super precious, and I’m always humbled. That person has shown that they’re willing to do the work and find me. This is going to be a great engagement. They already know what they need, they’re already invested. They’ve shaved a couple, two, three months off of our work together. It’s just a beautiful thing.
Charlie: That’s for non-fiction authors, I’m aware. If you are a fiction self-published author, it’s basically the same thing. If you are going with that idea that you need a trilogy before you can really market your book, which I know is a thing in fiction, well, guess what? Your second and third book are just waiting behind your first one. I know that sounds obvious, but if you’re sitting on that fiction book right now, the second and third one, they’re waiting on you, too. The best thing you could do is start driving forward with some of those considerations.
Charlie: On the traditional publishing side, I would say it’s all about partnership. Making sure that you’re finding the right partner, and understanding that partnership also means you give up some things. Yes, it’s easy for us to be divas once we get into that deal. Also, again, different people are doing different things.
Charlie: I also want to throw a shout out to my good friend, also another book advisor for me, Todd Sattersten, he’s got a book called Every Book is a Startup, that title tells you what it is, but it has you think about the creation of this book as an entirely new business and what you need to do to work through that. I think that helps… for people who want to have those types of results, get them.
Charlie: Last thing I’ll say on this one, I know I was supposed to wrap up, but one thing, Chris. Here we go. Last thing I would say on this one is, dear God, if you just want to write a book and publish it and move on to the next book, and not worry about all this business stuff that Chris and I have been talking about, please do that. Please do that.
Charlie: I was talking to a friend the other day, while we were driving up to Seattle, and he was stuck on his book. It’s a fiction book. He was talking, he was like, “I’m kind of in a funk with it.” The terminus of that conversation was either treat this like a hobby, or be a professional about it. Pick one. Get out of the middle. That was what was messing him up. He was wanting to treat it like a hobby, but he wanted it to be a professional thing.
Charlie: If you want it to be a hobby, that’s a beautiful thing. Don’t let any of this talk discourage you, because that’s not why you’re doing this. You’re doing it for different reasons. Pick one of those lanes and really lean into it. Play the game from the start, to the middle, to the end, that you’ve chosen to play. Don’t try to dabble so much, because that’s where, I think, misery and frustration can come from.
Chris: Awesome. That’s beautiful advice. Thank you so much for being on the show, and for just giving so much value and valuable information to people. I really appreciate how you opened up about a lot of this stuff.
Charlie: Hey, I’m happy to be here again. It’s great conversation. Glad to be of service.
Chris: Thanks so much, Charlie.
Thanks for coming along for the ride. If you want to be part of a tight-knit community of people learning how to make money with their books, join my FB group at jetlaunch.link/group. That’s the best place to ask me questions and get fast answers.
Website: Productive Flourishing
Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done by Charlie Gilkey
The Small Business Life Cycle – Second Edition: A No-Fluff Guide to Navigating the Five Stages of Small Business Growth by Charlie Gilkey
“How to publish a book on Amazon (and sell over 100,000 copies the SMART way)” by Michael Bungay Stanier
Every Book Is a Startup: A Better Way For Authors To Publish Their Work by Todd Sattersten
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