About the episode
They say you can make anything by writing -- C.S. Lewis said that, anyway.
But if you’re not a prolific author, and instead, a creator who wants to get your work out into the world for your audience to consume, what’s the best way to compose your offer messaging?
And how do you write copy that resonates with your audience?
Whether it’s your sales page, unique value proposition, call-to-action button, or headline, using the right word choice is tricky.
But there’s at least one pro who can help with that -- and she can do it on your schedule, too.
Who? Joanna Wiebe, of course, the copywriting queen and founder of Copyhackers, one of the world’s most popular copywriting blogs.
Jay: Ideas for the name of the official "Podia" podcast. What does it take to be a great creator? All right, let's see. Number one, Creative Café, that's not bad. Number two, Creativity Café. When we think about creativity, I think sometimes we get too lost in the final product. It's amazing, it's big. It's great. Number nine, Creator Corner. Okay, that's definitely already a show. Number 10, that's already a show too. Okay. But on the path to that final product, the creator was making tons of hidden decisions all the time.
Number 28, I make the content with me, Jay Acunzo. Hello. Oh, I need a coffee. And it's in those hidden decisions that the good stuff happens, the lessons we can learn, the stories that need to be told, the emotional turmoil, the ups, the downs, the reason we love doing this work. Number 35, How I Built That hosted by a guy named Jay, a guy named Jay. So what does it really take to create something you're proud of? Something that you love and others love too. How could you create something that you could point at and say, "Hey, you see that?" Wait, that's it, I made it.
Hey, hello. Hi, I am Jay Acunzo, your host here on, "I Made It." If it's your first episode of the show, thanks for coming by. This show is the official "Podia" podcast. Podia sells tools to help creators turn their passion into income. You can sell courses, membership sites, digital downloads, all without having to code at all. So Podia is my partner in this project. I'm an author, a speaker, and I founded a media company that teaches marketers how to make shows called "Marketing Showrunners."
And on this show, I talked to some of the world's most successful and notable creators about a favorite project and we deconstruct it together to understand what really went on. Today's creator is one of the best copywriters in the world, Joanna Wiebe. Joanna is incredibly sought after by clients and she's also the founder and CEO of Copyhackers, which provides education and client services and now has 13 full-time employees. Joanna's got a creative writing background and transitioned into being a full-time copywriter as well as a teacher and a speaker of this craft after leaving her job at a tech company, Intuit. But more on that story in a second because she actually never intended to leave that business, it just kind of happened. It's a great story, you're going to want to stick around for that. And today's project that we're diving into is honestly a thing that lots of people have created before. Maybe you have too, but it's also something that Joanna does uniquely well. So, Joanna Wiebe, you made a thing. What did you make?
Joanna: I made ebooks. I made one big ebook and then I turned it into lots of little ebooks.
Jay: So I liked that you said one big ebook and then lots of little ebooks because for people who don't know what we talked before because I was hunting for an awesome project that we could talk about today, you create a lot of stuff and we're very similar in that way. I think we're probably less happy when we're not making something. I asked you if you could send me the one ebook or four little ebooks and you sent me a ZIP file. And inside that ZIP file were, and I've never seen this before, multiple ZIP files.
Joanna: I know it was a lot of ZIP files.
Jay: Joanna, this project was so big that the ZIP files had ZIP files. So I don't know if we can call it one ebook and four little ebooks, I think it was sort of like one universe of content and then the planets inside of the universe.
Joanna: I like it, that's cool.
Jay: And there were a lot of valuable things to know inside of it. So before we get to like the backstory of these things because I think that's fascinating, just describe to someone who's not familiar with these, what are the topics? What did you write about?
Joanna: Sure. So I put these together to help startups, particularly single founder startups where they're usually like a technical founder write copy for their website. So how do you tell people about your brand new app or software of whatever form, you put a website together. So the goal was to empower people who are creating products to create the websites to sell the products. And it turned into four ebooks, that's what we started with at least, that covered where messages come from, like "Where Stellar Messages Come From" was what it's called. So first like, how do I even know what to talk about and how to say it. And then getting into headlines, value props, things like that, and then body copy and calls to action, which are surprisingly big enough that you need a whole book to work through how to write a call to action.
Jay: I like, you kind of operate, given that these are big projects, you kind of operate in, not all the time, but certainly a lot of your work focuses on like little micro pockets of a website or of a project, right? It's like you're very economical with the words you're writing and the words you're encouraging clients to write. So I like that there's a little bit of a juxtaposition, it's like to get the right three words on this button, we do have to know a lot and therefore read a lot of words to get that right.
Joanna: You need 50 pages to write 3 words, crazy.
Jay: I do agree with that though. But I think what I'm interested in knowing is when you scope a project this big and you're someone who has done multiple big projects throughout your career, so I'm sure it's evolved over the years. This was created, I think the original draft was it 2011?
Jay: Wow. So what was your process for starting a massive project like this back then and what would it be today?
Joanna: I think I've always liked process and rules when it comes to writing. I was never somebody who liked like a fluid creative, like I don't feel comfortable in that and I think this is like a common thing. Everybody is like, "Well, you need constraints to be creative." And so I really liked when I was doing my master's degree, where you have to do like giant research projects. And so I just kind of got, like that clicked really well for me, so when it was time to write what I thought was going to be one big book, I just kind of followed the old process that had worked well for me in university of doing like all of this research, like the literature review to see where like gaps are and then research and then just starting to organize what you're seeing and turn that into a thing. So I've been, it actually started in 2010.
Jay: In 2010, Joanna was still working for Intuit and she created something on a whim for free that snowballed into this thriving career that she now has. She was scrolling through the online community of entrepreneurs called Hacker News and she found one entrepreneur asking for help about his new website. Joanna sent him a deck full of ideas for the messaging and the copy and he was like, "Wow, this is so cool, thank you." And then a month later he wrote a post on Hacker News after reviewing that deck saying, "This is why I love this community."
Joanna became flooded with requests from people from that community asking if she could review their website positioning and copy too. And after committing to 10 people doing those decks for free, mind you, she finally had to start saying no to people until one day someone suggested, "Hey, why not turn all the things you know and all these examples you've been going over into an ebook so it scales better for you and all of us can get that knowledge?"
Joanna: So I was like, well, that sounds interesting. So I took those 10 case studies basically like there weren't A/B tests, it was a study in or individual studies in how to write different things based on what business and that stage of business that you're in as an early-stage startup. I took all of this research and just started organizing it and seeing like what fell out of it, where the bigger questions were that, you know, tech founders had, all that kinda stuff and started organizing on the page and then just drafted it from that outline form into what turned into, I think it was 250 pages by the time.
Jay: Oh my God.
Joanna: I know, crazy, right? But once you start down a path and there's so much to explore, like you can't stop. I don't think I was too verbose, I think there was just a lot to cover. Like how do you take someone who knows nothing about this especially if they're very technical too and match and somehow take this copywriting thing and make it good for technical people to like understand and feel confident doing, which I think is actually a perfectly natural fit, but it took some time to get there and some words to get there. But then that was really the process and I can't say that I would do it any differently.
It took a lot of time, but it was all based in like actually trying things out and then learning from those and teaching what we'd learned to people in a book. So to this day, that's the process that we follow for everything and it actually takes a lot longer today to get anything done than it used to take because I'm older now, I don't have the energy anymore.
Jay: Isn't that funny how I just feel...like creating podcasts and video, like documentary episodes for a living like I do, people are like, "So, what's your process for making it more efficient than when you started?" And I can tell it's like if they're starting out and I'm somewhere like further up the path so to speak, even though it's really just a messy jungle, they don't realize it yet, they're like, it's a nice neat path and you're further up it. How do you get further up it? I'm like, I don't know cause I'm really tired right now. And here's the difference, it started as brute force and now I have some process, but that doesn't necessarily mean it takes less time or effort, it just means I can explain it to other people now.
Joanna: Yeah, that's so true. If even asking me to change my process now I'm so fixed, I'd be like, "No, no, I can't get anything done if you change my process." Although I'm sure there are like way more efficient processes out there, but that's mine at least.
Jay: So when you wrote this 250-page document, one of the things that's inside of it that I really appreciate, because obviously, you're a great writer, is there's this page early on and I'm curious, I looked at the like second edition which came out a few years after the first edition. So 2010 you started it, published in 2011, put it on Hacker News and we'll come back to what happens next there because I think it's fascinating. But in 2014, you wrote a second version and so I got my hands on that one.
And I'm not sure if this is all the way back at the beginning or you added it but what I loved was there's this page at the beginning, like after the cover that says, "What you will be able to do by the time you're done with this ebook." And I've actually never seen that in any kind of long form anything, it's just, you know, most people will just list a table of contents or maybe there's some filler pages that are for the author acknowledgments or whatever. You actually do put that stuff in terms of the table of contents after this page but why that decision to include this little list of what you're going to be able to do by the time you're done with this book?
Joanna: So what we had heard from a lot of people, we put the giant ebook through beta readers and that's how we turned it into little ebooks. Everybody was like, no, it's too long to read it.
Jay: What are beta readers? Like who are those people?
Joanna: They were a bunch of people that we knew in the startup community, like people who had reached out to us to say, "Hey, can you do this for us?" And I said, "No, but I will write that ebook." So we asked them, we asked other people that we just knew who were running startups too, and so they're the ones who read the book just to get some feedback on whether it would hit the mark or not. And again, and again, we heard like, yeah, but what do I do with it? Like, and there were points, obviously throughout that where it was about, where I thought it was clear what you do now, like now...because at the end of every chapter we also have like, "Now go do this."
But really the reason that we put that at the beginning in the like, the revised or updated edition was to make it really explicit like you're going to...this is an actionable book. And everything that we do at Copy Hackers is actionable. A lot of people have really great theory, but then we've seen, you know, a tech founder sit down and try to write something and there's a lot of information, a lot of like knowledge on what to do, but very little practical abilities at that point. So we wanted to make sure that everybody knew that once you read this, you'll be able to walk away and actually know how to write a headline or know how to write a button and when to change your button copy and things like that. So just for the audience, that's why we put it out there, we knew they wanted actionable.
Jay: And another thing you mentioned, you hinted at it briefly, I did appreciate it while reading these things was that call-out box at the end, which is apply what you've learned now. So why add those as plain as day? You know, why wouldn't people leave a chapter knowing what to do right away?
Joanna: I'm sure some do but in my experience, teaching, it's so easy to nod along, go like, "Yeah, yeah, great, totally, that's great. I'm gonna do that." And then not do it at all. And it's nothing against people. I do the same thing too. I can go to a conference, make tons of notes, and never actually go and prioritize doing it. So this is just kind of trying to help them prioritize actually doing that work and figure out that they should do and not like, okay, now you've consumed this information, that's not where it ends, now you have to go do something with it.
And we went further with our ebook that we came out with after that which was all about writing sales pages. And in that one at the end, or at different points throughout, we had you go sign in online and say what you're gonna do next, so you would like have that form of commitment. Like what are you going to do now about actually outlining your sales page? And they'd have to go online. And I mean, they don't have to, you can opt-out just by not doing it, but the goal is to try to at least get people to start doing the work, so it's not just about the theory.
Jay: I always felt like teachers, I think great teachers have this and then also great creators learn this. Great teachers are able to make whatever the topic is modular. Like you have different modules, so what you did is you made a chapter module or you had the, you know, the call-out box at the end. You have different sections throughout. Obviously as a copywriter you're really good with subheads. And I feel like, I don't know if this happened to you, Joanna, I'd be curious to hear like if this was your experience, but for me writing, just making things in lots of mediums, it all started as I think I have good taste, I'm at least inspired by people who do and I'm going to feel my way forward.
And then you learn that there's actually like structure and, you know, I'm fascinated when you make a show, for example, there are things called blocks and beats and in TV that forms what they call the rundown. So a news anchor, a sitcom writers room, they talk in blocks and sometimes beats and they kind of know, yeah, you're getting one final product as the viewer, but we know the component parts. And I think early me would've said, "Ah, that ruins it." Like that gets rid of the magic and the creativity and the intuition. And I've found lately, you know, maybe it's because we both tired but it's like, I've found lately that's such...I don't know how to create anything without going that route, without being like, Oh, okay, it's a 45-minute episode I have to create now, so what are the blocks and the beats? I like have a greater appreciation for the creativity and I feel like the work gets different or gets better rather.
Joanna: I wonder how that's evolved over time. Like when did that become...because when you, I mean this is a tangent, but when you do look back at older shows that don't have any sort of pacing, this is gonna sound crazy, but it might not sound crazy. But growing up, I loved the TV show "Cheers." I was just like, I was only allowed to watch it. Like I think it was at 8:00 on Thursday night and I was allowed to like stay...I had to go to bed right after. But it was like a great moment to watch "Cheers."
Watching that now is painfully slow, like nothing ever happens. And they know, again, this is like a little off topic but still a little on topic because how do we get from a place where that was great and then you introduce or someone starts to think through the way people consume content or how great stories are told. And maybe before it was like, "Oh, it's a good story, but we're going to make it a great story" or something that's way more straight forward or built somehow to make it easier to consume. It's just fascinating the way that we get from a place with things like these beats, and was it boxes or blocks?
Joanna: Beats and blocks. Did that always exist?
Joanna: I think, I don't know. I find that it's very interesting and now I'm just curious about it.
Jay: No, I love that tangent because it does speak to sort of like how a lot of us start out. Like a lot of, I mean at least personally, I started out this idea, someone tweeted this recently and it just got lost to the ether but like you follow the magic. It's like, I don't know how they made that. Like for me in podcasting, that was "Radiolab," this immersive audio experience. They explored really complex topics making it simple and delightful and story-style and fun. And so they're wonderful storytellers and teachers.
Now, if I wanted to create my own version of "Radiolab," I could try to just feel my way forward or what I've started doing with any show I admire is I like to take a notebook and I sit and watch or listen and I try to figure out what their rundown is. And I guarantee you 50% of those people, if I were to talk to them, they'd be like, "Oh huh. Now that you explained it to me, that is exactly how we operate but we've never...
Joanna: They didn't know that.
Jay: ...thought about it that way." Yeah, you know what?
Joanna: Yeah, totally.
Jay: I mean, it's just because for them, it's muscle memory. And so I think now you port that over to the world of business where we all live and everybody listening lives, it's, yes, we want to create things that we are fulfilled by, but now we're creating for a commercial purpose as well and so you have to do it on demand.
So what does that? Like it's a high friction thing to put something out in the world and care about the consumption and also the actions created by that consumption. That's really difficult because our sale happens when you, yeah, consume a bunch of things but something we've produced somehow hits you in such a way that you're gonna take an action. I mean, oh my gosh, that's so difficult to create.
Joanna: Well, I think that's what we're all kind of trying to do and I hope that we get there. I know for sure we don't do it enough but I think that's, you know, now I'm literally staring out the window and pondering things at this point.
Jay: So there can be a misunderstanding here of when you're a writer, you're like, many writers are so profoundly not interested in sales and then there are many people who are interested in sales who don't like to write. Like on both sides you have someone who's a skeptic and you're trying to convince them to care about conversion copywriter. I'm beginning to see why you're so tired.
Joanna: Thank you.
Jay: I get it now.
Joanna: It's a good challenge but it is an ongoing challenge on all sides.
Jay: Right. Well, I guess, you know, there's, there's a lot of advice in these ebooks that you sent me that makes it obvious, makes it clear. Like you have the aha moment reading this, like I have this aha moment talking to you right now. One of my favorite parts that I pulled out, the headline is the most important copy on your page, it's the first message your visitor will see and it has one task, to stop visitors in their tracks. Let me repeat that, your headline's first job is to stop visitors in their tracks, aha.
So again, the debate, if I'm on the sales side, I'm like, "Fantastic, that's what I wanna do." If I'm on the writer side which, you know, I kinda like, am this bleeding-heart creative myself, I'm like, "Wait a second, hold on, hold on, hold on, but clickbait." So how do you sort of lace that message with a little nuance here? So we actually...and I know you do have it in the rest of the chapter but people haven't read it yet, how do you get people not to just be like, "I'm going to say free...like puppies and babies, click and, you know, say 'Aw,' or free money," like there's obviously an extreminism happening here. So how do you tack that back?
Joanna: I mean, I think it's also about, like, I most enjoy reading things when the author has a certain level of respect for my intelligence. So I think with this it's like, I hope that I don't have to spell out to people that if you just try to grab attention with anything in the world that might grab attention, that that's a bad thing. But as soon as I say that, I can think of a half dozen examples easily off the top of my head in this one second of copywriters following that rule and doing like, as you say, like either a terrible clickbait or things that lead to a really destructive message because it's gonna grab their attention. So for sure, for sure that's a real challenge. The obvious, I mean, I think for me, the thing when it's like, okay, try to grab their attention, I guess the unspoken part, there is with something that's relevant. So like something that's actually tied that's gonna turn them into a qualified lead or like filter out the unqualified leads.
So if it is like puppies and babies, I certainly hope you're selling like a calendar filled with pictures of puppies and babies, and if you're not, then what? So, but if we're measuring copy too, then you'll very quickly find out that like, wow, our bounce rate's super high because we put a headline on the page that grabbed their attention and nothing else worked, and so people hopped off the page pretty fast and didn't read or they exited quickly. But you're right, there's, it's just like any tool, it is all in the hands of the user, right? Now that you have that information, what are you going to do with it? You going to use it to manipulate people? If you are, I'm not writing the book for you, you can read it, I don't have anything for you. But if you're somebody who wants to do good things with the product that you're putting out there for an audience that you respect, then hopefully that's where the tools will be useful for you. We can really...right, like there's always going to be someone who takes a hammer and uses it to just smash the hell out of a wall when that's like completely not its purpose at all.
Jay: It's the Spiderman rule, with great power, comes great responsibility and copywriting is a superpower.
Joanna: It is, thank you, sir. I'll take it. I'll pretend...
Jay: I knew you'd like that one, I was like, the whole time I'm like, "What do I say so she knows I actually am a believer?" Let's sink.
Joanna: What's wrong with this guy? Why would he think that? No, I'm just kidding.
Jay: The moment you put these things on Hacker News, you start to get this inbound interest, you start to, you know, compile not decks that are one-off for entrepreneurs, but case studies into these ebooks. You sent them to the beta readers, which gave you the signal that you should break it up into these, let's say, smaller because copy's important, they're not small, smaller ebooks. And when I was kind of like researching for this episode and talking to you ahead of time, you were like, "I kind of accidentally quit my day job after that." What do you mean by you accidentally quit your day job?
Joanna: My most classic move ever. I have some doozies but that is one of them that goes down. So I was working, as I mentioned, I was working at Intuit. Intuit's an incredible employer, I loved with a passion working for them, it was great. I learned so much, there's so much cool stuff going on. For the last like two years of my time there, I was working remotely. So I worked from home and we implemented a new CMS so I was basically just making pages as my job. Like we need a new landing page and I would whip one up. But the time allotted for the page was like eight hours but it would take me like three hours to write it. So I had a lot of spare time in the afternoons in particular, which is how I got, like I started spending more time on Hacker News, etc.
Anyway, while this was going on and working remotely and super duper happy, everything is great, I had a new person come into my work experience who I was reporting into and this particular person and I did not get along very well at all. And they always say, you don't leave the company, you leave the manager, like you quit because of the manager, which is like, mm-hmm. So this person, I just didn't get along at all, we didn't see eye-to-eye. There was a lot of friction there. And so I had learned to practice the art and science of writing an "I quit email." Every time I'd have a meeting with this person, afterward I would write, just to get it out of my system, I would write my "I quit email" and this is going on for like six, seven, eight months.
So I was getting like really refined with the email, I knew like what my day would be, that I would leave so that I could still, you know, stay throughout to get my stock options to vest and all of this stuff, right. And never intending to send it because I loved working for Intuit. And then I was at home and it was an afternoon and I had done all my work, and my partner brought me a glass of wine because when you don't enjoy your manager, once 3:00 hits on a Friday, you're like "Peace, I'm gonna have some wine now."
So I had a glass of wine and I was still sitting at my desk doing other things like finishing up emails, etc, etc. And I was using Microsoft Outlook, which opens emails or the way I had it configured, it opened emails in new windows, so you have like a stack of emails that you can respond to and kind of treat it like pieces of paper that you're whipping out. So I had my "I quit email" in one of those pages and then I had a few other emails like team members, things I was like, work I was doing.
And so the combination of emails, of wine, of not really paying attention because it was a Friday afternoon, I had that "I quit email" open and I was talking to my partner and I hit Send. I was hitting Send on an email to like this coworker and then I went back and talked to my partner and I looked at my email again, I was like, "Oh, it didn't send." And I hit Send again, except that I hit Send on the "I quit email." And it wasn't until like five hours later that I even realized because I was so used to writing it and closing it, writing it, and closing it that I just assumed I had written it and closed it, and then it hit me. I had hit Send on this email. And sure enough when...I was like, "Well, I'll just try to retrieve it, you can do that in Outlook," but I had CCed HR on it and HR had already opened it so I couldn't get it back and I was officially, I had quit. So that was it.
Jay: Wow. Well, I mean, obviously, the moral of the story here is that apparently fates or the muse or however you want to discuss it, that always...they live in wine. Obviously you were supposed to quit, obviously, it should have happened, right? And so you just needed that little extra, I was gonna say liquid courage but it's not even that, it's liquid forgetfulness? I don't know, flakiness?
Joanna: Yeah, liquid distraction.
Jay: So I mean, as an Italian, I do believe that, you know, deities live in wine, so that works out.
Joanna: There you go. I like it.
Jay: I'm thinking about like as you left, you have these ebooks and obviously they're an asset for the business and, you know, you're very good at what you do, so not only is there a lot of value in those ebooks but there's a lot of longevity to them because it wasn't a news article. It was something that was evergreen or relatively evergreen that you could keep mining for value and blog posts and reshare it and resell it and all that good stuff. It takes a while to create something that has that kind of value that compounds when you think about building something that big. And I know you got feedback from those beta users but as a...just as like personally, what's the worst part about creating something like that and what's your favorite part?
Joanna: The worst part, I think early on, I think I was feeling like everybody already knows this, why would anybody want to learn this or learn it from me? Like, isn't this all common sentence and will they all think I'm stupid for thinking you have to write a book about it? But then I don't know what the best part is. For me, the best part is being in there and actually doing it. Even though it might not be valuable to a lot of people, you hope that it will be, but even if they're like, "Oh no, the whole world already knew this, Joanna, it was still, it's just going through, you're just sitting there with your document, writing and it just feels good, that's always going to be my favorite part. Getting in there, getting lost and coming out like exhausted, six hours later you think it was an hour and that's always going to be my favorite part. Even if nobody cares in the end, it was still awesome, like you still really liked doing it.
Jay: I love that so much of everybody I'm talking to is at the top of their field. They're doing really well from the outside looking in, people are like, "They're a success, I couldn't do that because I'm not them." I'm very grateful that we have these premium level guests. And every time I ask people about their favorite part, it always goes back to just plain old doing the work, not the acclaim, not the sales, not it was a genius idea that needed to exist. It was like in the quiet, I just got lost in it. And there's like a certain gratitude in that. I feel like you kind of realize like, "Oh right, we get to do this work."
Joanna: Yes, yes, totally. This is something like you grow up hoping that one day you'll get to do that work. And then nobody told me to do it, I just did it. I mean, people asked me to do it but I could've just been like, "Oh no, I couldn't possibly." And then doing it, yeah, it's hard not to feel a lot of gratitude. I mean, then there does come the point where people do respond well to it and you can make that your life now, that can become your career. You can keep writing this stuff forever, possibly. And there's extreme gratitude in that because you don't have to go back to some job where you can only do it on the side. Now people have supported you and you could just keep trying to do right by them and do better for them. That's a really exciting thing that, I mean, I know that wouldn't always have been a possibility for generations past so it's hard not to feel really grateful that this is an opportunity for so many of us today.
Jay: There's a missing piece in the story of these projects here, these ebooks, which is, we've talked about where the idea came from and how you kind of like get feedback and improved it. Obviously we know you're a writer so sitting down and writing it, you get lost in it. So I kind of have a sense for like how you created it and certainly the modular approach that was super impressive and helpful. What about the editing? Like I find that so often we should say to ourselves not, "Let's create X," like, "let's create an ebook or let's create a podcast." If we started the whole dang process by thinking, "Let's edit an ebook," or "let's edit a podcast," the work would be way better because that's really the work. But we get so excited in the idea, the production and the distribution that we forget this huge thing, which really is the work and that's editing it.
So from your perspective, if you can remember back to when you wrote those things, like you had just created something massive, you are kind of doing it not on a lark in terms of demand, but there certainly was no guarantee it would lead to lots of revenue. It can be very exhausting to just get to the point where you're like, "I built this thing, nobody paid me thousands of dollars upfront to do this, it was so draining. I just want to get rid of it like put it out in the world. Oh wait, I have to edit it." Like how do you muster the courage, the guts, the grit to do that part?
Joanna: I feel like it's kind of like the Lego part of it, like you get to start moving pieces around until it looks right now. So I've always kind of liked editing. The blank page is the scariest part, which is why I think I like starting with research so much. So you can throw stuff on the page and like, phew, okay, it's not blank anymore, now we can go from there. But editing is where everything turns cool. Like that's when you notice that you were pretty wordy in this one area or you see this line and you're like, "Damn, that's not bad, that's pretty good." And so for me, I like...and I also, I'm a big grammar geek. I love studying like syntax and sentence structures, like I did the very best as an English major with the things that were more like that and less artsy and free-flowing.
So I just really like editing, but you're right, it is part of the work and I know a lot of people who are like, "Does anybody know a good editor" or "Does anybody know a good proofreader?" But for me, like that's where I get to kind of geek out most because it is where things actually come together, where you can read through an entire manuscript and realize like this whole section could be cut and the book wouldn't suffer even a little. And then you cut it and part of you dies but you get stronger along though...I don't know, you end up reshaping things.
You can realize that you can take a whole section and move it to the front or reorder the way you've put this together and it's stronger and it's more compelling now because you had to get that first draft out, you had to see where you're going to get with this thing. Like what, where's A? What are all the letters in between and what is Z? And now once you know what that is, after writing, you can say like, "Well, maybe I should open with Z, maybe Z is where it's at. And if I open with A, people will never get to Z because they don't know what they're looking for, so let's try reorganizing it that way." And now it's a more readable book.
Jay: I know it's been a while but if you can reflect back on these projects, do you recall a moment either on those ebooks or maybe a recent big project, if it's more memorable or just, you know, a better story, can you recall a moment where you were building something large like those ebooks and you almost gave it up?
Joanna: Oh, I've been going through this with a new book idea for years and the same thoughts keep getting in the way. So for me, like there is room for a really good book on finding your message on like kind of breaking through the idea of just start writing with like just stop, just don't write, you don't really get to write like at all. So I've been working on, you know, a book outline for years, like actual years. And I keep...every time I see another like nonfiction book come out and I'm like, "Oh, that's so good, I don't know if I could, I can't do that. Like if I write it, mine's going to be too practical and tactical and there won't be like enough cool stories of like how The Doors wrote their songs," right? Like that, you know, like but you read these other books and they've got all these great stories from other people, like these anecdotes and you're like, how did you find that out? And so I keep letting other people's great work get in the way of me doing what might be my next great thing. So that's my block right now.
Jay: I don't know if this is at all relevant or helpful, but I have a microphone in front of me, so words. I wrote my first book in October of last year and I went through the same exact process where I had this group of books that were very successful and I'd be like, "That's no good, how do they get so famous? I could do that." Then I had this other group, "I'm like, that is so good, there's no way in hell I could do that." I wrote this book and a lot of people said some nice things and I felt really great about it until about a month or two afterwards. For the first time in my life, I look back on something I created and I was like embarrassed.
Because I remember now the first version of anything you do, the first attempt at anything you do, if you're doing this work right, I think it should be your worst, shouldn't it? Because you're gonna put in more reps, like the first episode, the first whatever, landing page you build, the first email you send as a salesperson, the first course you create. Like if you're doing this right, that should be your worst. So your future self should look back and be like, "Oh no." You know, and you're also continuing to think about those subjects and talk about those ideas and so that improves the work. So I like there's so many things I wish I wrote into that book because I've just talked about it more and thought about and got better. So it's almost like if it's going to be the worst version anyway, it's almost like, I know this is very flippant of me, but it's almost like you might as well do it?
Joanna: Might as well, totally. I look back at those books that you're talking about and I'm like, "Oh no, don't read that, oh no, no, no, no, no, no. I was way younger, I didn't know what I was thinking." So no, I agree, and, of course, you're going to beat yourself up, I mean most creators who are frankly good at what they do end up beating themselves up quite a bit, like really reflecting hard on everything you do because it's so important to you. So you have to. And I don't know, I'm not saying it's the sign of a great creator, but I think it's at least a signal that like because you care, you care so much. So anyway, it is comforting though to hear that you put this together and then you didn't...I mean comforting for me, not for you, but that you didn't feel great about it in the end.
I'm pretty positive that that's because you care and have high expectations for yourself and for the work that you produce which is super dope and it doesn't mean anything about the quality of the book, it just means like you're probably super-duper critical and I'm probably also super-duper critical. At least you got yours out. Mine's still sitting and now it's in a Dropbox paper so it has moved from Google Docs, so that's like progress, right? I'm getting there.
Jay: So we're making a pact here publicly, coming next spring 2020, Joanna Wiebe's first book, working title, "Super Dope."
Joanna: Yes, yes. Done. You heard it, you heard it here first.
Jay: We end with a quote from William Faulkner as read by Joanna.
Joanna: "Read, read, read, read everything, trash, classics, good and bad and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master, read. You'll absorb it, then write. If it's good, you'll find out, if it's not, throw it out of the window."
Jay: Thank you so much for listening. We're having so much fun making this show but there's a lot of content that kind of spins out from the show. So here's something that I wanted to let you in on. The team at Podia and specifically, CMO, Len Markidan and I are putting together a newsletter only available to show listeners. You can find the link right in your show notes. If you subscribe, Podia will automatically follow up with a copy of their book about making money on courses selling your knowledge. It's usually like 29 bucks on Amazon, but they're gonna give that away for free. And you're also gonna get on that email, transcriptions of the episodes, key takeaways ripped out, links to anything we talk about and my favorite part, exclusive and rolling invitations for periodic live video calls with me and Len, where we talk about the behind the scenes of making the show and also answer questions about creator businesses. So check your show notes to subscribe to that. Thank you to Podia for making this show possible, thank you to you for sticking around with us. I'll be back with another episode of "I Made It" real soon. Until then, I'm Jay Acunzo and this is what I made this week but here's to whatever you're making, keep going. And let us know how we can help. See you.