Today, I want to share with you a conversation I recently had on the Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast.
Tara: We’re turning the mic around and welcoming our producer, Michael Karsh into the booth. Michael asked me about my experience writing and publishing four books, how they’ve led to more credibility, customers, and cash in my business, and the unexpected way those books fit into my business model.
Michael: Hey there, my name is Michael Karsh. I’m the Executive Producer of Content at CreativeLive. I’ve had the honor of not only producing some episodes of Tara Gentiles podcast, but also producing several of her workshops here at CreativeLive, so I’m honored actually to be talking to her today about self-publishing, and I wanted to ask Tara some questions that she could share with the audience. So Tara, where was your business at when you decided to publish your first book?
Tara: Oh, when I decided to publish my first book, it was way back in 2011, and that was a very long time ago it seems like now, but my business was, you know, a fairly successful business coaching business. Which meant that on a regular basis, I was, you know, working with one-on-one clients, you know, maybe 5 to 10 at a time. I was also running a blog that had some advertising components to it, and making money through some kind of early stage courses as well, so while I had multiple streams of revenue, the biggest part of my business was just one-to-one services, one-to-one coaching, as it is with many of our listeners’ businesses, and while it was … while I would certainly call it successful, it was paying the bills, and it was much more than paying the bills.
I mean, I had already become our family’s breadwinner at that point. It also wasn’t, you know, this ticket to wealth and fame, and you know, I wasn’t rolling in money. Not that I am now, either, but it’s a, you know, my business is very different now. So I was where a lot of people are. I was getting traction, certainly, with my blog, with content marketing that I was doing, with social media marketing, but there were a lot of other things that I wanted.
I wanted to move into working in more leveraged solutions, so I wanted to create more programs, I wanted to work with more entrepreneurs and business owners at one time, and most of all, I wanted to book more speaking gigs, because I love being on stage or behind the microphone, and speaking for me was just this big, big goal that I had. And of course, one of the best ways to book more speaking gigs is to release a book, and of course, it also just happened to be that my other kind of lifelong goal, other than getting on stage, was publishing a book. And so it just seemed like it was a good time.
Back in 2011, everyone was publishing books, and also, back in 2011, everyone was charging crazy sums of money for books. It’s very different than it is now, but I was, you know, I was in a market where people were charging anywhere from $40 to $150 for a pdf eBook, and it just seemed like, wow, that’s got to be a pretty easy way to get published, make some money, woo some new clients, establish some more credibility, and that’s what I wanted to do, so that’s why I did it.
Michael: So, wow. So it’s 2011, and people are charging $100 for a book, a pdf. How did you decide what the topic was going to be for the first book you were going to write and self-publish?
Tara: Yeah, so the way I decided the first topic was sort of like if you could imagine a Venn diagram of what I was most interested in and the questions that people were asking me most, that’s what my topic ended up being, and it was all about money. I was really interested in money, because I realized starting to make more and more and more of it, and having to set prices on the value of my time, the value of my work, the value of the results that I was getting for people, I had a lot of money stuff to deal with, and I saw it holding me back. Need some book ideas, yourself? Look no further than our post on 43 Ways to Find the Best Book Ideas for New Writers.
There were all these limiting beliefs that I had, all these misconceptions about what money was all about, and all of this sort of positive program about money that I had gotten in my childhood that was reprogrammed in just five years of working for someone else, and so those questions were super interesting to me. It was really what was consuming the vast majority of my time not spent with clients is trying to work through these issues.
But on the flip side of that, as I worked through those issues, and largely, you know, did it very publicly, because that’s what I do, and when there’s things that are on my mind, when there’s questions I’m asking myself, you can bet it’s going to show up on my blog or in my podcast, or you know, wherever I’m creating content. So I was, you know, wrestling with those questions publicly as well, and people were talking back like crazy. I was getting emails, I was getting blog comments, people were talking to me on social media.
They just, they wanted to hear more and more and more, and the, seemingly, the demand for this topic was just limitless. And it was like, okay, that’s very easy, this is what my first book topic is going to be, and what I did is sort of take the work that I had been doing, the questions that I had been asking myself in my head, and I just created a super simple outline. Like I think these are the 10, 12, 15, I don’t even remember now, topics that I want to kind of cover.
These are the questions I want to ask, answer, and these are the messages that I want to share, the kind of conclusions that I’ve come to. And I just parsed that out in Evernote. That’s one thing that has not changed about the way I produce books. I parsed that out in Evernote, and just wrote a bunch of small essays, answering these questions, dealing with these stories, and kind of sharing the messages that I wanted to share, and that became the very first eBook, The Art of Earning.
Michael: So did that process, the process of you before you started, of staring down at your computer screen in Evernote, before you started writing versus when you actually wrote the book, was it easier than you thought? Was it more difficult? What was going in your mind before you started versus when you had this thing complete?
Tara: Yeah, great question. So for me, keep in mind, I had been blogging at that point since 2010, so a year and a half, not a ton of time, but I was producing a lot of content, so I was producing probably anywhere between 500 and 1500 words a day, which is not a lot in and of itself, but you know, over 365 days out of the year, you know, maybe I wasn’t doing every single day, but most days, I was producing quite a lot of content, and I was writing a lot.
So I didn’t think that the process of, you know, creating these I think it was 13,000 words, I didn’t think that was going to be that difficult, and it wasn’t, but at the same time, I realized through the process, and definitely later on with my other books that writing a quote/unquote book is very different than writing for your blog every day. 13,000 words in my blog is very different than a 13,000 word eBook, and maybe that’s obvious to everybody else but me, but I feel like every time I sit down to write a book, it’s sort of this reminder of, like, yeah, I’m switching from short-form content to long-form content, and that’s even from someone like me who my short-form content tends to be between 1500 and 3000 words.
It’s not that I’m not capable of creating long thoughts, it’s that I’m a little more reticent to creating long thoughts over, you know, long periods of time, over many pages. So that very first book, that actually wasn’t an issue, because each of the essays, while they certainly, there’s an order to them, there’s an arc to it, it’s not one narrative, it’s multiple essays. You know, sort of the way, if you think of a short story collection, it’s like that. There’s a theme, but it’s not … It’s not … It’s not one narrative. So I wrote that first book basically on two transcontinental flights.
The summer that I wrote that book, I flew back and forth from Pennsylvania to Portland twice, and that was my writing time. That was back before there was Wi-Fi on many planes. Man, geez. And so I wasn’t bogged down by any of my other work. I, like I said, I plotted out the outline, and I just went through it, and it was such a work of joy for me to be able to finally get the stuff down on paper in a way, or digital paper, in a way that made sense to me, and allowed me to kind of answer some of the questions in a way that I hadn’t before.
Michael: Ah, that’s excellent. So you mentioned that you’ve now published four books. So how did writing that first book differ from writing all the subsequent books? You had mentioned that, you know, the first one was really a compilation of many different essays, so how is that different from the subsequent books you’ve written?
Tara: Yeah. Each of the books that I have written have become more and more one narrative arc. So the second book that I wrote was called The Art of Growth, also a very short book. I think that one was about 15,000 words, and The Art of Growth started as a few content pieces that I had already created, but then I wrote content that bridged those altogether and created one narrative and one kind of argument in this book, and so there’s still some disjointedness in there, there’s still some of that like I’m going to look at this theme from multiple different angles, but there’s also much more of an undercurrent of, you know, here’s what we’re trying to accomplish in this book, which is really looking at how your business evolves as it grows.
The third book was Quiet Power Strategy. That’s by far my longest book. It’s a little over 30,000 words, and that’s kind of written in three different parts.
And then my last book, The Observation Engine, which just came out last fall, is a very short book. That one’s only 8000 words, but it is from start to finish one idea, and so that was actually a big accomplishment.
So that’s one way that the books have changed. Another way that the books have changed is that when I wrote that first book in 2011, you weren’t able to or maybe just people weren’t publishing directly to the Kindle store, yet. Kindle was still a very new concept, and so when I published that book, I was specifically publishing it as a pdf. That’s what everybody else was doing, and it’s one of the reasons we were able to command prices that were so outside of the regular book market, and so that book kind of stood on its own that way. Every other book that I’ve released, I’ve released a Kindle version at the same time.
The pricing has also dramatically changed. So that very first book I wrote with a suggested retail price of $25, because like I said, that was sort of, you know, that was even on the low side of the market rate, the going rate at the time, but I also published it with a pay what you want model. So you were able to go into my website and change the price on the book to anything from $5 on up. $5 was the low end, and so I sold a great number of books based on people talking about, you know, this pay what you want thing.
That was huge. It added this whole viral component to it that I didn’t really, I sort of anticipated it, but not to the degree that it created, and so you know, just as a quick aside, interestingly enough, the pay what you want price, the average over the first, I think, three years of that book was about $15.
This meant that there were a lot of people paying full price for that book, because there were a heck of a lot of people paying $5 for it, and so that $15 mark was one that kind of really stuck out in my brain as like okay, this is about where people feel good about self-published, independent content with a very specific purpose for them and what they want to achieve, and so that’s kind of been the price point, then, that I’ve worked with since then.
But that said, that’s the price point that I use for what I call my multimedia packages, and so now, again, when I release a book, I release a package of things, and so it’s the pdf version, it’s the audiobook, and then it’s multiple mobile files so that you can use it on any device. What that allows me to do, then, is put it on the Kindle store at a much cheaper price. So $2.99, $5.99, which is much more in keeping with the marketplace over there, and the price that people expect to pay, but it also allows me then to distribute it too as many people as possible, and that’s really what Amazon has allowed us to accomplish in the last five years that we could not when I published that first book.
Now, when I publish a book, it’s with this dual purpose of both releasing that multimedia package to my audience, because they greatly prefer to just buy it straight through me, get that audio book, get all that good stuff, but also, getting it into the Amazon store, where I can be the number one bestseller in, you know, in a subsection of business for a week, and get in front of people I would have never gotten in front of before, and so that, that to me is kind of the most exciting change in the eBook market over the last five years.
Join me for much more in my class, How to Write and Publish an eBook right here on CreativeLive.