SPS-178: Keeping It Clean with Post-Apocalyptic Fiction – with Ryan Schow
Listen to post-apocolyptic author Ryan Schow share how he reverse engineered his writing success by following industry thought leaders like Chris Fox and Mark Dawson.
- Enjoying the writing, even though it was a commercial venture to start
- The strategy of stacking ads across platforms
- Learning how to write quickly by ghost writing
- Creating a clean sub-genre for post-apoc
- Writing from a female perspective because of the audience
- Surprising stats about Ryan’s reader demographics
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
COURSE: The Ads for Authors course is open for a brief enrollment period. Learn more here.
Transcript of interview with Ryan Schow
Narrator: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.
Ryan Schow: I have a lot of interaction with them. I love them. They’re great. They’re very loyal. They’ve got a guy who says I can help you with anything you want to know about 1949 cars and this guy says I’m great at guns and this old lady says I’m 72 years old now in a wheelchair but I can shoot a gun and I can tell you everything you need to survive the apocalypse. Perfect, let’s go.
Narrator: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers no one standing between you and your readers.
So you want to make a living from your writing. Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success.
This is the Self-Publishing Show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello, it’s Friday it’s James. And markets are back to normal this week with one podcast and we had a good week last week. Busy week last week with lots of things happening and in the midst of all of that we did our three podcast specials on Facebook ads and Amazon ads and BookBub ads and they seem to go down really well.
Mark Dawson: Yes. They were good. Shayne Silvers, David Gaughran and me and you. We had a good time talking about the advertising options that are available to authors.
The feedback I’ve seen especially for the first one I know we could have that split that. We’re recording this on Thursday and the David Gaughran one is only just going out but the response to the Shayne Silver’s Facebook ads one has been really, really positive with a lot of people saying it’s one of the best ones they’ve heard and they learned lots of good new stuff on Facebook. So mission accomplished.
James Blatch: Excellent. We should say we’re recording this a week and a day in advance of its transmission date.
In fact, it is D-Day. It’s June the 6th and it’s the 75th anniversary I’ve got my RAF round all T-shirt on to commemorate the day. Best I can do.
156,000, mainly British and American soldiers, crossed the channel. I think Northern France was defended by about 60,000 Germans and in amongst the allies were French, Norwegian, Canadian, Australian, Polish soldiers as well.
That remains to this day the largest seaborne invasion in the history of humankind and an enormous sacrifice. 4,413 casualties on that day.
We just had The Donald in the UK, who’s been over on a state visit. And the highlight of that was marking the D-Day commemorations. A few other lowlights of the trip as well but that was the highlight I think. I love this stuff. I think you do as well. It’s a small part of all where we come from, isn’t it?
Mark Dawson: It is. Yes. I’m a big fan of history and that kind of stuff as well, so yes. Was your dad involved or was he too young?
James Blatch: He was too young. He was a young boy in the second world war. He was running around collecting parts of a downed aircraft on the Isle of Wight. That was his excitement in the second world war. He was born in ’31.
My grandfather fought in the first world war and was too old to fight the second.
Mark Dawson: My grandfather fought in the second.
James Blatch: Was he involved in D-Day?
Mark Dawson: No, he was in Africa and then he invaded Italy.
James Blatch: Did he? Was he supposed to have done that?
Mark Dawson: He got lost. He likes pasta. Some interesting stories from him. He passed away five, six years ago now. He went out to Monte Casino and places like that. Very interesting.
James Blatch: It really doesn’t bear thinking about how old these men on these boats on these choppy seas. It’s a long way as well, they didn’t take the short route, obviously. There was a diversion tactic, I think, who made it look like they were going to invade at Calais. They actually went across the longest part of the channel to the beaches. That’s a long way. Everyone was seasick.
And then you arrive into a hail of fiery molten lead bullets firing at you and just hope that it’s not going to be your day. It’s incredible really, isn’t it?
It’s beyond fiction sometimes some of this stuff. And when we see it in a film it looks like fiction. Perhaps saving Private Ryan was the film that brought set into a more so realistic side.
Mark Dawson: Dunkirk. I’d say Dunkirk. They’re both realistic but Dunkirk is the sooner of the two and that’s really authentic, even from the way that it’s put together. The timing of it the way that it runs in real time pretty much. It’s a very good film.
James Blatch: June the 6th. D-Day today but this is going out in a week and a day’s time and actually I will confess that the interview that we’ve got today with Ryan Schow is a fantastic interview.
I really love talking to Ryan. He’s a very positive guy and he’s got a brilliant story and I’ll tell you a little secret message I got from him this morning in a moment.
We did this interview quite a long time ago, actually back in the autumn, so he’s moved on a little bit since then but the story is, in essence, the same. And one of the reasons why we’ve done a look at the ads platforms this week is because we’ve revised the course, our Ads for Authors course which is open for its periodic opening at the moment.
If you’re interested in learning any more about that you can go to selfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors. You’ve revised Amazon ads quite extensively.
You sent full of glee a screen grab…
Mark Dawson: It wasn’t glee.
James Blatch: …from Mr. Zuckerberg the other night on how the Facebook platform might be changing.
Mark Dawson: This always happens. Just before we launch something changes and there’s potentially a very significant change coming to Facebook with lots of new things including something called the commerce manager, which actually is very exciting.
No one really knows anything much about it. Even some of the high-level Facebook marketing groups not to do with books where I’ve got a lot of ideas from there talking about it being a Shopify killer.
Basically, instead of advertising on Facebook and marketers sending people Shopify to complete the transaction, it would all be done on Facebook. Obviously, from an author’s perspective, the interesting possibilities are that it’s a rival to Amazon.
So instead of advertising on Facebook sending them to Amazon you’ll be advertising on Facebook and selling them on Facebook. The issue then is how to get the digital book or audiobook or paperback, whatever but get a digital file onto an e-reading device, which is where something like BookFunnel would come in.
I don’t know if Damian Courtney listens to the podcast. I suspect he does. That would be something he needs to get his antenna tuned into because that could be something that takes BookFunnel from what I’d say is a reasonably indispensable service for authors to one that becomes not just indispensable but really lucrative, if there’s a platform that would enable people to sell stuff on Facebook.
Lots that’s coming and obviously, when they change the platform I can’t have my name on of course that reflects the old version of the platform so we have to immediately change all our plans and I have to go back into this office again shut the door put some cold compress on my head. And then we record everything, which I can’t tell you how much I enjoy doing that. But it has to be done.
James Blatch: It has to be done and it is done and we’re fastidious about it and we bring everything up to date and there’s a few things I think that sets our courses apart. That’s one of them.
There’s a guy doing quite a lot of advertising at the moment. I’m not going to mention it because it looks like frankly it’s a slightly dodgy setup and he keeps quoting his students who’ve gone from zero to hero but he never names them. And I think over time every time we quote a student who’s been successful of course we name them and we’ve got pages and pages of videos.
Mark Dawson: We don’t just name them we. We go film them.
James Blatch: Anyway we’ll see. We’ll keep in touch. The exciting thing is there’s in development another opportunity for authors potentially. And who knows what infrastructure is in Mr. Zuckerberg mind for the future.
Maybe they’ve got their own version of the Kindle. Maybe they’ve got their own print on demand service. All this stuff might come down the line eventually to make it a really tempting place or a must have place for authors to be.
That would be a threat to Amazon, particularly to the KU option. Fewer authors, in the long run, may do that if they think they can’t take part in what Facebook is offering. It’s shifting sands. So that’s part of the world we’re in, isn’t it?
Mark Dawson: Yes. I’ve been looking at who could compete, who could step up and compete with Amazon for a little while.
Obviously, Apple could, they certainly have the deep pockets. They’re the richest company in the world, depending on when you look at it. Facebook definitely could. Google could. So it may be that maybe the challenge is going to come from Facebook. Who knows? But it’s another interesting option as things develop.
James Blatch: It’s time for me to give our weekly shout out to our new Patreon supporters and these people have gone to Patreon.com/selfpublishingshow and pledged token amounts of a dollar up to three dollars an episode for the podcast.
By the way, you got three for the price of one last week and that helps us pay for everything on the podcast and keep it self-sustaining.
We’re very grateful indeed for you being a part of that but you do get the major prize. You get enrollment into SPF university and that’s an opportunity to take part in our live instructions and teachings about once a month and you get access immediately to the back catalog of things like how to master Scrivener, how to use Amazon data and how to keep your newsletters fresh with the real experts on that.
So all sorts of things coming your way for being a Patreon support. Simply go to Patreon.com/selfpublishingshow.
And who did that this week? Well, who did that was Josh Lanyon from California, United States of America. Brandon Clark from Denver Colorado. Jacquelyn Baird from Cheltenham in the UK. Emily McGregor Alan. Aiesha Hilton. Roslyn Han and Suzanne Baker.
Thank you all very much indeed for joining us. We’re thrilled to have you here. You got a shout out of course as part of that as well.
Okay, so we’ve mentioned a couple of things. I’m going to ask you now about your trip to London this week. You went to an audible session, but it’s not just the normal narrator. It’s like a whole production thing you’re having done.
Mark Dawson: I don’t know how much I can say about it in terms of naming people who are involved because I think it might be confidential but I sold the rights to one of my books that is not actually coming out until January 2020 called Default, which was a really fun book to write.
I think it’s going to do quite well and Audible were interested enough to take it on and they are going to be producing what they called an Audible Original Multicast Drama.
They’ve turned it into a script, so they employed a scriptwriter to take the novel turn it into a script and then a director’s attached the director then casts it.
And so I turned up at Woodville HQ in the Barbican in London and sat down next to a couple of very well-known actors and then six or seven not as well-known actors. If you look at their resumes they’ve done lots of films, TV, video game work all of that kind of stuff and they’ve all been given parts.
And then I went into the soundproof booth in Audible. They’ve got these fantastic studios, very, very highly specced out. And then had these actors, one of whom is very well known, has been on TV recently and was then had to dash off to the Royal Court to do a theatre play that evening.
These two actors kind of doing my characters speaking words I’d written which was really crazy and then the director, Terence Mann, saying we’re so pleased to have you here we love. This is fantastic. And it’s really helpful. You can just ask me for advice to give these notes to the actors as they going through it, which was normal view is that that’s your job. I’ve written the novels and I’m very happy for them to take in whatever direction they want.
But it was nice to be asked and then I did some promo for them and it was a really cool day. I’ve never seen that happen before and I imagine if the TV show takes off we’ll have a day like that where I go and watch people acting out my characters. But to see these talented actors doing their thing in my world was pretty nuts.
James Blatch: Amazing. What an experience. I read an article this week on how you should keep yourself out the way as an author when your book gets turned into a drama production, different things and experts we’ve talked about this before and the experts are in film and television is not the same as writing the book anyway.
How exciting for you. And I can’t wait until we all go to Hollywood.
Mark Dawson: I’ll take Lucy. I’m sure I will take you along.
James Blatch: Who’s going to take the pictures of you?
Mark Dawson: You might have to do some work. You could be part of my entourage.
James Blatch: Yeah. Good. Okay.
Mark Dawson: That’s if I have been arrested.
James Blatch: Yes that was the other thing I saw happened to you this week. You were in the middle of a drugs raid.
Mark Dawson: I got a phone call from the police saying, “Don’t worry Mr. Dawson. We were inside your office.”
Which is where I am now in case anyone is watching on YouTube.
And so I had to dash from home into the office and you got these three detectives from the Wiltshire drug squad who had just – I have to lower my voice slightly because they’re in the flat above. They had arrested what you call a county line drug dealer. So someone from London moved down to Salisbury and was put up in the flat above by my neighbor, I suppose. Allegedly of course. In exchange for free drugs.
And then this was being used as some kind of drugs den, which goes to show I don’t keep my eyes open because I had seen a thing. But the weird thing was after I have got chatting to the policemen they’d noticed that I was a writer from the fact I’ve got lots of books behind me and all that kind of stuff. And we got chatting and weirdly enough the second book in my new Atticus Priest detective series I’m working on – after I finish the Milton I’m working on now – is going to involve drug dealing. That was I wanted to write about.
So we got to have a revealing chat and the upshot is they want to be involved and they are speaking to the detective inspector who is in charge of the three of them and he’s going to give me a call. Hopefully, I’ll get to go over in the same way that Peter James is very heavily involved with Brighton constabulary. It would be really cool to have connections within the Salisbury and the wider Wiltshire Constabulary.
If there’s any advice from that it is, first of all, to get better locks on your doors. So I’ve done that now.
And secondly is just to keep your eyes open and if you’re presented with an opportunity like that don’t be afraid to talk to in this case the police. Get to know them a bit and ask questions. What’s the worst thing they could do? The worst thing they can do is say no. And maybe they say yes.
James Blatch: That’s great. Interesting. And what are you going to do now that your dealer has been taken off the market?
Mark Dawson: Exactly.
James Blatch: It was so convenient.
Mark Dawson: We needed a lazy waiter, where you press a button and it comes down Exactly. Press a button and it comes down. Actually, there is a word for them it’s going to annoy me now. I can’t think of it. A dumb waiter.
James Blatch: So you have your pile of coke.
Mark Dawson: Yeah exactly. I am basically Al Pacino.
James Blatch: We are joking. Don’t do drugs kids. Okay. All right. And on that message.
Ryan Schow, now we drove up on a Friday night, which was a mistake, by the way, from San Francisco to northern California up towards guess Tahoe, in all the Tahoe traffic. But we got there.
We had a fantastic afternoon and evening with Ryan. And the reason we went to see him was because he does represent the dream that I have and the lots of you have which is this author who loves his writing is in a full-time job but has just clicked.
And Mark you get several honorable mentions in this because he took the Ads for Authors course and that really turned it around for him. But he’s a very positive guy. I think he writes from memory certainly dystopian. I think it’s clean dystopian now that he writes but a brilliant chat so listen to that.
And I’ll just tell you before we start, I got a message coincidentally I think Ryan knew that we were recording this today. But late last night after I’d gone to bed, because he’s behind us, a message dropped from Ryan saying here’s a little screengrab I want to show you.
He said this is my first full year after I left my job and it’s his Book Report screen grab and I’m not going to give the sugar away but I’m going to tell you six figures in that I don’t know what he was earning before but six figures on the left of the decimal point yes six figures to the left. Eight figures including the cents. I’ll tell you it’s 20 cents. I’ll tell you that much.
All right. It’s up to Ryan how much detail he wants to give out. He might not give exact figures but healthy six figures. And what a fantastic success story that is. So that’s where he is today.
We spoke to him last autumn and he’d just realized it was happening for him to quit his job which is fantastic. Let’s hear from Ryan.
Ryan Schow is how to say it.
Ryan Schow: Yes that’s correct.
James Blatch: Because I need to know these things now that we’re talking and I’m introducing you.
Welcome to the podcast. If people watching on YouTube, we’re not in Ryan’s home. We’re in your apartment complex and this is like the community space because it’s a very large kitchen.
Ryan Schow: This is my house. Don’t tell anybody.
James Blatch: And there’s a beautiful swimming pool over to the left and we’re in northern California, which apart from the most horrendous traffic I’ve ever experienced in my life is a beautiful place to be.
Ryan Schow: It’s worth the drive.
James Blatch Earthquake three today as well, which yes hopefully we get a good one that sets the scene for where we are now.
The reason we’ve come all this way to see you is because you have made the big steps from nine-to-five existence, literally a car salesman not just the metaphorical car salesman you sometimes.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the background to your writing up until the point where you were when things took off for you.
Ryan Schow: It started out with me working horrendous hours in the car business when I was very young and my wife said you have to do something different so that I can see you once in a while.
I had read a Nicholas Sparks novel and ironically I had his father as a professor over at Sac State. And when that happened he started telling me about the success his son had. I thought wow this is interesting. I actually like writing. So I started writing at that point in time.
And it took me probably 16 years to figure out that agents weren’t answering my letters if I didn’t know anybody. And so you know, I was frustrated.
James Blatch: What were you writing then?
Ryan Schow: I’d written a couple of things. I started out writing Stephen King type stuff and then I actually took a stab at writing contemporary romance because I had been doing well but then like I said I couldn’t really get any kind of traction with any agents. And it was very frustrating. I gave up a couple of times, which is not an uncommon story.
But then I actually googled successful authors and that’s when I saw the article about Mark and it said that the article was something to the extent of why Amazon likes to hand Mark Dawson four hundred thousand dollars a year.
And I thought oh OK. This is cool. I’ll start like this guy. And it’s funny because that’s kind of how I stumbled upon Mark Dawson.
In the process, I had been writing my indie novels and I was trying to figure out how can I get them published. I’d written about six of them in a series and they hadn’t released yet because I just didn’t know how. I had no background knowledge on which direction to go. Unfortunately, you didn’t have the SPF 101 course then
James Blatch: That’s a tough situation. I know from personal experience writing a novel is really hard. So having six novels you’ve written and edited.
Ryan Schow: Yes and I did it and I did it while working full time so I was well more than full time.
James Blatch: Do you love writing.
Ryan Schow: Yeah. I can’t stop. Every time I get frustrated and think Oh I’m going to do something else, then I think I don’t really want to do anything else and then I go and I kind of get in and start writing again.
It’s something that’s almost like alien, man. It screams at you. You’ve got to get in there and you’ve got to write. I have to write. And so for me that that’s wasn’t a question I was going to succeed and I told my wife a hundred times. I’m going to be successful or I’m going to die trying to be successful.
James Blatch: And what’s interesting to me is that your chosen genre at the beginning … it wasn’t that there was one particular where you really wanted to write.
You were looking for something to be commercially successful from the beginning.
Ryan Schow: Well yeah. I thought that I had one that was commercially successful and I think that was one of the challenges that I didn’t quite have answered and so it was a bit of a struggle for me. I didn’t know where it was going to be placed or how it was going to be placed. I didn’t know enough about Amazon. I didn’t know any of the back-end stuff until I really started to research and a lot of that.
I had written all these books that I still even to this day I’m using the new strategies or the strategies that I found with Ads for Authors and I’m thinking how do I get this into a market where there’s no clear market for it?
But everything that I learned along the way brought me to my Last War series. The last war series is post-apocalyptic fiction and very much like Adam Croft. I started out going, Okay let me find a good area. I know I can write. I can write anything I want.
James Blatch: Adam famously wrote the advert. The tag line for the advert and then wrote the book. You sort of did the same thing.
You thought what’s going to work well marketing wise.
Ryan Schow: I realized my path to making it successful was not there in this other book and so I thought OK well I’ve got to figure out if I’ve got a marketing direction here. I’ve got to figure out from Facebook if I can do this. I’ve got to figure out where I’m going to place it on Amazon.
I really got into the business mode of it and as I found more information it became really exciting because I thought I think I’m onto something here. And then I wrote The Last War series which is post-apocalyptic and it’s done phenomenal since then.
James Blatch: Okay so post-apocalyptic – it felt like that in the traffic driving up here today.
Ryan Schow: You had a few drones flying over.
James Blatcxh: And we had helicopters hovering, flashing lights out as well. So we were worried about California and we had a discussion of how technology is going to take over in the end I think that’s a theme to explore.
But from your point of view, you thought this is going to work. Did you read post-apocalyptic stories?
Ryan Schow: I didn’t know I was going to work.
I had followed Chris Fox’s guideline Write to Market and a lot of people have. Chris is amazing and I did that after actually finding him on your podcast and then my friend Abby Cantor she said, “You’ve got to you’ve got to listen to this.”
And there’s another book Why You’re Facebook Ads Suck. So as they start to put all that together I thought OK let me find my market first. I wrote to the market and I read probably I grabbed the three or four or five best best-selling books in the genre and began to read them and thought man I can do this.
And fortunately, I wasn’t so entrenched in the genre that I did what a lot of the other guys have done bringing AI into the mix where AI now wages war against mankind in the city of San Francisco, which I think you know.
I thought OK this is a good one this will work. And so what I did is I actually read through all the worst reviews and I thought what is missing through all of these stories and I found they’re missing character development and there’s not enough action in there.
Swearing. I have a lot of older readers 50 to 70.
So I went in and I wrote the series as a clean series and as a result of it I was able to have people refer the books to their church as a big post-apocalyptic fiction.
James Blatch: Christian post-apoc. I guess it sort of ties into the end. The first half of the Bible is very post-apocalyptic.
Ryan Schow: Yeah exactly.
James Blatch: But we digress.
There’s still a lot of violence. You must have violence.
Ryan Schow: Yes I did but I tend to kind of go overboard a little bit. So there was no violence porn where someone just gets in says okay I’m going to dig into every detail. I almost gave it like a you know 100 foot view so that you have the impression that man this is happening and it’s still very intense but it’s not gratuitous. So I wrote it almost in P.G. 13 vein. I don’t want to turn any readers off. I don’t want to close down any markets that I had. And that’s worked very well.
James Blatch: And did you enjoy writing this? You’re very smiley about the writing.
The reason I ask is because you’ve made so many commercial decisions about how the book is to be.
In the end, was a bit of a chore writing to that framework?
Ryan Schow: No, I love writing. I can’t go a day without writing. I’m one of those people, I’m a word nerd so I get in and I write and it’s strange because everything else disappears and I’m in the story and I love the story and I have full control of the story. I know how I want my characters to be. I know what I want my audience to feel.
And as I go back I’ve developed this good following through e-mail and through Facebook groups and seeing the reviews what I set out to do is done. And then I was very happy with that.
And so that being said, I see all these authors that they’re just building up and up and up. Abby did amazing. My friend Jane Sowers does amazing and so I look at these people like oh man they’re inspiring.
And this is all part of being in this SPF community.
James Blatch: Yes. Which is great. And we’re all happy with each other’s success, which is a key part.
Ryan Schow: It’s a huge part because other areas they don’t seem to care about that are they get little …
James Blatch: I guess in the car salesman area well wasn’t quite the same.
Ryan Schow: No, but I was fortunate. I got above that into management but then again management became that way too and it’s very competitive.
But to see the support that takes place through the indie author community is amazing. I still sit back in awe. It’s lovely.
James Blatch: Okay so you’ve given a little spoiled that it all works. Maybe people guessed anyway.
So let me take you to that point where you put all this stuff in place.
You’ve written how many post-apocalyptic books and when you really started marketing them.
Ryan Schow: I started marketing them on the first one. In fact, I followed Chris Fox’s program.
Izzy Shows did some – she’s amazing and she did this whole breakdown on K-Boards of how she did it and where she spent the money and I realized OK this is the direction I’m going to go.
I very much reverse engineered my success and then relied on the advertising and a bit through Mark’s course. I was able to put everything together, which is how I plan to do this any way hoping. I was banking on it going because this is my love and my passion I needed it to work. And when I put this out and it did really well it blew me away.
I had just completed the seventh and final book.
James Blatch: Were you selling book one or were you giving it away?
Ryan Schow: I was selling it.
I initially did ninety-nine cents and I did a preorder for a short time. I wish I would have had a bit more time on Facebook ads with it but I did the preorder probably five days before and then backed it up with some advertising through like Bargain Booksy and stuff like that.
But Facebook primarily is what I used to bring everything in and then I kept it for about seven days. And I had everything stacked and having those stacked it really launched me up in there and I ended up doing well.
And then I took it after I believe 10 days to $2.99. And it pretty much held I think I made something like I mean it’s not a huge success to everybody but it was to me. But I ended up making I think like $6,000 in the first three or four weeks. It was fantastic.
James Blatch: I think I’d be thrilled with that.
You must have spent a bit on advertising for the book.
Ryan Schow: Yes but I didn’t have to spend as much as I thought. I thought I spent a lot more than I did on AMS ads. I started looking in this and I was reviewing the course with Mark and then I went into how he breaks everything down, calculating how much he spends each day and I realized, oh my gosh I’m not spending as much as I thought.
I’d set my limits high thinking it’s like Facebook but I thought they’d spend all my money and they didn’t. And still today my challenge is to get them to spend a little bit more.
And then Facebook, of course, spends all my money.
James Blatch: Facebook will take your money regardless of the success of the ad but AMS, even when it’s a successful ad, as people tell us all the time, they struggle to get it to take all the money. Well fantastic and congratulations
Ryan Schow: Thank you.
James Blatch: And what a moment for you, as well, because this is not something you took up until 18 months ago. As you say from a young age this has been a dream.
Ryan Schow: Yes. It’s funny, I wrote a story in fifth grade and it was a Halloween story. Ironically, my first actual real story published was a Halloween story too. We were talking about serial killers earlier before the interview and I had a slasher in there and I was so proud of it.
My teacher read it and everyone was horrified, looking like oh my god who is this kid. But I wrote this horror story in fifth grade and that was my first story and after that I started reading. I read a lot of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I like that. I like to be scared so now on a side track those guys help me develop the greatest villains.
But that being said I really started kind of going after it when I was maybe 19 or 20 years old and then I had my first book ready to be published probably. Maybe two years later or three years later and then I worked on that for about ten years.
James Blatch: How old are you, do you mind me asking?
Ryan Schow: Twenty two. OK well, 46.
James Blatch: Yes, you do look younger. You know you’re on the way now. So the first book took off.
And you’re writing quickly?
Ryan Schow: I learned how to write quickly because I did ghostwriting for people and so that was a way to make money without being published. I did ghostwriting and that’s how I learned to write on a deadline and I realized probably I don’t know any seven years ago that I could write a 350 page book in a month if I just do what I’m supposed to do while having a full-time job. So I got after it.
And I realized I can do this but I wrote as a pantster for a while but then I started to organize everything out because when I was doing the ghostwriting I’d charge by the hour for outlines. I’d put together a thirty-five page treatment with the whole character development, backstory, everything so I can present it to the person that was working for and say hey this is kind of the direction we’re going make sure everything’s good and then I’ll get and crank it out. And I would get in and I would do it in about 30 days.
So I thought, man, if I can write like this.
James Blatch: I find the ghostwriting industry fascinating so let’s talk about that a little bit.
Who are your customers when you’re a ghostwriter?
Ryan Schow: Well one man was a Nigerian man who’d survived the Nigerian Biafran civil war. And he was in the middle of his village when it was strafed by airplanes at that point in time. And he ended up being a young soldier twelve, thirteen years old forced to be a soldier in that war. So that was probably one of the most interesting things.
I love history which is why I can’t wait for your book to come out. But I loved that history because I didn’t know anything about it.
I spent a lot of time sitting down and talking with him.
James Blatch: Was that a fiction book or an autobiography.
Ryan Schow: Nonfiction. So you really need to be good on the details. And then another one was a book that I wrote for a gentleman who needed to have some sort of back story so that he could come in and go into a friend in Hollywood and have some sort of publishing credentials. So he did that and then I ended up writing a screenplay for him.
James Blatch: So that was a short cut for him. The autobiography I completely understand. I think when you pick up a celebrity’s autobiography we understand that very often says it was written with somebody.
But writing some of his fiction for them does sound a bit murky to me. Because of my position I’ve had people approaching me by the way, saying I can write your book for you. There have been dark moments like that when I thought maybe I should. But yes that’s a little bit murky but interesting.
Ryan Schow: Well it’s funny because he gave me the story and I’m like well I don’t think that that’s going to be commercially viable. What about like this? And so he said Why don’t we do this; why don’t you write the story for me and then let me look at what you have in mind and let’s go. So it really was 100 percent my story. I never got anything but great feedback from him and I was very happy to do that.
James Blatch: Do ghostwrites typically work for a single fee or would you get a cut of sales?
Ryan Schow: What you do is obviously you sign a nondisclosure agreement. And then you could do a cut of sales. Some people do but I did by the hour so I basically charge 50 dollars an hour.
James Blatch: And at the other end of the scale, and we’re not going to mention any names for legal reasons, but there were some very famous authors now who it’s well understood don’t write their own books anymore. So that’s effectively ghostwriting. They have a lot of books coming out very quickly and they were branded right.
And I’ve been with somebody who does some of that writing for one of the gentlemen and I think they are very involved in the book.
Ryan Schow: Everything originally comes out and they say OK let me put my little shine on there and then that’s what makes it their book, is to some degree and you can do that. You can put together the basis for a book really well and then go in.
When I build my book, I build my books in layers. I’ll go through and I’ll write errors and everything in there to crank out. I try to do about 5000 words a day. There are days I’ll hit 10000 and there are days I do 1000 but I try and get the story out there.
And then I go back in there and I correct everything and make sure that you know the story itself doesn’t have any flaws in terms of the content. Nothing overlapping. And then I’ll walk in at that point in time and I’ll start to put in a little bit of texture.
James Blatch: So this is your books you’re talking about.
Ryan Schow: Yes.
James Blatch: I’m interested in this process. You’ve you said you have moved on from pantsing to plotting and that’s helped the speed of production of your books.
Ryan Schow: It makes a huge difference for me because I don’t have to sit there and think what’s going on.
When I finish out my day I’ll do a full write and then I’ll go do a read through and I’ll edit again. And at the end of that period, I’ll put in probably two or three paragraphs for the next two or three scenes I’m going to write. So I have an idea of where we’re going
So then I’m marinating overnight what am I going include in the next day. And of course, there’s always what would everybody else write? Then how can I make a little bit bigger? How can I stand out? Where can I add humor in there? And these are all the things I think that have I’ve done well.
James Blatch: So when you come to write the next day you read your notes and you’re ready to go.
Ryan Schow: Yeah my wife has to tell me to get out of the chair or my wrists will cramp up and I go again we must have 10000 thousand words.
James Blatch: When you do your plotting, that’s how you plot.
Ryan Schow: I do the whole book up front.
So what I do is I break it down and I take the first six points so I’ll do six major plot points in there and I’ll say OK this is the direction I want the book to go and I’ll work it up like this. I say OK this is what I’m working up to, this is where there’s a little bit of a lull after, a little bit of a tiny drop after a big scene. And then here’s the big climactic finish.
And then I always leave a little bit of a cliffhanger in there, not with the main character, but with something that can bring people through but not upset people. And so I do these six things and then I go in and I write in some of the sub-characters a little bit of the action. What kind of a feel that I want and I will literally take that outline and I’ll start writing in there and I’ll just push everything down and so everything is really already in there for me as I go.
Now I’m just kind of filling it in because stories sometimes they take a bit of a turn but as long as they stay within that framework it’s very easy for me to sit down and write.
I never get writer’s block. I always have more stuff that I want to write that my hands won’t let me or my back won’t let me. So as I get in and write it, it becomes very easy. I wouldn’t do it any other way. And some people are great with pantsing and everyone to each their own. But for me and it’s improved my speed tremendously.
James Blatch: And what do you write in.
Ryan Schow: Microsoft Word There’s some great other programs out there but I’m a creature of habit.
James Blatch: Do you stand up sit down? You said your back bothers you.
Ryan Schow: I need to start standing. I sit down and I need to start standing up. I saw an ad for one of those things.
James Blatch: You definitely need to get that. You could do what Roald Dahl did. Mark found this fantastic old film with Roald Dahl explaining his writing. He had a cabin at the bottom of his garden and he was in a reclined seat with blanket. And a telephone on the aide, and a pencil a notepad, of course. So that’s your next thing; a sit-stand desk or a shed in the garden.
Ryan Schow: Someone was telling me about a treadmill desk. I think that might be the way to go. One of the cautions about being a full-time writers you’ve got to move.
James Blatch: Yeah you’ve got to move and sitting down is, I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s the new cancer.
Absolutely no question that sitting down for a long period is not good for you and we will do a podcast episode on all the health aspects of being a writer. We did a little bit with Jo Penn once but it’s an important subject.
Ryan Schow: When you get any you started doing it full time it really is. I was reading one famous author – she wrote 10 things that are important for authors to know. And one of them was take care of you back and I thought man, it’s not just me. And then Mike Leonard talks about his wrists and there is some stuff that you’ve got to do but you’re doing what you love. You’ll figure it out.
James Blatch: Okay so another couple of questions about the marketing and advertising side. It’s interesting you talked about the clean aspect of them.
I have to say when you think of a post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller that I don’t necessarily imagine that there’s a clean subgenre of that but I guess there is.
Ryan Schow: Me neither, but yeah I made it. There are some because there are religious writers in there and pastors who write that. So there are a couple in there that will do that but I can’t imagine doing anything clean and so for me that was a challenge for myself, which was OK. If my grandma was reading this, what would she say.
And if I have people that are reading it that look at their church group I thought OK are they going to feel comfortable recommending it or not. And so it was a big challenge for me.
James Blatch: How do you signal that in your advertising? How do people know?
Ryan Schow: I let them know it’s a clean series and a lot of people appreciate that. So I put this is a clean series. I put it at the bottom of my blurb and that brings a lot of people in that fit for whatever reason.
There was an issue with swearing in the reviews for other writers, was that they were swearing but there was a lot of gratuitous sex too, which I would not have imagined would have gone together.
Some people live out their fantasies on the page.
James Blatch: That goes back to conversations we’ve had on the podcast this year about making it clear in your blurb what it is. And conversely, if the sex in your book and that’s a part of the book, you need to say that as well on the cover or in the blurb. So there’s no confounding expectations.
Ryan Schow: If you handle it well, because they did put some in there, if you handle it from a little bit of a distance and again you leave a certain amount to the imagination. I don’t say there’s any kind of sex interaction in my books. There is a little bit here and there but I’ve never had to warn anybody. And people have commented that the treatment was done really well tastefully.
James Blatch: And from the commercial point of view, saying this is a clean post-apocalyptic series is better because there are going to be some people who are going to want to read it for this kind of edginess.
Ryan Schow: Well and I think that my next series is going to be with a little bit more edge. But I started out actually writing from a woman’s perspective because most of the readers are women anyway. 80 percent I think.
And so I took it from a female perspective and that didn’t originally go off so well with male readers of the series but they took on. They jumped into it and they took it on. They said OK I’ll read through it.
And in the second book and the third book and the fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh I had some very strong male characters that could take the front lead. And I actually found a way that I got a lot of male readers now in that as well I was able to kind of diversify and segment Facebook ads and go, men and women in these ages.
I would go in and find out who my demographic was and to my surprise my demographic was fifty-five year old women and above. And I was like Well I didn’t think I was writing for this but they are the best fans, let me tell.
James Blatch: How important is the mailing list to you?
Ryan Schow: The mailing list is very important for me because what it does is it starts to build my base that’s mine. In other words, if something funky happens with Amazon I know that I can bring that base to other platforms.
But by and large that that group has helped me immensely. I got the advance reader group in place there so that helps me out with reviews so that I can walk in and know okay I’m getting 10, 15, 20 reviews that are there right away.
And of course you see how big Mark’s group is and I’ve learned a lot from watching some other authors. Shayne Silvers was amazing for that. He’s that’s probably one of the best guys I’ve seen for building up an audience and people there are some devoted fans.
But I’ve done that and then I’ve also built up my Facebook group. Everything this time around with the last war series I did organic and I built a thousand really good people and I’ve got a really good group of people on my Facebook fan page as well.
And they helped my launches. My launches do really well as a result of that. They’re going to get better and better. I’m excited to see what my second series from post-apocalyptic fiction is going to bring because everything that I’ve learned from how to launch a book properly I’ve got on steroids now. So now that’s the second run and then I’m going to release two books that are pretty close together about 18 days apart.
I’ve watched other authors like Lindsay Hall do that and it does really really well for him. People don’t want to wait. They want to see your book and they want the next right away.
James Blatch: Do you have lots of personal contacts with your group?
Are you in the group all the time?
Ryan Schow: I love them. They helped me out immensely. I’ve got a guy who says I can help you with anything you want to know about 1949 cars, and this guy says I’m great at guns, and this old lady says I’m 72 years old now in a wheelchair but I can shoot a gun and I can tell you everything you need to survive the apocalypse.
So yeah I have a lot of interaction with them. I love them. They’re great. They’re very loyal That’s probably one of the best things about me about doing this.
James Blatch: Okay well super. We should probably say a little bit about Mark’s Ads for Authors. I’ve stayed away from asking directly about it, but it sounds like you want to talk about this. I know you’re very excited. You want to say thank you to Mark basically for it.
Ryan Schow: Thank you, Mark. Thank you, James. You guys help me have a career.
It’s one thing to be able to write a great book. You have to write great book and be able to edit it and get good covers. But to go in and to have the education that you need, you can’t put a price on that. So thank you.
James Blatch: Ryan thank you so much indeed for hosting us up here.
Ryan Schow: I’m so glad you came here.
James Blatch: In beautiful, peaceful northern California and we are all just going to watch your success go on and on and on.
Ryan Schow: I’ve got my fingers crossed. I’ve got good people behind me. A great education on the Ads for Authors course, thanks to Mark. Thank you very very much for continuing to update without charging us.
James Blatch: Ryan. Lovely guy. I hope you get to meet him at some point if he’s one of the conferences. I really enjoyed spending time with them in a gated community. Everyone seems to live in America.
Good. Is that it for this week.
Having heard Ryan’s success story here we should say that the Ads for Authors course is available at the moment. You can go to selsfpublishingformula.com/adsforauthors at the time we’re recording this.
We’ll probably close up in another couple of weeks.
Mark Dawson: When this comes out it’ll be about a week to go.
James Blatch: Yeah 26ht of June. I think maybe two weeks to go and this comes out.
Mark Dawson: Yes well anyway, there’s an expiration date.
James Blatch: Not for the material but just for the period of time that we open it and we’ll open again in the winter.
I think that’s it Mark. Try to stay clear of the Wiltshire drug squad.
Mark Dawson: As I said to you before we started recording, apart from what happened yesterday that they actually just shut the high street in that direction. There’s police tape across there and cars with flashing blue lights blocking the way so I have actually no idea what’s going on.
But I am just going for my lunch. So if you don’t hear from me this afternoon it’s because I’ve been arrested. They finally found me.
James Blatch: The net is closing. As long as they give you your laptop in prison I’m happy because basically you’ll be really focused on work.
Mark Dawson: I’ll be focused on avoiding things. Yes that would be one thing I would focus on.
James Blatch: Just don’t drop the soap.
Thank you very much indeed for listening for this week. We’ll be back next week. I can give you a little preview. Next week we are going to Barcelona.
If you’re watching on YouTube you would have noticed that our interview today was filmed properly with cameras in situ. Next week is the same next week filmed on a yacht or boat or cruise, at a harbour in Barcelona.
Looks amazing and a really good chat with somebody who is using advertising, paid ads, to financially make money with non-fiction.
We get asked this question all the time; does this sort of thing that you’re doing Mark, your teaching with Amazon ads and Facebook, does that work for people with non-fiction? Do you have to be writing romance and thrillers?
Well here’s is a living, breathing example of somebody who’s taken your teaching and turned it into a life-changing amount of money selling his non-fiction books. That’s Mark Rekalu and that is next week.
Until then I’m going to say it’s goodbye for me and it’s goodbye from him.
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