Fiction Writing: How to Build a Profit-Making NaNoWriMo Habit
Just looked up my last two months of fiction writing production and found out I’d produced at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) writing volume for the two prior months.
Meaning: I’d just developed a habit of writing roughly 12.5K words per week for 60 days, where a habit takes from 28-40 days on average to instill.
Why listen to me? Skip down to the bottom and see if you can write and publish that much in a year, let alone 10 months. Yes, I’ve gotten some sales, too. The rub? Each of those books cost me nothing to produce. So all the sales I get are all pure profit.
How did I do this?
Set Goals – my model is to write, proof, and then publish short stories in that week. So I was intending to write at least two short stories each week, of about 6K each.
Hold myself accountable – Each Monday, I filled out a blog post that started with the key metrics I needed to track in order to be successful. Sometimes I fudged in order to wrap up my publishing on Monday, so that post wouldn’t happen until Tuesday. But the vast majority did “hit publish” on Monday.
Focus on the work – by having these metrics, I could start to see common patterns of when I was successful. One of those is to simply blank the screen(s) of everything else. No distractions. All I would have open were one screen (Calibre) that shows the cover and marketing hook for that book. The other screen was a simple text editor. If I needed a browser to look something up, then I’d do that and immediately minimize it again.
Do my writing first – this still haunts me. If I just “check” my email, it will take me into all manner of rabbit holes. So my best success is when I blank the screens last thing at night when I leave for bed.
Play catch up after meal times, away from my work space. Using my smartphone to do most of my email, and all my curation work is simply done in my living room easy chair as a matter of a few minutes after each meal.
Ignore social media – a key rule. Social media is fake. Burns your time with nothing to show for it. How many of those “friends” buy your books, or you can really trust with your life? Some of these are rumored to sell some books, but never enough to earn you a living at it. No perennial bestselling book out there depends on social media for squat. Just the pan-flashers. I remove all the unnecessary apps from any smartphone device I have. Don’t visit social media, only syndicate there. (Only one of them is an actual activated smartphone, the others are all largish phablets as remote handheld Android computers that connect through my local wi-fi. And all Walmart Black Friday Specials.)
Proof on a smartphone device and only revise those points – I use an ereader app that allows highlighting. Then I go back through just those edits and fix them. The first proof is making sure the structure is correct, with all the needed chapter headings in place, and spell-check done. Using a small screen allows me to read every single word, and catch 98% of the rest of the errors. I then will publish through D2D and do a third proof, correcting and uploading a new version. And if I find myself distracted by a sentence or word, I’ll highlight it and correct it. I should be able to read right through a book and keep interested the entire time – even if I know what I wrote and how it’s going to turn out. And I should enjoy that book every time. I’ve only ever thrown one story away because it wasn’t any good – then rewrote it from scratch immediately. And proofed and published that week.
Learned my craft well beforehand – I spent around two years studying fiction writing itself. I bought way more courses than I needed and kept studying with people until I wasn’t learning any more – or was finding that I needed to correct their erroneous opinions as much as I was learning anything new. And I still have a stack of books on writing that I’ve scraped from all sorts of sources. But early on, I found that you learn best from writers who just happened to write about writing. I didn’t learn much from people who made most of their living from writing texts and courses about writing. (Those books are inflated with redundant material that you’ve already learned. Most every book I’ve read like that could be summated into one or two pages of text.) The rest is all practice. And I wrote years of non-fiction before I moved to fiction. Often two or more blog posts per day, averaging about 2-4K words each. I also ran many of my short stories through ProWritingAid as an editor. (Once I did hire an editor for a non-fiction book. I learned what I needed from her. And I even followed the complex system of Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid for months.) The end result was to quit all the courses when I stopped learning. And threw it all away after I’d internalized and practiced what they said as I tested it all. What tested out and aligned, I kept. This all led me to a study of the truly prolific fiction writers – the Pulp Golden Age writers, as well as the ones who came after them. And those commonalities pushed most of what passes for conventional writer’s “wisdom” right out the window. (I have a book coming out, slated for December, where I’ll re-compile all this actually useful data based on my year of prolific writing.)
Reading what I love, writing what I love – this I touched on above. You have to be very happy with what you write, every time you read it. A lot of people get behind this concept of “building an avatar” of your ideal customer. For the writer, fiction or non-fiction, it’s far more personal. You write for yourself. You are your ideal customer. Don’t let anyone kid you. There is no “writing to market.” You are your best market. Whatever you love to read is the stuff you’ll end up writing. And if you don’t love what you write, neither will anyone else. Read widely, watch long-running TV series and serials. That’s where you’ll learn how to keep long story arcs going. People today expect that type of entertainment. Provide it – by providing it to yourself, first. You’re going to attract people who like your writing as much as you do. Those are your first 1,000 true fans.
Making each book better than the last – most of this year was simply working out how to get my inspiration trained and work-flows ironed out.I didn’t start out with really long stories, and I did scrounge up all the unpublished short fiction works I had written at any time. Studying these gave me what I needed to improve on. Only in the last couple of months have I gotten into writing real serials. Before that, I’ve been working simply on being able to write single-standing books. The last two weeks were set up for learning how to frame these books into serials, which is how story stories bridge to longer novels and story arcs.
Studying perennial-selling books – ignore the also-rans. Theodore Sturgeon stated a near-universal truth: “90% of everything out there is crud.” While he was speaking of Science Fiction, it’s very applicable to the bulk of the books being produced in any and every generation. Look up Louis L’Amour, Max Brand, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others. These books continue to sell and get downloaded regardless. Gutenburg.org has lists of these that have gone into the public domain. Those are the ones to dissect, emulate, internalize. There are huge numbers of current “bestsellers” who won’t be selling in a few years – unless someone is keeping them advertized constantly. Love what you read, write what you love – and you’ll publish for the ages.
What Are The Results?
- This year, in ten months, I’ve written and published 88 short stories. I plan to write the other 12 in October (3 per week) just to make that quota.
- I’ve published 21 anthologies and two 200+ page novels from earlier NaNoWriMo efforts.
- Total original fiction books published on Amazon (and everywhere else – by at least Amazon’s minimum of 2500 words per book.) – 111
- All in 10 months, which is an average of nearly 9 books per month, or just over two per week.
- 1,798,422 words published (including anthologies.) Nearly 36K words per week (The power of anthology leverage.)
Any perennials sellers? Too soon to tell. L’Amour was first told his books never went out of print after he’d been writing for 10 years. I’ve almost gotten through my first one.
PS. The profits? Come from lots of books available everywhere. Writing short, publishing long. Putting your best out every time will make people want to find out all your earlier ones. Stay tuned: next year’s challenge will be devoted to developing a true profit engine from content-based business.
PPS. Still not convinced? Look me up in 10 years. If I keep up this rate, I’ll have a thousand books published, easy. At least a hundred of those won’t be crud…
Also published on Medium.