The Everyday Author

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

Year: 2016 (page 2 of 3)

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.

Author Origins: Mark Lawrence

Mark_Lawrence_bioMark Lawrence is married with four children, one of whom is severely disabled. He now writes full-time. Formerly he was a research scientist focused on various rather intractable problems in the field of artificial intelligence. He has held secret level clearance with both US and UK governments. At one point he was qualified to say ‘this isn’t rocket science … oh wait, it actually is’.

Between writing and caring for his disabled child, Mark spends his time playing computer games, tending an allotment, brewing beer, and avoiding DIY.

He has two trilogies in print, The Broken Empire, starting with Prince of Thorns, and The Red Queen’s War starting with Prince of Fools, concluding in June with The Wheel of Osheim. The first book in the Red Sister trilogy is due for publication in 2017.

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

I’m Mark Lawrence, fantasy author. I never really decided to be an author, I just wrote books for fun, and when I got ‘bullied’ into sending one to an agent I rapidly got a publishing deal. Currently I’m finishing off my eighth book and I stopped having a day-job a year ago.

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

Without wishing to sound obnoxious, I didn’t find anything hard about writing while having a day job. If they hadn’t closed down the entire research department I would probably still be there. To write a 100,000 word book in a year you only need to write 300 words a day. I can easily write 300 words in half an hour.

Writing while not having a day job is even easier. I guess the hardest thing is not letting Facebook and twitter eat my day. Weep for me.

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 don’t really have a schedule or habits other than those imposed on me. Most of my time was taken up with work and looking after my very disabled youngest daughter. I did my writing when she went to bed. If I don’t feel like writing then I don’t. Fortunately, most of the time I opt for writing over the alternatives.

I’ve always been very relaxed about writing – it’s something I did for enjoyment, and I still enjoy doing it. I’ve never sweated over a piece of fiction.

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?

I was lucky enough to be published by big six (five) publishers (Penguin and Harper Collins) and by imprints that focus on a small number of authors (Ace and Voyager. Their releases tend to generate a decent amount of buzz and they have the clout to get their titles in bookshops. Additionally some elements in the online genre community did me the enormous favour of getting outraged by my first book and writing the sort of scathing reviews that generate great interest (I don’t think anyone ever believes they will sink someone’s career with outrage). So I had traction from day 1.

At what point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author?

I had enough income to quit my day job but no great inclination to do so. The entire 200-strong advanced research department at the aerospace giant I worked for was axed out of the blue in an internal political move. So now I’m full time.

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?

Just writing. A great many authors on the shelves of any high street bookshop will need a day-job to keep the lights on. I’m very lucky that my decent sales (a million books in five years) and modest life-style mean that I can support my family on my writing income.

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

I never did think I would become a full-time author and it was never my goal. I never thought about writing in terms of quitting or not quitting because I wasn’t writing to achieve some goal – I was writing because I enjoyed it. If I stopped enjoying it I would have stopped doing it, with no sense of guilt or failure. I would have called it starting whatever replaced it rather than quitting writing.

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

Some people seem surprised that I don’t listen to my audio books … it’s a medium that doesn’t work for me, so I’ve never listened to more than the first couple of minutes of the first book.

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?

Again this question feels odd to me because it’s coming from a very different mind-set. I had the luxury of a job I enjoyed. As a child I wanted to be a research scientist. As an adult I was one. Making money from writing wasn’t a goal.

I could say to write for its own sake. If you enjoy writing then whether you’re published, or sell widely is just a bonus. The truth is that the vast majority of people who write will make very little money from it, so to me it’s sensible to only do what makes you happy writing-wise and if you luck out, great. Other people have very different approaches.

The epic post on how to succeed as an author

Disclaimer: As you may have guessed from the title, this post is humongous, so here’s the short version: Want to know how to succeed as an author? Write more, better books.

There. You can leave now. Go write a book. Get to work. But if you’ve got a few minutes to kill, proceed to the epicness below.

How to succeed as an author

It seems that as publishing continues to grow and evolve in our modern day, everyone is looking for (or selling) courses, books and services to help you shortcut your way to the top. The problem is compounded by the fact that what worked for Author A today might not work for Author B tomorrow. Let’s face it: growing your writing and authorness into a full-time or even decent part-time paycheck isn’t easy. There’s no straight, proven shot to success. Or is there?

Marketing strategies and tactics will continue to change and evolve, but as time goes on, I’m more convinced than ever that there’s really only one thing that matters. Are you ready? Lean in close and pretend you didn’t read the answer in the disclaimer.

Write more, better books.

I’ve just divided everyone reading this. Half of you are nodding your heads and the other half are probably ready to leave something in the comments about “getting discovered and increasing visibility” or something like that. I confess, I’ve hopped back and forth over that fence myself. But three months into my journey as a self-published author, I realized I was going to have to write A LOT of books (thanks to the Write. Publish. Repeat guys and Hugh Howey for this epiphany). The aforementioned sources made one thing clear: I couldn’t take another five/six years dabbling on my next manuscript if I was serious about making a living as an author.

Hugh Howey famously advocates sitting your rear in a chair and writing for ten years before you determine if this is for you or not. I see this as sort of a trial by fire. If you spend ten years writing books and making each of those books better, you can’t help but improve. And, if you spend ten years chasing this crazy dream, it’s a pretty safe bet to say you’ve got the willpower to spend the rest of your life producing. If you want to make sure you know what you’re getting into, check out this post by Howey: So you want to be a writer?

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some numbers

What are successful authors doing: the study

Last month, Written Word Media released a study of over 19,000 authors. They wanted to know what separates the “emerging authors” making > $500/month from the “financially successful authors” making < $5000/month. I recommend checking out their full report but for our purposes here, I’m going to touch on just one of the three findings they published. What do you think it as?

That’s right. Financially successful authors write more.

One more time. FINANCIALLY SUCCESSFUL AUTHORS WRITE MORE.

How much more? Almost twice as many books on the financially successful authors’ backlist (an average of 13.75 vs. 7.4 with the emerging group) and almost twice as many hours spent per week writing (16 for emerging authors and 31 for the financially successful). Not only do they write more, but the successful authors have been doing it longer (greater than three years vs. emerging who were all less than three years). At the end of the day, production is king. Scratch that. Production is emperor. If you’ve only got an hour each day to work on your author business, I’d argue that you should squeeze out every last second of it writing. Not just any writing will do, though.

That’s not writing — that’s typing

Excuse the Truman Capote reference, but you can’t just spend years banging on a keyboard with no thought about upping the ante with your prose, your plotting, your characterization or anything else. You can’t just write MORE books you have to write more BETTER books.

Last week, I read a great post from James Clear about staying the course and being consistent in your efforts. He also touches on Malcolm Gladwell’s famous 10,00 hours rule with one important distinction.

As Clear points out in his article, hundreds of thousands of people have likely put in 10,000 hours of writing through email. What’s the difference between them and a brilliant novelist whose prose drops your jaw and transports you into his story? Clear calls it re-work: “Average employees write emails once. Elite novelists re-write chapters again and again,” he says.

Re-work in our case is rewriting and revising. Taking that pile of first draft crap and shining it until it’s a diamond. To quote Clear again: “A lot of people put in 10,000 hours. Very few people put in 10,000 hours of revision.”

A lot of authors write a couple of “meh” books. Very few authors consistently produce books year after year all the while improving their craft. More from Howey:

“You’ll revise it to perfection and delete the bad parts. The key is to have something down to work with. So learn to fail. Keep going. Ignore the sales of existing works. Ignore the bad reviews. Keep reading, writing, practicing, and daydreaming.”

This isn’t just for self-published authors, either. If you’re going the traditional route, you might have to crank out ten books before you even get one that is picked up by a publisher. Sitting around shopping that first book for years on end doesn’t really help your writing skill. Sure, that book might get a little better and you might improve a bit, but it’s nothing compared to completing the process all over again from start to finish. Kameron Hurley sums this up perfectly in a post on her site called Finish your Sh*t. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’m constantly aware of my own mortality, and I have so many, many stories left to write before I go. If you want to be the best at what you do, you have to keep learning, and keep leveling up. I’m never content to stay in one place.”

Staying in one place doesn’t just mean not writing. It can also mean writing at the same level over and over. You’ve got to push your boundaries. More BETTER books.

In a post called the Calculus of Grit (hat tip James Clear for including this reference in his article above), Venkatesh Rao talks about a theory he calls the Three Rs. They go as follows: reworking (in our case, revising), referencing, and releasing. We’ve already discussed reworking and, for the sake of time, I’m going to skip referencing and go straight into releasing. Here’s what Rao has to say about that:

“If the environment is so murky and chaotic that you cannot strategically figure out clever moves and timing, the next best thing you can do is just periodically release bits of your developing work in the form of gambles in the external world. I think there’s a justifiable leap of faith here: if your work admits significant reworking and internally-referencing, you’re probably on to something that is of value to others.

“If a post happens to say the right thing at the right time, it will go viral. If not, it won’t. All I need to do is to keep releasing. This realization incidentally, has changed my understanding of phenomena like iteration in lean startups and serial entrepreneurs who succeed on their fifth attempt. It’s mostly about averaging across risk/opportunity exposure events, in an environment that you cannot model well.”

This applies directly to writing books too. When it comes down to it, the publishing environment today is “murky and chaotic.” Realizing there are thousands of factors you have to figure into author success, producing a bigger, better catalog is the one thing you have within your control. Marketing and advertising will change and evolve but having lots of good writing available for readers is your ace in the hole if you’re shooting for full-time.

There’s a reason Hugh Howey and countless others didn’t find success until they had several books published. Keep on keeping on, writers. Keep writing more better books.

Guest Post: There and Back Again — Michael Fletcher

It’s the oldest story in the world, boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy gets a book published with a Big-5 publisher, publisher decides to pass on the sequel, girl tells boy maybe it’s time he got a job.

Maybe I should back up.

Back in 2014 Harper Voyager bought my dark fantasy novel, Beyond Redemption . It came with a fairly sweet advance (at least for an unknown author) and the book went on to sell translation rights to German, Polish, and Russian publishers. While I certainly wasn’t rolling in money, the book made enough that I could afford to work part-time and focus on my writing. As Beyond Redemption was bringing in amazing reviews (starred and boxed review from Publishers Weekly, rave reviews from BookList, the Library Journal, and a host of indie book reviewers) I decided to gamble and write the sequel.

In a twelve month period I wrote and edited two novels totalling over 270,000 words. The first was a direct sequel to Beyond Redemption, the second an unrelated story taking place in the same world. With all the amazing reviews I was confident the publisher would pick up both novels and I looked forward to another year of part-time work and more writing. In fact, if the advances on these two novels were the same as the first and both sold translation rights, it was entirely possible I wouldn’t need a day job at all. Things were tight but I had a plan and my amazing wife supported me chasing my dreams.

And then in late October I heard from the publisher that sales of Beyond Redemption were far lower than expected and at that time they were unwilling to make an offer on the next books.

F@*!

Let’s talk numbers. The book was published June 16th, 2015. Between then and late October the book sold ~750 copies. The publisher wanted to see sales closer to 2,500 copies. Clearly I was well short of that. Harper Voyager suggested we reconvene in the new year and see how sales were then. At that point I went on a mad publicity drive doing guest posts, interviews, and Q&As anywhere that would have me. I’ve talked about this elsewhere so I’ll cut it short. When we talked again in January the sales were sitting around 1,700. While my publicity push had definitely helped, the sales were still well below what HV wanted. They passed on the two books I’d spent the last year writing, wished me the best of luck, and said they would be very interested in seeing more work from me (unrelated to Beyond Redemption) in the future.

It was a kick in the gut. All of a sudden I was sitting there with two written books and no income beyond a part-time job that wasn’t making nearly enough to live off.

The first thing I did was get extremely drunk. For about a week. Maybe longer. I just know that there was an empty 40 oz Jameson bottle in the recycling box every week for a while alongside all the usual wine and beer empties. Ok. It might have been a month.

I might be ‘new’ at this, but what that means is that I’ve only been writing for seven years. And in seven years any serious writer amasses a truly staggering amount of rejection. I collected over one hundred rejection letters before I sold my first short story. It was two years of chasing agents and publishers before I landed a small Canadian publisher for my first novel, 88. Was I really going to let this stop me? Hell, I’d sold a book to a big-5 publisher! Beyond Redemption wound up on fifteen best-of-2015 lists! Apparently I could write at a professional level!

Putting away the whiskey I had a chat with my agent. She said that while the other big-5 publishers would pass on my novels for the same reason Harper Voyager passed, there were a number of excellent mid-level publishers who might be interested in a sequel to book that had by this point sold over 2,000 copies. We spent a two months writing and tweaking proposals, and now we’re shopping both books to a list of about a dozen publishers. It’s early days (it’s only been two weeks) so it’s too early to know if there will be interest. In the meantime I’ve begun work on another fantasy novel that has nothing to do with Beyond Redemption.

Things didn’t go the way I wanted, but no one ever said this was going to be easy. If you’re going to fold the first time shit goes sideways, you’re in the wrong biz. If the mid-level publishers don’t bite, I’ll self-publish which will be a whole new adventure, one I must say both terrifies and excites me.

If I may be so bold as to offer one piece of advice: Don’t write your sequel until there’s demand.

If you’re curious to hear the next chapter, I can check back in a few months with an update.

Cheers, folks!

Is traditional publishing the new vanity publishing?

Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t intend to crap on traditional publishing or further beat the dead horse of traditional vs. self-publishing. The purpose of this article is to discuss a trend I’ve witnessed firsthand among aspiring authors. There are good and bad reasons for pursuing any type of publishing. It sucks being at the bottom of either ladder. How you choose to publish isn’t wrong, but why you pick a particular route definitely can be. That said, let’s begin.

The publishing industry is changing — not exactly breaking news. The institutional gatekeepers of yesteryear are fading and the pie has been cut into millions of tiny slices. Many of us are scrambling just to get some crumbs from the crust. But one thing remains the same: the blissful ignorance and vain imaginations of many aspiring authors.

Through interactions via email, social media and various conferences, I’ve been surprised by how little these acolytes understand about how the publishing business really works. Sure, they’ll be the first to point out the uphill battle they face but the next words out of their mouths are usually some variation of “I won’t get discouraged, though, because [insert name of filthy rich author superstar] got rejected X amount of times before [insert name of filthy rich author superstar’s bestselling book/series] got a publishing deal.”

I’m a pretty optimistic guy with dreams of my own I don’t want crapped on, so at this point in the conversation, I usually smile and ask them how long they’ve been pitching their book. Responses vary, but I usually follow that up with “have you ever though about self-publishing?”

Most of the time, the answer is no. Here’s a sampling of the responses I get when I ask why:

  • “I want to be a real author.”
  • “I don’t want to sell just ebooks, I want paperback and hardcover copies as well.”
  • “I don’t want to do anything other than write.”

You get the idea.

What many of them don’t realize is that the scenario they’re imagining is vastly different than the reality they’ll face as a debut author. The dream they’re imagining is exactly the same thing vanity publishers have painted for gullible author-hopefuls for years. The irony is that these acolytes will still turn up their noses and sneer at vanity-published authors without realizing they’re pretty much getting the same raw deal.

With the list above in mind, let’s look at the facts behind traditional…er, I mean vanity publishing for new authors:

  • Authors are validated by “real” books that are in print, not those fake digital things.
  • Publishers take a large percentage of royalties and do little, if any promotion for the author and his/her book.
  • No advances are given.
  • A lot of hoopla is made at the time of publication and then…nothing.
  • Distribution to bookstores is limited.
  • Contracts are structured in favor of the publisher, not the author.
  • Books (especially those fake ebooks) are often extremely overpriced.
  • Authors are dropped as soon as their books stop selling. (Although in no way do I consider Michael Fletcher part of the vanity trend, this recently happened to him: read about his experience and the aftermath.)
  • Even after choosing to to pick up the option for the next book, rights to the first work often remain with the publisher.

To be fair, I don’t think any traditional publisher charges authors at any level to publish their book with them (at least to my knowledge) like vanity publishers are infamous for. [UPDATE: since we published, Churck Wendig wrote THIS awesome article about how much writers should pay to be published. Check it out] I would make the argument your contract is likely costing you money, though, — especially if you’re “one and done” when your books doesn’t sell like planned. If you don’t believe me, sit down and make a list of what a publisher really does for their 80+ percent of the royalty haul. It’s not as much as you think.

Things get worse when you realize hallowed, prestigious bestseller lists like the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and New York Times are often gamed by wealthy “authors” buying (or arranging to have bought) vast quantities of their book to push them up the charts.  The so-called honor of being a NYT Bestseller equates in many cases to who wrote the biggest check. The system is biased and flawed internally, designed to play up to the VANITY of people who pay to have their ghostwritten books hit the chart. (To be clear, I’m not discounting the mighty feat achieved by those who got their books on one of these lists the honest way.)

The bottom line:

Know what you’re really getting and what it’s going to cost you to get it. Both sides of publishing have unique offerings and challenges. Signing your life away to legitimize and stroke your writing ego is a mistake. Going the traditional route just because it’ll validate you as a “real” author with a “real” book is an awful career move. Check out the Authors Earning Report here for evidence of that. Still not convinced?

You’re so vain.

How to get book reviews: Book Review 22

It’s a conundrum that’s frustrated authors since books were first sold on the Internet: you can’t sell books without reviews and you can’t get reviews without selling books. The question of how to get book reviews is more vexing than the old chicken and egg scenario. What are we supposed to do then?

If you’re like me, you’ve scraped together a handful of reviews through a variety of tactics: dancing naked beneath the quarter moon in March, begging your mailing list and offering up a second book free in exchange for a review of another. There’s only one catch with the aforementioned moves (aside from the moon dance, that is): you’ve got to have an audience already in place to gain a lot of traction. Now we’re back where we started — how am I supposed to get an audience if no one will read my books because they don’t have any reviews? To be or not to be? That’s not the question for authors. We want to know  how to get book reviews. In just a second I’ll tell you the solution I found.

There’s one or two other things you may have tried, such as scouring the web for book reviewers that have reviewed books similar to yours. (Check out another great post we did about this: Go Pitch Yourself: A case for indie author public relations). Maybe you hired a “publicist” or “Book PR company” to do this for you. Either way, an email was sent about your book and now you’re in a line of to-be-read titles longer than Disneyland during spring break. Worse still, you probably spent countless hours combing through blogs, gathering email addresses and filling out contact forms for bloggers (or paid a so-called publicist or maybe an author assistant to handle this chore). This is precious time spent away from WRITING, which is what you’d rather be doing anyway.

Trust me, I’ve been in this boat — long enough they’re starting to call me the captain.

As an author living in this amazing era of publishing, it astounded me that there wasn’t a better solution out there. As a public relations professional by day, it made me sick to my stomach that “publicists” were charging authors an arm and a leg to write a worthless press release and blast it out to bloggers. (Here’s a little secret: bloggers could care less about press releases.)

On the flip side, I saw how many bloggers were being flooded with books. Not just great books or even good books, either. I started doing my homework and found out bloggers were getting review requests in droves. Many of the books inquiring authors wanted them to review were one of the following:

  • NOT in the genre the reviewer read
  • NOT professionally edited or even proofread
  • NOT finished

In short, bloggers everywhere are pulling their hair out because their inboxes are flooded with crappy books they don’t want to read. This makes it really hard for YOUR book to stand a chance.

Until now, that is.

Book Review 22 Logo FINAL

The results of my research led me to combine my two passions and careers (publishing and public relations) into a new company called Book Review 22. Book Review 22 makes the book review process awesome — for both authors and reviewers. It’s how you get book reviews made simple.

Instead of wasting HOURS of time researching, digging through search results for book blogs, authors fill out a short form with us and we get their books into the hands of reviewers who actually give a rat’s rear end  about reading and reviewing their book. We pitch your book for you to our extensive database of book reviewers and bloggers, leaving you time to do important stuff, like write (you can continue the moon dance if you REALLY want to, I guess). Check out how here.

On the flip side, we work with reviewers to condense all those emails they’re getting into one simple list every few weeks. We help weed out the garbage and make it easy for them to 1. Scan the book cover and synopsis (if a book wasn’t ready to be published, you can often tell from these two things) 2. By partnering with Bookfunnel, we’ve also made it a breeze to download a copy of the book. Reviewers only get pitched for books they actually want to read. What a novel concept! Here’s how it works.

I would have KILLED for a service like this when I started publishing two years ago. After a year of development I’m still just as excited about it: a simple way for authors and reviewers to work together in a win-win relationship.

We’re off the ground and pitching books right now. In the coming months, we’ve got a whole slate of ideas to make this service even better for authors and reviewers. For now, why don’t you give us a test run? Let Book Review 22 pitch your book and you can get back to the stuff that you really care about: writing books.

Author Origins: Brian Rathbone

author origins brian rathboneBrian Rathbone is a bit odd. Fitting in has never really been his thing. He tried it once — it didn’t work out; neither did high school. After getting his GED and leaving the life of a professional horse trainer, Brian went to work at a nuclear plant, and then a convenience store, a gas station, a pizzeria and eventually in the mailroom of a commodities trade company. After discovering computers in the early 1990’s and doing consulting work for companies like Lockheed Martin, Dale Earnhardt Inc., and Joe Gibbs Racing, Brian moved up to Voice President of Research and Development for a medium-sized Internet company. Later in his technology career, Rathbone helped expand broadband Internet access into rural areas as part of a stimulus funded broadband planning grant awarded to the North Carolina State Broadband Initiative.

During much of this entire adventure, Brian was an avid reader of fantasy fiction. For years he’d known he would eventually write his own stories — he even told his wife he would someday write fantasy novels on their first date. It took many years of thinking about writing novels before he got the opportunity to act on it. After a couple false starts, he found himself at a career crossroad. While sitting in the Atlanta airport on a 2-hour layover, Brian finally committed himself to writing. He wrote the first chapter of Call of the Herald that day and has been at it ever since.

The first trilogy in the Godsland fantasy series is The Dawning of Power. The ebook is just $0.99 on Amazon Kindle, and with the purchase of the ebook the audiobook is just $1.99!

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.

Hi, everybody! I’m Brian Rathbone, a successful self-published writer with a good chance of soon becoming a hybrid author, who is both self-published and traditionally published. I’ve always had a deep love of fantasy fiction and decided as a teenager that I would someday write my own books. When I worked in technology and programming, I would have difficulty shutting my mind off at night and would debug code in my sleep. Sometimes I fixed real problems this way, but it was exhausting. I began thinking about my stories I would someday write. When I finally got the chance to write, I had fifteen years of thinking into it. I couldn’t type fast enough — still can’t.

It took me a decade to succeed as a self-published writer, but now I am able to write full-time. It’s not always easy, but I am living my dream.

What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job. What’s still the hardest thing to balance with everyday life?

Time and money. When I had a day job, I had plenty of money to provide a robust marketing budget but not enough time to make effective use of that money. Now that I am full-time writer, I have the time but fewer financial resources than I did. I anticipated two years to make the career change, and a year and a half into it, it’s working out about right.

All the nights, weekends, vacation days and sick days I spent writing have finally paid off.

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

I’m currently busier than I’ve ever been before, but it’s all good stuff. I recently finished writing my eleventh novel, which is the first I’ve intended for traditional publishing in eight years. I queried an agent I met at a convention and am waiting patiently for a response. In the meantime, I am outlining the fourth and final trilogy in the Godsland fantasy series. I’ve also been working on some collaborative novels, two of which are in the final stages of editing. I’ve been planning a Kickstarter fundraiser for these books for a couple years, and it’s all coming together. My voice artist has six novels in his que and I’ve been proofing those as they come in.

Just in case I was getting bored, I recently had a non-fiction writing project offered to me. It’s broadband related, which allows me to tap my passion for technology and utilize my writing skills in a way that will actually help people.

I also occasionally tell a bad dragon joke on Twitter.

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 started out heartbreakingly slow. It was 2007, and eBooks weren’t what they are today. I had finished my first trilogy but failed to attract an agent or publisher. I decided to run an offset print run myself, which was a huge mistake. I did lots of things wrong and risked $7,500, but I believed in myself. It took me three years to make my money back.

Eventually I discovered Mobipocket, which was the dominant ebook retailer at the time. The Dawning of Power became the best selling epic fantasy on Mobipocket for the better part of two years. I was hooked. Once the Kindle changed the world and absorbed Mobipocket, I continued to make a solid part-time income from my writing. Releasing the second trilogy and the audiobooks solidified my sales, and the release of the third trilogy made it possible for me to go full-time.

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?

I wanted to write full-time for years before I got to do it. It was very difficult managing my time and family life against my writing and publishing work, which was a full-time venture in itself. My wife and I decided we needed certain savings and safeguards in place before I made the leap. When the federal grant I was working on ended as scheduled, I had the opportunity to make a clean break. I couldn’t resist. It hasn’t always been easy, but I don’t regret a thing.

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 can live off my fiction royalties alone, but I also write non-fiction and computer code when the opportunity arises. For example, I wrote software for the furniture manufacturing industry back in 2005-2008, and it has been running eight or nine factories ever since. There is a good chance if you bought a sofa, recliner, ottoman, or ‘lift chair’ in the US in the last decade, my software was used when cutting the wooden parts. Every once in a while those factories need something tweaked or added and I put my programmer hat on. It’s fun as long as I don’t have to do it all the time.

What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? What are some of your interests outside of writing?

People told me to give up writing for years — even people who love me or are dear friends. I almost gave up a hundred times, but I just couldn’t give up. I knew it was something I was supposed to do. I persisted even though it made people think I was nuts and put pressure on a number of my relationships. There were a lot of sacrifices, but it has finally paid off. It’s a good thing, or I would be in the dog house for years!

I love racing. If it moves, chances are I tried to race it at least once, but mostly I raced horses, motorcycles, and cars. I never went pro as a harness driver, but I did win a number of amateur horse races in my younger years. Later in life I adopted online stock car racing, which is a good bit safer. I won an online racing championship in 2007 after four years of trying. People laugh, but it was among the hardest things I ever pulled off and something I’m very proud of.

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 give up. Building up a residual income through royalties takes time, but it is by it’s very nature residual, which means I now get paid even if I don’t work. Granted I earn more when I release new work and when I put effort into marketing, but I still get paid even when I don’t do those things. It’s been almost a year since I’ve released a book or have done any work that contributed directly to the bottom line and I’m not homeless.

Focus on producing lots of quality content and building your audience. Content is king and visibility is queen. I give away series starters as eBooks and audiobooks and use bad dragon jokes on Twitter to drive traffic to them.

I wrote a book about how I built my audience for anyone interested. It’s also free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Guest Post: How Scrivener Changed My Writing Process

Note from D_Sidd: First of all, apologies for the awful (but still awesome) Scrivener meme above. When Matt told me he was writing a book about how to use Scrivener, the first thing I asked him was what I could to do help promote it. Scrivener has been an instrumental part of my growth and early success and as an author, much like it has with Matt. If Scrivener (and Matt’s book, Scrivener Superpowers) weren’t amazing tools to help you achieve your author goals, we wouldn’t waste your time talking about them. Now, here’s Matt!

We each experience a few moments in our lives where the precise details—the place and time, the physical sensations—are indelibly imprinted on our memories.

I’ve only had a a couple of those in my life as a writer. One was the moment I decided that I was going to become a writer (college, early morning, alone and cold in the big house on Broadway).

The other was when I discovered Scrivener.

The Moment Everything Changed

I was sitting on a leather couch in my studio apartment on the east side of Austin, TX. It was an unusually warm winter night in January, so I had the door propped open. With my Macbook Air in my lap, I agreed to a thirty-day free trial and launched Scrivener for the first time.

I remember that I was irritated because the material covering the couch cushions had begun to peel off. Little pieces of black pleather stuck to my skin. I also recall that my irritation vanished when the I opened the novel template that comes with Scrivener and saw how they broke a story out in the Binder so that each scene had its own document.

My heart began to race. I copy pasted in the short story I had been tinkering with, and separated each scene into its own document in the Manuscript folder. Then I did a simple task that changed how I approached writing forever: I added the missing scenes to the Binder.

From that moment forward, nothing was the same.

The Benefits of Scrivener

I finished that story then several more. The I wrote a novel.

I know there’s a lot more to good writing than using a piece of software. There’s also an understanding of craft, hard work, and relentless focus. But Scrivener changed my process so radically in such a short period of time that I still count is as a determining factor in my journey from wannabe writer to published author.

There’s a lot that’s great about the program. Here are the key advantages:

 

  • It’s versatile. Scrivener’s interface is so customizable that it works for writers all over the world with wildly different processes. No matter how you write — fast or slow, from start to finish or out of order, plotter or pantser—Scrivener has a set of features that will help you get your work done.
  • It helps you stay organized. Keep all your files, research, drafts, and notes in one place. I love the corkboard, which provides a digital storyboarding space. And the hierarchical Binder allows you to organize your documents into subfolders within a single Project.
  • It helps you structure. This is the part that made such a huge difference for me. Scrivener taught me how to structure a story by scene. And when I need to restructure a story, it’s as easy as drag and drop.
  • It compiles to digital formats. When you’re done writing, you can compile your manuscript to Microsoft Word, PDF (for print versions), or publishable ebooks with just a few clicks. For self-publishers, this alone is a game changer.

 

Scrivener Superpowers

Not everyone experiences a light bulb moment like I did. Some people come to Scrivener slowly, or with much resistance. Learning a new piece of software and changing your process can be hard.

That’s why I wrote Scrivener Superpowers, a guide to using Scrivener to take a manuscript from concept to completion. Not only do I show you the important features of the software using screenshots and simple instructions, but I’ll show you how to integrate those features into your creative writing process—whatever yours looks like.

The book also includes exclusive interviews with successful authors like Joanna Penn, Garrett Robinson, and Rachel Aaron, my own novel template, and a slew of other resources.

Head over to ScrivenerSuperpowers.com to learn more.

matt-baba-square-round-transparentMatthew Gilbert (MG) Herron writes nonfiction about the intersection of technology and creativity. He also writes science fiction thrillers. His first novel, The Auriga Project, was published in 2015. Matt has earned his bread as a river guide, pita roller, and digital project manager. These days, he makes a living as a content strategist consulting with tech startups and creative agencies across the United States. When he’s not bending words to his will, Matt organizes Indie Publishing Austin, a local Meetup for writers and authors. He also likes to climb mountains, throw a frisbee for his Boxer mutt, Elsa, and travel to expand his mind. He graduated from McMaster University in 2009 with a Bachelor of the Arts in English Literature. Now he lives in Austin, TX.

Website: mgherron.com
Twitter: @mgherron
Facebook: facebook.com/mgherronauthor
Email: matt@mgherron.com

Authors: it’s okay that no one gives a $@#!

Sometimes the hardest thing about being an everyday author is putting in the work when you realize hardly anyone is going to read or appreciate your finished book. While this can make it hard to keep on keeping on, writing book after book for what seems like nothing, it’s probably for your own good. There’s a reason you need to do your practice reps in relative confinement. Here’s why:

1. Because you suck.

Most writers spend their budding years lauded with praise from teachers, professors, classmates, friends and family. Getting out into the big wide world, however, we soon learn we’re not so special after all. Just like with any other talent, out in the real world there are plenty of people just as good (and better) than us. What we once thought was great writing might be mediocre at best. There’s a good chance your skill isn’t ready for the big leagues for a few years.

2. Because you’re not ready to succeed.

Although everyone has their own unique writing process, most writers take years to hone in on what works best for them. Starting out, you’ve probably got some bad habits to work through. It takes experimentation to figure out how you write best — lots of trial and error. There’s always the slim chance you write a hit straight out of the gates, but if you don’t understand how story works — how you did it — how are you going to replicate or sustain that success?

3. Because you can do whatever you want.

I’m going to hand the mic over to Austin Kleon in Steal Like an Artist to answer this one:

“… you want attention only after you’re doing really good work. There’s no pressure when you’re unknown. You can do whatever you want. Experiment. Do things just for the fun of it. When you’re unknown, there’s nothing to distract you from getting better. No public image to manage. No huge paycheck on the line. No stockholders. No e-mails from your agent. No hangers-on. You’ll never get that freedom back again once people start paying you attention, and especially not once they start paying you money. Enjoy your obscurity while it lasts. Use it.

So what do we do in the meantime?

Think back to high school, college and other times in your life that seemed to drag on. You probably thought they’d never end either. But lo and behold, they came and went, probably faster than you thought. And no matter how the experience was, you probably miss some aspects of those times. I’m willing to bet one day you’ll miss this period in your career as well.

“Be where you are when you are.” I cant remember where I came across this advice, but it’s stuck with me ever since. The future is coming fast enough on its own. For now, work to enjoy the writing for the writing’s sake, and the rest will come.  Write your heart out. Write anything and everything. Write like no one’s reading. They’re probably not and what an opportunity that is.

Author Insights: T.L. Parker

TL_ParkerMichael We’re happy to bring award winning author, T.L. Parker to the Everyday Author! We think that she will bring a unique success story to our pages. She has two novels out and a third in the works.  So without any more blather from me, here we go…

Ms. Parker please 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 am T.L. Parker, author of The Devil’s Graveyards and Superstitions. I have four wonderful children and an awesome husband who is my constant source of inspiration and support.

My writing career began a few years ago when I began losing sleep due to initial ideas for my first novel, The Devil’s Graveyards. After learning of the Earth’s Grid and the sixty-two equally spaced areas around the globe that hold extraordinary mysteries, I was passionate about turning my thoughts into words. My travels to Europe, Montreal, and Grenada gave me inspiration for some unique settings. Soon, fiction and truth combined to create this adventure thriller. In 2014, I released The Devil’s Graveyards as an eBook on Amazon.  My research for Superstitions was extremely interesting and shocking.  This thriller was released soon after my first.

Currently, I am working on my third novel! I am not divulging any information on this new book quite yet, but I am very excited to release it next November.

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

Sometimes life happens! About a year ago, the world put some unexpected road blocks in my path.  Times have been extremely tough, and I had to put my writing career on hold for most of 2015 due to these unforeseen circumstances. Now I’m standing back up, prepared to fight back. I’m ready to show the world that when authors have ideas and a passion for writing, there’s nothing that can hold us back!

What is the one thing about your author career that not many people know about? 

Some people might not realize the amount of research I put into my books.  I feel this is the key to an interesting book! While researching my latest book, Superstitions, I was instantly intrigued by the numerous disappearances in the Superstition Mountains. Hikers are killed or simply vanish without a trace when they venture in these Arizona mountains, searching for the legendary Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. I traveled to the Superstitions and visited with the locals who personally knew “Dutch Hunters” that had mysteriously vanished.  I parked my car at the trailhead where many of these victims parked without ever returning.  I followed their footsteps down the trail toward Weaver’s Needle. I wanted to experience what they experienced, but I knew better than to venture too far.  In fact, it spooked me to be there. My research into the secrets hidden in the mountains led me to a surprising location…the Smithsonian. I called the Smithsonian to discuss these findings, and you would be shocked by what they wouldn’t tell me!

superstition_sign

Sign at the First Water Trailhead in the Superstition Mountains.

In the author bios that accompany your books and on your Amazon author page, there is mention that you are an award-winning author. Can you share what awards you have won? And did it make a difference in how you felt about writing?

Years before I started writing novels, I won an award for a short story competition hosted by the local university. Although it was not a prestigious award, it inspired me! It was the first ember on the fire.

Why did you choose to self-publish and will you continue to do so?

Publishing independently is working for me and I am enjoying it.  I don’t know what I will ultimately decide to do in the future.  The most important thing for me is being able to share my stories with others who will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Why did you choose to write in the genre that your stories are in?

I…[sic] continue to research earth’s greatest mysteries, bringing reality to these unbelievable facts, and making readers question everything they think they know.

Is the novel that you are currently working on in this same genre or are you planning on another direction?

I will continue to write thrillers even though they may all have different sub-genres (conspiracy theories or a touch of science fiction for instance).

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

Keep writing! Never give up.  Sometimes, the road to writing success can be long and rough, but it will be the authors who keep trying in the face of opposition who will succeed.

Thanks Tara for agreeing to this interview. You can find more information about T. L. Parker and her novels at the following links:

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/BooksByTLParker

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/booksbytlparker

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00NKWCIQO

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