2017 was quite a year. I’ve been in hyper-focus for months, and haven’t updated this site. To quote Hagrid, Sorry about that.
But seriously, there are so many other authors, forums, blogs, and groups sharing such good information, much of what I say is kind of redundant.
(Well, that’s how it feels when I see the truly wonderful information others share. I’m in awe of their work and generosity.)
Mostly, the past six months have been about revisiting marketing ideas, and realizing I need to build a broader foundation for my most successful pen names.
That’s been a lot of work (and I’m still putting the finishing touches on one site, with another in the wings), but important.
For one thing, it’s forced me to look at my numbers and weed out the “fun, but not profitable” pen names. They’re hobbies, and I needed to recognize that, so I schedule my week appropriately.
That said… almost any hobby has enough of a following that you can make it your sole income source and do well. It’s just a matter of finding your 1,000 True Fans, and maximizing that base.
I know: that’s easier said than done. Hence, my weeding-out of the less-exciting, less-profitable pen names.
Using free tools like Book Report, my financial realities are clearer. I can see what needs to be improved and what’s best as a spare-time interest. I look at the fun. I look at the profits. And I’m doing my best to understand how to budget my resources, including those pesky, limited hours during the day. (Sleep…? Who needs sleep…? LOL)
For me, this also involved taking a look at my fans and what prompts them to talk about my books.
WHAT CREATES THE MOST WORD-OF-MOUTH MARKETING?
- Among some of my readers, it’s a great freebie. Freebies come naturally to me. I’m still kind of a hippie, and want to give everything away. I could probably do that every day of the week.
- Other audiences respond better to a related, curated site, especially when the news is kind of viral. That’s where I tap into my innately geeky nature. I love research.
- Still others just want a fresh, new book that’s kind of “more of the same,” but also freshly energized with a new angle… or something. That involves actual work, but – of course – it’s part of being an indie author. When I publish a new (or “new & improved!”) book, enthusiastic fans & readers tell their friends.
So, I’m making sure it’s easy for my readers to find whatever-it-is they’re most enthusiastic about. Often, that involves a website I promote via a Facebook group or mailing list.
My biggest breakthrough in the “new & improved” category: Reading Finish Your Book In Three Drafts, by Stuart Horwitz. It showed me how to edit my own books in the least time, with the most dramatic results.
Yes, Finish Your Book… is a very weird book. Don’t even think about trying to understand it as a Kindle book… get it in print, or see if your public library can loan you a copy.
Even then, I’m not sure what he was thinking about when Horwitz illustrated it. The free videos that go with it… they make even less sense.
To really wrap my brain around what he was saying, I needed to read parts of his incredibly boring book, Blueprint Your Bestseller.
You can read that in Kindle, but it’s probably cheaper to get a used print copy at Amazon, or – again – ask your public library if they have it (or can get it for you).
So, why do I recommend those books?
Because after muttering to myself (for days, maybe a couple of weeks) about how bizarre and worthless they were… something clicked.
I tried his approach and it worked.
I then modified it to fit how I work, and it still worked well.
So, I’m now a firm believer in red-pen editing, but with a twist.
Then there’s the second big breakthrough as I’m revising almost all of my old books (the ones from the popular/lucrative pen names, anyway):
After years in publishing, most of my books look fine when I submit them to CreateSpace. If the digital (online) proof looks good… that’s good enough. Seeing the printed proof only delays how soon my readers can get their hands (literally) on my books.
But recently, I produced an illustrated book. The photos in it had to show some very subtle details, so I ordered a proof copy.
Most of the photos were fine. Whew!
I was ready to hit the “approve” button so people could buy it.
But then, I took a second look. That’s when my stomach sank and my eyes grew wide.
The book that had looked “pretty good” as a digital proof… it wasn’t as good as I’d thought.
What shook me up was browsing the book, and seeing a few layout issues. They really detracted from the the flow of the book.
But that wasn’t all.
On paper, in my hands, the reading experience was very different from how it looked on my computer monitor. For example, the chapter headings looked odd. Kind of misplaced, in a way. (It’s difficult to articulate this. A lot of it is aesthetic, and how I think my books should look.)
Even worse (or better, in the long run), as I skimmed the book, I realized my chapter organization could be a lot better. (This gets back to Horwitz’s Finish Your Book… concepts.)
I’m still editing that book, but it’s at least 150% better than it had been.
The bonus is: this book is likely to sell well in print, in specialized bookstores. So, it’s in my interest to be sure the visual impression and browsing experience is at its very best.
But, after this, I’m likely to review each and every one of my nonfiction books as a printed, proof copy, before publishing.
Printing it at my desk and editing homegrown “galleys,” I was missing too many things I could radically improve.
Would I do that for fiction…? Probably not. Most of my fiction fans buy Kindle editions, and – using my own Kindle readers (one old-school Kindle reader from years ago, and also a shiny new Kindle Fire 8HD) I can see what the reader experience will be.
That’s good enough, at this point in my career.
WORTHWHILE, FREE RESOURCES
In general, I’ve been drawing inspiration – and making career improvements – based on advice from many people. Some of the best advice has been free. That includes:
- David Lee Martin‘s blog & reports. (His posts can be tremendously inspiring. Don’t let the religious slant put you off. I think his core concepts translate into any spiritual or New Age context… because they’re true.)
- Alex Foster’s Writing a Book a Week and all of his writing-related books. They’re short and, as I’m writing this, all of them are free. (But even at 99-cents, I think they’re a steal. Some of his advice is a little dated, but the core information is superb.)
- Despite my usual lack of enthusiasm for many of Rob Howard’s past products, one of his recent blog posts is brilliant and worth reading: Issue #4: Building Systems. (I have hope that he’s turning out better products now, but – until I have more confidence – my recommendation is limited to that article.)
- The Facebook group, 20BooksTo50k. Read everything in the sticky post document, and follow the links.
- The 20Books… Las Vegas conference. It’s on YouTube, and the recording quality is so-so, but some of the information… wow. I’m particularly intrigued by Kat Lind’s “fat outlining” concept video.
- I was also dazzled by her first book on the topic (not free), but not so charmed by the second one. (The second one had some good points, but not enough to recommend it, even for a voracious data enthusiast like me.)
I can see real value in her approach, but I’m still trying to understand how it fits with the traditional, “story beats” method of outlining.
(Despite that, seeing the quality of writing in the example in her first “fat outlining” book… wow. I want to include this in my work.)
Meanwhile, I’m seeing lots of reports, courses, and forums talking about the trend towards shorter books.
This works best for “one problem, one solution” nonfiction.
It’s also ideal for fiction written for the lunch-break reader who just wants a quick escape to romance or adventure. They don’t expect Great Literature, but they do want a good, engaging story.
I’ve taken those insights to heart, and realized that some of my longer, stalled novels might be better in parts. I don’t mean serials with cliffhangers. I mean complete, short books that can stand alone, but don’t have to.
Basically, if you’re working with a three-act (Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b, Act 3) story, each of them could be a complete book.
Here’s a template I created, to break my stalled books into three-book series: A generic, boilerplate, short-short fiction template. (PDF)
So, those are some of the high (and low) points of the past few months. I hope your writing & publishing careers are going very well, and that 2018 is your best so far!
Fan art representing the character Rubeus Hagrid from the Harry Potter saga, made with charcoal and watercolours by Mademoiselle Ortie aka Elodie Tihange http://mademoiselleortie.deviantart.com