The Everyday Author

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Category: Bestseller Quest

Bestseller Quest Part V: Market Research

Welcome back to another entry into Bestseller Quest! If you’d like to check out the full series, go here. Or, if you just want to freshen up on the previous entry, go here.

Now that we’ve got the process mapped out, it’s time to delve into market research. Much of the information in this post is stuff I learned from reading Chris Fox’s book, Write to Market (affiliate link). If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest doing so.  You can also listen to Chris explain the basic principles in this Self Publishing Podcast episode if you want a preview first. To bring you up to speed for our purposes, here’s the basic premise:

  1. Find a genre and sub-genre you enjoy writing in that is underserved (Chris explains in detail how to identify these in his book, but basically you look at the balance between the top 100 books in that category compared to their overall sales ranking on Amazon).
  2. Identify the tropes in said genre and include a number of these tropes in your book. (This doesn’t mean you still don’t include our own flavor and spin on things, just that you choose and follow some conventions as well).

Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but that will get us started.

Actually, let me emphasize something: it’s vital to choose a genre you’ll actually enjoy writing in (surprise, surprise). Chasing what’s hot just for the money is a bad idea. If you don’t know/enjoy the genre you’re writing in and it will show in the quality of your book.

My focus for this project will be New Adult Fantasy, while also including elements of Young Adult Fantasy and “Dragon” books. Now, full disclosure upfront: since I started this project, New Adult Fantasy has grown until it definitely isn’t undeserved anymore. That being said, I believe my premise of gryphon riders also fits well into dragon books, specifically those about dragon riders (The Inheritance Cycle, Dragonriders of Pern, etc.) which is a much smaller niche that I can take advantage of. My launch time tactics will focus heavily on marketing to fans of dragon books.

YA Fantasy and Coming of Age fantasy obviously aren’t underserved markets (Harry Potter or Hunger Games?) BUT I believe that my books will also sell well there, even if they aren’t as competitive in the rankings. Here’s a few points that will aid in the crossover:

  • The trilogy begins with my protagonist at 17 and then progresses to her in her early 20s. I chose 17 because it places our heroine at a sort of crossover age between being a teen and adult. I wanted to capture the younger audience while still satisfying the conventions of New Adult later on, which is why she’ll end the trilogy at 20-21.
  • There is a small romance in the story. It’s definitely a subplot, but still important. Many New Adult Fantasy books ARE romances, but that’s not me. I recognized, however, that I couldn’t omit romance and worked to include it throughout the trilogy outline in a small capacity.
  • Thematically, the heroine deals with New Adult issues such as understanding and progressing into adulthood, navigating through relationships and increased responsibilities and answered the question of “who am I and what do I stand for?” She also is faced with YA themes earlier on like fitting in, succeeding in school-type environment, etc.

With my genre in mind, I began my research by reading books in said genres and getting lost in the equally wonderful and infinite TV Tropes website. (BEWARE: TV Tropes is the ultimate rabbit hole. One wrong step and you’ll find yourself sucked into the void for hours, nay — years! When I finally extracted myself, here were some of the big takeaways:

When I started reading, I chose a mix of both YA and New Adult titles. In addition to books I was already familiar with, I used the KindleSpy tool to take a look at several fantasy sub-genres, providing me information on how many copies each book is selling as well as some category information and rough sales numbers. Here’s a sample screenshot taken from New Adult & College Fantasy Top 20 list  to show what this looks like:

Here’s a short sampling, including the specific reason why I chose THAT book:

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (link goes to TV tropes page): I will be using a similar structure to kick off book one: regular girl learns she is part of a special community, leaves her homes to train and become a part of this community.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (link goes to the TV Tropes page): Tied in with why I read Sorcerer’s Stone, but the main reason for this was to examine how Rowling handled the darker issues found in Chamber of Secrets and to also study how she deftly recaps the previous book in the series without losing reader interest.
  • There’s one other reason I studied the early Harry Potter books: Rowling’s masterful use of foreshadowing and seeding future plot points. Since I’m writing all three books at once, I wanted to take extensive advantage of this. Here’s a huge list of examples in the Harry Potter series, also known as the Chekhovs Gun device.
  • The Shattered Sea Trilogy: I am a huge fan of Joe Abercrombie and love his author voice. I chose this series because of the diverse YA/NA characters. Abercrombie also presents his characters with real-life adult issues — nothing sugar coated. This was the sort of tone I aimed for with Gryphon Riders: hold back the language and sex, but throw in all the challenges readers in these age groups face.
  • Enchantress: This is a constant bestseller on Amazon in the NA and YA genres. I studied this for character but also to see how the author developed a high-concept magic system that plays a heavy part throughout the book/series. James Maxwell nails the tropes.

UP NEXT: Part VI – With a foundation down, I actually had to arrange all of these tropes into a familiar yet unique story.

Bestseller Quest Part IV: The Gameplan

Welcome back to another entry into Bestseller Quest! If you’d like to check out the full series, go here. Or, if you just want to freshen up on the previous entry, go here.

This week, I’m going to gather you all into a huddle to check out the game plan. This is the entire project outline. Welcome to the big show.

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  • September 2016 Market research: In which I determined the genre and sub-genre I wanted to write in, according to parameters set up in Write to Market (more on this in the next installment). This is also where I research and establish key tropes for my genre as well as obligatory scenes, a rough sketch of the main character, etc.
  • October 2016, mostly in December 2016 — Outlining: I throw all of the above information into a pot, dump it on a table and being shaping the massless sludge of story-putty. When I originally came up with my concept and did the initial research, I wrote a rough outline of all three books in the trilogy. In December, I broke that down into a chapter-by-chapter outline, building off of the obligatory scenes of the book to flesh things out.
  • January 9, 2017 – April 24. 2017 — Where I’m at now: Ye olde first draft. I write. And write. And write. As I’ve mentioned before, my daily goal is 2,500 words per day, Mon-Fri with Saturdays used to catch up on days I didn’t hit the 2,500. I may be done sooner than April 24, but won’t know for sure until I get into the writing. I’m shooting for somewhere around 180k words for the entire trilogy. I’ll also be working with my cover designer during this time (which we’ll talk about in a separate post).
  • May 1 — The cursed and dreaded second draft revisions begin. As I’ve mentioned before, I have love/hate relationship with revisions. Sometimes they’re awesome and other times it’s like playing whack-a-mole with your own fingers as the moles. Revising is the slowest part of the process for me.
  • June – August As I finish the second draft of each book, I’ll shoot them off to some alpha readers who will provide me with general story feedback and point out any pesky typos I undoubtedly will miss. I’m giving them 3-4 weeks to do this, knowing I can rely on them to meet the deadline.
  • June 3 — Second draft of Book 1 due
  • July 9 — Second draft of Book 2 due
  • July 10 — Book 1 due to editor
  • August 12 — Second draft of Book 3 due
  • August 15 — Book 2 due to editor
  • September 10 — Book 3 due to editor
  • September 15-20 — Publication of Book 1
  • October 20-25 — Publication of Book 2
  • November 25-30 — Publication of Book 3

Whew! That’s making me stressed/excited just thinking about it. As of now (February), the publication dates aren’t set in stone. I may very well hold the books until January and begin launching then, just because I want to do my best work with my editor’s feedback. Depending on how the editing process goes, I would rather hold off a couple of months than attempt to juggle book launches with revising (a mistake I’ve made in the past).

And that’s about it! Short and sweet this week (I’ve used up most of my word-power barfing out the rough draft).

UP NEXT: Part V – Market research to select a sub-genre

Bestseller Quest Part III: Writing process

Welcome back to another entry into Bestseller Quest! If you’d like to check out the full series, go here. Or, if you just want to freshen up on the previous entry, go here.

Now that we’ve talked about everything in my life BESIDES writing, let’s get into the process itself: my system and the tools I use.

Everyone has their own way of writing — the time, place, program, speed, etc. This post isn’t about figuring out what works for you. It’s about what I prefer and what I’ll be using throughout the Bestseller Quest to get words on the screen. There are a couple of nifty tools I think every writer could benefit from if you’re not already using them. The following are resources I’ve come to rely on to get my writing done:

Scrivener

Straight Outta Scrivener

Scrivener is awesome. It’s what I’m writing this blog post with. It’s what I write all of my books with now and pretty much anything else I can think of. If you STILL haven’t checked it out, here’s the link . You can also get a free, thirty-day trial to test it out. (And those are 30 days of use — by not closing the program or turning off my computer as much as I probably should, I wrote an entire 165k book using the trial version. Of course, I bought the program anyway but just saying).

During the first draft stage, I’ll be writing the entire trilogy within the same Scrivener project, judiciously backed up, of course. One of Scrivener’s most important features, when I start crapping out letters is the ability to see my word count. I track this every time I write, which brings us to our next handy-dandy tool.

The 5k Words per Hour app

This tracker/timer was developed by Chris Fox (we’ll talk more about him later) to track his writing speed. [Insert motivational quote about not being able to improve what you don’t record here]. The free version is great, but you get some advanced features with the paid version in exchange for a couple bucks. Check it out here.

I absolutely recommend using the 5KWPH app. It helped me improve my writing speed from about 1k/hour to around 3k/ when I’m really in the zone and in tip-top writing form. Basically, what you do is set a timer and write until the voice of Chris’ girlfriend-now-wife tells you Wahoo! Sprint complete. Then you look at your word count in Scrivener and enter it in to see how many words you’re averaging per hour. You can also set up projects to see how much longer you have to type to finish that first draft.

This app is fantastic, trust me. No matter what your writing style is, give it a try.

Put it together and what do ya got?

Okay, now we combine the wondrous powers of Scrivener and the 5KWPH app into a super-writer serum that will turn this everyday author into a word count vomiting machine. Important note: I have no plans of using dictation during the Bestseller Quest.

Do you even write, bro-

My daily word count goal is 2500k words. How did I reach this number? I have a rough estimate that this entire trilogy will be around 180k words — we’ll talk about why that is in future posts). This means if I start writing on January 9th and want to be done the week before the Smarter Artist Summit at the end of April, I need to produce 2500 words per day for 5 days/ week, plus whatever I have to make up on Saturday

Knowing that life will happen on certain days, not allowing me to reach my goal, I’m planning on doing short sessions Saturday mornings. I will recharge the batteries on Sunday. Once I get back in writing shape (I haven’t done sprint-writing in a few months) I can do 2500 words in an hour, no problem.

g1orc

One thing I want to make clear: For those of you who aren’t familiar with the 5KWPH writing sprint, it means you type as fast as you reasonably can, without pausing to read/edit what you’ve just done or make any typo corrections. A writing sprint is about going balls to the walls for X amount of time and telling your inner editor to shut up and hold on. (Trust me, until you get the hang of it, he’s going to scream bloody murder and tell you to slow down).

The majority of writing will take place in the mornings. I’ve got a 30-45 minute block for this and I could get most of my writing done, outside of 500 words or less, once I’m back at top speed (which will probably take a week or two).

If mornings and Saturdays aren’t enough, additional writing will be done 2-3 days/week on my lunch break at work. I’m not huge on the idea of taking my personal computer back and forth to the office throughout the week, but you gotta do what you gotta do, I guess. This time will be between 15-25 minutes most days.

Depending on how much I’ve slacked/fallen behind during the week, my Saturday writing sessions should NEVER be more than an hour, tops. That being said, I have to hit 12,500 words per week, minimum, so I don’t fall behind.

And that’s about it! This entry is shorter for a reason — no matter how or what you write, it’s all really about one thing: getting those words on a page. It doesn’t matter how fancy and complex you make your system if you aren’t producing!

UP NEXT: Part IV, The Gameplan

Bestseller Quest Part II: The Groundwork

Welcome back to another entry into Bestseller Quest! If you’d like to check out the full series, go here. Or, if you just want to freshen up on the previous entry, go here.

The Groundwork

Whether you’re making a story trilogy, cleaning an outhouse or slaying a dragon (bonus points if you know what they all have in common), you’ve got to start somewhere. Today, we’ll be talking about all of the foundational work I’ve started in preparation for my quest in 2017. I’m thinking of separating this into two parts: one that goes over lifestyle circumstances, necessary changes and time management and another that talks about research and planning, but we’ll see how it goes.

Circumstances and responsibilities.

First let me say that, as a single, healthy white dude in America, I’ve got it pretty good. Any complaining from here on out comes not from me thinking the cards are stacked against me, it’ll be about self-frustration for being human, wasting time and doing stupid stuff people do. But hopefully,j that doesn’t happen very often.

In addition to writing, I have a number of responsibilities and endeavors that I pursue. As any of you know that read the Everyday Author, I work a full-time job (Mon. – Fri. 8: 5:00) that obviously takes a large amount of my time. There is the potential that I could be called out to work overtime or on weekends, but (knock on wood) it hasn’t happened yet.

Jobs are good! In addition to a. Providing me with the funding to be an indie author, it also b. Gives me benefits (so my teeth stay purty and I can get treatment if I contract some deadly disease) and c. While this may not sound like a benefit, it forces me to use my free time wisely. I’ve had much more flexible 25-30 hours jobs in the past and I’m actually more productive and have a better schedule now than I did then.

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Outside of my job, I also help out on my family’s fourth-generation farm and ranch. This takes up most of the daylight hours on Saturdays and some holidays, in addition to regular chores that have to been done every night and morning, like feeding animals. As I write this (January) we’re right in the middle of sheep having lambs. This will take an extra 30-45 minutes out of each morning before work, meaning I’ll have to get up earlier if I want to get anything done. We’ll talk more about mornings a little later.

Like many creative minds and entrepreneurial-minded folks, my eyes are often bigger than my schedule. In addition to writing, a full-time job and farm work, I also have a couple other projects/side hustles. Before I go through the list, yes, I know that this is probably counter productive. (It’s like juggling flaming bowling pins — you don’t want to drop any and you also don’t want to let them catch you on fire.) It’s just how I am, though. Although these extra interests may take precious writing time, I like variety. Here’s the list and estimated times each take during the week:

Everyday Author
Time per week: 2-4 hours
Most of my time spent going forward with Everyday Author (at least for the next 9 months) will be writing these posts and also conducting outreach for guest interviews and posts. This usually amounts to one article per week when we’ve got a full editorial lineup and also a monthly newsletter, so nothing too serious.

Book Review 22
Time per week: 3-6 hours
I’m fortunate that we have an awesome team at BR 22 that helps with submissions, pitching, outreach and follow-up. Most of my work here involves helping out with support emails the others pass along and also drumming up new business (on both the author and reviewer side of things). Outside of writing, I’ve placed a big focus on expanding and improving this service in 2017.

The rest of my time

Mornings

I’ve heard good things about the Miracle Morning for a couple of years now, but filed it away in the back of my mind. When Miracle Morning for Writers recently came out, I knew it was time to buckle down and give it a try. I started the audiobook last week and, as I started writing this, had just finished day 5 (the first work week). I’m a HUGE fan already. I’ve been working on these posts in the mornings before I got to the office and am accomplishing more in 20-30 minutes before my day starts than I would in 1-2 hours in the evenings when my motivation tank is running on fumes. As I approach the start line for writing the first draft, I’m gradually getting up earlier. Still need to work on getting to bed in time for seven and a half hours, though! I highly recommend checking this book out.

Getting ripped

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I’m fortunate that we have a decent one-room gym at my office and take lunch breaks to work out there 2-3 times per week, for 30-60 minutes. On the days I don’t work out, I’ll use my break time to write. I enjoy exercise, but like many people, I struggled setting specific times and days to do it. I’ll spare you going over my routine, but some apps/programs I’ve found effective are:

Commute

My drive to work is only about 20 minutes now, but I still use this time to listen to audiobooks and podcasts. I also play podcasts throughout the day, depending on what I’m working on and sometimes listen to audiobooks while I work out as well. I recommend and listen to a variety of writing and publishing podcasts. See a list here and here . Outside of the author industry, I also enjoy The Art of Charm, Unemployable and The #AskGaryVee Show.

Evenings

My time and energy in the evenings fluctuates, which is a big reason I’m working on my Miracle Morning. Mornings are much more consistent and reliable for me. Even so, there’s only so many hours in a day and I need to take advantage of as many as I can. Most evenings, I have a couple hours max to do stuff and my motivation often runs low by that point. It’s easier (at least in theory, still working to consistently bring it in to practice) to go to bed earlier when I’m already fried. Also, I’m a human, meaning I need social time with friends and family on nights and weekends — one of the biggest ways I unwind.

I don’t want to sound superhuman or like I’ve especially got it together because I don’t. I waste time, get discouraged and lose motivation just like everyone else. But hopefully, this paints an accurate picture of my circumstances and sets some parameters around how I structure my day.

UP NEXT: Part III, Writing Process

Bestseller Quest Part I: Introduction

(Insert epic music here)

Welcome to Bestseller Quest, the live, real-time (if you’re reading this around January 2017) chronicle of my attempt to create a bestselling series. This will be my step-by-step process showing how I (hopefully) went from an indie author selling a handful of books per month to a bonafide bestseller with a foundation to begin making the transition from an everyday to full-time author. Let’s get started!

Throughout 2016, I’ve read a number of books and listened to several interviews with authors who finally cracked the self-publishing nut and are making solid incomes from their writing. I took notes and implemented some their strategies and tactics, but eventually came to the realization that if I wanted to truly test these methods for myself, if I really wanted to find out once and for all if this indie author game is more than just a lottery, I’d need to start from scratch. Bestseller Quest is intended to be my zero-to-hero journey you can follow step-by-step. Instead of showing my success at the end and talking in retrospect, I want everyone to see the blood, sweat and tears along the way, as they happen.

Here’s a quick origin story to set things up:

As many of you know (or can find out if you read the Everyday Author Archives) I started indie publishing in 2013. I had a helping hand from a number of authors but really didn’t know a whole lot about the world I’d just entered. Then, after Christmas 2013, I used an Amazon giftcard to buy a certain ebook on the Kindle app. It came courtesy of Amazon’s also-bought category, which I’ll forever owe the Amazon robots for. That book was Write. Publish. Repeat. 

Write. Publish. Repeat. (WPR) pulled back the curtains for me and showed me what it was really going to take to make it as an indie. Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant and Dave Wright introduced me to a world I didn’t even realize I was part of when I published my first title. If I was Luke Skywalker, writing and self-publishing Out of Exile  was me chasing after R2-D2 in the desert. These guys were my Ben Kenobi who led me on my first steps into a larger world.

first step ben kenobi

Fast forward three years later, and I’m Luke on Hoth — I can pull my lightsaber out of the snow to save me from a Wampa, but I’m not a Jedi yet. Since November 2013, I’ve learned a metric crap-ton of stuff from a variety of podcasts, books and good, old-fashioned mistakes I’ve made. I’m a better writer and marketer now, which is why I’ve decided to take this challenge.

luke hoth cave

Teutevar Saga will always be dear to my heart and I intend to get back to the series in 2018, but I came to the realization I would need to build a new foundation for this experiment. Here’s why:

Out of Exile was the first book I published. Although it’s been revised and edited numerous times, it could probably use another polish, given what I’ve learned about story since I last revisited it — not ideal conditions for a written to market book. I want a stronger launching point.

The Teutevar Saga has three books remaining, each of which I anticipate will be at least 150k words long. Given my circumstances (day job and other responsibilities), it would take me almost an entire year to write 450k words. And that’s just the rough drafts!

The Teutevar Saga is definitely a medieval fantasy epic, but it’s not a perfect fit in some of the smaller sub-categories I can realistically compete in as an indie (as it stands, anyway). It’s technically not written to market. Furthermore, the first three books have been out since March 2016, May 2015 and November 2013. This limits the number of launch strategies I can use, especially with new releases. If I’d chosen to write books 3,4 and 5 for this challenge, I’d only be working with a small group of readers who are already invested in the series.

Nevertheless, I have a few advantages I will be bringing to the table.

What I’m bringing to the table

I have a small but growing mailing list of just under 500 readers. Since the new trilogy, I will be writing is also in a sub-genre of fantasy (more on this in the next post), I believe most of them will be interested in reading it.

I said small but growing mailing list — I’m currently using Author Platform Rocket to grow my list. I’ve done okay in the past with Facebook ads for this, but Author Platform Rocket gets better results for cheaper and it also allows me more writing time.

Experience. As I mentioned above, it’s difficult to make a new book in a long series a success if your entry hole at the beginning is so small. I won’t list out all the hard lessons I’ve learned in the past three years (we’ll cover many of them later, anyway) but it’s safe to say I have a much more specific and effective set of strategies and tactics for this experiment. (A particular set of skills, if you will).

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What I’m starting fresh with

A brand new trilogy, unrelated to my current series. Aside from a short story coming out as part of an anthology in January, there is absolutely nothing out there in this world. Could I have done a spinoff in the Teutevar Saga world? Probably, but my world building there didn’t allow for some of the tropes I’m using in this new trilogy.Mindset. I’m going into this with a professional mindset. In the past, I’ve cut a few corners in the writing, editing,

Mindset. I’m going into this with a professional mindset. In the past, I’ve cut a few corners in the writing, editing, publishing and marketing process, but everything is going to be by the book (we’ll talk about which books I’m using as a guide later). The strategies I’m using have been proven by more established authors, and if I can do it at this point in my career, anyone can.

you-can-do-it-meme-18134

What’s in store

Although I’m also going to throw in some video and audio clips here and there, the real meat of everything I’m doing will be in written format. EVERYTHING related to this project will be documented and designed to be replicated.

UP NEXT:

I explain the groundwork I’ve already done and outline the roadmap of my Bestseller Quest!

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