SPS-277: Part-Time Writer, Full Time-Traveller – with Nathan Van Coops
Many authors dream of quitting the nine-to-five to write full time, but some love their day jobs as much as they do writing books. Nathan Van Coops enjoys the freedom that being a qualified flying instructor brings to his writing – namely, penning “time-travel detective noir” novels without his entire livelihood depending on their success.
- The early mistakes every writer makes when starting out
- The importance of knowing exactly who your target audience is
- How to make time to write while juggling a day-job
- Being able to step away from your writing when you need to
- Why you might not want to put all your eggs in one basket
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-277: Part-Time Writer, Full Time-Traveller - with Nathan Van Coops
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show...
Nathan Van Coops: I'm going to drop a little bit of hot truth here. Writing isn't the only gig. As much as we mythicize it and say that being a full-time writer is a goal, it is for a lot of people but it's not for everyone.
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 best-seller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello, and welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. This is James Blatch...
Mark Dawson: ... and Mark Dawson. Hello.
James Blatch: The first thing we're going to do is to welcome our new Patreon supporter for this week. It is Kristin Schum from Arizona, in the United States of America. Welcome, Kristin. Thank you very much indeed. She's been to Patreon.com/selfpublishingshow to help support the show and get access to lots of goodies, including a chance to be selected for our book laboratory. Our book lab episode is coming up soon. The selection will be made this week. Currently, selections are under consideration.
Mark, we have had a good week. I got mentioned on quite a big author's newsletter, yesterday. So I sat there this morning... I didn't know this was happening. So I said to Gill, "It's happening. Gill, it's happening. It's all, it's taking off spontaneously like I thought it would.
I sold 53 books yesterday, which is... I'm normally selling 15 to 20, max a day, with Facebook ads pushing them, I'm making a small loss, like £4 I think the day before. I had suddenly sold 53 books and had 4,000 page reads and was in profit by some way and it's all happening. But it turned out that it's this author who has gazillions of readers, and he'd mentioned me on his newsletter.
And who was that author, Mark?
Mark Dawson: Robert Harris?
James Blatch: It wasn't Robert. I don't think Robert has a newsletter. He should have.
Mark Dawson: Stephen King?
James Blatch: I think Stephen King just looks out the window and sells his books, now. It was Mark Dawson.
Mark Dawson: It was me. Yes, I mentioned you in my new monthly newsletter. And I have a kind of a What I'm Reading section. It's not prominent, but it's what I'm reading, what I'm listening to, what I'm watching. And you were the What I'm Reading, this week or this month. And I saw 220 clicks, I think that link got, and selling maybe 40-ish of those. So, not bad, 20%-ish, 25% maybe, conversion rate. Not too shabby.
James Blatch: Yeah. And of course, some people are in Kindle unlimited, so...
Mark Dawson: Absolutely. And others will click later, when they were all clicked already. I had a few emails from readers as well, saying that they were looking forward to reading the book as well. So of course, I apologised and tried to prepare them for the shock.
James Blatch: I'm up to 18 reviews on the U.K. one, and they're positive. The vast majority are five-star, three four-star, and one three-star. All the ones who've left a written review, I think, are all a five-star, apart from one who's four-star. It was a very good review, the four-star, but I think he's also quite American and struggled a little bit with some of the British language, which is fine.
That's part and parcel of the adventure of a British book, a glimpse into our world. You don't really think about it too much until you start writing books that you know are going to be read, the American-British thing.
And essentially, when we talked about it a bit before, and I know that authors do grind their teeth a bit about this, because what you don't want is somebody not being able to navigate your book, but on the other hand it would be very odd for John Milton or, in my case, two RAF officers, middle class, British in the '60s, to use any kind of Americanisms would be wrong. So it's striking that balance and not being too British. And I guess if you're an American author and looking at an international audience, although it's much smaller, I think for them not being too American.
How do you do it? You're British.
Mark Dawson: I think we have mentioned it before. The compromise I've reached is that if, say, it's Milton who is, as you say, he's English... If we are in his point of view, he wouldn't use... Well, no spellings will be... They're all kind of English spellings, so colour has a U for example. So, that doesn't matter what point of view we're in. It will always be British spelling, and I've never really had a problem with that. A couple people will say, "He can't spell," now and again, but that's fine.
So, the obvious example is parking lot or car park, or flashlight and torch, trash can, rubbish bin, garbage, rubbish. There's lots and lots and lots of words you'd think about. If I'm in Milton's point of view, he would always refer to a car park. It's, "Milton pulled into the car park," it wouldn't be parking lot. If I'm in an American character's point of view, so my stories tend to be mostly from Milton's point of view, but there will be sections from other characters, chapters. And in those cases, if they are American, they will use American words.
Mark Dawson: So the spelling is always the same, always English, but they would put their rubbish, or put their trash into the garbage bin. They wouldn't put their rubbish into the dust bin. So, that's fairly natural now.
James Blatch: So, this is not just in speech, this is in their POV.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: In a scene that's from their POV, your description that you're writing as an author would say trash and garbage can, because it's their POV.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, that's right.
James Blatch: Okay.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. And that's worked pretty well. And it's taken me a long time to get to that point where I feel comfortable with it. I don't really get complaints anymore, on that front. Well, you know readers. If they're reading the latest books in the series, they're probably not new to the series. They will have got used to it by now. So I don't really have any issues with that now.
James Blatch: The reviewer who left that note for me wasn't complaining. I think they were just saying it was part of writing or reading a novel that was British. And I also think, by the way, that fours and five stars, because I think Gill feels quite proprietary, as I do, over this novel. It's like, "Well, why do you think it got four?" And I said, "Well, because five-star, some people reserve that for something that's absolutely exceptional. If something is very good, it can be four-star, and everyone has their own way of allocating stars. As an author, you can't look three stars and ask, "Well, what's wrong with my book?" It's not like that.
Mark Dawson: No, no. I detect review obsession going on here, which is-
James Blatch: No. I only look at it three or four times an hour, not that much.
Mark Dawson: Exactly. No, I think the reason I said it is you know exactly how many fours, fives, and threes you've got. I don't know. I have no idea, and I don't bother anymore. I don't look anymore.
As you get started, that will be one of the things that you can't resist looking at and analysing and over-analysing, but people give three stars, and that's a really good review for them. It really doesn't matter.
If you had 20 one-star reviews and no five-star reviews, I would think there was a problem that needs to be addressed, but that isn't the case. So, I don't think you need to worry about it too much.
James Blatch: Yeah. Anyway, I'm just pleased we're here, talking about my published book and the vagaries of being published, rather than, "When's your book coming out, James?" So, that's the main thing.
I will keep people in touch with my strategy from time to time. I will say book two is in the pipelines. I'm running Facebook Ads to about £40 a day now, scaled them down a little bit, and running $5 and £5 on Amazon ads. And I just about, well, I did make a profit in April, which obviously included the launch and the preorders. And we'll see what happens in May.
But at the moment, it's about visibility, people reading my book, talking to each other about it, getting a name out there as far as I can within a sphere, as an author, and using that platform for books two and three. So I am expecting it not to be commercially successful as one book, something I talked to Jo Penn about actually this week, on her podcast. I don't know when that's going out, in a couple weeks on The Creative Penn Podcast.
I was her guest there, and she said it's one of the more common things she finds with first authors, their unrealistic expectations of their first book, and feeling deflated and crushed, and maybe not going on to books two and three because it didn't make a profit, whereas I've got the benefit of working alongside you, being ingratiated into this world. Is that the word? Don't know.
I'm aware of the limitations of one book. I'm aware of the commercial, not necessarily necessity in all cases, but it definitely is the model that works, is to have books two, three, four, and five. It's almost like starting a new business in the old way, where you'd say year one you'd invest and lose money, year two you'd look to break even, year three you'd look to move into profit. And you could almost say that about three books I think, when you get going. It's just that everything you spend on book one, even if it doesn't make you money, is an investment in that pattern. So I think that's long-term.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Absolutely. I'm seeing that. I've mentioned before that I'm trying to find a way to show people how advertising works. It's difficult for me, because in the U.S. and the U.K. I've been doing this for a while. I've got lots of readers. I'm not a newbie, so it's quite difficult to demonstrate that this works.
So the ways we've been able to get around that is... Well, Fuse is obviously a good example. Effectively, those are new books that weren't selling before, so you've been able to advertise to improve the sales on those. We've done that with two different authors now, a third one coming soon, we think.
Then the other thing, obviously, for Germany. I was new in Germany a couple years ago. I'm not really new now, so those books are selling really strongly now, but I am new in France. So, one of the things I've been trying over the last two or three weeks is I've started to concentrate a bit more on advertising in France. And it's quite frustrating.
I've got three books. The Beatrix series is translated into French. And I've tried to get them to price-match the first one to zero. So I put it to zero in Kobo, told Amazon, "Look, come on, can you match the price please?" And they did for about two days each time, and then it went back to full price, which is really annoying when I'm starting to get Facebook ads working really well to serve... making reference to a book that's free.
Of course, it isn't free. They click on the ad and suddenly it's 4.99. So that's really irritating. So I've basically given up trying to match that. I think there's a glitch. I think I understand from Amazon there's a bit of a glitch in the French store, in terms of price matching. So I've dropped the price to 99 cents in France, and have been spending $20, $25 a day on just driving a lot of traffic to that first book. Definitely making a loss on that, but then keeping an eye on what's happening with the rest of the... book two and book three, and print as well.
I think those books, they look like they may be profitable. I'm not entirely sure yet. It's a bit too early to say, but they seem profitable. If I can get France going as well, then I'll start thinking about, is it now worth... I'm nowhere this decision yet, because it is also quite expensive, but is it worth getting the Milton books translated into French, 5,000, 6,000 euros per book, probably. So this is a decision that you have to make, feeling reasonably confident that they will work.
If I can get that model to work, I'll go to Spanish as well. So I've got those books translated into Spanish, too. So I'll then try and push them in Spanish. If I can get Germany, France, and Spain going, that could be good, potentially. If I can get them even to a half of where I am with Germany, that's going to be significant. So, watch this space. I'll keep people posted on whether I can get the French to buy on Amazon, which is a bit of a challenge.
James Blatch: Is that Amazon.fr?
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: I was reading an exchange on our Facebook Group, the community group, the other day about Amazon.au, that actually it isn't widely used, according to the people commenting in Australia. So, they use Amazon.com and have the book delivered.
Mark Dawson: Some do, yeah. Yep.
James Blatch: I hadn't realised that.
Mark Dawson: Just looking at the French store now, De Sang Froid, which is the first of the Beatrix books, 785 in the store at the moment.
James Blatch: Okay.
Mark Dawson: So, that's gone from telephone numbers to sub-1,000. And pretty good reviews coming in too, so that's... Yeah, we'll see. It's definitely signs of life, which I wasn't sure I'd be able to do in France.
And the second book, which is full price, 1,500 now. I'll keep an eye on that rank in sales and see if that read-through generates. Which, there's no reason why it wouldn't.
James Blatch: It's clever how - I just clicked onto it. It was in French briefly, for a second, then switched over to English. But obviously, graphic text.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. All the main browsers will translate webpages now.
James Blatch: Oh, this is a translation, is it? Okay. I wondered if Amazon had picked up the description.
Mark Dawson: No, you've probably... You're on Chrome, are you?
James Blatch: Yes. And I have it set to translate it, yeah.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Chrome will translate it, which is very useful for people like me trying to understand German reviews, given I don't speak a lick of it.
James Blatch: I'm going to read the reviews now, see what French think of one of your books. Presumably, most of the reviews are just a shrug.
Mark Dawson: I've got 17th of April, "Superb."
James Blatch: Superb.
Mark Dawson: I think even I can translate that. I'm not going to... do a hell of a job butchering the French language.
And then a couple of one-stars. So it happens to all of us. There we go.
James Blatch: "Plot well and storyline. Too bad the author's other series are not available in French." There you go.
Mark Dawson: Wow. Watch this space my friend.
James Blatch: I had a great review this week about one of... saying, because I put a little taste of what the next book's going to be about, the American exchange part of his story from three years before, in Edwardson Estates. And they said a little disappointed because they want to hear more about another character, Susie, who's in the book. That's a great fillip for an author to hear that somebody's that engaged in your character, that they want them to have their own book. And of course, book three, why not Susie?
Mark Dawson: Absolutely.
James Blatch: Okay, right. So, let's move on. We have a great author interview today with Nathan Van Coops, my friend who lives over in Saint Petersburg, in Florida. He writes time travel books. I've just read one of his books, very enjoyable indeed. Sort of time travel noir, I would say this book is.
It's very atmospheric writing that Nathan does. He creates this world where the time travel is mechanical, slightly clunky, and very believable, despite all the difficulties there always are when you introduce time travel and people are asking about changing the past, all the rest of it. I thought Nathan's done a really cracking job of that.
He's also somebody who's very happy to have a full-time job and write part-time. And that's a balance he enjoys. He's not necessarily somebody who's clamouring to quit his 9:00 to 5:00 and become a solo author. And I think that's an important thing, a position that's completely valid and something that we should celebrate and talk about, as well. So, here is Nathan Van Coops, and then Mark and I will be back for a quick chat.
Nathan Van Coops, welcome to the Self Publishing Show. Delighted to have you with us.
Nathan Van Coops: I'm happy to be here.
James Blatch: You and I go back a little bit, and I recently read one of your books. I don't know... Well, obviously, we have guests on. You are my second or third interview this week. And I just don't get a chance to read everybody's books, unfortunately. There isn't time. But coincidentally, I have just read one of your books and enjoyed it very much indeed. So, time travel. Did I get that right? Time travel detective noir.
Nathan Van Coops: You did, you nailed it. That was exactly what I was going for.
James Blatch: ... '40s noir, slightly cynical detective, and the moll. The moll, is that the right word? The kind of female, femme fatale victim?
Nathan Van Coops: Yeah.
James Blatch: Yeah. And, yes, there's this time travel. It's such a feature of your books, I would like to talk about that. I will do some tin pot psychology and work out why it is you want to travel in time. But, anyway, we'll leave that for the moment.
And let's start, for those of you who aren't familiar with your books and who Nathan Van Coops is, why don't you fire away and give us a little bit of how you got to here.
Nathan Van Coops: I've been writing for quite a few years now. The first book came out in 2013, which feels like the beginning of time now, because of how much we've learned since then. But, that's around the time I was getting started. Like you, I spent many years on the first book, I think at least four years futzing around with it, and finally got an accountability group and some other writers who are also working on novels. And that really made a huge difference.
I went from having eight chapters that I was wallowing around with to having a finished book in the next six months, just because I had the accountability.
James Blatch: Wow.
Nathan Van Coops: And so that was a big, early lesson.
James Blatch: And was that more than just saying you've got your words done, but also bouncing ideas off each other to help you along?
Nathan Van Coops: Both, yeah. They were also talented writers. I was very fortunate with who I got teamed with, and they weren't people that were going to just cut me down unnecessarily. They were actually very well-learned people and excellent writers in their own right. So it was good feedback.
But just the action of having to have new pages to show every couple weeks, because there was three of us. So if we passed our pages around and one person didn't do the work. So, that was obviously no good, no bueno.
James Blatch: And what was your first book? Which one was that?
Nathan Van Coops: The first one was called In Times Like These.
James Blatch: Okay.
Nathan Van Coops: I wrote the book that they tell you never to write, that's just sort of a vague allusion to things like what your life would be if something was different, like time travel.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Nathan Van Coops: So, I made all the early mistakes, based characters on people I knew, things like that. And it was a lot of fun. I had a blast writing it.
James Blatch: Is that a mistake, though? We have to draw from life to write our characters, don't we?
Nathan Van Coops: It ended up being a mistake for me because of the fact that I knew them so well in my head, I knew who these people were, I knew their characteristics, what they were like and their personalities, that when I went to transpose them onto the page they were already fully fleshed-out in my head, whereas later on, second book and other books I've written since, I've predominantly stuck to fictional characters that I had to flesh-out on the page, so that the reader always knew exactly what I knew about them.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Nathan Van Coops: And there might be things in my head that never made it on the page about them, but for the most part I had to develop them there. They had to show up on the page, whereas that first book, I think some people were like, "Well, I feel like these people blend together. I don't quite understand who this person is." And in my mind I'm like, "Of course they're totally different people."
I think that was a mistake that I've learned from early on, right out of the gate. And then since then, I recommend just using your imagination.
James Blatch: Yeah, forming them entirely yourselves.
Nathan Van Coops: Yeah.
James Blatch: And time travel was a feature of that first book.
Nathan Van Coops: It was.
James Blatch: Has time travel been a feature for every novel you've written?
Nathan Van Coops: Not every novel, no, but I do always have some element of the fantastical in it, not necessarily fantasy, but some sort of science fiction element. I bill myself as writing science fiction adventure, and that's the broader genre that I fall under, because there is always something other about it. Not fantasy, there's never any magic. There's usually some sort of science base, but I have written an alternate history series. I have one called Kingdom of Engines, which basically proposes that, "What if knights didn't ride horses? What if they drove cars?"
James Blatch: Right.
Nathan Van Coops: And it's a fun alternate history mashup where, what if the internal combustion engine was invented but guns weren't, and we still had a feudal system? And it's just a fun, fun time. But those are the only two leaps you have to take. Usually you just have to take one or two leaps in my books, and then the rest is pretty science-based. If those things were true, then these other things could also be true.
James Blatch: The novel I read, Time of Death, the time travel element is, first of all, it's quite a practical thing in the book.
Nathan Van Coops: Yeah.
James Blatch: There's no magic. It's a kind of thing that he could get wrong occasionally, and it's dangerous.
Nathan Van Coops: Absolutely.
James Blatch: And it's also, I think, woven in very seamlessly to the book. He just goes ahead and does it. But it's a fairly traditional murder mystery with a bit of kind of romance and, as I say, noir feel to it. I really liked the way that the time travel was integral to how the crime was committed. Oh, it's a bit of a spoiler, but not a massive spoiler. But it's integral to all the events in the book, and in the end he was probably the only detective who could have solved it. And even he struggled through parts of it.
Nathan Van Coops: Yeah. I think that's one of the keys. I'm learning so much, because this is a big genre shift for me, going from writing science fiction adventure to now I'm writing mystery, science fiction mystery. And when you add that mystery element, there are established tropes, especially when you get into the P.I. detective.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Nathan Van Coops: This is a classic character that we know and love, from Dashiell Hammett and all these other people who have paved the way, Raymond Chandler. They've paved the way pretty clearly, and we have genre expectations as a reader. So you want to include those.
For Time of Death, my main emphasis was to write a P.I. detective mystery with time travel, not to write a time travel book with a mystery element. I was very focused about that. I was like, "Who is my primary audience?" And I was very specifically targeting mystery thriller readers rather, not time travel readers specifically. I knew the time travel readers were going to come on board.
James Blatch: I think you were definitely successful in that. But there is a downside to this slight mashing of genres. And I think we've had this conversation off-air, over a beer probably. I think you know that it would be easier for you commercially, to market a book, that if it was much more of a just Raymond Chandler without time travel, or potentially a more fantastical time travel book, because they're two fairly distinct genres that allow the right imagery and slogans.
What you've created is a great genre, really entertaining, but like all of those ones that falls between genres, a more challenging market effort, I would say.
Nathan Van Coops: Absolutely. And this is something that I do to myself consistently, which I have never learned from this mistake. I have learned from it, but I do it anyway.
James Blatch: There's a choice. It's not a mistake.
Nathan Van Coops: It is.
James Blatch: It's what you want to do, as well.
Nathan Van Coops: I am most fascinated at the intersection of those Venn diagrams. Like with my modern mediaeval, I liked muscle cars and I like sword fights. And I'm like, "Well, is there a world where those two could combine?" And then I wrote that world.
James Blatch: Of course there is.
Nathan Van Coops: And people that actually take the leap, love the book. Trying to market it is a bear, absolutely. People look at that like, "What on Earth is this?"
James Blatch: Yeah.
Nathan Van Coops: But, structurally, it's one of my best-written novels. Those two novels, I think, are some of my best work in terms of structural writing, and writing just for a blockbuster pace. And I'm very, very proud of them, however I know that they will never sell as well as the time travel stuff, because that's more specific. Time travel hits certain tropes. Like you said, the reason why I have a career right now at all is because I got some things right with that very first book.
I may have made other mistakes with it, but I got the time travel elements down, and I developed a system that was practical. I developed a world that people could believe in.
The ones who love that story, who love all the rest of my books, like it because I thought through the time travel and I didn't just sweep stuff under the rug. I was very careful with it, and that's partly because I spent so many years mulling it over in advance.
But that, long-term, has probably been the most effective thing in my career, is that I took that time in advance to really think through it, and I didn't just cover over the plot holes that most time travel books have, because I knew that I was always frustrated as a reader when people just did things that didn't make any sense.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Nathan Van Coops: And I think that one choice, early on, to not do that got me a lot of readers.
James Blatch: You've got to have some licence for time travel. It does require a little bit of a leap.
Nathan Van Coops: Of course, yeah.
James Blatch: I think your reader is prepared to come along with you some of the way.
Nathan Van Coops: They are.
James Blatch: You just can't make it really bad.
Nathan Van Coops: And science fiction readers are very picky about where they'll draw that line.
James Blatch: Yes.
Nathan Van Coops: It's funny. They will always pick a bone with you somewhere. For me, I don't factor in the amount of air that you're displacing when you time travel from one place to another, and we were existing in a fluid. And sometimes people are like, "Oh, well have you factored in bugs, like what happened if there's a bug there?" That's how granular they get.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Nathan Van Coops: Or there was, I think early on in the first series there's a problem where if you time travel immediately after eating you're going to leave a mess behind because the gravitite particles I invented, that allow time travel-
James Blatch: Are not in food.
Nathan Van Coops: ... aren't in the food, and it might potentially leave it behind. And that was just something that's kind of gross and kind of inconvenient, actually. And it was fun for the first series, but I deliberately omitted that problem from the second series, from Time of Death. Like, he will be having beers that aren't treated for time travelling. And I'm just eliminating that. I'm making an executive decision as the writer that I'm no longer going to apply that rule going forward, because I want to take some licence.
James Blatch: Exactly, and absolutely. It's not really about that. There's a point at which I think you have to say to the readers, "That's not really what's going on here." It reminds me, I think I've quoted him before, James Cameron, who constantly gets asked about the Titanic film, "Couldn't have Jack fitted on that bit of wood at the end of the film?"
Nathan Van Coops: Right, right.
James Blatch: And his answer is, "No, Jack couldn't. He drowned because it said in the script, 'Jack drowns.'" And it's a really, really good answer that explains how stories work, and you're looking at the wrong thing here if you're worried about that.
So, that's really interesting. It's pleasing for me to hear. I just spent a long time, and you were part of that process for me, of my first novel which, as we speak, is now out into the wild. And I'm now moving onto my second novel.
Nathan Van Coops: I meant to have your novel sitting right here. I forgot to grab it. I have the paperback copy. It's beautiful.
James Blatch: Oh, thank you.
Nathan Van Coops: It's a gorgeous-looking book.
James Blatch: There's one on its way to you as well, with a little autograph in it to say thank you.
Nathan Van Coops: Oh, fantastic!
James Blatch: In fact, I don't know, you may even have... I don't know if your name is in the acknowledgement to one you've got, or is it?
Nathan Van Coops: I saw my name in there.
James Blatch: It is, it is. Okay.
Nathan Van Coops: Thank you. That was much appreciated.
James Blatch: I couldn't remember. There was a pre-production version where I didn't do the acknowledgements.
Nathan Van Coops: Back when you weren't liking my feedback?
James Blatch: Yeah, no. Not then. I loved your feedback.
Nathan Van Coops: No. Nah, not including that guy.
James Blatch: It was an important step on the process. But obviously in my next book... I am looking forward to my next book being a quicker process. I had a chat with the editor this morning. I've done a 3,000-word outline for it. I know the areas I need to develop, development-wise, before I go into writing. I've drafted 30,000 words of it, or 40,000 actually, already, but the bits I know I need to do, I know I need to do, and it's going to be a quicker process for me.
I don't like the idea that the rumination that took place over four or five years is not going to be there for book two, and it's going to show?
Do you find that you're just better at forming the story and the characters, you get more efficient at it as you go on? You don't need five years each time. Right?
Nathan Van Coops: Right, exactly. Yeah. You don't need five years, however it depends on your process. I'm one of those people, I took the Becca Syme Course. I did the tests and figured out how my own brain works. And I am very high in intellection, which is one of those things that says you do have to go wander off with the dog for a while and think about stuff before you come back to the page.
I've tried various ways of writing, for example. I've tried dictation. I've tried learning to type faster. And for me, the problem of getting faster is not the physical aspect of getting the keys pressed or getting the words on the page. It's the process of getting from my brain to my mouth, or from my brain to my fingers. That's the slow down, is the time I take to think through the sentence before I put it on the page.
It's different for different writers. Some writers can sit down and bang out 6,000 words, and that's just the way their brains work, because they have enough of it fully developed in their heads or they're able to process through it on the fly. And for me, it's not that way.
For me, I come up with a much better book if I take time to sit there and think about it when I'm doing other things, if I'm coming to the page with an idea of what I'm already doing. And when I hit a wall, I may as well stop because I don't know the answers. So just continuing to hurl myself against this blank page isn't going to produce the best work. Sometimes I'll do it. Sometimes I'll just say, "Okay. Well, I'm here. I'm writing. Today's a writing day." I'm going to sit there and keep writing, but I know that those scenes are probably going to be revised.
Actually, just before we got on this call, I was going back and fixing a scene that I wrote a couple days ago, because of the fact that I realised I had veered away from the central theme of the story, and sort of the premise of the world, that people were absorbed in technology in this particular world, and they weren't paying attention to real life and human connection. And the theme, the core of this story is about human connection and how this particular detective solves this case in conjunction with that theme of the story.
I recently read a book by Lisa Cron which was really good, where she talked about the third rail. I know we've discussed this a little bit too, I think. The third rail of your story is that theme. It's that premise, that basic premise, where every scene you write has to touch on that third rail.
James Blatch: Yeah, it's like the DNA.
Nathan Van Coops: It is. And I realised that I had written a scene, I was having fun with it, blah, blah, blah, just going along, creating stuff on the fly. Great scene. Then I turned around and looked at it in context with the entire story and said, "Hm, okay. This actually paints the opposite picture. This is showing an interactive group of people. That's not the point of the story. These people are disconnected."
James Blatch: Yeah.
Nathan Van Coops: So I went back and rewrote. It wasn't a big rewrite.
James Blatch: Yeah. So unless you're doing that as a deliberate counterpoint to your theme, like the exception proves the rule, it's a mistake to include it in there, because it's going to be... Yes.
Nathan Van Coops: It is. And most people may not notice the first time they read it. They may just be reading through this scene, "Sure, sure, sure," but then at the end, something wouldn't quite ring true, like this basic premise that... What you're trying to present, you've undermined it.
James Blatch: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, I love those dog walks, where you're ruminating on it and then it comes. It can take a couple of days sometimes, can't it? You know that there's a problem, then suddenly you get it, usually miles from home, where you can't write. You have to rush back.
Nathan Van Coops: Right, exactly.
James Blatch: Let's talk about process a little bit, Nathan. I'm always interested in the nitty-gritty.
When do you write and how do you write? And now we should say that you are, by choice, a part-time author. Right?
Nathan Van Coops: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
James Blatch: We'll talk a little bit about the benefits of that, but what's your writing process first?
Nathan Van Coops: I'm full-time self-employed, which helps. I run multiple businesses, but I am my own boss on both fronts, which is very helpful. So I do have somewhat of a control over my schedule, but I also realise that can be part of the problem as well.
I recently read a book, which I was recommended by a mutual friend. Our mutual friend, Lucy Score, read Atomic Habits recently, by James Clear. And I just listened to it. I was actually listening to it again this morning. And it talks about the daily habits we use to become who we want to become. And it's an amazing book. I highly recommend it to any writer, because it can improve almost anyone.
But one of the things that I identified in there was a productivity issue that I have, which is not having a very specific place and time, all the time, to write. And that's one of the things I really want to focus on this year. And it's been obviously derailed by COVID and having kids home from school, and my wife's now working from home, which really throws me off.
Because, my original process was fantastic. I'd go to the airport in the morning. I'd do my other job, where I proctor exams for people who want to become aircraft mechanics, and then I would give myself a nice three-hour lunch break. I would go to a taco shop, sit down, have some tacos, then I would sit there and write for a couple of hours. Get that done, head back to the airport, do another exam, go home, deal with the kids and the family stuff. And then at night, I'm a bit of a night owl, I would sit down and read and write some more. And it was phenomenal, fantastic.
So, that has been derailed a bit in this past year because of work from home scenarios, not being able to go to restaurants and sit inside for hours. So I've had to adapt. And I don't think I've adapted especially well. My productivity has gone down, although I did put out three things last year, which was great.
James Blatch: Yeah, that's really good.
Nathan Van Coops: But I think it's about, yeah, finding that time to set aside. I have to actually put a lot in, in order to process out. For me, I realised I was hitting a bit of a wall recently, so my process partly involved sitting down to read at night, reading in my genre. I've been reading a lot of detective novels lately. I very much am a processor of what goes in comes out. Even the TV I'm watching, if I let myself watch TV, I make sure that it's kind of on-genre, classic old detective stuff. I've watched Blade Runner 2029 several times, because it's that futuristic P.I. detective.
So the more I can just put it in my head, the easier it is to get out, but I do find it's especially good to do it in the written word. I've been reading a lot of Robert B. Parker novels lately, because of the fact that his language is the language that I want to emulate. His Spenser books are very similar to the type of P.I. detective that I want to write. So I went down to the local bookstore, picked up a bunch of used paperbacks that were next to nothing, a couple bucks a paperback, and I'm just scattering them around the house so that I always have an opportunity to sit down, even if it's just for a little bit.
I have some Elmore Leonard on the shelf, that sometimes I'll just pick him up. You don't have to read a lot of it. You just have to pick it up and just, a couple pages even, where you get in the flow of the way these writers speak, the punchiness of the dialogue, the lack of frills, and how they just sort of immerse you right in there. And that part gets me excited about writing, not just about the genre, but just the actual physical act of wanting to make sentences that good. And that's been really fun.
I think that's been a really cool part of this process of switching genres, of going from just a general fiction adventure writing, which is action-packed and all that, but when you pare it down to P.I. detective, P.I. detective is very sparse. If you've got 10 words in a sentence, you need to make it six, preferably five. So you just, you're going through with a machete, just hacking out useless words every time you go in to edit a page, and just punching people right in the gut. And that's the fun thing about this genre, that's just fascinating to learn. So I'm really enjoying it.
James Blatch: I can tell. You're immersing yourself in it. And too, it's a great genre. You obviously write on a computer. Almost nobody writes longhand anymore.
Do you use Scrivener? And what's your process? Do you just draft without going back or... You said today, you've gone back over a scene from two days ago.
Nathan Van Coops: I am a paper and pen sort of scribbler when it comes to outlining. Like, you can see I've got these legal pads that are just full of nonsense on them. And especially if I get stuck, I like to hand-write out what happens in the story. I'll just go back to the beginning of the story, like, "All right, such-and-such happens. It creates this problem. What question does it ask?" And then I'll just circle the questions as I go. At least, this is my process right now, for mysteries, because mysteries are such a other puzzle to solve.
And I'll just keep working my way through to the point where I am now in the story, and then I'll keep writing and say, "Okay, and then what happens? And then what happens? And then what happens," just at the short form version, the one-sentence scenes, to try to get whole 40 scenes out.
Because I know in my head, "I want to write 40 scenes, roughly. And I'm trying to keep them short, 1,500 words for this genre. I want to end up with a 60,000-word book." That's my goal, so the more I compare those 1,500-word scenes back down to this one sentence, the easier that's going to be.
So, at the end of this outline, I should have roughly 40 sentences that tell me what scenes are going to happen. It doesn't always work. Sometimes I'm hitting sentence 25 and I'm staring at a blank line because I don't know what happens then. I have to sit there and figure that out.
James Blatch: That length, that's a very typical length for a noir detective. I can remember the old paperbacks, pulp paperbacks. I remember they were quite thin. Although I noticed that's changed a bit for you, because I was looking at one of your early books. Is it The Chronothon?
Nathan Van Coops: Mm-hmm. That was 200,000 words.
James Blatch: That's a long book.
Nathan Van Coops: Yeah, it's huge. It's dense.
James Blatch: I don't know why I scrolled down to look at the page count, and I went, "What? 693?"
Nathan Van Coops: Yeah, that was early on. That was my second book. And I think early on I was like, "Well, will I even ever write another book after this? I don't know."
James Blatch: So you put everything into that.
Nathan Van Coops: I think threw every time travel trope into one. Someone called it the Sampler of Time Travel, because it's got so much.
It's a fun story. It's still, to this day, my bestseller and the most popular novel in my collection because it does so much.
James Blatch: And it's YA, as well?
Nathan Van Coops: Maybe not really New Adult. It can fit in there if you want.
James Blatch: Okay.
Nathan Van Coops: There's not a lot of swear... I would rate it PG-13, action-adventure, but it's not necessarily designed for young adults. I write the books that I want to read.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Nathan Van Coops: So, I'm usually my own target audience. And in this case, it was a time travel adventure race, where The Chronothon is a marathon for time travellers. They get sent back in time and have to race through different levels of history, real history, and then also into the future.
James Blatch: While collecting something to prove they've been there?
Nathan Van Coops: Right, exactly.
James Blatch: Okay.
Nathan Van Coops: You get there, get an item, return it to the time gate.
James Blatch: That sounds great.
Nathan Van Coops: Oh, it's so much fun. I had a blast writing it. It was such a cool premise, and nobody had really done it yet. I was really surprised, because I'm like, "There has to have been a time travel adventure race at some point." And I looked around, couldn't find it. So I said, "Okay. Well, this is basically The Amazing Race, but through time." And it was just a really fun premise. Of course, it gets subverted by bad guys and there ends up being a lot more going on.
James Blatch: So, on my psychologist couch, is there a reason, do you think, Mister Van Coops, for time travel? I watched About Time the other night, which I'd not seen before. It's a rom-com that had some time travel element, and it was mentioned in our little authors group that we chat in. It was recommended. And I really enjoyed it.
It was a really fun film, but it's very, very obvious as it's going on, and it's spelt out rather clunkily, I thought at the end, what you're supposed to think. And you're supposed to think you don't take enough time to enjoy the day.
Nathan Van Coops: Right. And that time travel shouldn't really be necessary for you to live a happy life.
James Blatch: No. The big secret was that he used time travel to live the same day again, even a mundane day. And this time, he noticed the butterfly, and he noticed the smile on the person who served him, and he took time just to comfort a colleague who he didn't notice at first was having a tough time in a meeting. And that lifted his life immensely, immeasurably lifted his life, his father's, what gave him his wisdom. So that was a rather clunky way of saying, "That's what time travel was doing in that story."
Nathan Van Coops: Right.
James Blatch: Is there a reason, do you think, for you wanting time travel? What is it about it that attracts you? It's clearly a strong theme with you.
Nathan Van Coops: That's interesting, and I think there's several reasons. One is actually, probably tied to some of the themes of that film, where there was a very strong relationship between that main character and his father, throughout that. And it was a huge moment for him, when he had to decide whether to move on into the future, because there was a premise in the time travel where, if he continued to have more children, he couldn't go back before the birth to visit his father, who was passing away.
So, in order to have a future, he had to say goodbye to his past. And that included saying goodbye to his father, which was the strongest relationship in the story, was that connection he had. And I think that's the heart of the story there. It was a rom-com, the romance was good, but I think the actual-
James Blatch: I agree. It was a father-son film. Yeah.
Nathan Van Coops: Yeah, that father-son element was absolutely the strongest. And for me, that's probably... A lot of me goes back to the fact that I lost my father when I was a child.
James Blatch: Right.
Nathan Van Coops: I was not quite three years old when he passed from cancer. That can't help but change you.
James Blatch: Yeah, of course.
Nathan Van Coops: And of course if I can time travel, the first place I would go would be straight back to talk to him, because who else can compare, than your dad? So that's always there, is that element of otherness, of connection to the past, connection to a piece of you that exists only in the past. But I also am a bit of a futurist, as well. I really enjoy looking forward to the future, imagining what things will be like.
I'm an optimist about the future. Typically, in the time travel that I write, I don't write necessarily dark, depressing futures. There are some apocalypses and things like that that go on, but I write a multiverse as well, so there's infinite possibility. When you open this door of time travel and walk through it, there's an infinite amount of good things that can happen, as well as bad thing.
Granted, you can fling yourself off the planet, into space, and forget about the fact that the earth is moving and accidentally die of asphyxiation, but that can happen to you, but there's also a lot of other really good stuff. And I wanted to create this world where all those infinite possibilities were there.
That's something to think about too, when you're first starting out a series, of where it can go, what kind of potential it can have. And I often use the example of J. K. Rowling or anyone who writes fantasy says, "Okay, the basic premise you have to accept is magic is possible." And then if you answer that question, or if you accept that, "Okay, magic is possible, therefore what else is possible?"
And she did, I think, the most amazing job of creating a whole culture around it. She created clocks to tell you where your kids are. She created dishwashers that the dishes wash themselves. The magic was practical. And I think that was fascinating to me.
When I wrote this, I wanted the same kind of thing with time travel. I didn't want time travel to be just some big machine in a laboratory somewhere, where people go through it and that's the only time they time travel.
Same thing with film. Time travel romance is a big genre. People have some hand waving and magic. You go to some Celtic sacred spot, vanish back through time to the old days, and then you have a whole romance there and you come back. Time travel is not the main theme of the story in that. It's a time travel story, but it's just a means to an end. We are using time travel as a vehicle.
Even Back to the Future, as much as I love it, is that type of story, where he goes from present day to 1955, has the entire adventure there, in a sort of wave of nostalgia for the viewer, and then comes back at the end. But what fascinated me about that series wasn't that particular storyline, but it was the car. It was the possibility of you have a time-travelling car. You don't just have to go to the '50s.
You could go anywhere you dang well please. And that little seed of imagination was huge for us, as viewers watching those films. It's not what's on the page. It's not what's on the film. It's what's left in your imagination.
James Blatch: Yes. That's the same with the stories, isn't it, what it does?
Nathan Van Coops: Yeah.
James Blatch: I mean, so iconic of course, Back to the Future. My son is 15, and at lunch today kept showing me pictures of DeLoreans for sale, $21,000 for a right-hand drive, in America. And it said for $60,000 you get one completely kitted out in Back to the Future. He's 15. This film was 1985, when it was.
What I think is really interesting about Back to the Future is that, if you look at it from a story point of view, character arcs, it's the father's journey, isn't it?
Nathan Van Coops: Yes.
James Blatch: He's a passive recipient of things that happen to him, but he's the person who changes through the actions in the film, not really Marty.
Nathan Van Coops: That's true.
James Blatch: He's more or less the same at the beginning and the end. Well, that's really... Thank you for sharing that Nathan. I think part... The good stories help us navigate life, don't they? I think that's what they say-
Nathan Van Coops: Absolutely.
James Blatch: It's not so much escapism. It's helping you make sense of things that have happened to you and are going to happen to you in life. And there's no doubt. The superhero one, I think, is the kind of feeling of powerlessness that you have, and that these big jock thugs and everyone else seems to have all the power, and suddenly Spiderman, Peter Parker and stuff, that's a very real feeling that most of us have, because most of us aren't those big alpha males who look like they're going to achieve everything in their lives.
Nathan Van Coops: It makes psychologically, why teenagers especially gravitate to that genre of superhero, because that is the most powerless time of your life, while your parents are dictating everything to you, your school is dictating everything, but you feel like you should have some power and autonomy. And that's exactly the time superhero fiction works so well.
Interestingly, in time travel there's a whole subgenre of time travel where it's revisiting the past, which is more popular, obviously, for the older readers, people who are... Replay, Shawn Inmon's books, his Middle Falls series, it's all about, "What happened if I died and went back and got to live my life over again? What would I do differently then?" That's a whole other subgenre of time travel. A lot of people don't realise how many different little subgenres there are, that you try to write in, but that one's incredibly popular because we all have that fantasy on some level.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Nathan Van Coops: What would I do differently?
James Blatch: And frankly, time travel is such an intriguing prospect that it's universal, I would say almost universal appeal, which is why it's in so many different romance and thrillers and horrors and everything else, comedies. The Time Traveler's Wife, which is ultimately a romantic but, and time travel in that is an affliction, isn't it? It's a disease the guy has, that he can't control. And is potentially, spoiler alert, is in fact fatal on occasions. But, yeah, interesting.
Anyway, so that's great. Well, I've really enjoyed it and I look forward to... I don't know if I'm going to start Chronothon this year, because there's only a few months left of the year, eight months left.
Nathan Van Coops: I'll keep giving you the shorter ones. The new Time of Death series stuff is a lot easier to process.
James Blatch: Time of Death is... I'm definitely up for the next one. I really enjoyed it.
Nathan Van Coops: I'm a big believer too, that if you're going to try out an author's work, you should try out their most recent stuff, because that's going to be their best stuff.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Nathan Van Coops: Arguably, every book you write should be better than the one you wrote before. So if you really want to see what an author is capable of, I think you should try to read their most recent book. Judge it on that.
James Blatch: That's easy with me, just the one so far.
Nathan Van Coops: Yeah.
James Blatch: Now, the part-time aspect of this... You say you work in aviation. And you and I have been flying. You've taken me flying. You're a qualified flying instructor, I think. Are you QFI?
Nathan Van Coops: Yep, that's right.
James Blatch: And we went up with Margaret Lashley, I think, in the back of your Cessna 150, I guess, 152?
Nathan Van Coops: It was a 172.
James Blatch: A 172. And flew around with blue skies and fluffy white clouds, and it was gorgeous. And is that an important part of you as a writer, as well, having that? Stepping away from writing and doing something else, whether it's flying or the mechanical engineering testing stuff you do?
Do you think that helps your writing, having those two sides to your life?
Nathan Van Coops: I think it helps me as a person, having those two sides to my life. I don't know that it necessarily informs the writing that much. Early on, it did.
One of my first ideas for a story came to me while flying. I was flying around the beltway of Baltimore. I used to be a traffic patrol pilot when I was young. And there was a balloon that drifted by at my altitude, at 1400 feet, because balloons don't just keep going up. They stop at some point. They just drift around up there.
James Blatch: What sort of balloon? Like a hot air balloon with people, or a small balloon?
Nathan Van Coops: No, a helium balloon, like a birthday party balloon that someone had let go. And it was just sitting up there. Based on the density altitude, they go up different altitudes and then they just sort of hover around, and then eventually come down in the ocean and kill turtles. So, don't let go of your balloons. It's not good for the environment.
But it was interesting, because I saw it drifting by and I was bored. I was spending five hours a day in a plane, at that point, and it was not exciting work. It was my very first job as a pilot. And my mind wandered off. It's like, "Well, what if there was more stuff up here? What if there was people living up in the sky? What would that be like?" And that became the seed of an idea that eventually became my book Faster Than Falling. And that was the first book I ever wanted to write.
It was too much for me to write, though. At the time, I wasn't a good enough writer. And I went and wrote the In Times Like These series first, and then jumped into Faster Than Falling. And again, I'm super proud of that book, but it's one of these off-world, kind of out there genres, a steampunk sky pirate adventure that's also incredibly difficult to market.
James Blatch: Another Nathan mash-fusion.
Nathan Van Coops: Yeah. Yeah, it is, but I'm incredibly proud of it. The narrator did a fantastic job. She's a Emmy Award nominated narrator. I'm sorry, Grammy Award, not Emmy, Grammy Award nominated narrator, and she did an amazing job with it. But getting back to the idea of flying, it's not necessarily just flying, but flying is a passion for me. I've been flying since I was a teenager. I soloed in a plane before I could drive a car. So it's always been there at the core of kind of who I am.
James Blatch: I was just thinking, I suppose, about moving away and doing something different. I remember when I learned to fly, when I was in my 30s, I had a very stressful job. I was a BBC reporter. Not nasty, but the atmosphere was always one you didn't take your eyes off your back and your front. And flying was like going on holiday, because it was a completely different world.
It's completely immersive. Your life depends on you concentrating and getting things right. You did quite a lot of solo flying in your last 20 hours of your 40 hours PPL. And I'd come away from that like I'd been on holiday, completely refreshed. And I just wondered if there was that element to you, just stepping away from that.
We've got friends who write all day, and I think they have to really work at not writing all day.
Nathan Van Coops: Exactly, yeah, because there's more to life. I'm going to drop a little bit of hot truth here, it's that writing isn't the only gig. As much as we mythicize it and say that being a full-time writer is a goal, it is, for a lot of people, but it's not for everyone. And in my case, I have realised that I'm a much happier person with multiple elements of myself being able to be expressed.
The creative side of me is definitely one part of my brain, but like you said, there's that whole other side of my brain that's much more technical. And the aviation side is decision-making. It's a different feeling. It's a physical transportation of yourself, and seeing the world. I just love the feeling of dropping into an airport somewhere, going to have lunch, and not having a car there. People are like, "Well, how'd you get here?" Well, I dropped out of the sky.
James Blatch: Yeah, like a sky man.
Nathan Van Coops: That's an impossible thing. Yeah.
James Blatch: The $200 hamburger, they call it, don't they?
Nathan Van Coops: Exactly. And it does inform your writing, in that it does refill the well a bit. It fills your life up. There's so many jobs out there that can do this. And I'm a big believer, for a lot of reasons, in not just putting all your eggs in one basket, for one thing, financially. I'm in a very fortunate position, where my aviation business floats the whole boat most of the time, financially. I don't have to write for money.
And it does give me the freedom to try these oddball genres and mashups, and to write what I want to write, because I'm not really dependent on the income. And it's really nice to be able to just take all the income from writing and just put it right back into the business again, and just use it to run ads or covers, or get really good narrators, things that I want to spend it on. And actually, my new goal this year, my wife has finally signed on to buying an aeroplane.
James Blatch: Oh, wow.
Nathan Van Coops: So, eventually, my book writing business is going to buy me a plane. That's my new goal.
James Blatch: A G-IV.
Nathan Van Coops: So it's good to have financial goals, but it's also good to have stability, to have multiple sources of income, not be all dependent on Amazon and readers and just life. Obviously, 2020 happened. And with kids home, my writing pace has gone down, my revenue has gone down. But I know that that's fine. I'm not stressed about it, because I'll still be writing in five years-
James Blatch: Yeah, you have something else.
Nathan Van Coops: I've got something else. And I'm not stressed about it. What it also gives me is the freedom to write the way I want to write, and to explore new things, explore new genres, just play around and have fun as a writer.
James Blatch: I think that's a really good point. People should think about that. There may be a balance. You don't have to think, "I've got to quit this job and be a full-time writer. That's what I want to do."
You maybe wind down that job to one or two days a week, or find a different career where you can do that and do writing. And it just takes the pressure off writing, as well, because it could quickly stop being fun in those early days, if you're fretting that much about your income every month from writing.
Nathan Van Coops: Absolutely. And I love what I do, so it's not a grind for me. And there's a lot of people who have very fulfilling roles. Maybe you're a nurse. Maybe you only work three days a week, I mean you work three 12s or something like that, but what you do is actually really important and provides help to people and is a service to society in a way that's really important. So we don't necessarily want you to quit doing that.
There are other people who are working a grind, a 9:00 to 5:00, and that they just hate it. And then absolutely, those people... If you can make a full-time living writing, and jump ship, and be your own boss, go for it. Absolutely. But like you said, that can also be a grind. I know people, some writers, who have jumped into this writing space, and it seems like they just strap themselves to a millstone.
And they're just going around and around, just grinding it out. And they can't get off this wheel now, because you've got the pace of writing... Sometimes it's like, "Well, you got to keep producing. I got to put out a book every other month," or something like that, "Just to stay on top of this Amazon algorithm." And it's exhausting. I think the burnout rate has already gone up, because we've seen it over the past few years.
One of the benefits of being around since 2013, which seems like early days even though there was many people in traditional and earlier indie times, but I've seen trends come and go. I remember when I first put out The Chronothon, people were saying, "Oh, no, no. You absolutely got to break this up into a serial. Everybody's doing serials now." And there were a bunch of serials out. Like, "You got a 200,000-word book? Absolutely not. No, no. You got to break it up into like four parts, then you're going to sell each one for $0.99 or $1.99."
There was a whole different system of tactics around, back then. You don't see them doing that anymore. That didn't last. I knew though that... I'm like, "Mm, I like reading a book that ends at the end. I don't want to have read the next book, to enjoy this one. So I'm going to put out this 200,000-word door stopper."
But, you know what? It's made me a tonne of money on Audible. That series has actually really worked out because I made that decision, and didn't just go with the trend of serialising novels.
So you have to have a long-game mentality. You have to think, "Okay, I want this career to be here in five years, in 10 years, in 20 years. I can't just hop on every bandwagon as it goes by, and then expect to see success." That's one thing that I will say that I've made that mistake of flip-flopping a little too much sometimes. Where, okay, I'm going to pull out of Kindle Unlimited and go wide, and then I'm going to jump back in, or things like that.
And usually, shifting gears causes a decrease in productivity or in revenue, more so than staying the course on a particular thing. But I mean, you live and learn. And it helps to have other author friends who... Obviously, you can get together and share these things with, learn from. That's one of the other huge thing that's developed over the years, is just the relationships, of having the peers, peers in the industry over the years, who you've kind of come up with and moved on with. And then you keep up those relationships, because it's huge.
James Blatch: It's huge, and it's so enjoyable. And we all have those days when we need it and can support each other, and so on. It does make me think about the authors from 20 years ago and beyond, great authors who probably lived pretty solitary lives. It just, it wasn't the infrastructure to have chats. But you and I and a couple of our friends chew the breeze over books and writing and silliness, over a beer every few weeks. And it's really enjoyable. I know lots of people have these little groups. It keeps us going.
Nathan Van Coops: And if you don't, I highly recommend it, because I think there's some sort of difficulty with the anonymity of giant groups. Like, if you're in a giant Facebook Group... I mean, you just went through this recently too, when you put your blurb up and then you put your blurb out there. And you get 300 comments of differing opinions of everyone. Sometimes there's too much feedback. And it's overwhelming when you have that size of a group, of a community. You need some of these little small groups to have discussions with, because it's actually more productive. And something that's good-
James Blatch: Yeah, six is a good number, around the six point. A little bit more, a little bit less, but I think it's a good number.
Nathan Van Coops: Yeah, I agree.
James Blatch: Nathan, that time has zipped passed. Unfortunately, unless we're in one of your novels, we can't go back and redo any of this. That's it.
Nathan Van Coops: That's right.
James Blatch: We're all time travellers, but we're moving at the speed of the clock, forward. That's how it works, isn't it, unless we go into space and travel near the speed of light. Then it will change it. Time travel is possible.
Nathan Van Coops: And we're going to time travel right now, this episode. We're going to send this episode into the future.
James Blatch: It is. It's going to be going out in the future, which is weird. Brilliant. Such fun talking to you, Nathan. Well done on your career and your books. I've enjoyed it, so I'll say thank you for entertaining me. And what's next? You are doing more of the Time of Death series?
Nathan Van Coops: I am, yeah. I'm working on a really fun, sort of a little bit more cyberpunk flair to it, but still same detective.
James Blatch: And there's a muscle car in there, The Beast.
Nathan Van Coops: You know, you got to have a cool car. All the '70s detectives have the best cars. Magnum had one in the '80s, of course. There's always got to be a cool car involved.
James Blatch: There's got to be. There's got to be a cameo from a DeLorean, at some point in there.
Nathan Van Coops: All right. I'll slip that in for you.
James Blatch: Nathan, thank you so much indeed.
Nathan Van Coops: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me, appreciate it.
James Blatch: There you go. There's Nathan. He's got a great voice as well, Nathan, I think. I don't know if you play PGA Y2K Golf on the Xbox, but the guy who does the commentary, I'm sure it's Nathan, sounds exactly alike. Yeah. I mean, a lovely interview and very poignant moment I've thought about a lot, when Nathan talked about having lost his father when he was very young, and now he writes time travel. I found it a very moving moment in the interview.
A lovely guy, and somebody who I know, from the conversations I've had with Nathan about my book, and he talks to Boo Walker about his books. And Boo is an excellent writer. Nathan is very thoughtful about story, whether it works, whether it doesn't work, is one of these authors who soaks up a lot of that thinking in that area, and talks about it a lot. And that comes through with his book. I thought his book was incredibly well-paced. He's got pacing done very well.
And a quite short book, as well. I think it's a bit of a trend these days, shorter books. Not for me, but it's for others. And, yeah, making great gains. And most of all, Mark, not somebody who thinks, "Well, I've got to be Mark Dawson next year. I've got to get myself a seven-figure income. I've got to quit my 9:00 to 5:00," somebody who's very happy with the role that writing plays in his life, which is supplementary income and a hobby that goes beyond, a hobby that pays for itself and gives him profit, but also doesn't interfere with the fact he's got a career in aviation, which he's very keen on.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. And that's completely fine. There's lots of reasons why you'd want to be a writer. And the most important one should be that you enjoy writing. That's more than good enough.
I've often said I would continue to write if someone told me that I'd never sell another book. I'd just do it because I love writing. That's the thing I've always enjoyed the most. So if that's your reason, that's perfectly legitimate. And you should write, and continue to write, and enjoy yourself.
If you want to be like Nathan and sort of supplement your income, that's completely legitimate. And if you want to set a goal to go full-time and make this your career, also completely legitimate. It doesn't really matter. If you look in some of big Facebook groups, it is difficult sometimes to avoid the suggestion that it's all about money, and people posting their income results.
I don't do that anymore. Nothing wrong with it, I don't think. If taken correctly, it can be really great motivation, but you shouldn't feel bad if you're selling a couple of books a day or if you're selling no books a day. There's nothing wrong with that, if that's not what you want. And clearly, Nathan enjoys buzzing around the skies of Florida, and has taken up authors before.
I think whenever Nate comes around, he usually has authors in the air, obviously in which I've always ducked out, because I'm terrified he's going to crash, although he probably isn't going crash.
James Blatch: Probably not.
Mark Dawson: I should probably do it next time, but he's taken people up there. And it's lovely. And he clearly has a life he enjoys, a young family. He's a really nice guy. So, good luck to him.
James Blatch: Yeah. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with authors publishing their results. I always learn something from them, whether they're making gazillions or they've made their first five-figure month or four-figure month, even. I always look at the blurb, their covers, how they've marketed. I think that's a really good thing that we do in this industry, that probably doesn't really happen in traditional publishing. I can see some issues to publishing their detailed marketing results to share and help their competitors, but it is something that we do.
James Blatch: Good. And also, final shoutout to Tom Ashford, who came up with a great title for this week's podcast, Part-Time Writer, Full-Time Traveller, which I thought was very clever.
Mark Dawson: He's a clever lad.
James Blatch: He could be a writer.
Mark Dawson: Could be.
James Blatch: Good. Okay, look. Thank you very much indeed, particularly to Nathan for sharing everything that he did with us today. Lovely to chat to him. We'll be back next week on the Self Publishing Show. All that remains for me to say is it's a goodbye from him-
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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