Many Publetarians may be familiar with Sean Platt as the Writer Dad, Ghostwriter Dad, or through the Collective Inkwell site. In addition to those endeavors, Sean is also an author. In this interview, I talk to Sean about his many irons in the fire and his latest experiment: a serialized novel entitled Yesterday’s Gone.
First off, April thanks for having me. It’s great to be here!
And that’s a great first question. In three years online, I don’t think anyone’s ever asked it before!
Writer dad was my original home on the web, the site I started before I had any clue what I was doing. It was an outlet, a conduit, a way for me to nurture my online voice and connect with an audience.
I’d only recently started writing when I bought the domain. But even three years ago it was clear to see what was happening with the publishing industry. I didn’t want a traditional contract, but that meant I had a lot of work to do as far as building a base. So Writer Dad was born from a desire to establish my own audience.
Attention was easy enough to get, but it was impossible to make any money with a site where I mostly talked about life and family. I had no advertising, and wasn’t willing to, despite my traffic. It seemed too incongruent with what I was trying to do. But I had to something since I was bleeding badly, having closed a successful business to follow my dream of becoming a writer.
Ghostwriter Dad was the solution to the problem, the site I started to capitalize on the name brand I had established for myself with Writer Dad, but with a built-in mechanism to make it easy to trade my time for money. I figured it would be simple enough to slip ghost in front of writer and trade a reasonable fee to keep my name off the byline, product, sales page, or whatever I was producing.
David Wright and I started Collective Inkwell around the same time as Ghostwriter Dad. Originally the site was designed to draw design and copy business, but we ended up mostly writing about creativity and the creative writing process. This was a BIG mistake, though we didn’t realize it at the time. Turns out you can’t really market your services as a writer when writers are your target audience. Seems super obvious when staring in the rearview, but it’s a common mistake a ton of writers make, ourselves included.
Collective Inkwell is now our publishing imprint, and home for all the work Dave and I do together. We’ll be re-launching the site soon as a a hub for self-publishing news and interviews, along with behind the scenes peeks at everything we’re going through ourselves during our own publishing process.
Your career in writing started out with copywriting and ghostwriting, but this year you’ve ventured into publishing your own full-length fiction and nonfiction as well. What prompted you to start publishing your own full-length works?
My intent was always to be an author and publisher, long before I ever registered my first domain. Copywriting and ghostwriting were a means to an end, a way to pay the bills until the sea change that would eliminate the gatekeepers and help authors like me and you get easily heard was complete.
I didn’t really see that happening until 2013 of the earliest, 2014 more likely, and was totally blown away last January when I saw numbers pouring in from writers like Konrath, Hocking, and Locke, doing exactly what I wanted to do (and was doing for others already!).
From that moment forward, it was game over. David and I completely shifted our business, and I started to break free from the work-for-hire hamster wheel.
I love my experience ghostwriting and copywriting. I’ve written everything. Sales letters, auto responders, blog posts, wedding vows, speeches, fiction. You name it, I’ve written it. I love knowing my fluency is strong enough to write pretty much anything that lands on my desk, but the articulate strength born from copywriting and persuasion techniques have helped Dave and I to design Yesterday’s Gone more like scripted serialized television, filled with open loops and awesome cliffhangers that make the viewer, or in this case the reader, salivate over what may happen next, more than a traditional novel.
I enjoy writing copy, and ghostwriting for others, but it reached a saturation point where I was fatigued by seeing other people reap success for words that came from inside me. You only want to be Cyrano for so long.
Your most recent writing project is a serialized novel entitled Yesterday’s Gone. Why have you and your writing partner elected to release this work in installments?
Dave and I love serialized TV. LOST, Dexter, Walking Dead, etc. But beyond that, we were tired of the slog of writing a single title at a time, then surrendering to the “hope and pray model.”
When we looked to others in self-publishing who were moving the units we’re looking to move, they’ve all published multiple titles. Konrath has his entire back catalog, Hocking is cranking hers out, and Locke had 5 Donavan Creed books before he even started his marketing!
We wanted to establish a heavy presence on Kindle by Christmas, but knew there was no way we could publish multiple titles with the quality we expect from ourselves, and that our readers have come to expect from us. Serializing a large story by writing it all out at once, then breaking it apart, exactly like they do with television, was what made most sense to us.
Have you found any particular creative challenges in working with the serialized approach?
In many ways, this is much, much easier than writing a regular book. A regular book, begins and ends, and if done well has a “hero’s journey” and solid story structure sprinkled through the pages in between. Our fiction, like the television it’s modeled after, takes a “season” approach. That means every episode leads into the next, and the finale leads into the first episode of our followup season.
People love watching television this way, but we believe the market will love buying and enjoying their e-content this way, too.
How about in more practical terms: what kinds of business considerations have gone into this book?
The business of the book follows a simple, classic model. Dave and I want to give the first episode away for free, or as close to it as we can get. We’ll publish the “pilot” for $.99 on Amazon, then make it available for free on Smashwords and hope Amazon price matches. People will buy the first episode, or download it for free, then if they love it they’ll want the next in the series.
This should also help us get a more qualified buyer for the entire season, meaning our reviews will be better and our links are more likely to get spread around. Of course, this is all contingent on creating something of quality that people really, really love. You can’t expect to throw anything on Kindle and have it do well. That doesn’t work now and it never ever will.
Our model is simple: the pilot is free or $.99, episodes 2-6 are $1.99, and the full season is $4.99.
We’re happy with our work getting read regardless, but were happiest when people download the full season, not only because they’ll get to enjoy the complete work as it was written and intended to be read, but because it’s where all the profit is ($3.50 versus $.30) for us as writers and publishers.
You are co-authoring the book with another author, David Wright. How does your collaborative process work, in terms of the actual writing?
I can’t imagine doing creative writing with anyone else and having it turn out nearly as fluid as it is when writing with David. We’ve been writing partners for three years, and have exchanged countless pages between us. Just as I’ve been a ghostwriter for many people, Dave’s been a ghostwriter for me, making my copy cleaner, and always helping to me to sound smarter than I actually am!
Specifically, with Yesterday’s Gone, it’s been a tremendously fun process. We started with the premise, agreeing that there would be six different POV’s and that we would each start by writing three. I wrote mine for the first episode and he wrote his, then we blended them together in a single narrative. This worked extremely well, both creatively and for overall efficiency, so it was how we divided the writing duties for the remainder of the project as well.
Admittedly, I’ve had a much easier time. My job was to write my chapters, and go over his. But Dave had to go over mine, assemble everything so it had the best possible flow, edit everything together, insert dates and times, then make sure we don’t have any snafus, like the one we had in the pilot where a guy in handcuffs tries to take off his shirt!
Yesterday’s Gone is being published exclusively as an ebook at this point. Do you think the rising popularity of ebooks could lead more authors to explore the serialization option?
Absolutely. It just seems smart. Honestly, I’m surprised it’s not being done more already, but I’m also thankful we’re early, before the market is flooded. Having said that, I believe there is and always will be plenty of room. As long as you publish a quality product that puts your reader first, and you take the time required to do it right, rather than seeing Kindle as a gold rush, and you work furiously to develop an engaged audience, even if that means falling down 341 times and standing up 342, you will eventually succeed.
Do you have any plans to publish the book as a single volume after the last installment has been released?
The entire season will be available as a print book, but that’s more of a marketing decision than one motivated by profit. If readers want to enjoy a print version, we want them to have it, yet so few of our sales are coming from print, across all our titles, it’s not enough to justify a print run on single episodes.
How are you approaching marketing for the book?
I spent the last couple of years as a ghostwriter, helping others market their finished products, but it’s always been within established networks. This round I have no list to lean on, so we’re going grassroots, trying to hit around 100 or so blogs in the next three months, and hoping influencers notice us.
After a while, I’ll start my round of emails. But I’m trying to avoid any cold emailing. I’d like people to find Yesterday’s Gone on their own, because I feel as though the growth will be more organic. Beyond that, I wrestle around 300 emails a day myself, and understand the deluge. I don’t want to be a yappy puppy adding to anyone else’s inbox triage.
Most authors and writers are familiar with the challenge of finding the time, energy and quiet focus they need to write. With all you have going on, the sites, the books, and being a family man to boot, how do find enough hours in the day to get everything done?
I can’t take credit for that. I have an amazing support team, an absolutely wonderful and impossibly patient wife, who handles all the household heavy lifting so I can make all this happen, and a remarkable team. Not just my partner Dave, but my other partners Tracy O’Connor, Danny Cooper, and my wife, Cindy, who have helped me with everything I’ve needed to get this project off the ground. Of course, it helps that I write fast, but it’s definitely not enough!
I’d love for any readers interested in Yesterday’s Gone to download the pilot for .99, or just go ahead and get the entire awesome season for $4.99, which you’ll probably want to do after reading the pilot anyway.
But fair warning: if you don’t like serials like LOST and writers like Stephen King, you probably won’t like reading Yesterday’s Gone. But if you like stuff that starts awesome, and then is awesome on every page until the WTF? cliffhanger ending, you’ll totally dig Yesterday’s Gone!
We also have a special insider’s club where we’ll be sending readers exclusive content and behind the scenes stuff. It’s a great place to be if you’re a writer interested in the publishing process and would like to tag along and get free sneak peaks at how it’s all going.
Click here if you want to be a “goner” and get the exclusive episode with the shocking ending.
Thanks so much for having me, April. It’s been fun!
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