The Everyday Author

For authors who can't quit their day jobs...yet

Are your hurt or just tired?

At the office gym the other day, I found myself trying to slack off. I’d just finished the first half of my workout (squats and Romanian Dead Lifts) and was moving into the second half (six rounds of lunges, box jumps and leap frogs). I had a couple of afternoon appointments as soon as I left the office, and was tempted to quit twenty minutes early. By this point I was already dripping sweat and my legs were dead after just one round of lunges and jumps.

My brain started thinking up excuses to get me out of there.

Call it good. You don’t want to strain your right calf, you know it’s been stiff lately.

Then I remembered a late summer morning my senior year of high school. It was Hell Week — five days of brutal relentless training to kick off the football season. We’d ran I don’t know how many 50 meter sprints and some of the younger guys were dropping like flies — walking off the track with various “injuries”preventing them from running any more.

There were a few — maybe even half — obviously faking it. Even more tapped out when we started doing laterals in front of the home team stands. The coaches and the rest of us still running were understandably pissed, but to our head coach’s credit, he didn’t force anyone to run. Instead, he said something like this:

“I can’t tell any of you that you’re not hurt and make you run. But you know yourselves, you know the difference between being hurt and just being tired. If you’re not hurt and just sick of running, you’re cheating yourself and your teammates.”

I know all this gym rat/jock-speak might be a turn-off for some of you, but the same rule applies to writing: only you know if you’re giving it your all or if you’re slacking, if you need a break or if you’re just being lazy.

It’s easy when you’ve got a day job and a thousand other responsibilities to feel drained and skip writing. To make it worse, the guilt starts setting in, messing with your head and stressing you out. It’s easy to beat yourself up and get trapped in a cycle that can seriously screw with your creativity.

On the other hand, sometimes you really do need to take the night off. Sometimes you need to take a week or even a month off! Overworking will mess you up just as much as slacking will. Knowing which is which can be more complicated than following Taylor Swift’s latest relationship.

There are an infinite number of ways to go at this author business and the only way to figure out the best process is through trial and error. But first, you’ve got to know your limits. Recognize the difference between doing half-assed work and legitimately needing a breather. Nobody but you can determine what you’re feeling.

Many authors advocate writing every day and that’s great if it works for you. For many, however, it’s impractical or even impossible. When I’m deep in the middle of a first draft, I usually only take off Sunday and sometimes Saturday. Not counting those days, my string of writing usually only lasts a month or so. I set a weekly wordcount to hit but my day-to-day output varies based on what’s going on with the rest of my life.

My revising/rewriting process is even more skiwampus. After too many tight deadlines and stress-filled weeks, I’ve learned to put some padding into my schedule to ensure I release the best work possible. The only way I figured this out, though was by testing my limits.

Don’t sell yourself short. You’re capable of achieving more than you think. On the flip side, don’t be too hard on yourself, either. Everyone needs breaks.

The next time you feel like quitting, be brutally honest. Cut out the excuses and all the other bullshit. Are you hurt or are you just tired?

Going big with your book launch with John L. Monk

The thing I like most about book launches is they’re one letter away from the word “lunches.” Other than that, there’s nothing at all that’s likable about them. All they do is disappoint … or at least that had been my experience writing four other books and selling them on Amazon.

The pattern is familiar:

  1. Cool idea.
  2. Tell our patient/suffering friends/family all about it while they smile and nod and tell us to keep our day jobs.
  3. We write the book.
  4. We launch it, and…
  5. It doesn’t sell. We keep our day job, and our friends/family pretend to ignore our brooding looks and streams of vile profanity.

All that changed when I launched “Hell’s Children.” Thank goodness for Chris Fox’s book “Launch To Market,” which I’d read late in May before my June launch. After reading it, I was able to incorporate a number of tips and tactics to sell my book well for going on three months.
Here were some of the things I did:

  1. I picked a type of book that people are actually looking for, in a definable genre with lots of readers. In my case: post-apocalyptic. Additionally, it’s a YA book, which people are also looking for. People type “post-apocalyptic” and “young adult” into Amazon’s search bar all the time. When I run my Amazon “Sponsored Product” ads, these keywords get the most hits.
  2. I got a great cover from a top cover designer, and didn’t break the bank doing it. $150 bucks from Yocla Designs. She’s usually backed up 3-4 months, so be prepared to wait. I started writing the book last December, so I had plenty of time.
  3. Title … hmm … ok, to be honest, I’ve never been very happy with my title. After struggling for several months, that’s the best I could come up with. “Hell’s Children.” I wanted something more grand like, “Children Of A Lesser God” or “Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil” or “The Sun Also Rises.” That said, “Hell’s Children” is sort of provocative. People have been clicking it. It’s doing its job.
  4. I asked 50 people from my mailing list if they’d like an Advanced Reading/Review Copy. About fifteen replied that they would. I also asked folks on Facebook in a post on my timeline, which got me about 20 responses (if I remember correctly). By the second day of my launch, I had 14 or so reviews.
  5. Following Chris Fox’s advice, I did a pre-order. Unlike Chris, I did mine over two weeks, and not one. The point was to generate “also-boughts” under other people’s books. This was to assist in building up my organic discoverability. People would look at other people’s books, scroll down, and then see mine there as something people had also-bought. The idea being they’d click my book and buy it.
  6. Still following Chris’s advice, I launched at 99 cents — in Kindle Unlimited. Chris jumped to 2.99 after a week, but I waited two weeks in order to accommodate an author friend who wanted to hit his list for me late in the second week (see below).
  7. Over the years, I’ve cultivated a lot of great friendships with other authors. For the most part, I’ve never asked any of them for anything. We just like each other’s cat videos or share information on cool authory things—podcasts we’ve heard, writing articles, etc. So it was with some trepidation that I actually asked some of them to read my book. Then, wonder of wonders, they all said yes. On top of that, many of them notified their mailing lists about the book, for the most part unasked for. This was some kind of crazy good fortune I’d never expected or even hoped for when I first reached out to all these great people, and I’ll forever be grateful to them for what they did. Having steady sales every day is what Amazon looks for when they decide to make your book “sticky” — keeping it visible to shoppers who type keywords into the search bar.
  8. Special point: one of my author friends — a top-tier sort of fellow — offered to boost a Facebook post to all his fans for me over a two day period. I paid him $50, which he applied in its entirety to the boosted post.These two days resulted in very high sales for me. About 145 on the first day, and around 120 the next day (going from memory — I may be off a little). So if you have any author friends with lots of fans (and your author friend likes your work), perhaps suggest paying him/her to boost your book. It’s a much easier ask than having someone hit their mailing list.
  9. Once folks started telling me they were hitting their lists, I created a spreadsheet and plotted out the first two weeks of my launch. I then took the dates they were going to hit their lists and plotted them into the little boxes under each day. For those days that were empty, I tried to do something. For example, I got a “Bargain Booksy” in one day. In another box, a friend talking about my book on Youtube. In another, Bookbub telling 80 people who followed my author profile (on their site) that I’d just released a book. In another box, I asked a top-tier author buddy if I could move his help to a different day, because he was doubled up with someone.The whole point of all this was to cover each day. I think when I was done, I had every day but one (a Sunday) covered in that spreadsheet.
  10. During the pre-order, I ran Facebook ads, which resulted in about 40 sales. Not that many, sure, and I spent about 5-10 dollars a day on it. But hey, it got me some also-boughts. That’s what I wanted. Next time, I’ll spend more.
  11. After my launch, I killed the Facebook ads after about the 2nd day — because my Amazon “Sponsored Product” ad had been approved!These ads rock. They don’t waste your money, and they move books. Also, they’re a great way to see what people are searching for, clicking on, and then buying. If your stuff isn’t selling and you don’t know why, create an Amazon ad (available to Kindle Unlimited members only, sadly). If you see 50 clicks on your ad and no buys, either your ad doesn’t match the product description, or the product description needs work. If you change one or the other and you suddenly start getting purchases, then you learned something very valuable.Note: be careful of the other ads — the “Product Display” ads. They’re more expensive, and they use up your money quicker. That said, they also sell books more quickly. They have their place, but they’re pricy. I like the idea of using them to fill holes in a launch, and that’s about it. I still have to experiment with them.

The Results:

After doing all this, for the first time in my author career (3 years and 5 books), I was able to stay in the top 1000 for the first month and a half, and I’ve stayed between 3000-4000 at the lowest as of the time of this article. It’s been great. The money came in at a very fortunate time. About a week after my launch, my wife was diagnosed with cancer of the uterus and needed a hysterectomy. We were caught flat-footed. The money really saved us, because the insurance didn’t cover it all. More good news: my wife is now totally cured. The doctor thinks he got it all. We’ll be going back every three months for the next two years to ensure that’s the case.

I hope your next launch is as good or better than mine. If you’re curious about writing to market, pick up Chris’s other book “Write To Market.” I hadn’t read it when I decided to switch genres to post-apocalyptic, but I wish I had. It’s filled with great advice on finding and locating genres that are underserved—that have lots of readers and not a lot of writers. Hopefully you actually like these genres. I love reading post-apocalyptic books, so it was an easy and pleasant experience writing one. But you won’t be finding any John L. Monk romance books any time soon. At least none you’d like to read!

The benefits of going wide as an author – Kevin Tumlinson, Draft2Digital

There are times when you might forget that there’s a world beyond Amazon.

It’s easy to do. The KDP Select Global Fund makes being exclusive to Amazon pretty attractive, after all. It eases some of the burden on an author’s shoulders—you can earn a little bit just for the pages that are read, so that even if a reader doesn’t like the book, you still get something in the transaction. And there are other perks, as well—some authors find their core audience in the Kindle Unlimited ecosystem.

But most authors (and believe me, I’ve talked to a lot of authors) didn’t get into this business thinking, “Gee, I can’t wait to only be read by people who own a Kindle!” Most saw themselves standing behind a podium, sharing the stage with the likes of Stephen King or Lee Child or John Grisham. Most saw themselves hitting the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists.

You don’t get to that level on one platform. Reaching that level of success means increasing your reach, making the effort to reach out on a global scale.

There are a number of benefits to ‘going wide’— branching out from Amazon.

 EMERGING MARKETS

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Africa largely skipped the desktop revolution.

While in the United States people were debating the merits of Mac versus PC, and computer manufacturing saw an explosion and a rapid evolution from desktop to laptop to mobile platforms, an enormous population in Africa had never even heard of computers. They had no notion of desktop publishing. No clue about the internet.

And then someone introduced the smartphone into the ecosystem.

Just like that, a revolution emerged. People who had limited access to water could now research how to drill for fresh groundwater and build windmills from bicycle parts, to power pumps and irrigation systems. And those who had no access to books suddenly had a virtual Library of Alexandria right in the palm of their hands.

Think about that.

From zero to a million, with the swipe of a finger, and suddenly a new and voracious appetite for knowledge springs up.

Amazon doesn’t serve that particular market. There’s no real profit to draw them there, just yet. African villagers don’t tend to have much (or any) money, after all. But as they gain access to the internet, they also gain access to the free resources online that allow them to build businesses of their own, to crowd source startup funds using Patreon and Kickstarter campaigns, and to participate in a global economy, using their innate industriousness and their wealth of time to get up to speed quickly.

Annnnnd boom. A brand new market, eager for knowledge, for stories, for anything that can help them change and improve their lives, emerges on the world stage.

It would be insane to not want to reach out and tap into that live-wire current, with intellectual property that has virtually no overhead, but can bring in tiny trickles that lead to big streams.

In other words, charge 99 cents for your book, and sell it to a few hundred million people, and you’re going to do alright.

DIVERSIFICATION MAKES YOU BULLET PROOF

Business is a funny thing. Even the very best business can fall to pieces without much warning.

My wife and I are fans of British television, and we recently watched the series finale of “Mr. Selfridge.” If you’re not familiar with the story, the gist is that the real-world, American-born Mr. Selfridge was the creator of one of the most successful department stores in all of the UK. Despite huge opposition, Selfridge built his store to be a new model for the industry—he literally redefined certain aspects of the business, including such innovations as moving the perfume counter out onto the main floor of the store, and encouraging shoppers to browse rather than forcing them to either buy or get out.

Selfridge had a few personal problems that eventually led to his being ousted from his own business—a move that took him from industry leader to sideline spectator in a single afternoon. He never saw it coming. Neither he nor his most loyal employees ever even considered it.

Selfridge, who was a paragon of business savvy for most of his career, saw his empire wrested from him with the dashing of a signature, and he never recovered.

The interesting thing: Selfridge’s was a diversified storefront. It had tons of merchandise in a variety of categories. But Selfridge himself had all of his eggs in the department store basket (for the most part—there are nuanced exceptions). And that was what led to him being vulnerable, to losing his authority over his own business, and to be ousted while someone else got to carry on with his name and his life’s work.

So let’s look at Amazon for a moment:

Authors who are exclusive to Amazon are beholden to its rules. And they have absolutely zero control over those rules—Amazon can choose to change its terms of service (TOS) at any moment, without warning and without recourse on the part of the authors. It’s happened before.

Recently, Amazon decided to crack down on an oft-ignored rule in the TOS, which prohibited the use of affiliate links in email. For quite some time, Amazon had simply turned its gaze from violators of this rule, and in that time several small businesses emerged, helping readers discover new authors and new books. These companies built their revenue streams based on Amazon’s affiliate links, and they did rather well.

And then, without warning, Amazon decided to start enforcing the rule. And just like that, dozens of small businesses were no longer in business. They’re primary source of revenue dried up in an afternoon.

Amazon had allowed the infractions to keep building up, because these services were funneling customers their way. But the moment it was no longer strategically advantageous to allow it, Amazon put a cork in it.

And here’s the lesson we have to learn:

Amazon will do what’s in the best interest of Amazon, always.

For a brief time, that may line up with what’s best for you as an author, as well. Certainly, having access to the KDP Global Fund is a perk for authors. Many authors have businesses that rely on that income, even up to 100%. But the program itself is a loss leader—meaning that Amazon really doesn’t make any money directly from eBook sales. They use that business to keep funneling customers into their more profitable revenue silos. Eventually, however, that will stop.

I’m not Nostradamus. I’m not gazing into a crystal ball or reading tea leaves or consulting the spirits. I’m looking at Amazon’s history when it comes to businesses like this one, and I’m considering the fact that at a certain level there will, by necessity, be an equilibrium, and the bubble will burst. Overnight, those authors relying solely on Amazon will lose their primary revenue stream, and they’ll start right back at zero.

Exclusivity with Amazon is a nice revenue booster. No question. But while you’re building that business, you’re not building the backup you’re going to need. Authors who have been in the Amazon ecosystem for years have spent zero time building up a presence and a platform outside of that ecosystem. So when it crashes, it’s game over.

The smarter play is to think in terms of the long game.

If you leave KDP Select, you will reduce the level of income you’re getting, no doubt. It’s going to take a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get back to that level in the ‘outside world.’ But what you’ll build, by going wide, will be much more stable, much tougher, and much less prone to collapse than relying on Amazon alone.

The smarter business decision is to go wide.

YOU CAN EARN MORE MONEY

There, I said it.

Being in the Kindle Unlimited library has a huge perk: More money, faster.

I’ve been there. I’ve seen my revenue quadruple in a month, because I pulled titles from other storefronts and went exclusive. But I also saw a lot of my readers—subscribers on my mailing list who were loyal and trusted me to provide great stories—write to tell me that they were incredibly frustrated that all of my new books were only on Amazon, which meant they couldn’t read them.

Bad press. Bad reputation. It made me suddenly very small.

Like a lot of authors, I got into this business to go big. I wanted name recognition. I wanted invitations to speak at conventions and banquets and award ceremonies. And now, as a KDP Select author, I was doing alright financially, but not meeting any of my other life goals.

I was still a nobody on the global scene.

I’m not exactly Lee Child now, but I can say that my platform is a bit more diverse, and my reach is a bit longer. I have readers in hundreds of different countries now, including several that Amazon hasn’t yet touched. And as my work trickles and crawls and spreads, the cumulative effect starts to make a big difference in my income.

Ultimately, there’s a bit of a ceiling on the number of readers you can reach, in a given amount of time, on Amazon’s platform. And that’s because, unlike out in the ‘wild,’ when you’re locked into one ecosystem you inevitably face competition.

I tell authors every day that there’s no such thing as competition in the publishing industry. If someone picks up the latest book by James Rollins, they aren’t choosing his book instead of mine. They’re choosing his book for now. I still have a shot at capturing that reader, who may enjoy reading both Rollins and Tumlinson.

There’s no competition, because reading books isn’t a zero sum game. If a reader chooses one book, it doesn’t destroy all the other books, so that they are never an option.

If there’s competition for anything in publishing, it’s competition for attention. And on that playing field, ‘clever and creative’ can put you on equal ground with ‘spends the most money.’

So on the whole, there’s no real competition in the publishing industry in general. But in any given specific ecosystem, competition is a natural byproduct of exclusivity.

In biology, all life forms in a closed system compete for resources. That’s the nature of a closed system. It’s inevitable that I will compete against another author for placement, for attention, for the limited time and limited money that a reader has to spend. And where I could be on more or less equal footing out in the ‘wild,’ due mostly to the diversity of readers, when I’m in an aquarium I’m limited to only what Amazon is willing to feed me.

Give me wide open spaces.

A wider pool of potential readers means far more opportunities to capture interest. There are fewer limitations, and more avenues for revenue.

To put it bluntly: The world outside Amazon is much, much bigger than the world inside Amazon.

By it’s very nature, going wide offers more revenue potential than exclusivity—given time.

That’s the thing that really sticks a lot of authors. There’s simply no denying that the way to fast income is through Amazon. You’re marketing efforts will gain much bigger returns in a shorter timeframe. That’s really attractive.

The only promise that can be made, however, is that given enough time your global distribution can outpace that exclusivity. If you can be patient, and use that time to build your platform (including your mailing list, your ad campaigns, and any other resources that let you talk to your audience), you’ll eventually net returns that make it all worthwhile.

PRO TIP: Use the time to write and publish as many books as possible. Even without any other marketing, having a huge library of books available will help you increase your income—first incrementally, and then exponentially.

The more you know.

YOU CAN STILL BE EXCLUSIVE

For those of us who built our revenue streams on the back of Amazon, it looks kind of bleak when we consider moving. But there’s a way to do this strategically that will help ease the pain while still protecting you as you grow your platform.

Let’s break it down into easy steps:

  • Determine your 80/20—You may be familiar with this phrase, but just in case, what you want to figure out is what 20% of your books is bringing in 80% of your revenue. If you don’t happen to have multiple books, the answer is “my book.” And it’s more of a 100/100 rule at that point. But that’s ok … this plan is still going to work for you, with slight modification.
  • Move the other 80%—You know what makes you the most money, so let’s keep that 20% of your work right where it is. Keep the marketing going, and keep the revenue coming. Take your less productive books out of exclusivity, though, and move them into a broad solution. Now you have a body of work out there for people to discover, at least, and that’s a start.
  • Write more books—This is just the Prime Directive for authors, frankly. Write more books. Then write more. And finally, write more books. But now, as you publish, put those books into your broad solution, again and again. And if you only had one book at the beginning of this, all you’re really doing is skipping the second step. More books means more revenue opportunities, so keep it coming.
  • Promote your new platform—Place Facebook ads, share Universal Book Links (UBLs) on social media, go on podcasts, do guest blog posts—do all the things you can think to do to tell the world your work exists, and encourage everyone to go read it. The best marketing advice you’ll ever get is “go to where your customer lives,” which means “focus all your effort on reaching your customer/reader where they spend the most time.” Do that. Over and over.
  • As wide revenue increases, move the rest of your books—Do it one at a time. As you replace the monthly income of one book, move it to wide distribution. And keep doing that until all of your books are wide.
  • Use exclusivity as part of a strategy, not as your business model—You can launch a book as exclusive to Amazon, and utilize their promotional tools. You can benefit from page reads, and garner tons of reviews. But use that exclusivity like a surgical instrument. Just like any good marketing campaign or product development strategy, you should plan for obsolescence. Use exclusivity as a tool for making more money faster, and then get your book out of that small pond and into the greater ocean as soon as you can.

And that’s it. That’s how you use Amazon exclusivity to your advantage, while continuing to build a wider, more stable, global platform for your work.

It won’t be as easy, I’ll admit. It will feel frustrating, as you see other authors making a lot more money, a lot faster. But in the end, you’re trading in short term gain for long term success, and that has always been a winning strategy for any business.

DRAFT2DIGITAL CAN MAKE THIS EASIER

I’ve specifically avoided mentioned Draft2Digitial to this point, because all the advice above is completely unbiased, and unaffected by this little ‘pitch’ at the end. You can stop reading right up to this header, and you’ll have gotten some world-class advice for phenomenal author success.

Go ahead … go … it’s ok. I still love you.

But if you want make this whole thing a lot easier, then stick around for a second.

Draft2Digital helps you go wide by making it ridiculously easy. Upload your manuscript and your cover file, enter a bit of information, and hit ‘publish.’ And the world belongs to you.

When I was invited to become the Director of Marketing for D2D, I already knew all of this about the company. They have set up this business specifically to help authors to overcome some of the biggest, gnarliest pain points around. And they do a phenomenal job of it. I was a fanboy for years before I became part of the team.

Recently we introduced Universal Book Links, or UBLs. These are available free of charge at books2read.com, and they give you some nice perks, including:

  • The ability to create a unique, customized URL that leads readers to every online storefront that carries your book. One link for you, every store online for them.
  • The ability to see data about how well your links perform, including the stores that more of your readers prefer.
  • The ability to instantly update your existing links with brand new storefronts, so that your links never expire. Use them on everything from email campaigns to printed materials, without worrying that they’ll one day stop working.

There are more benefits, and more uses, but you can already see how handy these things are.

And they are FREE. Always. Even when you register for an account, they’re free. Just like that.

So check out Draft2Digital for the ability to instantly go wide with your books, and check out Books2Read to start creating Universal Book Links (or UBLS as we call them) for promoting your work and making yourself more discoverable. These are some of the best decisions you’ll ever make for your author business.

But regardless of whatever else you do, start making plans to go wide and exist the exclusivity of the KDP ecosystem. Trade short-term, limited success for long-term, unlimited growth, and you’ll find that you’re in a better place than you could ever have imagined. And short of a global boycott on eBooks, you’ll  never have to worry about waking up to the nightmare of your business being shut down by the whims of someone else.

Kevin TumlinsonKevin Tumlinson is a self-published author with more than 30 novels, novellas, and non-fiction books in his catalog. He is also the Director of Marketing for Draft2Digital—a company absolutely bent on author success. Find out more about Kevin and his work, plus get three of his best books for FREE when you register at KevinTumlinson.com, and get a start on going wide with your own work at Draft2Digital.com.

Like an Olympian

Note: Hat tip goes to Joanna Penn, who often talks about this concept and inspired this post.

Watching the Summer Games this week gave me pause to reflect on the awesome and inspiring competition between Olympic athletes. These men and women have trained all of their lives for what can amount to a single defining performance. It doesn’t get much better than that.

There are many lessons we authors can learn from these athletes but the perhaps the most important are discipline and perseverance.

The day-to-day life on an Olympian athletes involves a constant grind of training, training and more training. When you’re competing against the best of the best, all those hours, weeks and months add up to small but vital dividends: you’re a fraction of a second faster, you can jump a half inch farther or higher — tiny little improvements that make the difference between a gold medal and last place.

For Olympians (and authors) it can be extremely discouraging to be trapped in a daily grind, working for such small changes without any immediate results. To keep their sanity, Olympians plan, prepare and measure their progress in four-year intervals.

As authors, it’s easy to get discouraged when our week-to-week book sales aren’t improving, when we’re not producing more and when our newsletter subscribers crawl up by one person every other month. At times like this, it’s vital to look at the big picture, at the change that’s taking place over the long term, not in the short run.

Four years ago, during the 2012 London Games, I was entering my senior year of college. I had a book I’d tinkered with since I was a teenager, writing and re-writing whenever the mood struck me. In August 2012 I made a goal: come hell or high water, I would finish the rough draft of that book before I graduated.

Out of Exile - Store Cover finalOut of Exile was finished in November 2012 and published in 2013. Four years later I’ve published three books in the Teutevar Saga series, a couple of short stories and a multi-author anthology. I’ve also started a hybrid publishing group and launched a service to help authors get reviews for their books. By the end of the year, we’ll be release another anthology and I’ll have outlined and started another trilogy.

Big change in four years, huh?

I don’t share this to brag or one-up anybody. There are hundreds — maybe thousands — of authors who’ve done 10x more than me in the last four years. In the same span, these men and women have become New York Times bestsellers, gathered thousands of fans and made writing their full-time occupations.

Most months, I still sell less than a dozen copies of books a month (although that number is climbing) and feel like I’m closer to the moon than becoming an author full-time. Until I look back on where I’ve come from, that is.

We’re each on our own journey, working at our own pace according to our own individual time lines. Day-to-day, it can feel like we’re spinning our wheels in the mud: like no one is reading our work, like the words we type up flow worse than a bowl of alphabet soup.

During the next two weeks, as the world celebrates Olympian achievement, take a moment to reflect on your own journey. Appreciate where you’ve come from and what you’ve accomplished in the last four years. You’ve probably come further than you realize.

Then make a plan and get to work. 2020 will be here before you know it.

Book Review: Sizzling Synopsis by Bryan Cohen

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced review copy of Sizzling Synopsis in exchange for this review.

There are more writing craft books out there than you can shake a stick at and almost as many covering a myriad of other topics like writing faster, outlining better, building an author business, selling your books in Tijuana…well, you get my point.

One topic lacking resources, however,  is synopsis writing. I’m talking about the hard-hitting, grab-readers-by-the-seat-of-their-pants-and-steal-their-wallet descriptions you need to sell books.

I was fortunate enough in my budding career to have bestselling author Michael Sullivan take me by my young noobish hand and guide me through my first synopsis — an act of mercy for which I’ll be forever in debt to him. You don’t want to know how bad my first dozen attempts were. A year or so down the line, I discovered Gotta Read It! by Libbie Hawker, a book I refer to every time I write a new synopsis.

But as good as Gotta Read It! is, it really only skims the surface of synopsis writing. You get the how-to, but not so much inner workings. In my experience, not knowing why things work will only get you so far. Luckily, that’s where Bryan Cohen’s Sizzling Synopsis comes in.

5136lZOX2ILHow to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound Good is the book that pulls back the covers and show the moving parts of a killer synopsis that drives sales. Bryan’s made a career out of copyrighting and last year also brought his talents to the author world with a book description service called Best Page Forward that’s saved countless authors from rambling, boring blurbs.

The skinny:

Why you need it: If you’re an author you need to know how to distill your book down to its most potent form (just like a jug of moonshine), for both readers and potential publishers. Sizzling Synopsis not only shows you the how of writing a great synopsis of your book, it shows the why behind a variety of sales copy writing tricks.

An inside peak (three tips from Sizzling Synopsis):

  • “When in doubt, save it for the book.”
  • “You want your blurb to have momentum throughout the short piece, taking your daredevil reader up the ramp, all the way across the chasm, and safely to the other side where they can start reading your book.”
  • “You’re not the one buying your book. Practice the art of selflessness and think about your reader.”

The bottom line: Nobody wants to suck at any part of their author business yet tons of authors out there write long, abhorrent descriptions of their book like they’re being paid by the word. Do yourself a favor and do it right.

Make hay while the sun shines

It’s a calm night around the first of July. The sun’s just gone down, leaving a grey gloam over the fields of fresh-cut hay. Off in the distance, however, a wave of storm clouds threaten on the horizon. But instead of kicking back on the proch to watch the ensuing thunderstorm, I’m sitting on a tractor, raking hay and hoping the storm passes by.

Putting up hay, like many other aspects of farming, isn’t an endeavor that respects a schedule. You irrigate the fields nonstop until the water’s gone and then, when the hay’s ready, you put it up. Doesn’t matter if its your birthday or the Fourth of July — you’ve got about a four day window to rake, bale and stack the hay before it gets rained on. Hence the expression: make hay while the sun shines.

This same urgency would serve many lackadaisical authors as well. It’s easy (waaaaayyyy to easy) to give in to a thousand different excuses and procrastinate the writing. Here’s a sampling

  • It’s too early to write
  • It’s too late to write
  •  I don’t have enough time
  • I can only write at home on my couch
  • I can only write when no one’s around

And so on and so forth.

I’ve been there — I’ve found myself crippled in the past when, for one reason or another, I missed my “writing window” for the day or told myself I shouldn’t write at all because I couldn’t hit my word count. Sometimes it’s a roller coaster. In the winter, life slows down and I can stick to a balanced schedule better. Summertime, on the other hand, is an insane ride at hyperspeed with a thousands different things (including — you guessed it — putting up hay) going on. It’s easy to allow resistance to talk you out of doing something when your ideal conditions aren’t met. So what are we to do?

We make hay while the sun shines.

We do what we can when we can, because something is always better than nothing.

Sometimes (read: most of the time) if you’re balancing out a day job, a family and a million other things, it’s easy to get discouraged at the lack of progress on your latest project. Instead of getting down, however, you’ve got to attack it. By attack, I mean writing whenever you get a spare moment, pounding out a hundred words here and there whenever you can wrestle away a few minutes for yourself.

You’ve got to do what you can when you can with what you have.

It’s easy to convince yourself you need ideal conditions to write: a 67.5 degree room temperature, 38 minutes of quiet meditation beforehand, the sound of two gophers mating outside your window — whatever it is kick this crap to the curve and just do the work. Fifty words a day is better than nothing. ONE word a day is better than nothing.

Conditions and results will vary. You’ll likely get frustrated. But as time progresses you’ll learn to plan ahead for these crazy times and take advantage of what you’ve got, when you’ve got it.

Forget the notion that writing can only occur under ideal circumstances. It doesn’t. It happens whenever you make it happen. If JK Rowling could start Harry Potter on a napkin, you can make ten minutes.

As the saying goes. Make hay while the sun shines.

Author Origins: Ben Hale

Ben Hale author photo

An avid snowboarder from Utah, Ben Hale grew up with a passion for learning. This thirst for knowledge led him to sports, music, and academic endeavors. After a year of college, he did volunteer work in Brazil and became fluent in three languages. Graduating from the University of Central Florida, he started and ran several successful businesses before publishing his first novel in June of 2012. By the end of the year he’d sold almost ten thousand copies of The Second Draeken War, and he began writing full-time. Now spanning 10,000 years, ten titles, and two series, The Chronicles of Lumineia represents a sprawling YA series that has sold over 100,000 copies, and continues to expand its readership across all ages. Each of his books has been inspired by his wonderful wife and five beautiful children.

Introduction: Tell us who you are, why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.

I am an author of a sprawling fictional fantasy world that spans 10,000 years, 13 books, and 3 series. Unlike most writers I didn’t set out to be a writer. Instead I had a story I thought about as I would fall asleep at night. One evening my wife asked me why I could fall asleep so fast and I told her about my story. She asked me to tell it to her thinking it would help her fall asleep. It took me four days to tell her the entire thing, and it didn’t help her sleep. Her prompting is what drove me to write it. Four years later I was publishing the first and soon after it became my full-time job. Now I’ve sold over 100,000 copies and am preparing to publish my 14th, 15th, and 16th books this year. I also have an audio firm that bought my audio rights, and have done incredibly well with them.

What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job? What is the hardest thing about writing for a living now?

Discipline on both counts. Writing when you have a day job requires discipline to stay consistent. Writing when it’s your job requires even more discipline because there is no immediate consequence for not writing. To be successful as a writer at any point requires daily discipline.

Tell us about your schedule and habits back before you made the move to full-time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

I dedicated an hour a day to write. Owning a business gave me the flexibility to do that, and I stayed consistent except during the busy season. I didn’t worry about publishing or marketing, I just focused on the story and learning how to write. I also did a lot of drafts. My first book I published the 24th draft, and I still think there are errors.

Now I write 3,000 words a day, or edit 60-80 pages a day when I’m editing. This year I wrote my first book in 7 weeks and edited it in 6. (13 drafts) I hope to write 4 books next year. Regardless of where you are in your writing career consistency is key.

If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?

My sales on my first book averaged about 2 per day. Over three months they crept up until they were selling 20 per day. Then I published my second book and they both averaged 25 per day. Two months later I published my third and they took off, averaging 350 sales a day between all three. Keep in mind I had already written the three books, so publishing them was easier.

At what point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author? What was that decision like and how did you feel afterward?

I took the plunge when my books were earning more than my business was. I also set aside about $10,000 dollars in case sales went down before I could publish more books. I ended up using every cent of the reserve before I managed to stabilize my sales.

Do you support yourself completely from writing books or through a variety of work? If so, what else do you do to pay the bills?

I’m fortunate to be able to write full-time while my wife is a stay-at-home mom. We have five kids so she works a lot harder than I do.

Was there ever a point when you felt like quitting writing or didn’t think you’d ever become a full-time author?

More times than I can count. At one point my sales dropped so low I earned less than $600 for the month. Without my reserve I would have been sunk, but I persevered and kept writing, putting out a new book that helped things bounce back. As much as some might think a great book will make you set for life, that is rarely the case. Most writers that are successful write and keep writing. For most writing a career because they made it one, not because one book took off and it was given to them.

Starting out, what were some misconceptions you had of life as a full-time author? Were there any unexpected challenges you never realized before you got to that point in your career?

I’m sure I had the same image that most people do, that a writer gets to do whatever they want. The truth is that it requires just as much work as any other job. Fortunately I came into it with a background as an entrepreneur, so I viewed by books as products and my series as a product line. I managed to avoid most of the major pitfalls that new authors often face, but caution and courage were my watchwords.

What’s one thing about your author career that not many people know?

What I do for research. I rock climb, play sports, video games, and snowboard, all in the name of research. I can’t perform magic, but I try to do things that create sense of the magical. It’s where I get a lot of my ideas from.

What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?

Don’t get too attached to your work. Your writing is a medium to convey emotion and ideas. It is not you, or your child. It’s merely a tool to convey what you want. Critiques, reviews, and opinions about your writing is not a referendum on you, it merely helps you know how your medium is being perceived. Never grow so attached to your writing that you ignore editors, friends, and readers.

Is there anything we haven’t asked that you’d like to touch on?

Take courage and be patient. Writing is a long game, and few are able to make it a financial success in a year. Your success in that time has very little to do with your success ten years from now. Remember, you didn’t become a writer to market and do business. You became a writer to write, so do what you love.

Author Origins: Kevin Tumlinson

Kevin TumlinsonKevin Tumlinson is speculative fiction author writing thrillers, science fiction, and contemporary fantasy. His latest thriller, The Coelho Medallion, is available on Amazon and has already thrilled readers and reviewers. You can learn more about Kevin from his website—kevintumlinson.com.

Introduction: Tell us who you are, why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.

Who I am is kind of straightforward—I’m a guy with a laptop. Which is quite an accomplishment by the standards of my pre-teen self, who longed for a computer more than super powers or owning his own personal monkey. Both of these things were high on his list.

I tell everyone that I wrote my first book when I was five years old, and that isn’t a lie. Maybe a slight exaggeration. I was five years old. And I did write a book. It was scrawled out in pencil on five pages of notebook paper—front and back—with a hand-drawn cover (even then I designed all my own covers) and some very nicely written copy on the back cover.

Tragically that first book was thrown away by my stepfather after an ill-fated bout of personal modesty. He had asked if I wanted him to type it up for me at work, and I had said, “Oh, it’s not that important. Do whatever you want with it.” Apparently he’d wanted to toss it in the wastebasket.

Thus began a long-standing fear of publishers, and an aversion to modesty.

I’ve written short stories and ‘first thirds’ of books my whole life, and I even managed to finish a manuscript or two early on. One of these got the attention of an agent, who turned out to be a scam, and a publisher, who turned out to be real.

The publishing deal didn’t end well, mostly because I can do basic math. Keeping the advance and the contract they gave me was going to end up costing me out of pocket, and the odds of the book selling well and earning back the advance were long.

So I paid it back—including having to dip into my savings to pay back the bit I’d already spent—and ended the contract. Ownership of the book stayed with the publisher for the next few years, and it’s never seen the light of day. I think I could publish it now, but it’s awful, and needs a lot of editing. Also, it’s a relic of a bygone way of thinking about publishing. So I think it’s good where it is for now.

At this point in my career I’ve published more than 25 books, and I have at least five more already on the board for the rest of the year. My newest book, ‘The Coelho Medallion,’ is kind of a departure for me—my first full-on thriller. I’ve written thrillers before, but they largely relied on a heavy science fiction influence. This is the first that stands all on its own merit, and judging by reader reaction it’s living up to its Dan Brown/James Rollins roots.

I’ve always been a fan of contemporary fiction, putting relatable and modern-feeling characters in extraordinary circumstances. Thrillers are a great way to explore stories of all types. So it’s my belief that ‘The Coelho Medallion’ sets a new tone for the rest of my writing career. I’ll still write scifi and fantasy and anything else that attracts me, but I’ll return to this particular well for years to come.

What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job? What is the hardest thing about writing for a living now?

I worked for years as a copywriter, and as a media producer (documentary television, talk radio, etc.). Those are jobs with a very heavy writing and editing focus. So for me, the toughest part about writing fiction while keeping a day job was just getting myself to sit down again after 10-12 hours of writing and editing, and write and edit more. At least this stuff was more fun.

I taught for a few years, and I wish I could say that I spent summers writing novels and short stories. But the truth was, I spent most of my down time playing video games and going to the movies. I think I was burned out. Or bored. I was single at the time—maybe that has an effect on your ambition. But most likely, I was just being lazy.

These days, now that I’m a full-time author, my biggest challenge is keeping income steady. I still take the occasional copywriting job to fill in the gaps between book income. This is an ocean, and it has waves.

The good news is that those gaps are getting more and more narrow as the days go by, so that I expect book income will be a lot steadier and more reliable. I’m counting on that, actually, as my wife and I just purchased an RV and we intend to travel full time, living off of my book income while I do a sort of roaming and roving book tour, and while we enjoy everything this country has to offer.

Tell us about your schedule and habits back before you made the move to full-time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

Before going full time, my schedule was to get up around 4 AM every morning and write for about three hours before going to my day job.

When my work day was done, I generally crashed. I’m not much of an evening or night person. I get up early, and write when my energy is high, then spend the rest of the day sort of fighting the urge the fall forward and sleep on my keyboard.

That hasn’t really changed much, since going full time. I still get up early. I still write all morning. And I still spend the rest of the day doing something else. I use the afternoons for marketing, or producing podcasts (I host four of them now). And I run the more mundane errands of life. If I have client work (which I’m starting to trim down) I do a lot of it during that time.

In the evenings I tend to do something that doesn’t require the same mental muscles. When I’ve finished a draft of a book, I usually sit in my recliner with the TV going and my laptop resting on a small lap desk, and I tinker with the cover. I design all my own covers—something I don’t necessarily advise others to do—because it relaxes me, and helps me feel that the book is finished. Once I see the cover, I feel like I finally have a book.

But over all, my best and most basic habit is this: Get up and write every single day.

I have a minimum daily word count. It has changed periodically since my day job days, but it’s still there. I went from a minimum of 1,500 words per day to a minimum of 5,000 words per day. That’s about two hours of writing, all told. And I divide that on most days, between work on a book and work on a short story.

I had no idea, early on, how much I could leverage short fiction in my business. But it’s been amazing, and it’s something I highly recommend. I try to write a short story every single day.

If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first stared out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?

I’ll be completely honest here—my sales were complete and total garbage for the first six years of my author career.

I haven’t gone back to tally it up, because I think it would break my heart, but I’d be willing to bet that out of all the sales I’ve made over the entire span of my career, 95% of them were made between 2014 and today. I started publishing in 2008, so for six years I had a pretty stagnant pool.

In 2014 I had only four books published—the first two ‘Citadel’ books, a crappy collection of short stories with no common theme, and a non-fiction book aimed at college students. Of these, the Citadel books were selling the best, but those figures were in the single digits.

That’s because I was one of those guys who thought, “If I write a book, the world will beat down my door to get it!” I had dreams of über fame, off of the first book in an unfinished trilogy, from an author no one had ever heard of. I’m sure there are readers here who can relate.

In 2014 I got serious, though. Actually, technically, I got serious in 2013, toward the end of the year. I realized that if I was going to accomplish this dream of writing books full time, I actually needed to write books. And I needed to market those books. And I basically needed to put out a book more than once every two years.

That’s when I developed my ’30-Day Author’ formula. I figured out exactly what I would need to do to write a book in 30 days, and I did it. Then, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I did it two more times, back to back. And that was that.

Eventually I actually wrote ’30 Day Author’ so I could share the stupid-simple method I use to do this, with people who may feel overwhelmed by the idea of developing a daily writing habit.

At what point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author? What was that decision like and how did it feel afterward?

This is a tough question to answer, because the timeline on this is kind of vague. Birth, maybe?

Kidding.

Actually, I think that like a lot of full-time writers I never actually came to that decision, it’s more like it came to me.

I was working as a Creative Director for a $100M software company, and I actually really loved the job. I wasn’t planning to leave, if I’m being completely honest—not unless my books suddenly started selling like crazy. But the company merged with one of it’s subsidiaries, and brought in a more senior-level marketing person who took over the department I’d been running. The new VP of Marketing didn’t think there was much need for a Creative Director. Or copywriters. Or me, really. So I was let go, with a nice severance and some stock options, which paid well later on.

So that decision was kind of made for me, at the time. By that point I had already started getting serious about my writing and about the business of being an author, so getting let go from a full-time job, and having a big hunk of money to go with me, made it kind of easy to get started. I took a chance, rolled the dice, and started writing more books.

I wish I could say that from that point on I was full-time, never looking back. But I still had to take copywriting and marketing work to help pay the bills. I’ve had a very eclectic career, and most of it was spent as a freelancer and contractor, so I had those skills to fall back on when the severance and stock money started to run out. But book income has steadily increased over the past couple of years, and I’m closer than ever to the point where I can support two fully grown adults with stories about super powers and spaceships.

Joke’s on you, college career counselor who told me to go into air conditioning repair. (shakes fist in air)

Do you support yourself completely from writing books or through a variety of work? If so, what else do you do to pay the bills?

I’m close. Getting closer. But I bring income in the doors with a variety of services on top of the the books. I still do copywriting, for example—recently I’ve started writing cover blurbs and website copy for authors. I’ve done some ghostwriting. I’ve edited books for authors. I had a bit of income from podcasts. I get paid for speaking engagements. I do cover design and other design work.

The truth is, a lot of that will still go on even after the books can more than pay for our living. I’m too much of an entrepreneur to just ignore opportunities. What will happen, however, is that I’ll be even more picky about what tasks I take on than I already am. And I’ll be more expensive. I’m already one of the most expensive copywriters around, but I still get people who want to pay for me to do the work, because of the work I deliver. People will pay more when they know you have a proven track record for increasing revenue. Go figure.

I’d love for the books to be 100% of both my income and my retirement fund. But I’d still do a few other things not the side. We’ll call that additional income “gravy.” And I’ll do that because the explorer in me demands that I do it. Everything is a learning opportunity, and it all ends up filtered into the books.

Also, I get bored easy, so I’ll do these things because they can be fun.

Was there ever a point when you felt like quitting writing or didn’t think you’d ever become a full-time author?

Hell yes. In fact, I’ve probably spent more time thinking about that than I’ve actually spent writing for the past 30 years. But I’d never do it. I couldn’t quit if I wanted to. If someone paid me to quit, I’d end up being fired.

Because people who do this aren’t people who can do anything else.

Seriously, look at all the authors you know. Especially look at the authors who have day jobs. Why in the world would you put yourself through all of this? You go to a job every day, bust your hump, take lip from the boss, deal with the stress and anxiety and constant edge-of-disaster of it all, and then you go sit down and write?

Authors—seriously, I mean this about all authors—are the bravest and hardest working people I know. They’re obsessed. And they’re insane. Nobody spends the kind of time and energy we spend, doing work that could just be obscure and thankless at best, without that obsession and insanity.

But we also think about quitting all the time. Because this is thankless, work. It’s the kind of work you love, that you’re passionate about, but it’s so intimately tied to your feeling of self worth that if no one reads it, if no one tells you it’s good, you start to wonder if you’d be better off frying chicken nuggets for a living.

So yeah, I think about quitting. I think about it when the money gets tight (it still does, from time to time). And I think about it when I get crappy reviews (hoo boy). But I’ll never actually quit. I can’t.

I live by Jim Rohn’s philosophy of ambition: “I can do this. I will do this. Or I will die trying.”

Once you start feeling like that, you’re not quitting anything, ever.

Starting out, what were some misconceptions you had of life as a full-time author? Were there any unexpected challenges you never realized before you got to that point in your career?

I honestly thought, early on, that just writing a book would bring readers.

Stupid, right?

Even more stupid: I knew that no one buys books from authors they’ve never heard of, but I somehow believed that I would be different. I would write a book so amazing that people would just be pulled into its gravitational field, and read it because it demanded to be read.

What a dunce.

I had misconceptions about the author life in general, too. I had visions of rolling out of bed any time I felt like it each morning, flush with rest and eager to sit with the page. I imagined I’d pen a book a year, and that a publisher would give me a big, fat advance for that book, so that all my needs were met, and my only worry in life would be, “What trouble should my zany characters get into today?”

I thought I’d have enough money from advances and royalties to buy a multi-acre farm, with a giant house and a lake and an old barn. I guess I figured I could pay someone to maintain all that, too, because I’m not a farmer.

Basically, if you’ve ever seen an author in a film or on television, that’s the life I figured I’d have. That’s what I’d been trained to believe my whole life, after all.

The reality was this: No one cared. No one was going to pay me anything for my work. No one was even going to read my work.

Unless I made them.

And you make them by doing the real work of being an author. You get out there and meet people. You make connections. You build a list of loyal readers who will buy anything you sell. You connect with other authors, editors, agents, publishers, and anyone who knows anything about the industry, and you learn everything you can from them.

And repeat.

Being an author is about being in business. You’re building a brand, you’re creating a product, and you’re marketing both. Sometimes you get lucky and someone wants to help you—a traditional publisher fronts you some cash, takes on some of the overhead, and provides you with some resources. Even then, you’d better get it in your head early that this business is about you, not them. You will still need to think in terms of marketing and promotion, and building relationships with readers, and building relationships with people in the industry. Because if you can’t pay back the advance, and your book isn’t pulling in sales naturally, the publisher will ditch you, and they’ll keep your book, too.

Sorry—I kind of went on a tirade there. But the point is, when I started out I didn’t think of being an author as being in business. And now I do. And coming to that realization is what allowed me to transition to full time.

What’s one thing about your author career that not many people know?

Most of my books started as fantasies I crafted in my head while going about life as a kid, a college student, and eventually as an adult. There are characters, events, and abilities in my books that were born as fantasies I envisioned at night to put myself to sleep when my mind was racing.

Basically, most of my books are bedtime stories I’ve told myself for years.

It’s kind of like cheating.

What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?

The best possible advice is the same advice I was given, though not in so many words: Write anyway, and write every day.

Write anyway, because sometimes things suck. Sometimes you’re tired, and sometimes you have no idea what to put on the page. It sounds trite, but the truth is if you just force yourself to start writing anyway, you’ll break through ‘writer’s block.’ And you can always go back and edit what you wrote to make it better.

Write every day, because that’s how you produce a book in a timely way. Rather than spend two years sipping cognac and sucking on a pipe while wearing a smoker’s jacket contemplating the complexities of life so that you can boil them down into their purest, most concentrated essence, just friggin’ write.

Most of the books on the market right now could have been written in 30 days or less, and I’m not even exaggerating. If you write every single day, you will produce more books, faster. Period.

Also there’s this advice I paraphrase from Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’—Don’t put pressure on your art to make your living.

That one’s tough, because that’s exactly what authors hope to do.

But the gist is that you should think of the art first, not the income. Find a way to balance a day job with doing your art, and if you hate the day job find another source of income you like better. Your art—these stories you’re compelled to tell—is a gift to you and to your readers. If it comes down to it, choose the art over the income. Go make a living making coffee for people and write on your lunch breaks. Go take a job arranging flowers or folding clothes or making sandwiches—as long as you can keep writing.

If your day job is keeping you from writing, don’t wait for the writing to take you away from your day job. Go get a better day job that makes it possible for you to spend more time on writing, and then write every chance you get.

If writing is really going to be your full-time career some day, then it doesn’t matter what jobs you take in the meantime, right?

People hate when I give them this advice, and I totally understand why. I would have hated me for it too, honestly. But it’s the truth.

Look at your reasons for doing this, and ask yourself if you really want to write books because you love telling stories, or do you want it because you think it’s an ‘easy and fun way to make a living?’ Because if it’s the former you’ll write even if you work for someone else, and if it’s the latter you’ll quit the second the work gets too hard. And it will get too hard.

But really, the best advice is to write a book, and then write another, and then repeat until you’re incapable of writing any more.

Is there anything we haven’t asked that you’d like to touch on?

You never asked me where my ideas come from. Or how I craft characters. Or whether I prefer to plot my books or just pants the writing.

Thank you.

I get those questions all the time, and they’re the toughest to answer, because there’s nothing clever about them.

I get my ideas where everyone gets their ideas—I steal them. And I craft characters exactly the same way. And I prefer to pants a book, because plotting seems sinister.

But I think there’s a general question at the heart of this interview, and it’s one that everyone reading this is really asking every single day: How do I do this?

And the answer to that meta-question is so simple it’s disgusting: You just do.

Write every single day. Commit to a word count and hit it, every day. Meet as many authors and editors and publishers and agents as you can, take them to coffee if you can, and ask them every question that you can (do not ask them to read your book, help you get a contract, or help you sell it—just ask them to share what they know, and thank them with coffee and a nice hand-written note).

Read a lot. Write a lot. Learn a lot. And grow.

Share all of what you learn with everyone you meet, and hold nothing at all back.

And don’t wait for anyone else to tell you it’s ok to publish, or it’s ok to pursue your dream.

Just do it. Warts and all. Typos and all. Publish, fix the gaffs when you find them, and republish. And do that over and over again until you have so many books that if a handful of readers discover one, they have a vast forest to explore afterward.

Just be sure you’re writing for the love of it, and the full-time income of this business will be a lot easier to reach.

Amazon: Cut the crap in the Kindle Store

Thanks to Amazon, the chain-link gate around the playground that is publishing has been knocked to the ground. Anyone can come play! Unfortunately, some people are pooping in the sandbox. As a result, the Amazon Kindle Store is dealing with an ebook health crisis and honest, hard-working authors are paying the price.

By sandy fecal matter, I’m talking about the tens of thousands of garbage books out there, stinking up the Kindle store. Scammers are making the headlines yes, but lazy, half-assed authors are the culprits as well. Something needs to be done before our playground is a landfill. Amazon needs to clean out the crap.

Granted, the whole Scamazon issue has caused them to start chuck books, but that should only be the tip of the iceberg (if you want to get an excellent rundown of this issue, check out this post from David Gaughran). Even if Amazon could somehow stamp out every scam, there’s still a metric ton of honest to goodness (let’s call it what it is) shit out there.

The solution is simple: more books in the Kindle Store need to be de-listed.

By incorporating the following system, I believe Amazon could make the Kindle Store better for both readers and authors (many of whom are writing great books that struggle to be seen through the trash). If a book meets all three of the following criteria, it shouldn’t be cluttering up the Amazon store. It should be chucked.

Here’s what I’m proposing: books without an average of one sale per month after two years will be flagged and put on a watch list. If they meet either of the following requirements by year three, they’re gone.

  • Books that have less than one review for every year they’ve been out will be removed. (As I mentioned above, only books that have been published on Kindle for three years or longer will be eligible)
  • There is one exception: if a book has been out 3+ years and has less than a two-star review average, the first rule doesn’t apply. Throw it out!

Obviously, there’s much more that could be done, but this is a start. Before you accuse me of being elitist, this is coming from someone whose first book has been out almost two and a half years with only 12 total reviews. I’m very much (for the time-being, at least) a struggling indie, not some bestseller trying to crap on everyone below me.

The point of this system isn’t to punish good authors who are trying, but to weed out those who are looking to make a quick buck or are simply publishing garbage that no one is reading anyway. Come on Amazon, do your authors a solid here. Cut the crap.

Guest Post: 7 tips for killer book cover design

Intro from D_Sidd: Like it or not, readers judge books by their covers. A cover is the first thing a reader sees and if yours isn’t up to snuff, odds are they’re going to pass your book by. Quality book cover design doesn’t come cheap and the last thing you want to do is write a check for a cover that’s less than stellar. Here’s a few tips to keep in mind from Domi at Inspired Cover Designs.

Right fit for the genre

A lot of authors want to make their cover different from others in the genre, they want something unique. But there are major reasons to stick with genre conventions. If your potential readers don’t immediately recognize the genre of your book by looking at your cover, they will just look somewhere else. This doesn’t mean that your cover can‘t stand out. Take a look at the most successful books on Amazon in your category – what do they have in common, what makes them the right fit for the genre? If you are working with a graphic designer, he will be able to help identify these elements, and work them into your cover. Your cover can still be unique and there are plenty of ways to work with these graphic elements to create an interesting cover.

Less is more

A book cover is packaging, and just like any other packaging, it’s there to grab a potential customer’s attention and tell them what they are buying. Some authors want their cover to show the exact places, objects and characters they created in their book. This can result in a cluttered design which is not effective. Everything which is not necessary to make your customers buy your book must go.

Focus on people

If you don’t know where to start, try focusing on some basic graphic elements which are proven to work. People are drawn to the images of people, which is why they are so often present on book covers. A popular design choice is to leave readers some room for imagination and show characters as silhouettes, or with their faces partially cut out.

Fonts

When deciding the right fonts for your cover, you should consider what is common in your genre. Generally, you can combine one complicated font with one simple font and you should avoid using more than three different fonts on one cover. Contrasting color between the text and the background helps your text stand out.

You may also be unsure about the sizing of the title and your author name. This is a controversial topic. If you are not recognized as an author yet, you will probably want to emphasize the title of your book rather than your author name. However, some authors argue that you should make your author name large anyway, because it gives the impression that you are already successful, and must be worth reading.

Stock photos

You might sometimes see that somebody has used the same stock image as someone else (you might even see many appearances of the same stock image). Don’t worry about using this image if it’s perfect for your book. All you need to do in this situation is to make sure that your book cover looks better and more professional than the other ones using the same stock photo. That way everyone will assume that you were the first one using the image… even if you weren’t.

Productive collaboration with your graphic designer

It’s definitely worth it to spend some time thinking about your book cover before you ask your designer to start working. You should be able to answer questions like:

  • What are the dominant themes of my book?
  • Who is my ideal reader?
  • What is the mood of my book?
  • What existing covers do I like in this genre and why?

These are questions similar to those that a designer will ask when you start working with them. Being able to confidently answer these questions will ensure that your designer is going the same direction as you are.

Promotion

You should think about other ways you can use your book cover to promote the book. You might promote your book on social media, on your personal website, or somewhere else entirely. In all these cases the consistency is the key. The banners you use for promotion should include graphic elements from your cover. That way the readers will know exactly what they’re looking for when they visit your author page on Amazon or elsewhere.

Domi lives in Prague where beer is cheaper than water. She is a graphic designer who spends her days reading, drinking coffee and designing book covers. She enjoys the creative collaboration with authors that creates a beautiful book cover. Domi has her Masters degree in economics and has previously worked in marketing. She also understands the need for solid book promotion and offers promotional graphics to help authors grow their businesses on her website: http://inspiredcoverdesigns.com.

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