Why You’re More Important Than Your Book with Nicolas ColeMay 23, 2023
Nicolas Cole is an author and the #1 personal development writer on the internet with more than 75,000,000 views on his work.
Cole rose to internet stardom in 2015 when he became the #1 most-read writer on Quora, accumulating tens of millions of views on his viral articles, and his work being republished in Time, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, CNBC, The Chicago Tribune, and more. In 2016, Cole became one of Inc Magazine's Top 10 contributing writers, accumulating millions of views on his business & creativity column, and in 2017 he founded a ghostwriting and thought leadership agency called Digital Press, for Fortune 500 executives, Silicon Valley founders, venture capitalists, Grammy-winning musicians, Olympians, NYT best-selling authors, international public speakers, and more.
Cole has written two books, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer, a memoir about his high school years as one of the highest-ranked World of Warcraft players in North America (while simultaneously undiagnosed with Celiac Disease), and Slow Down, Wake Up: 150 Short Meditations For A More Present Life.
He is also someone who forever changed my business, with an offhand remark he made to me when we had coffee a year or so ago. I know of no one better at merging writing passion with entrepreneurial success and in this episode, we get into why caring about book sales is silly, what journalism professors get wrong and why having no launch strategy is the best strategy of all.
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Anna David: 00:00 Just sort of casually start chatting. Okay.
Nicholas Cole: 00:02 How are your levels?
Anna David: 00:05 We just assume the best?
Nicholas Cole: 00:07 We just assume the best.
Anna David: 00:07 It's always changing.
Nicholas Cole: 00:09 Okay. I'm game.
Anna David: 00:09 Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don't worry. Don't nerd out on the sound.
Nicholas Cole: 00:12 Okay. It's fine.
Anna David: 00:12 You're not aloud. You're nerding out on the sound.
Nicholas Cole: 00:17 I'm a sound engineer. I'm a self taught sound engineer.
Anna David: 00:19 I wouldn't be surprised though. So what's very cool about this is not only that you were the very first person that is sitting in this booth with me, but also that as we were just talking about, you have completely changed the trajectory of my career. But really we're not talking about that either because we're talking about a book launch.
Nicholas Cole: 00:41 That is not what this is really about, but yeah.
Anna David: 00:43 We'll get into what it's not really about, but let's at least try talking about what it's about.
Nicholas Cole: 00:47 Okay. Book launches.
Anna David: 00:48 Okay. But let's talk about first how you started your career. Highly unusual way to start.
Nicholas Cole: 00:54 Very unconventional.
Anna David: 00:55 You went to journalism school.
Nicholas Cole: 00:57 For a year.
Anna David: 00:58 For a year, and what did your professor say to you?
Nicholas Cole: 01:01 Class of five hundred people. Said blogging is a trend. Blogging is a trend and true journalism will never die. You know, just the epitome like clear.
Anna David: 01:12 What year was this?
Nicholas Cole: 01:12 This is 2008.
Anna David: 01:15 Wait, I have one thing that I'm doing hold please.
Nicolas Cole: 00:00 Oh, okay. So this journalism professor says that journalism is never going to die. Traditional journalism is never going to die.
Nicolas Cole: 00:07 And he basically says the internet is one big trend and blogging is just here today, gone tomorrow.
Anna David: 00:13 And you said I'm leaving.
Nicolas Cole: 00:15 Well, no, the first thing that happened was he made this comment that said in order to be credible person, which I, in hindsight, I understand what he was trying to say, but as an 18 year old, this is what I heard. He said, in order to be taken seriously, you need to have at least 10,000 people reading your blog, quote unquote, every day. And everyone laughed as if 10,000 people reading a blog was like inconceivable and impossible. And I raised my hand and I said, I have that. Because at the time I had one of the first big like competitive gaming blogs on the internet. And obviously class gets all quiet and the teacher basically just says like, you know, well that that doesn't account for anything. Like you're going to have this today and it's going to be gone. So I left. And not only did I not show up to that class anymore, but the next year I just decided to transfer. And instead of studying journalism, I studied creative writing.
Anna David: 01:10 The most useless degree ever since I have one too.
Nicolas Cole: 01:12 In journalism? Or Creative Writing?
Anna David: 01:14 Creative Writing.
Nicolas Cole: 01:14 Oh yeah, yeah. Well yeah, they're both in question right now. But yeah, creative writing is like, why do you have a degree. My degree on paper actually says fiction writing. That's like, I mean my dad was just concerned.
Anna David: 01:29 Yeah, I think my parents are still concerned about the whole thing, but so, okay. And so then you got. So you had a post on Quora go viral. That was that before the blog?
Nicolas Cole: 01:41 This happened. Like, well, so skipping ahead. So three years of studying college creative writing in college and basically the last class of my semester I'm thinking, I just spent three years studying how I'm going to become a famous writer working on the craft. And here I think in my last class, someone's going to tell me and here's how you make it happen. And so my teacher sits us down. He was like, he was one of the professors that actually had like one of the more successful careers. He had like a local book pop off in Chicago and he was kind of seen as like the case study. Like you would want to be like this guy. And I looked up to him a lot. And so he, he basically said, everyone take out your notepads, I'm going to tell you how to do this. And he says, what you're going to do is you're going to work on your story, you're going to go home, you're going to print a paper copy of it, you're going to put it in a Manila envelope, you're going to send it to a publishing house, you're going to print off 10 copies, send out to 10 publishing houses, and then you're going to wait. And the estimated wait time is about six months and you have a 90% chance of them coming back and saying, we're not going to take this.
Anna David: 02:48 And a 10% chance of never hearing from them.
Nicolas Cole: 02:50 Yeah. And so, basically everyone's like jotting down notes, like furiously writing. And I'm sitting there, I'm not writing anything, I'm looking at him and I'm like, you're telling me that I have an iPhone in my pocket and the most effective way of going about this is to print a paper copy, put in a Manila envelope and send it off. I was like furious. Yeah. And so after class I met with them and I kind of pushed him on it and I was like, what? How do we use the internet here? Like this can't be the only way and almost kind of frustratedly he said, no, this is the only way. There is no other option. And it's almost like he was a little offended that I was like this kid who thought he knew better. Right. So I left school and basically accepted my quest as like if you want to become a writer, no one's going to tell you how to do it. If you want to build a career writing, you have to be the one to figure out how that's going to make money. So that's what started the Quora seems interesting. At least I'll start there.
Anna David: 03:50 But you didn't actually think that was going to lead to you making money?
Nicolas Cole: 03:53 No, I had no idea. My rationale was it was, I actually a gamer friend of mine was the one who recommended it and I told him and I said, if gamers have YouTube, cause this was 2013 and so a lot of gamers were actually making a lot of money posting their gameplay videos on YouTube. And I was like, well that's interesting. So that's like a metaphor that I can kind of use. I was like, and if Instagram models have Instagram, like fitness and fashion, like where does a writer go? And Twitter wasn't really it and Facebook wasn't it and you're like, no platform seemed like it fit. And he said you should check out the site called Quora. And so for a month all I did was read it and it was just people telling stories and answering these questions in a story format. Those were the ones that got the most attention. So I paid attention that and I was like, you know what, I think I can do this. So I challenged myself same way I've done, you know, I've had all these obsessions, gaming and bodybuilding and everything. So I challenged myself and said, I'm going to write one answer on Quora every single day for a year. If nothing happens, at least I practice my craft. And so that was basically the, the challenge that started and sure enough, you know, consistency paid off and had my first viral hit and like, yeah, maybe like a month or two I had a post hit like 100,000 views and I was like, this is something. And then I started getting republished by other publications and then I started to understand syndication. And then I had the big one pop off, which was, which went to the front page of Reddit and did like a million views in two days.
Anna David: 05:30 What was it about?
Nicolas Cole: 05:31 The question was, is it possible to change yourself so much that you no longer recognize who you are? Something like that. And of course this is how the story always goes, right? Is that day I didn't want to write. I was like, I'm tired from work. For context, I didn't have internet in my apartment during this time because I so badly wanted to finish my book and I knew that if I worked 10 hours a day and I came home, I was going to squander it on the internet. So I deprived myself of internet between 2013 and 2016.
Anna David: 06:06 How did you write on Quora?
Nicolas Cole: 06:06 Every day at work. At the end of the Workday at like put work away. I'd sit down with, you know, Encore and, I would write my answer and I really didn't want to that day, but I did wrote like two paragraphs and put this picture of me, me as like a 16 year old. And then me as like a 23 year old. 16 year old me was like concave chest, like less than a hundred pounds. I was really sick, very skinny. And then X amount of years later I was like this shredded bodybuilder. Right. And so I told that story and literally hit post, went on the train and by the time I got to my apartment, it was front page Reddit. I'm just like exploding.
Anna David: 06:44 Okay. And so then we're in that. So you are writing your book then?
Nicolas Cole: 06:49 Yes. My first memoir.
Anna David: 06:50 And so tell me the decision to write that was what exactly.
Nicolas Cole: 06:58 Hmm. A lot of different reasons. One I knew, well I had the pipe dream, the pipe dream was I'll write this crazy best-selling memoir. Some publisher's going to pick it up, they're going to give me a massive advance, everyone's going to see my brilliance and I'm going to become an overnight millionaire success. Right. That was my pipe dream. Very quickly my boss and mentor poked a big hole in that cause I talked to him. He was my boss who I worked with.
Anna David: 07:28 Oh, what were you doing?
Nicolas Cole: 07:29 I was a copywriter at an ad agency and so he became a very close mentor to me. And you know, I kind of, he had done ad campaigns first, like huge books. Like he had done ad campaigns for Harry Potter and Captain Underpants and like really prominent works. And so I wanted to get his opinion. So I told him what I was writing about and he's like, this is a niche memoir about you as a gamer and you have no credibility as a writer. Like he just, he just poked every hole in it and basically was like, I'm telling you, your dream is flawed so that you can figure out a better way. And it was the harsh, you know, it was the tough love that I needed. So at a certain point I accepted what I was writing was not, I was not swinging for the fences. This was not going to be my like, you know, home run success. I wrote it because that chapter was one that I liked, had really kept to myself. I really didn't share it with a lot of people. Most people that met me like had no idea that I was really sick growing up. They didn't know I was this crazy hardcore gamer. They didn't know that, you know, I was a very different person back then. I was very depressed as a kid and everything. So I wanted to write about it mostly for myself. And that I thought there'd be a lot of growth in that. So I started it in college. One of my, like as a short story, one of my teachers like kind of unearthed it. And then I just couldn't really let go of it. I was like, I just have to write this, took me four years. And I worked, I worked on it like a lot.
Anna David: 09:02 Because of all the pages you threw away?
Nicolas Cole: 09:04 Yeah, first draft was like 800 pages through the whole thing away. Second draft was like 600 pages through the whole thing away because every time I wrote it I realized that I was still angry.
Anna David: 09:15 At your parents?
Nicolas Cole: 09:17 Everybody. I was angry at, you know, my parents for not supporting my desire and dream to be a pro gamer cause I was that good and it just wasn't taken seriously. I was angry at all of the kids I went to high school with that were like, you don't fit in, you know, we don't accept you. I was angry at, you know, just life. Like, why, like why did, why did I not know that I was allergic to gluten? The most common ingredient in America till I was 18. I was sick every day for 18 years. So there was just a lot of anger there. And every time I wrote a draft I was like, this isn't something that someone would enjoy reading. This isn't a story. This is like a teenage kid venting. So I had to keep going and keep refining that and I like, I did everything. I signed myself up for therapy during that. Like for me it was, it wasn't just how do I finish the product, it was like how do I work through this part of me that is still holding me back?
Anna David: 10:19 And how did you know when you had?
Nicolas Cole: 10:23 Like most things in life, you just, you reach a point where you kind of have this feeling, you know, and that's how it's all like with everything. Same thing with working at that job. Like I thought about quitting as a copywriter 8 million times cause I was like, I want to be a writer. But I always had this feeling like, I'm not done learning yet or I'm not, you know, this mentor of mine hadn't passed along everything yet, and then all of a sudden, and we're, I didn't plan this very weirdly. The same day I planned to put my book out, ended up being the last day of my working at the job. And I had nowhere consciously did I plan that. And then it was like, the day came and I was like, this is the universe saying it's not just you're putting the book out. It's like you took the time to work through all of these things and now you're ready. And the moment that happened my entire life like opened up and changed. It was crazy.
Anna David: 11:16 How?
Nicolas Cole: 11:16 Well, quit my job seriously thinking I would like not be able to make money. You know, I was, I didn't know. I had never worked for myself before, so I didn't know. Ended up falling into executive ghostwriting. One client turned to two, two turned to four, 30 days out I was, I had doubled what I was making at this job.
Anna David: 11:43 And Executive Ghostwriting for someone who doesn't know is just writing for a really wealthy, successful person. Yeah. How'd you get into that?
Nicolas Cole: 11:52 So this is where all of the, it's like this one big chess board where everything built on itself because in order for me to launch my book successfully, I thought I need to build myself as a writer online. I need an audience. But as I built myself online, I ended up welcoming other opportunities that ended up paying me more and were more I wouldn't say rewarding but, but they opened more doors than I thought they would. So how I even ended up getting those early clients was people said, I read your work. So they had read my answers on Quora or by that point I had a column with Inc. And like I read your last post on ink so I didn't have to sell them. Yeah. They were like.
Anna David: 12:36 They came to you and they said, would you write an article? Would write my column?
Nicolas Cole: 12:39 Yup, yup. Or would you help me write my articles on LinkedIn or whatever? Yeah. So that, you know, first month that happened, second month it just spiraled. I doubled my income again.
Anna David: 12:51 How did you know what to charge them?
Nicolas Cole: 12:52 I just, I kept going up. I literally kept going up. I started at like a hundred dollars an article and ended up getting as high as like $800 an article. And I just, three months later I was a six figure ghostwriter and yeah, I eclipsed my book like completely with that work, you know?
Anna David: 13:12 So, okay. So let's talk about the book though. So you built up this audience online and you decided on a date to launch it. How did that all, what were you like, okay, I'm going to do this for six months and then the September 6th, I'm releasing like how did you decide?
Nicolas Cole: 13:29 I'm really bad at launches because I'm a really impatient person. So for me, I was like the moment that I emotionally felt like I was done with the book, it had been four years, I was like, I'm done. I just want to put this out and I don't care. So my rationale was I had done all this reading about, you know, like launch strategies versus evergreen strategies. And for those that don't know, it's like launches. I put all this effort in and you have this like open cart, closed cart mentality, you now. It's like you start on Monday and by Sunday the sale's gone and this is your time and that's it. Evergreen is more like, I am trying to build a forest, so I'm not really concerned with Monday to Sunday. I'm just going to build now and over years, over a long period of time, reap dividends from that. And that really appealed to my personality because I knew that I wanted to write more books. So truthfully just writing on Quora and writing online. By that point I had like 100,000 followers and tens of millions of views on my work and I just figured I'm going to put this book out there, I'm going to write articles about it, I'm going to connect it to previous articles that had to do with similar topics. And then I'm going to move on to my next one.
Anna David: 14:44 So in terms of a practical, like you went back to old posts that you had done, you were able on your Ink column to of talk about it?
Nicolas Cole: 14:52 Ink, not so much. It was honestly, well most people don't know, but my, any publication, the views that you get on those major pubs are a fraction of what you can get on a social site. So even though I was one of the Inks, most popular writers, I was probably bringing in somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 views for them every month. My Quora answers were averaging like several million a month. So Ink was more about credibility and Quora was more about really targeted viewer viewership and volume.
Anna David: 15:28 And could you tell how that affected your sales?
Nicolas Cole: 15:33 In small ways. Yeah. Like if I, if I connected the book to an answer on Quora that performed really well, I would see a little spike. But there were so many things that I just, I didn't know. I had gotten really good at writing online and I had not gotten good at understanding books as a product. So, even though like I think it's a classic and the story is great and all of that, all of that shine goes on top of it. Like I just didn't know. I didn't know anything about Amazon keywords. I didn't know anything about running ads for books. I had no ad spend. I had no money when I launched this book. So there was just a lot of things that I would have done differently.
Anna David: 16:14 The book is so great as you know, I'm a huge fan of the book and.
Nicolas Cole: 16:18 I forgot you actually read it.
Anna David: 16:21 Oh yeah, right when I met you.
Nicolas Cole: 16:22 Oh, that's so cool.
Anna David: 16:23 Well, I will say whenever I have someone on, on the podcast, I do actually read the book, having been on many podcasts and known that the host has not read my book, that no matter what they say, when they're pretending, they read it, you can tell. But yeah, no, I loved it. And you know, it's like, not to sound like this. I knew you were a quote real writer from just talking to you. And so it was you know, I, I meet people who write books, when I don't have to read a book for work, I'm not likely to read it and I went out of my way to read it.
Nicolas Cole: 16:56 Well, I appreciate it.
Anna David: 16:59 And then you know, you know, you have a new book, which again I feel like was maybe one of those like quick launches. Like I had just seen you and you didn't mention having a book and then you're like, Oh, this is my new project for the New Year.
Nicolas Cole: 17:11 And I'm dropping another one in like two weeks.
Anna David: 17:13 So tell me about that. It was really interesting. Who is the guy you wrote it with?
Nicolas Cole: 17:17 So the book's called, Slow Down, Wake Up and he's one of my best friends, he was my random roommate in college and we both showed up to University of Missouri. Like we don't know anybody here. And we hated each other at first. And then we ended up becoming so close. And basically what it started off as, not like we wanted to write a book. It started off as a way for us to maintain our friendship because we were both living in Chicago. And about a year after I left my nine to five job, I had essentially decided I'm going to take ghostwriting, I'm going to build a company out of it. So I convinced one of my other closest friends quit his job and we were like, we're going to build this company. And at that same time I decided I was going to move to LA and so he was going to stay in Chicago. I was going to move to LA and I was already like working. I mean, I traded my nine to five for 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM, you know, and then, but I was enjoying it, but it was a lot. And so my entrepreneurial mindset was just accelerating rapidly. And I was traveling a lot. I was flying to Atlanta to see my other friend Drew, who became my co founder. I was flying to Arizona to see my long distance girlfriend and I was flying to LA cause I was working with a company out here, kind of helping them launch and doing some consulting with them. And so I was in Chicago like a week a month. So already my relationship with Matt was strained in a sense. And when I moved we, you know, he was the one who said it, but we both felt it. It was like, I hope we stay close. I hope that we maintain this friendship. And so what we would do is we both were kind of just like writing these things cause we were both stressed. He was doing his Master's and I was, you know, starting a company. And then when we would talk, like usually on Sundays we would be like, Hey, you know, I wrote these things, can I share them with you? And he would do the same. And that became our project.
Anna David: 19:20 And then so, and then you just decided to launch it this last month, or two months ago?
Nicolas Cole: 19:25 Yeah, like a month ago.
Anna David: 19:28 And did you, so, okay, so let's talk about these launch strategies. Did you have strategies?
Nicolas Cole: 19:33 Zero. Same thing. I was like, we had been working on this, we started this three years ago, you know, and we were trading poems back and forth and basically they're like poems intended to be little meditations. And same thing. So for context, I think it's important to understand why my mindset is the way that it is. So every book that I write has a piece, and plays a role in a much larger idea. Much larger idea is that no one has ever written a fully cohesive series of their entire life in memoir form, in a bunch of different genres where every book fits together. A lot of memoir writers are like, this is one story, this is another story. Maybe they do two or three and then they're basically done. They compress like their whole life into this thing. My idea, I had this literally more than 10 years ago, was every chapter of my life because I'm such an intense and passionate person, I go all in. Like when I was a gamer, I was a gamer. I was one of the best in the world. When I was a body builder, I didn't do anything but lift weights and eat chicken and rice and broccoli.
20:42 And same thing when I was studying writing and when I was working in advertising and when I was building this company, like, so each one of these chapters is so unique. There's characters, there's people that come along and mentor you. There's like, it's a world in itself. So my idea was I'm going to turn every one of these chapters in my life into its own memoir. And then within those stories are the other works that I create too. So maybe during, you know, book two or book four, there's poetry that I wrote or there's another book that I wrote or there's a fiction book that I wrote and what no one has done is ever seen how all of these works can be connected. And so for me, not only is it like, Oh, this is my first book, or my second book, like Slow Down, Wake Up isn't my second book. Slow Down, Wake Up is book like 7.3 because I already have the whole thing mapped out.
Anna David: 21:48 Okay. Because the other ones have not come out.
Nicolas Cole: 21:51 The other ones haven't come out yet.
Anna David: 21:52 Or have been written?
Nicolas Cole: 21:52 Or even been written. So this is some like Star Wars. So Confessions of a Teenage Gamer was the beginning. It was book one. Yeah. And then I've got like book 1.1, then book 1.2. And then I've got book two which is the next chapter, and then book like 2.1, so by the end, my hope is that everything that I write has an intentional and deliberate place on the shelf. And the idea then is by spanning all these different genres, no matter where you enter into the web, you're going to realize that you've walked into a much larger world. And so my long-term bet is someone might pick up, Slow Down, Wake Up as a meditation book, but they're going to, they're going to go, I see that this is part of a larger chapter, which is part of a larger act, which is part of a larger Epic. Let me explore, let me wander around. Let me see what else is here.
Anna David: 22:50 Okay. But I guess I don't understand how you could know that other people haven't done that.
Nicolas Cole: 22:57 I mean, I've looked very hard and I don't?
Anna David: 23:01 Or like how you define fitting together.
Nicolas Cole: 23:03 True. Yeah. True. Like technically you could say in anything an author creates in their lifetime is their life's work. But the step that I haven't seen anyone take is say, and here's how they're all connected.
Anna David: 23:19 So, where do you say that in the final one?
Nicolas Cole: 23:22 Well, that's, you know, we're going to say that's a surprise.
Anna David: 23:26 I mean, yeah, I, I felt when I got this, this sound studio that it was, it looked like a time machine. So maybe that's like what we've stepped into.
Nicolas Cole: 23:34 By the way, I have never shared this idea publicly, ever. So this is actually really cool.
Anna David: 23:41 I really appreciate that. I'm still trying to wrap my around it, frankly.
Nicolas Cole: 23:46 Yeah. So basically coming back to your question, that's why for me at a certain, like I guess I kind of realized that I don't care about the launch strategy because there's two truths. One is, and this is just my unique path, currently ghostwriting for other people makes me way more money than a book will or would. For right now. My hope and I'm sure that there will be a tipping point where that replaces itself. The second is I'm creating all of these works because to me that that Magnum Opus that like Epic is a very cool artistic pursuit. I'm doing it for that. I am not, I am not the writer that's like, how can I turn out commercial fiction and sell them for 2.99 on Amazon so that I can maximize my book sales? It's just not who I am.
Anna David: 24:44 Right. I think that's really smart. But so, so literally what do you do? Do you just text Anna David and go and 16 other people and go, Oh, Hey, this is my new thing.
Nicolas Cole: 24:59 Yeah. So for one I'll like, you know, put it on all my social channels and say, here's my next, you know, my newest project, check it out. I will definitely text some friends and say, Hey, I share my work with you. This, I just want you to know that I did this, this is cool. I'll play, I mean, now that I have the ability to, I'll play with some Facebook ads and be like, Hey, if you're interested in meditation, you should check out this meditation book. But for the most part I put it out there and then I just get started on the next one.
Anna David: 25:26 Right. And you don't even look at what happens.
Nicolas Cole: 25:28 I really don't.
Anna David: 25:30 And so things like Facebook ads and you don't even know that those were effective.
Nicolas Cole: 25:35 Yeah. It's something that I would like to try and learn more about. But again, it's like if my goal is to create this massive portrait, the reality is I'm actually far better off putting more ad spend behind it once more of it is done. You know, like right now, no one, no, it's, it's like you're looking at a puzzle and all I've given you is two pieces out of like a hundred.
Anna David: 26:01 We should note that you're quite young. So there's plenty of time. How old are you now?
Nicolas Cole: 26:04 I'm about to turn 30.
Anna David: 26:05 Oh wow. Clocks ticking.
Nicolas Cole: 26:08 Clock is ticking. I got to move.
Anna David: 26:09 I will say, by the way, there is a previous episode that focuses only on ads with Nicholas Eric, who's like the one of the ad book ad experts. And do you know what he taught me, dying to pay someone to handle my ads. I do not want to understand that any more than I need to.
Nicolas Cole: 26:26 Yeah, yeah. I'm a big proponent of know what you don't know and ask for help when you need it.
Anna David: 26:32 Yeah. So your launch strategy we could say is do not care about launches.
Nicolas Cole: 26:36 Pretty much. Yeah. And the irony was, you know, when I set out to first write on Quora and do all that, all of that was with the hope of I build this audience and I learn how to get attention and I was working at a marketing agency. And all of it was so that I could make my book a bestseller. It wasn't until I actually put the book out that I realized that, first of all, well there's a lot of nuances, but basically it was, is that the way that I had built myself ended up being more valuable than the book itself. And that opened up more doors for, I mean now I get to advise startups on their messaging like that just, it's like almost like being realistic with it. Like I love my art and I want to protect my art. So I'm glad that I've learned how to make money off of writing in other ways so that I don't have to sit here and go, how do I make sure that my poetry books earn me six figures? I don't have to care about that. Which means that I can focus more on making them what I want them to be.
Anna David: 27:43 Well, and I actually believe that that philosophy is not like counter intuitive at all. I think that's what we tell all of our clients. That's what I tell all of my students. And it's what I do, which is, you know, I came from the world of traditional publishing where you made so much money. Huh? It seemed like it at the time on your advances that, that was it and it was, you were getting paid to do that and it was, you know, movie rights and all of those things. And then it's changed so much that anybody who's counting on book sales to get them rich is just, you know, they are in the time machine that we are just pretending we are in. And, but there's so much that can happen as a result of being an author and it doesn't have to be a New York Times bestseller. If I could underline that more, you know, everybody I talked to, Oh, I just want it to be a New York Times bestseller. Well you don't need it to be, and it happens to 0.001% of authors. So that that does not seem like a realistic goal for most. So let that go and let's talk realistic goals. What do you want to have happen as a result of this book?
Nicolas Cole: 28:47 Well, and I totally agree with all of that. And I would also add too is like I still want all of those things. I just think it's smarter to understand which goals you can reach sooner, faster when you know.
Anna David: 29:04 Exactly. But, but yeah, I mean you are unusual in that case that like, yes, it's all in the future. That's not the case. Especially for somebody who wants to do one book.
Nicolas Cole: 29:13 Yeah, true. One book, the idea of one anything, to me is gone. Like, I don't believe in one album, one book, one movie, one, that life doesn't exist anymore because the one I tell people is you have to realize you're competing against people like me, where I put something new on the internet every day. Yeah. So if you think that you're going to be heard with one thing, just realize that your competition is putting out thousands of things.
Anna David: 29:43 Okay. But I will say that one, a person, an entrepreneur putting out one book who is trying to establish authority and get media and all whatever it is that they have, the ability to put a lot of other stuff behind that one, then that's different. As an artist, please, if you're going to spend, you know, and you probably don't recommend spending five years writing a book because.
Nicolas Cole: 30:08 No. I learned that the hard way.
Anna David: 30:09 Yeah. So, and let's just say that this, this big effect you've had on my life was we had met, I don't know, two years ago maybe now. And we had coffee and I basically was telling you where my business was. And you said to me, you said something like, I'm confused. You have very successful people coming to you and wanting you to do their books for them. And yet you are focused on other people who complain a lot, who don't want to pay you a lot of money to teach that. What are you doing basically? And you actually, you know, just sort of casually trotted out some copy off the top of your head, which I ended up using.
Nicolas Cole: 30:56 Oh really? That's amazing.
Anna David: 30:57 Yeah. And it just transformed my business and I went full force into the publishing company and I actually now do teach, but just as a side gig and because it's not where my income comes from.
Nicolas Cole: 31:10 You can treat it differently.
Anna David: 31:11 I have a totally different attitude and suddenly they aren't complaining people, they're delightful people who I'm so happy to help.
Nicolas Cole: 31:19 Yeah. It's the big aha for me was, and that was the same, you know, that was how we built our company Digital Press was we worked with founders and executives and Olympians and Grammy winners. Like I basically understood there's a lot of different types of people that want help with their writing, but as my mentor would say, it takes the same amount of effort to make $1,000 as it does $10,000, or it takes the same amount of effort to work with, you know, someone who doesn't have any money versus someone who does have money. So it's not that, my belief is like don't help people who don't have money. I respond to every email when, you know, some 15 year old kid in another country emails me and is like, I want to become a writer. How do I do this? Like I respond. I just believe like you should understand the pieces on the chessboard so that you're maximizing both. Help other people by putting things out for free and you know, write articles and give advice and do all of that. But your income and your quality of life should be what you want it to be. So work with the people that respect it and that are willing to pay for it.
Anna David: 32:20 Yeah. And I will say that oftentimes the most successful people that we have as clients are the most grateful because they understand what it takes to build a business. They understand that you're not, you know, they are one client of several that you are serving and they're less demanding and they're too busy to be demanding oftentimes.
Nicolas Cole: 32:39 And usually they've, you know, they have their own path where they've learned all these same lessons for themselves and they hate when they experience that with someone else. You know, like our best clients are bar none, are most successful. The ones that don't ever miss a call, the ones that trust, the ones that give minimal edits, the ones like, they're all like CEOs of publicly traded companies or really, really, really successful founders.
Anna David: 33:08 But I will tell you what my most difficult clients have taught me is given me flashbacks to the way I've been in the past. You know, my most difficult clients are enraged that we're not doing more for them. And all that does is make us want to do less for them. And it reminds me of, you know, my editor at Harper Collins, I'm 99% convinced he never read one of my books. All he ever said was like, these are great. And I thought that was cause I was genius. I understand that he was just lazy and he didn't care. He didn't value me. He valued the person they had given a $2 million advance to, and that's where he was putting his time and energy. And yeah. And so, you know, I learned more from the challenging clients, so okay, but seeking clients. So what is going on with your company? What is your next move?
Nicolas Cole: 33:58 So basically we built it very quickly. I mean it became, you know, multimillion in revenue and like less than two years. And we had, you know, 15, 20 full time employees and 60, 70 clients. Basically. I got to a point where I realized I am now, I can't write, I am a full time, you know, I'm a full time entrepreneur. And at first that was really exciting. And it definitely allowed me to grow in ways that I probably wouldn't have been able to. I definitely wouldn't have been able to, but I took this, this is like the most just entrepreneur story ever. I took this trip to Mexico about six months ago with my girlfriend and she had been pushing me to do it. She's like, you need some time. So I set up, our company is remote, so I just said, I'm going to take my laptop, I'm going to work remotely in Mexico, I'll work during the weeks. And then on the weekends we'll go and explore, and do all this stuff. And about two and a half weeks into the trip we took a weekend to this lagoon in the middle of the forest. I mean, this was like a three hour drive.
35:10 There was nothing around. And we stayed in this little, it was an Airbnb, but it was, I mean, one step up from a shack like on, on the lagoon and I'm eating, you know, mangoes with a knife and I'm just like full, like I fully embrace nature. And I'm in this lagoon and I'm laying there, and first of all my girlfriends having like, you know, what she thinks are like past life memories. And I'm sitting there tripping just like we, it was a crazy vibe and I'm laying in the water, which was white sand, literally the temperature of a bath, fresh water, not salt, in the most naturally beautiful place I'd maybe ever seen. And just for whatever reason, it just hit me. And I was like, I'm not happy. I'm not doing what I set out to do. And I remembered being that kid and you know, graduating from college and saying, I'm going to figure out how to be a successful writer. And the business allowed me to grow in certain ways, but it ultimately felt like a distraction.
36:19 It felt like a detour. And I came back that next week and talked with my co-founder and he had been feeling it too. I mean, we were just burned out. We had been doing it for like two years and yeah, basically just came to conclusion, we can't do this anymore. So yeah, we just started looking at what would be realistic about that and ended up letting like 90% of our clients go and ended up cleaning shop and you know, tried to help employees find jobs. And I mean, we just basically shut the whole thing down and kept it alive with our, was basically Drew and I continuing to do the work. And like our favorite eight to 10 clients as a way of us sustaining income to figure out what we wanted to do next. And yeah, so that happened like six months ago. And so the beginning of this year has been the first time, you know, like I deferred every dollar from that company for two years. So I just poured it all back into growth and I was working 12, 14 hours a day and I was, you know, I sacrificed every relationship in my life.
37:27 Like it was, entrepreneurship is real. And again, same thing when I get into a chapter, I go all in cause I want to experience it. And now the past three months are the first time in three years that I've had mental clarity and asking myself what do I want to do? And so what I keep coming back to is you need to work on your Epic, you know, your big master plan. And doing that through the lens of building a publishing company. Because what I realized is a lot of people that I work with end up wanting to do books and many of them are actually very receptive to the idea of co-authoring it with me. Because I have an audience and because I have.
Anna David: 38:07 You want to be one of my competitors is what you're trying to tell me.
Nicolas Cole: 38:08 But here's the thing is we're also friends though. Yes we can collaborate.
Anna David: 38:14 Collaborate are not competitive.
Nicolas Cole: 38:15 I don't look at it as competition.
Anna David: 38:16 No, not at all. And I was actually, when you were talking about building, I was thinking about this Dan Sullivan idea, which is the free zone frontier, which is there is no competition. It's all collaboration. And when you want to move the needle in your business, you don't say what, you say who.
Nicolas Cole: 38:34 Yeah. You ask other people to, you know, Hey, I'll promote you. You promote me. Hey, let's work on this together. Hey, let's do a joint book together. Hey, let's, you know.
Anna David: 38:43 And so, okay, we have to start wrapping up. So if you wanted to apply that to book launches or anybody, you know that there, that can also be applied to that, absolutely leverage your relationship.
Nicolas Cole: 38:55 Reach out to people, ask them to post, post your book on their Instagram stories and find influencers that have those same niches. And you know, like with the gaming book, I ended up reaching out to a bunch of old gamer friends that had YouTube channels, you know, and I was like, Hey, throw, throw this in a video or something. And there's no shortage of things that you can do. I think just the thing that I keep coming back to is, again, you have to remember who your competition is and people who really succeed, especially in self publishing, their volumes out of control. They put out a lot. Yeah. And so if you're wanting to compete in that world, you have to figure out a way where you're not putting out one book every two years or three years or four years. You have to realize the people you're competing with are putting out a Kindle unlimited book every two months.
Anna David: 39:47 And they're probably writing like fantasy, romance.
Nicolas Cole: 39:49 Yeah, totally fantasy. Right. It drives me nuts. But yeah. But the reason why I study all of that is because I like to be aware of what everyone's doing and then I pick and choose the tools that I want.
Anna David: 39:59 Yes, yes, yes. Okay. Well this has been amazing.
Nicolas Cole: 40:03 This is a time machine. Was that like four minutes? I don't understand.
Anna David: 40:07 40 seconds actually. 40 minutes.
Nicolas Cole: 40:09 No way.
Anna David: 40:10 Yeah. So, okay. If people want to find you, it does not sound like they can hire you to be ghostwriter?
Nicolas Cole: 40:18 I mean I've got a nice, you know, I've got my nice roster. What I'm really interested in now are picking and choosing co-author projects. I'm working on two right now that are very, very exciting. But I think over time I will move more and more into my own books and writing books with other people. Cause I what you get to learn from someone when you sit down and do that is insane. You get paid to learn, I mean, I got that with articles, but books are like, you get everything that person's ever known ever. So those are the projects that I'm really interested in.
Anna David: 40:54 So if people want to find you, where can they go?
Nicolas Cole: 40:56 NicholasCole.com or I have, you know, all my writings on Medium and Quora.
Anna David: 41:02 And you're on Instagram. Do you still post? I don't see much of your stuff lately.
Nicolas Cole: 41:05 Like every once in a while.
Anna David: 41:05 Okay. Thank you so much. This has been amazing.