Dr. Dennis Bradford: A Philosopher’s Approach to the Pursuit of Happiness and Authorship

Dennis BradfordDr. Dennis Bradford is the author of over 20 books on a variety of topics, including The Concept of Existence, A Thinker’s Guide to Living Well, How to Become Happily Published, and many more. He’s also a former professor at the State University of New York, College at Geneseo, where he taught philosophy and humanities.

He founded the Ironox Works, Inc. in 2004 as an independent publishing company. Since that time he’s become a noted media expert who offers a media citation service and does one-on-one life coaching and consulting.

He’s a longtime student of Zen and an irreverent educator with stimulating ideas and a great sense of humor, all of which shines through in his work.

Scroll down for a complete transcript of the interview or click the Play button below to listen to the interview now. And don’t forget to leave a comment to let us know what you thought of this interview!

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Dennis Bradford Transcript

Tim Knox: Dennis Bradford is my guest today. Dennis has quite a prolific history. He’s got 20 books to his credit in the self-help genre. Dennis is a student of Zen and he is a deep thinker. He calls himself a philosopher. This was just a really wonderful interview as we talked about the kind of material that Dennis writes, his own philosophy, his outlook on life as well as you as an author can get into that genre, what you can do as far as how to come up with things to write about, how to find someone to publish your work. Of course Dennis is a very big fan of self-publishing with his own publishing company, Ironox, which we talk about. So let’s get started. This is Dennis Bradford on this edition of Interviewing Authors.

Dennis Bradford: Dennis, let’s start with a little background. Tell the folks about you.

Dennis Bradford: I have a doctorate in philosophy. I taught philosophy and humanities for 32 years at SUNY Geneseo in upstate New York. I founded Ironox Works in 2004, which is a small non-traditional publishing company. I’ve written over 20 books and that’s probably enough.

Tim Knox: That’s kept you busy over the years.

Dennis Bradford: I started off in the academy unlike a lot of people. The point of the book wasn’t to make money; it was to keep your job because you either publish or perish and that’s true. There’s something right about that and there’s something wrong about that but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from teaching. My first book came out of my doctoral dissertation and then I wrote a couple more with traditional publishers and so on, and that’s how I got started writing.

Tim Knox: What was your first book?

Dennis Bradford: The Concept of Existence.

Tim Knox: Now that’s a little deep.

Dennis Bradford: It sounds thrilling. I didn’t think it was that hard to read but actually when I came up for my tenure decision, the Provost of the college tried to read it and he said, “I tried and failed.”

Tim Knox: A little over his head.

Dennis Bradford: Yeah. I had to come a long way down in a sense and I’ve heard other authors say the same thing. My dissertation was over 400 pages long and that book was a boiled down version of it and it was probably only 70 or 80 pages. What you begin by saying in a page or a chapter you work down to a paragraph and then you work down to a sentence and that’s all in the rewriting and you have to clarify things that way. It’s a lot of work. That part isn’t fun. The rewriting isn’t fun. The writing can be fun, especially if you get into a flow.

Tim Knox: Exactly. You’ve written 20 books now?

Dennis Bradford: Yes, over 20.

Tim Knox: When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer or you had the talent and the ability to be a writer?

Dennis Bradford: It never occurred to me that other people weren’t like me.

Tim Knox: I love that.

Dennis Bradford: Well we all do that. We all think we’re less unique than we are in a way. There’s a lot of different ways. There are a lot of different learning styles. My learning style may not be your learning style. That’s one of the things you have to learn as a non-fiction author, to present your material in such a way that people who don’t have your learning style can use it. People would tell me, “How did you come up with this? How long did it take you to write this 6-10 page letter?” I said, “Oh an hour. I just knocked it off.” It finally dawned on me that it came easily to me, the writing part. I’m not verbally constipated.

Tim Knox: Right. You specialize in… would you call this self-help?

Dennis Bradford: That’s right. That’s a good way to put it. That’s where it would be in the bookstore.

Tim Knox: Let’s just go over a couple of these titles. You mentioned The Concept of Existence, The Three Things the Rest of Us Should Know about Zen Training, The Meditative Approach to Philosophy and then you start to go over into I think the health and fitness – How to Stop Emotional Eating and a number of other things. You seem to be… I don’t want to say all over the board but you have a number of topics within that genre that you’ve written about. How does one accomplish that? How do you become a self-help – and I hate the word guru but someone who is an expert in these fields and writes about these things? How do you go from being where you were to being where you are now?

Dennis Bradford: When I was 17 I admitted to myself that I had no idea what I was doing in life.

Tim Knox: You were the one honest teenager out there.

Dennis Bradford: I’m not sure about that because that’s one reason I like teaching undergraduates. A lot of them will tell you that. You have to get to know them a little bit but they’ll open up and say, “I don’t know what I want to do with my life.” Well I had no idea other and I made the decision to become a philosopher when I was 17. Now that’s over 50 years ago. A philosopher is just a lover of wisdom. That’s what the word means. In other words, a philosopher is just somebody who wants to learn to live well. Who doesn’t want to learn to live well? It turns out that a lot of people I found out in my introduction to philosophy courses were philosophers and they didn’t even know they were. They didn’t call themselves that or think of themselves that way but they were questioning and trying to find better ways to live, live a more examined life, lead a better life. That’s what philosophy is. The key to living a great life is to have an appropriate balance of a number of different factors – emotional, physical, intellectual, financial, so on. It’s not really a leap to go from one to the other because, for example, if you don’t take care of yourself physically that’s going to affect your emotional life. If you don’t take care of yourself emotionally that will affect your physical life. If you don’t have financial resources and education and so on behind you, that has a deleterious effect on the quality of your life. So to me they’re all interrelated.

Tim Knox: They are all kind of tied together once you start to look at the overall happiness umbrella, if you will. There are all these areas in your life where you may be happy over here but if you’re not happy over here, it’s not a complete picture.

Dennis Bradford: It drags you down. That’s what philosophers are after. Someone who does that is a sage. Now I’m not a sage but I’ve been working at it for 50 years and I’ve picked up a few things and I found a few things that work and a few things that don’t work and that’s really what I write about.

Tim Knox: How difficult is it for you to self-edit? Some of the folks that I talked to who write in this genre, they kind of do what they call of a stream of consciousness when they write and then they go back and have a difficult time editing what they’ve written. Do you have that same problem?

Dennis Bradford: What you have to do is get your ego out of the way, and that applies to so many things in life. If you want to market a book and you want to sell a book you don’t start with what you want; you start with what the market wants. That’s the single biggest mistake entrepreneurs make. They’ll produce a good product, maybe it’s an excellent product, maybe it’s a great book on, I don’t know, Martian minerals. Then they want to market the book. Sorry, there isn’t a great demand for books on Martian minerals. It may be a great book but you’ll never sell it. So the key is to get your ego out of the way. If you practice every day you get into a state of flow and optimal experience, what I call no thought. You just let it flow and let it go and you work on that every day. Then it has to cool and then you go back and with your analytical mind you have to go over it and condense it and shape it and form it and you’re done.

Tim Knox: You use a word that most authors do not use and that is entrepreneur. I’m an old entrepreneur, been in business for a long time. When someone asks you, Dennis Bradford, what is it that you do? Does the word entrepreneur come into play? Are you a writer, entrepreneur? What’s the order in which you describe what you do?

Dennis Bradford: I’m a philosopher. I’m just somebody trying to live well. I know from over 30 years of teaching that I have some ideas that can help people and that’s what I base it on. I’ve learned a lot about different areas. My father was an internist. I was always interested in medicine and physical health and so on and I have a best friend who’s an expert on that. Together we wrote a book on eating well. You learn from different people and you plug it all in and it takes a long time to do it the way I did it. It really does.

Tim Knox: Very much trial and error.

Dennis Bradford: Yeah well look, the future is both unknown and unknowable. Everything we do is a shot in the dark. Nobody can tell you what the market’s going to do. Nobody can tell you what’s going to happen tomorrow. You just have to struggle in a sense, figure out what works for you, what doesn’t work and eliminate what doesn’t work and focus on what works.

Tim Knox: You mention that you’ve been practicing Zen meditation for years. Talk a little about how that could help an author, how they could use Zen and the meditation perhaps to improve their creative flow and improve their lives. How does that come into play? A lot of the authors I know are pretty high strung folks.

Dennis Bradford: I think most authors would tell you that a prerequisite for being a good author is to be a good reader, perhaps a veracious reader. If you notice when you read something that’s really good – doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or not – you completely get lost in it. You may lose time. You may lose consciousness of where your body is. You may look up and your feet are three feet up the wall and you’re lying on your back and you didn’t even know how you got in that position. You’re just completely absorbed in the story or whatever it is that you’re reading. Well it works the same way when you’re writing. That’s what character possession is when you write fiction. The characters become so real to you that they take over the story.

So what we do in Zen is basically it’s very simple. We try to cut down on compulsive, addictive thoughts. Perhaps 80-90% of our thoughts are stale and repetitious and boring. They obstruct us. They block us from living well. The more you can let go of those thoughts when you don’t need them… 10-20% of the time you need them to solve a problem. Most of the time most of our thoughts are just blocking us from doing what we could do with a lot more joy if we didn’t have those thoughts. Therefore if you practice letting go of those thoughts, when you engage in something whether it be reading, writing, walking down the hall, raking the lawn, washing dishes or so on, everything becomes fresher and newer and more enjoyable. So that’s how it can help authors. I maybe shouldn’t say this but I don’t know how people without a serious spiritual practice handle life. Spiritual doesn’t mean religious. Spirit just comes from the Latin word for breath or wind. So a spiritual practice is just based on breathing, like a meditative practice or yoga or something like that. If you don’t have something like that I encourage you to get one because it makes life a lot different.

Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about Ironox. How did that come to be and what possessed you to get in the publishing business?

Dennis Bradford: About 20 years ago I decided to give traditional publishing a shot, non-academic, non-self-help books kind of thing I’d been writing. So I wrote a story. It was a murder novel. I thought gee this is a lot better than some that I’ve actually read so maybe somebody will publish this. I circulated it and got a big New York City agent. She’s still in business. She’s still good but she couldn’t sell it to a publisher and I couldn’t either so I put it in a drawer and put it away until I published it myself. It occurs to me, and everybody knows this, there’s a huge shift in publishing. For most authors I don’t think the traditional publishing procedures worked well. You did all the marketing, you did all the writing and if the book sold and if you sold the book through your own marketing efforts then the publisher took most of the profits. That’s kind of a dumb system. It works well for some people but not for most authors. That’s why there’s been this big shift in publishing. I thought well I want to be a non-traditional publisher where I can help people get published without that kind of, what shall I say, giving all the money to the publisher. I want to say it kindly, not that all publishers are bad. I’m not saying that at all.

Tim Knox: So let’s talk a little about that because you attempted to go what we call the traditional route. You got an agent, attempted to sell the book. Talk a little about the feelings. A lot of our audience is new authors who are trying to do just that. I think there is a kind of a misconception out there that if you do land an agent all is golden. There’s going to be a bidding war for your book and you’re going to be on Good Morning America and I’ll be interviewing you on this show. Clear that up for us. Talk about that time when you did get that agent. Did you know or think that your book would be published? Did you hope? What was your frame of mind?

Dennis Bradford: Well yeah, I thought the thing would at least get published. She tried and, I don’t know, she tried 25 different publishers and a lot of them liked it but for whatever reason they didn’t publish it. It can be as hard to get an agent as it is to get a publisher. I thought well now I got an agent; everything will be fine. Well it wasn’t and she couldn’t sell it and I couldn’t sell it. It didn’t bother me that much. I mean one of the reasons I did that was to experience character possession, which I did for the first and only time in my life so far because I never wrote another one. It was very interesting but you don’t have to have an agent. You don’t have to have a publisher. That’s one of the great shifts in publishing. You can do it yourself. Most people don’t want to do that. I mean if you want to be a professional writer that means you want to make some money and the only way you’re going to make some money is sell at the marketplace. Somebody’s got to do the marketing. Either you pay them to do it or you learn how to do it yourself. If you don’t have any money you learn how to do it yourself. It’s not that hard; it’s just that it’s not as much fun as writing a story. You just have to do it. So I thought well there ought to be a way that can help people do this. There’s 18 different ways to format books online. Well you don’t have to learn all 18. One or two would help.

Tim Knox: You started Ironox to do your own books. Do you also work with other authors now?

Dennis Bradford: Yes and in fact I’m going to expand. I’m going to try some fiction. I haven’t done any fiction there. I haven’t accepted any or sought any but there’s a lot of people out there who want to write fiction and a lot of people are pretty good storytellers. They may even have a story written. It’s easy to test because you don’t have to have a publisher like Ironox to do it. You can test it yourself. Just write a Kindle book. Write your story. Put out a good story for 40 or 50 pages and proof the concept. See if it works. See if somebody likes it. If they do they pick it up, it has a nice cover, attractive title and so on. You do a little marketing. Hey, you can expand that. You can write 10 more sequels to it and then you got a big, long novel. If it doesn’t work, if you don’t have any talent or the market doesn’t like it then you’re not out anything. It doesn’t cost anything to publish a Kindle book.

Tim Knox: When you’re not writing your own books you work with a lot of authors now don’t you?

Dennis Bradford: I’m working with more and more, that’s right. They realize the same thing. I’m not Simon & Schuster or something like that but I can be helpful and it’s a lot less expensive and a lot less risk. If it works the author… it’s a onetime fee to me and then they can get as much as 70% of the royalties from a book, compared to a traditional publisher where it’s a lot less than that. It could be as high as 12% but it’s usually a lot less.

Tim Knox: One of the books you have out is How to Become Happily Published. Happily published – is that an oxymoron?

Dennis Bradford: Well I think it’s kind of a thrill. It does make you feel happy to see your name in print and hold the book in your hand. That book for the price of a lunch at McDonald’s or something, that book can tell you how to do it yourself using CreateSpace, and that’s what it is. It’s step by step instructions on how to adapt a marketing mindset, actually how to do it. It walks you through the process of formatting it and submitting it and so on. You can actually have your own book if you just follow the simple instructions there. You can also hire people on Fiverr or oDesk or places like that to do it for you. That’s a very inexpensive alternative.

Tim Knox: I recommend people pick that up because I went through the CreateSpace process myself and it can be really confusing if you don’t know what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s confusing if you do know what you’re doing. I wish I had had this a couple years ago when I was self-publishing my novel through CreateSpace.

Dennis Bradford: And you can save money through them too. I don’t know if you used it but they now have a cover creator that you can do your own cover right there on the site.

Tim Knox: Oh no I haven’t looked at CreateSpace in a little while. I had my cover done by someone; I think I found them on Elance. They did a great cover for $50.

Dennis Bradford: You can get a good cover. I spent as much as $150 or $200 for a great cover but you can go to Fiverr and get four different people to make $5 covers and pick the best of the four for $20 and get a pretty good one.

Tim Knox: Did you ever think we’d have a $5 cover?

Dennis Bradford: It’s unbelievable. It didn’t used to be like that a few years ago. CreateSpace has ‘make your own cover’. If the book sells you can always go and hire somebody for $50 or $150 to get you a really nice cover for it. If it doesn’t sell you’re not out any money.

Tim Knox: How much of your time now is spent writing?

Dennis Bradford: I write when my muse bangs me on the head and says you have to write today. I’ve learned to pay attention. It could be a blog post. I have a blog – I don’t know if anyone’s interested in it – on wisdom and wellbeing. Just some mornings I wake up and, uh oh, I got to write a blog post. There’s just one in me and I write. I sit down and I let it flow, let it go. Then the next day I’ll rewrite it and post it. I run a lot of my ideas out there on the blog first and then if I want to do a non-fiction book on some topic where I have a number of relevant blog posts I could pull them together and do a book rather quickly.

Tim Knox: What is your process for writing? You write when the muse hits you but do you have any kind of guidelines that you force on yourself? I have to write this many words, this many pages or do you just go until the flow stops?

Dennis Bradford: Notice I said in the morning because I get up early and I start work early. I have a morning ritual – some meditation and tea and breakfast and so on. At 7 o’clock or thereabouts I get going. If it’s a writing day I just write until I run out. That could be 90 minutes or it could be four or five hours. I’ll take short breaks, pretty short so I don’t break the flow too much but I just let it go. I’ve learned that’s the most efficient way to do it. That’s my primetime. That’s the sweet spot for me. For most people it is in the morning. If it’s a young author and your sweet spot is at 10 o’clock at night then set everything aside and at 10 o’clock go write. That’s the time to do it. I learned that grading papers as a professor, I could grade twice as many papers in an hour in the morning than I could in the afternoon. It was actually double the time difference.

Tim Knox: That’s your productive time.

Dennis Bradford: Absolutely and that’s what you want to concentrate on if you’re creating any kind of creative process. It all comes from no thought or flow. Let the thoughts go and just become whatever it is that you’re doing – the reading or the writing or the practicing an athletic activity or practicing a musical instrument or whatever it is you’re doing. All creativity comes from that. There’s no standard terminology here. When you let go of the ‘I’ and let the ‘me’ take over is the terminology.

Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little about marketing because this is something you do really well and you specialize in and that’s the actual marketing of the work. Again I think a lot of authors don’t realize that they are the ones that are going to have to do the bulk of marketing for their work. Talk about how you have marketed your works. Give me your thoughts on things like social media, other marketing platforms today. How did you do it and if I was an author about to do it what should I do?

Dennis Bradford: Start with an avatar. What’s the most important thing you need for a restaurant? You probably know that right – a starving crowd. That’s what you’re looking for. Start with some market research. Generate an avatar out of that. When I say an avatar it’s the one person you’re writing to. You’re never writing to a crowd. Write to one person and know everything about that avatar. Let’s say it’s non-fiction – age, sex, demographics and so on of that person. What does that person really want? Then you help them. You offer to teach them, inform them, educate them. If you’ve done that, that’s half the battle because instead of creating the product first and then taking it to the marketplace, you’ve looked at the marketplace and said, oh, this is what this person needs. What’s the problem? What are they trying to solve? What are they trying to answer? What obstacles confront them? What specific results do they want? Once you understand that then when you write you’re actually already entering the thoughts that are already occurring in their mind. When you can do that, that’s golden.

Most people want to improve how they feel and something is making them feel not as good as they want to feel. If you can tap into that then you can do guest blog posts, you can do ads to websites or social media. You can do ads on e-zines, solo ads, joint ventures, have other people sell your book, market your book and so on. The idea is to add value to somebody’s life. Even if you’re writing fiction; it’s entertainment but they want to feel better. They want to enjoy a good story, maybe even learn something from it. Okay, that’s what you’re doing. If you start with the market rather than with your ego that’s half the battle.

Tim Knox: I think that comes from that entrepreneurial standpoint we were talking about a few minutes ago. The best way to launch a business… I’m from the south. We do a lot of fishing. You want to go find that pond of hungry fish and then you want to find a bait that they will bite at. I think that’s what you’re saying. Especially in non-fiction I think, if you are looking at… you find the market first, you figure out who your avatar is and you write for them, whereas a lot of times the author will write what they want to write and then try to go find a market for their work. It’s kind of backwards.

Dennis Bradford: I think we all learned that. I certainly didn’t start off that way. It took a long time for that lesson to sink in. I’ve got to become less egotistical and here again this is where the Zen practice helps because that’s what you’re doing; you’re shaving away your ego. It’s ego reduction is what it’s all about. If you focus les son you and more on your audience, you’re going to do better in business or life or anything.

Tim Knox: Could this be the topic of your next book? Put your ego on the shelf.

Dennis Bradford: I’ve already written some books on that. Mastery in 7 Steps has a lot to do with that and also Getting Things Done is another one where I talk a lot about that. That’s a very short one, Getting Things Done, if anyone’s interested. That would be a good one to start with.

Tim Knox: I think that’s an important point. You are a philosopher and you approach things from that standpoint I think of getting your mind and body in the right place to create. Is that right?

Dennis Bradford: Exactly, exactly. A well lived life turns out to be… this sounds a little moralistic but it’s true. A well lived life turns out to be a life of service. The way you get to serve other people is to take the focus off yourself and think about them. What do they need? What could they use my help with? Start there and if you start there your life is going to go better. It doesn’t matter whether you’re publishing books or making a friendship or I don’t care if you’re driving in traffic. It’s the same principle. It goes across the board. This is why I think, again, having some kind of spiritual practice that works well for you, and there’s no one practice that works best for everybody. There’s different ones. Have something that you’re doing that is regularly shaving away that egocentricity that spoils so much of life.

Tim Knox: You’ve written 20 books. Do you have a favorite?

Dennis Bradford: The most comprehensive one is Mastery in 7 Steps. A number of the other ones are shorter. As you pointed out the book on How to Become Happily Published is much shorter and so on than Mastery in 7 Steps so I’d have to say Mastery in 7 Steps because there’s more material in there. It’s much more comprehensive. It gives the big picture and to my mind that makes it easier to understand. To somebody else they may not see it that way. They may find that a particular topic is easier to approach and then expand outward as opposed to going from the general to the specific.

Tim Knox: Very good. Dennis Bradford, we have enjoyed this. Let’s talk a little about how folks can find out about you. Give us your various websites.

Dennis Bradford: One site is ConsultingPhilosopher.com. They could go there. The easiest way to do it is go to my blog, Dennis-Bradford.com if you can remember my name and just stick the hyphen in there. If you comment on any blog post, you don’t even have to read it; just comment on it and I’ll get the message from the comment box so that’s an easy way to contact me if anybody’s interested. I was going to say, I mentioned to you before that there’s a what I call a writing workshop resources list. I’d be happy to send it to anybody if they want it. It’s free. What it is is a list of helpful references that I keep on a shelf next to me as I write. If you don’t have one or you want some good suggestions, even just one or two, it’s work picking that up. Contact me and I’ll be happy to send you a copy of it.

Tim Knox: Super, I think that’d be a great resource for anyone. Any final advice? You’ve talked a lot about how to start, the marketing side of things, finding your market, how to clear your mind to write better. If I am someone looking to get into the self-help genre, what is your best advice?

Dennis Bradford: What are you trying to do? There are so many reasons to write a book and some of them are egocentric. You can write a book for egocentric reasons but don’t expect it to sell because nobody cares about you. They really don’t. They’re only interested in themselves. Here’s the key. Match your skills to what the demand in the market is. There’s a lot of demand in the marketplace for a lot of different things. You have to find out what your skills fit what market niche. Once you have that then you can serve that market and the serving that market is what’s going to make you a successful author.

Tim Knox: Exactly. Dennis Bradford, you are an author, a Zen student, consultant, publisher. You pretty much have a resume where you’ve done it all in the last 20 years and we appreciate you being on the show. I think you’ve got a lot of good information that our audience will love and we’ll put links up and send folks over your way. I, myself, am going to get that list of resources for my own use.

Dennis Bradford: Thank you, Tim. I’ve been very lucky. I have no complaints whatsoever in life. I really don’t. I’ve just been lucky and if I can help somebody get started, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Tim Knox: Very good. Dennis thanks a lot.

Dennis Bradford: Thank you, Tim.

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