The Writer’s Magic Marketing Machine

We writers are constantly looking for the magic formula for success. We want to quit our day jobs and live off of the bucks flowing from our pens or keyboards. The success of J K Rowling, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Tom Clancy, and others, fuels our imagination and dreams.

But what is the key to success? What is that magic formula? Is it social media? Or Facebook ads? Or maybe Amazon ads? Perhaps it’s paid reviews, such as Kirkus.

Or maybe indie success story Hugh Howey is right: there is no magic formula and success is just dumb luck. Keep writing and hopefully you’ll sell something.

I jumped into the self-publishing pond in 2014. Mostly because I’d read too many horror stories of writers getting screwed by publishers and agents. But also because being 64 I don’t have time to wait around for someone else to decide if I’m good enough or not. Let the public decide.

So in November 2014 I published 4 books and 2 more in December and waited for the money to roll in. It didn’t. It dribbled in and the dribble gradually turned into the occasional drip.

I looked for the magic formula to jumpstart sales. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered magic doesn’t exist.

However, amongst all the noise pretending to be magic, the successful indie authors continued to be of one accord. To have any hope for success, writers need to:

  • write well
  • write lots, preferably in series
  • publish often

What wasn’t said was how to put those things into a coherent plan and they didn’t mention anything about a mailing list. In the early days, I don’t think a mailing list was necessary. Today it is. The independent author/publisher is basically no different than a mail order company. And they succeed or fail on their mailing list. I spent $700 to learn that tidbit. Now I just saved you some money.

Nevertheless, how to do what the successful writers did remained a mystery.

About a month ago, I discovered author Patty Jansen’s key to success. It is the best formula I’ve found in the couple of years I’ve spent looking for the magic marketing machine. Her post — The Three-Year, No-Bestseller Plan To A Sustainable Income From Self-Publishing — is a must read for any writer who wants to make a living from writing.

There is no magic wand, my writer friends. There is only hard work and maybe, possibly, hopefully success. What I found encouraging — supremely encouraging — in Patty’s post was she has never had a bestseller. Yet, she makes 3K-5K/month (2016) and noted that her income has doubled every year. I have lived comfortably on 60K/year.

I don’t want to rehash her post here because it’s best if you read if for yourself and contemplate on it. However, I do want to emphasize a few points. Patty wrote that in order to succeed writers need to

  • write well
  • write lots
  • write in series
  • publish often
  • build a mailing list

It goes without saying writers need to write well, and the only way to learn how to write is by writing. Not rewriting, not editing, but writing. Edgar Rice Burroughs (the guy who created Tarzan) supposedly said if you write one story you have an almost 100% chance of failure and if you write 100 stories you have an almost 100% chance of having at least one success.

An indie writer needs to write lots. We are the 21st century’s version of the pulp fiction writers of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. Those writers had to write lots if they wanted to pay the rent and put food on their table. They didn’t have time for oodles of rewrites and edits. Robert Heinlein noted that one should never edit unless the editor makes you. Writers write.

Indie authors need to write in series. Doing so generates traction and keeps one’s name in front of the reader. As does publishing often.

And we need to build a mailing list. After all, what would we do if Amazon suddenly changed the rules and was no longer indie friendly? Most of us would be in a world of hurt. But not so much if we had a mailing list of devoted fans.

Patty’s post gives more detail and you, my writer friends, need to read it and embrace it.

In fact, her post completely revolutionized my thinking. Suddenly I had a workable game plan to follow. Where I had been wandering in the wilderness, I now had a GPS with destination keyed in. Hopefully, by 2020 I’ll be making some bucks from my writing.

I’m lucky. Being retired I have a lot of time in which to write and work on marketing. Being retired also means I have an income coming in that I don’t have to work to get. Which means I can get by very nicely with 20K or 30K from my writing. It would make a super supplement. I won’t turn down more by any means. After all, my dream car is a Rolls Royce.

Read Patty’s post and follow it. Save yourself some time and a pile of money. It’s a super simple solution to the question ‘What do I need to do to make a living from my writing.’

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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The Rocheport Saga-Part 2

Last week I talked a bit about my post-apocalyptic series The Rocheport Saga. I said it was part philosophy, part family saga, part satire, part libertarian thought, part action/adventure novel, and all post-apocalyptic speculation. I also noted that the series is written in epistolary form; that is, as diary entries. I’m very fond of the epistolary format because of the intimate picture it can give us of the main character’s thoughts. Provided of course he or she is a reliable narrator. If not, then we enter a mystery world of trying to figure what is real and what is not. Either way, the epistolary novel is an ideal vehicle.

The Saga is written in story arcs, not unlike television writing, and the first seven novels form the first arc. The arc itself is divided into three parts.

Part I comprises the first two books: The Morning Star and The Shining City. And might be called “Beginnings”. This is where the story begins. Where we learn about Bill Arthur’s dream and how he intends to go about it. His dream of creating a libertarian utopia and of returning to the 21st Century’s technology.

Love Is Little, The Troubled City, and By Leaps and Bounds form Part II. The little community of Rocheport faces enemies from without and within. Our hero, Bill Arthur, is struggling to hold it all together and to do so faces the ugly reality that he will have to betray a few of his most cherished beliefs.

Nevertheless, in By Leaps and Bounds we begin to see that it does indeed look as though the community has turned a corner and will in fact survive.

Part III comprises Freedom’s Freehold and the soon to be published Take to the Sky. Whereas Part II might be titled “Conflict”, Part III could be called “Hope”. The corner has been turned and Bill Arthur feels confident the people of Rocheport will usher in a new era of peace, freedom, and technological advancement.

While The Rocheport Saga is many things, it is all post-apocalyptic speculation. The series is a realistic attempt, I think, at speculating how civilization might come back from a massive catastrophic event — and come back better than it was before the disaster. Therefore there are no zombies or other monsters in the story. Nor are there aliens from space. This is a human story of human dreams and aspirations.

The Marquis de Sade wrote philosophy in the form of pornography. And pornography was a suitable format for him to present his philosophy.

The post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe, I found, was the most suitable format for me to express my philosophy and social views. Because, at base, the cozy catastrophe is about building a better world.

Which makes it a vehicle by which the author can criticize the current world in which he or she lives and present a model of how the problems can be solved.

S. Fowler Wright used Deluge and Dawn to portray the legal injustices against the labor class and to challenge certain social assumptions. John Wyndham used The Day of the Triffids to hint at the dangers associated with bio-engineering and to point out the dangers of military weapons orbiting the planet. In Earth Abides, George R Stewart points out how a poor black rural working family would be much more capable of surviving, than a white urban couple in New York City. Pointing out how fragile our urban worlds are. Stewart also pointed out that when push comes to shove, we are all equal by having his white protagonist marry a woman who wasn’t white. All that in a book written in the late ‘40s.

The cozy catastrophe is the perfect vehicle for world building. For creating our utopias. I’m surprised that few writers see this and utilize this form. For in the end, all writers are philosophers. Our books are either our ideal worlds or a graphic picture of what we think is wrong with the current world.

And so, in The Rocheport Saga, I present my version of what utopia would be like. No government. Sovereign and self-responsible individuals. Family centered. Social and intellectual freedom. A place where people follow the Golden Rule, respect each other, and help each other. I think it’s a vision that is very appealing and attainable.

As always, comments are welcome! Let me know your thoughts. And until next time, happy reading!

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The 8-Fold Path Wrap-Up

 

The 8-Fold Path for Living Daily in the Silence was designed to promote silence in one’s life, based on the understanding that silence is a benefit to us.

Over the past 14 weeks we’ve looked at the benefits of silence and by using the 8-Fold Path how to achieve silence in our lives every single day.

There are many benefits to silence. We live in a noisy world. Noise pollution is real. Noise pollution damages us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Silence repairs that damage. Silence helps us to return to wholeness.

The natural world, the world in which we as a distinct species arose and in which we lived for many hundreds of thousands of years, does not have the sound of cars and trucks in it, or that of bulldozers, or of aircraft.

The natural world is essentially quiet. The sounds in it are for the most part soft sounds. Thunder boomers are about as loud as the natural world gets, at least for most of us. Those soft sounds are what are natural to our bodies.

A look through history and the reaction to new inventions, especially the noisy ones of the industrial era, is interesting. The steam engine was condemned because it was noisy. The same for the internal combustion engine.  Improved technology made them quieter, especially the steam engine.

However, all one has to do is live next to a busy highway to know that cars and trucks are still very noisy affairs and dirty as well. Even inside our cars the noise level is loud enough to blot out the soft parts of a symphony. Toss in a piston aircraft engine from the local airport or a jet taking off and we’ve moved to a whole new level of noise. And let’s not even mention TV commercials, or such travesties of music as Death Metal.

Instinctively we value peace and quiet. And in our noisy world it is an all too rare phenomenon.

However, by following the 8-Fold Path we can reintroduce at least a modicum of silence into our lives.

I hope the series has been of benefit to you. Comments are always welcome and may you live daily in the silence.

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The Rocheport Saga

 

The Rocheport Saga is part philosophy, part family saga, part satire, part libertarian thought, part action/adventure novel, and all post-apocalyptic speculation. It is my contribution to the cozy catastrophe sub-genre of post-apocalyptic fiction.

The story structure is that of one of my favorite forms: the epistolary novel. The story is told by means of diary entries from a man named Bill Arthur, with occasional diary entries from other characters.

Bill’s diary begins eight months after the cataclysm that kills off most of humanity, the event he simply calls “That Day”. The first sentence he writes is “Today I killed a man and a woman.” He follows that sentence with a brief explanation of what life is like in the new world where everyone is faced with a daily struggle to survive and where some do not make it.

Today I killed a man and a woman. I didn’t want to, but I had no choice. It was me or them. This is how it is now. How it has been for not quite eight months. Everyone on his or her own. The quick or the dead. It wasn’t how it used to be, though. We complained about the old days. Now anyone who remains would do anything to return to even the worst of the old days. But they are gone and will not return for a very long time. Maybe never.

The focus in the cozy catastrophe is on building a better world out of the ashes of the old one. And The Rocheport Saga is no different.

There is no focus on and very little discussion of the disaster. It happened. It was horrible. And now we must move on. The milk is spilt. No sense crying over it.

And Bill Arthur doesn’t. His quest is to preserve as much knowledge as possible and bring the Twenty-first Century back on line as soon as possible.

Of course no story, even one that is essentially “plotless”, can survive without conflict, and Bill has plenty of conflict in Rocheport. All the way from the silly and inane to the deadly serious and life threatening.

Next week we’ll take a look at the books published thus far in the series and provide a synopsis of each.

Until then, happy reading!

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The 8-Fold Path-Step 8: Shikantaza

 

Probably you’ve heard that meditation is good for you. But, as with anything good for you, such as yoga or exercise, who has the time? Right?

To a great degree that’s true. Everything takes up time and there are only so many available hours in a day. And let’s face it, there are a lot more interesting things to do than devoting an hour to yoga, the treadmill, or meditation.

So why on earth is Step 8 of The 8-Fold Path to Living Daily in the Silence meditation? Because

  • Shikantaza is easy to do, and
  • We’re only doing it on our moments of “downtime”.

Shikantaza

First of all, what is shikantaza? It is a form of meditation. Shikantaza begins with the understanding that we are sitting in meditation for its own sake. Not to get something out of it. The sitting itself is the end. It isn’t a means to something else.

The second aspect of shikantaza is the actual practice. You sit for the sake of sitting. You shift your mind into neutral, as it were. Your real focus is to just sit wherever you are sitting. Let your thoughts come and go. Don’t focus on any of them. Just sit and let your mind have free range with thoughts. Watch those thoughts enter and watch them exit when you don’t latch on to them. Just watch them parade across the stage of your mind.

That’s all there is to shikantaza. The whole point of the exercise is to simply sit and do nothing. Sit for the sake of sitting. If you do so long enough, your mind will eventually stop thinking.

When to Practice Shikantaza

I have found, come to the realization actually, that throughout the day I have many moments of downtime. Time where I’m not doing anything in particular. I’m between tasks. Or I just finished one and I don’t want to start another because I’ll shortly be in a meeting, for example.

These little moments of downtime are perfect moments to engage in shikantaza.

Strictly speaking, shikantaza is a sitting meditation. You sit and do it. However, I’ve found I can do it during such activities as walking or biking or driving. The key element is simply to put the mind in neutral.

That meeting? Instead of getting all worked up by focusing on it as you walk to the room from your cube or office, simply practice shikantaza. Put your mind in neutral. If thoughts come, let them come. Just don’t cling to them. Let them leave.

By doing so, you are telling your mind they aren’t important now.

Shikantaza and Silence

So how does the practice of shikantaza help us live daily in the silence?

Practicing shikantaza in our downtime, gives the mind a break so to speak. We are training it to only entertain the thoughts we want it to entertain and when we want to do so. By not focusing on one string of thoughts, we allow our mind to rest. A mind at rest produces inner silence, there’s no chatter in our head, and thereby we experience inner peace.

The more you practice shikantaza the faster your mind will learn to stop throwing up thoughts. Why? Because, as we saw last week, the ego wants center stage. Wants you to chew on something. Shikantaza breaks that cycle of obsessing over our thoughts. Because we simply watch the thoughts come and go. And eventually, when we don’t pay attention to them, or latch onto one of them, the mind stops serving up thoughts. When that happens, we have inner silence.

Next week we’ll wind up our series on The 8-Fold Path to Living Daily in the Silence. Comments are always welcome. And until next time, enjoy the silence!

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A Message of Hope

Post-apocalyptic literature addresses the question: what would life be like if the world as we know it came to an end?

The answer can be dark or light, dystopian or utopian. All depending on how the author wants to play the game. For now, the dark, dystopian answer seems to be what everyone wants. Hence the popularity of all the various iterations of the zombie apocalypse, and such books as The Hunger Games, or such TV series as The 100.

The end of the world as we know it ushered in Hell on Earth. In most cases, this approach to the post-apocalyptic story is survivalist in tone. The main character or characters are in a fight for their lives from beginning to end, with little relief in the middle.

However, the apocalypse, if we survive it and depending on the state of the world if we do, doesn’t have to be a hopeless cesspool. It can be a time of starting over and hopefully making things better. Everything depends ultimately on the author’s Weltanschauung, or worldview.

That is why I like the cozy catastrophe. At the end of the day, it offers us hope. It offers us a vision of the world where our better side triumphs. In the midst of disaster and its aftermath, the best of what makes us human comes to the fore.

The cozy catastrophe may have a battle for survival as part of the storyline, but the main emphasis is on rebuilding the world. And hopefully make it better than it was before the catastrophe.

S. Fowler Wright in Deluge and Dawn, classic cozy catastrophes (you can read for free at http://www.sfw.org), spends little time on the catastrophe and no time on why it happened. The bulk of the story in both books is allotted to how Martin Webster is going to create a new society without the flaws of the old one and how he will deal with the opposition to his leadership.

The ending of his 2-part saga in Dawn is somewhat bittersweet, and yet the world goes on. In spite of everything it goes on and humanity will survive.

In The Day of the Triffids, the book closes on a note of profound hope. Hope that all will become better for the human race, we’ll learn, and that humanity’s mucking around with nature won’t be the end of the human race.

Writers of cozy catastrophes, for the most part, see the catastrophe as wiping the slate clean. Then, if the survivors are up to it, they can build utopia.

In Dean Wesley Smith’s Dust and Kisses, the enterprising main characters are doing alright on their own when they run into each other. And then trouble comes to town. But is it? Again, hope wins the day.

Not all cozy catastrophes have a happy ending. Some are bittersweet. Fowler’s above mentioned Dawn. Earth Abides. Terry Nation’s book Survivors. But generally they are on the whole upbeat.

My own The Rocheport Saga is part philosophy, part family saga, part satire, and part action/adventure. And all about one man’s quest to fulfill his dream for a new world, a better world. In other words, utopia.

Perhaps it’s painting with too broad a brush to say writers of dark dystopian post-apocalyptic books are pessimists and cozy catastrophe writers are optimists. Nevertheless, the unrelenting darkness of something like The Hunger Games trilogy stands in stark contrast to the optimism expressed in The Day of the Triffids. Or even Earth Abides, where the main character doesn’t get what he had hoped for and yet the human race will survive and perhaps end up better than before.

Pessimistic or optimistic. Dystopia or utopia. Which is your preference?

Until next time, happy reading!

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