For me — like many writers — 2016 was a year of surprises and distractions. It was also a year of learning.
I’ll still be writing in 2017. And, I know I’ll explore new writing & publishing paths, and revisit old ones.
My nonfiction books continue to sell. Even topical (“fast”) books I’d thought had short-term value, seem to keep selling.
I expect to write more topical nonfiction in 2017, usually on impulse.
Many people have asked me to elaborate on what makes a good viral topic for fast nonfiction.
I considered writing a book about it, but then I stumbled onto Amy Harrop’s Pop Culture Publishing Profits.
(That’s not an affiliate link. Aside from my own book, no link in this article earns me a cent. That’s so you can trust my advice.)
Recently, I bought that report and I like it. Amy has done a great job explaining a wide range of options and resources, so I see no need to reinvent the wheel.
In my (admittedly biased) opinion, if you’re interested in writing topical, viral nonfiction — books you’ll write in days, not months — you’ll want both:
- My book talks about the research & writing process, and the things that help the book sell well and earn great reviews.
- Amy’s report explains how to find — and predict, early — the topics worth writing about.
Nonfiction Niche Selection: Useful Tools
For niche research — when I’m searching for unique ideas that fit my “fast books” writing style — I like KDP Rocket software.
Of the three, KD Spy is the most simplistic if you need at-a-glance results for categories and keywords you already know. I can click it and see, instantly, whether I’m looking at a good niche… but only if I’ve already chosen the niche or keywords.
Ebook Niche Explorer can be confusing and I don’t rely on the red-yellow-green guide (or the text advice) to tell me if I should bother with that niche. However, as an adjunct to other tools — and strictly for experienced, data-minded writer/publishers — it can be very useful.
For the most in-depth and precise niche research, KDP Rocket may be the best, if you’re serious about nonfiction success. It’ll show you book ideas you may not have considered. And, KDP Rocket is from Dave Chesson. If you’re not reading his website, regularly… start now. It’s a gold mine. And he’s a good guy.
Also, if you’re new to nonfiction, Britt Malka has published a pretty good report that covers lots of basics, stylishly: Write, Publish, and Have Fun: 7-Day Blueprint. It’s best for absolute beginners, but may help others who’ve struggled to understand how nonfiction books can be built, quickly.
I’m still creating and publishing coloring books. However, after some initial, impressive successes — which I’ve talked about, online — my average coloring book income has remained around $20/month, per title.
The problem, according to fans: within a couple of weeks, competing books — with very similar titles and covers — appear at Amazon.
Some buyers have been confused.
And, unfortunately, the artwork in those other books has disappointed my fans. Then they realized the book was just a look-alike.
But, as long as competing publishers aren’t copying my books, line for line, there’s little I can do.
You can’t copyright an idea, and you can’t copyright a book title.
That’s okay. In 2017, I’ll keep publishing coloring books for loyal fans who’ve learned to shop carefully. The initial weeks — before the imitators show up — are usually very good.
And, frankly, I’m going to step up how bold and different my style can be. There’s no way other publishers can copy the extremely stylish designs I can create. So, that’s (literally) on the drawing board for 2017.
Sure, I’ll still publish very mainstream coloring books. They may bring in only $20/book/month, but it’s reliable income. And, for me, those books are pretty easy to build.
In general, I think the coloring book marketplace remains strong, but only if you’re publishing good books, in very high volume.
(If your plan is to fill coloring books with clipart — or mandalas you generated using a free resource, online — forget it. That may have been successful a year or two ago. Today…? Not the best idea.)
Otherwise, if you’re able to turn out high-quality, unique, very stylish coloring books, standing out in the crowd is key. And, to be honest, income is still a coin-flip.
If I didn’t love creating coloring books, I might not bother at all.
In 2016, I returned to my writing roots and worked on Regency romance stories. I also dabbled in other sub-genres that interest me.
I bought and read about 40 books about writing in general, or about sub-genres that I enjoy. And, I read ~2 books/week in those sub-genres.
In addition, I took courses about writing fiction. Lots & lots of courses.
So, 2016 was a very educational year.
But… I kept writing flat, boring stories. The few times I actually finished books and published them, I removed them from Kindle within a day or two.
Why? Well, they were awful books. My policy is: if I’d be embarrassed if my mom or grandmother bought one of them, that book shouldn’t be sold to anyone.
Despite that, I think 2016 was a good year. I started to understand what I’m truly terrible at, and where my weaknesses are.
It was a little humiliating, but I’m pretty sure I’ve passed the oh-dear-heaven-that’s-awful stage of fiction writing. (I hope so, anyway.)
In 2017, I’m ready to write better books. And then, with practice (and reader feedback), write better ones.
2017 is going to involve a lot of fiction. And — since it’s my bread-and-butter — more fiction and coloring books.
Private Groups – Worthwhile?
In late 2015 and throughout 2016, I joined several private groups, usually at Facebook. Most came as part of a membership offer, or they were for students in related (paid) writing courses.
Half of those groups never got off the ground, and went silent within a few months. That’s okay. I’d received good value from the related courses.
In addition, a couple of Facebook groups were tremendous to start with.
One still is. It’s related to coloring books, and organized by Bill Platt. I check-in about once a week for updates, and I learn more each time I scroll through the posts. (Bill and I don’t see eye-to-eye on many things, but when he’s brilliant, he’s brilliant. And I say so.)
Another Facebook group — fiction-related — had a confusing start and not much structure from the beginning. The phrase “herding cats” comes to mind.
Nevertheless, conversations were lively for months, mostly due to member participation. I met wonderful writers, and learned a lot about the sub-genre we discussed. Despite some awkward moments, it was time well-spent. Many group members seem to be moving on to other projects, now.
I have no complaints and feel as if I received good value from each course I signed up for. If the related FB group was helpful, too, I saw that as a bonus.
One Facebook group is still strong and so very good, I wish I could offer you a way to get into it. It’s the group related to Geoff Shaw’s Kindling training. I think it’s by invitation only, or through members authorized to share links to the sign-up page. (Tink Boord-Dill is one of them. Get on her mailing list. Her courses tend to be brilliant, as well.)
Another new-ish one is Paul Coleman’s “tiny books” Facebook group, related to his report/course on the same topic. (I think that was a short-term offer, so I don’t have a link to it.) So far, that’s been a great community.
In 2017, I’ll be selective about which other groups I sign up for, and how much time I’m at them.
Writing and publishing must be my priorities.
Udemy Courses I Recommend
Late in 2016, two Udemy courses helped me grasp what I was missing as a fiction writer.
I recommend both courses.
1) The first one is Jessica Brody’s Writing Mastery: How to Develop Blockbuster Ideas that Sell!
In it, Brody explains four points that are essential to a “high concept” story. They may not be new to experienced authors, but her approach is a little different. Then, she shares several fun ways to come up with unique story ideas.
I feel as if her four points plus the PDFs made the course worthwhile. (And really, anyone who’s written 15 books and at least two are being made into major films… that’s someone to learn from.)
[Still valid in Dec 2016 —> Look for discount coupons for Brody’s courses at her website.]
2) The other Udemy course is Clark Chamberlain’s Punch them in the Gut: How to Write Stories with Emotional Impact. (It’s a price-y course and worth it, but — if possible — look for it on sale or with a discount coupon.)
In Chamberlain’s course, I saw the massive element that was missing from my fiction. I’d thought my stories had emotional impact, but… no, I was clueless.
His course is vital if you’re not getting rave reviews for your fiction, and if readers aren’t telling friends to buy your books.
That course is rather intense, and I’m not sure I’d recommend it for beginning writers. Start with Jessica Brody’s course, instead.
Between those two courses, I have a path forward. I can see exactly what’s been missing, and how to fix it so my stories have the energy they need to sustain my interest — and readers’ — from start to finish.
The PDFs from both courses are pure gold, as well.
(Note: I still recommend every course Geoff Shaw teaches at Udemy. I sign up for them as fast as they’re available.)
Expectations for 2017
I’m far more confident about what I’ll be writing in 2017.
Sure, I’ll still make mistakes. Probably some stupid ones.
Speaking of mistakes, if you haven’t seen the J. K. Rowling clip that’s going around Facebook (from her 2008 address at Harvard University), watch it now. It’s inspiring: https://www.facebook.com/globalinformer/videos/1438123899536951/
In some ways, 2016 was a year of wheel-spinning. But, it was also a year of learning.
With the new information I’ve absorbed over the past several months, I’m sure 2017 will be a very productive year.
I’m not sure how many new courses or books I’ll buy. And, I’ll be so busy writing, I may eschew all but the most helpful Facebook groups.
But, if something is truly worthwhile, I’ll let you know.
My 2017 is going to be a write-write-publish-publish kind of year. I feel as if I (finally) have a good idea of what works (and what doesn’t), and it’s time to put all this information to work.
This is a very good feeling, and I hope you’re looking forward to 2017, as well.