Ernest Dempsey is a thriller writer who is willing to experiment and put it on the to figure out all the best ways to reach readers wherever they are. In this chat, Ernest Joins us to talk about his methods and his marketing.
Thriller Author Ernest Dempsey is back to tell us all about the new frontiers he’s tackling, from novellas and short stories to all new series!
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Kevin Tumlinson 00:02
Well, hello, everybody. Thank you for tuning in. Now you may be just sort of pinching yourselves, because on one half of the screen is very good-looking man. And the other half is Ernest Dempsey. Welcome to Self-Publishing Insiders. We’re glad to have you here. We’re glad to have you here, Ernie. Thanks for being a part of the show. It’s been more than a year. It’s about a year and a half since you were on last time.
Ernest Dempsey 00:31
It’s been 16 years since I was on your show, Kevin.
Kevin Tumlinson 00:35
Ernest years. Those are like dog years.
Ernest Dempsey 00:36
I really appreciate you bringing me back on after all this time. I’m surprised you remembered me.
Kevin Tumlinson 00:42
Um, someone sent me like a link and I went back and looked and thought, yeah, I recognize that guy I think, so we got to get him back on the show. You and I do a lot of these little things now. It seems like we’re constantly on one show or the other together. What’s going on? Why are we getting closer to Ernest Dempsey?
Ernest Dempsey 01:05
Camera man zooming in on my eye, I don’t know why he’s doing that. It’s creepy. Jerry, stop doing that.
Kevin Tumlinson 01:13
For everybody watching, there’s been, just like, last time. Last time we had Ernie on the show we had a ton of crazy technical issues. Ernie, like a champ, jumped in and took over, made sure we still had a show.
Ernest Dempsey 01:26
Listen, this is what you and I do. Remember the conference where you had to step up on stage and start telling jokes to keep the mob from like, lighting their torches and grabbing their pitchforks? And you nailed it. That’s what you do, you’re like a peacemaker. You’re like a Colt P=pistol in the 1800s, you just make peace.
Kevin Tumlinson 01:57
That’s that indie author spirit you and I have is to step up. Do the work.
Ernest Dempsey 02:04
It it too redneck that I actually like grabbed the coaster with my pinky finger and I’m holding it underneath this beverage?
Kevin Tumlinson 02:13
It’s genteel of you, is what it is.
Ernest Dempsey 02:16
Thanks. I mean, I was gonna use it on this armrest here, but I know I’m gonna knock this drink off if I try to do that, so.
Kevin Tumlinson 02:21
Is that a mojito? You got a mojito?
Ernest Dempsey 02:24
No, but that’s a brilliant guess. I mean, my name is Ernest. There was a famous Ernest that seemed to like those but no this is, is does have mint though, good eye. Jerry get in there real close on that one. Good job, Jerry. You see the mint there.
Kevin Tumlinson 02:39
I’ve got to get a Jerry of my own.
Ernest Dempsey 02:41
The secret for this beverage is the ice though, it’s really, you got to have that crushed ice. That’s how they want it up in Louisville.
Kevin Tumlinson 02:48
This is not Drinks with Dempsey. Ernie, we’re on a whole different show, man. One of the reasons I wanted to get you back on is because I happen to know that over the past year and a half, you’ve done a lot of different things, trying to get out there and find new a new audience for your work. promote yourself. You’ve done some experimental things. I just wanted to, you know, check in and see how that stuff is going for you. What are some of the things you’ve been doing over the past year?
Ernest Dempsey 03:21
Well, right now I’m sitting here in what looks like a library. But this is actually a basement in an old church where I’ve been living for the last six months. All those things that I tried, Kevin, didn’t work out very well. And so I’ve been hiding down here in this basement. I don’t think the asbestos is as bad as people think. I don’t think it’s as bad as they say.
Kevin Tumlinson 03:49
I feel kind of bad. I’m the worst dressed of the two of us at the moment.
Ernest Dempsey 03:56
Well, I don’t always dress like this. But today I did.
Kevin Tumlinson 03:59
You did get the memo though. Yeah, dress for the occasion. I appreciate that.
Ernest Dempsey 04:03
My brother’s in town. And he looked at me when we got to the thing earlier that we went to, and he said, you look like you just like fell out of the UK with that outfit. I said, “Thank you. They do dress well.”
Kevin Tumlinson 04:18
That was the look I was going for.
Ernest Dempsey 04:22
I deflected your question with humor earlier, or a bad attempt at humor? What was your question?
Kevin Tumlinson 04:28
You did. I wanted us to dive in on some of the stuff you’ve been doing over the past year that’s maybe a little different and find out what’s working for you and what’s not. We got a lot of authors who want to know, like, what’s the secret to Ernest Dempsey’s success? But before we get to that, hold on, before we get to that, we teased but we never actually answered, according to Elyssa, you did not say what the drink is. It’s not a mojito but it does have mint. What is your beverage?
Ernest Dempsey 04:59
It’s the official … So, I’m from Tennessee. So people from Tennessee and Kentucky and Indiana and Alabama, we have something that we consider a staple. So I’ll answer your question with a question. What is the official beverage of the Kentucky Derby?
Kevin Tumlinson 05:20
Hmm. It’s not straight up bourbon? I have no idea. What’s the …
Ernest Dempsey 05:25
First person that answers correctly gets … I don’t know. What should I give them? They’re not really like reader fans. They’re authors. These are authors, right?
Kevin Tumlinson 05:33
A free copy of your Author’s Funnel book. Elyssa is guessing that it is a, oh wait, we got Sylvester guessing mint julep.
Ernest Dempsey 05:51
There you go. That’s it. Sylvester wins. Bing, bang, boom. Sylvester gets a prize. We’ll have to figure that out.
Kevin Tumlinson 05:53
All right. Sorry, Elyssa. Elyssa guessed moscow mule, but that’s in a little copper cup. Yeah, so good guess, but wrong. So alright, man, let’s get into stuff. I’m never gonna say that the booze is not relevant to the author …
Ernest Dempsey 06:11
There’s no booze in this. It’s just mint.
Kevin Tumlinson 06:13
Just mint and sugar. Okay, so speaking of mint and sugar, honey, I know one of the things you’ve been doing, you’ve been trying your hand at like short stories and novellas I think, right? For the past year.
Ernest Dempsey 06:25
Yeah. So we’ve been trying a lot of different things this year. And so I think this will be relevant for the viewers. I am down about 75% for my January revenue. So this is a good learning moment. Right? For everybody. Because I’m still doing okay, I’m not going out to apply for day jobs. But revenue is down significantly. And this summer, I didn’t have the consistency for my schedule that I needed. And you know, this, like, what we do is a momentum sport, right? Where once you get in a good groove, you need to keep going until, you know, your jackass friend texts you and says, hey, are we good to do the interview in five minutes? And you’re like, hey, I’m in the middle of a chapter. No, but it is a momentum sport. And so when we can’t get good, consistent time set aside, blocked out for our production, and production suffers. That said, I still released four books this year. And that’s not bad. But here’s the problem. When you dig the foundation, you need to dig it real deep. And so the things that really drive my revenue are the Sean Wyatt books. That’s fine, I love writing the Sean Wyatt books. And number 21 comes out next month. But sooner or later, when you, you know, this is this is my 11th year doing this. This is really the 10 year anniversary of the first Sean Wyatt book. But when you’ve been doing it this long, you will start to burn out if you keep trying to write the same stories over and over again. So this year, and you and I have both done offshoot stories, you know, spin offs, that sort of thing. With minimal success in my case. Like the characters that I spin off into their own stories, some readers like them, but far and away, nothing brings in the revenue like the Sean Wyatt series. So sooner or later, you have to build up another one of those series, right? Because you can’t keep doing it forever. And so this summer I focused hard on releasing The Relic Runner, and it did fine. It’s doing great. It’s doing better than any other new series I’ve launched. Way less sales than the Sean Wyatt series though. And so the first lesson from that is, so we’re teaching lessons here, right? Okay, so the first lesson I learned from that is, A) set lower expectations when you’re starting a new series, okay? And this Relic Runner, it’s more of a pure thriller style series, the character reads a little bit more like a Jack Reacher type. But the archaeological spin is still there. He’s still looking for lost artifacts, but they’ve been stolen by people. And he works for this 12-year-old millionaire who’s a video game millionaire. So there’s this weird little eccentric backstory to it. But here’s secret sauce number one. Take what you’re doing, for those of you who want to break into new genres or adjacent genres. Take a theme that all of your fans like, that they all love, and apply it. So I could do a James Patterson or a Lee Child-type series. Would it do as well? Maybe, maybe not. But by taking something from my series that has proven to do well with the archaeological thrillers, and apply those artifacts or stolen or lost things to that new series, it’s got a bigger chance for success, because it’s got a bigger opportunity to bring in my current readers into that world. So I did that. The preorders were, I think my best preorder for that series was like 1600 or something. Which to some may sound awesome and to some may sound disappointing. For me, it was a lot less than a preorder for a Sean Wyatt release. That said, it’s awesome for a brand-new character in a brand-new series. So managing those expectations when you start to splinter off into new stories is very important. So you don’t like get depressed and discouraged and all that. You need to set realistic expectations. I’m starting something new. Any sales are good, right? I’m building a new thing. On top of that, I did sort of a rapid release, but not as rapid as I would have liked. It took place, three books over the course of like, I don’t know, 200 days, maybe? I wanted to do one a month. And if you look at some authors that have done really well. You know, Jan Cheney’s one that does a great rapid release model in sci fi and he’s absolutely crushing it right now. And he’s, first of all, an awesome guy. Secondly, you know, his stories are written to market, they’re on point. But he also does rapid release. And he creates quality. A lot of these, a lot of people that are just trying to whip stuff out fast, they don’t produce really good stories. Cheney gets it. If you look back at, look at Kyla Stone’s Edge series, right? The Collapse series, where she released like six books, I think in like six and a half, seven months last year? Well, book number one came out in January 2020. It’s still in the top 300. I don’t have one that’s currently in the top 300. Why did she do that? Well, A, she’s a great writer. You need to write a good story, you need to understand what your market wants, the types of … I don’t like the word tropes, but like those kinds of themes, those tropes that go along with that market, and little details that should be included. But also, she waited. She wrote those books, she stacked them up, and she released six of them, one every month, like I think she did a couple in one month. And released them fast. When you got quality, you got a really good story, characters that people love. That rapid release model can work. When it doesn’t work is when you, A, give up on it, or B, you’re just putting out something that’s half-assed. So yeah, what I what I learned from that release was changing expectations, A, and then B, get more stories out. So my plan for the Relic Runner series is to get three to four books of that series out this coming year. And I’m gonna put out at least three Sean Wyatt books this year. So yeah, that’s, you know ….
Kevin Tumlinson 13:22
You and I are using very similar approaches on this. You’re probably running into the same trouble I am, and so I’m very curious to hear how you’re kind of dealing with, when you take time to write that second series, or whatever it is you’re going to write, it’s time you’re not putting into the primary series. So there’s the chance that you’re going to have a fall off of income, because you’re not releasing a new book. So is there a strategy you’re using to compensate for that?
Ernest Dempsey 13:53
I’m gambling a lot. So I hit the casinos as much as possible to supplement my income, you know, craps tables, blackjack. Guess what number I’m holding behind my back. Those kind of games in the casinos. So you’re right about the income drop comes directly from the sales, you know, not coming in from a new book in the primary series, right? I knew that was gonna happen. And it was the risk I was willing to take. I didn’t expect it to drop as much as it did. You know, you talk about a 75% revenue drop from January to what I’m gonna do this month. And my accountants are like, hey, so you should probably do more of this. I’m like, yeah I know, but it’s, this is a long game we’re playing right? So, you know, my thing is, I always tell other authors this when they ask me for advice, I tell them, you know, be Disney. And they want to know what that means. And I say to them, look at all the properties that they have. And every one of those properties started as a single story. They started as one singular entity, and then grew into whatever it is. Look at Marvel, right? Marvel started with one superhero, right? And then it’s grown into this crazy universe. So to build up those big towers, though, you know, I tell people don’t build huts, build towers. But to start, your tower is going to look like a hut. And it’s going to feel like you’re living in a hut for a little while, because it’s not going to sell great. So for me, I think that if I did it over again, I would have written another Sean Wyatt book this summer, and broken that up a little bit so that I didn’t have the revenue drop, and didn’t have to cancel some of the Christmas presents I bought my kid. But … no, I didn’t do that. I just told her Santa wasn’t bringing them this year. So no, but I think I would have done one more additional, like, Sean Wyatt book to sort of mediate that a little bit on the business side. But it’s fine. And now this coming year, I’m launching a brand-new series in urban fantasy, and that’s very different than what I do. And yet I have readers from the archaeological thriller world that read the pilot for this new Gideon Wolf series. And they’re super excited about it. They can’t wait to read it. So I did that … Go ahead.
Kevin Tumlinson 16:33
No, I’m sorry, I have to interject. Here’s the thing. So many of us, I’m doing something similar. I’m kind of going back to some of my sci fi roots. Copying some things. I’m not copying you. I didn’t even know you were doing this. But it’s weird to me, because me and you, fine. You could make an argument that we’re getting some sort of intel from somewhere in the industry. But then I noticed, like, James Rollins is releasing a fantasy book. I think even, maybe even Steve Berry, but a handful of like the more traditionally published thriller writers have also started churning out some stuff. I think, Lee Child I think, did … or maybe it wasn’t Lee, maybe he’s doing something else. But I know James Rollins did. So where do you think that’s coming from? Like, why, I don’t think we’re shifting. I don’t think we’re going to give up the archeological thrillers. But why do you think so many of us are suddenly interested in in writing outside of the genre?
Ernest Dempsey 17:44
Well, it’s, you know, you burn out right? And it’s not just that, it’s not just burnout. Because you know, if I’m away from Sean and Tommy, you know, my two main characters and Adriana. And if I’m away from them for six months, then I miss them. And then when I write them into a new story, I’m like, it’s good to get to see you guys again, right? Well, I think you kind of need that. Like, absence makes the heart grow fonder. So there’s that a little bit of that, you know, you feel like you’ve been married to those characters forever. And we all know marriage sucks.
Kevin Tumlinson 18:22
Not true honey. Watching.
Ernest Dempsey 18:32
Meanwhile if my wife was here, you’d see her nodding in the corner, like, yeah, it’s a chore. Um, no, we all know it. But the bigger thing is this, right? What are your favorite shows that you watch? Not archaeological thrillers. There aren’t really any of those. I love playing Tomb Raider and Uncharted and I like National Treasure and Indiana Jones and The Goonies, but I’ve seen all those a million times. And what’s coming out all the time? Well, science fiction, urban fantasy, like regular fantasy, high fantasy, epic fantasy, you know, I don’t even know how to differentiate all those. I love fantasy. Fantasy is what got me into reading to begin with, like reading Dragonlance Chronicles by Weis and Hickman back in the eighth grade, that got me into reading stories. And then I didn’t have to wait on movies anymore. I was like, oh, there’s books that I can read that’ll give me what I want. So I like that sort of stuff with the dragons and the magic and then, but I always came back to my roots with the treasure hunting. I always liked Ancient Wonders and treasure hunt stuff and all that. I love those stories. But that said, we writers, we’re not so eclectic that we only like one thing. Right? Like people like different kinds of bourbon. They like different kinds of wine or beer. People like to go different. When they go camping, they might like to go to a desert one weekend and to a thick forest the next. It’s why they have, Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors for a reason. I tell people this about dating life and I tell them about books, Baskin Robbins, you can try all the flavors. And we are constantly looking for new flavors as people. And we’re always interested to see what that flavor tastes like. And that’s how I view it. I don’t know if that’s the right answer, but I feel like that’s how it is for me and I right now, honestly, I haven’t read any thrillers, especially archaeological thrillers, since I finished a Cussler book last year. Like I’ve been reading a lot of, I said, Jay N Cheney earlier, I’m actually reading two of his books right now. Backyard Starship I think you would really enjoy by the way, Kevin, it’s perfect for you. But, you know, I’m reading that, I’m reading some fantasy stuff. And like, I guess a couple of thrillers that some friends wrote. But I enjoy the smorgasbord of stories. And for me as a guy who specializes in archaeological thrillers like you, I like to learn from these other series, and how do I apply how they’re telling the story to my own story? And it makes my stories better no matter what I’m writing, So we like to consume other kinds of content. You don’t want to eat at the same restaurant every day. And how many metaphors can I work into this? We got ice cream …
Kevin Tumlinson 21:33
I think we’re up to nine.
Ernest Dempsey 21:34
I’ve got a million of em. And you don’t want to write the same book every day.
Kevin Tumlinson 21:41
That’s true, too. And that’s what I’m finding is that, I’m kind of, like I said, I’m going back to my roots, because I started his life as a sci fi writer. So I’m doing some stuff, I’ve been doing some more literary fiction. And it really is about …
Ernest Dempsey 22:03
What does that mean?
Kevin Tumlinson 22:05
So that is a good question. Because what does literary fiction mean? It just means that there’s nothing mystical or magical about it, in my opinion. Although there can be, there can be, I don’t know. I’m doing some more true to life type fiction, I guess, was the idea. But I am also interested in, I’m finding now that I’m starting to kind of come up with some ideas for some more Kotler books, some more Quake Runner books. But just like you the problem is, when I take the time to write any of these things, I’m not writing a Kotler book, there’s always a danger that the people who read my Kotler books aren’t going to read this new stuff. I get, here’s what gets me. I will send an email that says, I’ve got this book. It’s not a Kotler book. It’s a sci fi book. Out of the, like, 70,000 people on my mailing list, I will get 60,000 people telling me “I don’t read that kind of book.”
Ernest Dempsey 22:57
You have 70,000 people on your email list? How did you build up your email list so fast?
Kevin Tumlinson 23:02
It’s all I did for the first like, 10 years of my career, man.
Ernest Dempsey 23:07
I’m trying to build mine up, but it doesn’t get …. sorry. Keep going.
Kevin Tumlinson 23:10
I don’t want to get on that, because people focus too much on the numbers. And I don’t think they’re that important. But anyway, let’s pop a question up here. This one comes from Elyssa on YouTube. So it says, “Sounds like you know how long it takes to produce a book in your main series. Is it different for the other series? Does it take longer?”
Ernest Dempsey 23:32
No, they’re a lot shorter. I mean, they’re a lot quicker. And so, they can be the same length.
Kevin Tumlinson 23:42
How are they quicker?
Ernest Dempsey 23:44
Archaeological … If you’ll stop interrupting me, Kevin. Geez, I’m out of here. Bye everybody. So archaeological thrillers take forever. And I would, I’m going to be doing a medical drama series pretty soon. Spoiler for everyone, but the research takes forever. You know, for every Sean Wyatt book I write, there’s 100 hours of research into that book. Maybe more. Yeah, so it takes a long time to write. And it’s ongoing while you’re writing it. Like you have to stop and fact check yourself and double check things. And then of course, you get fact checked by other people later saying, actually, it was this date. Or it’s not BC anymore. It’s BCE. And I’m like, so first of all, this scientific magazine still calls it BC, so you do you, I’m gonna do me. But no, it takes longer. It just takes longer to research it. Whereas the Gideon Wolf series, it’s all fiction. All I have to do is know the locations. It’s all in my head. It’s all, you know, urban fantasy stuff. Same with the Relic Runner, I just have to find the MacGuffin, right. Like just whatever that object is. that artifact is, that we’re hunting for. Know a little bit about that. Now I’ll create all the cast of characters, the scenario, the plot, the drama, all of it. Know the three acts, those things, and I can just go. So I can write one of those books in four to six weeks, talking about those other two series, whereas it takes me eight, you know, eight to 10 weeks, sometimes six weeks, with the research included, but usually six to 10 weeks to do a Sean Wyatt book, if I’m rolling. So does that answer the question? I think it answered the question.
Kevin Tumlinson 25:33
I think so, more or less.
Ernest Dempsey 25:36
It is faster to do the other ones, though. It’s just …
Kevin Tumlinson 25:40
That’s interesting. Yeah, you know, that’s true for me as well. I mean, the Kotler books typically take longer because there is more history to get into. And because I do a very specific type of relic hunting in a way, you know, it has to have dire consequences to the world. So I have to not only do the research on this bit of history, but I have to plot out how this bit of history impacts the world if the bad guy wins. So there’s a little bit of dancing there.
Ernest Dempsey 26:18
Do you figure that out ahead of time? I mean, you figure that out ahead of time, right? Like what the villain’s motivation is?
Kevin Tumlinson 26:25
I know what the consequences are. I sometimes don’t know what the bad guy’s motivation is until later in the book. That gets revealed to me.
Ernest Dempsey 26:37
Well you know, it really helps to figure that out early on, Kevin.
Kevin Tumlinson 26:44
Not necessarily. So are you a more of a plotter?
Ernest Dempsey 26:49
I knew you were gonna ask, plotter or pantser. I’m a pantser. I’m the same as Jim Rollins, buddy. Jim Rollins, and I can call him Jim, because I know him personally. You do now know him personally, you’ve never had him on your show.
Kevin Tumlinson 27:05
I do. So yeah, he does that sort of hybrid pseudo plotting thing. He sort of gets an idea. That’s, you know, that’s kind of what I do, too. But I don’t do it on paper, I guess. Like I know the story. You know, I just don’t write it down until I discover it.
Ernest Dempsey 27:27
So I plan out my scenes. You know, I do a scene map, a very thin scene map, like in thirds. The first third of the book, like act one I’ll have figured out but not totally. Like, I’ll just have skinny little notes and the chapters in Scrivener, like, oh, you know, this chapter this happens, this chapter this happens, then I figure it out as I go. So I’m mostly pantsing, but …
Kevin Tumlinson 27:53
I’ll give you a good example, like this sci fi story, I just finished it. And now I’m going back and doing the rewrites, and what happened about halfway through is, I got an idea that changed the direction of the story. So now as I’m rewriting I have to actually change some of the details so that it fits with the new idea. I was going in one direction when I started, but I went in another direction by the time I finished. I could never do that if I’d plotted out the book. So yeah.
Ernest Dempsey 28:25
Well, thanks for coming on my show today, Kevin, and thank you for sharing your information with us. Be sure to swing by Kevin Tumlinson …
Kevin Tumlinson 28:34
Hey look, this is where you hop in as the guest to say, well look, stupid, that’s not the way to write a book. And you correct me, because people watching this, they’re gonna want to know your Ernest Dempsey way.
Ernest Dempsey 28:49
Earnest Dempsey way will lead you to ruin. You don’t want that. It’ll lead you to mint juleps at 1:30 in the afternoon in a church basement.
Kevin Tumlinson 29:00
I’m waiting for you to get that sort of slow, laconic drawl.
Ernest Dempsey 29:05
You want that? You want the southern accent? No listen son, I can bring it. No, it’s too late now. You already called for it.
Kevin Tumlinson 29:13
Let’s get to a question. Let’s get to another question. All right, hold on. Let’s roll back.
Ernest Dempsey 29:21
I’m trying to keep you on topic My bad.
Kevin Tumlinson 29:23
Uh, yeah, man. You’re good. Here’s another question from Elyssa actually, asking if you cross-promote between your main series and your new series.
Ernest Dempsey 29:34
Well, that depends on what you mean by cross-promote. Do I promote it to all the same people on my list? Yes. So here’s how I do the new series. Elyssa, is that what it said her name was? It’s gone off the screen now. I like the way she spells that, cool.
Kevin Tumlinson 29:52
This is one of our team, by the way. Elyssa’s the, she’s the secret sauce behind making everything work here.
Ernest Dempsey 30:01
I like people who are secret sauces also. So, here’s how I do it, okay? I test stories on my readers before I give them to them. Well, I mean, I give them to them. That’s how I test them. So years ago, I saw what Hollywood does with focus groups and with pilots and the stories that they create. And Hollywood knows, especially in television—now, streaming has changed the game a little, but it’s still the same model. If people aren’t paying to watch what you’re producing, you’re going to be out of business. So Hollywood understood a long time ago that they need to test out their concepts on real people, focus groups, do pilots in front of a live television audience, all that stuff. And maybe they, I don’t know if they do that with movies, films, because there’s been some stupid films that come out. Like Crank 2, like, how did that get greenlit? How did they greenlight Crank 2? The guy dies at the end of the first one. Now he’s still okay? And it wasn’t good. It was terrible. Anyway, the point is, I do pilots, because I want to see if my readers will be interested in this. I’m not going to write something that’s not going to pay the bills, right? Like, I’m not just gonna do it because I want to have good, high concept, like, this artistic thing that I’m … No, like, I’m artistic enough, because I write books. My focus is, I want the readers to have fun. You know, I want as many of my readers to have fun as possible. So I’m not going to waste my time. My job is to entertain them. I’m not a writer. I’m a storyteller. I’m an entertainer. So I entertain them with video. But I also entertain them with text on pages. And I want to make sure that they’re going to like what I’m spending my time on. So in 2019, I gave them the pilot story for Relic Runner featuring Dak Harper. It was a short story, 20,000 words ish out of the fire. I said read this. I gave it to them all at Christmas. I don’t know how many, 20,000 subscribers, 30,000 subscribers, whatever it was, and said read this. Tell me what you think of it. If you want more. I’ll write more stories about this guy. They loved it. And they wanted more. So I did the same thing with Gideon Wolf here two months ago or Halloween actually. I released that, I gave it to them all through BookFunnel. I did test it out on Kindle Vella. And I was like, I want to test this platform out. I want you guys’ feedback as well. My readers hated it. They hated Kindle Vella. And it makes sense because Kindle Vella is a direct attack on Wattpad. Wattpad is not huge here, but it’s huge in Asia. So why would you launch, as Amazon, why would you launch Kindle Vella, that is a direct attack to absorb that market that Wattpad owns in Asia, but only have it available in the United States? Again, maybe you know, look, they’re worth 10, 20, $100 billion, whatever it is, they know how their business works better than me. But as a creator, I’m not so sure. And I was glad I tested it because I’m not going to release anything on Kindle Vella unless they fix the system again, like I’m not going to do anything again on there. But I got great feedback about that. And guess what? My readers loved an urban fantasy story. Here’s the secret about an archaeologist who discovers a medallion of power. Oh, well, what’s the common theme with that in the Sean Wyatt stuff? Archaeology, right? What else am I going to do in the future at some point? Well, I don’t know. Because this series, this universe is going to have 30 or 40 books in it. There’s gonna be a lot of characters. But eventually I want to do sci fi archaeology. I want to build out ancient mythologies and histories across the universe. And it still like, brings in that historical archaeological aspect. And so to writers out there that are already in the game and have stuff going but want to maybe try something else. Try to fold in those things that worked for you in the other series. It will make it so that when you release your new thing, it won’t be … the results won’t be as bad as they could be right? Like if I had just done a pure thriller series with Dak Harper instead of like folding in a little archaeology in history, it wouldn’t have done as well. It might have done half as well. So I think that that’s those are a couple things., And then doing pilots. It helps and it’ll save you time because yeah, you’ll waste a week writing a story. Maybe nobody wants to read it, but you’ll also get great feedback. So it’s not wasted time.
Kevin Tumlinson 35:06
How long are your pilots?
Ernest Dempsey 35:07
So the Gideon Wolf pilot for Emergence was 27,000 words. And that took me eight days to write it. Right? Not a big deal. Same with Out of the Fire, the Relic Runner, it was 20,000 words. But it proved to me that I had a product that they wanted. And so great. I don’t have to waste my time writing three full length books that they’re not going to buy. I know it in 27,000 words instead of 300,000 words.
Kevin Tumlinson 35:38
Now that’s roughly novella length. Are you selling these pilots? Do you sell them?
Ernest Dempsey 35:47
So the pilots, I give them for free. Now, it was on Kindle Vella and some people bought it. You’ll be glad to hear about this. I crushed it, by the way. So it was one of the top favorite stories on Kindle Vella. Got the little crown over the logo and all that. And I think it had something like over 1000 episodes read in a very short amount of time. And I made about $1.27 on it. So I won’t be going back to Kindle Vella. And my readers hated the experience. They hated the token process. But I did give it to all of them. I said to them, look, you can go see it on Kindle Vella, if you want to support it, you can. But I said, this is a test run to see if anybody wants this. And they loved it.
Kevin Tumlinson 36:37
When we went to the Career Author Summit, I cannot remember her name right off the top of my head. But there was a speaker there who talked about doing short stories and novellas via her blog. And making the content, like, temporarily available. So like, sends it to the list and says, this part of the story will be available for the next 24 hours, or two days, or whatever. And then at the end of, once the story was complete, all throughout that process, they had the opportunity to buy it early and read the whole thing. And then at the end of it all, it was just an ebook available for them to purchase. And she says she’s crushing it doing that, and I’ve considered doing something similar. So it’s tough man, all this is experimental. It all takes time. It’s all that sideline.
Ernest Dempsey 37:32
That’s right. That’s how I did it. So I did it that way on the blog, too. I put it all on all the chapters for that pilot, I put on the blog. So and then of course I take it down whenever it’s, you know, whenever it goes exclusive on Amazon, but yeah, not everybody does that. But that’s how I do it. I do the KDP.
Kevin Tumlinson 37:55
I no longer, I don’t do exclusive anymore. It’s just not, you know, it’s not in my DNA. So RH Braun actually commented on something when we were having this discussion earlier about sci fi that I think is applicable here. Because this story he’s referring to, Chauna’s Forest, was part of an experiment I did years ago now. He’s probably one of the few people who remembers this. But I did this whole experiment where I wrote a short story a day for 30 days. And this was one of them. And he had a lot of notes and feedback on this, that I swear one day, Ray, I’ll get to. But that is the kind of thing, I think back then, I wasn’t thinking in this direction. But now I think your plan of pilot, that’s where I think you could get the most leverage, Especially since you would own that platform to begin with. And then you’ve got this this property that you can expand by vote if you want, but I do like the idea of the sort of artificial scarcity making that available for like a week or something.
Ernest Dempsey 39:08
I do that with every launch. I you know, I discount my new releases by 20%, or sometimes 40% on a new release. And other writers are telling me, you’re leaving this much money on the table. It’s true. I leave probably five figures on the table at every launch, because I discount it for my readers. But like Dan Marino always said, with those isotoner commercials, take care of the hands that take care of you. And my subscribers and my VIP readers are the hands that take care of me. I would still be working in a school and miserable if I didn’t have my readers, so it’s the least I can do for them. But as far as the, oh, sorry, go ahead. You have a question there.
Kevin Tumlinson 39:52
Oh, I was just gonna, this isn’t necessarily for either one of us, but we can both answer. Yeah, Andy Weir’s The Martian did start off as a series of blog posts that he initially put on Kindle just so that he could sell it to people who were demanding to buy it from him. So this isn’t something new. Nobody is just all of a sudden thinking of this. It has existed for a while. But there are actually some new resources out there that can make this probably a little a little easier to be successful.
Ernest Dempsey 40:24
No, I feel like we invented it, Kevin.
Kevin Tumlinson 40:25
We invented it, just like we invented archeological thrillers.
Ernest Dempsey 40:28
We did invent that. I’m sorry if you believe that somebody else thought of it, but it was conceived there in South Beach, Florida.
Kevin Tumlinson 40:35
When was that, I think like 2017 or something?
Ernest Dempsey 40:43
It was at least 17 years ago, Kevin. Before NINC existed.
Kevin Tumlinson 40:45
Right. We are getting close to having to wrap up. If anybody has any more questions, this is the time to ask. Here’s Kathleen Kat Ryan says, “Hi ya Ernie. You too Kevin.” I like how I’m just the add-on. I’m just the “oh yeah, you too.” That guy’s there too.
Ernest Dempsey 41:03
But see, Kat knows, she’s one of my super readers, she knows the reason that I do this. Here’s another thing about the pilot, because authors very often think, they’re worried about, we should be worried about revenue, we should be worried about making sure that we have our bills paid. It’s your job, you have to worry about that. But when you focus so much on those things, A, you lose sight of the fun. You’re creating something from nothing, like complete fiction, to entertain people. And that should be fun. The other thing is that you want you want them to have as much ownership as possible. And I know Kat probably feels this way. But I take Kat’s perspectives and feedback very seriously on things. And I want to know, if she doesn’t like something, I want to know why she doesn’t like it. And by giving them pilots, you know, free stories that they’re reading, yeah, you’re giving them great value, you’re giving them amazing entertainment value for no cost at all other than their time. But on top of that, you’re also saying, look, if you want me to keep doing this, tell me. And I want to know, you know, what do you think of it? Do you want more of this? And it’s not an extractionary mindset, you’re not thinking like, how can I grift these suckers for more money, right? Because it’s like there’s this, some authors have that feel to them, right? I’m not trying to do that at all. I want to A, give exceptional value. B, I want them to have fun. I want to provide an escape for those readers. And C, I want them to feel like they’re a part of it, that you’re part of the adventure, that they’re part of my adventure in life. And so doing those pilots really …
Kevin Tumlinson 42:49
Really, I think the pilot thing is a brilliant idea. And I think that I probably need to leverage that a lot more than I have in the past.
Ernest Dempsey 42:58
I did invent that Kevin, just so you know. There’s not a single author, I have never once heard of another author that does this.
Kevin Tumlinson 43:05
Well, you know, Orson Scott Card wrote, Ender’s Game was a short story before it was a novel. That was in 1974.
Ernest Dempsey 43:13
He didn’t pilot it to his readership. He was being lazy.
Kevin Tumlinson 43:18
Here’s some good news for you. Your friend Kat here says, “Guys, if you charged double for your novels, I’d still buy them.” Well, that’s very encouraging.
Ernest Dempsey 43:29
That’s sweet. If inflation continues, I may have to do that.
Kevin Tumlinson 43:32
They say that if you really love something, you would do it for free. Or you know, not that you should do it for free, but you would be willing to do it for free. I think you and I have both proven …
Ernest Dempsey 43:45
Well we did do it for free for a long time.
Kevin Tumlinson 43:46
I think most of my career I did it for free. Before I finally started making something out of it. Well, look man, we’re at …
Ernest Dempsey 43:52
Can I ask you a question real quick before you go? Are you wearing the shirt from Uncharted? I mean is that Drake’s shirt?
Kevin Tumlinson 44:03
I’ve never played Uncharted but I can’t wait for the film to come out. I’ve never played it. You’re the video game guy. I don’t have time. I don’t have time for video games.
Ernest Dempsey 44:13
Yeah, I don’t really either. But sorry. You were cutting the show. Is it a 55-minute show? Or is it a full hour?
Kevin Tumlinson 44:23
No, it’s just 45 minutes, man.
Ernest Dempsey 44:26
What a rip-off. I got all dressed up for this.
Kevin Tumlinson 44:28
Like the internet doesn’t get enough of you. Like you’re on, you show up like three times a week on everybody’s feed.
Ernest Dempsey 44:42
I’m gonna do it again right now.
Kevin Tumlinson 44:45
Yeah, yeah, we need to do another, you and I need to do just another Drinks with Dempsey or get you on my show again or something like that. We’ll do it again. But for now, we’re going to say it is time for us to wrap up here on Self-Publishing Insiders. Thank you, author Ernest Dempsey for dropping by, for getting dressed up for this, I appreciate that. You don’t see that anymore. Everybody out there, thank you for tuning in, we really appreciate it. Look at this guy, look at that guy. Make sure that you start your self-publishing journey at draft2digital.com and make sure that you are subscribing to us on YouTube and Facebook. And frankly TikTok, we’ve also got TikTok. If you go to any of those /draft2digital you can fund us. And if you go to D2D tips, d2d.tips/tiktok, you’ll actually be able to subscribe to a feed that’ll tell you all about the live stuff that’s coming up. So make sure you do that. And of course bookmark D2Dlive.com. This is not distracting me at all Ernie. That way you get to get the lowdown on shows past and see what’s coming up next. That’s a great place to find it and you’ll find the links to the blog, you’ll find all kinds of cool stuff there. So that is going to do it for this week on Self-Publishing Insiders. Thanks, Ernie for being part of show, you good-looking man.
Ernest Dempsey 46:20
Thanks for being patient with me.
Kevin Tumlinson 44:42
I feel like that’s part of my job actually, is to be with you specifically. Yes, exactly. Specifically you. Alright, thanks guys for tuning in. Thanks Ernie again for being on the show. And we’ll see you all on the next Self-Publishing Insiders with Draft2Digital. Take care.