The Everyday Author

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

Category: Revising

State of the Author 2017 (& lessons learned from four years as an author)

And we all thought 2016 was crazy, eh? Visiting the Everyday Author in preparation for the post I was surprised to find our last piece of content here was back in April. That’s a pretty good microcosm for how the year went: fast. (If you want to check out my 2018 Author Resolutions you can find them here)

I’ll go into more details later on but for now, just know we’ve got a full slate of new Everyday Author content on the way! And now that the Gryphon Riders Trilogy is out in the world, I’ll be wrapping up the Bestseller Quest series as well.

It’s been a whirlwind. Looking back, I’m still a little surprised at everything I was able to squeeze in. I find it hard to believe that it’s been just a year since Undaunted released the Lone Wolf Anthology and I sat down to finish up the outlines on the Gryphon Riders Trilogy. I’m immensely glad I did it but not sure I’d want to do it all over again (at least not right away).

2017 quick recap

I wrote last year about taking a break from crazy production schedules to hone in on some other areas. Well, 2017 was back to the old grindstone BUT with the added benefit of bringing everything I learned in 2016 to bear. I successfully wrote, revised and published all three books of the Gryphon Riders Trilogy and they were BY FAR my best launches to date. All three earned back their production costs AND — I haven’t drilled this down to the dollar yet but it’s looking pretty good — helped me cross the threshold overall into profit for the first time in my author career.

I learned I could accomplish more than I would have thought possible before (it didn’t kill me but it was definitely touch-and-go at times). This year wrung me dry and I’m still recovering. Maybe I pushed a little too hard but if you don’t test your limits, how do you ever improve?

2017 by the numbers

  • Estimated rough draft words written (books only): 215,000+
  • Estimated words published: 319,000
  • Estimated words revised: 225,000+
  • Books published: 4
    – Lone Wolf Anthology
    – Windsworn
    – Windswept
    – Windbreak
  • KU Pages Read: 892,794
  • Giveaways (free books downloaded): 10,000+
  • Books sold: 2,130+
  • Yearly earnings: $9,800+

What went well

Production

I’m lumping a lot of things together in this section because my production model as a whole took a huge leap forward in 2017. Without the team I had, there’s no way the Gryphon Riders Trilogy would have been released (mostly) on schedule and the overall quality of the books would have suffered as well. My process is to write the rough draft and then usually take a breather by moving on to the next book. By the time I go back to do the second draft I’ve had a decent break to let things marinate. I do a second pass and then send the book along to my production team: 2-3 fellow authors who give it a read, fix basic typos and point out any areas or confusing parts. After their changes, the book goes to another reader for final proofing (who also has editing expertise and gives it a final polish. Once I deliver the book to the production team, it’s usually ready to publish within 10-14 days but we could get it down to a week if time got tight.

Reading

I was able to get through quite a few more books this year — audiobook, ebook and print. Having a book going in each format helped me read more and mix things up. I could listen to audio in the car, read ebooks on break at work or in small bites here and there and still sit down with a paperback in the evening to unwind. To tie in both this section and the one above about production, I highly recommend the book Creativity Inc. by Pixar Founder Ed Catmull.

What didn’t go well

Staying on track with revising

Pretty sure I’ve talked about how much I despise revising books. I think I’m better at knowing how to polish a book to reach its potential but I’m still not any faster at it. Luckily my production team (mentioned above) really helped carry me here as I only had to do one and a half passes for each Gryphon Riders book (a second draft and then final edits based on their feedback). Windswept had a few areas I had to rewrite but it still shouldn’t have taken me three months (August – October) to polish 60k words. I also got down to crunch time with Windswept and Windbreak which meant that the latter parts of each book were rushed to meet the deadlines.

Juggling

It’s become a theme to talk about biting off more than I can chew every year in these posts. This year, however, I took a different (although doubtfully better) approach. Once I got in the zone writing and later revising Gryphon Riders, everything else pretty much fell by the wayside. The good news was I was able to really hone in on finishing the books and setting up successful launches,. The bad news was Book Review 22 and Everyday Author suffered from my lack of attention. Next year I

4 lessons learned from 4 years as an author

I originally called this section “lessons learned from four years in self-publishing” but then I realized that I really don’t consider myself a self-published author anymore. Although I’m still an indie, I’ve started thinking of myself more as just an author in general. Overall, I think this mindset has been adopted by many authors in the indie space. We’re evolving past “self-publishing” especially when you consider many of us have production teams (see above) and are collaborating more than ever to meet reader demand (see below in 2018 predictions).

1. If your book isn’t selling, the reason probably isn’t that complicated

Assuming this is a new-ish title, it really comes down to one of four things: your cover, your description, your other marketing efforts or your writing itself. If sales aren’t where you want them to be, take an objective approach (this is a lot harder than it sounds but you’ve got to take off the rose-colored glasses). Pick the one you think is the weakest. Maybe your cover doesn’t fit your genre or maybe it’s not up to professional standards. Maybe your description just isn’t converting readers. Maybe your book isn’t in the correct sub-genre or you could find a new category where the competition is easier. There’s also a chance you just need to level up your writing with more practice or by employing a trusted developmental editor. Or maybe you just need to give it another polish.

If you’re not sure where to start, try to figure out where you’re losing readers at. When you run a promotion or ad if you’re not getting downloads or purchases, check the front door: the cover, description and price. If people are downloading the book but not buying the next in the trilogy, or if they’re not leaving reviews or leaving poor reviews it might be a case of the wrong category or the writing itself.

It’s not easy to sell books but it is relatively simple when you break it down into these elements. If you’re looking to do a relaunch of an old title, I highly recommend Relaunch Your Novel, by Chris Fox (affiliate link).

2. There’s room for everyone

When you take a look at the fan bases and platforms of the uber-successful authors out there, it might feel like you’ll never get a piece of the pie. Here’s a secret: readers read. The ones Michael Anderle calls “whale readers” read a lot. Here’s another secret: readers read faster than writers write. If you’ve got an all-around quality book (remember, be objective and don’t kid yourself here) you can find an audience. When you check out the Top 100 books in your category, you’re not looking at the competition, you’re looking at your allies. Reach out to those authors. Ask how YOU can help THEM. See if they’re interested in a cross-promotion of some kind or just get to know them. What you might consider a competitor could, in fact, be the person who helps you take your author career to the next level. Avoid a scarcity mentality.

3. It can be done (be patient)

  • I published my first book and a short story in November 2013. It took me — I don’t even know for sure — eight years or something to write and a year to revise. I made $26.87 in the last two months of that year.
  • Year one: I spent most of 2014 writing the second book in the series and revising the first. I didn’t publish any new fiction. I made $33.95 that year.
  • Year two (2015): I published Return to Shadow (book two in my Teutevar Saga) as three books. Then I combined them into one later that year because sales sucked anyway. I made $60.46
  • Year three (2016): I published a prequel novella to Teutevar Saga, wrote a separate standalone book with another author and released an anthology. I made $105.24. I had listened to the podcasts. I’d been to the conferences. I read the books. I knew I had to change something or I was going to burn out and call it quits.
  • Year four (2017): I produced faster and released tighter, simpler stories (they were also my best-written work). I followed the rules of the indie author “elite” to prove once and for all if it was possible for some regular dude to find real success. As I reported earlier, I made over $9,800.

 

Am I quitting my day job and going full-time? No. But 10xing my income is a pretty awesome personal victory. Now I have the experience and a real foundation to build on. Better yet, I’m finally in the black overall for my author career, production costs and all. Going forward I’ll be able to use actual profits to expand into audio and higher quality covers.

Trust me, if I can do it, you can too. Just hang in there.

4. Pace yourself and stay focused

This goes hand in hand with being patient. It’s easy to look around at the lightning-fast pace some authors are cranking out books and feel overwhelmed/discouraged. On the flip side, it’s extremely hard to just do you and stay at your own pace. But that’s what it takes. Learn what you can from others but ignore their specific circumstances. You do you. If you’re serious about being an author, you’re in this for the long haul, not 2, 5 or even 10 years. You’ll accomplish more than you think if you put your head down and do the work. I’m always striving (and often failing) to find balance. You can’t go nonstop forever and the faster you’re going, the harder it’s going to be to recover when you hit that wall.

On the flip side, it’s hard to make meaningful progress when you don’t stay focused. Chasing new ideas is a major reason why I struggled so much in my first three years as an author. Here’s a short list of “side gigs” I dove into without thinking it through. Some are still going but many fell by the wayside. None have netted as much money as writing books

– Founded a publishing company which has now morphed in a production studio/author co-op but is still going
– Started this blog (Everyday Author). It fell by the wayside this year but I’m sticking with it.
– (Briefly) started a book recommendation site with a fellow author
– Launched a movie review blog with a friend (still going)
– Launched a t-shirt company with a couple other friends (sucked a bunch of time and never amount to much of anything)
– Found a publicity company for indie authors called Book Review 22 (the second best venture)

Too. Many. Directions. Most are way out in left field, too. The ones I’m sticking with (Undaunted Publishing, Everyday Author, Book Review 22 and Flick Hit), I’m doing so for very specific, strategic reasons. My writing projects are much more intentional now, too. Be patient and keep your eye on the real prize.

2018 predictions

Collaboration

Successful indie authors have always gone against the publishing norms but now companies like Sterling and Stone and Michael Anderle’s LMBPN Publishing are creating a whole new production model focused on collaboration. For the vast majority of authors, the only way to release multiple books per year, including a book every 3-5 weeks, is through collaboration. It’s the only sustainable way to keep up that insane pace. In 2018, I believe more and more authors will start coming together in these cooperatives and publishing groups to share a larger piece of the pie. But not just authors. Editors, proofreaders, cover designers and marketers will be integral parts of this collaborative movement as well. Forming a collaborative production team was a major reason for my success in 2017

Next big indie steps (film, tv & more)

It began with The Martian and snowballs every year. With so many entertainment outlets, more indies with established audiences will get deals to make movie and television adaptations of their works. Down the road, I can see this spilling into video games, virtual reality and… (cue mystical voice) beyond.

More authors leave Amazon’s exclusivity

Whether we’re talking about rank-stripping, smaller page-reads payouts or Amazon favoring their own books over others, more authors are going to get fed up of the might Zon and go wide. On the flip side, the authors who stay (and manage to avoid the numerous rapids in the world’s mightiest store/river) will continue to make more $$$ in the short term. Decisions, decisions…

Molding your story

A few weekends ago, I spent some time in the mountains, cleaning out the head of our irrigation ditch. (In addition to writing and publishing on the side, I also work on a family farm). Over the course of the summer, a layer of silt about a foot deep formed over the tarp dam of the creek, followed by another layer of red clay, about half an inch thick.

As I watched the backhoe clearing out the sediment along the ditch, I peeled back a handful of clay and started rolling it in my hands. The red-brown clay molded easy under my palms and fingertips, but when I’d removed it from the layer of dark silt beneath it, some of the silt stuck to the clay. Shaping it in my hands, I found the veins of dark silt running through the clay crumbled and refused to mold with the clay. I also found no matter how many times I rolled and pinched and smoothed, I couldn’t make the clay ball into a perfect circle with my mean skill — there was always a lump sticking out somewhere.

No matter how much I caressed the clay and picked out the “flawed” silt from the clay, it would have still been impossible to make a perfect ball of clay. Eventually, I reached a point where all my little tweaks and pokes made no different. It was as good as my skills could make it.

I continued to turn the ball of clay over in my hands and my thoughts drifted to the revision process. In the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the revising process with a couple of authors. Although we all did some things a little different, in the end we were all working toward the goal of a shaping a book that’s ready to be enjoyed by readers.

Much like shaping that ball of clay, writing is a process of picking out the flawed parts and turning the words over in your mind and on the page — kneading them with perfection in mind. But eventually, we reach a point where our skills are played out — we can’t make the book any better. Much like a master potter could have made a better circle than me, there are master authors out there who can craft better stories than us. If we keep working at the craft, however, we’ll eventually get to a point where the lumps get smaller, the flawed parts are picked out and we’ve got something special in our hands.

This can only happen if we keep pressing onward. As important as continual improvement is, you’ve also go to realize when a book is as good as it’s going to get. When you reach that point, it’s time to get it out there and start another, remembering everything you just learned and applying it to the new work. Keep on molding.

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.

Polish like a boss: tips for revising a manuscript

Author’s Note: As fate would have it, one of our Author Origins guests, Michael Fletcher, published a great post on this subject at almost the same time I wrote this. You can check it out here.

In today’s publishing scene, authors are under more pressure than ever to produce at lightning speed. Given this PUBLISH OR DIE mentality, it’s easy to get impatient or rush the process, especially when comparisonitis flares up and it seems like everyone around you is releasing a book every other day. But rushing the process is the last thing you should do.

While cable surfing one night, I came across a TV program featuring a reunion of aging songwriters. As they dispensed career wisdom, one line stood out above the rest: “More good songs are ruined by people trying to finish them.” In other words, sometimes no matter how bad you want to, you can’t rush great creative work.

More good songs are ruined by people trying to finish them.

Don’t be hasty, grasshopper. Don’t shoot your muse/book in the foot just because you’re trigger happy.

But how do we know when we’re there? When is enough enough and when do we need to put in more elbow grease?

As foolish as rushing an unready manuscript to publication is, revising a book a thousand times (especially if you haven’t even finished it all the way through yet) is just as bad. The best solution is to work at your own tempo and develop an instinct for when a book’s “just right.” It will be ready when it’s ready. And once it’s good to go, get that tasty little piggy to market.

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Although that sounds fine and dandy, it’s harder than it seems. You’ve got to be honest and disciplined with yourself. There’s no absolute rule that your book will be ready after X amount of drafts. That said, here are some guidelines I’ve found helpful for revising a manuscript.

Don’t be lazy.

The most important. If you need to do another revision, just do it. If you need to make the big change requiring a massive rewrite, make it. Rewrites can just plain suck, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do. If your writer’s intuition tells you something isn’t quite right you’d better do whatever it takes to fix it. The worst thing you can do in this situation is ignore your instinct. There’s nothing worse than reading over a book you’ve published and kicking yourself in the butt for shortcutting it. Your book deserves better. Don’t cheat your work or yourself.

Outlining is your friend.

Not only does outlining help you write faster, but it also gives you a bird’s eye view of a clean slate, where you can brainstorm and throw in what-ifs to your hearts desire. Outlining also allows those “ah-ha” moments a chance to show themselves much earlier in the process. It’s also helpful to compare your outline to your rough draft, especially if you feel like you’ve missed the mark somewhere along the way.

Understand your man(uscript).

I love Anatomy of Story and am working my way through the Story Grid (you can check it all out for free here) as we speak. Both provide fascinating insights on character development and story structure. Understanding how a novel works and the particularities of your genre are a must. You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken.

Marinate your manuscript.

Stephen King recommends letting a rough draft sit for at least six weeks before you go back to it. I’ve done anywhere from two weeks to six and now usually schedule in a month away from a manuscript when I’m figuring out my production schedule. This gives me enough time to forget what I was going for and see what I actually ended up with. It also helps to spot those pesky typos.

Be a butcher.

There is nothing worse than hitting backspace on a highlighted section of 1,000+ words…or an entire chapter. Even so, there comes a time when we have to kill the fluff. It’s okay — they’re just words. You can write more. Words are cheap. Another Stephen Kingism: 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%. While it’s not a hard and fast rule, this formula makes a good measuring stick. There’s always fat to trim, making for a leaner, meaner manuscript.

Know when to show and tell.

I’m a firm believer in the power of beta readers and (of course) editors. Even so, I don’t let anyone see my work until I’ve wrapped up the second and sometimes third draft. Input is good, but not when you’re still figuring out the story for yourself. Too many opinions too early on only muddy the water. Once you work out most of the kinks, THEN it’s time to share. I’ve got a trusted group of 3-4 beta readers, a developmental/continuity editor and another editor who looks at both copy and structure. You can bet by the time a manuscript passes through THAT gauntlet, it’s ready to roll.

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.

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