Several Questions – Answered

Since publishing my book, Write Successful Viral Nonfiction Books, I’ve been knee-deep in questions. (I’m also knee-deep in moving boxes. Thanks to the success of my books, we’re able to live where we want to, rather than choosing a location based on my husband’s job.)

Most of what follows applies to viral nonfiction books. However, some of my advice is for fiction writers, too… or just for fiction writers.

(To be honest, if you’re writing “based on a true story” nonfiction, or you’re writing in a storytelling style, you’ll rely more on the rules of fiction than nonfiction.)

moving-supplies

In general: I can’t guarantee Kindle profits during your first month.  You may not even achieve that your first year. There are no guarantees. People who say otherwise…? They want to sell you their course, software, report, or coaching program.

The problem is, they’re really good at selling snake oil.  Many struggling authors would rather believe there’s an “easy button” that’s kept hidden by successful authors who are afraid of competition.

(Alternative: The myth that there’s a loophole at Amazon or at Google, and — if you pay to learn that secret — you can exploit it and get rich overnight, too.)

Here’s the real path to writing & publishing success:

  1. For nonfiction, find a topic you’re passionate or curious about – OR – for fiction, decide what you’re not willing to write. (If your stomach is lurching while you’re writing whatever-it-is, it will show in your writing.)
  2. Study the marketplace, to see where you can compete. First, look for successful indie authors in each category, books written by people with writing skills close to yours.
  3. Then, make sure you can break into the market. (In other words, on your own — or with tools like KDSpy or eBook Niche Explorer or KDP Rocket — evaluate the competition. I use all three.)
  4. See who’s successful with in that category, and what works for them.
  5. Emulate that. (Emulate everything — writing style, page count, cover, book description, etc.)
  6. Then polish your skills so you offer something unique to your readers. (This may include publishing similar books, but in a slightly different sub-category where you can compete successfully.)
  7. Publish your first book and move directly to the next one, improving your skills as you go along.
  8. Publish at least three books in one category under one pen name. Unless you do some marketing, expect to wait three or four months before your book is discovered by readers, and sales surge. Keep writing more books in the meantime.
  9. In nonfiction, figure that one in ten books will take off like a rocket. You may not know why; it just does. And, if you have lots of other books that will appeal to the same readers — books they can find and buy, easily — you’ve reached the path to success. (In fiction, be sure you’re marketing your books. People aren’t “discovered” in fiction the same way they are in nonfiction.)
  10. Continue!

Some books can be written quickly. They’ll help you achieve your goal of at least 10 good books in print, sooner.

Two things to read, whenever you’re not sure if you’re doing the right things:

1. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2014/03/no-one-knows.html

2. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/07/are-you-writing.html

(The latter is over my computer monitor, so I’m reminded that writing books is where the focus MUST be.)

Now, here are the latest, most popular questions, and my responses.

1. How many nonfiction books do you publish about one topic?

As I said in the book, I aim for at least three but sometimes only get one or two into print. (Yes, that’s a “do as I say, not as I do” rule.)

Here’s what I’ve seen in the past year among my trend-related books:

One good flash-in-the-pan book = Sales that peak for weeks or a few months. Then they’re sustained at a lower level. Sometimes, much lower.

Two books = Sales for the first book increase dramatically, sometimes above the first book’s initial peak.  So, I can see double the income or more, with two books as opposed to one. And, sales seem to be sustained far longer in a higher range than either book might have achieved, on its own.

Three books = Doesn’t necessarily triple my income. However, it seems to increase how long my other two books sell in a higher-than-the-doldrums level. Three books are more likely to move that pen name into “evergreen” range in that niche.  If I see sustained sales, I’ll go back and expand, improve & update all three books.

I have yet to write four books about one flash-in-the-pan topic.  Either the trend doesn’t last or I become bored.  I move on to a related topic, or something that will appeal to a similar audience, and use the same pen name.

Or, if I’m really tired of whatever-it-is, I grab the next intriguing idea and run with it.  New niche, new pen name, two or three new books, and fresh success.

So far, that’s working well.

2. Should I buy _________? (This answer applies to almost everything unless it’s Scrivener, Jutoh, something from Holly Lisle, or something from Writers Digest or a Writers Digest author.)

Whatever it is, my answer is probably: no.

Write good books and publish them. Then, learn to write better books.

Yes, some tools — like KDSpy, or help from a freelance editor — can make a huge difference, if you can afford them.

If you’re on a budget, start with free resources. Don’t spend a cent that you can’t afford. Save your money for a good book cover, instead. (I mean it. If you have to think several times before spending money on my book about writing “viral nonfiction,” read the articles at this website. They’re enough to get you started.)

3. The __________ course says to write and publish a new book every one or two weeks. How can anyone turn out good books, that quickly, week after week?

Three possibilities come to mind:

A. Some people can just sit down and write a good book, almost effortlessly. You know, like people who — with no training at all — just open their mouths and sing like angels.

I’m not one of those people. Not week after week, anyway.  Sure, I can turn out 5,ooo words per day. Sometimes, I can even sustain that for several weeks.

However, when I think of Janet Dailey (and others like her) writing 10,000 words per day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year… well, that seems surreal. I’m envious, but not sure that’s how I’d want to spend every day of the week.

OR…

B. The books are at least partly written by a co-author, ghostwriter, or the content comes from another source.

OR…

C. His books aren’t very good, and they’re selling for some other, quirky reason.  It happens. For example, my viral nonfiction books sell because my information (from my research) is really good. I won’t pretend they’re well written.

OR…

D. The author of the course is lying, just to sell you a course or a mentor program, or something like that. Sorry. There’s a lot of that going around, especially in forums where they sell “get rich quick” programs.

4. What’s the difference between nonfiction and fiction, and can your viral writing techniques work with fiction?

Fiction books tell a story.  Most (or all) of it is made up.

Nonfiction is mostly true. It includes everything from history to how-to books, and from science (stars, animals, quantum studies) to sort-of-science (UFOs, Bigfoot, ghosts).

In between, you’ll find folklore (usually considered nonfiction), ghost stories (ditto), and celebrity bios (no, he didn’t really date that many women). Usually, they’re listed in nonfiction categories, regardless of the actual facts.

My viral nonfiction techniques are for nonfiction. While you might come up with a hybrid of fiction & nonfiction — Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code book comes to mind — I think it’s best not to rush fiction at the pace of my viral nonfiction books.

Seriously, even I wouldn’t try that.

5. You seem to recommend lots of pen names. How do you keep track of them?

First, let’s talk about the “lots of pen names” issue. If you’re writing so many books that your multiple pen names are a burden, you’re trying to write too many books at one time.

Stop it. Right now.

Most authors seem to do their best work if they focus on one — and only one — book at a time. (Go read Distracted. I mean it.)

Some authors can work on one book and, for regular clear-the-mind breaks, they’ll research the next book.  I know only a couple of authors who can manage three books… but they are usually writing just one at a time, too; the other two books are in some stage of research or outlining.

Remember: Until I started writing shorter books, my usual 70k – 120k word books took me a year or longer, each.

Unless you’re already earning a full-time income from your books and have achieved stability as an author, focus on one pen name at a time. 

Publish three books in one niche (or genre), using one pen name. If the books just aren’t selling after three or four months, take a closer look at why they’re not working.  Don’t just jump ship to a new niche and pen name.  Maybe your writing skills aren’t where they need to be… yet. Maybe your covers aren’t a good, competitive match for your niche or genre. Maybe your book titles are misleading.

Or… yes, maybe you’re just in the wrong niche or genre, and nobody wanted to buy a book by the pen name Hortense Eloise Matilda vanBoring.

During the first 20 years I was published, I wrote under three names… sort of.  First, a divorce and remarriage meant my name changed, so those were two names I used. My third pen name launched in 1995, when smart women didn’t use their real names online, so I made one up.

Later in the 1990s, I added a fourth pen name for a particular niche.  In the early 2000s, I added a fifth one I use (mostly) for flash-in-the-pan — aka “viral nonfiction” books.

So, that’s slightly more than one new pen name every 10 years or so.

Lately, I’ve used “disposable” pen names to test niches, to see if I like writing those books or not. For example, I tried a book in a health-related niche, and — though that book has sold really well in India — I didn’t enjoy writing it.  So, that pen name has been retired.

I use one-off pen names to test book concepts and styles, too.

Regarding “keeping track” of pen names… I don’t, really.

I mean, if you’re asking me about author platforms and marketing, you’re talking to the wrong person. I write books. I publish them. With a few exceptions (the occasional ad or marketing by someone at Fiverr), I rely on Amazon to do the marketing for me.

I do my job. They do theirs. Everyone’s happy.

5. I can’t afford domain names and websites and everything you recommended for each pen name. What should I do?

First of all, stop spreading yourself too thin. If you’re asking that kind of question, you’re trying to do too much, too quickly.

Too often, people think “if one is good, two or three are better.”  That’s a big mistake. Write books in one category, under one pen name.

Choose your category by the following standards… more or less. (Don’t get rigid about the numbers. They’re only guidelines.)

Here’s the ideal if you’re writing viral nonfiction books:

– You love the topic and your idea of fun is reading books (or watching TV shows) about that topic, or in that genre.

– That category is popular enough that books in the top 15 (or so) positions at Amazon rank very well, and include at least three indie book.

– Also, as you click through the Top 100 in that category, you see a sudden drop in rank — to #100,000 or a bigger number — and those books look laughably bad.  So, you know you can outrank them pretty easily.

(If that drop occurs in the Top 20 books in that category, you’ve struck gold. If it’s closer to the 80th most popular book in that category… not so encouraging. Competition can be fierce.)

After you know you’re writing in a category where you can succeed, and you’re writing the kinds of books you love reading, keep writing until you know you’re a pretty good writer.

Then you can test different writing, publishing, and marketing strategies with different books under different pen names.

6. Can you explain ________ in more detail?

No. Ask in forums where other, successful writers may have better answers for you.

If your primary reason for writing books is to make money quickly, sign up for Geoff’s Kindling group, especially if you’re coming from Internet Marketing. He has a very active community and they’ll have more time and more specialized answers for you.

If you’re serious about building a career as a writer, go to Writers Digest books and tutorials. They have plenty about nonfiction writing… especially the slow, evergreen kind. (That’s very different from my viral nonfiction books, and it’s a different kind of career, too.)

Or, for fiction, see Holly Lisle’s site. Or Joe Konrath’s blog. Or dote on everything Larry Brooks says. Or Chuck Wendig, if four-letter words and really-really vulgar hyperbole don’t offend you. (I think he’s brilliant, but I have a high tolerance for oh dear heaven language & humor.)

If you’ve already studied writing (and have at least started a few books of your own), I also recommend every how-to writing book by William Martell. My advice? Start with Act Two Secrets.

Then write, and write some more… and keep writing and publishing. At some point in your first 10 or so good books, something will click for you.

In nonfiction, don’t look for push-button success, or expect to earn four-figure royalties your first month… or even your third or fourth. (However, if you’re struggling after six months, it’s time to take a good, hard look at what’s missing in your work. It may be a basic step, or a writing or researching skill you need to polish, or maybe your covers & titles aren’t what they should be, for your category.)

If you want to be a writer, write. And then publish. Then, learn how you can improve, and write more.

I’m not an “overnight success.” I’ve been writing for traditional publishing houses for decades.

  • For me, the first big turning point was going indie and discovering Kindle.
  • The second big turning point was realizing the diversity of readers who prefer ebooks  like Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc.
  • My third turning point was seeing how to tweak my unique skills to meet readers’ interests and needs.

Indie publishing offers all authors opportunities we never had before.  That’s exciting.

How will you succeed as a writer? The same way you’d get to Carnegie Hall: Practice!

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