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Stark Reflections on Writing and Publishing

Dec 22, 2023

Mark interviews James Fell, the Sweary Historian, and bestselling author of ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY SH!T WENT DOWN.

Prior to the interview Mark warns listeners of the adult language used in this episode, reads comments from recent episodes, and shares a word about this episode's sponsor.

Mark's Stark Publishing Solutions books are 50% off in the Smashwords End of Year Sale. (Ends at the end of day Dec 31, 2023). Patrons will be getting a special coupon to get the titles for only $0.99. Offer good until Jan 31, 2024.

In the interview, Mark and James talk about:

  • How James is an author who "can't make up his F-ing mind"
  • Advice James was given regarding how hard it was to make it as a writer and that most science-fiction authors also had other jobs
  • Starting off writing health and fitness articles and getting columns at the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune as well as a few magazines
  • The idea of SERVICE vs PRODUCT income
  • Having the delusions of grandeur that he might one day have one of those books that would "blow up"
  • The initial Random House deal he got for one book, then, a few years later, a US deal from St Martins Press
  • How the publishers were interested in James' own platform for helping to sell the book
  • The way James was crestfallen with the sales results of his first two traditionally published books
  • Beginning to start a public speaking career just as Covid-19 hit the world
  • James' background in University studying history
  • The bike-riding epiphany that first popped into his head (a la the way he describes it in his book THE HOLY SH!T MOMENT) and the daily story about Mae West that was extremely popular and led to an even bigger "holy shit moment!"
  • Ensuring that he did not miss a single day in posting a well-researched and funny post for two years straight
  • James hiring a good copyeditor and also hiring Mark to help with his distribution strategy
  • The more than a million views of his column of articles
  • How most of the sales came from free daily stories on Facebook - and not really any other PR
  • James' Substack experience and how he was able to leverage that via paid subscription
  • The book sales taking off way beyond his expectations
  • How 90% of the sales of the two versions of ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY SH!T WENT DOWN have been in print rather than eBook
  • Receiving a respectable offer from a good mid-sized publisher about 14 months after the first volume was available for sale
  • His agent being able to leverage that offer to pitch the book to a number of larger publishers
  • The proposal that James wrote for this that was in the voice he used in the book (instead of in the standard recommended proposal format)
  • The unexpected bonus of the publisher who bought the rights allowing James to keep the existing books live for almost a full year before their version of the book came out
  • How James' career took off when he stopped giving a shit about "what the market wanted"
  • Hearing "the voice is a triumph" from his New York Publisher Editor before she then "ripped the shit out of it"
  • The pull quotes that were mostly selected from the interior book designer
  • The fact that James sold more than 52,000 print copies of the book in print when it was entirely self-published
  • The special arrangement that James had (and still has) with Calgary Indie Bookstore Owl's Nest for the procurement of signed copies
  • A powerful story about solidarity among writers
  • The 3 Rules of Marketing for Authors
  • And more . . .

After the interview Mark reflects on the unique method by which James gave away two of his books entirely for free, but in an inventive "self-promotional" way that was blatantly salesy, but also provided incredible entertainment and value.

Links of Interest:



My name is James Fell and I say “fuck” a lot.

Historically, I didn’t write the word fuck that much, because the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, where I authored columns for several years, tend to frown upon such language. I also didn’t swear in my 1996 history master’s thesis, titled Rebellion and the Quest for Social Revolution in Latin America. In that academic work I did manage to get the message across that the CIA are fucking dicks without actually using the words “fucking dicks.”

Anyway, in the spring of 2020, a year I refer to as a fucktacular shitnado of ass, I said what the fuck and began authoring a column titled “On This Day in History Shit Went Down.” To my immense pleasure and no small amount of surprise it’s proven quite popular, with several million readers each month. These columns were turned into two self-published volumes of the same name: On This Day in History Sh!t Went Down, and they sold so many copies that Bantam Books gave me an assload of money for the rights to republished them. The new and Big-Publishing-Company-improved version of Volume I is on sale now.

You can read free samples of my sweary history stories on my Facebook, and you should also subscribe to my Substack. You can get a free subscription or a paid one. I like it when people subscribe to the paid one.

I’m also on Twitter (blarf), and my TikTok channel is called Sweary Historian.

In a previous life I wrote about fitness and motivation. The cool and science-based kind of fitness writing, not the bullshit and/or fat shaming sort. Find my earlier published books here.



The introductory, end, and bumper music for this podcast (“Laser Groove”) was composed and produced by Kevin MacLeod of and is Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0