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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Reading

Reading is a joy. I prefer it to watching movies or television. I can’t say I’ve ever been a voracious reader. Mostly because I’m slow. But I generally have at least one book I’m in the process of reading at any given moment.

Recently, I counted the number of books I read last year. The count might be incomplete because I don’t record the books I read and one or two of them might have slipped my mind. Nevertheless, as I recall, I read 25 books. Two of them were non-fiction. Three novels I started and didn’t finish. I also read at least half a dozen short stories.

Thirteen of the novels were by indie authors. The remaining 10 were by two traditionally published mystery writers. The quality of writing across the board was in the main good. The books I quit reading I did so due to my losing interest in the main character or the writing was not up to par.

I was surprised to discover I read more mysteries than anything else, 12 books. Followed by 6 science fiction novels (2 were steampunk). The remaining books comprised 3 works of fantasy, 1 horror, and 1 humor.

To satisfy any curiosity, the authors of the works I read are J Evan Stuart, George Wier, Marcia Muller, A A Fish (aka Erle Stanley Gardner), Crispian Thurlborn, Ben Willoughby, Felix R Savage, Chad Muller, Tim McBain & LT Vargus, Karen J Carlisle, Alice E Keyes, and Erik Ga Bean. The non-fiction was by James Scott Bell.

Reading, I find, exercises the imagination. Video, I think, tends to stultify it. The key word is “tends”. Video doesn’t have to chain our imaginations, it’s just that it too often does. Money is poured into special effects and little thought is given to the script.

The movie Twelve Angry Men is a study in what can be achieved with a good script and no special effects. The movie delves into the character’s psychology, it’s thought provoking, and a doggone good story.

When I read A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, my imagination soared. When I recently saw the movie John Carter, while I enjoyed it, something of the tragedy in the book was lost. The special effects were great. However, the story suffered. And while the movie’s special effects made for some exciting eye candy, the book was better because my imagination made the story mine.

For the rest of the year, I intend to review at least one book a month so I can share with you some of the good reads I found last year and perhaps this year too.

Feel free to share some of the good books you read last year.

Until nest time, happy reading!

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The 10 Most Influential Fiction Writers of the Past 100 Years

From 1915 to the present, many writers have come and gone. Most of them are forgotten. Yet, a few linger in our memories. For some reason, the other day I was thinking about who would be considered the influential fiction writers of the past 100 years. That is, fiction writers who’ve had an impact on subsequent generations.

So I started kicking names around of those authors I’ve read and of those I hadn’t but who are considered by many to have had a profound impact. And out of my musing I came up with a list.

The list below is in the order the names came to me, which does not imply one is more important than the other. Without further ado, my list of the 10 most influential writers of fiction in the past 100 years.

1. Arthur Conan Doyle

Doyle makes the list because of Sherlock Holmes, who is undoubtedly the most iconic and imitated private detective ever created. Doyle’s influence reaches down to today’s writers of private eye fiction. We see his influence everywhere. We can watch modernized versions in Elementary and Sherlock. We can read innumerable pastiches. Without a doubt, Doyle’s creation is one of the most influential of all time.

2. H.P. Lovecraft

Lovecraft was a most uneven writer. When he was good, he was very, very good. And when he was bad, he was horrid. Nor was he a prolific writer. Yet, next to Poe, he is the single most influential writer of horror and the macabre. The best of his stories are models to learn from. His emphasis on atmosphere has had a lasting impact. Many writers have looked to Lovecraft as a source of inspiration. Writers such as Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King, to name but three.

Cosmicism, through his Cthulhu Mythos, is perhaps his most well-known contribution to the modern horror story, where terror is evoked upon the realization that this reality is but a thin veneer of that which is truly alien and not our friend.

But Lovecraft also wrote some very fine tales of dark fantasy and made frequent use of the dreamscape. He also contributed to science fiction. His “The Colour Out Of Space” is one of the all-time great stories of science fiction.

HPL is clearly a giant and yet the irony is that were it not for the efforts of Donald Wandrei and August Derleth to preserve his name and work, Lovecraft would most likely have disappeared with the pulp magazines that published his work.

3. J.R.R. Tolkien

Where would epic fantasy be without Tolkien? It is as though he single handedly created the genre. He didn’t, but it certainly seems like it. And his imitators are legion.

4. George Orwell

Orwell’s portrayal of the horror that is totalitarianism and how technology in the hands of government is not a good thing for us reaches all the way down to folks like Snowden, who blew the lid on the US government’s spying on its own people. And just about everyone else.

I read 1984 when I was in my 50s. I found the book totally terrifying. The most impactful horror novel I’ve ever read. And the book isn’t even classed as horror.

5. Isaac Asimov

The last 100 years have seen many great writers of science fiction. Asimov, to my mind, is clearly one of the most imaginative and influential of the multitude of science fiction writers. From style to writing practice, Asimov has had an impact upon many young writers. For myself, I can say I learned much from him.

6-7. Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E Howard

Where would adventure fantasy be without Burroughs and Howard? Clearly Tarzan can stand right next to Holmes as one of the most memorable characters ever created. And Howard’s Conan, King Kull, Solomon Kane, Cormac Mac Art, and others are a tough act to follow. Anyone writing adventure fantasy today needs to start with these two.

8-9. Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges

Magical realism is not hugely popular in English. Yet the impact of these writers cannot be underestimated. In many ways, Magical realism is that a literary offshoot of surrealism and the genre tends to appeal to a more literary reader. Nevertheless the works of Márquez, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie are hugely popular and Stephen King’s The Green Mile demonstrates that magical realism has a broad appeal amongst many different writers in many different genres.

10. J.D. Salinger

Few modern novels have so captured teenage angst as has The Catcher in the Rye. Present day writers draw from Salinger in their attempt to address the issues of identity, belonging, loss, and connection and the none have improved upon what he wrote in 1951. And because these issues are even more in the forefront today, Salinger still speaks to us.

That’s my list of 10 of the most influential Fiction writers in the past 100 years. And it should be noted that this is how the list stands today. It might be different tomorrow.

Let us know who you think are the most influential writers of fiction for you in the past 100 years.

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Tell Your Story (or Stories)

There is one advantage age gives a person: it is perspective. The journey through time and experiencing what one experiences gives one a world view, a weltanschauung, which if understood can be an invaluable guide to the present.

Not all old people are wise. But they all have experiences that a wiser and younger person can learn from. To write such in today’s youth culture is tantamount to spitting in the wind. But the older I get I know it is true. I don’t claim to be wise, because I’m not. I do, though, have a bit of history under my belt which gives me some perspective.

Crispian Thurlborn’s sharing of a link on ebook pricing got me started on thinking about writing and publishing. The link set me off in search of Dean Wesley Smith’s website. Smith has perspective. He also has some wisdom. His series, Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing, has valuable advice to consider. Thanks Crispian for the adventure in rumination!

O, To Be A Writer!

I’ve wanted to be a writer for over fifty years. That is probably longer than some of you have been alive. I looked forward every month, back in the ‘60s, to receiving my copies of The Writer and Writer’s Digest and dreamed of the day when a few scribbles on a sheet of paper would earn me hundreds of dollars (yeah, a hundred was big back then).

From then until now, I’ve observed what others have to say about writing and publishing. I’ve noticed two things: publishing has changed and writing has not. What was good writing in the ‘60s remains good writing in the teens of the 21st century. However, what was true about the publishing world of the ‘60s wasn’t even true 30 years later and is even less true today. The publishing world has changed big time.

A Mini Timeline of Publishing

Here is a very brief timeline of publishing:

1534 – Cambridge University Press founded. The world’s oldest publishing company.

1663 – The world’s first magazine appears in Germany.

1709 – British Copyright Act is passed. This lays the foundation for modern publishing.

1700s – Commercial lending libraries

1731 – The Gentleman’s Magazine. Considered to be the first modern magazine is published in England.

1793 – first daily newspaper appears in America.

1800s – Public libraries appear.

1845 – Paperbacks are introduced as newspaper supplements in US.

1850s – The techniques of mass production are adopted by the book trade. The publishing industry as we know it today begins in the Victorian era. That wonderful Machine Age!

The Writer and the Book!

The biggest change to publishing since Gutenberg’s printing press is the ebook. Inconceivable as a viable reading medium even ten years ago. The Kindle made it’s appearance on November 19, 2007. That event was as big a change in the world of books as was Gutenberg. Science fiction had become reality.

What the ebook did is return publishing once more to the writer. Self-publishing goes back to ancient times. Someone would write a book (by hand with a pen) and either make copies him/herself, or hire copyists, and share the love. When the printing press came along, the writer could now give his/her manuscript to the printer and hire him to produce books for him or her. As can be seen self-publishing was the only publishing for a very long time.

Then in the Victorian era, publishing houses took off. Publishing as we know it today, where writers submit their manuscripts to publishers and either get a rejection slip or a check, started in the 1800s. Modern publishing is 200 years old. A mere babe.

What the Kindle did is make the concept of the ebook a viable commercial product and because of the ready availability of the software to make ebooks, the writer now had at his or her disposal desktop publishing on steroids.

Have No Fear!

Today, anyone can publish a book. This scares some people. In fact, it scares a lot of people. My goodness, the hoi polloi can now produce a book. Goodness, who even taught them to read?! Let alone write?!

My fifty plus years of observation has taught me that fear is a powerful weapon to squash innovation and to establish a pecking order.

When I was actively writing poetry, I frequented forums early on. I saw this fear in operation. The fear established by the “old timers” to keep the newbies in line. Harsh criticism and ridicule. “What? You call that a sonnet? Why you have a trochee where one shouldn’t be!” That kind of rubbish. Or, “Well, there is nothing very wrong with your sonnet, but shouldn’t you have something to say before you write one?”

The worst was when a writer ended up rewriting his or her good poem into mediocrity by listening to everyone’s “advice”.

Needless to say, I left those forums. I didn’t need that crap. As a writer, I already had enough self-doubts. I didn’t need more. What got rid of the self-doubt was the fact that I submitted work and got it accepted. Writing and submitting and getting it published proved to me I could write. A friend, who was a well-known regional writer, also gave me huge amounts of encouragement. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere waiting for approval from the forum folks. Encouragement and support, not fear, is what we need.

My advice is to have no fear. Everyone of us has a story or two or three to tell. So tell it. Write it down, stare down your demons, and send it off. Or better yet, publish it yourself and let the reader decide.

Writers Write

Writers write and editors edit and publishers publish and agents take your money.

Notice, only writers write. The others do something else. But that doesn’t mean a writer can’t also do those things. After all, they did so for millennia before editors, publishers, and agents showed up on the scene. A writer should be able to edit and proof his or her own work. Another pair of eyes, someone who knows what a good story is like, is also helpful. That other pair of eyes will catch things our own eyes think is there but isn’t.

Mark Twain started his own publishing company. So did Edgar Rice Burroughs. They did so to have control over their work.

That is the key: control. I write a work. Why give away control of that work to someone else? Would you give control of your car or your significant other or your children to someone else? I don’t think so. So why do so with your literary baby?

Writers write, but they can also publish and in today’s world it is easier than ever. In fact, self-publishing is often the key to getting noticed by a big publisher.

You and Your Voice are Important

If you want to write, then write. It is the best feeling in the world. Just write. Don’t give a flying fig about what anyone says. Just write.

The more you write, the more you learn about the craft of writing. Rewriting does little or nothing for you. We’re called writers, not rewriters. Any prolific author simply sits down and writes. They have to, it’s how they make their money. By writing.

Don’t let fear kill your creativity. Don’t let other people’s expectations kill your creativity. If you have to write, write. Sure the first story or book may not be very good. So send it off and start another. My early poems, when I look at them today, ugh! So many are just plain awful — and yet editors took some of them and published them. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Freedom!

What ebooks and print on demand offer writers today is freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of the Man who has a bottom line to consider. Freedom from the Man who will take whatever he can from you because you are disposable, a paper cup. Why? Because writers are a dime a dozen. There are plenty waiting in line behind you.

Robert E Howard wrote to H P Lovecraft that the main reason he wanted to be a writer was for the freedom it gave him. Freedom from the 8 to 5 Man. Today’s writer can even have freedom from the Publisher Man. I think Howard would have loved that.

Today, we writers can get rid of the middleman. Nothing need stand between us and the reader. We can proof and edit our own books. Secure our own art for our books. Not have someone tell us the book is too long or too short or we need to cut this part because readers won’t like it or the CEO won’t like it.

We have freedom. And I think that is a good thing.

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