Scott Sigler: “Rewriting Publishing with Podcasts” | Talks At Google

Scott Sigler: “Rewriting Publishing with Podcasts” | Talks At Google

PRESENTER: Please join me in
welcoming Scott Sigler. [APPLAUSE] INTERVIEWER: Thanks,
[INAUDIBLE]. So welcome to Google, Scott. Thanks for coming today. wanted to invite you here
for two reasons. One, I’m a really big fan and I
just wanted to sit down and talk with you. And two, Google is
an innovation and technology company. And I think maybe not in your
past career, but definitely when it comes to writing and
publishing, you’ve definitely been innovative and done some
different things in the writing world. So for all those that don’t
know, can you share really how you got started and how your
career kind of kicked off? SCOTT SIGLER: Well, I pretty
much knew I wanted to do, I think, since the third or fourth
grade, that I wanted to be a novelist. That’s what I wanted
to do for a living. After reading a Stephen
King book. I read “Silver Bullet,” by
Stephen King, and I was like, this is great. I want to do this. And movies were also an
influence on that. But so went to college
for journalism. Figured I would just get a lot
of repetition writing. So I tried to find a job
I could do which was– unfortunately, it was easy. I was very lazy. Like if there’s an essay,
I got that part nailed. So I’ll just go into something
that’s all writing, and then I don’t actually have to
work for a living. It didn’t turn out
quite that way. Was in newspapers for a few
years, then got into a software company that did
publishing for newspapers. And from that point, I was fully
committed to getting an agent, getting a publisher,
and becoming an author. And that took about 10 years. I finally got a deal with
AOL-Time Warner, who had a very early version of Reddit,
but for publishing, where you would upload three chapters of
your book, and other people would vote on it. And it was called iPublish. And then the editors only
reviewed the top 5% of vote-getters. So it was a great way for them
to deal with the slush pile. Got a deal with them. Had a book called “Earthcore”
that was supposed to be out in every store in May 2002. Then 9/11 recession– they shut down the imprint,
and I had no print deal whatsoever. So I was sitting On a professionally
edited book. And from 2000 to 2005, couldn’t
get any interest going for it again. And then learned about
podcasting. And for podcasting, I’m like,
oh, this is great. Serialized content. I’m going to go find some
audiobooks to listen to. Because I just assumed people
were putting out audiobooks that way, like the radio dramas
of the ’40s and ’50s. And when I couldn’t
find any, it took me two days of googling. I just was convinced that I
was doing something wrong. I’m like, what am words am I
not putting together here? And then the light bulb
went off that nobody had done that yet. And having a marketing
background, if I can learn to podcast a novel, I can spin a
big deal about this, even though I don’t actually have
a publishing deal. And then put “Earthcore” as a
free, unabridged, serialized podcast novel, and put out a
few press releases, and was able to get rolling
from there. And then started to build a fan
base, and after that, have just been giving away
books ever since. That was March 2005, and
I’ve been doing it every Sunday since. INTERVIEWER: Yeah. And so your fan base grew
pretty quickly, correct? Once you start releasing
those podcasts? And talk about the first kind
of, all these publishers wouldn’t sign you. You thought you had a great
book, great content. When did your first book get
printed, even though you did the podcast? AUDIENCE: Well I was totally
convinced that I was going to get to 10,000 subscribers and
then be able to show that to publishers, and they would be
hitting me in the face with rolls of 20s. Just like, sign with us,
man, sign with us. So I was like, it was heads
down, let’s just get to 10,000 subscribers. And I did that and I showed it
to my agent, who was already super angry that I was giving
away the audiobook for free. He’s like, that’s going
to mess up everything. What are you doing? We’re going to lose
the audio rights. And went ahead with
that anyways. And then when I got 10,000
subscribers, tried to show that to the agent, and show
that to publishers. And they were like,
what is this? We don’t even know
what this is. Well, it’s a podcast. What is that? Like, well, it’s this thing
on the internet. They’re like, we’re not so
sure about the internet. We don’t know about this. It’s dangerous. And so I was stumped. And then the subscriber
base kept growing. And then worked with a small
Canadian imprint called Dragon Moon Press, and we put
out “Earthcore” in print and trade paperback. Learned a lot about that, and
then I ramped up and I kind of looked at Amazon, and realized,
oh, if I can get my 10,000 fans to all go buy the
book on the same day, then all of a sudden, I’ll be
at the top of the Amazon ranks, maybe. I wasn’t sure. So we put out one called
“Ancestor.” And “Ancestor,” did a big grassroots
campaign for it. Lot of free PDFs, lot
of free stuff. And then when it came out,
within a couple hours, it was the number one book in horror,
number one book in sci-fi in Amazon. It was the number two fiction
book overall on Amazon behind one of the “Harry
Potter” books. So which was awesome. So all of a sudden, I’m at the
top of the Amazon charts. And at that point, Amazon wasn’t
reporting to “The New York Times.” There’s
no idea if we sold enough to chart there. But I had a new agent, and
he had put a book called “Infected” on many new desks
in New York, and there are about 20 people who were
moderately interested in it. Then they saw that this guy had
come out of nowhere and topped the charts on Amazon. And this is pre-ebook. So there were no ebooks
on Amazon. This is straight up, $14.95 to
get the trade paperback from an author that nobody’s
ever heard of. And then because they liked
“Infected” and saw– they didn’t know what I had
done, but they just knew I was topping all of their books. And then “Infected” went into
auction and wound up with Crown, wound up with a five-book
deal with Crown. Been rolling ever since. INTERVIEWER: Nice, nice. So when that all started,
there was really no ebook industry. How has that changed your
thoughts on publishing and getting your books
out to market? Because there’s a lot of people
out there now that are self-publishing and getting
millions and millions of book sales. SCOTT SIGLER: Yeah, and there’s
the upper crust. There’s people who are
selling 500,000, a million books a year. And the Hugh Howeys and
the Amanda Hockings– you’ve heard of them, but then
there’s a lot of people that are selling 5,000, 10,000,
15,000 copies a year and are really happy with the amount
of sales that they have. And that’s all been fascinating
to watch. And also, it’s been fascinating
to kind of be locked out of that. Because when I signed with
Crown, they let me do a young adult series called “Galactik
Football” series. But watching people put out
sci-fi thrillers and various styles of books that I do, and
rack up these incredible sales on Amazon at $5 a pop,
collecting 70% of every sale, just doing wonderful. And I can’t do any of that,
because now I’ve got a no-compete clause in
the contract I signed back in 2007. So from my perspective, it’s
been a little frustrating to watch other people
play the game. Play the number system. Put out a really good product,
figure out how to get it in front of people, and then let
Amazon’s “if you like this, you’ll like this” go to work. And if you can sell a certain
number of copies and Amazon starts to do your marketing for
you, that’s where those big sales come from. The Amanda Hockings and the Hugh
Howeys didn’t do anything themselves to sell that million,
but they got to a threshold, and Amazon’s
system kicks in. Then it’s a great book, and
then all of a sudden, Katy bar the door. So we haven’t been
able to do that. We have been able to put out
our independent “Galactik Football League” novels as
ebooks, and those have done really well for us. But we’ve also already saturated
our audience, because we put them
out as limited edition hardcovers first. Then we put them out as ebooks,
put them out as paperbacks. We’re just now getting into some
ebook-only novellas from that series. And our mission right now in our
company is, we want to get 10 to 15 really good products
out there, and then start to market it. Because we don’t know a whole
lot about ebooks, other than that more is more. And people with five, six,
seven books tend to sell higher numbers than those
individual books. Because there’s some kind of
customer perception– it you come in and you just see one
book, you’re like, ah, she’s probably not very good. She’s only got one book. Somebody you’ve never
heard of. If you come in and she’s got
seven, you’re like, whoa, man, she must be solid. She’s got seven books. And the audience still hasn’t
quite got the concept that yeah, she’s got seven books
because she put seven books up all by herself. It doesn’t necessarily have any
reflection on quality, but it’s still there. If you see that row of books,
those tend to sell better. So we’re trying to get enough
books up there so it looks impressive when we
do our marketing. Hopefully that’ll help. INTERVIEWER: I think that’s how
I discovered you, is kind of through that Amazon
marketing machine. I read “Old Man’s War.” And
right after “Old Man’s War,” it said, if you liked this,
you might like this book called “Infected.” And I went
on there, and there were, I think there were like 100
reviews at the time, and was all four or five stars. So it was like, I’ll
give it a try. And ever since, I’ve been
reading your books. So yeah. What I’m interested in is you
started your own publishing company, but you had
a book deal. So how did you work that out? And then also, does your
publisher have any problem with you continuing to release
the audiobooks for free? SCOTT SIGLER: Well, we recently
ran into the problem with releasing the audiobooks
for free, so I’ll answer that one first. So when your novel goes into a
bidding war, that’s a crazy experience for somebody who’s
coming to work at 2:00 in the morning so he can abuse
the printer and the copier to send out– I’m going to print out 300 pages
of this and send this out, and here’s 20 more
submissions to go out. So just totally commando
style, trying to get the book out there. Then all of a sudden, people
are bidding on your book. And my only instruction to the
agent was, like, I have no idea what’s going on with
any of this, so you take care of this. But I get to keep giving away
my audiobooks for free. Because these are the people who
got me here, so these are the people I’m going to
continue to cater to. And that was my only
qualification. And if a publisher didn’t want
to allow me to give away free audiobooks, free serialized
audiobooks, then, like, don’t bid, because I won’t sign your
contract, no matter what you’re offering. And Crown was good to go. There were three main publishers
that were in it at the end, and Crown was like,
absolutely, whatever you did you get this audience,
keep this audience. So that was great. Then I signed with Crown, Steve
Ross at Crown, and two weeks later, he had moved on to
another publishing house. And when a new boss comes
in, everything changes. But they let me do it for the
first three books, for “Infected,” “Contagious,” and
“Ancestor.” And then we put out “Nocturnal” in May of last
year, and they just flat-out didn’t put out the
audiobook at all. And we could not figure out what
was going– and now we know, because they are
subletting the books to Recorded Books, and Recorded
Books is like, we’re not going to put out a book if he’s
giving it away for free. So now all of a sudden, the one
contractual stipulation I had has run into some red
tape with the publisher. So we’re trying to figure out
how to get that audiobook out. And if you look at it,
everybody’s side in the argument makes perfect sense. It’s just, we want to put out
the audiobook for free. That’s not in their best
interest, so they’re opting out of that. So we’re trying to get the
audiobook rights ourselves and put that out. So that part has gotten
a little bit dicey. As far as putting out our
own books, I had– I’m the son of a football coach
and from a football family, and huge sci-fi nerd, so
I kind of combined the two for this “Galactik Football
League” series, which is a young adult series. It’s an American pro football
league 700 years in the future, with aliens playing
different positions based on physiology. So you’ve got receivers and
defensive backs who can jump 20 feet in the air, and
1,200-pound linemen, and linebackers that literally
want to eat you, that kind of thing. It’s really fun. And the whole series is
actually, it’s a metaphor for the racial unifying power of
sports, and how in sports, no matter what your prejudices are,
it becomes a meritocracy immediately. I don’t like that guy’s
religion, but he’s really going at running the ball, so
I’ll just let that slide. And I had this book, “The
Rookie,” and offered it to Crown when they signed me. I’m like, I got this. This is going to be– I’m like, this is going to be
the biggest thing ever. It’s going to be like “Harry
Potter” for jocks. You guys gotta sign this. And they just sort
of opted out. So I had this perfectly
good book. I’m like, do you guys mind
if I put this out myself. And they’re like, well, as long
as it’s not in stores, it’s not a problem. And you could tell it
was one of those things, like, how nice. He wants to put out
his little book. You go right ahead and put
out your little book. And I was like, awesome,
thank you. INTERVIEWER: That’s
cute, yeah. SCOTT SIGLER: They’re like,
oh, that’s cute. And they thought, once I had
“Infected” out, that I would stop doing that and
stop giving the podcasts away for free. So they totally honored their
word, but when they said, sure, they were like, ah,
give him two weeks. He’ll be fine. Don’t worry. After he’s done with a book
tour, he won’t want to do these things anymore. But we had another idea with the
existing fan base, because we give stuff away. We give 30 to 45 minutes of
content away, free, at least once a week. Usually twice, sometimes even
three times a week, just constantly keep free stuff
coming down the feed. We got this idea. We’re like, what if we asked
them to pay $35 for it 10 months ahead of time? And we get all the money in,
and then we’ll have all the cash flow to put out
a hardcover book. And we did that, and we sold
3,000 copies of that book, and had all the money in to make a
really tricked-out hardcover. And then when September comes
at the start of football season, we send that book out. So we’ve done that four times
with the four books in the series and it’s been very
successful for us. And we’ve since then, since
we’re selling out of the hardcovers– two of the four titles
are just sold out. We’ll never reprint the
hardcovers again. Now we’re putting them out in
paperback, putting them out in ebook, and we also put out
the audiobooks for them. So we’ve got the four novels,
three novellas. We’re actually to the point,
now, we’re starting to bring in voice talent other than
myself to record the books. Because I’m finding
out I’m not as– INTERVIEWER: So talk about
that a little bit. Because you record all these
books on your own. But I feel like they’re very
professionally well done. Did it start out that way? Or have you just grown
into this audiobook recorder over the years? SCOTT SIGLER: Kind
of grown into it. We put out the first book,
“Earthcore,” and I worked for a company in San Francisco, SNP
Communications, that did kind of talk radio programs
for Fortune 500 companies. So the CEO would sit down, like
Scott McNealy would sit down, and then you’d interview
a couple sales guys, a couple distributors. They did an amazing job of communicating to a larger company. But they had all this recording
gear in there. So they had a full-on
recording studio. So when I find out about
podcasting for “Earthcore,” I’m like, I gotta learn
how to record. I gotta learn, what
is this RSS? I have to figure out how
these things work. I need a website. But would go in at 2 o’clock in
the morning and record four or five chapters. And I had no idea what I was
doing, so it kind of adopted this crazy midnight-DJ persona
to introduce all the episodes, which maintains to this day. But then to make my
buddies laugh– we grew up in a really small
town in Michigan, and there was literally nothing
to do but play D&D and go to the movies. So we would play D&D every
weekend, and then we would go to the same movie four and
five times a week. And we would just do imitations
of all the characters in the movies. So we all had our Eddie
Murphy, we all had our Richard Pryor. We and “Saturday Night
Live,” we were all mimicking every character. And we just would
bounce these. So I was able to come in for
“Earthcore” without any acting experience, but I knew how
to do funny voices. So I just gave every character
its own individual voice, and then that has become
a strong suit. That I’ve gotten pretty good at
over the past seven years. So now that’s what the audience
has come to expect. And then because I started out
in an actual recording studio, when I got booted and
they caught me– the boss came in at 2:00
in the morning to work. She’s like, what are
you doing here? Ah, OK, I’m busted. So I got about a 600-square-foot
apartment in San Francisco with a very small
closet, and that became the recording studio. So I moved a Flower Power iMac
in there, put in a little desk, and had the clothes
all around, and would record in my closet. So that was the next two
years of the process. And then became obsessed– when I heard the quality
difference in sound, it drove me crazy. Drove me crazy. So I started buying gear and
learning how to record, to try and get it to sound really
professional. And then we got an actual
audio booth that went in the closet. So sneak in the closet,
have to shimmy– I would have other people
come over, and they were 200-pound guys. They could not get in. They could not, just
really had to wedge your way in there. And became obsessed with
making it high-quality. And now that I actually listen
to other people’s audiobooks, we’re really, really
proud of that. Because most audiobooks you’ll
get off of Audible or iTunes, we blow them out of the water. Our stuff sounds really,
really good. And our mission has always been,
even before we started selling the condensed
audiobooks, if I’m going to take 30 minutes of somebody’s
time that they’ll never get back, we’re going to make sure
that there is not one better-quality thing
out there. We will have the best quality
audio, period. So now the system’s
really dialed in. And it’s nice, because we
just go in and record. And we do the podcasts, put them
all together, and then sell that as a downloadable
audiobook. And that’s one of the things,
we’re very happy to hear from people, like, this
sounds fantastic. So quality audio is a
big priority for us. INTERVIEWER: Definitely. So it seems like lot of what
you do is for the fans, and you want to make sure they’re
getting the most out of the experience, whether it’s
listening to your book or reading it. What’s more important to you? That fan loyalty and retention, or the writing awards? What are you looking
to achieve over the next couple of years? SCOTT SIGLER: Our job is
to make the fans happy. That’s what our job is. We’ve got what we feel are some
important messages and themes in the book, and if
people get something out of it, that’s great. But for the most part, people
are reading or listening to my stuff to escape their
day-to-day life. They want to go experience some
other world for a while. So keeping really high-quality
content that the fans expect, keeping that coming to them, is
the most important thing. So that’s way more important
than any of the awards or anything. The awards, if you get nominated
for something or win something, that’s really good. It’s flattering to the ego. But the biggest thing is
making sure that the customers are happy. Because we started
all this out– I wouldn’t have anything without
a bunch of die-hard fans who were clamoring for the
next episode every week. And then we put out “Ancestor,”
and we’re like, I’ve been giving you guys
this stuff away free for four years. Do you mind buying a book? They were like, just boom. And we knocked it out of
the park with Amazon. My dad had a phrase– he was a football coach,
as I mentioned. But he would run a play, and if
it was successful, he would run the same play
90% of the game. And everybody would be
complaining, like your games are so boring. He’s like, we won 42 to 6. They could not stop that play,
so we ran that play. And his phrase is always, you
dance with the one that brought you. So if you’ve done something to
get to a place, and people have taken care of you, then you
take care of those people. So the fans are the most
important thing to us. There were times when I was
working a day job or two and trying to record audio to
put out in the feed. Like I was literally writing a
novel, recording that novel, editing that novel, just to make
sure something hit the feed on Sunday. We were just killing ourselves
to get that out. But we didn’t want
to lose that. What we do is we give you
that every Sunday. That’s why you keep
coming back. So the fans are the most
important thing. Taking care of them
is job one. INTERVIEWER: So I consider
myself a very relaxed, laid-back fan of yours. Talk about some of your more
extreme fans and the following that you’ve kind of gathered
over the years. I go to your blog and I see
these people with tattoos of characters on their arms
and things like that. Talk a little bit about
that, and how you’ve grown that loyalty. SCOTT SIGLER: That’s awesome. I’m not gonna lie to you. Somebody sends you a picture,
and their back is a tattoo of something that you made up,
it’s like, just wow. Ego just swelling so big you
can’t get through the door. But it’s great. It’s great to see that people
enjoy it that much, that they literally want that to be a
permanent part of them. The team logos from the
“Galactik Football League” are a really big one. And “Infected” is a story of
an ex-linebacker from the University of Michigan. Blew out his knee, never
made it to the pros. He’s working a desk job as
a customer support guy. And he gets these seven rashes,
these tiny little rashes on various parts
of his body. And what he doesn’t know at
the time is that these are spores that are going to tap
into his bloodstream and use the nutrients there to grow. They also tap into his nervous
system, and they use his nervous system like it’s their
own internet, so that they can talk to each other
through his body. And a final part of that is
they tap into his seventh cochlear nerve, and so they
start talking to him. So he hears voices in
his head, but they are actual real voices. He’s just the only who can
hear it, because it bypasses the ear. And as these things grow,
they grow into these triangular-shaped growths on his
body, and that has become an extremely popular
tattoo for people. And it’s a really– if you don’t like a little
bit of the messy stuff, don’t read that book. Because most everyone who gets
infected by this finds a place to hide, get away from
everybody, and let these things grow. And that’s what they’re telling
you to do, is just run and hide so you avoid the
police, avoid hospitals. But Perry’s got a bit
of a rage issue. The main character is beaten as
a child and has a cycle of violence he’s been
trying to break. So he decides he’s going to
cut these things out of himself before they can reach
their final growth phase. So it’s really gross. It’s a really gross book. INTERVIEWER: Lot of
science, though. SCOTT SIGLER: It’s really
packed in with science. And explain the process of what
they do in the brain, and where they grow, and
it’s very fun. But that’s the weirdest one. Like a lot of triangle tattoos,
people getting that image somewhere on their body. One girl’s got it on
her inside lip. And then people will– to give away a little bit of the
book, one guy just sent me a picture where, they’re called
hatchlings when they come out, where it’s actually
coming out of the body. This guy’s got blood tattooed
on his arm, just to show how things work. And that that’s amazing. INTERVIEWER: So you don’t have
any of your own characters? SCOTT SIGLER: No, not yet. INTERVIEWER: Not yet. SCOTT SIGLER: Not yet. I have one tattoo
of our company– now we’re changing it to Empty
Set Entertainment. So I have an empty set tattoo,
kind of a personal philosophy of things. We’ll get one eventually. So we do that, and
then we have– has like 16,000
people signed up to get the newsletter every week. There’s a certain group of
people whose social circle has primarily become the people
on that site. We get email that so-and-so from
California flew to New York to go hang out with their
buddy from the site, and that people have their own
spontaneous get-togethers. Marginally to talk about
my content, but they just kind of get– Because there are crazy threads
that are incredibly long, people just chatting back
and forth on the site. It has nothing to do
with me anymore. So now we’ve become this weird
little social hub where people get together. And then every year, we do a
thing called SiglerFest. So people fly in from all over
the country to come hang out for three or four
days in Vegas. And then the weirdest thing
to me is when we do those hardcover books, we
have Hell Week. Because A and I– this is my
business partner, A. When we first did it, we assumed to
send out 2,000 copies of a hardcover book, it would
be four 10-hour days. It wound up being nine 14-hour
days, because we just had no idea what we were doing. So then for Book Two,
we emailed the fans. Anybody want to come work
for us for free? We’ll give you a beer. Come on. And we had four or
five people. And then for Book Four,
17 people showed up for two days each. And we just had, we looked
like a sweatshop. It was awesome. We had all these tables lined
up, and people are stamping and numbering and signing. And they just came to do that,
to hang out and help out. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] or you’re
signing, actually? SCOTT SIGLER: I– signing 3,000 books at once
takes a long time. Especially if you’re putting a
personal message to everybody in your book. So the fan base is great. The tattoos are fun. But the real shocking thing is
having watched people make lifelong friendships that would
not have existed if they hadn’t all been playing
in our sandbox. It’s kind of crazy. INTERVIEWER: So one other topic
that I wanted to talk about is “Nocturnal,” your
most recent book. You’re in the process
of trying to make that into a TV show. Can you explain that, and who’s
producing it, and the process there? I think that’s a pretty
interesting story. First talk about “Nocturnal,”
and what the story is around that. SCOTT SIGLER: “Nocturnal,” it’s
really densely packed with a couple different
areas of science. So it’s hard to tell too much
about it without giving away the big reveal. But largely, it’s my homage
to ’80s buddy cop movies. So if you ever watched “Trading
Places,” “Lethal Weapon,” anything from back in
the day, you’ve got the two joking cops, one more serious
than the other. So it starts out as kind of
a buddy cop procedural. Our two characters are
Brian Clauser– trigger-happy, shot
one too many guys. And the other guy is Pookie
Chang, who’s the jokester, and everybody loves them. And it’s intentionally starts
out as, OK, I’ve seen this movie a thousand times before. And hopefully you go, I love
this movie already, because I’ve seen this one a thousand
times before. And Brian starts to have dreams
of these really awful mutilations, these murders that
are way beyond the pale. And the next day, they will go
out to investigate a lead, and they will find a body
that is mutilated in exactly that style. So right off the bat in the
first 50 pages, all of a sudden, it shifts from, this
is a jovial, buddy cop, CSI procedural, to the
happy-go-lucky guy, Pookie, assuming that his partner and
his best friend is a serial killer, and a really
sick one at that. And then as they start to
investigate what’s going on, it becomes a balance between a
police officer trusting the evidence in front of him and
trusting his heart and believing that this guy couldn’t
possibly do it. And as they investigate, they
uncover a cult that has existed since San Francisco
has been founded, a very murderous cult that the police
have been shielding and protecting since the police
department has been founded. So you’ve got a 200-year-old
conspiracy, and they are going through the city, and most of
the cult operations happen in the tunnels. There’s a lot of tunnels
in San Francisco. There’s Chinatown. There’s a lot of World
War II emplacements. A lot of things World War I,
Civil War– there’s many, many miles of tunnels. And as they start to go under to
find this culture under the city, and start to try and find
out what’s going to clear Brian’s name. And then things get
nutty from there. [LAUGHTER] INTERVIEWER: That’s where
it’s calmed and relaxed. SCOTT SIGLER: This
is still, yeah. You’re largely in, for the first
150 pages, like OK, it’s not what I thought was coming,
but this is pretty exciting. And then the shit
hits the fan. Things just get wild
from there. So it’s a giant 500-plus-page
book. It’s huge. The publisher didn’t even
want to publish it. It was too big. We’ve slimmed it down a little
bit, but it’s been described as an urban fantasy, even
though there’s not one supernatural element in it. It’s all hardcore science, with
a little liberty to the science, which you can
see at the end. But the story of how “Nocturnal”
came to be a TV show goes back to the same
way you discovered me. You read John Scalzi’s
“Old Man’s War.” You might like this. You picked it up, you
became a fan. Lloyd Levin, who is the
producer of “Hellboy,” “Hellboy II,” “Die Hard II,”
and “The Watchmen,” these crazy monster-specific
movies– there might be monsters
in “Nocturnal. I’ll go ahead and give you a
little bit of a spoiler here. He read a book, and then Amazon
said, if you like this, you’ll like this. So he said, OK, and he bought
“Nocturnal” and read “Nocturnal” on his Kindle. And had never heard of me. All the stuff that I’d done,
he’d never heard of me, never knew anything. And we get an email to
the website, the standard Contact Us form. Didn’t come through the
publisher or anything. Like, I’m a movie producer. I would like to talk to
you about “Nocturnal.” We’re like, yeah, whatever. Because we do, we get those
about every other week. And it’s usually someone who’s
aspiring or a start-up. Or like, I’ve done this
five-minute YouTube movie. Can I option your book? And we’re like, well, no,
but let’s stay in touch. Maybe there’s something
else that we can do. Here’s a short story. Would you like to do this? So we’ve had people take
a short story and make films out of them. So we’re like, OK, whatever. And then we google him
and go IMDB him, and we’re like, holy crap. This is the guy who
did “Watchmen.” Are you kidding me? And then we’ve been talking. That was about a year ago. And originally, we wanted to do
it as a movie, and just got to the point where the book is
so dense that two hours was not going to cut it. So he changed his mind. Like, would you mind doing
this as a TV show? It’s not as much money, but
we could give you 12 hours instead of two. And I was like, that
would be awesome. Because I don’t know if anybody
watches “Game of Thrones,” but try and take any
of the “Game of Thrones” books and turn that into a two-hour
movie, and it would be crap. There’d be, here’s a midget,
and here’s some people with swords, and yay, people fight. And like, that’s all you could
get in in two hours, compared to the layers and the complexity
that are in those books, and they’ve managed to
bring to life in the series. Or “True Blood,” or any of the
fictional novels that have been turned into TV series,
they’re just doing an amazing job with those. The storytelling is fantastic. So we’re really excited
about that. And the pilot script is done. And Danny Bilson and Paul De
Meo, who did a show called “The Sentinel” back in the
’90s have written a pilot script for it. And I was– I’m an artist, people. I was like, all right. Let’s see what you Hollywood
butchers do to my book for this first script. And we went back and forth
on plot points. But they sent back the first
script, and I made probably nine comments. Like we might do this
instead of this. It was perfect. It was great. So now the pilot
script is done. I’m really excited about it. Lloyd is planning to take this
out to various networks and see if we can land a show. And it all started because,
if you like this, you might like this. It’s crazy to think of that. ‘Cause I spent a lot of time
marketing and trying to get my name out there, like trying
to go get attention. Because my work doesn’t
really fall into– it’s not traditional sci-fi. Or it’s not the sci-fi
with a message. Or it’s not, let’s be careful of
all of what’s going on with cybersecurity, Cory Doctorow,
this is this cool thing that people are worried about
and reading about. It’s like, my stuff’s sci-fi
and horror and action/adventure and thriller,
and it’s all mashed together and set in a modern-day
thriller. There’s no handle on
it, so to speak. So trying to get attention from
that regard, it’s been very difficult to do. And I have not had the runaway
bestseller “Hunger Games” kind of a thing happen. I mean, if that happens,
obviously then you’ve got your choice of who you want
to make the movie. So for this random thing to
happen, and everybody involved with it is really excited and
thinks it’s going to be really special show, has
been amazing. INTERVIEWER: Hopefully
it happens. I’m looking forward to it. SCOTT SIGLER: Oh, “Nocturnal,”
I have a slug line. Now I got it. “Lethal Weapon” meets “Hellboy.”
So there you go. I wasted 10 minutes of your
time because I couldn’t remember that. [LAUGHTER] INTERVIEWER: In terms of your
other books, do you have visions for them outside
of print, in terms of TV shows, movies? Like what you would want to
see them turned into? SCOTT SIGLER: Well, “Infected,”
the first one, was actually optioned for a movie
right out of the gate. So I had the bidding war, and
then signed with Crown, and then two weeks later,
the movie was optioned by Rogue Pictures. It was nuts. I was like, I can’t believe
this is all happening. And then find out two years
later, they just didn’t make the movie. Which is what normally
happens. Authors get things optioned. Things almost never get
actually produced. So that book, “Infected,”
I want to really see that as a movie. Because I think it fits well
into two hours, and I think it would be an amazing vehicle for
a young actor, to go from being the mild-mannered Clark
Kent, sitting at the support desk, this huge arc, where they
have to wind up at the end being kind of a
raving psychopath. And watching someone be
able to pull that off. So I want to see “Infected”
turned into a movie because I think it could totally make an
actor’s career, to show that breadth in one span. That would be the really
cool thing to see. And it would be a little gory
and be a little fun. And then “Contagious”– there’s three books in the
series, “Infected,” “Contagious,” and “Pandemic.”
“Pandemic” should be out in October or early next year. And the concept is the alien
invasion, but from the perspective of that hapless
sucker who’s just one of the numbers. So in “Infected,” in the first
week, 5,000 people died. He’s one of those 5,000
people that you never hear anything about. Has no perspective, has no
idea what’s going on. He’s just one of the
first victims, and you watch his arc. Then for “Contagious,” you pull
the camera back and look at the national level
of what’s going on across the country. Bring in the president, the
cabinet, FBI, a lot of the traditional X-Files-type
people you would see in these movies. And then for “Pandemic,” you
pull it all the way out, and you get to see how it’s
affecting the entire world. So if “Infected” gets turned
into a movie does well, then “Contagious” and “Pandemic”
would follow on after that. And “Ancestor” is straight-up
’80s creature feature. It’s “Predator,” it’s “Aliens.”
It’s when you want to go to the movies to see
people get eaten, it’s pretty shameless in that regard. It’s hard science, and
you get to see– the different take on that is
instead of in the first two minutes, you’ve got the janitor
at midnight pushing the broom, and a claw reaches
out and pulls him in, so the monster’s already formed, you
get to see the monster go from a single cell that they have
heavily engineered and then watch the nightmare of this
thing developing into an animal that is completely off
the rails of what they thought they had. “Ancestor” is, in effect, an
effort to genetically engineer a herd animal with human organs
to take care of the organ shortage problem. Every year, hundreds of
thousands of people die because there’s just
not enough lungs and livers and kidneys. If you could have an animal
where you could take those, genotransplantation, take those,
put them into people without any kind of immune
system response, not only would you save millions of lives
and add to the quality of life of a lot of
people, you’d make a crap-ton of money. So if you can perfect this
thing, there’s no end to the checks that you’re going
to be able to write. So they do that, and in
“Ancestor,” instead of winding up with a 200-pound herbivore
herd animal, they wind up with a 650-pound pack predator. And they’re stuck on an island,
because that’s how these things always work. It’s total Michael Crichton. INTERVIEWER: You have to
be stuck on an island. SCOTT SIGLER: Yeah. I started writing this one 15
years ago when I was on this huge Michael Crichton binge,
and it wound up being a really fun book. That would be a great one
to see as a movie. That’s a two-hour movie,
no question. Would not last as
a miniseries. And you would get to see
some awesome CGI. Unfortunately, Stan Winston is
no longer with us, but my dream, my goal in my 20s was
to have Stan Winston do the special effects for
one of the movies. He did “Terminator,” he did
“Aliens.” he did a movie that I adore called “Pumpkinhead,”
that very few people have heard of and even less
people like. So to watch a really high-grade
creature feature, I’d want [INAUDIBLE] to be excellent. And then the last one is the GFL
series, which will never be– it’s just impossible. It’d be $250 million at the
drop of a hat to turn this into a movie. Even with full-blown CGI. Because you’ve got five races
playing football, and humans are just one of those races. So any on-field action
is really complex. And then off the field, you’re
watching this racist farm boy, who’s been brought up to hate
everything that isn’t human, and pretty much everything that
isn’t his kind of human, get thrust into the bright
lights in the big city of this professional league. Because he’s a quarterback
prodigy, and he wants to be the best. there’s ever been. Well, to do that, you have to
go play on the best teams. And the best teams have all
the different races. So it would have to be a “Green
Lantern”-esque movie. But even beyond that, because
my aliens are not bipeds. They’re not primates. They’re not just people with
funny skin and some crap on the bridge of their nose. These are aliens that have
been evolved, like I visualized the evolution of a
single cell in environments, and into primitive forms, and
they really look alien. And even communicating with
them is a difficult thing. And in the story, there are
races you just can’t communicate to. You have to have an interpreter,
because you can’t figure out what the other
person is saying. So it’s not just on the field
where that’d be a complicated thing to show. It’s all the personal
interaction. And that would be a very
difficult movie. But for an anime, it
would be awesome. So my goal is hopefully see that
turned into a video game. There’s a huge organized
crime in it, too. Because every franchise is
owned by a gangster. Because of the huge racial
hatred throughout the universe, there have
to be laws. The overlord race– which
is not humans. Humans are a subjugated race. There are these laws that you
cannot pull over a team bus. No search and seizure. You can’t touch the players. So players all have diplomatic
immunity. Now as you can imagine, being
a young professional athlete with diplomatic immunity is
going to create its own source of problems. But the men and the women on
these teams are largely pawns. Because the real goal of the
league is so that the gangsters can ship contraband
and smuggle information on these ships, because the
ships can’t be touched. So the gangsters will do
anything to make a winning team, because if your team moves
up the tiers, to Tier One, and you’re traveling all
across the galaxy, you become very powerful in the information
and the contraband that you can ship. So it’s organized crime. It’s sports. It’s the big racial
aspect of it. And I think it could be a “Game
of Thrones”-esque anime that could last for years. Like an “Attack of the Clones”
kind of thing from “Star Wars.” So to see the aliens done
right, that’s the kind of thing I’d really like
to see turned into computer-generated or anime. INTERVIEWER: Cool. So we’ve talked a lot about
your books, kind of your publishing career. What’s next on the
horizon for you? You have a couple series that
are still active, but what’s next for you, moving forward? SCOTT SIGLER: Well, pretty much
the first thing right now is getting control of
“Nocturnal” and “Pandemic,” the audiobook rights, so that we
can get the books recorded and we can podcast it
out to the fans. Let everything else take care
of itself, as long as we’re providing them their
free stuff. Then we have the fifth book
in the GFL series. It’ll be coming out next year. I start writing that
pretty soon. And that’s a seven-book arc,
so still got a few more years in that. We are now hiring other authors
to co-write books with me, to try and follow the
James Patterson model, a little bit. You’re not scalable,
as an author. I mean, James Patterson’s
got that figured out down to a science. So trying to figure out how to
put out quality content that the fans like, but also get some
help so we can put out more of that stuff. That’s what we’re
doing right now. We’ve got four novellas
planned for next year. The TV show has been a big deal,
where we literally just clear blocks of time during the
week, just in case they need something. Because they’ll– oh, by the
way, we need this, and we need this right away. You get to work on it. Having the time cleared
out to do that. “Pandemic” will be the final
book out for Random House at the beginning of next year. And that’s the end of
the five-book deal. So we’re trying to write a new
book called “Flyer” that the agent will take out to
the marketplace. And this will end up being the
most interesting thing. Because six years ago, when I
signed with Crown, I got the brass ring that everybody
was going for. Everybody wants to be
signed with a major. Everyone wants a movie option. I found a way to
get that done. And then in the interim, the
entire industry has changed. Borders has gone out
of business. Amazon has become the 800-pound
gorilla in the room. You can write an ebook and not
have to answer to anybody, and make 70% per sale of your book,
instead of 12% you’re making if you are
a bestseller. I’m sure Stephen King
probably gets more. But there’s this thin upper tier
of people who sell 90% of the books in publishing. Then there’s a really solid tier
under that of people who are bestsellers. If you’re in that tier, you
can get up to 14%, 15%. Everybody else? 8% to 12%. Right? So that was the goal, is to get
the publishing deal, to go on book tours, see your
book in stores. There aren’t as many
stores anymore. Nobody’s doing book tours,
because they’re not profitable enough. And you can just put
out your own books. So I do “Flyer,” have my agent
take that out, and we see what the marketplace says. So like a typical advance for a first-time novelist is $5,000. Say we get that. Say people are like,
OK, your book sold. We like you, but here’s $15,000
for the advance of your first book. I mean, for us, that’s
like, no. Absolutely not. We can put this out on our
own, and we will do much better than that. And have full control
over the cover, full control over the design. We get to hire our own
editor, who knows our stuff extremely well. So that has to get up
to a certain level. So that’s the part I’m most
looking forward to, is seeing how things shake out when
you take a book into the marketplace. Because now as creators
in any stripe, you can be your own boss. There’s a number of ways to put
stuff out where you’re in charge and you control
everything. And the part I forgot to
mention, I think, is that I run advertising on
the podcast. If you want my audiobooks
for free, no problem. Here they are. 60-second ad before
every episode. We’re all used to that
from television. Nobody minds. And then the ads are a revenue
stream for us. And they’re like, I
can’t stand ads. No problem. It’s $20 here on iTunes. Buy it, download it, or buy
the book and read it. It’s totally up to you. So if we go out with a deal and
somebody throws a ton of money at us for an advance, and
then they’re like, yeah, but you can’t podcast it, that
cuts into the content. It’s just not doable for us. Because we’re a media company. We’re an entertainment
company. We sell advertising against our
content, and that’s where most of our revenue
comes from. So watching what will happen
when we take the next book out, probably five or six months
from now, and to see how much everything
has changed. Because I haven’t been able to
do a lot of these things because I’ve been locked
in with Crown. I can’t wait to see
what happens. It’ll be crazy if somebody’s
like, here’s a really good advance. And we’ll just be, like, we’d
love to do that, but we just can’t, because we don’t know if
you’re going to promote us. That’s the other thing. You’re going to tell us you’re
going to promote us. Then you’re not. Then we’re dead in the water
for the next three years. Whereas if we control our own
destiny, maybe we don’t make as much, but that same deal,
controlling your own content, 5 and 10 and 15 years down the
road, when we’re 60 and trying to figure out where our back
catalog revenue is coming from, if we control that, making
less now makes for a much more successful
long-term business. So do that, and trying
to think– it’s weird. We’re trying to 20 and 30 years
down the road and make decisions based on that. INTERVIEWER: Cool. I want to let you guys know that
we have flash drives for everyone with, I think, most
of the GFL series on it, or all of it. That those are kind
of free giveaways. And then I want to open it up
for a few minutes for Q&A. And there’s a mic in the back, but
you can probably just say it loud enough. AUDIENCE: First of all,
thanks for coming. Second of all, love
your work ethic. Love the creativity that you
have, both in your writing and also in business. Would love to understand a
little bit more about the creative process behind
the writing. How do you come up
with an idea? How do you build out
the characters? I know the process is probably
different for every individual. What is that process
like for you? SCOTT SIGLER: So where the ideas
come from, and then how do you manifest them? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] and you
think, this is my guy. INTERVIEWER: Do you mind
repeating the question real quick, just so we
get it on audio? SCOTT SIGLER: Yeah. So how do I get the ideas? And then once I had the idea,
how do I massage that idea up into an actual full-blown book,
and what is the process involved in that? Yeah? The idea is, I have
the opposite problem of writer’s block. I have an incredibly
short attention span, and ideas just– all day. I wrote three books
on the walk here. And I’m not even kidding. I passed a gated library,
and I’m like, oh, that’s a cool place. What can we do with that? So trying to try to control the
overwhelming amount of, this is the greatest idea I’ve
ever had, I have to stop everything I’m doing
and go write this, is a constant challenge. Which my business partner’s
critical in. She controls what’s being
worked on when. We have quarterly meetings. Like, OK, you really
want to do this? You can do this, but
then you have to stop doing these things. And I get all angsty and try
and figure out what I want to work on. But then once we have the idea
we know we’re working on, I’m very fortunate, in that I get
up in the morning, I look at my calendar, and the projects
are blocked out. You’re working on this, you’re
working on this, you’re working on this. So that’s something I’m bad at,
and she’s very good at, so that works out really
well for us. The ideas come from– I really am a big
fan of science. Not a scientist, but I read
as many blogs as I can. And “New Scientist,” it’s hard
to go through one issue of “New Scientist” without taking
notes on four or five different new projects. Because biology is
mesmerizing. All the amazing things
that we do. And then hacking biology is a
big one for me, not so much in the computer sciences, but
every time I see somebody tweak a genome or do
something, I’m like, that’s great. Let’s do that. So a lot of times, that
idea will stick. Like let’s insert this
particular genome into humans so that they produce this
particular hormone, which defeats this particular
symptom they are suffering of lupus. Let’s do that. Which that’s worked into
“Pandemic,” by the way, so this is a case study. And that will just sit there. But that’s not a good enough
story on its own, because there’s no drama,
there’s no arc. And then like for “Ancestor,”
I learn about the organ shortage, and that sticks. And then I learn about chimeras,
which is where you are taking genetic information
from one animal, one or more animals, and putting them
into another animal. You wind up with a chimera. And thinking that well, wait a
minute, what if we were to do all of these things? We could have organs. And then you learn about
endogenous retroviruses, that are viruses that are kind
of stuck in your genome. And if you start messing with
this stuff, well, these things come out and you get a crazy
bird flu and everyone dies. That’s something they’re
actually concerned about. I don’t really get how
all that works. I just know everyone dying
is a good plot point. [LAUGHTER] When I say everyone can die, you
are going to pull the book a little bit closer, right? So I got that. And then I learned about– so all these things
stick in the head. And then I learned about the
work of, I think, Blair Hodges, I believe is his name,
who did a genetic analysis of all mammalia and figured out
that the main branches branched off well before the
extinction event that kind of cleared the dinosaurs and
cleared the field for mammals to take over. There had always been this
premise that it’s this one ancestor of all of us, and then
the dinosaurs went away, and then it went through rapid
expansion into all the available niches. But it’s not. The main branch of mammalia
were already there. So like, there were tiny little
hippos, and they were hiding just like the
tiny little shrews. And then all of that
came together. I’m like, OK, so what if they
do this genetic sequencing, get the genome of everything,
get rid of all the original– like if this gene is only
found in tigers, we’ll remove that. And if you remove everything
that’s unique and take everything that’s common, you
basically have the original genome of the ancestor
of all mammals. So what if we do that? Then what if we genetically
sequence that, put in the computer, so we can do evolution
on the computer. And then what if
we tweak that? OK, now what if we’re going to
tweak that in order to make a new animal that is going to have
human harvestable organs? But we know it’s clean. There’s no retroviruses
in there, because we can control it. We can see that in the genome. So now we’ve got this perfectly
clean animal. It’s going to solve the organ
shortage problem. And then we’re going
to be doing this. And then I discover
this great– I think it’s an [INAUDIBLE]
machine– I’m not sure– that actually
prints proteins. And you can print
custom proteins right from your computer. I’m like, OK, we’ll bring
that together. Let’s just jazz this up so it
can actually print a full chromosome. Now I can do that. There’s my hand waving. And then all of a sudden,
you’ve got this animal. What are we going to
put this animal in? Well, then I learned about the
efforts to bring back the ibex or various extinct animals,
where they will take a close relative. I think they tried to do this
with a species of buffalo. They enucleate the egg of a cow,
pull out the cow genome in the egg, and they take this
genome they’ve cloned, stick it in there, and stick it
right back in the cow. Because since it’s got the egg
protein coating, the cow should recognize as self. And hopefully, it’ll be able
to gestate in there, a C-section will pull it out. And they’ve actually
done this. They’ve actually brought back
extinct animals by letting them gestate inside
a close relative. So all that trashed– INTERVIEWER: Extremely
simple process. SCOTT SIGLER: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: I understand
what she does now. [LAUGHTER] SCOTT SIGLER: All of that crams
together to make the novel “Ancestor.” And then, of
course, science goes horribly wrong, and then you get to have
a lot of fun from there. They don’t know the genome
that they’re controlling. And you get giant 650-pound pack
predators with Dimetrodon sails on the back
of your head. And it’s wicked fun. It’s so fun. It’s a fun book. So that’s how that process–
once you get those ideas, and I get all excited, and call A,
and be like, we gotta do this one, we gotta do this one. Then you start to
outline them. Then I take my layman’s
knowledge of science and do my research, and I hammer out
a really strict outline. And then a benefit from giving
crap away free for seven years is a lot of scientists– and policemen, and firemen,
and soldiers– have emailed me to say, I can
tell you’re trying to get what we do right, and that
matters to us. So if you ever need
help, call me up. I’m a biology Ph.D.
At Harvard. Call me any time. You’re like, awesome. Put that in the Rolodex. So now I’ve got this amazing
battery of people who are experts in their fields, and
I send them the outline. They will go through the outline
and say, OK, you’ve kind of got the idea. But this could never happen,
and here’s why this could never happen. Try this instead. Take that back, cobble together
another outline. Write the first draft. First draft is a real
pain in the ass. Because you’re writing– I’m long-winded, as you
can tell, right? All of this goes onto
the page as well. Then I’ll write the first draft,
turn that back over to the scientists and the soldiers
and the cops, and have them go through it. And they just tear it apart. It’s really not a fun part of
the process to know that this plot thread that you fell in
love with, and literally spent a week of your life, every day,
working on it to get it just right, it’s
just got to go. It just flat-out doesn’t work. Then they give me
the feedback. I go from there. And then by the second draft,
things are pretty much blocked out. And then we go through the
regular draft process with the editor at Crown. That’s how we do it. AUDIENCE: Thank you. INTERVIEWER: So we’re
out of time. We’re going to hand out
the flash drives now. There are a few books for sale
in the back for $5 each, and Scott’s more than willing to
sign those, if you want. But thank you for being
here today. We appreciate it. And hopefully you guys
all have a chance to enjoy Scott’s work. SCOTT SIGLER: Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

9 thoughts on “Scott Sigler: “Rewriting Publishing with Podcasts” | Talks At Google

  1. Scott at googleeeeeeeeee what son!!!!!! Scott has officially become famous as fuck. He was on Joe Rogans show recently too.

  2. Oh and I think I love you so much because I'm an avid arthopod/arachnid/isopod collector. I'm sure that makes sense to you

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