Russell Nohelty is a USA Today Bestselling author and publisher at Wannabe Press. He’s written comic books like Katrina Hates the Dead, Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, and Pixie Dust, along with more than two dozen novels, including his Godsverse Chronicles and The Obsidian Spindle Saga. He also edits the Cthulhu is Hard to Spell anthology series.
If you think wow that’s a lot… you have just scratched the surface. He has a mailer list of 17000 true fans (we will unpack the idea of true fans too in the interview) and writes 5000 words a day or edits 20000 words…that’s Avatar level skills in my definition. But he was not always like this and in this interview, Russell tells just what all he did to become a writer and create an awesome author platform!
What’s been your author journey?
I had a rule, that I could do any stupid thing, as long as I could make money doing it till the time I turned thirty. Thirty was my deadline. When I turned thirty, I had to get my act together. You know, get a real job, have a real career and put everything else on the back burner. After graduating in 2004 I directed a movie, a tv show, pilots and a bunch of stuff. In 2008 I found my passion for writing and I moved to Los Angeles with the idea of making a go for it. But I found it difficult. No one was buying anything and I couldn’t even land meetings. That’s when I realized that if I really wanted to make a go of writing and being a creative, I had to learn marketing and sales.
So, the first couple of years in my 30’s I spent working in sales jobs. Among others, I worked for an insurance company and a Sprint dealership.
Sprint taught me the basics of sales and marketing because the guys there were hardcore sales guys. The first couple of months I was barely making enough money to keep my seat, eventually, things started clicking and I started making the sales and I became the best salesperson. After that, I became the sales manager and then finally in 2015 I left when I understood that I had done what I set out to do. I now knew sales and marketing for my writing journey.
The lack of interest from prospective clients makes so many writers give up, but you persevered and it led you down a very different path. What were your learnings in sales and marketing?
Well, there are plenty of ways to do sales. Some of them can be pretty schlocky and underhanded. For me the main lessons in marketing were:
- Find the people who resonate with your frequency of weird:
You have to keep finding them over and over and over again for the rest of your life.
I read of Kevin Kelly’s simple idea 1000 True Fans and he says you just need to find 1000 True Fans. They will support your creative journey and help you earn a good living.
How do you find them?
Well, usually 1 out of 100 people you talk to resonate at your level and will buy everything you offer.
If you go looking for a thousand true fans, you will find one such fan after meeting a hundred people. So, you need to meet a hundred times the people to find the 1000 you are looking for and that’s roughly one million people!
So, you need to be in contact with a million people to find a 1000 true fans.
Understanding this concept and then working at Sprint made me learn some more sales ideas…
- Be aware of the kind of people who will never like what you are selling:
Yes, you will never do the right things for some people. Find out who such people are and then don’t waste your time on them. If they don’t like comics at all, like they hate every comic and they are not willing to come around and try any comic, then don’t try to sell them comics. If they don’t like fantasy and are not ready to try it out then let them be. Don’t waste your time on people who will never want anything you sell.
- Stop taking a No personally:
There are many reasons why people won’t buy from you. People deal with an awful lot of stuff in their lives but as an author, we often give up saying, “Oh, this person didn’t buy, they must hate me.”
No, It’s not you.
99 times out of 100 times you will not meet your kind of person. They will not be excited about the same things you get excited about, they will not have the same frames of reference, will not have the same likes and interests. And that’s ok. It’s not that they are making bad work, or that they are a bad person, it’s not like that they have bad taste, it’s just that the things that they like are different from the things that you like. Recognise it and move on to the next person.
- You can’t change kiss-off reasons:
Now Sprint and Verizon both have the same plans and when I worked at Sprint and I asked some people if they wanted to change to Sprint some would say a hard No. Nothing I would say could ever change their mind. They would give reasons like, “I hate Sprint it stood me in the past,” or it could be, “we have a big project and we can’t do it for six months,” or, “we literally just signed the contract and we are not going to get out of it for two more years.” I could spend a lot of time trying to convince them but that would just be time wasted for both of us. If someone is going to kiss you off, then probably it is not a great time to talk to them anyway.
- Convert the 80%:
Understand that 10% of people will resonate completely at your frequency and 10% just won’t. But 80% are fence-sitters. So, for every one person who is like that true fan, who really loves everything that you do, you might find nine other people who like only one thing. They might like your speaking, like your podcasts, like your non-fiction work or like your sci-fi or comic work. I write fiction. Some readers, if they like one series, they will forever read only that one series, and will never read another thing that I do.
As a writer, I have to create a funnel to get the others in.
That’s a lot of learning. The funnel for fiction sounds brilliant in how many ways did you use it in your work?
I write a lot of different things. I write some fantasies, some sci-fi, some horror and I have fans who will buy all of my Cthulhu is Hard to Spell anthology but won’t buy anything else, and the same thing with the other series…
Let me pretend that I am at a sales convention and you are at my table. You stop. I usually say something like, “Hey, you want to see a cool comic or do you want to see a cool book?”
You say, “yes.”
“Ok, I write novels and comics and I also write non-fiction so, hey do you like comics or novels more?”
“I like comics.”
“ok, cool, so you like psychological mind screws more or girls that kick butt more…”
“I psychological mind screws.”
“Great! then Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter is the book for you”
It’s that simple.
I don’t say things like, “Are you enjoying the conference?” because you could turn around, look at me, smile and walk away.
My aim is to try to get the people to at least give a one little yes.
This is what I learnt from sales- start with one little yes!
Cthulhu is Hard to Spell anthology series was created because I knew people who like Lovecraft would like it. The Godsverse Chronicles is about magic and fantasy. I am coming out with a new series called Obsidian Spindle Saga which is about mythic fairy tales, and the books are is about Sleeping Beauty, the Wicked Witch and the Fairy Queen. They are all titled in that way to attract a bigger audience.
My goal is to expand my brand more and more, with each book and series. So, it services the people who are in the middle.
This means one must really understand your niche and audience… What method do you use to understand your audience?
You have to know not just the demographics; in fact, I hate when marketers ask me about demographics. I don’t care about demographics…
I care about psychographics, like a rebellious spirit or mischievous or sarcastic or practical or all these things that we use to go into the psychographic makeup of the kinds of books that we make or the kind of people we are trying to attract into our audience.
I learned all of this in the sales and marketing training because I found that there were certain people I could talk to and there were certain people I couldn’t talk to. So, I would say, “Hey Carlyle come over here or hey John, come over here, this client is more of your kind of person and not my kind of person,” and hope sometimes they would do it for me.
Doing that allowed me to just get better and better and better at weeding out the No’s and funnelling through the Yeses.
This is really the most important part because when someone says a Yes, their eyes light up at a certain moment, a certain thing that you say makes them take notice. Pay attention. Make note of those words or phrases and mould them into your messaging, because that brings more and more right people to you. Slowly, you start getting more people in the Yes bucket rather than in the No.
Which platform do you prefer to use to connect to your readers?
In 2015, I created my first mailing list and I grew it rapidly in 2017. I have probably had 200,000-300,000 people over the years on the list, to get to that 10,000 that really like what I do. My true fans. The mailing list is my main channel. We have 17,000 people on it right now. I am always growing it and culling it and then growing it and then culling it. I’ve got about 8- 10,000 people who open consistently and about 25,000 people I reach out to when I have a launch.
I also have a Facebook page, a Twitter page and an Instagram page. The Twitter and Instagram page just see when people mention me. I have a YouTube channel but I don’t use it much and I had a podcast for 200 episodes. That podcast was probably my favourite thing as far as non-book marketing.
What works really for me is my mailing list and my Facebook. But most importantly just launching stuff. Launching stuff is the best marketing I do because every time I launch stuff, more people come into my world and more people want to be a part of the thing that I am doing. I launch my books on Kickstarter.
Initially, I was very scared to launch and used to launch once a year and I thought that was too much. Now I launch about 4-5 times a year and I can see whether the marketing is working, whether the books are working. That’s also the I usually run ads. I don’t run a lot of ads but mostly rely on word of mouth and collaboration with other artists and writers and of course my mailing list.
An important part of being an author for me is not just writing books. It is connecting with people who love the books and they make it worth it. I could go and get any sales job in the world, and make way more money doing that but I write because I love the connection between some random thing coming out of my head and how it connects with somebody else.
How do you write so much?
Gary Keller wrote a book called the ‘One Big Thing’ and in his book, he posits that if you can move forward with the one big thing, the most important thing in your life every day, it will change your life.
I found that writing 5000 words a day or editing 20,000 words a day is what I needed to do to finish a novel. If I can do that, the rest of it will come. Of course, having an audience also helps.
People don’t appreciate the value of having an audience. It is so much easier for me now than it was five years ago, because I know when I launch a book I will at least make a few thousand dollars on it and probably break even on my investment.
But you have to work for your audience. A lot of that work is about making the product because what they want from you is not a blog post. They want the next book. That’s the funnel of fiction- you have one book then you turn them into a series of books.
Marketing is the thing that I have to do every day, but marketing is irrelevant if I am not creating.
For any creative, it’s all about creating new modules for your course or creating new podcasts episodes, or new blog or all of that stuff is the creating part of it. If you are not creating consistently then it’s really hard to market it consistently because you will have gaps and people don’t want gaps. You need to be moving the needle along in the creating part of it while you are doing the marketing.
I didn’t always write 5000 words a day, it used to take me a year to write a book and I knew I had to write 1000 words a day. I would come home and I would say, “1000 words today,” or “one scene today,” or “10 pages today”…whatever the thing was. I always had that goal and it always added up. It compounds a lot better now. At 5000 words now, it’s almost 12 books a year. No, it’s more than 12 books a year, if you don’t take any time off… it also depends on how long a book is. But writing those words is the one big thing I do not deviate from. Consistency is the main thing that can make an author succeed.
What do you attribute to your success?
In whatever you choose to do- be it as a writer or speaker or a course creator. If you are consistent enough, people will look back and say, “wow, for five years this guy is speaking. I should at least give him a shot! I should try him. Over time he’s got more stuff, got more things to talk about. I should try it because clearly, he is not going to keep doing it, he is not going to keep doing it unless he has an audience for it.”
Nobody is mad, very few people are madmen or madwomen who will do it, even when no one is paying attention. They might give up in frustration but they will not keep going literally if there is not even one human who paid attention to them. So, if you are consistent people start noticing you.
It’s very hard for me to get my head around 5000 words a day. Seems superhuman! How do you manage your day?
I have a schedule and I use time blocks. 6 to 9 is yellow time, it is used for marketing. 9 to 2 is green time which is my writing time. 2 to 5 is hanging out time or red time. I do whatever I want, reading, working out, going on a walk, whatever I want to do in that time. Then 5 to 7 is again marketing admin time. From 7 onwards is the time for me to hang out with my wife. So I learnt green time, yellow time, red time.
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