Tom Reynolds is proof that there is no conventional path to becoming a bestselling author. He started out in the tech world, co-created the ongoing hit podcast show, “The Complete Guide to Everything,” and then, after getting laid off from his day job, took six months to write a bestselling novel. This week I chat with Tom to find out how he got from There to Here, and what it takes to be a professional author. Show notes rspcast.com/tomr
In the Beginning…
…Tom worked as the studio manager for his college television station, directing music videos and commercials for a time, and eventually working for Blip (now defunct), a video website for serialized web content.
Working in an environment surrounded by great creative people stoked Tom’s own creative fires. He had a lot of project ideas — everything from TV shows, web series, books, you name it — but nothing was happening. Out of frustration, he and his friend Tim Daniels decided to just commit to something and get it out into the world. It didn’t have to be a masterpiece, he says. It just needed to be something with a low enough barrier of entry, and something they could actually commit to doing every week. Thus, “The Complete Guide to Everything” weekly podcast show launched in 2009.
As it turned out, the podcast took off, but Blip didn’t…and Tom was laid off in early 2013. It was a big shake-up for him. He loved the people he worked with. He spent a few months interviewing in the tech start-up space in New York with no luck. Out of frustration, he decided to spend the next six months writing a novel.
Tom didn’t tell anyone he was writing a novel. He didn’t want to be “that guy,” always talking about his book, never finishing it. He decided “come hell or high water” that he would finish. It wasn’t until the second draft was completed and he felt comfortable that it wasn’t “complete garbage,” that Tom told anyone. He didn’t even share the news with his podcast audience until a week before his publication date of “Meta,” his debut YA science fiction novel.
Tom gave himself the goal of selling 10,000 books in one year to decide if he would continue writing. It took him six weeks to hit that number. That’s when he realized he needed to get serious about his writing career.
The Second Wave
Tom started writing “The Second Wave” almost immediately after the release of “Meta,” but it took him a little longer to finish it, a lot of that due, he says, to not really having had a plan to write full-time. He had to take a step back and rethink his story in terms of a series. And at the same time, he was recording the audio book and things were getting busy with his podcast.
The success of the first book meant expectations were high. He started getting a lot of email from “Meta” fans, enthusiastically discussing their theories of plot or characters, and he knew he had to make sure the second book delivered.
It was during this time, Tom says, that he was still learning about his habits as a writer, what he needed as far as deadlines and schedules in order to get things out into the world.
But get it out, he did. “The Second Wave” was released in October of 2014, and is, as of this writing, in the top 3,000 paid in the Kindle Store, the top 100 in three subcategories, with over 120 reviews averaging 4.4 stars.
While Tom attributes the initial push in sales to his loyal podcast audience, he found an unexpected ally in Wattpad, a social reading platform of over 35 million readers. He posted his first book “Meta,” chapter by chapter, catching the attention of a Wattpad staffer, who promoted it. From there, it took off, eventually hitting #1 in Science Fiction on Wattpad. Since then, it’s received over 230,000 reads.
Tom notes that Wattpad is a “fantastic place for getting feedback.” He’s found it to be a very positive environment where comments are both helpful and friendly, and he plans on sharing future work for feedback.
Tom narrated his own book, an easy decision to make, but not an easy thing to do, he admits.
With an already large existing fan base from his podcast show, his audience expected Tom to narrate his own book…and given that Audible had been such a great sponsor to the show for years, he felt he should record his own audiobook.
The final product ended up being just under six hours of recording, but it took him weeks. As he began narrating, he was horrified to find little mistakes. As a result, recording “Meta” took much longer than he anticipated as he kept having to stop and make notes and corrections.
When asked if he would recommend authors narrate their own books, the short of his long answer is, “Not so much.”
Tom points out that he himself has the knowledge, the equipment, and the experience with audio, and it was still a long and tedious process for him…so much so that he still has yet to begin recording the sequel. There’s a reason professional narrators aren’t cheap, he says. Authors really have to ask themselves where their time is best spent.
The Next Big Thing
Tom plans to write and release the third book in his bestselling YA series sometime this year, but in the meantime, he’s written a science fiction detective story for full-grown adults that, once he whips into shape, will be coming to a Wattpad near you….
- Got ideas? Just start. Like Tom says, it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. It just has to be made and be shared. Who knows? It might just be a future bestseller.
- Write everywhere. Tom uses Evernote to pin down ideas and bits of story. It doesn’t matter what software or bubblegum wrapper you use. Just get it down.
- Write in short bursts. Tom tries to write in 500-word sessions. Such a small word count goal is easy enough to get him into his writing chair, and he usually ends up writing more.
- Give yourself the gift of weekends. Tom has a daily word count goal of 1,500-2,000 words a day, but he gives himself a break on the weekends. Knowing he has Saturday and Sunday off helps keep him on track during the rest of the week.
- Frustrated? Good. Harness the power of frustration to make great stuff. Tom did. He ended up with a top podcast show and a bestselling series.
What is the most unexpected twist in your own journey as an author, and how do you think it’s shaped your career?
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