If you write, chances are you have the dream to be a full time author. It’s not for everyone. It is a demanding, turbulent occupation that wears many out. And yet, we want it.
In 2016 I had a plan. I needed four more years to restart my career now that I knew what I wanted to focus on, build a brand, a back list that could support me and get debt free. Then, and only then, could I do it. Be a full time author.
Plans are made to be burned and their ashes danced on. February 1st of 2016 I was laid off. It was from out of the blue. I was not prepared. And I had a choice ahead of me:
A year later, it’s no surprise which option I picked. I hope sharing how I made the decision to take the chance helps others evaluate their plans.
I’m going to look at a few key things:
There are a few key pieces of data I had at my disposal February 1st when I was laid off that helped me make my decision based on facts, not feelings.
Looking at the cold hard numbers of output vs input told me a couple things.
First, if I produced steadily, if I released regularly, I could bring that income up. Second, the pace at which I write comfortably would allow for frequent releases.
Not in this data is The Plan. Remember, I had a four year plan. Just because I was let go from my job didn’t change that plan. It merely accelerated it. Previously, in my earlier years writing I wrote, sold or published whatever I felt like writing. From contemporary to space opera, from BDSM to suspense. That works for some authors, but not for most.
Because an author is a brand. Like Coka-Cola or Dr Pepper, you know when you pop that top what you’re getting. Now, some authors can write all over the board and do amazing. I’m not that person. I know I need to pick a thing and go for it. I needed to recreate the Sidney Bristol brand with a flavor people would come to recognize and reach for when they get that hankering. I was a bit ahead of the schedule because I’d spent much of 2015 priming myself to go all-in with this new direction.
February of 2016 would see my first mass market release in romantic suspense with a traditional publisher. Over the previous five years I’d determined that suspense, action and adventure suit me best, and it was my intention to buckle down and build my house on that brand. I was rebuilding myself, so to speak. Which left me in a very interesting place to begin my full time author life.
I felt like I could do it. I set a goal of six months and told myself that if I hadn’t achieved a steady income level of around $1,500 I would need to seriously reconsider what I was doing.
There’s a number of things I brought with me to writing full time. First, I can produce and I produce fairly reliably without much waffling on my output. So long as I like the story, have an outline and a feel for the characters, I can write the book.
I produced five books in a series. I positioned the series so it was at a cross-section of three subgenres. And then I did a spin-off.
I focused on hero-centric, book boyfriends rather than heroine rooted stories.
Above all, I wrote every, freaking day and said yes to just about every promotion that came my way.
This resulted in a grand total of fourteen releases in 2016 between four series. I saw my income go from an average of around $940 per month at the beginning of the year to $2,300 per month. I did this releasing wide versus going into Kindle Unlimited. And I did it with much help from other people. No, that isn’t ground breaking, amazing results. It could have been better, but more than anything I proved to myself that it was entirely possible to recreate myself and establish a sustaining career at the same time.
This full time author gig was possible.
Side note: It should also be acknowledged that I had other things going on to bring in money on the side to supplement the lean months.
We all can do better. I learned a few of my mistakes early on and tried to power through them.
First, I dove into writing on a series I began on a whim. SEALs have continued to be popular. Bodyguards were popular. Suspense was supposed to be popular. So I put them all together into a mishmash series. The first book was a fluke. Something I wrote for a boxed set and didn’t really know what to do with. It did well, people liked it, and I wrote characters in with the idea that I could do more down the line. When I was laid off, that book and concept were the best ones I had for creating a viable product line. In hindsight, I might have been better served sitting back and brainstorming a better concept with a more marketable brand. That said, that series has supported me pretty much on it’s own for the last half of 2016, so I won’t complain too much.
Covers. I made an artistic decision in 2015 when I wrote the first book because I wanted to be different. The problem with different is that it does not always mean better. It was just different. And the concept I requested, wanted, and loved so very much…didn’t properly convey my product line. I recovered the series in the latter part of 2016 for a pretty penny and have seen better marketing, sales and opportunities. My advice? Get a really good cover artist, and then an even better friend who isn’t afraid to tell you the cover model looks like Ken’s creepy brother with a thing for Skipper. Yes, I’ve heard that one.
I got distracted by writing what I wanted, not what people wanted. While my first series wasn’t a well thought out brand, it sold well enough. My plan was to create something similar, but different. Good in theory, if I’d stuck with the same part of the statement. Instead of doing something similar, I went off the reservation and did a heroine-centric, series of my heart project. This resulted in months focused on books that did not firmly fit the brand I wanted to push. Do I regret them? Nope. I wanted to write them and there is a readership for them, but they are not the majority. I learned the hard way that sometimes I’m going to have to stuff what I want to write deep down and focus on what I enjoy that will also sell.
By and far the biggest thing that’s assisted me along the way?
Avid readers and wonderful friends.
I wouldn’t be where I am without people who wanted to read my books and thereby shared my books with their friends. I wouldn’t have reached those readers without other authors reaching back to pull me up with them.
A lot of people treat this publishing game as a me versus them sort of thing that it does not have to be. Readers don’t buy just one author’s books, and accepting that, embracing that, is huge.
I try to always, always, always say thank you where it’s deserved. Or if I’m just grateful. Because a thank you doesn’t cost anything, and it can mean the world all at the same time.
The lessons learned in 2016 are already getting a workout. This year I’m releasing a better planned and more marketable series hung on several hooks for readers to glom onto. I’ve paid attention to brand, tone, things that do and do not work when it comes to heroes and covers. I’m doing my best to learn so that 2017 is the year that we not only make it, but break it in terms of goals and success.
If you’re someone wanting to write full time, my biggest advice would be to consider everything you want to do. If writing is it, the top of the list, your everything, then sit down and start making your plan for how to get there. It’s possible. It’s doable. Yes, we live in crazy, turbulent publishing times, but this is a viable career in need of more, amazing voices telling their stories.
When I prepared to self-publish, I had no idea how many aspects of Amazon existed, much less those I’d need or choose not to use. Here’s an overview of 25 ways authors can partake of Amazon’s sites and services. Starting Thursday, January 14, I’ll cover one or two in detail at www.rjkaufman.blogspot.com.
Not ready to publish but want to get your GAN (great American novel) into the public eye? Consider one of these sites for sharing your work that incorporate the power of crowd voting and commenting. 1) You can post on Kindle Scout (the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award was discontinued in favor of this). Maybe you’ll prefer 2) the story lab Write On by Kindle.
If you prefer traditional publishing, consider submitting to one of 3) Amazon Publishing’s 14 (!) imprints.
Like fan fiction? 4) Kindle Worlds allows authors to publish in the worlds of certain popular TV shows such as The Vampire Diaries and best-selling authors such as Kathryn Le Veque. You write a novella or book in that world and share royalties.
To self-publish other e-books, you need an account with 5) Kindle Direct Publishing. For print, you need 6) CreateSpace (yes, there’s a way on CreateSpace to automatically create an e-book for Kindle, but because of formatting issues, that’s not recommended). Each site has different features and offers different reports.
Not ready to write a full-length novel or just prefer short stories? Check out 7) Kindle singles and short reads.
Before we start, if you're here looking for a magic pill to make this all happen for you and a hand holding step-by-step guide, you've landed at the wrong blog post.
Looking for a list of recommended reads to help you not only get started on your book but develop your craft as you go? Welcome! It should also be noted that this page and its contents may often change so be sure to bookmark it. Interested in writing a book, but don't know how to go about doing it? Have no fear. I asked some of today's best selling authors to recommend books to help you get started.
Wait? I have to read books about the craft of writing? Yes. While we don't mind offering a direction to get started, we don't have the time to offer much beyond that. Also, all of us have had to do the legwork and the research as well to develop our craft.) In addition to the suggested reading material, the biggest piece of writing advice that came from the authors was "write the book". Put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard and write.
YASIV is a tool can be used by authors to see how people are finding your books and other books--the path they are generally taking to either get to you or get to another book from your. It shows you the visual connection between your book and others that are connected. It's really interesting and this one has a rabbit hole warning (you know, when you start and three hours later realize you're still playing with it because you've figured out it does other neat stuff too).
It offers other handy information that you can take and find ways to apply to your marketing. Its uses for finding a target market is awesome. Here is a site talking about as much.
Visit YASIV for Amazon today and start gathering data: SITE HERE
Their blog offers various features and ways this tool can be used. Check it out here.
Visual key for target marketing
This is a list of words, compiled by the group, that may trigger your book to be pulled from Amazon:
I built this for myself as a checklist for things to make sure and get done with every book release. With everything I’ve learned from this amazing group, I thought a concise list would help me, and then anyone else who wanted to use it, hit as many of the “must do” things before a book releases.
Reasons to Use or Not Use Pre-orders
Amazon pre-orders may not be for everyone, but they are a great tool for some. You might consider using a pre-order for the following:
While it is completely my opinion, I wouldn’t recommend using a pre-order if you’re a newer author. Why? Well, you lose the release day momentum of your mailing list and social media. Yes, you can still have some momentum, but if your fanbase is still small, you won’t hit any of the category lists for extra visibility.
If you fail to upload your final version by the due date, you will lose pre-order capabilities for a year. There are rare instances when you upload on time but Amazon says you didn’t. In this case only, email KDP support. It may take a few emails, but they should reverse the decision if it was a mistake on their end.
Tips for Pre-order Success
If you are writing a serial, make sure to include a link at the end of Part XXX for the next part.
Pre-orders require marketing if you wish to net big numbers. Links at the end of your book are one way, social media, mailing lists, FB ads, etc. are another.
You will gain “Also Boughts” and a ranking during the pre-order process. Cross promotion can help land you in important also-boughts of other authors. You can also show up on category lists. In other words, you have visibility opportunities during the pre-order process just like with a new release.
Include a link to the pre-order page under the “From the Author” section via Authorcentral. I actually include all links for the series. Here’s an example (click on the image for a larger view):