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The first year as a full time author.

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:

  1. Did I stick to my four year plan and get a new job that might not afford me the same downtime to write and maintain that plan?
  2. Or did I take the chance and write?

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:

  1. My position in the market when I entered full time authorhood
  2. What I did well
  3. What could be improved on
  4. How others have helped me

plan photoThe starting line.

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.

  1. Accounting. The first thing was a detailed record of all of my sales up until December 2015. You bet your bippy I spent the afternoon of February 1st getting my data in order to reflect through January. Looking back over the years since January of 2011 I realized that my income, while small still, could easily be built on. I stood to bring in my biggest payday yet due to reclaiming several titles from Ellora’s Cave. Those books alone were bringing in a pretty penny.
  2. Productivity & Project Management. I have spreadsheets going back almost ten years which help me evaluate and track my productivity. It was how I made deadlines and kept to them while juggling my personal and professional lives outside of writing. If I was writing 50,000 words a month with a job, what could I do without one?
  3. The enthusiastic support of my family, my significant other and fans.

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.

Why?

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.

What I did well.

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.

plan photoAbove 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.

What I could have done better.

We all can do better. I learned a few of my mistakes early on and tried to power through them.

plan photoFirst, 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.

The helping hands.

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.

Looking forward.

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.

My advice.

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.

So I have to talk to…people?

A Tale of Social Media and Reader Interaction

Social media is a large part of our society these days. As an author, it plays a part in both your personal and business lives. Why? Because social media is where EVERYONE is—friends, family, co-workers, other writers. And most important, readers.

Many of us were readers before we ever sat down to pen our first book. We were inspired by someone, somewhere, to put our ideas on paper and make them into a story that we hope others want to enjoy. While the point of marketing is to expose our brand, there’s more to it than spamming the interwebz with pleas to buy our books.

Think on this – when you’re engaging a person at a conference or wherever, do you want them to walk up to you, stick their hand out and introduce themselves like this? “Hey, I’m T.J. I know you don’t know me but my books are awesome. Here’s a link to go buy them!”

Most likely, you’d look at that person and wonder whether they were off their meds. You don’t greet total strangers like that in person, so why in the world would it be effective online? Sure readers are always looking for great books. But they’re more likely to buy your work if you come off as a person who is approachable, likeable and not a total bitch.

Admit it, there’ve been times where you looked forward to meeting an author at a book signing or a conference, then after finally having a moment to interact, you swore you’d never buy another one of their books again. Like, ever.

So, don’t be “that guy”.

The question is, how do we let our readers know that we’re real people and not just walking promotions? We have to TALK to them.

Here’s a great example of how simply being friendly can gain great relationships with readers.

The following post had about 100 likes, which means the number of people who actually looked at it was much higher:

So later on, when this same author posted about a new book, the engagement DOUBLED:

I also notice that after I’ve been a bit more chatty with people on social media, I get a lot more engagement in my actual promo posts. And the hope is that more engagement will translate in sales.

For example, I had a new release in a KindleWorlds launch, and instead of spamming my book in The Wolf Pack (a popular Facebook group), I talked about shifters in general, other people’s books, things I was interested in (such as big cats) and commented on/liked other people’s posts. I did this for a couple of weeks prior to my own release. I didn’t spend all day on Facebook, but just a few interactions a day.

Along came release week and guess what happened? I received a TON more engagements on both my fun and promo posts than I’d ever received before. Ever. In addition, I received more REVIEWS on Amazon for the book that I was promoting, and a nice number of opening sales for the first two months of the release. In addition, every other book in the series received a sales bump. And the longer I engaged the group in fun stuff, the longer the sales bump continued. It was a totally magical [insert Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings-type music here!] moment and completely worth it.

So, yes. We do need to actually ‘talk’ to people. Share a bit of yourself with your readership. They don’t need to know what blood type you are, or what color panties you wear on Tuesdays. But a little bit of information can go a long way.

So what kind of things should you share? Here are some examples:

  • Are you a Doctor Who fan? Why or why not?
  • If you write paranormal, have you ever been on a ghost hunt?
  • Which paranormal TV shows or movies do you like?
  • For general things, do you enjoy music? If so, what kind?
  • Do you listen to it while you write? Does it inspire any of your stories?
  • Who are your favorite man-candy actors or girl-crush actresses?
  • What do you think about the latest movies that hit the big screen? Love ‘em, hate ‘em, ambivalent or just meh?
  • Did you dress up last Halloween? Really? What did you “go” as?
  • Coffee lover? Chocolate lover? Hate one or both?
  • Are you a proud nerd?
  • Know any good jokes? If not, are you master of the funny meme?

Now, I’m not saying just start spouting all of this information all over the interwebz, but find others who may be talking about some of these things and engage them. Your readers will definitely see it and may even check out some of your interests and begin to talk with you about them.

A little interaction can go a loooong way to building positive social media relationships with people who love your writing. And those people will tell someone else. And they’ll tell two friends, and so on and so on.

Bottom line, if readers like you as a person, they’re more likely to stick with you as an author.

So, go get ‘em tiger!

Love, T.J.

Project Management For Writers

February 29, 2016

Did you know a writer’s career can be summed up as mini-projects from start to finish? Author and project management are two terms that rarely go hand-in-hand. There are thousands of ebooks out there that will tell you how to write, how to market, and how to increase your word count. Trust me, I know. I’ve read most of them. What I’ve yet to find is a comprehensive guide for effectively managing multiple author projects, website updates, marketing, money, contracts, etc. and still manage to get your writing done.

Many years before I took the plunge into full-time writing, I was a project manager for large military hospitals at various sites. Fifteen billion dollars in products and services passed through my hands during those years. It was a high-stress job with micromanaging at an epic level (for good reason! That’s a lot of tax dollars!), and keeping track of my daily to-do list was a nightmare all its own. Our base had become a joint venture with our sister services as well as the VA so there were a lot of eyes on our new program.

My job site sent me to shadow three project managers of the largest accounts in all of Pacific Air Force. For one week, I’d be at their side, learning the ins and outs of time management in the midst of turmoil. Each project manager taught me valuable lessons that I’m going to share with you. If they don’t make sense, no worries. I’ll expand on them in a bit.

  1. Your daily list is the most important list you’ll ever have. If you’re not a list maker, then you need at least a primary goal in your mind.
  2. If you don’t hold yourself accountable for your time, you will constantly feel as though you will never catch up.
  3. Document your time. And BE HONEST. Don’t exaggerate how you did. Later on, when you’re really struggling, you’ll need to see this wasn’t the first time you’d hit a snag.
  4. Effective time management means balancing the project legs (parts of the project) with the appropriate amount of time and attention. That means cutting your big projects down into manageable chunks.

The life of an author has taken a fascinating turn these past few years. We’re expected to do more with less, market harder than the person next to us, and still write gripping prose while maintaining optimism. It’s enough to overwhelm a person.

Each book you write, edit, upload (or submit), and publish is a project. A book can be broken down into four main project legs: writing, editing, publishing, marketing. If you have a publisher, the publishing section would be what you have to do in order to get your book ready for submission and will include the submission process. Maintaining your financial records is an ongoing project that requires a scheduled update. Website design and maintenance are a project all its own (though creating a new lead page for your latest release could technically fall under marketing for a book project). Blog posts, like this one, need to be scheduled and promoted. These are important aspects to our career that we have to pay attention to.

So how do you set up your project management tracker?

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Managing giveaways and free stories for newsletter subscribers by Anna Lowe

January 25, 2016

My biggest challenge as an author is probably the same as any other person’s: balancing time. That’s true on several levels, because I have to balance my writing commitments with family time as well as meeting the demands of my day job. If I zoom the focus to writing specifically, the balance question becomes how much to time to put into writing new material which is critical to keep fans happy versus how much time to put into social media and promotion so that I can reach new fans? In this article, I’ll talk about why and how I give away free content and how I distribute it.

Every author knows (or should know) the importance of building a mailing list. I have tried gaining newsletter subscribers in various ways but the most effective, hands-down, if offering free content. To put it crudely, I dangle a baited hook in front of readers – and “free” makes great bait. Free and easy is even better – for authors and readers alike.

I currently offer two short stories free to subscribers (one for each of my series). I started out offering one free story that followed up on the couple featured in Book 1 of my Wolves of Twin Moon Ranch series. That attracts huge numbers of subscribers. Once I expanded into a second series (the Serendipity Adventure Romance series), I added a second free story, which is the prequel to Book 1 of that series.

These giveaways make effective bait because they are complete stories in and of themselves (not excerpts or deleted scenes). The stories also fit seamlessly into the line-up of my established series so readers can see that the product has value. This impression is reinforced by the fact that the covers are professional, attractive, and again, streamlined into the series. Finally, the giveaways are actually posted for sale on Amazon and have collected many reviews, so the reader can see that they’re the genuine deal. And snap – they grab the reward! As they should; it’s a great deal that allows new readers to try out my story worlds for free. A win-win for us both.

I started out by individually emailing fans epub/mobi/or pdf files of these free stories (and sending ARC copies of upcoming releases to my growing review team the same way). That was a huge time drain! Author friends pointed me to instaFreebie and I’ve never looked back. Newsletter subscribers can use Instafreebie to claim both books in any format they like, and ARC readers can download advance copies of a new release the same way. Interestingly, both of the stories I give away for free also sell reasonably well on Amazon for 99¢ each, so I’ve long since earned back the costs of covers and editing for both.

Most importantly, instaFreebie makes it easy for me. By offering readers a variety of formats in which they can download their reward, instaFreebie saves me valuable writing time. Looking back, I was able to reward the first few dozen subscribers to my newsletter “by hand,” but now that I’ve broken into four digits with my subscriber list, that’s just inconceivable.

Similarly, I used to individually email every member of my review team a copy of the story in her preferred format. It took ages! With instaFreebie, I send one email to my entire review team with one instaFreebie link. The great thing is, if someone needs tech support, instaFreebie helps with that, too, so I’m not left scratching my head about why Jane Doe can’t load a book to her device. (You’d be amazed how many people don’t know how to load a story onto their reading device.) InstaFreebie also gives me some peace of mind in that it distributes watermarked copies of my book, making it slightly harder for a copy to end up on a pirate website.

Even I, a complete technophobe, could set up MailChimp to send all newsletter subscribers a welcome email that leads to the free stories on instaFreebie, so that is automated, as well. The one thing I don’t automate is responses to my ARC review team. Once they send me the link to their review (a requirement to stay on my ARC team), I reply to each and every one personally. They’ve given their time to read and review my books; the least I can do is send even a brief thank you in return.

Finally, the nuts and bolts: I set up my free stories as unlimited campaigns (no limit to number of downloads and no expiration date), because I don’t want readers to come to a dead end with an expired offer. On the other hand, I set up my ARC campaigns as batches of 50 downloads with no expiration date just in case someone were tempted to abuse the system and share the link with the world. It’s never happened and I hope it doesn’t, but just in case, I do ARC offers in limited batches.

I have a prominent tab on my author website (labeled “FREE BOOK” instead of “newsletter”) that leads to my newsletter sign-up. That page includes a color image of both covers to brighten that hook even more (see http://www.annalowebooks.com/newsletter-free-book). In addition, I include the same color invite to join my newsletter as a live link in the frontmatter of every book I publish, and I put the sign-up link in the backmatter, as well.

Good luck growing your newsletter list and managing your giveaways to make the most of your precious writing time!

Get Started On Your Book!

January 10, 2016

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.

                 

Recommended Reads:

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How to Make Your Boxed Set a Success

Boxed sets are a great way to boost your visibility on ebook retailers and can be a good source of extra income, but what does it take for a boxed set to find success? I’ve been in boxed sets since the beginning and I’ve had flops as well as wild successes. Here’s how to avoid flopping.

 

1.High concept drives sales.

Gone are the days of slapping any ol’ group of stories together. For a boxed set to sell well now, it has to have a hook beyond the fact that it is a 99 cent mega deal. There are enough boxed sets for sale that readers can be picky. Give them a reason to pick yours.

My last boxed set (now unpublished) was a mash-up of the Outlander trend with shifter romance. Titled Highland Shifters, the set hit the USA Today bestseller list and part of its success was due to having a very tight concept that was instantly communicated via the cover.

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So You Want to Try Co-writing?

November 23, 2015

So You Want to Try Co-writing? Great!

Co-writing can be a very rewarding experience. But, depending on the personalities involved, it can also be very challenging.

Before we get into the pros and cons of co-writing, so you can decide if it’s right for you, we first need to go over some of the basics.

What exactly is co-writing?

Co-writing, at its core, is any kind of writing where you share responsibilities with someone else. This most commonly takes one of several forms:

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Instagram for Promotion

November 16, 2015

The Latergram.me Dashboard, to schedule a post.

When I first got Instagram, I was not that interested, because I’m not much of a photo-taker. My husband was the shutterbug in the house, and honestly, I got it so I could see his posts, and “like” all his stuff.

I never knew what to take pictures of. The problem for me had more to do with I was just, well, boring. I can (and do) put pictures of my growing FunkoPop dolls, my seasonal decorations, and sometimes my kids when they cooperate, but really, I just couldn’t think of anything I wanted to talk about all the time.

Well, except for all the books I write.

Then I started seeing fellow authors putting ad-like promo images of their books on Instagram. Some posts had little blurbs, some with tag lines, some with just fun photos about how awesome reading is. I remember thinking, what an awesome way to build a brand!

So I started doing research.

I learned that Instagram isn’t quite like Twitter or Facebook. The biggest one being that you cannot post to Instagram without the mobile app on your smart phone.

Unless…

You use another program, like LaterGram.me or HootSuite.

And even then, you have to use the mobile apps to make them work.Continue reading

New Release Book Marketing Strategies that Work Well

iStock_000002973850XSmallThere are many different ways you can market a new release. These are some of the things that I have found that have worked really well, especially for newer authors whose biggest challenge is usually visibility.

When I first started publishing, almost two years ago, I was fortunate to have some great writing friends who shared what worked for them. One of them, Leighann Dobbs, told me about her .99 release strategy. I have since used this for every book.

Each new book is released at .99 for several days and then goes to its regular $2.99 or $3.99 price. This early release discount is only offered to those on my email list (and is an incentive that helps with signups) and posted on my author page (and boosted to fans and friends).

The reason this can work so well is because you get an initial boost of sales upon release that can shoot you onto your genre top 100 lists (or close to it), which helps with visibility. So then a few days later, when you raise to your regular price, you are probably much higher in ranking than you would have been if you’d released at the regular price. Once you are more established, you could experiment with releasing at regular price, but I have found that the initial .99 release works so well that it’s worth missing some potential full price sales and it also is a really nice way to reward your most loyal readers.

When you are brand new and don’t have a list to email, you may want to consider getting the word out in other ways. When I launched a new pen name, I ran some Facebook ads to a simple landing page that had the book cover and blurb about the coming series and a signup link for an email alert when the book went live, with the incentive to get it at the early release discount. This generated about 150 initial signups over about 3 weeks. I also joined a Facebook group in that genre that was full of readers and where promo was limited to new release or sale announcements.

This group was hugely helpful in establishing early readers. I offered an Advance Readers Copy, to help generate some initial interest and reviews and sent out maybe a dozen. A friend recently followed my example but sent out even more ARCs as that group has grown. It is ideal to join a group like this way in advance of publishing. Get to know the readers and other authors and other opportunities may present themselves. I participated in a group sale, a .99 long weekend promo with about 30 other authors and I timed my new release to hit then.

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The Easiest Way to Manage Backmatter Links

October 12, 2015

If you’re a self-published author with a decent backlist, then you understand the chore it can be to update all of the links in your books with new releases. You wait for the new book to come out, then you find the link, and have to update all of your files. True, you can set up all of your links to landing pages on your website. But if you want to catch the instant buy impulse at the end of the book, it might be worthwhile to have direct links for that specific vendor. But do you really have to wait for the book to be up, redo all of your backmatter, and upload again? Not necessarily. If you have your own redirect url (site address) set-up, you can change it in one place and it will automatically update that link for all of your backmatter. Does that sound appealing? Well, then let’s see how to do it.

What you will need to do this:

  • A preferably short domain (it doesn’t have to be for your author website. In fact, it’s better to have it separate in my opinion)
  • WordPress installed on the short domain
  • A license for the Pretty Links Pro plug-in, which you can find here. (And then install it. Support is found on the website)

Please note: There are several different redirect plugins you can use. Pretty Links Pro is the one that was recommended and is one that I think is easy to use. The concept behind this post remains the same.

What the Finished Product Will Look Like

Before I get to exactly how to do this, you might be interested to see what the final product will look like. Then you can decide if you really want to read the rest of this article and go through the steps. Well, you know what? Let’s do it.

The domain I bought for this was lovebooks.co. I use it exclusively for creating short links and other plugins that I don’t have on my main author website (my main website is maintained by a company). A link I recently created was:

lovebooks.co/Loved-iB

That link is for a book that’s not out yet at of the time of writing this post, but will be soon. For now, it redirects to a page on my website. However, once the book goes live, I can change the link to redirect to my book on the iBooks Store. This way, I can include it all in my backmatter for my books on iBooks and not have to worry about updating tons of files later. Not only that, I can see how often it’s clicked, too.

Still Interested? Then How Does it Work?

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