The Everyday Author

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

Month: January 2015

How to market your book in 15 minutes

Now that the “Wild West” era of ebooks sales is over, it’s more important than ever for authors to learn how to market their books. But with so many options out there to spread the word about your books, it can feel like an overwhelming task. For Everyday authors, this is multiplied by the fact that we have a very limited amount of time to devote to our writing career. Each day, we’ve got to determine what will be most beneficial for us to do with the few available author hours we carve out. Writing should always take precedence, of course, but there comes a point when, to take a step forward in this business, you’ve got to learn how to market your books. Starting out, that might mean setting a timer to stay within limits. Here’s a few ideas to keep you on a time (and money) budget:

Do something for your mailing list

I know this is pretty broad, but it really depends on where you’re at with your list. If you haven’t created one yet, I’d say that’s your main marketing priority. Although it’s easy to get sucked in and spend hours developing templates and adding sign up forms to your website, don’t get sucked down the rabbit hole. It seems everyone these days is talking about author email marketing (and rightly so) but don’t let that panic you. In the limited time you have, make a list of short, achievable action items to start or continue developing your list.

  • Join a service (many offer free accounts) if you don’t have a list yet.
  • Working on the copy for your newsletter landing page.
  • Make sure a CTA (call to action) for joining your newsletter is in the back (and probably the front) of your books.
  • Making sure your website is a funnel for your newsletter. Every blog post you write should have a sign up at the bottom.
  • Draft a short newsletter to your subscribers ahead of time (it’s always nice to have things like this in the bank).

Once you’ve got a healthy list developed, your marketing will be a WHOLE lot easier. Not saying you can just sit back and relax, but you’ll have more success in the long run if you can go straight to your most dedicated fans with new releases. For advice on this, I recommend reading Supercharge Your Kindle Sales by Nick Stephenson (the first half is on Amazon keywords, the second is on mailing lists). It’s a short read and has a lot of great, actionable advice. Creating and developing a mailing list may sound like daunting work, but if you break it down into manageable chunks, you’ll have subscribers coming signing up in no time.

Pitch book review blogs

It will take a little bit of setup on the back end, but once you’ve created a list of book reviewers you’d like to pitch, shooting them over an email can be a simple five minute job. I recommend saving all of their info like name, email, website, if they’re reviewing your book currently and other notes in a spreadsheet. To start off, you’ll have to do a bit of Googling to find ones that fit your genre (and review indie books if that’s you). At least part of your email pitch (your request for a review) can be a generic paragraph that you send out each time, but make sure to note any special requests the reviewers might have (don’t forget to personalize each one with their name). It’s always good to have an upcoming review or two stashed away for when your sales start to dry up.

Make sure your back and front matter and funnels are up to par

One tactic that I learned from Nick Stephenson’s book (yes, I’m going to mention it again) was to add an email newsletter sign up CTA to the FRONT as well as the back of your books. You want to keep that action fresh on your reader’s minds and often times, readers don’t page through the back matter when they’ve finished the actual story. Another thing can be to analyze your funnels and determine if you’re converting casual readers into buyers. This could mean anything from offering the next book in your series free if they leave a review of the one they just finished, or (like I mentioned above) joining your mailing list if you only have one book out. You never want readers to hit a dead end with their interaction with you.

Tinker with your keywords

This is another one of those things that you can end up spending hours of time on if you’re not careful. Still, just a few keyword changes can put your book in a category with less competition and more room to shine. I’m going to point you in the direction of Supercharge your Kindle Sales again for help on this. (It really is this useful!) Take a look at where you’re ranking in a certain category and then look at the other books alongside yours. Are they similar? Which ones are selling? What other categories are they in that you could take advantage of? Remember though, you’ve got to be patient about this. Don’t play musical keywords just because you aren’t seeing results in the first couple of days.

Read these books

Seriously. And take notes. By the end of this year, I’ll have a large enough catalog that I can start seriously dabbling in marketing. To prepare for that, I’m using my marketing time now to read up on what the best in the business are doing. I know I’m not ready for many of these tactics yet, but I’ll be able to apply the foundational knowledge I’m learning know when it’s time to rock and roll. Note: these are affiliate links but I’ve personally read and recommend each of them.

WRITE MORE BOOKS!

I saved the best and most obvious for last. Until you’ve got an extensive catalog (and even then, you’ve got to continue to produce new stuff), you can’t do anything better to market your books than to write another one. This is even more vital if you’ve only got one or two books out. Algorithms aside, the more places and times readers see your books, the bigger the chance they’ll give them a try. An extra fifteen minutes of writing will soon add up over a week, month and year.

Hugh Howey had ten books out before Wool took off and, as far as I know, didn’t do an ounce of marketing for any of them. Michael Sullivan, a successful hybrid author, gives a good breakdown of how you should be spending your time over the course of your first few books. If you’re wondering where you should be at marketing-wise, read his entire Reddit series we took this from.

  • 1 book released: Divide time 90% writing / 10% promotion
  • 2 book released: Divide time 90% writing / 10% promotion
  • 3 book released: Divide time 50% writing / 50% promotion
  • 4+ books : Divide time 80% writing / 20% promotion

To conclude:

To many authors, marketing may sound like a dirty, sleazy, time-consuming thing. If kept in heel and done right though, it’s really about connecting readers with books they’ll love. It’s also necessary if you want to make writing your career. Don’t worry about trying every new marketing tactic that comes along, just keep your sights on the long haul and do what you can with the time you have.

Your turn! Tell us about your quick and easy marketing tactics in the comments below.

 wpid-imag0065_1-e1410915663557-960x913Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.

Why authors need rituals

Disclaimer: I want to say upfront that, just like everyone else, I struggle to be disciplined and organized enough to develop and stick with rituals. And just like all you other Everyday Authors, everyday life sometimes interferes. The purpose of this post isn’t to leave you feeling like a slacker. On the contrary, it’s to help you realize how developing (or keeping) rituals can help you take advantage of the limited time you have to pursue your craft. Don’t get discouraged if you have a few slip-ups — we all do. Instead of getting down on yourself, resolve to try again tomorrow.

Victor Hugo wrote nude. Hemingway and Virginia Woolf wrote standing up, James Joyce lying on his stomach in bed. Jane Austen had to play the piano first. Whether you’ve got three hours or three minutes a day to be an author, you probably find yourself going through the same basic motions every time you sit down to write. Not only is writing a ritual, but the things you do before and after you write are also rituals. Believe it or not, these little mannerisms make a big difference over the long term. Just like a couple hundred words a day can result in a manuscript, author rituals can be the thing that puts an author’s rear in the seat to start writing in the first place. In the long run, our rituals (no matter how crazy they may be) determine our success. Consistency is the name of the game. But why are writing rituals effective?

They help authors plan and stick to a schedule

Write Your Book reminder on a wall calendarSince I’ve started taking this whole author business seriously, winter has always been my best time to write. Why is that? Because, unlike summer when there’s always something going on, my days are much more monotonous in the winter. On the weekdays, I wake up at six. I’m about of bed by 6:15. Because I live on a farm, I go feed the animals and do other morning chores. When I get back from the barn, it’s usually just before seven. I shower, have breakfast and then sit down to write for thirty minutes to an hour until I have to go to my day job. Once I get home, take care of evening chores and eat dinner, I usually sit down for another hour or two to write, revise or edit. After that, if I’m lucky, I have a few hours to exercise or relax. Right before bed, I turn off my overhead lights and update my work log for the day And then I do it again.

Every weekday, I know what to expect before and after I get home from work. My mind and body are tuned in to these rituals and know what’s expected of them. There’s no guesswork about what I’ll be doing at 7:30 each morning. I’ll be writing. I don’t have to pencil it in, it’s almost always the same. It’s much easier to avoid making excuses not to write because it’s a regular, recurring task I do over and over.

As Steven Pressfield says at the beginning of The War of Art: All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got.

They help authors stay on task

Back to workTrust me, as someone who spends hours on email and social media for my day job, I know all to well how easy it is to get sucked down these rabbit holes. It’s a never-ending battle to resist checking Facebook, Twitter or your inbox. The same can be true about looking at book sales and rankings. If left unchecked, these little distractions can become rituals themselves — ones we definitely don’t want. The good news is if we can sit down in front of our computer with the same agenda day in and day out, it becomes much easier to avoid these distractions. If you think you can’t do it, start small. Promise yourself you won’t check or think about your phone, sales, book store ranking, social media updates or email inbox for five minutes. The next week, make it ten. Pretty soon these things won’t even cross your mind when you’re in “the zone.”

They help authors write with urgency.

5239bf1f-7cd2-4040-96ba-f85d5598050dThe one thing about my morning ritual that helps me more than anything else is knowing how much time I have (or don’t have) to write. Because I have a set schedule, I know at any point in the morning I have x amount of minutes left to write. To keep myself from checking the clock, I’ll usually set a timer to go off on my phone when it’s time to stop. I’ve found I write much faster and clearer when I’m trying to get out as much of a chapter as I can in fifteen minutes. It’s also easier to dive back into a scene when I had to stop my last session right in the middle of it. We tend to fill the amount of time given to us, hence the reason I can pound out 350 words in ten minutes but more often than not take an hour to write 1,000 (almost half as fast).

Because Everyday Authors come from all backgrounds and situations, there are no one-size fits all recommendations for writing rituals. I believe one thing, however, is true across the board: no matter who we are, we all need them in one form or another. Chaos is the sign of an amateur. Rituals, no matter how short or silly they are, help us become professionals.

What are your most effective writing rituals? Tell us in the comments below!

wpid-imag0065_1-e1410915663557-960x913 Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.

Author Origins: Johnny B. Truant

Truant AU

“The Architect” of the Sterling and Stone trio, Johnny B. Truant is also the co-founder of Sterling and Stone’s Realm & Sands imprint and the host of the Self-Publishing Podcast. Before Realm & Sands, Johnny wrote the Fat Vampire series and The Bialy Pimps. Then, co-author Sean Platt convinced him it was way more fun to write collaboratively. Johnny (mostly) agreed, and since then they’ve written a few Harry Potter series’ worth of words together, including co-writing a full novel in thirty days for their “Fiction Unboxed” project. Johnny would love to live in Austin, but is unfortunately stuck in Ohio for the time being.

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

I’ve always wanted to be an author, but there was no practical way to do so when I first started trying to publish in 1999. It was all about a lightning strike back then. Only after meeting Sean Platt (one of my partners) and seeing that he and Dave were doing this in a “do the work, produce and optimize” way that I felt it was possible for real. I’ve just always liked storytelling and am thrilled to be able to do it every day and pleasing fans.

Right now is a very exciting time for us at Sterling & Stone. We produced like mad in 2013, then iteratively improved across our six imprints and larger systems in 2014. 2015 is the year we optimize and begin making it all harmonize and generate the profit we’ve deferred for so long to put our systems in place. There are too many exciting new things coming to list!

What was/is the hardest thing about balancing writing with everyday life and/or a day job?

I never had to do this dance, as I’ve always been self-employed and tend to leap with both feet into whatever I’m doing — not the most secure ways to do things. The closest I had to balancing writing and a day job was when I was still doing my last entrepreneurial venture (online instruction via my old blog) at the same time as writing, but I always had plenty of time and can’t offer very good advice here. I really respect people who can make it work with tighter constraints!

Tell us about your schedule and habits from this time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

My schedule now is pretty set. I write every workday starting at 6am and typically put in 4 hours. After that I either have family stuff (Mondays and Wednesdays I’m in charge of my kids and we usually go do something together) or I move on to whatever non-fiction-writing work I have. Some of this is admin (optimizing product descriptions and detail work) and sometimes it’s blog posts or other less creative writing. We have a few meetings per week and we do our podcasts on Friday. Basically whatever needs to be done other than fiction, which I always do first thing because it’s most important. But aside from that family stuff, I always put in a full and rather packed day.

I don’t work formally on weekends but do sometimes kind of tinker on my laptop, doing things I want to do anyway (it helps that I love my work). I don’t work past 6pm either. Finding that work/life balance is really important to me. But this compacted schedule works for me, and I typically produce 30-40,000 words of rough draft copy per week, plus a bunch of other important things that need doing.

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?

Initial sales were pretty terrible, but increased steadily. It took me a year before I could consider myself full-time as an author, but even then I was being a bit foolhardy and it wasn’t all perfect every month even then but I always made it work. I think I may have had seven or eight books out at the time? I’m not sure; it’s been a whirlwind. But there is definitely a critical mass thing, where you finally have enough out to give you a base. But others could get there faster than I did, with a lot of hard work, if they weren’t so scattered and focused on one genre with one popular series. We’ve always thought long-term and gone wide.

At one 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?

It took a year before I didn’t need an additional (entrepreneurial) source of income, but 1.5 years probably would have been more sensible. It actually didn’t scare me at all because I’m optimistic and always believe a bit too much that all will work out. My wife was far more nervous and stayed that way for quite some time. Only in the past year has she finally relaxed. For me, I just do what I believe. I don’t always think about the possibility that I might fail.

What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? Alternatively, what are some of your other hobbies/interests outside of writing?

Ha, thanks to the Self Publishing Podcast, I imagine there are few things about my career that people don’t know! Outside of writing, I’m fairly athletic and like spending time with my family. We homeschool our kids, so there’s plenty of opportunity for that. But having the career I do, so much blends right into my work — creativity, IMO, doesn’t stop at putting words on the page. Everything about our business is creative and I spend a lot of time “creating” on it, in all forms, in many media.

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?

Focus on shipping work and getting new stuff out. Also focus BIG TIME on building your mailing list and communicating with the fans you already have. Sales do matter, but I’d honestly focus more on the tick-up in your mailing list subscribers early on. If you obsessively watch your sales, you’ll drive yourself nuts and get disheartened easily because sometimes stuff just doesn’t sell at certain times. The three metrics I’d watch would be total words written in rough draft, total works published, and mailing list growth. It might be a good idea to not even CONSIDER any other numbers for six months or more after publishing your first book.

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

I just always like to tell people how hard this is. I know it can be discouraging to hear that, but I think that if you can be discouraged from writing, you probably shouldn’t be an indie author as a career. You have to soldier on when it’s difficult and when nobody is buying or paying attention to you. You have to write when the words don’t come easily. But if you love the craft and keep going, this is the best way to spend your life, for the right kind of person, that I can possibly imagine.

State of the Author: my 2014 review

Although I just did a post on my personal website listing my 2015 author resolutions, after I read this James Clear article I decided it might also be beneficial for me to do an annual review of my progress over the past year. I’m very much still new to the self-publishing game and I want to be transparent with the Everyday Author community about my own progress and struggles. I think by sharing our journeys with one another, we can all become better. With that said, here’s my 2015 State of the Author:

What went well

  • I pounded the keyboard. After reading Write. Publish. Repeat. in January 2014, my entire outlook on writing and self-publishing was changed. For the first two months of the year, I averaged at least 1,000 words a day a minimum of 5x/week. Most of this was accomplished by waking up a half hour or so earlier and writing before work. At the end of February, I was let go from my job and challenged myself to write 2,500 words a day in two 1,250-word blocks. Although my speed slowed a bit (I hit 1,000 words in 45 minutes a couple of times before I upped my word count), I was still able to easily produce 2,500 words in three hours. This allowed me to complete the first draft of Return to Shadow (about 145,000 words) in a little under six months.
  • I knew I could do better. In March, I re-read Out of Exile (my debut novel) and found even after five drafts and a professional edit that I still wasn’t happy with it. As soon as I finished the first draft of Return to Shadow, I did an overhaul of Out of Exile and then had it edited again by a different editor. This took about a month but was well worth it. Although my plot didn’t change dramatically (a few people have commented on the weak plot in reviews), my dialog was more realistic and my writing was sharper when I finished. I learned a a VERY valuable lesson from this process that I shared on my blog when I’d finished the second edition.
  • I (gradually) realized I’m in this for the long haul. When I first published Out of Exile in November 2013 I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting to be bringing in a couple hundred dollar a month on sales. My expectations are more realistic now, but that hasn’t put a damper on my dreams of doing this full-time. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. I’m in control of my own destiny.
  • I hit the books. Most notably On Writing by Stephen King and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. After devoting myself to the study of self-publishing and writing in general, I realize now that I’ve got a lot of work to do. From great teachers such as the Self Publishing Podcast guys (also the authors of Write. Publish. Repeat), Joanna Penn, David Gaughran, Chuck Wendig and many more, I’ve learned how to be a professional writer and I’ve gained a deeper understanding of book marketing. There are a TON of great resources out there if you’re serious about making a living from your writing (see our Amazon slider to the right for a great start).
  • I started an email list. It may sound pompous, but it really is my goal to create the best author newsletter out there. It’s been a trial and error process, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it now. I also started the Everyday Author newsletter this fall. If anyone has tips on how I could make it better, please let me know. If you haven’t yet, be sure to sign up to the right (unless you’re reading this upside down. If so, signup is on the left).
  • I started the Everyday Author. Even though this is still a tiny little blog in a big, wide internet, I’m incredibly proud of it and our budding community. In the coming year, I want to provide you Everyday Authors with even better resources to help you in your quest of becoming a full-time author.
  • I got Undaunted Publishing off the ground. (With lots of help, of course) Like the rest of my 2014 undertakings, Undaunted is still learning to crawl before it can take baby steps, but we’re headed in the right direction, thanks in part to all of the awesome people who are part of the Undaunted team. I’m proud to be able to offer authors a publishing house where they can grow and have the freedom and support they need. If you haven’t been to our site yet, I encourage you to drop by.
  • I attended IndieRecon and IndieRecon Live. Both the online and live versions of these workshops were phenomenal and I applaud everyone who helped with their production. I made a ton of new friends and connections at IndieRecon Live, won a couple of awards and can’t wait for this year’s event. Rumor has it they’re headed to the London Book Fair this year too! If you haven’t attended one of their workshops yet, you need to.

What didn’t go well

  • I didn’t stick with my writing habit after I began editing. Since I’m an indie author on the side, I only have a limited amount of time to devote to writing, editing, formatting, blogging and everything else the job requires. With all of the craziness, I still need to remember that writing is the best thing I can do to further my career. Creating more stories should always be numero uno. After I finished the first draft of Return to Shadow, I went into editing mode and allowed that to consume all of my time. When I did write during that time it was mostly blog posts. They’re important too but shouldn’t take precedence over fiction writing.
  • I put too much on my plate. Really, this one could cover the rest of my what didn’t go well list. Running derekalansiddoway.com, undauntedpublishing.com, everydayauthor.com and editing flickhit.com was way too much. On top of that, I decided to start a serial with a buddy of mine. Although the first episode of the Freelance Tales is up, we published it nine months and three missed deadlines later than intended (and it’s only just over 10,000 words, haha). Worse yet, we aren’t in place to consistently publish future installments fast enough. Episode Two is in the works and will be up in a month or two. In serial terms, however, three months between publications is a lifetime and completely unacceptable.
  • I didn’t take enough time to read fiction. Not consistently, anyway. Whenever I read a book for enjoyment in 2014, I did it in big gulps that threw my schedule and sleep all out of wack. It’s important to me that I read for recreation, both for my sanity and my craft, but I need to do it at a much more balanced pace.
  • Web design. Although I’m happy with the layouts on Derek Alan Siddoway, Undaunted and here, what you see is the result of hundreds of wasted dollars. This wasn’t the designer’s fault, it was because I was trying to reinvent the wheel when it wasn’t necessary. Rather than shelling out $30 for a clean, responsive theme to start with, I commissioned these big elaborate sites that looked awful on mobile and were just plain cluttered.
  • Social Media. I did an abysmal job being consistent and engaging with Undaunted’s Twitter account (which also functions as The Everyday Author’s right now). On my author Facebook page, I wasted $50 on Facebook ads thinking that more likes would turn into sales. Looking back now, I can see how foolish that was. The good news (see above) is that I learned my lesson and began to build a mailing list before I spent more money on social advertising.
  • Commas. For real. I was really pleased to see how few copy edits I had to make when my editor sent back Return to Shadow, but I really suck at commas. I need to polish up my punctuation in 2015.

What I plan to do in 2015

This year I’m planning on simplifying while reaching for another gear at the same time. I’m going to be big and small. I’m going to do better at delegating for Undaunted and The Everyday Author. I have to remember my number one task is to write books. I’m going to be mindful of how many new projects I take on. I’m also going to work on my outlining and plotting to create better, tighter stories. Instead of starting the next installment in my saga, I’m going to write three novellas at around 30k each and also finish the first season of The Freelance Tales which is about 60k words. I realize this is actually more writing than I undertook in 2014, but I hope by breaking it up into smaller projects I can hone my craft and become a better storyteller. Once I complete these books, I’ll have a catalog big enough to big marketing seriously. All in all, I’m excited to get back to work. 2014 was good to me and I know 2015 will be even better.

Happy Writing!

Now it’s your turn. In the comments below, let us know what went well (and what didn’t) last year in your writing career. What are you going to do different this year?

wpid-imag0065_1-e1410915663557-960x913 Derek Alan Siddoway ( D_Sidd) always thought he wanted to be a paperback writer. Instead, he broke into the self-publishing world in 2013 when he realized there had to be a better use of his time than writing queries to agents. Converted by the fellowship of indie authors, he never looked back. Now, he’s the Founding Father of Undaunted Publishing, a hybrid publishing house combining the best of traditional and self publishing, and the author of Teutevar Saga, an epic/historical fantasy series with a “medieval western” twist. Learn more at derekalansiddoway.com.

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