CL289: Creating A Great Book Cover

Creating A Great Book Cover

Creating A Great Book Cover

For the past decade, Derek been devoted to helping authors build a huge platform quickly to crush their book launches. But he also knows more than is good for someone about guerrilla marketing, getting thousands of followers or email subscribers, and starting a profitable online business. Now that he’s done with his Ph.D., he writes dark fantasy and runs writing retreats in castles. He also creates online courses to help indie authors publish better books with less time and money.

James Taylor interviews Derek Murphy and they talked about creating a great book.

In this episode, we cover:

  • Creating A Great Book Cover
  • The role of the book cover
  • Book design colors
  • Writing to market

Resources:

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Artificial Intelligence Generated Transcript

Below is a machine-generated transcript and therefore the transcript may contain errors.

James Taylor
Hi, I’m James Taylor business creativity and innovation keynote speaker. And this is the Creative Life, a show dedicated to you the creative. If you’re looking for motivation, inspiration and advice, while at home at work or on your daily commute, then this show is for you. Each episode brings you a successful creative, whether that’s an author, musician, entrepreneur, perform a designer, or a thought leader. They’ll share with you their journey, their successes, their failures, their creative process, and much much more. You’ll find Show Notes for this episode as well as free training on creativity over at Jamestaylor.me. Enjoy this episode.

Hi, it’s James Taylor here. Today’s episode was first aired as part of International Authors Summit. This inspiring virtual summit reveals the secrets of making marketing and monetizing a best selling book. If you would like to access the full video version as well as in depth sessions with over 40 Best Selling authors that I’ve got a very special offer for you just go to InternationalAuthorsSummit.com, where you’ll be able to register for a free pass for the summit. Yeah, that’s right. Over 40 New York Times and Amazon best selling authors, book editors, agents and publishers, sharing their insights, strategies and tactics on how to write and market your first or next best sellers. So just go to InternationalAuthorsSummit.com, but not before you listen to today’s episode.

Hey, there is James Taylor, and I’m delighted today to welcome Derek Murphy. For the past decade, Derek has been devoted to helping authors build a huge platform quickly to crush their book launches. But he also knows more than is good for someone about guerilla marketing, getting 1000s of followers or email subscribers and starting a profitable online business. Now he’s done with his PhD, he writes dark fantasy and runs writing retreats in castles, we’re gonna speak about that. He also creates online courses to help indie authors publish better books, with less time and money. It’s my great pleasure to have Derek with us today. So welcome, Derek,

Derek Murphy
thanks. It’s fun to be here.

James Taylor
So share with everyone what’s going on in your world just now.

Derek Murphy
Um, we’re kind of in between we were in Portland for this summer, my wife and I are digital nomads, we travel full time. I’m excited about going to a conference in St. Louis, I don’t do a lot of like fiction conferences where I actually show up as an author and not just like publishing service provider. So that’s really exciting. I’m struggling to finish the last couple chapters of a book on that it’s got to be done this week, then we’re going to Bangkok and then back to Vegas in November for another conference. And then probably back to Thailand again for the rest of the of the year. So this is kind of a weird in between travel schedule. But um, ideally, we’ll find a really nice, you know, comfortable apartment with a view of the trees and focus on you know, three or four more books by the end of the year.

James Taylor
I remember reading something about you before and my wife and I, we also spent a long time doing digital nomad thing, but really going for larger chunks of time in different places I read something that you can go to a place for like a month at a time, and you were kind of moving on every time is Is that still the case? Or have you change your schedule? Now,

Derek Murphy
it has been for a while. And the problem with that is, you know, you’re never late settled like a week or two of every month you’re traveling or in between. Um, the reason I do that is because there’s so many good conferences, and the problem of being a digital nomad is you aren’t always around the people that you want to be around. So if there’s a big conference happening somewhere where I can hang out with a few 100 people, even if it’s just for a few days, and then go back into my writing cave and focus on the work, I like to have those personal connections. So it’s kind of hard to stay in one place if there’s something else going on somewhere else. But I would like to slow down a little bit, I think two or three months in a place is a better amount of time. But it’s just been that way probably for the last year or two. It’s been like a month or less in a place, which is like it’s kind of exciting. It’s kind of nice, but I’m not getting as much work done as I probably could. And I’d really like to focus on especially for fiction, you really need to build up your back list so that you can spend more on the advertising and get people into your like fiction funnel or your series. And I’m not quite there yet, because I haven’t finished enough books yet to really focus on scaling up. So that’s why where I need to get to with my fiction with a nonfiction stuff. I can kind of work on that or my projects or work with clients anywhere. So it doesn’t really matter where I am. Um, but yeah, I’d like to slow down a little bit.

James Taylor
So take his bank, where did it all begin? Where did this the life of you as the author start take us back to that time?

Derek Murphy
I was actually I studied philosophy at Malta. And I was doing fine art in Florence. I didn’t really start. Like I know, I think I put out a couple of self published books where they weren’t very successful. And then I started writing my PhD in Taiwan. I started an editing company that I started doing book cover design, so I was really working with authors. And the problem was, I would do I would edit their book or I would do their cover, and they still couldn’t sell it. They didn’t know how to reach the Readers get book reviews. So a lot of people had high hopes. But I didn’t feel like I was really helping them with the stuff that mattered the most. So I really focused on learning about marketing, I wrote some books about marketing. And now, I feel like I know about publishing and book marketing. But I haven’t really put out the high quality commercial fiction nonfiction, that I need to, I don’t just want to be someone who tells authors what to do or does services, I want to make sure I’m a step ahead, and I’m working on my own projects. So I can kind of verify that, that everything I’m talking about actually works. And I can really do it for myself, and not just for other people. So in the last couple years, I’ve really just been focused on really stepping back from client work. I’m focusing more on case studies and like experiment ends, and just weird things with with fiction, nonfiction, to see what I can do differently, that other authors aren’t talking about yet. There’s so many, like, there’s so many things that you have to think about. And it’s so hard to do everything yourself, a lot of authors just feel frustrated and overwhelmed. But like there’s, there’s certain things that just have to happen, there’s nobody else is really going to do everything for you, a lot of authors just want to give up control. And that’s really like a good idea, you have to learn enough about publishing to make smart decisions, even if you’re hiring somebody else. So I kind of just help, like with the education part to try to get authors up to speed. And then you know, I like to work on my books, and that can be working on their books and making all kind of be publishing together, I think it’s a really exciting space. And it changes so quickly, with Amazon updates and things. So you always kind of have to be a step ahead. So

James Taylor
when you were starting on that journey, who were the mentors that you had, either that you knew personally, and were able to mentor you, or you kind of looked at from afar, and you said, that’s the kind of author I want to be this kind of breaking business. I also want to have,

Derek Murphy
I think Joanna Penn from creative pen was one of the big ones in the beginning. And I think partly because I found a copy of herself published book in Portland, like a bookstore in Portland. And I was really impressed that she had published in the UK and someone who bought the book in Oregon, and you know, ended up at a bookstore, I thought that was really cool. So I kind of developed a relationship with her and other people in the in the self publishing space, like Joe friedlaender, who has the book cover designer calm. Now, there’s a whole bunch of new like, this is only eight years ago. So now there’s a whole bunch of new, more cutting edge Self Publishers, I think before it was kind of like a frontier land where nobody really knew what was going on. And the people who are gurus, they built a big platform, because they were the first people who were really talking about things. Right now, there’s a bunch of new, not exactly gurus, just people who are who are more involved in self publishing space. They’ve only gotten to know in the last couple of years. Oh, I should mention Mark Coker, also mark Coker from Smashwords is another big

James Taylor
Yeah, we’ve had him on there. So we just spoke to him today really insightful in terms of how things you know, are changing, moving, as you see moving all the time,

Derek Murphy
right, I’m gonna see him next week, actually, we’re on a panel together at a writing conference. So it’s interesting to see them like how they’ve not that they’ve changed, but to watch them grow over the last eight years, I’m and I’m kind of in similar position, where, you know, I started blogging maybe five or six years ago, but, um, I have a lot of content out now it’s a lot of people find me, but I still feel like I’m learning the best way to provide value like that. Like I said, it’s just that there’s so much to learn. And I don’t really want to be doing everything for authors anymore. But authors don’t really want to learn everything, either. So bridging that education gap to get them to, you know, skip to the good stuff, and see success with as little effort as possible. There are ways to do that. But it’s, it really depends on on the book and the project, and it’s still, it still can be overwhelming. Even for me, even when I’m launching my own fiction, I’m not doing everything perfectly, it’s still a bit of a struggle to get the results that you want. Unless you you know, you really have to do everything pretty well to be able to be successful. Um, so it’s, I mean, on the one hand, like I can offer really quick feedback, and authors always make the same mistake. So if they can just avoid the common mistakes at all, first of all, the first time publishers make they’ll do a lot better. But there’s also you know, guerrilla publishing hacks or marketing hacks that that really can put you in front of like, for example, putting yourself on YouTube or putting yourself blogging even that like most fiction authors, just don’t blog because I think there’s no point to it. You can pretty easily get to the top of Google if you’re smart for Fiction stuff, so I have a lot of stuff like Best Young Adult mermaid fantasy books, which are on the first page of Google when people search for Best Young Adult mermaid fantasy books because the other fiction authors aren’t thinking about keywords. Like that. So I do stuff like that with content marketing that works for, for business, you know, it’s basic business entrepreneurs stuff, that’s common knowledge. But most writers don’t do that. They don’t know about that, or they think it’s too. Like they don’t want to build a big platform because they think you know, it’s not worth it. But there, there are things that can take a few weeks of effort, and it’ll work for you for years to get visibility. So I tried to kind of steer people towards that, rather than PR, a lot of authors just aren’t, they’re not ready for PR. And I talked to somebody today who like she said, she spent an obscene amount of money on PR and Joomla sold like 66 bucks, because that kind of stuff just doesn’t really work. One

James Taylor
thing that you’ve I kind of heard about you first is, and something which obviously does have an impact upon can have an impact on book sales, is cover design. Now, isn’t just because you have you’ve kind of changed your model, I can give you obviously working with authors on creating great cover designs, because we hear time and time again, how important having a great cover is for for selling your books. But you’ve actually your models change over time, in terms of how you work with clients, on the cover design actually, is kind of your is a bit met, we’re going a bit meta now. But you can have almost getting giving really giving them tools so they can design now, I believe,

Derek Murphy
yeah. And it’s kind of weird, because on the one hand, people say authors shouldn’t design their own covers. And that’s kind of true, you should get a professional, it’s the most critical thing, the most important thing, especially for fiction, it’s going to make an enormous difference. Like everything else you do, whether you’re asking for reviews, or you’re reaching out to influencers, no matter what you’re doing, the cover is going to make such a huge difference. So it really is critical. And I know other people think I’m doing a disservice I worry about that. Sometimes if I teach others how to do it themselves, then I’m not really helping them, because they’re going to get a crappy cover, and it’s going to kill their their sales. Um, however, I don’t like to say that there’s a price barrier to entry. I don’t like saying that, like, I hear this a lot like unless you can afford a cover design unless you can afford book editing, like you don’t deserve to publish. And I don’t think that’s fair, because I know a lot of authors who just don’t have a budget people, some people don’t have, you know, a disposable income to invest in their book, when they’re publishing. Or if you want to publish, you know, 10 bucks a year, you just can’t afford to spend that much on editing a book cover design. So the weird thing is like, I can charge a lot for book design, I know people will pay me for it, but there’s so many people who just don’t have the money, and they’re gonna do it themselves anyway, and I don’t want them to just make mistakes, at least if I teach them, you know, these are the 10 things that every author does wrong, don’t do these things, even if they’re doing it themselves are still gonna have, they’re gonna do a little bit better. And if they can do a little bit better, and it helps them to reach their readers easier to get started easier. That’s a good thing. But also, the frustrating thing about being cover designer is that with Self Publishers, or indie authors, if they’re paying you directly, they’re really the boss. And so most first time authors have an idea of what they think they want on the cover. And they’ll expect the cover designer to just make what they want, because they’re paying, and they think they know what’s best for their book. And authors never do the right thing for their book, because they’re thinking about it all wrong. They’re thinking about how to sell the what’s inside, like the content and the benefits. And the covers job is only to communicate the genre and attract readers. So if you’re focused on the details, or the content, or like what’s inside the book, um, readers don’t care about that yet. They don’t know what happens in the book anyway. So they don’t know what all that all that stuff means it just has to grab their attention and communicate the genre to get them to read the book description. That’s actually what sells the book. So what happens is a lot of authors, they’ll hire a cover designer, and they’ll still get an ugly cover. Or even they’ll get a beautiful cover that just doesn’t sell because it doesn’t communicate the genre. So it’s like, they might love it. And they don’t understand why it doesn’t work. And the other thing that’s dangerous is if they’re in control, whether they hire designer or they design their own cover, if they’re in control and they got what they wanted, they’re not going to be willing to change it later. If everybody tells them, you know, your cover is probably the problem you didn’t cover. It’s not working, they won’t listen because they got exactly what they wanted, and they love it. So it’s gonna be harder for them to give it up. And your you need to focus on like you want as many people to read your book as possible that should be the only goal. So a lot of authors, they get too creative, they focus on the art and they they they have too much emotional investment in their cover, and then they’re not willing to change if that’s a problem. I’m personally like I changed my covers three or four times a year just because I’m not satisfied. And I know that like if my if my sales slow down, it’s not. It’s not ideal to change your covers mid, mid launch or whatever. By If my sales aren’t where I want them to be, and I think the cover is probably the problem, the easiest thing to test is just changing out a new cover, and running some ads and see if my conversion goes up. I also want to be testing like the sales copy or the keywords, there’s other things I can do. But the thing that will have the most impact is a new cover. So I’m always willing to be on the lookout for something better, because I know something better can really boost my sales,

James Taylor
which covers Have you seen by other other authors recently, that you just thought, damn, they’ve got it, you know, they’ve just they’ve, they’ve kind of nailed it. That is a perfect example of what a cover should be about?

Derek Murphy
That’s a tough question. Actually, I think I pay more attention to book cover designers than than individual authors. So like, I follow the covers, designers that I like, and I always see people putting out, like, really, really high quality covers no matter what they do, and I know they’re gonna sell. So I kind of prefer actually the, on the cover design part of it. And there’s kind of a weird thing, too. There’s cover designers who are really good at typography. And then there’s a lot of new illustrators who are really good at the art, but they’re not as good the typography or like all of that they make maybe premade covers, and all the typography is the same. Um, and it’s a little bit weird, because in indie publishing, or self publishing, there’s a lot of authors who are doing tremendously well. And the covers aren’t really, like they’re pretty good. They’re pretty awesome. But they’re not, I wouldn’t say they’re my I wouldn’t hold them up as like a standard for cover design, because they still get a lot of things wrong, because since they were doing the self publishing side, and since they probably did cheap covers, and since they probably hired an illustrator, like they might have really good art, but the font is not, you know, super amazing. But it’s hard to tell, because they outsell everybody else on Amazon, they’re in the top 100 on Amazon. So sometimes it can be hard to tell like, if you just look at what’s selling on Amazon, you might assume those are the best covers. And that’s not always the case. So there’s a little bit of a gray area between also what’s like traditionally published and what self published or indie published. Anyway, I’m not sure if I’m answering well, but that that doesn’t it

James Taylor
also, as you’re saying, I’m also thinking now in terms of book series, this kind of book series I’ve seen recently, I really don’t like the artwork, I’m not a fan of it. But because they have such a deep they have, it does have a look to it. And I know I can see it from a distance and say, Oh, that’s part of the same series. And because this series has been going for a long time, it’s just the sale just go on. And I’m guessing those, that designer or the person that publisher, just just as I don’t want to change, it feels good to use Git to change it.

Derek Murphy
Yeah, that would be I mean, if you’re like, if you’re really selling, then you don’t want to mess with it. And it can be kind of risky. On the other hand, you know, Bella forest, Bella forest is a pen name, but she’s probably making millions of dollars a month on Amazon, because like the top in the top 100 like 50 bucks or hers. She has a really long vampire series. It’s like she had a vampire. It’s like probably 30 or 40 books in the series now. And she’s also started a whole bunch of new series and different kind of young adult sci fi fantasy genres, which are probably ghostwritten, but I don’t know that definitively. But she’s done a lot with with that vampire series, even though it’s selling crazy, well, she’s tested probably five or six different covers for book one in that series in the past year, which is something that’s I think it’s kind of interesting, because you don’t always see that with someone who’s selling so well, they’re still willing to take risk with the first cover in the series. Um, but it kind of shows that even at that level, and especially at that level, like if you’re making a million dollars a month on Amazon, you know, one cover, it could be an extra three or 400,000 a month, like it could make such a big difference at that level. Um, I’ve also told people though, because there are people who like stick with the series, because you know, they just don’t, they don’t want to either to cost investment or they’re afraid to change things up. Um, and you can like, if you if you had the series, and you’re advertising really hard, and you’re doing pretty well, like it, you may think you don’t need to change the cover. Um, but you always want the best coverage you can have. And you always want to be testing. So I would say to those people, especially like, if I don’t know those cover you’re talking about but if they’re not very good if they’re kind of ugly. Um, I would definitely recommend, you know, just putting in something up for for the first book in the series is to see what happens. It’s really easy, like, you don’t even have to tell anybody about it. You can just put it up on Kindle and see if with with everything that you’re doing with a normal amount of advertising and, and organic visibility, whether or not your sales go up. That’s something you can measure really accurately. It’s difficult if you’re not selling at all, because you can put up a new cover and you don’t actually know if it’s working because you’re not getting Get a boost. If you’re not being seen, like if nobody is, if you’re in the millions on Amazon, you put up a new cover, no one’s gonna see the cover. But if you are selling pretty well, that’s when you can see a really big increase in sales, or sometimes not, I’ve changed the cover, sometimes my sales have gone down, and I know that I made a mistake. So sometimes I’ve gone backwards. And also, like, there are covers that I don’t like, because I don’t think they’re very well designed. So I’ve changed them to a better designed cover. That’s more accurate, and I like it better, that fits my story better. And it doesn’t perform as well, because the first cover was more more obvious or simpler or more emotional. There’s one cover that like I never really liked, that everybody else loves, and it sells a lot better. And I keep trying like new different covers to replace it and nothing performs as well. So sometimes it’s, it’s hard to tell you really have to, like you kind of have to put it out and see your readers you want. You want the cover that does the work, you want the cover that that’s most copies. I mean, it’s hard. Even as a cover designer, sometimes it’s hard to just see what your audience is going to respond to

James Taylor
a little bit when someone comes to you. And it’s very much in the nonfiction and their audience is more on the kind of business side. Are there any rules of thumb that someone should be thinking of things to maybe to avoid, you say that, you know, the point of the cover is to very quickly communicate what the what the genre is? And then think like, Can you tell me more so someone is writing more those kind of business kind of style books, you know, the kind of author the airport style books, is any rules that they should be thinking of there, or it’s actually within that as so many sub genres, you actually almost need to kind of go a little bit deeper

Derek Murphy
nonfiction is pretty simple. Um, there’s, there’s colors that dictate mood or subject matter events are like navy blue, or purple is good for money or business. green or yellow is good for health or fitness. You can’t really go wrong with like a white cover with a simple image on the front. But the main thing is, um, you don’t want to be too conceptual. So like generally, for nonfiction, you want a juxtaposition of two things, but you don’t want to be too much you don’t want a lot of people do like a scene or art or like a landscape or something, unless you’re doing memoir or maybe spiritual nonfiction. Because with landscape, you can have like a really pretty landscape and make people feel emotion right away, because everybody likes a pretty landscape. So it’s kind of an easy win. But for like business or self help, you kind of want something that’s really simple. And small, like one little central image, and just really nice, simple font. The main thing with nonfiction is benefits and keywords. So you want like a really clear hook or subtitle, that really obvious about this is what you’re gonna get these are the subjects This is the these are the benefits that the book is can deliver. Um, so I see a lot of nonfiction authors screw that up. Um, but I’ll use the example of Pat Flynn Do you don’t Pat Flynn? Yeah, yeah. Um, so the other interesting thing I’ve noticed with people who have a big platform is that like, they’re making tons of money, they’re used to calling the shots. So when they have an idea about what they want, they’re just like, this is what I want. And they’re not is willing to listen to a cover designer. And so I’ve had conversation with people I helped that plan, I didn’t actually design his cover, I just kind of helped him with some concepts. And the interesting thing that I’ve also noticed with him and other people is that they had in mind, like something that they wanted, and they weren’t really willing to let it go. And from my perspective, their audience is gonna buy the book no matter what, like they’re gonna, no matter what they put on the cover, their audience is already gonna buy it, people who know Pat Flynn are gonna buy his book already. So the real job of the cover is to sell the book to people who don’t know Pat Flynn already and aren’t familiar with his brand and platform. So it has to do more work and be more obvious to strangers and a lot of people will do is they think in concept, so they want to have a conceptual cover. So Pat Flynn really wanted his book was on willet fly, so really wanted, like a paper airplane, and a shadow on the ground. Um, which is a really conceptual, like, it kind of fits with the topic, but it’s not really obvious. And you kind of have to look at it and figure it out. And if you don’t want people to have to look at and appreciate your book cover because most people like they don’t know you, they’re not gonna do that and not gonna like look at your cover and try to figure out what it means. It just, they’re gonna see it on Amazon. And it’s gonna either be obvious and attractive and clear, and they’re gonna click and read the benefits, or it’s just a little bit too They don’t know exactly what genre it is, it doesn’t look like a nonfiction business book. If it’s a little bit confusing. You’ve already lost the sale because they don’t immediately click to read the description. If they don’t recognize your name. You’ve already lost them. So, from my perspective, I want to make like a simple obvious nonfiction cover, I made it I made like 30 samples, they’re all pretty good. And he went with something else that was closer to what he originally wanted. And of course, you know, it did pretty well, because he has a big platform. But I think that’s just one example. I also did something with, like with Lewis house, um, that was kind of similar, but I just noticed that like, the bigger their platform, the more they want to do something. Because like, they, they have a reputation, their their viewers, their audiences in a certain way. So they’re thinking about like, the, how people see them, and then how they want to be perceived, and like, the branding they that they want to put out in the world, which is all really important. Um, but they kind of lose sight of, I want strangers to buy this book, I want people who don’t know me to buy this book, without me needing to, like, talk to them or build a relationship or like, you know, get them in my funnel, and one that month. If you do your book cover, right, you can drastically shorten that time with love stuff like was on my nonfiction stuff. If I’m not doing a very good job of the book cover, first, I have to give something away for free, that I have to educate them about the benefits and make that make them want the book, it’s just a longer slower process. Um, you know, you build up the big list, and then you can sell books. But if you do it, right, if you focus on making a clear, obvious book cover, not like something clever or conceptual, you can just shorten that, that process so much faster, and you get strangers to buy the book, without you needing to like, sell it to them.

James Taylor
I think the example I saw recently that I saw someone I think did a really good job was the author Phil M. Jones, who’s a British author based in New York now, and isn’t known more as a speaker. And the thing I really liked about that book cover is very simple. It’s, and he has a series of books, so they all conform to the same kind of look. But if I can stand a fair distance away from that book, and I will know this film Jerome’s book, and I want to go on the site, I can see that there’s a there’s a continuity there. But if you actually look at it, it’s it’s in terms of the feel, I don’t know, say the font types in a typography. But it feels very, like a New York Times those kind of Sunday supplements Do you get with a New York Times that’s that’s the kind of look and feel the colors, and the font types of feels like, and I guess Phil really knows his audience. And he knows that his audience for that. And so they will immediately feel quite comfortable. There’s a familiarity to that as well, they know that it’s not, it’s not like the 10 tricks on how to do such and such type of book, it’s a little bit, you know, it’s one level higher than that,

Derek Murphy
right, which is really smart. I’ve noticed that with some of my friends who do like really short nonfiction books, they put up a whole series of like, you know, 15 k, or 20 k words. So, um, I haven’t really done that yet. And a lot of my nonfiction books are kind of like, they’re all different. They’re all different styles, all different fonts, it probably be smarter of me to go back and redo them all and brand them really well and think about, you know, my main thought form my main website, my main audience, what am I trying to communicate because you can do a lot with fonts, you’re young, and you want to keep the fonts pretty simple for nonfiction, but even so with the fonts that you choose, if you’re targeting, you know, women, um, writers, or male readers or writers, depending on what you’re what you’re selling, positioning your brand towards other things are familiar with using fonts that communicate a certain lifestyle or culture you can do that kind of thing with with book covers, and is smart to do. I kind of feel like, you always want the best cover for the specific book. So I feel like every books can have a little bit of a different audience that I want to, I want to brand my book a little differently is I want to use the font that’s best for that subject. And that audience rather than saying, I’m going to do all my books the same way. But there is a lot to be said for just deciding the brand values you want to communicate deciding the story that you’re telling with with everything you do with all the content that you put out. And really positioning your way with with packaging really just like communicating your brand. Um, what’s the word? aesthetic? Yeah, in essence, yes, see something they just see like this is the style, they immediately think of your, your, your website, or your other books or like all this stuff that you put out. I think there’s a lot to be said for that even like matching your Facebook page, your social media page. I don’t do a great job of that. My design is always kind of just, um, I kind of throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. But I’m, I’m at the point where I could pretty easily just, you know, relaunch everything or take like a weekend to kind of rebrand everything. I do. Do make new covers make new website headers, it’s probably a smart thing to do eventually. But I would caution against deciding on your brand aesthetic in the beginning. And just sticking with it and doing all your book covers the same because that’s a decision you made, you know, at the beginning, if you haven’t tested recovers, if you if you hadn’t made deliberate decisions about what kind of font you’re using and why, then I think it could be risky to just stick with it. Because you say like, that’s my brain, I’m just gonna keep it

James Taylor
there. You’ve had an interesting journey. You know, we think in some of the things in the past, you’ve had in terms of mentioned you did a PhD, then you before that, I know you study like it was Harry Potter, there was like, there was a connection. Remember, you were University you were doing, looking into the work of hiring policy and doing philosophy and then being in Taiwan, being this digital nomad, working on the book design and working on marketing, helping other authors market and sell and build their platforms. But has there been a key aha moment or a key insight you’ve had along this journey, where you really decided this is the work that you want to do this is this is the this is what you want to put out in the world, this is what you want to create?

Derek Murphy
Yeah, it’s kind of weird two things. Um, I would love to just be reading my own book. So really, I want to focus more on I put out like how to books to help other people do stuff. And that’s very useful. But the value I used to complain that content and like how to like practical application, this is how to do the stuff. For me, that’s the most valuable thing because that’s exactly like the step by step process. And I used to complain that people actually value, um, anything that is that helps their self confidence, basically, like, the kind of idea based books like, like the four hour workweek, it doesn’t actually tell you how to do it, but it gets you excited about the process,

James Taylor
or the war, or the War of Art, for example is another one like is more on principle, you’re gonna get some it’s a mindset. shifter,

Derek Murphy
right, which I I’ve I’ve written a lot of blog posts about Steven pressfield in the War of Art, because it used to really frustrate me, because I think a lot of the stuff and more of art is actually pretty bad advice. Because it, it helps authors have confidence to finish the work. And the problem is everybody’s finishing work that nobody wants to buy, they’re finishing work that they believe in that they like, because you follow your passion. If you do what’s fonder what’s easy, it’s not necessarily gonna matter to other people. For me, the big, the big insight of my platform creativity, is that if you want to make money, and if you just want to make good art, I think good art has to resonate with other people, I think it’s a lot easier to get paid for producing art. And it’s also easier to produce better art. If you focus on the market, if you focus on who actually wants this, what value Am I providing, if you do that, deliberately, you can make things that people enjoy. That’s higher quality, I think it’s a shorter path to, to making better stuff to being a better artist, a better writer. Um, for a lot of writers, that’s kind of blasphemous, because they read the War of Art. And a lot of books, just say, don’t worry about the market, don’t worry about other people just write for yourself, follow your passion. So problem is, for me, I was I was a service provider. So like 98% of the time, almost every author finishes a book that nobody else wants to read, because it’s it just, it doesn’t follow the rules. It’s not well structured, they focus too much on the individual sentences and like, they love it. So they assume it’s going to be successful. Because all these books they read, told them that if they just follow their passion, you know, it would be successful. So that the weird thing about self publishing, actually publishing the publishing industry in general, is that it’s a multi billion dollar industry, but the authors aren’t making the money. It’s all the service providers who are making the money. It’s because everybody’s publishing these books that nobody wants else wants read. So the challenging thing for me is all these other books that say, just focus on doing the work, and focusing on like, helping people, supporting them with the confidence and like, believe in yourself. And for me, that’s the most valuable part. For me, the most I provide is like, you know, how to write books itself, how to structure books, so that readers love them, and share them and talk about them, you know, writing good books,

James Taylor
I think, I think it’s hard that for authors if they have to fulfill both of those, those roles, I think that’s when it becomes mature. I mean, think about other great art, I mean, Mozart, for example, well, Mozart was kind of lucky because he was a great, he was great artists, he had a patron but he also had his father who was basically a marketing machine for him. So and so you’ll often find that you know, you’ll you know, Julia Cameron, record them shadow artists, sometimes those those Yin to Yang, the people that can have that. Unfortunately, you know, most most authors don’t have that luxury of having that that other person so they they have to get good at these other these These other parts if they want their their work to be read and to be shared,

Derek Murphy
they also have to like Mozart was classically trained from what from like three years old he was, he studied, he practiced pianos eight hours a day for years and years and years. A lot of writers, the writers who believe in Vonda passion, they also usually believe in writing slowly, writing high, like high quality comes from slow art. And the problem with slow art is they’re not practicing as much. So they spent 10 years revising one novel, and they think it’s a better quality novel, because they wrote it slowly. And the truth is the authors who are, you know, putting out a book a month, they’re learning faster, because not only are testing the market, but they’re practicing so much more. So there there are people who believe their work is better quality, because they wrote it slowly, even or especially if nobody else wants it, because they believe that the best art transcends the market. So they think like, okay, I wrote a great book, but it’s not my fault that nobody else likes it. Because, you know, it’s too good. It’s like, people don’t appreciate it, they don’t get what I’m trying to do. There’s so many frustrated, starving artists, because they’re holding on to, I’m not thinking about the market, nothing. I know a lot of people who don’t think about structure or plotting or architecture, because they don’t want to be limited by those kind of conditions. So that, for me, like, the most important things that I’ve realized recently, on the one hand, I realized that, um, authors do need the support, because it is hard and frustrating. So I always just focus on, you know, okay, this is how you market your book, this is how you write your book. But if I’m not also giving them the confidence, and motivating them with the enthusiasm, to believe in themselves, and to believe that this is possible, and like, stoking the fires of their imagination, if I’m not doing that kind of stuff, I’m not really helping them as much, because they’ll never get to the marketing stuff, I can help them feel excited about the project. Um, so that’s one big thing I learned is that, like I said, I used to kind of resist that, because I didn’t feel like that was my job. Like, I didn’t feel like I didn’t want to handhold you know, or tell people you know, you can do it, your book matters, because most of the time, authors are writing a book that I don’t think is going to be very successful. And I’d rather steer them towards, you know, writing a book that readers are going to love. I think that’s kind of the crucial secret to success.

James Taylor
But I think I think on the work that you’re doing there, you think of that, not just doing the heritage, but also doing the the mindset building the confidence, I think you’re set with great speakers, professional speakers, where you have, you know, there’s big difference between someone being a trainer like doing to like breakout rooms, and where they’re very much teaching the How to, and then you have the, that’s one end the way the other end, you’ve got the the more celebrities, celebrities or the high end kind of motivational speakers, but you have this other, which is the is the main, obviously, main bulk of it, which is people who can tell those great stories they can inspire. But they can also educate and inform and entertain as well. So they’re able to combine the very educational with the same time lifting people up and making them feel. Yeah, not only does he know what he or she know what they’re saying, but this can work for me too. I can do this.

Derek Murphy
Yeah. And the really interesting thing there with what you said is, um, I think it’s true people who sell the motivation like Tony Robbins, the celebrities, it’s easier to get more famous when you’re focusing on motivation, because that’s what more people want and need. Because most people like most people never finish a book they they need, you know, why should I even keep going, if I don’t know who’s gonna buy it, or if I get stuck in the middle, most people just whenever it gets hard to give up, and they start something new, and they never finish. So I do think like, I’d like to change a little bit from the practical stuff to the motivational stuff, because I’m starting to understand why that’s so important. But also, the storytelling is the big part that I wasn’t doing before, I was always just focused on the nuts and bolts, this is how you do it. This isn’t practical stuff. And people really like that. But the problem is, even though my resources are really useful, and people, like I know, they’re helping people, people don’t necessarily care about me or myself, because I didn’t want to talk about myself or my background or my stories. Because I didn’t feel like that was necessary to the content to the information I’ve learned this year. That’s actually a big mistake. Because on the one hand, if I’m just talking about content, it’s too boring. No one’s gonna, no one’s gonna read through all the boring content stuff, because they don’t trust me. They don’t know whether or not it really works. And they’re not motivated enough to take action. And if I can’t motivate them to take action, it doesn’t matter if I tell them what to do, because they’re not going to do it. So I’ve learned and I started to be focusing on experimenting with on storytelling. So like in my emails and my blog posts, if I can start off with a really powerful story, not only is that good to just get them to pay attention, and to get them to feel something, um, and something that resonates with them also, like I know this from fiction but with fiction and nonfiction Books. If it’s just content, people don’t remember the words, they don’t remember the content, they remember the pictures that you put in their head. So especially with nonfiction, I’m actually going to rewrite a lot of my nonfiction books because it’s all content. And the problem is, it’s information. So when they finish the book, they don’t really see anything. There’s not anything like emotionally relevant scenes that stick in their brain and kind of marinate, you know, for months. So that, like, if I can give them some, something like that, which sticks, it’s better for. for teaching, like if I’m, if I want to be an educator, I need to communicate the steps or the processes or the information in digestible chunks, and wrap it in stories so that it sinks through and so it sticks in so people get it, and also that people are emotionally motivated. Yeah. And also to that, so that they care about me, you know, like part of the platform is, I don’t just want to be a service provider anymore. Or some guy on the internet, like, I want to be a brand for that to happen, like I have to share my story, I have to talk about, um, you know, the anecdotes, that’s something that I’ve been focused more on recently, and also with helping authors, I think a lot of authors, especially in the email series with the autoresponder series, a lot of authors, they don’t know what to write about, they don’t like, they don’t want to build a list, because they don’t know what to email their list about. They don’t want to just be, you know, selling all the time. So I think it’s a really powerful tool. And especially like, unlike the last year or two, this has already been a huge shift. For most entrepreneurs, most online entrepreneurs have already started to focus on storytelling in the power of story, and brand and brand trust and stuff, because advertising and marketing just doesn’t work so well anymore. But authors are a little bit behind. So a lot of authors, like they’re still stuck at building their platform or or like communicating directly with readers, or getting their readers to care about them as individuals, I think that’s where story can be really powerful.

James Taylor
I think that there’s also something else there about, you know, you seem like you know, the kind of how to the very educational side and then the story. But actually stories are one of the one of the best ways of transmitting knowledge over generations as well. And the other thing that can some I find some can sometimes happen if you teach very, you know, do this step by step this, then this, which is great for certain people, the problem can come when when things change, the market changes, or the industry changes, or the way they do things changes. If they don’t have the principles, which are often taught through stories or parables, they don’t have those first principles, it makes it much harder for them to adjust them. Because all they’re doing and I can say this, and I do a lot of stuff in with music. And so if you just teach people how to do basic tab, you know, to put their finger there then then they’re then they’re like the How to stuff, that’s fine. But the problem is, they’ll always be sticking be stuck in those parts of the fretboard if they’re a guitarist. So you actually have to teach them higher level principles, sometimes often through stories, so that they can actually expand out, it’s still educational, but you’re just, you’re just taking them in a slightly different way. Because you’re wanting them to be able to, you know, this marketing tactic that works. Now, when it doesn’t work any more that marketing tactic, there’s still some key principles in like a key principle is, you know, probably have your own platform, build your own platform, control that relationship with your reader. And as a core, you’ve mentioned as a kind of pre core principle. But you know, how you build those relationships can will change over time.

Derek Murphy
And something really interesting. Also, with my, I have a book on guerrilla publishing, and I just focus on the practical, like book launch kind of things. And the trouble I was having is that the vast majority of authors, they don’t want to write to market. So even if like, they want to write art, and they want to write it for themselves, and then they want to sell it afterwards. And there’s this huge disconnect between what they’ve written and the actual market. Um, so I was just telling people, you know, write book that sells, like write books a certain way that readers like, and for the majority of authors, they tuned me out immediately, because that’s not what they believe. And so I was, you know, offering them something that they didn’t want, even though my system works, and, you know, if they buy into it, they can sell more books, there’s a huge amount of resistance. And I can’t change what people believe, or at least before, like, again, just, I can’t just tell them, they’re wrong. And they have to use my system, I have to meet them where they are, and kind of alter how I’m communicating my value in a way that still resonates with them. And I figured that out this year. And like you said, like instead of just diving into the practical stuff. Now I spent a lot of time kind of helping them to see how writing books that more people like is the way to write better books, the way to write like high quality books that last centuries. It’s just not going to happen in less Lots of people love your work. And you can do that deliberately. If you know who your audience is, if you if you study what kind of books they like what kind of books appeal to them, and and do it deliberately with with a goal in mind, rather than just kind of doing it accidentally. So that’s something that I had to learn this year, focusing on the story and also focusing on like, you can’t, you can’t change the market, you can’t educate the market to like what you have, you have to position what you have to resonate with what the market is looking for.

James Taylor
Now let’s as we start to finish up here, I’d love to know, if there’s any tools that you would recommend, especially to that move that new aspiring nonfiction writer tools that they can use in terms of, you know, for writing in terms of software, other things they can maybe use in terms of researching and marketing, what they do,

Derek Murphy
um, a little tip I picked up quickly, I was having trouble boosting my word count. So if you want to be a full time writer, it can be helpful to write the first draft quickly. And that’s really where I struggled. And I found that rather than just trying to type on my computer in my outline, or my manuscripts just because I have all these notes, um, I got a lot faster if I use an iPad or an iPhone, and I used an app called AI writer, but a lot of the apps will do it, where you basically just have one little screen, so you only see the text you’re working on. And then I use a Bluetooth keyboard. So that way, like rather than writing on my desktop, which is where I do all my work, I can be in a different room, or I can be out. And I just have like this little tiny screen, and my bluetooth keyboard. And that basically doubled my word count. So in the same amount of time, I can write, you know, twice as many words, which is amazing, really. So that was a big hack for me. I still have to like, outline carefully first, and then I say like, Okay, in this little section, you know, this is the subtitle, this is the section I’m going to work on. And I’ll just do that thing. But if you do one, you know one little section at a time, even for fiction, one scene at a time. I’ve made a big improvement I went great.

James Taylor
And what a few to recommend one book and we were talking about the some of the War of Art actually not that probably not being on your book recommendation but list but a book that isn’t by isn’t written by you, but book by another author, it could be on the art of the craft of writing, it could be on the more the marketing side, what would that book be?

Derek Murphy
I’m trying to remember the one. There’s one by Ryan Holiday I reviewed recently on Ryan Holiday, it’s perennial seller, oh, that’s

James Taylor
a great book. Yeah.

Derek Murphy
And the reason I liked that one actually was a lot of other books on creativity, focus on first listen to your passion and do the work, and then try to sell it. Um, and I was kind of expecting Ryan holidays to be the same thing because it talks about perennial bestsellers, basically, you know, make great work make great art. But his process in sports, that process started with, you know, know your audience, and make something deliberate, like to make good art and make something deliberate. For the audience. Also, Pam slim has a has a book called body of work, that was pretty similar, it had a really clear step. For basically, there’s, there’s like the books that talk about doing the creative work. And there’s the books that talk about being a successful creative person and building a creative business. And the people who are more on the entrepreneur side, um, are better about saying, it’s like, you have to start by creating value for an audience. If you’re not creating value for an audience, your books never gonna take off, it’s not going to sell people aren’t going to review it. Well. You can accidentally get lucky if you happen to connect with a big audience who appreciate your work, but it’s much more risky to do it that way. So really like the books that that start from the position of providing value. And then the marketing is just so much easier. They focus on the basically like I’m Jeff Goins. Also, his new one is real artists don’t starve, um, which I like, in principle, it’s not my favorite set. Because it’s more a collection of anecdotes and stories. And for me, personally, the books that are just, here’s a bunch of stories about how that how other people did it. Those aren’t very helpful for me. But he also said some some really good stuff about art. And the way that people basically lay it out is you need to produce value for community, you have to build personal relationships with your readers, and also with other peers, in your, in your genre in your subject, a lot of authors, because they believe in doing the work like for themselves. And because a lot of authors are just introverts, and they don’t really want to build relationships, a lot of authors struggle to, like they don’t make connections, they don’t build relationships with other authors, and they don’t build relationships with their readers. And that’s really the most powerful two things you can do. Apart from writing a book that matters to a specific audience. So like if you do those three things, that’s the whole game basically. So I like the books that tell you that instead of the books that say there’s other books I don’t want to be too critical. But another book I picked up recently was, I don’t even think I can say his name, but

James Taylor
you don’t have to say his name.

Derek Murphy
It’s a podcast of the unmistakable creative, and he does great stuff. And he has a book that’s audience of one. And it’s a book that resonates with authors because it says, basically just write for yourself. And actually, like, I don’t believe in the concept, I don’t believe in the premise of just write for one person, because I think it’s, you’re taking a huge risk. And there’s a lot of books that say, it doesn’t matter if it’s successful. Like if you write good art, it doesn’t matter if anybody else likes, it doesn’t matter if it’s successful, because you succeeded in writing good art. And I think that’s a dangerous position to be in. Because I think if you write good art, it deserves an audience. And you have an obligation to put it out there and to get to get people to read it. So the book, actually, the audience of one, it’s a great book with tons of really useful tips for, you know, writing creative, or starting creative businesses, a lot of really good content. It was just like, the premise and the title that I didn’t, that didn’t resonate with me. But once I started reading it, actually, it’s really useful.

James Taylor
So I’m gonna ask you a final question. And then we’re gonna gonna ramp up, I’d love to know, imagine if you woke up tomorrow morning, and you have to start from scratch. So you’ve got all the skills you’ve acquired over the years. But no one knows you, you know, no one, you have no platform, no previous books out. What would you do? How would you restart things?

Derek Murphy
Yeah, my process is kind of opposite. So I’m still kind of writing books that I thought about years ago. And I’m at the point now where I know I can plot a bestseller so much faster from scratch. And the way I do it, now my process is basically I’ll find premade covers first. So I’ll find an amazing premade cover, that’s going to sell a ton of copies, because it’s just so beautiful. That’s what I started with, because I know half the game has already won. And then I’ll research the keywords for that audience. And I’ll know what the audience is searching for. So I’ll find like the 10 keywords, the most popular things, for example, right now, nothing sells better than reverse harem dragon shifters. So reverse harem is a specialized kind of romance that blew up maybe six months ago. And actually just, I think, this month, Amazon has restricted the use of reverse ham as a keyword because it was so popular that the top 100 books on Amazon, they were all reverse harem books, and I have friends who like they struggled for, you know, six years. And then they wrote a reverse harem dragon shifter, and suddenly they’re in the top 100. In Amazon, they’re making like 10 or $20,000 a month. So that just hitting the thing that people are actually searching for can make such an enormous difference. And that’s not always the case, the nice thing about self publishing is that you can finish a book in three months or six months. So like if I, if I wanted to write a reverse harem dragon shifter, which I plan to do, I could finish by the end of the year, and still catch that trend. And it’s so much easier, you know, then then trying to market if you just position your book to to catch what people are searching for. So I do a lot of stuff like that with keywords, I would actually, I start with the cover, I research the keywords, I plot the perfect title, and subtitle, and even the blurb in the description. And I like right, the synopsis of the best selling book that I know, would sell crazy well, because that’s exactly what the audience wants. Um, if I start with that, and then I read the book, I can still write the book, the best book I’m capable of, I can still write the book, that that’s personal. And I put my heart into it. And it’s, you know, something I love and I’m proud of. But just by positioning it that way, like starting from the positioning, I don’t have to do any marketing when the book launches, it’s immediately going to do well, because of the way that I’ve, I’ve set it up, I don’t have to do the advertising or the marketing or the volume, the platform. Because I just built the product to sell

James Taylor
the audience is already there. That’s That’s very interesting. I’ve never heard someone expressing it that way. That’s a really interesting way of, of putting out book I’m sure there’s that’s got a lot of minds kind of turning just as people listening and watching this. What about, I know if people want to connect with you, you have some incredible courses, you have some amazing resources on your site as well. If you want to learn more about that, where’s the best place to go and do that

Derek Murphy
I have a free book on Amazon that’s book marketing is dead, which is just basically like, don’t use spammy promotional tactics that don’t work, you know, build relationship with readers. That’s kind of the main point. But it’s important because so many authors, they just get desperate and start spamming the internet. And it just doesn’t work. Um, but then my main platform create event is where I kind of always post the latest great case studies and stuff and I have a free you can get a free copy of guerrilla publishing Which is my more recent, like book marketing book. Um, I think it’s creativeindie.com slash GP for guerrilla publishing. Um, and that’s a pretty book, that’s pretty good. It’s kind of like basically how to write books itself. And like I said, I’ve been, rather than focusing on like, it used to be like how to, you know, make your first 1000 bucks a month on Kindle. But I’ve changed it to like, how to write books and less how to write better books, because it really is. It’s not just about writing books to cash in on trends, it’s really just about writing books that more people love, because that’s, that’s the secret to long term success, it’s not gaming the system or using keywords, you still have to write a book that readers love. Um, but if you position them package it the right way, at least you don’t have to figure out how to put it in front of them or get them to buy it, because you’ve already kind of pre sold it.

James Taylor
Well, Derek, it’s been an absolute pleasure learning from you today, and getting a chance to have this conversation. Thank you so much for coming on and being interviewed. And we’re gonna have all those links here for everyone. You can go and check that out. And I wish you all the best. With your future travels, we didn’t get a chance to talk about castles and cats. But I think that’s maybe for another conversation next time. But thank you so much for coming on today.

Derek Murphy
Awesome. Thanks a lot.

James Taylor
If you’re interested in living a more creative life, then I’d love to invite you to join me as I share some of the most successful strategies and techniques that high performing creatives use. I put them all together in a free downloadable ebook that you can get by going to jamestaylor.me. That’s jamestaylor.me. To get your free downloadable ebook on creativity.

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