How Books Are Made

Marketing, collaboration, and creative freedom

People who can build book brands and inspire fans are rare and amazing, even more so when they write their books, too. One of those people is Sam Beckbessinger, the bestselling author of Manage Your Money Like a F—ing Grownup, which is a book, a website, and a growing brand in several countries.

She also writes for hugely popular kids’ TV shows, and was one of the writers on Serial Box and Marvel’s serialized novel Jessica Jones: Playing With Fire. She is irrepressibly joyful and optimistic, which is something we all need a dose of right now.

Links from the show:

This episode was published on 22 August 2020.
Supported by Electric Book Works: publishing reinvented for the digital age.

Transcript

Arthur Attwell 0:04
Hello and welcome to How Books Are Made, a podcast about the art and science of making books. I’m Arthur Attwell.

Arthur Attwell 0:19
About 10 years ago, our family room was half filled with boxes and boxes of books. In each of those boxes were 20 copies of one truly beautiful children’s book that I published. It was a large, colourful hardcover edition with endpapers and a thick silky dust jacket. I loved that book so much that I printed 3,000 copies with money I borrowed from the bank. And then the months that followed, I learned, not for the first time and not for the last, that I am very, very bad at marketing books. In the end, I sold 250 copies, and then lived with those boxes piled to our ceiling for more than a year. At one stage much later, I used stacks of them as the legs of our office boardroom table as a monument to my hubris. Eventually, and happily, I found a children’s book charity to take them as a donation.

Arthur Attwell 1:19
Marketing is one of the great mysteries of publishing to me. People who can build brands and inspire communities of fans around books are nothing less than alchemists. Even more so when they write their books too. And so, for this first episode of How Books Are Made, I wanted to speak to one of these alchemists. Sam Beckbessinger is the best selling author of Manage Your Money Like a F—ing Grown Up, a book, and now a website, and a growing brand that spans countries. She also writes horror stories, and on hugely popular Kids TV shows, and as one of the writers on Serial Box and Marvel’s Jessica Jones Playing with Fire serialised novel. I’ve known Sam for a while and we’ve made books together for children’s publisher Book Dash. She is irrepressibly joyful and optimistic, which is something we all need a dose of right now. To kick off our conversation, I asked Sam how Manage Your Money had come to be.

Sam Beckbessinger 2:18
So, I was working at 22seven, which is a personal financial management app. That must have been probably, what, five years ago now. I was finding it really satisfying because it was solving a problem that I really care about, which is, you know, ‘money is this terrifying thing and no one teaches anyone how money works’. I had never been taught and was trying to figure it out. I felt like I had learned so much in the process of working at this company and being surrounded by other people who were thinking and talking about money all the time, that I kind of just was filled with this information that I was desperate to share.

Sam Beckbessinger 2:57
So I just started writing some blog posts that kind of summarised everything that I had learned and I called it How To Manage Your Money Like An Effing Grown Up which felt like a, you know, lighthearted, fun title for blog posts, would never have been what I would have called a book. Then while like the weekend after I wrote those blog posts, I got involved in this tiny, really interesting little project that you might have heard of called Book Dash, Arthur. And at Book Dash, I wrote a book called Hippo Wants to Dance, which remains my favorite thing I’ve ever written, and my editor was none other than Ester Levinrad.

Arthur Attwell 3:38
No ways.

Sam Beckbessinger 3:38
Incredibly amazing Ester, who worked for Jonathan Ball Publishers, and we met at Book Dash. We started chatting, and we got on really well, and I mentioned to Ester, that ‘Hey, I’ve been working on these blog posts, because how the heck does money? How is money, you know?’ And she was like, ‘Oh, that sounds cool. I should read them.’ And then she read them. And then she commissioned a book from me. So actually, all of this is your fault. (LAUGHS)

Arthur Attwell 4:03
Amazing. I can’t believe Book Dash led to that book. That’s fantastic.

Sam Beckbessinger 4:07
It was a little serendipitous meeting. And it was this funny thing because you know, there is this real question of when does something need to be a book? When is it a better home, inside, you know, printed paper and old trees? A lot of turning it into a book was kind of uncomfortable for me because I’m someone who’s been a blogger for a long time and I’ve podcasted for a long time. And those are all mediums where you can change your mind and you can keep refining things. And as you learn more, you can keep updating everything and adding to the body of knowledge and revising.

Sam Beckbessinger 4:44
The weird thing about putting it all in a book was that it crystallized everything at that moment in time in a way that was incredibly helpful and powerful for me as a thinking tool, but also has been very odd. Because already now, a couple of years later, there are parts of the book that I… where my thinking has progressed a little bit or where I’ve learned more about these topics and you can’t go back and just update the book. The book exists, it has a complete life of its own now. But it also went much further and I think helps many more people being in book form than it ever would have if it had just stayed a Medium post.

Arthur Attwell 5:24
Yeah, there’s something about that crystallizing, I like that word, in a book that is obviously what we all love about books. And yet somehow something about the Zeitgeist of everything being all knowledge must be 100% up to date, kind of is at odds with that desire to crystallize something and have it set, at least briefly, in stone. We haven’t really resolved that yet in the world of publishing.

Sam Beckbessinger 5:51
I mean, kind of how I’ve dealt with it with the money book is, in the book, I included the website link. I said in the book, anything that goes out of date quite quickly, I’m not going to put in the book, I’m going to put on the website, so that I kind of hedged my bets a little bit. So there are some kind of companion pieces to the book that just work better as living, breathing documents, you know, like the live list of what are good bank accounts, or you know, where can you … if you should actually open a savings account, what is it good savings accounts open? Those are things that exist on the website and that’s been a pretty good compromise, I think.

Arthur Attwell 6:31
Yeah, the book seems to have some kind of tribe of true fans. Did you have to build that tribe from scratch? I mean, my sense is that nothing happens accidentally and books in and of themselves don’t create tribes, you have to still do a whole lot of hard work. And some of that, you know, you share with your publisher, and some of it, you just have to get done yourself. I remember when we spoke when it was, still the book was still in production, you were still thinking through how you were going to actually promote and market the thing. What was that journey like?

Sam Beckbessinger 7:02
So I think this is something that I didn’t realize, before I published the book is that your job as a writer, I would say a full 50% of it is marketing, which is terrible, because I would much rather write another book, then market, a book that already exists. It’s the part of the job I find the most stressful. I have a new book coming out a new money book coming out in September, September 1, which is a teen version of the money book ah the mouth, washed, washed out with soap version is what I’m calling it. And yeah, so I’m like back on this back on this ride again, and kind of dreading it, honestly. But there are parts of it that are really fun.

Sam Beckbessinger 7:40
So I guess my approach to marketing was, as I do everything, was throw a bunch of things at the wall and see what sticks. I had never released a book before. So I didn’t know what would work. So I tried a bunch of things that did not work. So the things that did not work, for me, were social media was one thing. I know that there are some writers who really have … it’s quite a natural space for them engaging in social media. It’s kind of an extension of who they are and it’s very easy for them to build a tribe and kind of continue a conversation with people on that platform.

Sam Beckbessinger 8:16
Social media is just not a thing that I do naturally in my day to day life. So trying it was incredibly artificial and it just didn’t work. It didn’t connect. I had a whole bunch of people sign up for Facebook pages, but then I just didn’t know how to have a conversation with people. The thing that really did work, the most, that was the most powerful, was the email list. It was something where, from the first day that the book was released, I built a website for it. And it had an email, signup form. And I didn’t do anything with that email list for a full year and a half after the book came out. I just had this feeling of you know, this, this could be this could come in handy one day, maybe.

Sam Beckbessinger 8:58
I got that piece of advice, actually, from some of my friends in indie video game development. You know, they had … it’s a very similar space, being an indie game developer, because, increasingly, while the publishing industry does do you know so much to help promote a book, more and more, it really is down to what the writer does, I think. And that’s that’s as true for for indie games. I heard from them, you know, the problem with relying on these social platforms is that you’re then reliant on the whims of Mark Zuckerberg and changing algorithms. None of this stuff is in your control, and it can all be changed, it can all be taken away whenever they feel like it. So it’s really important to own your community, and to really start deepening the relationship with the people who really do care about your work from day one. And that was just the most powerful piece of advice that I got really. So I started building the email database before I really knew what to do with it.

Sam Beckbessinger 9:56
But over the years that has been really the centre of everything, because the relationship that I have with the people that I email, and I try and email them every week, we kind of have this weekly newsletter thing now, those are the deep, the people who connect deeply with the book. It’s quite a bi directional conversation, you know, they email me, they asked me questions, I try to respond to as many of them as I can. And that’s having that core group of people who are very connected to my work has been so much more useful than having a much larger group of people who are kind of just social media followers.

Sam Beckbessinger 10:35
That’s the thing that I’ve learned is, is really just to nurture, and to make sure that you’re offering really good value to the community that is building around what you’re doing. That’s my approach to marketing, what you do is you just have to be incredibly helpful, just be as helpful as you can, and give as much as you have space for. And that’s what kind of builds the people around your work who will help you in turn to promote it and to share it and to, yeah, and to build it into something bigger.

Arthur Attwell 11:10
Yeah, you’ve really had to kind of empower them to be the word of mouth, and they’re not gonna do it without you giving them some tools to, to share and something to get excited about. You also had to get, like, super committed to this project. I mean, you really built an empire around it. Did that ever feel like a prison? Or was that always just an exciting new area to keep exploring? Or both?

Sam Beckbessinger 11:36
No, definitely. I think the answer is definitely both. I think this often happens, where your commitments, always are responsibilities, right? And the commitments that you make to yourself and the commitments that you make to other people, you know, I believe in honouring them. So, there are people who have done so much for me and have been so … have made so much of a difference to my life and my ability to be a writer as a career, that I owe them. I owe them kind of what they’ve come to me for. And mostly what people have come to me for is, you know, really connecting with me around talking about money. Problem is, I find talking about money often, a bit boring. (LAUGHS)

Sam Beckbessinger 12:20
You know, and I think what has been really interesting has been trying to explore the edges of, ‘What are the things that I can talk about with the community … where it still feels like I’m honoring the agreement that we have in this space, but that kind of stretch what it is?’ So, you know, over in the first sort of year of the email newsletter, it was very much around personal finances.

Sam Beckbessinger 12:45
When I launched the podcast a year ago with Chronicle and Diana Nielle, and that team, that was largely around seeing if we could add in other topics about ‘adulting’. So kind of, start talking about fitness, or start talking about relationships, or emotional skills, or interpersonal skills, or other things that I care about, and other things I was interested in learning. You know, happily people responded really well to that. Then kind of in the last year, I’ve really even tried to push it a bit further, which is, you know, the other stuff that I really care about writing is fiction. And it’s, it’s a bit of a difficult, … it does sort of feel like I’m reneging on the contract with my readers to some extent where I say, ‘Yeah, I know, you came to me because you’re really interested in money skills and now I’m telling you about this ridiculous YA horror novel that I’m writing about body snatchers. I know, I know, it’s kind of not what you’re here for.’

Sam Beckbessinger 13:43
But I guess you have a choice in that situation, you can either fragment your community and you can say, ‘Okay, cool, I’m going to build a brand around the money stuff, and the money stuff is just going to be the money stuff and I’m going to build a new brand around the other things I want to do.’ And I think that that probably would be the quote unquote, better way from it with a marketing hat on. But I also have just wanted to trust my readers, that part of what they’re connecting with is me as a person. And that, I would rather, again, I’d rather maintain just the smaller core of them, who will come on this ride with me and are interested in, you know, the fact that financial freedom to me means freedom to write ridiculous fiction. That that’s an interesting journey for them as well. I would rather liberate myself from that own expectation and bring a smaller group of them with me on that journey, then continue to build up the Like an Effing Grown Up empire as an empire and feel trapped in it forever.

Arthur Attwell 14:48
Maybe less in Like a F—ing Grown Up, but more I see in the other projects, you’re also keen collaborator. Back from the early podcast days with Simon Dingell and, and with the fiction now, and you know, you mentioned that the book came out of conversation with Ester Levinrad. It sounds like you’re someone that unlocks new possibilities, because you find these people to work with.

Sam Beckbessinger 15:11
Exactly, yeah, that’s a beautiful way of putting it. Yeah, I mean, I just for me, what I … my joy, of writing and writing really is my joy. It’s, it’s my deep love. A big part of that joy is the playfulness of it. I love the playfulness, of learning something new and trying to figure out what you believe about something. I love the playfulness, of bouncing ideas around with other people and I love the sense of, you know, we can create something far more interesting together than what you could create alone.

Sam Beckbessinger 15:46
You know, like nothing about the the money book could have happened if I hadn’t had an incredible team behind me. The money book wouldn’t have happened if Ester hadn’t seen the possibility for it. And if Jonathan Ball hadn’t, as a whole team, kind of really jumped on board and promoted it as well as they did and been so passionate about championing it amongst the bookstores. You know, they really just turned it into something bigger. Then other people came on, you know, and I think my attitude to all of this is, it really has worked when it’s been based on an authentic connection, and off friendship, right. So all of these things really have come out of me just wanting to hang out with my buddies.

Sam Beckbessinger 16:29
You know, making the podcast was because, you know, I’ve known Diana since university days, Diana Nielle from Chronicle. We just wanted to hang out together and make something. The book that I’m … the novel that I’m writing currently is with, you know, one of my best friends, Dale Halvorsen. It’s just a great excuse to sit around and make each other laugh and gross each other out and do that thing. You know, it’s why I love TV as well. TV writing is very collaborative. Yeah, it’s so it’s so much fun. It really, really is. I literally can’t imagine anything I’d rather be doing with my time.

Arthur Attwell 17:02
Amazing. I remember you and I had coffee many months ago and talked about what it would look like to get a team of people to write fiction in the way that TV is written.

Sam Beckbessinger 17:12
Yes!

Arthur Attwell 17:13
Was that before or after you started working on the Marvel Serial Box Jessica Jones project?

Sam Beckbessinger 17:19
It was, it was kind of very much something that led into that project. So yeah, you and I had this amazing conversation where we were talking about, why can’t we write more novels in a collaborative way where you have a showrunner and you have a team of writers. I had just started working with Sunrise Productions on Team Jay and had started playing in the in the animation space. And I was like, ‘This is so much fun, why do people not write novels like this?’

Sam Beckbessinger 17:47
Then through that roots, became aware of a company called Serial Box, which is one of the really interesting fiction innovators. They are essentially doing exactly that. They’re creating serialized fiction. And then they had, unbeknownst to me, had just signed an agreement with Marvel. So the first one that they brought out was Thor, and then they brought out a Jessica Jones story, which I was incredibly, incredibly lucky to be able to be part of writing. It was just indescribably fun. Writing for Marvel was incredible, because not only are you collaborating with the other writers who are who are on the project, so there were, I think there were five of us who were writing that story, but any Marvel story that you write is also inherently fan fiction, in a way, because so many other writers have touched that character and told stories about that character and developed the world. The world has such clear rules and boundaries, and it’s so richly populated. So, not only are you collaborating with the people in the room with you, but you’re also collaborating, with sort of virtually, with everyone else who’s ever told the Jessica Jones story. And that was amazing. Oh, it was so good. It was so good. It’s so fun.

Arthur Attwell 19:09
How does it actually work in practice? Are you sending each other drafts on email? Are you on a video call swapping ideas? Or what does that process look like?

Sam Beckbessinger 19:20
Both. I mean, so it ran very much like how a TV writing room runs. We started off in the same room together, threshing, sort of breaking the story. So figuring out what the key beats were, figuring out who the characters were, and what kind of story we wanted to tell. Kind of just figuring out the main skeleton of the plot. And then from there, the story was broken down and into sections. We sort of figured out where the main sections were, and assigned them to individuals. Then we as individuals went and wrote our own chapters.

Sam Beckbessinger 19:56
So I wrote chapters nine to 12, basically. Two of those chapters I wrote, sort of quite independently and then two of them I wrote with Zoë Quinn, who’s also just an incredible writer. The solo ones were more kind of I went off, and because you know where you have to begin the scene and you know where you have to end the scene, because we’ve worked that all out together in the room, there’s still an enormous amount of exploration that you can do in getting from A to Z. And then, of course, it just went through many, many, many rounds of iteration. We worked with Helen Moffett, who was the editor, who’s just you know the most incredible editor I’ve ever worked with. Yeah, I mean, just the best team. And she has that incredible eye for, you know, making sure that everything is building in a logical and coherent way that the characters actions make sense between all these different scenes that we’ve built. Yeah, and then we kind of just rewrote over and over until it all kind of made sense. It was a very enlightened way to tell … to write a book, and I think more people should do it.

Arthur Attwell 21:01
Yeah, that sounds amazing. It’s also incredible that that particular team could come together. I don’t know Zoë, but Lauren Beukes was on the team, right?

Sam Beckbessinger 21:10
Yeah, she was the showrunner.

Arthur Attwell 21:12
And then and then, of course, Helen Moffett who I have known for decades. That’s a that’s a dream team and a half. Did that team come together naturally, perhaps around Lauren?

Sam Beckbessinger 21:22
Lauren, as the show runner brought in myself and brought in Helen. The original producer of the story had assembled the rest of the team. What was really amazing as well is, it’s the kind of team that would never normally have been able to work together were it not for, you know, Serial Box just being really open to ways of collaborating remotely. So there were only three days when everyone was together in the same room. Beyond that, we had a lot of email exchanges, and a couple of video calls. These were writers mostly from the US. Zoë for a lot of the time we were working was based in Japan. That was also just incredibly fun getting to work with people that we wouldn’t have been able to. Thank goodness we’d already established that way of working by the time COVID happened. And thank goodness we’d already broken the story together. Because most of the writing happened when we were all quarantined, in different countries in different parts of the world. But it didn’t interrupt our flow at all. So that was pretty amazing.

Arthur Attwell 22:34
I’m curious to dig in a little bit more about working with Serial Box. I think that their combination of text and audio is really interesting. Could you just describe what their model is?

Sam Beckbessinger 22:45
So Serial Box … so I think they do a couple of things. Interestingly, I think the first thing that they do that’s interesting is it’s serialized fiction, which is a very old idea. It’s what Charles Dickens was doing, you know. And I think that they’ve really returned to that idea of that’s a really innate thing about humans; we want to get hooked by a story and follow characters over a long time. There’s something really powerful about waiting for the next installment.

Sam Beckbessinger 23:13
And then the other thing that’s interesting is that they just really understand that people who read things – people are reading a lot these days, it’s an absolute lie that people aren’t reading, or people are reading less. It’s just that people are reading in a different way. One of the things I really love about Serial Box is that you can download a book on the app, you can start reading it, you can switch to audio, you can switch back to the app, and you can just do that seamlessly. So the book fits into your life, however it needs to. I think that’s really cool.

Arthur Attwell 23:47
And then I’m keen to know more about what it’s like to work on a book, consciously knowing it’s going to be an audio book as well.

Sam Beckbessinger 23:55
Oh, yeah. I mean, so I think that it’s something that we should think about more often with all books, to be honest. I think … know, so much of how people consume books happens in an audio way now. I do think it should just be something that we think about from the beginning. It was a real challenge with my money book, because so much of it was graphs and illustrations and diagrams. It is very different thinking about a book from the beginning as audio. When we were working on Jessica Jones, a lot of the editing work was about realizing that some things that work quite well as descriptions on the page just don’t translate very well when you read them out loud. I think that made me a better writer. I think it improved my style. I spent a lot more time reading stuff I was writing to myself, and I think I’ve tried to carry that through in the novel that I’m working on. Because I think it just makes you prose cleaner.

Arthur Attwell 24:55
Magpies is the new project with Dale right? Is that the next collaborative thing? How is that process working and going to work?

Sam Beckbessinger 25:04
I think very similar. I think it’s there have been moments of coming together and then moments of working in parallel. Dale and I worked together, we wrote a short story together with Lauren, Lauren Beukes, a couple of years ago called This Book Will Find You, which we are currently trying to adapt the three of us together. So we know that we work well together, we know that we have very complementary skills. Dale has this incredible plus brain, like he’s really, really good at logic and detail and he just has the most … comes up with these incredibly wild ideas like big concepts. I really like getting lost in the weeds of the prose, you know, and kind of like discovering stuff as I go along. but I’m a much messier writer.

Sam Beckbessinger 25:50
So how it’s worked with Dale is that we’ve had these weeks where we work together very intensely. So we’re having one of those weeks right now, actually. So I spent the whole morning on the phone with Dale, or on a Google Meet call, and we were trying to solve kind of some core plot questions and figure out some stuff about character arcs. And then basically, we’ll take like a month, between those weeks where we are very much together, we will work very separately. So Dale is working on … So our novel is kind of a mix between a horror story and a true crime story. So Dale is working on the true ‘crimey’ parts of it, and I’m working on the ‘horrory’ parts of it. So we write separately, and then we’ll come back together. And we just kind of keep doing that sort of movement, and reknitting, reknitting it all back together. It’s so fun.

Arthur Attwell 26:43
And when you say you write in different parts, you’re literally writing different scenes, or different kind of layers of the same scene?

Sam Beckbessinger 26:48
A bit of both. So there are some parts of it that are more the stuff that Dale is good at doing. So for example, a lot of the crime investigation stuff. So he will write the first draft of those scenes. And I will write the first draft of other scenes that are more me, kind of natural scenes. And then afterwards, we will go and overwrite each others scenes. So it’s a bit of both.

Arthur Attwell 27:13
And are you working kind of into live, collaborative, say Google doc or notion document at the same time?

Sam Beckbessinger 27:20
I mean, I’m, we’ve we’ve had this conversation before as well. My dream writing tool, I don’t think has quite been invented yet. My dream writing tool would be Google Docs but in markdown, like just very pure markdown.

Arthur Attwell 27:36
Nice, I’m with you.

Sam Beckbessinger 27:36
Yeah, totally. So yeah, Google Docs has been our main thing. We also have … so I’ve been using Ulysses, which is a markdown editor, to keep track of all of our notes, and characters, and places, and stuff like that. Then we just have that kind of as the user interface layer over a bunch of markdown files that are sitting in a Google Drive folder. So that’s how we’re keeping track of all the research. The manuscript itself is currently sitting in the world’s longest Google Doc. I do feel like I am kind of hitting the limits of what I want Google Docs to do though.

Sam Beckbessinger 28:15
We’ve written the first draft and now we’re kind of in editing mode and we’re doing a lot of shuffling of scenes. That’s proven quite onerous in Google Docs. So, I am considering doing the bad thing and cracking open Scrivener. I have this deep loathing of Scrivener, because I hate that it’s full of proprietary file formats. But I want that pinboard basically. I want to be able to have some meta information about each scene, and I want to be able to shuffle it around. Yeah, so we really have been using a hodgepodge of tools. It’s the perfect tool, I’ve not found it yet. I would love to know if you have a better idea.

Arthur Attwell 28:56
No, I, what I find interesting is wondering if there even is a perfect tool, even platonically? Like, could there be a perfect tool? Or are we now just in a world where every creator has to assemble their own toolkit for what they want, what they need, themselves? In the publishing world, for instance, we’ve lived in a world where for 30 years, everyone’s used exactly the same software to lay books out. It’s been InDesign, before that Quark, before that probably PageMaker. Now that’s just been exploded in the same way that web development tools have been exploded. And I suppose the same is now happening for writing and for any area of creative work. You don’t get to find the perfect tool anymore. You have no choice but to figure this stuff out the hard way and assemble your own toolkit.

Sam Beckbessinger 29:44
Look, I mean, there are definitely worse tools. The one thing that was tricky about, I won’t even say exactly which project it was, but one of the most recent kind of collaborative projects that I worked on, is everything falls apart as soon as things go through an editor who is only comfortable working in Microsoft Word (LAUGHS).

Arthur Attwell 29:45
Very interesting.

Sam Beckbessinger 30:07
Because as much as you can, you and your other collaborators can get on the same page around, you know, ‘Google Docs is just objectively better than trying to maintain these file names that are like; date, version 3.1.2, final, final, final, final, final final.’ And then let’s just email these back and forth like cave people.

Arthur Attwell 30:30
It’s a catastrophe.

Sam Beckbessinger 30:31
It’s a catastrophe, but the problem is, as soon as you hit the first person who will only work with Microsoft Word documents your whole system is broken now.

Arthur Attwell 30:41
So interesting. Literally this morning we decided, in my little team, not to work with a particular editor because they said they wouldn’t work in Google Docs, because they’re scared of it. And I was like, I don’t want to force Google Docs on them but it’s now just absolutely fundamental to our team, that we won’t email files, MS Word files, to each other. We’ve just learnt too many times the hard way.

Sam Beckbessinger 31:04
I mean, it was a real … it was a real challenge with both of the money books, both the original one well and …. In fact, there’s now, you know, there’s a few versions of it as well, because there’s a UK version that’s fundamentally rewritten and there’s a kid’s version. There were some real challenges with that one, because there’s a lot of graphs and illustrations in the book and it was very much typeset page by page.

Sam Beckbessinger 31:28
The challenge is; so we made the South African version and there were a whole bunch of edits that only really happened once it had already been typeset. So we were essentially editing PDFs. The only way I could edit them, ultimately, was I pulled them up on my iPad, and I used my pencil to handwrite notes on them, which felt like an insane way to be doing edits, but that’s kind of what made sense because of the workflow that we were following. Then the problem was, a few months later, we said, let’s adapt this book for the UK, which felt like it should have been fairly simple. But it wasn’t because there were a whole bunch of edits that only existed in the PDF form. So we first had to literally go and copy and paste stuff out of the PDF back into an editable file, before we could then go and start editing.

Sam Beckbessinger 32:18
We didn’t even learn our lesson, because then we had to do the same thing again when it was the kids book. I was just like, ‘Why, why? Why is this a thing?’ This is an objectively insane way for books to work. It has made me feel like the next book, I would be very wary, ever again, writing a book that required that much page by page page setting, typesetting, for that reason.

Arthur Attwell 32:43
You know, I love hearing you talk about this Sam because you’re someone who’s come to publishing from a software background to some extent, and to you this must seem so inconceivable. And yet, what you’ve just described is literally the way things are done in the vast majority of publishing companies in the whole world and it’s astonishing, astonishing. I think there are reasons, I think they have to do with some very big systemic problems with the way money and skills move in through publishing. But they still are the root cause of so much waste. It’s just breathtaking.

Sam Beckbessinger 33:25
I think that you really put your finger on it just now, where you said, ‘A lot of this comes back to these quite deep questions about what is the business model of publishing? What is the role of publishers in this incredibly different world now’ You know, I’ve had only the utmost respect for everyone that I’ve worked with at my publisher. You know, they’re a very traditional publisher in many ways. But every single person who I’ve worked with there has been just an absolute expert at what they do, and has been so committed and so full of passion for books. I mean, heck, you have to be right? No one’s in this for the money.

Sam Beckbessinger 34:03
I think it just really has been so visible, how, firstly, how complex their job has become, and how tight their margins are. It really helped me as a writer, when I understood what my publishers role was. I understood, like, let them do the things that they are great at doing and the rest is going to have to be on me. You know, they were incredible at distribution. They were amazing at …. Firstly, identifying that my book needed to exist, they were able to create an incredibly beautiful product, and they were able to get it into every bookstore. They were also great at the traditional PR stuff, which I wouldn’t have known, you know, where to start and that did make a difference. They got the book … they got extracts printed in magazines back before all the magazines had to close because COVID. You know, they did all of those pieces so so well.

Sam Beckbessinger 34:55
The things that I realized the publishers are not … they just don’t have the capacity to do are, a lot of the other stuff that marketing has become in 2020. Which is putting out content and building that community around the book. I don’t think that any publisher actually could do that. I think that that really has to come out of … it has to be an extension of the project. So it has to be out of you.

Arthur Attwell 35:20
I also wanted to ask a little bit about your working with Dale and cover design because of course, he’s also an extraordinary cover designer, and I’m curious to know about the branding around Manage Your Money because that’s a really strong visual brand as well. Where did that design happen?

Sam Beckbessinger 35:37
So a big part of why the book has been so charming, the money book, was because I worked with again, my friend who I just loved hanging out with. Who is an incredible artist called Nanna Venter. Nanna did all of the book illustrations, she did the cover design, she you know … we worked with her again on the kids book and so there’s even more illustrations, and they’re just so so charming. I know she’s made some Book Dash book before as well.

Sam Beckbessinger 36:05
I think something that was really powerful, you know, Jonathan Ball, were really great about letting me guide a lot of those things. I had a very clear vision for what I wanted my book to be, and I really wanted it to be as special as I could make it. I really believe in the idea of polishing the underside of the drawers. So, you know, thinking about making everything as excellent as you can make it even the things that you don’t think matter. So I really thought about everything. I thought about who I wanted to do the cover, I thought about the illustrations, I thought about as many of the parts of it that I could, and I am a bit of a control freak is part of it. But I really think that it helped. It helped to care about those things. I don’t think the book would be half as special as it is if it weren’t for all of the whimsy that Nanna’s illustrations add to it.

Sam Beckbessinger 36:56
I think that’s been true with all of these other projects. Writing a novel is really hard and it’s difficult to keep the motivation up. Knowing that I’m accountable to Dale, and that if I write a scene, it means that then I get to sit down with Dale and discuss that scene and that’s going to be super fun. That’s the best motivation that I found. Yeah, like that’s, that’s the magic I think. That’s the thing that makes it worthwhile for me.

Arthur Attwell 37:24
Have you and Dale/Joey discussed the cover of Magpies yet?

Sam Beckbessinger 37:29
I mean, I think he’s gonna have to do it. It would be weird if he didn’t. The book that we’re writing features a lot of found objects. It’s a little bit like Night Film. We’ve been very inspired by a book by Grady Hendrix called My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which has a lot of newspaper articles and other little kind of interesting marginalia. So our book is set in 1996. We’re writing about the horrors of being a teenage girl in 1996. So, a lot of what we’re creating is kind of this extra found objects that enrich the picture of who the characters are. A little bit like the video game Gone Home, that’s been another real reference for us or touch points. So Dale, you know, it’s really helpful that Dale is both an amazing writer, and also an incredible designer. Because he’s kind of adding all of these illustrations, all of these cool, you know, fake articles and mixtapes that the characters have made each other, you know, just like really enriching it. It’s so fun. It’s so so, so fun.

Arthur Attwell 38:35
That’s amazing. Yeah, do you have …. Have you already got a publisher connection? Or is that also something you have to figure out still?

Sam Beckbessinger 38:42
You know, we’re at … at this point, we are very much just still writing the draft. We haven’t started thinking about those things yet.

Arthur Attwell 38:50
And from what you’ve kind of been through already, working with different people, you know, as we’ve said, these are all lovely people in publishing. Do you have a sense of like, where and what kind of team will make it work? You know, I always feel publishers who pass up great books get a bad rap. You know, it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, so and so turned down J.K. Rowling’. As a publisher, if you don’t know you can make something a success then you’re right to pass on it. So yeah, that fit with the publisher is really, really important.

Sam Beckbessinger 39:22
I believe it is. Yeah, I believe it is. So I mean, something that I have considered is I have considered self-publishing. I would never have if I hadn’t been through the journey of promoting a book already. But I have and I think I have a clearer idea now of what all the pieces of a book are. you know. A lot of what I talk about in the personal finance space is about the need to sort of be your own sugar daddy, as much as you can and be able to support your own dreams, because you can’t rely on other people.

Sam Beckbessinger 39:55
You know, the publishing world is such a competitive one, especially fiction, and even though I’ve had some success in the nonfiction space, I, you know, I am not absolutely confident that I could definitely find a publisher for this book because who knows, you know. It is such a such a difficult game, and you really have to have produced something excellent. I really love knowing that part of why I have put so much effort into building my own community is because I want to know that they will support future projects that I do, and that they, they will come with me on whatever ride I end up going on. So yeah, I don’t know.

Sam Beckbessinger 40:39
I mean, that’s not to say that I wouldn’t try to get a traditional publisher. I mean, I think if you can it’s definitely a win. But you know, I’ve been in the the kind of pitching hell in TV and movie land for the last year and a half. And I’ve pitched you know, these three shows to so many different people. And it is very competitive. There are so many amazing writers in the world. And I think part of what I’ve thought about in building my own community is I’m really committed to being a writer, not just being someone who wrote one book once. And that means, to some extent, treating my own writing career like a business and making sure that I am building my own audience if I need it.

Arthur Attwell 41:24
Thank you so much. I have learned a lot. That’s been absolutely fascinating.

Sam Beckbessinger 41:29
Ah, brilliant. It was a really fun chat. Thank you.

Arthur Attwell 41:34
Thank you for spending your time with us. You can be part of the show if you send us your own book-making, stories, topics and conundrums. And you can do that at howbooksaremade.com.

Arthur Attwell 41:45
If you haven’t already, please subscribe in your podcast player and leave a review that really helps others find out about the show. How Books Are Made is supported by Electric Book Works. My team and I make books all day, every day, in sunny Cape Town, South Africa.