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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We’re familiar with the California Gold Rush of 1848, or the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896, or the Victorian Gold Rush of 1851 in Australia, or the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886 in South Africa.

Today we are in the middle of another gold rush. It’s called self-publishing.

Every gold rush has a life-cycle that moves from low investment, high return to high investment, low return. The key to success is to get in big at the beginning of the cycle. When panning and placer mining are effective. Simple tools and big returns.

Amazon introduced the first Kindle on November 19, 2007. It sold for $399 US and sold out in 5 1/2 hours. On April 2, 2010 Apple released the iPad and sold 300,000 on the first day. These two devices were the game changer that spawned the self-publishing gold rush.

Authors such as Amanda Hocking, John Locke, JA Konrath proved self-publishing was a viable money making enterprise. Now the ability to become a millionaire was for the first time in the hands of the self-published author. No need for agents and no need to battle publishers over draconian contracts. The gold rush had begun.

All one needed in those early and heady days of self-publishing was to offer your book permafree or for 99¢. And write your series as fast as possible.

By the time I got involved with self-publishing, in late 2014, the easy money was gone. Now, like the old Smith-Barney commercials, if you want to make money writing books, you have to earn it.

As with any gold rush, once the easy money is gone, the people who begin to profit are the ones who do so at the miner’s expense. These are the people who sell things to the miners. The infamous middleman.

We see it in the self-publishing world. Writers, hungry for virtual shelf space and recognition, are making loads of money for the middlemen. Everywhere I read about this, I read figures such as $500 or $600 (or more) for editing, $500 for a cover, a couple hundred for formatting. And the list can go on.

That’s a lot of pressure to put one’s self under coming out of the gate. To date (2 years of receiving royalties), I’ve made $533 with virtually no advertising. I made back my investment in initial website cost and copyright fees. If I had editing and cover fees for 20 books to add to my expenses, I’d have to seriously consider becoming a middleman to “help” writers instead of being a writer.

The people who are getting the “easy” money today are:

  • Editors (often self-proclaimed)
  • Cover Artists (many using nothing more than stock photos and Photoshop or Gimp)
  • Review Services (like Kirkus and Reader’s Favorite)
  • Other authors “selling” the secret of their success so you can be successful (usually by means of high-priced courses)

And success hungry writers, dying to leave their day jobs, are shelling out big bucks for all of the above.

So let’s be honest, shall we? The easy money is gone. We now have to earn it.

How We Earn The Money

The path to self-publishing’s success in 2017 is not unlike trying to drop the ring into Mount Doom. It’s simple, but not easy.

I am obviously not making big bucks writing. But I’m retired. I’ve already dumped the day job. My monetary goal is a bit more humble. Nevertheless, the path is the same for all of us.

Mindset. The first thing we author-publishers must remember is that we are writers and publishers. We must think business. And the first thing we must realize is that self-employment ventures generally take 3 to 5 years to get established — if they even survive.

The second thing is we are direct mail marketers. The mailing list has now replaced permafree and 99¢ books as the building block of our business.

Mail order businesses can’t survive without their mailing lists. And we author-publishers are at base mail order businesses.

Once we have that mindset, we can start to go places. There is no quick money anymore. But there is money to be made. Mark Dawson makes around half a million from Amazon. A nice bit of pocket change that.

My Plan For Success

Plan your work and work your plan. Based on my observation of what universally works for authors, coupled with sage advice from the greats, this is my plan to work:

  1. Write well. This should go without saying and yet needs to be said. Write a good story. Many writers forget to do so.
  2. Write lots. Prolificity is key. No backlist = no sales over the long haul. All successful writers, traditionally published and self-published, say this.
  3. Publish frequently. The reading public that buys indie books tends to be voracious readers. Feed their habit. Frequent publishing also helps to keep you in the forefront of the reader’s mind.
  4. Follow Heinlein’s Writing Advice. The master said it best. In a nutshell — persevere.
  5. Build your mailing list. We are essentially mail order marketers. I wish someone had told me this 3 to 5 years ago. It makes sense, but the reality was obscured by the early success of writers in the Gold Rush. Now that the easy money is gone, the mailing list is the direct marketer’s — and indie author’s — best friend.
  6. Don’t resort to gimmicks. Today there so many authors I never heard of who claim to be New York Times, USA Today, or Amazon bestsellers that the claim is virtually meaningless. There are so many authors winning so many awards, the words “award winning” are equally meaningless. I’ve read plenty of crappy best-selling and award-winning books. And some that are really good that made nobody’s list and have received no award.

That’s my roadmap to success. Which for me is pretty modest. I don’t need beaucoup bucks. Anything from $25K to $50K a year will be just jim dandy. Those of you who need more than that to quit your day job — well, it’s just going to take a bit more work. But you’ll get there.

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

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Heinlein’s 5 Rules of Writing for Indies

The other day I was wandering around Dean Wesley Smith’s website and noticed he has an online workshop covering Robert Heinlein’s 5 Rules of Writing. It had been quite a while since I’d read them (we’re talking decades here), so I refreshed my memory. I found a discussion on Robert J Sawyer’s website.

Both Heinlein and Sawyer direct the rules to those who want to be traditionally published. For Heinlein, he had no option. For Sawyer, he is entrenched in the traditional world and has no need to change them. However, I have little desire to pursue the traditional publishing route and thought I’d adapt them for indie authors. So here they are:

Heinlein’s 5 Rules for Indie Writers

#1-You must write

This should go without saying and yet so many writers don’t ever actually write anything. They talk about writing, take courses, frequent writing forums, or dream of the writer’s life. But when it comes to putting pen to paper or fingers to the keys — they don’t do it. Or if they do, and actually finish something, they are forever rewriting it because it isn’t quite good enough.

To be a writer, YOU MUST WRITE.

#2-Finish what you start

You can’t be a writer or even learn the writing process unless you finish what you start. Weak beginning? Flabby middle? Dull ending? Unless the work is a completed whole, you can’t see what works and what doesn’t.

In my forth coming novel, But Jesus Never Wept, I knew I was having problems in the middle. I resisted the urge to stop and fix them and bulldogged to the end — and then went back and fixed the problem areas, which were fewer than I had thought.

#3-Don’t rewrite, unless your editor says so

Rewriting is not writing. Writing is writing.

When I was submitting and getting my poetry published on a regular basis, I’d watch many poets on various forums rewrite the originality right out of their work. They’d end up with a flabby, lifeless thing done to death by committee.

Resist tinkering. We can tinker endlessly. There is always something that can be improved. But at some point you must resist the urge and say, “It is good enough.” And then move on.

However, if your editor (and all indie writers need an editor, whether paid or volunteer) says something needs to be fixed — pay attention. Ultimately, you are the publisher and may decide to reject your editor’s advice. But if he or she is saying something needs to be fixed, there is a good chance it does. Only then, do you rewrite.

Remember, rewriting is not writing. It’s rewriting. And we are writers, not rewriters.

#4-Put your work up for sale

In the old days, this was submitting your work to editors and gathering rejection slips. Thank God we don’t need to go that route anymore.

Today, the indie version of Heinlein’s point is to offer your work for sale and see if the reading public likes it or not. This is the publishing part of being a writer/publisher. Get the work out there. Promote it. Let the reader decide. Not some biased editor.

And if the public is not enthralled, listen to what they’re saying. But don’t automatically kowtow to their whim. Not everything we write will appeal to everyone. Sometimes you have to go with your gut. If your gut is telling you the work is good, then go with it. Realizing your audience on that particular work may be a small one. Leave the work up for sale and move on. The worst thing you can do is to remove work from sale. Build your backlist.

Which brings us to

#5-Leave your work up for sale

Maybe your book or story isn’t selling today. Or maybe the sales have fallen off. Don’t give in to the temptation to take the work down. That’s the beauty of being a writer/publisher. You can leave your book or story available forever. There is no publisher who is going to remainder it on you. No publisher telling you it isn’t selling enough copies. No editor rejecting your current work because your past work didn’t sell enough.

We can leave our work up for sale for as long as we want. We can market on our own schedule. We are writers and publishers. Our writing career is in our own hands.

Just remember: what isn’t selling today, may very well sell tomorrow.

#6-Start your next work

This is Robert Sawyer’s addition to Heinlein’s rules. And it’s a good one.

You can’t be a writer if you aren’t writing. And rewriting doesn’t count. Because it isn’t writing. It’s rewriting. The prolific authors of the past and those of today, the one’s who are writing to make money from their writing, start a new project upon completion of the old.

Write, publish, and start writing your next work. It is what Anthony Trollope did. When he finished one book, if there was still time left in his morning writing session, he took out a new sheet of paper and started the next book.

Like a mother robin, kick those babies out of the nest to make room for the new ones.

Writer’s write. If you’re stuck on a book or story, start a new one. A writer can always write about something. Don’t let writer’s block be an excuse not to write. I always have several books in progress. If one is giving me trouble, I put it aside and work on a different project. I am always writing. No day goes by that I haven’t written something.

Your mission

Follow these six rules and you will have a steady stream of work coming off our pen and hitting the virtual bookshelves. And with a little bit of luck and marketing handiwork, you may end up earning more money writing than from your day job. That’s my goal.

Happy writing!

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