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The BookWorthy Show

AuthorTyler Smith

How to Face the Blank Page with Confidence with Drew Bird

Few things are as intimidating as staring at a blank page. But if you’re going to self-publish, Drew Bird says you have to learn to face it with confidence.

The good news: it’s not as hard as you might think.

Drew Bird

Drew’s been there before. When he decided to self-publish his book The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence, he conquered the empty page by developing a plan. Instead of thinking of his book as one overwhelming project, he broke it into manageable chunks—and that made all the difference.

In this episode of The BookWorthy Show, Drew explains how to face the blank page with confidence, maintain discipline once you get started, and why traditional publishing just isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

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Drew Bird: Just to be realistic, I won’t pretend that every day I sat down to write and I thought, “Oh man, I’ve been looking forward to this writing all day,” because there are days when you sit down and you think, “I’ve got nothing,” and there’s Netflix in the other room, there’s a cold beer in the fridge. Or I can write, and it’s very hard to do that.

Simon V: Welcome to the BookWorthy.com podcast. Every week we bring inspiring interviews from incredible self-published authors just like you. My name is Simon Villeneuve, and I will be your host. Whether you know it or not, your story is worth publishing.

That’s why it’s our goal to help aspiring authors, storytellers, and entrepreneurs just like you, learn how to write and publish a physical book that people will want to buy, they’ll want to read, and they’ll truly want to share. It’s great to have you with us. Let’s get started.

Welcome to the show, Drew. It’s great to have you.

Drew Bird: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Simon V:  Awesome. How are you doing today?

Drew Bird: Good. Work’s back in full swing. Summer’s come and gone. It’s awesome. Busy time.

Simon V: Cool man. That’s great. Just so our audience knows, you are the self-published author of the book The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence.

Drew Bird: I am indeed. Yep.

Simon V: You published that in 2016. We’re gonna talk about that book, and your experience writing. We’re really excited to unpack that. But first, give us a little context into your life. What does family look like? What does work look like, all that?

Drew Bird: Absolutely. I live in a relatively small town, actually, in British Columbia, in Canada. I live about four and a half hours inland from Vancouver. The joke is we measure distance in time because there’s no traffic between here and there, so that’s how long it takes to get from here and there.

There is traffic, but it is pretty good. I live in this beautiful town. It’s called Kelowna, it’s in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Most people don’t know about the Okanagan Valley. It’s famous for wine growing in the summer. We have great vineyards up here. Craft brewing, which I love. Golf, which I do not play. And in the winter we have five ski hills within about an hour and a half of town, so there’s lots of opportunity to ski and get outdoors in the winter.

Aaron S: Sounds like our town.

Simon V: Yeah, it really does.

Aaron S: Sounds very similar to where we live.

Drew Bird: Is that right? Where is that?

Aaron S: We live in Central Oregon. There’s wineries, breweries, mountains, skiing.

Drew Bird: A really good colleague of mine lives in Bend, so she’s been filling me in a little bit about Bend and what goes on there. I have a partner, she’s a clinical psychologist that makes for some interesting evening conversations, because of course, my interest is mostly around psychology related to work. We have some good conversations about that. Love to travel. Absolutely love to travel. It’s probably my predominant theme of life, and yeah that’s it.

Aaron S: What exactly do you do? What’s your business around, if you can sum it up in a paragraph or two?

Drew Bird: Absolutely. My company is called The EQ Development Group. We focus on helping coaches consultants organizations to bring concepts related to emotional intelligence into their work. That might mean modifying or integrating emotional intelligence concepts into existing learning and development programs, or for individual coaches and consultants. They might be life coaches, executive coaches, business coaches. I help them bring emotional intelligence tools, concepts, materials into their work as well.

Aaron S: Okay I’m gonna ask this question because I know a lot of people want to know. What is emotional intelligence?

Drew Bird: Emotional intelligence is this idea that in order to be effective in everyday situations, you need to be cognitively smart, so you need to be  . . .  Cognitive intelligence is around doing math and using language effectively, that kind of . . .

Emotional intelligence is how you interact and act with people. You know how when you meet somebody for the first time, and they shake your hand in a certain way, and they say the right things. They interact with you in a way that makes you feel like you know them, and you can understand them on a more personal.

It’s important in every single realm. One of my jokes is my next book is gonna be around emotional intelligence in dating, because I hear so—

Aaron S: That would be a good one.

Drew Bird: Nobody steal that. Because dating’s such an interesting social situation, if you ask one person, guy, girl, it doesn’t matter, what’s the worst thing about the date? They’ll tell you, “It’s like it’s kind of awkward. I don’t know what to say,” and she or he was doing this or doing that.

Emotional intelligence is about understanding that and picking some of that apart. Where it becomes really relevant is in leadership. In the workplace, in leadership. We consistently hear from people that they don’t like their boss. That they struggle with their boss, or with their manager, or their leader. A lot of the times the things that they complain about, they’re not that the boss doesn’t understand the work, although it does come up, it’s the way the boss behaves, reacts, acts with them.

Helping leaders to understand there is this entire construct that we need to take a look at, break apart, get better at, get more effective at, and then use that to become more effective leaders. Now, leadership’s a two-way street. There’s always somebody on the other end, so one of the principles, and I talk about it in the book, is you can’t point to somebody else and say, “You need to be different.” We all have to accept the fact that there’s a different way of being.

Aaron S: Wow, okay cool, that sounds awesome. Sounds like it’s working for you. You have enough clients that are coming in that need to learn this in the business world? Do you do any personal consulting, like on a personal level?

Drew Bird: Yeah I do personal coaching, so I work individually with people around their own emotional intelligence. It normally does have a business thrust to it, but emotional intelligence is a whole life concept. I mean, you can’t get away from the fact that  . . .  One of my favorite examples is this. It’s Friday night. You’re at home. You’re hungry. You’re waiting for your partner to get home. They’re late because they’ve been sitting in traffic. They walk through the door. [inaudible] in the traffic and you say to them, “What do you want for dinner?”

They turn around and say, “I don’t care, I can’t make one more decision today,” which decision making is a facet of emotional intelligence. But they say, “I can’t decide, you know, I can’t make one more decision today.” And you say, “Okay. Well I’m really hungry. I’m gonna order some pizza.” They turn around and say, “Well I don’t want pizza.”

Aaron S: I’ve never heard this scenario before.

Drew Bird: Never heard this story right? Exactly. This is a failure of emotional intelligence, but it’s a failure of emotional intelligence on both parties. If you’re the person at home, waiting for your partner to get in, you should realize that it doesn’t matter how hungry you are, I mean, have a snack.

You cannot confront them the second they walk through the door with a question about what to do next, because they’ve been completely focused on just getting home. Equally, the person coming through the door, should realize that the correct response to, “What do you want to eat?” is, “I’m not sure yet. Can you just give me a couple of minutes to, you know, get my shoes off and get a cup, or glass of something? And then we can talk about dinner.”

Imagine how different the Friday night goes when the person walks through the door, and you’re the person at home who’s really hungry, but you turn around and say, “Was traffic bad?” Nice validation. “Yeah it was terrible.” Okay, good.

“I’m really hungry so I want to get some dinner soon, but let’s just have a quick, you know, let’s just take five and sit down, and then we can decide what we’ll have for dinner.” Then that turns into Netflix and chill, whereas the other version is you sit in that room, and I’ll sit in this room for the rest of the evening, and we’ll kind of, you know.

That’s the thing is that sure, my focus particularly is workplace psychology and specifically around leadership, but emotional intelligence is a whole life thing.

Simon V: Your book deals with this topic, right? You write about emotional intelligence throughout your book?

Drew Bird: Yeah. The book is called The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence. What it’s meant to do is help leaders that have little or no appreciation, or understanding, so far of emotional intelligence, to get them in the groove.

We talk a lot about the basics, the language of emotional intelligence. We show them a model that they can use, which gives you a way of describing emotional intelligence in a very literal way. For example, there are 15 elements and one of them is assertiveness. Exactly as you would imagine, it’s the extent to which you are able to assert your opinions and ideas in a respectful way.

People that score very high are likely to behave this way. People that score very low are likely to behave this way. It picks apart that, but it also goes through a process of very practically developing an action plan. You’ve learned all that emotional intelligence. I distinguish in the book between emotional intelligence, which is knowing what to do, and emotional effectiveness which is actually doing it. Because one of the interesting things about emotional intelligence is that it is a somewhat discretionary construct.

If we take empathy as an example, I might be the most empathetic person in the world, but if I don’t like you, I might choose to be less empathetic to you personally, as opposed to somebody I’ve known since childhood friend, super empathetic to them. I can turn the nob up and down, the dial up and down on how empathetic I want to be.

In the book I talk about that. I talk about creating action plans, and developing just generally.

Simon V: It sounds like it’s a really action-oriented book. Do you have action steps in there? Discussion questions, that kind of stuff?

Drew Bird: Absolutely. There’s a complete step-by-step process. In fact, this is one of the things where working with an editor makes all the difference in the world, because the first time I sent the manuscript to her, she came back  . . .  And editors always basically come at it the same way. They’re like, “This is really good, but,” and then they add in whatever comes next after that.

Working with an editor makes all the difference in the world.

Her main point was it’s too theoretical. People might be interested to a point, but where does the rubber meet the road? She actually pushed me really hard to create very practical content. Truth be told, I kind of had an idea in my head, but it wasn’t fully formed. By her prodding and nudging, and pushing me really hard to get clear, all of a sudden there was a clarity, which actually helped inform quite a few other areas of my work as well.

I began to see some of the other things I was doing at are connected, suddenly became clear in other forms as well. For example, when I get to work with people in a group, in a classroom, in a training room, I’ve got the clarity now. I understand how to explain this. Her pushing me really helped.

Aaron S: That’s really good. She pushed you past theories, and fluid ideas that you could accept it or not, to solid definitives like make a statement. Say what it is and mean it. Is that what she pushed you to, your editor?

Drew Bird: Yeah. I had a process. I have a process I detail in the book called EQ123. The idea is that you pick one area of emotional intelligence and for two weeks you go through three very simple activities to try and develop or build that area of emotional intelligence.

What I’ve done in the book is explained EQ123 in some detail. I had also included the activities and everything else. You had everything else you needed. What she helped me see, I mean she helped me see many things as well. I don’t want to pretend for a second this was the only thing, but this was probably the biggest thing.

She helped me see was that I was making a ton of assumptions about where the person was already at, to give this to them. What she was [inaudible] is there’s a gap between what you described and the theory, and your development process. There’s a goal-setting piece in the middle here, which is missing.

If you’re going to be truly useful, you need to describe. I remember saying to her, “Well I do know what it is because I do it in the classroom, or you know with corporate client groups all the time.” And she’s like, “Well that’s great but you gotta put it in the book as well then. You can’t just assume that they’re gonna know that just because you do.”

Aaron S: How long have you been doing this work, teaching people about emotional intelligence?

Drew Bird: Pretty much exclusively now for about five years, but I’ve been working in this field since about 2005, so it’ll be 12 years. My first career was in IT.

Aaron S: In this field, so five years exclusively, 12 years in the genre, in the idea.

Drew Bird: Yep.

Aaron S: At what point did you say, “I need to write a book about this?” Because there’s always that catalyst. You didn’t think about it before, and then you did think about it. What was the catalyst, and what pushed you over edge to be like, “I’m just gonna do this”?

Drew Bird: What happened was I’d written lots of material before. Some of it sort of longer than just a blog post. I kind of liked the writing process as well. That really helped. I knew from the beginning of when I was doing this work, the last sort of five years was definitely specialization, I had all these notes about when I work with client group what happened.

If you’re constantly taking notes  . . .  One of the things I advocate very strongly in all of my work, is journaling. I looked back through my journals, and I’d realized that there’s tons of content in here. There’s tons of really good content in here around emotional intelligence, and leadership development, and how the two things came together.

One of the things I advocate very strongly in all of my work is journaling.

Now I’m not gonna suggest that I pulled my journal entries in, because that wasn’t the case, but it provided a catalyst. The catalyst for me is that, and the online course I wanted to produce was called The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence, so it was the same as the book. But I realized that what I was gonna do is write the course, and then perhaps produce a book. That’s the wrong way around.

I realized I needed to write the book, get super clear on the thoughts, and then turn that into a course. That’s essentially the process I went through. I mentioned before, just before we came on camera, that I was involved in publishing before in a different life. One of the things that I learnt from that process before was the idea of sketching.

Sketching, I’m sure there’s hundreds of different terms for this, but sketching is basically sitting down and laying out the book. My first step was sit down and just lay out the book. I had all this stuff that I wanted to write out. I wanted to write about the model. I wanted to write about what does emotionally effective leadership look like. I wanted to challenge people to accept that there is always something you can do to improve your leadership.

I wanted to describe the development process. I wanted to describe why taking a whole life perspective to emotional intelligence is really important. For example, fatigue and stress really messes with your emotional intelligence. You’ll know that if you’re very, very tired, or very, very stressed, you don’t behave the way you normally do.

I wanted to talk about that. I wanted to talk about stress management. Imagine I sat down with maybe 15 post-it notes, which represented major topics. I looked at the 15 post-it notes that were major topics and thought, “That one’s probably a book on its own, so I’m actually gonna put that one over there,” so now I’m down to 14 topics.

This is one probably not big enough to be a whole chapter. Through a whittling process, and a bit of renaming process, now I’ve got a set of chapters. Okay, this is beginning to feel like something. Then I realized that people may listen to my process and think, “Well that doesn’t sound very creative.” I don’t think I’m a very creative person. I don’t need to be creative.

Aaron S: Well it’s funny is that  . . .  In our course we call this process brain dump. That’s exactly what you’re talking about.

Drew Bird: Yeah, yep.

Aaron S: Where you’re like, get it out of here, put it on paper, put it on a board.

Drew Bird: Yeah, then my next step, and again, it seems like it would stifle creativity  . . .  I’ll get to challenges in a second, but what I do then is I think, “Well I want to book to be 50,000 words.” If the book’s gonna be 50,000 words, and there’s 15 chapters in the book, then each chapter’s probably gonna be somewhere around 3,000 words-ish. There might be an extra word along the way there. Sorry about that.

I think, “Okay. So roughly 3,000 words per chapter. Okay. Well if there’s 3,000 words per chapter, how many words per page is it? Well, how many pages is that? Okay well that’s how that works.” Now if I’m gonna have, let’s just say we’ve got a chapter that has 15 pages in it, what’s the title of the chapter? Well, theoretically I’ve already got that from my [inaudible]. What would be the five major level-two subheadings in the chapter?

Each one of those has to have between X number and Y number of words. What subheadings would there be in that? You almost, this sounds bizarre, but my process, I end up with a table of contents before I write the book. I knew kind of roughly what was in it.

Now this is extremely iterative. I mean, there was points in time where I would write a chunk of content and think, “This should actually be over there, not in here.” But this is how I see  . . .  Some of my colleagues they’ve either tried to or have written books. This is what they do, they sit down with a blank screen. They’re like, “Come on. I have all this knowledge in my head. [crosstalk].”

[inaudible] there and nothing comes out. What I end up doing through my process is writing a couple of hundred three-paragraph sections, and prodding them, placing them all over the place. Yes, you get lost in it. Yes, I do sit there at the screen and stare at it for hours without writing a thing. I do that when I’m writing a blog post. I mean, I can sit and stare at a blank page for a really long time.

But that really, really helped. About halfway through, I started using a product called Scrivener. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Scrivener but it’s kind of intended to be a distraction-free word processor. I actually put up on it, I was reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. He mentioned somewhere in there about using Scrivener as a tool for writing. I actually find it does really help, because it lets you write chunks and sessions, and then move them around.

Writing a book, [is] like writing a blog post. . . .You put it out to the world and there is something inherently risky and rewarding in doing that.

Aaron S: Can you send us a link to that after we’re done with this? We’ll add it into our tool set.

Drew Bird: Yeah. Absolutely. I found that with Scrivener it lets me reorder my thoughts more easily. I really enjoy that. We’re going on, we’re going on, we’re going on. We’re doing the writing process, and eventually you get to a point where you cannot make any more progress on your own. You cannot make any more progress on your own. All I’m doing now is moving paragraphs around from here to there, and rewriting stuff, but not really making it any better. That’s the point where you have to say, “I need an editor.”

Your best friend, or your partner, they’re not your editor. They can’t be your editor. They’re not really invested or interested. It’s the truth. I mean, if you’re writing a sci-fi novel, if you’re writing something like that, I mean my partner is a clinical psychologist and I still can’t get her to sit through and read an entire book on emotional intelligence. She’s just not specifically interested in that topic.

You have to bite the bullet and you gotta pay somebody. Pay somebody external that isn’t scared to turn around and say to you, “This is really bad. This section you wrote here is almost intelligible. I can’t even begin to think about what you were trying to say here,” which something that a partner, or a spouse, or a colleague, or friend, won’t do.

Aaron S: That was a good bit of advice, getting a third party that’s unbiased, and they could just say the truth to make the book better.

Simon V: That’s huge. This is really great.

Drew Bird: Not just unbiased, but somebody who is also experienced. [inaudible] if you go onto platforms like Upwork, you can find book editors relatively easy. Look at the reviews, pick a good one.

Simon V: I love how you broke it out and you said, “Well if I’m gonna write a book, it’s got to be 50,000 words, and then that means that each chapter has to be 3,000.” That makes it so much more like approachable . . .

Aaron S: Bite-sized.

Simon V: . . . to write a book. This morning Aaron and I were talking a book we’re gonna write. I’m stressing out just thinking about where do I start? I’m making a course on all this stuff, right?

Aaron S: We’re teaching people how to do [crosstalk].

Simon V: Right. But it’s just a great reminder that when you break it down, and you can write a little bit at a time, that’s awesome. What you’re saying is when you wrote your book, you definitely broke it out. You wrote chunks at a time. Eventually, hey, you had a book.

Drew Bird: [inaudible] it’s a real weird day when you think, “Oh I actually got some stuff here?”

Aaron S: Yeah. We actually outline in our course, a very similar process of what you just said, because a lot of people don’t think about that they go straight to the blank page and they’re like, “Now what? Okay. I’ll start writing.” Let’s say they write 10 chapters and they’re like, “I hate the last five. I’m gonna delete them.”

Instead of having in order, having a process that they can actually walk through, and they can actually feel good about and know where they’re going, instead of just shooting stuff onto a piece of paper. Exactly what you said was super valuable. I love that.

Drew Bird: Another thing as well is that if you write, 1,000 words a day is actually a lot. I can’t remember who it was that I read, I’m really interested in work that people like Tim Ferriss, and Seth Godin, and people like that do, especially around their writing process. I can’t remember, one of them said something like I write 1,000 words a day no matter what, and it doesn’t matter if it’s usable.

My brain doesn’t work like that. Not only am I trying to run a business as well  . . .  I’m not suggesting that either of those two people have unlimited amounts of time, but I make a pact with myself, that if I can write 500 good words a day, in 10 days that’s 5,000. 100 days, which is over three months, that’s a 50,000 word book, as [inaudible] seven days a week.

I journal almost that much generally every day. It’s getting into a habit. 500 words a day isn’t actually that much, especially when I sit down and start writing, there’s a heading at the top of the page that tells you what you’re supposed to write today. Today I’m writing on managing stress. Well okay, I have tons of thoughts on managing stress, so I’ll just write those down. Well then there you go, there’s 500 words.

I’m not simplifying it by all means, don’t get me wrong. I skip days. I miss days. I miss weeks. But small amount  . . .  This idea, a friend of mine, who I used to work with, one of his favorite things to do was to rent a cabin in the woods with no internet access, and go and write. That was all he would do was go and write. I don’t think he really produced very much more than somebody who squeezes into 45 minutes before breakfast, because he would sit there and think, “I have all this time in the world to write. I don’t have to actually write anything ’cause I have all this time in the world to write.”

Sometimes a bit of pressure helps. One of the things for self-published authors is there’s no agent, there is no publisher breathing down your neck saying I need something—

Aaron S: There’s no deadline.

Drew Bird: No deadline. That’s what happens is, colleagues of mine, and some of them have very successfully done what they were looking to do, not books necessarily but courses or whatever it is, is around just focus in a small amount of time, but just keep at it.

Aaron S: You just mentioned something really good, the no-pressure, the no-deadline. I’m thinking about publishing a book for the first time, no one’s waiting for my book. No one is thinking about it. How did you set a deadline for yourself? What was the deadline for? There’s probably no one waiting for your book either? No one was saying, “I want this book done,” other than you and your partner probably.

How could a normal everyday person that has no pressure, get a book done? Instead of, “Well it’ll be done in five years,” and then it never will happen.

Drew Bird: Yeah. Here we need to delve into the depths of human behavior, because it’s a bit like everybody knows they shouldn’t eat, insert name of thing that you shouldn’t eat here, but we still do, because we want it, right? I’m careful because the donut forum people will be on you if you’re not careful.

Human behavior is a weird thing. I know a book will massively help my business, right? I know that having a book massively helps my business. I know that it gets me name recognition. I know that I can use it as a sales tool. It’s probably the single most valuable thing I can do to support my business, and yet it still took me years to do it.

Here’s how I created some pressure for myself. First of all, I started telling people that I was in the process of publishing a book. And I would tell—

Aaron S: You just said it. There you go. I’m publishing a book.

Drew Bird: I would tell some of my larger corporate clients, which of course, that caused them to ask me a month or two later, “When’s the book you talked about gonna become available? You know, we’d like to give it out the next session. When you come for the keynote in March, will you have copies of the book?” That was one thing I did.

Simon V: Talk about accountability.

Drew Bird: Yeah, but I mean they’re not really holding  . . .  They don’t really care whether you say, “Yeah we’re still working on it.” It’s slightly muted. The real kicker for me is  . . .  If anybody is self-publishing, pretty very high chance they’re gonna publish on Amazon. Amazon’s self-publishing platform is amazing. It’s very good. I do not understand the internal mechanisms of it. I had somebody help me with that, we can talk about it later on.

But one of the things it allows you to do is register your book and get an ISBN or an ASIN number to identify the book. They have a restriction. They say, “We’ll let you pre-register a book. But if you don’t publish that book within a certain timeframe,” I think it’s six months, but I’d have to check, “if you don’t publish the book within six months, you will never be able to pre-register a book again. We will take that privilege away from you.”

Aaron S: That’s a good motivation.

Drew Bird: It’s a good motivation. Basically Amazon gave me the incentive I needed, because I was thinking, “Well, if I publish a book, if I publish another book,” like I’m already working on another book, “if I publish another book, I want to be able to pre-list it, and then point to it, and have it listed under my author bio, and I won’t be able to do it.”

The way that Amazon does it, is if you don’t meet the deadline for the first book that you pre-registered, which actually presents it for pre-order as well, so people can pre-order. If you don’t meet the deadline for submitting it, next time you actually have to submit a full manuscript before they’ll list your book.

I realized that being on Amazon was gonna be an extremely important thing for me. I was very keyed in to making sure I met that obligation.

Aaron S: That’s exactly what we’re gonna be  . . .  In our course we’re teaching people how to publish on Amazon, because it is a hugely valuable resource.

Drew Bird: Yeah. It’s definitely worth it, yeah.

Aaron S: We published all eight of our books through Amazon. Since then, we’ve done other avenues, but Amazon’s been by far the most valuable resource that we’ve had.

Simon V: You touched on it just a little bit ago, but you talked about traditional publishing, no agent, no whatever, versus self-publishing. Let’s dive into that a little bit. I want to hear more about your experience that you told me about a little bit before publishing this emotional intelligence book. Talk about that traditional publishing experience.

Aaron S: Yeah, and why are you self-publishing instead of traditionally publishing. That’s important to know.

Drew Bird: I’ll keep part of this as condensed as I can. In my first career I worked in IT. I was a network systems analyst, that kind of thing. Worked in corporations. I’m the guy you phone if your email doesn’t work, that kind of stuff, but more on a network management level. That’s a field where you can write books and literally, their shelf life is a year. Any book written in the IT world has a very limited shelf life because the technology changes quickly.

I actually got a contract and an agent, and I used to write technology books. I used to write guides for people that were taking certification exams. My first book was called Information Technology Careers: The Hottest Jobs for the New Millennium. It was published in 2000. It was all about how to get a job in [inaudible].

Anyway, through that process I got an agent. I actually had an agent. I had representation through an agent. I had contracts with McGraw Hill, and Microsoft, and Osborne, and people like that. I fully experienced that side of the business. And in fact, agents are  . . .  I’m trying to use the right word. I’ll say they’re tenacious. What I mean is once you have an agent, you have an agent until you don’t have an agent. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t punished anything for many years, you still have an agent.

Fast forward literally 10 years, and so [inaudible] book stores, Barnes & Noble, on Amazon, all over the place, so basically trade paperback, trade publishing type stuff. When I had the idea for The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I contacted my existing agent still, and started the conversation with, “Hey. It’s been a really long time,” because it had. I explained I switched careers many years ago.

The agency knew that because they have been offering me contracts for technology books earlier on, and I said, “You know I moved out. I don’t do that anymore. I do this now.” They knew I wasn’t in that realm anymore, but in the meantime the agent that who I was working with, he actually moved to a different agency or started up his own agency. He’s actually now a [inaudible] agent.

He’s was such an amazing agent, not that my current one isn’t. He was great and provided lots of information early on in my publishing adventures. Anyway, I talked to my now agent, and I explained I have an idea for a book called The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence. It’s based on the work I’ve been doing over the last decade, but specifically the last five years.

She shucked it around, which is the term that she used, and couldn’t get anybody interested. Basically nobody wanted to publish it. I was left with a choice, well I was actually left with no choice. If I wanted to publish the book, I was gonna have to self-publish it. I obviously legally had to say to her, “Well okay, I’m gonna go ahead and do this, and so we’re okay right? You’re not gonna come back to me and say, ‘Well you’re still under contract.’ ”

I have a written statement from the [inaudible]. That’s that. There’s a whole bunch of other stuff in there around renewing relationships and that kind of thing. Anyway, now I’m free to do what I want with the book. I’m aware of self-publishing. Here’s the interesting thing, I always had a really negative connotation about it because when I was an author with a signed contract with a publisher, and Osborne, McGraw Hill are publishing my material, or Microsoft Press were publishing my material, I was a contracted author. I would see self-published material by other technology-based writers. That’s a little bit different today, [inaudible].

I was getting advances, and royalty payments, and stuff like that. It was funny because when I got into this realm, I’m looking at it and thinking, “What difference does it make? Like does the person that sits here and holds a book in their hand care whether the author was agented, or through a publisher? Like what difference does it make?”

Aaron S: Do they even know?

Drew Bird: Exactly. Do they even know?

Aaron S: You named three publishers I’ve never heard of.

Drew Bird: [inaudible] in a second as well. I fully embraced the self-publishing thing. As I got into it, I began to realize this is so liberating. As a pro and a con, so liberating equates no schedule. No advance equates to no expectation. As you just said, nobody’s sitting there thinking, “Wow I can’t wait for Drew to publish that book. I just can’t even begin to develop my leadership before that.”

Nobody’s waiting to hear what I have to say. That’s perhaps the negative side of it. But the positive side of it is I could have written a 1,000 word [inaudible]. I could have written six mini-books. I could whatever I wanted to.

Aaron S: You could launch them today, if you wanted to, or as fast as you want, right?

Drew Bird: As long as Amazon hasn’t retracted your pre-listing rights, exactly, yeah. You can do it any time you like, which is great. I began to realize, yeah this isn’t just something that I’ve been pushed into. This is the way to go. This is the best option. This is awesome.

Aaron S:  One of the negatives you mentioned was the idea that there’s no one waiting for it, and there’s no  . . .  What was the other negative you mentioned? There was no one waiting—

Simon V: Expectations.

Aaron S: —and the expectations. I think a lot of our viewers might see those as actual positives, because stepping in for the first time, that expectation might be too much pressure. They want it to be an enjoyable experience. You’re right, it could be a negative as in it might never happen, but that’s what we’re here for. We’re trying to push people, but the same time it’s like you said, you got to enjoy the experience. There was no one pushing you.

No one changing your vision for it, because that happens. My wife and I are traditionally published with one of our books. We know what it feels like, we have this idea and we want it this way, then there could be other voices speaking into it that you’re like, “Well, I don’t know if I want that.” You’re right, they are negative, but I think they also can be positives looking at it a certain way.

Drew Bird: Absolutely.

Aaron S: I love the word you used, liberating. What’s wrong with this? No one knows the publisher’s name. All they’re gonna know is your name and your content. Is the content good, and are people gonna like your name?

Simon V: Yeah, [crosstalk] have to worry about much more.

Aaron S: I love that word, liberating.

Drew Bird: And yet people place so much stead now in Amazon reviews and things like that, but I think [crosstalk] makes a big difference. The end of that story is, after I finished the book, published it, and it had been for sale, I decided to go back to my agent and say, “Okay, this is a different discussion now, because I’m not talking about [inaudible] I have a book, I literally have a book.” People are buying [inaudible] of it. It’s selling. Can we try and find another publisher?

She did. She went and found a publisher. It was a completely credible publisher. It wasn’t one of the bigger ones, but it’s a completely credible publisher. What happened was the deal that I was offered was essentially an extremely similar to deal to what you would get if you had traditionally published. The royalty rates were not in any way significantly higher, there was no advance, that kind of thing.

I looked at it and thought, “I could give this over to this publisher and they would put it so that it would be in my local bookstore, it would be in you know, in all these other places.” But the main place where people buy books that I know of is Amazon, and I’m there already.

Aaron S:They essentially wanted you to trade your freedom for them to own your content.

Drew Bird: Yeah. Here’s the real trick, when I sell a book through Amazon, my royalty is I don’t know, 45% or something, or whatever it is, I’m not sure of exact royalty. But it’s high—

Aaron S: It’s close to that, yeah.

Drew Bird: When they sell a book, my royalty is 12%, which is [inaudible] royalty is generally 12, 15%. Now I need to have faith that they’re gonna sell at least three times as many books as I am gonna be able to [inaudible] to make the same amount of money. And not only that, but I lose all this control and flexibility.

Flexibility like, I have a PDF copy of my book. Sometimes when I’m talking to a new client I’ll say, “And see attached is a copy of my book. If you want to get an idea of my philosophy around development,” you can’t do that when you’re published through a publisher because they don’t want you sending PDFs of a book around. You lose that flexibility too.

Aaron S: That bit of advice right there is exactly why we’re doing this course, because it’s not just the money, it’s the freedom, the flexibility. It’s hard to get published these days. It’s not like in the old days where if you had a good book and the content was good, and you could hand it to an agent, the agent’s like, “Oh this is great. I could sell.”

It doesn’t work that way anymore. So what you’re saying is exactly right, is we can do it. We can have all the control. We’ll keep all the revenue, and it’ll be our thing. Showing that contrast, it’s not very that you get to see both sides like that. I really appreciate you sharing the insights of that story.

Drew Bird: There’s something to this, which is that if you’re writing a mass market paperback book, maybe there’s a place for a traditional publishing model. I travel a great deal of my work and so you always walk past bookshelves in airports. Sometimes I think to myself, “What would I have to do to get my book on that rack?” I don’t know. I’ve never looked into it. I don’t know if there is a mechanism by which I could get my book on that rack. I doubt it.

There will always be avenues that as a self-published author they’re not available to you. The question you have to ask yourself is what’s the true value of that, and the true value of what you can do as a self-published author? That freedom, particularly if you are building a brand, or a business, or anything like that.

If you look at my bio it says, “Drew Bird, author of The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence.” It doesn’t say, “Drew Bird, self-published author of The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence,” similarly to in my previous life it didn’t say, “Drew Bird, author of the Microsoft Press published, you know, administering with [inaudible] 2000.

Aaron S: You’re still a published author.

Drew Bird: They don’t care. The content [inaudible].

Simon V: What happened when you published your book on Amazon, and you decided “I want to seek out a traditional publisher?” Why did you still think, “Oh I could  . . .  “, what were you thinking you’d get from doing that?

Drew Bird: Yeah. When I first published the book  . . .  That’s a great question, because it was a time of extreme thinking. I had one or two people in my circle who were the people that I reality test with. I’d go and ask them, tell them things.

What happened was the books sales didn’t start  . . .  I dreamt that the day I published my book, I would wake up and CNN would be on the line, or Bloomberg, or [crosstalk].

Aaron S: [crosstalk] viral.

Drew Bird: Yeah. “We just saw your book pop up on Amazon, and we’re wondering if you can make it to New York by 11 o’clock this morning.” That didn’t happen.

Simon V: It’s a [inaudible] funny thing.

Drew Bird: I can count the number of calls I got on no fingers. The sales in the beginning were kind of slow and early. I think at the first week I maybe sold, I’m gonna say maybe 20 copies or something.

Aaron S: That’s great.

Drew Bird: Something like [crosstalk].

Aaron S: Still that’s awesome. First week.

Drew Bird: Yeah. I was pleased about that. Emotional Intelligence is a fairly popular topic, so it’s in leadership and management development, so it has a bit of name recognition there. The title of the book, I think is incredibly important. You want to make it as direct as you possibly can, even if you don’t necessarily like it.

The book originally was called something different. It was something like The Emotionally Effective Leader Using Emotional Intelligence to Get the Results. It’s a lot of words. Instead it just turned out to be The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence. Well, that’s exactly what it is. It’s The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence. The title thing is really important, but still it didn’t hit the best seller list in the first 24 hours, so I was astounded. Couldn’t figure out what was going on. I’m joking.

Aaron S: That’s how everyone’s gonna feel though. Wait, why isn’t everyone buying my book?

Drew Bird: What happened was I started to think, “Okay. How do I market and promote this book to get it to a larger audience?” One of the things I decided was an avenue I’d look at, would be trying to find a traditional publisher. What I found was what the traditional publisher could do is they could put it in a catalog. Okay, do people really use catalogs anymore to buy books? Maybe they [inaudible].

Simon V: What’s a catalog?

Aaron S: Probably not people looking for The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence.

Drew Bird: But they were gonna go to trade shows, for example. I’d never been to a book trade show, and I may be speaking completely out of turn here, but I imagine it looks kind of like  . . .  There’s booths with people selling books, and book buyers there. I look at Amazon’s model for self-publishing, Amazon don’t buy 10,000, they didn’t order 10,000 of books the moment I published it, and they have it sitting there [inaudible] just in case.

It’s a print-on-demand process. [inaudible] how traditional book publishing really works anymore. I’m curious as to what happens at a book fair.

Aaron S: Probably exactly what you said. I’ve never been to one either, but those sales conferences, they’re essentially pitching the new books to bookstores. The book stores are like, “Oh I think we could sell that.” That’s essentially what it is.

Drew Bird: While that sounds like a great way to get some free booze at the after party, I’m not sure what you can’t achieve online by doing that. But anyway, they could get me that, they could get me into traditional book stores, so Barnes & Noble, or in Canada, Chapters. They could do that for me. I can’t do that very easily.

I don’t want to be negative here, but traditional book buying is not on the up. It’s not an increasing industry, as far as I understand. It’s either still dropping or flattened out. I ask myself the question, how important is it for me to get into a traditional bookstore? Most people buy their books online, period. There’s that.

Aaron S: You’re already in the biggest bookstore.

Drew Bird: So they can’t get me that, because I already have that. This is what I realized, what I realized was I was missing somebody who was marketing my book for me on Amazon, or who was taking care of some of the online marketing.

What I did is I, very graciously as I possibly could, I was immensely grateful that they offered the contract, immensely grateful, and I was immensely grateful to my agent who had worked hard to place the title, I said, “You know what, I just don’t think it’s for me. I’m really sorry. I feel like I wasted everybody’s time, but I’m gonna stick with the self-publish route.”

When I did that, I reality-checked to one of those people that I mentioned a few minutes ago, one of my colleagues. I explained it to them and they said, “So why did you ask for a publisher?” [inaudible] the mechanics of everything. They were like, “So you were willing to give up ownership and control over your material for an amount of money, which isn’t gonna change your life, and robs you of this ability to new editions, change it, whatever it is? I don’t understand. Why didn’t you come and ask me about that before you asked the agent to go try and find a publisher [crosstalk].” Hindsight’s great—

Aaron S: Because you would have told me not to do it.

Drew Bird: Exactly. Yeah. After that, I moved away from talking to the publisher. I don’t know if my agent will ever talk to me again because she did work really hard, it [inaudible]. She was really gracious about it. She’s a really good agent as well. Anyway, I started to invest some of my own money in trying to find somebody to help market it. They did things like rewrote the book description on Amazon. She sent it to a bunch of reviewers, many of whom did not review it. One did, which was okay. Things like that, she was taking proactive actions around getting the book into more people’s hands.

She made a comment about the fact that I should probably get the cover redesigned. She said, “You know, the cover’s not interesting. It’s factually correct, which may be appropriate for the content, but it doesn’t really sort of drag you in, so you know, think about getting a cover.”

Aaron S: Is this cover that you have on your book a different cover, or is this what you designed?

Drew Bird: No, that’s the one that she says needs a bit of jazzing up. If you have a copy there, I don’t know if you have a physical copy there, but it’s basically black with blue words. It’s like [crosstalk].

Aaron S: I personally like it.

Drew Bird: Okay. Thank you.

Aaron S: A lot. I’ll explain why. Because everyone buys on Amazon, when you’re in that search feed, that books is like this big on the feed. One of my things is, can they read and understand the book before  . . .  ? It’s not like you’re an author that sells a million copies, and they’re gonna buy it just because your name. There’s very few authors like that. You need to catch them right on the bat, like when you’re writing a blog post, the title’s the most important thing.

I’m sure there’s other things you could do to spruce it up a little bit. I actually really like it. [crosstalk].

Drew Bird: Well thanks. I appreciate it. Actually that was produced through a contract offer Fiver. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Fiver.

Aaron S: Yeah. We suggest it to our authors.

Drew Bird: It cost more than five bucks, just to re-clarify, because it was five, it used to be anything for five bucks, and how Fiver is anything, but you can buy extras. I think I paid the extremely reasonable fee of $20.

Aaron S: I’m gonna tell you, I wouldn’t change it unless you had some specific statistics on whether you think it’s gonna sell better or not. I feel like your cover’s great.

Simon V: At the end of the day, you’ve written books, you self-published this one, do you see yourself as an author?

Drew Bird: Absolutely. Without a doubt. It’s in the first line of my bio, Drew Bird author of Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence, so yeah.

Simon V: That’s like a badge. That’s like something that you say, “I am this. This is what I’ve done.”

Aaron S: You can tell. You can see it on his face.

Simon V: Oh yeah. Look at that smile, right?

Drew Bird: [crosstalk].

Simon V: I want people to know, right?

Drew Bird: Yeah. You know what’s interesting about writing a book, it’s like writing a blog post. Writing a blog post is saying to the world, “Here’s an opinion I hold about something, or a perspective I hold about something.” You put it out to the world and there is something inherently risky, and inherently rewarding in doing that, because you are showing people something, which not everybody gets to see, which is basically a manifestation of your thoughts and who you are as a person.

When people act, and somebody writes in and says, “That was the worst performance.” Keanu Reeves for example, I’ve seen people criticize Keanu Reeves’ acting style. I think it work really well for the kind of movies he’s in, but they really criticize his acting style. I would hope that Keanu Reeves sits there and thinks, “It’s not gonna be for everybody. I did, I portrayed the character the best [inaudible].”

But there’s a risk to doing that. There’s a risk to doing it. I enjoy the risk a little bit, even though when somebody gives me feedback  . . .  A friend of mine, she’s a business professor at a university, and she read the book. She wrote back and she said, “I’ve got a teensy bit of feedback for you.” It turned out that it was quite a lot of feedback around things that she felt I could do differently and stuff like that.

I try and be as resilient as I can around that. If it’s structural, or if it’s operational, then it’s easy to take. It’s easy to take [inaudible] that’s around, “You know I think chapter two’s too long, or the diagram isn’t clear,” whatever that is, that stuff. But when somebody says, “You know, I don’t really agree with the way you look at this,” the natural human, “Well this is what I think.”

I enjoy that. One of the things that I enjoy about the book and the feedback piece, is I’m really comfortable with my topic. Not just from a theoretical, but like a really practical level, having worked in any number of organizations. If somebody turns around and says to me, “I don’t agree with the way you look at this.” I turn around and say, “Great. How do you see it differently, because I’ve seen it a hundred times, and I know I could be wrong, and I know I might be seeing it through a different lens. What do you see?” And how does that affect—

Aaron S: Well you’re much more emotional intelligent than most people because of the topic—

Drew Bird: [crosstalk]

Aaron S: That’s exactly what you’re talking about, is that understanding on a very emotional level of  . . .  A book is a unique product, in that it is a product that you can consume, that is an actual physical manifestation of a piece of who you are, like you were just explaining. It’s not like I made this mug, and someone’s like, “I don’t like how this mug holds this liquid.” You’re like, “Okay. Go get a new mug.”

Someone said they don’t like how you communicate, or the way you think, or the way you write, you’re like, “Whoa.” It could be a very deep personal attack, so that emotional intelligence that you teach, I feel like having an understanding of who you are, and you are confident, and [inaudible] it’s hard to hear those things. But you’ve also seen the fruit of it, so you can actually combat those things, and not just be defensive, be like, “Okay, well you might see it differently but I believe still in what I’ve written.”

This is a huge part because the authors that are gonna be watching this and listening to the audio of this, and reading our books, and taking our course, they’re sitting at a point of like, “Well this story I have, are people gonna like it?” One of the things we try and convey is people might not like it, but do you like it? Do you want this story told?

There’s going to be someone that will like it. I really appreciate that perspective on the one-star reviews I would like to call it. What does that feel like?

Drew Bird: A friend of mine asked me just recently like, “What’s the biggest thing that sort of helped you through the process?” I’m excited about what I’m writing about. I have to ask people this, if you’re not excited about what you’re writing about, why are you writing about it? How would you expect somebody else to be excited about it if you’re not? That’s—

Simon V: If you’re bored writing it, they’re gonna be bored reading it, right?

Drew Bird: Exactly, and how can I make this topic interesting? Guess what, it may not be an interesting topic. I had another idea for another book that I described to somebody, and they were like, “I don’t know if that sounds very interesting to me.” Not every idea we have for a book is a good idea.

I was working with a colleague of mine who lives in the same town, he’s writing a script for a movie. What he would do is he would circulate the script along with a questionnaire and say, “What do you think of the script? What do you think of the characters? What do you think of the scenario I paint? What do you think of the basic premise?” He hasn’t written the whole thing, he’s just trying to find out if it’s even worth pursuing.

What I didn’t do last time, but I certainly will do this time is, before I start significantly on the next book, I will send my idea or my sketch to the editor and say, “What do you think?” I know her well enough, and she knows me well enough now that if she comes back and says, “That idea stinks,” then I’ll probably leave it to one side.

This is one of the things that pains me slightly is I see people struggling to write about something that they don’t really care about, or they’re not passionate and interested in. That writing is gonna be horribly difficult to do. It’s dead. Pick something that you’re really interested in, that when you have to go away and do the research and you find out a new fact, it’s like getting a gift. Something interesting and new, and this is motivating you to do it.

I see people struggling to write about something that they don’t really care about. . . . That writing is gonna be horribly difficult to do. It’s dead.

If you’ve been to graduate school, university now, and they give you these thesis papers that take six months to write. Somebody said to me, “Don’t pick a topic unless you are really interested in it, because—”

Aaron S: Six months of that is gonna be terrible.

Drew Bird: Exactly, yeah. Whereas six months of something that you’re interested in, that you’re motivated to learn about, that becomes a whole different process.

Aaron S: You know what’s awesome is we’ve found in our own writing process, in our own lives, the most people that want to write a book, there’s already something that they can’t wait to write. It’s not like they’re like, “I should go write about that topic that I hate.” No one thinks that. It’s either a personal story, or it’s a creative idea, or it’s fiction. There’s something already welling up in them, and that’s what we’re trying to tap into.

It sounds like that’s what you do. You’re like, “Well I’m interested in this topic,” and a book is just an avenue to get in more people’s hands, what I’m passionate about. It’s probably fun for you to write it. That post-it note session you had, you called it a sketching session, where we call it a brain dump, you probably were getting excited. You’re like, “Wow this would you know, go over here, or this would  . . . ”

Drew Bird: This could actually be something.

Aaron S: Yeah, well it already was something, technically.

Drew Bird: Just to be realistic, I won’t pretend that every day I sat down to write, and I thought, “Oh man, I’ve been looking forward to this writing all day,” because there’s days when you sit down and you think, “I’ve got nothing.” There’s Netflix in the other room, there’s a cold beer in the fridge. Or I can write, and it’s very hard to do that.

Simon V: Well Drew, this has been really good. I love your perspective. Thanks for sharing your story. I know that our audience is going to want to learn more about you. Some are gonna be interested in your business and emotional intelligence. They’re gonna want to learn more about that, and others.

Aaron S: They’re gonna want to know about your dating book that you’re gonna be launching.

Simon V: That too.

Drew Bird: I was at a conference the other week with a young group of professionals that mentioned that. I never had more questions after the session about anything than that. It is a key topic.

Aaron S: First of all I think that’s gonna be a killer book, emotionally intelligent dating. You should launch that book today.

Drew Bird: [crosstalk].

Aaron S: Tell us where we can get more information about you.

Drew Bird: I’m on LinkedIn. If you look up Drew Bird and Emotional Intelligence, I’ll pop up. That’s an easy way. You can email me, [email protected] That’s E-Q-D-E-V, group.com. Twitter is @drew_bird. If you just online and search on Drew Bird, emotional intelligence, I’ll pop up. Check out the book on Amazon. Easy to find under my name with the title. Thanks for having me. It’s been great. Great conversation. Appreciate the time.

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Tyler Smith

Tyler Smith is a copywriter, content strategist, and author who is passionate about helping his fellow writers tell life-changing stories.

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