Sean Platt [Interview]; Carving Out a Digital Writing Career–from Blogger to Published Author
Do you love to write? Want to write online and make a living doing it?
You are going to enjoy meeting Sean Platt.
His amazing story–from blogger to published author and serialized fiction business owner–holds plenty of tips for those looking for their own career as a digital writer.
Sean even found success as a copywriter before becoming devoted to writing stories (that pay the bills.) He started out writing seo content articles for $5 a pop. Doing twenty of those a day trained him to write efficiently.
His blog “Writer Dad” grew into a ginormous audience with an email list of tens of thousands.
He eventually found his true passion–writing fiction. And not only that, he knows how to find success as an independently published author.
All of this productivity did also lead Sean to a publishing contract–so he is a traditionally published author, too.
When it comes to writing–and finding success doing it–there might not be anyone online today that can provide more helpful insights than Sean Platt.
His fiction writing knows no genre bounds….fantasy, science fiction, horror, children’s books…Sean writes for them all. He also uses a few pen names, so you might have read one of his stories and not even realize it!
He’s pretty much done it all in the digital writing realm. (His resume even includes wedding vows and sales pages. And he’s already diving into screenwriting.)
Sean is one of the most prolific fiction writers you can find today. He has produced warehouses full of reams of his writings. (Figuratively speaking. There is no actual warehouse.)
And he still makes time for interviews. LOL
Sean Platt graciously found some time to talk. (It took a few reschedules, but boy was this worth it. ;))
I hope you enjoy my interview with Sean Platt. You can listen to the audio interview or read the transcript below.
Let us know in the comments what you think or if you have a question for Sean.
And if this interview fires you up enough to finally build your own platform and start writing, I’m here to help with that.
Check out this interview with indie author expert Sean Platt!
Sean Platt Interview Transcript
(For those who like to read.)
Matthew: Hello bloggers. Today I’m talking with Sean Platt.
Sean’s story is a modern-day American success story. Or maybe it should be called an internet success story. His complete story is available in his book titled “Writer Dad,” which I’ve read and enjoyed because I relate to it so much. So I want to kick this off by starting there. Sean, you really have come a long way and I know many new bloggers will find your story fascinating and inspiring. So let’s start from the beginning. Share with us how you started out working in your dad’s floral shop and how you developed this interest in writing for a living, which came about later than most folks. I think you were in your late 20s when you decided to pursue writing, is that right?
Sean Platt: Actually 30s. Not my late 30s, I’m in my late 30s now. My wife bought me a MacBook for my 30th birthday and said, “I think you should start writing.” She’d been trying to get me to write for a long, long time, pretty much since our first date. She was a teacher and I was a high school dropout and so I figured, “Of course you think I should write. I don’t know where the commas go.” She always rejected that notion and said, “You’re articulate and there’s no reason that you can’t get your articulation onto the page. If you can, you would be successful at this. You should try.” But I didn’t. Even after getting the MacBook I didn’t really do anything with it for a couple of years. And then I started writing.
To answer your question about the flower shop, that’s where I got my work ethic from. We had a family business. Flower shop is not easy. It’s like the restaurant business where holidays are your hardest times, you’re always dealing in perishable product, the hours are grueling. I used to go with my dad to the farm market like 2:00 in the morning, which is crazy, and just constantly, constantly working. We never took family vacations. So getting into the blogging grind was natural for me because I don’t need sleep.
I left the flower business in my late 20s and my wife and I opened up a preschool so we could be with our children the first five years. After my daughter went to kindergarten I felt sad. She was my best friend, my little best friend was now in school full-time. And so Cindy, my wife, said, “Well why don’t you try writing now?” So I did. That was in September and by December I had a 600 page rough draft for a novel that wasn’t good at all but I knew that at least I could keep my butt in the chair for several months and produce. So after that it was a short road to starting a blog and just getting out there and trying to put my name out. Yeah, so that was 7 years ago now.
Matthew: Wow. Yeah, I started following you I think it was in 2012 so I think you were already into your fiction writing career.
Sean Platt: Yeah, I would have been done. I had a couple of phases there. “Writer Dad” was the first and then I started a site called “The Digital Writer” and I blew that up pretty quickly, actually. That started from nothing and within a few months had 15,000 writers on a list. And then I just got sick of it all and destroyed the list, deleted everything and said, “I’m never blogging again.” And then I started the podcast. The podcast has been a very natural way for me to communicate. I love it. I’ve never been happier. That is what I do for nonfiction and then I write fiction almost full time.
Matthew: Did you use to have a site called “Ghostwriter Dad” as well?
Sean Platt: Yeah, I did. That was in the time when I was very quickly losing my house because I thought, “I’m smart. I can make this writing thing work online.” And so I was writing keyword articles at $5 a pop and writing 20 a day. That’s when I learned to write really fast because it was the only way to keep my head above water. But even that wasn’t enough because we had a Southern California mortgage that we bought at the height of the bubble and so it just, I was losing my house.
And I made the mistake a lot of bloggers do where you feel that attention is equivalent to currency and it’s not. Immediately when I started, from my very first post I was getting 100 comments a post and so I thought wow, a lot of people are reading this, that means the money’s going to come, which is absurd. That’s a really stupid thing to think. You can’t do that. I have a very practical business mind because ever since fifth grade selling candy bars on the playground I’ve always had some entrepreneurial bent to me but I got online and got stupid. I thought that the practical rules of brick and mortar no longer mattered in this digital fantasy land and that’s just, that’s stupid. Of course they do. They matter even more.
So I didn’t have any way to alchemize my content into currency. And then I thought, “Well, I already have a name as Writer Dad. I might as well put a ghost in front of it and hire myself out.” At the time I had transitioned from keyword articles but I was just losing my ass on those keyword articles. So I thought, you know what? I need to find out what will pay me the absolute most per word. So I realized that copywriting, if I could write a converting sales page I would never go hungry again. So I learned copywriting and that was a huge shift in not just my business but in the way I thought and really everything that I’m doing now is as a direct result of that transition.
Matthew: Yeah, I remember reading in “Writer Dad,” there was a lady in Ohio that was instrumental in that for you, right?
Sean Platt: Yeah, Laurie Taylor. Still one of my best friends in the world. I love her to pieces. Yes, she saw something that I wrote and we started talking and she said, “So you’re better than 95% of writers in this world but that last 4%, that’s where the millions are made.” That was just a hell of a pitch. I had just lost our house and so we moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to work with her. I worked with her for a couple of years before moving to Austin, which is where we are now.
Matthew: Yeah. So this entrepreneurial spirit that you talk about having since childhood, how important is that for an independent writer to have?
Sean Platt: For a successful writer, I think it’s essential. I think that if you just want to write, you can do that. But if you want to build a business, to build a career on writing, I think you have to treat it like a business. A lot of people think I’m down on traditional publishing because I’m so fiercely independent but I’m not at all. I think that traditional publishing is the best bet for a lot of authors. You just have to know who you are and what you want. You have to know your why. For me, independence and freedom…I like bonding with my audience. I like being able to nurture my list of readers. I like having that control. It’s really important to me. But if I just wanted to write the book then a publisher would be a much better alternative because they’re going to handle the cover design and the editing and the basic marketing. Even though they really only go whole hog in that way for their best authors, still, it’s better than some authors are going to do anyway, right? If I was really interested in getting in bookstores and airports and Costco’s, then a traditional [inaudible] not really. I know that that will happen eventually just because the climate and the culture is going to change. It’s already changed a lot. We’re not there yet. Indies aren’t in Target but they will be and I’ll be ready when that happens. I’m just not in a hurry for that, that’s not part of my why.
Matthew: Yeah, I know a lot of people listening are pretty excited about that. Have you been approached by a traditional publisher?
Sean Platt: Yeah, we [inaudible] publishing books but they’re step-children and the family.
Matthew: I’m sorry, you were breaking up a little bit there.
Sean Platt: Oh, we have [inaudible] published books at our company, Sterling & Stone, which has several different imprints. We have four books, the three books in the [inaudible] Zombie Series and another book called “Monstrous.” They’re almost like step-children because we don’t have control over them. If we want to put books on sale, we can’t. If we want to change the last page calls to action in those books, we can’t. If we want to update because we know that, like the first book in that series has typos, we can’t do anything about it because the traditional publisher didn’t catch them and even though we’ve pointed it out they’ve pretty much told us it doesn’t really matter. So I like having the control over my work. My name is on it and I want to make sure that the quality is optimum and if I know there are typos I want those typos fixed.
Matthew: Yeah, there’s something about ownership. It’s amazing Prince didn’t even own “Purple Rain.”
Sean Platt: Right. Well, that’s why I think he fastidiously recorded a bunch of stuff in his own studio just as a middle finger to Warner Brothers.
Matthew: Exactly, and changed his name, yeah.
Sean Platt: Yeah.
Matthew: So what would you say was your lowest point in this journey?
Sean Platt: Well, the fear that I’m not really taking care of my family and that I’m indulging in my own whims and putting what I want to do above theirs, not their emotional well-being, because they were always taken care of there, but it was risky. Going out and saying, “I can do this,” in a timeframe that wasn’t really reasonable and losing the house, that sucked. And then moving them to Ohio to rebuild was great. I was actually making very good money as a copywriter. And when I finally pulled us up from the dredges and had paid off all our debt and was making a good income, I just did it all over again. “Hey, I’m going to write fiction,” which that takes a long time to build that business. You’re not going to just break out immediately. That’s unreasonable expectation. I knew that going into it and was content. That was three years ago at this point.
I’m doing fine now but it took a long time. It’s not really a dark moment because, I feel like it’s all a part of the process and so I’m not, I don’t know, I’ve never been really afraid to make mistakes, I feel like I learn from them. And I don’t really have dark moments, I’m a pretty optimistic guy. Someone on our team the other day made a joke that, “Sean is so optimistic that if he sees a glass that’s half empty he scoots under the table, looks up at it and says, ‘Looks full to me.'” Which is kinda true. But I appreciate being wired that way because it means I do take more chances. I may fail a lot but when I hit it, I hit hard and that’s very exciting. I think that that’s really exciting not just for me but for the team. I’m lucky to be surrounded by a lot of really amazing people. My partners and teammates are just incredible. They help me to do more than I could ever do on my own. But a lot of that is that we’re all willing to risk together. But the fear is there, for sure, that sometimes I’m not going to perform for my family in the way they deserve me to.
Matthew: Yeah. So were you ever tempted to abandon this crazy dream and get a regular job?
Sean Platt: No, no, not even for a second. I’ve never had a regular job in my life. I’m probably unemployable. Even when I was working with Laurie, she offered me a substantial amount of money to sign a contract. I’m not a contract guy. I don’t want to sign a contract. I didn’t even want an e-mail address with the company name. I had to turn that down. It’s not that I didn’t love the work that I was doing but freedom is just a core tenet of who I am and how I want to live my life. That’s my why. I need to have freedom.
Matthew: Autonomy, right?
Sean Platt: Yeah. There was never any risk of me going and getting a regular job. I just needed to figure out ways to make it work.
Matthew: That’s amazing, man. That really inspires me. Where do you think that tenacity comes from?
Sean Platt: Probably a misplaced optimism that everything is always going to be fine. I’m fortunate, I had good parents, they’re crazy but they had their own business. No one in my family had a job. I mean that on both sides of my family. We’re all entrepreneurs. It’s in our blood. So I don’t know that I have it in me to go out and get a job. It’s just like I always want to carve my own path. Freedom is always going to be more important to me than money. Happiness is always going to be more important to me than money. And so I don’t need the security of knowing that I’m going to get the same amount every month. My wife has an almost unreasonable faith in me, that I’ll make everything okay because she’s actually wired the opposite. She’s wired for security. She would much rather have, even if it was less money, she’d rather have the same amount of money every month that she could count on. The fluctuations are very difficult for her but she also loves me and trusts me and knows that my happiness is a driving force in our family.
Matthew: It sounds like we both got lucky in that department as far as spouses go.
Sean Platt: Yeah, I’m very lucky for a lot of reasons and none bigger than my relationship with Cindy.
Matthew: Me too. Not with Cindy, mine’s named [inaudible 00:15:48].
Sean Platt: That’s good.
Matthew: Yeah. Then what advice do you have for someone right now in 2016 to write for a living? Not just write but actually work for themselves, be independent, work from home, the whole internet life dream thing.
Sean Platt: Well, it just depends on what they’re doing, I think. Blogging is very different from writing non-fiction, which is very different, non-fiction books, I mean, which is even more different from writing fiction books or having a podcast network or being a YouTube star. They’re all very different answers. But I think the global response could be educate yourself. I think that a lot of people, when I see a lot of people who are circling the drain and they’re not really getting to where they want to go a lot of times, they’re just looking for either easy solutions or free answers. In my experience, neither one of those are efficient ways to get where you’re going.
As far as free information, a lot of times the stuff that has helped me most, has helped me get smarter faster, has been a paid solution. You can spend a lot of time picking up this little tidbit and that little tidbit by just looking all over online and Google searching stuff and looking for free tips on blogs but when I want to know something I go find the source of the information, the best quality information I can and I pay for it. Because I feel like my time is more important than anything else I have. I can always make more money, I will never make more time. I will never, ever manufacture another moment no matter how successful I become. So my time is what I protect with everything I have, so it’s important to me to just get the solution I need and just pony up for it. I think a lot of people are afraid to do that. They would rather just go…it’s like, “Why hunt and peck if I can learn to type?” It’s the same thing. I just think that you need to go out and get what you need.
My definition of mojo is the speed at which you get what you want. I think that it’s important to go out and get what you want, get what you need to become smarter faster. I know I had another point there, too. Educating yourself and, I don’t remember the other thing that I said just five minutes ago so apparently I ramble too much.
Matthew: Well, you were talking about paying for it as well and that includes paying for your own self-hosted blog, doesn’t it Sean?
Sean Platt: Yes, absolutely. Dave and I, my first partner at Sterling & Stone, he always wanted to have a website that’s hosted on WordPress.com. I just think that’s absurd because you need to be able to have your opt-in pages, you need to be able to have control. And that’s just such a small expense for the freedom that you get on the other side. I think that it’s funny how few writers, specifically, are willing to pay for quality tools. To me, how can you treat it like a business and not pay for tools? It’s not like you have warehouse space to rent or retail goods to warehouse, you’ve got it pretty easy. Pay for the basic tools. And it’s funny, because I’ve talked to a lot of people who make tools for businesses like lead pages type of stuff, apps for Facebook, things like this and the indie author community is so big and when I ask these people why aren’t they making tools for indie authors they say, “Because indie authors don’t want to pay for them.” And it’s just sad because I think the space would be doing better if people were willing to pay for the basic tools that would help them do their jobs better.
Matthew: Yeah, exactly. I see that as well. I talk to people and sometimes they go with BlogSpot or WordPress.com or whatever. But yeah, you definitely need your own platform that’s self-hosted. That’s what Sean does. So did you self-host with going clear back to Ghostwriter Dad?
Sean Platt: No, I self-hosted with Writer Dad, which is my very, very first site.
Matthew: Writer Dad?
Sean Platt: Yeah. I started out on day one with a professional theme. This is back when that was unheard of, this was 2008. I bought Thesis and premium themes were like a brand new thing. I always, always, always from day one, thought of my time online as a business. If I’m going to go online and I’m going to be Writer Dad, and at the time I didn’t even use my real name, I was just Writer Dad. I wasn’t Sean. I didn’t admit to being Writer Dad. But I did as much as I could to make my site look professional and I had a professional theme, I put my best foot forward, I bought my domain, and figured all the hosting the stuff out, which, I was not a tech guy. The computer I got for my 30th birthday was my first computer. I had not been even using it for long. I’m figuring all this stuff out. I’m figuring SEO out. That was just part of it. Again, I am an entrepreneur and I did treat it like a business and I think that when you’re in business you can’t use only free tools and expect your best results. It doesn’t happen.
Matthew: Absolutely. So to be a successful online entrepreneur, what are some of the most important traits that a blogger needs to develop in one word, like tenacity?
Sean Platt: Well, tenacity. You have to be willing to make mistakes. Put yourself out there. Be honest. Stop trying to be the homogenized version of you that you think the world wants to see or hear. Just be yourself. Put your heart on the page. If you just sit there and try to write really professional sounding blog posts…if you try to resonate with everyone you’re going to resonate with no one. And that’s true 100% of the time. No one is going to feel deeply passionate about what you are writing if you are writing it for a general audience. You need to figure out who your ideal reader is and write specifically to them 100% of the time.
Matthew: Yeah, that’s good stuff. So Sean, what does your blogging routine look like? Can we get a peek behind the curtain?
Sean Platt: I don’t have a blogging routine. Our blog right now is an absolute mess. It’s the worst thing ever. But in a couple of months from this recording it will be gorgeous and will have really great blog content once a week but I won’t be writing that. The digitalwriter.net site that I had, I guess four years ago, we would do these, or I guess I should say I would do these big long epic posts, they were like 5,000 words, lots of links, lots of examples, but I just burned out on them. It built my list really fast but I didn’t feel super passionate about that stuff. I felt like I’m just over that, I never want to do anything that I’m not truly, truly passionate about ever again because life is too short.
So four years ago Johnny B. Truant who is my other writing partner at Sterling & Stone talked me and Dave into doing a podcast. I said okay, but we didn’t launch it. I don’t know, I had no, I guess, plans for it. It was just, “Hey, why don’t we show up once a week and talk about what is and isn’t working as for indie publishing?” I thought okay. I was just always myself and before then I never swore online, so “Writer Dad” was very, very clean, “Ghostwriter Dad” was very, very clean, “Digital Writer” was very, very clean, and the self publishing podcast was just like, it was just three guys hanging out. I was truly, truly myself and that was a lot of fun. It really is a lot of fun. We are recording, today we’re recording our 212th episode. We’ve done it every week for 4 years and it’s a blast. Because we were so authentic, we’re just being ourselves, the site grew or the show grew. It’s funny because we pretty much break every single podcasting rule there is, which is what I mean about really being yourselves and not being afraid to alienate the right people, or the wrong people I guess I should say, so the right people find you. Our show is, it runs along. It’s off topic. We curse. It breaks all the podcasting rules and yet it’s done very well. It’s given us quite an awesome platform. We now have nine podcasts in our network and that is how we blog. So eventually once our site gets redone we’ll transcribe some of them and that will be some written content but mostly all of our posts are just links to shows that we’ve done. So that is the blogging routine, is I just show up for the shows.
Matthew: So do you start your day writing?
Sean Platt: Yeah, I wake up between 5:00 and 5:30 every day. No alarm, that’s just when I wake up and I just immediately get started on production. I’m not writing a lot of rough draft copy right now but I have three different writing partners that I’m constantly collaborating different projects with and so I usually start out early in the morning either editing or publishing that work or drafting new outlines for new stories. I pretty much do that all through the morning. And then at 2:00 is when I break and I do interviews or podcasts or anything else in the afternoon.
Matthew: Okay. This one is a little earlier, I guess, than normal for you.
Sean Platt: Yeah, this is absolutely my prime production time. But I screwed up in having to cancel on you a few times so I didn’t think it was fair to make you wait anymore. So yeah, I never ever do anything before 2:00, ever, under any circumstances, because if I’m not producing during that time I’ll never make up that time. It’s not like I could do it after dinner. My brain is just done by that time and so I have to get my creative production in before lunch time. Then I always have lunch with my wife and then by 2:00 that’s when I’ll do interviews like this or I batch my stuff because a lot of our, we have a podcast called “The Smarter Artist,” which is just 5 to 7 minute snippets like, “How do I write a product description,” that kind of thing and will answer one single question like that. So I batch those in groups of 10. So I’ll schedule a time for like a 2 hour block and just do 10 of them in a row. I’ll do that once a month and that’s enough. There are several of us recording those. It’s a daily podcast but I just need to do one 2 hour block once a month and that’s all my content for that podcast.
We have another one called “Authorpreneur Almanac” which is a real-time look into our story studio as we build it. Those are 15 minute episodes and same thing, I do 2 a month and I just record them back to back. But I schedule all of that. I’m very, very routine oriented because it’s the only way I can get as much done as I do. We produce about 3 million words in our company every month, sorry, every year, every month would be ridiculous, every year. Plus we have 9 podcasts. Plus we’re doing amazing things like right now we’re building this app called “Story Shop” which should be a game changer for writers. That all takes just a lot of brainpower and I need to make sure that I have enough of it so a schedule is really important.
Matthew: Yeah, I’ll be linking to all of your stuff in the show notes, like your podcast network. I need to peruse all those different shows. I’ve seen you guys talk about indie publishing on YouTube and it is pretty hilarious. But some of these other shows you’re talking about I have not heard yet, so.
Sean Platt: Yeah, a lot of them we just thought how can we best leverage what we’re doing? Another example of a show we have is called “Back Story” and we actively don’t promote it. That’s so not the point of the show. But every time we finish a book we get on a hangout and we record a 30 minute episode that’s just about that book. It’s like the DVD commentary. We talk about the book and then we link to that episode in the back of the book. So it’s like extras for our readers. They love that stuff and it bonds them to us as authors, it bonds them to the material more, it makes them look forward to sequels, and it’s a great way to bridge the network.
Matthew: Yeah, I love that kind of stuff, like listening to directors talk about their movies, authors talk about their books, yeah, definitely. Okay, so what special tools do you use?
Sean Platt: We use Scrivener, Dropbox, Asana, Slack, Zoom. We will be using StoryShop once it’s beta next week. That’ll become pretty much the core component to everything we do, actually.
Matthew: Does StoryShop have a website?
Sean Platt: Yeah, it’s getstoryshop.com.
Sean Platt: I guess that’s most of it. I’m looking at my doc but that’s pretty much it. Slack is amazing for team communications. Asana is great for project managing. Scrivener clearly is, it’s not the best solution but it’s the best solution available. The problem is all of our stuff is collaborative and Scrivener is not a collaborative tool. That’s not a flaw on it’s part, it was never meant to be a collaborative tool. But everything we write is collaborative so it’s really hard because we’re just syncing that through Dropbox and it doesn’t always work as well as we’d like.
Matthew: Okay. Well tell us a little bit more about, I want to go back to Ghostwriter Dad, those days because that’s where a lot of the Build Your Own Blog audience is at right now. How did you grow your audience back then? What content were you producing? Was it all writing? Was there some video involved?
Sean Platt: It was all writing and it was just SEO content. I was just writing stuff to gather clients. So that was it. It was very basic, there was not a lot of passion or love in that site. Writer Dad was all passion, all love, no money. Ghostwriter Dad was basically just to get clients. And then once I started working with Laurie she paid me enough to basically turn down all other offers so I exclusively worked for her so I didn’t really need the site anymore and so it just kind of atrophied. And then after I spent a long time with her learning the business, she was in a couple of very high-end masterminds and I would go with her and I really understood traffic and conversion at that point so that’s when I built The Digital Writer just for fun, I guess to see if I could do it. We got 15,000 e-mail addresses in, I don’t know, 3 months or something. That was fun but then I just didn’t care enough about it. I just wanted to do something I loved so I started writing fiction and stopped that. I guess the biggest takeaway there is you really have to do what you love because otherwise you’re going to burn out.
Matthew: But wouldn’t you say that even though Ghostwriter Dad was not a blog you were passionate about, it did serve a business purposes?
Sean Platt: Oh, absolutely. Yes, it paid the bills and it served me very well. It absolutely changed my life because without it I would never have met Laurie and I never would have moved to Ohio, I never would have been a part of those masterminds. I think I’d still be writing fiction right now just like I am but I would have taken a very different path to get there. I love the path I took. I feel like there were a lot of hiccups along the road but they’re all part of the journey and I’m proud of the path.
Matthew: Yeah, as you should be. Here’s a question for you that maybe you’ve not been asked before. This one is coming from me as a dad and a fellow writer dad, so to speak. I’ve read a few articles in the past year that talk about how entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley techies are homeschooling their children. I saw in one interview you did that you said your children attend public school. But then you also said that previously in your public school experience it wasn’t exactly positive because it somehow convinced you that you weren’t a good storyteller. So do your kids still attend public school and if so, are you concerned about their education considering they get little to no entrepreneurial training or creative encouragement?
Sean Platt: Okay, let me start at the beginning there. So one of the reasons we moved to Ohio was because Laurie’s children went to pretty much the most amazing school I’ve ever seen and I knew my children could go there, too. She would pay me enough to send them there, that was part of the deal. It was an amazing, amazing private school. So that was part of the impetus. So we get there, they are there for three years and then we moved to Austin and right now my children are in public school. I like their school right now better than the private school they were at in Ohio. It’s amazing. They get plenty of creative impetus.
The school they go to has not just tons of art, they have robotics and podcasting and script writing and it’s amazing. It’s one of the best schools in the country. So it just depends on where you live, but we specifically moved to the area of Austin that we live in right now to go to that school. We pay more than I’d like to, to live here but it’s still cheaper than private school. I figure our higher rent is like tuition. I don’t feel like it’s the school’s job to teach my children entrepreneurial stuff, I feel like that’s my job. I wish they did but I feel like if you’re, Austin is a very entrepreneurial town so I feel like they’re getting that just by us living here and by…I’m very open about my business. I’m constantly teaching them through example. I bring my business to the dinner table every night and talk about life. And so what I need them to do is to go to school to learn how to be people, to get their very basic skills and to interact with other children their age and sit and follow directions, be under someone else’s governorship for a while. I think those things are important. I don’t expect them to teach my children to be entrepreneurs.
Matthew: Wow, okay. Yeah, I was just curious how you would answer that looking at your experience with school.
Sean Platt: Yeah, I did not have a good experience in school. I was a smart kid who was a terrible student and got bad grades. I actually thought I didn’t even like to learn. Now as an adult I realize oh my God, I love to learn. I just needed to be given the right tools and the right reasons. But I’m very conscious of where my children are and I make sure that they have the very best school experiences.
Matthew: Yeah, exactly. And that’s interesting, too, what you’re saying about sharing what you’ve been doing at the dinner table. I think that’s great. I have a…
Sean Platt: I think that’s…I’m sorry, go ahead.
Matthew: Oh, I was just going to say I have a six and a four year old and their first words were blog, so.
Sean Platt: That does not surprise me. I think that it’s our job as parents to not make our crap their crap and so just because I had a bad experience in school doesn’t mean they need to. I should be aware of what my experience is so I can have it to inform me to make the very best possible choices for them. And they do. That’s why we moved to Ohio. That’s why we moved to this area of Austin. So being aware of what we want for them is super important but we can’t just say, “Oh well I had a terrible time in school growing up.” It’s writing it off. It’s a pessimistic view of the world.
Matthew: Yeah, you definitely are a positive guy and I think that is the key to your success.
Sean Platt: Thank you.
Matthew: Going back, you have this, you call it a book studio, Sterling & Stone?
Sean Platt: Story studio.
Matthew: A story studio.
Sean Platt: The only reason I draw the distinction is because we’ll be doing graphic novels and video games. We have a cool fiction podcast coming so it’s all kinds of media, it’s not just books.
Matthew: Awesome. That has a blog that’s going to be coming out? Is that the site you were talking about?
Sean Platt: Yeah, that’ll be ready by summer, late summer probably.
Matthew: Okay, cool. How important or how tied into the bottom line of Sterling & Stone is your blog?
Sean Platt: It’s not. At this point it’s irrelevant. We’re trying to change that but it’s not. We get by on publishing books, doing a lot of podcasts, emailing our lists when we have new books, but the blog plays almost no part in that currently.
Matthew: Okay, but you do have some business goals for it later on?
Sean Platt: Yeah, it is important to have a home base for people and not just building our reputation on other platforms. Right now we do a lot on Blab, that’s where we’re recording our podcast live because a lot of people show up and like to watch them live so there’s great community interaction there, for sure and it’d be nice to have some of that on the blog. If we had a better blog experience there would be comments after the podcasts and stuff like that but it’s such a miserable experience the way the site is set up now that there’s just no reason for people to interact with it at all.
Matthew: Okay, well I’m looking forward to that. Can you tell us real quick how you partnered up with Johnny and David?
Sean Platt: Yeah, so Dave was, he was going to buy the domain name Writer Dad and I bought it first. I didn’t know him but he emailed me after, I don’t know, I’d been blogging for like two weeks and says, “I want to hate you but I really like the way you write,” and we just became instant friends. I’ve worked with Dave for the entire time I’ve been online now. I met Johnny, I knew Johnny in the way you know people online. I’d never met him in person but we both wrote about 25 different posts for copy blogger back in the day so I knew him as a fellow copy blogger author. Then we met in New York, we both happened to be at Blog World. I guess that was 2011. And in late 2011 I was launching “Yesterday’s Gone,” which was our first serial that Dave and I wrote and published to Amazon. I was looking to promote it so I asked if I could do an interview on his blog and he said, “Sure.”
So he interviewed me for 34 minutes and then became obsessed with that interview. He would go running and listen to it over and over and over and over again. Just the idea that publishing fiction was a viable business model for the first time was really attractive to him because he’d been wanting to write fiction forever and there was a lot of roadblocks. I’m not going to do the query thing again, I did that. And so he’d spent 12 years writing his first novel and he suggested we start a podcast, all three of us, and that we could talk about the business together. But he very quickly got it and became the leader as far as how much is written.
Matthew: Wow. All right, well I’m coming down to the last few questions. So Sean, what do you think has been your greatest achievement as a writer? So far.
Sean Platt: Bringing the community together I think has been really awesome. I think I’ve done that with the power of language and I’m very proud of that. Not just an amazing team at Sterling & Stone but we have an amazing, amazing, just remarkable community. We just had our first big live event a month ago, “The Smarter Artist Summit” in Austin and we had a couple of hundred of just really amazing people there. It was just so awesome to see that all the writers in that room were doing the work. They weren’t petty or bitchy or whiny at all, they were just doing the work. “Write, Publish, Repeat,” which was a book, it’s a non-fiction book we wrote for our podcast audience a few years back, I guess three years ago now. You had to talk me into writing that book just because writing non-fiction for me isn’t as fun as writing fiction. I think that any writer would love to hear somebody say, “Your book changed my life.” It feels weird to say it but I’ve lost number of the times people have said that to me about “Write, Publish, Repeat.” It’s taught writers that writing is a matter of math. Building a career, it’s a mathematical thing instead of waiting for lightning to strike like it used to be. And so I’m very proud of having written that book with Johnny and a little bit of help from Dave. I think that the impact it’s made in the community has been pretty fantastic.
Matthew: That’s a book I need to read, it sounds like. Yeah, Writer Dad has been instrumental in my development and actually changed my life, so.
Sean Platt: Oh well, thank you very much for saying that. Yeah, “Write, Publish, Repeat” is just the nuts and bolts and how-to of how our business works. We wrote it as an answer to our podcast after the first year because we’re always so off topic and it was a way of saying, “Okay, here’s all the stuff we talk about but without all the side tangents.” Although the book does have side tensions because that’s just how we’re wired.
Matthew: Right. No rabbit trails in this book, okay. So where do you see blogging going? What is the future of blogging?
Sean Platt: Well, I think the content marketing side, it’s just not what it was and I don’t think it will be again. I think that it’s in transition because there’s just so much competing for our attention. I think that the only way you’re really going to stand out is if you use different kinds of medias all in the right way and put them together. So a blog that acts as a hub, I think is super sensible, which is exactly how we’re building ours. I feel very much like we’re building a semi future-proof blog. It’s taken us a couple of years. We’ve not rushed into this at all. We thought it’s better to have nothing than something half assed, which is what we have now, is nothing. We’re putting a tremendous amount of thought into the layout and the just the architecture of the site so that it’s a seamless user experience because that’s what really matters. But I think that blogging as a write this style of article and publish this number of weeks, I think that that’s just going to continue to lose it’s value. I think it’s a matter of getting your authentic voice out there and truly, truly resonating with the people who you want, your ideal reader, essentially.
Matthew: Yeah. Did you happen to catch the recent John Morrow article about this?
Sean Platt: No, I didn’t. I did have barbecue with John Morrow a couple of weeks ago, that was fun.
Matthew: Wow. Yeah, I’ll bet.
Sean Platt: But no, I didn’t. I imagine he said the same thing though.
Matthew: Yeah, yeah, he’s basically talking about how the how-to articles don’t work anymore. In 2007 a simple article like “How to Cook Brown Rice” could do really well but today it won’t do as well. So he talked about how it’s all about having to tell how to do something uniquely or in your own way. Differently, differently, that’s the word.
Sean Platt: Right, and I couldn’t agree with that more. You have to put your personality into it. For example, and this sucks, it’s not going to be a very good example. But there are a lot of, only because I can’t get specific, but there are a lot of writing books out there with, “How to Write Fast,” “How to Draft a Novel in 24 Hours,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. We wanted to put out a new writing book for our audience because they love it when we do and we don’t do it enough. So my major hurdle there was, well I don’t want to put out another writing book. There are so many there and it’s just I don’t want to be repetitive and say the same thing. But then I finally thought of an idea and it’s just, it’s a little premature because the book is still in early production so I don’t want to say it. But I thought of an idea that was very clever and it was a way of saying what no one has said before. And then I thought, “Okay, well that’s worth our time. We can get behind that idea.” I think that if you approach blogging with “How can I do something that is sticky but also unique,” that’s what you need to look for because the old 2008 school of blogging is just dead.
Matthew: Right, yeah. And that’s what I started to realize as we were talking about your past. Some of this stuff is so different. It’s so different for you starting out than it is for someone starting today.
Sean Platt: Oh yeah, for sure.
Matthew: Yeah. To wrap up, what does the future hold for Sean Platt?
Sean Platt: Oh well, I think we’re just getting started. I could not be more excited about StoryShop. We wanted to build a perfect tool for our company essentially, so that we could write better stories faster but the app it turned out that we wanted would cost about $80,000 and so we did a Kickstarter for it and basically told our audience, “Hey, if you guys want this tool also then here is how we can get it done.” We raised $84,000 and built the tool and it’ll be ready in a couple of weeks in beta so that’s really exciting. We’ll be making TV and movies and within a few years…
Matthew: I was going to ask you that, yeah.
Sean Platt: Yeah, that’s always been a big goal but I don’t want to skip our steps. We’ve got to lay the foundation first and that’s where we are right now, just making sure that we get all of our…bedrock isn’t pretty but it needs to be built and so that’s what we’re working on now. But five years from now we’ll have a movie or two and we’ll have TV. The app will probably be, I don’t know, it should be big. It seems like it has all the right ingredients.
Matthew: When you say TV are you talking about network television?
Sean Platt: No, no, I wouldn’t do a network deal right now. I would do cable. I would do streaming, Netflix, Amazon, any of the cable networks. Or probably most likely we’ll just make something ourselves and five years from now it’s going to be a very different climate. Just like indie book publishing came and indie music publishing came, indie production for our TV and movies will come also. We’re just preparing for that day.
Matthew: Do you write screenplays?
Sean Platt: I just started. I’ve written five and I’ve thrown three away and two are being shopped right now. But that is my new discipline. Again, I’ve wanted to do it for a long time but I wasn’t ready and last year I was ready and this year I’m actually getting better.
Matthew: Yeah, I have 1 under my belt but I was in a collaboration with a good friend of mine who’s got like 20 under his belt and he wins contests and so I’m hoping to ride his coattails someday.
Sean Platt: That’s a good plan. It’s definitely a different discipline than writing long form novels but it’s fun and film is my first love.
Matthew: Excellent. Well, Sean Platt. it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for…
Sean Platt: My pleasure.
Matthew: Yeah, thank you for sharing your story with us today.
Sean Platt: Happy to be here.
I really enjoyed this cool interview with digital writer Sean Platt! Lots of tips for aspiring authors!
Show Notes for Sean Platt: Carving Out a Digital Writing Career