Note: I’m pleased to feature this interview with author Joshua Fields Millburn as part of the Winning Edits Expert Interview Series.
Millburn left his corporate career at age 30 to become a full-time author and writing instructor. His essays at TheMinimalists.com have garnered an audience of more than 100,000 monthly readers. Millburn is also the bestselling author of two fiction and two nonfiction books and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, NPR Radio, NBC, FOX, and Zen Habits.
He was born in 1981 and currently lives in Dayton, Ohio. Read more at his website, JoshuaFieldsMillburn.com.
Matt Gartland: You left your corporate career at 30 to become a full-time author. What were your biggest doubts when you crossed that threshold, and how did you overcome them?
Joshua Fields Millburn: The hardest thing for me to overcome was changing my identity. I had so much of myself tied up in my job title. It’s the first question we tend to ask people: “What do you do?” So, for me, I had a great, impressive soundbite answer: “I’m a Regional Manager.” The problem was that that title didn’t make me happy, it didn’t fulfill me or satisfy me. To change my identity, I started answering the question differently. I started telling people what I was passionate about–”I’m passionate about writing”–instead of what my title was. I did this for a year and I no longer felt so wrapped up in my job title.
MG: What have you discovered works best when it comes to effective book marketing? How do you promote and engage in a manner that isn’t perceived as sleazy or pushy?
JFM: I find that the best way to market a product is to add value to your readership. No matter the size, if your readers find value in what you do (often via your free work), they will support your pay work. The key is adding more value than what you charge. Everything else–blog, social media, etc.–is just a vehicle to add value.
MG: You offer a premium writing course, How to Write Better. How significant is this course as a part of your full business model? And what other author revenue streams have you built into your model to balance everything out?
JFM: My quarterly writing class is a significant chunk of our revenue at The Minimalists. There are two main ways we make money: books and services.
We’ve self-published four bestselling books and we offer two services (writing class and private mentoring). We also take on some speaking gigs, which I’d consider a service. I’ve been fortunate to have the spring and summer writing classes sell out (and the fall class is filling up), but that’s because I make sure people find immense value in the class. I require a lot from my students, but they benefit immensely from the class. Students range from teenagers to PhD’s, fiction writers to businessmen, and everyone in-between.
Ryan and I also started a publishing community called Asymmetrical with our friends Colin Wright and Thom Chambers. Asymmetrical is an indie publishing house and an online home full of people–bloggers, fiction authors, photographers, poets, and other creative types–looking to up their publishing game, learn from each other, and share what they already know. Although money wasn’t the reason we started Asymmetrical, the Press side of that business will begin to yield some revenue by the end of the year.
MG: Your work has been featured by some impressive news/media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and NPR. How important have those opportunities been to growing your audience of loyal readers? Has their value been more for credibility-building, and/or did they have a direct impact on the growth of your audience size?
JFM: Those things are hit or miss in terms of traffic. Sometimes, a ton of people show up from a big press appearance; sometimes, no one shows up. In the short term, those things can help traffic; long term, they help with initial credibility, which is great but doesn’t mean much if people don’t find value in whatever you’re doing. Some of our best traffic drivers have been small things that spread organically throughout the net, and our best traffic comes from our readers—the ones who are willing to share our work with friends and family and via social media.
MG: What’s the #1 piece of actionable advice you’d give to an early-stage author entrepreneur seeking to make an honest, comfortable living with their books and words?
JFM: Add value first. Don’t worry about anything else (a publishing deal, traffic, marketing, stats). Unless you add value, everything else is worthless.