Write the Damn Book Already

Ep: 68: Creating Companion Journals for Your Book

December 20, 2023 Elizabeth Lyons
Write the Damn Book Already
Ep: 68: Creating Companion Journals for Your Book
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Interested in creating a companion journal or workbook to complement your book?

In this episode of the Write the Damn Book Already podcast, I dive into the true cost and labor involved in creating a companion guide (don't panic; I have multiple solutions!) as well as the importance of a ready-made audience before heading down this route.

To be clear, creating a companion guide isn't a magic bullet for low book sales (nothing is besides consistent marketing), but it can be a powerful tool if incorporated properly.

To that end, I also explore the world of digital products for authors, from customizable templates to selling on platforms like Etsy or Shopify. Plus, you'll discover why printed digital products are rapidly gaining popularity as physical journals. Whether you're a seasoned author or newly published (or soon-to-be-published), this episode will guide you in both creating and marketing your companion journals and workbooks without losing your mind.

RESOURCES MENTIONED

Just Leaves by Lauren Best 

Ditching the Dream by Bethany Clemenson

Ditching the Dream Companion Journal by Bethany Clemenson


FAVORITE WRITING PODCASTS

The Shit No One Tells You About Writing

Helping Writers Become Authors

On Writing

The Creative Penn 


PODCASTS THAT HELP ME WRITE

Smartless with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett

Wiser Than Me with Julia Louis-Dreyfus


2024 PODCAST PLANNERS FOR BOOK LOVERS AND AUTHORS

2024 Podcast Planner - printable

2024 Podcast Planner - digital

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Get 15% off your first box by visiting GoodGuygiene.com and using code writethedamnbook at checkout. 

Write the Damn Book Already is a weekly podcast featuring interviews with authors as well as updates and insights on writing craft and the publishing industry.

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Write the Damn Book Already podcast. My name is Elizabeth Lyons. I'm a six-time author and book editor, and I help people write and publish powerful, thought-provoking, wildly entertaining books without any more overthinking, second guessing or overwhelm than absolutely necessary. Because, let's face it, some overthinking, second guessing and overwhelm is going to come with the territory. If you're anything like me, I believe that story and shared perspective are two of the most potent ways we connect with one another, and that your story, perspective and insights are destined to become someone else's favorite resource or pastime. For more bookwriting and publishing tips and solutions, oh and plenty of free and low-cost resources, visit PublishAProfitableBookcom and for recommendations of fabulous books. You've possibly never heard of bookwriting inspiration and the occasional meme so relatable. You'll wonder if it was created with you in mind. Follow me on Instagram at Elizabeth Lyons. Author. Hello and welcome to episode 68 of Write the Damn Book Already.

Speaker 1:

As I've mentioned before, I'm starting to do some Q&A and I got a great, actually series of cues this past week from Lauren Best, who is the author of Just Leaves, which is a book of poetry. It's available on Amazon, so I'm going to go ahead and link it in the show notes If you haven't heard about it or really enjoy books of poetry. I invite you to check it out. Lauren's question has to do with creating a companion journal or workbook. She was wondering if I had any thoughts on doing this, and I most definitely do. Most of my authors, especially those who are writing books that are intended to help people with what they help people with on the day to day so therapists, life coaches, nutrition coaches, like all those sorts of things have, almost across the board, asked about creating some sort of a companion journal or workbook, and a lot of the authors with whom I've worked to have written spiritual books or books that have a spiritual guidance theme have asked the same thing how do I do this? One of my authors, bethany Clementson, who wrote the book Ditching the Dream last year, actually released a companion journal slash workbook. It's available on Amazon so you can check it out. I'll put the link in the show notes just to see what it looks like how she went about it, and I encourage you actually to order the book and the workbook, because the book is absolutely fantastic for anyone who is at that point in their life where they're starting to realize that maybe they have adopted the dream that other people had for them or that they thought that they should have for themselves, and now they're wanting to do things their way and live the rest of their life on their terms.

Speaker 1:

But here are my thoughts on companion journals and workbooks. Number one they're great. I love a great journal.

Speaker 1:

They're not as easy to put together, however, as a paperback or an ebook, and there are a lot of different reasons for that. For one thing, a lot of people, when they want a journal specifically, or a workbook, they're looking for a very specific format. They want something like they find at their local bookshop where it's hardbound and it's got a little marker, a ribbon that can go through it and mark your spot, or there are several edged pages or decal edged pages fancy stuff. That is where you're getting into pretty expensive territory, because something like Amazon print on demand or Ingram Spark print on demand cannot print at that level on demand. It has to be an offset print run, which you would need to do either via an offset printer here in the States or in many cases people take those overseas because the cost is significantly better, even after shipping back into the States. So that's kind of at the highest possible end, you'd need to order a large quantity in order to make it worth your while, to be able to make a decent profit on each individual sale.

Speaker 1:

And then, of course, you've got the distribution issue. So if you don't have a ready, eager audience, and a big one at that, you're dealing with having to ship them all to you and then ship them out, which of course comes with a shipping cost. So are you going to charge that to your consumer, to your reader, or are you going to bake it into the price? There are a lot of different ways to go about it, but either way, the labor associated with it is pretty big, and so for most people who end up going that route, it's because they have a very big and engaged audience and they also have help. They have an assistant or two who can help package and ship and address and all those things. And really, yes, you can also get an Amazon FBA account fulfilled by Amazon and you can pay your $40 or whatever. It is now a month to have that account. You ship all the books to Amazon and they ship them for you, but that's obviously an extra fee and then you're charged in either case. In any case, you're charged with having to market the thing, which sort of leads me to my next thought about journals and workbooks.

Speaker 1:

If you do not have a ready-made audience for a journal and or a workbook and your actual book is not selling as well as you would like, the solution is not to create a companion guide. It's a very similar train of thought to well, my ebook slash paperback isn't selling as well as I wish it would, so the solution is to create an audio book. That is not the solution. You will have just as much trouble with the audio, with that next thing that you create, getting it out there, as you did with the first two. So, a companion journal really, the name is almost ironic because it should be as a companion to something that's already doing well, however, you define well.

Speaker 1:

Now, one thing that's tricky whenever you decide to get into the world of creating this is that when you create such a thing on print on demand, if you say I'm not gonna go with the offset option, I'm gonna bypass that. It's too expensive, it's too laborious or all of the above. I just wanna create something that can be print on demand, let's say through Amazon. One thing that you have to remember is Amazon can only do perfect bound, which is the type of binding where the pages are glued into the spine. There's no spiral bound, there is hardback, but it's still kind of that. It's not perfect bound but everything is still glued into the interior. So you don't have quite the same feeling as you get from many journals that allow them to lay flat. You're just not going to have that.

Speaker 1:

One solution that people employ and I think Bethany may have done this is they make their journal or their companion workbook a little bit bigger, so it's more of a nine by 12 or an eight by 11 size than, say, a five by eight or a six by nine, and that allows the reader to kind of flatten it out a little bit in the spine and make it a little easier to work with and in. If the user is expected to do a lot of writing in the book, I heavily recommend that you do an unlined workbook or journal If you have prompts at the top of the page or you have a prompt at the top and a prompt at the middle and you just leave space for them to write. Historically, when we create lines, even if we do it in a print ready PDF and we upload those to KDP for print, they don't end up coming out well, there are just these little glitches that happen in the printing and it doesn't look good. The other thing is everyone's handwriting. Everyone writes differently. Some people like to sketch or doodle as opposed to actually write. So my personal opinion and maybe this is just because I am a big fan of blank journals, because I want to be able to write how I write I don't want to be restricted based on having lines, and I think in our brain, when we're thinking about creating a journal, we think, okay, let's have lines where they can write their answers or their thoughts. But for most of us, when we're participating with a journal or a workbook, we don't need those. They tend to be distracting and limiting. So I say remove those across the board, unless you're doing them with an offset printer. You're completely married to the idea of having lines and you can guarantee, or the printer can guarantee, that they will look crisp and be able to flow well throughout the entire. You know all the material.

Speaker 1:

Here's sort of a new approach that I've been toying with and I've seen a lot of other people toying with when it comes to workbooks and journals, and that is, instead of printing them and having them for sale through Amazon or on your own as really a separate product, because that's what it is Create a digital journal or a digital workbook, and there are a couple of different ways you can do this. I mean, obviously, if you've been listening to me for a while, you know I'm completely obsessed with Canva and if Canva goes anywhere, I am completely hosed. But you can create a digital journal that the user can then print, so you can create print-ready PDFs in Canva. You would sell the template or sell the PDF and then they would print it either from their home printer or they can send it off to Staples or some other outsourced printer who can print it and bind it. They can spiral, bind it. I'm sure they can do other things with it and that allows a degree of customization, not only on the part of the user, because they can have it bound however they prefer but it also allows for a higher profit margin for you. Even if you create a workbook or a journal and you sell it through Amazon, you're still going to have, on average, your three, four, maybe five, maybe $6 profit margin maybe, but you could sell a printable journal or workbook for, say, $7 or $8. There's no middleman, there's no actual physical product that has to touch anything, and then once they purchase that for you know, $7 or $8, they get to decide. Well, I can print it out on my home computer for free or I can have it bound, however I want, at my local printer.

Speaker 1:

Going off of that, another option is to create a template, and I've done this recently. Actually, I've got my podcast planners for 2024 for authors and book lovers who are also podcast hosts. There is a planner that is. There's one that's printable and that one is customizable. So it's actually a template. It is not a template that people can buy and then resell, but it is a template that they can buy and customize. If they don't like the colors of it, they can change the colors, they can change the fonts, they can change out the order of it, they can change out questions or if they want to chart their podcast success air quotes around success in a particular way, they can change out the metrics. They can really customize it for them and then print it or have it printed. So that's one option.

Speaker 1:

The other option is for my 2024 planner for podcast hosts. It's a PDF that I sell everything's available over on my Etsy shop, which I will link in the comments, and I'll tell you why I love Etsy for this in a second. Actually, because people have very different feelings about Etsy and a lot of people still think of it as a place just handmade goods, and it's really expanded. But that is. I sell it as a PDF, so it's not changeable. Unless someone has Adobe and can actually get in there and manipulate the PDF, then they could change it if they wanted to customize it. But essentially they're buying the full. It's a PDF that you download as a PDF but then you upload it to your digital planner. So good notes or notability are examples of very well known and heavily used digital planner apps that people have on their iPads or other tablets. Once you upload it to that, you have the ability to write in it with a pen, like I have a whatever you call it the pen that goes with my iPad, so I can easily write in my calendar what's going on, what I'm doing, who I'm interviewing, what the book is, where the links are, all those sorts of things, and then, if you wanted to, you can print from there as well, if you're printing out your weekly schedule or you know whatever you want to do. So I'm starting to.

Speaker 1:

I love let me be clear, I love a great physical journal. They're all over my house. I mean, I have a journal for business ideas, I have a journal for breakdowns, I have a journal for planning Like I have all the journals and I love it. Sometimes, though, when we're thinking about so, if you're really married to that idea, there are ways to go about it. Some of them are just a much more expensive upfront and b much more labor intensive through the course of it, and I just don't want anyone to think that the magic bullet cause you know I there aren't any. That's my firm belief is oh well, if I put a journal or a companion workbook with it now, all of a sudden it's going to sell better or this is going to get the attention because I've. I don't believe that that's the case. So those are some of my ideas on companion journals and workbooks.

Speaker 1:

And when it comes to Etsy, something that I learned recently was different. All states are different when it comes to collecting sales tax on digital products, but I live in Arizona and in Arizona were required to collect sales tax on digital products. So if I were to sell these from my website I use Kajabi for my website, so it's not Shopify, it's not Etsy I would have to collect sales tax on those sales and then remit that sales tax to the state. And that just is like just saying that out loud makes me want to go have to take a nap. Both Etsy and Shopify if you have been looking into Shopify at all both of those sites do that remittance for you. They actually will charge whatever needs to be charged, based on the state you live in, based on the state your customer lives in, and then they will remit that they are basically paying the tax for them, like they're charging the customer the tax and then paying it. So the tax payment is coming to Arizona from Etsy, not from me, and just takes that away.

Speaker 1:

So that made the decision very easy for me to just put my digital products up in my Etsy shop with my author apparel and such things, as opposed to selling them right off my website. I have links on my website that take people to my Etsy shop, but I'm not actually doing the selling on my website and there are other things that come into play. There are certain states where you have to sell. It's called Nexus. You have to sell a certain amount of digital products, a certain dollar amount, before the sales tax kicks in. It is extremely complicated and I didn't want to get into it, so I thought I'll let Etsy take care of that. I know a lot of people who let Shopify take care of that. Either way, it's fine, but I'm curious to see I didn't realize, because I'm really not a buy it and print it out person. I know a lot of people.

Speaker 1:

When I've been in masterminds or coaching programs in the past and we get a big PDF of worksheets, I tend to just print out the ones that I want to work on and work on them, or I do them in Adobe and I fill them in if that is an option on my laptop. I know a lot of people. I've been incredibly surprised over the years by how many people send that PDF file to Staples or someplace similar and have it bound and they just work through it. So even though that's not necessarily my practice, it is the practice of a lot of people. Time holds true. With digital calendars, which I never thought I would be into, digital planners, I'm a very much paper and pen girl. Still, when it comes to planning, I've posted notes everywhere, but when I downloaded this GoodNotes app, I kind of became an addict with these digital planners, because they sync up on all my devices and I can just easily see what I'm doing and brainstorming and all of that. So it just depends on, I guess, personality both yours and your end readers or end users and what makes sense for everybody. So those are my thoughts on companion journals, companion workbooks.

Speaker 1:

If you have a question about that that I didn't answer, just email me, elizabeth, at ElizabethLionscom and ask that's, or DM me on Instagram. This is where I'm getting all these questions. So another question was what are some writer based podcasts that I, elizabeth, love listening to? What a great question. Here are my answers. There are four. I don't subscribe to quadrillions of them because I just don't, but there are four that I really, really love. The number one of these, because I've been listening to it for years and years and years, is the shit.

Speaker 1:

No one tells you about writing with Cece Lyra, carly Waters and Bianca Moret. They have a lot of variety on there. They do a lot of quarry. I can't remember right now what they call them, but people submit their quarry letters and they critique the quarry letters, so they let everyone know, including the person who wrote it, what works for them as an agent and they're very clear about look, this is me as an agent. This is not me saying across the board this won't work for another prospective agent, but they really helped to shed light on the way a quarry letter needs to be structured when it's getting too wordy, what people are including that isn't necessary. What people aren't including that is necessary all those sorts of things. And then they also for people where they have requested the first five pages, or people have submitted the first five pages. They'll give a critique of that too, which I think is just great.

Speaker 1:

The podcast is really an incredible wealth of information and each of those individuals is great to follow on social media because they all do the same thing but different things and they have different perspectives, and it's fun actually to listen to the podcast and to listen to two different agents have two completely different reactions to a quarry or to the first five pages of a manuscript. That's actually fun because it just is a reminder that there's no right way or wrong way and if you're in the agent, if you're in the market for an agent. You're looking for the agent who best is attracted to what you're doing and vice versa, right, where you guys just get along well and have the same viewpoint on where this book is going and what you want it to do. So that's my first one. The second one that I really like is called helping writers become authors. It's got a lot of really great information. I find that it's kind of bite size, it's not overwhelming. The third is called on writing and that's actually by the East Coast Division of Writers Guild of America. I don't want to say it's a little more academic because that's not true, but it's a little more industry specific, which I enjoy and appreciate.

Speaker 1:

And the fourth one is the creative pen, which is hosted by Joanna Penn, who is an incredibly prolific author. She's written not only her own books but she's written a large number of books about writing and publishing and marketing books. That podcast I appreciate and enjoy because it's self-publishing specific. That's what Joanna's done all of her career. She's incredibly ingratiated in the world of self-publishing, in the world of writers, all of it. She gives a really well-rounded perspective and thoughts on all the latest happenings in the publishing world, but very specific to the self-publishing world.

Speaker 1:

The other thing I want to say about podcasts, though, is that there are two podcasts specifically. I'm a big believer that a lot of the writing happens when we're not writing when we're driving, when we're in the shower, when we're gardening, when we're taking out the trash, when we're at a soccer game for our kids that this is when the ideas tend to come, because we're not forcing them. The same is true about podcasts. There are certain podcasts that I listen to that are not about the art or the craft of writing per se or the industry of publishing, but they spark thoughts in me and they spark ideas, and they honestly get my butt in the chair more often than not.

Speaker 1:

The first one I thought so many people would have heard of this. It was just ranked one of the top 10 new best, most hilarious, I mean almost in every category. It feels like podcasts of the year, but I'm still surprised that people haven't heard of it, and it's wiser than me. It's hosted by Julia Louis-Dreyfus from Seinfeld fame, elaine, and she interviews predominantly I think it's all women so far, but who are older than she is. There was Jane Fonda was first, I believe, isabel Allende. I love Isabel Allende because she's an author and I've been reading her for years and it was really just so fun to hear her personality and her journey as an author. I love that podcast.

Speaker 1:

I have a listen if you haven't already, and the other, which has nothing to do with writing and I can almost guarantee you've heard of it, but if you haven't I'm going to be so thrilled to introduce you to it is Smartless. Smartless is hosted by Jason Bateman, sean Hayes and Will Arnett and, honestly, the three of them are hysterical. Of course, but when they bring in their different people and it's just all kinds of different people they bring on as guests I don't know why, but between laughing and laughing, there are these little insights that get dropped. I don't even think it's intentional, but they just speak to me and it'll spark something. Either it's something I've wanted to talk about, or it's an idea for dialogue, or for a character or for a I don't know where something's going to happen, or a quote. I don't even know it. Just it does it every single time.

Speaker 1:

If you haven't checked out Wiser Than Me and or Smartless, I'm going to drop those in the show notes as well, so that you can check those out and subscribe. That wraps up this week's Q&A. Again, feel free to send any and all of your questions over via email or Instagram. Next week we'll be back to author interviews, at least for a week or two, but I love this side of the podcast because some of your questions get me thinking about my answers to your questions. So thanks so much for listening and I will talk to you again next week. Thank you so much for tuning in. If you enjoyed this episode, this is your friendly reminder to follow or subscribe, leave a quick review and share it with someone you know has a great story or message but isn't sure what to do next. Also, remember to check out publishaprofitablebookcom for book writing resources and tips and to see all the ways we can work together to get your book out into the world. Again, thanks so much for listening and I'll talk with you again soon.

Creating Companion Journals for Books
Customizable Planners and Selling on Etsy