In our 58th First Draft Friday episode, I was joined by Dylan Pratt, son of superstar legal thriller author Scott Pratt. Dylan Pratt discusses how he continued his father’s legacy of writing legal thrillers after his passing, including co-authoring with other writers and navigating book deals and contracts with publishers.
Dylan has an interesting history, having worked with his dad for years before taking over the reins. In our discussion, he shares his tips for book marketing success and how you can prepare now to help your heirs in the future.
It was a great discussion, one you won’t want to miss! Click below to watch our 30-minute recording and hear the questions we answered from the live audience. Keep scrolling if you’d prefer to read the transcript.
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Alessandra: Hello everyone, and welcome back to First Draft Friday. This is episode number 58, Continuing the Legacy. And today I am so excited to be joined by Dylan Pratt, son of Scott Pratt, who was a legal thriller superstar. If you aren’t familiar with Scott Pratt’s work, please look him up. Well, without being distracted from the show, he’s sold millions of copies of books and had written 13 novels, or had published 13 novels before he passed. So today is going to be a little bit of a different episode because Dylan has continued on his father’s legacy and continue promoting and releasing books in that universe. So, this is going to be a really interesting conversation and one that we should all think about as authors, what will happen to our library of books, what will happen to our corpus or to our legacy after we pass on. So, welcome, Dylan. It’s great to have you here. Thank you so much for coming on. Anyone watching, don’t be shy. Feel free to put in your questions as we go. But Dylan, normally I start off by asking the guest to kind of just give a little bit of background information about themselves. So, do you want to just give us a little bit of information about what you’re doing now and how you work with your dad’s books?
Alessandra: That’s a loaded question because you do so much, but if you want to just give us a quick introduction, then we can dive deeper.
Dylan: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Dylan, I guess try to keep this as short as I can. You know, Dad and I started together actually in the independent publishing space in 2012. Basically, from day one I was involved. Dad wasn’t exactly a tech wizard, which I’m not either, but anyway, we got into this in 2012. At the time I was working at Verizon and just helping him where I could. Long story short, about five months in, things sort of went boom. We started having a lot of success, enough success to where he could hire me on full-time. And fast forward 10 years later, I’m still doing the same stuff. Basically, our relationship was dad was the author and I did everything else, you know, website advertising, you know, social media, you name it – editor all of that good stuff. I wore a lot of hats. When Dad passed in 2018, he sort of charged me with continuing his legacy and continuing to promote his books and take things forward so I’ve tried to do my best to continue that.
Alessandra: So let’s go back in time a little bit to when you started. So when you started, and you said five months in, kind of things went, boom. So for those in the audience who aren’t familiar, was your dad a self-published author? Did he go a traditional route? When you started, had he already been writing, like traditionally and then started self-publishing or kind of – what was that boom? What area of publishing were y’all in?
Dylan: Right, right. So dad initially was traditionally published. The first three books in his Joe Dillard series were originally published by Penguin. Long story short, I guess technically, all that stuff was happening in 2007, 2008. So I was finishing up high school, transitioning into college, and those five years a lot happened. I won’t get too deep in the weeds there, but long story short, as he was getting into the traditional publishing world, that’s obviously as Amazon and the Kindle stuff was emerging, he was a relative unknown. So basically, he kind of ended up in a situation where his books died on the vine, I think a little bit. A lot of the traditional publishers which I’m sure most people are familiar with this, but there was a lot of fear at the time with the emergence of Amazon, so his books died on the vine.
He had written a fourth book in the Joe Dillard series, they passed, and he was kind of out of luck. So what ended up happening is, after a few years and a back and forth, he ended up actually being able to get the rights back to the first three books. In the meantime, he got really deep into JA Conrad’s blog and started really figuring out the self-publishing model, and he kind of sort of brought me in and I started reading into it too, and trying to help him any way that I could. And then in 2012, he finally got the rights back and we published them ourselves. It’s really embarrassing going back and looking at the covers and just thinking about…
Alessandra: Everybody feels that way. Yeah.
Dylan: Yeah, it’s really like, wow. Funny joke, the actual – originally when it was traditionally published, the first book was like a scene of a lawyer, like running up courthouse steps, and Dad reproduced it with my sister’s husband. So it was funny, we sold like a million books with my brother-in-law’s kind of like running up the steps. That was always a kind of a family joke. It was funny. But anyway so 2012 happens, we finish, or we publish the first three ourselves, I guess – the first four. And dad had sort of developed a plan and I helped him execute it, and they got off to a pretty good start. You know, name of the game early days was just, we need eyeballs. All our books were 99 cents and we just wanted to get them out, get them out, get them out.
I ended up doing a consultation with a – I don’t remember how exactly she built herself, but she was a woman who had a lot of knowledge about modern book selling tactics. I did a consultation with her, and after an hour long conversation, I came out of that with one huge thing that changed our lives. And that one thing was BookBub. That was early days. So in April of 2013, we had released those four books. In April, we got a feature deal with the first book, An Innocent Client, and we just did a free deal. We didn’t do a deal where you know, the price was discounted. We gave away 75,000 copies in one day of Dad’s first book, which really hurt Dad’s soul in a lot of ways. But we always…
Alessandra: You quickly saw the benefit of it, right?
Dylan: It was an explosion.
Alessandra: And for those of you who don’t know, BookBub is a discount book, email marketing service that you can pay and they’ll promote your book, your discounted or free title to their audience. And especially back then, there was a time period where BookBub was like the golden ticket, you know? Yeah. And if you got a book Bub deal, then you were guaranteed to just sit back, just count money, you know, in terms of all the sales and attention that your book was going to get. Now it is not as effective. It’s still highly effective, but yeah. But that, when we’re referring to BookBub, that’s what we’re saying.
Dylan: No, it was amazing. So then, you know, things changed. We were thrilled to death. I remember back then, and obviously even this has changed a lot now too, but back then, there wasn’t the rating system, it was the review system and reviews were really, really difficult to get. So our thing was, OK, we’re going to leave the books at 99 cents until we can get to a hundred reviews on the first book, and then we’ll sort of have the credibility and the legitimacy to move on up to $2.99 and get to that 70% tier, which was terrifying, but we did get to a hundred, and then with the BookBub and stuff, where we went to $2.99 and strangely, we actually started to sell more books. So yeah, that was sort of how things exploded. Our lives changed. We thought that that was just the way things were going to be forever going forward. We found out relatively quickly that the momentum goes away and you have to continue to promote, and you have to continue to do things to get more eyeballs on your books. So, yeah, that’s sort of how we got the train rolling and tried to keep it rolling ever since.
Alessandra: So your father passed away in 2018, I think you said. And at the time of his passing, he had already become a huge name. He had sold millions and millions of copies of the books; you had been working alongside him, which all of us would wish that we had a Dylan, you know, who intimately knew our books. But in that situation, or at that moment in time, you then had to make the decision, I guess, whether to continue to produce books in this world. So in 2018, what was the situation that you were in? He had some books half completed, or I know he was working with co-writers; what was the environment that you walked into, and then where did you go with that?
Dylan: That’s a big question. I’ll try to be as concise as I can. So in 2018, in May, we had released the ninth Dillard book, it went straight to the top of the Kindle store, you know, like top 20 overall. I mean, it was great, so we were sort of at the height of our publishing power, but at the same time, there was always this really strange duality where I don’t know if I’ve already mentioned this, but my mom had been really sick for a long time. In May of 2018, she was, you know, we were getting close to the end. She ended up passing away in June. So, you know, there was this weird thing where we had released a book and it was successful, and there was this excitement, but at the same time, we were dealing with, you know, our world was crumbling, so it was a strange, really strange time.
So anyway, as far as books were concerned, we had released that ninth Dillard book. Dad had found a couple actually, local writers because you know how it is — like he got a ton of correspondence from aspiring writers, and he really tried as best he could to pay it forward and help people. A couple of writers, they actually were friends of dads, people who, you know, were aspiring and asked dad to read their books. A lot of people would ask him to read their books, but there just wasn’t enough time in the day. But these two, he knew them personally, so he actually took the time to read their books and help them out.
Long story short, with both of them, he read the books and said, you know, you’re good writers, there’s something here, but you need some help. And he was willing to go in, co-write, edit, change some things, help them with story development, and then release them as co-authored books. So, he was going to do three books with each of them. He had made that deal before he died, or he had promised these two writers that he was going to do this before he died. We released the first of those, I believe it was on November the second, I think, and he died on November the 11th. So obviously, it was a really, really strange time and then just really hard to figure out like how to take it forward.
But the way I sort of approached it was, I basically wanted to do, everything that he had committed to do, I wanted to fulfill those promises because with these writers, you know, obviously they were good writers, but even by then in 2018, you know, the competition in the book world was just ferociously… I mean, it was just ferociously competitive for everybody. So if you were brand new, it’s kind of the same as today, it’s difficult to break through. You know, I just continued this. I paid it forward. I helped them and continued to publish those books. So we did three with Kelly Hodge; Mark Stout, we did one, and he’s still working on the second one. Dad also in the meantime, and again you know, Mom was really sick, but Dad was doing his best. And while all this stuff was going on, we had signed a deal with Audible Originals for a three-book series where they would publish the audio versions and then we would publish the Kindle and paperback ourselves. And he was about halfway through the manuscript of the first of those novels when he passed away.
It was a female protagonist, and I ended up, after I sort of got my bearings after all this stuff had happened, I ended up finding a writer, like plotting out the rest of it because I knew, you know, he and I, we had been plotting and doing all this stuff with his books for years, so I knew generally like where he wanted to go with the book and kind of where he saw the characters going. So anyway, I ended up finding a writer and we finished that, and that book actually comes out in Kindle and paperback a week from tomorrow. So, yeah, that was – I think I answered your question. There were co-authored projects, he was halfway through this new book, and then he had some preliminary plot plans for a 10th Dillard book, but he hadn’t really written anything yet.
Alessandra: If I’m an author and I’m either planning ahead for, you know, the day that I’m not going to be here, or if I’m a family member that comes into an author’s situation, you know, into their body of work; do you have any suggestions for finding – a co-author situation, it’s a little bit different because you do have that co-author who has been working with him and has been writing in that voice and now needs to carry that torch alone. But what about like, finding a ghostwriter or finding an author that can come in? Do you have any suggestions for how to find an author who fits their style, can write in their voice, and then how do you work collaboratively? Well, let me ask that question first so I don’t bombard you with too much. Do you have any suggestions for where to find a ghostwriter or, you know, an author who can continue in their voice and that can do them justice?
Dylan: That’s tricky. That’s tough. For me specifically, I knew his voice and his characters so, so well because I had been with him like developing these plots, like all through these Dillard books. So you know, I had a unique insight into not only his characters, but his voice and his writing. That being said, you know, I’ve said this before, I can write you a pretty good email, but I wouldn’t say that I’m an author, you know, at least he tried to. Anyway, I won’t go down too far down that road, but I’m more of like a, if I’m honest, I’m more like a high fantasy like sci-fi type guy. And obviously too with legal thrillers, there’s a lot of procedure. There are a lot of things about writing a legal novel that you have to get exactly right. And where he had been, been a criminal defense attorney in the past, you know, that stuff for him was easy. It was just like breathing. For the rest of us, even me who had been sort of around that world and knew how all these things worked, it’s still way, way different when you’re talking about trying to write accurate trial scenes and get procedure right, and all that stuff; it is just really difficult.
So anyway, as far as finding writers, I did a lot of research. I’d look at writers who were sort of up and coming, and then through the research, I ended up finding out that there’s just this whole ghostwriting and co-writing ecosystem that I did not know existed. And there are agencies, I guess you could say, like ways you can connect with people and find the right fit. So, I ended up going that route. And the way that worked, they sort of sent me… I sent them sort of almost like a dossier of what the project would look like. I don’t know if I had mentioned this, but my uncle and I initially were going to try to write the 10th Dillard book. Long story short, nine months pass, we’ve got about three chapters, four chapters, and we realized this, I don’t know… we had the whole thing plotted, bur he’s got a full-time job, I do this stuff full-time, you know, managing all –
Alessandra: You were probably so close to the project it was harder.
Dylan: There was also very much that, yeah, there was very much a sense of…
Alessandra: The pressure. I can’t imagine.
Dylan: Yeah. That actually, even, that’s still very much a thing. You know, imposter syndrome, all that different stuff. He and I though, we plotted the 10th Dillard book, you know, the whole thing, the character arcs, Act One, Act Two, I mean, we had it all sort of figured out when we eventually connected with a writer that could help us, like bring it all together. And then in that respect, I ended up sort of acting almost like a showrunner, you know, I would say almost like a very, very heavy-handed editor just because I know these characters, I feel like these characters are my family members, you know? So anyway, I would say, maybe finding an agency or something like that, because in those cases, you kind of give them the background, they’ll match you with people who would make sense, and then they’ll send you writing samples and then you can kind of go back and forth and figure out, OK, is this – well, number one, is the writing good? Number two, are we simpatico in terms of how we see ourselves working together? Is this going to be a situation where there’s not ego, where everything is just about getting the best quality out there? So yeah, I feel like I kind of jumped around, but yeah, that was sort of my process for finding a writer that I felt could do Dad’s characters and Dad’s voice justice.
Alessandra: Is there a website someone would start with, or do they just search ghostwriter agencies or author agencies? Is typically a ghostwriter what they’re looking for, even if you do eventually, you know, credit or not credit that author?
Dylan: I mean, it just depends on how you want to do it. You know, for me, at least with this 10th Dillard book, I kind of wanted the Joe Dillard series to be all just Dad. So I ended up, and where me and my uncle, like it was a very collaborative process. I went the ghostwriter route just for this 10th book. And then that series will sort of be, in my mind, it’ll sort of be done and it’s Dad, and that that’s there and that’s over with. I ended up using a service, I just, again, doing a bunch of research called Gotham Ghost Writers I just stumbled across their website and they were really, really great to work with. Generally, ghostwriter, co-writer, I mean, it just depends on your situation. We were in a very unique situation. I knew we had to finish a 10th Dillard book, sort of where Dad had left things. And even hearing from his readers and getting these emails and all this stuff, we had to sort of have a palatable ending for these characters. So yeah, I would say it just depends on your situation.
Alessandra: That makes perfect sense. OK, we don’t have much time left, so anyone in the audience, if you have any questions, don’t be shy. But I do want to ask; do you have any suggestions for an author as a way to kind of set up their estate to make the transition easier on their errors, whether that’s a technical suggestion or putting down all of their thoughts in a will or making their outlines accessible? Do you have any suggestions or ways they can make that easier?
Dylan: Sure. So the way dad did it, and again, I think this is because we were dealing with mom’s stuff, he just wanted to have things in place just in case something happened, which something obviously did. Dad set up a trust and he assigned all of his rights to that trust. And then kind of coupled with that, he brought me into all of those meetings and I got really close with all of the trust people. So effectively, you know, which I don’t think would’ve been an issue anyway. I’m really close to my siblings. I don’t think there would’ve been any sort of squabbling or whatever. But assigning it to a third party, like a trust like that where there’s an outside trustee, it just takes that variable completely out of it, which is great.
And then for me where I had been intimately involved with the publishing side and with I guess the development and sales of these books for so long, you know, I had connected with them and we sort of ended up working in lockstep to figure out, I guess just how we’re going to continue doing things and how we take things forward. I I would encourage an outside third party trust type situation is not a bad way to go, especially if you have a lot of descendants. I mean, you know how it… not saying it just takes…
Alessandra: Hundred percent. Yeah, I understand. And so when y’all would get a copyright for a book, would the copyright be done in the trust name or would the copyright be done in just your dad’s business? Who owns the copyright to a book?
Dylan: The Trust. So inside of the Trust there’s an entity, it’s technically a business called Scott Pratt Investments, so that is who owns the copyright and then that’s under like a Trust umbrella.
Alessandra: That makes sense. Let’s see. Kit says from YouTube says, how do you decide on something like a TV or movie version? So I guess Kit is asking the question like if there are business decisions to be made, do you hold that authority?
Dylan: Well, I mean, technically the Trust does. So the Trust, you know, when you’re dealing with a Trust, you have a trustee who is an outside… who’s basically, their role is designed to be an outside uninfluenced, almost agent/arbiter of the estate. So, they’re supposed to look at things from a standpoint of, what were the goals of whoever set up the Trust originally, so in this case, Dad obviously, but also what’s going to be best for the beneficiaries. So again, it’s almost like having an arbiter which is nice. In the case of TV and movie stuff, which we’ve dealt with a lot of this; it can be frustrating, but ultimately the Trust would sign off on any of that stuff, because eventually, you know how that stuff, there’s an option or a shopping agreement, and then if things go great there’s a right sale. So it’s whoever holds those film and television rights, which in this case would be Scott Pratt Investments LLC under the Trust. So, you know, it’s a little bit different just because I work so closely with them and they know sort of what our goals are and they’re doing what’s best for us and for the family. But yeah, that’s how that would work.
Alessandra: Perfect. And in our final moments, I did want to ask, because you do wear so many hats in terms of marketing, creative, advertising, so do you have any tips to share for authors of book marketers in terms of finding success in this business?
Dylan: Yeah, yeah. I’ve got a little list. I’ll just run down it real quick. Number one is build your email list. I think everybody probably heard that a million times, but that is the most important thing. That is the Holy Grail. I would say this, especially if you’re in early days and you’re first starting, I would try to make sure you have sort of your infrastructure in place before you release your book. So, you know, website, make sure – it can be simple, it can almost be nothing, but make sure you’re asking for people’s email addresses. I would even say consider something, I know it’s annoying, I know we all hate it, but a dialogue box, because you have to think about it. Most of those humans that come to your website, the likelihood of you seeing them again is very low. So, you need to get the most value that you can out of that user and out of that reader.
Alessandra: Wait, what’s a dialogue box? I don’t know that is.
Dylan: Like one of those popup boxes, you know?
Alessandra: Oh, OK. Like a popup. OK, sure.
Dylan: Yeah, like a popup. And then I would also have some sort of, you know, either at the top right or somewhere at the top, like sign up for my newsletter, sign up for my email list. I would say this: website, Facebook page, Goodreads profile, BookBub, author page, I would say those are the four most important things as far as having your infrastructure in place for your digital presence. Couple of other things I would say; make sure your branding is bold and consistent. I think that’s big. Make sure your books are really tight and really well-edited. I can’t stress that enough, that is really, really important. One other thing I would say that it kind of rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but I think you have to keep this in mind is you have to keep in mind the scope of the market and how big the market is. I’ve always sort of seen myself as sort of like a… like marketing is almost like guerilla warfare, you know, it’s just constant, do this, do this, do this, do this, do this. That’s a long way of me saying don’t be afraid to discount your books. Don’t be afraid to give away books. It is a huge market. I mean, obviously that would depend a little bit on your niche, but generally it’s a huge market. It is OK to give away some books or sell some books at 99 cents in order to bring some people into the fold. If you set up your processes right, it will pay off in the long term.
Alessandra: I love all of those pieces of advice. I did have a quick follow up. How often do you email your list? Not enough?
Dylan: Yeah, not enough. We always wanted to make sure that if somebody saw an email coming through from Scott Pratt they opened it, and I didn’t want to bombard people. If I could go back and do it over, I think I would’ve probably had just a general email list and a newsletter. Like, just something really quick and short. Lucy Score has a newsletter that she does that I think is fantastic. Something like that. If I could do it over, I think that’s what I would’ve done.
Alessandra: OK. Well, thank you so much for all of this fantastic advice. Thank you for everyone who joined us live. If they are new to your dad’s books is there a book that they should start with? Probably the first in the series. I know everyone, you can find out more at scottprattfiction.com, but what book would you suggest they start with?
Dylan: I’d say start with An Innocent Client. That’s the first book in the Joe Dillard series. I think it’s over like 40,000 reviews now on Amazon or something. It’s a good book and it’s done really, really well and people really, really seem to enjoy it. I’d say start there, that’s a really good introduction to Dad’s work in his characters.
Alessandra: Fantastic. And the newest series, I know the Audible Original or the book that comes out – the book that comes out next week, that is in the new series, is that correct?
Dylan: Yeah, so that’s Presley Carter Book One. That was the book that Dad was about halfway through when he passed away. So you know, 2018 to now, obviously long, long, long time coming, but yeah, that’s the first in a new series that follows a new protagonist, Presley Carter.
Alessandra: And they can listen to that now on Audible or look for the ebook and paperback next week?
Dylan: Yes, correct. It is available now on Audible and it’s also available on Kindle and paperback.
Alessandra: And what was the name of that book? I didn’t catch that name.
Dylan: Blood Is Black.
Alessandra: Blood Is Black, OK. Wow. All right, I love that name. So thank you so much to everyone. Thank you Dylan for joining us today. And we will be back in another two weeks with First Draft Friday. If you have not yet swung by authors.ai, please visit the site. You can check out Marlowe, who’s an artificial intelligence that can read your manuscript and give you feedback in just a few minutes. So check out Marlowe there, you can try her out for free. And we’ll see everyone in two weeks for another First Draft Friday. Thank you so much.