SPS-235: Collaboration for Authors: Writing in Someone Else’s World – with Daniel Willcocks
Author collaboration can take many forms. Today’s guest, Daniel Willcocks, has been a part of several different kinds of collaborations including writing in others’ worlds and writing in partnership with a friend. His new book Collaboration for Authors shares what you’ll need to successfully write with another author.
- The genres that ‘dark fiction’ encompasses
- Using a podcast as a marketing funnel for fiction
- On the tropes and structure of horror stories
- The value of hope in storytelling
- On the promotional and advertising system Daniel uses
- Working with Michael Anderle in his story universe
- How the financial side of collaboration works
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-235: Collaboration for Authors: Writing in Someone Else’s World - with Daniel Willcocks
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show...
Daniel Wilcocks: If you can set up an agreement together and say, okay this is where we're going forward and both feel good about it, you've immediately maximised your chances of actually making sure the collaboration is a success. And even if it's not and you find out a few weeks, months down the line that it's not, you gave it your best chance and what you might have learned is that collaboration isn't necessarily for you.
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 it's the Self-Publishing Show with James Blatch...
Mark Dawson: And Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Wow that was a pause for effect there. Mark, you sounded a little bit sluggish there.
You must be on cloud nine because you have reached, not nine, but number eight I think in the Sunday Times bestseller list in the UK, which is the equivalent of the New York Times bestseller list or I guess roughly the equivalent. It's a very high profile list of the best-selling books, even though as our discussion last week, isn't necessarily reflective of the books people are buying. Nonetheless, that's how it works and what a thrill was that to see your name in lights.
Mark Dawson: Yeah it was pretty cool. So we had as we mentioned on the podcast last week this time, well we're recording this on Monday before the Friday that this goes out. But end of last week we were just trying to figure out ways to get books, non-UK readers to have bought them and that occasioned me going down to the local bookshop and ordering 400 copies of my own hardback for the sum of 3,600 pounds. So that was quite entertaining.
Since then and actually on Saturday I loaded the car up with about 35 boxes of books and very carefully drove the car home again. They are all in the galleries now waiting to be sent out.
So that's going to be the operation for next week. But yeah we found out on the Tuesday. So just a week ago that we'd made the list, which was the main objective and we sold I think something like 1,750 copies, something like that. So actually five copies off number seven. Not that it matters, just top 10 it doesn't matter if we were number two or number 10.
We can now say Sunday's Times top 10 bestseller which was the whole objective of the exercise. So yeah pretty pleased about that. It was touch and go because we weren't sure whether those sales would all count and it turns out that they did. So, we're very pleased to have managed to hit that list. That was the goal.
James Blatch: Excellent. Well that's really good news, well done.
Have you noticed the knock on with sales on Amazon of e-book?
Mark Dawson: No, not really. I mean it's not especially. Actually have taken my eyes off the KDP reports over the last three or four days just because I've been so busy on other stuff there's not that much that I'm doing at the moment to stimulate sales. I'm quite busy finishing another book off. So I've been doing that. So no I haven't.
I think I would have noticed if I had any effect and I haven't seen anything. On the other hand in Australia had a Kindle promotion, one on Saturday and I think I have one today as well and that's occasion those books leaping up into the top 10 in Australia. So it just goes to show in terms of what sells books, it's not necessarily being on a bestseller chart. It's usually the promotional tools that you're able to deploy to best effect and those Amazon ones are pretty powerful.
James Blatch: Yeah that's excellent, which reminds me I've got a countdown deal on our books as well at the moment. But I never look at rankings. I should look at rankings. We had a good first day that's for sure. 1,200 today. We're on day four of that promotion.
Mark Dawson: Not bad, not bad.
James Blatch: Yeah, not bad. Number three in travel adventure fiction.
Mark Dawson: That doesn't sound like the most natural category for those books. What was that one, woodworking?
James Blatch: Yeah that was the naked toss over man holding a plane, not an aeroplane. Good, well that's really interesting.
I think we will have some more time later in the year to delve a bit deeper into the other things you do beyond KDP which is starting to add up now for people to think about, particularly people in that bracket where you're in, a little bit ahead of where I am and others. Good, okay.
Look we've got a couple of interviews hopefully to record today and for the next couple of weeks. It's the middle of summer. We're going to have a bit of a down week I think SPF for next week. But we've got two excellent interviews, quite different in their own ways.
Next week we are going to look at the statistical impact of COVID-19 on publishing and self-publishing in particular down to granular category level, genre level with Alex Newton, very interesting interview that is coming up a week today if you're watching this on the day at least. So I think that's the 24th of July and we will have a webinar to go along with that which we'll announce next week as well.
Today's interview however is with a horror author who writes dark fiction. Do you read any dark fiction?
Mark Dawson: No, not really my thing.
James Blatch: But it is some people's thing.
Mark Dawson: It's lots of people's thing.
James Blatch: Yeah. So one of the jobs in my interview is to try and really work out what dark fiction is and how it differs perhaps from traditional horror and so on.
But another crux of this interview and really the learning that I hope you're going to take away from it is about collaboration. So our interviewee Daniel Wilcocks is part of the stable with Michael Anderle. Writes in one of his universes and has also recently started embarking on other collaborations and has written a book on how to get collaboration right now.
We know that this is something that is spreading in the industry. We had the sisters on from Kent recently, who write together. But it might be you and a mate combining forces to make this whole process a bit easier. So, how to do it, how to get it right, how not to make the mistakes that others have made. That's one of the things you're going to learn from Daniel as well as of course what exactly is dark fiction. Here's Dan.
Daniel welcome to the Self-Publishing Show, the master of horror. Feels a bit like for people in America won't know this reference like I'm interviewing Garth Marenghi, is it Garth Marenghi, is that his name?
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes. Love a bit of Garth Marenghi.
James Blatch: A bit of dark comedy character a few years ago.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah that's very British humour.
James Blatch: Very British humour.
Daniel Wilcocks: I don't know if that will translate to U.S. audience, it might. Yeah fantastic show.
James Blatch: I think quite a lot of British people will have heard of him. But he was brilliant, you should look him up on YouTube.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes. Horror satire.
James Blatch: But here you are and you're in your den with your horror books all around you. We're going to talk a bit about horror fiction and dark fiction and how easy it is to market. Often you have people complaining it's hard to sell once you get into horror the audience is obviously not as big as romance. We'll talk a little bit about that and then we'll talk about collaboration and opening up your streams of income.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes.
James Blatch: Why don't we start with a bit about you. Daniel you're in the UK. Not too far from me. What got you to where you are today?
Daniel Wilcocks: My journey started back in 2015 and I was working full time in marketing for my previous job. I've recently just had my first child, my only child, a son. I was basically in the business of trying to find a way to ... You know when you first have a kid and you suddenly get very inspired to do all those things that you've never gotten around to doing.
I've never always had the dream of becoming a writer, but it was something I definitely took a lot of interest in because I worked in publishing previously for the local university and it was something that just captured my interest.
After doing bits of editing on the side, decided that I wanted to start writing my own fiction. It was at the end of 2015 after about five or six months of writing my first Sins of Smoke which I trialled out with publishing. I thought I'll give it a go and see what happens because I just heard about KDP and everything else. It did very well, it got to number one in the horror charts for short stories around Halloween 2015. Did pretty well for me.
And then from then on the journey continued and I've been writing everything. I label myself under dark fiction because I've done some horror, I've done some dark sci-fi, I've done some post apocalyptic. But I'm bringing that all around now back into horror in which that's where I'm gunning my focus. So that's a bit of a whistle stop tour on my journey.
James Blatch: Explain to me dark fiction as a genre title, a heading I suppose.
Daniel Wilcocks: Sure.
James Blatch: Is there such thing as a dark fiction book, or are we talking about this being a general heading for other sub-genres?
Daniel Wilcocks: I'd argue it's pretty much an umbrella term for different genres. It's my way of saying I'm writing things that can link together. So if I've got an audience who's coming to me they know they're going to get something dark and that doesn't necessarily stick to a particular genre. But they know roughly what the broad themes are going to be. It's not going to be happy stuff.
So, like I say within that I've written in a couple of different genres and played around with different places where I might set up camp and now I swung back into the straight horror route and that's where I'm going for. It's something that I've been plugging away at for about five different years.
I've spoken to your friend Sam Ashford on my show about having to try different things before you find where it is you really want to start pushing forward. I've been in a lot of different places and quite a few different genres, written with a few different people and it's got me to a point in which as of April last year I was able to set up and make a full time living with my writing.
James Blatch: How many books deep were you at the point where you could sustain your income?
Daniel Wilcocks: I was I think about nine or 10 novels. A couple of different series and a couple of different genres and also hit some success with I've got a fiction podcast called The Other Stories which I run with four other guys and I think we're up to just over five million downloads now.
James Blatch: Wow.
Daniel Wilcocks: And that's a way that we bring people into our funnel and get them to read our fiction and to work with us on the horror stuff.
James Blatch: Wow. So your podcast, well talk a little bit about that as being a funnel because a lot of authors, because we run a podcast, I often get asked, "I want to start a podcast" and I do often talk to people and say, "Well what are your expectations from it?"
Daniel Wilcocks: It's hard.
James Blatch: It's hard. It's a slog, but it's got to be for a reason. Now our podcast is very much for a reason. It's absolutely building our audience of authors and a community ultimately that's how we operate. And you found a way of doing that with readers, which actually is difficult I think.
Quite a few authors have set out to do that, to have a podcast to funnel in readers and haven't been successful.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes.
James Blatch: But for you it is working.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah. We started the podcast in 2016 and it was just at the point where the initial core four of Hawk & Clever which is Matt Butcher, Ben Errington, Luke Kondor and myself. We were basically trying to find ways to continually put out work while we were working on our bigger projects. So we decided to sit down and we each were going to write a 1,000 word short story within a theme and release that each month as an e-magazine.
Then Luke Kondor who is our podcast guru suggested turning it into a fiction podcast and getting voices in, putting it out each week, which someone who at the time was a bit of a virgin in the podcast arena. I didn't listen to podcasts, I really knew nothing about them. It sounded like a risk and it was a risk that we took and within three months we'd made somehow 10,000 downloads.
James Blatch: Wow.
Daniel Wilcocks: It's continued just to plough on ever since.
James Blatch: And so just to circle back because I've already missed it when you first mentioned it, this is a fiction podcast.
Daniel Wilcocks: A fiction podcast.
James Blatch: You're listening to audiobooks or dramatised versions of stories or...?
Daniel Wilcocks: We do it audiobook style, but with sound effects. So I know you can get the dramatisation but we keep it very much this is a short story, one person that reads it and then we add the sound effects and post.
James Blatch: Okay, as opposed to you talking about horror books and the more traditional nonfiction podcast.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes.
James Blatch: Ah, interesting and do you promote the podcast?
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah we promote it on iTunes store and things. We've got lucky enough to get pulled in by a service that has reps and iTunes in America and different places and they do a lot of advertising for us as well. Yeah, I mean we probably could do more arguably, but we're quite busy guys.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Daniel Wilcocks: Actually the podcast it goes in peaks and troughs but it's continuously growing, but it definitely accelerates around October, around Halloween time which I'm guessing you can imagine why that's when it gets a lot of attention.
James Blatch: Who writes the stories?
Daniel Wilcocks: In the beginning, actually for about three years it was us four writers and we, let's say in the beginning it was 1,000 word short stories so it was quite fairly quick to write. Then the audience started asking for more, so we extended that to 2,000 word short stories.
Then after about three years or so we opened it up to guest submissions. So for the past I want to say year or so, I'm a bit vague on timelines with this. We got to a point where we get horror authors from all over the place submitting stories and we change themes every month. So we'll have four episodes in a particular theme like let's say witches or it could be alien invasion or something like that.
People submit and now it's open to whoever wants to get involved and send them in. If people want to send them in, they can go to theotherstories.net and there's a submissions page there.
James Blatch: Okay. Who voices them? You voice them?
Daniel Wilcocks: No well in the beginning. It was very-
James Blatch: DIY in the beginning.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah very bootstrapping and Luke one of our team, narrated a few. We actually already had connections with a couple of actors who were willing to do it for free. Over time we managed to source more actors that just wanted to get involved and we were very, very lucky that a lot of people were doing it for free and most of the production was all done initially for free for the first few years.
We're now at a point over the last year and a half or two years we've been able to pay people for their work. So, we get professional voice actors to jump in and do the readings and everything else. So it's a full operation behind the scenes.
James Blatch: Wow. Better give us the name again.
Daniel Wilcocks: The story share is Hawk & Clever and the podcast is called The Other Stories.
James Blatch: The Other Stories, excellent. Well that sounds like I'm going to give that a listen as well.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes it's a lot of fun.
James Blatch: So you say it's more than 1,000 words now?
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes, it's 2,000 words.
James Blatch: How long does that translate to in minutes?
Daniel Wilcocks: It's around 20 minutes an episode. It's good for a train ride, a drive to work or whatever. That's when we see our listens go up.
James Blatch: Maybe not when you're all alone on the train on the last train home? Or is that the best time to listen to it?
Daniel Wilcocks: No, should probably add a bit of a trigger warning as well. Some of the stories can get quite graphic and touch some nerves obviously. It's horror a lot of the time, so yeah just fair warning.
James Blatch: Now I'm interested in the story side of horror. I have to say it's been a few years. I did I think lots of teenage boys go through a James Herbert, Stephen King phase. That's probably some of the novels that got me into novel reading very early on. But I probably went down the science fiction and broader fiction route since then. So I don't read a lot of horror today.
But, when I think back I wonder I'm trying to think of how the tropes in horror, the actual story to the hero. I think a lot about the hero's journey obviously, as we all do. In horror films do you lean towards there being a bleak undertone to the story and a resolution that perhaps takes away your faith in humanity in exactly the opposite way most of us are writing to try and have some fulfilling message through those.
Is that what horror does or do you still have the traditional hero's journey with horror things happening around him or her?
Daniel Wilcocks: It can appear on the surface differently and I think people have this perception that horror is just misery through and through. I personally don't believe it's a horror story unless it ends with some form of hope. Now the form of hope that you end with maybe isn't along the same lines of the traditional other genres. But there's always that glimmer of something bright comes out, at least that's the type of horror I write. I have read books in which basically everyone dies and that's just the end of it.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Daniel Wilcocks: But it depends what route you want to take because as with every genre you have your niches within the overall genre. My stories tend to have a lot of, I'd argue a lot of character grief as you go through it. Obviously you need to have the traditional art of a story, otherwise it's not really a story and it doesn't compel readers to go through.
But then at the same time you have to be prepared for people to die at the end and actually I can't remember where I was speaking about it the other day, but I read a book recently which was Christopher Golden's Ararat and I will put a spoiler alert here. So anyone just pause this or skip ahead 10 seconds.
There's a point where you have these core group of characters and I'm reading it and rooting for them to survive and there's four or five of them trudging down this mountain towards the end and even I fell victim to the fact that only one of them lives. I was there I was going, "This person's going to live. They're going to be happy. They're going to end up together" all this stuff.
It doesn't and I don't know why I fell for that because I'm a horror writer who reads horror who knows what the genre gives. But I think every story cloaks that trail that goes through it and then hits you with that surprise at the end and it's the good stories that actually manage to pull you from that emotional sensor forward to manage to drag you through to the end. There was hope in the one character survived and lived on. But there's always that element of misery in there too.
James Blatch: Hope is such a fundamental human thing that without hope are you living type thing. It has to be there.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah and it's similar to when people watch a lot of splatter-gore horror, which definitely isn't my thing because I don't watch a lot of horror films because I enjoy people suffering. I like to watch a story and to see what kind of creatures and different things can pop out because fear is as fundamental to humanity as hope, as love, as everything else.
One of the reasons I write horror is because I like embracing that fear and trying to confront it as opposed to shying away from it. With splatter-gore you get a lot of killing for the sake of it. Blood, let's see how graphic we can make this and that's just really not my cup of tea.
I like a lot of psychological horror. I like a lot of creature horror, but I like there to be an intelligence in the way that it does drag you through to the end and the prose is pretty. There's definitely a literary quality to a lot of horror and that's definitely the angle that I lean towards.
James Blatch: Definitely. I think back to the Hollywood versions of horror films, which I know do often differ from the books, but they generally have a happy ending, even if I think The Exorcist and The Omen. At the end there's a resolution and things look better, even if there's that little hint at the end that things are not quite back to normal. But there you go.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah that's Hollywood for you.
James Blatch: That is interesting, glimpsing into other people's genres and I'm always fascinated that you look at very, very ... what you think might be polar opposite genres like sweet romance perhaps in this case and dark fiction. Yet there's these similarities about the journey that somebody is going on.
It's really what's happening to them around how they cope and change with that.
Daniel Wilcocks: It's a fundamental of story. It's the same you'll pick up any craft book and regardless of genre they'll pull you through whether it's a three act structure, whether it's the individual character arcs and the tropes. Obviously the tropes change depending on genre. But there's definitely a unifying quality to any store and then it's just how you manage to put the skin on the bones that makes it the genre.
James Blatch: In terms of levels of gore and sex and violence in your books, do you have in the beginning ... I'm an ex BBFC film examiner, along with Mark and John. So we thought a lot about this and I know that the tone of the film is decided usually in advance in terms of what they're going to do at that level.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes.
James Blatch: That sets how you feel about it as the audience. When they get it wrong, actually I think it was Alien Prometheus where they got it wrong.
Daniel Wilcocks: Did not enjoy that film.
James Blatch: No, no it was wrong in so many ways. Don't get me started on the writing.
Daniel Wilcocks: Just a side note I did go to the midnight screening of that film and I fell asleep. So that tells you what it's about.
James Blatch: I don't blame you. But what was really interesting because the film didn't work. For me it didn't work. Some people might argue that. It didn't work on many levels.
But I watched one of the behind the scenes on it at the BBFC actually and there they were filming, I think it was the abortion scene by machine, it was all pretty gory. They filmed it, they literally filmed it twice. Once with white goo and once with blood and gore. I'm thinking if you're at the point of making this film and you don't know what tone it is, you basically don't know what film you're making and that's how that film came across in the end.
Daniel Wilcocks: That's the problem, yeah.
James Blatch: They didn't know what film they were making. So, is it the same with your books? Do you consider reader expectation going into a book?
Do I temper myself with this series or is this one going to offer more fan service of gore, that sort of thing?
Daniel Wilcocks: When I personally approach a story I tend to just go for the story to interest me and I have a bend towards stories that, like I say, has the intelligence with the characters going on their growth and the misery that comes at the end.
But in terms of gore and different things, I mean I'm not opposed to ... It takes a lot to bristle the hairs on the back of my neck. But, I tend to move away from sexual horror and stick a lot more with the creature horror, the actual physicality of horror when it comes to people dying and whatnot. I will add that I am a nice person so I wouldn't-
James Blatch: Right, just checking that.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah because a lot of people worry about that of horror authors. But no, I establish what's going to go on very, very early and in my latest book which I'm currently working on at the minute is I tend to like adding a prologue in which it sets the scene of what's to come.
There's that curiosity element of okay there's some element of supernatural or there's some hint of the creature or the darkness that's going to come. And then when you step into that first initial chapter it doesn't matter what you do with your characters then as you introduce them. The audience is already set up to know that at some point that's going to interlink and it's all going to come together.
I have read a few horror books in which the first few chapters, like you say, they're a bit too happy and jolly and they set the wrong tone for the entire book.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Daniel Wilcocks: So it may be playing it safe in some ways, but for me I really dive into writing that initial entry into that prologue and that's definitely seeing that I love to write.
James Blatch: That's great also for that sense of threat that keeps you going. That's one of the reasons you turn the page is you know something that they don't which is great, being ahead of the reader.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes, yeah.
James Blatch: How many series have you written? You've written nine or 10 books you say.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes.
James Blatch: Is that more than one series, are they stand alones?
Daniel Wilcocks: I've got a couple of series, a stand alone, a few novellas and a couple in the works that aren't yet published. But my biggest series I've got, I've got The Rot series which I've written with Luke Kondor which is post apocalyptic and we've got two out, three books on that at the minute. Well it's going to be four books.
I've written five books in a series within Michael Anderle's Kurtherian Gambit universe as well. So I've got that series which does pretty well and the one I'm writing at the minute is going to be a serial as opposed to a series. So I'm experimenting a bit more with serialising and putting out books that way and seeing if I can make that work for horror because that seems to be something that's lost along the way somewhere.
James Blatch: So serials if I get this right, they can be read as stand alones but they're set in the same universe, is that right?
Daniel Wilcocks: Not quite, no.
James Blatch: Or is serial the opposite?
Daniel Wilcocks: They're more if you think of them episodically like a Netflix TV show. So, they're shorter bits of work that come out and make that bigger whole. So the latest one I'm writing is When Winter Comes and at the minute I'm approximating at about six episodes, it depends on which way I take the story.
The first episode is 30,000 words and then every episode after that is going to be 20,000 words so that I can just rapid release and basically just keep putting content out there while I'm working other things as well.
Obviously we've seen a lot of people who make their success by being present and constantly putting out new stuff. So as long as I can keep hitting releases, I'm trying to I wouldn't say game the system, it is kind of gaming system. But creating shorter works I can keep putting out while I also work on the other pieces around it too.
James Blatch: Yeah best marketing for your current book is your next book.
Daniel Wilcocks: Exactly.
James Blatch: I think Michael Anderle once said.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes.
James Blatch: Okay look we've come onto the collaboration at the moment. Just a bit about marketing then.
What's your marketing setup? Are you in KU for start?
Daniel Wilcocks: I'm entirely in KU at the minute. The only exception is my latest book which is Collaboration for Authors and even the e-book for that is KU and then the paperback and hardback I've taken wides to experiment with.
But I am one of the ones who I've done pretty well with KU so I'm not in the position in which I want to mess with it too much. It's worked for me up until this point and I've been tempted on a few occasions to play and go wide and I probably will with some worlds in the future, but at the minute I'm sticking with Kindle.
James Blatch: How do you promote? Do you run paid ads?
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah so it's a bit of a mix. I have a couple of AMS ads that go out. A lot of what I do is I'll keep on loops of the promotional sites that throw out e-books. We try and keep a bit of a push through the other stories podcasts with different books. We don't flip them because we find that a lot of the audio audience doesn't quite translate to reading.
But we put mentions on there and what I have been doing lately and I know you had these guys on recently from the Story Origin guys and I've been using that service a lot lately and that's pretty much doubled my mailing list which is fantastic.
I've been putting a lot of giveaways together, a lot of news ad swaps and basically connecting with the author community. I ended up setting up a horror writer's group called The Horror Writer's Collaborative, which is not huge. It's got about 130, 140 people in it. But for horror and for horror authors that's a modest size. We use that a lot to just talk to each other to try and set up promotions and see how we can advertise and push things, particularly within horror.
Daniel Wilcocks: One unique arrow I've got in my bow is that I am experimenting a lot with Instagram at the minute and I've managed to increase my follows. I've got, again it's not huge, but it's about 3,000 followers on there and I'm making a lot of connections within what they call the hashtag bookstagram community. So there are a lot of horror readers with 20 to 50,000 followers who literally just promote other author's books and share it to their fans.
James Blatch: Wow.
Daniel Wilcocks: Obviously there's coin exchanged for particular services. But I'm basically just looking at that and looking at that as an option to see how that would work and I can't let you know how that's going to go at the minute because I don't know until When Winter Comes comes out. But that's one avenue that I'm exploring.
James Blatch: Well that sounds really interesting. Do let us know how that goes.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes.
James Blatch: Some of these build up a good audience and they're a good sincere voice, why would you not make someone aware?
Daniel Wilcocks: It's crazy because it's pictures of books.
James Blatch: Right.
Daniel Wilcocks: And the comments go mad. They post a review, they get thousands of views on there and it's just that social media influence of marketing that everyone is coming onto at the minute.
James Blatch: Although Instagram are catching onto people who don't declare that they've been paid for tweets. It tends to be celebrities I've noticed who get brought up on this.
Daniel Wilcocks: Interesting.
James Blatch: But yeah a few celebrities.
Daniel Wilcocks: Okay.
James Blatch: I think it's the ASA in the UK, the Advertising Stance Authority, have actually reprimanded a couple of individuals who I'm not going to name them because I'll probably get the name wrong.
Daniel Wilcocks: Really?
James Blatch: They've said, "Oh I used this one for shampoo this morning."
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes.
James Blatch: And followers have worked out that.
Daniel Wilcocks: And they've not claimed it?
James Blatch: Yeah they haven't said I was paid to say that.
Daniel Wilcocks: I mean you take that and anyone can see through that anyways. It's quite obvious.
James Blatch: Well I would have thought so, but there you go. The ASA don't have anything else to do at the moment because no one is advertising in industry.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah, yeah.
James Blatch: Okay, well look that brings us onto collaboration and you mentioned Michael Anderle.
We've talked to Michael several times on the podcast and I think people might be familiar with the operation he runs and he started that like you and anyone else writing books and series and started to build this universe where other people wrote into it. That's coincided with him publishing those books.
He now has this small empire where he has an army of people, and you are one of the foot soldiers there, who write into this universe.
Tell us how you got involved in it and what that process was like?
Daniel Wilcocks: It was really simple to get involved actually and it was basically a case of I used to host a podcast called The Story Studio with my writing buddy Luke Kondor and we used to get guests on the show, used to interview them. Michael Anderle was one of those guests back in I think it was 2016.
After the interview I saw what he was starting to do with Kurtherian Gambit and I literally just shot a message and said, if you don't ask the answer is always no. "If you have anything that I could get involved in then please let me know." He replied and said, "Well what genres are you most excited about?"
I said at the time I was working on post apocalyptic, I've written horror so I said that was what I enjoy. To give him his credit he turned away and said, "I don't think that you'd enjoy what we're currently doing because they're not the genres you'd be interested in." I was like, "Okay that's fine." Put yourself out there, you expect to get a no especially from someone of Michael's calibre.
It was a few months later just out of the blue that he sent the message and said, "Okay we've got something for you." Within his Kurtherian Gambit universe they were basically looking at a horror era that connects to other universes. So they called myself in and a few other authors and just started writing in what became The Age of Madness and like I said I've got five books in that series.
My character will be tied into some other stuff as well. But that was how that began and it was a really, really interesting learning experience because I had done a lot of collaboration in my time.
I started off basically writing three novels with Luke in which we were 50/50 partners involved in the project. I went on later that year to write within J. Thorn's American Demon Hunters series and that was a different experience because I was taking his characters, his active protagonists and everything else and then pushing them along on their journey.
Then with Michael's it was a case of here's a universe, here's your spot you can play in basically, as long as what your story fits within the realms of what the audience wants and what they expect. You can have free reign to make the story happen.
So it was a really, really good experience and you obviously learn a lot being around authors of that nature. I think one of the biggest lessons I've taken away from that is that you just take your ego out of your writing if you want to try to make it commercially in this business because you can be a slave to art, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to make money.
In all honesty before I actually took on the role with him, there was that point of deliberating, is this going to be the right fit for me? Do I really want to, because you're stepping into someone else's world. But I've not regretted it ever since. I think it was one of the best decisions I made and even to this day me and Michael connect and talk about different things and you learn a lot. So it's useful.
James Blatch: In terms of the raw commands of these commercial decisions that you made going into that, but in terms of the writing. So you have a conversation, let's just talk about Michael Anderle for a start.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yep.
James Blatch: You have a conversation about the universe.
Do you keep in touch with the other writers who are writing in that part of the universe so you know what they're doing?
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes.
James Blatch: Do you have zoom calls every now and again or do you email each other?
Daniel Wilcocks: We just drop each other emails and basically just talk about what is it? We tend to set different parts of the world. So there are going to be big differences, but at the same time there's obviously going to be a unifying set of rules. So the rules are established quite early on.
There are people in place that make sure that everything stays on track and then you write the story. If you have a question about something that might affect someone else, you just shoot them a message and I mean a lot of it is writing your own story. But there are those elements of crossing over and just making sure they all fit together, particularly with a universe that big there has to be some order to all the chaos.
James Blatch: Fascinating. Then with J. Thorn as somebody else who's been on our podcast before, people might remember him and Jo Penn.
Daniel Wilcocks: Fantastic guy.
James Blatch: Getting on a train.
Daniel Wilcocks: And gal, yeah. Very fantastic people.
James Blatch: Yeah and writing that novel. I think they did it again but they went down to New Orleans the first year.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes.
James Blatch: But with J's books you're taking as you say, this is not him saying to you, "Okay here's a spin off area of my universe."
Daniel Wilcocks: No.
James Blatch: You've got his characters in your hands.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah that was a whole different cattle of fish. It was a case of I think he had I'm going to say and probably get it wrong, about seven books in that series at the time. It was actually before he collaborated with Zack, Lindsey and Jo I think that was my contribution was the last one into that. My secret weapon whenever I'm working with authors who have set series in America, I always find a way to draught their characters to the UK because then I can really get in on home turf and there are a couple of things I can get away with a bit more. But that was a case of I read the other books. I tried to familiarise myself as much as I could with the different characters and how they worked and the different stories.
Yeah it was only a short book. I think it was about 20,000 words. But it was probably the most challenging collaboration I've been involved with because when you're writing a book personally there's always that element of I want to put my own stamp on it. But when you're working with someone else's characters, they have their own quirks. They have their own mannerisms. They have their own patterns of speaking, of being around each other.
So there was an element of really having to pay attention to how I was crafting the story, making sure that it worked organically for those people. Then also putting my spin on it and I ended up taking his characters on a trip into the lost tunnels of the London underground to the monsters that live there.
James Blatch: Excellent.
Daniel Wilcocks: It was fun. It came around to me but it was a nice challenge in terms of creating the end product. But again I learned a lot along the way.
James Blatch: And did you read all the series before you started writing in it?
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes, absolutely.
James Blatch: Wow.
Daniel Wilcocks: Every single book. It was interesting because you have ... I'm going to get the names Jim Heskett I think wrote one of them. Zach Bohannon has written one of them. John Munk that was another one that wrote one of them.
You've got all these people that are putting their own spin onto the same set of characters and I didn't absorb every single line but I definitely went through and read the stories, made sure I understood what people were taking away from it, the certain unifying roles again of how that world existed.
It was just part of the research. It's just what I had to do to get into the minds, particularly with that story. I don't think I could have, I know I couldn't have written it if I hadn't read everything else.
James Blatch: And in terms of the actual story then that you wrote, how collaborative was that? Was that you saying to J, respecting the characters and where they were going to end up, "This is my idea."
Or did J say to you a bit like James Patterson probably talks to his writers, "Here's basically what the story is."
Daniel Wilcocks: It was more a case of here are the characters, here's what they are and you can play with it a bit. So he wasn't very restrictive in terms of where I set it or what I wanted to do. I originally approached him and said, "I'd love to bring these characters to the UK, would that be a problem?"
Then you basically go through the throws of sending an outline. Coming up with the idea and pitching it backwards and forwards before you get into the trenches of actually writing the book. There's a lot of pre-work involved in which you get that nod of approval.
James Blatch: Okay.
Daniel Wilcocks: It's not just a case of here are the characters just run. There's a lot of planning and making sure that the story's right before you even put your fingers to the keyboard.
James Blatch: Cool. There's an interesting connection here because J. Thorn's podcast partner in crime is JD Barker who does indeed work with one of those famous authors.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes. Fantastic podcast as well.
James Blatch: Yeah it's a great podcast. It really is. We're trying to get some of those guests that they've had on there because they've been really good. The guests do the rounds a little bit on the podcast. To be fair a lot of podcasts have all the guests on we've had on in the past. But, occasionally I listen to other podcasts like, "Yeah we like him."
Daniel Wilcocks: It's a very small punt.
James Blatch: Now in terms of the commercial side of things, obviously you write your books. You upload to KU, you are keeping 70% of the sale price that comes down depending on how you priced it and so on.
When you go into a collaboration, how does that work? Where do you begin with that negotiation and what do you get out of it?
Daniel Wilcocks: It depends obviously on the type of collaboration. When me and Luke got involved in writing The Rot and a stand alone that we did called Lazarus, that was literally a case of 50/50. We agreed from the beginning that it was going to be equal input. So that was fairly simple.
I'm not sure how much I can go into with some of the other collaborations, but I think it basically depends on what your contributing and how valuable you think that your input is. I've seen collaborations in which it can be anything from 70/30 to 80/20 to 90/10. It just depends on what you're inputting and what you expect.
I think that's the best around way to answer you without breaking into things I shouldn't talk about. But, within my new book Collaboration for Authors I do talk a lot about the different types of collaboration and how you can wait and negotiate and come up with what would be a fair figure. Obviously if you're in a position in which potentially you're an author who has written a universe and you're offering that universe for someone to write in, I would imagine that people would offer the person who's writing and doing the bulk of the work a higher percentage of rate of the person who maybe had that initial idea because the actual brunt of the work is done by the person who's producing the work and then you take a small percentage of someone who's almost like franchising that idea out. But yeah it completely depends on the type of collaboration and how you choose to negotiate that.
James Blatch: I guess it also depends on the value of the brand that you're writing into.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes, yeah.
James Blatch: So for instance if James Patterson phones you up and says, "I'd like you to write a book with me" you know that that book is going to be a massive worldwide bestseller because of him, not because of you. That's no disrespect to you or any other J. Thorn or any other writers. That must fall into place as well when you're sitting there thinking even with Michael Anderle or someone that there's a brand that a marketing machine that is going to generate cash for that.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah.
James Blatch: I guess that does ultimately quite rightly, in a way, reduce your worth in that sense.
It's a hard commercial way of looking at it.
Daniel Wilcocks: Absolutely. Like I say, a lot of it is knowing your value. A lot of it is knowing what you're going to get out of that collaboration and yeah. I've been in collaborations in which there has been an element of the quote, "stepping stone" as well as a slightly reduced fee. But you take that knowing that it's going to step you forward on your journey and it's a lily pad on the way across the pond.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Daniel Wilcocks: I'm on ponds at the minute. I'm not sure why.
James Blatch: It's a good metaphor. Presumably there's going to be a hand coming out of the pond in a minute because it's a horror.
Daniel Wilcocks: Oh, yeah probably dragging you down.
James Blatch: Carrie-esque hand.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes.
James Blatch: Okay. Well let's talk about your book then. So you've put a lot of this experience you've had into a book.
Who have you aimed this book on collaboration at?
Daniel Wilcocks: I wrote this book to try to be the most robust guide to collaboration possible and I would argue that it's aimed at people that haven't collaborated before. But even people who have collaborated, it takes readers from the beginning in which it explores the mindset of what you probably need to get involved in collaboration as it talks about putting your ego aside.
It talks about about the value of being honest and making sure that you know what is it that you want out of the collaboration before you even approach the collaborator. It goes into talking about the different types of collaboration you can get involved in through to who are you going to approach? How are you going to secure that yes and the best ways to make sure that collaboration starts off properly.
I think a lot of people don't realise that when they're reaching out and saying to someone, "I've got this idea for something I want to collaborate on." A lot of people don't think about the other person and what they've got going on in their life.
So you might have an author who they've just started the wheels turning on a brand new series. They planned six books. They've got a brand new baby, they're working full time and they've got a friend approaching them saying, "I've got this fantastic idea for a series, what do you think?" As much as they'd love to do it, the reality is you just don't have the time.
I think a lot of it is looking at the other person's perspective. But then I start to go a little bit into once you've got that yes, how to negotiate a decent deal that works for both of you which is very, very key. It has to work for both of you, otherwise the collaboration is going to fail.
Then it goes into the actual process of particular systems you can use to market, plan different financial options for when it comes to putting your book together and reaping in the money. It even includes a few case studies from people like Michael Anderle, from people like Nick Kull, J. Thorn, Zach Bohannon and at the end it's got a essay from an author who shall remain anonymous. But it details his experience from when a collaboration went terribly wrong so you can learn from it as well.
James Blatch: Right. That sounds good. So being empathetic to your partner to understand their world view.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes, yeah.
James Blatch: Going into it.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah a lot of people I think the key to collaborations and I'll give this away for free even if you don't buy the book. In my opinion and from what I've seen is so few people take the time to negotiate from the beginning what it is that they want and they're very eager to jump in and start the wheels turning on the project.
But so much of the hassle can be taken out just by being honest of what it is you can and can't give and making sure that you're open your eyes to those conversations and that you're working with someone that you know is going to work in a way similar to you.
If you can set up an agreement together and say, "Okay this is where we're going forward" and both feel good about it you've immediately maximised your chances of actually making sure the collaboration is a success.
Even if it's not and you find out a few weeks, months down the line that it's not, you gave it your best chance and what you might have learned is that collaboration isn't necessarily for you.
James Blatch: Well, this is interesting to me actually. It's running in the back of my mind is the fact that we now publish Robert Storey's books at our little imprint.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes I was listening to that the other day.
James Blatch: We have notes for two following books, Robert sadly past away last year. But he left 80 pages of very detailed notes of two, possibly even three books that would follow.
Daniel Wilcocks: Wow.
James Blatch: We're just starting the process now of finding somebody to write them. So I need to redo a book, don't I? I think what's really interesting to me is we do do things, we live in a world of contracts and SPF and we are unfortunately going down that route, we have to. But getting that right from the beginning of understanding what they are going to get out of it, or what you're going to get out of it.
As you say, otherwise it's going to fall apart and not work.
Daniel Wilcocks: It's so key and it can be difficult and I was in a position a couple of months ago in which I was speaking to a fellow author about a potential project that we were going to work on. Within that conversation ideas were pushed forward to me that just didn't agree with how I work or what I was looking at going forward. The ideas I think clashed a little bit.
In those conversations it can be difficult to say to someone who's clearly excited about an idea, "I'm sorry but this doesn't fit what I'm looking for." But a lot of that is knowing what your direction is and what you're worth and then also being able to negotiate and speak to someone. We ended up coming up with an idea that we put out. I won't shame him by naming him. But, we managed to create a product that worked and is currently out there and being enjoyed by people.
James Blatch: Great and on a small technical note, I used PD Abacus to divide up the royalties at the end of the month. There's a few of these out there now, but I find that one is very clear, clean way of doing it.
Do you use something like that such as PublishDrive.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yeah. That's the one I recommend as well. I also recommend BundleRabbit for certain products as well depending on if you're looking at anthologies and things too.
In terms of the software a lot of them are personal recommendations in there. I don't go quite comprehensively into all the options because I wanted to speak from my own experiences. But PublishDrive Abacus is one of the big ones in there.
James Blatch: I certainly find that very useful.
You better tell us where you can buy the book and all good retailers I'm sure.
Daniel Wilcocks: I'm not sure when this is actually airing but the book comes out on June the 26th and it's available at pretty much all major retailers in paperback and hardback. You can find it on Amazon and it's also on my website which is www.danielwillcocks, which is W-I-L-L-C-O-C-K-S.com.
James Blatch: We will stick it in the show notes as well.
Daniel Wilcocks: Beautiful.
James Blatch: Well Daniel it didn't get too dark did it?
Daniel Wilcocks: Not too dark, no. Like I say I'm quite a sprightly happy guy so it's difficult for me in person to come out in horror.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Daniel Wilcocks: But read my books and you might be surprised.
James Blatch: I have just read three short horror stories yesterday for somebody who's potentially going to collaborate with us on these Robert Storey's books and each one of them ended with everyone dying, each one.
Daniel Wilcocks: Yes.
James Blatch: There was no light at the end of that particular tunnel.
Daniel Wilcocks: Interesting. Like I say you can go either way. I prefer the glimmer of hope.
James Blatch: It's all we've got left.
Daniel Wilcocks: It's all we've got left, particularly in these days.
James Blatch: Yeah absolutely, we need hope. Brilliant Daniel it's been really good fun talking to you. Thank you so much indeed for sparing your time and yeah I just wish you huge leaps of luck with that book and everything you're doing in the future.
Daniel Wilcocks: Thank you so much. I've been honoured, it was a blast.
James Blatch: There you go, so dark fiction. I did reference Garth Marenghi at the beginning of that interview which is a reference I think maybe you'll get and a couple of others but not many other people. Dan did get it.
Mark Dawson: Yes and I do get it. I was probably not so much a fan as you might have been, but I certainly know who it is.
James Blatch: Very obscure British comedy.
Mark Dawson: Garth Marenghi's Dark Places that's the one.
James Blatch: Yeah something like that. You're thinking of Wayne's World. Good, okay well look that's Dan for today. Book on collaboration you know where to go to get that.
Next week as I said we're going to look at COVID-19. We're going to look a the impact its had on the self-publishing world down to the books that did well, the books that didn't do so well from a statistical point of view and that's with our friend in Switzerland Alex Newton. And there's going to be a webinar off the back of that, so we'll give out those details next Friday. But until then Mark unless you've got anything else you'd like to say.
Mark Dawson: No, we can mention my little one with the books next week because that's quite entertaining.
James Blatch: Yes, let's talk about that next week. That's wait for people outside. Okay all that remains for me to say is it is a goodbye from him...
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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