This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain discuss the benefits of participating in five-day challenges as an author.



Crys: Hello and welcome to The Author Life Community podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost…

J: J Thorn

Crys: What’s been going on this week, sir?

J: Lots of fun stuff. What have you been working on?

Crys: I have been working on, one, organization. My brain has been in organization mode. So I’ve been bugging you for a bunch of like information and schedules so that we can get a yearly picture. Because we’re getting into the point where events are starting to happen, family vacations, all those good things.

I also have started plunking away at the next romance with my co-writer. We’re just throwing a few hundred words on it when we have energy. It doesn’t have to be done until the end of next month, but we’d love to get it done this month. We’ll see. And a little bit on a fantasy project. So just bits here and there.

And my most exciting news of the week is that I started my kid in afterschool program so I get two hours extra a day. And he’s really happy with it. He’s the oldest one in their group of five kids, so he says, “I help babysit.” I’m like, if that makes you happy with it, kiddo, and you get this big brother thing of being an only kid, I’m for it.

One of the exciting things you’re doing is you have been preparing for this five-day challenge, which you’ve done a couple of them with the community before. The first one you did was Supercharge Your Scene, and making your scenes more powerful, more fluid, stronger. My brain is going blank on what the second one was.

J: It was Plot a Novel, right before NaNoWriMo.

Crys: Right, Plot a Novel right before NaNoWriMo. And then this one, your How to Write a Book, which is about how to write a how-to book. And so my question this week was: how can five-day challenges be useful for writers? And we don’t just use them for writing. Is it Brian Cohen that has it for ads?

J: He has done one for AMS ads, yeah.

Crys: Yeah. And this seems like such a short period of time. How is doing something for five days useful for writers?

J: Yeah. I love five-day challenges. They really have a long history, if you look back like mostly in health and wellness or exercise and fitness, five-day or 30-day challenges/diets are great. Bigger picture, what’s great about a challenge is it accomplishes several things. It allows you to restart. So if you’ve fallen off some wagon and you want to get back on, a five-day challenge is a good way to do that because you’re doing it in a cohort. Like you’re doing it with other people. And so there’s support there. So it’s good for that.

It’s good for trying something new. So if you don’t know about something and you want a little taste of it but you don’t want to make a long commitment, especially in writing, writing a book is a big commitment, by doing a five-day challenge you get a taste of what that experience is, but you don’t have to commit a ton of time to it.

It’s also great for people who work well in cohorts, and so whether that is group learning, whether that is shared writing rooms. There are a lot of people who function really well when they have a purpose that’s common to other people. And I’ve noticed this behavior in writers. I don’t necessarily have it myself, but I’ve noticed it’s quite popular.

Challenges are great. And they really get you off the starting blocks. And depending on the challenge, you also get the mentorship and guidance of the person running it. So if you like and respect the person who’s running the challenge, you’re probably gonna learn a lot about what it is they have to teach.

I will say from my side from running a challenge, it is a shitload of work. I was trying to choose my word properly. And so folks who offer a free five-day challenge, they’ve got to really like it. Like they have to really be into it and really care about it and care about the people who are doing it. It’s not something you can half ass. And so I think that’s also a really nice benefit for attendees to challenges is that in 99% of the cases, you’re getting someone who’s prepared and enthusiastic and excited to help you grow.

Crys: One of the things I really like about how you do this, as someone who runs it, is that you use organizing the challenge to further a personal project along. So with Supercharge Your Scene, you used that to write the framework for how to write a book on how to write stronger scenes.

J: Yeah, we’re going super meta here. I’m using the how-to book challenge to create a how to write how-to books book. Yes.

Crys: The SEO on this is complicated.

J: This transcript, people are gonna be like what the hell are they talking about?

I think this is a lesson that I really learned from Joanna, she’s a master at this, which is repurposing and reusing and being smart about your IP. It takes a lot of time and a lot of energy to create IP and you got to squeeze every drop out of it. So I’ve learned, and this is going to be part of the how-to challenge, is that I’ve learned if I can use a challenge to then create a book and then a course and/or a cohort.

So if you’re in a teaching space of some kind, or if you’re a coach of some kind, even within writing or not, like doing a challenge is a great way to conceptualize what you’re trying to teach because you always learn better when you teach something. When you have to explain what you think to somebody else, it clarifies your own thinking. So like right now I’m sitting here thinking I know exactly how I can teach someone how to write a how-to book, but I’m gonna know a whole lot better when this challenge is over.

So what it’s designed to do from a pure marketing standpoint, is we want to bring more people into the community and this is a great way to do that. They’ll get to know me, they’ll get to know us, and they’ll feel more comfortable joining the community and know what it’s about.

Selfishly, it serves me too. It helps me to clarify my thoughts, and I really see, especially in the craft space, I see these challenges as the germination for the books that I want to write in the craft space.

Crys: Now, a well-crafted five-day challenge has a specific success marker. For the Supercharge Your Scene, you had a really strong scene at the end cause you’re only focusing on that one scene the entire week. With the Plot a Novel, you ended up with a full novel plot at the end of five days. I don’t expect that anyone will end up with a completed 30,000 plus word book at the end of the how-to challenge, so what’s the success marker for this one?

J: This one is going to be a completed worksheet, and that sounds very tactical. But the worksheet is designed so that you have your most important chapter written, your chapter one, and you have a brainstorm list of table of contents ideas for the rest of the book. And because this is the first nonfiction challenge, and it is strictly non-fiction, non-fiction is written and sold differently than fiction. Especially when you look at trad-pub, like in trad-pub you’re selling a proposal, you’re not writing the non-fiction book ahead of time.

So what this challenge is designed to do is to give you the core of what you need to either write the book and self-publish it, or to take the worksheet and use that as the foundation for your proposal. But either way, it’s supposed to set you up so that, first of all, what it is you want to teach someone how to do, you will have an opportunity to test that in front of real people. And then you will have a basic structure in place, as I said, to either write the book or to write the proposal.

So it does have a definitive success marker as well. And I think that’s a really important aspect, it’s a critical component of any five-day challenge, is you need a measurable outcome of some kind. Otherwise people don’t know whether or not they “won the challenge.” And so that’s a really important piece that’s got to be in there.

Crys: I will also point out to folks that this is the one time every year or two, that you can find J on Facebook. I suspect that at some point like discord or something will become common enough among everybody that you’ll be able to not do Facebook. But Facebook right now is just where people are used to doing these kinds of group things.

J: Exactly. And I’m not so egotistical that I’m going to force people to fit into my toolbox. So I do realize that a lot of authors are socializing or spending time on Facebook. I don’t, it’s been two years. I logged in and my old picture was there, there were like messages. So I’m like well, I gotta change a picture. Then as soon as I do that, people start commenting. And I’m like, no, no, I’m not back, I’m not back. I have to ignore all those, like purposely ignore those, because I don’t want to encourage engagement because I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook. But you’re right, that’s where authors are.

So part of the challenge is creating a private Facebook group that people ask to join. I invite them in and then that’s where, day to day, that’s where the communication, the guidance, the questions all happen. There’ll be a Facebook live Q and A that I’ll host there. And there are many tools and places to do that, but as you said, that’s where people are right now. And so I’ve got to bend to that, no matter how much I hate it personally.

Crys: Now, I was in a class this week, I’m supposed to be in a class this week, where they sent out the initial email via email, but then all of the rest of their updates of the class material has been in Facebook. And as such, I have not followed along with the class at all. Do you send like the base material as a reminder through email and then people can pop over to Facebook for that engagement part? Or does it all happen over on Facebook?

J: No. Facebook is completely optional. So I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t forcing people into that because I really don’t want to force people into Facebook. Zuckerberg isn’t giving me any kickbacks on that. So I don’t want to keep people there. So what I’ve basically said is that the daily challenge assignments will come via email every day. And if you want to engage with other people who are doing the challenge at the same time as you are, join Facebook. If you want to ask me questions live, join Facebook. But like the Facebook live replay, I will send that out via email as well. So it is completely optional.

 There are some writers who don’t want to be in a cohort. Like they just want to get the lesson and they want to work on it themselves, and that’s totally fine too. Now, it is all conducted via email so you do have to register. I want your email address because I want to invite you to the community when the challenge is over.

But other than that, there’s no charge to it. There’s no catch. I’m not forcing people into anything. And the Supercharge Your Scene, I think I had a few thousand people in that one. I don’t think I had as many in the Plot a Novel, and I think that’s because the title just immediately eliminated pantsers. Nothing I can do about that. But Supercharge Your Scene was pretty big.

I think this one’s going to be smaller though because I don’t think there’s as many people who are thinking about writing a how-to book right now. And that’s part of what I want to do, is I want to challenge people and say no, you can, it doesn’t have to be a choice between your fiction or how-to book. Nonfiction books sell really well and they help people. And we all have these skillsets that we take for granted that other people just marvel at. And so I wanna help people manifest that.

Crys: Yeah. It’s much easier to sell a book to people who know they have a problem when you’re saying, Hey, I have the answer. So this challenge starts the Monday after this episode comes out. So you’ve got a little under a week to sign up. We will have the signup link in the show notes.

My question that I want to ask the folks who are listening this week: is there a how-to idea or non-fiction idea that you’ve been tossing around and what is it? I’d love to see the variety of things that people are really interested in teaching and sharing.

J: Yeah. And I did do a quick check, it’s I remember grabbing the domain because that would make it easy for people to remember. So

Crys: Excellent. And we will have that in the show notes as well. Thank you so much for joining us this week. We really hope that you join us on this challenge. It’ll give you a taste of what being in a community is like. It’s a little different, because as we’ve said multiple times, what you get in a Facebook group is not the same as what you get in like a private slack, which is what we run. But it will give you the taste of just how fun it is working with other writers at the same time.

If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what The Author Life Community is all about.