Mark Leslie Lefebvre chats with veteran bestselling author J. Thorn about the THREE STORY METHOD, a proven system for developing a plan that will help authors bridge the gap between a collection of random notes and a cohesive first draft.
Episode NotesDo you have an amazing idea for a novel but you struggle to get the words on the page? Maybe the problem ISN’T writer’s block. Maybe you need a writing process.
Mark chats with veteran bestselling author J. Thorn about the THREE STORY METHOD, a proven system for developing a plan that will help authors bridge the gap between a collection of random notes and a cohesive first draft.
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Mark Lefevbre 00:01
Hello and welcome to D2D Spotlight. My name is Mark Leslie Lefevbre and I am honored to have with me J Thorn. J, welcome to the D2D Spotlight.
J Thorn 00:11
Thanks, Mark. This is really exciting.
Mark Lefevbre 00:14
Yeah, this is gonna be really, really cool. So I just showed those books, but I actually have the props handy, which I’m going to hold up, because I have the Three Story Method new book that you just co-wrote with Zach Bohannan. And I have the workbook that you’re selling for, you know, basically cost.
J Thorn 00:31
Mark Lefevbre 00:33
So I want, before we get into that, I’m really excited to talk about the craft of writing, because I think it’s an amazing process. Let’s go back and just talk a little bit about who J Thorn is and sort of your work in the writing community.
J Thorn 00:46
Yeah, yeah, sure. Try to make a long story short. I started writing I read Stephen King’s On Writing sometime in the aughts and thought, okay, that’s about all I need to know to write a novel. So why not just start? So I think 2008, 2009, I published my first titles on the brand new Kindle Direct Publishing platform. And last year was my 10th year. And two or three years ago, I was able to make enough revenue from my writing and writing-related services that I could leave my full-time day job and do this.
Mark Lefevbre 01:28
That is fantastic. And so, apart from being a writer—and again, I’m a fan of horror and the dark stuff that you tend to write—apart from being an author who writes the really fun creepy stuff that I enjoy, you also do editing. You’re a certified Story Grid editor.
J Thorn 01:45
Mark Lefevbre 01:46
Can you explain briefly what that is?
J Thorn 01:48
Yeah, I had to run the gauntlet. I had to stand in a robe and have Shawn Coyne paddle me. No, I’m just kidding.
Mark Lefevbre 01:55
Like a scene out of Animal House.
J Thorn 01:57
Yeah, something like that. “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” Yeah, a few years ago, I guess it was shortly after Shawn first appeared on Joanna’s show The Creative Penn, which is where I first discovered Story Grid, and I read the book and it was just, this light bulb went off for me. It was sort of the missing link. It was the aspect of my craft that that I was missing. I feel like I have a natural affinity towards storytelling, but having some type of structure and story methodology was, you know, was priceless. And so when I saw that, Shawn along with Tim Grahl, his partner, were going to be offering Story Grid certification, I think this was in the fall of 2017, I hid the credit card from my wife, didn’t tell her that I was charging it to that. I just knew, like I knew it was gonna pay off for me in many, many ways. And not just from becoming a developmental editor and doing client work, but just from learning about the craft itself. And Shawn was a mentor to me, is a mentor to me, is one of the smartest story guys I’ve ever met. And he has great lineage. I mean, he worked with Robert McKee. And so, yeah, I don’t regret it at all. I mean, it was fantastic. It was hard. It’s still hard, you know, because you have to stay current on it. And you have to be constantly and writing constantly learning, but it was probably the single biggest turning point in my writing career.
Mark Lefevbre 03:26
Oh, that’s fantastic. That is wonderful. So you’ve got the Story Grid background, you do work with authors using that to help them along. But then you and Zach Bohannan, who have been co-authors for a number of years together, and collaborators helping other authors. We will be talking to Zach tomorrow more about the collaboration. But I want to talk about something that you guys just released, which is called the Three Story Method. And I think maybe, because there’s a, I think there’s a natural progression from Story Grid, and some of the long in-depth research you’ve done, going way back to philosophers and storytelling, that actually led to Three Story Method. Can I hear a little bit about that background?
J Thorn 04:07
Yeah, sure. You know, because you’ve attended our live events, one of our world-building weekends. And pretty early on, we were sort of retrofitting Story Grid principles to work on pre-production. And we found that it just wasn’t quite the right fit. And in full transparency, Shawn never developed it to be sort of a story production or plotting tool. In fact, the subtitle to Story Grid is What Good Editors Know. So it is a fantastic process for revision, but it’s really not designed to plan or to plot a title. Yeah, there it is. There’s the subtitle. So I think what naturally evolved is, Zach and I, as we kept going through these world-building events and I was working with clients—I’ve worked with hundreds of clients by now since I was Story Grid certified. And we realized that what you needed on the front end was different than what you needed on the back end. Now, it’s still grounded in a lot of the same principles that Story Grid utilizes, because we’re all tapping the same source. In the book, I talk about going back and rediscovering Aristotle’s Poetics, and how so much of modern storytelling, through Campbell, and McKee, and Coyne, and everybody else, has come through that, has come through that that natural path. So we just adapted and modified what we were doing in live events. We were in a constant feedback circuit. We’ve run multiple events, I don’t know, 12-15 events at this point, something like that. And every time we’d do them, we would put these worksheets in front of people and we would say, “How’s this work for you? What’s working, what’s not?” And that became the genesis of Three Story Method. And at one point Zach said, you know what, we should write this down. Like, we should codify this, so you know, people can use it. And our whole thing was like, story just isn’t that complicated. Like, when you break it down, there are just certain core elements that Aristotle labeled first, he didn’t even come up with them. And it’s just, it’s pretty simple. Now, it takes a lifetime to master. But the concepts themselves are just not that complicated.
Mark Lefevbre 06:20
So what are the three? What’s the Holy Trinity in the case of storytelling?
J Thorn 06:26
Yeah, the Holy Trinity for Three Story Method is conflict, choice, and consequence. So it’s super simple, and I know like, I know a lot of times when I explain this to authors for the first time they’re like, well, duh, like, yeah, of course, right? Like, it seems so obvious. But I can tell you, time and time again, especially at scene level work, when I work with authors, parts of these are missing. And it happens in my own work. I’ll write something and then I look at it, and I go, oh, that’s not a really strong conflict. So here’s what they are. The conflict is what Robert McKee would call the inciting incident. That is the first action that pushes your main character or your protagonist outside of their quote, unquote, normal routine, and forces them to do something. All right? Now, this is sort of like, I’m talking about this at the scene level, but you can find these elements for an act, you can find them for the whole novel, or the entire story. So the conflict is the first thing that happens. That’s what starts the scene. You need that to start it. Then the most important one is the choice, and it’s just what it says. You must force your protagonist to make a choice. Now, it doesn’t have to be life or death, or overly dramatic every time. But you want your protagonist to be taking an active role. Because your reader is living vicariously through your protagonist, so they must be taking action of some kind. And then consequence is naturally the result of that choice that’s made, and you can do it in a way that the consequence will then set you up for the next conflict, or the conflict in the next scene.
Mark Lefevbre 08:07
Okay. That’s really, really cool. Now, there’s a way, because I’m a fan of your weekly, well, one of your 5,000 weekly podcasts, but one of them is the Career Author Podcast, which I’ve been listening to since you guys launched it in January 2018. And one of the ones that you’ve shared on that podcast, and even spoken about in person at those workshops, is you always use Star Wars as a as a source. Only because it’s been out since the, what is it, the mid 70s? And a lot of people are at least familiar with it, even if they haven’t seen the very, I mean, the very first, which is Star Wars Episode IV, the very first movie. Can you just talk a little bit about that? Because I think that really helps bring that home for people to understand.
J Thorn 08:52
Yeah, I hope so. I mean, we knew it was a bit of a gamble, because, you know, Star Wars is sci fi, and so there are a lot of genre authors and readers who might not be into science fiction. But one of the frustrations I had, and I researched dozens of books in Three Story Method. In fact, in the appendix, I have a works cited page, so anyone can go deeper on any one of these methodologies that I learned from. And one of the things that was difficult for me as I was doing all this research was that I would come across examples in books of movies or films or television shows or novels that I wasn’t familiar with. And so there would be a whole passage about, well, here’s a great example of a progressive complication when such and such does this. And I’m like, but I’ve never seen that movie. And like, you know, I’m not gonna stop and go and watch a two-hour movie and then come back and do that every time I hit one of these examples. So the idea was, what’s the most common, maybe ubiquitous, cultural touchpoint that we can find, that everyone is at least familiar with. And if you haven’t, then you could watch one two-hour movie and you would get all the references. So what we decided to do is, for every example—and we cheated a little bit, because we did use one other Star Wars film for the virgin’s promise—but for the most part, we kept all the references to one single movie. So as you read through Three Story Method, if you want to see how these principles play out within the methodology, all you gotta do is watch Star Wars. And most people have seen it. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a two hour investment, and then everything else will click into place for you.
Mark Lefevbre 10:36
Okay, that is fantastic. So we talked a little bit about the collaboration that you do. And I wanted to kind of lean into this a little bit, in terms of writing independently. Do you approach that differently than writing with a collaborator? And, potentially, you know, applying Three Story Method or something like that to it?
J Thorn 10:58
Yeah, there’s no question. You know, for me personally, every time I start a new project, my process changes a little bit. And it’s because I like to think I have a growth mindset. I think growth mindset is really important. And so what that means for me, and I’m referencing Carol Dweck’s great book on mindset. And you know, what growth mindset versus a fixed mindset means is that I’m always learning. I’m always discovering new things. So even though the process might be generally the same, every time I start a new project, I tweak something. I change something a little bit. I think that’s a little harder to do with a collaboration, and I’ve done enough to say that honestly, it’s hard. It’s great. And Zach and I love it, and we continue to do it. But collaboration is hard. And I think the, if you’ve never collaborated on a large-scale project, I think the assumption is, well, if you have two people, it’s half as much work. And that math doesn’t add up. It’s not half as much work. It’s not as much, maybe, as you know, by yourself, but it’s clearly not half the work. And part of that is because you have to over-communicate, you know. If you are writing by yourself, and you sit down, and you want to write a chapter, you don’t really need to prep anything if you don’t want to. You can open up a blank page and just start typing and see where you go. You can’t do that with a collaboration. You have to fill in the other writer, they have to know where the story’s going, where it’s going to end up. So I think, for writers who need a little more structure, I think collaboration is certainly built for that. Because, you know, we discovered when we were in New Orleans with, with Lindsay Broker and Joanna Penn and we were doing the first Authors on a Train, and we were all writing separate POVs, and we hit like this frustration point. And I remember Joanna’s like, I’m going to bed, you all figure it out. And Zach and Lindsay and I sat down and kind of did a bulleted outline because we were just trying to kind of riff through it. And with four of us writing in one story, that was, it wasn’t working.
Mark Lefevbre 13:08
That’s really fascinating. Now, the other thing I want to get into, and I’d mentioned you had a number of podcasts. So obviously, you work with Zach on the Career Author Podcast, with Rachel Heron on another writer podcast. But then another one, which kind of leads to the fact … So, you know, I know you as an indie author guy. However, you have a new podcast in which you are collaborating with a traditionally published author, and you’ve interviewed people like James Patterson, and like, big name authors from traditional publishing. What’s your stance on that that hybrid approach that you’re embracing?
J Thorn 13:48
Yeah, I’ve … there’s nothing wrong with this, but I’ve never been the indie flag bearer. I’ve never asked for that responsibility. I’ve never pursued it. I’ve always been more of an opportunist. So, I believe for most authors, in most circumstances, I believe indie is probably the best path. But I can’t make a blanket statement and say, you know, it’s what everyone should be doing. And Zach and I have talked about this on The Career Author, where we really believe it’s a book-by-book decision. You don’t have to fully commit to being an independent publisher. And you don’t have to fully commit to querying agents. Every book you write is a new opportunity. And you can take it, you can publish it yourself, or you can query agents and try a traditional path. So I think that’s always been my approach is, I’m not a hybrid author, I don’t have a traditional contract. I’d like to be. I know I’m sacrificing royalties. I know I’m sacrificing control. But part of me wants to know if I can get past those gatekeepers, and it’s purely an ego play. I know exactly what I’m getting into. And, but I think there’s also, there’s advantages to being sort of very open about that. And J.D. Barker, who’s my co-host on Writers Inc, the podcast we’re talking about, he is a very pure hybrid, and he is a shrewd business guy. I’m learning so much from him. Like, him and his agents will only sell certain rights to certain people in certain parts of the world. So, you know, he has traditional publishing deals with the big five, and he’s got movie options, and he’s got a lot of things going on. But he maintains a certain amount of control. And he still self-publishes, as well. So I don’t think it’s an all or nothing or an either-or kind of situation. I think … We always like to say, you know, we’re authors. We’ll just write more words, you know, like, we’ll just write another book. That’s what we do.
Mark Lefevbre 15:45
Can you explain for people who maybe aren’t familiar with this, in terms of the split rights, in terms of the way that it works in traditional publishing with territories, and, you know, ebook versus print and audio and all that stuff?
J Thorn 15:55
Yeah, all of those are separate licensing opportunities. So again, I don’t have a ton of, I don’t have any experience in that. You certainly have more experience than I do in regards to selling rights. But you can look at different aspects of your story. So for example, you can sell print rights separate from ebook rights separate from audiobook rights. And, you know, we looked around at some of our mentors and our heroes like Mark Dawson and Hugh Howey, who have masterfully navigated this and been able to sell rights for certain mediums in certain places and kept some for themselves. And so yeah, it’s even more complicated than just indie versus traditional. Because even if you go traditional, or indie, you have opportunities to sell only certain parts. So you could sell, you know, worldwide paperback distribution outside the US, but you could maintain that as independent. Like, that’s an option. Now, you know, you have to negotiate those deals with publishers. And if you have great agents the way Hugh and Mark and JD have, then you can do that. But yeah, there’s a lot of opportunity there.
Mark Lefevbre 17:06
That’s fantastic. Thank you. So I popped back up the website, theauthorlife.com, which is a project that you’ve put together, which is almost like a look in the life, a look at J Thorn and the author life. Can you talk a little bit about what that is and what people can expect if they check it out?
J Thorn 17:26
Yeah, definitely. I think it’s, you know, it’s very similar to the Career Author in that my goal is to help turn struggling writers into career authors. So it’s about the lifestyle, it’s about craft, it’s about marketing, it’s about publishing. It’s what it means to be a self-sustaining creative artist in 2020. So it’s there are blog posts there, there are resources, there are author services. And I realize, it’s relatively new. I’ve only had this website, only developed this website a few years ago, because Joanna told me like, you don’t really have a home for nonfiction or for author services. She’s like, you need something. And I have a fiction website, but, you know, that’s for readers of dark fantasy and horror and post-apocalyptic fiction. And, you know, aspiring authors are not going to find that. So that was the genesis of it. And a lot of, I did a blog post and podcast episode every week last year. This year, I decided to do them monthly but go sort of deeper into a topic. So whenever I write a blog post, I also narrate it and push it out as a podcast episode.
Mark Lefevbre 18;35
Okay, excellent. Thank you. And I just, we’re going to be getting two questions from the people who are viewing in the next little while, but I thought I’d pop up this comment because it was a little apropos. Jamie said, “So excited! Big fan of J Thorn,” as we all are. “You should watch his video on his website, he gives great advice.” So see, you’re not just hearing it from us. You’re hearing it from Jamie as well.
J Thorn 19:00
Yeah, there’s also a free guide, if you go to theauthorlife.com, right at the top above the fold. It’s a free guide on how to self-publish. So I wrote it up as—again, it’s one of those things, I’m a big systems process guy, and I realized there were certain things that I would do every time I was writing and marketing and publishing a book. And I said, you know what, I’ll just write this up, and then give that to people. And hopefully, if you’re looking for a place to start, or even if you have a system and want to improve it, you can go ahead and grab that free guide and that’ll help you out.
Mark Lefevbre 19:29
Okay, cool. Now you have been writing full time for two years? Two and a half?
J Thorn 19:35
Uh, it’s three years this spring.
Mark Lefevbre 19:36
Three years, wow. Okay, cool. Now, I think I’m familiar with your space because I’ve heard you talk about it on some of the podcasts. But can you explain how you … You work from home, and right now, a lot of people are working from home who didn’t plan on it, but it’s happening. Do you divide up your day? Do you divide up your space? How do you, like, because you do editing work, because you do one on one consultations with authors, because you do podcasts, because you do writing … do you divide up your space differently, and your day?
J Thorn 20:08
I divide up my day, not necessarily my space. So if you’re watching this on a video platform, what you’re seeing is my third floor attic that … This is a house in a suburb of Cleveland, it was built in the early 1900s. And when I bought it 10 or so years ago, it had a walk-up attic, and my dad and I came up and it was unfinished and I couldn’t believe no one had utilized this space in decades that people had been living in this house. So we spent a good couple months finishing it, and from the very beginning, it was meant to be a working studio for me because I’m a musician. I was in bands at the time. I was writing. My kids were very young, they were probably two and four. And I needed some separation. So this space kind of became my work studio, and now it’s where I spend most of my time. So I sit at this desk whenever I’m doing my writing, my client work, my podcasting. This is the environment that tells my brain, this is where work gets done. So I don’t lounge here. I don’t Netflix binge here. There’s a couch there. I don’t even read on that unless I’m reading client work, because I want to train my brain that this is where work happens.
Mark Lefevbre 21:29
Okay, so you’re reading a manuscript with an author that you’re working with, but you’re not reading for pleasure.
J Thorn 21:32
No, I go downstairs and in the family room or in my chair or something if I if I’m going to be entertained. This is strictly for work. And then as far as my day goes, I’ve experimented with a lot. I’m a big fan of calendaring and journaling, I think the way Joanna Penn does it. And so what I’ve gotten to now is to a point where I block time. So this might be really relevant for people who have been on self-quarantine or staying home. What I try to do is, I try and batch big blocks of time, so I’m doing pretty much the same type of activity for the entire day or for half the day. So for example, on Mondays. Monday is my podcasting day. I don’t write any, I don’t first draft any words on Mondays. I don’t do any client work on Mondays. Monday is strictly, it’s interviewing guests for Writers Inc, or it’s recording the Career Author podcast, or it’s editing the Writer’s Well, or it’s writing up show notes, scheduling. It’s all of that stuff on Monday, and that’s the only day I do that. Tuesday is my big first drafting day. So on Tuesdays, I’ll check some basic email messages first thing in the morning, and I don’t check it again until the end of the day. And the whole day on Tuesday is just first drafting. It could be one project, it could be multiple projects. But what I try and do is, I try and eliminate the switching costs that take place. So when you have your brain working on one type of task, and you switch it to another, you lose some momentum. And I’m sure there’s a scientific word for it, but you lose a little bit of focus and you lose some time. So rather than bouncing from podcasting to emailing to checking my list to my Facebook ads, I try and batch similar or same activities in big blocks.
Mark Lefevbre 23:20
And I’m aware that you are also a prepper. Not a prepper in terms of the apocalypse, even though you do write apocalyptic fiction, but I’m talking about prepping things in advance, right? Like your clothes for a workout, or your lunches and things like that. Can you talk a little bit about how that saves you time?
J Thorn 23:36
Yeah, this is really something. I’d strongly recommend James Clear’s Atomic Habits if people are interested in this approach, but the idea is that you make these very small, incremental changes and you systematize them so that you don’t have to think about them. Because what happens is, throughout the course of the day, every decision you makeis drawn from your bank of energy reserves. And that’s why, by the end of the day, you’re not your best decision-making prowess, right? There was one famous study talking about judges. And judges after lunch have harsher sentences and conviction rates than they do before lunch, because they get tired as the day goes on. So I, rather than fight biology, I go with it. So what I will do, for example, is rather than getting up and thinking, “Okay, what am I going to do today?” Before I go to bed that night, I will put my workout clothes and my gym membership card and my car keys right beside the door. And I pack it up and it’s ready to go, and my water bottle is filled. So when I get up in the morning, I don’t have to think, I don’t have to use calories. I don’t have to burn decisions about where are my clothes, where’s My Water, I can’t find my keys. I just grab it and I go. And for me not to do that, I have to be very deliberate in not going. So that’s, there’s a misconception that you need willpower, and willpower then will create these systems. James Clear says it’s the opposite. If you put the systems in place, that’s what builds your willpower. So for me to skip a workout in the morning is really hard, because everything’s lined up to point me in that direction. So I have to make a conscious decision not to do it, and that’s a whole lot harder to do.
Mark Lefevbre 25:23
Well, I have to thank you because you, through your various podcasts, you’ve recommended so many amazing books including Atomic Habits by Clear. I’m thinking of Cal Newport, I’ve read a couple of his books because of you guys. And there’s more. There’s more. I have to pop up this other question. “OMG is that J Thorn?” Yes, it is J Thorn, and he’s here to answer your …
J Thorn 25:46
Is that a question from Roland?
Mark Lefevbre 25:48
Yeah, imagine that. He’s here to answer your questions. I am going to start in the questions a little bit early, if that’s okay. I’m gonna kind of dig back through some of the early one. So Vijay says, “I’ve found that outlining the novel with midpoint and pinch points hampers,” you can probably hear the dog in the background going nuts, because someone always comes to the door when I’m doing a live podcast. Sorry. “… pinch points, hampers the creative process, especially in mysteries. What’s your opinion about this?”
J Thorn 26:16
Oh, that’s a tough question. I would say, my recommendation … this sounds this sounds like a plug and I had not meant to do this. This wasn’t planned. But in Three Story Method, what we talk about are sort of the 12 core stages of a story, and this corresponds directly to the 12 stages of the hero’s journey. Thanks Mark, holding up the book there.But the whole idea is that you have these sort of tent posts, or these mile markers that you want to hit. So I wonder if it would be helpful to him if maybe stepping up a level and not worrying about sort of these midpoint, these smaller, nuanced places, but look at those 12 overarching scenes and make sure you’re hitting those. Because those are the ones that, as you look in hero’s journey, every hero’s journey archetypal story has those in it. They have a whole lot of other stuff too. But if you hit those, that’s what people are looking for subconsciously. So I would say come up a level on that, and maybe examine those 12 stages first.
Mark Lefevbre 27:28
Excellent, thank you. I’m gonna bring up a question from Lexi. Lexi asks, “What is the biggest lesson as a writer that you’ve learned by being an editor?”
J Thorn 27:38
Oh, great question. The biggest lesson I’ve learned as a writer is that I can’t be my own editor. Now, I didn’t believe that for very long. But I’ve, early on, I thought, I mean, I’m a writer, I know how to put words together. How hard could editing be? Well, editing is so difficult. And it’s almost impossible to see your own work objectively. I mean, just physiologically, your eyes will scan over things that you’ve seen a number of times that other people aren’t going to see. But more importantly, and I’m not talking just about punctuation and grammar and typos. But the story itself, I think that’s where an editor is worth their money. And a good editor is not someone who’s just cleaning up your grammar, your punctuation, but a good editor is pointing out problems with your story, problems with pacing, problems with characterization. And so I think for me, it’s been reinforcing to know that, just like other storytelling industries: music, movies, television, those all require teams. And I think good writing requires that as well. So I never skimp on an editor. I don’t even so much as publish a blog post without hiring a professional editor to edit it. So I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned.
Mark Lefevbre 29:04
Excellent. And I think, I just want to reiterate this sort of, the distinction is, you’re not just talking about somebody to proofread your work. You’re talking about like developmental or substantial editing, that kind of thing?
J Thorn 29:15
Yeah, story editing, content editing, developmental editing, there’s different variations of people who have different labels. But I think what’s important is that you want to have an editor who understands story structure, and can help you improve it. And I make this joke a lot, you know, I always say that, you know, your aunt Helen, who graduated with a degree in English from State College in 1979 might be a wonderful early reader for you, but probably not an editor.You know, within reason, within your budget, I think you want to find someone who is constantly looking at stories all day long, every day, from many different people. Because I think they’re gonna have the best perspective on how to help you become a better storyteller.
Mark Lefevbre 30:04
Okay, so to that end, I thought I would ask this question in case people have it. The difference between an editor and an early reader or a beta reader?
J Thorn 30:12
Yeah, so sometimes, especially in the indie world, we have this terminology that we use. We have editors. And editors are just what you think they are, right? Editors are going through your manuscript and they’re looking for story problems. If it’s a line editor, they’re looking for typos and grammar and spelling, that sort of thing. You have what’s called beta readers. So, beta readers—and some authors will use beta readers as editors. I don’t think that’s a solid practice. I don’t do it personally. But I know that some people have success with it. But a beta reader is where the author will do the best job that they can on the manuscript. And then they’ll send that manuscript to a dozen or a few dozen, quote unquote, beta readers, and those readers will give the author feedback. I think that can be valuable. I think one of the problems you run into with beta readers is, you get a lot of opinion. So I think it’s hard to sift through. You know, I’ve used beta readers before, and I’ll have one beta reader say, “Oh, this character felt completely unnatural.” And someone else will say, “I love that character. They were my favorite.” Like, you know, what do you do with that?
Mark Lefevbre 31:15
They were the most natural character in the book.
J Thorn 31:17
Yeah, right. Right. So that’s beta readers. Now an ARC reader, or advance review copy. This is when your book is ready to be published. And you want to get a preview copy out to someone in hopes that once the book publishes, they’ll leave a review. So an ARC reader might find something wrong, or might make a suggestion, but in theory, by the time you’re sending out ARCs, your book is pretty much done.
Mark Lefevbre 31:45
Cool. Well, thank you. That was awesome. That was a fantastic breakdown of all of those things. So we’re gonna bring up another question. This one is from Jamie. Jamie says, “Is it good to write in all kinds of genres? Or is it a good idea to stick with just one?”
J Thorn 32:03
Great question, Jamie. I think it really depends. And I know that sounds like I’m punting on this, but it really depends on where you are in your author journey and what you want out of it. So for example, let’s say you are in a period right now, where you’re like, I have four weeks at home, I’m going to crank out as much content as I can. I want to make a go of this, of selling my fiction for money, maybe this is the time for me to make that transition. So if you, let’s say you’re looking for immediate, fast royalties, that’s what your goal is. Well, much like Craig Martell and Anderle do in the 20 books to 50k model, your approach would be, write a lot, write fast, publish it fast. And do that in, not only in a single genre, but in a single series, right? So in that case, you would want to be doing rapid release, you’d want to be writing quickly, maybe shorter books, get that readthrough going in the series so that if you advertise on book one, you’re going to get ROI all the way through 7, 8, 9, 10 books through, right? So in that case, you want to be hyper-focused. Like, you want to make sure you’re, like I said, not writing just a single genre, but even a single series, you want to be really targeted on that. But that’s just one example, right? Maybe you’re in a situation where you really enjoy what you do for a full-time living, and you have no intention on leaving that, but you love to write. And so you write, say, a book a year, or a book every other year, and you really care about writing a really interesting story, maybe something that’s a little bit unique, maybe that’s something sort of across genre. And maybe it’s something you want to get in front of an agent, maybe you think it has Hollywood potential. In that case, your approach is completely different. You might be looking at writing a standalone book, you might be writing in different genres, because you’re not depending on rapid release income. You haven’t, you have your income, you’re sustaining your lifestyle. And really, what you’re doing here is, you’re being very focused on, say, learning your craft or something like that. So those are probably two ends of a very wide spectrum. So I think the answer to the question that Jamie asked is, it just depends on what you want, and where you are in your journey. I will say that, once you’ve established yourself in a particular genre, if you want to continue to sell books, you’re better off sticking with that genre, or writing in a genre that’s somewhat similar to it. So, I know you’ve done this too, Mark. Like, I started out writing more traditional horror, and I sort of evolved into writing more post apoc dystopian, which is technically a sci fi sub genre. But the reader for horror and the reader for post apoc, especially for, you know, zombie apocalypse. Like, they’re pretty close. So it wouldn’t be like if I was writing horror and then decided to write cozy mysteries.
Mark Lefevbre 35:12
Thank you. That’s great. We’re gonna take a slightly different turn here with this question, which is from Tory. Tory asks, “With the advent of audio and AI, artificial intelligence, do you think an author should copyright or trademark or license their voice specifically and separately from their written IP?” Now, I say this because I know you are a voice actor, a professional voice actor, because you did record Three Story Method the audio, right, yourself?
J Thorn 35:36
Yeah. As soon as ACX gets on their toes, maybe that’ll be out. Yeah. It’s a good question, Tory. There’s sort of two thoughts I have on that question. The first one is, I don’t think you necessarily have to worry too much about licensing your voice IP early on. Like, if you don’t have anything published yet, or you haven’t really even begun voice acting or recording or podcasting or narrating audiobooks, there really isn’t anything for you to license. That being said, I think licensing is extremely important, and I think it’s something especially indies are starting to pay much more attention to. I recently did an interview with an entertainment attorney who lives out in LA for the Writers Inc., and the way he described it to me, which was fantastic, was that even with your written word, what you want to be able to do is, you’re technically licensing your own work to yourself. And that gives you a layer of protection. So if, let’s say Mark, you know, you do something and someone comes and sues you, and you’re publishing just as a single person, you don’t have an LLC or an S Corp or anything like that. Then, they can go after your assets, and your intellectual property is part of your assets. So they could, in theory, sue for your books, and then publish them and get the royalties. So if you have an LLC or some type of legal entity, what you can do is, you as a person, license the publication rights to your company, and that gives you a layer of protection. So I’m not an attorney, or a tax guy. I’m only relaying what information I’ve heard. But all of that goes to say, to answer Tory’s question is, you should be considering all of your IP and thinking about ways of licensing it either to yourself or to other people, other companies.
Mark Lefevbre 37:38
That’s an excellent thought. And I know neither one of us is a legal professional. But I know Dean Wesley Smith, who I had on yesterday on this lunchtime chat, I know that Dean and Chris, who run their own publishing company, have done that. They actually get paid. They license their works to their own publishing company that someone else runs, and then they get paid for it. And then that separates them. So that’s great. So I’m going to take, because you’ve written nonfiction and fiction and all kinds of stuff. There’s a question from Lyn here. And Lyn says, so she has a bunch of audio files and blog posts and articles about divorce recovery. And she’s often wondered if you could bring them all together cohesively, and design a book or a healing guide of some sort. Because, I mean, you talked about, earlier on, that’s exactly how the Three Story Method came, is you and Zach were talking and you were like, we should write this down. And then it became the book.
J Thorn 38:28
Yeah, absolutely Lyn, you should definitely do that. One of the things you have to remember is, people will pay for convenience. So on the surface—like, let’s talk about blog to book. That’s a good example, right? That is when you write a series of blog posts, and over time you build up enough that you can then compile those blog posts into a book. And what people immediately think is, well, why would someone pay for a book when the blog is free? And the reason is convenience. Like, are you going to sit down at the computer, and are you going to go and read every blog post over say the course of two years, one at a time? Or would you rather sit down on your couch with your ereader or your book and read, the way you do everything else? So, don’t underestimate people’s willingness to pay for convenience. It’s also a great way to repurpose content. One of the great things about the blog to book approach, podcast to book approach, any recordings that you have, is you’ve been able to, hopefully, or you can get feedback on them. So you can look and see, you know, which blog posts or episodes people comment on the most, which ones were listened to or read the most. If you’re posting blog posts on Medium, you can see analytics on, you know, how much people have been reading and how far they’ve read. And so you can use that to then decide, okay, this is the content that’s really resonating with people. That’s what I’m going to include. So you should absolutely, Lyn, repurpose your content. And you can always add stuff to it, you can rewrite things. But I would start by gathering it all together. And if you have any analytics on any of that content, start going through it and just making some general notes on what are the pieces or the posts or the essays that are really connecting with people and start with those as your core.
Mark Lefevbre 40:19
Cool, awesome. I mean, that’s exactly how I’ve written several books that I didn’t intend to. A couple podcast episodes turned into a book on working with libraries and bookstores, which were two separate podcasts. It was gonna be an article and it kind of blew up.
J Thorn 40:35
Yeah, that’s what, The Seven P’s started that way too, right?
Mark Lefevbre 40:37
Same idea, was gonna be a chapter in a book and it became its own little book. So yeah, you never know what happens once you start putting those things together. The Three Story Methodand the workbook could come out of it, right?
J Thorn 40:47
Yeah. You never know.
Mark Lefevbre 40:49
So Mikey asks, “Do you have any tools that you use to organize tasks, especially for your podcasts? I love podcasting, but I find the organizational side becomes a hurdle.”
J Thorn 41:02
Yeah. Mikey. That’s a great question. Generally speaking, I rely on Google Calendar for just about everything. I’ve tried all different systems and everything, you know, Kanban boards and Asana and Todoist and Trello and everything. I’ve tried them all, and I think this is partially because of my age. So I had to organize my life before there was an internet. And you may remember this, Mark, we had these things called Day Runners, right? Those little calendars, right? And I used to, I remember as a student in both high school and college, I had a Day Runner, and everything went my calendar. Everything from like, doctor’s appointments, to tests that I had to study for, groceries I had to pick up, it was all in one place. So I think what happened was, I developed this habit, and it naturally flowed over when the internet came along. And with Google Calendar, and especially now with smartphones, I can have my Google Calendar on the homescreen of my smartphone, I have it on my computer, any other device I have, as soon as I add a task, or an event or something, it’s automatically populated everywhere else. Back in the day, I lost my Day Runner a few times. And that was brutal. You know, when you lose, like paper journals are great, but if you lose them or spill coffee on them, they’re gone, you know? So I rely heavily on Google Calendar. I have, I probably have seven or eight Google Calendars, and I color code them so I can easily toggle on and off. Like if I just want to see my first drafting calendar, it’s a click. If I want to see just my podcasting interviews, it’s just a click. And I share calendars with my wife, with my kids, with my virtual assistant, with my partners. So like, my entire life, I can see in one screen at one time. And Google Calendar is free. So you know, it’s hard to beat that. As far as organization goes for podcasts specifically, I’m a big, big, big fan of templates. I create templates for everything, for show notes, for episodes. I’m sure you do this too, Mark. I use Reaper as an audio production tool just because I used it in bands for so many years. And I create templates for every one of my podcasts. So whenever I’m done with the writers, or when I’m getting ready to record Writers Inc, I just pop it open and hit record. And then I just have to edit the raw files and export but like the, you know, the intro music, the call to action at the end, like all that stuff is already set in place. So I think if you can create as many templates as you can for podcasting or blogging, and just you’re just dropping stuff in there, that’s gonna help you out organizationally.
Mark Lefevbre 43:35
And I think the other J Thorn advice that I’ve taken to heart is, it’s the process or it’s the systems you set up for success, right?
J Thorn 43:54
Yeah, that’s it. I mean, I don’t want to have to think about dumb stuff. Right? Like, I almost said a bad word, but like, I don’t want to have to think about things like that, right? Like, a calendar is super simple. And Zach and I, you could ask him about his to do list because we differ on this. He’s a big fan of to do lists. The reason I’m not a big fan of to do lists is because I need to see the time element for me. So like I, when I have my calendar default viewing is by the week. I like to see everything that I’m going to do in one week, where it fits in relation to everything else. And that’s not easily done with a to do list. And then with a click, I can also look at a month view or I can really zero in and look at just that day. So it gives me a lot of flexibility in how I’m looking at what I’m doing, not only just how I organize it.
Mark Lefevbre 44:46
Excellent. Well, J, thank you so much. So much amazing advice for people here. I know we have, I think theauthorlife.com is where people can hear from you, or find out more about you? Where else? Is that a good place to start?
J Thorn 44:55
Mark Lefevbre 44:57
Excellent. Well, thanks for hanging out with me, answering these great questions. Thank you, live viewers, listeners, for asking some great questions. J, hope you have a wonderful day.
J Thorn 45:08
You too, Mark. Thanks for inviting me here. It’s been a lot of fun.