Mark has been very involved in the indie publishing scene. He helped early on with Kobo Writing Life and has been part of the improvements at Draft 2 Digital.
He talks at conventions and has multiple books for writers, including his latest which he co-authored with Joanna Penn (Joanna’s mother Jacqui was on episode 27 and gave me the idea to do a split podcast – https://www.discoveredwordsmiths.com/2020/11/24/episode-27a-penny-appleton-love-second-time-around/).
[00:00:00] Mark: Are you working on your author career, but struggling to get that first book published, does the goal of being an author seem too lofty or thoughts of having multiple books and making a full-time living are as fantastical as living in Cinderella’s castle. Welcome to discovered wordsmiths a podcast where aspiring authors can be.
Join Stephen Schneider is he finds and talks to authors. You may not know, but authors that have gotten their book on the author career path here, what they’ve done to get there and where they want to go. Now, settle back. It’s time for a bit of inspiration and advice. Come listen to today’s discovered wordsmith.
[00:00:48] Stephen: All right, so we’ll just roll it. I’ll edit here. We’ll talk a little bit author stuff and some eat 2d and all that, but
[00:00:54] Mark: whatever. Should I dress up for that? Should I put on a
[00:00:57] Stephen: sports coat? I do most things. Casual listening [00:01:00] that expects sport coats. Come on. I did a whole podcast with something in my teeth, so
[00:01:05] Mark: I can just quickly do this.
[00:01:07] Stephen: you go. The transformation
[00:01:09] Mark: there, dress
[00:01:09] Stephen: it up a little. Now you’re more dressed than. Uh, all right. So mark, now that you’re ready for the important business side of things, let’s talk a little bit about your writing in that. So when you write what services and software do you like to use? So
[00:01:23] Mark: at the core, basic, I start with word that’s.
How, where I compose most of my manuscripts, I will then use a combination of services. I am familiar enough with book layouts. When I do it myself, I ended up getting it into the. I use InDesign. My book covers will come from typically a professional designer who does the front cover, but I can design the rest of it myself, because I used to run it in service.
I know how to do this. And I do the interior in, through Adobe as well for the layout when I’m not working with. And yeah, I will publish direct Kendall. Um, when I’m doing it myself, I go to Kindle direct publishing. I will [00:02:00] go to Kobo writing life. Having helped create that platform. I’m a little bit partial to it, right.
And I’ve long been using draft to digital for distribution and even my conversion. So what I’ll do is I’ll take the word document, use draft digital to convert it, download my EPUB from there, and then upload that to Kendall and Kobo and Google play. Of course, where I go direct. Those are the four major platforms that I use for pretty much all my books all.
Then I still have my Canadian werewolf series. For example, I have a friend of mine. Who’s a science fiction writer, Canadian science fiction writer, Scott Overton, who is a retired radio personality. Scott does the audio books for Canadian werewolf. So I pay him for those and I use find a way voices to distribute the audio book.
So I, and then I’ll use. Ingram spark to get the hardcover distributed, why they usually do a hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio book so that I can have all the major format, but I still haven’t done as I haven’t done large print yet. One of these days, [00:03:00] I’ll, I’ll get around to getting those out because I know they’re, they’re readers who want a large book.
I want to make it available for,
[00:03:06] Stephen: I’ve got a couple of kids with sight and vision difficulties. So I’ve always wanted to make sure I get large print out and audio books and things. So, yeah.
[00:03:16] Mark: Yeah, it makes sense. And not everyone’s going to like reading on a Kindle or Kobo or nook where every book has large print.
They’re going to want the tactile experience. Physical book and yeah, I’ve got go. I gotta get my act together now that I don’t own a Mac. So using vellum was challenging, but now that they’ve tested has released atticus.io, I’ll probably be able to make some large print versions easily and using that
[00:03:37] Stephen: software.
Yeah. I’ve been playing around with it a bit and going through the. So you’ve been writing for a while and you write non-fiction also, so you’ve got both sides going on. What are some things you’ve learned that you’re doing different now than you used to when you were starting out? So
[00:03:54] Mark: some of the things that I’ve learned are it’s funny.
I, I tell people things and then I don’t [00:04:00] follow my own advice for years, like writing in a series. I didn’t, I originally released Canadian werewolf in New York in 2016. It wasn’t until 2019 that I started to release other series that the sales really took off. It was like, prior to that, I think I sold more in 2019 than I sold between 2016 and 2018.
Wow. Just because I started that second book in the series. So that’s one of the bits of advice that is like, wow, I should have listened to what I was telling other people to do. But I think the other thing that I do in, and I apply this a lot to my nonfiction is I have tried to take an approach to the inclusive.
For writers. And so with my book, the seven PS of publishing success, for example, or even a wide for the win, which is about publishing your books wide, the platforms is I’ve taken an approach that I haven’t seen yet in the industry from anyone else. Traditional publishers will stick with traditional publishing stuff in the authors will stick with [00:05:00] indie author publishing stuff.
And it seems like there’s this big divide between the two and I’ve long been a hybrid. Since 2004, when I first ventured into self publishing, first book, her first story was published in 92. I grew up in traditional publishing, but then I embraced self publishing early on 10 years before all the cool kids discovered it.
And so what I try to do is I try to apply my wide approach. For example, why? To me, isn’t just, KTP exclusive versus other ebook stores wide is embracing the possibilities. There may be stories you sell the publishers. There may be other ones you keep for yourself. There may be books, you sell the publishers.
Let’s be honest as much as I know with the industry and I’ve been in it since 92. I ha I can get print books available through print on demand, but getting books into bookstores. I can’t do that without a significant investment of time or tens of thousands of dollars to actually offset, print the books and put them in warehouses.
I recognize it’s why, for [00:06:00] example, that my, my true ghost story books, we’ve done burn. I love having a traditional publisher for those. I can’t get the books in the bookstores, but they’ve got my books in the chain bookstores in the bookstores, academic bookstores. They’ve gotten them into Costco. They’ve gotten them in a Walmart.
In fact, when I. 20 books. Vegas, two years ago, I went into a Barnes and noble to see a couple of friends of mine who were doing a book signing out through Bain books through one of their traditionally published books. And I’m entered into the occult section because I wanted to say there’s haunted places in Vegas.
I should go look for some books. And lo and behold, there was haunted hospitals from Dunder. One of my books, like a Canadian publisher, like way down the side of. And I could never have done it if that was self-published because thunder and actually has a traditional distribution and warehousing and they take care of all that stuff.
So for me, being open to the possibilities of what I can do myself and what I can partner with, either other authors or [00:07:00] publishers being open to those possibilities, with something, I would have gone back and told my younger self be open and be willing to experiment.
[00:07:10] Stephen: Uh, an author and saying to the things, I don’t know if everybody listening would know all your background in the publishing.
Give us a brief, we we’ve mentioned Kobo in that. Give us a brief what you do on this side of it, the author of the publishing side
[00:07:23] Mark: of this. Sure. So I, when I graduated from university in 1992, I got my very first job in the book as a part-time bookseller seasonal Christmas album. I got bit by the book bug.
I’ve worked in almost every kind of book store since then the only two kinds of bookstores I haven’t worked for a used bookstore or Christian. But I’ve worked in academic. I’ve worked in India, worked in chain and worked in a big box. Online bookstores, ebook stores. I did work for Kobo for six years, created Kobo writing life for them, a solution for self published authors I’ve run a bookstore that had an espresso book machine, which is a book that’ll print and bind a book.
[00:07:59] Stephen: got one of those in [00:08:00] Cincinnati. I’m going down there January in print.
[00:08:05] Mark: And if you have a books available through Ingram spark or drafts, digital print, for example, there’ll be listed in the espresso catalog and you could go in and order one of your books, right? From the bookstore. I did that in, in Manhattan, that Shakespeare and company for years ago, for a friend of mine, I’ve done it.
I was in Italy of all places and in a Montessori bookstore, which is a major chain in Italy. And. And I walked in and I ordered a copy of campus chills. The first anthology I self published. And it was so cool bookstore in Italy and was able to get one of my books. So you got to do that with one
[00:08:35] Stephen: years. I got to do it.
[00:08:40] Mark: Yeah, no, it’s okay. I’ve been president of the Canadian booksellers association and I do consult for draft to digital as well as the director of business development. There, I spend a lot of my time when I’m not an author, about half of my time helping other authors and consulting and helping them understand the business of writing and publishing.
And that I think is one of my [00:09:00] passions is recognizing. Yeah, we’re so excited about the stories we tell. We. Yeah, everyone to read our books. Of course we don’t. We want the right people to read because they’re going to love them. The other one is going to be like pineapple on pizza. You’re like, no,
[00:09:14] Stephen: I’m going to tell my wife that
[00:09:16] Mark: no, that’s just kinda, it’s like pineapple on pizza.
If I say that half the audience is going to go, oh my God, you got to have it in the other people. Are you out of your mind? And the same thing is for books. Uh, it’s like pineapple on pizza. Some might be one person’s pineapple on pizza is a great thing. And the other one it’s not, but I want to help authors recognize that books as much as we’re passionate about the stories we tell them, we get so excited about the craft and doing everything.
We have to recognize that there are those relationship. Bookstores are businesses as much as they are wonderful places that you and I and families love to go and visit, hang out in their businesses. They’re going to pay the rent. It’s not just going and look at the books and stuff like that. It’s those books have to pay the rent.
And I used to say that when I was a bookstore [00:10:00] manager, These books don’t pay the rent. They’re out, we’re evicting them. We’re going to return them to the publishers. We get new books and we want, we need to pay the rent. We need to pay the utilities and even libraries, right? The libraries, they don’t sell the books, but if they’re not circulated, if they’re not checked out, they’re wasting space and valuable resources for the libraries.
And so recognizing the fundamental business is really important for authors to really clearly say when you’re pitching. What you’re really pitching is what book does this solve for the reader? It’s obvious with non-fiction right. I want to solve my book on an author’s guide to working with bookstores and libraries.
It’s obvious, but who it’s for. And my problem is going to say. But a fiction book like Canadian werewolf in New York. What problem does it solve? I’m looking for the next great book to read. I really enjoyed Kelly Armstrong’s women or the other world series. I enjoyed Jim butcher’s Dresden files. What should I read next?
This could be the answer to that question. And that’s the thing is making, bringing it back down [00:11:00] to, and I know it sounds cold and calculus. But bringing it back down to the transactional nature of business, what problem does this book solve for who and that? And I think that’s, that’s an important aspect that a lot of us forget when we get so excited.
Oh my God, my book I’m finished it. And I got it back from my editor and the cover designer is great. And I can’t wait for everyone to read it at recognizing can’t wait for. This kind of person who likes this to read it. And
[00:11:27] Stephen: I liked that you say that because it’s a mindset thing and we mentioned the right to market, but that’s really, if nobody had said.
Hey, mark. We love these Canadian werewolf books. There wouldn’t have been a real reason to write anymore if nobody really liked it, but I know what your goes. I know where you’re going on this. You can read my mind, but you also have to get them out there in front of people to the right. Because you have to get enough up the hill, slow charge thing.
10 people may read the first one, but if you come out with a third one, 300 people [00:12:00] may read it. So you have that balance that you got to write what you love, but you also have to find the right place for it.
[00:12:08] Mark: Yeah. I like to think of it like a Venn diagram, right? If you can combine passion writing with writing that people want to read, then you’ve got, that’s where the proper right to market is for me, because you’re writing the market without jeopardizing yourself, because I could write to market and suffer through the experience of writing stuff.
A lot of writers start off writing because they want to write this types of books that. The story that they want to read, or they saw a movie or read a book and went, oh, I had such a different ending plan for that. Right. One would do it, do your ending the way you want it to own it, take it right. Cause there’s no new stories.
There’s no original stories. There’s just the way a writer tells it. And even when I know, and I can predict the ending, if I’m enjoying the characters and the dialogue and the story, I don’t care that I, ah, I know how this goes. I don’t care. Cause I’m just enjoying the experience. I know the rollercoaster.
I [00:13:00] know I’m going to be safe when I get to the end. You hope, but I love the experience of, oh my God, I’m going to die.
[00:13:05] Stephen: You’ve worked with Kobo and now you work with drafted digital a lot. And both of those aren’t Kindle. And I know a lot of people, it stuck with Kindle. Oh, that’s where it is. That’s the market.
Yeah. You probably could have pursued that. You probably could have went and said, Hey, I’ve done this. I want to work with Kindle. And now I’m working with Amazon and whenever. Uh, what are some things you liked about both Kobo and draft the digital and that you could tell authors, Hey, these are good reasons to branch out.
[00:13:32] Mark: Yeah, it’s not that I don’t work with Kendall. I do work with Kendall. All my books are available on Kindle through Amazon. What I don’t do is I don’t exclusively only work with them and forsake all others I’m open in my approach. And then one of the reasons is I am in case. And I own many Kobo Raiders.
Obviously when I worked there, I ended up acquiring quite a few of them, but I continue to buy them. So
[00:13:52] Stephen: mark walked out with one in his pocket. Is that what you’re saying?
[00:13:58] Mark: Every once in a while we would get one. [00:14:00] When you first start with the company, they give you one and then over the years you could buy them at a discount and stuff like that.
And even just so we could test them and try them out before they released to the market. But ever since I left in 2017, I still, but two co-hosts. Because I read on the code device. And so if a book is not available on Kobo, I’m not going to buy it as an e-book. I want the print book, I’ll buy it from a local independent bookstore.
I can order it online at Amazon or any of the other online bookstores. And so that’s the one thing I will tell people. Is, and I did, I’ve always had a book exclusive to Amazon since the day they launched Kindle unlimited that, that exclusivity program I was sitting in the Kobo office, they announced their exclusivity program.
I quickly slapped together a book and I put it in the program and I have circulated numerous books through their exclusivity program over the years, mostly to experiment with them as an authentic. To see how it works or doesn’t work mostly. So I could [00:15:00] just have insights because you can’t, I’ve always told my son, you don’t tell me you don’t like a food unless you’ve tried it.
And me for me personally, I’ve tried it and I don’t like it. It’s not for me. I know it’s for other people. And I know there are authors who can make really good money, just focusing only on Amazon and exclusively on Amazon. There are authors that friends of mine that they’re making publishing of those platforms, but it doesn’t work.
Uh, and so I prefer to be available in different formats. So I think that’s one of the challenges. I think the other thing a lot of people forget is Amazon is the world’s biggest bookstore. Yes. It’s dominant in the U S and maybe the UK as well, but there are other retailers that are available in countries.
Amazon is not available at Coco Kobo and Google and apple. Are available in platforms in countries that Amazon is not available in Smashwords is available in those countries and Amazon’s not available in those countries. So if you’re not on those platforms, a hundred percent guarantee, you’re never going [00:16:00] to sell books in those countries.
Readers in those countries are never going to find your books. If you don’t have books available in paperback format, a hundred percent of readers who don’t read paperback are not going to be able to read. And so I always look at the opportunity. I know I’m not a big enough name. No, one’s going to go from one platform.
If they’re an apple reader only, and I’m only on Amazon, they’re not going to go well, I got to get that mark. Leslie book. I better change where I buy my books. No, they’re going to go. Oh, there’s other books. There’s tens of thousands of other books I can read. Who’s this mark. Who, so that’s the attitude I’ve always taken is I just want, if somebody wants to be able to read one of my.
They should be able to read it in whatever format. And again, I’ve failed on that. Cause I haven’t released everything in large print yet, but my goal is to, and this goes back to, I think, a mantra that the original CEO of cobalt Mike Serbinis used to say is that anyone should be able to read any book on any platform at any time.
And that’s kinda what I keep in the back of my mind is for any of my books, [00:17:00] you should be able to read any of my books at any time in whatever format you want. And then.
[00:17:06] Stephen: And that’s what I’m guessing, drove your decision to move over and help draft the digital. And I know in the last couple of years, Kevin was telling us that the career author summit, so many things that drafted digital it’s like, why would people not do that?
[00:17:20] Mark: Yeah. Yeah. I think it was great. Cobalt was great. I loved COBOL. I still love the people there. I’m still friends with the people at Cobo, but when I left Kobo to, I thought I was going to write full-time, but I realized like, I couldn’t, I’d always admired the people from drafts. And so the opportunity to focus, not just on a single retailer, but crafted digital works with everyone, focus on fat was, oh my God, that was such a rewarding experience.
It meant fortunately, because I only work part time. It allows me the time to write which I’m really passionate about, but it also allows me to work with really smart people who are passionate about building tools for authors. And again, [00:18:00] all the authors tools of the builds are. And drafted digital only makes money if authors are successful.
So they keep 10% and some authors see that as, oh, you’re taking 10% for me while other ones go. Yeah. But I can use your platform for free. And that 10% is worth my time of not having to create an account at every single retailer, for example.
[00:18:24] Stephen: Besides your fiction, you have a bunch of non-fiction you’ve done most recently, I believe was the one with Joanna.
You collaborated on
[00:18:32] Mark: author. Yeah.
[00:18:34] Stephen: So even in your writing, you’re helping other authors, that’s a, you’re focusing your mission. Choose to do both. Why write nonfiction to help others and why write fiction? People
[00:18:45] Mark: read for fun. Great question. It’s the reason I have a podcast. The reason I’ve got a well six of my own books and then a couple of coauthored books.
Like the last one I did with Joanna is I have been working with authors and helping authors for dozens of years as a [00:19:00] bookseller. I was always working with authors anyways, I think coming to the store and I’d meet them over the years and I want to see them successful. I want more authors basically. One of the reasons I’ll want to write a book.
I’ve said things as a professional speaker, as a, as an industry representative, a book nerd, whatever. I have said things hundreds of times, I realized that most people have never heard them. And so I often will get the same questions over and over again. So I was like, one of the things is, I do know some people are auditory learners.
Some are visual learners, some are experiential learners and some are learners from reading and we all learn different ways. Making a book available allows learners who prefer to read it and then just it in their own way. Another way of getting it. It’s also a way of me saying, okay, here’s some things I’ve learned, mistakes I’ve made.
I’ve made lots of them. Here are the things that I know about the industry. And I’m going to share that with you so you can adapt that for your own needs. So that’s one of the reasons the other thing is I liked David Gauguin. Perhaps one [00:20:00] of my passions is helping writers. The, the corrupt people and the crooks and the companies that are out there to try to trick and deceive authors out of their money by selling them a $10,000 marketing package.
That’s useless making them promises that are complete and outright lie. I want to see them destroyed. They’re evil. I’d like them, the superhero who wants to fight against them as much as I can. And so every little bit of information where I can provide author saying, look, you have these options, you have these choices.
You can work with publishers. You can work with Kindle. You can work with Coldwell. You can work with drafts, digital, you have all these choices. You’re in charge. You’re the one with power. Not anyone else don’t give them the power, right? Like those kinds of things. If I can infect them with some knowledge and insights, even a little bit, that saves them time and anxiety and pain, man, what a great place.
[00:20:55] Stephen: Oh, I love that. And that’s why I started this podcast is because I kept hearing [00:21:00] interviews with known authors over and over again, or I’d get on the groups and you’d hear, oh, I’ve made $500,000 my first six months of the year. And I’m like, I can’t relate. So I wanted a podcast that people who are working and kids and struggling to get one book done would say, oh, I’m not the only one these guys are that way.
So yeah, I got that same thinking.
[00:21:23] Mark: Yeah. I mean your podcast and probably mine as well. Cause I’m not a six-figure author. I’m more like the average author as I worked my butt off and I have some readers and I make some sales and I do okay, but I’m not flying first class shipping Champaign every morning for breakfast while a waiter comes around and does stuff for me, you know, I’m more like that average person who’s I got to get my son out of bed.
Get him ready
[00:21:46] Stephen: for school. I appreciate you taking so much time to talk today about your book and the other business. Before we go. Do you have any last minute advice you would give to new authors out there? Like I said, that are just [00:22:00] now hearing about your writing and draft the digital and they’re struggling.
They want to get something out. What would you tell them?
[00:22:07] Mark: I would say listen to that storyteller, that passionate person inside of you, that wants to write the stories that you want to read that wants to express your creativity. And don’t give up on that person, give them an opportunity. That person is going to probably meet with resistance and probably going to meet with failure, but just like in any good story, there are a number of PRI fails before the climactic success where you win.
Don’t give up on yourself before you get to that, because it takes a lot of time. It takes patience, it takes practice and it takes persistence. And it takes a long-term view, which is not looking at your Amazon dashboard every five minutes, but in chair fingers on keyboard, getting the next. Listening to your podcast, join the pens podcast, listening to things and other opportunities that are available and experimenting because [00:23:00] eventually over time, the right person who loves pineapple on pizza is going to discover you.
And your book is going to change the.
[00:23:08] Stephen: Wonderful. Great. I love that. Thank you, mark. I appreciate it.
[00:23:13] Mark: Thank you for listening to discovered word Smiths. 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 .