Wow, we had our big launch this past Monday and it was EPIC!
So, tell me: have you read all five books yet? Can't wait to find out what happens next? And most importantly: have you left your review to help the authors get the visibility they need?
Today my Apocalypse Weird guest is not one of the authors, but he's an equally important player who's been working tirelessly behind the scenes, especially in preparation of the big launch this past Monday. Rob McClellan is the founder of the author platform ThirdScribe. He is also our publishing guru who, in only a few months, built a platform for all authors to use and share,to keep track of our documents, editing and publishing schedule; he published five books, with two more coming every month, and, if this doesn't impress you enough, I shall add that he still hasn't sent me off my merry way [ <- euphemism ] every time I send him a panicky message screeching, "Help! I found yet another typo!!!"
So please welcome the one and only Rob McClellan to Chimeras.
EEG: Let's start with your involvement in the Apocalypse Weird project: how did it start and what did you think when you first heard about it?
RMC I first heard of it when it was in its earliest stages. I take care of both Michael Bunker and Nick Cole over at ThirdScribe, and after talking a while, Nick sent me an early copy of the “World” document and asked if I wanted to write a story. I told him, “Dude, I am WAY too busy for that right now,” and we tabled it.
A couple of weeks later, Michael Bunker shot me a note and said he really wanted to integrate ThirdScribe into this Apocalypse Weird thing, so we talked about what it was, what they were planning to do, and different ways TS could help them. And, I really liked the idea. A recent topic of discussion at TS had been around mentorship of newer authors, and AW really worked well with that concept. It was also extremely similar in many respects to what Hugh Howie had been preaching in his “New Harper Collins” posts, urging publishers to be more agile, cost effective, and helpful to authors.
Next thing you know, Marissa (my sales and marketing head at TS) and I are on a Skype with Tim Grahl going over capabilities and ideas to help them promote new “Tier 3” authors using our Stories platform. So, we got busy planning that out and one morning, driving in to the office, Nick Cole calls me and says, “We need you to help, can you do it?”
And, all honesty here, I am WAY overbooked as it is. I remember sitting there thinking “I would love to be a part of this, but I think it may very well kill me.” As I said, though, I believe in the concept and I feel this is how things should be run -- mentorship of newer authors, author heavy royalties, aggressive publishing schedule -- so I said “I’m in.”
Then I called my wife so she could tell me how insane I was.
But, it’s been working out. The first week of taking over as COO was extremely difficult - I got about 2-3 hours of sleep a night for the week! - but, at the end of that blitz, Kre8ing was built and we had a platform that was easier to use, kept our documents straight, provided a wiki so we could build this shared universe, task management, messaging, forums. And that system has really enabled us to keep up with all of this craziness.
I mean, seriously, we have authors distributed all over the planet, a production staff spread across the US, and an extremely aggressive 2 books/month schedule with a 5 book launch (including your book, Immunity). Basecamp wasn’t cutting it, and Facebook is nice, but you can’t keep a record of anything for more than a day or so at your all’s pace. Building a production system we could all use was a necessity.
Once that was in place, things calmed down and we really started rolling. We have pretty much hit every production deadline, with a few brief exceptions. We have a plan for each author and book until the end of 2015, and the entire team -- authors, artists, editors, formatters -- are super excited about the whole thing.
I’m gung ho about Apocalypse Weird. And, since I get to see and read all of the books as they come together, I can assure you that readers are in for real treat.
EEG: You are the founder of Third Scribe. When did you realize that a platform like that was needed and how did you go about creating it?
RMC: That is a very complicated question…
I guess I would say it was Spring of 2011. I had been building websites on the side and a few clients were authors. I had some friends who were artists and editors and such, and so I put together a little company to provide author services. But, it was a very hard sell. We had a few clients, but most authors we talked to already had a system for that in place -- an editor they liked and trusted, a cover artist they preferred, formatters, etc. But, almost every single one asked if I could provide marketing help.
I gave that a lot of thought and research. I reached out to successful Indie authors to see what they had done, and eventually I had a framework for how authors should be marketing on the web. And, I’ll be honest, it’s not THAT complicated. It takes work, that’s for sure. And a plan. But the individual steps are not that hard. Get a nice website, grow an email newsletter, have a content strategy to keep your audience engaged between books, and use your newsletter to power each new book launch cycle.
I almost stopped at that point, and said, “I’m not sure where the business is, here. The tools are around the web, just let authors figure it out.”
But, that was the techie in me. I assumed because I had a technical mind and enjoyed the web, I figured everyone did.
But, they don’t. It’s not that easy to set up a website for most people. Many don’t know how to format purchase links and get a book landing page looking good. They don’t know how to pick the right site theme, or what color combinations work. They don’t know how to build landing pages, or find and configure specific plugins to get the tools they need up and running. I’ve seen a lot of authors spend way more money than they should have for websites that didn’t work for them.
Knowing that a website is so essential to the author marketing effort, I figured I would set up a system that would let any author, regardless of technical skill, have a great website that would work for them, built around actual, proven design principles to ensure they were effective.
As I started down that path, I thought it would be quick to put together. Wordpress multisite, a few hand picked plugins, and it could take off.
But, nothing is that easy.
I knew we needed a book management system. I also knew we needed a social component for audience engagement. I wanted authors to have control over their purchase links. We had to have genre and subgenres, forums - it just kept growing. We created Enter Once so authors could put their books anywhere on their site just by using a drop down menu, because I knew -- I knew! -- that getting books out of the “My Books” page and into blog posts would increase click rates (and later split testing proved it did, by a factor of 17x).
It became a huge endeavor, and what I thought would take me a few weeks, ended up taking a team of 4 over a year to build.
While it took longer than we planned, the result is, I think, pretty amazing. And, we’re always improving it. This year we’ll be adding in several more service platforms that will really help authors out.
When we first launched, I figured, “Hey, we’ll provide this awesome platform, put some instructions in place, and let the authors handle it”. But, I soon realized that they weren’t doing that. Nor were they using the Support system to file a help ticket to get things done with their site. This kinda bothered me, because, again, as the tech guy I was like, “Why aren’t they using this beautiful system?”
Michael Bunker had been one of those early authors, and I sent him a message via the system and said, “Do you need some help entering your books and setting up your website?” He said, “Sure” and helping him, seeing the problems he was having, grew into what we now refer to as “collaborative support” where we, as network admins, continually prowl the entire network, both social side and author site side, looking for ways to help our members. And that freewheeling, “dive in and help” technical assistance has become, for many, our defining feature.
When you talk to ThirdScribe site holders, they all comment on the exceptional support we provide.
EEG: What do you like best about Third Scribe?
RMC: Ha, that’s like asking which one of your children you like best!
All joking aside, the thing I like the most about ThirdScribe is that the authors who use it are getting real, tangible benefits. That is a huge feeling of accomplishment for us. Empowering authors is why we made the service.
Nick Cole is no slouch in the writing department, but before he joined ThirdScribe he absolutely hated his website. It didn’t work. Blog posts didn’t show properly. He couldn’t configure sales links or organize his book pages. No newsletter. His menu was dysfunctional. It simply didn’t work, and he didn’t know how to go about fixing it -- so he pretty much abandoned it. He heard about us on Facebook and contacted me, and we got him all set up (as we do for everyone).
Now, he blogs regularly, his traffic is up, sales are up, ihs newsletter sign ups are up, but even more - he’s happy with it. He’s not frustrated. He doesn’t dread logging in to his site. He’s writing, having fun, and enjoying himself. And that, to me, is what we really want to accomplish with ThirdScribe.
That we get to help authors is the best thing about it, in my mind.
EEG: What other projects are you currently working on?
RMC: Aside from running a publishing company and heading the internet’s only comprehensive author platform, you mean? ;)
Well, I’ve taken on a writing mentor and am finally putting together the stories I’ve always wanted to write, which is an expansion on the Arthurian saga, specifically regarding Lancelot. It’s coming together slowly, I don’t have a huge amount of time to devote to it, but it is a serious goal for 2015 to get it out, and I’m working hard to achieve that.
We have several new modules of ThirdScribe in the works -- one is “Service” which will be a place authors can go to get reliable, professional production services (editing, formatting, cover art, videos , etc) without getting gouged. We’re working with several individuals and services now to get everything arranged and I think it will make a big difference for many authors. Authors can request the services they need, a’la carte, and we will connect them with the right talent for their needs, as well as manage the project for them.
We’re also working on “Select”, which connects authors with book reviewers and bloggers. It’s so hard to find good reviewers and many authors don’t have access to a large pool of ARC readers, nor do they know how to go about gathering them. We felt there was something we could do in that regard, so we’ve been taking steps over the last two months to put a service in place that authors can tap in to for beta reading, reviews, and other feedback.
And the last new module for this year is “Success”, which is an education platform for authors to learn how they can grow their audience, create better books, and improve their sales. There is so much mis-information out there, and so much vague advice, that we wanted to put a few courses together -- as well as ask successful authors in their field to as well -- that provide true, in depth, hard won information out there that would truly benefit the authors who use it.
We’re also working on an Enterprise Edition of the ThirdScribe platform, where publishers can set up their own network, tailored to their needs and the needs of their authors. We really see this as a huge service for small and medium publishers who want to grow their business and support their authors, but don’t want to have to invest heavily in IT.
EEG: Wow! You sure are busy! And how wonderful that you are working on your own novel, too. Best of luck with that! What's the weirdest thing you want to see happening in the Apocalypse Weird world?
RMC: Well, so far I’ve seen zombies, earthquakes, hurricanes, aliens, viruses, voodoo, and killer penguins. That’s a lot of ways to end the world!
But… Two Words: Tunguska Event.
EEG: Haha! Thanks so much for sharing a glimpse into your world, Rob.
Authors and readers alike: check out the awesome platform Third Scribe because you can't possibly pass on all the exciting stuff Rob just told you about. You can find Third Scribe also on Twitter and Facebook.
Books in the Apocalypse Weird universe:
- Texocalypse Now by Michael Bunker and Nick Cole (available for preorder!)
- The Dark Knight by Nick Cole (first book free, get it here!)
- Reversal by Jennifer Ellis
- The Serenity Strain by Chris Pourteau
- Immunity by E.E. Giorgi