MF 378 : Writing series: Fred Brandon ("Adopting Blockchain and Cryptocurrency")
Updated: Jun 16, 2022
Fred Brandon is a notable Moving Forward alum. The last time he was on the show, I spoke to him about his journey as a Microsoft expert and tips on Twitter. It so happened that episode was his first podcast. Fred has since become a thought leader in the cybersecurity, cryptocurrency, and blockchain space. He's launched his own podcast and appeared on many news outlets. Fred also headlines events as a keynote speaker. If that weren’t enough, he’s written two books aimed at two very different audiences: 1) a children’s book and 2) a guide to understanding blockchain and cryptocurrency. On today’s episode, Fred gives a master class on writing and publishing a book.
A different side to Fred Brandon
Fred has been in the technology space for over two decades. So it may surprise you that his first book wasn’t about anything tech related. Rather, it addressed a big event that we all experience in our youth: the first day of school. Fred’s first book was a children’s book called The Adventures of Meesha and its goal is to help kids with anxiety about that formative experience. He wrote it in 2008 but didn’t release it until 10 years later. The story behind the writing of the book is an adventure in itself. A friend of Fred suffered a miscarriage and he wanted to help her through the grieving process. He also wanted to memorialize her daughter by creating a character based on her. At the time, her friend wasn’t ready for such a public expression, and out of respect for their friendship, he kept the book on the shelf. Ten years later, Fred revisited it and with his friend's blessing, released it to the public.
I’ve known Fred now for several years, and I’m continually amazed each time we speak. In every conversation, I learn something new and unexpected. As noted, Fred is well known in the tech space and has made a name for himself as an expert in several major platforms, including Microsoft and blockchain. So, I was surprised to learn that he has a creative side that dates back to high school. Fred never thought of himself as a writer since he was mostly math and science focused. However, he discovered that he enjoyed writing poetry as a form of self-expression and would participate in poetry slams and open mic nights. Later, writing became a career tool for Fred as he wrote technical and user guides. On that, Fred emphasizes the importance of clear writing, especially for training and acclimating new users to platforms like Sharepoint (for more on this, check out our conversation on MF 143).
Fred’s love of creative writing, though hidden, never left him. In the early 2000s, long before Amazon developed a self-publishing platform, Fred wrote haikus and submitted them online. At the time, online publication was relatively new and there wasn’t a great way to get your work out there other than rolling the dice with digital publications and contests that didn’t always have clear guidelines or criteria. Flash forward to 2008, Fred got the writing itch, and a mission to memorialize his friend’s daughter, culminating in his first book.
Putting pictures to words
As discussed, writing that first draft to publication would take another 10 years. In 2018, Fred’s children’s book was dormant on a raw printed draft and an electronic version on his hard drive. He gave a printout copy it to his friend to read for feedback. Once he got the greenlight to publish it, Fred began revising it, looking for illustrators to add pictures to the text. Fred shares that for a children's book, it's important to focus on clear descriptors within the story. He understood that his core audience: four, five, six year olds, are very visual. Moreover, Fred wrote the manuscript in a way that an illustrator would be able to easily follow it to create matching images.
“You want to be able make it so descriptive, you use your mind’s eye to conceptualize what’s being said.” -Fred Brandon
To find an illustrator, Fred tapped into his network (for more on the importance of networking, check out MF 377 with Rich Perry), and reached out to a friend who happens to run an online bookstore. She in turn had an extensive network of editors and illustrators. From there, she connected Fred to a gifted illustrator to create the visuals. As discussed, Fred put cues on every page to make it easy to translate the story to images. In addition, and to fully understand his reader market, Fred read different children’s books. Children’s book have certain sizes, font types, word-to-picture ratios that make them distinct from other books. Fred studied these, and as an adaptive reader, he could look at them through the eyes of their intended audience. This talent and skill is what allowed him to create a story that would connect with his target market on a deeper level.
Hybrid publishing: the best of both worlds
For The Adventures of Meesha, Fred went with hybrid publishing, which mixes elements of traditional and self-publishing. This alleviated the process of the steep learning curve that comes with self-publishing as Fred could rely on experts to handle the heavy lifting, while maintaining creative control and focus solely on the writing. Moreover, this was an educational process through which Fred, always learning, picked up the necessary skills so that for his second book, he could do the entire self-publish process himself.
Second book: a different world, a different audience, a not so different challenge
Fred’s second book is vastly different from his first. Adopting Blockchain and Cryptocurrency ties directly into his professional and technical expertise. As Fred became well versed and knowledgeable on cryptocurrency and blockchain, he recognized that 1) this would be an important growth area, 2) most people would not understand it. He decided to write a book that would act as guide and compass for navigating this new world. As with many of the authors I’ve spoken to, the 2020 pandemic proved to be the optimal time to pen this book.
“The gift and curse of 2020 was that it allowed you to do a lot of different things.” -Fred Brandon
Fred had already been in the space for three years by 2020, and like many of us, he was working at home. With the added time, he decided now was the right time to write Adopting Blockchain and Cryptocurrency. As Fred puts it, “I already knew a lot, I just never verbalized it on paper.” Interestingly, he didn’t initially think he would ever write a book on this topic despite it being a very timely subject and with one book already under his author belt. However, Fred noticed that most books on blockchain and cryptocurrency were too esoteric and complicated for the average reader to digest. Fred wanted a book that would demystify this new frontier and its accompanying language so that anyone could understand it. If there’s one superpower Fred has, it’s breaking down complex and daunting concepts so that anyone can understand it. In many ways, his early career prepared him to write this book (see MF episode 143).
“A technical book for non-technical people.” -Fred Brandon
The common thread between two different books
While vastly different, the core concept of taking a daunting subject and making it less scary to a reader is a common thread in both of his books. The challenge with his first book was making a formative experience (the first day of school) less scary for children. The challenge with this book was taking complex terms and concepts and making them less intimidating for anyone not already familiar with blockchain and cryptocurrency. Despite not being a long book, Fred reveals writing the first draft took several months. Once he was finished, he decided to self-publish it, having learned the ropes from his first book. Fred assembled a team that included several editors, and an accountability buddy to make sure he stayed on track to complete it. As Fred's story illustrates, self-publishing doesn’t happen in a silo. You have to work with others to get the book done and done well. This means respecting your time, others' time, and adhering to deadlines. Fred shares an important aspect when it comes to writing a book: make it a SMART goal (for more on this check out MF 322 with Rich Perry). This is one of the biggest challenges to writing a book. It’s too easy to get distracted and stray from your goal if you’re not focused and SMART about it. Fred explains that this requires having the right “mindset” to see your book as a hard goal with defined parameters rather than a lofty aspiration. This is doubly important when you have people you’re working with that are giving you their time and skills to help you reach the finish line.
“It’s all about accountability. Sometimes you need those people around you that are going to hold your feet to the fire a little bit.” -Fred Brandon
Fred could have easily pitched his book to traditional publishers so I was naturally curious why Fred didn’t go that route. Fred explains that it was all about control. He wanted complete creative and content control over the book and its message. Moreover, he had the skills and experience to fully self-publish now. Thus, it was a natural and deliberate decision for Fred to choose self-publishing.
“I needed two different sets of eyes to make sure I got everything across and everything was the way it should be.” -Fred Brandon
Why "self-publishing" is a misnomer
Fred’s advice when it comes to self-publishing is to use your network. Fred leveraged his relationships to find an editor for The Adventures of Meesha. For Adopting Blockchain and Cryptocurrency, he turned to his brother who happens to be a great editor. Beyond that, you can use services like Fiverr and Upwork to outsource and contract out any work that is needed. Fred also points out that certain books may need more than one editor: content and line editing are not always done by the same person. If your book covers a technical area, you may need a dedicated editor for subject matter in addition to an editor for structure, grammar, and syntax. As Fred shares, it’s about building a team. Self-publish doesn’t mean you do it all alone. Most people aren’t graphic designers or editors or layout specialists. You can and should outsource the different aspects and skills needed to see your book to completion. Finally, self-publishing requires that you take on the marketing responsibilities. This means having an active presence online but also taking advantage of opportunities like book conferences or in-person events, and packaging your book as part of your business if possible (for more on this see MF 373 with Suzanne Brown and MF 377 with Rich Perry).
“What you have to say matters.” -Fred Brandon
“Just start. Stop overthinking.”
Listen to Fred talk about Sharepoint and Twitter on #MFPodcast 143
Connect with Fred:
Watch the video of our conversation on Facebook:
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