Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant co-founded Sterling & Stone and are the authors of a touchstone non-fiction book Write. Publish. Repeat. They’ve just released the follow up to that book The Fiction Formula and are co-hosts of the Story Studio podcast.
In this interview, Johnny and Sean explain:
- Why they stopped creating courses and hosting in-person events for authors
- How they’re going to publish 150 books next year (yes, 150!)
- What it takes to generate thousands of dollars a month in revenue each month on Amazon
- Where new indie authors should start if they want to self-publish quickly
- How the Flywheel Effect (a concept from the business world) informs their creative process
And lots more.
I start by asking the pair why they decided to write a follow up to Write. Publish. Repeat.
- The Fiction Formula: The New Rules of Self Publishing Success
- Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success)
- The Flywheel Effect by Jim Collins
Grammarly is one of my favourite proofreading tools. Now, claim a 20% discount with this Grammarly coupon.
Bryan Collins: So Sean, Johnny, it’s great to have you guys today on the podcast. And I was just saying before we started recording, your podcast, the one that’s called the Self-Publishing Podcast is one of the first ones I started listening to. So thank you again for all of the advice through the podcasts over the years. And your new book is called The Fiction Formula. I’m just wondering if you could tell me a little bit about why you decided to write it.
Johnny Truant: Well, first of all, thank you for all of that. That’s really nice because a lot of times… You know, we work… We broadcast.
Sean Platt: That’s Johnny.
Johnny Truant: This is Johnny. Yeah, we broadcast and so we don’t always know how it’s received. Because you know, it’s not a dialogue, it’s a broadcast.
Johnny Truant: As far as why we’re writing The Fiction Formula, it’s… There are two main reasons. One is to kind of update what we’ve learned since Write. Publish. Repeat. Now it’s not to update Write. Publish. Repeat. It’s slightly sideways of that because some of the things that we’ve learned, they don’t overlap exactly with what’s in Write. Publish. Repeat. But we’ve learned wholly new topics that weren’t even touched then. Which we can go into.
Johnny Truant: The other main reason is that our business has shifted to basically wholly fiction. We do write some nonfiction books, but we do just write books now and that’s also something we could talk about. But as we’re doing more and more fiction, we’ve needed to leave kind of the wild cowboy era that used to be the case in 2013 when we wrote Write. Publish. Repeat. Where honestly there was a lot of just kind of figuring it out and a lot of things worked even if they were sloppy.
Johnny Truant: But these days, it’s increasingly hard to be noticed amongst all of the other self-publishers out there and just publishing in general. And it takes a more professional effort, let’s say. And so this is kind of the area of like systems and procedures for us that help us kind of turn a repeatable crank or push a repeatable flywheel if you like the Jim Collins’ model. And so that’s what this book is about. It’s about what the systems are and how to just basically be more pro and more “formulaic”, if you will, with the way you write. Not in a bad way. I want to emphasize that. Formulaic sounds terrible. I just heard it in my own ears.
Sean Platt: Yeah. It was also, for us, like a departure from education, or a way to simplify what we were doing. Because Write. Publish. Repeat. did take off in a way that we hadn’t expected or anticipated or really necessarily were even looking for, it ended up guiding a lot of what we were doing for too long. You know what you said at the beginning of the show and before we started recording, that that book had an influence and we liked that. We liked seeing that we had that influence. So we chased that in the wrong way.
Sean Platt: Because Johnny and I both came up in online marketing circles, so we had the dual devils on our shoulders of people in our space telling us you need to develop a course, you need to develop a course, you need to develop a course. With an audience who kept saying, we want a course, we want a course, we want something like a course.
Sean Platt: And us thinking, we don’t want to do any of that. We don’t want to build it, we don’t want to sell it. We don’t want to do any of that. We want to tell stories. But you know, once we did our first live event and we had the book and the podcast was just taking off, it just… We kind of went in the wrong way and it got away from our core competency, which is telling stories.
Sean Platt: Education just went too far and by the time we pulled it back, The Fiction Formula is essentially the outline that we would have used to build out this big video course that none of us ever wanted to do. So it was a way of like, “Hey, here’s everything we would have done.” In just the simple $5 version.
Bryan Collins: Yep. And from a purely business point of view, did you not consider that it would bring in more revenue if you created the course instead of the book?
Johnny Truant: Yeah, but… So what’s interesting about this is that it’s true on one level that it would have brought us more money. I mean, we’ve done… We did programs in the past that weren’t quite courses, but you know, we would sell stuff that was higher ticket items and they did bring in a lot of money and we would say, “Look at all this money.”
Johnny Truant: But what happened was it actually lost us money in the longterm because, in order to support those efforts, you need staff. You need a different kind of organisation than a story studio needs because you’re running a more traditional business. And we were able to look back at the decision that prompted us to say, “Let’s forget all this education, let’s just do books.” Was when we kind of realised that this big chunk of money that we had gotten from some of those efforts was actually a loss to us for two main reasons. Number one, because we had to support it all. We had a staff of like 30 at that point, and payroll, heavy payroll. But it also, taking our eye off the ball of fiction, particularly fiction, cost us a lot because there’s a momentum thing there. There’s like a rolling boulder and when we stopped-
Sean Platt: Going back to the flywheel, it’s like you just stopped pushing it and it doesn’t hold its place. It goes all the way back to the beginning.
Bryan Collins: Yep. Yeah, the flywheel metaphor is fantastic from Jim Collins. I read about that this year as well. So how many are in your company now then? How many do you guys employ?
Johnny Truant: It depends on how you define it. Because we work with, I want to say 15 other writers right now, but I’m choosing to work with carefully rather than employ or have on staff or anything. Because we actually, we don’t really have many employees, very few. And we work with a team who… It’s almost like a co-op, everybody all in, you know? And so we’re all pushing that flywheel together, but we aren’t employee and employer. It’s not like that. It’s a bunch of people working together.
Bryan Collins: Okay. So how does the writing process work then with a model like that?
Sean Platt: It depends on the project, but in general, we… Well there’s two parts to this question. As far as current production, what we do is we spend a lot of time upfront in pre-production, so we really know our stories ahead of time. We meet in a writer’s room where we all get together and can kind of brainstorm ideas out. So maybe somebody has a story for a… An idea for a story, and we as a group can kind of tease it out, ask them the right questions, validate their assumptions, go over their outlines.
Sean Platt: By the time we’re ready to actually write, we really are comfortable with our material. We’re ready to go fast. And then we have all the support systems ahead and behind the project itself to get it to market. But there’s a really big time cost for us and just effort cost and monetary costs that we have upfront with each of our authors because we work with an author for about a year and a half before they actually get anything to market.
Bryan Collins: Okay.
Sean Platt: And that’s counter to the way it’s kind of done right now, which is get to market as fast as you possibly can. And we go slower not to go faster, but to stay consistent. We only do things at this point that are sustainable. That’s not how we used to do things. We used to go as fast as possible. We used to break things so that we can put them back together and understand how they work. But it’s not that that was the wrong thing to do, it’s that what got us here won’t get us there. And now we need to adapt and we need to think about what we’re doing, in not a new way, but in a way that is more evolved because we’ve grown up as a company.
Sean Platt: Now that we’re a little more mature and it’s not just us supporting, you know, us three guys trying to write our stories and feed our families. We actually have this whole infrastructure and a whole studio full of authors that we’re trying to support and we have to give them the toolset. So it’s not about handing them a bunch of fish. It really is about going out to the ocean every single day and braving the waves and getting our lines out there and teaching them how to do that themselves. And that’s… So this last year and a half has been about building a runway for our frontline of authors. And even though there’s 15, we’ll only see a couple of them this year. Then more next year. And that’s how it will be because we want to grow slow and strong.
Bryan Collins: Okay. Okay, so how… This is something that’s in the book, but how can somebody, based on what you’ve described, choose a genre that’s commercial and fulfilling?
Johnny Truant: I’m going to leave that to you Sean because that’s a genre therapy answer I think.
Sean Platt: Yeah. I love telling this story and I’m sure people are going to get really sick of hearing it, but I’ll tell the shorter version of this. We stumbled upon this very recently, I want to say last year, it’s maybe a year and a half old. But we had… When we were first moving into this production model and we were bringing in authors, we were going to start a romance line. Which we are not actually running right now at all. Precisely because of this. We found that a lot of romance authors, they shouldn’t be writing romance. They’re writing romance because they’ve assumed that they can write romance, right? These are universal story structures. Romance is just one of the easiest genres to write for that reason. If you can create believable characters and you can write believable sex scenes, there is a market there. There’s a lot of romance readers. There’s also a ton of competition.
Sean Platt: And if it’s not truly in your heart space, then even if you’re successful, you end up with golden handcuffs. Johnny and I know a lot of very successful on paper romance authors who are kind of miserable with what they’re writing. And we had a romance author who, she’d been writing romance for years and years and years, traditionally published, not traditionally published, in all the writers groups and forums that she was in, it was romance. And our job is to develop really commercial ideas. So the idea itself was rocking, the name of the franchise was rocking. It was the kind of thing where you could give a reader the same but different experience over and over and over. But we pilot everything, you know? We treat it like, “Okay, here’s the pilot, is this good enough? Do we go into the full series?”
Sean Platt: And so we were at the pilot part of this discovery process for her. And the pilot should have been good enough. It should have been… Based on the elements and the writer we had assigned, it should’ve gone to series, but there was something slightly off about it and we had to have a meeting about that. Because in our company, a good enough story isn’t. We really want to build… We’re creating perennial content. And that means sometimes, you know, not taking something to market if it’s not good enough.
Sean Platt: And this was was good, but it was the first one and we really wanted it to be great. So we were asking around, “Hey, what is it about writing romance that you like?” She liked the banter, she liked the back and forth between characters, getting into their heads, the emotions, all of this stuff. But really nothing that she said couldn’t be in a buddy cop movie or X-Files.
Johnny Truant: Yeah. And importantly, she didn’t like writing sex scenes or happy endings.
Sean Platt: Right.
Bryan Collins: The two key parts of a romance book.
Sean Platt: I was just getting there. The stuff that she didn’t like was like the core heartbeat of any romance. You have to have a happy ending. She doesn’t like happy endings. Then you have to have sex even if it’s implied and she doesn’t like writing sex. So those are big barriers. So we got to asking her, “Well, if you could write anything, what would you write?”
Sean Platt: And she asked us, in all seriousness, this sounds like a punchline, but it wasn’t. It was a very serious question in the moment. She said, “Is there anything like a Jack the Ripper romance?”
Sean Platt: “Well, no there’s not. But there are serial killer thrillers where maybe a male and female cop need to work together and you can keep the banter and the chemistry, but not have all the stuff you don’t actually want.”
Sean Platt: And it turns out she’s a dark thriller author. That’s what she wants to write. It’s what she’s always wanted to write and she didn’t actually know it. And what we’ve found is that most authors do not understand the true intersection between what is commercial and what is viable for them as a sustainable creative outlet. And once you can find that secret little corner of your creative self, you can kind of create commercial content on repeat. So it’s… We spend a lot of time figuring that out and we call it genre therapy because it is what it is. We have to know who the person is as a human and as a creator so that we can figure out where their commercial sensibilities actually lie.
Johnny Truant: And if you’re thinking that that sounds like an answer to how do you find something you enjoy writing rather than something you will be successful writing. The truth is that they go together. There’s a lot of people out there right now, like I was saying, writing stuff. It’s not like the old days where you could kind of build it and they would come. And so one of the things that is impossible to fake, at least by most people, is true connection. A story that is written from a heartfelt space is different from one that is just sort of written as a mercenary.
Johnny Truant: And so we found that the people who go through genre therapy always say… There’s always a light bulb that goes on in a very like, “Oh my God, I can actually do this.” Sort of way. And it makes them more productive, faster and they write better stories.
Johnny Truant: Now there is an additional consideration but it really does come second. And that is to find where the market has… Think things that… Like weaknesses or things… Holes that need to be filled that overlap with the Venn diagram of what you just learned about yourself in genre therapy. And so it basically gives you a subset from which you can pick and you choose a commercial genre that’s doing well and fits the other criteria from your subset.
Bryan Collins: Okay. Okay, got ya. And you also said something there, or perhaps Sean said it, if you build it they will come. That’s not really working anymore and that seemed to be an idea in Write. Publish. Repeat. And certainly, Amazon odds are harder these days as well. So are you guys like relying on the quality of the work for it to stand out instead? Is that the change?
Sean Platt: Well, there are a few things. Primarily yes, the quality of the work does matter because good enough just isn’t anymore. The market is so beyond saturated that you have no hope of standing out if you’re just writing a rough draft and publishing once a month. Like you may trick readers a couple of times, but you’re not going to build a list of passionate, devoted fans who are dying for what you’re reading next. And it’s too easy. And you know, especially in KDP Select, you just go from one to the next to the next to the next because it’s free. And you know, KDP Select feels very temporary for us and we do use it as a vehicle because it does have its benefits, of course, that’s where so much of the traffic is right now.
Sean Platt: But it’s not sustainable. We want fans who are willing to pay for our work. We want our work to be in a place where the decision-makers in Hollywood are able to see it. And so far all of our options and interests have come from outside of the Amazon ecosystem. So that’s important to us long term for what we’re trying to build. But we absolutely can’t ignore that. And what we need to do is approach the entire publishing adventure from a different perspective, which is through patience. And patience is not pervasive right now in the indie publishing community. People are trying to go as fast as they can. There’s a lot of fear that there’s too much competition and that this is the end. And I mean that’s the way it’s been since like 2013. It’s gotten worse, but the actual culture hasn’t changed. It’s that there isn’t as much of an abundance mindset.
Sean Platt: If you are competing for the quality of your story and you’re willing to be patient, then I think the mathematics of Write. Publish. Repeat. actually still hold true, if not more than ever. Which is you have to build your reader base and then do it over and over and over again. You have to get better by the book. And better by the book doesn’t just mean creating a better story. It means creating a better reader experience. It means communicating better, bonding better from book to book to book. And that’s just turning the flywheel.
Sean Platt: If you do that with a lot of intention and you do it with quality and you’re constantly making your readers happy and giving them a reason to consume what you have next and share what they just enjoyed, you will build a sustainable career. So we approach it that way, but also we approach it more as a collective.
Johnny Truant: Yeah.
Sean Platt: Where there’s a bunch of us, so we are really able to prop one another up, take turns in the spotlight and just rotate the carousel in that way.
Bryan Collins: And the collective that you’ve described, I presume you’re not all in the one office?
Sean Platt: Oh no, we’re all over the world.
Johnny Truant: Yeah.
Sean Platt: All over the continents. I mean, I think Antarctica is… We don’t have anyone there. But yeah, we’re all over.
Bryan Collins: So how did you bring together such a diverse group of writers across all of those genres?
Sean Platt: The education department.
Johnny Truant: Ironically.
Sean Platt: We’ve always put a lot of ourselves and a lot of our personality into what we do. Which is why we were able to hold live events, which is why our podcast was successful, which is why people bond with our nonfiction books. And so 100% of the people who are in our studio came from our community. And I imagine that’s the way it will be going forward. It’s one of the big benefits of continuing to teach through nonfiction books is that it allows us to kind of codify what we know and get it out there.
Sean Platt: We believe that that over time will help to elevate the culture in the indie community and put quality first. And we really believe in that and we’re really allegiant to that. So we want to keep stoking that fire. But yeah, beyond that, we think that keeping ties into the community, it means that we’ll have access to that talent pool. We want driven, smart, writers who just want to do things in a different way but want a community to do it with.
Bryan Collins: Okay. Okay and you talked there… I think you said 15 writers or so you’re currently collaborating with. So how do you balance them? Like maker time and manager time?
Johnny Truant: That’s a lot more on Sean than it is on me. I’m mainly a maker and he’s like a serial collaborator. He works with everybody.
Bryan Collins: Okay.
Sean Platt: I try to make myself as obsolete as I can as soon as I can. Right now we’re heavy training, but we won’t ever be bringing on a big wave of writers like we did in this first phase. Right now we have a lot of people who are all kind of at the same stage and so we’re learning our processes now. Throughout this next year, throughout 2020, we’ll be publishing what we call our core curriculum. And that’s… We’re basically building all the books and the processes for our own studio, our… I mean they’re SLPs, but way sexier than that because they’re actually teaching you how to write and sell fiction. And so we’re creating those for our storytellers first and then sharing them with the general audience as just regular nonfiction books.
Sean Platt: But once that training process is complete, it’ll be a lot easier for us in the future to bring in authors one at a time and have them go through that process. And I won’t have to be a part of it because that’s the reason for developing it with these authors and developing the core curriculum.
Sean Platt: Ideally, I just want to write with my few partners. Right now I write with Dave and Johnny and Bonnie. And that’s to me Nirvana. Like I would love to just do that. And maybe one project or author at a time who really needs my attention, but by and large just that. That’s where I would spend my time. But right now I’m perfectly content to take my time getting there and just use a lot of my maker time to help the studio along as a whole.
Bryan Collins: And Johnny, are you spending much time each day writing? It sounds like your process is a bit different to Sean’s.
Johnny Truant: Yes. So I’m basically… Yeah, I write in the mornings. I actually just finished for the day. And same as Sean, but I’m just working on my own stuff or usually stuff that’s collaborative with Sean. I just have like one or two projects that are solely me. But yes, I still spend most of my morning writing.
Bryan Collins: Do you spend your morning writing as well, Sean? Or do you do work on the business stuff in the morning?
Sean Platt: No, I try to never ever do business stuff in the morning. This is actually a very rare exception. I write until noon. Now writing could be outlining. It could be editing something that someone needs me to turn. Or it could be getting my own draft words in. But that’s before noon and then noon to two is just kind of exercise or sleep or eat or whatever. And then from two forward is anything else. That’s our story meetings, that’s email, that’s catching up on anything I owe people.
Sean Platt: But ideally, as time goes forward, what I would really love to do is that first part of the day I just get to spend on my projects. And my projects would be anything that I’m responsible for creating an outline or a draft for and really that would just be my work, Bonnie’s, Johnny’s, or Dave’s. And then anything else in the company is from two o’clock on. That would be my kind of holy grail and I hope to get there by this time next year.
Bryan Collins: Okay, gotcha. So I suppose just to return to what we’re talking about with courses there, a few moments ago, most of the nonfiction authors that I’ve interviewed or talked to have a business behind their nonfiction book. I don’t think many of them have a business like you guys, but do you think courses are on the way out as a business model for nonfiction authors? Or is it just something that you guys just pivoted away from?
Johnny Truant: I don’t think that they’re out. I think that they’re going to… I think they’ve already begun to change and I think they’re going to continue to change. So when Sean and I started on the internet, you could basically… I mean it sounds a little jaded, but it’s true. You could basically just gather a bunch of people together and interview them and sell it for $97 or something else ending in 97.
Sean Platt: Oh my God, it’s sad but true.
Johnny Truant: Right. It was very, very true. And so it slowly bled away from that and you had to have better courses and better courses. And we know some people who really make some amazing courses and kind of do them… It’s like a university replacement almost. And I think that we’re going to see more and more of that. And I think we’re going to see an acceptance that… I think we already are seeing an acceptance and have seen for a while, that there’s a lot of free stuff out there and people tend to just go and Google and listen to podcasts way more… Sorry, under some of the same circumstances, where they might have gone and just bought a course in the past.
Johnny Truant: I think that now the game has changed so that you really have to up your ante. You have to have top-level curation, i.e. yes, you could find this out there for free, but we’ve put it in a form that makes a lot more sense. And we’ve called the best and we developed some stuff that you’re not going to find out there. I still think that a nonfiction book into an education business, let’s say, a business that educates in some way is definitely the way to go for a lot of people. But I think that you can’t just slap up videos anymore. It’s going to be something where it’s live consultation or speaking or really top-notch courses or something like that.
Sean Platt: Yeah, I think that… Well I actually, nevermind, that’s a rabbit hole and I have nothing to add.
Bryan Collins: Okay. Okay. Gotcha, gotcha. And like you guys, those 15 or 16 people that you’re working with… But what if somebody was just getting started, how can they take away some of the lessons that you’ve learned to, I suppose, get their stories out into the world and start earning from them?
Sean Platt: Well, I don’t think you need a big giant studio. I mean, when we started… We’re only where we are now because of the things that we’ve done. When we started, it was just the three of us. And technically before that, it was just Dave and I. That was still collaboration. The point is you don’t have to go out there alone. And I think things are more niche. I think getting information needs to be more targeted, needs to be more specific.
Sean Platt: To go back one second and answer that question. Yes, I think that the course model in the future, Johnny’s right, it has been more curated. And for someone like us, it’s not that we are opposed to teaching because we like making a difference, but we don’t want to divide our time from what we’re truly passionate about, which is not teaching. Teaching is something we can be happy that we’re doing, but it’s never going to be as passionate for us as just telling stories.
Sean Platt: So in a curated type situation where… Like with masterclass or something like that, where we were being ourselves and providing content, we actually did something like this earlier in the year where we went to a location and something was shot and they put it together and that’s all we had to do. And that to us, I could absolutely see because we’re not creating the content, we’re not selling the content, we’re participating in the content so that there’s an impact there. And I think that makes a big difference.
Sean Platt: For the lone author struggling, like there’s so much to consume, there’s so much to learn and there’s so much to actualise. And the way it was a few years ago in the cowboy years is we just did that all. I don’t mean just us, anybody in the indie space was kind of like figuring out how to do their own covers and wrangling in their own edits and all of that.
Sean Platt: The benefit of our studio is that the authors who are working there, they get to do the part of the process that they like most. For the majority of them, that’s just writing drafts. They just want to tell stories. So giving them support on all the other ends where they can just do what they do best, lean into their superpower and give us really great quality perennial stories, that works.
Sean Platt: Now you can do that in baby steps. Find a collaborator who’s really great at outlines if you want to write drafts. If you really just love writing outlines and creating the stories, then you can do that.
Sean Platt: I’m lucky enough to have found collaborators on either side. Even before the studio, Johnny loves to write drafts, so I can write him outlines. And Dave would love to give me a concept which I can then write a draft for. So I got to collaborate on both sides of that. Most people are not as aggressively ambitious as I am in that way. So one collaborator is plenty. It’s just somebody to help you with whatever it is that you’re not super great at or excited about. And if that’s the business end of things, find a collaborator who’s really good at that. If you’re the business end of things, find somebody who’s just purely creative and can help you with that side.
Johnny Truant: It’s also worth pointing out that, I know that from the beginning… So this is a little bit of a rabbit hole, but when I first started on the podcast, I looked at Sean and Dave like they were different species. How could authors ever possibly collaborate? Now obviously my opinion on that has changed. But I think that a lot of people do think that way. It’s like, “Oh, well that’s interesting that they talk about collaboration, but that is too complicated or it wouldn’t work for me.” Or some other reason.
Johnny Truant: That said, I think that everybody collaborates to some degree. You’re collaborating when you share an outline or a story pitch with your significant other or a friend. You’re collaborating when you get a book cover done or work with an editor or anything like that. So I think it’s important for authors to understand that when we talk about collaboration, there’s a spectrum there. And you can be a quote-unquote sole author and still use everything that we talk about because in the wider picture, nobody works alone.
Bryan Collins: Yeah, it’s definitely a good idea to consider what tasks you can outsource even if it’s just you. And that could be just the book cover designer or an editor or proofreading. And then taking it from there. The model you’ve described seems a little bit inspired by what studios do for television shows.
Sean Platt: Oh yeah. We stole it directly. It’s not inspired so much as thieved.
Johnny Truant: It’s thieved. And we even use their language. I mean, when we talk about casting and location scouting for our fiction, those are movie terms.
Bryan Collins: Oh, gotcha. Okay.
Johnny Truant: Episodes and seasons, that’s another one. Yep.
Sean Platt: Yeah. We steal everything good.
Bryan Collins: And you also said that you were writing books that won’t come out for at least another 12 to 15 months. So how would you go about planning that far ahead?
Johnny Truant: Arduously.
Sean Platt: Chaotically, I would say.
Johnny Truant: Yeah. Yeah, chaotically and I’m going to let Sean answer this question fully, but I’ll just say upfront that the piece that I didn’t explain when I was telling the story about leaving education is that we had a really good thing going and it was literally just me, Sean and Dave. And maybe we had one or two other people, but not writers. We weren’t releasing other people’s stuff. With our Invasion series, at its peak that was making $60,000 a month in royalties that we could spend. Like I’m not talking that was Amazon share, I’m talking that was ours.
Sean Platt: Yep.
Johnny Truant: And we took our eye off the ball and that’s one of the other reasons that it all costs us so much. But the… I’m sorry, what was the question? I went on that little tangent and I got to circle back and actually-
Bryan Collins: Well that’s quite a good tangent because I was curious about how you’re focusing on one area. I think you’ve kind of answered that. So that’s… Those are significant royalties. Is it possible to get those kind of royalties back?
Johnny Truant: Yes. Oh that was the question, that was the question. Right, right, right. Okay, that’s the reason I was saying that. So the… But if you look now, like quite frankly, we aren’t doing as well in the fiction department because we took our eye off the ball and had to take, I don’t know, 18 months of just like pure production. Because we’re always looking at a longterm approach and that means that we need, with the volume that we have, we can’t just release willy nilly. We need to plan, we need to… Each author needs to have several books so that when somebody likes the first one, there’s a second to buy. We want to have a list. We want to have an intelligent release strategy. And we want to generate all those assets, meaning not just the manuscripts, but the covers and the blurbs and all that stuff.
Johnny Truant: So Sterling and Stone over the past, I would say two full years, has been stockpiling. And we haven’t released as much and we’re just now starting to do that. So yes, to answer your question, the return of the royalties, that’s exactly where we’re going. We’re returning to fiction, not just because it’s heart space, but because it’s quite honestly where the money was and where the money will be again. So it just is about getting that flywheel starting again. But the problem is that we let it stop. And so where we’ve been spinning it for the past two years.
Bryan Collins: So you have your publication calendar mapped out for 2020 I guess?
Johnny Truant: And 2021. This is where Sean takes over.
Sean Platt: Yeah, 2020 is already done. And that was, I mean to use Johnny’s word, it was arduous. There’s a lot of changing there and we had some very unique challenges in that we wanted to be fair to all of our authors, be fair to the company as far as what got released and when, and really designed reader experiences that were just better than what most readers are getting out there. And do it in a way where none of us went crazy. So there’s definitely a lot to manage. And right now, we have 150 books scheduled for next year and that’s down from 181. And it made sense to just shelve some stuff and do less so that we could do more and build out.
Sean Platt: So yeah, 2021 is already getting some pieces in place as we ease into 2020 and that’s never been our case before at all. We’ve always been just publishing as we go along and that’s just not sustainable for us anymore. We’re a little too mature for that. And so it’s been exciting. The project I’m working on right now is for 2021 and I’ve never done that before.
Johnny Truant: Yeah.
Sean Platt: And the… I mean it’s a pilot, so it has a lot of production ahead of it, it’s… It actually won’t be that much ahead of schedule by the time it’s done. But it’s still cool that I’m there. There’s a lot of content I still owe for 2020, so it’s not like I’m a full year ahead. But my goal, my primary goal for 2020, is to be one calendar year ahead on my production by December 31st of next year.
Bryan Collins: That’s pretty impressive. 150 books as well. So I know you guys have people in the company who help, but how do you manage just the administrative work that goes with like uploading all those books and checking everything’s correct and in the right stores and covers?
Sean Platt: We have a minion. I mean, yeah, I mean we’re… Everything that we’re building right now is built to stay as a system. And so there is a little more running around Helter Skelter than there will be in the future. But we’re building in the process. So everything is just kind of a part of a flow. Okay, well now we know the book needs to be proofread. Okay, now we know that we need that final compile and upload and whatever. And there are calendars around that and SLPs around that.
Sean Platt: And those are boring enough that, you know, we won’t publish that as core curriculum. It’s not about character models or stuff like that. But it is part of the process and it is something to be aware of and we’re trying to make everything as repeatable as possible because that really is the only way to grow.
Bryan Collins: Even keeping track of all those books must be challenging.
Sean Platt: Yes.
Bryan Collins: The list of titles. But is it just in a giant spreadsheet or have you found some other way?
Sean Platt: No, it’s just an Airtable, a giant spreadsheet.
Bryan Collins: Your spreadsheet on steroids.
Johnny Truant: Well, no wait… This isn’t quite ready for debut, but that does undersell it a little bit because, I mean, I don’t want to go too deep into this or whatever, but we basically, we have a… What would you… What’s her title, Sean? Who’s… Neve’s title? What is that?
Sean Platt: Oh, Director of Marketing.
Johnny Truant: Okay. So she’s director of marketing, but she’s also sort of taken on the monumental task of systematising a lot of what you’re talking about. And built us this, database sells it short, like it’s kind of nuts what she has done. Like a portal almost, for all of our authors to be able to come in. And it will eventually, it’s not ready for prime time yet, but it will eventually handle all of this stuff. It’ll help us keep track of where all the books are and what stage they’re in and what the deadlines are and what the publication calendar has to say and what royalty percentages are. It goes on and on.
Sean Platt: And even as simple as like, “Oh, I’m a fan of this other author in the studio and you can download any of their books.” So there’s even like a small community component to it. It is very impressive.
Bryan Collins: Okay. Yeah, I can imagine. I can imagine. So if an author is listening to this and they’re already running fast. And I know you guys have a book that teaches people how to write fast, but they’re probably not quite at your level. Like what should they be doing for 2020? What would you recommend they do?
Sean Platt: To write faster? Is that the question?
Bryan Collins: Not just write faster, but just to take, let’s say your royalties to the next level.
Sean Platt: I would say question your assumptions. I don’t think enough authors do that. I don’t think enough humans do that actually. You know, you get very used to doing things in a very particular way and you don’t really say, “Why am I doing this? I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
Sean Platt: And we’re either getting diminished results or your results stop or they’re not as good as they could be. Ask yourself why, ask what am I doing and when’s the last time I really pushed myself and grew? Because when you get comfortable, that’s a lot of time when you stop challenging yourself. And if you’re not challenged, you’re not changed and you’re often not making as much or doing as much or feeling as rewarded.
Bryan Collins: Okay. And finally, you’ve mapped out till 2021. So during the summer I was on holidays and I was struck by the amount of people who were not reading. They’re looking at their phones.
Sean Platt: Yeah.
Bryan Collins: Do you think the book is in trouble?
Sean Platt: Whether it is or not, we’re prepared for it. I mean our… We’ll always publish books. But we’re getting into every form of storytelling with a big migration toward film and television over the next few years. And storytelling will never, ever, ever go out of style. What we do is special and we do it in a unique way. So I think not only will we always have a place, we’ll always have our place. And it will be a dominant place for people who love well-crafted stories.
Johnny Truant: Yeah. This is a chance for me to mention one of my favorite quotes, which was… A friend of mine told me this. And he said, “In the future, people will want to be entertained.” That was his prediction. So I mean the medium of the book, it’s possible it might change. But we are looking sort of meta to that. So yes, our current model is primarily books and the novel will always have a special place in my heart regardless of what the rest of the company ends up doing or anybody else. But it really is about entertainment and the mode that we’re entertaining through right now is mainly books with… You know, we’re starting to get some forays into film and TV, but it’s just entertainment. Like when are people ever going to want to stop being entertained?
Bryan Collins: Never. I guess never. So where can people find more information about The Fiction Formula or some of your other books?
Johnny Truant: Well, the most straightforward answer to that is that there’s a link for The Fiction Formula directly that is sterlingandstone.net/thefictionformula. We are at sterlingandstone.net, but we’re also just kind of everywhere you could for Sean Platt, Sean M. Platt, and Johnny B. Truant. Johnny Truant, sorry. We have to keep our pen names separate on Amazon. And yeah, we’re everywhere.
Bryan Collins: Okay, well it was great to talk to you today guys.
Johnny Truant: Yes. Thank you so much.
Sean Platt: Thank you very much.
Bryan Collins: Thank you Johnny. Thanks Sean. That was fascinating. Best of luck with all the plans for the year.
Sean Platt: Thank you. That was fun. You ask great questions.
Get your 101 writing prompts today
Need help getting started writing? Use these proven writing prompts. I'll also send you practical writing advice and more as part of my newsletter.