Spotlight 31: Jeff Barnes


Mark Dawson: I’m Mark Dawson from the Self-Publishing Show and this is Self-Publishing Spotlight, where we shine a light on the indie authors who are changing the world of publishing, one book at a time.

Tom Ashford: Hello, and welcome to the Self-Publishing Spotlight. We meet indie authors at all stages of their careers and ask them a series of five questions. Five questions about their process, their mistakes and their successes. Five answers that will help you level up your own author career.

My name is Tom Ashford and I’m part of the Self-Publishing Formula. Don’t forget that you can get your self-publishing resource kit at

This week’s guest is Jeff Barnes. He’s written two books in the business slash self-help genre and he lives in California.

Welcome Jeff.

Jeff Barnes: Thank you.

Tom Ashford: Do want to start by maybe talking about your books because it’s quite an interesting sort of a genre that you’ve got.

Jeff Barnes: Sure. I teach the world’s only accredited college course on the history of Disneyland and I’ve used that as a vehicle for writing two bestselling books.

The first one is The Wisdom of Walt: Leadership Lessons From the Happiest Place on Earth. And then the second book which is the follow-up, Beyond the Wisdom of Walt: Life Lessons From the Most Magical Place on Earth.

The first book focuses on Walt Disney and Disneyland, and the second book focuses on Florida and Walt Disney World.

Tom Ashford: Very cool.

First question is, why do you write? Was there a reason that you wanted to get into writing in the first place and particularly the topic that you chose to write about?

Jeff Barnes: I’ve always been very interested in story and the power that story has to engage us. In fact, Walt Disney himself most wanted to be remembered as a storyteller. That’s why he built Disneyland, not as an amusement park, but as a place to tell stories.

I was really fascinated in his story quite frankly, but I think most importantly, this idea that each and every one of us has the opportunity to live our own great story.

For me the opportunity to write a story, to tell a story, to engage a reader in any sort of story that might motivate them, might inspire them to change their story and to then go out and start living their own better story. For me that’s what gets me up in the morning and that is what makes me want to put words onto paper.

Tom Ashford: Cool.

Are you indie published or traditionally published?

Jeff Barnes: I am self-published, more sort of a hybrid. My books have the Aviva publishing label, which is out of Lake Placid New York, but it’s one of those deals where you pay them an up front fee and then you get the use of their label and they get you the ISBN number and then you retain 100% of the rights and 100% of the royalties. Which I think is just a really great way to go in 2019.

Tom Ashford: What introduced you to self-publishing in the first place?

Jeff Barnes: I actually hooked up with a writing coach individual here in the United States by the name of Patrick Snow. He recommended going that route and it was really a great option for me because again, it allowed me to maintain control.

One of the things I love about writing is I get to be my own boss. If somebody contacts me and I want to do a deal where I sell the books for less because I make a lot of money from speaking and I’ll use the books as an opportunity to get on the stage, I’m the boss of the book. I can do whatever I want and I don’t have to worry about a publisher or anyone else that I have to ask permission for.

There’s a lot of power in self-publishing today and again, it allows you to be the boss of the book and in my opinion, opens up a lot more doors and a lot more opportunities.

Tom Ashford: Very true.

Question number two is how do you write? It’s nonfiction but do you get down to plot your chapters out beforehand or do you just write and see where it sort of takes you?

Jeff Barnes: I’m actually working on the third book in the series, The Worldwide Wisdom of Walt, which will focus on the international parks and the cruise ships. Generally what I do is I will put the chapters down first and then once I know what the chapters are going to be, I then will fill in what I think the potential stories are going to be.

From there I’ll set a word count goal. For the first book, my word count goal which started in November of 2014, my word count goal was no less than 333 words a day. Now there were a lot of days I wrote more than 333 words, but there was never a day when I wrote less. It didn’t matter.

I didn’t write from beginning to middle to end. I just looked at the chapters. I just looked at the stories that I had slotted in before I ever started writing and wherever I felt like I had 333 words that day, that’s where I wrote. Over time, 333 words become 666 becomes 999 and before you know it, you’ve got half a book and things start to come into focus. Eventually it almost sort of becomes paint by number and at that point you just simply have to go in and fill in the gaps.

I say simply, this is not an easy process by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not nearly as difficult a process as I originally thought that it was, either.

The first year that I taught my History of Disneyland class, which was the launching pad for the two books, the first year that I taught that course, in the middle of that class I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was the brain tumor that led me to being committed to writing the first book which I had had in my head and had dreamed of writing for more than two decades. It was sort of that sense of mortality of are you going to do this or not?

And so what had been something that I had dreamed about and procrastinated on for more than two decades, once I set that writing goal of 333 words, I actually managed to finish in 142 days.

So again, it’s not nearly as difficult as you might think. You just got to get over yourself, lay out your chapters, lay out your stories, set a writing goal, stick to that writing goal and great things will happen when you give yourself into the process.

Tom Ashford: Is there a particular time and place that you prefer writing?

Jeff Barnes: I like to write in the morning. I’m very much a morning person and I have a room in my house that is a sort of my space, if you will. It’s my gaming room. It’s my television and movie watching room. And it’s also my writing room. So that’s my room and that’s my space.

Good things happen there. I’m very comfortable in that space. I’m not typically a very disciplined person. One of the things that I like about writing is it’s the one area where I know that there’s some discipline.

I’m going to get up in the morning. I’m going to go to this space. I’m going to commit myself to this process and I’m not going to stop until I have this particular word count. Then when I’m done I’m going to go on with the rest of my day. And then lo and behold, I’m going to show back up 24 hours later.

Tom Ashford: Question number three. It’s a little bit different because you do speaking engagements as well.

Question number three is, are you a full time author? If you are, how did you get there? And if you aren’t, what steps are you taking to make it happen?

Jeff Barnes: I’m not a full time author yet. I am moving toward becoming a full time speaker, however.

I’m selling about 500 books a month, which you know I think is pretty good for the space that I’m in, especially given that I’m not full time. But at the same time we are working on a blog that comes out twice a month and we are working on a third book. But all of this fuels another part of the business which is speaking.

Again for me, it’s part of the discipline and it’s also part of fueling that creativity, which I just ultimately enjoy.

But there’s another aspect to it as well and that is building an audience and finding out that you have a voice. You have a way of connecting with people. And at the end of the day you have something to say that people like to hear and that your voice matters and people want more of it. You’re never going to know that until you actually get started and put pen to paper and get your thoughts and get your words out there.

Tom Ashford: Question number four is what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?

Jeff Barnes: Oh, well, we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way and that’s okay. You’re not going to know until you try.

I think one of the mistakes that I have made is I did at one point allow my book to go to a more traditional publisher, thinking that they would do more for the book than what I was doing. That simply was not true. They did nothing other than take half of the royalties for that two year period.

Now to my credit, the smart thing that I did in that process was limit that contract to a two year period. I specifically said to the publisher, “I’m willing to do this, but it is going to be an experiment. I want to know for sure that you’re going to do more for me than what I’m already doing for myself. And if it doesn’t work, I’m going to want the book back.”

It didn’t work. I regret that I ever even assumed for a single second that a publisher would do more for me than I could do for myself. So, that was a mistake.

But again, I have to give myself credit. I was smart enough to limit it for two years and I did get the full rights to the book back. So again, if you think you need someone else to make this happen, you don’t. You can self-publish. You can do it on your own. The world is your oyster in the 21st century.

I think the second mistake that I am continuously making is this belief that there’s a silver bullet or there’s some sort of magic turn that’s going to make all of this easier. It’s been an incredible ride since the first book came out a little more than four years ago. We’ve had a great time with it.

It’s been a wonderful adventure, but the second you think if you do A then B is going to happen, it never quite works out that way. So you’re constantly going to be grinding. You’re constantly going to be hustling. You’re constantly going to have to work to get the next sale or to write the next blog post or to get the next chapter written.

And you’re going to have to love that because there is no silver bullet. You have to love of the work because the work is where the magic is.

Tom Ashford: Very, very true. Now you’ve given out quite a few good pieces of advice just like that during this episode.

Question number five is what is your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?

Jeff Barnes: Commit to writing every single day. I made myself unbelievably and unnecessarily miserable for more than two decades because I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t think anybody would care if I did do it. None of that was true.

And for me, I really want as many people as possible to avoid that anguish that I went through. Or at a minimal, don’t wait until you have some sort of life threatening illness to get serious about your writing goals and your writing dreams.

Whatever you have kicking around in your head, you can do it and you can start now. There’s absolutely no reason why you have to wait. Is there a lot of stuff you have to figure out? Absolutely. But you’re never going to figure it out all ahead of time. In fact, you’re not going to start figuring out until you get started. So you might as well get started now.

Tom Ashford: Very, very true. Cool. Well that’s it. That’s your five questions. Thank you very much for coming on.

Jeff Barnes: All right. And Hey, best wishes to everybody-

Tom Ashford: And to you.

Jeff Barnes: … because it’s a great ride and I really want everybody’s book to get out there because we need what’s in your head. We need it in a book.

Tom Ashford: That’s it for this week. Self-publishing spotlight.

Don’t forget that you can get your free self-publishing resource kit at kit. If you want to appear as a guest on the show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing at I’m Tom Ashford and I’ll see you again next week.

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