AK Turner is a New York Times bestselling humorist and author of the Vagabonding with Kids book series, in which she demonstrates with no-holds-barred humor and stranger-than-fiction stories that a working family can take to the road for extended travel, keeping marriage, children, and sanity intact along the way.
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Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [01:00] – AK released her first series as an independent author
- [01:16] – She reached a point where she was desperate to make progress
- [01:48] – She and her husband were reshaping their lives to allow them to travel
- [02:27] – AK’s books are about parenting humor
- [03:14] – AK’s area of expertise is in writing
- [04:14] – One BIG and Unique Value Bomb: “It’s important to let yourself write a big piece of crap. Get that idea down, then polish it.”
- [05:46] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: “I was working on my second book and I was struggling. I’d shown a draft to my editor and she told me I needed to rework the majority of the book. I procrastinated in the worst possible way— reading reader reviews.”
- [09:50] – We do everything we can to procrastinate
- [10:23] – Don’t waste your time in reviews—decide if the feedback is constructive or disruptive
- [11:31] – Question your thoughts before allowing it to control the outcome
- [12:40] – Questioning will open up a wealth of possibilities
- [13:45] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: “I got an email from my literary agent. It had a link to one of the categories of the New York Times Bestsellers and there was This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store. This one is a total shock: the book had been out for 2 years already and I had no promotion.”
- [16:03] – We get caught up in things and fear things will go wrong
- [16:17] – We fail to consider that things might be coming out positive
- [16:57] – Have a quality product and provide value to your customers
- [17:22] – AK’s 3 highest selling books from 2012-2014 sold about 50K copies
- [18:01] – 95% of book sales were ebooks
- [18:18] – AK’s net profit per book sale varies
- [19:30] – Average profit on her ebook is about $6/book
- [19:57] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “Fear of change and fear of success”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Instead of MFA, why don’t you exercise your library card?”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “Volunteerism”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – BookBub and HomeExchange
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Vagabonding and On Writing
- [24:10] – Practice over time
- [24:47] – Connect with AK on Vagabonding with Kids
AK Turner: I am fired up like a madwoman, JLD.
John Lee Dumas: Yes. AK is a New York Times bestselling humorist and author of the Vagabonding with Kids book series in which she demonstrates with no-holds-barred humor and stranger-than-fiction stories that a working family can take on-the-road extended travel, keeping marriage, children, and sanity intact along the way.
AK, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro, and give us just a little glimpse of your personal life.
AK Turner: Sure. I released my first series as an independent author. I really had no idea how it would be received. Before then, like many writers, I'd waited a lot of tables and scrubbed a lot of toilets, but I really reached a point where I was desperate to make progress, and I decided to move forward on my own.
I wrote This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store, which became a New York Times bestseller. I followed that up with Mommy Had a Little Flask, which won an independent publishing award known as an IPPY, and Hair of the Corn Dog, which made the New York Times, got a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was named one of their Top 5 Indie books of 2014.
So I had this whole journey as a writer. And during that journey, my husband and I were really reshaping our lives and businesses to allow us to travel for − we're up to about four months of every year now. So these two elements came together and now I'm writing the Vagabonding with Kids series, still humor; I'll always be rooted in humor, but with the added element of travel.
Right now, I average a book or more per year plus a few dozen articles or other posts. Sometimes I'm completing a Writer in Residence gig. And occasionally, you can find me in anthologies with some of my fellow writers.
John Lee Dumas: Now, just out of curiosity and real quick, what were those books about, like, This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store and the other two you mentioned?
AK Turner: When I became a parent, I just saw so many people taking so many things too seriously and getting bogged down in all this advice, and there's only one way to do this and one way to do that. And I just kind of had to call BS on all that. So it's really parenting humor, a little bit edgy, just to sort of bring some levity to the situation.
John Lee Dumas: I love calling BS and seeing people calling BS, so congrats on that, AK, looking forward to getting that as a gift for my sister. I think she'll get a kick out of that.
AK Turner: Awesome.
John Lee Dumas: And I kind of want to hear what you consider your area of expertise. What is that? Is it writing? Is it humor? Kind of break it down in just a couple sentences.
AK Turner: Definitely writing. When I started out as a writer, I didn’t really know my genre, and it took an editor − I was working with an editor at Penguin for a while, and our relationship never went anywhere, but we worked together for a while. And she really pointed out, "You need to stop this serious stuff. Humor is your strong suit."
John Lee Dumas: Yeah.
AK Turner: But I didn't know that. I had to have somebody point that out to me. But I do other types of writing as well, but humor is really where I feel the most comfortable.
John Lee Dumas: No, I love it. We talk a lot about how you have to find your thing, which for you was writing, but then what's that thing within the thing? You couldn't just be a writer. You had to be a humorous writer because that's what was going to be unique within your writing that spoke to so many people. So, Fire Nation, what's your thing, but then what's your thing within that thing?
Now, AK, what is something that I don't know about writing that I should? What's something that our listeners, Fire Nation, who are entrepreneurs need to know about writing that we probably don't?
AK Turner: When you're writing, it is really important to let yourself write a big piece of crap. So anytime you read something, and you're, like, "Wow, that's so great. I could never do that. How does this writer put it together?", know that at one point, that writing was not very good.
And that's a surprise to a lot of people. They sit down, and they look at a blank page or a blank screen, and they think they have to come up with these polished gems right from the start, and it just doesn't work that way. You really have to allow yourself to put down not very good writing on the page, at least to get that idea down, and then you can start shaping it and finessing it into something that's good.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, you heard it from AK Turner. Write a pile of crap. You need to. You just have to do it. That's how you get through the crap to the gold. And I think it was Hemingway that mentioned it or somebody along his lines that said he doesn't even start writing until his wastepaper basket is full. So you can kind of just picture he's throwing all of his crap just in that paper basket until it's full. Then he's, like, "Okay. I've probably written enough crap. Now I might be able to write something good."
So just realize that, Fire Nation. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself for perfection with that first word on the page; ain't gonna happen.
So, AK, let's talk about your journey because it wasn't just from zero to hero. Take us to your worst entrepreneurial moment. Tell us that story.
AK Turner: My worst entrepreneurial moment: I was working on my second book, and I was struggling. I don't believe in writer's block per se, but there are times when the going is easier than others. So the going was tough. I had shown a draft to my editor, who told me I needed to rework the majority of the book, and that can be hard to hear. She was absolutely right, and eventually I would so as she said.
But at the time, instead of buckling down and doing what needed to be done, I procrastinated in the worst possible way. The worst way for a writer to procrastinate is to read online reviews of their work.
Now, I'm not saying you should never read any of your reader reviews. It's really beneficial to ready your positive reviews, not just as an ego stroke and a motivator, but also because you find what's working. You learn what it is about your style and content that readers identify with. And so you can keep those things in mind as you move forward.
I had a number of reviewers cite honesty is what they liked about my first book, that nothing is sugarcoated. They like that I put it all out there, so I keep that in mind when I write, honest, no holds barred, and tell it like it is. But on this particular day, I read all of my reviews. I read every one-star, lambasting, name-calling, ugly −
John Lee Dumas: Give me one. Give me one. I know you're not gonna be able to maybe remember a word for it, or maybe you can. But just what was something that was close to one of your worst reviews?
AK Turner: Yeah, I don't have a word-for-word −
John Lee Dumas: Yeah, just go for it.
AK Turner: − but there would be, like, "She's awful, not funny, can't write. I can't believe I wasted my time on this. I hate this book. No one should ever buy it," that kind of stuff.
Oh, I was also accused of animal abuse because I wrote about this squirrel epidemic that happened in Boise a few years ago. "She's an animal abuser," or I had one that was, "If you write and say that as a parent you need alcohol − now, this person had not read my book. They were going off the book cover, right?
John Lee Dumas: Right.
AK Turner: This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store, and it has, like, a vodka bottle and a pacifier. "If you write and say that you need alcohol to get through motherhood, that's child abuse." So, I mean, I've been called some − I've had some pretty hefty accusations leveled at me. But sometimes it's just, "You're horrible, this is horrible, and no one should read it."
John Lee Dumas: Okay. So keep going onto your day of reading these one stars.
AK Turner: So it was a moment when I already wasn't feeling great, and I did the one thing sure to make me feel even worse. It did nothing to benefit me, my writing, or my readers.
Now, I did learn from the experience of course because that's the point of these awful, worst experiences is that we learn from them. So ever after that day, I created a style of reading my reviews. For the most part, I don't read them anymore, but if I happen to come across them, I skim them, and I skim the lower-rated ones faster than the highly rated ones.
So it's almost as if, when encountering a one or a two-starred review, I tell myself, "This one isn’t going to help me, so it doesn't matter as much, and I'm not going to take anything here to heart.'
Now, I have to say, none of this has anything to do with accepting constructive criticism, and I've learned a lot from criticism, and I have a lot of writer friends with whom we're very honest with each other about what's working and what's not. So I'm a big fan of constructive criticism.
But when it comes to the haters or the person who gives you a one-star review because they can't figure out how to change the font size on their tablet, it's not gonna serve you to engage.
John Lee Dumas: So, Fire Nation, there's a lot that you could be taking away from this. But, No. 1 − and this is just so true; I've seen it with myself so often − we, as entrepreneurs, will do anything we can to procrastinate. We'll sit down and look at a blank piece of paper, and we're, like, what is anything else I can do right now? How can I just do something that's not this?
And there's this one quote from this one author who was, like, if you have a pair of tennis shoes in the right-hand corner of your room that has a dark smudge on it, you will be convinced that you have to clean off that dark smudge on your tennis shoe before you do anything that has to do with work first. And we keep doing this, Fire Nation. So just, No. 1, don't let yourself procrastinate.
Then No. 2, the meat of that story was about the reviews. You just can't waste your time on the reviews. You need to definitely know what's coming in. You need to take some of them for what they are, which is valuable feedback.
I've gotten some incredible feedback on the Freedom Journal that has had me come out with the Freedom Journal 2.0 that has some really serious great improvements because of that feedback.
But you have to just really realize, what is the feedback that you can apply that's constructive, and then what's the stuff you've got to let go over your head, I mean, the stuff that AK was talking about with the harming animals, etc.?
I mean, you just can't get wrapped up in that because you've got to think of the person and the source of that review. And frankly, they've got deeper problems than likely you do. So just let them go off and do their thing, and if that helped them get through the day, so be it.
So, AK, back to you. What do you want to make sure Fire Nation gets from your story?
AK Turner: Well, I think one of the most important things for me now as an entrepreneur − and I wasn't born with this; this was learned over time − but if I have thoughts that influence my actions or inaction, I have to question the thought. I have to question its origins, its validity, and really examine that before allowing it to control the outcome.
So I'll give you an example. Here's a thought: We can't travel during the school year. This is one of those thoughts that people have that holds them back, and the reason it's in their heads − and I mean, holds them back from, say, embracing a digital nomad lifestyle if they're interested in that, or relocating like you've done, or just traveling outside the normal two-weeks-a-year vacation to Disneyland. So people have this thought, we can't travel during the school year.
The only reason it's in your head is convention because that's the predominant thinking. But when you really question it, does it have to be? Why can't we travel during the school year? And what are we worried about? Are we worried about our child's education or socialization or what the PTA will think or that the principal's gonna call us into his office?
When you start to question why you subscribe to such thinking and whether or not it has merit and truth to it, you usually find that you open up a wealth of possibilities of ways you might move yourself, your family, and your business forward.
So that questioning of the norm and saying, well, why do I have this thinking, and is it really true to me?
John Lee Dumas: I love that mindset shift. And, Fire Nation, I really, really hope that here in 2017, you have that. I mean, we live in this new world. We can think outside of the box. It's fine. We're not all walking with our lunch pails every single day to the exact same factory to do the exact same thing for eight hours. This is a new world. Let's embrace it.
Now, AK, let's talk about one of your greatest ideas that you've had to date. Take us to that story.
AK Turner: I'm really lately into talking about mindset and that mindset shift. So I'll tell you about a day in late 2014. I got an email from my then literary agent. She's since left the publishing world, but she repped me at the time. And she sent me an email that said, "Hey, look what I came across this morning." And it was a link to a page of one of the categories of the New York Times bestsellers, and there was This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store.
Now, a different book, Hair of the Corn Dog, had made the New York Times a few months earlier, and learning about that is a story in itself. But when that one hit, I knew why. I'd run an ad, and it paid off beyond what I'd hoped for, and there was a spike in sales, and it got me on the New York Times.
John Lee Dumas: Where'd you run the ad at?
AK Turner: BookBub.
John Lee Dumas: BookBub.
AK Turner: BookBub.com.
John Lee Dumas: Interesting.
AK Turner: It is very hard to get placed there and very expensive, but if you do, it's worth it. Pay for it, and it will catapult your book to places you didn't expect.
John Lee Dumas: Wow.
AK Turner: Yeah. But this one that my agent was telling me about was a total shock. I hadn't done any promotion. The book had been out for two years already. So I had no idea what had happened. So I pull up sales reports from different channels, and I saw that it had a bit spike on Barnes & Noble.
So I go to BarnesandNoble.com, and instead of pulling up the book directly, I click on the humor category, and they had This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store, a picture of the cover in between Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler. Now, the publishing industry is notorious for being a pay-to-play.
John Lee Dumas: Right.
AK Turner: I mean, placement online, every bookshelf, every level of shelf has a different price tag attached to it. And that's where the big publishing houses have sway. It makes visibility for a little Indie author like me really difficult. I can't compete. But someone at BarnesandNoble.com, whether by mistake or by design − I don't know − thought my title might do well in their company, and it did.
Now, what I took away from this is that we get caught up in all these things that we're strategizing and working for. And we fear all the things that might go wrong, things that we don't even see coming. But we fail to consider that, of all the things that we don't see coming, some of them might be positive.
And I think when we consider that and we give it just as much mental real estate as we do our fears, we can lighten the load. We can work from a freer, more positive frame of mind and ultimately be more productive and happy. It's like the antithesis of dwelling on what could go wrong, which is such a trap and so easy to fall into.
So, as I go about my day, I try to keep that in mind, that not everything positive comes from my strategizing. Sometimes things happen beyond my control. But the key to this, of course, is that you have to have a quality product and provide value. I mean, you can't do something half-assed and expect a sudden, unexpected, awesome bonus from it, right? But if you provide that quality and value and put in the hard work, you might not just reach your expectations but exceed them in ways that hadn't even been on your radar.
John Lee Dumas: What is your highest selling book quantity-wise, the numbers?
AK Turner: I don't have a specific number. I can tell you that the first three humor books − the Vagabonding with Kids series is very newly out, so I don't have any data on that. But the This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store, Mommy Had a Little Flask, and Hair of the Corn Dog, the three of them combined from 2012 to 2014 sold about 50,000 copies.
John Lee Dumas: Okay. So, in the last two years, are they still selling copies?
AK Turner: Oh, yeah, yeah, I just − I don't have − that's the data that I have from when I was working with that agent. We compiled all the sales numbers. And most of those sales, I would say 95 percent of those sales, are e-books.
John Lee Dumas: They're e-books. Okay.
AK Turner: Correct, yeah.
John Lee Dumas: Now, so what was that number again from 2012 to 2014?
AK Turner: 50,000.
John Lee Dumas: So what was your average net profit per book that you were putting in your pocket?
AK Turner: That's difficult too because sometimes − because as an Indie author, one of the things you do, especially when you're starting out, is you experiment with price changes, right? You see, is the book gonna sell at $6.99 as an e-book? Do I have to drop it down to $3.99? Do I wanna run a BookBub ad where that involves discounting the book, so, say, a buck-99 or 99 cents, but you're gonna − all of a sudden, you're gonna get tens of thousands of sales that you weren't expecting?
John Lee Dumas: But you also have to kind of factor out the advertising cost too, which sounds pretty hefty.
AK Turner: Well, okay, pretty hefty for an Indie author. So I would say if you're talking about the big New York publishing houses, it's nothing compared to them. But if you're an Indie author trying to scrape together money for a professionally designed cover, a professional editor, then running an ad that costs $700.00 can seem overwhelming.
But what I try to tell authors is that if you can actually get an ad placed with BookBub, you need to take it because it will pay you back tenfold.
John Lee Dumas: Wow.
AK Turner: Average of profit on an e-book right now where they're priced, you know, maybe six bucks a book, I would say.
John Lee Dumas: So your profit is $6.00 per book per sale?
AK Turner: Correct.
John Lee Dumas: So, Fire Nation, we are going to get into some value bomb dropping in the lightning round, so don't you go anywhere, but first we're gonna thank our sponsors.
AK, are you prepared for the lightning round?
AK Turner: I think so. I think I am.
John Lee Dumas: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
AK Turner: Fear of change, fear of success, which is the weirdest thing. But I remember trying to finish the final edits on my first book, and it was taking me forever. I'd find, like you were talking about earlier, I'd find anything else in the world to do.
And my husband was watching it happen, and he said, "You're so close. Why haven't you finished this? Why aren't you working on it?" And I was near tears, and I said, "Because it's what I want more than anything else in the world." And voicing that helped −
John Lee Dumas: Yeah.
AK Turner: − because I got over it, took a deep breath, and put it out there. And I think that's a hurdle you only have to get over once. It's the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey. And then when you're past that, you can see that the world hasn't ended and is in fact better −
John Lee Dumas: Yeah.
AK Turner: − and you never have to wrestle that fear again.
John Lee Dumas: What does Steven Pressfield call it? Is it the resistance? Is that the phrase he uses, do you know?
AK Turner: I don't know.
John Lee Dumas: I think it's called, Fire Nation, the resistance, and it's just − it's within us all. I mean, I could not press "publish" on Entrepreneur on Fire four years ago when I was trying to launch this thing. I just couldn't do it.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
AK Turner: Before I published my first book, I was considering getting an MFA, so that's the MBA equivalent for us artsy types. And I was talking to some professors at a local MFA program, and really they − and I'm not knocking MFAs; MFAs are great, great if it's the right program for you at the right time of your life, but it was not for me.
And they said, "Instead of that, why don't you exercise your library card? Why don't you put some wear and tear on that library card? I'll give you a list of all the books we study in the MFA program." But they could see that I needed to just continue on the path I was, and that was really good advice.
John Lee Dumas: Love it. What's a personal habit that contributes to your success?
AK Turner: Volunteerism, which I think exists on two levels. There's volunteerism that you do because you enjoy it and because there may be a benefit to you in return. But then you also need to volunteer incognito where you're doing it for the sake of giving that it's almost like a meditation. It's so beneficial. And then the volunteering that you do where there's a benefit, you can expand your network in wonderful ways just by dedicating a little bit of time to some efforts and groups that you believe in.
John Lee Dumas: Can you share an internet resource with our listeners?
AK Turner: So I already mentioned BookBub.com for writers. But I would say HomeExchange.com is an absolute life-changer for any homeowner who thinks they can't afford to travel. And this is an entirely different animal from renting out your home. Home exchangers, they have a different level of respect because it's a two-way street.
You can also exchange cars through HomeExchange.com. You can do home and vehicle. So you're eliminating those expenses, which allows you to travel longer and get more out of a trip than you would from, say, a week in a hotel room.
John Lee Dumas: If you could recommend just one book to join of course all of yours, including the Vagabonding with Kids series, what book would it be and why?
AK Turner: I can't recommend just one. Can I recommend two?
John Lee Dumas: Yes, AK.
AK Turner: Vagabonding by Rolf Potts.
John Lee Dumas: Yes.
AK Turner: This is a fantastic book, and it's great even for people who don't travel, just in terms of mindset. And then I have to say On Writing by Stephen King. Even for nonwriters, it's just a wonderful, honest, intense book. So those are my two.
John Lee Dumas: AK, let's end today on fire with a parting piece of guidance, the best what that we can connect with you, and then we'll say goodbye.
AK Turner: Parting piece of guidance is practice over time. That doesn't mean patiently wait for the life you want. You have to get it. But when it comes to pursuits like writing, you must consciously exercise patience, and instead of getting down on yourself for only writing two pages, commit to writing two more pages tomorrow. They will add up. They will take shape.
This is the same thing for entrepreneurs and businessmen. You don't one day wake up, open up shop, and have customers magically appear. But if you have that patience over time. If you have diligence and tenacity and consistency, it will pay off.
The best way to connect with me is through VagabondingWithKids.com.
JLD, thank you so much for the opportunity to be here. I cannot think of a better way to start my day.
John Lee Dumas: Wow. I'm taking that, and I'm gonna take that to the bank because I love that phrase. And, Fire Nation, you're the average of the five people that you spend the most time with, and you've been hanging out with AK and JLD today, so keep up the heat.
And head over to EOFire.com. Just type Turner − that's TURNER − in the search bar. Her show notes page will pop up with everything that we've been talking about today, best show notes in the biz, timestamps, links galore.
And, AK, I just wanna say thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. And, Fire Nation, VagabondingWithKids.com is your destination if you wanna learn more about everything that AK has going on. And for just sharing time with us today, AK, we salute you, and we'll catch you on the flipside.
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