How To Get Started on Your Writing and Publishing Dreams
Writing-Publishing Survival Guide Series
Of course, you have to begin at the beginning, and know where you’re going. Some writers and readers start at the end, which is fine. As Stephen Covey quoted Socrates: “Begin With the End in Mind.”
Now that you’re practiced for a month at cranking out routine content, the next step is to figure out how to make a living at it. It’s not your job, it’s your passion, and should be supporting your life.
The biggest problem with education in our Western world, is that its only designed to train you to get and hold a job. They don’t teach you how to seriously make money writing or doing anything creative.
I went to college late in life, and a required course of all students (every single one) was data on how to study, how to do homework, and how to write a resume and fill out a job application. You couldn’t graduate unless you’d done that, even if you finished all your other courses.
To artists and creative types, this is giving them one foot in the grave. Writers have to make a living from their craft. Having a job is just a distraction.
And the worst education I’d ever seen was talking to Masters of Fine Arts program graduates, where they weren’t teach them how to do a business plan or marketing plan. But expected them to earn their way by doing “shows” and “exhibitions” of their work.
What they didn’t tell them was how to get a sponsor, or do commercial work that would pay them well.
But they were all told carefully how they shouldn’t “sell out” their talent.
Small wonder I was brought up with the phrase “all artists starve in garrets.” Once I found out what a garret was, then my next question was, “Well, why don’t they get a job?” And that was the point. My education from an early age was that you have to have a job to have income and support yourself.
Wrong. (And why my early goals were to become an engineer, not an artist. At least I was good at both.)
Artists and creative types make their own jobs.
They are entrepreneurs by preference. The trick is that there are no real entrepreneur schools anywhere on this planet, at least none that market themselves effectively. So it’s all studying on your own, and finding mentors, and learning from your failures.
What also doesn’t help is the sheer amount of false conventional wisdom out there.
Once I threw out the conventional wisdom, then I could go the other way and start getting somewhere. The rest of this lays out what I’ve found that’s closer to workable truths, such as:
- Amazon is a search engine that sells books (and lots of other stuff.)
- Amazon is designed to make Amazon a lot of money.
- No one really cares what you write and publish, unless it entertains them.
- Social media doesn’t sell books. It’s designed to entertain people and sell ads.
- Selling your book under $2.99 on Amazon or over $9.99 gives Amazon the most money.
- No one cares about reviews except Amazon.
- Amazon sells about 70% of the ebooks in the U.S. and that puts a target on their back (and the reason they come up in the conventional wisdom studies.)
- If you are exclusive on Amazon, you can have your income pulled out from under you at any time. I just heard a recent podcast which brought home the point that the authors who publish “wide” are generally making about 50% of the income from Amazon. My income has almost always had Amazon income second to everyone else combined.
This post isn’t about Amazon. But as they are the 900 lb. Gorilla in the room, so they get the bulk of the attention, like it or not. (At least now all that is out of the way…)
How to Start A Successful Writing and Publishing Business Of Your Own
The first thing that comes to mind, a joke…
Q: How to you make a successful small business in California?
A: First you start off with a successful big business…
Now, don’t think I have everything figured out. I’m actually starting a year-long test of my previous years of experience to see how much of a living I can make at this. (See the Great Fiction Writing Challenge.)
I was studying up on Content Inc. by Joe Pulizzi the other day, as this is the real roadmap of anyone working to build a decent business based on Content.
And this explained what I wasn’t doing all the time others had built their business up to six figures, starting about the same time as I had.
I’d gotten financial freedom this way, and had everything I wanted, but wondered if I couldn’t make a better income. So I started asking questions and looking around.
Simple, Proven Facts You Can Test That Will Build Your Writing-Publishing Business
I’ve long noted that books are not just ebooks or printed books. There is a lot more money in audiobooks, and courses. Especially in non-fiction, print books can outsell their digital versions. And book sales alone don’t account for all an author’s income. They can get it from speaking fees and other services, like courses.
(OK, here’s the beans: I heard one author say he made $16K off his first book and $150K off the course based on that book. Another one said similar, $50K off his book and $500K off his course. That’s a 10X increase in income. So there.)
Authors should offer paid memberships, and courses are just a form of membership. Patreon is running your own membership. (And you can set up paid subscriptions with something as simple as Gumroad. Patreon just has a cooler logo.)
Be prolific. Writers write. Constantly, regularly. They also read a lot. A lot. In between they need to work on their business. This gives three habits to do daily: Write, Read, Promote. (The Three R’s.) Most of business is marketing, which is mostly promotion (it’s not sending out tweets or likes unless your business is built to pay Twitter and Facebook.) You read to train your imagination (your subconscious) to bring you great material and inspired plots as well as word combinations. You promote so you can get in income to pay your bills so you can write undistracted.
Attract prolific readers. These are the kinds that will read a novel a week, or a couple per day. These are the ones that Amazon will recommend to – and where you want Amazon to recommend your books to. These are the exceptions to the social media rules above. And those three social media are: Wattpad, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. Because those are places the prolific readers go to find more stuff to read.
Your key metric is… We’ve already started figuring this out from the above, but Pulizzi laid it out simply in Content Inc: subscriptions. You are constantly audience-building. The best audience you can have is your own mailing list. As you grow your audience, you’ll get more and more feedback on what you should be producing. You can backtrack your blog posts and book sales to find out what people really want. It was recently pointed out by Author Earnings that the rise of Amazon print imprints is making a dent in other book sales there. That figures. The other datum is that ebook sales have mostly leveled off. Meaning that the market is saturated in the U.S. The only continuing growth is overseas. So if you don’t have your audience on your own mailing list, you won’t be able to tell them your new book is out. That simple. All the marketing plans I’ve studied in the past five years have this as their core priority – building a list of avid readers.
And the other metrics are… Let me spell it out for you:
- words written daily, and edited to they can become…
- words published weekly, made available for sale.
- book sales, daily, monthly, quarterly, annually.
- paid subscriptions. Memberships, courses, etc.
Finally: Amazon and all book outlets are subscription generators. They won’t share your buyer’s emails with you or let you contact them. That’s your job. You are supposed to get your audience to let you contact them. When they buy a book from Amazon, they are also supposed to opt-in to your mailing list. Same for iBooks and Kobo and GooglePlay. That’s your job. They won’t sign up unless you tell them to, and make it dead simple for them.
And Now For A Key Secret
Shorter books pay more per word than longer ones. And you can write short books that build up into long ones.
I’ve said this before and I’ll keep repeating it:
Take three months (per conventional wisdom to write an 80K novel and publish it.) Now, sell it at $3.99 (or, if it’s a Romance, $0.99) How many book sales do you need to make a living off that book?
Now, take those same 80K words and publish eight 10K short stories instead. Maybe about a week to write, edit, and publish? In 8 weeks, you’ve published 8 books at, say $2.99 each (unless its a Romance.) Which makes you more income?
Let’s skirt the fact that a book only needs to be as long as it needs to be (the long-novel ideas came from traditional publishers, who made most of their money selling impressive hardbacks.)
You’re going to get better feedback and keep your readers by publishing more often, and then combining those books into collections (but that’s a Part 1 and Part II, not a collection of everything. Let’s not be silly.) When a reader likes your short stories, they’ll want to buy more of them. If you have them coming out on a regular basis, then sell them a subscription from your own site where they can have them delivered automatically every week. Then throw in the collections for free.
If they don’t like your first short stories, then they won’t buy the other ones. Meanwhile, they’ve paid you probably more than your long book, but you haven’t had to put them through all that pain. Win-win.
About that long novel that takes three months – do the buyers still remember that author when their next book comes out? Probably not.
In three months, you can produce 120K worth of content or 12 short books for them. That’s about $24 in royalties at $2.99, compared to $2.80 profit on a $3.99 book. You get paid more per word. And your readers are more engaged with you. (We won’t get into the squabbles about how you should give up most of your royalties to Amazon to sell $0.99 ebooks. Write books in genres where the average book price is higher and will support your making a living. Period.)
Hidden Book Writing-Publishing Marketing Plan
It’s in there, just look:
- Write, Read, Promote – Daily.
- Subscribers is your priority metric.
- Words written, Words published, Book sales, and paid subscriptions are next.
- Write prolific, write short, publish fast, earn more income per word.
- Publish in all possible formats on all possible outlets.
- Get prolific readers by promoting where they are.
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Also published on Medium.