This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain discuss J’s experience at The Creator Economy Expo and what this emerging tech means for authors.


Crys: Welcome to The Author Life Podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my co-host, J Thorn.

J: Hi, Crys.

Crys: Hey! Once again, no personal updates. We’ll be back with those next month, But we do have a great question. So J just got back from CEX, and you’re going to have to tell everybody what that is because I don’t remember. But it’s a big conference on the emerging tech, blockchain, NFTs, all of that, maybe more. I don’t know. We haven’t had a chance to talk about this. So here we go, we’re going to start.

First of all, what is the full name?

J: It’s The Creator Economy Expo. And What’s interesting is that it was way less web3 than I thought it was going to be. So I have a feeling like people who are now tuning out because they heard the words web3, blockchain, or NFT, can stick around because It wasn’t that, necessarily.

There were some elements of it, but it really was about the creator economy. This idea that we can be individual creators of content and sell those directly to people without the need for more traditional distributors like the publishing industry, or record labels in the music industry. So that, that was the framework for it.

I was there with our good friend, Joanna Penn. And we were really like the only two fiction authors there which was an interesting thing. But it was a lot of like content marketers, a lot of people who are doing like nonfiction books to build a business on.

It was run by, it was really originally going to be a collaboration between Joe Pulizzi and Brian Clark, and it ended up being more of Joe’s event than Brian’s. And there are some internal dynamics I’m not privy to around that. But basically, Joe is the guy who founded and sold the content marketing world. That gives you just some perspective on the general sense of the event.

Crys: Excellent. To sort through all of the things that I know are tumbling around in your head, can you tell me what’s one thing that got you the most excited?

J: Really, my excitement is around the web3 stuff, but I know that there aren’t many in our circles that share that excitement. But there were some revelations that I had that weren’t necessarily related to web3, but I think would be applicable for any author, fiction or nonfiction.

Here’s a big one I wanted to share. I’ve heard this a number of places, but a big takeaway for me was audience and community are not the same. And I think we use the words audience and community interchangeably, but they’re not. And I think this is important for every author to think about because your business model is dependent on one of these two ideas, right?

So if you are an author who just wants to write fiction, you want to sell your books on Amazon or distribute wide. You want to run some ads to get people to read them. You have an email list. That’s what you want to do. That’s an audience, right? There’s nothing wrong with an audience, but that’s not a community, right? So an audience first approach is you’re going to be focusing more on the content production, definitely on the distribution and marketing side.

If you flip it, the other side of that is community. So you know, a community is people who maybe read the book and then want to engage with you in a private Facebook group or attend a con or have a zoom book club. Like these are readers who want to engage with you as the author, who want to have a relationship with you, and you enjoy that. And so those types of authors are building a business towards creating a small community, a small family, people with shared values. And usually that could be centered around your book, whether that’s fiction or nonfiction.

So if you step back for a second and you think about it, the audience approach versus the community approach is very different. And neither one is right or wrong, but I think what’s important is that as an author, you have to know where you’re steering your ship. Like which direction are you headed?

Crys: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. With the romance, I have definitely leaned more towards I just want an audience. It’s not my genre. I enjoy writing it enough to keep doing it, but I don’t want to sit here and talk about like super-hot guy pictures all day long, which is a very common thing among romance communities.

But like you get me into sci-fi fantasy, there’s so many topics that people talk about all day long. I’m much more comfortable with the idea of creating community in that genre.

J: Yeah. Yeah. It’s just a very different way of spending your time. And I think every author, whether you’re full-time or part-time, you have to think about that, right? There’s a certain amount of energy that has to be dedicated to creating your words and building your content, and then beyond that, you have to think about where you are going to be spending the time and how you want to spend it. I think that the quality of that time is really important.

For some people, like building a community is not a fun activity or managing a community is not fun. And for other people, building out Amazon ads is not fun. So you know, you really just have to think about what is it that you want to do, not necessarily thinking about what’s going to make you money. Because you can make money with an audience or money with a community, that doesn’t matter.

Crys: A hundred percent. What is another revelation that comes to you?

J: Another revelation, and maybe this will calm some fears of people who are ignoring everything I say about NFTs and books and web3 stuff, it’s really early for web3. Even at CEX, Joanna and I had so many times we looked at each other and were like, we’re the only people here who understand this. There was a speaker launching an NFT, and there were people that didn’t know the difference between like Solano blockchain and Ethereum blockchain. We looked at each other like, oh, wow, yeah, we have to remind ourselves that we’ve been studying this for a year.

One of the speakers, who I think it was Jeremiah Owyang maybe, from Rally, he said basically only 20% of Americans even own any cryptocurrency right now.

Crys: That actually seems pretty high.

J: Yeah. But you think about the other aspects of culture like that’s just not a lot. There’s just not a lot of people who are doing this stuff, know about it. It’s okay if you’re like, I’m not ready for this, I don’t understand it. There are things that are happening that’s gonna facilitate mainstream adoption in much the same way that you don’t have to understand the HTTP protocol to use a web browser. You won’t need to understand how the blockchain works to use it. But it’s really early, so it’s okay if you’re confused.

Crys: Excellent. Yeah. I think that will ease a lot of people’s fears.

J: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. There’s some other things that are specific to the publishing industry that I’m not sure I want to talk about publicly yet, but there’s some interesting trends that are occurring and I’m trying to keep my finger on the pulse of it. And as I feel confident enough to make some observations, I’ll definitely share them. But I think the big takeaway is just learn what you’re interested in, take it at your own pace, and you’re not missing out.

Now, I will say the flip side to that is if you are willing to take some risks, if you are willing to muddle through stuff you have no idea what it means, there’s a potential that you have a first mover advantage. And that’s always been the case, whether we’re talking about web3 or KDP in 2010, we talked about the Rogers curve a few episodes ago. That’s the trade-off. If you want to jump in now, like there could be some opportunity that others are not going to get later on, but there’s no reason to jump in now if you’re not comfortable with it,

Crys: Yeah. My question, unless there’s anything else that you wanted to cover?

J: I’m looking at some of my notes. I don’t think so. All the other ones are more web3 related. So I think those would be the big ones, I would say.

Crys: My question for folks this week is, because I think that your point about knowing whether you’re an audience builder or a community builder is really pertinent, is: which do you find yourself more comfortable with as you’re building your author career?

J: Great question.

Crys: Thank you so much for joining us this week.

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