Pen Names, Privacy, and Polarization

We need to talk about pen names and privacy. That’s especially true if you’re writing nonfiction in some niches.

And, with some potential “fast books” opportunities based on recent headlines — from rectangular moon theories to “NASA is Hiring People to Protect Earth from Little Green Men” to 19th century books about Baron Trump — this is a very good time to talk about fanatics (the origin of the word “fan”) and your privacy.

It’s not just a nonfiction issue. Fiction authors can be taken too seriously, too. As a fan of Disney World’s Pandora, I’m reminded of people who became suicidal after seeing Avatar.

Anyone who achieves even moderate success is likely to attract some unwanted attention. If you write about “fringe” topics, you should probably plan for critics and trolls.

From my experience, fame is likely to reach you faster than an income that will finance privacy buffers such as staff or an entourage.

Plan ahead. I’ve spoken about this before, particularly the topic of pen names.

These are some basic precautions:

  • DisguiseUse a pen name. If you can’t think of one, click through some pen name generators until you see a name you like.
  • Build a firewall around everything related to that pen name. No exceptions.
  • Be sure your family (kids, parents, doting grandparents, ambivalent cousins, etc.) don’t share your pen name with anyone. If necessary, just don’t tell them your pen names. (Family & friends are your weakest privacy link. Remember that.)
  • For snailmail, use a post office box or another mailing address that is not your street address. (Best practices include an address that’s not in your hometown, either.)
  • Avoid posting your actual photos on your author profile at your Amazon Author Page, Facebook, Twitter, G+, etc.

Insulate yourself from the time you launch your first pen name, and you’ll also insulate your family and close friends from problems.

What the Trolls Say

From my experience, if you use a male pen name, you’re accused of being a predator, a deviant, ugly, or you’re involved in a cult, psyops, or mind control. You’re also making up for certain anatomical deficiencies.

If you use a female pen name, you’re a witch, you’re fat, you’re ugly, you’re a lesbian, and you’ll never find a husband. (I’m not saying that those are bad things. They’re just examples of what are thrown at me as accusations.)

And if you use a pen name that’s not gender-specific (Blake, Chris, Dana, etc.), you’ll double the range of verbal attacks.

Another way to increase how many people are furious with you is to write a book related to celebrity conspiracy theories. Apparently, some people take those theories very personally, pro and con. (If you’re going to write about those topics at all, niche research is important. Choose celebrities whose fans actually buy and read books.)

Far too many people with time on their hands (and a phone or keyboard within reach) are venting their frustrations in unhealthy ways, or otherwise obsessing.

(I’m reminded of that Canadian mayor’s bathroom wall photos. Like that’s not creepy, right…? But, hey, you might get a book or two out of weird obsessions of famous-ish people. That is the kind of book that’s sold well for me, in the past.)

Worse, being a troll can be profitable. People build five- and six-figure incomes using YouTube and other ad-supported platforms to rant about the actors, musicians, and — yes — authors they choose to demonize.

Those attacks can be vicious and deeply personal.

It’s why celebrity like Leslie Jones and Ed Sheeran close their Twitter accounts. Others — like Adele — respond directly to the accusers.

Have I scared you enough, yet? My intent is not to terrify you out of writing books, even polarizing, controversial ones. (Controversy does sell.)

Instead, set up privacy protection from the start. Think of it as a precaution, like using the lock on your front door or a password that isn’t “123456.”

Privacy and Your Author Profile

Use a pen name. You could start with a generic surname, and add initials for the first and possibly middle names. That makes it easier to find a matching domain name. To keep an even lower profile, consider a gender-neutral name.

(In addition to my articles & advice about pen names, see Dave Chesson’s article & resources at How to Choose a Pen Name.)

If you create an author website, consider hosting it separately from your other (real name) accounts, and anything that could be traced back to your real name.

When you’re starting (and on a limited budget), WordPress.com is a good option. So is Blogger, etc. Just make sure you’re using a unique account/email when you set up that pen name’s website.

Inexpensive hosting services like Namecheap and HostGator offer small-scale hosting accounts, sometimes for less than $1/month (look for sales & coupons).

If you’re building an author platform and plan to make public appearances, use an old photo, or one that’s not a full-face picture. Or, hire an artist to create a very stylized sketch or portrait of you.

If you hire artists at Fiverr or similar site, be sure they don’t post your real photo and their artwork, side-by-side, as an example of their work.

Why take such precautions? If fans or critics can recognize you in the produce department at the grocery store… trust me, they will want to start a lengthy conversation. Usually, it’s when you have frozen food in your grocery cart and need to rush home before the kids arrive home from school.

If you’re not going to make public appearances and need an author photo, I recommend combining photos of at least three celebrities at MorphThing — or hire someone at Fiverr (etc.) to do the same kind of work. Be sure the photo is cleaned-up so it’s not an obvious morph.

Use a separate email for that pen name. Do not use an email forwarding service (to your usual email account) and then reply/send emails from your main, personal email account.

Instead of a formal mailing list, consider using a free service like Feedburner.com — with a unique email account, when you register — and consider add-ons like FeedFlare.

(Planning to email your new subscribers a pre-planned set of sequential emails, or instant, sign-up freebies? Feedburner can show you a list of your sign-ups. That step can mean a little more work for you, but Feedburner’s advantages can make this worthwhile.)

Social Media and Trolls

At the moment, I’m too busy to deal with daily social media maintenance. I’m not ready to hire a PA (or VA), either.

(Personally, if I’m going to hire an assistant to monitor my emails and social media comments, I want to interview that person, in real life, face-to-face.  And, I want them to live near enough for regular meetings, not just via my phone or monitor.)

If you’re using a Facebook Fan Page for your pen name, and you want to avoid spam comments and troll comments, here’s a tip: At your fan page, go to Settings > Page Moderation. Then, add the top 10 (or 20) common English words to the list, plus the usual NSFW words. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Most_common_words_in_English

Spammers and trolls (and their FB friends) will still see the comments they leave, and you’ll see them (in light gray), but no one else will see them, unless you approve those comments.

I recommend deleting spam/troll comments at least once a week. That’s especially true if those comments spawn others and it starts to look like a free-for-all scene.

On many other social platforms, you can select privacy/comment settings that meet your needs.

Blocking rarely works. In fact, it can make things worse. They just change usernames and return. And tell all their angry little friends to comment, as well.

Real-Life Privacy

woman in grocery store aisleAre you making public appearances? If so, the most fervent fans and zealous opponents may (later) recognize you when you’re shopping. Or at the county fair. Or whatever. That’s true even if you wear heavy makeup for appearances, but your daily routines rarely involve makeup.

(Also, the fans who recognized you on a bad-hair day, when you’re wearing no makeup, and are recovering from a bad sunburn after a day the beach or on the ski slopes…? Yes. Those are the fans who will plead for a selfie with you. For the entire Interwebs to see. Just say no… politely, of course. I am not kidding. Learn from my mistakes.)

If you’re not making public appearances, but someone recognizes you anyway (overzealous fans may spot your voice/accent from podcasts & radio shows), consider denying everything.

The best response if you’re uneasy…? Blink and ask, “Who?” Or, say “Yeah, I get that a lot, but I’m not [pen name],” or “No, sorry, I guess I should be flattered.”

Do not take out your driver’s license or passport to prove that your name is not Nancy Jane Author. (If they see your real ID, they’ll see your real name. Sooner or later, they may connect the dots.)

If this is a steady problem (or your fans/critics are persistent), I suppose you could get a convincing fake ID to prove your point. (Even my most rabid fans haven’t pushed me to that extreme.)

Start Now

I don’t want to scare you so much, you don’t write books. Instead, I’m hoping you’ll plan ahead for success and the visibility that comes with it.

Set up your privacy firewalls as soon as you create the pen name.  Once your real name is linked to your pen name, anywhere online, it’s too late.


Illustrations courtesy of GraphicStock.com

Fast Books, Fiction, and Frustration

The past couple of months have included a steep learning curve.

Oh, it’s been a great experience… but challenging. Sometimes, even frustrating.

When I write “fast books” (mostly nonfiction), I seize a fun idea. Then, I spend a few days collecting all kinds of information and trivia. After that, I throw the book together and hit the Publish button.

Within a month (or so), that book usually earns four figures, and continues to sell well for weeks. A few of those books have continued selling for years, long after the topic left the headlines. (Earning five figures from a book that took me about two weeks to research & write…? Yes, I’m okay with that.)

Pandora, Disney's Animal Kingdom, photo by Eibhlin MacIntosh
Entering the “Avatar” world of Pandora, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – from our May 2017 visit

But, I’ve wanted to get back to writing fiction. Over a decade ago, working with traditional publishers, fiction was fun.

I liked “living in” a world I’ve created in my mind. I enjoyed crafting plots that were whimsical and intriguing.

But then, indie publishing became easier and faster. It certainly pays much better, as well.

I tried it and liked it.

Soon, I switched to nonfiction after a couple of my “fast” books sold like hotcakes.

But, a few years later… I miss fiction. And, long-term, fiction is probably a better income path for me.

So, I’ve been re-learning how to write fiction. This involves catching up on a wealth of fiction-writing resources. (When I wrote fiction, years ago, even the “Hero’s Journey” concept was new.)

Now my biggest struggle is getting used to the pace of writing fiction. That process is almost 180-degrees different from how I build & write my “fast”nonfiction books.

After lots of trial-and-error testing, I’m finally finding my creative path to good fiction.

I start with an idea for a story. (I have no shortage of ideas.)

Then, I go straight to research. I look for credible locations, names for my characters, and authentic lifestyle elements that fit the sub-genre.

After that, I think for a few days. Maybe weeks.

That “thinking” part seems to involve letting my creative mind run in the background, while I’m reading books, going for walks, visiting Disney World (see my photo, above), cooking in the kitchen, or watching TV.

Usually, I seem to do best with mindless TV that has little or nothing to do with the fiction I’m planning. This week, it’s included the new Dirk Gently series (BBC America & Hulu), and the new Midnight, TX series (just started on NBC & Hulu).

Those choices are odd.  I’m radically revising a book that’s YA romantic suspense, and plotting a light, sweet Regency romance.

But… both the Gently series and the Midnight series are weird and dark. There are no dots to connect, between what I’m watching and what I’m writing.

So, yes, I’ll admit it: All this “what does this have to do with writing?” stuff… it’s been frustrating. I feel like I’m not working. Not making progress. Being a slacker.

I get to the end of the day (or week) and feel like I’m spinning my wheels. I should be doing things… right?

But then, like yesterday morning, I wake up with half the plot (and all of the worldbuilding) in my head. I grab a pen and scribble it onto the yellow, lined pad of paper I keep next to the bed.

Four pages of notes. Lots of arrows connecting one concept to another, indicating things that will repeat and give the story rhythm & resonance.

Wow. It’s perfect. Even I am impressed by the originality and depth. This is a story I’d read and enjoy.

And then, last night, after another day of cooking, reading, going for walks, and watching more oh-dear-heaven TV shows… I grabbed my pen & paper, again.

Suddenly, spilling out of my mind, I had the rest of the plot, plus some character nuances, and a few worldbuilding embellishments.

Already, I love this book! I keep looking at my notes and thinking, “Wow, did I actually come up with those ideas, myself?” * blink, blink *

Well, yes, I did.

But here’s the weird part: I’m not sure I could have “worked” my way to this plot, world, and characters.

This level of freshness and whimsy (plus an engaging, original plot) seems to happen when I’m deliberately not working.

This process is more relaxed and intuitive than I’d expected.

So, that’s been my latest discovery. I’m sharing it in case it’s helpful to you, too.

Today, I’m refining the current plot via 3×5 cards. (I’m loosely following Stuart Horwitz’s slightly weird & eccentric book, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts… While You Still Love It.)

And then, I’m giving myself permission to enjoy being a slacker, and spend the weekend at Disney World.

WILR – Productivity for Indie Authors

WILR is “What I Learned Reading…”

Lately, I’ve been digging deeper into writing basics. I want more success from my books.

The truth is: I tend to come up with a book idea, and do a casual check to see if the market is viable. Then, I study the top few books – at least their book blurbs and some of their reviews.

At most, I spend about two or three hours on this.

Then, if everything looks good, I write the book.

If it’s nonfiction, I’m quick to push the “publish” button. I can practically write nonfiction in my sleep, so completing a book isn’t difficult.

If it’s fiction… that’s another matter. I tend to reach the midpoint. Then, I realize that I hate my book, hadn’t thought it through, or I have some other Very Good Reason to stop writing.

So, I quit, thinking I’ll get back to that book, later. Maybe.

And then I move on to the next project, usually following the same pattern.

This is not a healthy career path.

So, I’m reading (and sometimes re-reading) books, studying courses, watching videos, and generally re-educating myself about writing. (Especially fiction, but I’ll talk about those books in later articles.)

In the WILR series, I’ll talk about books (etc.) that I like, those that I don’t, and what I’m learning from each.

Note: These will not be summaries of everything in each book or course. I’ll talk about the points that made a difference to me. (You mileage may vary.)

productivity for indie authors by david lee martinThe first book has to be Productivity for Indie Authors, by David Lee Martin. For me, it’s the book that recently changed everything
about my writing career.

It’s the book that started me on my current re-education path.

David is minister, a successful author, and a long-time friend and someone whose integrity I trust. (You may know him from his free report, Published Is Better Than Perfect.)

When David offered to send me a beta copy of his productivity book, I dropped everything to read it.

It was time well spent.

This book really does live up to its title (and subtitle).

Here are a few things I learned, reading it.

First of all, I’m not a great writer. (This may not be stop-the-presses news to some people.)

I’m a storyteller.

Before reading David’s book, I didn’t realize the importance of this. Or even the distinction.

Then, in his book, I read:

See, to be truly productive we do not need to just be producing more. We need to be producing more of the right thing.

Then, he shared insights about identifying that right thing.

That made me pause. I had to go beyond looking at individual books’ sales, or even which book categories performed well for me.

My discovery: every one of my successful books, no matter how badly written, was written in a storytelling style.

When I write something that’s “just the facts, ma’am,” my books tend to fall flat.

Well, they still sell like hotcakes to data-hungry readers who don’t care if the book is well-written.

But, for anyone looking for something written with style, eloquence, and few typos…? Umm… no.

That can severely limit the size (and enthusiasm) of my audience.

This was a h-u-g-e “ah-HA!” for me, and it led to further discoveries.

It was the beginning of my current reading-and-studying binge.

In addition, I read The ONE Thing, which is a more general book about focus and productivity. David had made several references to this concept, and I wanted to know more.

While some of The ONE Thing was intended for a different audience, many of the suggestions applied to how I work, as well.

The ONE Thing brought me important additional clarity. But, I’ve talked with several friends who said they just couldn’t get through the book. So, you may want to see if your public library owns a copy you can borrow. (They probably do. For at least a year, it was a very trendy book.)

Anyway…

The rest of David’s book, Productivity for Indie Authors, delves into productivity tips and hacks. Many of them weren’t new to me, but the way David talked about them made a difference.

In some cases, he explained a fresh way to use things like templates, and how to apply the 80/20 rule, and so on. At other times, his context was something I previously hadn’t considered.

In general, I’ve been delighted to streamline more of my work with the ideas and tools he suggests.

But, for me, the biggest takeaway has been the new way I look at my writing career.

That triggered a rather large overhaul of how I do… well… almost everything.

Uncovering the storytelling ingredient was vital. It was the initial key.

(That may be unique to me. It’s not as if David said “this is the answer.” It just happened to be my answer, and I found it by thoughtfully reading David’s book.)

Regarding productivity, David began his book by explaining, “productivity will look different for different people at different times and stages in the development of their business.”

He’s 100% correct.

For me, some of his productivity advice was useful immediately. Other suggestions will be useful in the future.

But, the biggest thing I learned from reading Productivity for Indie Authors is what works (and doesn’t) in my writing career.

That led to me analyzing which things to do more of, which to do less of, and the areas where I need to develop better skills. (That’s one area where the 80/20 rule applies.)

In some ways, this has been humbling. I’ve had to admit to being a slacker. I’ve been looking for shortcuts. Too often, I’ve followed advice in lots of books, reports, and courses that assured me those shortcuts were viable.

Well, yes. They did work, short-term.

Long-term… not so great, and I got tired of constantly scrambling to write & publish new books to make up for the faltering sales of older books.

Now, I’m confident about the decisions I’ve made — and the new path I’m following — after reading David’s book.

I recommend it to any author/publisher at any level of expertise.

Here’s the link to Amazon.com: Productivity for Indie Authors, and here’s the link to Amazon.co.uk: Productivity for Indie Authors.

Publishing for Love, Money, or Both?

This morning, I’m inspired by Seth Godin’s latest article, Looking for the Trick.

As I see it, there are two ways to earn a good income from books. (There’s also a hybrid version, which I’ll talk about later in this article.)

The hungry audience

One way is to find a desperately hungry audience — readers who are so frantic for the kinds of books they enjoy reading, they’ll buy and read almost anything. For them, “good enough” can be good enough… until really great writers show up and offer them something better.

That’s true in fiction and in nonfiction.

The more books you publish, the more you can earn. Book quality, cover design, book title, and book description… each can be a factor, but the basic business model is, “Find a hungry niche. Publish lots of books in it. Make money.”

The only tricky parts of the equation are (a) finding a category with desperate fans, and (b) throwing enough “good enough” books at them.

And, of course, when to move on to the next hungry-but-underserved audience.

On this path, publishing books is “just business.” To succeed with this model, you MUST separate yourself from how you feel about your books. You cannot care about snarky one-star reviews, and jeers by competing authors.

Income is all that matters. As long as the money is there, don’t change anything.

The realm of your passions

The other business models relies far less on marketing.

(If you’re at all practical, category research is probably a good idea. Not imperative, but a good idea. Obviously, Neil Gaiman can write anything he wants, and his books will sell. As he describes his process, “I make things up and write them down.” But, even Neil Gaiman had to build his career, gradually.)

Let’s say you love the Victorian era. If you could “live” in that era, in your mind, and write books, that would be bliss. So, you might write Victorian romance, mysteries, adventures, steampunk, dreadpunk, or books in any other genre that can be kinda-sorta set in a Victorian context.

Maybe you’re a mystery buff. You’re as happy crafting “locked-room” mysteries as you are writing whimsical cozy mysteries, or even police procedurals.

Or, maybe you’re a nonfiction writer, and love producing books about the latest weight-loss trends, or musing about royalty, past and present.

Perhaps you wake up each day, eager to see the latest news about UFOs, reptilian aliens, or treasure hunting opportunities. You can hardly wait to share your enthusiasm with others, in your books.

If you know that there’s an audience — even a small one — and you write with passion, insights, and originality, you can build a successful career as an author/publisher. Whether it’s as fast a route to success as the first business model… that’s a coin flip.

With either of these two approaches, you don’t have to have a bazillion eager fans.

The 1000 True Fans rule applies: Produce enough things (books, audios, courses, mouse pads… whatever) that your 1000-or-so fans keep buying, and you’re set for life.

(If you like that concept, here’s Kevin Kelly explaining it in 2016.)

But, whether or not the 1000 True Fans concept seems practical, the real question is which business model will make you happier, long term.

(I’m assuming that — until we live in a Star Trek-ish reality with a guaranteed basic income — paying your bills is an essential part of “happier.”)

Each of those two business models — publishing for money or writing for love — can involve equal amounts of passion and energy. Each can be equally satisfying, depending upon your goals.

With one approach, you take pride in your ability to meet audience demand quickly, with just enough effort to see your income grow.

With the other, you’re immersed in a very personal world where you are happy. Money is secondary. You’re thrilled if you can earn enough to “live” in the world of your books, every day. Or even a few hours a day. Or on weekends.

Is a hybrid path the answer?

Many aspiring authors decide on a hybrid path.

That’s a business model that uses “hungry audience” book categories as a springboard to achieve your long-terms goals as an author.

To start, you can spend hours (days, or even weeks) researching different book categories, to find desperate, under-served readers. Then, you’ll identify the essential tropes necessary to sell to them.

Or, you’ll pay a consultant (or join a related mastermind-ish group) to identify those categories and tropes for you.

And then you’ll publish books in the recommended categories.

That income will pay the bills while you work on your true love… the books you love to write.

Fingers crossed, by the time you’ve hit burnout as a “good enough” publisher, your own books are reaching an appreciative audience and the income is good.

At that point, you no longer need the “good enough” books to pay the bills.

But, as Godin suggests in his article, that hybrid path can be the most toxic choice among the three. No matter how “quick, cheap, and easy” the shortcuts seem… sometimes, they aren’t.

Shortcuts – do they cost too much?

There’s the financial cost of business consultants & memberships, hiring ghostwriters, and advertising.

There’s the emotional cost. To be honest, turning out “good enough” books can feel like a sham. It can erode your creative soul and embitter you.

But, being practical, you say to yourself, “It’s this or working in fast food,” while you’re building the career of your dreams.

(Okay, it may not be that extreme. However, even a pretty good 9-to-5 job — more like an 8-to-7 job, now — can leave you with little energy for your own writing. “Publishing to market” — as some call the first, hungry market business model — can be a far better alternative.)

On the flip side, if you pour your heart and soul into your own books, you run the risk of not being recognized for your work… not in your lifetime, anyway.

(You may also pour buckets of money into high-priced editors, cover designers, and book marketers.)

You can feel just as jaded as the “I’m in it for the money” indie publisher.

So, neither path is a sure thing. Even the “it’s just a business” approach can fall flat, if a book category isn’t as viable as it looked… or if (and when) too many others start exploiting it.

Sometimes, decisions aren’t easy

If you’re trying to earn a living wage from books, trial-and-error may be necessary.

I’ve been a full-time writer/author/publisher for over a dozen years now. I used to write for sites like Suite 101 and for Write For Cash, earning $15 per article. I averaged about $10/hour, and supplemented it with Google AdSense income, back when that was viable.

I still work with traditional publishers. I’m still under contract, but only for books I write in a specific nonfiction sub-niche. I also write large portions of seasonal, traditionally published anthologies.

And, I’ve been self-published (indie) for decades.

My current business model (late 2016)

Right now, my hybrid to-do list includes a tangle of book projects. Over the next year, I hope to narrow it to two main categories.

  • As of September 2016, I’ve spent months writing short fiction in “hungry audience” sub-genres. Fortunately, I like these sub-genres. (This route isn’t as easy as it sounds in sales letters.)
  • I’m writing nonfiction in a niche I love, and where I have some fame. But — to be honest — that audience tends not to buy books. (I absolutely love my fans. Thank heavens for Kindle Unlimited “pages read” income, and libraries that buy print copies of my books.)
  • I’m publishing coloring books and related nonfiction, which provides a little more income each month. They’re fun, and the fan mail is wonderful.
  • I’m writing the occasional topical book (my fast nonfiction) for quick cash. It’s exhausting but profitable… in spurts.
  • And, I’m working on short fiction in sub-genres that I’m more-or-less making up. They’re what I enjoy, but even those short books take time… lots of time, as I weave story threads in my mind. I scribble long passages on pads of lined, yellow paper. And then I rewrite them the next day. Gradually, those stories take shape.

With lots of different book projects providing income, I’m able to put any one kind of work to one side, if I need a break from it. I’ll return to it, weeks or months later, with a positive outlook and fresh energy.

However, books and creative projects are my “day job.” Every morning, I can choose what to work on. I know that I’m lucky/blessed in that respect.

Are you making great stuff?

So, I’m looking at Seth Godin’s article, and nodding my head in agreement. Making great stuff is the best path of all.

The challenge for most of us is: finding a personal path that’s practical, but leaves us enough energy & enthusiasm to pursue our great stuff.

The answer is not one-size-fits-all. Some false starts may be involved, and a few glimmers may fizzle out.

Of course, guard your bank account. Investing in every “shiny thing” that shows up in your mailbox or in conversation… that’s a Very Bad Idea.

But, more importantly, guard your creative soul. If you’re doing anything that puts it in jeopardy, look for another, better path.

“Overnight success” may not be on your menu of options.

Find a path you’re contented with. Find one that — even if it meanders — is leading you in the direction of your dreams.

And, if you have a minute or two, let me know what that is. Leave a comment. I’d love to know what you’re working on, and what you’d love to be writing.

Books, Titles, and Changes

How to Write Fast Books
Click the cover to buy at Amazon.com

A month after moving to our new home, I’m still unpacking boxes and reorganizing closets & cabinets. So, I’ve barely updated this website.

However, a few people (okay, more than a few) noticed the new title & cover on my “how to write viral nonfiction” book. They want to know if it’s a new version.

It’s not. It’s the same book.

I’m testing a new title (thanks to advice from Nick Stephenson, of “Your First 10,000 Readers” fame) and a new cover (designed by vikncharlie at Fiverr.com), to see if that will spark more interest.

The following is my article explaining what worked, what didn’t, and why, thanks to a brilliant suggestion by my friend, Angie W.

This book developed from my article series about writing what I’d called “flash in the pan” books. These books are researched and written in a flash, and focus on a popular topic, usually something appearing in news headlines.

Generally, those books sell well — with little or no marketing — for two or three months, earning me a comfortable four figures, per book. Since I write them in under two weeks, my immediate income can work out to $50 to $100 per hour spent on the book.

Some of those books abruptly stop selling. (If I make “only” $50/hour for the fascinating time I spend on them, it’s okay with me.)

Others, like one I wrote in early 2013, keeps selling at a steady pace… but not even close to its initial popularity (when the topic was in world headlines).

In the past six months, that one book has earned me $209.58 in royalties, just from U.S. and U.K. sales via Amazon.

That’s pretty good for a book I haven’t touched in over three years.

(A few of my other “fast books” continue to sell in a slightly lower range. It’s purely passive income, and stacks nicely.)

Anyway… responding to my site visitors’ requests, I wrote a book (in under 10 days, so people could see what one looks like) explaining how to research and write those kinds of books. I left nothing out.

Write Successful Flash in the Pan BooksIt first appeared as “Write Successful Flash in the Pan Books in 10 Days or Less.” It sold okay… but not great. The “flash in the pan” phrase didn’t make sense to people.

(That’s the original book cover, on the left. I liked it a lot, but I was more interested in sharing my “secret” methods with others.)

So, I went back to the drawing board.

I changed the title, calling my books “viral nonfiction,” and gave the book a new cover. This conveyed the idea, better.

Write Successful Viral Nonfiction BooksAfter that, the book sold well for a long time.

Then, sales tapered off. I hadn’t done any real marketing for the book, and others — writing books on similar concepts, and marketing them in a big way — left me in the dust.

Still… it’s a good book. The information in it can help bright, aspiring writers who enjoy research and need (or at least want) a chance to earn more book royalties, quickly.

Viral Nonfiction - disastrous coverSo, I tried another cover. That’s it, at the left. It closely mimicked a successful, competing book… but not so much to be confused with it.

The new cover was a disaster. Sales came to an abrupt halt. I quickly pulled the plug on the new design.

I went back to the previous cover, and sales resumed, but I felt that the book could do better.

Of course, almost every book will have a gradual sales decline. I was ready to accept that, if I had to. But first, I wanted to do some sleuthing.

I asked a few brutally honest friends about the book. All of them loved what was inside, but feedback about the cover I’d designed myself — and particularly my font choice — suggested that it looked “dated.”

Ouch.

Then, when I started taking a course taught by Nick Stephenson, I saw that my book title wasn’t exactly keyword-friendly. (Understatement.) People search for “write fast books,” not “write viral nonfiction books.”

After fine-tuning the title (using free Amazon keyword sites like Scientific Seller), I paid vikncharlie (at Fiverr.com) to design a new cover.

So, that’s what’s changed. Currently, sales are still in a low range — one or two copies sold, per day — but that’s far better than the previous month (when I still used the old cover).

If you already own this book, the information hasn’t changed. Only the cover and title have.