You may have heard the cliché about the penniless starving artist.
That is true to some degree however, it’s easier than ever before to earn a living as a writer or creative, thanks to the tools and software currently available.
But where and how do you turn your passion for writing into profit?
Michelle Vandepas is the co-owner and co-founder of GracePoint publishing, and not only is she an expert in self-publishing, but she also helps many authors turn their books into published works.
In this episode, I talk to Michelle about:
- Why you need to market your book, not just write it and hope it sells
- Is writing a book the right thing for you to do to achieve your business goals?
- Using your book as a business card
- How to decide whether to self-publish or go to a publisher
- Do you need an ISBN number?
And much more.
Michelle: Just because you write the book, doesn't mean you put it up and it's going to sell. Just like any entrepreneurial venture you got to keep that machine moving a little bit. But we have some authors that put a book up and it sells or it sells enough copies that they're happy and then other authors who continually market, so it really depends on the author, the goals, and the purpose of the book.
Introduction: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here you'll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.
Bryan: How can you turn your passion into profit? How can you turn what you're passionate about into something that can help you earn money and an income as a creative or as a writer? Hi there, my name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast. That's actually a question that we talk about with this week's podcast interview, where I catch up with Michelle Vandepas. Michelle is the co founder of GracePoint Matrix and GracePoint Publishing. She's also a TEDx speaker, book coach and publisher and she's written a number of books and given talks on that exact topic.
Bryan: But before we get into this week's interview, I'll give you a little bit about my take on the topic. I'm currently working on an idea that if you work a little bit on your craft every day, such as writing something that you're passionate about or something that you're engaged about or engaged with, and then later on in the day, if you work on something that will help you earn an income as a writer or as a creative, you should be able to turn what you're passionate about into something that you can earn a living from. In other words, if you get better at your craft and you also get better at the business of your craft and about marketing your work, then you should be able to get paid what you're worth.
Bryan: Because as you know, a cliche within the writing community of the penniless starving artist. And while it's certainly hard to make a living when you're starting out as a writer, it's also easier than ever to earn a living as a writer or as a creative today, thanks to all the tools and software and platforms that are out there. Because if you think about it, 20 years ago, you couldn't self publish a book on Amazon, you would find it impossible to start a podcast and starting a blog would be a technical nightmare. Whereas these days you can do all of those things for free, and you can use your phone or a budget computer to do it. And what's more, thanks to crowdsourcing and outsourcing websites like Reedsy and Upwork and so on, you can find other creative professionals who can help you with the bits of the craft that you're struggling with.
Bryan: And when I realized that a couple of years ago, that's how I started my self publishing journey. And when I started my self publishing journey, I tried to do it all at first. I tried to design the book cover. I tried to write and edit the book, and I also try to market it myself. While certainly a writer and a creative should do all of those things themselves, there are certain things that you also need to hand off. I know over the years I learned that things that I should hand off would include designing the book cover, because I'm not a professional book cover designer. The bookkeeping that goes along with selling books because doing tax returns stresses me out, and also technical parts of the business. If a plugin breaks on my site, or if I need to speed up my site, it probably makes more sense for me to hire a developer than try to do all of that myself.
Bryan: That's a little bit about my self publishing journey. But Michelle Vandepas is an expert in the topic, and she helps many authors turn their books into published works. And at this week's interview, we talk about how to do just that and we also get into the nitty gritty and we answer a question that I can asked a lot, which is, do you need an ISBN? But I started by asking Michelle to give a bit of background information about who she is and why she set up her business and how she can help authors. But before we start the interview, I do have an ask. If you enjoy the Become a Writer Today Podcast, please, can you leave a short review or rating on the iTunes store or wherever you're listening to the podcast, because reviews and more ratings will help more listeners find that show. Now it fast over to this week's interview with Michelle.
Michelle: Yeah. So I'm Michelle Vandepas, co owner and co founder, and the operations manager at GracePoint publishing, which means I wear a million hats like most writers and entrepreneurs do as well.
Bryan: What type of writers do you work with?
Michelle: I would say 98% nonfiction, lots of business books. People who have a message, something inspirational to say, lots of personal development, holistic healing, and some memoir or story where the person has been through an experience and wants to share that
Bryan: Been through an experience I like that. And how do you help authors turn their manuscripts into published books? What do you do with them?
Michelle: Yeah, we have a whole system to do that. So we help authors. We start with book coaching, which I think is a lot of what you do as well, but just help authors get it out of their head onto paper and then through an editing and developmental process so you end up with a manuscript, not just a bunch of words on the paper, right? It's got flow, it's got to have chapters. It's got to have a beginning, middle and end and a point to it and an arc maybe in the story. And then we go through a whole publishing process, which includes final editing, but things like copyright page, really professional book covers, what you want people to do after they read the book and that whole piece, and then a whole marketing arm of our company, which helps authors actually sell books too, which is a whole other piece that is important because you can publish your book, but it doesn't mean you're going to sell thousands of copies unless you market it.
Bryan: Thousands of copies.
Michelle: Well, most authors want to sell thousands of copies, right? But it's not so easy to do.
Bryan: It sounds like marketing is a challenge for nonfiction authors.
Michelle: It depends. Some nonfiction authors have a list and they may have a business and they a built in audience. Some nonfiction authors may already have a big social media following and so then it's easier. But if you have a small company or you haven't built a big list, then you have to figure out ways to get books out and Amazon's the number one place right now, but it's not the only place. And just because you put it up on Amazon doesn't mean people will find it. So we help with things like Amazon SEO, which has all the keywords and the book's description to help people find it. Choosing right categories. We do a lot of Amazon advertising. So we have a few tricks up our sleeve, but the main thing is just because you write the book doesn't mean you put it up and it's going to sell. Just like any entrepreneurial venture, you've got to keep that machine moving a little bit. But we have some authors that put a book up and it sells, or it sells enough copies that they're happy and then other authors who continually market. So it really depends on the author, the goals, and the purpose of the book.
Bryan: What type of goals do you help authors set for their book or what type of goals do authors come to you with?
Michelle: Yeah, so I like to give an example. We have a PR agency who published a book and she spent some money building a website, writing a book, getting professional editing, going through the publishing process and wasn't selling very many books. And so we were looking at ways to help her market and she decided to just mail out hard copies of her books to potential clients and as soon as she started doing that, she was landing $10,000 clients.
Bryan: Wow, $10,000.
Michelle: Because she's a PR company, right? So she has big costs and big programs associated with her company. So at that point, you only need to land one client to make the whole thing worthwhile, right? So that would be a goal that I would say shifted in her particular case because she was hoping to sell lots and lots of copies. It didn't quite land the way she wanted, but she more than is happy because of how she's getting clients in a different way now. That's one example. Another example might be, we strategically place just one or two links in the book, not spammy, but one or two links to ask people who are reading the book to go to your website, maybe opt in for your additional course or some email, or to get a YouTube video or something like that, and then we help authors build their email list that way. So that could be another goal.
Bryan: Email marketing is a great strategy for authors these days. Is that fair to say?
Michelle: It's very fair to say, email marketing is a great strategy for everybody.
Bryan: Yeah, and one area that you also help authors with is figuring out if a book is actually the right way for them to spread their message. So how would I answer that question for myself if I was considering writing a book?
Michelle: Well, you obviously have a podcast, so that's a really great way for you to spread your message, right? And so I think everybody could have a book in them, but one of the questions I get asked a lot is, should I write a book? If you're called to write a book, write a book. If you continually have this thought in your head, I think I should write a book, I want to write a book, write a book. But there are some people who come to me and say, I've been told I want to write a book. I don't really get it, I don't really want to, is it going to help my business or is it worth it for me to do that? And then I say, let's look at your goals. What are you trying to achieve? Is a podcast better? Is email marketing better? Is a YouTube channel better? There's a lot of ways to market yourself. So if you're writing a book solely for the purpose of marketing, that's going to be a great way to get your message out, but it's not the only way.
Bryan: And in terms of getting your message out, that brings me to the topic I've been thinking about lately, which is many nonfiction authors, their book isn't actually the main part of their business. It's more like a business card. Is that something that you found with our clients?
Michelle: Yeah, totally. And I think it is a really great way to look at putting a book that becomes a foundation of your marketing. It shows you as being an expert in your field. So it doesn't matter whether you sell tires or cars or you're an internet marketer or you're a podcaster or a book writing coach, if you have a book, it showcases you as knowing what you're talking about as being an expert in your field. So they say if you have a TEDx talk, you're an expert in that. It just elevates you. If you have a podcast, it elevates you. People are like, "Oh, you have a podcast, Bryan. That's so cool," right? And so when you have a book, same thing, it just elevates you in the eyes of your potential clients. And so I think it's an important thing for every business owner, especially if you're doing on any online marketing, which everybody is now, to help them set themselves apart from their competition, as it's a foundational piece that shows, "I know what I'm doing, I'm different than everyone else, and here's why."
Bryan: So I've written the book and now I'm thinking to myself, I'm going to self publish this. And then I'm also saying to myself, I'm going to pitch a traditional publisher. How do I figure out what's best for me?
Michelle: Yeah. So traditional publishers, and I can only really speak to my experience as a publisher and what I've heard out there in the marketplace. But most traditional publishers want an author to have a really big reach online. So if you have an email list of 50,000 people and you have Facebook and Instagram and maybe TikTok and LinkedIn and all that, it's going to be much easier for you to get a publisher, because publishers these days, they're a business and they want to books. So if they see an easy way for you to sell books, they're more interested in that than they are about the actual book topic or the writing. They want to see that you have an avenue to sell books. So if you have a big platform, absolutely go to somebody like myself or another publisher and pitch your book and see if it's a match.
Michelle: If you have a big platform, you may not need a big publisher because a big publisher's going to take most of your book profits and so at that point, it may be more interesting for you to self publish or hybrid publish so you can keep more of your royalties. So it's one of those things that when you don't really need a publisher, that's when they want you to come calling the most, right? And so it's also difficult to get a traditional publisher for a whole variety of reasons. It's just a funny time in publishing because people aren't walking into bookstores and buying books like they were a year ago.
Bryan: I suppose that maybe they're buying traditional books, you know, online on Amazon or ordering paperback books. And one thing that gets me about traditional publishing is it seems like it takes a very long time to get your book out.
Michelle: It takes a very long time, and I never used to understand why and as a traditional publisher, I'm starting to understand why a little bit. It is because I think when we put our press logo and our ISBN on a book, we are triple checking everything. So it's maybe a little more thorough than if you do self publishing, which is, "I'm done. I want it out. Let's move on. I have a business to run." Having said that, we're very, very careful with all our authors, whether you self publish or traditional publish, we double check everything. We make sure it goes through an editing process. We make sure all the links work and so forth. I think it does realistically, after editing, take about three months to get a book out and that's after editing. You can do it quicker, we've got books out in two weeks for launch dates and so forth, but if you have a little bit of time, you can triple check everything.
Bryan: Okay. When somebody is publishing their book themselves, do they need an ISBN? Is that something that you'd advise self-published authors to get?
Michelle: Yeah, great question for Amazon you do not. And an ISBN is a uniquely United States thing so you register in the United States so forth for it. With Amazon, you do not need one. However, if you're going to publish iBook, you need an ISBN. They won't take your book without an ISPM. So it depends a little bit where you're going to publish. If you're going to try to get your book into libraries, bookstores, WH Smith, Barnes and Noble, those kinds of places, you need an ISBN.
Bryan: Yeah, doesn't Amazon assign authors ISBNs for their books?
Michelle: Yeah, it's an ASIN which is their own numbering system and they put their own numbering system on it and you can promote and publish on Amazon with just that number and they will assign that to you, yes.
Bryan: Okay. So I haven't published a book or self published a book in a few months, but I was able to publish on iBooks, Don't remember putting in an ISBN number, perhaps it's different in different countries?
Michelle: It may be different in different countries. So I don't actually know about Ireland. Someone on my staff probably does.
Bryan: Yeah, okay. And the purpose of the ISBN, is it to track sales?
Michelle: So I forgot what it's called in Great Britain, it's a national ID number or something, in the U.S. it's a social security number and it's a unique identifier. So in the U.S. for instance, we have a social security number that goes on our driver's license and all that. You could think of it like a passport number, perhaps. It's unique to that book. So if you were to Google just the number, the history of that book should come up. The author, the title, when it was published and so forth. So if you significantly change the book, you need a new ISBN.
Michelle: But if the book publishes through somebody new, it needs an ISBN. The ISBN identifies the author, the book title, the book cover, and the publisher all together in one little wrap around.
Bryan: And of course you can buy packets of ISBNs or bundles.
Michelle: You can, so I always recommend buying 10 ISBNs. Most authors, if you're going to buy ISBNs, you'll use one for your ebook, one for your paper back, you'll probably, if you're a nonfiction author, write a workbook or something to go along with it and so then you got four right there that you're using.
Bryan: Just to switch gears slightly, you mentioned about what authors should do, but what about things that they shouldn't do? What common mistakes do nonfiction authors typically make in your experience?
Michelle: The number one thing is the book cover. So there's a number of mistakes, but one is the book cover. If you go to Amazon and you look at bestselling books in your genre, that will give you an idea of what your book should look like. Very often I'll have authors come to me say, "Oh, I've already designed the book cover." And I look at it and I say, "Okay, let's take this and go look and see what bestselling books are selling." Because when you're scrolling through your phone on Amazon, you have this tiny little box and you're making a decision, should I buy that book based on this tiny little box on your phone.
Michelle: So we need the title to really pop. We don't want it too busy, we don't want crazy graphics in the background. So often book covers can be beautifully graphically designed and still be simple. And they tend to do much better. Another mistake is trying to get everything in your head, in this book and it's just going to probably be too much. You've got to have a focus for the book. You've got to have a point to the book. What do you want your reader to walk away with? And don't try to get your whole life story, all your children's life stories and the meaning of the universe in the same book.
Bryan: That's what journaling is for.
Michelle: Yeah, right? And your second and third book and your [inaudible 00:18:14] and your blog and your podcast.
Bryan: Yeah. I agree. It's important to have a controlling idea for your book. One sentence that explains what the book is about and every other sentence should feed into that. Almost like you're building a pyramid as another author I was talking to today, described it. It should be better for your reader rather than just about you. You're also a TEDx speaker, Michelle, and you talk about your passion for purpose of profits. I was curious about what that means, or if you could elaborate on the difference between purpose and profit for creatives, what does that look like?
Michelle: Yeah. So our purpose is not our job, right? So you're a podcaster, and a writer, and a coach and all that, but if the internet went down today, you can't suddenly go, "Oh my gosh, I don't have a purpose." This is just a way for you to express who you are out into the world. So the first thing I always say is, figure out who you are and how you express that out into the world. Do you like to write? Do you like to coach? Are you a teacher? Are you a networker? Are you a caregiver? There's all these verbs that go along with purpose. Do you love animals, right? Who are you in your heart first, then with purpose and profit, we figure out that piece of who you are inside, how you express that into the world, and then look at how can you make money at that.
Bryan: A lot of creatives struggle with that second part.
Michelle: We all struggle. Well, I don't struggle anymore with that, but all of us have, at some point, if we're creative, if we're writers, if we're entrepreneurs, we're usually pingy people. Writers can be extremely focused or not, right? But usually very creative people. And so we usually just want to get our stuff out. We want to help people. We want to say what we want to say. We have a message. We feel like we want to put it out there for the world. But we all have to pay our light bills. We all have expenses and so part of it is how do we make the profit in alignment with who we are, in a way that feels good.
Michelle: So part of it is breaking through your own barriers around, I'm not supposed to make money at X, whatever it is not supposed to make money writing spiritual books, I'm not supposed to make money or whatever it is that's in your head. You've got to break through that and then the second part is making sure it aligns. So often with writers, I talk about, we write your book as the foundation. We're going to sell copies, but it's the foundation of who you are and then if you're in business, we're going to make that book lead to building an email list, selling a course, getting you more podcasts, less moves, getting people to come to your YouTube channel, whatever the next step is, that's what we're building and that's really how you're going to make your money and hopefully that's something you love to do. But that's something you love to do, it's a passion, it's not your purpose.
Bryan: What would you say to an author who has trouble selling their work because they don't like to mix money and creative projects. They feel like would devalue or cheapen what they've spent their time on.
Michelle: That's an interesting way that you've put it, that it devalues what you spend your time on. So that's an interesting choice of words. So I'm just going to talk out loud for a minute. I think we can all spend our time on things that we love to do that do not make us money. I like to dance, I can't wait till I go back to swing dancing and those kinds of things. I love to do it. It's a passion. I don't make money at it. I don't want to make money at it. I'm not about to go up in a dance studio. I like to garden. I share my vegetables freely with my neighbors. I have no interest in going to the farmer's market, right?
Michelle: So I think we need to be clear about what our creative projects are that we do for us to fill our soul. That could be journaling, right? For writers that could be journaling, it could be writing short stories, it could be blogging. And then there's a place where if you want to make your livelihood as a writer, then you get serious about learning the business of writing manuscripts and getting them published, about blogging for a living, or doing article writing or technical writing or editing or anything else that you need to do to make your livelihood as a writer. So I think that everybody's got to get in their head a little bit and figure out which pieces of that there is. And the writers I work with, very few make a really great living, only writing their books.
Bryan: It's the business behind their book that they make a living out of it
Michelle: Or they do editing or ghost writing. They may focus on writing, but there's other income besides their book. I have someone on my staff who's published 40 books and she's still on my staff. She makes some money off of her books and that's her passion, but she still on my staff.
Bryan: Fiction or nonfiction?
Michelle: In this case it's fiction.
Bryan: That's a lot of books.
Michelle: A lot of books. Over a period of time.
Bryan: Okay. Okay. If a book is going to be a business project, then should you come up with a budget for how much you want to spend on marketing your book and your cover and promoting it, or what steps should you take if you don't have a large budget?
Michelle: Yeah, good question. So the average cost to publish a book and have it look really great. Not including editing is between $1000 and $10,000. Big range, right? Big range. And that's because you can do it yourself. You can design your own cover, hire someone to do your cover, hire layout and design. I always recommend you hire out for that, right? So that's the low end. I think you have to look at what's the book and the lead to. Do you have a $10,000 package that if you get one book into the right person's hands it's worth it, right? Do you have a $27 course online and so you need to sell a few of those before you're going to make up the cost of the book? So part of it is, is this book a passion project? Lots of people that are like, "I've thought about this book for 20 years, time to publish the dang thing."
Michelle: And then yes, you want to have some money considerations in there, but it's more a passion project. You want to get it out, let's get a reasonable budget, probably around $5,000 and get a really great book out and sell some copies. If you're using it as part of your marketing, then I think you'd need to look at, is it going to bring in new people? Is it going to bring in opt-ins, can you sell it on Kindle for 99 cents and sell a lot or sell it for $4.99 and make some money back? So we look at all of those questions individually with each author. I don't think there's one blanket answer for everyone.
Bryan: Yeah, I would agree with that. It really depends on what your goal is for the book and I suppose how much experience you have writing as well?
Bryan: One last question. What does your morning routine look like these days as somebody who's running a successful business and also writes as well? How do you spend your mornings?
Michelle: I wish that I could say I am focused like Tim Ferriss or Tony Robbins or probably even Oprah or Bernay Brown, but I have a a crazy home life. My dogs usually wake me up barking ready to go outside. So I let my dogs out, I make some coffee. I usually do check email first thing, even though I know I'm not supposed to check emails. And then I get myself ready and come into the office and focus. My afternoons include things like thinking, walking, maybe a little stretching or Tai Chi. So I might be upside down than the average person, but I've got a pretty busy home life and so my mornings are pretty crazy.
Bryan: It sounds like it. Where can people find more information about you, Michelle or your business?
Michelle: GracePointpublishing.com and I've got Practicing What I Preach, I've got a free giveaway about top 10 publishing considerations, right? So GracePointpublishing.com.
Bryan: Okay, I'll add a link to the show notes for listeners. But it was very nice to talk to you today.
Michelle: So fun. Thank you.
Bryan: I hope you enjoy this podcast episode. If you did, please leave a rating on the iTunes store and if you want to accomplish more with your writing, please visit becomeawritertoday.com/join and I'll send you a free email course. Thanks for listening.
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