Introducing The Great Author Content Business Challenge
Most authors stay broke because they haven’t worked out how to make a business from what they most like to do in life.
But like “getting paid to play baseball” it is possible. And just like professional sports, there is a vast amount of also-rans along with the million-dollar contracts.
Of course, if you see broke former-pro athletes, you can see they didn’t have enough foresight to learn how to make a business on the side to prepare for their inevitable retirement.
The obvious choice in any business is to put your content out there first, to build your audience, and find out what that audience wants before you work to sell them anything.
Some authors do this by writing a lot of fiction under pen names, then writing more for certain pen names than others – as readers like them more.
That’s what I did – all last year. Write a lot, under all pen-names, and tested that theory. But where I had lackluster results, it was more that I didn’t have the business behind all this content that would make them discoverable.
When One Door Closed – A New Door Opened
On the heels of my Great Fiction Writing Challenge, the next logical action is to create a challenge for authors to run their publishing as a business. Many have. Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson are into 6- and 7- figure incomes (respectively) because they did.
And they did this while I haven’t, and I started self publishing earlier than both.
But as I found out this last year, you can’t compare yourself with others – not efficiently, anyway. Your best approach is to set goals and monitor your own metrics. Then you’ll be able to make real progress. (Otherwise, you mostly just beat yourself up emotionally with nothing to show for it.)
Anyone can see how Dawson, Penn, and Nick Stephenson also worked to lay out their ideas of a business plan for fiction authors. I haven’t really followed their lead. But I’ll review these this coming year, as part of other studies.
This next challenge builds on what was successful from the last challenge.
First of these was setting up an accountability program. For me, it was publicly posting my progress every week. And since I’m used to the somewhat “ghost town” aspect of my blogging, this was not too much of a risk. In this next year, these will also publish to Medium every week. That builds on the confidence of having success from last year. Every week, I published what I did, and how I felt about it. This next year, it will be a broader approach (more eyeballs) with the same underpinnings.
Last year’s challenge had shifting goal posts. The main point was to build my own habits of writing fiction, and to test out what I was recommending to others the tactics and strategies I’d researched for myself. And accomplished writing and publishing over 131 original fiction books and anthologies. Now I know that I can sit down and write a book from scratch and publish it within 48 hours, usually much less. I’ve proved I can write and publish 5 decent fiction books (short stories) in a single week, along with their anthology. (But the more fiction I write, the less of everything else I do.) About week 23, I saw that I would pass my initial goal of writing and publishing 50 short stories in a year. So I pushed that up to 100 short stories – and got those wrapped up this last week.
I didn’t get around to testing paid advertising. I tested Instafreebie (now Prolific Works) to build a 3K-plus subscriber base. And this has resulted in a few regular sales. All that meant that I was also testing almost pure organic book discovery.
You want to do what you love most in life. The reason I didn’t advertise is that it wasn’t something I wanted to invest a lot of my time in daily. I wanted to write. Writing makes me feel good. I didn’t want to have to learn all about marketing when I wasn’t certain about my writing. And a year’s worth of writing has built my confidence and faith in my writing. Now don’t care what other authors do. I’m routinely happy from my writing output. That’s the bedrock I’m building on.
Expanding the Author’s Built-In Content Platform
I used my existing platform of content, network, audience, vision. Just as I worked it out in early 2018 (see that link.)
But I’d still like to get more income from what I have. Last year, I mainly used my existing platform (book sales) to finance my fiction writing. I didn’t work on expanding that platform to increase my sales meanwhile.
The principle observation I realized was that I had no problem being prolific. A rough count of my published words showed that I was writing and publishing around the level of a million words per year – about 20K words each week. This was the level that Erle Stanley Gardner, H. Bedford-Jones, and Frederick “Max Brand” Faust were operating at during their heights as pulp-method writers (filling the needs of pulp magazines and later pulp paperbacks). They were also earning around $50K per year in a post-Depression dollars.
All this last year’s work just proved that you can use self-publishing to get your own work out there, just as in the pulp-publishing days. But what I found was: if you are writing fiction, you aren’t writing other stuff.
See that existing workout on what an author’s platform is (as linked above.) This is also the base of any author’s content-business.
This coming year, I’ll be expanding all of these interlinking and interactive parts as a system to expand my content-business.
What I accomplished this last year was in firming up my vision, finding a rudimentary audience, a massive expansion of my content, and improving my network.
I also confirmed that Joe Pulizzi’s “Content Inc” book is the basic model for building a content-business.
There is the book itself, there is also his podcast, and several podcast interviews are available from when Pulizzi was promoting his book. All give more insight into what he discovered. And this book was probably his best-selling book of all he’s written. Mainly because it is wide enough in application for all entrepreneurs. (I picked this up in early 2018 and podcasted an episode about it.)
Now I’m coming back to say that this is the Bible you should be following. Because it’s broad enough to tell you what you should be doing. And also telling you what you should avoid – but telling you in terms of just the principles.
The Backwards Book Model – Best Leverage
Another book I laid out earlier, “Backwards Book Publishing: Save Time, Earn More, Work Less…” will be a workflow for this challenge. I threw this out as a model this past year, mainly because I was busy publishing and making my output goals. Adding in audio to a book publishing line will cause different publishing results. Audio will help you proof your book, chapter by chapter, and will also enable you to publish podcasts and an audiobook from it. Since I wasn’t creating courses from these fiction books (and had accepted some dissing about audiobooks being profitable) I ignored the possible publishing I could do, in favor of getting more ebooks published. (The highest percentage of sales on Amazon are of ebooks, not paperbacks or audio – but audio is now eating into the percentages of paperback sales across the boards.)
My content-business built by finding perennial-selling non-fiction and publishing these as both ebook and paperback (also hardback). I have a few audiobooks up there, but they aren’t selling in particular.
Most of that “in particular” is because I haven’t been running those as a business, just taking what I could get as sales and using that income to cover my research efforts (such as last year’s fiction writing.)
While I will continue writing fiction (at the rate of “only” one book per week) this will also have the audio book being published grooving in that production line. It will also have a podcast of promotion for that book. (And as I can in this next year, I’ll be converting my last year’s fiction into audio, along with promotional podcast episodes.)
For non-fiction, audio is obvious – as you can create a course from your book. That is leverage as Pulizzi recommends. A recent Joanna Penn podcast on her 10-year anniversary of starting out, brought me a link to Yaro Staryk’s “Freedom” post – where he said he moved to the “flagship course” model as the most leverageable.
Pulizzi discusses the “blog-to-book” model of writing a non-fiction book. And is how he wrote all of his. Adding audio to this mix then gives you the elements to take this onto more leverage through re-publishing.
Fiction authors would use this through their own regular blogging and creating a non-fiction course they can push besides their fiction writing.
The tail end of Content Inc (Diversification and Monetization) lays this out for the author content-business.
Starting With the End In Mind – From Where You Are Now
Again, don’t compare yourself with me. But join me for this journey. You may find stuff that works for you.
Pulizzi credited three key influences at the front of his book. Napoleon Hill for setting the reviewing goals, Stephen Covey for “beginning with the end in mind” and Grant Cardone for his “10X Rule” to merge those other two.
And expect that I’ll do a digest early this next year of Hill’s books, in alignment with other perennial-selling books that built on his base. A retrospective update, basically.
Here’s something you can test right now:
You can build or expand any business using a system of four principles.
- Philosophy – Collect Stuff That Works. The derivation of that word comes from “love of truth”. While the ancient Polynesians said “truth is as valuable as it is workable”. So philosophy in action is like good engineering – appreciation for things that work. Test everything. Double down on those what work for you in your current situation.
- Principles – Note Things That Keep Showing Up. Some key points, like the “Golden Rule” keep showing up across history. The balance of supply and demand is another. 80/20 rule (Pareto’s Principle) is yet another. In different places and different times they keep showing up. So keep track of these as useful tools.
- Patterns – Look for Working Relationships. Some principles work together to get better results. Politics and Religion may both have deeply held opinions, and also may be necessary for smooth operation of a society – but that doesn’t make them acceptable table conversation (let alone what passes for social media “comments” these days.) In Nature, you see systems of nutrients/plants/animals can rebuild worn-out soil. They also call this “organic” agriculture. In business, there are other patterns, such as the author platform above. Look or these, learn and test them for yourself.
- Product – Do You Get the Expected Results? This is actually the core of Scientific Method. Set a goal, apply what you think should get you there (a plan), and then see if you’re getting what you wanted – or better, or worse. If not, change your plans or what you are doing. This is the opposite of Insanity (changing nothing and expecting different results.) Set goals – keep yourself accountable to making them. They also call these “metrics”.
Philosophy, Principles, Patterns, Products – A simple mnemonic to help you improve your author content-business as you go.
This Challenge launches January 1, 2019. Hope you’ll be watching. Should be fun.
Also published on Medium.