SPS-342: Empowering Indie Authors – with Cara Alwill
Author, life coach, and podcaster Cara Alwill has experience as both an independent author and as a traditionally published one. After signing a six-figure, two-book deal with a Big Five imprint she went back to self-publishing. Find out why.
- Stepping into a male-dominated industry as a woman
- Starting out with a blog before social media took off
- Dipping a toe in the traditional publishing waters before going full indie
- How both self-publishing and Cara’s work are about empowerment
- Getting past the fears and imposter syndrome that affect many authors and entrepreneurs
- Why failure is so important
- What Cara has seen about the pros and cons of self-publishing
Resources mentioned in this episode:
SELL MORE BOOKS: The Ads for Authors course opens for a short time on Aug 10.
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.
SPS-342: Empowering Indie Authors - with Cara Alwill
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Cara Alwill: I just faced all of this rejection. I just was like, I'm not going to let these people make the decision for me and decide whether or not I'm going to be an author. I'm going to figure out a way to do it on my own.
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 is never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello, and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Yes, in five days time, Ads for Authors opens. A rare August opening. Mark, but we decided to... We like to space out the launches and obviously make sure everyone has an opportunity. We only open for two to three weeks and a chance to onboard. So let's have a quick chat about Ads for Authors, if people don't know what the course is, what it involves and whether it would be right for them.
Who is Ads for Authors for, Mark Dawson?
Mark Dawson: It is for anyone who wants to use advertising to sell their books, pretty much. That should really include everyone these days because I think that, as I've said before, the days of free visibility on any platform ready, from Amazon to Facebook is long gone, now you do have to pay to be involved. And that is a pain, but it is also a blessing because most authors wouldn't know what they were doing.
I see shadows on the wall behind you as your window cleaner cleans the windows.
James Blatch: Yeah. The crew has arrived.
Mark Dawson: Has he got clothes?
James Blatch: It is his young assistant. I don't know where he is.
Mark Dawson: Okay. Oh, that is good. Yeah, so it is an opportunity because most authors are not aware of how to advertise or either don't do it or don't know how to do it properly. That does give you a chance to get your books in front of their readers, and also other people who'd be interested in the stuff that you are writing. So yeah, I think it is a course for everyone really these days. And it is a necessity rather than a luxury.
James Blatch: I've been the proof of that because not only have I written one book, which I actually turned a profit on in year one of about 900 pounds over the year, I'm also running Fuse books. And in fact, beginning of the month is the week where I tend to really focus on Fuse, get everything in order for the month and redo the campaigns and make some tweaks here and there. So I've been nose into both Facebook ads and starting to get Amazon ads going again within Fuse.
We've got authors who send me nice emails every month saying, thank you very much. As I know from my cost as well, it is quick and easy to lose money advertising. There is no shortcut, unfortunately.
You have to learn the business and you need to learn through other people's mistakes. And for me, that was the most valuable thing of learning from you. Is that you've been there, made the mistakes, refined it. And although I deviate slightly from one or two other things that you teach, that is only based on the foundation of what you do, which I think is probably the right way to do the course. In fact, the people I think have been most successful at the course of... I've literally followed it step by step and only then have started to tweak things that might be to do with their sub genre, the way that they want to run the campaigns but you need to learn the fundamentals.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: And the platforms change, right? So now we're always back into the course, making changes.
Mark Dawson: They do, yeah. I'm just going to go back on one thing you said, so you made 900 pounds on your first year, which is very good. But what people listening might think 900 pounds for year, well, that is not very impressive, which I suppose it isn't in terms of just cash terms. But what you've done is you've built an audience for your second, third, whatever, but following that you've also come out in the black, which is definitely a good result.
James Blatch: Yeah. I didn't intend to make a profit. I intend to spend about 5,000 pounds on advertising over the year and break even, or make a small loss up. I think I gave myself about 1,500 pounds that I would exclude. And that was an investment in exactly what you've talked about, that building an audience.
I now have 740 or maybe more than that reviews on my first book. And book two launched to a higher number of pre-orders, reviews are coming in for that already. And it is possible, I'm going to be making a profit day to day now with book two. It is too early for me to tell because I'm still in the launch period for that.
Mark Dawson: You can't be too successful because then you won't do the progress anymore. So I have word with Amazon, maybe just put the promotion, put a finger on the scale a little bit to press things. But if you see sales going down, it may not be a coincidence.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, at some point, you might be asking me if I can mention it, a John Milton book, in my newsletter.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it is possible maybe five-10 years time with Lucy.
James Blatch: We'll see. Okay. My biggest thing is writing, which is the number one thing we should be doing and it has been so busy. The last three weeks, my feet have barely touched the ground. I'm sure, yours haven't either. And the first thing that drops away from me is that writing, I've done a little bit but I'm hoping on holiday, when I'm going to do far, far less, not nothing. And in our lives, we don't get to do nothing in our jobs, even on holiday, unfortunately with SPF and Fuse. But I'm going to do less. And I'm hoping to do a little bit more writing, which I enjoy.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Although I think I said to you before, the short story I'm writing to give away to try and build my mailing list this year before I start novel three, I've set it in art Royal air force, 1950s. And I think Comercia that is the wrong place, I'm now having second thoughts about that. Whether I should stop it and start something set in the states, which I quite enjoy writing as well.
Mark Dawson: Anyway-
James Blatch: That is for me to ponder.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. See what you feel like we need in America. I'll probably make it uni easier for you.
James Blatch: Yes. Yeah, do some research and a favour to Edwards Air Force Base, get shot at from the security pilots.
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: Anyway. Okay. Let's move on to our interview, we have Cara Alwill. Cara is a very, very motivated, brilliantly successful woman who has used her feeling that women should feel more empowered and should be more active to drive her own career in her own writing. And it seems like we take it for granted in 2022 that women, why wouldn't they feel empowered to do all the things that men have done in the past. But actually 20 years ago even, it did feel different for women and it took a few leaders in the space to help and being advocate for women, and Cara was definitely one of them.
So let's hear from Cara, and then Mark and I will be back for a quick chat. Cara Alwill, welcome to the self-publishing show. Lovely to have you here. We're going to talk about the difference between trad and indie, the advantages of indie. And I think about empowerment, particularly female empowerment should we say, that seems to be like a theme we're going to go down. Okay. All right.
Why don't we start with a bit about you. Can you introduce yourself to our listeners?
Cara Alwill: Sure. My name is Cara, I'm from New York city. Lived here my whole life, so I'm a native new Yorker. I've been writing. I think, God ever since I was a little girl, I wrote my first book in the fourth grade, I put together two pieces of canvas glued together. It was called 'A cat who couldn't fit in'. It was my dream to be an author for the time I was young.
Then my career progressed, I was in the music industry for a while, but I still always had that desire to write. Didn't really know what I would write about. And in my mid twenties, I had a blog that I knew I was going to turn into a book. Started to connect with women, just really telling my stories going through... I guess you could call it a quarter life crisis, I think that is what the kids say now. So started sharing my stories.
James Blatch: I didn't realise you were allowed a crisis at that stage as well. Okay, fair enough.
Cara Alwill: I think we have constant crises right growing up.
James Blatch: Yes, you know about.
Cara Alwill: This was happened to be in my mid twenties and I really just started to chronicle what I was going through. I was still working a full time job, I worked in advertising at MTV and I felt really unfulfilled. So the blog became this creative outlet for me. As I started to share my stories, I started to get messages from women all around the world, before Instagram, but there was Twitter. So that was how we were all connecting in the social media sphere, this is 2008.
I started to really feel like I wanted to develop a book, but I wanted to do even more than develop a book. I wanted to really help women. As I was learning with everything that I was going through in my life, whether that was a breakup or just choosing my career and going on a different path, I wanted to be able to give real advice to women who were facing their own challenges.
So I became a certified professional life coach and started writing and my books just took off. I think I was writing for about six out of the eight years, I was at MTV. And then finally, I just took the plunge once I was making enough money. I always said, if I could just pay my rent from my books, which I did, all self-published. And I left and it is just taken on a life of its own from there. I've got a podcast, I've now written nine books. Self-published eight of those nine books.
I coach women entrepreneurs mainly just on mindset and how to get through all the imposter syndrome we all feel and the insecurities and the self doubt. And I'm actually writing a memoir now. So I've taken a complete turn from my personal development writing and I'm working on that, it is about love and relationships. So it is super exciting.
James Blatch: Okay. Well, we'll unpack some of that. It started with the blog, so what was the desire?
What did you feel you needed to say when you started the blog?
Cara Alwill: The blog was called The Champagne Diet, that is still the name of my brand. It was a very tongue and cheek name for it. I was looking for something that I could drink, that I could incorporate into a healthier, if you will, lifestyle, champagne is 90-100 calories in a glass. It came up in a conversation with a friend. I started drinking champagne and we joked around, I called it the champagne diet. But I noticed as soon as I started to drink champagne, I felt a little bit more elevated.
Champagne is usually like... Especially here in the States, no one really drinks it, so it was like a fancy thing. And I... It quickly became a metaphor for me on how I wanted to live my life. When we pop a bottle of champagne, we're usually celebrating something, we're relishing in the moment. And I really wasn't living that way, so the blog was a way for me to document my quote champagne life, if you will, even though it was not fancy.
I was 26-27 living in New York, trying to make ends meet. But I was really experiencing a lot of changes and it really was rooted in gratitude and celebration for everything that I had. I started to document my stories, broke up with a really bad boyfriend for me, started my writing career, progressed through MTV, just became healthier mentally and physically. And that was really the impetus for writing the blog. I wanted to appeal to women like me at the time who really wanted to work on personal development, but I didn't see anyone out there teaching it, who looked like me. It was like a lot of the Tony Robbins of the world and everything felt just a little bit corporate.
At the time, Sex and the City was the big show. And I was like, there has got to be somebody like a Carrie, but that doesn't want to just talk about men, but wants to talk about chasing your dreams and pursuing the things that make you happy. So, that was what inspired the blog and then the first book that I wound up doing.
James Blatch: So, did you think that the self-help stuff... There was Tony Robins. But even before him, I remember who was the guy who did the shaver cold, whatever his name was. I remember those, they were all men as well, weren't they?
Cara Alwill: Yeah.
James Blatch: That has changed now, but maybe you were in the Vanguard of that.
Cara Alwill: Totally, it was a very male dominated industry and it just felt very dry to me. My books are littered with curse words. I have a sense of humour. Everything is very dry, sarcastic. And I didn't see that, I felt like everything was really serious and there has got to be a way to bridge the gap and to make people laugh and to tell these stories about what I was really going through, but really weave in actionable items for people and how they wanted to improve their lives based on what I was learning.
James Blatch: How did you get visibility for your blog?
Cara Alwill: Twitter and Facebook, I had a personal Facebook page that I would just... I had no idea what I was doing, it was... Again, I had just signed up for Facebook, I think in 2009-2008, and I would just post links. I was on blogspot, which was I think Google's first blog and it was atrocious. The blog, when I look back at it now, I'm like, oh God, what was I doing? I had an image I found on Google search as my logo. And it was just, it was what it was. I was starting out.
So I would just tweet and post on Facebook and I started to get a following and it was very small following when I did my first book, but it was enough. I think of people who were really invested in what I was doing and in the story. Self-publishing was just starting to really blow up at that point. Seth Godin was talking about it. It was becoming more normalised. So it was just really interesting time I think, to do it.
James Blatch: And you self published your first book, but you looked for publishers to start off with.
Cara Alwill: I did.
James Blatch: As you would've done did in 2008-9, yeah.
Cara Alwill: Yeah. I really thought that was the route that I wanted to take. I always had the dream of having the traditional publisher. So I queried a bunch of agents knowing, most of the time you get rejected. And I actually got a couple of bites. I signed with an agent, we worked on a proposal and I wound up getting rejected 19 different times.
James Blatch: Even with an agent.
Cara Alwill: Even with an agent. I didn't even know there were 19 publishers, I thought maybe there were five.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Cara Alwill: So I just faced all of this rejection and I just was like, I'm not going to let these people make the decision for me and decide whether or not I'm going to be an author. I'm going to figure out a way to do it on my own. And I did.
James Blatch: How did you set about self-publishing? Because this was the wild west days.
Cara Alwill: Oh God! It was crazy.
James Blatch: We've grown out of it now. But it was in those early days, I don't know where you'd go to find out what to do.
Cara Alwill: I read an article called Reject the tyranny of being picked and pick yourself by Seth Godin. I think he wrote it in about 2008, everybody should Google it. It was short, but it was just so powerful. And it was around the times, remember Rebecca Black? When she was on YouTube, she sang that song Friday.
James Blatch: I'm big fan.
Cara Alwill: He was talking about how she didn't need a record label and all of this self-published success with all of... I forgot. Who was the big romance writer at the time? There was somebody that blew up. Oh, 50 Shades of Grey.
James Blatch: E.L. James, yeah.
Cara Alwill: Yeah, E.L. James. And I just started to look into the industry. And at that time, there was... We weren't even on Instagram, so I was Googling things and I would go on writers forums and start to just collect information. I had a big word document that I was just collecting links for and trying to figure everything out. It was the days of Createspace, and I used to call them all day long. I don't know if you remember this, but you could put your phone number in, they'd call you. And I would just put my number in all day and ask questions and then write notes, and document everything. It was so scrappy, but it worked. And I wound up self-publishing my first book. I had a graphic designer that I met on Facebook, she was a fan of the blog. She did my cover for me. She did the interior. And we did it.
James Blatch: I'll add, that all I love about this is we talk about self-publishing being... It can enumerate the authors better because of the royalty rates and traditional publishing contracts are not great for authors generally. But it is not really that.
It is about what your blog was about. It is about empowerment and taking control and making your own decisions, not relying on other people. Self-publishing embodies all of that, doesn't it?
Cara Alwill: Totally, it is about choosing yourself, right? And deciding that you're enough. I think a lot of people have a hard time with that. I didn't immediately feel comfortable doing that, I had many, many doubts. I thought, was everyone going to laugh at me? Am I going to get torn apart on Amazon? Which by the way, you do even if you have a traditional publisher. There are people out there who are going to love you. People who will hate you. But it really is about choosing yourself and just deciding that you're going to make it work and figuring it out. And it is interesting, I never drew that comparison that really is what my work is about.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Cara Alwill: Just deciding that what you want to do and not waiting around for someone to choose you. I think so many of us wait for anything. Even making the decision to leave my full-time job and write for a living was tough because everyone around me was like, you're crazy. You're giving up a six figure job. You have an office in Times Square in New York city. It is biggest media company in the world, basically Viacom. But I had to just follow that little nudge that was telling me, there was more.
James Blatch: I always think, my friends in America who consider their jobs, one thing we have to take into account, in your landscape what we don't have is health care, which sounds like a silly thing from a European point of view to think about. But I know from friends, they run their self-publishing. Quite a big business, it is still a side hustle because of that health care.
That has that must have been quite consideration.
Cara Alwill: It was tough. At the time I was married and my husband actually wasn't working for a couple of years, so I was carrying the health insurance and I had to wait until he had the job. So then he could cover me under his insurance before I could leave, even though I technically could have left. And now, I'm divorced and thank God I make enough where I can pay for my own insurance. But my health insurance is almost as much as my rent in Manhattan. It is absurd what our health insurance looks like here.
James Blatch: I'm not going to get political, but it is a crazy thing. From a European point of view, to think that is like a handcuff to choosing a, say a different life venue, I thought I just mentioned that.
Cara Alwill: Yeah.
James Blatch: So this first book, I guess, was it called the champagne diet?
Cara Alwill: No, it was called Sparkle.
James Blatch: Okay.
Cara Alwill: And it was because one of my friends had made a comment to me. Like, you got the sparkle back in your eye. After I started to write and really just move on with my life, so that was. It was going to be called The Champagne Diaries but it became Sparkle. And that book actually, I was told my writing wasn't good enough. I had all the publishers telling me everything. Like, you're not famous, who is going to care?
But the book actually hit number one on a couple bestseller lists on Amazon, the weekend that it came out, it stayed there for a while. And it is how many people can you get invested in your story, who are going to be excited about it at that time to buy it. Fortunately, there were enough people, so that was a big motivator for me. That was I think the moment that I saw like, wait a second, I can do this on my own. I'm not famous. My book is not groundbreaking, but it is about the story you tell the people you connect with.
James Blatch: Did the book make money in those early days?
Cara Alwill: It made a couple hundred bucks a month. It wasn't anything substantial. It took time for sure. But I think as I started to build on that book... By the time that I got to my third book, I was making enough where I could sustain my rent, which was the big goal.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Cara Alwill: But it took three books and a lot of hustling and a lot of building a community and building my own platform. But I loved it.
James Blatch: Yeah. A very typical self-publishing story about the number of books. I'm still on book one, so I'm still investing, but about to publish book two, which I think will be break even above. Okay. So that was book one. And based on your blog, thematically, what were you saying?
Was it this empowerment message? And did you deliberately aim it at women at that stage?
Cara Alwill: So the first book was really about how I started the blog and really the changes I was going through. So a lot of relationship talk, a lot of talk about choosing happiness, developing confidence in myself. I think for a lot of women, especially at the age that I was at, you're confused. You feel like, should I be getting married? Should I be having babies? And my story was very different.
I walked away from a relationship that I was in for seven years and he wanted to get married and have babies. And I just knew it was the wrong person. So again, it was a lot of deciding to really blaze my own trail when it didn't look like it looked for everyone else on the outside. So I think that struck a chord with women, that they could really just do things in their own way and they didn't really have to follow the status quo. So that was really the theme of that first one.
The second one was The Champagne Diet that was more about accepting yourself, body positivity, which was a little bit ahead of its time because now that is a big conversation, but this was really something that I feel like was on the cusp of, which resonated a lot with women. Even men beat ourselves up, we don't feel good enough. That was the second book. Really The Champagne Diet started because I was looking for a lower calorie drink, so it tied into the blog. And then, I can't get into all of them, there is nine.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Cara Alwill: To go into every single one that knows where it began.
James Blatch: Right. We'll talk about them at 10. I'll be honest before this interview, I'd never really considered champagne as a choice for a diet, but it makes perfect sense. I know that my drink of choice, which is beer, particularly here in the UK where we don't really do light beer, is terrible. It is the warm thing. If I stop doing it, my weight falls away. If I carry on doing it, which I do, I find it more difficult, which is why I go running and cycling, just so I can drink beer.
Cara Alwill: Same. I work out to drink champagne. It takes about an hour on the Peloton to burn off... I don't know, a bottle of champagne.
James Blatch: Yeah. It is a great motivator, isn't it?
Cara Alwill: Oh, totally. Totally.
James Blatch: How much of this process was a cathartic process for you in helping you deal with those changes in your life and how much of it was doing it because you felt that you needed to help other people?
Cara Alwill: That is a great question. I think it was both, for sure. In the beginning, it was more cathartic. But I did always remember, I would say like, if I could just help one woman, one person. If one person could read something I wrote and they could feel a little bit less alone because I knew that the books that I... And that I still read to this day, make me feel comforted just to know someone else is going through something. But it was definitely cathartic. I think as I've progressed in my career, I've been more focused on helping others. I look at my life and I say, "Okay, what are the challenges that I face? And how can I take that and tell that story and help somebody else through whatever challenge they're facing?"
James Blatch: So you talked about your other books, I think nine of them now.
Cara Alwill: Yeah.
James Blatch: At some point, you did land a traditional deal. When did that happen?
Cara Alwill: I left MTV in 2014 and that year, I wrote a book called Girl Code. And the book was really about what I was observing in female entrepreneurship, which was a lot of cattiness, a lot of competition, a lot of women excluding other women from conversations, opportunities. I had met a couple of women on my journey who were the complete opposite of that. And I was like, I want to be like them. I want to share. I want to be generous with my time, my energy, my... Whatever, my connections, my wisdom.
The book was really just about how to support other women. I included stories from other women that I had met that had experienced strong connections with other females. And the book took off, I think the first year, it sold 50,000 copies on its own, just through Createspace, which was wild.
James Blatch: Wow!
Cara Alwill: Yeah. And then at that point, a couple publishers, literary agents started to reach out to me. Penguin Random House reached out and editor emailed me one night. It was the night before Thanksgiving, I'll never forget it. I was just so excited. I'm like, oh my God! This is the moment. It is going to happen. And I was very happy self-publishing. But of course, you have that dream. You have to explore it.
I wound up meeting with her and I signed a double book deal with them, a six figure, a double book deal. And they bought the rights to Girl Code. And then they signed me for my next book, which is a book called Like She Owns the Place.
So I have a lot to say about that whole topic. But in a way, it was great because Girl Code was able to be translated in multiple languages and it is in bookstores and airports and it really took off. But it was a tough decision to sell that book because that book was bringing in like 20,000 plus U.S. dollars a month.
James Blatch: Wow!
Cara Alwill: Just on my royalties through Createspace. So it was a lot to give up, but yeah, I did.
James Blatch: Yeah. And it was the big one, Penguin Random House is the biggest publishing.
Cara Alwill: Huge.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Cara Alwill: Portfolio Books was the imprint. Seth Godin ironically, was under them. Sophia Amoruso, which did #Girlboss, and a bunch of other super respectable authors that I loved and admired were on that label. But I say, label like I'm in a music engineering on that imprint.
James Blatch: Yeah. Stable, they call it, don't they?
Cara Alwill: Yes.
James Blatch: Good stable to be in. Okay. So you produced these books, how much is there to say? When you finished a book and you've said, "No, this is what you need to do. This is all this positivity stuff."
And then you do another book that has a slightly different take on it, or where does it all come from for you?
Cara Alwill: Yeah. They're all very different. The one I did before Girl Code was about fear, and it was about anxiety and fear and overcoming your fears. And I told a lot of stories through that as well. The latest book that I did, Girl on Fire, actually was about my experience in traditional publishing. And why choosing yourself as an entrepreneur is really the way to go, no matter what you're doing?
I feel like I'm able to pull from different experiences. Two of the books that I did are workbooks, so there is a lot of storytelling in them, but there is also a lot of space because I am a coach, there is a lot of space to answer questions and include prompts, I did a poetry book at one point, so I've explored all of the different arenas. Like I said, I'm writing a memoir now. I think there is always something to say as long as you're a student of life and willing to look at your life and ask tough questions that I think a lot of us don't ask. I definitely have not asked those questions at times, but I notice when I do, I'm able to learn so much and then turn that into something that I can use to help others.
James Blatch: Okay. We'll talk about what you do now and coaching and stuff in a moment. But I'm curious as to... And stop me if this gets personal, but where it comes from?
What was it in your formative life that led you to feel so engaged in wanting to teach? Which basically what you're doing, you're teaching.
Cara Alwill: Yeah. I think, feeling really lost when I was younger and feeling like I didn't really have anyone to ask those questions to or go to and just feeling like I wish I had had somebody, I never had a mentor. I never had that person that I could really look to. Of course, I had my mom, I was raised by a single mom. My mom did a great job, but she was busy and she was working and going to school and working two jobs. I never really had a person that I could look to, so I almost became like the adult in a lot of ways as a kid. So I think I just naturally took on that role. I just have always been that person that everybody calls for advice and comes to. And I don't know, I love it. I feel like that is the point of life, is to be able to help others. And it also gets you out of your own head, because if you're sitting around thinking about your problems all day, it is pretty depressing.
James Blatch: Yes. That is a good way of dealing with that.
Cara Alwill: Yeah.
James Blatch: I'm just wondering, whether you were the cat that didn't fit in when you wrote that story?
Cara Alwill: Maybe. That is a great point. Yeah. I always felt like that as a kid, I always felt insecure. I think a lot of us do, but I definitely think I created a little world for myself now where I have this universe of people that I love. And I think like I was always on the outskirts. I was like the weird kid in high school. I hung out with the weird kids. I didn't even go to high school, I used to go cut out of school, an intern for a record label. I was not popular. I just did my own thing. So I think now, I've created a space for all the weirdos to come.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Cara Alwill: Yeah. You'll see.
James Blatch: It can be enormously powerful, that experience when you were younger and-
Cara Alwill: Oh yeah.
James Blatch: I think a lot of entrepreneurs are driven, one way or another through not wanting to be like that again or wanting to have control of their environment, and that certainly seems to be the case with you. Let's talk about what you're doing now. So you mentioned coaching at Cara.
What does your week look like today?
Cara Alwill: I coach Monday through Wednesday and I have a couple of private clients and I also have a group. So I have a membership club and I have about 400... Between 4 and 500 women in that group. And each month, we do two calls. We do a masterclass and I pick a topic and it is always related to something personal development wise, I'm either teaching it myself or I'm bringing in a guest.
Then I do an ask Cara call, like a dear Abby where people can just come on, who are members and ask me anything they want to ask about business, life, love. So, those happen twice a month. So my coaching is just for private clients. I do courses every now and then do a personal branding course that I roll out usually twice a year.
I really am just focused like I said, on helping entrepreneurs, mostly women. Really just deal with stuff that inevitably is going to come up, whether they're an author or another coach or a jewellery designer, fashion designer, real estate agent, attorney, I work with everybody. I think it is an interesting space to be when you're working for yourself and there is a lot that comes up, so I like to be that person that people can come to and say, "How can I get through this situation? I'm struggling. Can you offer me advice?"
I'm usually a few steps ahead of them, so they're newer entrepreneurs. I've been doing this now for 14 years, so I'm able to take everything I've learned between my entrepreneurship journey and my corporate experience because I was in the corporate space for so long as well as a mentor to people.
James Blatch: And let's talk about one or two of the things, the types of things that people come to you with, then that you end up dealing because you must have had some repetition over those 14 years, the common things. I'm thinking in particularly, self-published authors. Perhaps, particularly, females who are working at the moment, trying to make a go of it.
What sort of areas should do you think would they would be coming to you and asking about?
Cara Alwill: A lot of people deal with imposter syndrome. They feel like, who am I to write a book? Who am I to start a business? So we do a lot of work around that. A lot of work around the judgement and the fear of what people will think. I think especially as an author, I feel like authors are artists. We're putting our art into the world in whatever format that comes. It is scary to do that. It is your life. It is everything that's in your heart.
So I work with them on getting past that fear of like, well, what if I say this? What are people going to say about me? What will my parents think my neighbours think? That is a big theme, a fear of failure comes up. I don't really believe in failure, I think it is all experience.
If you can reframe it in your own mind, it is less scary because I think failure is really what we think someone else is saying about our experience, it is not really what we've gone through. What is a failure at the end of the day? I could call myself a failure, but I would only really be a failure if I stopped and I never self-published and put myself out there, could have been a failure if I just stopped trying. So I work with a lot of people in that as well.
James Blatch: This concept of failure is critical to understand that you cannot really make progress without it, it is a fundamental.
Cara Alwill: Right. Look at every successful person out there, whether it is not there or otherwise that we look to. That is quote made it in the world, they've a laundry list of failures under their belts. Everybody has screwed up at some point or made a bad choice or a weird choice and had to realign their path and pivot and choose something different. I think especially with the whole pandemic, I feel like we all had to be in that position, where we had to rethink a lot of things. And that was a huge lesson in not really failure, but just realignment, if you will.
James Blatch: In terms of imposter syndrome, which you're right, is a definitely a big issue. Is this some something that we talk... You can use that concept of it is not really failure. So if somebody thinks, well, this might be awful and the critic, the reviewers on Amazon might hate it. Sometimes I want to say to somebody, "Yes, that might be it. But, what is next? Is the big question for you." If the next step is, I'm never doing this again, then you've made it a failure. If the next step is right, what did I get wrong? What are these common things that people are saying? Let me read a few other books in the same as genre, what did they get right? Then your next book solves a lot of that issues and moves you along then. It is not a failure, it is an important stepping stone.
Cara Alwill: Totally. And you're never going to please everybody, but I do think it is great what you said, because I actually write about that in my last book. You should look at the feedback that is coming in, I don't believe in just ignoring it and saying like, I'm so wonderful. I don't have to read this. If there is a common thread, look at it and decide, is this meaningful to me? Can I take something from this and learn?
For example, when the publishers came to me and said, "You don't have a big enough platform." I was like, okay, I'm going to grow a platform. I'm going to figure it out and I'm going to make it work. I wasn't a celebrity when I put out my book, I'm still not, but I still made it happen. So it is like really looking at it objectively and saying like, well, can I learn from this feedback, if anything. And then, just choosing to forge ahead and figure it out.
James Blatch: What do you want to be doing in the future? Are you happy where you are at the moment or do you have ideas of what things are going to look like for you in a couple of years time?
Cara Alwill: I would love to just keep writing. I think I really have been obsessed with writing about relationships and dating and love, that whole topic is so new for me to talk about.
James Blatch: Back to Sex and the city.
Cara Alwill: Exactly. I never spoke about it before and there were reasons why I didn't really speak about it. I was married and it just was unhappy, so I felt like whom I to talk about love, it didn't really make sense. I got actually got divorced in January of 2020. No idea what was ahead for all of us.
James Blatch: Wow!
Cara Alwill: Yeah.
James Blatch: Wow!
Cara Alwill: I was turning 40 that April. And I was like, I have to move on. This isn't working. My husband is a great guy, we're very good friends. It was a very amicable split, but who knew that I was going to get a divorce in the beginning of a pandemic. So that has been really interesting, dating through the pandemic, finding myself, figuring out who I am as this newly single person.
I want to talk a lot about that. I think giving advice to women... I don't really think there is one right way to give advice about love, but I do think helping women really see their worth and realise that they're okay with or without a relationship, it has been a big conversation that I've been having over my podcast and my Instagram stories and just helping people navigate that and figure out what is worth staying for what is not.
I think at the end of the day, it all comes down to the same thing, which is confidence and empowerment and feeling good. And this goes from men too, I think I want to actually expand a little bit and be able to talk to everybody because I've spoken to women for so long. But I have so many readers that reach out and they're like, oh my God, my husband read your book. My boyfriend listens to your podcast and I'm like, it doesn't have to just be centred towards women.
James Blatch: That is some universal stuff though, isn't it? And is that the connection between love and dating and the more business side of things, the self worth is the thing that can solve issues on both sides of that?
Cara Alwill: Yeah, choosing yourself no matter what, whether it is for your career as an author or for your relationship or just your general career, it does come down to just choosing yourself. I think being happy where you are regardless of what is happening around you, right? Regardless of your relationship status, regardless of whether or not you've got a book deal or you're in your business full time or you've lost those 25 pounds, being good with who you are, I think is really... I hate to sound cheesy, but it is the secret to life. If you feel good and you're happy, the outside things are not going to rattle you as easily. And I think that is what I really want to drive home to people.
James Blatch: Yeah, that is definitely a secret to enjoying the moment and enjoying who you are and what you're doing. I don't think that many of us have it. I don't, to be honest. I work hard, I think I'm a bit better now than I was. But most of my life thinking at some point, I'll be doing something that makes me happy. Or you go on holiday and you can just enjoy it rather than feeling worried about all the other things going on. And it is just as stupid really, because whatever job I've had, none of them have really required me to sweat my way through a holiday. It was a choice I made, I didn't realise I was making that choice.
Cara Alwill: Yeah. And that is my biggest lesson at the moment, is just being here now and enjoying the present and not thinking too far ahead. Because I didn't know, 14 years ago, I couldn't have predicted where I'd be now. So I hope I can't predict the future because exciting stuff happens. You want to have somewhat of a vision and be working towards goals but I think the best stuff really happens when you don't have the plan. When you just like, my friend has this expression, she is like, you just have to have open palms. And that has just been in my head like, oh, if you think of your palms being open, you just imagine things landing and happening for you. It doesn't mean you don't work hard and you don't pursue things, but just allowing life to surprise you is probably the biggest thing that I'm trying to do right now.
James Blatch: Yeah. And this idea about choosing yourself and believing in yourself and making choices for yourself, that is not to be confused with not being altruistic, right? And not doing good things for other people that potentially cost you time and money because I think people think it is a selfish thing to choose yourself, but that is not really what you're talking about, is it?
Cara Alwill: Yeah. And I think we need to redefine selfish. That is a whole other conversation. Being selfish isn't necessarily a bad thing, it doesn't mean that you're rejecting people around, you're isolating yourself. I think it is about the intention. If your intention is to be happy, the happier you are, the better you're going to be for the people around you, the better you're going to be for your partner, your parents, your friends, your clients, your friend, family, whoever.
I think we tend to think we should be selfless and we should put other people before us. And unless it is your kids, which of course, should always be a priority, I think. I don't have kids, but I respect anyone who does. And I think that obviously has to be a priority. But other than that, it is like, you've got to be happy, you've got to do things for yourself. And I think this world would be such a better place if we were all doing a little bit more for ourselves.
James Blatch: Yeah. So let's turn it back. Before we wrap up to publishing as is where we started, the self-published versus trad publish, you're in quite a good position now to explore both of those.
You said, getting that deal was a big moment for you, but what is your takeaway on those two and what would you advise people?
Cara Alwill: Self-publishing, all the way. There are so many reasons. I think number one, financially, you're in such a better position if you can self-publish. Because even if the first book doesn't make it right off the bat, you still can build on that, you own the lion share of the royalties, you own your creative rights, which is huge. You also have the creative control and the timeline, you could write a book in a month if you really wanted to.
When you're traditionally publishing, it is usually about 18 months from start to finish until that book hits the shelves. And I know when I did my book with Penguin, I was over it. By the time I came out, I didn't want to look at it, didn't want to talk about it. I was onto the next idea.
I think also just having again, the control. You're dealing with people. Again, I don't want to trash talk Penguin, they were great. And I'm very grateful for the experience, but I was assigned a very junior publicist who didn't have experience. When I asked about it later, they said she'd wanted to work with me. But I really didn't get a say in that, I got more press on my own organically than I did through them.
I feel like it is just the way of the future. I hate to sound again, corny. It is true. They're an antiquated model, they're really not looking to evolve. I think when you're self-publishing, there are so many changes and there is so many things. As long as you're willing to put in the work and treat your book like a business... And that is one thing I will always tell people, you have to treat your book like a business. You have to look at that and say, "This is my baby. I'm in control of it. And I've got to stay up to date on what is going on." If you're willing to do that, then I think self-publishing is for sure the way to go.
James Blatch: Your clients you work with, do you have many writers?
Cara Alwill: I do. I actually do a self-publishing course. So we've got people that come into that, we release it once a year and it has just been incredible. I think it is a mix of people who are entrepreneurs, who want to establish more credibility in what they're doing or people who just want to tell their story, who are happy with their work and their full-time job and they just have a story to tell and they want to share it with the world. I work with a lot of writers and it is fun because you see people who otherwise may not have ever thought they could be an author. And now all of a sudden, they're holding their book in their hands and there is no feeling like that. I remember the first time... I'm sure you know this feeling very well, you held that book and you're like, I did this.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Cara Alwill: It is something that most people dream of, but to actually do it and it is so much more accessible than people realise.
James Blatch: Yeah. I often think, I think it is an achievement in its own. I don't think until you've written and published novel, you realise how much of an achievement it is. It is a sweat.
Cara Alwill: The labour of love.
James Blatch: That is how I deal with imposter syndrome to an extent when I get a bad review. And I thankfully have had good reviews on my book, but some people just lay into you and say, this is rubbish and towdry or whatever. And I just think, where is your novel?
Cara Alwill: Exactly. The only place those people are published is a comment box on Amazon.
James Blatch: Yeah, nice line.
Cara Alwill: They're not in a book.
James Blatch: I don't comment on it, of course. But that is what I should say.
Cara, thank you. It has been brilliant talking to you. I feel quite motivated. I know, not necessarily a target audience. But really like you say, the universal nature of what you were talking about actually goes across genders, anyway.
Cara Alwill: Thank you.
James Blatch: We look forward to seeing you in London. This interview probably will go out after the conference. But from where I'm sitting here, looking forward to seeing you in London and we'll have a chat and I'm sure, a lot of our listeners will be checking out your books now.
Cara Alwill: Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. It was great to talk to you.
James Blatch: Don't forget that cat, by the way. Because I think at some point, we do need to see that book.
Cara Alwill: I might bring it. I'll bring it to London.
James Blatch: Yeah. All right. Thanks, Cara.
Cara Alwill: Thank you.
James Blatch: Really love talking to Cara. Felt very motivated after that. She is very motivating person and her books. I'm sure are the ones that are going to unleash some talent around the world. Good, Mark.
So just to mention, the Ads for Authors will be open in five days time. Well, if you're watching this on the day, it is released. But August the 10th for three weeks max, and all you need to do is go to selfpublishingforumula.com/adsforauthors, and you can read all about it. You can read everything that is in the course, there is a very detailed set of pages there to describe for you, everything that is in there.
There is even a little chat box on the bottom right hand corner. And sometimes it is Mark and me, answering those chats. More often, it is John or Catherine on the team. And they will be honest with you about whether it is going to be a good investment for you or not at this stage. And we are still continuing because COVID won't go away with a two year payment plan to make it as easy as possible and make the entry as easy as possible for people to learn about driving your sales with paid ads. That, Mark Dawson, is that...
Mark Dawson: Thanks.
James Blatch: You're welcome. I hope I'm not just started sniffing, I hope I'm because my house is full of COVID at the moment. I did not want COVID because I'm about to get on a flight to America on holiday.
Mark Dawson: No.
James Blatch: I do get a bit snuffly as you know, from alcohol, but I haven't drunk for two days. We drank every day, didn't we in London last week? So I've tried to ease off it.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: Anyway.
Mark Dawson: All right. Fingers crossed.
James Blatch: Fingers crossed. That nasty virus. Okay. Thanks very much indeed, to everybody behind the scenes for putting these together over the summer, in particular, very much appreciated. All that remains for me to say a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye for me.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Mark Dawson: Goodbye.
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