SPS-208: Strengths for Writers: How to Align Yourself for Success – with Becca Syme

The expression ‘playing to our strengths’ isn’t just a cliche. Coach and author Becca Syme points out that focusing on what we’re naturally good at can provide exponential results, vs. expending tremendous effort in areas where we are not naturally strong.

Show Notes

  • Teasers about new courses available from SPF in 2020
  • Coaching authors to be better at writing processes and decision-making
  • Why logical thinking is important for authors and their careers
  • How does time and attention help to achieve results vs. natural talent
  • Application from knowing your strengths to things like genre
  • Capitalizing on innate strengths rather than trying to improve in other areas

Resources mentioned in this episode:

WEBSITE: For more info on strengths testing and coaching for authors, check out Becca’s website

LIVE EVENT: If you’d like to put yourself on the waiting list for tickets to the live event in London in March go to

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page


Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show:

Becca Syme: Don’t fight the way that you’re wired just because somebody that you admire or something that you like is that little carrot in the sky. Let’s cut the carrots down and look at ourselves and realign with who we are.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do 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, and welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. The second show of 2020. But actually, for me and you, Mark, this is kind of our first show of 2020, isn’t it?

Mark Dawson: Yes, it is, because we Blatched last years’ shows. So yes, this is the first one as we push on into the new year.

James Blatch: We did some Blatch recording. I’d forgotten that. I think it’s Ernie Dempsey who took Blatch on as an adjective. “I’ve been Blatched,” he said.

Mark Dawson: Did he? Did he sound like Captain Hook?

James Blatch: Oh, he does. Maybe in the south. Good. Well, look, I hope you had a Christmas and new year, we can actually have that conversation now. We were just pretending before, weren’t we? So, happy new year. Now, it is a happy new year.

Did you have a good Christmas and new year?

Mark Dawson: Yes. Yes and no. If you could count taking my dad into hospital at 1:00 on the Monday after Christmas with a suspected heart attack, that could-

James Blatch: Oh my goodness.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, it’s been very busy. My dad had some kind of chest pains which is not unusual for him. He’s had so many heart attacks it’s kind of like it’s just another heart attack. So yeah, he was in Salisbury Hospital for about two and a half days which was … I can’t tell you how much fun that was.

James Blatch: Wow.

Mark Dawson: That was pretty depressing. It was very, very busy. You had people on gurneys in the corridor outside A&E and it was just very, very hectic. That was the NHS at breaking point. I saw that at kind of close quarters.
James Blatch: Yeah. It is. I had friends who ended up in hospital for less serious reasons including our own Catherine Matthews whose daughter ended up going in, and I think the story from our emergency rooms as they call them in America at this time of year when the bug hits and everyone … I don’t know, I guess it’s just illnesses and sickness.

Mark Dawson: A lot of booze as well. I remember I saw it in the news the other day, they were complaining that … this was people calling ambulances because they’re intoxicated, which is-

James Blatch: Charge them.

Mark Dawson: Well, I think in that case there is an argument that they could charge them.

James Blatch: They should put a credit card machine in the back of the ambulance.

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: All right, in America I suppose you’d do that once, you’d get your bill for three and a half thousand dollars and you’d think twice about getting so inebriated that you’d need an ambulance.

Mark Dawson: You probably would, yes.

James Blatch: That’s probably the only bit of healthcare policy we could take away. Okay, well, I’m sorry to hear that Mark. That’s the sort of thing you don’t put on your status update isn’t it, “In A&E with dad.”

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: I’m sorry I wasn’t aware of that. Okay, but otherwise, I think I did see on your Facebook status update a very large new wagon arrived at Chez Dawson on Christmas day.

Mark Dawson: That’s a horse box. Yes, I bought Lucy a horse box this year. I’m still working my head around the terminals you hear. You’d think a horse box would be something that you’d hitch to the back of your car, but no. That’s a trailer.

A horse box is effectively a van that’s been converted into something that can carry a couple of horses. Yes, that was my big surprise. It was quite challenging actually to present that in a way that was surprising.

I kind of bottled it in the end because you can’t hide it. It’s enormous. So, I live in the countryside, as you know, in a fairly isolated spot, and I spoke to the owner of stables, a yard down the road from us and said, “Do you mind if I leave this horse box in your car park for two days until Christmas day?” And he was like, “No, that’s completely fine. No problem.” I did and left it there, then went to check on it at 7:00 at night, it was pitch black. It wasn’t insured. I hadn’t insured it.

I was thinking, if it gets nicked, there’s nothing I can do about it. So, in the end I decided it wasn’t very romantic, but I kind of drove home, got the kids out of bed, and said to Lucy, “You’re getting your Christmas present on the Monday,” so the 23rd. So, we drove back to the yard and she was quite surprised. So, that wasn’t quite how I planned it but it was still effective. It was a good gift.

James Blatch: I got my wife a pair of wellington boots.

Mark Dawson: Oh, very nice.

James Blatch: She was pleased.

Mark Dawson: I’ve got some wellington boots.

James Blatch: There you go. It’s the gift that gives all winter.
Well, here we are, we’re back on it now for this year. We’ve been doing a little bit of thinking and planning, things that we might spread out across launches for 2020, give ourselves more chance to work on the content and make sure everything’s in order.

So, I think this year, when we say, “This won’t open again until next year,” we are going to be telling absolutely the case. I think probably Ads for Authors might open-

Mark Dawson: Possibly once this year.

James Blatch: … possibly once this year. So, we’ll see about that. We’re doing some of that planning now. We’re going to have a very busy year.

We got our first live conference in March. We will no doubt pitch up at some other conferences around the world yet to be decided. We’re going to bring on one important new course, which we’re going to talk about in a moment.
But before we do that, Mark, I am going to welcome our Patreon supporters.

I probably should have done this right at the top, but let me say a very warm welcome to those of you who’ve gone to and pledged your support to the podcast in return for a plethora of goodies by the way.

That is Robert M. Kerns from West Virginia in the US, from Una Medina Omsted PhD, that’s a Dr. Una Medina Olmsted from New Mexico, and also, Marcy Everest, Seth Z. Herman, probably says in America. TNae Wilcox, I think that’s how you pronounce it, T-N-A-E is the first name and the T and N are capitals. TNae Wilcox? I’m going to go with that. And Phillip C. Thank you very much indeed.

Now, one of the benefits you get from being a Patreon subscriber is that you get invited to our exclusive training events, which we’re going to try and do more or less monthly. We’ve got a couple coming up in the near future, including a really banging one. A banger, as the kids say-

Mark Dawson: Oh my god.

James Blatch: … on Instagram. Okay, boomer. Just let me talk. On Instagram. Which is going to be … it’s so hot right now, that Instagram is so hot right now, to quote Zoolander.

Mark Dawson: Oh my god.

James Blatch: Which is an old reference.

Mark Dawson: Stop talking.

James Blatch: That’s coming up soon. Then, we also have … we’re going to do blurbs again, I think.

Mark Dawson: Dave Chesson.

James Blatch: … and Dave Chesson is going to … yes, we’re due an update on Dave’s gold dust. He did a really good talk. I slightly interrupted, but a really good talk at NINC last year and we wanted to grab that and turn that into a training session for you.

So, hop along to to get your exclusive invites to those live training events.
Mark Dawson: I should say thank you for everyone who supports us on Patreon. Occasionally, we get some emails in and I’ve got fairly thick skin now, after doing this kind of stuff for such a long time. But I had one yesterday that was asking for a refund on the Ads course because the content was insufferably dull.

James Blatch: Nice.

Mark Dawson: That was one of my favorite ones ever I think. John Dyer flagged that to me and said…

James Blatch: You should sing your instructions.

Mark Dawson: John is so polite, and answers everything. I’m always telling John, “You don’t have to answer every email.” John answers emails from people who cold email us about selling us services that have nothing to do with publishing. He’ll say very politely, “Thank you very much for the lovely email. We’re not interested at the moment.” I mean obviously, and I said to John, “By replying, you have just confirmed that there is a person at the other end of the email. You’ll get more emails now.” But it doesn’t make any difference. He says it’s catholic guilt-

James Blatch: It’s polite. He can’t leave them unanswered. We’re grateful to him for that.
Yes, well look, the instruction in the course is not there necessarily to entertain, although most of the feedback we get back from people is that you are very easy to listen to and very clear. I do ask that question when we do our testimonial interviews. I ask how do people find the instruction. We get nothing but praise most of the time.

Mark Dawson: Well, what we should also add and it’s kind of segueing back to your segue was that person who’s now withdrawn from the course and has been refunded will not get what we think will probably be the best Amazon advertising course in the world.

James Blatch: They will not.

Mark Dawson: It’s already pretty good and that’s with me as the tutor, but I don’t know how much we mentioned on the podcast, but I have mentioned in the Facebook groups, we can say now that … and she will be listening, so I’m going to be nice.

James Blatch: Oh, we’re always nice to Janet.

Mark Dawson: We’re always nice to everybody, but Janet Margot is someone I’ve known for a while now. Must be five years or so now and she’s worked at Amazon. She’s an amazonian and I met her for the first time in Seattle in November.

She works, in fact, she has built the Amazon advertising platform for authors at Amazon. So, she is probably the person who knows the most about the Amazon advertising platform in the world and she’s taught me lots of things and I’ve got into some super secret betas because Janet has got me in and she’s helped me out now and again with questions that I’ve had.

She is going to be the new tutor of … subject to I’s being dotted and T’s crossed, but as far as we know at the moment, she’s going to be the new tutor for the Amazon ads course in the Ads for Authors course bundle.

So, anyone who is a student now, we’re pretty sure will get that content for free. It’ll just be upgraded and you’ll get the course and I’ve seen the curriculum and to quote, “It’s banging.” It will be really, really good.

We don’t quite know how it will play out with regards to new students. It may be rolled into the course, it might be an optional extra. We’re not quite sure yet. But it’s going to be fantastic and it’s the kind of thing that I’m really looking forward to because I think Janet will be able to teach me things that I’m now aware of, so I can’t wait to get that started as we push on into the rest of the year.

James Blatch: We’re putting together the legal stuff around it now and we should say, I think you did make it clear, but Janet has left Amazon only just, so she’s freshly out of the door-

Mark Dawson: She’s not left Amazon.

James Blatch: Oh.

Mark Dawson: She’s moved into another part of Amazon, which is fairly not unusual for Amazonians. But she’s just not working for Amazon advertising at the moment.

James Blatch: Oh, I thought she was leaving Amazon completely.

Mark Dawson: No, she’s going to IMDb, which is owned by Amazon.

James Blatch: Oh, okay. I’m with you. Oh, well she’ll be good for film trivia knowledge as well. We could do a separate module on that.

Okay, excellent. We’re getting our heads down and working on that. We’re going to have some standalone courses launched in 2020 as well. One, we previewed before. It’s taken a long time actually to get it to the point of release, but that will be soon, which is how to write a bestseller. So, formula particularly on sort of popular genre fiction books.

And a course I’m very excited about, and working very closely on how to revise a book with Jenny Nash, which is a really good practical course that’s all about … everyone knows how their approach to revising is, but this is a really thorough system. The tagline of the course is going to be Going from Good to Great: How to Get That Book Up a Notch. That’s looking really good as well, so we’re cracking on with those. So, as I say, the reason it’s going to be a very busy 2020.

Right. Now, we have a really good interview today. It’s one we recorded in Las Vegas in November at the 20 Books conference there. This was one of those sessions that people walked out of at the previous conference at NINC and went on and on to us and said, “You’ve got to get this woman on to your podcast.”

Mark Dawson: I thought you were talking about me for a minute.

James Blatch: Yeah, yours as well obviously. But you are on the podcast.

Mark Dawson: Oh, yeah.

James Blatch: So, I reached out, as I said, to Becca Syme in Vegas and said, “Look, let’s see if we can sit down and I want to get the gist of what you taught in St. Petersburg because that was what really gripped people.”

It was this central message about how you go about organizing yourself to get the best out of yourself. Understanding your strengths and playing to them. Some key sort of philosophical messages which are going to come out in this interview about the way that you do that.

Becca’s really thoughtful. She’s heads-down in a lot of the psychology, I guess is the right word of this, run by organizations like Gallup. So, she has these tests that they use.

She’s gone one further, and this is all based around writers as well. This is a very specialist area for her. So, Becca is going to be our interviewee today. We’ll hear from her now. Then, Mark and I will be back for a chat off the back of that.

Becca, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show.

Becca Syme: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

James Blatch: Great to have you. You are a hotly requested interviewee, because we were at NINC and unfortunately, we don’t get to go to all the sessions because we do this sort of thing in hotel rooms at conferences, interviewing people. Then, people just came out and said yours was one of the great sessions that they went to. So, well done on that.

Becca Syme: Thank you.

James Blatch: These conferences are always a little bit mixed. Some sessions people come out saying, “I didn’t get as much out of that as I’d hoped.” Yours was not one of those sessions.

Becca Syme: Thank you.

James Blatch: So, we are going to talk to you about what you talked about to authors in that room, which is exciting. But first of all, I want to learn a bit about you.

Tell us who Becca Syme is.

Becca Syme: I live in Montana and I do write also fiction. I primarily do coaching right now. I coach authors. I am what I call a success coach. So, it’s looking at the barriers to success and then, how do we make you more successful than you are and get you towards the goals that you want. It’s like, alignment, is what I call it. But it’s really about how do we make you a successful standout, right? That’s kind of what I talked about at NINC, was like the standout writer.

James Blatch: Excellent. Okay, well, that’s what we’re going to get into in more detail.

What’s your background to get you to that point?

Becca Syme: I have a master’s degree in transformational leadership and when I started doing that, I was industrial and organizational psychology basically. So, it was consulting and working with organizations, non-profits, trying to figure out how to make them awesome at what they were because I was a non-profit leader. So, I was trying to figure out how to make my non-profit awesome. The technical term I guess, awesome.

I went to get coached for StrengthsFinder, Gallup’s StrengthsFinder. It was mind blowing. It was like I walked in the room one person and walked out another person. I decided I want to get trained how to do this, this is incredible. I just sort of lost myself in learning about it.

Then I just started coaching people whenever I could because I love the program of figuring out how individual people can be their most successful. When I started writing fiction, I started coaching authors on the side for fun. It just kind of blossomed because there’s so little information that’s intuitive about who we are and how we could be successful. It really takes an outside perspective to do that kind of alignment. So, that’s part of what the program did and I love it.

James Blatch: And there’s a difference between being a book coach and an author coach.

Becca Syme: Yes.

James Blatch: You’re not coaching people through the chapters of their book. You’re coaching them to be better at what they’re doing.

Becca Syme: Yep. Like, processes, how do you make decisions as an author, how do you decide who to listen to, how do you figure out when things don’t work for you. Like, if you take an ads class, and it doesn’t work, how do you decide why it didn’t work and how do you know whether it’s the person who’s teaching you is not the right person for you to be listening to versus sometimes there’s just not a way for you to personally get better at something that you have a challenge with.

It’s harder for people to do that naturally, because we have this wiring that we want to assume that we’re wrong, that there’s something wrong with us and we should fix ourselves. And sometimes that’s so far from the truth.

So a lot of what I do is offer the perspective of, “Well, that’s not what the pattern is. That’s not what the success pattern is. Your success pattern is different from mine or from anybody’s.”

And so it’s all about are you working with the way that you could be the best? So no, I don’t do any inside of novel stuff. No, that’s definitely not me.

James Blatch: This is about us as authors.

Becca Syme: Yep.

James Blatch: Let me ask you a fundamental question.

How important is this type of logical thinking about your processes?

Becca Syme: For me it’s huge because emotions play a big role in how we assimilate information and how we evaluate what’s right and wrong. And when we start thinking in our emotional limbic brain, we’re not thinking with our logical brain.

Some of the shift into being able to evaluate, “Is this really me or is it something else?” is let’s get out of that internal perspective for a second and look at an external perspective.

I’m not sure that we can make evaluative decisions about ourselves without some kind of shift like that because we get so insular. So I just think it’s totally necessary to have something, not this particular program, but something like it.

James Blatch: Yeah. So there’s an old expression that you can’t see the woods for the trees, isn’t there? And that’s sort of what we’re talking about here.

Becca Syme: That’s exactly it.

James Blatch: You couldn’t be closer to yourself than you.

Becca Syme: Yep, exactly.

James Blatch: And I think some people do have the ability to step back and have that out of body experience where they’re looking down at what they’re doing, why they’re doing it. Most of us don’t.

Becca Syme: No, and actually that’s a good point. That is a strength, right? In the strengths finder assessment, the ability to have that analytical distance, that objective distance, is a strength. And it’s a very rare one.

So not a lot of people, like maybe 15% of people have that capacity and an excellence level, so most people are not capable of doing this on their own. That’s a great point.

James Blatch: So you’ll sit down with somebody, and do they come to you … I guess inevitably probably come to you … with stalled careers or less successful than they want?

Becca Syme: Yep.

James Blatch: Nobody comes to you and says, “Oh, I made another two billion this year without even trying.”

What’s your process with a client?

Becca Syme: I bring them into the test first, and it depends on which venue they come in. I do productivity coaching as well, where we take a fuller 360 look and it’s not just about how to stand out at something, but when they come into the Strengths for Writers program, they take the Clifton strengths test and then I sit down and coach them with their results.

The strengths test itself is a psychometric that’s meant to test how we’re successful.

The way that it was developed with specifically that they studied two million people, like the best of the best in every field, and I mean the best CEOs, the best housekeepers at Disneyland, the best NBA basketball players. And they were interviewing to figure out what the success patterns look like and they discovered that there was a very consistent pattern, and then they created this test to test for that pattern.

So it was a very backwards process, the way that most psychometrics are created, which is me as an expert, look at the world, decide that there’s four categories of people and then create a test to fit people into that categories. This is the opposite.

James Blatch: It’s data-driven.

Becca Syme: Yeah. It comes from success data. Which is what I love about it.

We sit down with that, and because there’s proven patterns to the way success happens in your brain, you have specific strengths that nobody else has or that other people don’t have that particular combination.

I want to look at how do you fit the pattern and then how does the interconnection of your particular strength work in your favor, but then also how might it stand in your way. Going back to the analytical, somebody who’s overly objective might have issues being subjective when they need to. So that’s also one of the things that we talk about is what are the basement behaviors of that strength and how can we get you up out of that and then how can we take off from there.

James Blatch: And then do you face the challenge of people having to change themselves?

Becca Syme: I would say there are behavior coaches that definitely have that. I don’t. Because of the way that the test was created, it’s so consistent, the patterning, that it’s like don’t fight your strengths. Don’t try to be something that you’re not, because there’s a difference for me between capacity and success.

You can absolutely have capacity in an area that you’re never going to be a standout in. And so I’m like, “Let’s ignore the areas where you are not strong and let’s focus here because your capacity for development there is so much higher.”

I would rather not try to work against patterns because the process of changing your brain chemistry is very intensive and I think that it’s not always worth the effort that you put into it, so I’d rather work with the river than paddle against it.

James Blatch: I think that’s such an important point. This is like the one takeaway that people kept quoting to me that came out of your session at NINC. Somebody, I was trying to get them to explain what you meant, and the way I understood it … tell me if I’ve got this right … is that if you’re involved in a race car team and you roughly knew how the engine works and you’re quite interested in how the engine works, but you are brilliant driver, putting your effort into getting a little bit better at being able to do the engine is a waste of time compared to exponentially how much better you can get at being a driver because you’re already good as it, so focusing on things you’re already good at.

Becca Syme: Yes, exactly. We do some math in that discussion because if you think, my innate capacity is a one and then I apply the time and attention training workshops, classes at a 10 level, so the best workshop you can get, there’s a multiplication sign between those two. So if you multiply one times 10, you get 10, which out of 100 is the bottom 10% still.

So I started off in the bottom 10% of my capacity. And this is basically what Gallup found, what researchers found by doing these experiments about how does the time and attention work in comparison with your natural talents. So I’ll tell you a quick story, if that’s okay.

James Blatch: Sure.

Becca Syme: There were two groups of speed readers. This was a white paper that was done, I think by Indiana University, and so it’s easily findable. There were two groups of speed readers. The average readers started off at 90 words a minute, which is right in the middle of the average speed. And the above average group started off at 350, so already they were all naturally talented. Same speed reading class they went through. The people who were at 90 went to 150 at the end of this class, and the people who started off at 350 went to 3000. So it’s 10 times 10.

When you get to the place where you have a 10 natural capacity, you can add really excellent teaching and become top 1%, because that’s what 3000 words a minute is for speed readers. It’s the top 1% of reading speeds.

Why spend time in your one to five talent areas when you could be at seven, eight, nine, 10 and be multiplying your capacity over and over and over and over again? And the speed reading is just one example of one discreet skill. But that kind of exponential growth capacity is consistent with all the strengths.

I’ve coached thousands of people in this program, 2,500 plus writers, like newbies, mid-listers, award winners, six and seven figure people, and it’s consistent with everybody. Your highest areas of natural capacity times time and attention is exponential capacity growth from there. It’s like eyes bugging out 3000 words a minute. That’s amazing.

James Blatch: What practical changes do you see authors making once they understand this?

Becca Syme: Some of the hugest ones are with people who are stuck currently with advice that they’ve been given about the author career that is just not working for them.

One of the biggest ones is, “You should write every day”. I cannot tell you how many super successful people … Obviously we all get the Stephen King, just close the door and write, Nora Roberts, eight hours a day.

People hear that and they think, “Okay, in order to be successful then I need to write every day, eight hours a day, because that’s what successful people do.” Well, but do they? Question the premise.

There is a strength called intellection where you process and process and process and process, and then you spit out. People who have high intellection who try to write every single day, they can’t, no matter how hard they force themselves, and when they do force themselves to do it, they actually get a worse product at the end than if they had let themselves just think and think and think, and then write, write, write, write.

This expert’s giving them opinions, which are wonderful, great people trying to be helpful, but if you don’t know how your brain works, you might try to make decisions that run opposite to your brain wiring that then make you not able to be successful at all.

What happens a ton when people have intellection, they come in to this class and they learn about it. All of a sudden they decide to start thinking instead of forcing themselves to write, and we see thousands and thousands more words produced in a very short amount of time where they might’ve been trying to write every single day previously and writing nothing.

I have people who’ve written 3000 words or something in six months and then they write 30,000 in a month because they allowed themselves to work with their natural process instead of fighting it. So that’s just one example, but I mean, there’s thousands. It’s amazing.

James Blatch: And does it come down to practical changes, like an author playing about with genres and wanting to write in a different genre but struggling, but really wanting to overcome that instead of going back to what they’re good at? That sort of decision making?

Becca Syme: Oh yeah. Because there’s also innate abilities to do certain things in the plotting or in how you construct your narratives.

For instance, high activators tend to have very little description and their books are very fast-paced and they write short scenes and that kind of thing. So putting somebody like that in a genre like urban or epic fantasy where you have 4000 word chapters and super sweeping detail and they’re banging their head against the wall because they love Tolkien.

And then you say, “Well, what if you wrote this instead?” And then you could keep this natural ability that you have to write super short, punchy stuff because that’s really well-rewarded in genres like thriller and genres like suspense.

Don’t fight the way that you’re wired just because somebody that you admire or something that you like is that little carrot in the sky. Let’s cut the carrots down and look at ourselves and realign with who we are. Yeah, I get really passionate about this. I’m like, “Preach.”

James Blatch: Well, you speak with great clarity about it. So how does the process work with an author? They come to you, they do the Clifford … Is it called the Clifford test?

Becca Syme: Clifton Strengths.

James Blatch: Clifton, sorry, the Clifton Strengths Test.

And then you look at the results and how does that work from there?

Becca Syme: So because I’ve coached so many writers, there’s certain patterns to how the writers use those strengths. And so what I did was I rewrote some of the material to be very specific to writers.

If you go and look at the Gallup webcasts and stuff, you’ll see the core strength discussions that are very big picture. They’re very corporate. They’re more individualized, whereas all of my stuff is very specific to writers. How do writers use intellection, empathy?

We talk about what the pattern is for success and then how closely you do or don’t fit that pattern. So it’s all coaching. My preference I think is always to do one-on-one coaching with people because how your specific strengths work together also changes what you should be thinking, how you should be making choices. So it’s all very one-on-one driven.

James Blatch: And you do that presumably online?

Becca Syme: Yeah, via zoom or Skype.

James Blatch: Can I ask about the cost and do you set expectations and so on in how do people do this?

Becca Syme: I have a cohort that starts about once every couple of months I think now. And so we grabbed a group of people together and they go through this. You get several one-on-ones in one month and the cost of the class is a $400 for the course.

You get our materials and you get coached and then you get a development plan at the end, because again, the exponential growth capacity is what I really like about it, so my goal is to get you not just understanding but also developing, so going from the base to better.

James Blatch: Excellent.

How long have you been running these courses?

Becca Syme: Well, so the Strengths for Writers course for about two years. The Write Better Faster and that kind of personality alignment stuff, I think I started in 2014 and it really took off in 2016. I had started doing some RWA chapters, Romance Writers of America, but so five, six years in total. But then I’ve been coaching since 2005, so almost 14 years now.

James Blatch: And you just do authors?

Becca Syme: I do both now, non-writers and writers, and we actually found that there are a lot of creatives that come in to the Strengths for Writers because they’ll hear about it from a friend who’s a writer. So we do screenwriters and poets and playwrights and songwriters and all that kind of stuff now too.

But we also do, because I have more coaches that work with me in the program now, we also do non-writers and we have a separate experience for non-writers. But I personally do almost 100% writers now because the demand is so great. And I think once people hear the message and they get excited about it, then they start talking to other people. So it kind of multiplies.

James Blatch: Yeah, it’s good to concentrate on what you’re good at, right?

Becca Syme: Yes, exactly.

James Blatch: I imagine these one-on-ones with authors because people are complex beings, right? You probably end up as a bit of a psychoanalyst or psychotherapist.

Becca Syme: A little bit, yeah.

James Blatch: Sometimes it’s got to be, you’ll be doing a one-on-one and understand that people have challenges in their home life and so on.

Do you have to work to contain the scope of how you work with people?

Becca Syme: Sometimes. It depends on how excited they are about the goal that they have. So for instance, if somebody comes in with, “I want to write a million words this year,” and then we start talking in their form, they fill out some stuff about, “How many books do you have out? How much time do you have?”, that kind of stuff, and I look at the material and it’s like, “Oh wow, you have a full-time job and three kids. How are you going to make time for that?”

Sometimes you have to address that stuff because it’s getting in the way of their success. But my sister’s a PhD in psychology. She’s always telling me, “Refer, refer, refer.” So anytime it gets to be therapeutic level, I’m like, “I don’t do therapy.”

But yeah, a lot of success alignment is environmental. It’s not only personality, but it’s emotional. How does the neurobiology of your fear receptors, how does that impact when you sit down to write? So some of it is really, really complicated, which is why I have to do the one-on-ones, because if I start talking to one person, I feel like I can really dig into like, wait, what did you just say? Oh, hang on, I heard that, like that kind of stuff.

James Blatch: Yeah. We had a podcast interview recently with Sarah Painter about anxiety and writing. I thought she had some advice. Basically, understanding anxiety and factoring it in, rather than just having it there as a burden or challenge is part of your process. It means things will take longer, and that’s, I guess, is good advice.

Becca Syme: Yeah, I love that.

James Blatch: How do people find you, Becca? How do they get on this improvement trend?

Becca Syme: We have the test, obviously, that you can take. You can go to Gallup directly and take it, but because we’re amassing data on writers, I love to be able to have the writers take it through us.

So, if you go to, there’s the Strengths for Writers links and classes and stuff are there. But there’s also a contact form. If anybody wants to take the test, contact us, and we’ll get you a code so you can be inside of our database and get that connection.

We also have a Facebook group that’s just for people who’ve taken the Clifton Strengths test. It’s called Strengths for Writers on Facebook. And we encourage people to come there because when you hear other people who have your strengths talk about how their process works, it’s like, you’re my people, now I get why do this.

And then I also have a YouTube channel where we talk with successful writers. So, I try to get three writers who have a particular strength. I think the last one we did was restorative. And so we got three restorative writers, and then we interviewed them about how does restorative work for you? What does this look like?

I’m trying to get as much free material out there as possible so people don’t have to come and take the class. And that’s called the QuitCast, Q-U-I-T-C-A-S-T. Those are probably the three big ways.

James Blatch: Does it cost to take the test?

Becca Syme: It does. It costs $10 to take it through us just because we are trying to get everybody to come.

James Blatch: That would be very interesting for you to have the results for writers building up over time and start to look at that data.

Becca Syme: Yeah. That’s literally how we can do the class because I’ve got 2,500 people, patterns behind me. And then in addition to the Strengths Finder data, just about success metrics. So yeah, there’s a ton of benefit to coming and taking it through us so we can continue to serve writers better also in the future.

James Blatch: Great. And you say, we, are you a team now? You employ people?

Becca Syme: We are. I did not anticipate this happening. I have two coaches now currently who work with me. We’re certifying a third one because they have to go to Gallup to get certified. We’re certifying a third one in February, and then hopefully a fourth one in April or March, we’ll see.

And then we also have two assistants. And so, there’s a big group of us at the Better Faster Academy, which is fun. We’re a good community.

James Blatch: Sounds great. I am here at Vegas, we should say recording this, at 20 Books Vegas. Are you speaking here?

Becca Syme: I did, I spoke last night. I did a version of the standout writers stuff for romance writers, which was really fun.

James Blatch: Great. Well, I love the whole, a rising tide raises all ships, as the motto for this conference, and the whole industry that’s being created.

We should say there was some dark, dubious patches there as well. People trying to cash in, but there’s also incredible services and bits and pieces that we need to do our jobs. And, this is such an important part of that.

I imagine of the areas people could invest in themselves, this is one that would give dividends.

Becca Syme: Huge, huge results. And that for me, is I think the biggest thing. Even if you don’t come to us to do it, learn where you can stand out, especially when you’re having resistance in areas. That is a big key that you need to get aligned. Just like a spine. You go to the chiropractor to align your spine, you go to a coach to align your yourself. So, huge, huge for the industry.

James Blatch: I just have to find something that I’m good at so I can capitalize on it.

John Dyer: Not writing books.

James Blatch: Not writing books. I’m good at napping.

Becca Syme: Maybe podcast?

James Blatch: Or sprint? Becca, it’s been a really fun talking to you, and it’s lived up every bit to expectations because you came highly recommended.

Becca Syme: Oh good.

James Blatch: Thank you so much for joining us.

Becca Syme: Thanks for having me in. It was a blast.

James Blatch: There you go. So Mark, I thought the central message, which I really liked, which people told me about at NINC, was that don’t do what you’re halfhearted about or half good at. Do a lot of what you’re good at.

And she showed a couple of graphs, which we talked about in the interview there, that people who are not very good at something, when they really try to improve, they go up here, and when they’re really good at something and they try to improve, they go even further, up you go. The exponential is greater.

You improve at things you’re good at, and that makes sense when you say it out loud because you’re obviously good at them for a reason. There’s an aptitude, there’s an enthusiasm for it, and you’re only going to go so far with the bits of business that you don’t like.

Working out what to outsource, working out what to do less of, working out what to do more of is going to make, for some people I think, a significant difference to their output in 2020.

Mark Dawson: What would you do if you liked everything?

James Blatch: Do you like everything?

Mark Dawson: Yeah, pretty much. I have fun. I don’t like being as busy as I am, but no, there’s nothing I don’t dislike, I don’t think.

James Blatch: I think there’s some things you don’t. I know what you dislike. You dislike things like the administration of accounts and-

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: Insurance, and all the business stuff you don’t like.

Mark Dawson: I do. I’m not good at that. I certainly don’t enjoy that.

James Blatch: Wills.

Mark Dawson: Will, well, that’s what your son.

James Blatch: You don’t like him.

Mark Dawson: Don’t like your son, no. Now I’m-

James Blatch: We had a conversation once about writing wills, and he told me, I hate all that stuff, you said.

Mark Dawson: Did I?

James Blatch: Yeah, I think so.

Mark Dawson: You sure it was muck you’d say to the cricket?

James Blatch: Let’s try to confuse everyone.

Mark Dawson: No, but no one likes wills. I’ve done the will. I did it myself, obviously. But, I’ve sorted out our wills ages ago. But, no.

James Blatch: So, yes. I’m a bit like you. I’m a bit of a polymath, I think. I think I can, and you probably know that about me now, because you’ve thrown quite a few things my way that I had no experience of at all before we met. And I’ve sort of embraced them and become quite good at… And I enjoy that.

I do worry a bit about myself because like, a lot of people, there’s an initial enthusiasm for something, and then sometimes it plateaus a bit, so I have to work on making sure that I’m still improving on areas. I’m a bit of a hard taskmaster on myself, but you are as well. Again, the kind of religious guilt thing, oh, we should be working harder.

I think for some people who don’t take a helicopter view of what they’re doing and how they’re doing stuff, and I think that’s what Becca’s main thing is, is first of all understand your strengths and weaknesses. Then, look at everything you’re doing, and critically analyze it.

In the same way we talk about distancing ourselves from our books, when we do the marketing, treat them as products, you have to do that about your work flow, and the way you run your business as well. I find it very useful, fascinating.

Becca’s really become a master of that stuff, and she mentioned in the podcast interview. Let me bring it across here, but she does have that website you can go to and do the Gallup test, which is

And what I might do with Becca, because I think there’s more that we can explore there with her over the next year, is we’ll potentially get her to, possibly, write a book for us, or webinars, or some sort of help that we can hand out that’s going to be useful to people, a blueprint for getting this stuff right. So, we’ll keep in touch with Becca for sure.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. It might feel nice. I’m looking at this as a moment. I read an interesting post by Joseph Alexander on the 20Books group, so he’s a friend of the show, he’s been on once or twice, sells a lot of nonfiction books.

Joseph has outsourced a lot of the stuff he doesn’t want to do. And, this isn’t something he’s come up with. But, before he outsourced it, he sat down for a day or two and wrote down everything that he did, everything, every single thing that he did. He noted down what it was and probably how long he spent doing it. And then, he had a good idea of where his time was being spent. And then, he outsourced the things that either he didn’t want to do.

Or for me, I would outsource the things that didn’t make financial sense to me to do. I know roughly how much my time is worth, and I know where I get the most return from writing new books or from course material. You have that kind of creative stuff. That’s where I think I generate most of my value, and I probably don’t get most of my value from email correspondence or admin. It doesn’t make much sense for someone in my position to spend a lot of time doing administration. You can hire people for that.

I’m looking at that this year. Something that I’d like to do, is to hand off some of the stuff that I still do myself. I’d love to hand off Facebook ads, but I haven’t found anybody who I think could do it, without begging myself out too much, can do it better than I can for my books. But, keeping my eyes open.

I don’t think I’m going to find anyone at work who can do that for me. But if someone comes across my radar, and I think I might be interested in trying something with them, who knows? Maybe I’ll try them.

James Blatch: Yeah, this is a separate subject, but that’s an interesting area, the outsourcing of social media ads. I’d keep an eye on this, and I’ve got, there’s people around here who do it, and there’s agencies are 10 a penny that will run campaigns for you.

Mark Dawson: Rubbish.

James Blatch: And they are rubbish. I look at them, and they go on and on about how many impressions they got on a campaign, as if that’s some sort of mark of success. It’s probably just badly targeted. They send it out to everyone.

Mark Dawson: Way, way back, just as we started SPF, I had engaged the campaign to do my social media ads. I won’t name them, but they’re in Chester, so they’re easy to find. And they were terrible, absolutely terrible.

And the problem that they had, was I knew enough, more than enough, I probably knew more than they did about Facebook ads, but I could certainly see that they didn’t know what they’re talking about. And, they were terrible.

I basically nixed that immediately, and I’ve never really tried to find anybody else. But also we’ve got Dipesh, he helps us with SPF. He and his team are excellent.

James Blatch: They are. It gets expensive suddenly. So you get to that few people, we had a conversation this summer, didn’t we, with somebody else who potentially might have helped us, but the opening price points, when you get somebody at that one to one who does know what they’re talking about, even if you maybe weren’t convinced they were going to be good for us, they are normally talking of $10,000 a month, plus.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. And also, my BS detector basically exploded-

James Blatch: It’s wasn’t a good-

Mark Dawson: So, first impression is quite important for me, and he did not have a very good first impression.

James Blatch: No. Well, he didn’t get off the starting blocks with us.

Mark Dawson: He did not.

James Blatch: We’re very happy. We love working with Dipesh Mandalia. He’s been excellent. He’s a bit of a guru himself, and does workshops and books and stuff. So, if you want to seek him out…

Mark Dawson: Yes, he’s great. Yeah. Yep.

James Blatch: Good. Okay, well look, I think that’s it for our second podcast of the new year. We had a meeting this morning. A long list of SPF live stuff is happening in the background. That’s all coming soon. We’ve got a site visit coming up in the next couple of weeks.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. I just got an email from Amazon this morning about that as well. What’s going on Mark? Yeah, give me a couple of days.

James Blatch: It’s all happening now. Time is going to race past. We’re suddenly going to be standing live in front of the audience at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

We should say at this stage of you. First of all, if you haven’t been able to get a ticket, we are going to be releasing another batch of tickets soon, so make sure you get on that wait list if I can remember what it is. It’s, all one word. Get yourself on the wait list. We’re going to be emailing out soon.

Second thing to say is, we will be recording everything, and we are going to package everything up, and probably to cover the costs of the hiring a production company to do all of this, there’ll be a charge, but it’ll be a smallish charge for access to all the sessions at our teachable school, and there’ll be hours of content there. We think that’s probably what’s going to happen.

That’s it. Anything else to say? Did you arrive in the horse box, and parked it in, you probably can’t get into the multi-story there, can you?

Mark Dawson: No, no, I’m going to drive the horsebox. I have driven it in its uninsured state. Don’t tell anybody, but I drove it from the one yard to the house, and then on the 23rd, with the dog running around, two kids who are tired and wanted to get to bed, I had to reverse this enormous horsebox-

James Blatch: Boop. Boop. Boop.

Mark Dawson: …Into our garden, between the two gate posts, through the gates. And it was very tight. It was like inches. But I’m quite surprised I didn’t… Because I’m not the best in the world at reversing enormous vehicles like that. It was pretty close, but we’ve just about managed it.

James Blatch: I’ll leave you to have some reversing fun and become an expert at that, like everything else that you touch.

Thank you very much. We’re running out of time on these tapes. That’s it for this week. We’ve got a few, actually we’ve just scheduled our next few podcasts. We’ve got some good ones coming up, see if I can get one.

Yes, good one next week, which is Johnny Truant. We haven’t had Johnny B. Truant on for a long time. It’s a really good catch up with Johnny and an excellent book that they’ve just come up with, which they’re launching. So you’re going to hear all about that next week.

Until then, though, it only leaves me to say that it’s a goodbye from him…

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye for me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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