SPS-232: Why You Should be Telling Stories in Non-Fiction – with Vicky Fraser
Vicky Fraser teaches business owners the importance of telling their story in book form. But facts are just the beginning. Vicky and James talk about the importance of drawing the reader in, no matter what kind of story you’re telling.
- Building strong habits to support your writing
- Why storytelling matters in non-fiction books
- How a well told story helps people retain information
- When you’re writing non-fiction, what story are you telling?
- The emotional element of readers’ buying choices
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
WRITING CHALLENGE: Vicky has set a writing challenge for SPS listeners. Click here to learn more and join in.
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.
SPS-232: Why You Should be Telling Stories in Non-Fiction - with Vicky Fraser
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Vicky Fraser: The stories are absolutely key. If you want people to retain information, you have to tell stories. You need the facts in there. You can back up your story with facts, but you've got to start with the story, you've got to start with the emotional human connection and you've got to make it real to people because if you don't, they're not going to listen.
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. This is the Self-Publishing Show with James Blatch...
Mark Dawson: And Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Hello, Mark. I'm slightly embarrassed about my hair now. I'm getting to the point where I'm going to have to submit myself to my daughter again.
Mark Dawson: What?
James Blatch: For some terrifying experience with scissors.
Mark Dawson: It sounded bad and then it got worse.
James Blatch: Yeah, but it's only when I look at myself here I realise how bad it is.
Look before we do anything else, lets say hello to some Patreon supporters, people who've gone along to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow and become a part of our show, become part of our family by pledging as little as a dollar an episode, you get a shout out for that, so you get access to the university, you get all sorts of things. You can check out on our Patreon page.
So thank you very much indeed to Val Andrews, Chad Signs and Joseph John. They're our three new Patreon supporters this week. Thank you very much indeed.
We're recording this on Monday the 20 something of-
Mark Dawson: Second.
James Blatch: 22nd of June to go out Friday later this week. We would have closed up Ads for Authors for another year, well, not a year, but probably the rest of this year. And we had a tremendous interest. We coincided some webinars with the opening of the course but also gave an opportunity for people who are either already in the course, or not going to buy the course, but to get some of the knowledge that we're accumulating from Janet Margo and we have Facebook live Q&As and two webinars that have a thousand people in attendance, which is incredible.
Mark Dawson: Not Margo.
James Blatch: Not Margo, I did call Margo once.
Mark Dawson: Yes. I think I've done it before as well. No, it was very popular. It was good. Yeah, I think 8,000 people registered over the two, and some of those were registered for more than one, but fair enough. Plus we did one with Joanna Penn, which was really good, so we knew it'd be busy. And it was, and I'm hearing lots of good things in the community and also outside as well from people who got good value from those two webinars.
James Blatch: I was just saying what a great sign it is for the vibrance and life that's in the self-publishing community at the moment. A thousand people on the webinar. There aren't many industries that produce those kind of figures and our one does.
That's not only because we put on a good webinar, Mark, but because people are ready to learn, want to move forward, and there's a sensing an opportunity. And we've talked about this before, we'll talk about it again, self-publishing is an opportunity.
Mark Dawson: It certainly is. I actually emailed out as we record this, it's not quite the end of the course. So I sent an email out this afternoon just really setting out the fact that although lots of industries suffer during lockdown, publishing doesn't necessarily have to be one. Some parts of publishing certainly are suffering, but I don't think Indies are in that situation.
We've spoken about that before, but I've had three really strong months. Obviously that's great. Now there's lots more important things going on as opposed to just selling books. But if you've got to put the food on the table, it's not a bad position to be in right now for us.
James Blatch: And if you want some black and white facts to back up the point that Mark has made that this is not necessarily a bad time for publishing. You could do worse than to trip over to the PublishDrive Blog. They published a couple actually. I meant to mention them before on the podcast.
They published a couple during the COVID crisis, looking at the effect on publishing and in both cases they found through their own data that there's been an uptake in all sorts of areas. Foreign books sales, international as in non-US book sales of eBooks in particular going up outside the normal territories. And I think a few people have noticed that.
You said to me, Mark, actually a week or so ago start selling in Australia because you'd noticed a little uptake there and things are definitely happening during this period. So that's been good. One other... Go on, you're going to say something?
Mark Dawson: No, just speaking about books. I just got an email just before we came, we started doing this, from my agent saying, "Dear blank, we are a publishing house from North Macedonia. We want to buy a copyright for a book The Dragon and the Ghost from Mark Dawson." I have to say my radar kind of...
This is a terrible segue, and so far a bit of a tangent, but my radar was immediately alerted given that I had a similar approach from, well, hopefully not similar, but I had an approach from a magazine called New Reader Magazine, which I posted into the Facebook group over the weekend offering me the amazing opportunity to spend $10,000 to get guaranteed film made out my book. I think it was that book as well. And so I'm slightly suspicious I suppose. But anyway, they do appear to be Kosher, even though I can't help reading that and not thinking of Borat, which is terrible.
James Blatch: Stereotyping is never not funny.
Look, one more thing just to mention is that you may know that Mark and I have an imprint called Fuse books. We publish at the moment the books of Robert Storey, aptly named. Robert who passed away last year. We're very happy to be publishing his books and bringing them to new authors, and new readers I should say. There is an opportunity actually with this because Robert left extensive notes for the followup books about 80 pages worth actually, and we are now starting the process of looking for a ghost writer to fill that void left by Robert and complete the series.
So we want somebody who obviously is a good writer first and foremost. Secondly, I think writing in genre and the genre is a difficult one to actually narrow down. It's somewhere between action and adventure, and sci-fi, so think of Indiana Jones, maybe with a little bit of a background story that might be slightly out of this world, which actually that is Indiana Jones, isn't it? Because he always had a bit of that going on. But a bit more serious, a bit more politics, like an Indiana Jones.
The books have a very loyal following. I get emails from readers now and many of whom are looking for the follow-up books. So we're just starting the chore, if you want to know any more about that, go to our community Facebook group and you'll find a post from Mark in there. Just drop me an email and we'll start discussions, we'll start looking.
Do we have anything else to mention Mark before we come to this week's interview?
Mark Dawson: No, I don't think we do.
James Blatch: So do you know who Vicky Fraser is?
Mark Dawson: Well done for putting me on the spot? No. Actually, I don't, but then I don't know everybody in our community.
James Blatch: No. I have done it deliberately because the reason that Vicky is on the podcast is because she was very clever in attracting your attention.
Mark Dawson: Oh, right.
James Blatch: Does that ring a bell? She sent you a package.
Mark Dawson: Oh, right. Okay. Yes, that was very clever. Yes, I do remember who it was. Yeah, if it's her. I think it was, she sent me a package of goodies. I think probably to my agent's address. Well, my Kansas address I suspect, including a very nice handwritten note, and some things that might taste quite nice.
Normally I get quite a few people pitching bits and bobs to me like that and normally I don't have time to read them and if I don't know who they are, they go straight into the bin, virtual bin or otherwise. But yeah, this one certainly got my attention because she'd gone to a lot of effort, and it was personalised. She'd thought about what might stop me from binning it and it worked. I'm quite jaded and she managed to get past my defences. So I thought, "Yeah, why not? Let's see what she has to say."
James Blatch: Your level of cynicism. So yes, that's how Vicky got herself onto the podcast. Please don't send us shoe boxes of goodies. That's already been done. You currently have to think of something better next time.
Mark Dawson: Money.
James Blatch: Yes, money. Of course, we're completely corrupt. Actually it was a really valuable and well-worth it doing the interview and that's why it's being broadcast. We don't necessarily broadcast every interview we record.
Vicky works primarily in nonfiction. She is definitely somebody who is enthusiastic about life and about this particular career, making it happen and not just for nonfiction, but for fiction writers as well. I think we're going to glean a lot from realising your dream. Here's Vicky.
Vicky, welcome to The Self Publishing Show. Lovely to have you on there. It's very difficult to start any conversation at the moment without referencing the fact that we are recording this in the middle of the pandemic, while probably, unfortunately not in the middle of the pandemic, but on the up-slope at the moment.
So that's very much in our minds and we'll perhaps have a little chat about business interruption and how people cope with that because I think it might be relevant for some time yet, but our main topic really is about nonfiction books.
And actually funny enough something that came up in an interview I recorded not that long ago, I've been doing a lot of interviews recently, so I can't say who it was, but we talked about the importance of telling a story in nonfiction, as well as it being a fiction thing. And I know this is a big area for you, so I think that's a great place for us to dwell on.
Let's hear a little bit about you, Vicky. Tell us about yourself.
Vicky Fraser: Thank you for having me on the show. This is really exciting. I don't know. Where do you want me to start? I've had quite a varied career. I started off as a scenes of crime officer.
James Blatch: Did you? SOCO?
Vicky Fraser: Yeah.
James Blatch: Brilliant. I used to love those people. They used to turn up in all their white wrap.
Actually, if you still got some of those white suits you used to wear, they're probably quite useful now.
Vicky Fraser: I sadly don't now. It was a long, long time ago. Went from there to marketing for a charity. Didn't know anything about marketing. They taught me a lot. Did a couple of other jobs after the charity, and then got to the immortal words, you can't fire me because I quit.
Found myself in my car, sobbing to my husband really like, "Oh my God, I didn't know what to do now." And then one of the agencies that I had worked with at the, I call it the job from hell, that was the one that I left. One of the agencies gave me a ring and said, "Do you fancy some freelance work?" And that was me off.
I thought, "Well, I've always wanted to run my own business. This is the perfect time. I've always wanted to write for a living." So, yeah. That's what I did. And ever since then, I've been writing for a living and teaching other people how to do it.
James Blatch: And I think you were copywriting in those early days?
Vicky Fraser: Yeah. I started off as a copywriter and very quickly realised I didn't know anything about copywriting, just because you can write doesn't mean that you can sell. Spent a lot of time learning how to sell, how to write persuasively, did a lot of studying and eventually one of my clients asked me to write a book for them and that's how that started. I go, "Okay, I'll have a go at that." And that's what I do now.
James Blatch: Well, let's just dwell on the copywriting. So it was obviously your introduction into it. And then the book.
I used to write short news stories, I used to be a news journalist. I know that bit of it, but I'm always a bit fascinated by copywriters.
Do you sit there and Procter & Gamble contact you and say, "Can you write what goes on the side of our washing up liquid bottle please?" Is it that sort of job?
Vicky Fraser: For some copywriters, yeah. It's that sort of job. There's loads of different types of copywriting actually. There's a lot of people who call content writing copywriting. It can be, I think all writing should have a call to action at the end. So I think all writing should be direct response copywriting one way or another.
But then there's product descriptions, there's social media posts, all sorts of different types of copywriting and it's a fascinating varied career. I've learned an awful lot about a lot of different things doing what I used to do. It can be very cool. It can also be quite stressful, like anything, I guess.
James Blatch: Yeah. When you had deadlines and fussy clients.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah. Clients who think, "Well, I can write, everyone can write. So why do I need to pay a copywriter to do this kind of writing?" Because we're all taught to write at school.
So if people don't understand what the difference is between just writing and writing to sell, it's really psychology, which is why I think it's such a fascinating topic and why all writers, fiction or nonfiction, should know at least the basics of copywriting, because it's about getting into people's heads and figuring out what makes them tick, what makes them want to buy, what makes them want to do anything? And you've got to understand that if you want people to do what you want them to do.
James Blatch: I guess it should lend itself to being a good blurb writer if you've spent a bit of time honing your short sentence, they're getting inside people's heads to write short sales sentences.
Let's move on to the book then. So you got asked by a client to write I guess a long form, but much longer than the copywriting jobs you were doing.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah. The client recycled ink cartridges, printer ink cartridges. And they wanted to produce a piece of marketing collateral to help them stand out from their competitors because nobody else in the market was writing books. Hardly any business owners write books really, and it's a good thing to do.
So they had decided they wanted a book that would help their potential clients and clients decide who to pick to do their recycling. And also why recycling print cartridges was a good idea because certainly back then when I worked for them, there was a lot of misinformation being put about by the likes of Brother and the big printer people about what you could and couldn't use in the printers and a lot of proprietary software, that kind of thing.
And so they just wanted to educate people about how you can be more kind to the environment and save a lot of money and still not compromise on quality for print cartridges I think. So as part of that, we wrote a book and that was the very first one that I wrote.
I look back on it fondly and think, "Gosh, I've come a long way since then." And yeah, it was really good fun. That was the first one I wrote.
James Blatch: Is there a whole book in that subject?
Vicky Fraser: Yeah. You wouldn't think there would be would you? That's the thing, because you don't just talk about the thing itself. It's like I get a lot of people, a lot of business owners say, "Well, how much can I actually write about tyres or mechanics or matches." Or whatever it is that they're selling, but it's not just about that. So they wanted to talk about all of the implications of WEEE, which is the electrical recycling regulations.
James Blatch: Okay.
Vicky Fraser: I can't remember what they all stand for now, it's so long ago. But there was a lot that you can talk about around recycling and the recycling of electrical stuff and the regulations of what businesses could do to help their clients to be more environmentally friendly, to save money, all of that kind of thing. So there was a lot to talk about it. It wasn't just printer cartridges.
But the end result was, "Oh wow. These guys really know what they're talking about. They're good people, they're a good company, they're trying to do something bigger than them, they're the ones that were going to go to for our printer cartridges and to make sure that we can be as green as possible."
James Blatch: So it was in very much the way that we look at nonfiction authors in this area, the book was a lead magnet to get people to get visibility and get them in and onto their main list, et cetera, but also to establish their expertise.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah, it was. And over and above that since then, I've come to realise that, what I want to help business owners do is because there's a lot of books in a box out there. I don't know how much of the nonfiction writing world hold you've seen.
James Blatch: What does books in a box mean?
Vicky Fraser: You can buy a blueprint or a formula to create a book with a template, and I'm not knocking people who do that. It's fine. Go do what you want to do. But I think that books are incredibly important.
I love books, I love them, much like everybody listening to this podcast. The repository of human knowledge, the gateway to a different world and that's just true for nonfiction as it is for fiction in my mind.
I think that yes, there is a lot to be said for creating a book that is a lead magnet and a book that is a big business card. I don't want my client's books to be just a glorified business card. I think they have the potential to be so much more than that. I think a lot of business owners think, "Oh, if I put too much in my book, then nobody's going to find my products." And that's just not true.
You can tell people everything they want to know in the book and they will still come to you for your product because... How many people actually do the thing that you want them to do from a book, they'll read it. The number of times people have read a book of mine and then come back to me and said, "Oh, your book was brilliant. Now how do I do this?" And I'm like, "I told you in my book." But what they want is for someone to help them do it or for someone to do it for them.
James Blatch: Okay. Now you talked in your notes before the interview about habits. And I'd imagine at the moment with the disruption to people's lives, they are thinking about how to be in the habit of writing and so on.
Tell me your theory on writing habits.
Vicky Fraser: Make it as easy as possible. This is one of my theories. I'm a massive fan of James Clear. I don't know if you heard of James Clear, he wrote Atomic Habits?
James Blatch: Okay.
Vicky Fraser: So that's my book recommendation for absolutely everybody listening to this podcast. Is read Atomic Habits by James Clear. It's brilliant.
One of the key things that I took away from his book was make it really, really easy to write, basically, take away the friction. So I can give you an example, not from the writing world. I'm learning to play the guitar, I play very, very badly. And I didn't practise enough. And I was like, "Why am I so bad?" It's like, "Because you don't practise."
As soon as I brought the guitar into my office, instead of into the house, it became a little bit easier. And then when I took it out of its case and put it on a guitar stand, so now I'm looking at it right now. And it's glaring at me and it's saying, "Pick me up and play me." It's much easier for me to do that than it is for me to walk to the house, take it out, and start playing it to and figure it out.
You can do exactly the same with writing. So if you know that you're going to be writing your book say for a couple of hours in the morning, then get everything set up the night before, get your mug ready with everything you need so that you can walk into your writing space with your mug, with your notes ready.
If you want to be writing, don't be having to do a load of research just before you want to start writing. Have it all done the night before, have research time that is separate from writing time. Have your equipment all ready, make sure that you're not going to be interrupted, put your phone on silent and preferably in a different room.
That was one of my most important changes was to not have my phone in the same room with me because even when it's switched off, it calls to me.
There's so many things that you can do with habits, but I think the thing that I would say is just make it as easy as possible and make it fun as well. So if you're thinking, "Oh, I've got to do something, I'm not really looking forward to it very much." Ease into it with something that you are going to enjoy writing about.
So if you've got a scene to write, whether you're writing fiction or nonfiction, if you've got a scene or a chapter or a piece to write that you're thinking, "Oh, this is going to be a bit difficult." Start off with the fun bit instead and then ease into the bit that's not so fun because, I find that once you start writing, if you can get into the groove, you don't want to stop. It's like getting started. It's that first couple of minutes. I'm sure you've found the same thing.
James Blatch: Definitely. And I think that's all good advice and it is easy, I think particularly, and I'm probably representative of people who have a full-time job and write. It sounds a bit weird, but although I work for myself, I basically do lots of other things and writing is on the back burner. It is easy for it to be another chore on your list.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah.
James Blatch: And that's not the right way to write either type of book, but particularly I think probably and a fiction book is there to entertain people. Is not to see it as a chore on your day, but to try and as you say, find the bits that you enjoy.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah. And it's not always going to be fun. I'm not saying that it is always going to be fun. Sometimes you're just going to be like, "Oh, this is just rubbish." And there's not much you can do about that. But yeah, certainly for people who are running a business as well.
And like you said, we're going through weird times at the moment. There has literally never been a better time to write a book of any kind. But if you are also running a business, and you really want to write a book, you have to carve time out for it. Don't think that you're going to fit in as in when, because I've never found that to be a successful way to write a business book certainly. It's like carve out that time and treat it as if you would treat your most important client.
So if this is important to you, and it should be, if you're going to do it and it can be, writing books has changed my business, it's changed my client's businesses, it can change your business too, then make it important. Make sure that you know it's important. Treat it as if it's a client, book into your calendar and don't allow anything to eat into that time.
James Blatch: Good advice. Let's talk about this narrative in a nonfiction book. Now I do think that perhaps outside of our world and maybe all the fiction writers, a lot of fiction writers would be in this group, don't really think of nonfiction books as being storybooks.
I think of them as being maybe encyclopaedias or manuals or something like that. But the more I think about this, and I think these are the examples I came up with in the chat the other day about. The more I think about some of those amazing nonfiction books I've read. The key ingredient was they told stories.
Vicky Fraser: Yes.
James Blatch: They were political biographies, which I quite like. Historic biographies, Dava Sobel, who wrote a fantastic book on longitude, on the discovery of Harrison who made the watch. Now, that's a story about a Yorkshire man building watches and being ignored by London, which could be written in all sorts of ways.
But it was basically like reading a novel and that's the best nonfiction books, right?
Vicky Fraser: Yeah, absolutely. That, by the way is one of my favourite books ever.
James Blatch: Is it?
Vicky Fraser: I've read it so many times. Longitude, yeah.
James Blatch: It's a brilliant book. It's a great example of this being done well. My other one example is Claire Tomalin's Samuel Pepys, the Pepys biography, which I think is absolutely on a par with Dava Sobel, if you get a chance to read that one.
Vicky Fraser: That is going on my list, I've not read that. But yeah, you're absolutely right. There is no excuse for nonfiction book to be boring and too many of them are. And this goes for textbooks as well.
I've heard people give advice, "If you're writing a textbook, then it's going to be a bit academic." And actually I would argue that is equally, if not more important for textbooks to be really interesting as well, and to be enjoyable and the way we learn is through stories.
We're told right from the moment we're born, our parents are telling us stories about what the world is like. We are hearing stories about what the world is like. We are taught to help interact with other people through story. We're taught about what's socially acceptable and what isn't socially acceptable because of stories because of fairytales.
Fairytales were cautionary tales, that's what they were originally. They were put there to warn us not to, I don't know, not to talk to old grandmothers.
James Blatch: And strange men with pipes and that sort of thing.
Vicky Fraser: If actually, you go back and read the original fairytales, they're quite brutal. They were quite scary then.
James Blatch: Yes. Oh, yeah, they're sinister.
Vicky Fraser: Really sinister, yeah.
Stories are absolutely key. If you want people to retain information, you have to tell stories. You have to because if you're just giving facts. There's an old saying in sales, facts tell, stories sell. Absolutely true. You need the facts in there. You can back up your story with facts, but you've got to start with the story, you've got to start with emotional human connection and you've got to make it real to people because if you don't, they're not going to listen.
James Blatch: I can certainly tell the difference. I read too much nonfiction. I was supposed to be reading fiction novels all the time because I'm trying to write one, but I get drawn to nonfiction a lot.
I can tell straight away particularly the areas I'm interested like the Apollo project, the space programme. Books that are full of facts and literal descriptions of what happened and the books that tell the story, they're starkly different. And the first method makes it entirely forgettable, unless maybe you're a certain type of mind that just retains facts. But for everybody else, which is the vast majority of people, it is that story that gets it home to you.
There's a moment in the Titanic film, isn't there where they signed over. I know it's a bit of a divided of the Titanic film, but I liked it like a lot of people did most of the world where he says, "Oh-"
Vicky Fraser: I have a confession to make.
James Blatch: Go ahead.
Vicky Fraser: I've never seen Titanic.
James Blatch: Okay. Well, I can tell you, you must be one of the four people on the planet who's never seen it.
Vicky Fraser: I know.
James Blatch: But there's a moment in that way everybody knows the Titanic story. But this old woman on the boat tells them her story from that night and at the end of it all in tears. And they say, "They got it. For the first time they understood what happened." So you can know everything you want to know about an event. And I would also say I'm rambling now.
But one more is the first time I visited Auschwitz, you think you know everything about the Holocaust. And then when you stand there and someone tells you and takes you through how it works there, you put headphones when you go through, you suddenly get it and it's incredibly powerful. And that is storytelling.
That's why just telling people the facts doesn't work.
Vicky Fraser: Exactly. You've got to put faces and people, real human faces because what you said about Auschwitz. I haven't been Auschwitz, but I have been to the French village that got destroyed in the war, I don't remember the name of it now. It was a couple of years ago. And it was like you said, it was chilling.
You could walk around and have a look at the houses and the state of everything and imagine what the people were going through at the time. And then when we walked out, we walked out along this tunnel and they're trying to gather all of the photographs because they've got the names of every single villager who was murdered and they're trying to gather the photographs. And it was when we walked out, that was when I pretty much felt a bit flashed. That was when you had the faces together with the names and some of the story. And yeah. So that's why it's so powerful.
James Blatch: We're storytellers, right? Humans are storytellers. That's how we communicate.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah, absolutely.
James Blatch: And the bits of science you remember from school was when the teacher cleverly told you a story that reinforced something in science or geography or whatever it is those little bits you remember.
So I guess one of the challenges for somebody writing a nonfiction book is to work out what the story it is that they're telling.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah. I get that question a lot and the answer is actually really, really simple. Go talk to your clients, go and talk to your clients, ask them why they found you. In fact, I have a series of questions that I get people to go through. They're testimonial questions and I can run through them now, if you want.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Vicky Fraser: I find they're helpful thing is to answer. But you start with, what pushed you to look for the product that I sell? What was it? What problem did you have? You get that part of the story. That's great. Did anything make you hesitate before buying? Did you have any objections, any worries about it? What did you find once you'd bought the product? What happened for you? Could you tell me your top favourite thing about it, or the top most useful thing about it? Could you tell me three more things about it? Would you recommend it to someone else? Is there anything else you'd like to add?
And they have to ask in that order because that's how you draw the story out with people and it takes them right from the problem that they're having, right in the beginning of the problem that they're having, the pain that they were feeling, which is what we're really after and the problems that it would cause if you didn't fix it with whatever product you're selling. All the way through to, okay, so why might you want to not buy this? Maybe you do think it's too expensive? Maybe you think you're not going to have time. Time is a big one for writing a book for businesses. It's like, "Maybe I haven't got time."
And then, "Okay, so you've got my products. What was your favourite thing about it?" And that pulls out a whole different story. And then the top three other things it's like, "Oh, okay. Maybe there were a few other things as well." And that pulls out some stuff that you might not otherwise have known because people's reasons for buying are not always what you think they are.
And then would you recommend? Why? That pulls out more reasons. Because when people think of recommending things, they think about them in a little bit of a different way from just the benefits of them.
And then the anything else is super important because as any doctor will tell you, it's that moment just before a patient leaves the doctor's office, they say, "Oh, just one other thing." And that's when the real problem comes out. And it's the same with that last question is super important because 90% of the time people will say, "Oh no, I think I've covered everything except for this major revelation." And it's really useful information. So that's how you pull a story out of your clients and that's your starting point.
James Blatch: Do you find that clients are receptive to a narrative story-led version of the book rather than them expecting, well, chapter one should be on the production method, and chapter two should be on our past clients, et cetera?
Vicky Fraser: By the time they get to that stage with me, they're totally receptive because I beat into them from a long way out. Occasionally, I do talk to business owners who are sceptical about it and that's understandable, especially if they're in a more engineering, sciency type area where traditionally storytelling isn't used as much as it could be. But it just takes a bit of education, a few conversations. I ask them how they ended up buying a certain something, how they live their lives.
And once you relate the way somebody lives their life to the way you want to write a story about them, they get it. It's like, "Oh, okay. So yeah, maybe I didn't quite buy that car or that thing just because it gets me from A to B. Actually, I really like the Jaguar brand." Or whatever other brands are available, whatever brand it is that you want to buy. It's not really about getting from A to B, it's about how does this reflect what kind of a person I am.
James Blatch: And I guess they need to understand that the reason people make buying choices is not because it's got a 4.2 litre engine or it's got a great MPG or they do a nice colour.
It is something emotional, usually isn't it?
Vicky Fraser: Yeah. A hundred percent. Absolutely. The stats, the engine size and the pink colour and all the rest of it, that is what you justify it to yourself with afterwards, because the way our brains work, the way we think about things, the way we make decisions, decision making is made on an emotional basis.
It's like, "Oh, I really want this thing." Or, "I really need this thing." And afterwards our brains will retro justify it almost. It's like, "Oh, I chose it because of X, Y, Z." But it's like, "No, you chose it because you know a Jaguar is going to make you look swish." If you're being totally honest about it.
James Blatch: Yeah. In a well run company, I'm sure Jaguar, Land Rover by the way are very well run company. A lot of this feeds back into the product. I mentioned the 4.2 litre engine, and the green colour, but a lot of these things that they offer with the product completely blend into the brand, the value, the emotional. So they don't do something that would be against brand.
The product itself is informed by people's emotional understanding of it.
Vicky Fraser: Absolutely. And it's a whole experience. Like you say, it's not just the product, it's the whole experience of it. When you go and buy a top range Aston Martin or a top range Jag, you expect to get a glass of bubbles or something when you arrive, you expect to be treated really nicely. I'm a Land Rover girl myself, if I was going to go and buy a Land Rover, you expect everything to be a bit grubby. You're like, "Oh, you're all right, mate." That kind of thing.
James Blatch: Mug of tea.
Vicky Fraser: Mug of builder's tea, that kind of thing. And I expect my Land Rover to be able to drag a sheep shelter up the road and all the rest of it. So there's a totally different experience for each type of client. And you wouldn't mix that. You would never talked to a Jaguar client about, "Oh yeah. You come wack your sheep shelter from the top and drive up the road." Because they ain't going to do that.
James Blatch: Yeah. Fascinating. You're talking a little bit about commissions from companies and how you started. A lot of people who listen to this who have a nonfiction business, so they offer online courses or coaching or something, and this is an important part of it. And I think that a lot of people probably are just thinking it's a glorified business card, or I've got to do the book at some point.
You're elevating this to something that potentially is of great value in its own, right? Potentially commercial value in its own, right?
Vicky Fraser: Yeah. I always say to my clients, don't expect to make a bazillion quid off the book itself because that's not the point, it's the backend. So in that sense, it is a lead magnet and it is important for... I don't have business cards, I give people a copy of my book instead. So quite often I will give it away for free.
The people who do the template book things, good for them. I'm not knocking what they do. I think books are better than that, and I think business owners are better than that. I think they can be more than just the lead magnet, more than just the glorified business card. I think they can genuinely change people's lives.
I'll go back to James Clear's book again. That book has materially changed my life. My life is better for having read it and applied the stuff that he talks about in it. I've had people tell me the same thing and I've had people reduce me to tears because they've said that they've read stuff that I've written, and I'm sure that loads of people listening to this podcast have whether they're fiction, or nonfiction writers, because fiction writers have the same effects.
And so I think that a book should be more than that. I think we are better than that. I think we can do more with a book than just a glorified business card. I was told a long time ago that don't expect people to read your book, it's a lead magnet, it's a business card. And I remember thinking at the time, "I'm better than that. I want to write something that's going to make a real difference in people's lives. I want to write something that they are going to read and act on and their lives will be measurably better for it afterwards."
And that's always been my measure of, I don't know, quality I guess, with everything that I write for myself. And for my clients and everything that I teach people to write as well. I think that we have the power to make a real difference in people's lives. And certainly, there's been no more important time to do that than now.
James Blatch: And you don't think people should be afraid of pouring everything they know into a book.
Vicky Fraser: No, not at all.
James Blatch: Particularly if they're doing their one-to-one coaching or they've got an online course, they are going to have that fear that they're giving too much away.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah. And it's totally understandable, and it comes from that fear mindset. It comes from that scarcity mindset that there isn't enough to go around. And there is, even at times like this, there is more than enough to go around. The pie is plenty big enough for everybody.
James Blatch: The pies have sold out unfortunately, but yeah, we've got panic pieing at the moment but hopefully the idiots will stop doing that soon.
Vicky Fraser: I don't know. I'm vegetarian. I was down the vegan aisle the other day, and there's loads of vegan food.
James Blatch: I think we'll all be vegan by the end of this week.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah, there is enough for everybody. There was always a tiny, tiny proportion of people who are going to read a book, act on it, do everything, and get massive results. And that's great. But that proportion of people is tiny.
Everybody else is going to read the book and think, "That sounds fantastic. I need more help to do that." And so they will then go and a proportion of them will buy your course, your online course that you've got, or they will get in touch with you for coaching. And an even smaller proportion will get in touch and say, "Can you do it all for me?" And they'll top dollar for that.
It's just a great way to get into people's worlds. It will do all of that heavy lifting for you. You don't have to market your business, you just market the book and the book does the marketing for you because if you think about where you read books, I read books in the bath. You've got no clothes on, you're in the bath, and it's like, "Oh, it doesn't get much more intimate than that."
So that hearing your voice in their head, especially if you do a podcast or something, especially if you have an audio book, they're getting to know you, they're getting all of this fabulous information. They are getting to trust you, and like you. I have people talk to me about stuff that I've revealed in books and things. I'm like, "I don't know you."
James Blatch: It's quite intimate.
Vicky Fraser: I bet you get that all the time. You must get that all the time.
James Blatch: I get a little bit of that, yeah. I forget how many little asides I say about things in my life that people remember, but that's fine. It's fine.
Vicky Fraser: It is, and it's delightful. But yeah, that's the kind of relationship that a book allows you to build with your potential clients. And so by the time they've finished your book, they know. They either hate you, which is fine because you're not going to be for everybody or they love you and they want everything that you can offer them. They want all the help that you can give them.
James Blatch: Is this a good time to be a nonfiction writer?
Vicky Fraser: I think so. Yeah. Absolutely. I don't know when this is going out but, I'm not going to sit here and say you should do anything because I think there are way too many shoulds being thrown around at the moment. Take a moment, breathe, see what's going to happen.
But wouldn't it be fantastic if you're a business owner to come out of this with a book written by the end of it, that you can get working for you straight away. The only thing left to do by the time all this has done is to get on your course, get the ads, which is brilliant by the way.
James Blatch: Thank you very much.
Vicky Fraser: You're welcome. Get the ads working, get the background stuff set up and you've got a book that's ready to work for you, that people are going to be crying out for because when everything kicks back up again, people are going to be crying out for help.
People wander around. We all want to be told what to do, especially in times like this, we all want to be told what to do. We want help and advice, and so if you can write a book that's going to help people make their lives and their businesses better, then for goodness sake, go and write it. Because we need it.
James Blatch: Is there a business type for whom the book is not something they should be thinking about or should everybody who happens to be listening to this podcast, maybe their partner runs a dumper truck business or something like that.
Is there a business that won't benefit from this, or can every business find a way?
Vicky Fraser: I have never come across a business that wouldn't benefit from it. I never have. Builders can write about how to do basic DIY stuff for a start because there's all sorts of things that you can do at home to prepare for the builders. We're renovating a 17th century cottage at the moment.
James Blatch: Nice.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah, it's draughty. It's awesome. But there's all sorts of stuff that we have been reading about and learning about, but then we're still getting the experts in to do the stuff that might actually kill us. So there's all of that sort of stuff.
There's how tos. How to drive a dumper track even, if there are people that are going to be interested in that. Or how I set up my business, or how I run my business is a really good one. "This is the way that builders should work." Or, here's a good one. If you are in an industry where there are pet hates, state agents, solicitors, builders.
James Blatch: Lawyers.
Vicky Fraser: Lawyers, yeah. Everybody knows the pet hates, write a book about that. Write a book about why people hate it and how you can avoid working with somebody who's really going to do your head in and the roundabout story is why you're the one to choose. You don't have to say that in so many words, but by the time they've got to the end of your book, you're left thinking, "Oh, this guy knows exactly what I find so frustrating about your industry. And so I'm going to want to go talk to him about whatever it is that he offers."
James Blatch: How not to hate lawyers.
Vicky Fraser: How not to hate lawyers.
James Blatch: It's probably a good book title, isn't it? For a good lawyer to write somewhere. Yeah, so we have a little writing challenge. Actually I have to make up a URL on the spot now, so we'll call it selfpublishingformula.com/29day. 29 day, 2-9-D-A-Y.
Tell us what the 29 day writing challenge is.
Vicky Fraser: Sure. The idea is to build a writing habit for people who aren't necessarily used to writing every day, which is most business owners. And I wanted to come up with something that people would find interesting, fun, challenging. It has to be a challenge.
I wanted them also by the time they'd finish, not just to have a shallow bunch of words that could be used for anything. I wanted them to have something that they can actually use. So a bunch of the emails, some of the emails are talking about personal stuff, some of the emails are talking about business stuff, some of the emails and talking about writing stuff, but ultimately I wanted by the time they'd finished it to have, A, built up a habit of writing every day even if only a couple of hundred words.
B, to really think about why they do what they do, what they're offering to people, how they really help people. And C, have some really useful writing that they could possibly use to start writing their books.
So the idea isn't to start writing a book during the challenges is to get used to writing, but also to get used to... I think probably the main thing I wanted to get people okay with was having the confidence to be really honest about stuff. Because I think when a lot of people, a lot of business owners, a lot of nonfiction writers, when they sit down to write, they get scared. And they because we used to, you have to be professional and all the rest of it.
And actually, I don't want to use the word authenticity because it's massively overused, but I'm going to anyway. If you want to sound like a real person, you're going to have to put some of your heart and soul and all of that stuff into it. You don't have to air all your dirty laundry, and you absolutely shouldn't, but there's a lot to be said for being honest about your struggles, about the things you love, about the things you hate, about the things you find really, really difficult. So that's what I wanted to do with that challenge.
So far all the people who have done it, even though they found it uncomfortable in places, I think they've loved it. And I found it really useful.
James Blatch: Particularly useful for people starting out, trying to find that writing habit or find that the writing habit is a bit of block for them because it's not there and they're not getting as much done as they want to do this challenge and emerge from that. Yeah. So self-publish, that's brilliant. So selfpublishingformula.com/29day, 2-9 day. Good.
I've got one more story to tell. I know I don't normally go on and on these interviews, but this is a bit of a pet subject of mine because I was previously a reporter for a long time when I left that I did marketing broadcast PR that sort of thing for a bit. Didn't particularly like apps so I worked for agencies. I think I had similar experience probably the same company as you did.
But I ended up doing a lot of stuff for a very large German chemical strike pharmaceutical company. We did a lot of stuff in Africa and they were, I'm not going to name the company because they were difficult people to deal with. I hated dealing with them really.
They were locked in their ways, they were generally quite an old male company, and it was very difficult to find people receptive to anything that we were doing that we knew would grab people's attention and so on. And I had to give a presentation before to them in Germany, not in German, thank goodness.
I thought long and hard about this, trying to explain to them why storytelling, that finding people whose lives have been affected by their products was the way that we should be going forward because what they wanted effectively with product descriptions and so on. So that usual thing.
So this is what I came up with and I was quite pleased with it. At the very beginning of the talk, I showed a picture of this guy and I said, "Have you heard of Ignaz Semmelweis?" Now he is not very well known, but he's the guy who discovered, and this is incredibly prescient that you should wash your hands. He's the guy who discovered you should wash your hands.
I said, "He's a really interesting guy." And then I left it. Did the talk, presentation on why stories can't, and I said to someone in the front row, "What was the name of that guy?" And of course they couldn't remember the name of it. I said, "Well, let me tell you a story."
So I then told the story of Ignaz Semmelweis who worked in Vienna hospital in the 17th, 18th century around then. And at the back of this hospital, you can go there today actually the Vienna hospital, it's like a big teaching hospital, bit like Addenbrooke's near Cambridge University College, London. At the back of it, there were two big Victorian buildings or 17th century buildings.
They were the old maternity hospitals and they had two of them because they used to alternate them for days of the week. So on Monday, it'd be this hospital, Tuesday, that hospital. So if you turned up to be admitted to have a baby in the 19th century there, you'd went into that one on Monday, that one on Tuesday, and I think one of them did two days a week. So it was always the same.
Now, the strange thing was that the women of Vienna knew long before the doctors in the hospital knew that if you went into the Monday, Wednesday and Friday hospital, you might not come out alive. But if you went into the other hospital, your chances of living were much higher. To the point where you'd have heavily pregnant women crossing their legs and hiding in bushes at midnight desperately trying not to have a baby, to go into the hospital where people lived.
Semmelweis worked at the hospital doing something else. And he became absolutely obsessed with this. He wanted to know why it was and he checked everything. He checked the staff, he checked the routines, the procedures, he couldn't crack it. He could not work out what it was.
And then one morning he was sat there having almost given up on this task, working out why the death rate was so much higher in one of them, and he watched the junior doctors and they came out of one of the hospitals, they disappeared around the corner, they came back and they went into the other hospital.
He had already spoken to all the junior doctors, and he knew that they went to both hospitals, and they did exactly the same in both hospitals. And they moved the staff between them as well. So he again was puzzled.
But then he went around the corner to see where the junior doctors had gone, and he found they'd gone to the morgue. And in the morgue, they had examined the women who died the day before, and they always did this. They always went from that hospital, to the morgue, and then from the morgue, to the other hospital. In that moment he worked out they took something on their hands.
Now it sounds weird to us, especially now, but until that point, they didn't really know about bacteria. They didn't know about germs or viruses. And certainly they had an old bloody cloth on the door, which they gave a cursory wipe to as they came out and that was that. He'd worked out and he effectively invented soap as well, because he found a way of using carbolic on your hands, transformed it.
If you go to the Vienna hospital, if you're ever in Vienna visit the hospital, there's a nice McDonald's in there. You can go to the hospital, go to the back of it, you'll see those two buildings and in the middle of them is a statue of Ignaz Semmelweis.
Now, when you tell that story and they called him the saviour of the women of Vienna, nobody forgets his name. But if you just say this guy invented hand hygiene, it's been and gone. So I think by the end of the talk, so I was quite pleased with myself. I rambled on a bit, quite feel it was good to try and really demonstrate to people why we tell stories.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah. It was a great story though.
James Blatch: So I'm going to finish off the interview with me basically being interviewed by you. So I hijacked you a little bit. Okay-
Vicky Fraser: No, that's cool.
James Blatch: Thank you so much, indeed Vicky. I think the writing challenge is going to be something that a lot of us will benefit from and a lot of people... Everyone keeps talking about having time on their hands at the moment because we're all confined to home. I've never been busier and we're suddenly were having to make changes to the-
Vicky Fraser: Same here.
James Blatch: Yeah, changes to the company. You have to think about the future. We've got employees and lots of extra things happening in the middle of a crisis. But I guess there are people who have a 9:00 to 5:00 job may even be furloughed or worst case scenario being laid off from that, and suddenly they do have time.
This is exactly the sort of thing that would work well for them at the moment.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah, I think so. Maybe this is an opportunity for them to think about starting up something new, which is again, writing a... That was one thing I found writing a nonfiction book helps you to think and figure out things. If you're thinking maybe start something new, maybe I need to change my business from what I'm doing now. Then a book is a really good way to get clarity on that.
James Blatch: And you have a book I think that goes along with what you were talking about?
Vicky Fraser: I do. Can I wave it in the camera?
James Blatch: You can wave it in the camera and give it a big plug because that's why you're here.
Vicky Fraser: Thank you.
James Blatch: In fact, I have it. Of course, I have it. I haven't read it yet.
Vicky Fraser: You do, because I sent you a box goodies didn't I?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Vicky Fraser: How the Hell Do You Write a Book? Which I came up with that cover title, I spent a... I don't know what to call it? And that was what people say to me. Well, how the hell do you write a book. So I was like, "Oh, perfect. There you go."
James Blatch: Vicky, the other thing is, I've just worked out who you are because the reason you're on here is because you sent a little package of goodies to us. Now I'm going to put a health warning out here straight away and say, "Please don't send us packages of goodies." But you got it spot on. Your package arrived, I have to say the chocolates got nixed by Lucy Dawson. I never saw them.
Vicky Fraser: That's beautiful.
James Blatch: But I do have a nice pair of socks and a card, and a message basically pitching for you to be on the podcast and let you tell your story.
Now, the reason I mention it is because this is also part of how you should be promoting yourself if you're going to get things right. Not to do this again, because this has been done by Vicky now, but to think of making that human connection between people.
Vicky Fraser: Yeah. I've got say Mark made my day on the boat because I introduced myself and he was like, "You! You're good." And I was just like, "Yay."
James Blatch: He was impressed as well. And you started your note to us by saying, "This is not ricin." Which is the sort of reassurance you want. But then I thought, "She would say that even if there was ricin."
Vicky Fraser: I remembered you getting a parcel from, was it Stuart, I think? And you were like, "Oh, I don't know, maybe it's ricin."
James Blatch: Maybe it's ricin.
Vicky Fraser: And so I thought I'd reassure you before.
James Blatch: That's brilliant Vicky. Thank you so much indeed for putting your head up above the parapets and grabbing our attention, which is quite difficult at the moment because you can imagine me to get quite a lot of pitches to be on the show.
Vicky Fraser: Well, thank you for grabbing me by the head and pulling me all the way over the parapet. I'm really, really grateful.
James Blatch: It's been great. It's been really useful. And I think we've reinforced something which is really important for all of us, which is the storytelling is how humans operate. So people who write books are never going to go out of business.
Vicky Fraser: Never.
James Blatch: Ultimately we're always going to be reading and telling stories. Vicky, thank you so much indeed. I'm going to say stay safe and I hope you have a good and reasonable crisis as we're all going through at the moment, and we'll talk to you again, on the other side of it.
Vicky Fraser: Thank you so much.
James Blatch: Okay. There's Vicky Fraser. We talked a wide ranging interview. We talked a lot about good nonfiction books tell stories in the same way that fiction books do, which I think is something easier said than done. I read a lot of nonfiction. I read quite a lot of military history because I'm geeky like that and the ones who get it right, their books, you can see, they are the books that just break through those of us who are interested in the space shuttle or the cold war or something.
They are more widely read than that, and they are charting well. And the ones who simply tell the nuts and bolts of something and there's quite a few authors like that around. They appeal to me and a couple of my friends. And then that's it.
There's a big difference with a nonfiction book of capturing something and going beyond your immediate audience. I think that's hard with nonfiction. But when it works, it's suddenly becomes books that a wide range of audience read.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. There's plenty of very well known examples of what you call narrative nonfiction. In Cold Blood, probably the first one certainly Truman Capote's book from whenever it was '40s or '50s would be one of those books. I'm reading at the moment a couple of books on the Chernobyl disaster that are very focused on characters, which is telling the story through the experiences of a couple of the players in the story. And they work really well. They're very compelling as audio books or as normal books. So yeah, it's really good technique. Story works for everything.
James Blatch: Yeah. Like I say, if you get it right, I mean The Perfect Storm is another example was that Dava Sobel? I can't remember who wrote Perfect Storm. I should remember. Maybe it was Dava Sobel or maybe she wrote the one about the Harrison's watch, Longitude I think that was Dava Sobel. So that's another one so Longitude. So there's the story of a watchmaker, which really whose that appealing to? Not that many people. And yet I read it, I don't know if you read it but I know lots of people who did read it. It's very well read book.
Claire Tomalin writes fantastic biographies. I think she's definitely done Samuel Pepys, may have done Jane Austen as well and turns them into stories, grouping stories, page turning stories. So the same techniques we talk about in fiction which I think maybe some nonfiction authors think, "Well, this doesn't really apply to me this bit about character development." It really does. It's just a slightly different framework in which they're operating. But anyway, I thought it was interesting.
Mark Dawson: Good. Well done. Pleased to hear it.
James Blatch: Good. Well, that was Vicky. Well done, Vicky for getting onto The Self Publishing Show. We've got a few interviews that I've been quite busy in the background recording some interviews, and we are going to be talking about a service, it's called Prestozon.
I've recorded an interview this week with the guys behind that and that's coming up. So it sits on top of your Amazon ads account and helps you manage it and run it. And you and I both trialling it at the moment and running with it. And I did say to Dirk, who I did the interview with, that I found quite quickly that I probably, even if I don't use the automation, the stuff under the bonnet with Prestozon, this'll probably be the way that I manage my account from now on because it became a very clear way of looking at your campaigns and organising it and making some broad sweeping changes when you need to make that.
Underneath that there's a layer of automation, which is actually quite powerful and excited but I'm also slightly timid about that at the moment.
Have you started using the automation?
Mark Dawson: Yeah, now and again, some of the accounts. Remember, I've got about six different accounts, so some of them are being automated at the moment. Because you can look at the suggestions and then decide whether to implement them.
But when you've got big accounts like me, it was firing back six or 7,000 suggestions and you can only do a hundred at a time. So it was taking quite a long time to go through them, but you can automate it. It's interesting software and it does make a lot of things easier looking at all of your search terms across all of your campaigns, rather than going into a campaign and pulling one piece of data back. So it compiles things very nicely even though that probably is worth the cost of running it just by itself in terms of how long that saves me from doing those things.
James Blatch: Yeah. And we will have an offer for people listening to The Self Publishing Show on that to get a trial period. So I guess we should do that interview next week because we've been talking about it as a little preview here.
Mark Dawson: Well, I mean, that also depends on whether we have the course ready to go. So we hopefully will. It's called Ads Automation for Authors, which is part of the Ads for Authors course. So that will be added free to everyone's accounts when it's ready. And we think we'll have that ready by the end of the week. Don't we James?
James Blatch: We do. Yes. That's my job for tomorrow to do editing. We've got waiting for one more video in from Kevin who's been doing those.
Good, right, that's it Mark. I will let you go back to your, whatever you do during the day. And I'm going to wood stain my planter this evening. That's my job for tonight. It's the life I lead.
Mark Dawson: Rock and roll.
James Blatch: Good. Thank you very much. All that is left for me to say is that it's a goodbye from him...
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Speaker 1: Get show notes. The podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at selfpublishingshow.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at selfpublishingshow.com/Facebook. Support the show at patreon.com/selfpublishingshow and join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful Indie author. Publishing is changing, so get your words into the world and join the revolution with The Self Publishing Show.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Grab Your SPF Freebies!
Sign up to receive your SPF starter package, which includes a free 3 part video series on getting started with FB ads, and inspirational and educational weekly emails.