[0:00:00.2] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid podcast. This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host, Tim Grahl, and I am a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne. He is the creator of Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.
This whole episode is a shameless plug for my new book, Running Down a Dream. If you’ve been listening for a while, you know I’ve been working on this book for over two years and it’s finally coming out next week and I’m really excited to share with you. So Shawn and I spend the episode talking about the origins of the book, what it was like to write this book and work on this book together. The goal here is to get you to buy a copy. Now that it’s coming out, I’d really appreciate it if you went and picked up a copy of Running Down a Dream for yourself or for a friend or for every single person you’ve ever met.
Anyway, you can see more at runningdownadream.com, and there’re a couple different options there. You can go ahead and preorder the book on Amazon. The print book won’t be available until July 11th, but you can go ahead and preorder the Kindle copy or you can go to blackirish books.com and there is a bundle available where you can get the e-book and the audiobook for both my book, Running Down a Dream, and Steve Pressfield’s new book, The Artist’s Journey, for a really low price. We wanted to come out these books at the same time and make an offer where you could get basically the digital bundle of both books at a really good price. So you can go to runningdownadream.com and check that out.
But this episode, I hope you enjoy it. It was good for us to kind of look back at what it’s been like to work on this book, and this is the first book that’s being published out of this podcast. So it’s really special to us, but I think it will be helpful episode. So let’s jump in and get started.
[0:02:10.2] SC: So, Tim, I’m going to sort of be asking some questions here today, because one of the things that I face as an editor is the absolute and complete resistance of writers to take editorial feedback. The reason why bring this up is that – And we’ll get into the reasons why I want to know why you wanted to write Running Down a Dream to begin with, but the pivotal moment the turning point of our work together on this nonfiction book was we set out to do a big idea book. And I think you immediately thought, “Oh well, I can do this. I know what my big idea is. My big idea is how to practically win the War of Art.” I mean, that’s the way you pitched the book to me from the very beginning was, “I want to write a book about how to win the War of Art in very practical terms.”
But the turning point on this project was when the big idea book turned into a memoir of sorts. In that, one of the things we talked about in Story Grid all the time is point of view and narrative device. And what we discovered in the process of putting together your big idea book was that the thing that would make the big idea actually work can be interesting beyond a self-help [inaudible 00:03:39] book was using the narrative device of memoir to explain how these tools came to you and how you used them.
So my question to you is how did you make that leap? How did you turn from giving up the notion of being sort of pedantic smart guy who’s giving tools to the extremely vulnerable kind of guy who’s stumbling around in the actual final book? Because you do not come off as a Harvard professor in this book in any way, shape or form. So how did you make that mind shift and have you made that mind shift and did you consciously understand that’s what you were doing?
[0:04:30.5] TG: Yeah, when you say that, I think of in the blurb Ryan Holliday wrote, he said, “Tim isn’t some once in a million genius,” which I think is my favorite part of all the blurbs.
Yeah, I’ve actually thought a lot about this because we’re sitting a little over two years since I started. I was probably about halfway through the first draft of the book two years from right now, two years ago. Yeah, I set out to just do the same thing I’ve done in my other books, was to just write this very kind of I know the secrets and I’m going to share the secrets to you, kind of how to book, because it worked in my first two books.
And it was interesting because I think the biggest thing was you and I had started working together on the podcast. One of my rules, which I actually talk about how I came to this rule in the book, is when I’m working with somebody who’s a professional, I have to decide if I trust them. Do I trust them or not. And if I trust them, then I stop worrying about what I want and just do whatever I’m told and just trust that they know what they’re doing.
I feel like it works really well even if you get bad advice, because there’s been times where like you told me to do something and I go and do it and I come back and you’re like, “I should’ve told you to do that,” like we went the wrong direction. So I was really committed especially once it didn’t happen at first, but we talked about the book off and on for a long time. Then it became something where I knew that you might be interested in publishing it for Black Irish and that alone gave me this pause of like, “Okay. I can’t like dick around with this book. It has to be a certain level of quality.” Once again, you are not now just teaching me how to write. You’re also like the gatekeeper for Black Irish of like I’m not going to publish something that’s not up to our standards.
So anyway, that’s to say, I felt like with this book I was put in this interesting position where I didn’t have any pressure to finish the book at first. So I just kind of worked on it as I could, but at the same time I had extreme pressure to make it better, right? So I didn’t have to like churn on a book to hit some arbitrary date that was set by the publisher. But at the same time, there was a lot of pressure to make the book better.
So I felt like I kept kind of churning on it and I would send you something and you’re like, “Okay. It’s not quite there,” and we would come to that conclusion through various means and I felt like when we had the turning point when I finally understood putting my story and all that kind of thing, for me it was just this like – It was what you talk about of like the muse showing up. It’s like it finally clicked of what I had to do and I knew I had to do it because I desperately didn’t want to. It was the thing I had been avoiding. It’s like other areas in your life where you’re like actively avoiding this thing you know you need to do and at some point you come to a decision, like, “Well, it’s a little like story, right? It’s the progressive complications,” and then you finally reach the point where you can no longer put off this decision.
So I think, for me, it was putting myself in a position where I trust you and I was just going to keep working on it until you said it was good enough and let you kind of pressure me to make it better. Because I never like when people tell me what I’m doing is not good enough, and the vast majority of my work, I don’t have somebody doing that, right? I am the only – Once I decide it’s good enough, then it’s good enough and I’d put it out in the world or whatever.
But this just felt like over and over just running into a wall, but assuming you knew what you were doing. Even though you couldn’t articulate with words what you’re looking for, you would know it when you saw it and just trusting that process. Then, also, once I rewrote the introduction, that basically became the final introduction of the book. I immediately knew this was right. And I sent it to a couple of friends of mine and they were both like, “This is the best writing you’ve ever done.”
So that’s where then I feel like, “Well, it was worth it.” Because there were so many times that I was like, “Dude, I want this out by this date,” and I think the first one was like a year and a half ago. And it’s like I finally was just like, “I’m not –”. It’s the same thing with the novel, with the threshing. It’s like my take – I forgot when I came to this, but I started saying it. I would say, “It’s ready when Shawn says it’s ready,” because I don’t know enough to know when the book is ready or not. So I’m just basically trusting that Shawn will tell me when it’s ready.
[0:09:53.7] SC: So, yeah, I just want to comment about the notion of me being the arbiter of whether or not the story works. Yes that is correct, but I think we get confused often with sort of the – How would you say it? The slave to the methodology versus the methodology. My point is, is that while I am evaluating the story and I will have the decision about whether or not the thing is publishable or not, or up to “my standards”, the thing that I’m using to do that is what we’ve been talking about for 2+ years on the Story Grid. And my ultimate goal is to not have people say, “Well, Shawn says it’s good enough. So it’s good enough.”
What I want them to actually say to themselves is, “Look. I put it through the Story Grid. I’ve analyzed it on seven different levels, and through my analysis through that, I can honestly say that this is at a level that is suitable to me.”
So part of the difficulty of being in my chair is that I don’t have all the answers, right? And this is what I really loved about the evolution of your book, is that we moved away from the ivory tower know it all genius, giving the bottom line of how to get something at the minimum viable amount of pain, right?
[0:11:30.2] TG: Right.
[0:11:30.5] SC: Because that’s sort of what a lot – Most self-help is the writer, the expert does not share the very difficult, painful process by which they came to that information, and I think that’s a disservice to people and it’s not easy to do that in a way that makes the reader interested in the story while also learning the secrets that that person has painfully learned.
You spoke earlier of, “I knew this was right because I knew that this is something I didn’t want to do. So I knew I had to do it.” And that feeling that you talk about is actually been described by Carl Jung when he said, “The thing that we are required to do, the information that will set us free, the things that will provide meaning in our lives are kept in places that we really don’t want to go.” We have to go to places that are painful. We have to experience some level of suffering in order for us to actually be able to store the memories, so to speak, in a way that is actually useful.
So I’m not saying that every moment of writing should be this excruciating, torturous thing, and in fact what you also said is that’s true too. It’s like once you cross the threshold of pain, then the muse is like feeding you so many great things that it’s actually freeing. You’re like, “Oh! All these stuff about the IRS guy coming to my door and demanding payment. You know what? That used to haunt me. Now it’s kind of funny. Now I can actually – It still hurts, but I can share that story.”
And then what other people learn from the memoir-ish part of your thing – And I think a lot of people are actually going to read your book as memoir, not as what we initially intended it to be. I think that’s great, because if you can write a memoir that is so on the money in a way that is emotionally transforming to the reader, all the lessons inside the memoir become deeply embedded in that person anyway.
So I’m sure you’ve felt this experience where – And I’m sure a lot of people who bought the Story Grid feel this way. They keep saying to themselves, “Oh! The answers to that problem that I’m having are in the Story Grid. So I’ve got that on my desk, and when I that problem, I’ll just dig up that answer from the Story Grid.” Instead of it being embedded inside their sort of psyche and having the answer come to them intuitively.
I think the process by which you can convey the information in a way that is immediately available to the person who reads the story is through personal story, like inciting incident, progressive complication, turning point, crisis climax and resolution. Those know five things are really crucial to actually lodge inside of our brains, because we’re narratively driven.
[0:14:54.5] TG: Well, one of my – When you’re talking about putting it in that order, the five commandments, one of my favorite moments in dealing with this book was, in the fall, you and I both were struggling with what to do with this. We knew it wasn’t working. There wasn’t – The ark wasn’t there. We weren’t really figuring out – We couldn’t figure out how to go from the start to the finish of the book.
We were with Steve, Steve Pressfield, and we kind of like five minutes just kind of like, “Here’s what the book is about, da-da-da-da-da,” and I’d like told him what was in the introduction, and he was like, “Oh! That’s your ending. Just move it from the introduction to the end of the book it.” And we we’re like, “Oh my God! He’s right.” That ended up being like the ark of the book.
It was just so interesting, because I am rarely in the hanging out with writers that is prolific as Steve, and it was just like this obvious thing to him. He’s like, “Well, that’s your end. What’s wrong with you guys?’
[0:16:01.3] SC: That’s funny that you bring it up, because I just want to put on my sort of publisher hat right now, and one of the problems a publisher faces is how do we – And I’ve done this before. So I’m going to use a swearword for all those people who are very sensitive. But as a publisher you’re always thinking, “How am I going to sell this piece of shit?” Steve and I say that all the time, and especially with stuff that Steve writes. And the Story Grid, we know when I wrote that, Steve said, “Well, how are we going to sell this piece of shit?”
So as a publisher I was thinking, “Well, gees! Steve is writing this very –” Because Steve’s book, The Artist’s Journey, is very, very intense, big picture, 30,000 foot view of what it means to be an artist globally. What is art about – How does one become a creative force and how does one evaluate their progression through life?
I love the book, because it’s all about seeing the big, big picture, the big abstraction about art. So it’s sort of if you were to put it in terms of neuroscience, it’s the right side of the brain point of view. So when you were telling me about your book, and this all came to me in like January. When we finally sort of figured out that yours was the very practical micro detail stuff of actually moving from the desired to do one specific thing to getting that thing across the finish line, then I’m like, “Oh! That’s in terms of neuroscience. That’s the left side of the brain.”
So as a publisher, I’m like, “We should publish both of these books at the exact same time and let it be known, not to like sledgehammer it, but let it be known that if you want to sort of look at the artist’s life, Steve’s book, The Artist’s Journey is going to give you the right side of the brain perspective. In Tim’s book, Running Down a Dream, is going to give you the left side of the brain.
So extremely practical and extremely fantastical and abstract, and when you put those two things together, you get the global picture of what it means to be a creative force. The best creative forces understand both of those things. So it’s funny to me that when you were telling the story about how, when we met with Steve, you and I are these left brain thinkers and we’re trying to slice this thing a million different ways. Then we come to the guru on the mountain, Steve. He’s like, “Oh, you idiots! It’s easy. You got your ending at the beginning and you got to put in a new beginning for your ending.”
And then once he said that, we both kind of looked at each other and like, “Oh, okay. So that’s done. Let’s go to our next problem.” And that was really cool to see, is that Steve is a master of the big idea, the big abstraction, but he’s also the master of the micro problem too. So we gave him a very specific micro problem, and like a great editor, and he edited the Story Grid and he did an amazing job. Like a great editor, he said, “Oh! Well, simply your problem is this. Just fix that and probably the rest of the story will unwind,” and then we did that. We took his advice. We just listened to him and it didn’t happen immediately, but probably around mid-January, maybe February, you nailed it and then I threw the deadline at you, right.
[0:19:45.7] TG: Yeah. That was what was interesting, because I feel like what happened is like he gave us like the bookends. Like I’m starting here and I’m going there. Then I just had – Like I couldn’t figure out how to get there, because I’ve rewritten it again and it was still just not working and he kept telling me that, “Write it as a story,” and I thought I was and I wasn’t and all that kind of stuff. So it was like that gave us like this – Then we had just figured out how to fill in the middle part basically. It was just interesting.
Then it’s funny to hear you talk about it as a memoir, because I’ve felt like that, but it’s like I don’t think we’re going to market it as a memoir, and I don’t want to be a memoirist. Like that’s not what I set out to do here. So it’s just so funny to me the way these things flow. I feel like one of the things I’m taking away from this that I’ve learned in other areas, but it has really been driven in here, is to just wait. Not wait. It’s this idea of like –
[0:20:56.5] SC: Trust the process.
[0:20:57.5] TG: Yeah, trust the process. So, I’m 37. So it seems like the less time you have to live, the more you realize you’re not in a hurry. I feel like 10 years ago in my 20s I felt like everything was a hurry. I need to get it all done now. If I didn’t get it done now, it would never get done. This is the first project where I just felt like however long it takes, it takes and it’ll be fine. So it was really good to feel like – Because I felt like many times this shouldn’t be taking this long. What’s wrong with me? We should have this book done now. This is how every project starts for me, is like, “This won’t take very long.”
So it’s just been interesting to look back over the process of the last two years, because there were many times where I could have wrapped it up, send it to a copy editor and self-published and it would’ve been done. Over and over, when I kind of came to that, I’m like, “I don’t know. I don’t think I want to do that with this book yet and I’ll just wait a little bit longer.”
It’s always hard to know when you’re waiting because of resistance, because you have people like Seth saying, “Ship! Ship! Ship! Ship!” And so am I waiting because of resistance or am I waiting because it’s actually not done yet?
[0:22:27.2] SC: Well, I think your point about getting a little bit older. It’s a life progression, right? So I’m 53. So I’m at a different level lifespan than you are and I’ve reached the point in my life where there’s only so many projects that I have left, right? I’m not being morbid. I’m just being realistic. So everything that I do from this point forward, I seriously consider, “Is this something that is going to expand my knowledge and will I –” I can’t settle it anymore. I’m not going to settle for it’s fine.
With Seth Godin’s point about shipping is extraordinarily important, because the majority of people’s problems when they’re younger or even people who don’t really reach a maturation point until later in their life, is that they’re just so damn afraid of putting the thing and saying, “Done. You know what? This is done. It’s out. I’m shipping it. It’s over,” and that’s really a skill that you have to learn.
Now I’ve got a good three 400 books in my past that are done, right? So I know I can finish a project. I’m no longer fearing that. So it’s like the IRS agent, I can laugh about it, “Oh, yeah. Remember? I stayed up all night to finish that book so I can meet my deadline? Yeah. Blah.”
But now what I want is I don’t want to work on things that weren’t taken up a level, and I talk about leveling up all the time, but it’s not just the writers that I work with. It’s myself as an editor, and I could’ve, as an editor, said to you, “You know what, Tim? This is probably a level above your previous books now. Shit! Let’s throw some covers on it and throw it out there.”
I could’ve done that, right? But I didn’t.
[0:24:27.1] TG: Yeah.
[0:24:27.0] SC: Yeah. I didn’t do that because, first of all, I have made a commitment to myself, and that’s really nice. But the other commitment I have is to Steve Pressfield, right? Steve is my business partner in Black Irish and I didn’t want to send Steve something that he says, “Oh, okay. Yeah. Sure. We can publish this. But, wow! I thought we were doing something a little bit higher level than this. But, hey, if you want to publish it, that’s okay, Shawn. If you think it’ll make some money. But, gees! This really isn’t –”
He represents – We all need, and I talked about this a couple of weeks ago, the metaphorical heroes on our wall. When we we’re little boys and we’re little girls, we put things on our walls and they’re usually people we admire. Maybe it’s Leonard Bernstein, or maybe it’s Sylvia Plath, or maybe it’s Jane Austen. There are photographs of our idols and we say to ourselves, and we look at them. We actually look up to them and say, “Someday, maybe, if I work really hard, I might be able to produce something that’s a little bit worse than what they’ve done,” right?
So we’re looking to level up our stuff and then we learn our craft based upon the idyllic I-D-O-Ls of our childhood. So when we get older, what often happens is that we start all of our idols, our I-D-O-Ls wells, they start to take on the tarnish. We discover something, “Oh! That guys kind of a jerk. I can’t believe I idolized him.” Maybe there isn’t anything worth meaning anymore. Maybe there’s nothing to sort of try and get better at.
When you’re very, very fortunate, you work with people over long periods of time who don’t let you down, and Steve is a guy that I’ve worked with for 25 years, and he’s never let me down, and I try never to let him down either.
So the two of us sort of look to each other as, “You know what? Is this Steve worthy?” and he probably says to himself, “Is Shawn going to give me shit if I give him this draft? How much crap is he going to give me?” Is he going to say – Is he going to be nice to me and say, “Well, we’re going to roll up our sleeves here, Steve, and do a little work,” or is he going to go, “Wow! Let’s do a couple more drafts, but you’re almost there.” So together, that’s what we provide.
So when I was working with you, I couldn’t settle for me and I couldn’t settle for Steve. So, for you, now, you sort of have me in the middle and then Steve even higher. So, for you, when you started with me on the Story Grid Podcast, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the first projects you wanted to talk about beyond your novel, and I think it’s funny we started the podcast so that you would write a novel, and the first book we published is your nonfiction.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you said to me, “You know what? I’d like to do something like Steve,” right. “I want to write a book like Steve did.” So when you said that I go, “Oh! Do you now? It only took Steve 30 years to write the War of Art and you want to just band something out? Well, let’s see about that.”
So I didn’t say that to you at the time because you don’t say to somebody who wants to be a great figure skater, “Oh, you’re never going to be Tara Lipinski or whoever,” right?
[0:28:15.2] TG: Yeah.
[0:28:15.7] SC: You go, “Okay. Well, let’s put on your ice skates. Let’s see how those work. Can you get the laces the right way? Do you have any blisters, because you put on your skates the wrong way?” So at that point – And then, of course, Steve drops The Artist’s Journey on me in the middle of this and I’m like, “Well, this is brilliant. This takes the War of Art to another level. I certainly cannot let Tim get away with a how to guide to overcoming your problems. He’s going to have to really step up.”
We talk about the muse and about all the stuff that we don’t understand about the universe, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the book wasn’t cracked until the three of us came together. Steve heard us out. Because I hadn’t really talked to Steve about your book before, because, honestly, I didn’t want to promised him something or talk about something that I didn’t think was ready yet. So it was time to talk to Steve about your book, and when we did, then, bang! He drops this perfect gift in front of us that solved the problem. It took six months from the time Steve told us that thing until final draft. Only six months. Whereas it took 20 months before that to get to that point.
But if you hadn’t really thrashed around for 20 months and giving yourself the permission to try three or four different tries, then what Steve had said, we would’ve been like, “Nah! That won’t work. You know, Steve, we really thought this through. I can’t tell you how many times people have said that to me, “Oh! Your Story Grid stuff is interesting and all, but it just won’t work for me.” “Okay, well, fine. Then go off for another seven years and then come back and say, “Well, maybe you had some good ideas there.”
But anyway, the whole concept, just to circle back to what you have to do as a publisher, is you have to think about, “Well, what level book do I want to publish?” Am I here – Years ago when I had an independent publishing company in the paradigm of New York publishing, there was something that I called feeding the monster, and the monster was the distribution chain. If I didn’t feed it product, if I didn’t get books delivered in stores at a specific time, I could lose my distribution network.
Back then, distribution was everything. If I didn’t have Random House distributing me, I wouldn’t have gotten into Barnes & Noble, or Borders, or any of the 99% of stores that sold books. Now, that monster isn’t there anymore. So when you have the opportunity not to have to feed a monster in order to make payroll, then don’t feed the monster. Feed the craft. Work on the craft. Because what will happen is you will never regret ever, ever doing an extra draft.
I have a lot of editorial regrets in my day, but not one is because I did an extra draft where I asked for an extra thing, or I went one final analytical ladder too many. No. That’s never happened to me. In fact, the only regret is – I guess it’s sort of the exact same thing for the writer. If I had unlimited time and unlimited amount of analytical tools, I wonder what I could help create. That’s why we need people like Seth Godin to say, “You know what? You got to ship it too. Don’t forget about shipping it, because it doesn’t matter if you don’t ship it. Yeah, we could do another two or three drafts on your book and make it better. But why? It’s ready now. Now is the time.”
So as a publisher, I don’t feed the monster anymore. I’m just about, “Is this Steve worthy? Is this something that if I sell 30 copies of it, I won’t care?” Yeah, you’ve reached that very low bar.
[0:32:29.6] TG: That was funny. Right before we got on, you said that. You’re like, “Hey! Even if we just sell 30 copies, it’s fine, when it comes out.” And then I looked in we’ve already had 17 preorders. Some are already halfway to what I need to make you happy, which is what’s been good. I’ve worked with – I don’t know, probably imprints of all the major five publishers working with authors and launching their book and helping them get it out in the world. Then I self-publish my other books. So I’ve had several people asked me about – That’s probably good for me to talk about for minute.
Why traditionally publish? Why did I make that decision? Which this is like – I don’t know. I don’t like the word hybrid publishing. I feel like that’s this weird thing everybody’s trying to do, but this isn’t like I’m getting published by Penguin. But why would I decide to go from self-publish to traditionally publish? And I feel like the way I make these decisions and the way that I encourage every writer to make the decision is they should start with self-publishing first. That should be their default.
I feel like if I have a car that is worth something – I have a 2016 Prius, and it has some value to it, and if I wanted to sell it, I wouldn’t go around asking people to give me anything for it. I would know like this is what it’s worth, and when somebody’s willing to pay me that, then they get the car. I feel like that with books, is like I’ve created something of value. Maybe mine is a Prius and yours is a Tesla, but like it still has value and people should offer something. If they’re going to get the rights to that thing I’ve created, they should offer me something of equal value.
So I just didn’t feel like when I looked at traditional publishing that I would get something of equal value, especially with the chains that would be put around my wrist on how I could promote the book. So working with you guys has just been – I feel like, “Okay. You’re getting this thing I created, which has value, and then what I’m getting in return is, one, I’m getting you as my editor, right? I can’t afford to pay you what it cost otherwise. So I get you as an editor. I get access to Steve’s name, like at least one of the people that blurred me probably two or three. They blurred me because I’m associated with Steve. Because I’m being published by him. My book looks like his books. It’s being published alongside his book.” So that alone is opening doors for me that weren’t open before.
Also, the revenue split is much nicer than most publishers. And then, for me, the other thing is like you still see this as my book. So I’m like, “Hey, I want to give away 100 copies at this speaking event.” You’re like, “Go ahead.” I’m like, “Hey, I want to send no DRM. I just want to send the e-book to some people to get them to review it on Amazon.” You’re like, “Go for it.” You’re just letting me – You’re trusting me to take care of this valuable thing I created, which is not what I’ve seen with other publishers.
And so, for me, I feel like I get the best of both worlds. Like I get so many of the good things that go with self-publishing, most of it is the freedom to do what I want to do. Then I get all of these other things by publishing with you guys of the editorial, the design, the access to Callie that helps with the promotion and getting things done behind-the-scenes. Then Steve didn’t know at the time that my book was being published by Black Irish. But like I was sitting in that room because that was like our plan was for me to do stuff with Black Irish.
So it’s like having Steve speak into the book and all of that. So, to me, it’s like was a no-brainer when we started discussing perhaps Black Irish publishing the book. It just seemed like such an opportunity. Then, again, I have projects I do for the money and then I have projects I do because they matter to me. And this kind of goes back to when we’re talking about the blurbs and there was that one particular author that I’m like, “I could get this author to give me a blurb, but I don’t want that person’s name on this book. I’ll put that name on a different book.”
I kind of feel like that with this, of like getting to put this book along when people go to blackirish books.com, my book will be there next to Steve’s, and that is extremely meaningful. So I feel like when people are thinking about what to do with their book. Even if you think your book is shit, you have still created something of value and you need to put that into the equation when you start thinking about what you’re going to do with it, because once – You own the rights to this book now. So you own the rights to this book to sell in all the territories, which means I’m not allowed to do that anymore.
So that’s a big deal. And so I feel like people forget that it’s not really yours anymore. So when a publisher picks it up, they now own something that you don’t own anymore and really thinking through what you’re giving up and what you’re getting in return I think is really important, because a lot of authors get into this situation where it’s like all of a sudden they don’t own their book anymore and they don’t feel like they didn’t get what they thought in return, but they never actually thought it through. They were just so happy that somebody was picking them that they were just like, “I’ll take whatever you give me.”
So anyway, I feel like, one, I’m just thrilled and over the moon and feel very privileged to get to be a part of Black Irish in this way. But then, also, I didn’t just – When we first started talking about it, I didn’t immediately be like, “Oh, yeah. Absolutely.” I called Josh Kaufman. I talked to a couple friends of mine to make sure this was a good decision, because even at the time, the draft I was sitting on was not good. I knew I was creating something of value and I didn’t want to just willy-nilly give that away.
[0:39:03.3] SC: Well, for all those aspiring publishers out there, I think the point to really take away is whether or not you like Steve’s books or you appreciate my methods or whatever. At least we have something to actually provide meaning to somebody. And I think the problem that publishers have is that they lack meaningful representation of what they’re about. So if you want to become a publishing company or a brand of anything, you really need to think about what you stand for and what the meaning of your company is really about.
So when you were talking about the decision to go with Black Irish or not. To me, the best place to be as a publisher is to say to yourself, “It’s not the end of the world if Tim decides not to come with us.” Because you did provide value. You’ve had two very successful books before. You have a great following. You could have sold your project, this book, and they would’ve been happy to buy a self-help book by Tim Grahl to teach you how to overcome resistance. I’m sure through your friends and publishing, they were all like, “Yes. Send me a proposal. I’ll buy that.”
But the point that you were making is that when you sign up over a deal and you did this with me, you’re signing over 70 years of copyright plus your life. So if you live to be 80, then I get the copyright all the way until you die and then I get another 70 years. So it’s no small thing to say to yourself, “Wow! I’m giving up about a hundred years of revenue from my book for how much? What am I getting? Am I getting $10,000?” Well, gee! That’s not that much money and I can’t give it to my friends if I want to? Oh, that’s kind of bad.”
So there’s no big wall up about our revenue split. It’s a 50-50 deal, and Steve and I always said, “Publishing should be a partnership between the publisher and the writer.” So what we do is very simple calculation, is all of the money that comes in, we subtract some overhead costs that we agreed to with you and then we split everything 50-50.” And it’s a very simple formula that really maintains the partnership. It’s a handshake.
If you work with us, we will give you access to our community of people who like us and you get to promote the book to your community of people. Then when all the money comes in, we’ll subtract some overhead and then we’ll split it 50-50 and we’ll show you what we subtracted. If you have a problem with that, we’ll talk about it.
[0:41:55.9] TG: That’s one thing I didn’t mention that I should have, is that, also, like most publishing deals don’t come with a built-in audience, and Black Irish has their own audience and then Steve’s audience as well, which is like, in our opinion, the way it should be. But that’s the other thing I didn’t even mention that I did take into account, is it’s like it’s not just the fact that I can be like, “Hey, Steve’s publishing me. You should talk to me to like influencers.” It’s also Steve has a large group of people he influences and he’s going to say, “Go buy this book.” Right there, any of the cost you’re taking out is more than paid for by getting 50% of the revenue off his audience.
[0:42:46.4] SC: Well, that’s the future of publishing, Tim. I mean, it’s not a big secret that if a publisher can establish their own relationships with people who care about what they do, then all the better, because then what it does is it makes the publisher level up their work so that they just don’t publish any random thing that will disappoint their audience. They have to think about, “Will Alice in Topeka, Kansas really be angry with me if I push her to buy this book she buys the book and goes, “Oh my God! This is terrible. I’m never going to buy anything from those people again.” So it requires the publisher to maintain the truth of their mission or they no longer be a publisher.
[0:43:33.1] TG: No. No, it’s good. That’s my feeling on this, is like I just talk to so many writers that are like desperate for anybody, and it’s both sides of like, “One, if you can’t get anybody interested, you should go work on your craft and get better.” But then when people are interested, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s worth it.
Long time ago, in business, I started telling people like, “Look, I’m going to expect you to look out for yourself and I’m going to look out for myself.” And when you and I started talking about like working together on Story Grid and we had to do a contract and everything, I’m like, “Look, you ruthlessly look out for you, because I’m going to ruthlessly look out for me.”
So I said, “That doesn’t mean I’m trying to undercut or do anything shady, of course,” but it also means like, “L, ok I want this to work for me just as much as I wanted to work for you,” because if it’s one-sided, the thing will unravel. Even if it’s one-sided in your favor, it will unravel for you.
There’s lots of people that get – I don’t know, lots, but there are people that get traditional publishing deals that it is 100% worth it, right? Like a Malcolm Gladwell. You know what I mean? He can’t pull off what his publisher can pull off for him. But the first time novelist is getting a $5,000 advance. That will get a good cover, decent editing and then they’re on their own. You got to just think about that, the fact that you’re giving up probably 75% of the revenue.
So I’m just – One of the things we wanted to do in this episode, we want talk about Running Down a Dream, but we also just want to talk about some of the processes behind getting this book out in the world. For me, personally, that was a big one, because this is my first traditionally published book, right? This is the first cover that I didn’t design. This is the first editor that I didn’t hire. This is like a big deal for me, but I didn’t just like immediately – Whatever. Yeah, I got a yes. I’m not going to mess with the yes by asking questions.
And I think that’s just as important as developing a work of art that you’re proud of that we’ve been talking about. I think the other side is one of the things – I had somebody, a couple of years ago, asked me if I look back at all the book launches, like what was like the one thing that like made the biggest difference for book launches?
It was funny, because most questions I get asked, I have an immediate answer, because I’ve been asked so many times when it comes to book marketing. But this was the first one that just stumped me. I was just like, “I’ve never thought of that.” So I started thinking through and I started thinking about the email list, or the blog, and I couldn’t find anything that everybody had that I worked with that it had a successful launch. Then I landed on it and I was like, “Oh! I know what it is. The author actually has to believe that it’s a good thing for somebody to buy a copy of their book.”
Yeah, you laugh, because it seems crazy, but so many authors, like if you back them into a corner and say, “Should somebody buy a copy of your book? Is worth their money?” They will not say yes. They will hesitate, and they’ll kind of cajole and they feel bad and da-da-da-da. I’m like – And the authors that I’ve seen that are successful, like when they’re done with their book, they’re like the best 10 or 15 or $20 that you can spend right now is to buy a copy of my book. It will give you over 10X value and it’s so worth it. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, it doesn’t matter.
I’ve had to do that as I get ready to promote Running Down a Dream, because this is such a different book that I’ve promoted before. But I think the same idea goes into selling the book too, is you have to understand you have something of value. And if you don’t think you have something of value, why are you trying to get an agent or a publisher to pick it up anyway? And then if you do have something of value, then you should get something in return for that value.
So, I don’t know. I’ve harped on it probably enough, but that is just an important thing for me as somebody that works with so many creative people that undervalue what they’re bringing to the table and it just always makes me sad.
[0:47:57.2] SC: Yeah. I mean, I think – So the question would probably arise, how do you get to the place where you value your work, right? And the way you get to the place where you value your work is by leveling up your craft and not settling for something that’s okay. And when you understand that there are only so many projects in your life that you can take on, then you get to a place where you really don’t want to create something that isn’t your best work. And I don’t mean the best work when you’re 83-years-old. I mean, the best work for right now.
You can honestly say, Tim, that you did not quit on this project. You got a very rapid deadline, probably when you least expected it, and you nailed the deadline and you did the work and you created something that is a different kind of self-help book. This is not your traditional how to overcome creative writer’s block book. This is a meld between memoire, very personal storytelling, with a very, very arc from naïveté to maturation. It’s also a big idea book. The big idea is delivered – Thanks, Steve, as the ending payoff of the entire book.
So we all have dreams. We all have things that we want, and the point of your book is really about overcoming the very, very painful obstacles that are going to be thrown up in your way and to just keep moving forward and keep thinking about becoming a better craftsman. Once you do that, then the value of the work becomes so obvious to you that you’re going to treat that thing like a baby. This is your child and you’re not going to ever question, “Oh! You get to spend time with my child for $10? Well, gees! That’s the best deal in the world.”
So anyway, I mean that’s the process. For me, it was very, very enlightening to see how I don’t have all the answers, you don’t have all the answers, but the journey of working through the project from the editor and the writer point of view, we got a little bit closer each time, a little bit closer, a little bit closer and then we hit a turning point when we met with Steve. He gave us the linchpin piece of information, and then six months later we had a very terrific book that you are happy with, I’m happy with, and most importantly, Steve’s happy with. So happy with it that he’s actually okay and is very excited about sharing it with the people who love his work.
So it took a long time. This did not happen in three months. This is like a two-year project. Before this two years, you already had been working on it in your mind for probably another two years. So it’s a long, hard slog, but it’s worth it. And now I don’t think you feel in the least hesitant to say, “Buy my book. You’re going to get something out of it,” and that’s the payoff. That’s what it’s all about.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:51:22.4] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Story Grid podcast. For everything Story Grid related, check out storygrid.com. Make sure you pick up a copy of the book and sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss anything happening in the Story Grid universe. If you’d like to check out the show notes for this episode or any past episodes, all of that can be found at storygrid.com/podcast.
Once again, I would really love it if you picked up a copy of my new book, Running Down a Dream, and you can see more about that at runningdownadream.com. If you’d like to reach out to us, you can find us on Twitter @StoryGrid. Lastly, if you would like to support the show, you can do that by telling another author about the show and by visiting us on Apple Podcasts and leaving a reading in review.
Thanks for subscribing and being a part of our work here Story Grid. We will see you next week.