7 Questions With Bestselling Author And Draft2Digital’s Marketing Director, Kevin Tumlinson
Meet Kevin Tumlinson, an award-winning and bestselling thriller author, with books available in hundreds of countries worldwide. With a long-standing career in film, television, radio, and podcasting, Kevin is a seasoned world traveler, and has produced documentary programming and films ranging from historic aviation to military history.
Kevin’s popular show, the Wordslinger Podcast, is downloaded each week by thousands of listeners, eager to learn from guests that include New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling authors, Fortune 500 professionals, and industry leaders and entrepreneurs of all types. He is known as the Voice of Indie Publishing—a title he’s proud to hold—and he has helped thousands of will-be and new authors build and grow their self-publishing careers.
Following today’s interview I understood why Kevin Tumlinson excels as an inspiring author, Director of Marketing for Draf2Digital, and host of a podcast show – there’s so much talent and drive bottled up in a single individual to make us all feel lazy by comparison.
For the ones of you who are new to my blog, I’m Esther, writer, content creator for authors and massive nerd. If you’re curious to know all the tips & tricks surrounding the process From Writing To Publishing Your Novel, you’re only a click away. For more goodies, articles and giveaways, please consider subscribing to my Newsletter.
Esther Rabbit: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I have been and shall always be a pantser. Or, to make me sound far more respectable while hobnobbing with the traditional publishing crowd, I’m a “discovery writer.”
I should say upfront that I’m not opposed to plotting. I think it’s an amazing skill, and ridiculously useful. It just isn’t a skill I ever cultivated, and when I try it, I feel sticky and kind of gross.
I spent a considerable chunk of my career working as a freelance copywriter, providing ad and marketing copy, white papers, articles, blog posts, and pretty much anything else that involves the written word to clients willing to pay for it. Most of the time, this meant writing on incredibly short deadlines, sometimes “within the next hour.”
I credit this experience with allowing me to hone my craft. Over nearly three decades of writing sharp, concise, inspiring and compelling copy on demand, I managed to figure out the trick of it. And as a result, I gained the ability to think and write fast, and to produce work that could be crowd-pleasing without a lot of prep time.
When I eventually applied this ability to writing fiction, it was a gamechanger for me. I had struggled with outlines for years, convincing myself that “real writers plot.” Turns out, real writers write. And there are lots of ways to do that—none of which are either right or wrong. Just right or wrong for you.
Esther Rabbit: You’ve been writing since you were five years old, so that’s an early discovered gift. Would you say the sooner the better, or can one become a writer at any given age?
Can I cheat and say “both?”
Because first, the sooner you start putting your shoulder into this work the sooner you start to learn all of the skills you need to succeed as a writer. The old adage goes: “The first million words are practice.” So getting on that, producing those million words, is how you get from will-be to author.
Of course, the thing no one mentions is that the second million words are also practice. So are the third million, the fourth, the umpteenth-bajillion and other numbers I could make up all day.
So the second half of my answer is, it doesn’t matter when you start if you’re willing to put in the time and the work. Some writers didn’t pen a book until late in their lives, who went on to phenomenal commercial success. For them, the love of it pushed them to improve quickly. Passion can do that for you.
So my advice to the young will-be author: Start now. Ignore the twisted feeling in your gut that tells you this is hard, that it’s tedious, that you’re no good or that no one will read your work. Negative voices like that are, ultimately, just that part of you who thinks riding a bicycle might be dangerous or asking someone out could be humiliating. When you finally learn to ignore that voice and go for it anyway, you end up discovering just how awesome you are at this. Your goal from there is to become even more awesome at it by applying the skill over and over and studying how other writers do it as often as possible.
My advice to the older will-be author: Start now. Ignore the voice in your head and the feeling in our gut that is telling you that you’re too old for this, that it’s a young person’s game, that you’re set in your ways or you can’t change. You can change. People have taken up bigger pursuits than writing at all manner of ages. There are 90-somethings who just graduated from college.
Also, if you’ve been putting this off as “something I’ll do when I retire,” start doing it now. Forget waiting. Writing is something that exponentially improves every aspect of your life, and it is the noblest personal pursuit I have ever encountered. Hone your writing skills, and you might be able to retire with more money and prestige than you ever imagined. Spend the time now to learn and grow and improve as a writer, and by the time you retire from the day job, you’ll probably already have a body of work you can live off of.
Esther Rabbit: What’s your definition of the first draft?
This has really changed for me over the years. I used to be a “draft first, edit after” guy. My advice in my book 30-Day Author was “never, ever edit while you write, ever. Ever.” But I’ve softened. I’ve evolved. I have a new process that works, repeatedly, and I have seen the light.
I still don’t edit as I write. God no! What are we, heathens?
Instead, I edit the previous day’s work before starting the work of the day. I have my daily word count (it gets adjusted from time to time, but at the moment my minimum is 2K per day), and I hit that count every day. But I don’t start writing until I’ve edited the work from the day before. It gets my head back into the story, gets me back into the rhythm, and it allows me to find and fix more mistakes without feeling overwhelmed by a complete manuscript.
All that may seem like I’ve drifted from the point, but here’s where my definition of a first draft comes in …
A first draft, for me, is the previous day’s work.
There’s an old saying, “Writing is rewriting.” You hear it from some brilliant, incredibly sharp writers. Guys and gals with “Pulitzer Prize Winner” and “Nobel Laureate” riding behind their names. I agree with them. Writing is rewriting. It’s just that this pithy little three-word statement only encapsulates part of the formula.
Rewriting an entire manuscript is a long, tedious, painful affair. It’s the reason most traditional authors are writing a book a year, maybe two, if they’re lucky. (Stephen Kings of the world, chill … I said “most”). The reason this is so difficult is because if we’ve written a 100,000-word novel, we’re taking on 100,000 words of rewrite. A cumbersome task.
Contrast this with editing 2,000 words per day. I mean, that’s kind of thing you might do while sipping coffee and nibbling on a bran muffin. You might do that kind of editing output while standing in line at Whole Foods. You could knock out 2,000 words of editing and rewrites just procrastinating on the 2,000 words of fresh, new writing you’re supposed to be doing. It’s easy.
We fall into the same sort of trap with rewrites as we tend to fall into with writing a book in the first place. Namely, we treat it like we have to produce an entire 100,000-word chunk all at once. When in reality, we can do this in teensy little bites.
One of my favorite stories—and I’m absolutely not kidding, but I may be kind of pretentious—is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the gist is that a fisherman (who is old) catches a huge fish, which is too big to drag into his little boat. This fish could bring him a nice profit, and he’s unwilling just to paddle away from that. So he straps the fish to the side of his boat and works his oars toward home.
As he paddles, smaller fish swim up and start taking chunks out of the big fish. Now it’s a race against time. The old man has to get his prize home before it’s completely eaten away.
There are a lot of metaphors we can draw here, but the one I want you to take away from this is “hang your big fish over the side.” Your goal isn’t to make it back to the dock with that whole fix intact. Your goal is to arrive with a dorsal fin and maybe a hunk of tail.
Do the big work in small bites, day by day. That’s your first draft.
Esther Rabbit: How did your adventure with Draft2Digital start and what gave you wings to embark on this journey?
I had been a fan of Draft2Digital for years. They were my preferred way to distribute my books to all the various platforms, mostly because their process involved zero “meat grinders,” nor did they require me even to mention them in the copyright statement of my books. They were just this cool-looking, authoritative, friendly service that seemed actually to care about me as an author.
When I started really digging into self-publishing, I started listening to a lot of podcasts. I fell in love with a few and listened to them regularly. Over time, I got it into my head that I’d like to do a podcast of my own. I had a background in radio and TV, and still had a ton of equipment (that I wasn’t really using anyway), so I put together a sound booth in my home, and I launched my show, The Wordslinger Podcast.
The show was more or less aimed at indie publishers, though at the time I also wanted it to be a favorite for entrepreneurs of all stripes. Still, I was primarily talking to writers and indie-publishing-industry folk, asking questions that were meant to help me learn all I could to improve my own author career.
Eventually, that led to me reaching out to Draft2Digital, and bringing Dan Wood on my show.
Dan and I stayed in touch after his episode, chatting from time to time and bumping into each other at conferences here and there. At some point, I mentioned to him that I was looking to shut down my copywriting business and that I wanted to start connecting with more people in the publishing industry. I told him that if D2D ever needed a hand with marketing, I’d be happy to help.
It was a couple of months later when Dan reached out to ask if I would help with the launch of a new tool D2D was announcing—their Universal Book Links.
I wrote up a marketing proposal for how I thought the announcement should go, and what I could do to help with the launch. That impressed the founders of the company—I believe their exact words were “You even wrote up a plan!”
I think it was a low bar if I’m being honest. They needed help, and they liked that I was an organized person who followed through.
It was enough, at least, that they offered to bring me on full-time. In a conversation with Aaron Pogue, one of the founders and D2D’s President, I was offered the position, complete with caveats that they knew about my business and my plans to travel full time (that’s a whole other story!), and they were cool with all of it.
So I agreed, they agreed, and I started with them that day.
This, by the way, has been a match made in heaven.
At this point in my writing career, I make full-time money from my books. Which is to say, I don’t have to work for anyone to pay my bills. Of course, any money I make over and above my book income makes life all the more entertaining and gives my wife and all that many more opportunities for incredible experiences. But aside from money, what makes Draft2Digital so wonderful for me is that they actually, legitimately, unfailingly have the success and well-being of the author community at the center of everything they do.
My Wordslinger Podcast is a labor of love. I’ve monetized it from time to time, and I make a smattering of income from it now. But the bulk of the time that show has been on the air, I’ve made zilch from it. I do that show because it enriches me as an author, for a start. But even bigger than that, it allows me to provide something to the indie author community. Through that show, I get to impact the lives of authors, helping them to become what I dreamt of becoming my whole life. I’ve gotten to my brass ring, and Wordslinger Podcast is one of the ways I pay that success forward.
I say that to say this: Draft2Digital is one more avenue for me to help this community that I love. I work for D2D because I love the people and I love their mission and because I feel like this is the place where I can do the most good for the most people.
I love being a writer. It’s my passion. It feeds the purpose of my life.
So does working for Draft2Digital. Through D2D I can reach more writers with the message that “you can do this too, and you probably should be doing it.”
Esther Rabbit: How did you approach author branding to get the fabulous result you have today?
Branding is an evolution.
A lot of people look at big, popular brands and gloss right over them. You see the Nike swoosh or the Starbucks mermaid, and they’re so familiar that you don’t even think about it. You know what they stand for and what they mean. You have your experience with those brands to help you generate a sort of “stereotype.”
Consistency plays a significant role in that. When you go to a McDonald’s or a Walmart or a Starbucks, even if the layout is different the experience is the same. McDonald’s, in particular, is so iconic that when people travel overseas, they almost always visit a local McDonald’s. My wife and I ate at one in the basement of the Louvre the last time we were in Paris (we had a Royale with cheese, naturally). It’s a slice of home that we know we can depend on—a consistent experience that brings us comfort.
The critical point here, by the way, is “consistent experience.” Just in case that didn’t come through.
For writers, the experience inevitably starts with a book. A reader decides to give one of your titles a shot, and that’s the beginning. Growing up, I knew that I could always count on Encyclopedia Brown to solve the mystery with something clever and unobvious, every time. I knew that Orson Scott Card was going to bring me the joy of a well-written tale of sci-fi spectacle, free of profanity and hinting at an epic universe I could explore in daydreams after each book.
If Encyclopedia Brown had one day thrown his hands up and said, “I give, Dad! You’re the Police Chief! How about you figure it out?” or if Orson Scott Card decided to deliver a Quentin Tarantino-style bloodbath filled with profanity, I might find those experiences interesting, but they’d be off brand. I wouldn’t know what the heck was happening. I’d probably skip the next book.
All that said, my own brand didn’t just grow from the soil of Pompeii. It evolved, slowly, over time. It’s still evolving, in fact.
As time goes by, and as I produce more books and learn more about my craft and my audience and my own sense of self, I make adjustments to my branding. This might be a color change—my “emphasis color” for fonts on my site has changed a few times over the years. It might be a change in the imagery I use on my web page or the style of headshot I choose. At one point I changed my actual name—going from using “J. Kevin Tumlinson” to “J.K. Tumlinson” to just “Kevin Tumlinson.”
Also as I grew as an author, I learned more about what branding meant, and why it was necessary. I eventually clicked to the “consistency” thing. And I embarked on a journey to make everything match up.
It’s not all identical, of course. Imagery can change from place to place. Colors can sometimes shift from one platform to another (though I tend to keep those pretty close). But the thing that’s always the same is my “voice.” The tone and style of my writing are pretty consistent, as is the “flavor” of the artwork I use. My covers, when put side-by-side, are very different across genres, but they bear enough elements in common that they fit under my brand.
I chose to be consistent with this voice and flavor—these almost ineffable notes that tie everything together in ways that come sometimes be hard to identify directly. That’s what every author should do when it comes to branding. Decide on who you are, as it pertains to your public persona, and ask, “What does that version of me think, what do they do, how do they see the world, and how do they speak to the world?”
Apply yourself liberally.
Esther Rabbit: What can you tell me about your heroes & heroines?
The protagonist I have the most experience with these days is Dan Kotler—the multi-PhD hero of my archaeological thriller series. He and I have been together for eight books and two short stories, and he is by far the most “like me” character of them all.
Kotler is an anthropologist, who also happens to be a consultant for the FBI. He works with a partner, Agent Roland Denzel, in a new division of the Bureau called “Historic Crimes.” He is the first to complain that it should be “Historical Crimes,” and Denzel is the first to say “Shut up, Kotler.”
Together, Kotler and Denzel tackle crimes that involve some twist of history that creates a real and present danger in the modern day. Kotler brings a genius-level understanding of history and anthropology to bear, and Denzel brings the authority of the US government, along with a badge and a gun. Adventure ensues.
When I say that Kotler is the most “like me” character I’ve written, I’m only partially referring to him being a genius. What I’m really on about is his passion for his work, his temperament, his love of history, and his quest to find “the answer,” or the inherent meaning of life in the universe. Kotler, like me, is kind of looking for a unified field theory of history and human culture. Unlike me, Kotler actually knocked out two intensive PhDs and a lot of outside specialized training to do it.
I mostly read.
One of my favorite things about Kotler and Denzel, as characters, is the sort of bromance they have going. In a lot of ways, they complete each other. They didn’t start off as friends but ended up having each other’s back, no matter what. It helps a great deal that despite any differences in the way they deal with the world, in their interests, and in their life goals, they share the common trait of being dedicated to doing what’s right, for the good of all.
They’re a hell of a lot of fun to write.
Esther Rabbit: How did Wordslinger Podcast start and why should we join in on the fun?
I covered some of this above, but Wordslinger Podcast has been a passion project for me since day one.
It started the way most author podcasts start—I was listening to tons of author podcasts, and thought, “I can do that.” And, like most things I do in life, that was all it took to get me started. I dug out a bunch of my old production gear, dusted it off, emptied a closet in my house, set everything up and just started talking.
I wish I could say that I had a grand plan for the show from the start, but the honest truth is I didn’t. I had a vague idea—that I wanted to explore the behind-the-scenes story of authors and entrepreneurs of all types. But the real purpose and mission of the show didn’t evolve until well after I’d done a handful of interviews.
The show’s mission today is summed up in my personal and professional mission statement:
My purpose is to craft experiences that inform and inspire, educate and entertain, in the service of God and humanity.
That statement evolves and changes over time (I used to say “stories” in place of “experiences,” and the whole “in the service of …” part didn’t exist until a couple of months ago). But the core has always been the same: Inform and inspire, educate and entertain.
I produce Wordslinger podcast so that I have an excuse to talk to people I admire so I can learn from them. I also produce the show so that I can share what I learn with other writers (or anyone else) so they can benefit from this wisdom as well.
This show is meant mostly for the will-be author—as a resource to learn how to approach the business of being an author, and to learn from people who are doing what we most want to do. It’s about providing mentors, making accessible a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that can help make the road to success a little more even, a little less steep, a little more pleasant.
The show is kind of my homage to the self-publishing community. My love letter to them. I use it to give back. Basically, Wordslinger Podcast is part of the “rising tide that lifts all boats.”
You should join in on the fun because it costs you nothing but could gain you everything. If I’m doing my job right.
Find Kevin Tumlinson here:
- Twitter: @draft2digital / @kevintumlinson / @wordslingerpod
- Facebook: com/Draft2Digital / com/JKevinTumlinson / com/WordslingerPodcast
Are you in the Writing Industry?
Shoot me an email, I’d love to interview you!
And if you’re a fan of Paranormal Romance, check out Lost in Amber:
“A new Interplanetary Alliance ambassador on an earthbound mission.
A handful of genetically altered humans to be rescued.
Meeting her changed everything.“