We all write nonfiction in our lives, but it’s a craft we can all get better with. Mark talks with Anne Janzer about how to write better, more compelling nonfiction.
Anne Janzer is an award-winning author, nonfiction writing coach and marketing practitioner on a mission to help people make a positive impact with their writing. She supports and encourages writers, authors and marketers through her books, blog posts, online courses, webinars, and teaching. Learn more about her by visiting www.annejanzer.com
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Mark Lefebvre 00:02
Hello, and welcome to Self-Publishing Insiders with Draft2Digital. My name is Mark Leslie Lefebvre. And I’m the Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital. And I’m so excited that I have a chance to chat with Anne Janzer today. Anne, welcome. Welcome to the live feed.
Anne Janzer 00:17
Thanks. I’m just delighted to be here talking with you, Mark.
Mark Lefebvre 00:20
I am thrilled. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of chatting with you. I’ve listened to your podcasts, I’ve read your articles and some of your books. And I’m just so honored and lucky. So thanks for joining us today.
Anne Janzer 00:34
Like I said, I’m really happy to be here.
Mark Lefebvre 00:37
We also have comments that were waiting for us when we went live because we often talk about romance and mystery and thrillers and all the big fiction genres. But as E-Car E-Books says, that’s very, very good branding, “Great to hear some nonfiction discussion, looking forward to this.” And that’s what we’re going to talk about today, we’re talking about nonfiction for writers, or writing better nonfiction.
Anne Janzer 01:01
Exactly, exactly. And you know, I don’t care what kind of writing you do, you also do nonfiction in your life, right? You write emails, you write, you know, and I like to think that each of those little nonfiction things we do is an opportunity to work on our craft one way or another. So let’s give nonfiction some respect.
Mark Lefebvre 01:22
Fair enough. Fair enough. That’s good. And if people who are watching live have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. We’ll get to them towards the end of the broadcast. But first, I guess I wanted to talk to you. You know, I’ve been doing a little bit of reading, there’s certain things I want to make sure we talk about. But I want to go back to, you are an indie author yourself. You also coach authors. And very specifically, you help a lot of nonfiction writers? What sort of the services that you provide for them?
Anne Janzer 01:54
Right, so I do some book coaching and developmental editing for nonfiction authors, because I’ve done a deep dive into what makes good nonfiction work, right? It’s not always just throwing out everything that’s in your brain, it takes the same sort of approach to craft that fiction takes. I actually wrote a book a while ago called Writing to be Understood: What Works and Why. And part of my personality is I can be a little geeky, I like to go into the research, ah there’s the book. I like to go into the research, I like to understand, well, why does a metaphor work in the reader’s brain, for example? Or, you know, why do people glaze over when we’re talking about abstract concepts? And how do we address that? So that deep work into that has led me to work with nonfiction authors to help them not only through the writing the book, I’m also really interested in the process of writing, this sort of Inner Game, the psychology of writing, from the writer’s perspective. So those two things together help me work with nonfiction authors to create the book that is the best version and serves their audience the best way that they can. And it’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy working with other nonfiction authors, as well as writing my own books. It’s sort of extra fun.
Mark Lefebvre 03:10
I believe I remember, it may have been an interview with Joanna Penn on The Creative Penn, where I think you were talking about the writing process, right? And you have a workbook and a book on that topic?
Anne Janzer 03:22
I do. I do. My first book about writing was called The Writer’s Process: Getting Your Brain in Gear. So it’s about the inner game, because I think, you know, it doesn’t matter what genre we write, we all have our own best process. And our processes may be totally unique. I mean, your process Mark is probably quite different than mine. Where we are the same is in the ways that we run into trouble. It’s sort of the flip of the, was it a Dostoevsky quote about, “All happy families are the same. Every unhappy family is different.” I think all happy writers are different. Every unhappy writer, you know, we share this and we run into exactly the same darn things. And so understanding that really helps us through those things, and also helps us know that we’re maybe not crazy, you know, in that respect anyway.
Mark Lefebvre 04:11
Fair enough. Fair enough. We have our eccentricities as writers. So I want to go back to that. So for anyone who’s listening, who’s thinking, I’d love to write a nonfiction book. Where do I get started, stuff like that. I guess one of the first questions is, how does somebody know … Obviously, everyone has expertise and passion and experience in something really awesome and cool that other people probably want to know. But how do they know if there’s enough there for a book? Like where do they get started?
Anne Janzer 04:42
Where do they get started? So I’m going to share with you my trick, if you are like me, and I am someone who writing becomes a journey of discovery, it’s a way to really think deeply about something. So writing is actually how I think. So if you share that with me, and you’re like toying with, well, I want to write a book, but I’m not sure, I’m gonna give you a challenge. So here’s my challenge to you. Commit to writing 700 to 1000 words every day, free writing on that topic. No structure, no outline, free writing. Just think widely, and make yourself sit down and do it every single day. And when you have about 10 or 12,000 words, take a look at it. I think by that point, you’ll be like, oh, here’s an angle. Here’s a book, right? I think it’s a wonderful journey of discovery, right? You get to explore what you really know and deepen your expertise. You are already expert, but you’ll be, ah, I want to research this thing because I’m missing a gap here. And I’m curious about that. So plug into your curiosity, plug into what you want to do, who will be interested, who will benefit from this knowledge, and let that guide you. And just free write with no judgment, you’re not going to show it to anybody at all. And you may toss it all on the scrap heap. That’s okay. But you’ll end up in a different place than you started. I guarantee you.
Mark Lefebvre 06:12
Awesome, thank you so much. I love that idea of just kind of getting it out on unabridged, sort of unedited, just kind of push it out there. Do you recommend for different writers who maybe approach it differently because of their process, and maybe you work with a lot of professional speakers or people who do that for a living, and they’re more comfortable in spoken word? So is it like maybe recording their thoughts and then transposing it?
Anne Janzer 06:39
Absolutely. Recording your thoughts would totally work as well. And, you know, it’s so interesting. Mark, some people approach writing so differently than they do speaking. You know, I was working with an author not long ago who had written, I’m gonna say an anecdote or something from the past in her draft. It was a story, but it wasn’t quite a story. And so I asked her, can you tell me a little bit more about this? And then speaking, she told the most compelling story, and then she brought in the emotion, the situation, all these scenes that weren’t there in what she wrote. So sometimes, simply speaking gets us out of that writerly, you know, we put on our, I’m wearing my writerly jacket now. And all of a sudden, we start communicating in a way that we just lose our authentic, we lose that powerful connection with the reader. And we want to make a connection with the reader. Writing is a form of communication. And even if you’re writing a nonfiction how-to book, you want to make a connection with the reader, you want to feel, when I read a book by an author, depending on how they write, I feel like I spent some time with them. So I’ve read your Wide for the Win. So although this is the first time that we’ve met today, I feel like I’ve spent time with you, Mark, because I’ve read that book. So I had this little connection with you because of that. And we want that, we want that with our readers.
Mark Lefebvre 07:59
I was thinking about that, because you think about narrative voice for a narrator in a fiction, but there’s also the narrative voice of that person that’s taking your hand and guiding you on a journey. And it can be very academic in some cases, or as you probably experienced with Wide for the Win, pretty much just us sitting together having a coffee, I’m gonna share some anecdotes, whether you like them or not, about my own experiences and stuff like that. So I guess I was trying to think about that the importance of that narrative voice and even the narrative arc in nonfiction, because it’s true, people don’t really think about that. There still needs to be a bit of a bit of tension, right?
Anne Janzer 08:37
Yeah, I think that nonfiction authors would do really well to hone our storytelling skills. But our story doesn’t have to be a multi-chapter. It might be three sentences. It might be two paragraphs, but this is one of the ways that we’re going to connect more deeply with our readers. Because you know, people love stories. Data, fine, but we love stories. So it definitely belongs to the nonfiction author to up those skills.
Mark Lefebvre 09:03
So I want to go back to thinking about anecdotes in nonfiction books. And do you remember the classic book Who Moved My Cheese, or there’s the Canadian economic guide The Wealthy Barber, which is an anecdote, like anecdotal stories with these characters. Why is that a way that we employ nonfiction? We’re here to learn stuff. I’m serious, this is business, I need to understand leadership and management or whatever it is. And yet, you’re telling me these fables, you’re telling me … I think about Jed Bartlet in the West Wing, his his little asides and telling stories in order to drive home a point, but it does eventually wrap back. Is there value in that with nonfiction?
Anne Janzer 09:46
There’s absolutely value. If you think about most nonfiction, if we’re talking about business leadership, say, let’s just pull that out. You’re talking about a lot of abstract concepts, right? You’re talking about you know, communication and staff and all of these things are abstractions. They are the words that we’ve made up to incorporate a whole bunch of complicated things. And we live and speak in abstraction. So that’s fine, our brains are used to it. But at a certain point, all of that abstraction processing is taking place in that prefrontal cortex, it’s taking place in the paying attention parts of our brains. And that part can get tired, quite frankly, that part can get kind of tired, overwhelmed. When you tell a story, all of a sudden, if you tell me someone lay down on the floor, exhausted and wiped out, a part of me feels that. That’s a different part of my brain]is synchronizing with what that person is saying. And if there’s something visual, the visual imagery in my brain. So now you’re engaging with more of the reader’s brain. I think this has got to be a good thing, right? So this alone is fantastic. And then, of course, the story. So it makes us immerse ourselves more in the thing that you’re trying to teach us. And it makes it, of course, much more memorable. We’re much more likely, first of all, to pay attention enough to get the point. And second, to remember the point when you’re done.
Mark Lefebvre 11:15
Excellent. Thank you so much. So I want to get into the specifics of something that you shared on your blog, and I’m going to pop the link up here. And I’ll drop it into the show notes as well. And so it’s at annejanzer.com under blog, and it’s this article about servant authorship. And I was so fascinated by how you apply this from leadership, and then reapplied it and adapted it for authors to consider. So for those who are not fortunate enough to have had exposure to or read this article yet, can you kind of talk a little bit about what servant authorship is? And how authors can use that in their writing?
Anne Janzer 11:54
Yeah. So servant authorship is a term I came up with. And like you said, it’s got a parallel in the business world, which is the idea of servant leadership. A leader is there not to promote their own glory and be fantastic heroes, but to serve the people that they lead and the communities that they’re in, so you are there in service. And of course, you know, I’d much rather work for someone like that, right? We all would. I think the same thing applies to writing. And what happens with writing is it becomes such a powerful technique. So to say I practice servant authorship is to say, with this book, I really want to serve a specific community of people, and to really understand who it is you’re serving with your book. And how, you know, why will they pick it up? And how will things be different for them when they’re done? What will they get? How are you serving them? Right? So it’s a very simple question you could ask at the very beginning of starting a book as you’re writing. And it is almost magical, in that it helps to clear away the clutter that often overwhelms us when we’re writing. It’s like, ah, should this go in, or should that go in? What needs to belong? Often when we write, we think about all the things we want to say, and they may not all serve the reader. So as we’re editing, it’s like, you know what, this is a great story, but it really doesn’t serve the reader. Or, you know, this is kind of showing off all my expertise and it’s cool, but it doesn’t really serve the reader. So it’s what goes into the book, what stays in the book. And it also helps us with questions like, how should I publish the book? Every book is different, what’s going to serve the reader? Should I try to get a big publishing house because the reader is going to be finding it in a retail bookstore? That’s who my reader is. If I’m indie, you know, should I be exclusive to Amazon? Well, are my readers likely to be there? Or are they also going to be out in the library, looking for this book, looking for a physical book or looking for an ebook in their library services? I want to be where I can serve the reader. So it answers questions about that. And the third benefit of this servant authorship is that it helps you through the part that everybody hates, which is book promotion.
Mark Lefebvre 14:16
Authors just leaned in because it’s like [inaudible].
Anne Janzer 14:19
Apply that same filter to how do I promote the book. We get so uncomfortable, because we think it’s about us. It’s like, oh, gosh, I have to go tell people buy my book. It’s so self-promoting. Forget it. You’re serving your audience. How do I get this book in front of the people who are going to find value from it? You’re doing this for other people, you’re not doing it for yourself. That gives you this whole other, first of all energy and comfort in the book promotion. And it also helps you figure out, well, what are some of the promotion strategies that would make sense for me? What are the ones that are going to serve my core audience? So I find this to be such a powerful concept and really pretty easy to adopt, because we’re already doing this, we’re already writing to share with others. This is for most people a common motivation. But we’re easily distracted by how to build the author presence, how to get more sales, how to be a bigger speaker, we’re distracted about things about us. And those things will come if you serve the audience.
Mark Lefebvre 15:31
I don’t think we can talk about this enough, because I think we do we lose sight of that, with all the stuff we have to do.
Anne Janzer 15:39
Yeah, there is a lot, you know. I mean, it’s a lot.
Mark Lefebvre 15:44
Is it fair to say maybe potentially nonfiction authors may have an easier time with that target audience. Because I always think about, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, this book solves this problem for someone. And in nonfiction, it’s usually, I want to know how to, I want to learn, I want to be, I want to do, whatever the case may be. So it’s a little bit easier. So maybe it is easier for nonfiction authors to have that and understand who that is. But we still fall out of it. Right? Because of the day to day, the grind, the words.
Anne Janzer 16:22
Yep, yep. It’s hard to get out of our own heads, right? We’re living in here, and all of this stuff going on in there, right. And it’s hard to get out of that. And so focusing outside, focusing on your reader. And it’s true, this does apply. You know, if you’re writing a really fantastic cozy mystery, you are serving the person who really wants that mystery. At the end of a stressful day, they want to go to a place where they know everything’s going to resolve, you are serving them with an experience. But it’s maybe not as obvious as it is with a lot of nonfiction what that service is.
Mark Lefebvre 17:00
Awesome. That is awesome. And I’m gonna post this comment from Joanna, who said, “That just helped me. Thank you.” So good stuff.
Anne Janzer 17:08
I’m so glad, Joanna, that’s great.
Mark Lefebvre 17:11
Also, Gerry says, “I appreciate your explanation of servant authorship.” I want to keep talking a little bit more about that. Because I think about social media. And I know, you know, we’ve seen in the industry that trend that, oh my god, everyone has to be on TikTok, because that’s how you’re going to sell books. But is that necessarily, you know, maybe TikTok or social media or whatever. We also lose sight, because the goal is, oh, I just want to be viral rather than what can you do with the social media? Is there an approach that you usually advise when you’re working with authors?
Anne Janzer 17:46
Yeah, um, so authors, we need to find a balance. So book marketing is this thing we now live with. If you publish a book, guess what? This is now part of your life. And if you don’t want to accept that, that’s fine. But it’s really fundamental to what we need to do. So this is something you take on. So I think that your approach to book marketing needs to fit two things. One is this servant authorship. Where am I going to fit? You know, if I’m writing a book for senior executives, I’m not necessarily going to put it on TikTok right now, because I don’t think that’s how, that doesn’t serve them. Right. So everything, book promotion wise, needs to go through that filter. And at the same time, it also has to fit in your life. I try to balance growth and learning and sanity, right? Sometimes I’m better than others. I’m always trying to grow and learn. However, you know, I think most authors are better served by choosing a couple promotional things that they do really well. And that fit in their lives, and they’re comfortable. And then if you want to add one at the edge where it’s new, and you’re going to try to grow a little bit there, see, oh, maybe I’ll try making a viral dancing video. I mean, maybe I’ll be good at this. I don’t know. I think one thing to grow, one thing that’s pushes your boundaries, and then decide if it fits or not. But you can’t do it all. Heavens. The problem is, as authors, we’re constantly barraged with oh, here’s 14 more ways you need to be building your platform, and here’s a team, or things. And you know, they should be 14 things to consider, not 14 things we interpreted as 14 things we have to be doing. And you know, we stop writing something new or we stop sleeping, and if we spread ourselves really thin, we won’t be good at any of them. So if you love speaking, do speaking or podcast discussions. If you love drawing or taking photos, be active on Instagram, or video now I guess on Instagram, I mean, keep learning and figuring it out. But do not try to do it all. Just pick one or two that you’re just gonna do pretty well and keep assessing. For example, I have done a lot of, I’ve built a couple of my books very well through running short term discount promotions, which Draft2Digital makes it really easy to do. So thank you. Because, you know, when people would say, well, does it cheapen your brand or this or that? It’s like, no, it gets the book in hands of people who wouldn’t otherwise see it by taking all the risk out of the book, right? So it’s a way to kind of spread a wider net. And I think of this as interval training for my book platform. It’s like a little short burst of activity that builds strength over time, because the more people who have your book, that love your book, the easier everything else becomes, all of your other book promotion stuff becomes.
Mark Lefebvre 20:48
Okay, thank you. I want to go back to something you said, you talked about spreading yourself thin. We can do it with taking on too many different social media marketing tips and suggestions that are just flying at us like a fire hose, to mix metaphors. But I wonder if there’s something that, when you spread yourself too thin, either in those kinds of marketing promotion activities, or even potentially in the process of writing the book, is that possibly where we lose some of that authenticity? Because we’ve stretched ourselves so thin, we don’t even look like ourselves anymore. Is that happening?
Anne Janzer 21:24
Yeah, I do think that I see that happening. I see authors who get super intimidated by the idea of writing a book. And there can be fantastic writers, and like, fantastic blog writers, for example. It’s like, why are you intimidated by a book? But you pile on so many other expectations, and you pile on so much other stuff. So when I work with writers, I really try to cut to the simplicity of it and say, let’s just get something down. And then we’ll keep, we’ll add in layers, we’ll add in research, we’ll add in stuff. But spreading ourselves thin makes us feel like we’re terrible at everything. And when we feel terrible at everything, we feel insecure. And that inner critic voice, when we’re trying to learn everything at once, the inner critic is going to be just screaming at us. It’s like, you’re terrible at this. And that is not conducive to writing, that’s not conducive to creativity, it’s not really conducive to, you know, the inner critic kind of needs to be out of the room when you’re when you’re writing. It needs to be down the hall, locked in a closet somewhere. So, yeah, spreading ourselves too thin is a dangerous thing, not only for our personal wellbeing. But I think for what we create, for the works that we create. We need to feel comfortable in what we’re doing. And when we do that, then we can bring our best selves to it and our most creative selves to it.
Mark Lefebvre 22:57
Awesome, thank you. So I want to go back to something specific for nonfiction writers, which not necessarily with fiction writers. You know, you can read Tale of Two Cities, or something. It came out a long time ago. I mean, if you read, you know, Mark’s guide to social media circa MySpace, you know, that’s gonna date itself. But with some nonfiction, I think, wasn’t one of your earlier books. And was it the book on subscription marketing? Is that the one that’s in the third edition now? Or was that a different one?
Anne Janzer 23:29
That’s the one, subscription marketing, because that was a kind of timely topic. It was about marketing and the subscription economy, and it kept changing quickly. So I, as an indie author, had the ability to go back and do a second edition, and then a third edition. Which I really loved, you know. So that was my first book. And I have to just really quickly tell you a story, because I put it out really quickly. No one was writing about it yet in 2015.
Mark Lefebvre 24:00
Yeah, it was groundbreaking. I mean, this was like a pioneering movement, oh my God, why is nobody thinking about this?
Anne Janzer 24:07
Exactly. So I’m like, I gotta get this out fast. So I’m not going to try, I want to get it out quickly. So I’m going to publish it in the, you know, I’m just going to put it out there as my own book. And once I did that, I think like everyone else, I’d always thought, you know, it’d be great to have a big book contract and a publisher behind me. But then I just realized the joy of having total control over the edition and the size and what goes in it. So I like to say about indie publishing that I came for the speed and I stayed for the control. That’s my saying about indie publishing, because since then, right after that a press, an academic kind of press approached me about, can you write something similar as a textbook? I’m thinking, yeah, no, I don’t want to. I don’t want to, thank you. Now I’m fine here.
Mark Lefebvre 25:04
And I think because you also blog and freely share your ideas in places like that, I think you recognize that it was this compromise between the speediness of a blog post or series of posts on a topic, and having to wait for New York agents and editors to pitch books on a four-season selling cycle in the hopes that someone could sell it to a bookstore, BEA, whatever.
Anne Janzer 25:29
Exactly. And because it was kind of a new niche, I knew it was gonna feel too niche to the publishers. And they might say, well, yeah, that’s fine. But make it about all businesses. It’s like, no, I don’t want to, that’s precisely the point. And so the interesting thing about that book was that it did very well, the second edition did very well, because I’d actually built it. I had also zero platform, really. I’ve been ghostwriting. I’ve been writing in the voice of brands and other people for years. So no one knew who I was, except my clients. But the second edition did very well, it had more of a platform. And it was picked up by a couple international publishers, and a business press in Japan picked it up. And it did very, very well. It was an Amazon bestseller for a long time in Japan, they highlighted it in their business books, and I’m still getting royalty checks from that one. So you know, that was just sort of one of those interesting fortuitous, so traditionally published in Japan. That’s how we worked that.
Mark Lefebvre 26:26
And that’s because you owned all the rights. And you could say, okay, I’m going to license this publisher the rights in Japan, which probably meant through Draft2Digital, KDP, the various platforms, you just went in and put in the territorial exclusion, right?
Anne Janzer 26:42
Yeah, right. Right. Right. So I licensed the Japanese language version, actually.
Mark Lefebvre 26:47
So you still have the English language version in Japan.
Anne Janzer 26:50
All I had to do was license the Japanese language. It’s super easy. They did the translation. I mean, I wouldn’t have touched that. I have this, the Writing to be Understood has been translated to Russian as well. And again, that’s with a traditional big publishing house in Russia. So that’s fun. But I would never take on a translation.
Mark Lefebvre 27:14
No, you’re looking at a $10 to $12,000 expense for a lot of …
Anne Janzer 27:19
Yeah. And if it was not a language I knew, you really want to have faith in it. Yeah. So my desire to control stops when it comes to translating other languages, although people do hire translators and publish indie in other languages.
Mark Lefebvre 27:38
Cool. Well, I have to say, so Lexi posted this, “I came for the speed, I stayed for the control. Can we go ahead and borrow that forever?” I think we may make T-shirts and put your name under that.
Anne Janzer 27:48
I’d love it, I’d love it. That’s fine.
Mark Lefebvre 27:51
We’ll have to do a brand with your picture. And that quote, with the D2D logo, said here on this podcast. I do want to go back to the editions though, to help people who have written nonfiction books, is how do you know … Like, what are the deciding factors for that second edition, for that third edition? And I’m asking, it’s a very selfish question. Because I tried to make Wide for the Win about mindset and evergreen. And yet I talk about platforms and what’s available. And even in the year and a half since it came out, so much has changed. And I tried not to be very specific, but I’m thinking, at what point do I do edition two and update it with new things? Like, are there any ways that you help authors with deciding second, third edition, stuff like that?
Anne Janzer 28:37
Yeah, yes. So you know, I have talked many authors through this, and there’s certain topics that are just going to be more timely. And some of them, you might even want to plan, I just helped an author do a book about Medicare. And it’s like, you’re probably going to just do updates every year with the laws change. So just be ready for that. And when you’re indie, you can do that. If you have a traditional publisher, you know, if they’ve printed 10,000 copies sitting in a warehouse, you’re not gonna convince them to do a second edition.
Mark Lefebvre 29:09
Pluto, the planet. I remember when that happened, all the textbooks. Like no, it’s not a planet.
Anne Janzer 29:13
A little insert. So there’s that. So we try to write to be evergreen, but sometimes it’s really hard. So for me, again, I tie back to that servant authorship. What does someone reading this need? Will it be relatively easy for them to update it, or are they going to be, but this isn’t the way things are anymore? So my second edition of Subscription Marketing, actually, I did because not only did things change, but I learned so much going on the road and talking with people after the first edition. And I actually learned that the audience I was aiming for was not the audience that was super receptive to it. It was a whole different group of people who were ripping up and running with it, which was crazy.
Mark Lefebvre 30:00
How was that? What were those differences? I’m curious.
Anne Janzer 30:03
I was really writing for the people who were my former clients, because they wouldn’t listen to me, which was marketers at large corporations or any kind of large business that had a subscription relationship with their audience. So I thought it was for marketing organizations saying, hey, guys, you’re gonna become irrelevant over time if you don’t pay attention to the existing customer. That was my slap upside the face. They didn’t, you know, I showed the book to some people. They were like, oh, that’s nice. Is this for newspapers? And I was like, no, it’s for you. The people who did pay attention in those businesses were the customer success teams. They had me come talk at conferences. Oh, come, you know, it was fascinating. Also, entrepreneurs and startups were all over this because they were trying to embrace that new model. So I talked to a lot of founders and things like that. So I ended up expanding the book in the second edition to really address some of these other things. And then the third edition updated a little bit more, I have more solopreneurs in the third edition going, but yes, I’m a subscription. So it’s like, okay, well, we’ll have to address the solopreneurs’ needs. So it was always driven by what the reader needed, who the reader was. It turns out, I thought I knew who I was serving. And sometimes, we don’t know as much as we think we know. That’s okay, that can drive a second edition. But I think there needs to be enough of a substantive little update or change. You know, and put it out in your preface, what’s different with this book, this edition, than the previous is a nice way to also frame that.
Mark Lefebvre 31:41
When you were talking about discovering that audience, I think I’m remembering where I may have actually heard you for the first time in the interview. Was it with Mitch Joel? On the Six Pixels of Separation? Great, because I know Mitch is always about that, and he would have been one of the really sharp people who picked up on that.
Anne Janzer 32:01
Yeah, yeah. Mitch is fantastic. I love him.
Mark Lefebvre 32:04
Fellow Canadian over here. I want to go into a couple other things, based on some stuff I saw on your blog, and you talked earlier about, you hinted at this earlier, that even if you’re writing fiction, there’s still a lot of nonfiction writing you do for your business, as a writer? Can you talk a little bit about that?
Anne Janzer 32:28
Sure. Well, the writers I know are, I hope you’re writing a newsletter or something to write, build an email list, please tell me you’re building an email list.
Mark Lefebvre 32:40
Isn’t there a book on subscription marketing?
Anne Janzer 32:42
Is there? I don’t know. Yeah. Because you want to have a relationship that you own with the people who raise their hands and say, yes, I’m really interested in you and want to follow what you do. It’s almost rude not to give them a way to have that connection, to shut the door in their face. So have a newsletter. It doesn’t have to be, if you can get thousands and thousands of subscribers, that’s fantastic. But these are your people. It turns out, I have gotten to know fantastic people who subscribe to my newsletter. I feel like it’s a community, I’ll send them out questions, I’ll do surveys, they actually support my writing in a meaningful way, you know, sometimes with just an email saying what impact something had on them. If you’re trying to have a servant authorship mindset, there’s nothing better than hearing from the people you are serving. That’s bam, you know. So you will be writing for them, you will be writing things that are, even if you’re a mystery writer, maybe you’ll write a blog post about some research you did, maybe you’ll share a little story of what happened there. Or maybe you’ll be telling them a little behind the scenes, or whatever it is that you decide to do to share, to sort of create this community, that’s nonfiction writing. We communicate with publishers, we write social media posts, we do all of these things. And they’re all a chance to write clearly, to think about, am I leading with me? Or am I leading with the reader? You can put all these skills into place to tighten up your writing, to stop being lazy about your verbs. You can work on your craft, even as you’re cursing, I gotta write a newsletter. You’re working on your craft, if you think about it that way that can maybe help you do all of that nonfiction writing that is part of your life.
Mark Lefebvre 34:35
Awesome. So you talked about surveys and interacting, engaging with your community. And I want to talk a little bit about a survey that you did with nonfiction authors.
Anne Janzer 34:46
Yes. So I was writing a book about, this is so meta. My life is very meta. I was writing a book about writing nonfiction books that serve the reader. It’s called Get the Word Out: Write a Book That Makes a Difference. And I started interviewing authors and it was fantastic. I love that. But I realized I wasn’t going to be able to cast a wide enough net doing interviews, because I spent a few hours on interviews. Plus I’ve read people’s books, you know. So I did a survey and I had more than 400 nonfiction authors respond. And it’s on my website, you can see some of the data. So fascinating. Lots of great insights came out of it. But the core I was trying to get to is, what motivates people to write? So one of the questions I asked was, you know, what are your reasons for writing a book? And the number one reason cited was always, you know, I want to serve others with this content. Right? So it’s like, ah ha, you know, this idea of servant authorship was already there. And then when I had them choose only one, what’s the most important reason? Most people, it was still the top answer was, you know, it wasn’t building my platform, it wasn’t promoting my speaking business. That was there. But for like 40% of the people, it was still serving other people with their content. And this turnout, and really, my audience was really skewed to business writers. So really, really interesting that this is how it is. Because you hear all this stuff online about, you know, write a book on a weekend and become a bestseller, and all of these promises about what this is going to do for you. And I think, as I’ve already made clear, I think those are the wrong motivations. So then I asked, at the very end of the survey, for those who had published their books, did this meet your personal needs, and did this meet your professional needs, on a scale of one to five. And nearly 90%, it met or exceeded their personal needs, which is serving others. Just slightly lower met or exceeded their professional needs. But if your definition of success is making things better for people, for these people that you’ve decided you’re serving, then you can be a successful author. If your definition of success is a New York Times list, it’s really hard to be a successful author, right? It’s really hard, I’m just gonna say that. So think carefully about what … and if you’re chasing that, you do other things that may take you further away from this fundamental motivation, which so many of us have, which is in fact serving others with our content.
Mark Lefebvre 37:36
I’ve seen authors who have done blog posts where they share their thoughts, they maybe do it on Medium, they do it on all kinds of other online platforms. And then they just collect like the best of, or they collect those thoughts. And they do it not to try to make money, but because people consume things differently. Well, I don’t read blogs, but I’ll read it in a book. Is that one of the other things too, where you just say, it’s just easier for you to read it all at once? You don’t have to go hyperlinking and clicking, you can read the print paper or the ebooks?
Anne Janzer 38:11
Sure. Yeah, I think that’s a perfectly great way to do it, because you’re actually serving people. I mean, Seth Godin has done that, he’s created books that are beautiful compilations of his blogs. And I think that’s totally legit. That’s also another reason why I’m really a fan of doing audiobooks. Because again, not everybody has the mental space or bandwidth to read all the time. And if you want to be where they are, I’ve worked with a couple of authors who are writing about grief. I’m like, yeah, I think you really need to do an audiobook, because reading takes a certain mind space, but listening to someone talk is different. So you need to be where and how people need to connect with you.
Mark Lefebvre 38:55
How do you approach audiobooks? Is that something that you prefer to do yourself? Do you like to have a hired voice? How does that work for you?
Anne Janzer 39:03
Yeah, I think the answer for that is different with everyone. So I started out doing it myself. I recorded the first edition of Subscription Marketing. And my son had left home so his room became the recording room. And I thought, because I had a theater background and I’ve sung a lot. I’m a trained singer, so I thought, piece of cake. Right? So first of all, the word subscription when you say it a lot, it gets a little tough. And I’m never going to quote [inaudible] again because I had to practice saying his name. So I’ve learned a lot. Happily, when I did the second edition of subscription marketing, I was able to retract the first edition audiobook, and I’ve gotten better with each time. So I have done it myself because I am willing to climb up that learning curve. I think my last couple, I’m really proud of how they’ve done. I think I’ve really been present in the narration, we’ve been good on the sound, getting the quiet space turns out to be really, really hard. My husband engineers that for me, it’s been good. So it’s a non-trivial thing to do. I’d like to do it my own voice because I’m writing so much in my own voice. So I thought it made sense to read it in my own voice. Fiction I would never presume to try to narrate. But I also think, I believe, I like to think, that listeners are more forgiving when it is the author reading. They know it’s not a professional narrator. I’ve listened to some authors that I just love and their voices are kind of squeaky, but I love the author. And so I totally love listening to the author read it.
Mark Lefebvre 40:58
Yeah. My partner, Liz, prefers to listen, if it’s nonfiction, and it’s not read by the author, she won’t listen to it. Because she wants the author’s voice. She doesn’t want someone else’s voice.
Anne Janzer 41:09
Yeah, yeah. But if you’re not in a space where you can get, you know, go to a hired studio someplace quiet. Quiet is really hard. And then I use Findaway Voices to distribute it wide. I love using that service. Again, I love that control over pricing, and all of these things, is just fantastic. So, if you’re willing to spend some time, but be aware of that, it takes a lot more time to read it. You know, I take lots of pauses, sips for water, I can only record a certain amount of day before my brain is just like, you know, I got an hour down. It’s a good day.
Mark Lefebvre 41:49
Of course. Awesome. Thank you. So I want to get to this question from Joanna. Great question, Joanna. She says, “I’m working on my first creative nonfiction book. I have four years of research and interviews. Would you suggest starting with the event that brought about the idea for the book?”
Anne Janzer 42:07
So you’re talking about starting the introduction with the event? So yeah, the job of the introduction is to make the reader curious about what happens, right? On these books, we’re constantly engaging with the reader’s curiosity. That’s our ally, that is our ally in writing. So if the event would be a good start, I’m going to share a secret with you, Lexi, which is that the intro in almost every book, write it, and then move on. And you may end up coming back and changing that introduction when you’re done. Fix it in post, you know? You don’t film movies in the sequence that they unfold, unfortunately, you film it when the sets are available and the actors are available. And that’s kind of how we write nonfiction as well, you write what you’re ready to write. You should definitely write about the event that started the book. And then you’re going to decide where that fits in the final flow with a book. Write all the pieces and then be a little bit of a movie director and say, let’s open on this scene, because this scene might be the one that’s going to pull someone in. The one thing I would say is, it’s great to start with a story. But I also like making sure that when I start in the introduction, the connection to the reader is immediately apparent. So that it’s not like, I open a book and it’s like, oh, I’m going to talk about myself for 10 pages. You know, as a reader, I want to know why. Why am I here? So I need to see myself, I need to be welcomed into that introduction. So write the story, figure out where it belongs, as you figure out where it belongs.
Mark Lefebvre 43:45
Awesome. And a comment about, I like your points about the book Introduction. I have to ask, only because Ryan posted this, talking about Seth Godin. “If only there was someone who could sing parody.” And do you sing parody songs? Was that a call-out?
Anne Janzer 43:58
That’s Ryan. He’s the master, he’s brilliant.
Mark Lefebvre 44:01
Ryan is the parody guy. We want to hear, we want to see that Ryan, so do share that with us when you do your parody.
Anne Janzer 44:06
Ryan’s done brilliant things. I’m sure he’s done some parodies of Seth Godin’s books, I have not checked. I gotta go look.
Mark Lefebvre 44:13
Ryan also says, “That’s a great point about nonfiction. I’m often disappointed when narrators read nonfiction.” Although it can happen, because you know, authors have only so many hours in a day too.
Anne Janzer 44:24
It’s true. Yeah. So I think you need to be really careful hiring, obviously, a narrator and creating a script. Create the script. Say I want to emphasize and underline the word where you think that just, you know, if you want to really guide the meaning of a sentence, spend a little time. I create a script for myself. Take a pause, you know, make a little growing inflexion here. I make a little bit of a lines on it. You know, you’re gonna have to breathe here. Practice this pronunciation, this is how this word is pronounced. I make a little script for every page that I’m going to read. Just to make sure I’m really present in the sentences. And since they didn’t write the sentence, if you have a specific way, you know, humorous, just write that over it. I mean, make sure that they best represent you.
Mark Lefebvre 45:15
Fantastic. Fantastic. And that was such a fantastic discussion, we actually have reached our time. So I want to remind people, we were just talking about writing better nonfiction. And can you please let listeners know where they can find you online?
Anne Janzer 45:28
Best place is my website, which is my name, annejanzer.com.
Mark Lefebvre 45:36
Awesome. And thanks again. And I hope you will be willing to come back and chat more nonfiction with us in a future episode. And I want to thank folks for their comments and participation. And basically, I also want to remind you, we do these every Thursday at 1pm Eastern Standard Time. So if you just go ahead and bookmark D2Dlive.com, you won’t miss our awesome guests like Anne. And this will still be available. It’ll be available on the audio feed. It will be available on YouTube and in the Draft2Digital Facebook group. So Anne, thanks again for hanging out with me and have a great afternoon.
Anne Janzer 46:17
Thanks. Thanks, everyone.