To kick off my 1 year anniversary and 50th episode milestone, I am talking with J Thorn.
J is a successful writer of dystopian and horror fiction. He has written millions of words and is a bestseller novelist.
Lately, he has been running a great mastermind group – The Author Success Mastermind. He and Crys run the Mastermind group and podcast.
I talk with J about being a successful writer in today’s world. He has not always been a writer and has a great story of deciding to work on his writing full time.
And his author services https://theauthorlife.com:
Find his books at https://jthorn.net:
Join The Author Success Mastermind https://theauthorsuccessmastermind.com/
Stephen: alright, how you doing? Welcome to episode 50 of Discovered Wordsmiths. I’m super excited about this episode because I had this really great idea. When I first started the podcast, I wanted to give new authors a chance to be heard, to get their books out into the world.
Too often we hear about the successful authors, the authors that have a lot of books, the authors that are making money, and at some point, That becomes a little discouraging rather than encouraging. New authors can’t see the path to get there. They can’t see that they’ll ever be as good as this, as big as this.
Be able to write as much. It’s discouraging. So I wanted to offer this podcast as an alternative to. The interviews with all the big name authors, nothing against them, and I hope every author I talk to gets there at some point. But I like to focus on the new authors, the new books, and hopefully if you’ve been listening to this, you’ve found some authors you like, you found a few books you wanna read, that’s great.
I have evolved the podcast to. A section with the books where we talk to the readers about the books and a section where we talk to the authors about their writing and. It. It appeals to two slightly different groups. I know a lot of writers also read a lot, and I know readers may want to write, but that way you can listen to the section you like the best, A or B.
I’d had this wonderful idea that for episode 50 I’d do something special. I would interview some successful authors and success meaning, Somebody that is doing this full time, somebody that is a writer first, doesn’t have another job, has multiple books, makes a, at least good living off of writing their books.
So I wanted to interview a dozen or so authors and put 10 minute little segments into one big episode with all these successful authors. A lot of these authors you still may not have heard of. So if you were a reader, you could find a bunch of authors that were proven already, which is a little different from my podcast.
But if you were a writer, you could find some inspiration off of authors and the struggle they went to. I wanted to focus on to asking them how their life would be different, what they did to get to where they are, the struggles they went through. It turned out. I had plenty of authors that were willing to talk to me.
Plenty of great authors. Authors. I love authors I’ve talked to and worked with, but it turned into so much information that I couldn’t. De, distill it down to a single episode. So I decided to just give every author I talked to their own episode, and that way you could hear everything they have to say without me filtering it and cutting things out.
So for the next couple episodes, you’re going to hear something different. Rather than a new author, you’re going to hear about a successful author. Yeah, I know that’s. What everybody seems to do, but I tried to get authors, you don’t, may not have heard as much and authors that I knew that I could ask some questions of and get some really good answers from, including several of my favorite authors personally.
But I didn’t stop there. I also had the idea of what about readers? I know readers have a hard time finding authors, and I know authors sometimes have a hard time finding readers. And why is that? Is that because we don’t understand as a reader what authors are thinking when they’re putting their books out?
So it makes it difficult to connect. And on the opposite side, do authors have a hard time finding out what readers really and how they think? So I thought I’d find some people I know that read a lot, some of the whale readers out there and ask them, Hey, Tell me about your reading habits. Tell me what you like to read.
We’ll see. It might work, it might not, I don’t know. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it either way and we’ll be able to talk to some very successful authors and might I say some very successful readers. I. So come along enjoy the next 10 episodes or so as I celebrate my first year in podcasting. And hopefully everyone will get something great out of this, a new book to read, a new author to talk to, or even.
Connect with a reader that has the same interests as you do. So for the first one, I have my friend, Jay Thorn. He has been a coach and mentor for me over the last couple years. He lives close to where I do, which made it easy and nice. He’s a great guy. He runs a mastermind group that is superb and has been helping a lot.
Not only myself, but other authors. He has a lot of advice, a lot of. Things in his head that he can relate. He has been focusing lately, not so much on writing fiction, but on writing nonfiction, helping other authors through things like coaching and the mastermind group and some certifications he’s working on.
Jay also runs some unique writer events. This year alone, I’m going to attend an event in Salem called Witches of Salem, and we are going to attend one in New Orleans called the Vampires of New Orleans. At these events, we work on our writer craft and get together and work on stories that we put into an anthology as a group.
So they’re very exciting and unique events. He is a really great guy, interesting to talk to. If you’ve not heard of Jay Thorn before, look him up. He has written some dystopian and horror fiction, and he has a partner, Zach, who I will also talk to. It’s well worth the read. He’s done a lot of good work out there and deserves more recognition than he he may be getting.
So hopefully I can help with that a little bit. No further ado. Here’s Jay. Great. Jay, thanks for coming on. I appreciate talking to you. I know we’re so far away. Yeah.
J: I wish we could be doing this in person, but we’ll have to settle for virtual for now.
Stephen: Yeah. We need holograms like the Jedi Council.
For the people listening that don’t know who you are, tell us a bit about what you write in your books. Yeah.
J: I’m Jay Thorn. I write mostly horror. Sci-fi, dark Fantasy post aoc. I really love genre fiction and I love genre fiction. That’s got a darker edge
Stephen: to it. And you did dabble a little bit in some other genres back in the day.
J: I have. I wrote some middle grade stuff and some children’s books. Those were mostly from my kids when they were at that age. I’ve written several. Non-fiction titles. I have have a business around author services. And so I write books on story methodology and productivity and that kind of stuff.
And I’ve done a lot of other non-fiction writing like I wrote for a particular Rock and Roll history podcast that I did. Yeah, I just I just love writing. It doesn’t necessarily all have to be fiction for me. I enjoy it all.
Stephen: So you haven’t been a full-time writer forever. You used to do other things.
What were those other things and why did you wanna become a writer?
J: Yeah I spent almost 25 years as a classroom teacher, and I didn’t leave that profession until 2017, which is coming up on, on four years ago now. But I started. Dabbling in fiction writing in the mid two thousands and would get up an hour before everyone else in the house to, to get my writing done, and I would do some marketing after work.
And then it just eventually grew to the point where I was really invested in my writer business and I wanted to give it a shot, wanted to see if I could support my family on writing and things related to writing. And that’s what I did.
Stephen: And I love your story with that. And obviously we’ve talked before. I knew what you had done. There’s always two things I hear for advice. The first is if you wanna try something new, make sure you have your backup. Make sure you’re, invested. But then I also hear if you do that, most of the time you just.
Get comfortable and keep doing your backup. And the other one is just jump in feet first and go for it. ’cause if you have no safety net, you have to succeed. So you went a little bit with some safety net and then just finally decided to break loose and give it a try. How did that feel to you?
Were you nervous and did you think you’d succeed? Or were you afraid you’d have to go back to teaching?
J: Oh man. I was scared to death because I was. Walking away at the top of my profession I was working in a school in an, in a position where I was getting national and international recognition for a program I was part of.
I was at the top end of my salary. I was teaching in an independent school, which the sort of, the perks and benefits of that were fantastic. Basically could have. Kept that position for the rest of my career if I wanted to. So there was definitely some fear involved, but I I hit that moment in my mid to late forties where I just I felt like there was something more I wanted to do.
And not that there was anything wrong with what I was doing, but it was time for me to make a change. What I always tell people is I made a terrible decision. I made the worst decision possible. I left my job with basically two months severance pay coming, and at the time, I was making two to $300 a month in, in book royalties, which is not enough to support a family anywhere in the country, not even in Cleveland, Ohio.
I, there was some element of luck and determination and hard work that allowed me to. To keep going and I didn’t go back to teaching and I look back now and I think that would not be the worst case scenario. Like even now, if I had to go get a job somewhere for an hourly rate, I would do that.
Like it’s not the end of the world, but it. It was a terrible decision and it just happened to work out for me. And I think we are we get guilty of basing the quality of our decisions on the outcome, and there’s so much of the outcome that’s not within our control. My advice to people is don’t do what I did.
But just make the best decision you can with the information you have. And for some people, they’re gonna, they’re gonna know their personality type and they’re gonna know that if they have a safety net, they’re never gonna. Put their all into it. And so they need to cut away the safety net for other people.
They’re gonna realize that the anxiety is too overwhelming to not have a safety net, and so they’re gonna keep something in place and build out a side hustle or something on the side. So I think it really comes down to understanding and knowing who you are and not listening to what other people say, but understanding who you are and what you want.
And then just making the best decision you can at the time and not basing the out, don’t base the quality of that decision on the outcome because so much of that’s just outta your control. I.
Stephen: And so you made this decision, and even though you could go back and you were nervous, what did it feel like when you finally said, yeah, I’m gonna do this full-time, quit my job, and now I’m writing that, like that first big day you sat down in the chair to say, wow I’ve gotta write because this is my job.
J: Yeah. It’s one of those, be careful what you wish for situations. And I’ve talked to writers about this as well in that, when you have, and I was. I was writing from 2000. Eight until 2017. So for nine years I was writing outside the realm of my day job. And I used to think, wow, wouldn’t it be great if all I had to do was get up and write?
Like that would be so awesome. And then it happens and you’re like, I. Okay. It’s not as great as it sounds because now you’re writing to eat, like now you’re writing to pay your bills, and that’s a very different feeling than like getting a nice cup of coffee on a Saturday morning and cranking out a few thousand words and really enjoying the process because there’s no expectation tied to it.
When you’re doing it, it can become a job and. I think the other thing I realized in that moment was that I’m not one of those writers who can sit down and write for seven or eight hours a day, five days a week. It’s just not I don’t have the, I don’t have the stamina to do that. So there was also a bit of this panic of okay, I’ve just written for two hours and my brain is now mush.
What do I do? Like I st you know, I still have to produce. So it’s fantastic. I’m not saying it’s not great I get to decide what I work on. I’m in charge of my time. I’m in charge of what I do. Everything I do is an investment in myself, not in an employer or a boss, but at the same time, you’re hanging out there, you’re vulnerable, you, there’s no such thing as a weekend anymore.
You can create a weekend, but if you don’t do the work, you don’t get paid and it’s different. And so it’s just I just tell people, be cautious and be careful what you wish for because what you think you want might not be exactly what it turns out to be.
Stephen: And you were writing for many years you didn’t base your decision on, oh, I now knocked Patterson off the number one list and I’m very successful.
They’re making a movie and I’ve got 20 books that are sound you were writing and it was just the right thing for you, no pun intended.
J: Yeah. I think a lot of the stories we hear. That are just survivorship bias. You’re only hearing about the people who made that decision and had that, had those circumstances.
People don’t typically go on podcasts and say, yeah, I toiled for about 15 years before I made my first a hundred dollars. That’s not the story you hear on podcast. So I think you, you also have to be aware of the, of that bias and understand that the people who released their first book and knocked Patterson off the chart or made 10 grand in that first month If those are outliers like that is not typical.
It’s not, it’s possible. It’s just not typical, and I think it’s an ex, it’s an unrealistic expectation for most of us.
Stephen: And something I’ve gotten from myself, mentioned to other people, don’t compare yourself to those people. Compare yourself to the thousands of other people in the same situation you’re in.
The people working, the people with families, the people with 10 books that are sitting on their hard drive.
J: Yeah, I would even take it a step further and say, compare yourself to only your previous self. Yes, I love that. Like that. That’s really the only measurement that’s in your control. If you’re writing a thousand words a week and you wanna be a full-time writer, and you say, okay, I’m gonna have to write a thousand words a day.
That’s your measurement of success. Are you writing a thousand words a day? Because if you’re not, your chances of becoming a full-time writer are very slim.
Stephen: You do more than just writing fiction or non-fiction. You’ve got other, like you mentioned other services. You also happen to have a podcast or two, I believe, right?
A couple, yeah. Yeah. So you’ve made some choices with, to expand the things you do that are associated with writing. I know you do your podcast with jd, which in my eyes, that’s a great big win. ’cause JD is not a small name. He’s a. Pretty big author out there. What, why are you making the choices to do these other things rather than just trying to write more books?
J: I think for me it’s because there are very few writers who I know personally or publicly for that matter, who make a living strictly on their fiction. I know personally, I know Chris Fox and Lindsay Broker and those are really the only two writers I know who. Who could just write fiction and make a really good living doing it.
But even that Chris does some nonfiction stuff, and I know Lindsay is involved in some real estate investing. So even for those two, it’s not necessarily the sort of the archetypal. Author who goes and writes on a typewriter in the, in a cabin in the woods and hands in a manuscript and gets a hundred thousand dollars, advance and just, that’s all they do.
That’s just so rare. And and what I, I. Tell people in these conversations is you need multiple streams of revenue and it has to be beyond just fiction. Yes you should have an audiobook and a paperback and a hardcover and an ebook. Yeah that’s one form of multiple revenue.
And yes in certain circumstances you should be wide on other platforms like Cobo, writing Life and Draft Digital and iTunes. That’s another form of diversification, but you also need revenue. Beyond that. And I think that’s that’s where author services really tends to be a good way for authors to earn other revenue because it’s still related to writing, even though it’s not necessarily fiction.
But even beyond that I’m, if you. Have an interest or a passion or, something? If you’re, let’s say you’re a grease monkey and you love working on cars, like you can still be an author and make money for from working on cars. Like you could have a YouTube channel or you could write a manual for fixing breaks for people who don’t ever fix their brakes.
There are a lot of opportunities because we all have passions and interests that are unique that we could teach to other people. And I think that is the ultimate. Financial security is when your income is not determined on one format or medium or even industry.
Stephen: And so what are some of those other side hustles you have that you’ve added to your overall ridership?
J: I think the I’ve had a number over the years. I’ve tried many and most of ’em have failed. The one that’s really working for me right now is creating a community. And I think as I get older, I realize how important that is. Not only in. In real life, but on online. And so I’m really focusing on building out an author community, on providing a place for people to go to get help and encouragement and accountability.
And these are things you don’t get on a YouTube channel or an online course. Like those things have their place, but when you’re really struggling and you can’t get the words. An online course isn’t gonna help you get motivated, but other people will. So I’ve really doubled down on that as a former teacher.
I know that’s a skillset that I’m pretty good at. And I know that a lot of writers aren’t, there are writers who make fantastic courses way better than ones I could make, but they don’t know how to interact with other people. And so that’s been my. My push based on my experience and my own skillset.
And moving forward, that’s really what I’m focusing on is focusing strictly on the author community and less so on the content I create for that community.
Stephen: And that took just like writing, took some experimenting and trying different things and seeing what worked and didn’t. It’s just like trying to find, like we were talking earlier, trying to find your voice or the style of books you wanna write.
What works for you?
J: Oh yeah. I I. I, I joke around in saying, I, I wish the 80 20 rule applied to me. It’s more like the 10 90 rule or the 5 95 rule. Because I, I’ve tried just in the author services space, I’ve probably launched, I. Literally dozens of products or services that completely failed.
And I’ve had very few that have stuck. And the author community is one of those things that’s stuck and mostly everything else I’ve tried has failed. So
Stephen: there’s the. Just keep going. Keep trying, do something, keep moving forward. That’s the lesson,
J: yeah. I don’t deal in failure porn because I, that’s just all over the internet these days and I don’t think it’s helpful, but I do think there’s something to be said for becoming.
Resilient in a way that allows you to try something that doesn’t work and then let it go and try something else. I’ve always been guilty of being very protective about and precious about my ideas, whether that’s. Story ideas or business ideas. And I’ve learned that if I can separate my emotion from that that it has a much better chance of succeeding.
And so I still get excited about things, but now the difference is when I have an idea, I try and roll out the minimally viable product. I try and put out the very bare essence of what that thing is and then see how people respond. An example to that would be, If I were going to roll out an author service, instead of building the service, building the website, getting a logo made, running ads, and then hoping people purchase it, now what I’ll do is I’ll send a PayPal link to my list and I’ll say, Hey, I’m offering this as a trial.
I, I wanna see if this is a service people want. If you wanna purchase a service, here’s the PayPal link. And then if people pay me, then I know there’s something there. And if they don’t, then I know I can let it go. Nice.
Stephen: And so I guess the big question though is do you feel successful? Do you feel like your writing business has been successful up to this point?
J: It, it absolutely has because I define a success. I don’t let I. I don’t let external validations define my success. My, my success is, am I doing the work that I wanna do? Am I able to still be a great husband and father while I’m doing it and it, and is it covering my living expenses? And if the answer is yes to all those, then it’s a success and it definitely is.
Stephen: Nice. Great. So let everybody know where they can find your books and your services and the other things that you have available for everybody.
J: Yeah, definitely. My, the website for readers is j thorn.net. That’s where you can if you wanna read some of my fiction and if you’re an author, you can go to the author life.com and get to everything that I offer through there.
Stephen: Great. Jay, thanks for taking a couple minutes to talk to me. I know it’s not your first meeting today, so I appreciate you taking some time.
J: My pleasure, Steven. Thanks for having me on. Thank you for listening to Discovered Wordsmiths. Come back next week and listen to another author discuss the road they’ve traveled, and maybe sometime in the near future it might be you.