Writing Fiction Roadmap and Checklist For Authors
After one month on this Great Fiction Writing Challenge, I’ve seen some progress. I’ve also seen my limits and my frustrations.
Neither Rome, nor the World was built in a day. Figure another month should do it.
The point is to keep this simple, doable, and report up to you how this test is going.
- Writing fiction daily.
- Reading fiction daily.
- Promoting daily (which includes publishing.)
These are the three R’s. (Just to make them mnemonic.) The emphasis has to be on fiction if you want to write fiction for a living. And this roadmap is for the newbie as well as the veteran who both want to improve their writing production.
In writing, you should set a goal of words. But some successful authors simply have to set times daily. Again, see Rachel Aaron’s “From 2K to 10K” where she tells about how to figure out your best times. Also, Dorothea Brande in her “Becoming A Writer” gives many practices you can take up to prepare your mind to give you stories on demand. (See my Training Your Inspiration Series – Part I, Part II, Part III)
I ran into a tip from Dean Wesley Smith this week about having a different computer, chair, and even room to do your fiction writing in. And you only do your fiction writing there. Your promotion, and publishing is done on another computer elsewhere. He tells that this is what he does, and that people who have tried this found it very successful. That computer only has to be decent enough to write on. Technically, you could use a smartphone and a bluetooth keyboard. I’ve also looked at a $60 Raspberry Pi 3 kit, to which you’d only have to add a monitor and a USB or bluetooth keyboard. And get a Lubuntu USB boot drive to give you a full word processor. A lot of us have monitors and keyboards sitting around. If not, all of the above hardware is available from Walmart.com (or Amazon, if you prefer to deal with bots. I prefer Walmart’s Site-to-Store so I can pick it up there and talk to real people.)
I’ve also woken up in the middle of the night and used an old tablet to peck out the story with two fingers. I’ve found Google Docs works better on Android and my little iPad mini than it does on a regular computer. But that way you can pull it in from the cloud and finish it off. Writing helps me get back to sleep, but I don’t need to turn a light on to scribble down a note. Simpler is better. (And if I fall back to sleep while writing, the tablet turns itself off.)
Below that is being certain of what you know. My recent post laid out the 10 books I recommend as basic.
Round up all your other writing and get it published. Seriously. It doesn’t matter how bad it is. If you think it would embarrass you, publish it under a pen name. Use your publishing imprint as a roof to put all your pen names under. DWSmith above says he’s used around 50 pen names over his 40 years of writing. My imprint is Midwest Journal Press, and I have three pen names under it right now (in three different genres) plus my own name for non-fiction writing.
You want to streamline your publishing process. This means no re-writing, unless you get an editor somewhere who insists on changes to get it published. See DWSmith’s site for Heinlein’s Rules (or get his short book on this.) The basics (paraphrased) are these: a) Write. b) Finish what you start. b) Edit and proof it into shape. c) Publish it. d) Keep it on sale and selling.
Our approach is to write and finish short scenes daily. Let the story tell you how long it needs to be. Build your scenes into stories if they are that short. Otherwise, they build into chapters, that then build into whole books. Learn your craft and perfect it with short stories. Eventually graduate into novels. Always write as part of a series and in serials. Minimally, you’ll be able to build into short story collections.
The Proof Method
(Note: Links to all these resources mentioned below can be found here.)
Your most efficient production will be to wind up with all the various parts you need to publish in all formats. The ideal is to wind up with ebook, paperback, and audiobook.
I do this in four proofs:
- Write and edit as you go to make is as good as you can.
- Proof this by re-reading and correcting until you quit finding stuff to fix (for me, it’s about three more read-throughs.)
- Line edit (I use ProWritingAid.com until I can find a line-editor I can trust and afford.)
- Read it out loud and adjust the text to fit your writing/talking voice. Record this and edit it for your audiobook.
Since going wide is more profitable and less nerve-racking than working exclusively for Amazon:
- Publish your ebook to Draft2Digital.com, PublishDrive, Smashwords, and KDP (in that order.)
- Publish your paperback (generate a PDF via LibreOffice is the simplest) to Lulu.com as it goes wide to all possible outlets. (Use the same PDF to also publish a hardback if you want.)
- Publish your audiobook to Findaway through Draft2Digital’s link.
- (If it’s a non-fiction book, then you’ll used the audio and text to make a course out of it – put it on Thinkific.com to start with.)
You’ll also note that none of the above needs to cost you anything but time. And after you’ve published a dozen books or so, it will be pretty smooth. You’re going to need a decent microphone (Blue Snowball is recommended, or their more expensive Blue Yeti.) And your computer will have to keep up – another reason to have a decent machine. The MAC mini is close to ideal for recording and editing (and price) but you can use most anything. Use Audacity (free download) for editing.
The warning again here is that if you make your writing into a business and make it pay for itself, then you can build a stable residual passive income that will replace your day job income. If you keep getting “loans” from your day job to pay for your business, you’ll want to keep your day job to afford your writing as a hobby. Just the way it works. Your choice. Other than the equipment above, none of what I’m telling you above will cost you a red cent.
Promotion in Earnest.
We aren’t starting off with ads. I know they are the rage, but you have to build something to sell first. The biggest problem is helping people find your books. Spending money on ads isn’t the simplest or most economical way to solve it.
The one thing Thoreau got wrong was about “…if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door.” He died with stacks of his self-published book sitting around his house. He became famous for Walden and his other books after he was dead. (No thanks.)
You want to follow the Content Inc. route. The key metric you want to have is subscribers, even more than published books. An audience will buy your books. Published books don’t sell themselves.
Your Mailing List – Getting Subscribers
First thing you need is an email provider. Mailerlite is the leader right now, as it’s free up to the first 1,000 subscribers, it allows you to create a series of emails to educate your subscribers in opening your emails, and is less expensive than the other providers on monthly basis.
The simplest and cheapest ways to build a subscriber base are by giving something away. Like your writing. Instafreebie is the most economical way to do this. And it’s basic plan is free. It also integrates with Mailerlite on its paid tiers. You set up giveaways on Instafreebie and they’ll help you promote these. People sign up with their emails and you put them on your list.
Another approach is to have a “reader magnet” which is a free book, usually the first one in your series, that people can download for free on Amazon and everywhere else. Inside all your other books, you include a link to that freebie so they can opt-in to your mailing list.
The third approach that’s recommended is to get in with other authors for bundles of free books. They mail to their list and you mail to yours. You can then cross-pollinate with fellow writers. All of these can be done through Instafreebie.
Have a Blog and Connect With Your Audience
If you don’t already have one, put it on Blogger.com, like JA Konrath has done for decades. You don’t have to keep up the maintenance on it and it does the job you need.
The reason for a blog is to tell your story as an author and also have a place your readers can interact with you, even if they aren’t on your mailing list. Post here as often as you want. Later on, you can take these blog posts and build both a non-fiction book and a course from them. Right now, you just want people to subscribe to your blog to keep up on your latest releases and get special offers otherwise.
(There are also custom templates you can get if theirs are a bit dull, but concentrate on simply getting a blog up there first. Beautify it later, if you have time.)
Radio and Podcast Interviews
This is a step up. And needful. The general point is that you are more real to listeners if they can hear from the actual author. Podcast and radio listeners are still growing in number. The more audiences you can get in front of and help find your books, the wider your potential audience will be. While there is more to this than simply putting up free books for downloads, it’s not much harder. I’ll do a thorough write up on this as I break this down – but the core is to subscribe to RadioGuestList.com and start finding out shows that need guests. You again give something away to that audience where they can join your list. Again, I’ll do another article on this when I really get into this.
Regular mailings to your list.
Monthly, bi-weekly, whatever you want to keep as a schedule. Just a regular email to these people so they are kept in touch – or drop out if they aren’t a good match for your style. Don’t worry about what you say, just be yourself. The schedule is the thing. Stay in touch and they won’t drop off on you. Of course, you should go through and find the ones who never open anything and unsubscribe them yourself. That will make your list more efficient and you’ll be mailing the people who really want to know.
In this, I’m not telling you to get into selling books in your emails. And especially not doing affiliate offers. To me, that’s sheer death for continuing to get emails from that person (what they offer colors your reputation with your readers.) So just talk to them. Tell them what you are working on, and give them samples. Ask if they want to be early reviewers for you. Then you can send out advance copies of your book, and they can help you find typo’s and plot holes.
You want to just keep giving and giving, so when you actually put a book on sale, your readers will want to reciprocate and buy/review your books.
Taking Off From There
Your Own Book Sales and Courses
It’s a bit far from this, but once you get going, you can add books to your blog that you sell yourself. The simplest, most cost-effective way to do this is Gumroad. That’s also how you can convert subscribers to patrons and generate regular income on a monthly basis.
Again, there is a lot I’ll write up later on how to get this all done, but it’s a bit far from just starting out. I’m mentioning it here so that you can start planning for it on one of your back burners.
Another point is courses. I mentioned this briefly above, and will cover this briefly again. Go visit and sign up for my free course “Backwards Book Publishing” and see how you write non-fiction book with the idea of making a course out of it, then your course pushes your book while your book pushes your course. Courses potentially are 100X more income-productive than your book in terms of annual income. You already have the audio and text for these. A no-brainer, since Thinkific is free.
In both of these, you are cutting out the middleman. You get 90% royalties from the books and courses people pay you for directly. Much, much better than Amazon (which doesn’t even do courses – yet.) And you can give your subscribers better deals than Amazon…
Wattpad, Goodreads, LibaryThing – Real Social Media
This is another area I’m not into fully yet, but am telling you about it now as something to put on your planning. By the end of February, I plan to be completely invested in everything on this page and into a regular production of books. (By the end of March, this should all be second-nature.)
Essentially, you want to get the uber-readers (who read more than one novel per week) to find your books. And these three sites are the places they go to in order to get their fix. The shorthand is to serialize your books on Wattpad, and run giveaways through Goodreads and LibraryThing. These build the right kind of audience for you, and Amazon will then recommend your books to these buyers.
The problem with Twitter and Facebook, etc. is that they aren’t devoted to just books. (Neither is Amazon, come to think about it.) But if you want your books discovered, you announce it where readers go. Simple. Logical.
More on this later, much more.
Goals and Progress Toward Success
- Right now, I’m still working on my fiction writing daily. Today and tomorrow, I’m going to (hopefully) catch up on all my backlogged publishing. And work out how I’m going to record all this audio.
- I’ve got Instafreebie tied into Mailerlite. Some books up there, no bundles.
- I have this blog and one on blogger.
- And I have my books you can buy via Gumroad, and courses on Thinkific.
- Once I get all the earlier fiction books published, then I can set up giveaways (sign up to the list below this to get those offers in your inbox…)
- I’m onto the RadioGuestList list, and just need a PR page to promote myself as an interviewee.
- And then, getting onto the three social media above with weekly serialized books and giveaways.
That all means that we are close to having the basics in, finally.
You can compile this into a short checklist for yourself:
⇒ Writing, Reading, Promoting Daily – a regular schedule and place evolved.
⇒ All earlier writing dug up and published (under pen names)
⇒ MailerLite with Instafreebie – giveaways on this. Regular mailings to your list.
⇒ Blogger blog. Regular postings here.
⇒ Group giveways with other authors on Instafreebie.
⇒ RadioGuestList to get regular interviews (you’ll need a PR page on your blog.)
⇒ Weekly chapters serialized on Wattpad
⇒ Giveways on Goodreads, LibraryThing
Pretty simple as a list. Tough to do all at once. Get your three habits in first, even if you are doing this part time.
That lays out what I need to do with this roadmap toward my own success. The idea is to have all this going by the end of February, giving me another 10 months of straight-ahead writing and publishing. Then we’ll do an annual review. That’s the plan, anyway.
Here’s wishing us both luck – all we could possibly need.
If you liked this article, or got something out of it…
PS. Sharing is caring – go ahead and send this on to someone you know.
Also published on Medium.