004: Dr. Ryan Gray – Traditional vs. Self-publishing for New Authors

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Dr. Ryan Gray Writing a Book to Grow Your Brand

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Today’s guest is Dr. Ryan Gray, author of The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview. He is also currently working on his second book, which is actually a niche within his niche of helping students with their medical school application. In this episode, Dr. Ryan Gray talks about traditional vs. self-publishing and why he has done both, what makes a great reason for writing a book, and what advice he has for first-time authors.
I loved that Dr. Ryan is willing to focus on his bigger goal for his reader and audience which has determined his publishing goals rather than just the money. He has used his authority as an author and podcaster to grow his brand help more students and then build partnerships with companies that align with his brand.

About Dr. Ryan Gray

Dr. Ryan Gray is a former United States Air Force Flight Surgeon who found a passion for helping pre-med students on their journey to medical school. Best known for his podcasts, which have been downloaded over 1,000,000 times, Dr. Gray has interviewed to numerous admissions committee members and deans of admissions for medical schools. Through The Premed Years podcast and the Medical School Headquarters sites, Dr. Gray has helped thousands of students gain the confidence they require to successfully navigate the pre-med path. Dr. Gray lives outside of Boulder, CO with his wife Allison, who is a Neurologist, and their daughter Hannah.

Here are the highlights of my episode with Ryan:

[01:02] From Med School and the Air Force to Podcasting and Writing

Ryan talks about fulfilling every parent’s dream of becoming a physician. Today, Ryan has gone full-time into his podcasting career. Prior to podcasting, Ryan went to medical school and became an Air Force flight surgeon for a handful of years.

He then started a website and a podcast as his little side project to help students get into medical school. And it kind of took on a life of its own that by 2015, he decided to leave the Air Force for some other reasons and went on to become a full time entrepreneur. He began with one podcast which has now grown to four podcasts, including an almost daily Facebook live stream. Plus, he has written one book and working on a couple more. And it’s just growing. So although he’s no longer practicing as a doctor, he found something he loves and to him, that’s the most important thing.

[02:35] Ryan’s Thought Process Behind His Decision to Write a Book

Ryan’s first thought is that for most entrepreneurs, they often say that a book is a business card. It sort of gets you in the door to to do some speaking engagements and other things. Then you’re also considered to be more of an expert on the subject. And this was the seed that was planted there. He thought he needed a book since everybody is doing it.

But the longer he went down this path and the more students he was helping get into medical school, he found that he was helping them with his podcast for free. And he was also helping them with a video course at around $47. Then he was helping them with one-on-one consulting and interview prep, etc.

He figured that there was nothing in between free and $47 for somebody that wants a little bit more information and wants it a little bit more organized. This prompted him to organize all this thoughts into a book. That way, there’s something that’s a low price point for most people. Let’s say, $15-$20 for a book and give it to them.

So that was really the start of thinking about a book was there needs to be a lower priced offering to provide value to students who are getting ready to go for their medical school interview.

[04:34] Podcast versus Book

According to Ryan, probably around 15%-20% of the students that he’s working with one-on-one has found him through the book. They haven’t really heard the podcast, but the found the book or their parents found the book or the book was referred to them by a friend. And so they typically didn’t know about Ryan prior to the book.

Ryan finds these students as having had the hardest time connecting with because they don’t know him. While the ones that come from his podcasts are those who already know him. And so he lets them know that he didn’t just write a book from nothing, but he had five years of experience talking about this and doing this. So he finds it interesting to find the students that have found him through the book as actually some of his most challenging clients. Nevertheless, he still loved working with them and helping them.

For Ryan, the podcast is so unique and that as a host, there is that element of relationship building. Having somebody put on their headphones while they’re working out or whatever they’re doing while listening to you, somehow, a relationship is built through a podcast that can never be built through books. He feels like no matter how much the book sounds like you, it just won’t happen right.

[06:55] The Challenges of Writing Content

Ryan admits that the challenge of any written content is making you come through in such a way that it drives people to know you more. There’s that balance between sharing content and sharing you. However, this can be quite difficult for Ryan considering he has a lot of content to cover. It’s hard to just give anecdotal stories like he would on a podcast. He won’t have to worry about the number of minutes or the amount of words he’s speaking; as opposed to worrying about the number of words he’s typing or putting on the page, or having to edit.

For him, Ryan’s biggest hurdle while writing the book was just forcing himself to sit down and write, which he’s also currently experiencing as he’s working on his next couple of books. Luckily, he found that reading an outline is obviously one of the best things to do to start with so you know where you’re headed. But then actually taking the time to sit down and do it was the hardest part for him at this point. Not to mention that he’s still transitioning to being a full time entrepreneur, plus the component of being a parent of three and a half year old and a husband. So trying to fit a life into it while also trying to be a first time author was really the hardest part.

[09:57] Self-Publishing: Beyond the Writing and Editing Process

Ryan’s initial goal was to self publish and just throw it up on Amazon and sell millions of copies. That was his dream. That’s everybody’s dream. So the process itself was incredible.

And Ryan is thankful to have Azul with him to guide him through the process along with all the tiny details of what goes into a book – from the copyright page and dedication page into something like putting a page early on in the book for people to opt into your email list.

The biggest aha for him was once the writing was done. Now, it’s all the tiny little pieces that need to be done to finish everything, and get it on to Amazon with the description and everything else. It’s like when you’re moving. Ryan says the hardest part of moving is always like all the big stuff is the easiest to throw in the truck and you’re good. But what takes the longest is all the tiny little crap that just rallies around the house and making you wonder just where all this stuff is coming from.

Azul adds it’s a whole other beast as you go through the putting it up on Amazon –  how to put it, what category, CreateSpace. 

CreateSpace and KDP for Kindle

CreateSpace is a print on demand service that actually partners to one of the subsidiaries of Amazon. They also have another one called KDP for Kindle. They do both printed books and the Kindle version. CreateSpace allows you to do print one copy or have them fulfill the printing. So just learning all the nuances about what size of the book and all those things. So this is basically something that you also have to prepare for when you’re thinking of starting out a book.

As for Ryan, he simply wants his knowledge going into the book. He didn’t want to learn how CreateSpace works and how KDP works or how to best research a word and or how to write a proper subtitle and title and everything else. And so for probably most self-published authors that are out there. Ryan says they get to that point where they would only care less. They’d probably just be content in the fact that they have a great book and then email it to people if they want it. There’s a whole process before a manuscript gets ready. But they would just like to get to the shortcut of knowledge and experience. But the process is the same.

[12:48] Traditional vs. Self-Publishing: Going Hybrid

It was through a connection that Ryan got introduced to someone from Morgan James Publishing and being a firm believer in having connections and knowing people, he got on the phone with an acquisitions editor and talked to her for about two hours and after talking with her, he found out about being an entrepreneurial publisher.

It’s a pay to play, which means you have to pay some money to be able to work with them. They only work with a small percentage of the submissions they get but they submitted Ryan’s manuscript to them. They accepted it and wanted to work with him. He admits he was having a hard time deciding as he was trying to figure out what he wanted and needed. And at the end of the day, the decision came down to a couple of things. It came down to number one who his audience is – his students who are very traditional in their educational path going from highschool to college and then to medical school. This means they’re surrounded by books and bookstores, probably their whole life. So this became one of the biggest determining factors for him to decide to try to get into bookstores through a publisher. He also thought about putting it on Kindle through KDP or CreateSpace and hope maybe it sells enough that that the bookstores will get interested to carry it. 

The Cost Factor

The second piece to his decision was the cost. For him, the cost was low enough that it was worth trying and if it didn’t work, great. It was an experience so whatever happens, he will move on and learn from it. However, Ryan wanted to self publish it at that time. Knowing that the application cycle for medical schools is very cyclical, he already wanted it out at a time of the year when students are looking for information. So he did pull off the self published version and then re-released the publisher’s version a little over a half a year later.

[16:10] Having Fun with Traditional Publishing and Playing Games

The biggest part with traditional publication is it’s available where maybe somebody wouldn’t find it before. There’s also that added confidence knowing your book is at Barnes and Noble and Ryan could direct people there. So it gives him a little bit more authority to do this.

Ryan describes it as a fun experience being able to use the book when he’s interacting with his audience whenever he travels or finding it at a local bookstore. In fact, randomly, he would find a bookstore that carries it and he would sign it and put some stickers on it. For instance, he’d write some instructions to get the book Ryan signed at this location, post it on social media, and then he’d give the free access to his interview platform that he launched along with the book. And so it’s just a fun game to play with the audience. But in terms of overall reach, Ryan is not that sure about it as he still doesn’t have the stats for his book sales.

[18:08] The Sales Breakdown and Differences in Book Cover Designs

Ryan says you make a lot less money when you go with a publisher. But this was part of his thought process when he made this decision. It’s part of the decision algorithm that has to be made. The money part has really never come into his equation as far as whether he should do it or not.

Part of the reason some people have to really think about is the idea of looking more credible if you picked up your copy that you made versus the copy that the publisher made. In terms of the design, Ryan thinks it’s not huge but it’s noticeable. CreateSpace actually offers one type of paper and they’re not the only print on demand services. You can go to other ones and they actually make it the exact weight of the printed books for both the cover and the interior.

So essentially, there’s no way to tell CreateSpace because it’s just printing one. They minimize their costs by just putting one of this book. So that’s the print on demand rather than having to print it because they probably print a large number of your books which is a part of why you have them in stock. They’re not printing them and they’re actually running a print so they can change the quality.

You just have to be more willing to shell out your own money rather than having you know the quality could change a little bit. But Ryan thinks it’s not very noticeable. Some people say the covers a little bit thinner which is true, the paper is a little bit lighter weight but either way, what’s important is that people are reading your book for its purpose.

[21:46] The Journey of Writing His First and Second Books

Ryan’s first book is all about the medical school interview and his next book is going to be about a personal statement that you have to write as part of your applications before you even get an interview. Basically, Ryan is further niching down within that already pretty small niche. And so Ryan went to Amazon and looked to see what other books are in the space and he found there are far fewer books for this specific topic that he’s writing about next.

The personal statement is an essay about why you want to be a doctor. And most of the books out there are just essays of successful students. And Ryan wanted to be able to explain what made a good essay what made a bad essay, what parts were good, what parts were bad. Ryan has been editing essays for students for years now and so he pretty much has a ton of examples from students. Moreover, Ryan wants to be able to possibly use it in courses and other things later on. In writing the content for his second book, Ryan describes it as a similar writing process to his first book just outlining everything and figuring out what he wanted to say and then going back through the material that he had and then just plugging in where it belongs in the book. Then he would have a section at the end with a lot of examples and his feedback in it.

The Struggles of Promoting the Book

Ryan started writing this book very early on even before his first book was published since having been done writing the book and having sent it off to editors, he found the time to write it. However, as Ryan started working on the second book, the reality kicked in and he realized he needed to promote his first book. Apparently, promotion is important as you want to sell some copies.

He didn’t realize how much time and effort that was going to take. Plus, the other things in life that are getting in the way. So he had a half-written book for a long time and it has only been recently that he has kicked back into gear and has been putting some deadlines on himself. He admits he’s still missing those deadlines especially that he wants this out again for the next application cycle for students; and he’s actually doing this again with Morgan James. Having worked with them before has helped him to have this regimen and have more discipline in terms of writing.

The Challenges of Self-Publishing

But he still likens this experience to going to the gym. As soon as you step out of the gym, it’s just that much harder to go back in.

This going to have to do it. So it’s a lot easier when you’re your own publisher since you get to have a flexible deadline. It’s just something you have to commit to. It’s important to have goals. It’s huge and necessary. It’s just human psychology that we love putting stuff off.

[27:02] Ryan’s Advice to Aspiring Writers

Know your purpose in writing a book. Why are you writing a book? Are you writing a book because you think it’s going to make you rich and famous? Then don’t write a book. Are you writing a book because you’re going to use it as a business card? Then maybe think about writing a book. But what are you going to do next with it?

Keep Pushing Forward

As long as you know why you’re writing a book and once you’re in the process of writing it and things are screeching to a halt because you’re tired of looking at the same words over and over again or you’re getting frustrated with cover designs and other things as long as you know why you’re doing it, it’s much easier to keep pushing forward.

Be Clear with What You Want

If you want to be a writer to make money, you’ve got to plan to write books from here until you’re not writing. You make money on not just one book but on the idea of a whole series of books or the idea that it’s going to give you, say, authority. You’re probably the leader in your niche for lots of reasons. Ryan’s podcast, his blog, and his book give him a certain authority. That said, you just have to be clear.

[29:19] Dealing with Impostor Syndrome and Being Intentional with Marketing Your Book

For Ryan, the biggest fear was having that impostor’s syndrome where you feel you’re not good enough. And even though he paid money to work with Morgan James, there was still no guarantee of getting in the bookstores. And when he got his first sales report from Morgan James, he was just happy people really did want it and liked it and that was cool to see. More importantly, Ryan already had an audience because he has been podcasting for four and a half years.

You really have to think about creating that momentum and that’s the other thing Ryan did really well when he was sharing it on his podcasts and even creating those games. A common mistake most writers do is they wait too long to do that to start sharing. There’s also the mentality that a lot of people have where you’re scared if you share your book, other people might want to copy what you did. But Ryan approached this with a different mindset. He was just open to sharing it and asking for feedback. In short, he was getting everybody involved and excited.

Be Intentional!

Ultimately, you have to be intentional. You don’t just write books and good if people buy it. And you’re don’e. But that’s not how it works. You have to put in the work, marketing your book. You have to share it. Good books become great books because people buy them and talk about them.

Links:

CreateSpace

KDP for Kindle

Morgan James Publishing

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Interview

Dr. Ryan’s Site https://medicalschoolhq.net/
Link to Dr. Ryan’s main podcasts
Listen on STITCHER 
Listen on iTunes
Listen on Google Play

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