SPS-320: How to Balance Writing with a Busy Lifestyle – with Michael La Ronn
Michael La Ronn has no shortage of personal responsibilities, including a full-time job and small children. Even so, he’s managed to write 76 books since 2012 and build both a thriving fiction career and a business that helps authors achieve their goals.
- How a serious illness changed the trajectory of Michael’s life and got him on a writing path
- Hacks for finding time to write in a busy life
- Where Michael focuses his marketing activities
- Tips for pantsing as efficiently as possible
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
SPS LIVE: Click here to get your tickets for the live event in June 2022 while they last
FREE BOOK: Click here to receive Michael’s book on the 20 secrets that bestselling authors share
MERCH: Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.
SPS-320: How to Balance Writing with a Busy Lifestyle - with Michael La Ronn
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Michael LaRonn: If you did your job and you focused on writing the best words that you can the first time, it's actually surprisingly amazing how little time you spend editing and revising as you go.
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 is The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: To take your mind off global events, let's talk about self-publishing, the rise of the indie publishing world, which is an exciting story and full of optimism generally. If not, a bit of a struggle a lot of the time as well we should say, because we are battling marketing and selling and learning lots of new things.
I'm doing all of this and we talked in the last few weeks about TikTok, it's a platform that's producing number ones in the entire store and making stars out of quite a lot of authors. I've taken to it with great gusto, because I write historical fiction, I mentioned this last week, I think there's a nonfiction element to historical fiction, whether you're writing mediaeval or 1960s in my case or even Jane Austen. You've got people interested in the period, so you could start doing stuff on that.
I'm doing Cold War aviation, following the advice of Lila and Jayne, who do the course, which is just about to be released actually, will be released by the time this podcast goes out. And they say, "Find your wheelhouse, stay in it," because I have been tempted to take part in lots of other trends and stuff on TikTok but I resist that.
In the last few days, I've passed several milestones, I've had one million views on one of my posts, I've had two million views in total and I've crossed 10,000 followers, and my book sales are three times what they were when I started with this venture. So I'm loving it, I'm loving it as they say about McDonald's, not sponsored.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Well, you've definitely demonstrated... Or you've answered one of the questions we see, is it can only work for romance and subgenres of romance. Quite clearly, that's not your genre at all and you've done amazingly. I think world events are probably helping you a little bit, in that people are possibly interested in that kind of content, B-52s and everything. But yeah, it's very impressive that you've managed to do that and hats off absolutely on that one.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: If people can hear anything in the background, my dog is just sitting here and he's chewing a bone at the moment, so probably people will be hearing a gnashing noise.
James Blatch: Gnasher the dog. Yes, in fact, funnily enough, because of world events, which are worrying and serious, I have to tread a line with the way I present stuff. Because I'm interested in aviation, I know other people are but it's meaningless next to the human cost of what's happening in Ukraine at the moment. I have to make that point, of course I do make that point but at the same time, I also do want to talk about there was the world's largest aircraft apparently destroyed yesterday in Ukraine, so I did something on that.
But the trouble with TikTok is it's like any social media platform but on steroids. So you think there's a short attention span on Facebook, believe me, on TikTok, you look at the actual view time of your post, even the ones that do really well, it can be a few seconds. And so people don't get through to the last part of it where I say, "I am primarily concerned about the human cost of this, and this is irrelevant but it's of interest." People don't get to that point, so then they comment and they say, you know people are dying, don't you? And so you get all that going as well but you do need a bit of a thick skin. I get a lot of personal comments as well, which you have to deal with.
Mark Dawson: I agree, they are.
James Blatch: Not as bad I think as most women get on those platforms.
Mark Dawson: Yes, yeah. Well, that's modern life these days, isn't it? Unfortunately for ladies.
James Blatch: It is depressing. So it's not for the faint of heart, but it is something you need to explore if you're not already. But you need to do it right, so hopefully you're on our Ads for Authors programme because that's what I've followed, experts who tell you how not to make mistakes and what you should be doing to make this work.
Okay, right. We have a really good interview today but before then, Mark, why don't we say hello to our new Patreon supporters?
Mark Dawson: Yes. Got we've got two Patreon supporters to mention, so we've got Shyla Colt of no address and then if I scroll down, we've got a Christina Huvel, also of no address. So thank you to Shyla and Christina for supporting us on Patreon, very much appreciated.
James Blatch: Excellent. Now, if you want to join us live and in person this summer in London for The Self-Publishing Show, the largest of its type on this side of the Atlantic, you can go to selfpublishingformula.com/spslive. That's Self Publishing Show Live that stands for, SPS Live. Pick up your tickets if they're still available. Looking forward to that.
I know you're working on the schedule, Mark, can we reveal anything?
Mark Dawson: I've mentioned in the email I sent out last week, so people I've mentioned so far are Joanna Penn, Nick Stephenson, Michael Anderle. Who else? Caroline Peckham, Susanne Valenti. Who else have we got? I think Jasper Joffe might be coming back again.
James Blatch: Lucy.
Mark Dawson: Lucy Score, yep. And so there's two people who've been up to number one in the Kindle Store in the last couple of months, Lucy and Susanne and Caroline. Also, I'm working on a few more as well, so we've got Stuart Bache who'll be there, we've got some ideas for covers that might be quite fun, and a couple of others.
I still haven't necessarily found the person to close it yet and I've got a couple of ideas on that. I suspect that I'll end up doing something but I won't do the closing keynote this time, I'll leave that to someone more qualified and more interesting than me.
James Blatch: I think we are expecting you to be on stage at some point.
Mark Dawson: I'll do something but yeah, I think I might step back a little bit this year. We'll see, I've not made my mind up yet. I don't know what I'd talk about at the moment.
James Blatch: We should say, if you're watching on YouTube, you'll see this, I am actually wearing the apparel for the conference. We have our own T-shirt and hoodie, 2022 London The Self Publishing Show. It's very comfy actually, very nice.
Mark Dawson: We should have had yellow and blue really, shouldn't we?
James Blatch: Yes, we should have yellow and blue.
Mark Dawson: Instead of wearing yellow and black-
James Blatch: Yes, we should.
Mark Dawson: We're just going to go with the yellow and blue option.
James Blatch: Well, there is a yellow but it's not quite the international Ukrainian yellow and blue but there is a yellow and blue one available.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, okay.
James Blatch: Hopefully there's tickets still available for you. They will of course sell out at some point but selfpublishingformula.com/spslive is the place to go for that.
I have one more thing to say before we introduce Michael, it's just to say that Michael LaRonn does write quite a lot of books to help other writers and you will find out in this interview that he is particularly expert at organisation and finding time to write books, which is something I think a lot of us do struggle with.
I'm up on a deadline, it's my last day today. I have to hand over my manuscript tomorrow, so I am deadline day frenetically myself at the moment. So where do you find the time? Well, Michael's very good at that and he's actually put a PDF together for us to help, it's called 20 Secrets. So if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/20secrets, two zero secrets, you can get that for free. I think by the time you finish this interview, that is something you will want to read. Michael's a super nice guy, really well organised. So let's hear from Michael LaRonn.
Michael LaRonn, welcome to The Self Publishing Show. What a lovely shot you've got there, it's all beautifully lit, it looks almost Christmasy I'd say.
Michael LaRonn: Thank you. It took me a while to get to this configuration. I figured I've got to have a nice background.
James Blatch: You've got that and I know it's important to you because not only are you a writer with an established set of books we're going to talk about but you also do a bit of craft instruction and wit and wisdom for writers, which we're hoping to pick up on in this interview today. So I know you take care of appearances for communications.
Michael LaRonn: Well, thank you, I appreciate the kind words.
James Blatch: Let's start with you, Michael. Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing background.
Michael LaRonn: I'm one of those people that was always a writer in a sense but I was never really serious about it until 2012. I was on a nice dinner with my wife and later that night I fell ill with what I thought was food poisoning and it turned out to be a lot more serious than that and I was in the hospital for a month.
Up until that point, I'd worked a dead-end day job, it was a soul sucking job and I just hated every minute of it. And I remember being in a hospital bed and just laying there doped up on morphine, I had to ask myself, what am I doing with my life? And right around that time is when I found The Creative Penn, I learned about self-publishing and I swore that I would become a writer and fulfil that dream. And so I wrote my first book, launched it in 2014, 76 books later, here I am.
I've got a YouTube channel and I do books for writers and I've done some courses and I'm just really enjoying everything, write science fiction fantasy and self-help.
James Blatch: So was it the classic near-death experience that you had that made you think, I've got to make the most of my life after this? Was it that type of revelation?
Michael LaRonn: Yeah, it was a near-death experience. It wasn't a near-death experience in the traditional sense of the term but it was near-death in the sense that if the doctors didn't figure out what was wrong with me, in about a week or two, I probably would have been gone. Yeah, I'll spare you the gastrointestinal details-
James Blatch: Okay.
Michael LaRonn: That I had to go through. But basically, there was an article in the USA Today that came out, it was the week I got out of the hospital, about this particular infection and how it was killing people my age across the country and the doctors just had no clue.
James Blatch: Wow.
Michael LaRonn: So I was very lucky and I felt like I had a new lease on life and I said, "You know what? Hopefully, knock on wood, I'm never going to be this close to having to deal with this again, so why don't I actually make something of my life and follow my dreams?"
James Blatch: Wow. You certainly have done that, how many books did you say, 79?
Michael LaRonn: 76, just finished book 76 this morning actually.
James Blatch: And sci-fi, this sci-fi and fantasy, was this something you were reading? Or was it just sci-fi? Or was it sci-fi and fantasy? Was this something that you were reading before?
Michael LaRonn: This was urban fantasy. I've set up shop in urban fantasy moving forward. I've written in a lot of genres and it's the genre that I really like the most, and so it's book four in an urban fantasy series that I'm writing now.
James Blatch: What is the appeal of urban fantasy do you think? I don't say that dismissively, I'm genuinely interested and I think I know what it is but I'd like to hear from somebody who enjoys it and reads it and writes it, what you think the appeal of urban fantasy is.
Michael LaRonn: Fantasy in the modern world. Fantasy that takes place in places that maybe you're familiar with or among people that could look like you or people that you know or people that are like the people that you know and there's this magical underbelly behind-the-scenes. And I think that has a lot of appeal for a lot of people.
James Blatch: It is a very enticing concept, isn't it? That it could be out there, it could be around us, you just don't know about it. Which goes back to the old witches I suppose, and lots of stuff over history has had that real world scenario but just underneath. If you just turn left at that molecule, another world opens up and it is enticing, isn't it?
Michael LaRonn: Exactly. You're walking through a dark alley, maybe a vampire will pop out and make you immortal, who knows?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Michael LaRonn: Or rip your head off, who knows?
James Blatch: Yeah, it could go either way that one, couldn't it? Okay, so you've gone through your sci-fi phase and you're onto an urban fantasy. And this amount of writing, did you say 2012, I think you had your hospitalisation?
Michael LaRonn: Yes.
James Blatch: Yeah, so I guess that's a few years but that's a prolific amount of writing.
Talk to me about your writing process and your writing day.
Michael LaRonn: My process has evolved over time, and when I give this advice, I always like to give people something that they can take and apply to their own situation. My first novel took me 18 months to write, to write, edit, revise, publish, format, all that good stuff. My second novel took me nine months, so half that time. My third novel took me four to five months.
Now, I'm to the point where probably, if I'm dedicated, I can sit down and write a novel in less than two weeks. And my process today, it's definitely a refined process. So I am an extremely busy guy, I have built my writing career while raising a family, working a full-time job in the insurance industry as an executive and attending law school classes in the evenings. I think if there's anybody that should have an excuse not to write and not have 76 books, it's probably me.
The things that I have learned to do over the years is, number one, look for time throughout the day that you can reclaim. I'm a big fan of writing on my phone and I write with my thumbs. Some people, they like to use the Bluetooth keyboards and all that stuff, I just use my phones. I've learned to pull up my phone in those times where I would probably be on my couch checking Facebook.
Just last week, I had to pick my daughter up from school and I forgot that she had this event after school, so I had 45 minutes to kill. So I pulled out my phone and I was using Scrivener and I just synced my manuscript to where I was on my desktop and I just picked up where I left off and I had 1500 words to show for 45 minutes in my car and that's amazing.
I got home and we had a nice meal and I had a mountain of dishes in my sink, so I put my phone on my counter, I opened up the Voice Memo app and I dictated, and I just spoke my story for about the 30 minutes that I was doing dishes. Went downstairs, got it transcribed into Dragon and next thing I knew, I had about 1000 more words. And that's 2500 words-ish that I had reclaimed throughout the day that I would not have had otherwise, because that particular day, I think I was only in front of my writing computer 30 minutes.
James Blatch: Wow.
Michael LaRonn: So that is one of my secrets, just look for that time that you can reclaim. And yes, it means maybe you spend a little bit less time on Facebook, yes, it means maybe you're not going to be in your email as often but you got words to show for it and the math adds up and the math will be in your favour over the long-term.
James Blatch: That's great advice and you're absolutely right, it's just easy to pick up the phone and go on to... TikTok, is the latest obsession, although I'm using it for marketing but nonetheless, it can absorb a lot of hours. Inspirational as well to someone like me who does struggle to find the time to write, that the time is there, right? It's in front of us if you look for it. Although, I don't know how my family would react if I was in the kitchen dictating whilst doing the washing up.
Do they not feel this is odd behaviour and come in and interrupt you?
Michael LaRonn: It's 100% odd. And they do interrupt me and usually, my daughter, she's seven, when I'm dictating at the sink, she's like, "Oh, Daddy's dictating again. What is he talking about this time?" But it's all good, it's all par for the course. I've got a very supportive family and I'm there when they need me and so they just put up with Dad saying weird stuff at the dishes.
James Blatch: And you've got this job, you're still working full-time in insurance.
Michael LaRonn: Yes.
James Blatch: And are you still doing the law degree?
Michael LaRonn: I finished my law degree last year.
James Blatch: Well done, congratulations.
Michael LaRonn: Thank you. Thank goodness, I'm glad to be done with it. I'm still working full-time and somehow, I've been able to make it work. I've been very intentional about the jobs that I take and I try to find those jobs that give me the right amount of work-life balance and I've made it work and I've been very fortunate.
James Blatch: Right. And that's a deliberate choice commercially to keep all your streams of income open? Or a lot of authors do look for that opportunity of saying, "Well, I'm no longer going to work for the man," type thing, "I'm going to work for myself." Is that something you aspire to or do you deliberately keep... What do they call it? A myriad or whatever they call it, a myriad of income streams, diverse is the word I'm looking for.
Michael LaRonn: Yeah, keep your options open. Definitely, if I can swing for the fences, I'm going to do it. I'm not at a point where I'm able to yet but certainly getting all my debts paid off and getting the family in a position where we can afford going full-time, that's definitely the dream and something I'd like to do sooner than later.
James Blatch: I'm guessing a law degree's not cheap in America.
Michael LaRonn: No, it's not but I was fortunate enough that my employer paid for most of it. I got a specialised law degree that wasn't quite as expensive and it allowed me to do some things that were helpful.
James Blatch: Nice. Well, it's very impressive and you run this yourself.
How many books are you producing a year now?
Michael LaRonn: It's somewhere between 10 and 15 if you do the math. I have an annual challenge, I call it my Beast Mode Challenge. It's usually in the summer because that's usually when things are getting really nice outside, that's when a lot of writers stop writing. Dean Wesley Smith calls it the time of great forgetting and I try to stop myself from falling into that. So I go into beast mode and for 90 days, I write as many books as I can and so a lot of books come from my Beast Mode Challenge. But usually, I'm writing about a book a month, maybe every six weeks.
James Blatch: And are you writing one book at a time or do you overlap?
Michael LaRonn: I write one book at a time, just because I find that I can usually do a better job if I don't divide my focus. So I've spent all my time focusing on that one book and then when I'm done with it, I literally forget it. I don't even remember what's in my books anymore at this point. So intense focus and then I'm done.
James Blatch: All right, we'll have the plotting conversation now. Because you have to move quite quickly, it sounds to me like you write an almost fully formed book, do you? With the first draft.
Michael LaRonn: Yes. I'm a pantser or what you would call a pantser, I make it up as I go along and I have the time of my life doing it. It is a lot of fun.
James Blatch: Are you like Marie Force, so you're constantly surprised what your characters do as you're writing the book?
Michael LaRonn: Always. I wrote a book, it's called The Pocket Guide to Pantsing and it goes through my process. I tried to write the most comprehensive book on this topic because I get a lot of questions about it and I'm a big believer in... I just create the outline as I go. So what I do is I write a chapter and I figure out what happens in the chapter and then when I get to the end of that chapter, I have an Excel sheet on my computer and I basically fill in what happened.
So then when I write the next chapter, I can refer to that outline and remember what happens. So it's almost like you're outlining in reverse. And I talk about this in the book but I try to make that outline as detailed as possible, so then when I get to book two, I can refer back to what I had. And my notes were detailed enough to where I can remember, okay, yeah, my main character, he was wearing a gabardine in that chapter and it got ripped, so I need to remember that he had to take that to a tailor or a dry cleaner or whatever, to remember that. So it helps me keep things consistent.
James Blatch: You'll do that for every chapter, you'll go into the spreadsheet to make a note of what you've just written?
Michael LaRonn: Every chapter. I take as detailed notes as I can because I will never remember the chapter as well as I do when I write it.
James Blatch: Yeah, of course.
Michael LaRonn: So you almost have one shot because otherwise, if you have to refer back... My thing is, if I have to go back to the text and reread what I wrote, I'd probably screw it up, and that allows me to move faster through the manuscript. And then when I'm done, I go through everything one more time and I will read the text, just to shore up things that maybe were inconsistent between chapters, and it's worked really for me so far.
James Blatch: So do you evolve a plotting process during the writing? So if you've written 10 chapters, at that point, it becomes clear to you how the structure of the rest of the book's going to work? Or are you still opening up your Word document or whatever it is and being surprised by the next twist?
Michael LaRonn: I make myself refer to my outline because I find that my mind will wander like crazy and it's just very helpful for me to remember what came before, that's just a personal quirk. But that said, it's funny, when I start a series, it's weird. It's almost eerie how the novels all have the same structure, different stuff happens but if you read the stories in most of my series, it's very familiar, there's a very familiar structure and it's very similar.
One of my series, it always ends up being around 50,000 words, it's creepy. So your subconscious has to be doing something right I think at that point. I must have internalised something to be able to do that without thinking about it.
James Blatch: You've got a blueprint that's ingrained in you. And in terms of the stories themselves then, you write in series, are these books that can be read standalone or do you write books that basically are going to work one, two, three, four?
Michael LaRonn: I write books in sequential, so one, two, three, four. I probably could do a better job at making standalones. I feel like maybe I would have more marketing options if I did that but that's just the stories that come to me. I like telling a story of a character, taking them from the beginning and taking them through an arc throughout the series and figuring out where they end up. There's just something that's always appealed to me about that.
James Blatch: I mentioned Word and Scrivener. You use your phone obviously, did you say you use Scrivener?
Michael LaRonn: Yes, I use Scrivener. I'm a writing app junkie, so I have tried just about every major writing app on the market, in terms of demoing it. Because I have a YouTube channel, it's called Author Level Up and that's what I do, is I do writing app tutorials and writing app videos. But I always keep coming back to Scrivener, just because it's what I know and I like the ability to sync between my phone and my desktop.
For some of my nonfiction, up until recently, I was using Ulysses, which is a Markdown writing app. I like Ulysses just because it's a simpler writing experience as well, so for a long time, I was writing fiction in Scrivener and then I was writing my nonfiction in Ulysses.
James Blatch: Let's talk about your nonfiction. You write guides to writing but is there a particular aspect of that that you've picked up on that you feel you can talk to people about?
Michael LaRonn: I like to write business books for authors. I write some craft stuff, so my most popular book is called Be a Writing Machine and that is how to write smarter, faster, beat writer's block and be prolific, that's in my wheelhouse. I try to write things that other people don't touch.
I just wrote a book on estate planning for authors. You think about that and it's like, oh, that's the most boring topic ever but it's an important topic. And so I just try to pursue the topics that I want to learn about myself. So I wrote this book about estate planning, I've written books on dictation for authors, I wrote this book on pantsing, Pocket Guide to Pantsing. So I just try to fill in gaps where maybe there's not as much content for people to consume.
And then what I do is, I go as nitty-gritty as possible. My community always says that I have a nitty-gritty personality, I take a topic and I just dissect it until there's nothing left.
James Blatch: Nerdy type thing, it's no longer an insult, it's now the coolest thing to be a nerd.
Michael LaRonn: Oh yeah. The nerds always win in the end.
James Blatch: Yeah, they do, exactly, have done for some time. And how do you organise that? So you write books on the nonfiction side, on craft and marketing as you say and you have...
You talked about your community, where is your community?
Michael LaRonn: My community is primarily on authorlevelup.com or youtube.com/authorlevelup. I've got a great community of over 40,000 subscribers and I do livestreams where I provide some time every... The first Saturday of every month, I actually come online and we just write and I invite as many people to come on board and we just write as the community. It's a space for people to gather and people can ask me any questions they have about craft or business.
I also have a daily blog where I talk about all the things that I'm doing every day to further my writing business. So I'll say, okay, I wrote 2000 words today, and I was on The Self-Publishing Show and also, I managed to finish a novel this morning. I just talk about what I'm doing and my community really likes that because they can see behind the curtains and they can see, okay, this is how he's spending his time. This is how he's doing things, maybe I can learn from that and it's been fun.
James Blatch: What was your life like before 2012? Did you work in this structured and prolific way?
Michael LaRonn: I was a pretty disciplined guy. My introduction to art was through music. I grew up playing the saxophone, guitar, tuba, keyboards and I wanted to be a music composer. So I had a lot of discipline, I was sitting down and writing songs almost every week. So I had a very disciplined approach to things but music I realised just wasn't ever going to be for me.
When I got to college and started doing some of the writing, I think you could say I was disciplined but I was aimless, I just didn't know what it was that my calling was. So I was exploring a lot of things and I just didn't have the focus that I have now.
James Blatch: I suppose it's that difference, working hard and working smart but you seem to do both.
Michael LaRonn: I try. I can't always promise that's what I'm doing but I try to focus on the things that are the most important. I have three goals in my writing business, the first is, how do I become a world-class content creator? Meaning, how do I create the content that is the best content that I can create?
How do I become a technology and data driven writer? Meaning, how can I use technology to get the right books in front of the right readers at the right time and to improve the reading experience? And then also, to give me insights into the writing business and where my sales are coming from, and learning more about my readers.
And then also, how to become the writer of the future, right? So where is the puck going? What are the technologies and things that I need to be paying attention to? I almost exclusively focus on those things. Everything else, I do marketing of course, but I focus primarily on those three things and that allows me to be laser focused.
James Blatch: Do you worry about burnout, Michael?
Michael LaRonn: No, I don't. I probably should have been worried about burnout about three years ago, because I was doing way more than I'm doing now, way more. Just the stuff that I explained to you, I was doing more than that and it was getting to a point where I had to say, "Okay, I need to take a step back from things." But I'm at a point now where I feel like I've come through that and my thing is, I have fun.
I love being on these shows and talking to interviewers like you. I love sitting down and telling a story and I just have the time of my life doing it. And maybe one day that won't be the case but as long as that's the case, that always keeps me going. And if you have the passion and you have the fun when you're writing stories and doing this stuff, then you wake up seven, eight years down the road and you've got a tonne of books to your name and you're surprised. It's like, how did this happen?
James Blatch: It's the old John Lennon quote, isn't it? About never doing a day's work in your life if you enjoy what you do.
Michael LaRonn: Yeah, that's exactly it.
James Blatch: Let's just talk about marketing then. What marketing strategy do you have for your huge amount of books, your massive canon?
Michael LaRonn: It's actually amazing how little time I spend marketing. My biggest focus with marketing is ads. So Amazon Ads, I've used those and have made a lot of money on Amazon Ads and just been very profitable with that. Also, my YouTube channel is another area that is a constant source of leads for me, in terms of speaking opportunities, in terms of selling books. There are videos that I've made on YouTube that people are still watching that I made seven, eight years ago and they're racking up tonnes of views.
So that's always a really good opportunity for me and then also, just connecting with people, connecting with other authors in my genres and chatting with people. I find that that's a good marketing strategy as well.
James Blatch: Is it Amazon Ads over Facebook Ads for you?
Michael LaRonn: Yeah, Amazon Ads over Facebook. I have a goal this year to get into Facebook Ads. I worry with my mental capacity that I will start crossing some signals when it comes to comparing the data. Because I like to spend a lot of time deep diving into the ad data, just to really see if I can learn trends and things and I just worry that doing two might be a bit much for me but at some point, I have to get into it.
James Blatch: They're very different platforms, which is helpful in that sense. I do do both and it never feels to me when I'm on one platform that I'm confusing it with the other because they're so different, frustratingly so actually.
Michael LaRonn: Okay.
James Blatch: But anyway.
Michael LaRonn: It's good to know.
James Blatch: I'm just trying to think, people like Shayne Silvers I think, who's obviously a big author in the urban fantasy world, I think he definitely has a lot of success with Facebook Ads. I imagine that would be a fertile territory for you but I hate to add to your workload, Michael, so I'm concerned about you.
Michael LaRonn: Oh, it's okay. It's all part of the game, you got to keep trying and keep trying new things that work and newsletter marketing has worked well for me. Autoresponders have been something that have worked extremely well, I treat them like little salespeople.
James Blatch: Yes.
Michael LaRonn: That's what I like to call them. I've got autoresponders that I wrote five years ago and people respond to them every time.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Michael LaRonn: It's as if I wrote it yesterday. I have one autoresponder where I talk about my approach to copyright, my approach to productivity and production schedules and all that, and I always invite people to reply at the end of that. Because I give them this riddle and I say, I'm going to have 3000 copyrighted works at the end of three years, I've only got 76 books, if you want to know the answer, reply and I'll tell you how I got there, and people are always intrigued by that. So autoresponders and newsletter marketing, it's an author's best friend
James Blatch: Engagement, yeah. Very good.
Michael LaRonn: Absolutely.
James Blatch: And your day then, your working... I know you finished your law degree, which is one thing, but your working day, I'm still intrigued by the level of stuff you've got going on, the balls in the air here, the marketing. The autoresponders I guess look after themselves but the writing.
What does your day look like? Do you get up super early? Do you go to bed super late? And in addition to sitting in the car on those moments, where do you find that time?
Michael LaRonn: Yeah, the answer is yes and. So I get up very early, I get up at about 5:30 in the morning and that is what I've found... When you have a young family, it's one of the best times to wake up because everyone's asleep and it's one of the only times a day you're not going to get interrupted constantly. So I'm usually up about 5:30, I usually hit my writing computer about 6:00 and depending on what my goals for the day are, I'm always asking myself, what is the one thing I can do that will result in victory today?
Even if it's one thing I can do, what's the one thing I can do that will make this day a success? Sometimes that's writing two or 3000 words, sometimes it's doing some marketing, sometimes it's clearing out my email inbox but I'm usually doing some level of work or productivity until about 7:30, when it's time for me to log into work.
Fortunately, I work from home, so I don't have to commute. And when I'm at work, I'm at work. Occasionally I'll have a break and I'll be able to pull out my phone and get some words in. And then when I'm off work, I usually pick my daughter up from school, spend family time and then as we're winding down about 8:30, 9:00-ish, that's when I'll get back to my writing computer and I will try to get some more words in for that day or finish my goals, whatever those are. And then I'd like to say I'm in bed by 10 o'clock but I'm usually not in bed by 10 o'clock, I'm usually in bed sometime between 10:30 and 11:30, and then I wake up and do it again.
James Blatch: Wow. Okay. Well, let's talk about pantsing a little bit and plotting. It's a subject that we do talk about from time to time and it seems to me that a lot of authors simply write in the way that they write. So they say, "Oh, there I have to plot or I have to pants," but they very often haven't really tried the other one. We could call it discovery writing as a slightly nicer term than pantsing.
Do you see pantsing as the more efficient way of getting books out?
Michael LaRonn: I think it can be. I think you have to do it a certain way for it to be more efficient. Because there's no right or wrong way to write a novel, I want people to understand that. If you're an outliner and you feel that that's what makes you produce novels that you feel proud of, that's fine. I think both can be used for good and evil.
So if you are a pantser and you're just blazing through the manuscript to get a first draft and then you have to go back and fix everything or deeply revise everything, I think you missed the point because it's really not efficient at that point. Because then you've got to go back and fix everything and if you've been relying on the discovery part of the writing to get the manuscript down, if you go back and change everything or restructure things, then I don't know that you really got the discovery benefit out of the method.
The way I have learned to make pantsing more efficient is, one, outlining as I go, as I talked about. And I learned a lot of this from Dean Wesley Smith and his book, Writing Into the Dark, I just took it and modified it for my purposes. So outlining as I go because that makes me more efficient and then what I do is I loop back. So a little trick that I've learned is, when I finish a chapter, I will go back to... Say I write chapter one and then I write chapter two and then I write chapter three, four and five. When I get to the end of five, I will go back to chapter one and reread what I wrote. And then another thing I will do is I will go back to chapter one in the previous book and then I will reread what I wrote, and it's amazing what you catch.
Then, when I finish chapter one, I'll go back to five and I'll go forward, and I just keep going backward and forward, backward and forward, and it only takes a few minutes to review what you wrote. It's not like you've got to spend tonnes of time, because if you did your job and you focused on writing the best words that you can the first time, it's actually surprisingly amazing how little time you spend editing and revising as you go.
When I get to the end of the book, all I have to do is just make a little pass through everything and it just makes it so much easier and so much more efficient because then I'm documenting what happened in the book as I write it and I know that what I wrote is good and it's consistent. And it just makes everything more efficient.
James Blatch: What's the purpose of going back to the previous book and reading chapter one?
Michael LaRonn: I like to do that because it's amazing what details you can miss. So you think a character's eyes were a certain colour.
James Blatch: Right.
Michael LaRonn: Or you think a character did something a certain way and it turns out, maybe they didn't do it that way, they did it another way. And I know it sounds simple and it sounds like, oh, well, why would you do that? But your mind will play tricks on you, especially as series get longer. You have to come up with some way to keep those details consistent.
For example, I have a character in this series I'm writing right now, it's called The Good Necromancer. I have a character, this character, it's a supporting character, he shows up in every book but he shows up in a different way.
Every time he shows up, I have to remember how he showed up the last time, because if I don't, then it's inconsistent and the readers will say, "Wait a minute, no. He didn't do that the last time." So it keeps your character details consistent, especially if you're taking time between books. If you write all your series at the same time, it's a lot easier to keep those details consistent but if you write book one and then you take three months off, you're going to forget stuff that happened. It's the things you learn over the years when you write a lot of books, it's a little hack that works.
James Blatch: I find I've forgotten stuff during the same book.
Michael LaRonn: Exactly. That's 100% correct.
James Blatch: I have a slightly more basic system. I have a Word document and every now and again when I invent a new character, there needs to be another guy in the room because I just go in there... And I always put a timeline, I work back to their date of birth and have their key points there and then I have to refer to that. So yeah, there's different ways of doing that but I know some bigger authors... I think Mark has somebody, he's recruited a reader at some point, an avid reader who does that, effectively keeps his bible for him about everything that's happened to John Milton, because he's forgotten of course.
Michael LaRonn: Yeah, exactly. It's an interesting problem to have the longer you do it, especially when you have a long series. I think a lot of people listening just have to find their own way to do it and just try to figure out how other people do it because not everybody talks about it publicly.
James Blatch: Your series, how long are your series? How many different series have you got in those 76 books?
Michael LaRonn: For fiction, I've written about 34, 35 novels and it's across, I think eight or 10 series. And I experiment, my series are definitely no shorter than three books. I've written a nine book series and I made some interesting mistakes with that series that I learned a lot from. I wrote nine books without really understanding... I messed up book one in terms of the market piece and target readers, so I went on and wrote nine books and the series really didn't do very well. But I learned from that and so most of my books now are anywhere between three and five, and if they're really popular, then I'll keep them going.
James Blatch: Yeah. So over half your books are nonfiction or 35 are...
Michael LaRonn: Yeah. Well, it's about, yeah, a little bit half nonfiction, fiction.
James Blatch: Okay. So you're prolific in that area as well.
Michael LaRonn: Until you break it down.
James Blatch: I think you've got a giveaway for us, Michael. I think you're kindly going to give us your craft playbook number one, just tell us a bit about that and then we can give a link.
Michael LaRonn: Yeah, it's The Writing Craft Playbook. I wrote a book, it's a free book that I give away and it's 20 secrets for fiction and nonfiction to help get your readers in the zone. So one of the things that I spent a lot of time doing is studying the mega bestsellers. So the Michael Crichtons, the John Grishams, the Dean Koontz, Nora Roberts, all of those writers.
I paid very close attention to how they execute certain things from a craft perspective and I started to notice a lot of commonalities between a lot of the mega bestsellers and I thought, huh, this is an interesting little book I could write. And so the book is a bunch of illustrations, using text, of the different techniques that the mega bestsellers use to open and end their chapters. And if you look at those, you can start to see, okay, this is how maybe a mega bestseller would do it, am I doing it this way? And you can start to learn some of those tricks, because no one writes better fiction than those mega bestsellers.
James Blatch: No.
Michael LaRonn: And so they're doing a lot of things right and if we can learn from them, then we can exponentially improve our craft.
James Blatch: Excellent. Okay, well, let's set up that at selfpublishingformula.com/20secrets, seems like a good link. 20, two zero, secrets. 20 secrets to get that. I'm going to read that book, that sounds like an excellent thing to do. Very similar to what Suzy K. Quinn has done, where she basically wrote a book, expected like you always do with your first book, that you're going to be picking up the Pulitzer Prize very shortly, and was disappointed it wasn't a mega hit.
Then started looking at the books that were mega hits and thinking, oh, they're not written in what I thought I was writing. So yeah, studying the winners. Michael, I feel I've got to let you go at some point because you've got goals for the day and you are a driven and organised man and I'm in awe of that and what you've achieved. And what you're going to achieve, it's incredible.
Michael LaRonn: Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure to be here.
James Blatch: And so disappointed for you you went through that episode in 2012 but so pleased you've come out of it with such positivity that we can feed off as well. Thank you very much for being on the show, Michael.
Michael LaRonn: Thanks, James.
James Blatch: There you go. My thanks to Michael for joining us, we had a few technicals in trying to get that interview sorted out, he was very patient. And yeah, a really lovely chat. Very hardworking, quite inspirational in that sense.
I'll give the link again for the giveaway, it's selfpublishingformula.com/20secrets, two zero secrets, to get that giveaway from Michael.
Michael, in that interview, talked about finding those little pockets of time, 15 minutes, 20 minutes in his car, writing on his phone or dictating and transcribing it later.
Do you have to do that? You have a busy life, you've got young children, do you find yourself finding little snatched moments or do you manage to get away into your little office here?
Mark Dawson: No, I have a setup that I need to be in front of in order to be able to write, so I have three screens, I'm pointing one, two, three, for research and I just have a way of doing things. I find it difficult to write these on a laptop keyboard, so I have a full sized keyboard, mouse, all that kind stuff.
I'm set in my ways now when it comes to how I actually write physically and I just make sure that that'll be the first thing that I do each day, is to get an hour or two in. Hopefully more but it depends on what else is going on as to whether I can do that but I just prioritise the writing.
James Blatch: Yeah. Morning's my time as well for this. Right, I think that is it, Mark. Just a reminder, if you want to come to the show, I would hate you to miss out but if you want to come, you need to snap your ticket up. The Self Publishing Show Live in London, 2022 in June. It's going to be tickets available at selfpublishingformula.com/spslive. And I think that is it, Markus. I'll let you go back. You've got your internet back since the great storm of 2022.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, so I was without internet for a week at the house, so that was lots of me patching my laptop to my... Using the hot spot on my phone to get on that way or going into the office, which I still have. But I was thinking, the new office is coming along, it'll be finished in about a month's time and if I didn't have the office in Salisbury, this is very First World problem but I would have had very patchy internet for a week.
James Blatch: You need to subscribe to Starlink.
Mark Dawson: I probably do. Yeah, certainly that would be a good-
James Blatch: Elon Musk's thing.
Mark Dawson: A good backup, yeah. No, we're back up and running again now.
James Blatch: Good, okay. All right, thank you very much indeed to our guest, Michael LaRonn, thank you to the team behind-the-scenes who put this podcast together, without whom you wouldn't be seeing us or listening to us, and thank you very much indeed for listening. That's it, all that remains for me to say is a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Mark Dawson: Goodbye.
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