Zach Bohannon is a science fiction, horror, and dark fantasy author. His critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic zombie series, Empty Bodies, is a former Amazon #1 bestseller. Mark chats with Zach about collaboration with one co-author as well as multiple collaborators and the value of connections, both digital and in the physical world, with other authors.
Zach Bohannon is a science fiction, horror, and dark fantasy author. His critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic zombie series, Empty Bodies, is a former Amazon #1 bestseller.
Bohannon writes and publishes collaboratively with fellow author J. Thorn. The pair also run Molten Universe Media, and have collaboratively written and published books with multiple authors, including Lindsay Buroker and Joanna Penn. The pair also organizes several unique creative and collaborative experiences for authors including Authors on a Train, and the Career Author Summit.
Mark will chat with Zach about collaboration with one co-author as well as multiple collaborators and the value of connections, both digital and in the physical world, with other authors.
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Mark Lefevbre 00:01
Hello, this is Mark Leslie Lefevbre from Draft2Digital with a Draft2Digital Spotlight, and today I have the collaborative man himself, Zack Bohannan. Zack, welcome to the D2D studio.
Zach Bohannon 00:14
Hey, Mark, how you doing, man?
Mark Lefevbre 00:15
I’m doing great. So, there’s so many things that I want to talk to you about. First of all, let’s get the background. And I wore this specifically for you today. You were a horror guy. I should have maybe worn a zombie one. But let’s talk a little bit about what kind of stuff you write.
Zach Bohannon 00:29
Yeah, so I primarily write post-apocalyptic fiction. And I started out, like you brought up the horror thing, I started out really envisioning being a horror writer. And you know when you get into thinking about marketing and stuff like that, you realize that it’s difficult to write series being a horror author. But the first book I’d really published was a, it was azombie book, which I was looking at as horror. And I love post-apoc, and that book took off, and I was like okay, well, and I love post-apocalyptic stuff anyway, so that just kind of became the thing I really wanted to write more than anything, so.
Mark Lefevbre 01:11
Okay, cool. So let’s explain this, because you had this discovery, that horror and post-apoc are not the same thing. You thought maybe it was just a horror novel, but there is, it’s like a subgenre of …
Zach Bohannon 01:22
Yeah, like I think that zombie stuff … I mean, obviously, gets wrapped up in horror, you know, for obvious reasons. But post-apocalyptic is just weird in general, because it is a genre but it also can just be a setting. So it’s kind of a, but it is a genre with conventions and expectations and tropes and all that kind of stuff too. So it’s kind of a weird thing because like I said, you can have a book be in a post-apocalyptic setting, but be like a romance or something, too. So it’s kind of a, it’s kind of a weird thing. But there’s definitely a lot of horror elements generally.
Mark Lefevbre 01:58
Oh, for sure, yeah. It’s usually a little bit scary.
Zach Bohannon 02:03
I would say so. Yeah, if only we were living in something like that now, right?
Mark Lefevbre 02:24
And I wanted to ask you about that. Because, I mean, being a writer of that, are you getting approached by people who say, “Hey, you write post-apocalyptic fiction,” you know, like The Stand Stephen King, that kind of stuff. How does it feel now that the rest of the world is now living in that in that environment that you probably spend a lot more time thinking about than the average bear?
Zach Bohannon 02:30
I’ll be honest with you, it’s a little surreal. Just because, you know, and it’s very cathartic to write this stuff. And I obviously love it, but it’s … Like yesterday, it really hit me. I was at the grocery store yesterday, and like seeing all these people walk around in masks and stuff, it’s just, it feels really surreal, I think is the best word. But it’s like wow, this is actually happening, you know. And, you know, not to the degree that it happens in the books I write necessarily, but it’s been very strange. And I will say it’s been a little weird writing this stuff lately and working on the books I’ve been writing, working on the book I’ve been working on with this stuff all going on. But, you know, it’s a genre I love and stuff, and, you know, we’ll get through everything that’s going on, obviously, and everything will get back to what the new normal will be. But it’s definitely been a little strange, that’s for sure.
Mark Lefevbre 03:27
Okay, that is interesting. Now, I couldn’t help notice you were taking a sip of something there, and me being a craft beer nerd, I can’t not notice that. What is it that you’re happening to enjoy there?
Zach Bohannon 03:37
It is Samuel Smith organic chocolate stout.
Mark Lefevbre 03:42
Oh, that sounds like just a perfect thing for lunch. See, I went with coffee. The same color.
Zach Bohannon 03:47
This kind of is like having coffee pretty much. It’s like, you know, nice thick beer. I don’t trust a beer I can see through. I’m definitely a stout drinker. So, and I was like, I’ll be talking to Mark, so why not be drinking? It’s noon, so why not?
Mark Lefevbre 04:00
That’s why I wore the horror t-shirt. It was kind of like an O Henry story or something like that. Now, speaking of collaborating, which, the characters in the story we’re talking about are thinking about the other person. Now, you and J Thorn collaborate, not only collaborate as writers, I want to hear a little bit about that. But you also collaborate with other writers, Lindsay Broker, Joanna Penn, as well as, I mean, that was the original Authors On a Train, and so many other things. Could you share a little bit about, initially, your collaboration with J and how that came about?
Zach Bohannon 04:37
Yeah, um, so J used to do a, I guess I’ll tell a short version of a long story. He used to do a podcast called the Horror Writers’ Podcast. And when I first got into wanting to seriously write fiction and actually try to publish something … I love podcasts, and that’s kind of the, I learn by listening. So I was like, well, I want to write horror and I want to be a writer. So like, I went into iTunes or whatever and typed in horror writer, and Horror Writers’ Podcast came up. And I started listening and learning from him and stuff. This would have been like 2013, something like that, 2014 or somewhere in there. And I listened and became a fan of that show. I bought some of his books, became a fan of his books. And we started emailing each other, and realized pretty quickly that we had a lot of stuff in common just as far as like, the music we like and we both have histories of bands, and we read a lot of same stuff, and we just kind of became friends and, you know, I eventually, I ended up, the Horror Writers’ Podcast ended up going away. And then we ended up bringing it back together as a slightly different thing. And, I don’t know, probably … I guess it was less than a year after that was when we finally, and we’d talked about like the possibility of writing stuff together, because J’s done all kinds of collaborations. But it just took time and we didn’t rush it, and eventually it led us co-writing, which has blossomed to this … You know, we have a very unique partnership that a lot of … most authors who want to co-write are not going to be doing all the things that he and I are doing together, with podcasts, and running live events, and all these different things we do on top of writing fiction, and now nonfiction together with Three Story Method. So, yeah, it’s been a crazy ride. But uh, but yeah, we definitely have done a lot of stuff together.
Mark Lefevbre 06:37
So how does the writing process itself work when you collaborate with J, for example? Like, what does that look like? How do you, because you live in different cities, you’re not physically together most of the time.
Zach Bohannon 06:48
Yeah. So it ,from book to book, it changes, to be honest with you. We iterate our process a lot. and not any one book has really looked the same. I mean, we have some pretty standard things. You know, you mentioned that we live apart, and so we do a lot of communicating through Slack. We do a lot of communicating through Zoom. We are very, very big proponents on meeting when you can. So we try to meet about once a quarter typically. And as you mentioned, I live in Nashville, Tennessee, he lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Sometimes I go there, sometimes he comes here. Generally, we have our events we’ll meet at and make time. But other times we meet in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is about halfway for the two of us. And we’ll get like an Airbnb for a few days and just like, have a list of stuff we have to talk about. And it can be story ideas, it can be stuff for our nonfiction business, for Career Author, all that stuff. But on the fiction side, our co-writing together, anytime we’re starting a new series we definitely meet in person and hammer out stuff. We get sticky notes all over the wall. The things that stay pretty constant in our process is that, he loves revising and I love first drafting. So typically, you know, we’ll come together on story ideas, and usually he’ll do the outline and then I’ll come back through and like, give my two cents. I’ll add stuff in, I’ll leave comments and stuff. There have been books where I’ve done the outline. And just like I said, it depends. I’ll go first draft the book. When we first started, I would do the whole book and then send it to him. What we realized was that we could save a lot of work if every couple days he came right behind me and was editing. Basically we were in the book at the same time. So typically what will happen now is I’ll get, I don’t know, a handful of chapters done, like four chapters or so. And then every couple days, he’ll come behind me and he’ll read and catch up to me. And so he is going into his first round of revisions. And what it allows us to do is, he can, let’s say that there’s a character that he’s not really feeling and he thinks, you know, he needs to have like a different motivation. And he changes some of the book, he can say, “Hey, I changed this. Keep this in mind as you’re reading this character from here on out.” And, you know, so later on this will happen or whatever, so we can make changes on the fly. So I can start thinking, okay, like, this character needs to start acting like this, instead of him having to do it in the whole book on a revision. So we really found that works. We use Google Drive for that. When I’m working on books with him, that’s, I use Google Drive to do my first drafting. So that way, he can easily come behind me and do revisions. And then he handles pretty much the whole editing process. Once I’m done first drafting, I start thinking about marketing. So covers, the title of the book, how we’re going to promote it, launch plan, all that kind of stuff. And there are, there have been instances, we don’t do this as much anymore, but there have been instances where once I pass, once I’m done with the first draft, I’ve never read that book again. Which, I tell authors that, they think I’m crazy. But that’s the type of relationship and trust that he and I have. Like, I know that he’s going to make the book as good as possible. And I can just go ahead and start moving on to something else. Because when I’m done the first draft, I want the book to be done. I’m working on my own project now where I’m doing revisions, and I’m just like, oh my god, I just want this to be over. I just want to get this to my editor so bad, but uh, yeah, that’s kind of the gist of it and the things that have really stuck with us through our process.
Mark Lefevbre 10:23
Well, that’s fantastic. And you guys have not only done that successfully together for a while, but you also bring other authors into that entire experience. And I briefly mentioned Authors on a Train. How did that very first Authors on a Train, where you collaborated with two other authors to create a book, how did that turn into this phenomenally unique experience where, you know, you can bring a small group together and make magic happen?
Zach Bohannon 10:51
Well, J Thorn has the attitude that he’ll basically ask anybody anything. I mean, I think that he’s probably reached out to Stephen King and asked him to collaborate on a book before. And I don’t think I’m joking. Like, he gets these ideas. And he’s like, what’s the worst thing someone can do? They can either say no, or they can just not respond at all. And so, he had made a comment … J is, J hates flying. And he prefers train travel over anything. So I mean, he used to travel at his old job when he was a teacher, he’d have to go out to the west coast, and he would take the train for, it’s like 52 hours from Chicago. He’d have to go to Chicago from Cleveland, which he usually takes a Greyhound. And then will take the train, it’s like a 52-hour train trip. And I think he made a comment about how he’d done the train and he wrote like, almost a whole novel, and put something on Twitter or something like that. And Lindsay Broker replied and said, “Oh, that sounds cool. I want to go write a book on a train.” And of course J says, let’s do it, and DMs her and he’s like, “No, I’m serious. Let’s do this.” And I think she was kind of like, “Okay,” and he’s like, well, and so who else can we ask? And J has a really good relationship with Joanna Penn. And went to her and was like, “Hey, is this something you’d be interested in doing?” And somehow I ended up in this. And it just became a thing. Like it all started off a tweet, and we ended up going, we all met in Chicago. And we took the train to New Orleans, spent a week together down in New Orleans, walked around the city together, you know, really getting to know each other. You know, doing things together, doing things out on our own. And in the meantime, we also planned and wrote a novella, a 40,000 word book. And each of us read from a different POV character. The whole story took place on the train from Chicago to New Orleans. And it was a blast because we were able to use all this stuff from the train, like our, for instance, like we had this awesome train attendant who helped us out on the whole trip. And it’s like a 17 hour overnight train trip. And we ended up giving him this really epic death on top of the train, like fighting demons and stuff. Later, J and I actually saw him on another train trip down there and got to tell him and he just flipped out. But we wrote this book, and it was a challenge. I mean, I’ll tell you, like, because we wanted to have that first draft finished by the end of the week, and you got people on different time zones, writing on different times of the day. You know, we’re all writing different characters and having to coordinate like, okay, well my person during this chapter is on this part of the train and you can’t put Mike … It was crazy, and we definitely had some bumps along the way that we had to go through, but it was, we all worked together, and we were all pros, and it was it was definitely an experience I will never forget.
Mark Lefevbre 13:44
I love that. I loved hearing about it when you guys first did it. And then you opened it up and it became regular experiences. Like, you guys have met in Cleveland, you’ve met in—not Pittsburgh …
Zach Bohannon 14:01
Yeah, we’ve done Pittsburgh.
Mark Lefevbre 14:04
Just outside of Pittsburgh, New Orleans. Could you talk a little bit about some of those in person intimate experiences that you do with small groups of authors?
Zach Bohannon 14:11
Yeah, so we do two different types of events. So we do Authors on a Train, which we’ve just mentioned, and we’ve done that trip, I think three times now? So we’ve done it three times with a group, like not just counting with Joanne and Lindsay. So we did it, we’ve done it twice to New Orleans, and we’ve done it one time, we did it this year. We went from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and we—this year was actually really fun because we rented a mansion on Airbnb and everyone stayed in the same house. And it was a blast. There were 15 of us staying in this huge like old haunted mansion. And it was so much fun, like I’m so glad we did it that way this time. But uh, so we have those, we have the train events. And then we also have just these world-building weekends, we call them, where … the Authors on a Train is more collaborative. So everyone has like, we obviously have the train trip, but then everyone has a partner that they team up with. And we actually teach collaboration. The world-building events, which you’ve been one of those, Mark, you did the one in Cleveland. They are collaborative, but not necessarily on a storytelling level. Everyone’s writing their own stories. The collaborative part is, we all get in a room together and we do world-building, and we build out this fictional world. And then everyone writes a story in that world we built and we publish an anthology from that. And those are a ton of fun. We’ve done Rock Apoc, which you came to in Cleveland, we’ve done Sci Fi Seattle. We’ve done Night of the Writing Dead, which is the Pittsburgh one you mentioned. This year, fingers crossed, that everything’s normal. But then we have vampires in New Orleans that we’re doing over Halloween weekend. And then we have some other ones planned for next year.
Mark Lefevbre 14:04
Oh, that is cool. I was just going to pop up that one, because it actually has Vampires in New Orleans with a little graphic. Got pictures of some authors on a train. And then you’ve got, I think that picture in the top right was taken in Cleveland.
Zach Bohannon 16:05
Yeah, you’re there in the back next to J.
Mark Lefevbre 16:07
Yeah, the tall guy, next to Jim Cooper. So um, and so this was the, I happen to have it handy. This was the rock apocalypse anthology that was produced. It’s not small. It’s very, very thick. And so it’s published with all the authors that were there. And it was a really amazing experience to just have everyone sitting around the table and throwing out ideas. But I wanted to talk a little bit about this brand, this Molten Universe Media brand that you’ve created, because you’re using that as well to collaborate with even more authors.
Zach Bohannon 16:44
Yeah, yeah. So Molten Universe Media is kind of what J and I publish our fiction under. So all our fiction is there. As you just showed, we publish our anthologies for these events. And I think it’s important to mention too, one thing is the, every time we do one of these, we pick a local charity as well, that all the proceeds from the anthology … None of the writers are making money off of it, it’s more of just the experience, and it’s more of like a keepsake for all the authors. We find a local charity in that area and we give all the proceeds to charity. So we put ourselves under there and also we have, it is a publishing company where we don’t take submissions but we’ve reached out to, we’ve personally reached out to mostly authors we meet on these retreats, honestly. And we’ve started publishing work. So we, honestly, we’ve slowed down on that a little bit, where we’ve kind of pivoted. Like we do have some stuff we still are going to be publishing through that, but for the most part Molten Universe Media is just really for J and I now, other than a few projects we have in the pipeline. But it doesn’t, we’re most likely not going to be doing too much publishing of other authors now.
Mark Lefevbre 18:00
So, right, and well, and that’s the, it’s interesting how things change and evolve, right? Authors on a Train was a one-time thing, it became something else. It was from this place to that place, it moved to a different city. I don’t think, it’s nothing if not collaborative and flexible, flexibly changing over time. How important is that, then? The ability for writers to be flexible and to adapt to environments like that?
Zach Bohannon 18:24
Oh, really important. You know, I mean, like, I mean, you talk about our events, like we obviously want to provide different experiences. You know, and me and J don’t want to go to the same place all the time. Like, I don’t want to do Chicago to New Orleans every time we do Authors on a Train, especially because I used to live like two and a half hours from New Orleans and I used to go down there all the time. So it’s like, I want to go see other places, especially if it’s a tax write-off, you know? So like, I’d never been to San Francisco. So it was really cool to go to go do that. And yeah, I think you totally have to be able to adapt. I mean, again, like, hey, look what we’re doing. We’re all having to adapt right now. You know, a lot of like, even we were talking about environment, like, you know, there’s people who aren’t necessarily used to working at home all the time and stuff like that. And yeah, I think that’s, I think that’s really, really crucial. And it’s another reason why we, for the world-building weekends, we only do those once. So like, there’s only gonna be one rock apoc, there’s only one night of the writing dead, there’s only one vampire … like, we’re not going to repeat those events because we want to make each one of them special. But we also, we don’t want to be too comfortable. And we don’t want other people feeling too comfortable. We want to go provide different experiences and do different things.
Mark Lefevbre 19:34
Sounds like you value ongoing learning, ongoing challenges, and always raising the bar.
Zach Bohannon 19:59
Yeah, I think you have to. Like, I think you have to continue wanting to learn and continue to better yourself. And I think that complacency is scary. Like if you, if you feel like, “Okay, I’m good. I’ve learned everything I need to know, I don’t need to get any better.” I mean, none of us are ever going to be master writers. We have to keep learning and evolving and, you know, honing our craft, so I think that’s really, really important.
Mark Lefevbre 20:09
That’s cool. Now, the other thing is, I listen to the Career Author podcast. It’s a weekly podcast, episodes come out every Thursday—today being a Thursday. And I was just listening to the most recent one. Now I usually listen to it while I’m, well I’m not I’m not going for runs as much anymore. And it doesn’t take me as long to wash the dishes. So I have to listen to it in small chunks. But one of the things I thought was fascinating is, you’ve been a longtime gamer, like a video gamer. And one of the things that I thought was fascinating, and again, I haven’t finished listening to it. So I’m going to prime you for some ideas. This is the sentiment that playing, particularly role-playing games, can actually benefit you as a storyteller.
Zach Bohannon 20:54
They have me. You know, I mention in the episode, I think that in a lot of ways, video games get a bad rap. I think that there’s a certain subset of games and gamers that, and we talked about this in the podcast, like there’s a lot of people who think of games and they think of, you know, you just run around like online with people like shooting other people and stuff like that. And it’s unfair to like, blanket the entire gaming industry with that, when in all actuality, in my opinion, the best storytelling in the world is being told in games right now. I think that when you look at some of these, especially these big single player experiences, and you look at, you know … gamers out there know, like you look at a game like The Last of Us or you look at, I love Horizon Zero Dawn. You look at something like Death Stranding. Of course, I’m mentioning all these post-apocalyptic games. But they all, they’re amazing stories, and you know, they have, they’re like movies in a lot of ways. I mean, the writing’s incredible, the cinematography is amazing, the music, you know it’s on par with some movies you’d go see in the theater. And you throw on top of that the big thing, which is, it’s interactive. So you’re actually along the ride, you’re controlling a lot of the experience. And you know, for me as a post apoc writer, especially, and you know, the best post apoc is being done in video games. And to be able, you know, I said this in the podcast when you … Like, let’s say, I’m watching The Walking Dead, let’s say. Or, and I’m only getting to see what the camera wants me to see. But if I’m playing a game like Horizon Zero Dawn, let’s say, which is one of my favorite games ever, and I like see this building, I can walk up to that building, I can look at it, I can go inside a lot of times. I can really get a feel for like, what that environment looks like. And that has helped me immensely in world-building and stuff in my books. Because it’s just, you can kind of go where you want to go for the most part, and you really get that interactive experience and really are along for the ride with the character in a way that you just can’t replicate in books, movies or comic books.
Mark Lefevbre 23:09
Sorry, I was keeping my mic muted because the garbage truck is right outside the window. I didn’t know if I was gonna pick it up. And that kind of leads me to the question, and it kind of comes back to when we were working on this, Before, During and After, because you did mention it in today’s episode of your podcast, was, we spent a lot of time determining the rules of the universe. What was it that caused all the world to end? The electricity, you know, going out, a solar flare, that kind of thing. How long would gasoline last? How long would things last? Because you talk about the realistic nature of, I think it, was it in a particular video game where you could just go to a gas station and it doesn’t matter how many years later, it’s …
Zach Bohannon 23:56
Yeah, Days Gone is the name of the game, yeah.
Mark Lefevbre 23:58
So in terms of the interactivity in a video game, you can actually explore in a much more intimate way. Is that … probably well beyond, I mean, I’ve long used Google Maps or Google Earth to re-explore a place and go, “Well, what would it look like standing on the street and turning left?” Because it’s been a while since I’ve been in the city, or I’ve never stood there before. It’s got to be a little bit better than that, right, for some of the experiences?
Zach Bohannon 24:31
So I guess two years ago, they put, Sony for the PlayStation put out a exclusive Spider Man game. And it is literally a … It’s New York. And when I say it’s New York, I was watching a video where these guys who were very familiar with New York were playing that game and they were going to specific spots. They were like, “Oh hey, we’re on this corner, we’re on such and such corner. Where’s that sandwich shop that we like to go to?” Okay, well like, so we need to go down the street, take a right and take a left, and they literally were going to these places.
Mark Lefevbre 25:08
So it’s that realistic?
Zach Bohannon 25:09
It’s that realistic. They visited the firehouse from Ghostbusters, I think is actually in New York. They visited that on the game. And they even looked through the window and there was like a car with a sheet over it. So like, they knew when they were making the game, like that was the Ghostbusters house. They made it look like that. So, some games are that realistic. You know, I mentioned Horizon Zero Dawn. That takes place in what you find out is basically Denver, and it’s, but it’s like thousands of years in the future. But like, the baseball stadium where the Colorado Rockies play and stuff is like still there. And it’s barely noticeable, but it’s noticeable, you know. And so it’s really interesting to see … what you’re saying. Like I think, obviously, Google Maps and stuff still serves a purpose. Because you’re not going to find, if you’re doing a game in Sheboygan, or you’re doing a movie, or if you’re writing a book that takes place in like Sheboygan, Wisconsin, I doubt you’re gonna be able to go to like a Spiderman game and explore Sheboygan.
Mark Lefevbre 26:20
You can’t really leave Manhattan, can you?
Zach Bohannon 26:21
Yeah, exactly. Shout out to my buddy Justin who lives in Sheboygan. But uh, but yeah, like so obviously, that serves a place but you just you still can get this really cool interactiveness that you just can’t get in other mediums.
Mark Lefevbre 26:36
Okay, cool. Well, we’re gonna take questions in a few minutes, but because this question I saw just pop up is related to video games, I thought I’d pop that up and show it. So Tory who, you know, going for the morning run, very good. Keep the mind stimulated as well as the body, he said. “For someone who’s never played a video game, what game might be a good place to start to gain a better understanding of story? Is there a high startup cost, special equipment, etc?”
Zach Bohannon 27:00
Um, well, a lot of games you can, if you have a computer, a lot of games you can do on PC. I’m a console gamer. So I play on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch mostly, which is gonna have a big startup cost. But there’s a lot of stuff you can do on the computer. There’s a lot, if you’re kind of a, if you’re a very novice gamer, like I play a lot of these open world RPG games that do kind of take like some game knowledge, but there’s a lot of stuff out there. I don’t, they’re kind of a company still, but like Telltale Games, I think shut down. They’ve like reopened and so I don’t know, but they tell very narrative-driven games that are almost like old point and click adventures in a lot of ways, and they’ve done like Walking Dead games and Batman and Back to the Future and stuff. But there are a lot of games out there that are more like, they’re not, I wouldn’t call them visual novels, but they are like a little simpler to get around and stuff like that. So definitely look at any of the Telltale stuff. There’s also, and these are PlayStation games, but there’s also stuff like Detroit Become Human and Until Dawn. I’m trying to think. Life is Strange, I think you can get that one on PC, which are like really narrative driven games that are more like experiences than they are, you know, really immersive games that are going to take a lot of skill and stuff to play. So hopefully that helps.
Mark Lefevbre 28:29
Yeah, thank you for that. I appreciate that. And we’re going to skip over to a question about collaboration. So Lexi asks, “What would you say is the most important thing you have to do or to keep in mind to make a co-written or collaborative project successful?
Zach Bohannon 28:45
Great, great question, Lexi.The first thing I would say is, start small. I think that’s the biggest thing.It’s really easy to get caught up and excited, at first, when you when you first meet somebody and you’re thinking about collaborating. Start with a short story or a couple short stories. Don’t go into it thinking like, oh, let’s write this seven book series together. And, because the thing is, you just don’t know like once you actually get into it, like what your process is gonna look like. So I think that’s really important. Having a process is important. I think if you can find somebodywho has opposite skill sets as you, I think that’s really good. So, again, with J, he loves editing, I love first drafting. It’s kind of a really good match. And I can trust that he’s going to come behind me and make really good revisions. So I think those are important. And if you doend up getting into like a more long-term relationship like J and I have, I think one thing that really gets overlooked is lifestyle. You don’t, J and I have very similar ambitions and goals, and we have similar family situations. And, you know, he’s worked with collaborators who have totally different situations. And like, he’ll be working on a book and then he’ll email them to ask them a question, and get ghosted for two or three weeks, and that person will come back and say, “Oh, sorry, I was on vacation.” And like, didn’t even tell him. So like, stuff like that can be, just kind of be on the same page. But I think the biggest thing is start small, so that you can actually see if you’re going to be able to work together.
Mark Lefevbre 30:26
Okay, cool. Thank you. More questions about collaboration, they’re coming in, so I’m just going to keep rolling with them. So Jorge says, “Hi, Zach,” and then asks, “Do you have a working method to facilitate the works in a co-authorship?” Because I know you and J are big onsystems, right?
Zach Bohannon 30:42
Yeah, so we do, we have a book out calledPlanning Your Collaborative Novel, I think is what it’s called.And that does kind of like demonstrate our process and gives you a lot of ideas about how you can co-author with somebody else.And that’s probably the best resource we have out there. Other than, you know, we’ve talked about it a lot on The Career Author. Mark, you’ve had us on Stark Reflections to talk about it before. So, but yeah, we do have that book available out there that really does document our processes. And don’t hold me to this. It might be free, even. I don’t remember off the top of my head.
Mark Lefevbre 31:24
When you have that many books, it’s hard to keep track of them all, right?
Zach Bohannon 31:28
It might even be free, if you go to our website and join our list. I honestly can’t remember.
Mark Lefevbre 31:32
Is it careerauthor.com?
Zach Bohannon 31:33
Yeah, it might be at thecareerauthor.com, yeah.
Mark Lefevbre 31:36
Okay. Excellent. Well, we can, we’ll check on that later. That’s all good. Here’s another one about collaboration from Elyssa, from Draft2Digital, who created all these great graphics that we’re using. So Elyssa said, “How did you learn to trust J to edit for you?” I mean, how did you come to that level of trust with a co-collaborator like J?
Zach Bohannon 31:58
it’s, I’m gonna give the answer that, just for me personally. I’ve never been one to be really precious on words. It’s really easy for me to … I know a lot of people who talked about co-authoring, or they get really worried aboutshowing their work to somebody else, and like wanting it to be absolutely perfect beforehand. I’ve never cared. I’ve always understood that we all write crappy first drafts. So like, it’s just, it’s not that precious to me. So a lot of that plays into how I was able to trust him. Now, I wouldn’t just trust anybody. But, you know, after we’d gone through the first couple books together, and I was able to seewhat he had done, it became easier. You know, those first couple books, I did read them way more than I ended up. And it became a thing where it was like, “Man, you’re doing such a good job. I don’t really need to look at this stuff as much anymore.” And so it just, I guess the really good answer is just time. And again, like we just have that relationship, you know. We were friends a long time before we ever started writing a book, and we talked about it. And I understood, like, how much knowledge he has about story, and that he is totally capable of doing that. And, you know, it’s, you can’t have ego when you’re doing this. There’s two names on the cover. So you’re gonna have to give some stuff up and so are they. And maybe I give a little too much up by not wanting to necessarily go back and read everything and be okay with that. But yeah, it just takes some time sometimes.
Mark Lefevbre 33:34
And it also displays that you’re looking forward, you’re not looking back, right? Because you’re actually making progress.
Zach Bohannon 33:39
Which is a big thing with me. I want to keep moving forward. I justwant to be done.
Mark Lefevbre 33:43
Okay, cool. I’ll let you take a sip while I … We’re going to migrate over, there’s some questions that are coming in that are sort of generic marketing questions, but I think they’re valuable. Because, you know, you’ve got a lot of experience and can probably help them out with this. So Jamie asks, “When should you start marketing yourself trying to get a following? Should you wait till you have at least 15 or more books? Or should you start now with only one or two books?”
Zach Bohannon 34:04
I think you start as soon as you can.Like, I mean, you definitely want to at least have a mailing list and be building that in any way you can. You know, have the understanding that it’s obviously going to be harder to get yourself out there if you’re in that one to three book range. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start building your platform.And you have to understand, like, if you have one book out there, I wouldn’t necessarily be like, spent a lot of time marketing that one book. I would be trying to build my list. And you know, like, have a short story that you’re enticing people to come to, you know, and stuff like that, but I wouldn’t spend a lot of time like just marketing that one book. Because there’s a lot of people who are going to come to your page. And if they see it’s a book in a series, and there’s no other books out yet, it’s gonna be really hard for them to trust a new author. Soit’s a balance. Like, I think the biggest thing is just building your audience and building your list. But like, using that for your marketing time, and keep writing books, like that’s, to market your books and sell more books, writing more books is still going to be your best thing. And obviously, you know, running ads and stuff is important, but I wouldn’t be writing a bunch of ads on my books until I have more books behind them in the series to help you get a return on investment and hook. Because a lot of people, like, if I get a BookBub, let’s say, on my seven book Empty Body series, which I actually have one Tuesday coming up. The first book in series is free, but you’ll be surprised how many people will see your ad and they’ll just buy the whole series that first day, and if you get a BookBub and you only have one or twobooks in that series, you’re missing all that. And there’s only so many times you can go into that well before you start seeing diminishing returns. So when you start using those types of services, you know, I would really be making sure I had my ducks in a row and had plenty of books out in the series, because again, you can only put that book in front of those readers so many times. Even though they grow their list, you’re still going to get diminishing returns, the more you do that.
Mark Lefevbre 36:08
Right, right. Okay, cool. So this is kind of related to that, and we sort of talked about a bit. But Diaz says, “What is the best way to get an email list? Is social media the best way to go with that?”
Zach Bohannon 36:22
Mark knows why I’m laughing, because I’m very anti-social media. And it’s actually weird for me to be on Facebook right now. I know my face is there, but I’m not there.For me, like I … Can social media have a place to build a list? Yeah, it can. I think it’s a good place to chat with readers, if that’s your thing.But I built the majority of my list through my books and through,you know, calls to action, the back of my books, doing free promos, doing stuff with, doing mailing lists, swaps with other authors, you know, doing cross promotion that way.And I’ll be honest, it’s daunting, and it can really seem easy to want to go straight to social media. But it’s, to me, that’s kind of a … And look, there’s authors who’ve done. That there’s plenty of authors who’ve built audiences on social media, I’m just not one of them. And I just don’t think, I think it’s a good place to go and interact with, like existing readers, even though I’m not really a fan of that either. I think it potentially can be. But as far as like building an audience, I don’t know, that’s tough. That’s tough for me to say, necessarily.
Mark Lefevbre 37:30
And so, I know because I listen to you guys every week, that Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport, and that that has actually helped you become more productive and write more.Is that a fair statement?
Zach Bohannon 37:45
Yeah, I would say so, because I don’t have those anxieties of like, I need to go check social media, I need to go spend time on there, I need to go, you know, do whatever on there like that, because … And that sounds really counterproductive as an author, because I think we make the assumption of like, oh, we need to be on social media. Like that’s how, where else are we going to talk to people? But like, I would question that process. Like I would question like, do you, because I just communicate with my readers through my list. Now, again, how do you get that list? It’s not gonna happen overnight. We all start from zero. But the thing is that my list I’ve built, you know, I have thousands of people on a mailing list, but it’s been built through books and promo swaps and it’s very targeted towards people in my genre who like reading my stuff, so I know when I send a new … Like, when Dead South comes out, which is the zombie book I’m working on, I know that I have all these readers on there who like that stuff and most of them are probably gonna buy it. So.But yeah, it’s a tricky thing when you’re starting from zero though, and you know, but I just personally never had a ton of luck on social media.
Mark Lefevbre 38:58
Well, I think it’s a pretty fair, I mean, we make assumptions that people know these, but I think it’s worth mentioning, is when somebody finishes Empty Bodies, the first book in the series, right, that’s going to be in BookBub next week, that’s you’re going with book one, right? When they finish that, there’s obviously information that book two exists, or the whole series. And there’s probably a, hey, do you want access to this story or this extra content? Maybe it’s book two, whatever your offer is.When they finish the book, chances are if they’re interested in you and what you write, they will sign up. And that’s way more powerful than, you know, tweeting something to a broad audience that isn’t even targeted, and if you were like, but I have, you know, 5000 followers on Twitter.How come nobody looked at it? Well, because they aren’t the people who just finished the book.
Zach Bohannon 39:48
Yeah. And you’re just another, you’re just more noise in their feed, you know? And I think that’s the big thing. Because yeah, you’re right. Like when people get to the, when a reader gets to the end of Empty Bodies, I offer them the second book for free. So it gives them a link, it’ll take them to, I have BookFunnel, which every author should have. And … sorry, I lost my train of thought.
Mark Lefevbre 40:09
Well, we had a chat with Damon last week, from BookFunnel, so look for it in our feed.
Zach Bohannon 40:13
Awesome. So check that out. And, but I have the BookFunnel integration of my mailing lists, so if they download the book, they give their email address, it puts them on my list, and they get the second book for free. And at that point, to me, getting that reader on my list is worth it for me and to, instead of that extra sale, and now they’re on my list and they get a free book, and hopefully they’re going to go buy the other five books in the series, you know, which a lot of them do. So to me, that’s more powerful. And that first book is permafree, so it gets pretty steady traffic. And then obviously when I run like EMTs, and BookBubs and stuff, I get a nice little surge there too. But that’s how I built a lot of my list.
Mark Lefevbre 40:56
Okay, cool. Now I’m gonna play devil’s advocate and talk about a seeming contradiction. You’ve gone and you’ve removed all these apps off your phone, you’ve limited contact, right? I think your wife can get ahold of you when you’re on a walk. So you’re not being distracted. You’re not listening to stuff, you’re actually, you know, on your walk, enjoying the environment for your creative process. And yet you talk about playing video games. How do you reconcile the fact that you you’re not playing Candy Crush or any other distracting games on your phone, and yet you do enjoy video games? Now, how does that fit into your world as a writer?
Zach Bohannon 41:31
Yeah, and that’s a great question. And it’s something that Cal Newport talks about in the book, and he addresses video games directly.The thing for me, I think, is that it’s … I think I would have to stop if it was an addiction. And if it was, if it was something that I if I was, if I was like, doing 30 minutes of work in the morning and then going on “Oh, I’m done with this, I’m going to go sit down and play video games” and then I played video games for two hours, then it would be a problem.I have just, to me,getting the stuff off my phone is more about like … not being on social media and all that stuff just makes me happier. Because if you look out there, there’s a lot of studies that say that our social media use and just our digital use of always having this thing in our pocket that constantly buzzes at us and is trying to get our attention ,is really what’s doing a lot of the anxiety and depression that’s going on with people. And sothat, not having those things just makes me happier and makes me be able to concentrate more. Video games for me is more of like, okay, I’ve worked today, I’ve done my thing. This is going to be like my wind down thing I do at night for like an hour, an hour and a half when my daughter goes to bed. You know, and my wife will hang out and she’ll watch me play games, or she’ll play stuff with me, and we’ll hang out and stuff. So I guess what it really comes down to is I’m able to just to control it. And it’s more … I look at it as the same thing as like, people who like to watch Netflix at night. Like there’s nothing wrong with that. Like, I think as a storyteller, watching television and movies is great. You’re learning. The difference is, if you’re doing that instead of working. That’s where I think things can get tricky. But games make me happy. Facebook doesn’t. I guess that’s really what it really comes down to for me. And I do want to consciously limit my screen time, like I definitely want that. That’s important to me. So I will take screen time away from my phone and other places and put that into video games.
Mark Lefevbre 43:41
Okay, fantastic.I love that. That is amazing. So we’ve got about a minute or so left. I didn’t know if there was, one of my favorite segments from your podcast is J’s [inaudible] … Ah, you knew I was gonna throw this at you, didn’t you? Is there a quick hack you can share with folks? A writer hack?
Zach Bohannon 44:01
Aw, you said writer hack. I was about to promote my beer again that I like.
Mark Lefevbre 44:03
You can promote the beer. I’m happy with promoting craft beer.
Zach Bohannon 44:09
If you like stout beer, you should definitely try Samuel Smith organic chocolate stout. Another one that’s really good is Left Hand Milk Stout. That’s my other …
Mark Lefevbre 44:17
Oh, Left Hand Milk Stout is amazing. That’s the one with the hand logo, right?
Zach Bohannon 44:24
Yeah, that’s actually what I tried to get last night but …
Mark Lefevbre 44:25
Let’s just say it makes your prose smoother when you have just one while you’re working on it, right? Well, Zach, thank you so much for spending the time to hang out with me today and sharing some wisdom on collaboration, as well as video games and all of the amazing stuff you do. Best of luck on your BookBub next week. And looks like I lost Zach, accidentally dropped out of the studio. So thank you guys. Thank you, Zach for hanging out today. And thank you guys. Zach has come back. He’s gonna say, just so he can say goodbye. Oops, accidentally hit the wrong button, right?
Zach Bohannon 44:55
Yeah, yeah. No thank you, Mark for having me. And thank you everyone who showed up and asked questions and everything like that. I appreciate it.
Mark Lefevbre 45:04
All right, thank you, take care. And you guys take care out there as well.