Get inspiring self-publishing lessons, tips, and secrets every Wednesday.
You’ve probably heard it said, “it’s impossible to make a living as a writer.” Or, “your poetry book won’t pay the bills.”
Unfortunately, too many parents, teachers, and mentors encourage the young, aspiring authors around them to go to college and “get a real job” instead of pursuing their dream.
That’s why millions of talented writers simply hide in the woodwork, dreaming about the day they’ll get to write for a living. But S.D. Smith says that if you want it, you just have to “swing for the fences.” And if he can do it, so can you.
Three years ago, S.D. left a steady job he’d been at for 10 years to pursue his dream. Today, he’s is a full-time author. In the last three years, he’s written five books—all part of The Green Ember Series, a middle-grade adventure fantasy for children. He’s one of the Top 100 Best Selling authors on Amazon and, his book, The Green Ember, spent some time as the #1 Best Selling Audiobook in the World.
Inside this episode of The BookWorthy Show, S.D. Smith shares an honest perspective on how to make a living as a writer. He doesn’t encourage any best-practices or get-rich-quick schemes. In fact, he made it clear that the shortcuts rarely work. You can’t do exactly what he did—or what anyone else did, for that matter—and expect to be successful. You have to experience your own journey. And all you have to do is start.
After listening to this interview, you’ll be inspired to quit dreaming and take the next step on your journey to making a living as a writer.
Simon V.: Sam, welcome to the show. It’s good to have you.
S.D. Smith: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here, Simon.
Simon V.: Awesome. It’s great to have you here. And so, just to get started, tell me what your life looks like right now. Give us a snapshot of who you are, what you do, family, all those things.
S.D. Smith: My name is Sam Smith. I write under- I use my initials to write because Sam Smith is a ubiquitous name in many artistic fields now. And most of my favorite authors use their initials, so that was kind of something that came easy. So anyway, I’m Sam and I have a family, and my wife, and four kids: two girls, two boys And we live in the southern part of West Virginia. I’m a writer. I write books for kids. Middle-grade fiction, fantasy, like low fantasy adventure, fiction. The first book was called ‘The Green Ember’ as kind of The Green Ember Series. I like to describe what I do is I write new stories with an old soul.
Simon V.: That’s awesome.
S.D. Smith: I like soccer and chocolate chip cookies. I don’t know what other more information you need.
Simon V.: Oh, man. I don’t know how you can be more relatable than that. Who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies?
S.D. Smith: Who doesn’t like soccer? Well, a lot of Americans, but-
Simon V.: And who doesn’t like soccer? I guess I said that because I’m not too into soccer, but-
S.D. Smith: We’ll win you over in the end. It’s coming. It’s the world’s game.
Simon V.: Yeah, there you go. That’s a good point. I love your Amazon author profile description: “S.D. Smith writes new stories with an old soul, featuring #rabbitswithswords, which is super awesome. It just gives you a picture of your world, and to who you are, and to what you write. So, what does that mean, “rabbits with swords?”
S.D. Smith: It is helpful if you think about it. All that stuff originated or just came about very organically. I think that I was trying to think of how to describe what I do, what these stories are like, but I was trying to think of how to describe it, and I came up with “new stories with an old soul.” Also, the #rabbitswithswords kind of indicates the fun element of it. Both of those things are true, and I think that they appeal to sort of different groups, but they’re both honest about what’s going on. I think if you’re a kid, you’re just wanting to enjoy some straightforward adventure and suspense and some action, just normal fast-moving kind of adventure. Then that #rabbitswithswords kind of gives you
an indication that’s what you’re going to get. That’s a little bit of a promise, and I think it’s true, but then there’s the sort of a ‘new stories with an old soul’ that kind of indicates what’s going on like with a heart behind the story or just like in the story that there’s a little bit more depth than just sort of like a straightforward, just action.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: So I think those things are helpful for writers to be able to sort of, you know to figure out what you’re doing and to be able to communicate that in an economical or an efficient
sort of a quick way.
Simon V.: And so you’ve written, it’s the Green Ember series, but there’s Green Ember, Ember Rising, Ember Falls, The Last Archer, and The Black Star. And that’s a lot of books. Tell
me a little bit, tell us about your journey, because you don’t just come out with five books, right. It’s one-at=a-time. It’s years of work, lots of writing, and as Ernest Hemingway would say, “a lot of blood.”
Simon V.: So tell us a little bit about where your whole self-publishing journey started and how you got to where publishing five books.
S.D. Smith: Yeah. I’ll try to be succinct. Obviously, it’s a long story. Several years ago, my brother-in-law, his name is Andrew Mackay, he’d been working kind of in publishing for a while and he has this incredible skill set surrounding publishing, he knew how to put together a book and make it look beautiful, make it be beautiful, I think in a lot of ways.
S.D. Smith: We had kind of conspired for years that we wanted to do something together and initially, we wanted to publish some other authors first and that was kind of our goal, is
to sort of build a publishing group, but we really didn’t have anything else at the time, and I sort of got The Green Ember ready, which these were stories I told my kids, eventually just wrote them down. And so we just kind of went for it. This was about three, three-and-a-half years ago, and we did a Kickstarter.
S.D. Smith: We had some connection work that we’d done for years. I’ve done what a lot of other people do. I’ve written a lot of free material online and kind of made some connections. That was valuable, I think. So, Andrew and I started working and we hired this guy named Zach Franzen to do the art for the book and he was fantastic. He contributed to our initial project in a lot of ways, not just with the art but just even with the story, and so he was just a fantastic guy. So we put it out there on Kickstarter and we did pretty well and we published the books. Like a lot of people, we were really panicking. Well, I think we printed maybe 2,000, I can’t remember, maybe 1,500 books.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: So we were just terrified. We were just like, “Oh if we can just sell these first copies in 18 months, we’ll be okay, maybe.” So we were in our last year associated with it. We
went for it. We saw a launch before. We were completely ready, but we thought we had something that was good and would be generous to kids and hospitable and a good adventure. So, we shared it. We had a really wonderful response. Right off the bat there was just a lot of people really resonated with the story and seemed to really enjoy it.
S.D. Smith: It’s been an incredible journey. I cannot believe what’s happened as far as it’s been just three-and-a-half years ago.
Simon V.: Seriously?
S.D. Smith: Yes, it’s been a real—all the clichés you can think of. It’s been pretty amazing.
Simon V.: Yeah, that’s an incredible story. So, five books in three years, which is quite impressive, is it easy?
S.D. Smith: Um, no. No, it’s super hard. I think it’s hard. I can’t remember who said it, but it’s like one of those good writer quotes that say, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is most people.” Something to that effect.
Simon V.: Yeah, that’s a good one.
S.D. Smith: I think that’s so true. Yeah, I think it’s been hard. The last books I wrote were the easiest in some ways as far as that actually I was able to leave my regular day job back in the Summer of last year. And so for about the last six to eight months, I guess about eight months, I’ve been doing this full time and that’s been easier in some ways. For a little period there, I just spent some time just writing and that was wonderful. I’d never been able to do that before in my life.
S.D. Smith: I could actually just wake up every morning and get back to writing. So, I ended up writing the last two books pretty quickly, for me. It did get easier in some ways, and actually, I really enjoyed, I loved writing, particularly this last book Ember Rising. It was a big change for me to actually be in a rhythm and a routine I’ve never- It was always just
like stolen moments here and there, you know creating on the margin of life, which I’m sure a lot of people can relate to, and it’s still like that, you know, in a lot of ways, but that was a cool experience for me. I’ve never experienced that before.
Simon V.: Yeah, so before you could do this full-time, it was evenings, weekends, mornings, when the kids were sleeping, you know, when your wife was out with the ladies or something, and when you could just get an hour, kind of thing.
S.D. Smith: Yeah. Yeah. All the clichés. It was completely true. Yeah, definitely just doing it where ever I can, whenever I can. My father was really, really sick in the hospital at one point
with cancer and that was during The Green Ember. And I thought, “Well I’ll never finish this book.” Every interruption you can imagine happened during each book. It was like a war.
Simon V.: Oh, see.
S.D. Smith: I think writing is going to war and everybody that tells you that it’s easy and that you can do it, is lying, I think.
Simon V.: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
S.D. Smith: There are no shortcuts. There are tools and there is help. And I think that’s a lot of what you go through you guys are doing and, there are ways to help, but it’s help in a
war, I think. And is what you want to share worth fighting for and it’s a big question, because there’s a cost and it’s a real cost. And I think it’s worth it, you know if it’s something that needs to be shared.
Simon V.: With your most recent books, tell me what ‘fairly quick’ means. What was the writing process like and how long did it take to go from start to finish?
S.D. Smith: First draft, maybe like maybe two months.
Simon V.: That’s awesome. Very cool.
S.D. Smith: That’s a 94,000-word book. Significant album.
Simon V.: A significant book. Yeah.
S.D. Smith: For a middle-grade fiction, that’s pretty big.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: I think that’s what it is. Maybe I’m wrong with that.
Simon V.: Very cool.
S.D. Smith: Yeah, every day just going. I have a little, another cliché alert, but I have like the little shed-
Simon V.: A little writing shed?
S.D. Smith: … on my property. Yeah. It was like a garden shed and we had it like that for years. It used to be a cistern. We lived in this really old house, like a 100-year-old house and so in West Virginia, kind of in the country. And so this is my writing shed which I call “The Forge.”
Simon V.: The Forge, I like that.
S.D. Smith: Yeah.
Simon V.: A dream of mine, man. Someday I’ll be like you. I want a writing shed. I like that.
S.D. Smith: When you grow up, you will be like me. But the Forge is where this smith does his work, but we just kind of transfer. It’s really small and it didn’t cost too much to get it.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: And it’s been really valuable, especially since I left my job, I was just able to go out there every day and to be away, but it’s like 10 feet from my house, so it’s close enough, but it’s far enough too, in a lot of ways. I love that. It’s a sweet little space and for the first time, really, I was able to use that in these last two books.
S.D. Smith: So anyway, I wrote the Ember Rising, a first draft and then, you know how it is, you send them to your first beta readers. And while I was waiting for their feedback, I just kind of had this idea for another book. We were kind of bummed out because we didn’t have anything to give people for Christmas and it wasn’t just a marketing business kind of an idea. That was a consideration as far as what made us think, “Well maybe you should try.” I had this idea. Why don’t I just write another shorter book that I kind of had in my mind and we’ll see if we can go.
S.D. Smith: And I thought that Andrew, my publisher who works another job, and my brother works with me, and they were, “Well, let’s try it. Why not?” Probably get knocked off at one of the things that have to happen. Everything has to go perfectly. So anyway, we all just did it. I wrote it so fast. Basically, from the time I started writing it, to the time it was in people’s hands, was less than two months.
Simon V.: Nice! Very cool.
S.D. Smith: And it didn’t feel like it was rushed. I actually like it a lot. I think it was a pretty good book, but I wrote it pretty quickly, and it’s much shorter right around the 20,000 word, which is actually kind of normal for some middle-grade fiction, it’s a little bit shorter. Anyway, it’s kind of a little novella, but I loved it. I thought it was a good story. And the guy who did the cover again, Zach Franzen, he’s just fantastic. We didn’t do interior illustrations, because he didn’t have time, but he did the cover in like a week and it’s my favorite cover.
Simon V.: I like it.
S.D. Smith: It’s got kind of a rabbit-like leaping through the air-
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: … and firing a bow.
Simon V.: I like that one.
S.D. Smith: And it’s got a lightning strike behind it.
Simon V.: Which is superheroic.
S.D. Smith: Yeah, yeah. It’s like a hero shot. And for the first time in our relationship, he had not read the book, and so I was like, “Well, that looks awesome. Let’s do it and I’ll just write
that into the book because that’s not happening” Now we’re going to have rain and lightning. It happens so. That was a quick little tweak, but everything had to go really fast, so we just hustle, hustled, because we couldn’t have any delays or anything, from the printer, or anything, but we finally got it and we got it in time for Christmas and shipped it to people, and they got it probably a week before Christmas.
Simon V.: Wow.
S.D. Smith: It ended up being a great thing for us.
Simon V.: That’s really neat to hear that journey on these books. And we just recently had a gal in our course publish her first book and it took her 30 days to write the whole book. I think it was you know, it’s a 20-, 30,000-word. And, yeah, she just cranked it out. And it was just really cool to see that. I know that my perception of writing a book like two years ago was that it would take five years. Like the process was long, you know, weigh you down, and then we have these people taking our course and other people that I know that are writing and publishing books, that they’d crank out a book in 30 days. Or they’re like you, you’re like yeah, it took two or three months to do a 90,000-word book. Wow!
S.D. Smith: Yeah. I had the same kind of preconceived notions as you’ve had, and I think it does for some people. But it’s not always an indicator of quality either. I think some people
would be quick to say, it probably doesn’t have the quality, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. There are people in different life circumstances that have different things. I think a lot, for me, a lot of people, especially people who haven’t sort of taken a leap to share their work, I think sometimes we say that it’s about making it more excellent, but it might really be more about fear. And that’s a big problem that other people have, that I don’t have at all.
Simon V.: That’s funny.
S.D. Smith: That’s part of the war. When I was talking earlier, it’s not just about like, “Oh, it’s so hard to go type words.” That’s not hard. It can’t be hard if you’re sitting in the same position and you got to like take care of your body and all that stuff. It’s a war in your mind.
Simon V.: Oh, yeah. A lot of people that we talk to, they’re fearful of starting their book or the process of becoming an author, because they’re like, “Oh, I don’t think I’m a writer.” You
know or “I don’t think I have a story that’s worth sharing,” or, “I just don’t know if I have what it takes,” you know. “That dream of actually writing and publishing a book is just too far. It’s too far away.” It’s not a thing, but like, man, you sound like the people who I know who’ve already written books, and I’m sure that you have those same fears too. Right? I’m sure there are days where you’re like, “Man, I don’t know if I’m really a writer or not.” You have five books here.
S.D. Smith: Yeah, but the impostor syndrome thing never goes away.
Simon V.: Oh, man.
S.D. Smith: I don’t think for anybody and that’s another cliché, but yeah, but again, it’s like with writing, a lot of clichés are that way because they’re true. That happened. That’s absolutely 100%. And I think that’s kind of important thing for identity stuff.
S.D. Smith: I actually had a friend tell me this years ago. This was before when I was kind of hungry and looking forward to having a book out in the world with some, you know, I think I
had some ambition, I guess associated with that and some dreams about it. And he just basically said, “It doesn’t solve your problems when that happens.” And I found that to be so true. I don’t think it solves your problems.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: It’s not a really good anchor, for me anyway. I don’t feel that it’s a good anchor for my soul, for myself. My own journey is part of my identity and who I am in Jesus Christ. That’s my life. That’s who I am. And so this is something that I do, and It’s a part of me, and I love it, and it’s an expression, and for me, it’s also really related to love and service. If I’m just thinking about it as an avenue to become the famous wealthy, powerful, you know those kinds of things, which we all have that a little bit in us and-
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: … I don’t think you at all. And it’s like the end of the world, I want to be successful. I want to do a good job. I really want to be- We want to have affirmation, we want to have validation. I think all that’s fine and good. You also watch too many documentaries from like so-called sort of successful people to realize like they’re like, a lot of times they’re still hungry for the affirmation, for the validation, for the identity, and that kind of never goes away. It’s kind of a black hole. And if we fell in with the wrong thing, it’s never going to be satisfied.
Simon V.: Man.
S.D. Smith: I can’t remember why I got started talking about this, but-
Simon V.: No. It’s a good truth. A good reminder, because if you have a dream, which a lot of people that are listening to this, probably have a dream of becoming a published author. They have a story that they want to tell. And they think maybe if I become that or if I tell that story, then my life will be totally changed and there may be some change and you may have gotten a story off your back. The process of going through the writing may have helped you restore some relationships or forgive someone or it may have just given you some creative freedom or you may have made a lot of money on the book, but it’s not the end. It’s not the most fulfilling thing you’ll ever experience. Right? And so, I think that’s a great reminder. No matter how we got on that topic, I think it’s awesome.
S.D. Smith: Well, I think we were talking about fear.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: Like we were talking about the fear of, because if you’re setting all of your hope, and that, and you’re saying, “This is who I am and this is who I’ve always known I was going
to be. This is my identity. I’m an author and I’m meant to be famous or I’m meant to be successful in this.” And then, of course, that’s just like a big tool for resistance, to kind of say no, well you’re not ready yet. Of course, you’ll never be ready. That’s the smartest thing in the world, is if you do it, you got it do it stupid and scared as I think Seth Godin says, but it’s because you’re always going to have very rational reasons not to go ahead. To not to go forward and you’re always going to have very emotional reasons not to go ahead. Because, when you’re a kid, sometimes, anyway, when you’re very young, you have this kind of stupid confidence, because you haven’t had the crap beat out of you by the world yet. Which is what happens as an adult. So, an adult, you get old enough, you get smart enough, but now you’re scared because you’ve stuck your neck out in a world of swinging swords and you understand what that’s like, and you’ve been hurt, and so you got every reason not to do it. But, like a lot of other things, fear and intimidation can actually be indicators of things that we ought to do. A lot of things in life that are hard and scary that we ought to go forward and do anyway and I think that writing and sharing stories is one of those things.
Simon V.: Oh, man. That’s so good. I love that quote, start stupid and scared. I mean-
S.D. Smith: Yeah. I think Seth Godin said that. I think that’s his stuff. Yeah, I say it all the time to people, because I need it so bad.
Simon V.: Oh, my goodness, yeah. I was just telling my wife this. We were talking the other night. We were working through some opportunities in our life, and I was like, “You know, for
anything we’ve ever done, having kids, buying that house, moving to that city, starting that business, getting married, whatever it is, we’ve never felt ready.” You know what I mean? I think we were probably more ready than we thought we were and the fact that we did it, probably meant that we were actually ready, but we didn’t feel that way. And we had a lot of fears that held us back. We told ourselves lies and, even if you don’t feel ready, there’s really no better time to start than now.
S.D. Smith: Yeah. I think that’s so true. And sometimes you are more equipped than you know, and sometimes you’re less equipped than you know., as far as like, and that’s okay. You still should go.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: Because you can’t learn. It’s like marriage. A lot of people are just like yeah, we’re totally ready to be variable. They don’t know. They don’t know. They don’t know anything.
Simon V.: Right. You haven’t done it before
S.D. Smith: Right. You’re dumb. You’re a dumb kid, but you should still do it because it’s great. It’s making a new world. It’s just the most beautiful thing, you know. It’s this incredible story, but, you don’t know. You don’t know what you’re getting into. And if you did know, you know, you might- Any endeavors, like when you have kids, and of these worthwhile things. J.R. Tolkien said, “I’m dreading the publication for it will be impossible not to mind what is said. I’ve exposed my heart to be shot at.” Even someone like him could be kind of filled with fear about sharing what he shared, which I don’t think there’s too much better than what he did.
Simon V.: Oh, yeah. He should be fearless, right?
S.D. Smith: Right, right.
Simon V.: You got to see him. J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t have any fear. So, apparently, he did. It’s so interesting, you know as writers, you know, us, people who are writing books or who
have dreams to write books, we are stewards of story and story has this arc. Part of it is like the hero of the story, who can’t seem to get there on his own. Whatever it is, there’s an obstacle in the way that he cannot actually get there on his own. He can’t defeat the monster by himself. He can’t get through the forest by himself. He needs the help of someone else. And that’s just like a story. And so what I actually tell people a lot of times is, “You are living a story as an author. And you may try to write your book alone, and you may try to publish it alone, and do it all yourself and win the day, but at the end of the day, you need help. You need people to come alongside you and encourage you or to support you or to help you in some way, and you need someone to help guide you when you get lost because you’re going to get lost along the journey.
Simon V.: And so at Book Worthy, we try to do that. And that’s one of the reasons that we have our course. But, you know, you don’t have to have Book Worthy. Just have people around you to support you. So, tell me a little bit about you and your journey and what kind of people you pulled into your circle to help support you as you’ve written and published your books.
S.D. Smith: I think that’s really true what you said. I am powerful saying that what makes characters interesting are limits that Superman without Kryptonite is a boring story.
Simon V.: Oh, man.
S.D. Smith: And so I think, yeah, I think that seeing ourselves as a character in a story is an extremely powerful way. I don’t think actually, a truthful way to view what’s happening with us in the world. For me, yeah, a totally team, and it’s funny because , I think, in years past it might have been even truer, but the modern world is so hospitable to writers in a lot of ways, because of the connections and the tools, and sort of the dethroning of the powers of kind of New York and the big publishers, who have kind of lost their ability to sort of dominate, dictate on what happens, obviously has some good things too, and some bad side effects, but that’s reality now.
S.D. Smith: And I’m grateful for that because I’m in West Virginia, and you know, people don’t even know it’s a state, let alone, you know, a center for the culture, and arts, and commerce.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: So, to be able to do something like this in West Virginia and not leave. Our home is pretty powerful. I think, you think about it’s common to say what to look for is sort of your unfair advantage. What do you have? And I think what we all do have is unfair advantages. I think one of the key ones for me was being connected with Andrew Mackay. Who, as a kid, I met in Puerto Rico. His family were missionaries in Puerto Rico. My family were missionaries there too. I’d been in Africa. He’s from Canada. I’m from West Virginia and we sort of like met there. He married my sister. My brother married another Canadian, and just fantastic people, and Andrew is just this incredible guy who just seemed from a very early age was just really, really competent at sort of everything technical and anything to do with books. He was a book nerd and a music nerd, and we used to play music together. And so we had this dream for years. And he is just so competent.
S.D. Smith: So, a lot of people ask me, just how did you do this. How did you self-publish this book that’s so good? And that’s like, I feel like a fraud because I just have to quickly say,
almost even calling it self-publishing is not exactly fair, because I didn’t do much as far as he did. I mean, we do a lot. It was just us in the beginning. It was definitely a lot of work. But he did sort of all the publishing side, which is an advantage a lot of people don’t have. Other people have different advantages, but he was just great all along the way. He helped me so much. He more than helped—he sort of curated the whole experience for me and allowed me to focus on things that I was better at. You know, none of this would have happened without Zach Franzen. I think his art has given the books a doorway for people to enter. Because I see it and I wanna see what that’s about to it.
S.D. Smith: A lot of these things, I think the excellence of Andrew’s approach that we always wanted to make stuff that was as good or better than anything that came out of New York or-
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: We wanted everything, high, high-quality books, which when people would pick them up and they would not think, oh a couple guys from West Virginia did this. And we hear that all the time. I’m proud of that because it reflects well on what he’s done and what people that have come alongside me have done and my name’s on the cover and people give me a lot of credit and attention, and I am grateful for that, but I would be nowhere without that support.
Simon V.: That’s awesome.
S.D. Smith: We’ve had wonderful editors, wonderful friends who’ve come along and helped us at various stages. And we’ve had a lot of friends who advocated for the books outside.
People unlooked for as well. So, yeah, we have an incredible team. What you said about
having a team is really, really important. It is something that for me, that is not
something lively undertaken alone unless you are just one in a million.
Simon V.: Yeah. And like you were saying, I mean if you did try to do it all alone, and you didn’t have that support, where would you be today? Life would look a lot different for you.
S.D. Smith: 100%. I said that to Andrew the other day. We were talking about sort of how things were going and we’re just kind of scratching our heads saying I can’t believe this.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: I can’t believe what’s happened here. And I was just telling him, “Man, none of this happens without you.” Because my next smartest friend, would have been the person helping me with it, and that would have been an unbelievable drop-off, honestly, and I’ve got two smart friends, but no one like him.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: And so it’s just no one has the skill set that had. And so he just was somebody that was excellent at. So, yeah, I can imagine what it would have been like and it’s not pretty.
During last year, like quality is the best business plan and sometimes people who ask us, “Oh, you’re doing so great with your marketing.” This or that. And I’m always like, “Marketing? What are they talking about?” Especially in our early years. I can’t even part to do anything, let alone market. I don’t even know where to begin.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: But what was happening was is I think people were sharing it, and it was a lot of word of mouth and there was an impression that we were doing a great job with getting the
word out, because there must have been some kind of trick, but what I think what happened was, we had pretty good quality, and I think we had pretty good books. And they looked good and they felt good, and people were having a good experience with it. And no matter what else you plan as far as marketing or connection, if you don’t aim to have something that’s good quality, then it’s not going to work for one thing and that’s a lot less important than like, that it has value. And I think it’s generous too. I think it’s generous to make good, beautiful things-
Simon V.: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
S.D. Smith: …to share with people, because if you’re doing it out of love, and it’s not just like a gimmick to kind of make a quick buck or whatever, less noble, not that making money is not noble. It is, but if it’s just about that, I think you miss comparing the whole thing. It’s about loving somebody and serving somebody, I think that you care about the quality. Care about giving them something good.
Simon V.: I love that perspective. Yeah, you can’t go wrong when you’re doing that. Well, very good. I have one more question for you and I know it’s a question that a lot of the people who engage with us have is how do you make a living off of this? There are people that are engaging with us and that are probably listening right now that are wondering, “Is it possible to make money on my book? Is there a way that I can actually take what I’ve written, put it out in the world, and make some money? Make some side income for my family, some passive income? Or is it even possible to turn this into my career and what does that look like?” So, would you mind speaking into that a little bit?
S.D. Smith: Yeah, I’d love to. I don’t feel super qualified and I’ll tell you why. I think it’s because everyone’s journey is so unique and that’s something that you’ll read a lot as you’re an aspiring author or if you’re an author. You read that, that it’s hard to duplicate. The way I know to do it is, well, doing everything exactly the way I did . . . which is impossible. Which was like grow up in West Virginia in the hills. Don’t read any books until you’re 16, 17-years old. Then start reading a lot, but don’t write for a long time. You know, fail at music, live in Africa for a long time. Meet a kid from Canada and Puerto Rico who turns out to be a genius, who can help you. You can’t do what I did.
Simon V.: Right.
S.D. Smith: Yeah. You have to do your own journey and so I don’t know what it looks like for you to become a full-time author. I know that what it looks like for me right now. There’s
probably some relatable things. I do think that caring about quality matters a whole lot, and I think generosity. Again, things we talked about earlier, like not finding your own identity sort of, and the side effects of doing something amazing. Like the side effects of doing something amazing might be fame or money or whatever, influence. Whatever it is kind of things, but those are side effects.
S.D. Smith: That’s not the thing. That’s the burp after the meal. That’s not the meal, you know. Like worry about the meal. Make something amazing and don’t put a cage around it. I think that’s a really important thing. If you work your butt off to make an incredible meal, and you’ve worked hard, don’t serve it on the table with a big cage around it. You know, get that cage out of there. Remove obstacles. That’s basically our entire marketing plan, is remove obstacles. Because we’re not interested in tricking people into accidentally buying our stuff.
Simon V.: Right.
S.D. Smith: We want to get people who really want our stuff. And all our stuff is like the hard way, and someone calls it the long-cut. The short-cut doesn’t work. So, take the long-cut and do the work. Like there’s no other way. So, I think if you’re thinking like, “How do I make a living at this?” – Like that might be the wrong first question to ask. The first question might be like, “How do I give people something that’s incredible. And then I think the other things can kind of work out. It’s a dangerous trap to use that as the sole measure of success. I’ll just tell you what I did, which is, I wanted that from the beginning. I wanted to be a full-time author. I wanted to do that. And that was a definite aspiration for me, but I was trying to hold it kind of loosely. I tried not to think of that as an entitlement that was coming to me.
S.D. Smith: I tried to think of it as a dream, a goal that I was willing to work hard to go towards. And also, not have my identity in as far as like contentment. So, I was trying to say, I’m just going to work really hard, and I’m going to go for it because, you know, why not? Swing for the fences. I want to go. I’m going to try to hit a home run. Every time I get up to bat, I’m going to go for it, but when that ball just loops over the second baseman’s head and I run, run, run, run, run my guts out to try to get to first, so I can get a single, I’m just going to be content.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: And I want to say, “Hey, I’m on first.” That’s good. And that happened first, you know, and started getting some doubles and where ever you are, like now, there’s no place of arrival for me. It’s like I’m getting a chance to do this full-time, right now.
Simon V.: Right.
S.D. Smith: But that’s going to take hard work and you know luck/blessings, however, you want to look at that and to be able to keep doing this. And I’m really grateful for that. But I guess I started getting an orientation of saying, you know, the Lord knows my heart and this is what I want to do. I’d love to do this full-time. I enjoy this. I think it would be good for kids. I think it would be good for the world if I could do this more. I know you don’t need me to do it. I know that I’m not essential. Charles de Gaulle said that the graveyards are full of indispensable men.
Simon V.: Wow.
S.D. Smith: And that’s how I feel. I’m definitely dispensable, but I want to do it and I’m eager and I’m ready to work hard. So, I kind of had it in my head that’s how I want it to be a goal,
but it can’t be this all-consuming kind of a thing. Again, people want to hear is, “Well what you do first is you get a blog and you got to figure how to use Facebook’s boost posts. And you need to learn-.” And of course, that stuff comes-
Simon V.: Sure
S.D. Smith: … and is part of it, but I think it’s about being. This is advice that Zach Franzen gave. He talked about like artists and writers are like wanting to seem like it’s a very attractive
thing to kind of want to seem like an artist. Like to get the right kind of bag, or the right kind of haircut, or the right kind of cool tattoo, or the right glasses, or, you know, get the right look, or get the writer’s shed, you know, to do all the ‘seeming’ things. And what’s better than seeming is being, and what happens sometimes when you ‘be,’ when you are being something is that you also seem like it at some point. But like you care less about the seeming and you care more about the being, and that’s that long-cut. Like, do the work.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: Like get stuck in. Again, like if you’ve played any sports or anything like you win the championship, then practice. You know the way everybody else sees the books and the
books, and the best-seller and that kind of thing, but they don’t see the fact that you just worked your tail off and you were willing to take those extra steps to lift those weights, to run those sprints, to do that really, really hard work, and to sacrifice, and it is a war.
S.D. Smith: So I think if you want to do it, then I think it’s a great thing to go for. I think it doesn’t happen for very many people because it’s super, super hard.
Simon V.: Yeah.
S.D. Smith: And there are so many different ways it can happen, and I would not discourage anyone from going for it. I would discourage people from feeling like it’s an entitlement. You probably heard that Cal Newport has a book by this title and he talks about the Steve Martin interview, where Steve Martin is asked, “How do you succeed?” Steve Martin says, “People don’t listen to my real advice.” What they want to know is how do you get an agent, how do you write a script, how do you do this kind of a thing. What they want to know is short-cut kind of a stuff.
S.D. Smith: He says, the only advice I can give you is “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” And I think that’s a good place to start. That’s something you can control. You can keep getting
better and you can work on quality. And you can work on love and service. And you can get better. And you can get compassionate. And you can pull yourself into making something so amazing that people, they don’t want to let you do your other job anymore. Because they want to say, “Here, here, I want you to do this.”
S.D. Smith: So, ignore the short-cuts. Take the long-cuts. Do the work. Hustle. And have your identity wrapped up in more than just what it seems like to be, you know, the famous authors.
Simon V.: Thank you. I think that was an incredible answer and an incredible encouragement to our listeners, Sam. So, thank you. Thank you for that and for perspective. And, yeah, and
just, man, thank you for an honest and authentic and encouraging interview. This is really great. Great to hear from you and great to hear your story and get an inside look at what it looks like in the whole journey to starting out and all the fears and to where you are now, even all the fears in that. Well, I think I know that our listeners will really resonate with everything you said. So thank you so much.
S.D. Smith: My pleasure. I guess I’m really grateful for you having me on here. I’m excited about what’s going to be happening in the lives of the kind of people who listen to stuff like this. I hope that what we have talked about has served them some and I’m excited to see what they create.
Simon V.: Well, I know it has. I know it has. So, tell us- I know there are people listening, who want to learn more about you. They are interested in your books for their children, or they’re interested in your books because they’re going to be writing one just like it. So, where can our listeners find you, learn more about you, meet you, buy your books, whatever, where can they go?
S.D. Smith: I’m easy to find online at just sdsmith.net is my website and if you just search “S.D. Smith” or The Green Ember, I pretty easy to find. I’m on Facebook and Instagram, too. If people want to follow me there, I’d like people to sign up for my newsletter, so they can kind of stay in touch there, if that’s something people want to do. If you sign up for my newsletter, you can get one of my books for free.
Simon V.: There you go. Well, if you’re still listening, you heard it. Go to sdsmith.net and sign up for the newsletter and get a book for free. Sam, I’ll add that to the show notes, so that anybody can find it easily. Man, again, appreciated the conversation. It was really great to hear your story and I’m inspired and I know our readers are too. So, thank you so much.
S.D. Smith: Thank you, Simon.
Simon Villeneuve is the Co-Founder of BookWorthy.com. He's also a marketing consultant who helps organizations tell a better story that inspires their customers to action.MORE ARTICLES