Interview with Dr. Debra Blaine

In today's podcast, our guest describes her personal success in writing and self-publishing a novel.

In 2019, Dr. Debra Blaine released the medical thriller, “Code Blue: The Other End of the Stethoscope.” Then, in late 2021, she released the political thriller “Undue Influences.
Dr. Debra Blain has been a family physician for 33 years. She has been a guest on the podcast twice before to discuss her books and describe how to publish a novel. She returns again this week to announce the release of her latest novel, “Beyond the Pillars of Salt.”

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The latest book is the sequel to “Undue Influences.” The story takes place about 10 years in the future.  And it's remarkable that Debra was able to write and self-publish the book in only 9 months.

Self-publishing Journey

Traditional publishing, hybrid publishing, and self-publishing are the three ways to publish a book. In Episode 231, she spoke with us about these possibilities.

Dr. Blaine employed hybrid publishing for her first two novels. She wanted more control of the process and to publish it more quickly, so she chose to self-publish her most recent book. And, she describes how she did that during our interview.

Debra used an Apple Mac-compatible book authoring application called Vellum. And she set up accounts with Apple Publishing, Ingram, Amazon Publishing, and Kobo to distribute the book.

Achieving Personal Success by Writing

To Dr. Blaine it's not just about writing… it is also about making a difference. She hopes that when readers interact with the book's characters, it will have a more profound, emotional impact. She refers to it as “truth in fiction.”

The truth hurts, but fiction guides gently. – Debra Blaine, MD

With the release of each new book, Debra feels a sense of accomplishment and success by writing and self-publishing, especially.

Advice from Dr. Debra Blaine

I think reframing the meaning of our lives changes the experience of our lives… not defining ourselves strictly as clinicians… defining ourselves as more of a whole person…

Explore who you are. A lot of times when you find something you're interested in… if you're passionate about something and you start following it to its logical conclusions… your life will just be better.


Debra can be reached at where you can also find her books and information about her coaching business. You can also find her novels at If you are interested in authoring a novel, follow Debra's lead and hire her as a coach to achieve success in writing and self-publishing your book.

NOTE: Look below for a transcript of today's episode. [Also: the book links above are Amazon Affiliate links, so we receive a small commission when you buy using these links.]

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Transcription PNC Podcast Episode 268

Achieving Personal Success by Writing and Self-Publishing a Novel

- Interview with Dr. Debra Blaine

John: Well, as you all know out there, I like to talk to physicians that are doing new things. And I don't know, for some reason I'm really into medical writing and writing that isn't medical. Today's guest has been on the show twice before, and she's released a new book called "Beyond the Pillars of Salt." I got to get that in right at the beginning so I don't forget. And so, with that, I want to welcome Dr. Debra Blaine. Hello.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Hi, John. Thanks for having me.

John: It's always fun. I don't know what it is. I think people that actually take writing beyond just a hobby or something and actually write something that gets published are awesome. That includes people that publish, I guess, scientific articles, but I like to read novels. I like mystery, thrillers, things like that. What you've been writing has been right at my alley. So, it's going to be fun to talk about your new book today.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Thank you.

John: Here we go. I'm going to really dig into that. We're going to learn as much as we can, not just about you, but because this third book has been published differently. That's one of the reasons I wanted to get you on today. But let me just say that I'm halfway through the book and I don't know if we're going to be using video, but if we are, there's the cover of it and I really am enjoying it. It does keep me moving forward. It's interesting. I've noticed when I read mystery or a thriller or even a cop type of book that the further I get in the book, the faster it goes. It's weird. It's kind of like as you get older you move faster through time and that means it's keeping my interest. Explain where this book came from after you tell us a little bit about yourself and your history being a writer and a physician.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Okay. I've been practicing medicine for 33 years. I am looking for a permanent exit. Right now, I'm only working part-time. I published my first book in 2019, which was a medical thriller. And my second book actually came out less than a year ago and it was a political thriller. And that one was called "Undue Influences." And so, this is the sequel to "Undue Influences." And this one took me nine months about to write, edit and publish and release. So, I'm really excited about that and that process going forward.

But the political thriller kind of focuses on what's happening to our society and how our minds are being manipulated in so many different ways and how that's leading us towards extremism and towards not being able to really get along with each other, but perhaps it's serving some other interests, the political powers that be.

What "Beyond the Pillars of Salt" does is it takes that scenario to one of the possible frightening conclusions. And so, in "Beyond the Pillars of Salt", we now have a society in the United States, which is where I live, where the government is not elected anymore because no one believes the elections. So, it's become despots who are ruling our country and it's autocratic and cruelty is sort of the norm which I think we've seen some of that. It's just a lot of violence.

And on the other hand, there's also the planet, which has been neglected. The needs of Earth have been so neglected that between the storms and the shifting tectonic plates and the flooding in coastal areas, the Earth is kind of redefining itself, reclaiming itself. And it's not going to be so habitable for human life in the very near future.

Now, all this takes place in the year 2032, not so distant future. I really hope I'm totally wrong about all of us, but the group of people, the group of humans that we get to know fairly intimately in "Undue Influences" make their way to the mountains and they find this little hiding place where they grow into a whole compound of people.

And the story is about how they manage to survive. And if you haven't read it yet, I'll say if they manage to survive. But what they do and how, not just how they manage to survive physically, but how they manage to survive as human beings. So, how to not repeat the mistakes of the past and where to go to find a place to thrive. So, I don't know how far you are in the book. I don't want to completely give away the book, but this becomes this search for we cannot sustain ourselves, the planet Earth will not sustain us anymore so we need to find another way to go.

And so, all of my books, I try to make them plausible. No matter how outrageous it is, I try to make it something that you could actually go step by step and see how you could get there, given what we know today. So, I did a lot of research. I don't know if you're up to all that part yet, but I did a lot of research about what's out there in space and what we could possibly aim for, and how we could propose to get there without some magical, "Oh yeah. It's Star Trek. We just push the button and we're in warp speed."

John: Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Debra Blaine: But there is definitely woven through that, a sense of a person who is reminding us that this is the last chance. We have to get it right this time. And so, the whole question for me became not only what does it mean to be better, more worthy, more noble human beings, but how do we get there? How do we find that? And these are really major questions that I'm trying to just explore in a science fiction, dystopian fiction kind of world, and hope that my readers will play along with that idea too and think about it.

John: A couple of things I have to comment on there. First going back to the start of what you were saying. Nine months is unreal, particularly when you consider that you were publishing in a completely different way, which we're going to talk about. Because you had published the others in a different way that we've actually talked about before in the podcast and I'll put links to our previous episodes. The self-publishing, which you took this time, that's a whole learning curve and you're going to tell us about that. So that's one thing.

Yes, I could tell in the reading of the book and I do like this, there are thing's my wife and I talk about movies and so forth, and the things I like are science fiction. I like sometimes if they're using time travel, which I don't think is in this book at all. But the scientific background I'm like, you must have done research. You have a scientific background, of course, as a physician, which I think helps and I like that because it's hard to fool another physician when you're talking in scientific terms because the lay public might not notice something. But I got to give you kudos for that. And so, why don't you just tell us before we go too much further where your website is because I know that's one place they can get the book. So, in case they don't listen to the end.

Dr. Debra Blaine: My website is and you can also get there if you put in because that's part of my new avenue for publishing. But will get you to my books on the first page, my coaching practice which is primarily for physicians, but for anyone that has a coaching practice for writers, which is very exciting. And I have a blog, my bio, a mission statement, stuff like that.

John: Yes. It's laid out really well and it's easy to get everything right there. All right, you've told us about the book. You didn't want to tell us too much. Like I said, I've gone about halfway through it and yeah, you didn't spill any of the beans that I haven't read through yet. So that's good to know. But I have really enjoyed it to this point and it will be done very quickly. We did schedule this interview rather suddenly so that's my excuse for not being the really good host that has finished the book. But tell us about why and how you decided to publish the book the way you did.

Dr. Debra Blaine: In the past, as I mentioned before just really briefly, there are three common ways to publish a book. You can go the traditional route but you have to first get an agent because unless you have an agent you can't even approach a traditional publisher that can take you anywhere from one to two years unless you already have an agent. Then the agent has to find a publisher who's willing to publish your book. And then the publisher takes however long they want to take. It can be a year, can be two years. They can release it when they want to release it and they can tell you what to do with the book, which chapters they don't like or what new chapters to write in. It doesn't cost you anything. And they do usually give you an advanced fairly small if you're not a well-known writer like Dan Brown or something. That's number one.

Number two is the hybrid. I kind of fell into the hybrid. I didn't even have a chance to think about whether I was going to start doing query letters. I was working full time at the time and the hybrids, they charge you to do all the developmental editing, the copy editing, the proofreading. They do a cover design. They do everything you need to do get your ISBN numbers. They do everything that needs to be done plus they format and they platform the book.

They tend to platform the book through IngramSpark which is the main company in this country that does that and prints. And then IngramSpark farms it out to everywhere else, Amazon, apple, Barnes & Noble, whatever. So, your books can be available anywhere. I didn't want to wait that long because my first book "Code Blue", it took eight months to get it out when they promised it to me in six. My second book "Undue Influences", they promised in six, it took 11 months. And I just wasn't willing to do that because I want to turn out the books faster. And because I try to make my books timely for what's going on in today, this year.

So, I decided to self-publish it. That meant I hired a couple of editors, two different ones. I went to Kirkus first, which is really known for their reviews. It's a very high-quality organization but they also have a separate arm that just does editing, cover designs, formatting, things like that. So, you can go to Kirkus and say, "Hey, I want to self-publish my book" and they'll do everything for you that I actually ended up doing myself. So, I got one editor from there, loved her, absolutely loved her. They promised me it would be finished within 15 business days. It was done in two weeks, including the weekends.

And then I went to Fiverr, which is an online platform where you can get people who are interested in offering all kinds of different services. And I got another company that did a second edit because I wanted to kind of double check it and they did a proofread. And so now I had my edited manuscript. I think he's an amazing cover designer, Joe Montgomery, I got to plug him. He just worked with me. He earned every penny. And at one point, I sent him an email and I said, "I know I'm probably your biggest PIA client, but I've really enjoyed working with you. And he wrote back to me and he said, "Oh no, this project's been a blast." And so, I'm going to use him in the future.

I had a cover designer, but then there are all these other things. You need to get the little identifier numbers that are on your books ISBN. So, it's really not that hard. You look everything up online. Bowker does it. They're very friendly. You can get a human on the phone very easily. I bought ISBNs. I bought a barcode. A friend of mine recommended this program called Vellum. And it's software. It only works with Mac but there's a closed Facebook group for doctors, for women physician writers. It's a great group. I put up a thing because I said "Has anybody had experience with Vellum versus Atticus?" Which is another one, Atticus, you don't have to have a Mac. I do have a Mac. And everybody chimed in "Vellum, Vellum, Vellum." Vellum is a little bit more expensive, but for $249. And plus, Vellum gives you the software. Play around with it. If you like it and you want to use it, pay us.

John: Nice.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Yeah. It's not until you generate a file that you have to pay them. So, once you pay them the $249, you now have a license to format unlimited paper and eBooks forever.

John: Wow.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Yeah. I think it was money very well spent. I took my manuscript and I'm like, I'm not a very tech savvy person. I'm working on changing that. So, I'm looking at it, it says upload file. I'm like, okay, I clicked it and it was amazing. In about 20 seconds, my manuscript appeared in book form. And it labeled each chapter, it gives you a table of contents if you have one. And it gives you just numbers, just for the eBook, but not necessarily for the hard cover or the paperback, which you can do either one.

It separated my copyright page. It separated my epilogue. It separated my title page. It knew all these things. And then you could add elements. So, I could add my acknowledgment page, my dedication page, about the author page. It even asks if there's other books by this author. It really lays everything out for you so nicely. I did that and then I've learned a lot of things along the way, when I decided to upload.

A friend of mine who recommended Vellum said, you can just send it to Ingram or you can just send it to Amazon. If you send it there, they have the exclusive rights for distribution. So, you can't necessarily send it to both if you just do one. But she said it's a pain in the butt, but she does it separately on every platform. And so, I did. I opened accounts with Apple, with Ingram, with Amazon, with Kobo. And so, all sales get deposited, the royalties get deposited directly into my account. It doesn't go through another publisher. And so, then I just uploaded, I discovered something really interesting. When you upload to Amazon, the Kindle version, you don't have to publish yet, you can preview, and it will go through and do another proofread for you.

John: Wow.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Yeah, it's so cool. And it came up with, and it said five potential errors and four of those was a word that I made up. So, obviously, yeah, it's going to say that. And so, I just ignored those. And then there was one, I knew that it was the word "trivial" and the second I was missing and I remember fixing that, but somehow, I guess I didn't save it after. Anyway, I went back and I fixed it. You can preview it on Amazon for your paper back as well. I think you can preview on Ingram as well. And then you fill in your metadata and your price. It really was so much easier. Calling Apple, iTunes Connect. I had some issues, they didn't like my tax ID number or something. They get on the phone with you. In two or three rings, you've got a human being. Even the US copyright office, I had to call them. This was the day after Labor Day. And I think he partied too much on Labor Day. He was a little bit cranky, but he helped me in within five minutes of my picking up the phone to call the problem was solved and he was off the phone.

I've just found the people in the publishing world are so friendly. They're just really easy to work with and that's why I could do it so fast. Because I had my own cover going and I got it edited and I had the software. And so, this is something that I'm offering now as a coach. If you have a book, I'm not an editor, I'm not going to edit your manuscript. I'm not a cover designer. I can't do your cover design. But I can sort of help guide you to where you can get that done. And then we can talk about that and then we can get on a Zoom meeting again, and I can upload your manuscript in front of you, share screen. You can choose your font. You can choose your spacing. You can choose the size of your letters, the size of your book. Once you do that, it will tell you how many pages it is. And then you can have your cover designer create, it's called a mechanical that has the back and the spine and all that because that has to be a perfect fit.

So, all these things that you don't really think about, but if you have a good coverage designer, an experienced cover designer, they will know what you need and you'll be able to work with them. You don't want somebody to just make a picture unless you're only interested in eBook distribution. eBook distribution, all you need is a picture.

John: Got it. So now when you're in Vellum and you're converting everything, do you add that cover, back and front cover at that point, or does that come later in that whole publishing process?

Dr. Debra Blaine: Vellum asks you for the cover but they're only looking for the front cover, because it's for eBooks. Now for a print book, there are only certain places that are going to do a print book. Apple only does eBooks. Amazon does both. When you go to Amazon and you want to upload your book for print, it will ask for your manuscript and then it will ask for your mechanical for the cover. So, you have to upload that. There'll be a separate file that your cover designer will give you. The same thing with Ingram. It's the manuscript and the mechanical. They're just separate files, but when Vellum produces files, it labels them. This is for this company, this company, this company.

John: Oh, nice. So, it has been broken down by company. Nice. I happen to have a Mac, so I'm kind of in both worlds, PC and Mac, but I would definitely keep that in mind if I ever decide to write a book, particularly this type. But boy, you've got this down to a science. This is very interesting. If this last one was nine months, you're going to crank out one a year minimum, I think.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Well, we have a colleague who's been putting out two books a year now for a while. Actually, she did four books last year, but she's so far ahead of me. She's a little bit like a guru.

John: Yeah. Well, we have a couple of minutes here. I want to ask you, in your coaching, what if somebody said, "Yeah, I want to self-publish my book, but I also need a little bit of help and figure it out what's the most efficient way for me to write my book? I just sit down and sometimes I get a few pages done and then I get distracted or I try to squeeze it in between different parts of the day." What is sort of the short version of your advice if I were to ask you as my coach?

Dr. Debra Blaine: Yeah. I've picked up a couple of clients who want to write and so we meet and I give them a package if they don't want to pay by the session. And the package because it's writing, it's not like regular coaching. I mean, it is coaching, but I give them like 10 weeks or eight weeks to use the package, even though they're paying for four sessions. So, if you want to take them some extra time because you're on a roll writing and you don't want to get back to me yet. But we talk about structure of books, methods to keep people interested, how to keep the reader hanging on what you should start with.

One of my clients had this great, great idea. She said, this is how I want to start the book. And I said, that is an awesome, amazing chapter, but make it a chapter two because that's not going to pull the reader in. And we talk about structure and the things that are necessary and some of the elements of dialogue. And my job is to keep them accountable. And when people pay for coaching, when they're paying for something, they tend to be more accountable. And then at the end, I tell people, I can't promise you that your manuscript will be accepted by a traditional agent or a traditional publisher or a hybrid, but I can promise you that when you're done, if you choose to do self-publishing, I will do it with you. And then again, all I charge is for my time. And then they get the files and they set up their own accounts. I don't have anything to do with their earnings.

And the other thing. Going through my former publisher, they only go through Ingram. So, let's say a book is being sold by Amazon. Ingram takes their cut first. Amazon takes 40%. Then you have to subtract the cost of printing, which by the way, Amazon charges a full dollar less for the same book than Ingram does to print. And then my publisher gets a fee, I'm sure. And then whatever is left over is called the royalties. And we split that 50/50. I think I get about 75 cents to $1.25 a book. But when I self-publish it, if it sells on Amazon, I get $5.86 a book.

John: Oh, five times the amount more or less. Four or five times the amount. That's much more efficient in terms of generating some income, which I'm assuming you would love to do over time, generate more income with writing and less income from medical, which I can relate to that quite a bit as many of our listeners can. Probably not the quickest way to becoming a millionaire is to start writing. But if it's something you love and you're good at it, then why not pursue that and get paid for it? Just like everything else we talk about here. It's something you love, you're passionate about. You'd know how to do well and you get paid for.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Yeah. And you know me, John. For me, it's not even just about the writing. I want to say something and I feel like when people read an article or they hear the news or somebody gives them a self-help book or something, it goes in, it stays with them for a day, a week, a month maybe, and it's gone. But when you think about your favorite books, you remember them from time to time. And my hope is that people will, when they engage with a character, that it will affect them in a deeper, more emotional way that will leave an over lasting impression because our planet is in trouble. The people on our planet are in trouble. And this is kind of my way of doing medicine for the spirit. I call it truth in fiction. That's my new thing. The truth hurts, but fiction guides gently.

John: Yeah. And in fact, most physicians that find something to do outside of seeing patients one on one end up helping patients indirectly or directly anyway, whatever they're doing. And this is another good example. I have one more question for you before I let you go. But before I do that question, I'm going to remind everybody the first place to stop is

Dr. Debra Blaine: Yes.

John: And they can find everything there. If they want to go to Amazon directly, so be it, look for your name there and they'll find the books. And really if you're a writer or a fledgling writer or want to learn how to publish, self-publish and seek you out for coaching for that. Okay. Here's my last question. Do you have any advice for clinicians who are basically stressed out and unhappy? Just general advice, because you're a coach, you're a trained coach. So, what do you tell people when they reach out to you and say, "Man, I'm ready to kill myself with this medical thing?"

Dr. Debra Blaine: Really good question. I think reframing the meaning of our lives changes the experience of our lives. So I think not defining ourselves strictly as clinicians, defining ourselves as more of a whole person, the things that we're doing in life, the goals that we have for ourselves, for our families, for people around us, for our patients. But thinking about what legacy we want to leave, I think is really important. And when we explore ourselves outside of medicine, we become more satisfied. And I find that when I started to look at myself differently, when I started my self-image changed, the world around me reacted to me differently. All of a sudden, they're not treating me like some cog in a machine. Like, oh yeah, she's not going to listen to us. Instead of trying to push me into that round hole, when I'm a square peg, they are just like, "Okay, whatever."

It's just living life on my own terms a little more and not listening to the message that "This is the only thing you can do with your life. And this is who you are and you have to stay here and just run around the hamster ring. That's what you're good for." So don't listen to that. Explore who you are. A lot of times when you find something you're interested in, it becomes a money maker. If you're passionate about something and you start following it to its logical conclusions, you will make money at it and your life will just be better.

John: I appreciate that a lot. And while you were talking about that, you had mentioned earlier about how the people you're working with are so nice, the editors and the different people. It's because they understand and they appreciate the fact that there are people like you out there that are actually trying to write and it's not easy and it takes time and it takes a lot of effort. And so, they don't take you for granted unlike some industries I guess is what I bring up into. Okay. I want to remind people too, by the way, from what I heard, one of the best things will help you out long term with something like this is after they read the book, you're all going to pick up the book, of course, every listener that's listening today. And they should leave a review after they finish reading it.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Yes, please, please. Because there's a couple things that work really well on Amazon. The more reviews you have, the more when people click on the book, "Beyond the Pillars of Salt" is just out. So, there's not very many reviews. Sometimes people will click on it and say, "Oh, not that many people have looked at it." So, they look away. The reviews are really important for that. But also, the more reviews you have and the more sales you have, when you get to a certain point, Amazon starts to promote the book itself and you don't have to worry so much.

John: It's a giant search engine after all.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Right, right. When it says, "Oh, these people are liking this book or all these people are buying this book, maybe more people will like it." Because Amazon wants to make money and it's doing well. They want it to do better because that's better for Amazon.

John: Excellent. We'll keep that in mind. And I guess I want to just thank you for coming on and telling all of this. It was like a whirlwind, a lot of information, but that's why we're here. We're here to support people and teach them. And they can learn more by contacting you, of course. So, thanks for coming on the show today, Debra. I really appreciate it.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Thank you so much, John. I always love talking to you.

John: We'll get you back on for your next book.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Okay. It's coming soon.

John: Okay. Bye-bye.

Dr. Debra Blaine: Bye.


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