Rachel Allen Keeps the Love of Writing Alive

[00:00:00] Announcer: This. is the FutureX Podcast, episode sixteen. In each episode of the show, we interview a platform designer, author, or publisher. They'll talk about how to build online communities that are diverse, welcoming, and safe. Now. Here's your host, Lee Schneider.
[00:00:14] Lee Schneider: This is FutureX. I'm Lee Schneider. Rachel Allen is the owner of Bolt from the Blue Copywriting. She describes her work as mixing the neuroscience of communication with the art of great writing to help businesses take the cap off their income, impact, and influence. We're going to talk about publishing your book and who you'll need on your team to succeed at it.
So, Rachel, thanks so much today for joining me on the podcast.
[00:00:41] Rachel Allen: Thank you so much for having me, Lee. I'm really excited to chat.
[00:00:43] Lee Schneider: How did you get started working on books?
[00:00:46] Rachel Allen: You know, I actually fell into it completely backwards. Um, my background is in marketing and I still run a marketing agency today, but I had a bunch of clients who would ask me and they would say, Oh, you know, I really want to do a book, but I only want to do it with you. And I said, ah, that's too bad. I don't do that.
And so I did that for about five years. And then I was like, okay. I'm going to try, I'll try one. I'll do just the one off. And now, of course, you know, five, 15 years down the road, I've ghostwritten 11 books. So, um, you know, I fell into it backwards, but I've really loved it ever since I started.
[00:01:14] Lee Schneider: What are the skills you bring to it?
[00:01:16] Rachel Allen: a lot of my work I do is developmental editing, which, um, is keeping an eye really on the bigger picture of the book. So it's my job to come in and believe in your book as hard as you do, and then also bring the technical skills of making sure that the arc tracks and that any characters or any lessons that we have are pulled all the way through.
And of course that the language is consistent and just really kind of keeping an eye on the overall project and, um, stepping in wherever the writer needs me to. So that can vary completely differing on the project. I have some people who come and their books almost all the way done. And what they really want is for somebody to just kind of sanity check it.
And then I have people on the other end of the spectrum where they come in and they're like, you know what? I have an idea, but I don't even have an outline, and I'm not really sure what it is. And, you know, we can figure it out and go from there, too.
[00:02:00] Lee Schneider: This is interesting to me because I think about some authors probably come with like a bunch of filing boxes with manuscript --or the equivalent. It's kind of scary and some are quite organized. Um, What is the dialogue like? Like, is there a lot of pushback, or people go, oh, I'm so grateful that you're helping me make sense of this, or, how does that work?
[00:02:21] Rachel Allen: You know, it kind of depends on the project and also the phase of the project. So I do a lot of, uh, vetting before I take projects like this on. They tend to last six months to a year and that's a long time to spend with somebody if you're not just a really good fit. So we start out with that. And something I always tell people when I'm doing my writing with them is that there's going to be three phases of this project where they're going to want to fire me and throw their book away.
And it's happened every single time. And it's always when we get a quarter of a way through. Three quarters of the way through, and then right before they're about to send it to their publisher or put it through, self-publishing And, I mean, reliably, every single time we get to this point, they're just like, I don't even know why I'm writing a book, it's probably the worst thing ever, we shouldn't even do it, I'm just gonna delete it, and I'm like, mm, and that's why I keep the files on my end.
And of course, I totally get that too, I've written books of my own, and right when I get up to that finishing line, I'm like, ooh, you know, I think maybe I should just delete it. But thankfully, I have editors as well who are like, no, no, no, it's fine, just keep on going.
[00:03:16] Lee Schneider: Is this imposter syndrome, do you think?
[00:03:19] Rachel Allen: I think it's, um, yeah, it's perhaps a little bit of that and also just the feeling of like, oh, it's going to be out there in print and everybody could read it and, um, something I often teach in my other, uh, like marketing related classes is that nothing ever feels as cool on the inside as it looks on the outside.
And so I think it's that internal feeling of like, Oh, like, I've looked at this book for six months and I've been through all the sentences and surely it's not that great. But of course to your audience, it's brand new and they're not going to read it 50 times like you have. So I think it's that element of as well of just like, Oh man, this thing really, this is what I'm publishing.
[00:03:56] Lee Schneider: Yeah, Sometimes I'll fool myself by printing it in a different font or putting it on a Kindle or something I don't usually use. So then I at least get to look at it with fresh eyes because it does, after you've read it a bazillion times, it does get pretty hard to see it afresh.
[00:04:13] Rachel Allen: I know. That's a great way to, um, kind of trick your brain into thinking like, Oh no, no, this isn't mine. This is just somebody else's that I'm going to take a look at.
[00:04:20] Lee Schneider: The other thing that I find difficult is short works, you know, a podcast, a short story, a blog, pretty easy to remember beginning, middle, and end. But when you're working on longer form stuff, fiction or non fiction, consistency actually becomes hard. You start to forget, I think, I do, whether I put that story in already or whether I, should I be reminding people of that again?
Or should I just... Not put in again or did I call that guy Joe and I'm writing about him and I suddenly he's, he's not Joe anymore. I mean, do you find those kind of consistency things a challenge for authors?
[00:05:01] Rachel Allen: Oh, always. And that's why I actually include what I just call a consistency read in all of the editing that I do. And that's the only thing I look for when I'm reading through on that particular edit. Is like, are the names the same throughout? Have we, um, done title casing in the headings? That's a really common one.
So title casing or sentence casing. A lot of times, authors, uh, they'll have certain words that they'll repeat, or certain phrases they just sort of habitually use over and over again. And so I go through and make sure that those are all the same. Um, but absolutely, no, it's definitely an issue, and I think that's just kind of a human brain issue.
But another thing I actually do to work with that is, before we get started on any project, no matter how much of a manuscript an author has, I actually have them create something called a book compass. Where, um, we go through and we talk about the message of this book, the audience that it's going to, the strategy of how it plays into whatever they want to do with it, whether they're, it's part of their business or a speaking career, or they're just writing it because, for pleasure and they love it.
And then the execution, which is like, okay, how are we actually going to go through and get this done in a way that works for you and your brain? And in the execution, um, element, that's where we really talk through the arc of the book as well. And we say, okay, like we know we're going to talk about, let's say these three things.
How do those play in, in beginning, middle and end? How are we going to know if we've got these through? And so I try to do as much. front loading, I suppose, of that thinking because it's so hard when you're down actually in the middle of the book to try and zoom back out and realize those things. So yeah, I try to do as much of it up front and create kind of a scaffolding that we can work through because otherwise it's just damn near impossible to keep all of that in your head.
[00:06:40] Lee Schneider: I like that. I like that a lot. The idea of a scaffolding or a kind of a film treatment or rough, it's more than an outline but not quite writing the whole book and having not to worry too much about artistry and beautiful language and just give me the story and what do we need to hit, the points we need to hit, I think would be very helpful. What's the one thing that you see first time authors with struggling the most, be they fiction or nonfiction authors?
[00:07:12] Rachel Allen: That is such a good question. Um, You know, I think part of it is that consistency that we just talked about, but I guess if I was going to phrase it in a different way, it would be getting lost in the weeds. So it's really easy to get excited and you have an idea and you're going to go and write a book about it.
And then maybe you write twenty-thousand words and then all of a sudden you're like, well, maybe this book is about something else. And then you write another 20, 000 words and all of a sudden we have a 60, 000 word draft and you're like, it, it was about something. And now it's just. There. So I have a lot of people coming to me at that stage of the project where they're like, I know there's something good in here, but I absolutely cannot untangle it for myself.
So I see a lot of first time authors and honestly second and third time authors struggling with that as well. The enthusiasm is fantastic, but it can't see you through a project as long as a book.
[00:07:59] Lee Schneider: That's interesting. And also I find I'll have a great idea for a
book. I'll write it down, you know, in my dream notebook or something like that. I'll start writing the book, and then six months later, I'll look at that idea and say, You know? That's not what this is about. That doesn't really work, but it got me started.
It got me interested in it, but it's not the thing that's really going to drive this. So I hear you in that there's a, it's an ongoing in flux process, which is, can be pretty strange and it's good to have a guide. And I wanted to ask about. Who's on the team? A lot of first time authors can be solopreneurs.
Who do you really need on your team as a, as an author?
[00:08:42] Rachel Allen: If I'm going to say the Cadillac version, then I would say you want to bring in a developmental editor as soon as possible. Ideally, somebody who can do some book coaching as well to help you really work with that idea. Because like you said, it's going to be in flux.
It's hard if you get stuck in the one version of that idea and then can't move with it as it grows, but that's also very difficult to do on your own. So, ideally, developmental editor who can do some book coaching, positioning coaching. Then, um, you're going to want a line editor. Um, some developmental editors do that.
I will occasionally, but a line editor is really the person who goes through and like makes sure the commas are in the right place and that the, and like every tiny, tiny little typography thing is correct. And it's very painstaking work, and so I usually hand that off to somebody else. Uh, but you want her, you want, um, a cover designer.
And, uh, a typesetter. Sometimes those are the same person, but cover design is so important. If you're going with a publishing house, they will usually take care of that for you. Uh, but if you're self publishing, it's crucial to get a really good cover designer and not just sort of like outsource it to somebody off of Fiverr or something like that.
Because I often see that being the difference between self published books that sell and that don't sell. It's so important to get some good design on that book. And then, um, bring in a marketing team. Or learn some marketing or consult with a marketer to help you actually know how to promote that. And how to grow your audience.
Um, because you, you can write the best book in the world, but if you don't know how to promote it, and if nobody knows it exists, then like, your friends and family are gonna buy it, and that makes for 15 Amazon reviews, and then it sort of sits in a box in your closet. And that's just very sad. That's way too much work to put into a book to let it just sit in your closet.
[00:10:19] Lee Schneider: Yeah, one thing I've learned about marketing is it's a long lead kind of situation. Six months, nine months, as long as you can stand it. You know, I've, I've, I've told people, well, I'm not even finished writing this book, but you should be hiring the marketer as soon as you can. Even if you've got a blurb written or even if you've got a cover design, maybe get a cover design done six months early.
Sounds crazy, but... As early as you can get that stuff in, at least to look at it and, and, and connect to it could be really helpful.
[00:10:53] Rachel Allen: Oh, absolutely. That's the minimum of what I recommend when I'm doing marketing for book clients. And then I've also worked sort of on the back end of some of the other, uh, businesses that I work with as their marketer, maybe their, their lead or their CEO has a book coming out with a publishing company and they'll bring me into liaise with the company and make sure that the marketing aligns, but we'll start doing marketing.
I mean, a year before, like we'll start dropping it to their list. We'll start talking about it just here and there, kind of giving them behind the scenes and then do some really concerted marketing about six months before publication and, I mean, at least six weeks after publication, because you really want to give that book enough oomph to get out there in the world and it will feel like the most repetitive, painful thing on your side, but to the rest of the internet, what it's going to feel like is, oh, hey, Lee wrote a book.
Cool. I should read it.
[00:11:39] Lee Schneider: Yeah, right, exactly. What about the six months after? I mean, we all get that there should be kind of a big push and even we all get that you should start early. But say the book's out for six to nine months. Is there anything that you could continue to do to market it?
[00:11:58] Rachel Allen: Yeah. So I think that you should definitely continue to market, uh, during that time period. You don't need to be as forward facing with it. It's not, it's not so much of a push of like, Oh my God, I have a book. It's exciting. Buy it. But it's that continual drip of, Hey, you know, you know, I wrote a book, right?
Hey, I wrote a book about that. Check out my book. So it's just that kind of like continual reminder. You can drop it in if you have an email list. If you're, uh, if you're business or you're, if you're only marketing the book, if you're not, you know, marketing other stuff along with it, then there's other things you can send out.
Depending on what kind of book you could, um, you can do little snippets from an upcoming book. You can also do, if there's like a workbook component that can go along with whatever book you wrote, that can be a fantastic way to continue to give people value and keep them engaged. With the process, even if they've already bought the book, which of course grows your audience and makes it even easier to get another book deal or to publish another book successfully.
[00:12:49] Lee Schneider: Now, what about self publishing and traditional publishing? The stigma, if I can say that, the stigma of self publishing has dissipated a bit. It's, it's good to publish a book out there. And many authors still aspire toward the traditional publisher. But what are the upsides and downsides of either way?
[00:13:19] Rachel Allen: Yeah, so I talk my clients through this, um, all the time. So the upsides of self publishing are that you have complete control over the process. You decide when everything happens, you decide what the cover looks like, you decide what the typography looks like. It's all up to you. Which is, of course, a downside as well, right?
Because it's all up to you. Um, you'll probably be spending a little more money up front, and it is completely on your timeline. So if anything is bottlenecked, it's your fault. Which is unfortunate. Um, other upsides are it can be a really strong way to publish a book if you don't have all that much of a following yet that might not attract a publisher, or if it's your first book and you're honestly not sure if it's what you want, like, associated as your brand, if you're kind of playing around with it, trying it out.
That can be a really good thing. It's also a fantastic idea if you're writing a book that is primarily a business accessory. So if you're writing a book just to get more speaking gigs or because you run a business and you have a methodology and you know, you want to sell this book to your clients, or you just want to have it, uh, Really as a, like a, um, a legion, then self publishing is probably a better bet.
You don't need to go through the whole publishing process and agonize through with Simon & Schuster or whoever to get your business book out there. It's just, it's a very expensive business card at that point. The, uh, cons of course are it's all on you and there's some outlay of money and the marketing's all on you.
Flipping to the other side, pros of publishing with a house, uh, you have the prestige, of course. You also, have some more support on your team. So a publishing house will bring in editors and designers for you. That's more in their camp and it's not on you. And, uh, you also, Um, get the connections in that world.
So once you've published a book with a publishing house, you know, a lot more people who kind of move within that. And it tends to be a self feeding circle, of course, downside to wrap up my little monologue on this is that, um, it tends to be very slow. You lose a lot of control over the process. And, uh, while publishing houses are very good at what they do.
I have yet to work with any author who has had a painless experience with any of them. And we've worked with both big ones, small ones, niche ones, everything. There's always something really ridiculous that's gonna go wrong, and you're probably gonna have to fix it.
[00:15:32] Lee Schneider: Well, let's talk about choosing yourself versus being chosen. What are some of the criteria for a traditional publisher? The dream is that they're, I'm going to be discovered. You know, the whole, the kind of story like, wow, that manuscript came over the transom or it was in the slush pile and you do read about this.
I mean, I've read a story about this yesterday. You know, you see an amazing manuscript. Cormac McCarthy's first book, I think, was kind of a slush pile manuscript and someone liked it and... Terrific, but that's probably pretty rare. So how are traditional publishers making these decisions to take people on and what can you do to enhance or help that process?
[00:16:16] Rachel Allen: Yeah, well, you know, like you say, there's, there's always a chance maybe your manuscript will happen to be the golden ticket magic manuscript that stands out, but it's very unlikely. So the things that publishers are looking for, um, are anything that can indicate that you're a good business risk for them, essentially, because that's what they're doing.
When they're paying you in advance, they're taking a risk and saying, Hey, we think this person is going to sell enough books to make us enough money back on this. So, they're looking for things like if you have any kind of like an email list following or social media following. They're looking for history of published work that other people have actually read.
So maybe you don't have the most giant social media following but you've been published, uh, you've had a bunch of short stories published in magazines before or something like that. They're also looking for proactivity. So, what else, what you can bring to the table, even though they do have their own editors, they have their own marketers.
If you can show up and say like, Hey, I have this and here's my team that we can also use to support all of your efforts. You know, if you can show up and know what's supposed to be happening and they don't have to lead you through all the way, that can also be very helpful. And honestly, part of it just comes down to whatever they need to fill a slot in their particular season.
So, part of it is just dumb luck and timing and Maybe your idea is fantastic, but maybe it was fantastic for last year, and it's not last year anymore.
[00:17:27] Lee Schneider: Ah, yeah, that could be a tough, a tough break, but very realistic. Let's divide fiction and nonfiction for a moment. If, if someone came to you and said, I really want to write a, uh, a nonfiction book, maybe it's promoting my business. Is there any way you could advise them on particular formats or genres or, you know, an origin story, your rags to riches story?
Are there any tried and true things that help a nonfiction book that's helping a business make it?
[00:18:00] Rachel Allen: Yeah, all of those can be good. What I would encourage them to think about is what they actually want the book to do for them. If you're wanting to go on, and maybe you're trying to pivot out of service based business into speaking, then an origin story or any kind of anecdote- based Like thing is going to be really good for that because what you're really doing with the book there is just showing that you can be a compelling speaker on the stage if you have, um, if you're wanting to write a nonfiction book and maybe you run a program and you want to continue running that program, but you also want to increase your sales or you want to give a value add with that program, then something that's either an expansion of the program.
So where people can go deeper into what you teach, Um, something along the lines of a book club type situation or just a deeper explanation of what you already, uh, teach them, or a workbook, like anything that where you, maybe you teach a little bit in it and it's basically the course but put into a book form, but you make it largely, a workbook sells very, very well.
So really any of them can work. But you just need to think about what you actually want the book to do, like what purpose you want it to serve. And then I would reverse engineer from there.
[00:19:05] Lee Schneider: Yeah, that's good advice. And thinking about fiction now. Of course, the dream might be, I'm going to write a quirky coming of age novel that's very individual to me, which might be a bit of a pipe dream. You know, maybe, is it worth it to steer people or suggest, well, genres are big. You know, if you're going to write a murder mystery, if you're going to write a horror story, if you're going to write a coming of age story that's maybe not so off to the side.
You know, a good example would be Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin is, you know, it's a kind of a coming of age romance, but it's wrapped in the language of coding and creativity. So it does step outside the lines a bit, but it's still in the genre of kind of young romance or coming of age.
[00:19:57] Rachel Allen: Yeah.
[00:19:58] Lee Schneider: Is there, is it valuable to advise someone to hew to a genre or not?
[00:20:06] Rachel Allen: I think it's a yes and. So, I think that if you have an idea that is truly burning in you, I think that it makes sense to go with that because you have, you clearly have a reason for it. There's something in there that needs to be told. And so, maybe you get into that and you realize, six months down the road, like we said, like, oh, you know what, I thought this was going to be a quirky coming of age story, but actually it's a rom com about coding.
And that's cool, you know, it can switch. What I caution people against is trying to game the system too hard of being like, well. They've been really into memoirs from Appalachian writers for the past three years, so maybe if I write a memoir from an Appalachian, like that kind of stuff, it's just, you can't ever really play into the system well enough that way, you're not going to get what you want.
So, I encourage you to think about enthusiasm first, and then sort of start skewing it in a way that seems right for that book, and also right for the audience you want to write it for. The whole point of writing a book is you want somebody to read it. You're not writing it for a publishing house. Like they're gonna look at and be like, okay, cool.
That was great. Next book. But you want to grow that relationship with your readers. So think about who you're writing it for and as long as the answer is not only yourself, then that's great. Go down that, learn about that, and write it for them.
[00:21:19] Lee Schneider: That's great advice. It reminds me of when I was writing movies. I would think about, well, what's the latest action movie? And I'm just going to write that action movie. And of course, I would be a year too late or, you know, they'd be, and it wouldn't be that useful. You know, it would be useful maybe as a demo, but, you know, you have to write what's in your heart.
But as you say, for someone else too, it can only be for you. Do you think everybody has a book in them?
[00:21:44] Rachel Allen: I do. I really do. And I will caveat that by saying, I don't think that everybody has a sit down and type it at their computer book in them. Uh, I've worked with a lot of people who maybe, um, you know, they have some sort of neurodivergency, or they just don't like sitting down and writing at the computer.
And people have actually talked books at me via WhatsApp and Voxer. So I've had people just say their books at me, and then I take that and form it into the book for them and do some ghost writing. Or, um, maybe they, they're, you know, they don't want to sit down and write, but they are... prolific speakers, and they have speaker reels for days.
You can absolutely pull a book together out of that. So yeah, I think everybody has a book. I think everybody has a story and an idea to spread. But I would encourage people to not get locked into the idea of, like, I'm going to sit down at my desk and lock myself in my office and write 5, 000 words a day, because it's probably not going to happen.
[00:22:31] Lee Schneider: You know, it's interesting you mentioned ghostwriting and I wanted to talk about that for a moment because I was reading a piece in the New Yorker by the ghostwriter of Spare and he had, it was a very interesting piece about the intimacy and connectivity and complexity of that relationship between the you know, the person whose name is on the book and the ghostwriter.
Do you find that that's the case? I mean, can it be done in kind of a hands off way or do you have to really dig in?
[00:22:59] Rachel Allen: I think you have to dig in, otherwise you're going to write a really boring book. I mean, it's, you can be hands off with say, a thesis if you're helping somebody put that together or something like that, but with a book, there's so much intimacy of writing in someone's voice and getting to know them and getting to know why this book matters to them, because every book is so individual and so unique when it comes to its ultimate purpose.
That I, I think it's just foolish to even try to not get involved. And also, you're spending a ton of time with this person. Like, if you're not enjoying that, it's, it's gonna show in the book.
[00:23:31] Lee Schneider: Yeah, it's kind of like what they say about making movies, you know. If you're going to make a movie, you better love it because you're going to spend a long time. Same with a novel. You know, if you're writing a novel, you better really find a good emotional motor to drive that thing because you're going to be spending a lot of time, a lot of words. Do you have a favorite book that you've worked on?
[00:23:51] Rachel Allen: Ooh, it's so hard to choose favorites. Um... I think some of my recent favorites, I, uh, helped Brandy Olson with her book, Real Work, uh, which came out, I believe, end of last year. Um, Heather Thorkelson's No Plan B was also just so much fun to work on because, um, that was, like you said, we, we developed this wonderful relationship.
And, um, one that I'm always excited about and almost never get to talk about is I actually ghost-wrote a children's book. About the gut microbiome of all things, but I was working for a company that does probiotics and they wanted a children's book. And so, um, I was finding rhymes for things like, uh, lactobacillus and that was always fun.
[00:24:31] Lee Schneider: That sounds
[00:24:32] Rachel Allen: Yeah.
[00:24:33] Lee Schneider: That's funny. Is there anything else that I forgot to ask that you'd want to leave folks with today?
[00:24:39] Rachel Allen: You know, I don't think you've forgotten anything, but I just, I really appreciate the approach to the conversation because it is very human centered. And I think that often gets. Forgotten in conversations about books, they get very tactical, very fast. And while there is room for that, and of course the tactics and the strategy and the work is important, but I think the love for it is so crucial, and that's, like you said, the emotional driver.
So, um, that's what I would want to leave people with, is, of course, do the head stuff, but don't forget about the heart.
[00:25:07] Lee Schneider: Yeah, it's so much a, um, it's kind of hard to pin down in a way. I mean, one can write all the outlines you want. one can plan, one can use apps, one can use software, and then you sit down one day or work at a standing desk one day and you realize, you know, I got to throw that whole stuff out. Like, that part, I planned that whole part, but I've found, the thing that I discover is that I may write out an outline, but I haven't lived it
as the characters have. So there's a point where I get ahead of where the characters emotionally are at.
[00:25:39] Rachel Allen: Mm hmm.
[00:25:40] Lee Schneider: I haven't felt what they're supposed to be feeling. But I've supposedly having them do what they're supposed to do. And that doesn't quite line up. So there can be a point, I'm in a book now where I'm at the very end, last couple of sections, and I realize, Wow, I gotta stop.
And kind of step back and figure out what these people are feeling because I've written faster than they could live it.
[00:26:03] Rachel Allen: Yes.
Oh, I love that way of phrasing and it leads to hollowness in the work if you haven't felt it all the way through with them. So I absolutely love that.
[00:26:12] Lee Schneider: Cool. Great. Well, Rachel, thanks so much for being on the show today. This was a lot of
fun. Really
[00:26:17] Rachel Allen: Yeah. Thank you so much. I really appreciate the conversation.
[00:26:19] Announcer: That's all for today's episode of the FutureX Podcast. And also, this is our final episode for the season. We'll be back soon with season two.
Listen to all our episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, Google, or anywhere fine podcasts appear in your feed. For more info about FutureX, visit FutureX dot Studio.

Creators and Guests

Rachel Allen Keeps the Love of Writing Alive
Broadcast by