The Illusion of Happiness in the Writing Community

chasing happiness
ID 107874113 © Zdenek Sasek | Dreamstime.com

 

Overall, the definition of happiness in the indie writing community is this:

High Income + Hitting a Big List (like USA or New York Times Bestseller) = Happiness

The USA and NYT Bestselling lists aren’t mandatory, but I see enough authors claiming some sort of bestselling list to know it’s important to them. A bestselling list of some kind lends itself to a form of success in their eyes. If this wasn’t a badge of success, authors wouldn’t mention it on their covers, in their book descriptions, or on their websites. The income thing is harder for others to see unless the authors are sharing their sales graphs, but the lists are easy to display, which is why we see so many claims to these lists.

Is it wrong to share information about income and a bestseller list? Of course not. But in doing so, we set up an unspoken rule that these are the things that make you “somebody worth listening to” in the writing community.  It makes you stand out from the crowd.

Let me illustrate what I mean by this. Say you have two authors: Author A and Author B. Author A has sold about 50 ebooks in the past year, which made him $100. He’s not on any lists. Author B, on the other hand, has sold 500,000 ebooks in the past year (which equaled about $1,000,000) and made the New York Times Bestseller list.  Now, both of these authors give out the same advice on their blogs and in reader forums. Will people cite Author A or Author B when they pass on that advice? Which author has more credibility in the writing community?  Also, taking this a step further, which author will get featured in interviews? Which author will be given the bigger microphone to pass on their advice? In other words: which author is successful?

In the business of writing, numbers do matter. Numbers are seen as a gauge of success. And success is seen as measure of happiness. This is the illusion of happiness in the writing community. We have this perception that in order to be happy as writers, we must fit the writing community’s standard of success.

I say this is an illusion because no matter how much people acquire, most people want more. And that desire for more doesn’t lead to happiness. It just leads to setting the bar higher. When a writer reaches one level of success (say being able to pay the mortgage), the writer thinks, “Wow. I was able to do that. But what if I was able to make a living wage with my income?” So then the writer sets the bar of success to making the living wage. And when they reach that goal, they look around at other authors who are making $20,000 a month. The writer then thinks, “Hmm… That looks like a totally awesome goal. I want to do that, too.” And on and on this goes.

The problem is that the writer isn’t satisfied with what they’ve accomplished. There’s more to obtain. There will always be more to obtain. When you measure yourself against those who are doing better, you will find yourself lacking, and that sense of lack will create a sense of unhappiness. You think, “If only I could get X, then I’ll be happy.” But the reality is, it doesn’t create happiness. Not lasting happiness. Sure, the writer may be happy for a few days. Maybe a few weeks. Maybe even a few months. But sooner or later, they will feel like they need to accomplish more.

The cycle is unending, and the only way to end it is by getting out of it.

So how do we do that?

We start by being happy first. Learn to be content with how things currently are for you. We often hear “don’t compare yourself to others”, and I think this falls in line with that idea. It’s hard to be content with how things are for you if you are comparing yourself to someone else.

I’m also going to say something that is probably going to upset quite a few people. It’s time to stop listening to others tell you WHAT makes an author successful. I understand that writers are looking to make money, but the pursuit of money does end up trapping us into the cycle I mentioned above. This post is talking about happiness, not money. You can have both if you learn to be content with the money you’re making. But what I find most of the time is that writers want to make more. It’s more and more. Even if they’re making a living, it’s not enough. And the marketing experts know this. This is why they sell courses teaching authors how to make more money. The illusion of money (aka success) = lasting happiness is a powerful one in the writer community, and there are some people out there who are taking advantage of that.

If your aim is to be happy for the long-term, you have to shift your mindset. I’m currently working on shifting mine. For the past couple of months, I’ve felt incredible despair about writing. I was thinking, “What’s the point in writing if I can’t sell books unless I write to market?” and “What’s the point in writing when my income keeps dropping?”

And don’t think I was happy when I was selling very well. I don’t want to give away my numbers, but there was a time when I was making well over a comfortable living wage with my writing. And I always wanted more. I was stuck in that cycle. I was not happy. I was running myself ragged in trying to sell more and more books because there was an author who was making way more than I was in my genre. I sacrificed time with friends and family to be at my computer chasing the newer goal I had placed before me. I wrote to market. I followed marketers’ advice. I ran myself ragged in this cycle like I see so many authors doing today. All I can say is that the constant pursuit for more money, awards, acclaim, etc is a trap.

For people who are caught in this cycle because this is how they are making ends meet for their family, I sympathize. I know this isn’t something you can just stop. In your case, I would find ways to cut expenses so you can live on less. Then save everything you can. Look for free stuff to do with the family. Look for bargains while shopping. Live in a cheaper place if you have to. I’ve had to do all of this, and believe me, a savings account that is built up helps to lessen the stress you’re going through. (I know this is stressful since I used to be the sole provider of my own family off the writing income.)

I’m currently reading a book called The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything by Neil Pasricha.

The Happiness Equation
Click here for more information about this book.

His proposal is this:

BE HAPPY —–>  GREAT WORK —–>  BIG SUCCESS

This isn’t a book geared directly to writers, but I think the principles in it can apply to writers. These days, I’m more interested in being happy as a writer than I am in trying to make a lot of money. I do think there’s merit in starting with happiness. He says that if we are happy first, we’ll naturally do our best, and this will lead to success. But I should clarify that success is a broad range. We shouldn’t box ourselves in with what others tell us success is. Success is going to look different to everyone. If you start off being happy, it stands to follow you’ll be happy with the results that follow from writing your books.

I know some of you who read this blog have found a place of happiness, and I’m hoping to join you soon.

I’d love to hear if anyone has tips on how to start at happiness. How do you approach your stories with great enthusiasm? How do you avoid the horrible cycle of always striving for more?

Writing a Sex Scene

The bedroom, a common setting for a sex scene.

: This post is a serious discussion about writing a common feature in literature and how to do it. It is not meant to be humorous, titillating, or controversial. That being said, this post will go into a topic that many people find uncomfortable, so please use your own discretion before proceeding further. Thank you for your understanding.

Sex scenes show up quite a bit in fiction, and seem to have increased with the passage of time as society has become much more tolerant of (or maybe obsessed with) the subject of sex and sexuality. That being said, many writers aren’t sure how to write these sort of scenes into their stories, let alone if they should have one to begin with. I recently wrote one into my WIP, and I figured now might be a good time to talk about this subject.

Now, I don’t write sex scenes often. However, I’ve written a few in my career, as well as read too many to count, including some in erotica novels and short stories (though not for the reasons you’re probably thinking). I’ve gained some insights over the years into this type of scene, so I think the ones I share here with you should be helpful.

This brings us to our first question:

Should I have a sex scene in my story? The obvious answer is, it depends. And it depends on two factors: the story’s need for one and the author’s level of comfort. Some stories just don’t require a sex scene. My upcoming novel Rose didn’t require one and adding one would’ve felt gratuitous, so I didn’t include one. For my WIP River of Wrath however, I could see where a sex scene might actually add something to the story, so I included it.

Should I have a sex scene in my story?

How do you tell which stories should have a sex scene? Well, some are more obvious than others. However, if you’re not sure, go back in later drafts and see if the scene feels weirdly inserted upon a second reading. And if you’re still not sure, ask your beta readers. That’s what they’re there for.

And if you as the writer don’t feel comfortable writing sex scenes, no problem. Everyone’s comfort levels with these things should be taken into account, and we’re all comfortable with different things. If you don’t like the idea of casually broaching the subject of sex, let alone writing about it, don’t. No one will send you to prison for it, let alone prevent you from ever getting published.

So if the story could use a sex scene and you feel comfortable enough to write it, what’s next?

Have the scene evolve like sex normally does. Sex doesn’t just happen: there’s a progression. Sometimes it starts with a kiss and involves foreplay. Sometimes it involves a look and goes straight to doing the deed. It depends on the people involved and what they’re up for. Likewise, how it happens in your story should have a natural evolution. Just having characters talk or meet and then go straight to sex doesn’t usually work, so show how it happens.

Pay attention to language. I’ve received some feedback on this from my own sex scenes, so I’m passing it on to you. First off, don’t be afraid to actually talk about certain body parts or their nicknames (apparently women are okay using the word c**k or d**k in literature. I was very surprised to learn that). You don’t have to get super-technical about it, using words like “vulva” or “vas deferens.” Just don’t be afraid to talk about them or what’s being done to them.

The second point is that the language should match the mood of the scene. Going for something risque? The language should reflect the adventurous nature of the scene. Kinky, maybe even involving BDSM? Rougher words would work better. Romantic, like the one in my WIP? Words emphasizing sensuality, connection, touch and love work the best.

What language you use in your scene matter quite a bit.

Just don’t use phrases like “Holy cow” to describe one participant’s reaction to the other’s penis being unveiled. Sorry EL James, but that’s more laughable than erotic.

The scene doesn’t have to be super-long. I’ve encountered sex scenes that have gone for a whole chapter comprising of several thousand words, and I’ve encountered some that were as short as a page. The one I wrote in my WIP was a little over a thousand words, or about four or five pages. So if you write one that’s maybe three pages, don’t feel bad that it isn’t longer. As I said, they come in all different lengths.

Pay attention to all body parts and surroundings. As much as we think of sex as involving only a few select body parts, it involves the entire body of each participant. As much as the scene may emphasize what the lower parts are doing, pay attention to what the arms and legs are doing. What is the back doing? Is the hair doing anything worth noting (yes, it can be worth mentioning)? Keep all that in mind while writing the scene.

Also, pay attention to surroundings. Is the scene taking place in a bed? Does it creak during the scene? Are items on the wall affected? Perhaps it’s taking place in a more public setting, like the back of a car. The participants may worry about being spotted by passerby. In a club? Are they noticing music playing or other people passing by?

These are important things to keep in mind, so don’t lose track of them while writing your scene.

 

And finally, there’s one more piece of advice on this subject I’d like to impart:

Read plenty of other examples and practice. Writing is often learned by intuition, example, trial and error. That being said, only so much can be imparted by reading this article. If you’re truly interested in writing a sex scene, read plenty of scenes from other authors from many different genres. See what works and what doesn’t, and incorporate it into your own style.

Always learn from the examples of others if you can.

And it couldn’t hurt to practice writing these sorts of scenes. It hasn’t have to be part of a story you’re working on, or something you’d ever consider publishing. Just try it to see if you can write a scene that you’d consider halfway decent. Like anything in our field, getting good takes practice, and that includes sex scenes. So consider practicing them as well when you have a moment. It can’t hurt, can it?

Whether or not you’ve ever considered writing these scenes or whether or not they’re necessary, it’s always a good idea to have some idea on how to write a sex scene. A lot goes into writing them, so it’s always a good idea to have some idea of what to do when working on them. I hope this article helped in some capacity with your own sex scenes.

How often do you write sex scenes? What tips do you have for writing them?

What Do You Wear to an Author Event?

Not too long ago, I was talking with someone about my upcoming novel Rose. They said that it might not be a bad idea for me to maybe get some fancier get-ups, seeing as the book was being published by a company and I was in a better financial position than I was in college to do a book tour.

Now generally, I just wear whatever’s comfortable, and this person’s job required them to dress much nicer than your average Joe in most situations. So I wasn’t sure I really needed a new suit jacket and some fancy pants. Still, it stuck my mind. A lot of authors dress up when I’ve seen them at readings or on TV shows. And one author I really liked, Richard Castle from Castle (yeah, I know he’s fictional, but he’s got tie-in novels in our world, so he kind of counts) always wore nice shirts, pants and jackets. And Castle is kind of like the adult, mystery author-version of me. Perhaps I should get some new duds.

On the other hand, Stephen King usually wears sweaters and jeans to author events and TV appearances. When I went to see RL Stine at a reading (yes, that happened), he was wearing just a button-down shirt and pants. And one author I’ve had some contact with and was a huge voice during the recent Cockygate controversy usually wears tank tops that show off her tattoos and a cap when she makes YouTube videos (and in our increasingly digital age, that platform works just as well as TV).

So what to do? Well, I do what I do in times like this, I turn to Facebook author groups. And I quickly got a response in return. The answer: it depends.

More specifically, it depends on what kind of impression you’re trying to create. Some authors want to be seen as no different than their readers, so they dress as they do during a normal day off. Others like the effect a suit or a nice dress creates with an audience and thus dress up. And other authors like to dress up in a distinctive manner. This can be as simple as dressing up as one of their characters (especially if said character has a particular look), or as dressing up as a particular type or idea of a character. Our good friend Joleene Naylor recently went to an author event where she dressed up as a vampire like out of the stories she writes, and it apparently worked well for her in more ways than one.

Son Owen and father Stephen King on Good Morning America recently. As you can both see, they’re just wearing some comfortable button-downs.

In addition to personal choices, genre can sometimes affect what you wear to a book reading or in an author bio pic. Mystery writers tend to dress up more, as that makes them appear more distinguished and intelligent, which is what we want writers of mysteries to be. Horror authors, however, still deal with misconceptions that we’re all cannibalistic murderous sex-fiends, so we often dress pretty normally. Unless of course we have something to cosplay as, and then all bets are off!

In any case, what you end up wearing to a book reading or during a YouTube interview or whatever depends largely on your own personal tastes and comfort, the image of yourself you wish to put out there, and perhaps the expectations of your readers. If you’re confused, network with your fellow writers and see what they have to say. Surely one of them will say something to help you pick out an ensemble for your next reading at the local bookstore.

As for me, I think casual clothes will suit me well in most situations, though I can see some instances where I might want to put on a nice button-down and a jacket (Trevor Noah, call me!). It’s just how I roll. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What do you prefer to wear to an author event? Do you have any tips on how to dress for one?

A Common Sense Approach to the Writing Business

Two of my kids are old enough to create and manage their own You Tube channels, and they expressed an interest in doing so. I figured it was a good idea because they’d learn social networking skills, how to create videos, edit those videos, etc. These are things they could potentially use for future employment. They, however, had stars in their eyes. They heard that people are making a good living off of videos via the ads on You Tube. When you get popular enough, your videos can start getting monetized. As they were talking about how many subscribers it would take to start earning money, I realized this is similar to what I hear from new authors.

When I hear most new authors talk, their focus is on how much money they’re going to make in X amount of time. This is why courses on how to make a six-figure income in a short amount of time are so popular. These courses feed into this “get rick quick” mindset. This is the same thing my kids were thinking when it came to You Tube. I had to sit down and explain to my kids how this stuff really works. Sure, there are always people who will make it big. For all the actors that run out to Hollywood, there is a small number that hit the big time. But this isn’t going to happen to most of them. And just because they post videos on You Tube, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be making a nice cushy living off their videos when they’re 18.

So today, I thought I’d make a blog post about what is a more realistic approach to the business side of being a creative person.

real world just ahead
ID 52087540 © Adonis1969 | Dreamstime.com

There are two main things you need to keep in mind when going into the business side of writing.

If you build it, they may not come.

I know this isn’t what new authors want to hear, but it’s true. Just because you publish books, it doesn’t mean you’ll make money. Just because you write in a certain genre with a certain plot, it doesn’t mean it’ll sell. Sometimes a book doesn’t resonate with readers, so they don’t buy them. It doesn’t mean the book is bad. (I’ve seen plenty of great books not selling well.) It just means the book didn’t “click” for some reason.

Even if you wrote something specifically to market, had tons of feedback on it from your target audience, got a professional cover, had a professional editor, and have the best website on the planet, you aren’t guaranteed sales. Also, you can run ads, do permafrees on the first in a series, or do other promotional stuff all day long, and you still might not reach the level of income you were hoping for. I’ve seen authors do all of the right things and still not make a living at this. The sad reality is that sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

Sales fluctuate.

If you do make money, don’t think your troubles will be over. Even if you’re not exclusive to Amazon, you will find sales going up and down. Things don’t always go up and up and up and… You get the idea.

I’ve been publishing through Amazon and Smashwords since 2009, and I’ve found this whole business to be a rollercoaster. Over the past three years, I’ve been carefully tracking my sales data, and I noticed that my sales went up and down across all retailers. I’ve always been wide. I’ve never been exclusive to Amazon. So I’ve had plenty of time to build an audience on the wide channels. And I have found that regardless of the retailer, sales go up and down. Yes, having a new book out often means sales go up, but it doesn’t mean it goes up to the same level it did with previous book, and it doesn’t mean it’ll succeed the same way at all retailers.

If you do manage to make money at this, I urge you to do three very important things I never did. 

One: Save half of the income for taxes.

Disclaimer: This is specifically for the United States authors. (I don’t know how tax payments work in other countries.)

Maybe you won’t need to pay taxes on how much you make, but if you have to, at least the money is there. I had to sell stuff to pay my taxes because I hadn’t even thought to save a portion of my income back then. Believe me, you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re scrambling around to come up with the tax money you owe the government based off of last year’s income.

Now, you can set up a payment plan with the government. Some people do that. But since you’re considered a small business owner, you will be making quarterly tax payments (if the government thinks you’re making enough). So four times a year, you’ll have to pay taxes based off of last year’s income. If you miss the deadline for a quarter, you will have to pay a penalty. The quarterly tax payments are due mid-April, mid-July, mid-September, and mid-January. Usually, it’s the 15, but if the 15th is on a holiday or weekend, the date can get pushed back to the 16 or 17. Either way, you will be required to send in these tax payments.

You will save yourself a lot of stress and heartache if you save half of your money into the tax fund while you’re making it. Whatever you don’t end up having to pay can be tucked away into savings.

Which brings me to my next piece of advice…

Two: Put as much as you can into savings.

I didn’t do this, and I am currently living to regret it. The day might come when you aren’t making as much as you used to. This is what happened to me. This year, I’m projected to lose income for a third time. When I was making good money, I failed to save anything. After taxes were paid, I spent money like my income was going to stay consistent. I currently have $40 in my savings account. I have no investments. I have nothing tucked away in a retirement account, either. I’m 43. I made bad financial decisions. A lot of bad financial decisions. I’m not proud to admit it, but if you can be better off in the future because you’re going learn from my experience, then it’ll be worth going public with this. Every time I mention losing money, I get criticized. This isn’t a popular thing to talk about in the writing community, but I don’t want anyone to end up in my shoes. So please, learn from my mistakes. You don’t want to end up where I am.

Three: Learn to say no.

Over the past couple of months, I have had to start saying “no” to people I sincerely care about when they asked for money. I hate saying no. The fact that I had trouble saying no in the past is part of what led me to a situation where I only have $40 in savings. It feels good to give. But if you don’t position yourself on a firm foundation, how can you really help out someone else? Sometimes you have to think of yourself before you can think of another person. I know this one is hard. For those of you who are like me and will often sacrifice what we have to the point where we’re at the end of your own financial rope, saying no is a crucial lesson to learn.

At the end of the day, you have to be able to take care of yourself before you’re in a good position to help someone else. I don’t have a rule book on this, but in my opinion, you should have at least six months of living expenses tucked away before you can afford to help another person. A man I was watching in a You Tube video recommended one year’s worth of savings. With sales being so unpredictable, I’m inclined to say that you should aim to save between 6-12 months of living expenses (including tax payments). Of course, you need to keep saving beyond that. You’ll probably want to look into investments for your future, too, but I would get the savings built up first. You want something you can get to right away if you run into an emergency.

I do think there’s value in giving, but it needs to be balanced with savings. Only you can figure out the right ratio that works for your household. But I strongly advise you to say no to others until you have taken care of your own situation. You can’t get someone else out of a sinking boat until you plug up the holes in your own boat first.

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So those are my tips for new authors. Does anyone have any tips they’d like to share?

Writing to Market Kills Creativity

I almost didn’t post this because this goes against the current marketing advice floating around out there right now, but this topic keeps bugging me so I’m just going to bite the bullet and make this post.

Here’s my thesis: writing to market kills creativity.

writing to market kills creativity pic
ID 113116328 © Alberto Andrei Rosu | Dreamstime.com

Now for my argument to back up the thesis.

After writing to market for two years, I reached a point where I actually hated to write. What I had once loved became something I resented.

“The reason that happened is because you weren’t doing it right,” someone might say.

I don’t think so. Yes, writing to market is lucrative. It brings in more money. I’ve seen too much evidence to argue this point. The point I’m arguing is that a writer who engages in the writing to market mindset has their critical voice screaming at them the entire time they’re writing. This critical voice hampers the creative one.

When people say “write to market”, they are talking about writing in a genre you already love. I understand that. It’s what I did for two years. Then they tell you to put your own unique spin on it. I did that, too. Or at least, I did it for what was unique in my opinion. The truth is, there are only so many ideas out there, and just when you think you’re the first person to ever come up with something, you realize someone in the past has already done it in one form or another. So really, what the people are saying is that you need to tell this story in a way that seems fresh and new to the reader.

And I think it’s possible to do that for a time. But then, the months pass by. The months add up to years. And before you know it, it starts to wear on you. You lose your enthusiasm. The reason this happens is because after a while, you realize you’re pretty much boxed in. Writing to market has boundaries. Those boundaries are reinforced by the critical voice in our minds telling us what the reader wants. How do we know what readers want? By studying books that are more successful than ours in our chosen genre and sub-genre, of course.

Writing to market means you put the reader first. Then you work out a story to write for the reader. You’re looking for a way to appeal to the most readers in your chosen genre. Because, when it all comes down to it, writing to market is about writing for money. Now, I have no problems with earning money from our work. It’s great when we can get paid for what we do. However, I think the idea behind writing to market is, at its core, an attempt to make the most money possible. This is why tailoring a book for the majority of readers in a certain genre is key in this philosophy.

If you want to write that way, it’s fine with me. I’m not telling you to write for passion. If you want to make a gazillion dollars a month, go for it. I hope you have more success than I did because by the time year #2 was up, I had crashed and burned so hard that I was looking at working outside the home just to avoid writing another word again. I’m not saying that will happen to you. You might be able to write to market for the rest of your life. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I know it is. But will you enjoy it?

Writing to market killed my creativity. I stopped enjoying the process of storytelling. I’m convinced that writing to market kills creative voice. When writers listen to creative voice, they write books they’re most passionate about first and then try to find a market for it. Their voice is fresh and new, and they’re storytelling is strong. These are often the best stories they’ll ever write.

“You could be wrong,” someone is probably saying. “Writing to market hasn’t killed my creativity at all.”

I hope it never does.

But it did for me. I got some feedback from a couple of my readers who used to read everything I wrote, and what they said alarmed me. They said that they could tell the quality of my work had gone down. They said I had lost the passion in my voice that once captivated them. This quality went down  at the time I started writing to market. This wasn’t a coincidence. I think it was a correlation. I lost those readers, and I don’t know if they’ll ever come back.

What I do know is that the moment I made the decision to stop writing to market, I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I got my enthusiasm back. I wanted to write again. My energy finally returned. It’s no longer a chore to sit at the computer and try to figure out what on earth I can write that won’t end up being carbon copies of books I’d written to market already. As I said, writing to market has boundaries, and eventually, you find yourself stuck in a box. Creative voice allows you to go outside the box, so there’s no limits to what you can do.

That’s my spin on it. For what it’s worth, I don’t make $30-50K a month like these writers who write to market. Yes, there is money in writing to market. It’s good money. But it’s possible to make money writing what you love. It’s not going to be as much. That’s where you have to decide what your goals for writing are. Writing to market might work for you. I still think it’ll kill your creativity in the long run, but I’m not going to argue that it’s a good short-term strategy. You have to weigh the pros and cons and do your own thing.

All I know is that I can never go back to writing to market. It’ll be the death of my writing career if I do. My ultimate goal is still be writing and publishing books for the rest of my life. Given that I’m 43 right now, I plan to be doing this for a long time. In order to do that, creativity needs to always be brimming at the top of my cup.

Bottom line: if we want this to be a long-term and sustainable way of life, then we are better off nurturing our creativity. Doing anything to hinder it will shorten the lifespan of our writing.

The Times in Self-Publishing Are Changing

There’s no doubt that some things are changing in the self-publishing landscape. This year has marked things I never thought I’d see when I started publishing on Amazon and Smashwords back in 2009. Back then the big thing was setting up free or cheap ebooks in order to gain a readership. Ebooks were new, and people buying e-reading devices were looking for content. This led to a boom in self-publishing I never thought I’d see. I honestly expected self-publishing to remain the redheaded step-child of the publishing world. Then somewhere around 2012-2014, it became popular and took off.

Around 2015, I started hearing about self-publishing becoming less lucrative than it used to be. Granted, there were some breaking out and making a lot of money. Some were making much more than I ever did at my peak. Some authors are still flourishing in this landscape. It seems to be mostly KU authors who are writing to market and buying a lot of ads. So at the moment, it looks like KU and ads have afforded some authors a very nice living.

Deep in my gut, however, I feel like we’re in for another shift in the self-publishing landscape. I have no evidence to prove this statement. I’m merely posting a theory. If you’d like to play, “Guess what’s to come,” feel free to join me in the comments below. 🙂

ID 121881135 © Artur Szczybylo | Dreamstime.com

 

Now, more than ever, it’s time to focus on the quality of our work.

This has always been true, of course, but in the hamster wheel game that has become popular at Amazon, I think genuine quality has fallen to the wayside. Amazon rewards authors for getting books out fast. They’re not rewarding authors for quality. They’re rewarding for quantity. This is a huge deal. For the short-term, authors can play this game. I went from publishing about every three months to two months, and last year, I was trying for one book a month. Long story short, I was unable to crank out a 50-60K story every single month. But I did push myself into burn-out by trying to do it.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had started to treat my books like a product on a widget line. This isn’t good. When we start looking at books as a cheap little widget to be shoved out the door as quickly as possible, we stop looking at good storytelling.

So really, there are three options I see open to authors right now: sacrifice quality to get books out as quickly as possible, hire ghostwriters, or slow down and focus on quality.

I think time is going to reward authors who focus on quality. If we want current fans to keep investing in our work, we need to keep writing good quality stories. If we want to acquire new fans, we need to make sure our next book is good quality, too. I have nothing against ghostwriters, but I don’t think two writers will write the same way. There’s something about your voice that no one else can master. A ghostwriter might come close, but there’s only one you in the entire world. I think readers can tell when we wrote the book or not. There’s something in our voice and style that is like a fingerprint. We are distinct. We are unique. So we’re not really producing a widget on an assembly line. We’re crafting a story. I think authors who focus on crafting good quality stories will have an advantage over those who don’t.

As a side note: I realize some readers don’t mind ghostwritten books. They just want a good story. Our most passionate fans, however, might feel betrayed if we don’t write our own stories. So weigh the pros and cons of this option. If you choose to hire a ghostwriter, I hope you pay that person fairly for their time.

Personally, I want to keep writing my own stories, so I’m picking that option. Which brings me to this thought…

Passion will trump writing to market in the long run.

This one is a wild prediction since it goes against most of the marketing advice I hear, but I think we tell our best stories when we’re passionate about them. I wrote to market for two years, and I crashed and burned. I never would have been able to keep writing if I had tried to keep going. I’ve since noticed other authors in forums mentioning being tired of what they’re writing. Some have even quit. I think you can only write to market for so long because eventually you box yourself in. That’s what happened to me. I eventually ran out of anything interesting enough to write about because I’d exhausted all of the angles that I believed the majority of historical romance readers wanted to read.

Writing to market is writing with the reader in mind. It is tailoring your story for the reader. From the outset, you have certain things you must do. There might be a few authors who can pull this off for years and years, but from my research on the topic, those authors who have been writing longterm write for passion first. To sustain a longterm career (or even hobby) as a writer, I think you have to enjoy what you’re doing.

Think about upping the price.

I think the time of free and $0.99 stories are about used up in effectiveness. I do think having a couple of series perma-free can still work for you, especially if you’re not exclusive to Amazon. If you’re wide, you have more leverage in this area. KU readers already get books for “free”, so this is a strategy I mostly suggest to wide authors.

Earlier this year, I stopped making every single series starter free. I cut that down to about half. I decided to go with $0.99 instead. Then I put a couple of the last books in my series at $3.99. I’m in romance, so that is within a good range for the romance genre. You need to price according to what your genre’s comfort zone is. I think at Amazon, cheaper books are probably still going to be popular. But I think if you’re looking for a strategy going forward in a wider market, then going a dollar or two more might be to your advantage.

I think there are so many free and cheap books out now that they don’t give us an advantage like they used to. If we’re focusing on good quality stories, then people who love our work will be willing to pay another dollar or two for a new book. The key is to focus on quality. Readers who prefer Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play buy books. They don’t borrow them like KU readers do on Amazon. Their mindset is different. When people buy something, they’re using a different thinking process in making a decision.

Here’s my personal experience from just releasing a new book at $3.99. I’ve been doing $2.99 since 2011 or 2012. (It’s been so long I can’t even remember.) Anyway, I noticed that my sales did take a hit on Amazon. On the other retailers, though, they stayed the same. I thought that was interesting, and it is what I expected to happen based on what other authors have been telling me.

Yes, you want a good cover. Yes, you want a good description. Yes, you want it edited by someone who knows what they’re doing. Yes, you want a good quality story. You’d want all of that anyway regardless of whether you’re in KU or you’re wide. But I think we’re at the point in self-publishing where we’re going to have to up the price. Upping the price won’t mean anything to KU readers. They pay one price a month no matter what. Wide readers pay for the book. I used to think that a higher price point didn’t give authors much of an advantage, but I’m changing my tune. I think a higher price will help us, especially if we’re wide. BUT a higher price only helps if the book is great quality. I also think the pricing going up is best done slowly so you don’t shock your current fanbase. That’s why I’m starting with a $1 raise in the price. I’m not jumping to $2.

All that being said, the more books you have out, the more you can have prices all across the board, which can help you gain new readers who prefer different price points.

Think global.

I know some of you aren’t in the United States (US), so you’re already thinking globally. The self-publishing market is ripe for explosion around the world. The US market has already exploded. While the US is still good, I think we have a wonderful opportunity to reach people worldwide. Kobo, iBooks, and Google Play are probably going to play a big factor in these markets. I know Amazon has a foothold there, too, but I think the other retailers have an edge in the international landscape. (This is based on things I’ve heard in podcasts over the past two years.)

What might be a small market today could be a tremendous source of income in the future. One thing I’ve learned over the past nine years is that every little bit counts. The more places you can be in, the better your chances are for exposure. Notice I said “the better your chances are”. There is no guarantee. There never was a guarantee. Whether you’re in KU or wide, there is no guarantee of sales. But you can increase your odds by reaching out in new territories.

You are the best marketing tool you have.

Free used to be the big marketing tool early on. I came in during this time of self-publishing. Shortly after I came on the scene, the big tool was $0.99. Remember John Locke and Amanda Hocking? That was that era. Then it was KDP Select. Then it was KU. Currently it’s ads. I see KU and ads declining in effectiveness. Authors who used to make good money in KU aren’t doing so anymore. As for ads… Well, when a lot of people are running ads, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. Some authors used to swear by email lists, too, and recently, I hear that’s on its way out the door because readers have gotten exhausted from being inundated with emails all to the time. Does that mean we shouldn’t do free books, $0.99 books, run ads, or do email lists? Of course not. What it means is that these aren’t as effective as they used to be. They don’t carry the same “punch” anymore. I’ve never been in KU, nor would I join. So the KU thing is up to you to figure out. I understand why authors go into KU. For some authors, this is still an effective strategy.

But ultimately, what do we have that can survive the trends? We have ourselves. We are our brand. I still think it’s important to have a physical presence on the web. There should be a blog or website where you list all of your books, the links to your books, and where people can find you. I think having one place where you are willing to meet with readers is a good thing, too. Choose whatever social media platform you want, but make sure it’s something you enjoy. If you pick blogging and you hate blogging, this is going to become a chore really fast. Maybe you’d rather share pictures, give short little tweets, do videos, or engage in conversations other people have started. Whatever you enjoy, that’s what you should do because this is something you’ll want to stick with. You can’t gain traction anywhere unless you commit to it.

I don’t think you need to have a “contact me” page on your website or blog if you have a Facebook or Twitter account that allows people to contact you. There were a few people in my past who harassed me through my personal email account, so I don’t set up “contact me” pages on my sites anymore. One person even let me know they did a background check on me and what they had found out. The world gets too scary sometimes to be that personal. But I’m comfortable with letting Facebook be the way people communicate with me, so I’m available for contact over there. You need to do what is comfortable for you.

For those of you who don’t have a big following, remember that an organic and slow growth of genuine fans is much better than people you gathered quickly who don’t remember who you are. This is a marathon. Quality in your fanbase is just as important as the quality of your stories. They’ll invest in you. Whatever you write, they’ll read it. And they will pay a higher price because you gained their trust. Even better, they’ll probably mention you to someone else.

Side note: I don’t have big numbers. I’m not a huge seller. I have a little over 200 people on my email list. I used to have almost 500 before the whole GDPR thing in May. I just got 117 members in my personal Facebook group. On Bookbub, I think I’m at 494 followers. So my numbers are not impressive at all, and I’ve been doing this since 2009. Other (newer) authors outdo me by miles. So if you’re disheartened by having low numbers, just remember, you’re not alone.

Back to topic: We’ve hit a saturated market. We have a lot of books out there. The one thing we can leverage is us. Like our writing, no one can replace us. Who we are when we engage with people is as unique as our storytelling.

What about you? What do you think is going to change in the self-publishing landscape? Was there anything that took you by surprise? Are things worse, better, the same? I’d love to know your thoughts!

An Argument in Favor of Using a Distributor to Publish Books to Retailers

It seems that lately the same question has been popping up: should authors use a distributor (like Smashwords or Draft 2 Digital) OR should they upload directly to as many retailers as they can. Today, I’m going to give my two cents on the issue. I think using a distributor is the best long-term strategy.

one way leading to many
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For the record, I do go direct to Amazon and Google Play. For one, I was with Amazon before I was with Smashwords. So I already had an account there. Also, Amazon and Smashwords don’t have the best relationship, which means you pretty much have to publish on Amazon if you’re with Smashwords. As for Google Play, Smashwords doesn’t have an agreement to distribute to them.  So no, I’m 100% with a distributor. There are situations where you need to go direct. For my pen name, I’m using Draft 2 Digital (D2D), and I do use it to distribute everywhere, except Google Play since D2D doesn’t have an agreement with them, either.

I say all of the above for this reason: I’m not against the idea of uploading directly to each and every retailer out there. I just think it makes a lot more sense to use a distributor because it helps to simplify your life. Below, I’m going to explain why I’ve come to this conclusion.

1. The more books you have, the harder it is to juggle the updates you might want to make.

I currently have 80 books up on Smashwords. A couple of those are pre-orders. I have been going through and systematically updating interior files and covers to make them more modern. Back in 2009-2012, you could get away with substandard ebook covers and poor formatting. I think part of this was due to the fact that indie publishing was still new. We didn’t have the services there are available today for the indie author. Most of us starting out had to figure out how to do this stuff on our own. And, because of that, things weren’t as professional looking as is the norm today.

Since I have 80 books, it would be a nightmare to have to go to B&N, Kobo, and iBooks and upload new files and covers to keep things up-to-date. I already have to do this at Amazon. Fortunately, I just got into Google Play this year, so everything will already be polished up. Using Smashwords to send out these improvements to as many retailers as I can is a huge time saver. I made a post on how to format books that will get you approved for premium distribution in Smashwords.

So if you’re looking to simplify your life so you can have more time to write, I highly recommend using as distributor.

And this brings me to an argument I often hear: “You make more money per sale if you distribute to each place yourself. Smashwords and D2D will take a percentage of the royalty.” To which, I answer…

2. Your best money-making opportunity is in writing the next book.

I don’t earn any more sales on a book because I change a cover or update my interior formatting. I might get a small boost in a cover change, but it’s not lasting. Likewise, any ads I run are short-term boosts as well. Social media probably helps to a point, but nothing beats a new book. The only thing I’ve been able to do over the long-term that has kept me afloat in this ever-changing publishing landscape is to consistently get new books out. That means my time is best spent writing the next book.

Someone might say, “You can hire an author assistant to manage the multiple retailers for you.” But how is that going to save me money? I thought the whole point of uploading directly to B&N, Kobo, and iBooks is that you get to make more money per book sold. If I’m paying someone to handle individual retailers for me, I’m not making more money per book. I’m probably going to break even or even lose money. So from a financial standpoint, it’s worth paying Smashwords or D2D a portion of my royalties to handle that aspect of publishing for me.

For authors who are making a ton of money, I can see using an assistant to upload directly to each retailer. I, however, don’t make the kind of money that would make hiring an assistant worth it.

And at this point, someone is probably thinking, “Well, I don’t have 80 books. I only have a couple. So what’s the harm in managing those on individual retailers?”

And this makes me ask…

3. What are your long-term goals?

If you write slowly or don’t plan to publish many books, then I agree uploading to each retailer and maintaining the books on them is fine. The less books you have, the easier it is to manage them.

The opposite argument, however, is also true. The more books you have, the harder it is to manage them all. There are only so many hours in the day. I have uploaded books directly to B&N and Kobo. (I’ve always used Smashwords for the other retailers.) Yes, Kobo is very user-friendly and easy. B&N isn’t too bad, either. But taking the time to make changes to each and every version that’s on a different retailer is time-consuming. Since I didn’t ever put all of my books on B&N or Kobo directly, I even forgot which books were direct and which were through Smashwords. It was hard to juggle new writing projects while trying to keep updates on all of the retailers.  My stress level went significantly down once I let Smashwords handle all B&N and Kobo books for me.

If you don’t plan on having a lot of books out AND you have the time to handle things on each retailer, then it makes sense to do that. If, however, your goal is to end up with a big backlist, then you might want to think about what a pain it would be to manage price changes, book description changes, cover changes, and interior file changes on all of those retailers. Sometimes authors go back and update an entire series. (I’ve done this.) That alone takes out a large chunk of your time. I gave up and delisted all of my books on B&N and Kobo. Then I went to Smashwords and let them distribute to B&N and Kobo for me. I made the mistake of not thinking longterm with my backlist.

Another possible argument is this: “If you go direct to a retailer, you can take advantage of special promotions a distributor won’t give you.”

My answer…

4. Sometimes distributors offer special promotions, too.

Yes, you can take advantage of special promotional opportunities if you go direct to places like Kobo and iBooks. I won’t argue this because it’s a valid point. However, Smashwords has offered me and other authors special promotional opportunities, and these opportunities have included Kobo and iBooks.

How do we land these deals with Smashwords? I think a large part of it has to do with a track record of staying wide (meaning no KU) and having all of your books (or at least most of them) with Smashwords. I think part of it also has to do with running pre-orders and using the marketing ideas Mark Coker talks about in his podcast and in his book. I think there are a cumulation of different things authors probably need to do to get Smashwords’ attention.

I’m not familiar with D2D and how they work, so I can’t say how they run things. I’ve only been with them since late last year with my pen name. But I’ve been with Smashwords since 2009.

Now, do these promotions means tons of money? Not necessarily. I’ve seen small boosts, but it hasn’t been anything to skyrocket my sales longterm. But I have yet to hear of an author whose sales skyrocketed for the longterm because they ran a special promotion directly on Kobo or iBooks. Even with Amazon ads, authors are told they need to keep running them. I think this is just the nature of the business. Ads and special promotions are good for short-term boosts, but you can’t run one ad or promotion and expect results forever and ever.

I truly believe the best way to keep making money longterm is to write more books. Even if you had a breakout year, if you’re not writing more books, eventually, sales will go down. This is the nature of publishing. There is not a single book ever written that has been #1 forever. Some books will rise higher in the tide than others and continue selling, but you can’t keep a book at #1 indefinitely. There will be another book to take its place.

New stuff is going to be more attractive than older stuff. That doesn’t mean the backlist isn’t important. It is. Let’s say you have 10 books that haven’t moved much in terms of sales. Then suddenly you put out Book 11, and for some reason, this is the one that takes off. Those fans of Book 11 are going to look for your other books. The problem is that no author can predict which book is going to sell better than another. If I knew which of my books would sell better, I’d only write those. But I don’t. So I write and publish and hope something sticks.

Keeping things realistic.

I know this is hard to accept in the age when we’re surrounded by success stories of authors making $50K a month in KU, but the truth is, most authors aren’t banking in that kind of money. I don’t. Even at my peak, I never did, but then I never went into KU. I stayed wide the entire time. I have earned a living, and for that I’m grateful. Money doesn’t always go up. Sometimes it goes down. Sometimes it goes back up. This whole business is a rollercoaster ride. There are so many variables involved in this whole thing that it’s impossible to point to one or two strategies and say that’s the magic formula.

At the end of the day, the best question is, “How do you want to spend your time?” As I pointed out above, I can see situations where going to each retailer makes sense, but there are also times when it doesn’t. Only you can decide the best course for your business.

Why Taking Breaks Can Be Good For Writers

Today’s post is inspired by the all-too-familiar phrase, “If you don’t write every day, you’re not a real writer.”

hamster wheel for sale
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Would we ever tell a teacher, “If you don’t teach every day, you’re not a real teacher.”?Would we tell this kind of thing to a lawyer? A doctor? A cook? A janitor? Take your pick of any profession out there. Which fits into the “If you don’t do X every every, you’re not a real X?

If we truly believe that to be a “real” something, then why don’t we make everyone work seven days a week? Why don’t we tell them they must work 365 days a year, except in the case of leap year. In that case, it’s 366.

Do you see how absurd this sounds? Why is it writers are held to this standard? There’s no reasonable explanation for it.

Here’s the truth: a real writer is one who writes.

Writing is the only thing a writer must do to be a real writer. It doesn’t matter how often they write. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow they write. It doesn’t matter if they write by daily word counts or by a certain number of scenes or chapters that day. It doesn’t matter if they write only one book at a time or work on multiple books at the same time. It doesn’t matter if they write first thing in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening. It doesn’t matter if they write in 15 minute chunks at a time or if they reserve two hours of nonstop writing at the keyboard. (Now, it might benefit a writer to step away from the computer to avoid eye strain, something I deal with, or to avoid hurting your wrist or back. But that has nothing to do with whether or not you’re a real writer.)

You know what does matter?

The quality of the story.

I realize this isn’t popular thinking. We’re led to believe that if we take days off or go on vacations (while leaving all writing behind), we’re lazy. Because if we truly loved writing–if it was our real passion–we would have to do it every single day. I’ve read the “write every day” advice in blog posts and books. I’ve seen it in videos and heard it in podcasts. It seems to be everywhere. I’m not saying that every single writer says this. But a lot do. And quite frankly, I’m sick of hearing it.

I think it’s time to change the mindset on this one. Breaks are good for the health and wellbeing of the writer. They allow the creative mind a chance to simmer over what’s going on in the story. They offer us a chance to spend time with friends and family. They offer us a chance to pursue something else that will help us grow as individuals. They give us freedom to be a more well-rounded person. And I think they will actually make us better writers.

I used to think that if I took the weekends off, I would lose momentum in writing. My daily word count goal is 3,000 words. I used to think, “I’ll lose 6,000 words if I don’t write on Saturday and Sunday.” But something funny happened. I noticed my daily word count went from an average of 3,000 words to about 1,500 when I pushed myself to write every day. No matter how hard I tried, I kept getting blocked because I hit a point in the story where I didn’t know what to do next. So I had to force myself to stop and give myself time to get the creativity flowing again. You know what happened? When I came back to the story, the ideas returned. The words came a lot easier. And I think I ended up telling a better story because I could see the characters moving around and hear what they were saying as if I was watching a movie. My average word count on days I wrote went from 1,5000 to 3,000 again. I’m able to get more done on writing days again. I owe that all to the breaks.

Breaks are great. Breaks allow writers to work smarter, not harder. I think breaks help buffer writers from burnout. I understand you’ll often make more money if you publish more often, but sooner or later, you’ll only be able to publish so much. We’re not robots.

We’re human beings. Human beings need rest. All writing every single day is going to get you is the sensation that you’re a hamster in a wheel that just spins around and around. It depletes you of your energy, and it takes time away from other things that are also important. Yes, writing is important, but it’s NOT the only thing that’s important. Next time someone tries to make you feel like you’re not a real writer because you don’t write every day, politely smile and leave them to their hamster wheel. Just because they want to run around in it, it doesn’t mean you have to.

How Much Does it Cost to Publish a Book?

Derek Murphy did a good job of addressing this as You Tube. I’m putting his video in this post so you can watch it if you want.

I have a lot of respect and admiration for Derek. I’ve never met him, but he has a lot of good advice and better yet, he’s a likable person. There might be something he says that will resonate better with you than what I have to say. Also, if anyone has any tips that neither of us thought of, feel free to share in the comments below.

Okay, so here’s my two cents on how much it costs to publish a book.

In a nutshell, it doesn’t have to cost much at all, especially if you’re willing to do the work yourself. I’ve done my own covers, formatting, bartered for edits, gotten beta readers’ input, done my own book description, and uploaded the book myself in the past. I’ve also hired out for covers, formatting, editing, and book description. In the beginning, I did more stuff myself because back in 2008-2009, very few people were offering any services in self-publishing. From 2002-2008, I was using vanity presses, and those got expensive and sold very few books. I would not recommend using a vanity press under any circumstance.

I completely agree with Derek when he says you want to make more than you spend. That’s the goal. I’m not even talking about making a living at writing. I’m talking about earning more money than you spend in publishing. So if you aren’t selling much, I would do as much on my own as possible. Since I’m losing income, I’ve gone back to doing more myself.

Let me break down my expenses on one book if I did most of the stuff myself.

Covers

I have a program called GIMP that I make covers in. It takes time to learn it. Once you get the hang out of it, it’s a slick and easy program. You Tube tutorials are great for this. Plus Joleene Naylor made these this post on it, and she made a post on Six Facebook Cover Creators,. GIMP was free when I got it way back in the day. I think it still is. Thanks to Joleene for telling me about it!

So then I buy a stock photo or two off of a site like Dreamstime.com or Shutterstock.com. There are others, but I use these the most. Make sure you do “royalty free” photos. Usually, the cost is about $15-$20 for me. I like to use two images (one for upfront and one in the background), but I have done one photo.

Sometimes finding good time period images for romance novels that is hard on the sites I listed above. They’re getting better, though. But I will go to Period Images or Hot Damn Stock. (Those are my personal favorites.) These images are usually between $20-$75, depending on what you get.

So total cost is about $90, and that’s on the high end.

Formatting

I can format ebooks and paperbacks myself, so it’s $0.

I made a pdf document years ago on how to format a paperback. Here’s how to format for CreateSpace. It’ll work for KDP paperback, too. 

There are word programs that will make the ebook format for you, too, but I’ve never used them so I’m not going to recommend any. I use the Word program that is compatible with Mac. I have a blog post with a detailed step-by-step process on how I format my ebooks.

Editing

If you barter services, this can be $0.

Find someone who is really good at proofreading if you want a quick proofread. If you want something where a person looks at the overall book (pacing, characterization, etc), then pick someone who is an avid reader in your genre and ask them to read it. But give these people something in return for their time. Maybe you can offer to do their cover or format their book. An avid reader might love having a signed paperback version of the book when it’s published. Get creative.

Book Description 

This can be $0.

Not sure how to make a good book description? This can be very difficult. I struggle with this area the most. Here’s a You Tube video via The Creative Penn and Bryan Cohen on this topic.

You can also get feedback on your book description from your beta readers, other writers, family/friends. But in my opinion, the very best person to know if your description hooks your ideal audience is to pitch the book description to an avid reader of your genre.

Publishing the Book

I do this myself so it’s $0.

If you follow the instructions on KDP Amazon, Nook Press (Barnes & Noble), Kobo, iBooks (Apple), Smashwords, or Draft 2 Digital, you should be fine. It’s easy to do. I like to upload to KDP Amazon and Smashwords. I let Smashwords distribute to the other channels for me. (When I do the post on formatting an ebook, I’ll do it according to Smashwords’ guidelines. After battling with that format for years, I finally figured out he easy way to get everything approved for premium distribution on the first try.)

Total cost when I do everything myself and/or barter services for editing is $90.

So for under $100, you can publish a book. (I recommend having someone proof your book, but it doesn’t have to cost anything if you offer them a proof in return, do their cover, etc.) Like I said, get creative.

But let’s say you don’t want to do everything yourself or barter services. Then how much are we looking at?

I’m going to go on the high end in this example.

Covers

You might want to buy the images yourself so you own them, but you can get a good cover artist for an ebook can range from anywhere from $95-$300. This may or may not include the paperback. That’s what I usually pay. For the sake of this discussion, let’s say I pay $300 for a ebook and paperback cover combo, and we’ll add the cover artist bought the stock photos to use on the cover.

You can find pre-made covers here. I found two very awesome cover artists through this site. One is Yellow Prelude Design. The other is Love Books Daily. Also, we have a list of cover artists and other services on this blog post.

Formatting

This can cost anywhere from $50-$300 depending on who you get. For the sake of discussion let’s say $200 for paperback and ebook.

Editing

This varies, too. I don’t personally recommend a developmental editor. I think an avid reader (aka beta reader) in your genre is the best person to say whether or not your book is going to “wow” our target audience, but I know people who’ll argue with me. So take my input with a grain of salt.

I do, however, highly recommend a proofreader. That will vary depending on how long your book is. I’d say budget anywhere about $100-$500 for this. This will also depend on how much work the proofreader needs to do. The cleaner your manuscript, the cheaper it should be. If the proofreader ends up

I go with Lauralynn Elliott for this, and she know the grammar rules very well, and she’s good with picking out typos.  Plus, she’s super nice. I also have her do my paperback formatting for me, so I pay more than you see on her rates.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s say this costs $300 for a 60,000 word book.

Book Description

I have used Bryan Cohen’s service for this in the past, and he does a wonderful job. His prices range from $297 for about a month to $479 for 2 weeks. These prices are current as of June 13, 2018.

Publishing Book

I always do this myself, and it’s really not that difficult, so I’m still going to say this is $0.

The total then comes to about $1000-$1500. So if you go all out and get “the works”, that’s what you might be looking at in expenses. Some people pay more than that, but, personally, I don’t see the need to pay more than $1500.

I just thought of author assitants. I don’t have one, but I hear a good one can cost anywhere from $15-$25 an hour. So I suppose that’s another expense you could factor in if you hired an assistant to help you publish a book. If you had an assistant do all of this for you, including uploading, I have no idea how much that would be. It depends on how many hours the assitant needs to get everything done.

***

This doesn’t factor into any marketing expenses that happen after the book is out. It also doesn’t factor in taxes you might owe on the money you make from selling your books. My advice (for what it’s worth) is to do as much yourself as possible or to barter as much as possible if you’re struggling to get sales. If you make enough money to cover your expenses and have a nice profit, then outsourcing these things to get a book ready for publication makes sense since it’ll free you up to write more. You’ll have to take a look at your own income and expenses and figure out what works best for you.

 

The Elevator Pitch: Telling People About Your Book in One Sentence

You may be talking to someone at a party, at work, or while waiting to lead an army of werewolves and asuras into battle to stop the demonic entity Delassi from entering our dimension and consuming it entirely (or is that just me?), and the subject you’ve written or published one or more books may come up. If that happens, there’s a good chance they may ask what your book is about. And that leaves you with the decision on how best to tell them what your story is about without giving away too much or too little.

In instances like these, I prefer to use what’s called the elevator pitch, something I picked up from my job-seeking days (which thankfully are well behind me!). The idea of the elevator pitch is to present the shortest and most succinct description possible for any possible subject. For a job-seeker like myself back in the day, that would be a short description of myself that would give the hiring official an idea of what sort of employee I would be. But for a novel, the elevator would be the briefest description of the story’s plot.

Now, I can already hear some of you saying, “But Rami, my story’s too complex or long to just summarize it in one sentence.” And I can understand that. There are plenty of stories that are difficult to summarize. I’d be hard-pressed to give an elevator pitch for the Song of Ice and Fire series (the closest I’ve ever come is someone making a joke about the series and saying it’s about, “Knights, dragons and boobs,” which is true but probably not the best elevator pitch). However, I find stories that defy the elevator pitch are the exception rather than the rule. Most can be boiled down to their essential nature and used in an elevator pitch.

For example, the Harry Potter books:

A young boy goes to wizard school and discovers his destiny.

Or To Kill a Mockingbird:

A trial with racial overtones sets a small town on edge as one lawyer attempts to give his client a fair shot at justice.

Or Carrie:

A bullied teenage girl discovers she’s telekinetic and decides to use her powers to free herself from her torment, with disastrous results.

When I tell people about my own upcoming novel Rose, this is the elevator pitch I usually give them:

A young woman starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems).

Yes, that’s the plot, and it’s actually getting published. And a lot of people have heard that summary and have asked me to let them know the moment the book is available for purchase.

The upside to using the elevator pitch method is that it takes a big story and condenses all a prospective reader needs to know into a single sentence without bogging them down into unnecessary details like the complex relationship between the Seven Kingdoms, or the blood-purity debate among wizards, or any other details that a reader would be better off learning through actually reading a story. It’s especially helpful if you’re in a place where things happen fast and people come and go quickly, such as in line at a coffee shop, saying hello to the usher you’re on first-name basis with at the movie theater, or, I don’t know, on an elevator.

Another upside to this method is that you can use the pitch with your blog, or short stories you’re submitting to magazines or anthologies, and a whole lot more.

The one downside I can think of, besides that a few stories can’t be summarized in a sentence that easily, a single sentence can’t capture the beauty or the power of a story. The sentence I gave above for Mockingbird can’t impart to the potential reader what a beautiful and emotional coming-of-age story it is, and the one for Harry Potter certainly doesn’t tell you just how awesome those books or the worlds inside them are.

But compared to boring people’s ears off with an entire synopsis or just reading the blurb to them right off the book jacket, this might be the better method, and one I’d highly recommend.

So how does one condense their story to a single sentence? That’s up to the author to decide. No one knows the story better than the author, so they ultimately figure that out. The only advice I can give is to not try to rush it. This can take a while, sometimes several days, to figure out. That, and maybe ask yourself what’s the first thing you think of when it comes to your story. Often, that image that appears in your head is the story at its simplest.

While it may seem a little paradoxical, summarizing a story into a single story and using that as your elevator pitch can make for a great marketing tool in everyday interactions. Who knows? That single sentence could get you a number of eager new readers, if you’re lucky.

Do you use elevator pitches when marketing and submitting your stories? What are some tips you use when coming up with them?