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The guys open the show with the announcement that this podcast is going on an extended hiatus. The episode continues with question and answer sessions featuring authors Daryl Banner and J. Thorn.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

Interview Transcript – Daryl Banner

Jeff: Daryl Banner, why do you write?

Daryl: To tell amazing stories, to move people, and to give them an experience they will never forget.

Jeff: That could just be on your marketing banner. That was really good and succinct. Let’s break down a little bit how you write. Do you tend to plot, or do you tend to, you know, pants it and make it up as you go?

Daryl: It depends on the book. I do both. I plot and pants sometimes with, for instance, my bigger series, like my “Outlier” series where there’s literally 15 moving parts all at once I have to plot it out. I have to organize what all the chapters are going to be. Sometimes, usually what happens with my bromances is I have a very strong idea, and I make strong decisions at the beginning, and then I more or less pants my way to the major plot points because it’s important for me for the book, and the characters, and the interactions to feel organic, especially coming from a theater background where acting on a stage, it has to be organic as an actor. You don’t feel the forced plot because you’re making choices of your motivation as you go. I do that in my writing as well. I try to make it feel and where it’s…if I’m surprised while I’m writing, the reader is going to be surprised. So, I write as a reader.

Jeff: Do you think your theater background gives you a certain edge to your writing because you’ve approached the written word in that way?

Daryl: Yeah. I think my theater background probably gives me the strongest edge on dialogue because playwright, I mean, a play script is pretty much all dialogue with stage directions. And the one thing that I’ve had to learn turning into novels is that when you have a play, you can say a lot in a few words, and then you have an actor, and a director, and a team who interpret those words in a way that can convey so much more that’s beyond the page. In a book, you don’t have that extra benefits of the production. You have to rely on the reader to understand the subtlety and the nuance between your words. So, I’ve had to learn how to pull that nuance out of the reader in case I get a reader who say he might read more on the surface, who might just read the words and then not realize that there’s a lot of tension between these characters because of their clipped words, their short sentences, and maybe the reader doesn’t quite get that. So, I don’t want to spoonfeed. I do not want to spoonfeed, but I do want to sprinkle in the hints that make it more obvious in a book setting of, you know, maybe by someone gripping their glass tighter, someone’s words becoming tighter, you know, someone’s jaw locking as they’re trying to speak., just things that indicates what you might see on a stage. I’m very cinematic. I’ve been told I’m very cinematic in my books. You can visualize them very easily.

Jeff: Let’s talk technology a little bit. Are you…

Daryl: Sure.

Jeff: …Scrivener, or are you Word, or something else?

Daryl: I am a Microsoft Word user all the way. Microsoft Word is where all of the formatting happens and my book happens. That’s what I write into. Sometimes when I’m plotting a book, I’ll do it in a different medium. I’ll either…like Notepad. I mean, nothing too fancy. I’ll literally just have some other medium. Sometimes I’ve even used Excel. Like, I’ll make a spreadsheet of things to just plot things out. I’ll even use Photoshop. I’ll even, like, make a graphic that just kind of…where I can free form almost like a dry erase board, I’ll just freeform, plot out what’s happening, especially in a book like “Outlier” where I need something beyond the scope of words to wrap all these stories together. But my go-to is Microsoft Word. I’ve been using it ever since forever, so I’m most comfortable with that. Now, I’m very geeky. I love techie stuff, technical stuff.

Jeff: Have you taken the leap on dictation at all?

Daryl: I have not. I do not dictate. I have heard very good things about it. I’m such a technical writer, like every punctuation, even the difference between the and A, and like I’m very, very technical and precise when I write. So, I’m not sure, honestly, if dictation would be for me or not. I could totally… But I’m also an editor at heart too, and I’ve literally edited other books. I actually had several years where I would edit other people’s work in addition to writing full time. And so, I don’t know if I might dictate someday just to try it and see if, you know, maybe I can produce faster, who knows, and then edit my own work. Maybe I could do that, but we’ll see.

Jeff: Do you have a favorite time and place to do the writing?

Daryl: I think I’m the most productive during the day after I wake up and late at night. I have a productivity slowdown in the late afternoon and the evening because I’m kind of like…you know, your brain needs to recharge. You know, people don’t realize how much energy your body consumes from your brain specifically. Like, I’m, late at night, I’m like…you know, if I’m writing, I will literally reach a point where I’m starving. I’m literally starving, and it’s not like a cravey, I just need a snack food. It’s like I’m hungry. I need a meal and it’s 3:00 in the morning. That’s not ideal. But… Because your brain, literally, it consumes a lot, especially when you’re thinking hard and you’re making very complicated choices.

Jeff: And these days you’re a full-time author, which is awesome.

Daryl: Yes, thank you.

Jeff: How did you get there?

Daryl: By writing romance. That is the long and short answer. I’m a full-time author because I write romance. I would love… I don’t know. I’m kind of mixed feelings on this. I don’t know… I mean, I was about to say I would love for that to not necessarily be true that I could write full-time with any genre, but romance, I’ve found, connects with people the strongest. I feel almost like I personally I’m seeking love in a way through my books, through romance, almost by, like, sharing this idea of love for other people who might be like me. I’ve been single for a long time, and I do obviously battle lonesomeness, spells of lonesomeness and spells of, “I’m so glad I’m single. I don’t have to deal with someone.” But then I also have spells where I kind of wish I had to deal with someone. I wish I had someone in my life. And that constant battle is what creates my romance, I think. And if it’s speaking to other lonely gay men out there who are feeling it or who feel like they’re clicking with my characters, I like to hide things in plain sight in my books because I don’t like to see myself as…I’m not really, like, conventional in a lot of ways as far as relationships go, and so I like to hide things in plain sight and really speak to everyone. You know, while people in my books… While the HEA in my romances might be finally getting the guy, living happily ever after, sometimes HEA and a happily ever after really isn’t like that for some people. Sometimes finding your happily ever after can be finding yourself. It can be finding a peace in your own life. It can be finding a community. It can be finding somewhere that you belong where you’re able to express yourself and not have to hide things about yourself. You know, it can be a lot of different things. So, yeah. Did I go way off or did I answer the dang question?

Jeff: You answered the question, and then gave some good additional stuff too.

Daryl: Cool. Yeah.

Jeff: Everybody has a mistake somewhere in their business. What’s something you’ve learned from in your author journey that you might call a mistake?

Daryl: You know, I definitely think there are some specific mistakes that I’ve made, but it’s kind of… I’m going to kind of give that little…this is a little bit of a cop-out answer. I’m really sorry. But it’s kind of, like, I feel like even from the mistakes that any author might make in their career, you learn from them. So, I don’t really regret the mistakes, you know. It’s like, yeah, I messed up a few times. I think if there’s one thing that I might genuinely regret, it’s I wish I had understood and not been so judgmental of romance at the start of my career because then I would have understood the importance and how relatable the romance genre is to anyone. Because, I think when I made that revelation, it changed my life, you know, and that was six years ago. So, I think that would probably be my one mistake I would say is I wish I had started writing romance sooner, and appreciating it sooner, and keeping my mind open. I mean, coming from a theater background, that was one of the biggest lessons I learned as an actor, be careful what you reject because in life, you don’t know… Like, for instance, when someone asks you what kind of music you listen to and someone gives an answer like, you know, “Oh, I listen to anything but rap,” and it’s like…you know. I understand, like, maybe it’s not jiving with you, but be careful about rejecting something that you don’t think you like because there might be something in it that could truly speak to you. And that lesson creatively, be careful what genre you reject, or what type of writing, or this, or that, you don’t know. There could be gold in everything. So, that’s a lesson I learned. I wish I’d started sooner.

Jeff: That’s a good lesson for everybody for sure.

Daryl: Yes. I agree.

Jeff: On the flip side, what’s something you think you’ve done really well?

Daryl: Maybe just boldly be myself and write what inspires me, whether that’s the romances that are maybe my most popular that people know me for, or my totally off the wall, dystopian, epic series, or diving in and rereleasing something like “Lover’s Flood,” which is deeply personal, dark, makes me feel kind of vulnerable actually to put that out there, that book in particular. So, I think the boldness to just write what I want and to just put it out there.

Jeff: And do you have a piece of advice for someone who’s just starting out?

Daryl: I would say for someone who’s starting out, it’s really important to know exactly what you want out of your writing career. Like, for instance, are you looking to fulfill yourself as an artist solely, or are you looking to make money? And is there a sweet spot that’s going to do both of those things for you? Because, you know, it’s important to understand whether you are… I mean, because, for instance, in other words, people who come into writing, you might just want to do it for fun. It might just be a hobby. It might just be, you know, you know your work is not going to sell or you know that it’s not mainstream. Maybe it’s some super niche erotica type of thing, just the fantasies that you want to get out because they excite you and you want to put them out to the world. That’s awesome, and there is totally audiences for that, and you could make a living doing that. Maybe there’s these super crazy fantasies you want to write or, you know, vampire romances, and things like that, just whatever, you know. I think that you should find that balance. You should first off write what you want to write, but if you also want to make a career out of it, you want to make money and you want to support yourself, I think that it’s important to find something that fulfills you and that does both. And you got to really…especially in the independent publishing world, you need to be as much of a businessman, as a business person, as you are an author because the creative, a lot of people have that. I swear, there’s someone living in their house right now who would write the most brilliant, provoking, insightful work in the world, but they’re not a business person, and they don’t have the vessel to get that brilliance out into the world. And I’ve had to learn. It’s been a hard learning curve over the past 10 years to learn how to really balance because I used to hate marketing myself. I hated the advertising aspect. I hated the idea of trying to… I mean, I’m such an introverted person. I’m a home body, so the idea of going out and selling my books in stores, that was what I did with my first book.

I actually had a friend at a Half Price Books who let me bring my books there and set up a table and just sell them. That was the most terrifying day of my life to actually like… And then when no one would come by my table, I would, like, have to just take some of my books and walk around the store, “Hi, do you like to read?” Of course, you like to read, you know. It’s like I was so terrified. It was, like, one of the worst days of my life. But the point being is that you have to embrace the business side of it too and the marketing side because when you find that balance and you really get to here with the creative and the marketing, you start to realize that they actually hold hands because what you’re writing determines how you market it. And if you know who you’re writing for, you know how to market it, and it even…it really does kind of affects your work. And when you find that happy balance, that’s how you can make a living out of it. And it takes a lot of sacrifice, which I think is the biggest lesson that I’ve had to learn, which might even be part of the reason why I am still single. I’m not out there kind of pursuing the…I mean, other than COVID. I’m not out there pursuing people, you know. I have sacrificed a lot. I have sacrificed a lot of having, like, a social life really and certain things to build my career and to do this.

Maybe the last thing I would say is quality over quantity. Pay attention to the craft, and learn, and always keep your ears open and keep your mind open, and learn from the criticisms that you’re given. And you have to listen to criticisms, but listen with smart ears because there will be criticisms that you receive that push you, and there’ll be criticism, and sometimes criticisms can be motivated. Someone might give you criticisms just because they don’t like you, just because they don’t like what you write, just because they don’t like how you write. But you know what? You might still write brilliantly, and you might be speaking to a whole group of people that you don’t even realize because sometimes the praise is silent, and you need to keep that in mind when you’re writing. So, that’s why I say listen to the criticism. It’s really important, but listen smartly. And ultimately, that helps you fine-tune your ability to be self-aware because I think that one of the biggest, strongest, sharpest tools in your shed is self-awareness, which is why, like I said earlier, write like a reader, you know. Be the reader as you write, and know what your words will sound like to your readers’ ears.

Interview Transcript – J. Thorn

Jeff: J. Thorn, why do you write?

J. Thorn: I don’t have a choice. I’ve come to the conclusion I… That’s my thing. It always has been. I can trace it all the way back through many aspects of my life. But when I don’t write, I feel off. I’m not a happy person. I’m short with people. So, I write because I have to.

Jeff: Let’s talk about how you write a little bit. Are you a plotter, or a pantser, or somewhere in between?

J. Thorn: I’m definitely in between. I started out as a pure pantser, and over time, I’ve become more of a plotter only because the older I get, I realize I only have so many words I’m going to write. I only have so many stories I can tell, and I don’t want to waste time or words. And there’s nothing wrong with pantsing, but I think it’s probably universally agreed upon, especially by pantsers, that if you pants, you’re going to be throwing stuff out, you’re going to be cutting things because you’re pantsing. That’s the nature of it. And so, I think for me, the older I get, the more I do this, the less pantsing I do, but I’m not a hardcore plotter. I don’t have, you know, 20,000-word extensive outlines. In fact, I have three bullet points when I go to plot a scene. I have my choice, or I have my conflict, my choice, and my consequence. And those are three bullet points. That’s it. So, if I’m writing a 2,000-word scene, those bullet points take up 100 words, I’m pantsing, 1,900 of those words. And that’s how I look at it. So, a little bit of planning can go a long way.

Jeff: Are you a Scrivener, a Word, a Google Doc? What’s your technology of choice there?

J. Thorn: Yeah. Solo, I love Scrivener. I love the ability to drive the virtual cards around on the cork board. So, I first draft in Scrivener when I’m doing it by myself, export out to Word because that’s what most editors want. For collaborations, Google Docs, mostly just because of the ease of use and ubiquity with that. So, yeah. So, I think that’s probably… And then all revisions are usually in Word after it comes back from the editor.

Jeff: What about time and place? Do you have, like, a moment where your writing creativity is at its peak?

J. Thorn: Yeah, I’m a big believer in time blocking. So, I don’t know if you are familiar with Cal Newport and “Deep Work” and “Digital Minimalism,” but the more I read on productivity, the more I realize that time blocking over, like, task lists works incredibly well. So, I will block out my first draft and I will say, you know, “From 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. on Monday and Tuesday is just first drafting on this project.” And I don’t worry about word count or anything. I commit to being butt in chair working on those, and if I get 200 words or 2,000 words, great. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing at that time. I tend to be much more creative and energetic in the morning. Decision fatigue wears on me by the end of the day. I’m doing mostly administrative stuff because I’ve lost my decision-making mojo by then.

Jeff: I understand exactly how that goes.

J. Thorn: Yeah.

Jeff: Have you done the dictation thing at all?

J. Thorn: I have.

Jeff: Because that can certainly make you have more words than you plot.

J. Thorn: Yeah, I have. I’ve dipped in and out of it, and I find that when I’m writing non-fiction in first person, dictation is beautiful because I’m just speaking the way I would talk, and then I can go and clean it up. When I’m writing third-person fiction, I find that the amount of revising I have to do begins to cut into the advantage of dictating in the first place. So, when I look at, like, net time, I’m not that much far ahead with fiction, but for non-fiction, yeah, dictating is great.

Jeff: And you are a full-time author. How did you get there? You’ve certainly documented this a lot on your podcast, so you can give us the constricted version, and then we can send somebody to your origin story next time if you want.

J. Thorn: Yeah. The truth is, I don’t really know how I got here. Like, that’s the truth. And, as you said, you know, we all have long, complicated stories of how we got where we were, but I essentially started…I remember the first inkling I had when I wanted to write a novel. I was in my 30s and I was reading some book and I was like, “This is good, but I could write a better story.” And I think every author has to have that moment, like, whether you verbalize it or articulate it or not. Like, I think there’s a part of you that goes, “I could do this. I think I could do this.” You’re totally wrong when you say that because you have no idea what you’re getting into, right? And if you knew what you were getting into when you first said that you probably wouldn’t do it, but you learn as you go. And so, I just started pulling on that string, you know, and as I was…I had a family, and young kids, and a day job, and a mortgage, and car payments like everybody else, but instead of laying on the couch, or instead of going out and drinking with my buddies, I would work at my writing. And that’s kind of how it worked. And it’s skills, and time, and everything learning accumulates, and you look up and it’s, like, five years later, and now you’ve got a few books out and you kind of know what you’re doing. So, I think it’s encouraging in a way because I think what I’m saying is like this is a long-tail game and you just take it as it comes and you don’t have to meet anyone else’s expectations. You don’t have to come out of the gate with a bestseller. I think if you’re doing it and you really love it, it’ll eventually go the course it’s supposed to go.

Jeff: Now, everybody makes a mistake, or two, or three, who knows? What’s something in your particular author journey that you’ve learned a lot from?

J. Thorn: Yeah. This is the one that I captured on video in perpetuity at Author Marketing Live! 2014. It’s hard to believe that was almost six years ago. Early on in the “Kindle Gold Rush” days in 2012, I had a great opportunity that I totally blew. I had a free book that I put into a promo and had 36,000 downloads in five days. And, like, compared to what KDP or KU free days do now, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what it was back then. And what was crazy back then is you would come off, you would get those free days, you would rank on Amazon’s free book list. And then the moment it went back to paid, you would pull directly over. So, if your book was at, like, 500 in the free store, the moment it went back to paid, it was 500 in the paid store. And so, what happened was I did not use a professional editor. In fact, I didn’t use any editor. I said, “I’m a writer. I know how to write. I can edit my own work.” And I got killed in the reviews, I mean, just slammed because the book wasn’t edited and I deserved it. And that was probably the biggest mistake that I made and the one that really drove home the point that, like, “If I want to do this, I’ve got to be a pro.” Like, “It’s fine if I want to be a hobbyist. I don’t need to edit, and I can make copies for my family, and that’s great, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if I’m going to go to a marketplace and I’m going to ask people to spend money on my work, I’ve got to up my game. Like, I’ve got to be a pro.” And that was a big turning point for me.

Jeff: Yeah. I think there are still shockingly people out there who don’t understand you must get an edit and it can’t just be you, and it can’t be your spouse, and it can’t be your best friend.

J. Thorn: And it can’t be Grammarly or ProWritingAid. I mean, those are great tools, but, like, you can’t rely on that the way you can an editor.

Jeff: Yeah. On the flip side, what’s something you think you’ve done really well?

J. Thorn: Well, I think what I’ve done really well is I’ve continued to push myself as a student. So, you know, I do podcasts, and I do courses, and I write books, but I’m constantly learning, and I’m constantly seeking out people who are ahead on the path from where I am. And I think that’s important. Like, no one has all the answers. No one is free from impostor syndrome, but I think what you can do is just take a growth mindset and say, “Yeah, I’m just going to keep learning and I’m going to make mistakes.” I think it’s really easy when you hit a certain level, especially in the indie world, especially in romance where, you know, you have rapid release, you have voracious readers, it’s easy to just start cranking out the same thing over and over again, and not growing, not developing because the audience wants it and they buy it, and commercially you’re “successful.” But I think all of us, even those really successful romance writers who are cranking out, you know, multiple books a month, like, I think we want to get better. We want to become better writers. That’s ultimately why we’re doing it, most of us. So, I think, you know, what I do really well is I just constantly push myself. I mean, I spent $1,000 on a writing course last month. I continue to seek out learning opportunities and continually grow and get better.

Jeff: What’s a piece of advice you would have for someone just starting out?

J. Thorn: One word, patience. There are these success stories and it’s survivorship bias because, you know, you always hear about the people who put their first book up or put a book up and they’ll make $10,000 a month for six months. Of course, you’re going to hear those stories. I don’t think there’s as many where, “Yeah. I never had a breakout and here I am 10 years later, and I’m still writing.” Like, those kinds of stories you don’t hear as much. So, I think it’s important to be patient, not only with the market, but with yourself. You know the first book you write is not going to be your best book. You have to go through a natural process. Every writer does it, and it just takes time. And don’t say that to be discouraging. In fact, I think it’s encouraging. I think what it’s basically saying to people is take the pressure off yourself.